Two years, shiny rocks and glittering gems have been showing up at Keith’s hideaway. His cave, actually. The cave that he thought that was totally hidden. It sat at the very bottom of the reef, the entrance covered by large corals and seaweed.
Very few traveled to where it sat despite its dazzling variation in colored corals in fear of something lurking among the seaweeds, the parts where the sun doesn’t touch. That’s why it was a perfect place for Keith. He liked how calm the waters were, how dark it was; how secluded. It was his place to come when he didn’t care to deal with the constant busy of his pod, or when he needed a place to think.
It was bare when he first found it. The curious fourteen-year-old had stumbled upon it by mistake, having swam off in a fit of teenage rage when Shiro told him that he couldn’t leave the pod. It was a stupid fight, and an equally stupid reason to swim off the way he had. However, if he hadn’t, he wouldn’t have found his own place. The only person he’d told was Shiro, who knew it was Keith’s place and his only. He didn’t dare venture down there anyway, more afraid of what Keith did with the cave than the rumors of the things lurking there.
The cave itself was nothing impressive, large and open. Within the year he found it, he set to carving out little pockets and shelves. He even managed to deepen a certain pocket and padded the harsh rock with seaweed and algae, making it comfortable enough to lay if he pleased. He made it a second home.
As soon as he had decided that the cave was to his liking, he brought nicknacks and cool looking shells to his cave and started to line the shelves with them. The urge to fill the shelves encouraged him to go out more, to explore and collect. It became his hobby, going to wrecks and coming back with shiny jewelry and paintings that were kept in tact, even finding a polished shell here and there. He liked it, and how it has become a hobby of his own.
That is, until things started showing up on their own.
The first time it happened, Keith had chalked it up to a coincidence. All that was brought and laid out neatly on a small bed of seaweed were little gold coins and a human scooping device of sorts. It glittered when it caught the little light in the cave, and it became one of his favorites.
The second time, he was a little more suspicious. This time, there were handfuls of polished shells packed neatly in a worn satchel. The satchel had obviously belonged to another mer, patches of seaweed sewn back onto it to cover the holes that had previously riddled the bag. He dropped his own findings, surveying the entrance and looking through the forest of seaweed. There hadn’t been anyone, not that he could see.
After that, it kept happening. There was always something new placed in the middle of the cave neatly, always packed with care and glittering in the light. He wasn’t sure who was bringing them, but they kept consistent for two years straight. It was his favorite thing to do every morning, to go and check the cave for new gifts. Whatever he was given, it went on his best shelves that he could see as soon as he swam in.
He let it happen after deciding that whoever left them didn’t mean any harm, nor did they mess up any of his shelves or his bed. They minded their own when they brought gifts.
However, after two years, he’d grown curious as to who was leaving them. As any mer would, of course. The act was seen as a way of courting after all, wouldn’t anyone want to know who would extend such a thing? To Keith, no less.
He tried to catch them in the act plenty times, going to his cave as soon as the sun kissed the edge of the world, staying up all night, even going as far as to try and make entering difficult for the other. No matter how hard he tried, they were always so slick. Every time he tried, they’d slip past and leave the package. He even wrote notes in the sand, offering little jewels of his own to the other mer. His message was erased, replaced with another that read “You’re the one that’s deserving of all these gifts, keep them” followed by a little heart.
He now knew that they were definitely an act of courting. It made him wonder what they look like, who they were, if he knew them, if he’d even talked to them. He felt like a young mer all over again, head over heels for someone that he could only imagine.
After the first note, plenty more were being left. They could even carry a conversation sometimes. It was how they got to know more about one another. It only made Keith want to meet the other even more, but no matter how many times he asked, he’d get ignored and instead be given another compliment with the next morning's gift.
This continued for weeks, and for weeks Keith busied himself by building a new plan to catch the sweet intruder. Once it was set into motion, he waited outside the cave just on the brink of the thick seaweed. He was well hidden, and his snare was in place. Perhaps it was a little much, and he made it far too complicated than what was really necessary, but it worked.
He waited quietly for hours, having come in the dead of night. He nearly fell asleep before he heard a rustling in the weeds. However, it was not where he anticipated it being.
His heart raced, turning just in time to be met by a tanned body slamming into his own. By the gasp they both gave, it was obvious that the other mer hadn’t expected the collision either.
They went tumbling out of the dense weeds and into the sand, each landing with an “umph”. Keith groaned and rubbing his head, shaking the sand out of his hair as he focused on the man who was racing for his cave. It didn’t take long for him to recognize him.
The other mer with the brilliantly blue tail looked up, confused, before realizing whatever he’d been carrying had dropped and come undone. Keith got up to help him before pausing, looking at the items in question. There was a variety of shiny shells and some kind of reflective glass with a gold rim, shimmering. He picked it up gently, looking into the glass and seeing himself. It must have been one of those mirrors that the humans used.
The undone packaging was all too familiar as well. It was a makeshift bag of seaweed and old twine, once packed neatly but now was falling apart. Had they really bumped that hard into one another?
Regardless of his sneaking suspicion of who the gifts were for, he helped Taylor pick them up and rebuild the bag. However, the boy didn’t seem to want the help. Instead, he was flushed red and trying to hand it back to Keith.
“There’s no need for that, Keith, there’s really not--they’re where they need to be.” Taylor said sheepishly, rubbing the back of his neck.
Keith felt a smile spread across his lips, holding the shells and the delicate mirror close. “It’s you? Taylor--I didn’t know you, you know, felt like that. You’re so sweet and I-”
He was quickly cut off by the blue mer, “Whoa, wait, Taylor? My name’s not Taylor! I’m Lance! Who told you I was Taylor?” He questioned.
Hot red with embarrassment, Keith searched for how to respond. “Oh- Uhm, when we were kids, you always called yourself Taylor and I assumed that was your name? I had no idea it was Lance, I feel stupid now.. Lance fits you much better, though.”
Lance laughed, and oh gods above, it was a beautiful laugh. It made Keith smile wider and shyly tuck back a piece of hair, his heart fluttering in his chest.
“I get that, it’s okay.” He said once he calmed down, gently swimming closer and holding Keith’s face gently. The other leaned into the touch, feeling natural and calming. They both felt a sense of warmth and familiarity (from both their anonymous interactions and from childhood) and strangely safe.
“I keep all your gifts… Every single one has gone up on my walls, I look at them every morning. I love them…” Keith trailed off. There were unspoken words there, ones that he’d only share with himself for now.
I love you, too.
“I’m so glad you like them, cariño.” Lance said softly. “I’m sure the answer was there from day one… But do you- do you accept?”
Do you accept my courting offer?
“Of course I do, especially now that I know it’s you… You’re always so sweet, and kind, and funny. I’m so glad that it’s you.”
“Does that mean I can keep bringing you gifts? Maybe this time, we can meet here every morning instead? As much as I love our notes, I’d also like to see your beautiful face every morning.”
“Yeah, I’d… I’d really like that.” Keith turned his face and pressed a gentle kiss to Lance’s palm, watching the other boy heat up and smile fondly.