There were few things an Atlantean feared more than gill injury. It was hard coded into them to cringe, wince and squirm at the thought. Strictly speaking, external injuries weren’t that difficult to recover from — in a vacuum. But deep beneath the waves, any damage could mean imminent suffocation. Severe internal injuries risked serious blood loss as well.
Not to mention, even bumping your gills against a wayward rock was unpleasant. They were an incredibly sensitive organ. The fragile slits would twinge and flutter at any indelicate caress. Ache like a fiercely stubbed toe if handled without tact.
If one were to wound their gills anywhere, the surface was definitely a best case scenario. With plenty of air to breathe, suffocation wasn’t a concern. So long as the damage remained external, the only hurdle would be mind numbing pain.
Gura wasn’t fond of mind numbing pain, though.
She recalled the incident vividly:
She was hiking with her dear companions through the woods. It was Kiara’s idea to have an outing. Mileage varied on the premise; Amelia liked the outdoors, Calliope reluctantly joined, Ina adored nature but loathed the workout and Gura just liked to look at pretty plants. More than anything, everyone was ecstatic to spend time together.
A couple hours into the excursion and everything was going swimmingly. Cracking jokes, holding hands, pointing out interesting things along the way for everyone to gawk at. Gura gathered flowers along the trail and suavely gifted them to each person they reminded her of.
Buttercup for Amelia. Twinflower for Calliope. Bellflower for Ina. Trumpet Vine for Kiara.
The forest had great variety in bloomage and she ran herself ragged trying to grab everything which caught her eye. In her excitement, she failed to mind her surroundings.
One moment she was trying to reach a colorful leaf and the next she was tumbling down a steep drop. The soil had given way beneath her.
The fall wasn’t too far, though she did suffer an irritating bump on the head. She nearly got away with trivial cuts and bruises but… An unfortunate piece of wood snagged her badly. She was gifted a harsh gash across the gills.
What followed was mostly a blur. Everyone ran to check on her. Her vision was muffled with tears. Her breath came in panicked gasps as her fish brain realized where she was hurt. She was bleeding, but luckily it wasn't bad. Hurt like a bitch though.
Kiara had scooped her up, spread her wings and taken off. Usually, the height would’ve been the last thing Gura wanted but she was too overwhelmed to care.
A few days had passed since then… Which brought her to the present.
Gura lay in bed, staring at the ceiling. She counted the stippling until boredom physically ached. She sighed, grabbed a pillow and groaned into it. She wanted to dig her teeth into something.
Her tail drooped off the side of the bed and swished idly. She wished to get up and do something, but even breathing too hard felt like someone twisting a knife through her ribs. The gnawing pain in her side was a consistent low burn.
She’d done nothing but sleep, eat and browse the internet for nearly three days. It was tedious. The only thing saving her sanity were periodic visits from the girls.
She heard her front door open. Someone using their spare key. She smiled at the approaching footsteps and was thrilled to see Kiara’s beautiful face in the doorway. The phoenix’s eyes were soft in that way which shielded worry behind a casual façade. “How’re you feeling?”
Gura’s voice was sandpaper. “Oh you know… Never better.”
“Mhmm.” Kiara hummed. She closed Gura’s door and meandered to the bed. When she sat down, she was overly careful. Like she feared jostling the mattress would exacerbate the injury.
“You don’t have to walk on eggshells like that. I’m a tough sharky.” She tried to sit up on her elbows but was stalled by a sharp sensation through her side, down her spine, and past the tip of her tail fins. The whine which escaped her wasn’t tough sounding at all. She collapsed back on the mattress with a groan.
Kiara frowned, eyebrows pinching. “Careful now.” She scooted closer and slipped her hand behind Gura’s back to aid her. “I know you’re tough. But we don’t need you hurting yourself more trying to over exert.” She slowly helped Gura up, who grit her teeth and held onto Kiara like her life depended on it.
“Y-Yeah…” Once upright, she slumped forward to rest her head against Kiara’s shoulder. She was tired but not sleepy. Patiently, she was silent while the pain from moving gradually fled. She appreciated Kiara’s warmth.
Kiara ran nimble fingers through her hair. Gura flushed, embarrassed because she knew how sweaty and unkempt she was. Kiara didn’t let it stop her. She continued to pet the shark, fingers itching her scalp and soothing tangled hair. “You kinda look like shit.” She said without an ounce of judgment.
“Thanks.” Gura scoffed. “It’s haute garbage couture. Very in style. Very chic.”
Kiara chuckled. “When was the last time you changed your bandages? Have you taken a shower? I know Ina made you breakfast this morning.”
Gura grimaced at the thought. “I haven’t changed them since Ame put them on. And shower? God no. That sounds awful.”
“Kiara it hurts to breathe.” She pouted, closing her eyes and nuzzling Kiara’s neck. “I don’t wanna get up.”
“Okay, okay…” Kiara went quiet and held Gura a while longer. She began working through a contemplative expression. One look and Gura could tell she was lost in thought. The air was thick with an unspoken question. Gura was keen and parsed the possibilities to guess the nature of Kiara’s hesitation.
She settled on a thought. Kiara was chewing the inside of her lip and Gura moved to grab her attention.
She pressed a kiss to Kiara’s collar bone, allowing the points of her teeth to indulge just a pinch. She smirked when it netted her a sharp inhale. She glanced up and bathed in the glow of Kiara’s red dusted cheeks. “I can hear your brain overheating. Just say whatever you’re thinking.”
Kiara’s face lost its thoughtful edge. She cleared her throat, blush fading to a low simmer. “Mm… I was gonna offer to sponge bath you. And change the bandages.”
Gura nodded. “Yeah, that’s about what I expected.”
Before she could say more, she needed a moment to sink into her thoughts. Her first inclination was refusal. Presently, the notion of someone messing with her gills made her stomach churn. However, none of the girls had mishandled those sensitive bits in the past. She trusted them. “Well… my stomach is telling me absolutely not, but… My heart trusts you.”
“Awww.” Kiara cooed, planting a kiss on her cheek. Hearts danced in her eyes, swooning. “Gura, that's so cheesy and adorable.”
“Yeah, yeah. Whatever. Just… But gentle, okay? Like, this shit seriously hurts really bad.”
“Of course liebling.” She trekked her fingers down Gura’s cheek. Gura leaned against her palm. Kiara smoothed sweat dampened bangs out of her eyes. Gura buried her face against Kiara’s chest. “I just don’t want it to get infected.”
Gura agreed, though her words were muffled into the fabric of Kiara’s shirt.
Kiara made a noise of content. “I’m going to pick you up now. Is that alright?”
Gura braced herself for the stinging and throbbing. She nodded and wrapped her arms around Kiara’s neck.
Kiara was careful in her movements. She dipped one hand beneath Gura’s bottom to scoop behind her thighs. The other supported her upper back. Her hand rested against Gura’s shoulder blades. Gura’s tail twitched at the pleasant rake of manicured nails against her skin.
Standing took some adjustment. Kiara gathered her bearings and steadily inched off the bed. Gura wasn’t very heavy and Kiara was stronger than she appeared, but the circumstances made picking Gura up more of a process than usual.
Actually being lifted — feeling the pull of gravity on her body after three days of barely moving — predictably hurt. It hurt every time Gura needed to get up and use the bathroom. She chugged through it however, and buried any discontent noise in her throat for fear of making Kiara feel bad.
Kiara spared her a glance. Gura offered a smile.
She was taken to the bathroom. Kiara needed to shuffle and awkwardly kick the door open with the weight of a grown (albeit small) Atlantean in her arms. Gura chuckled at the display, which she was promptly shushed for.
She was set down on the toilet seat. The landing was a little rough and she cringed at a shock against her ribs. Kiara worried her lip and frowned sympathetically. “Ah, sorry…” She stretched her arms above her head with a sigh, her joints giving a few quiet pops.
“Uh, no worries.” Gura affirmed. “Thank you, by the way. For doing this.”
Kiara clicked her tongue at that. She crossed her arms and angled her hips, looking at Gura like she’d just insulted the sacred phoenix bloodline. “We’re dating. Of-fucking-course I wanna look after you. The others do too, that’s why we’ve all been smothering you.”
“Right.” A tell-tale flutter in Gura’s chest. “Well, thank you anyways.”
“Anytime.” Kiara grinned. “Now then,” she pointed at Gura’s rumpled, dirty top, “off with it.”
Gura raised a brow. “Not gonna take me to dinner first?”
Kiara giggled. Turning around, she began digging through drawers and cabinets for supplies. “Cute. But for real, we need to wash you.”
Gura rolled her eyes, lips painted by a well meaning smile. She compiled without fuss. “Yeah, yeah.”
Peeling her shirt off was a bit of an ordeal. Kiara offered to help, but Gura was adamant on doing it herself. Raising her arms was unpleasant; she could feel the skin around her gills flexing every inch she reached higher. She managed eventually. The bathroom temperature was a chill which prickled her skin with goosebumps.
“I’ll warm you up with some cuddles once we’re done.” Kiara remarked, noticing Gura’s discomfort. She brandished a small pair of scissors, a wash rag, a bottle of antibacterial soap and a fresh roll of bandages. She crouched in front of Gura, on her knees.
Shirtless, with her girlfriend knelt in front of her, Gura’s mind was not immune to the gutter. Kiara’s eyes were round and caring, lips upturned in a delicate show of amity. Charming and beautiful as ever. Gura swallowed. She couldn’t initiate anything physical in her condition, even if she wanted to. She begrudgingly filed that desire away for later, when she was feeling better.
Kiara was perceptive. She tittered at Gura’s flushed cheeks. “Doesn’t take much to get you riled up.”
“Shut it.” Gura cracked a helpless smile. “I know you’d be thinking things too, if you were me.”
“Who says I’m not thinking things?” Kiara winked.
Gura’s heart skipped a beat. She gave Kiara’s arm a playful thwack, then turned around, hiding her face and making the wound easier to reach. “W-We’ll make it an IOU. Hurry and fix me up though, it’s cold in here.”
Kiara snickered beneath her breath. “Sure thing.” She got to work with the scissors. She slid their icy, metallic blades beneath the bandages and Gura nearly jumped out of her skin at how freezing they were. Kiara ignored the pitiful noise of complaint and snipped away.
Amelia had applied several layers, and getting through them took elbow grease. Once they were off though, it was like taking off a corset. Gura closed her eyes in relief. “How bad does it look?”
Kiara hummed. “It looks like a nasty cut. Not a really nasty cut though.” She soaked the rag in warm water and lathered it in soap. “Regardless, I don’t like seeing your pretty little gills like this. It feels wrong.”
Gura huffed. “Tell me about it.”
“I’m gonna start dabbing off some dried blood and stuff. You good?”
The impendence of touch made her stomach lurch. Her throat became dryer than it was a minute prior. “Yeah…” She drew a hefty supply of air and began to hold her breath. “Get it over with.”
Kiara nodded. Without waiting a second longer, she got to work. She started as far from the cut as she could. Moving the rag in small circles. It was pleasant at first, though the closer she got, the more the stinging set in. By the time she was dabbing the injury itself, Gura was flinching every time it grazed her damaged flesh. Kiara mumbled soft apologies throughout, but Gura was more focused on ignoring the instinct to get up and hide.
The tribulation felt a lot longer than it really was. Mere minutes stretched on forever. Up until forever came to a close. Kiara told her what a good job she did, before scrubbing off the remainder of her sweat smeared body.
Gura was silent for the rest of her sponge bath. Kiara hummed an aimless tune — just something to fill the air. It was nice.
Cleaned and rebandaged, Gura was given a fresh shirt. She was picked back up, just as carefully as before, and carried to bed. She blinked away the discomfort and sank into her pillows with a groan. Her tail lay limply beside her.
Kiara crawled up after. “How was that?”
Gura tensed. “It was… I mean, some of it wasn’t great. I still appreciate it though.”
Kiara offered a noise of understanding. “And it’s over now.”
“Until next time you or someone else wants me to change them.”
“For your own good.” She pointed out. “You want me to tell Calli you’re not looking after yourself?”
Gura laughed in small puffs. “Ruthless.”
“Mhm.” Kiara scooted closer, close enough that her warmth began to emanate outwards, encasing Gura’s body with irresistible snugness. Her injury was handily forgotten. “You want those cuddles, now?”
She was pulled against Kiara’s body. Her nose found Kiara’s neck and her hands found her waist. She was soft like a down feather and perfect for holding in moments like these. Gura draped her tail across Kiara’s legs like a weighted blanket. She yawned.
“I’ve been tired for three days. Healing makes me sleepy.”
One of Kiara’s hands slipped under her shirt. She drew nonsense patterns against her skin, writing letters with no meaning. Gura trilled happily at the sensation of it. Kiara kissed the crown of her head, voice like honey. “You wanna take a nap?”
“Only if you’re not busy. I don’t want to hold you up if you’ve got somewhere to be.”
“Silly,” Kiara breathed, “I’m exactly where I need to be.”