I reeled my tail in behind me, my heart clambering with panic and terror, as I plastered myself into the rough, cave wall, and gathered my long, scaly tail into my arms, certain a hook or a pair of huge fingers were going to find their way in and snag me by my fins. My gills burned and my lungs ached behind my ribs, as I panted in the dark, shrinking as far as possible from the jagged cut in the rocks I'd swam through. The heavy footsteps, of the Capaci teens above me, rumbled through the stone walls and through my being, pebbles and sand sinking down to the cave floor. The crevice in the rocks was no larger than a closet; if another Nix had tried to hide with me, one of us was certain to be dragged out. I grimaced at the thought, as fear sank it's talons into my heart in an iron-grasp. My stomach wrung painfully- how was I going to get out of this? Gods of the sea and sky help me- I should have never come to the surface, much less the shallows! The Capaci's bellowing voices rose, carried through the stone and water, their words muffled and unintelligible, but I could still hear the unnerving merriment in their tones and their petrifying laughter. I hugged my tail to my chest, my heart throbbing and my muscles aching with fear. Something cold touched my tail and searing pain ignited through me, as I was jerked downward; the back of my head hit rock, sending a knife of pain through my skull and neck.
Within seconds I wasn't in the water anymore- the sun shined in my eyes and my lungs heaved for air, but it felt as though sand was pouring through my gills with each breath. My ears rang and I gripped my skull, my head still pulsing with sharp, jabbing pains. All my blood rushed to my head, as my muscles went limp, and the corners of my vision started to go black. I realized too late that I was falling and hit the water and the hard, shallow ground. Every fiber of my being screamed and I laid in the shallow water, desperate to catch my breath, unwilling to open my eyes, as my core began to tremble down to my fingertips. The water seeped into my gills and air filled my lungs, a pathetic sound escaping me. “You hurt it, Tamra!” a young voice cried, the vibrations running through the water and reverberating through me. My stomach twisted and I peeled my eyes open, staring at the beach from a hundred feet in the air, a wall of glass between me and the ground.
“Be quiet-! Or we'll make you go back with the adults!” a feminine voice snapped back, clearly older, but not mature. I blinked hard and swallowed down my terror, wrenching my gaze off the ground and up around me at the gigantic glass jar I was in. The lid was flipped open and a Capaci girl glared in at me, numb curiosity in her warm, brown eyes. I struggled to stay beneath the water, barely high enough to cover my shoulder as I lay on my side. I curled my tail up around me anxiously, my fins sticking out of the water behind my head and against the glass. A jagged, harpooned fishing hook protruded from my tail near the middle, pierced through at least 4 inches of flesh before it jutted out the other side. I grimaced, tears stinging behind my eyes, as I exhaled a ragged, tense breath, blanching at the sight. My fingers shook with pain and my gut knotted mercilessly, as I forced myself to breathe. With every move, more blood inked from my burning wound, polluting the water and making it harder to breath. The glass tilted suddenly, the water pooling at my torso and leaving me with my back plastered against the bottom of the jar. I hugged my stomach, my fingers quivering, in too much pain to move, as she took me in with cold scrutiny. A young, male voice vibrated the walls of the glass, but I couldn't understand his words, drown out by my own wheezing and my ears ringing in the open air. She instantly directed her attention to the Capaci boy, the life returning to her eyes.
His young, sun-tanned face and brown eyes joined hers at the top of the jar. His mouth went slack and his clouded eyes flicked back and forth over my entire person, as he studied me closely. A thin stick descended toward me, from the mouth of the jar. I clambered against the wall at my back vainly, pain racing through my every fiber, as she lifted my injured tail up by the hook, before dropping it back into the water with a plop. The water sloshed back over me and I panted, my heart throbbing frantically and my fingers trembling against the glass. She stirred me around the bottom of the jar for a moment, like the last piece of food on her plate. I shoved the tip of the stick away, but it didn't phase her. “No- I've done this a thousand times!” she shouted, an ill-fitting playfulness in her voice. The jar suddenly dangled chaotically, as I braced myself against the curved walls, only to be tossed to and fro, as they bantered back and forth. I hit the ground hard without warning, the glass jerking and grinding against the sand, as the water pulled me in a chaotic whirlpool. “Don't be a wuss, Cain!” I pushed myself up out of the water, gripping my spinning head, before I sank back down on my stomach to breath in the toxic water.
“Tamra-!” the little girl interjected.
“Shut up! I'm not wussing out-!”
“Come on, Cain,” another guy joined in, “You have to try a piece- all of us are! Nothing's going to happen!” A knife of terror jabbed into my gut.
“Tamra-!” I laid frozen, curled up in the cold water, chilled by the sand on the outside of the glass in the fading light.
“Marlo- you're gonna try some right?!” the guy asked. An ugly tremor ran through me and I lifted my head up to peer through the glass at the voices across the beach my frame shaking uncontrollably.
“Yeah,” a soft feminine voice answered the dark Capaci boy leering over where she sat in the sand, her dark curls tumbling over her shoulders.
“See!” the Capaci rose to his full height, laughing as he turned, gripping the other boys shoulder, “even Marlo is bigger than you!”
“Shut up, Lex,” the other bit back, shoving him off.
“Tamra!” the young Capaci shouted again. She was the smallest of them all and she stood over the teen who had caught me, obviously ignoring the young girl, while she bickered with the others and started a small fire. The little girl, with her messy, dark-blonde hair, refused to be ignored and shook the older girl's shoulder fiercely.
“Stop!” she shouted, shoving the girl away, “I'm making a fire! Do you wanna go back with the adults!”
“You said you weren't going to hurt her!” she shouted back.
“I told you what we were doing,” she snapped harshly at the girl, “I thought you were old enough to have fun with us, but maybe you're not- maybe you're still a little kid and this is too grown up for you.”
“If you can't handle this then go back with the adults,” she spit, “But if you tell anyone what we're doing I'll never invite you to hang out with me and my friends again.” The little Capaci girl's shoulders slumped. She plopped down in the sand, crossing her arms and legs and staring into the fire.
“Depths, Tamra,” the dark boy said lowly, “You're mean. Glad you're not my sister.” She only cast him a sideways smirk, illuminated by the fire before rising and starting toward me.
I scrambled back in the jar instinctively, knowing all too well I had no where to swim. Her bare feet stopped right in front of the jar, and suddenly I began to rise. I lost my stomach below me in the sand, as gravity pulled me down into the glass floor. She held the jar right in front of her face, her features illuminated in the firelight, reflecting off the glass. I backed as far away from her as possible, my lungs heaving in dry, harsh air that burned my gills and did little to nothing to satisfy my aching lungs. With a soft snort and a dark smirk, she roughly carried the jar to the fire, and sank to the ground quickly, wedging the jar in her lap. The water continued to toss me back and forth as she popped the lid off. The dark boy peered in, something flooding his eyes and overtaking his face, as he took in every inch of me. My insides twisted and quivered, and I curled into a ball in the shallow water. “How many times have you done this?” he suddenly asked.
“I don't know,” she said casually, “All the time- it's no big deal. Nobody cares about the Nix.” My gut swam with disgust, every fiber of my being trembling anew.
“Somebody cares- or it wouldn't be illegal,” he countered.
“You're not having second thoughts are you?” she asked darkly.
“No,” he relented, “I'm just saying.”
“It's just one of those dumb laws nobody cares about anymore,” she continued, “Everybody's done it at one point- but no one will admit it- it's too taboo.”
“You don't eat the whole thing do you?” a girl asked in disgust. I think I might be sick. I can't feel my fingers anymore- maybe it's the freezing water- I held myself, desperately trying to drown out their voices in the darkness of my closed eyes. I'm going to die, hopefully from suffocation in this bloody water.
“No- just the tail,” she replied, “You can probably eat the rest, but nobody does.” The jar suddenly went dark and I covered my head, curling into a tight ball, as huge fingers pressed in around me, dragging me up from the water. I can't fight, pain, shivers, and numb hopelessness petrifying my muscles, as I fought back sobs.
“Hey!” a deep, more mature, male voice shouted across the beach. I slipped from her grasp and I hit the shallow water once again, disbelief consuming me, as I lay still in the water, heart pounding, too afraid to move and wake in her hand.
“Tabby,” the girl growled above me. A string of curses rang out from the group. “Take this-” The lid slammed shut and I lost my stomach again, as the jar was handed off to someone else. I curled up as the water sloshed me against the glass walls, trying to brace myself with quivering limbs, to avoid bumping the enormous hook speared through my tail. With my eyes clenched shut, I listened to the voices wafting through the glass around me. “What's up Steph.”
“I'm not playing this game with you Tammy, I know what you're doing,” the guy replied.
“What the depths are you talking about Steve,” she bit back her tone dripping with boredom.
“Who is that?” someone closer whispered.
“I think that's Tamra's cousin,” another replied.
“It is, he-” a girl whispered with disdain, before someone shushed her quickly. Heavy footsteps pounded across the sand and I curled tighter and tighter with each step.
“Good evening,” the deeper voice said calmly, “I'm sure you all know the penalty for kidnapping, much less cannibalism.” Footsteps pounded away quickly.
“I'll take that if you please,” he said.
“No problem, sir,” someone mumbled, as the water sloshed, pulling me back and forth.
I clung to the bottom of the jar on my stomach, grimacing as my head continued to swirl in this endless tempest. Everything slowed, my eyes still glued shut, and I realized my breaths came in tiny spurts, my every muscle petrified to stone and trembling intensely. The water swept back and forth gently, rocking almost, as the shallow waves rolled over my tense back softly. I felt the sensation of sinking and I braced myself, but every movement was surprisingly smooth. The jar tilted slightly and I raised my eyes toward the top of the glass, as I slid weakly into the corner with the dark bloody water. The lid was open huge, trunk-like fingers gripping the lip of the jar, and suddenly water came flooding in from the top- the ocean- he was putting me back in the water. I pushed myself up the jar, my tail screaming at me and the water shoving me back. I took deep, gulping breaths of the fresh ocean-water, soothing my aching chest and diluting the blood I'd been marinating in. Suddenly the lid slammed shut.
I rushed the lid frantically, throwing all my weight into it, only to do nothing but tire myself out more and pollute the fresh ocean-water. Shaking from core to tail, I sank to the bottom of the jar, with the sand and the seashells that had found their way in, as the jar began to rise. I closed my eyes, flattening myself against the glass and turning over, not wanting to see another huge face again.
He carried me through the dark, off the of the beach, away from the sea, until we reached building, a single tower on a hill above the shore, with a light beaming from the top. He entered the building and set me down in the pitch black. Never in my life had I been in such dark water. My core trembled and I reeled around, with my back on the glass, desperately wanting to see him before he was on top of me. A light flickered in the dark and slowly grew, as he turned a knob, illuminating his calm, focused face. He continued making light, here and there, until the entire room was lit, his heavy footsteps rumbling through the ground beneath me. He was taller than any other Capaci I had ever seen, his shoulders broad and his hands muscular. He combed a hand through his messy, dark blond hair, brushing it vainly out of his eyes as he worked. He stripping off his leather vest, tossing it onto a chest, and rolled his baggy sleeves up past his elbows. His pant-legs were rolled above his calves and his feet were bare and sandy from the beach. Without warning, he suddenly met me with his gaze, starting steadily toward me.
I backed up into the glass, wanting to close my eyes, but unable to. He strode to the table, his gigantic form filling my vision, my chest laboring for each breath. He was going to eat me- just like the teens on the beach. He reached forward, enveloping the entire jar in his huge hands and I shrunk, covering my head and curling into a ball. The lid came off. “Easy,” he soothed, his deep voice low and calm, as the jar rose. My heart pounded in my ears, threatening to escape my chest, and the jar began to sink, until it hit a hard surface, the high-pitched noise, of sand grinding beneath glass, wafting through the water. I peeked open my eyes, my gut knotting at my knew surroundings; the jar sat inside a huge glass box much larger than my current prison. He stepped back, sinking to his seat and fixing me in his gaze, a small smile on his lips. I reeled back instinctively, pulling my gaze away and hugging myself, as I stared at the table between us. What is he going to do with me? Trembling set in at my core and I grimaced beneath the terror ravaging my gut.
He opened a drawer in the table in front of him, going through the contents and pulling a few things out. Suddenly, an enormous striped creature leapt onto the table- it was dark, had tiny, pointed ears, huge yellow eyes, and stood on four legs, with a long, snake-like tail, that curled in the air behind it. It paced in front of him, looking up at his face and making tiny crying sounds, before it rubbed it's head under his hand and arched it's back. He cast the creature a quick glance, before absentmindedly resting the side of his hand on it's back. A low rumbling sound seeped through the glass and water, fading in and out. The gray animal walked back and forth beneath his hand, coxing him to gently run his huge fingers- fingers strong enough to break me- across it's back, and finally up the tail, as he distractedly dug through the drawer. Suddenly it caught sight of me, the black of it's eyes growing huge. It ducked it's head, it's fur seeming to stand on end, as it got low, creeping toward the water. “'Ey,” the Capaci suddenly said lowly, as he shooed the animal off the table. He rose to his full height, approaching the water, and I slid down the glass, peering out the open jar, my ever fiber trembling.
His torso filled my vision and I closed my eyes tightly, flinching as I heard his hands submerge into the water. I covered my head, curling into a ball, as the jar rose once again. The movement forced me gently against the glass, beneath the weight of the water, but suddenly I was sinking down, out of my safe haven within the small confines of the glass. I surged back into the jar, but too late, as he snagged my tail by the fin between his fingers, drawing me out effortlessly. Adrenalin poured into my veins, my heart pounding against my ribs and anxiety piercing my gut. I hugged my quivering torso, waiting to feel the cold air on my wet skin, but slowly, my ascent stopped. My muscles shook and my tail felt cold against the air, as his huge fingers wrapped firmly around me. I wrestled against his unmoving grip, holding me just beneath the surface of the water. An enormous metal tool hovered over me in his hand and my heart withered. Why were the gods punishing me like this? No one deserved this kind of death- If there is any power in the Universe- someone help me! The dark, metal tool took hold of the hook, still pierced through my tail, the wound burning like nothing I'd ever felt. The corners of my vision darkened beneath the pain, bile rising up my throat and the metal tool snapped. I jumped at the loud sound, a high-pitched cry escaping me.
The tool suddenly rushed passed me in the water, sinking to the bottom of the tank and landing with an ear-bursting thump. My tail lit up with pain and I swung my gaze back to the hook- cut in half, the harpooned end gone- sliding from my tail, up out of the water, as blood inked from the wound and sank like heavy smoke. I followed the hook, in the Capaci's giant fingers. He didn't give the horrid object a second glance, his eyes set on my tail with intense focus. My body warmed suddenly, as if beads of light and heat moved through my every fiber. His other hand sank into the water and I scrambled to escape his grasp, as I flopped like a fish in a net. Without effort he took me in both hands, his eyes closed and his brow knit with determination and thoughts so deep, it was as if he no longer noticed my wrestling in his unmoving grasp.
I felt hot suddenly, so very hot, was I already boiling in a pot of water? A thousand tiny bubbles filled the water around my tail and my stomach rose to my throat. What was happening? His grip loosened and I slipped from his fingers, shooting with everything I had left in me, down, back into that cursed glass jar. I dove inside, curling up and trembling down to my fingertips. I gripped my tail, searching it for my wound, but suddenly, I couldn't find it, my pulse rising with panic. How could I not find it- I could feel it- or maybe I couldn't- the feeling felt more like a ghost than a wound. My heart leapt to my throat and my hands stilled, as the explanation clicked and the cogs in my mind worked to believe what I was seeing. It was gone, all and completely. No scarring at all, as if a hook had never touched my tail. He, that Capaci out there, he was a Shifter.
Heavy footsteps rumbled beneath me and I crumbled, peering out from my safe place, my heart faltering with every step. I want to go home- I want to go home- gods I wish I had never left the reef. I'm so stupid- I'll never do anything this stupid again- I just want to go home. He moved away from the table, drying his tool in a cloth and setting the ugly thing down. Every Shifter horror story I'd ever heard reeled through my mind; they could change themselves to look like anyone, you're mother, you're best friend- and worse, they could change you, and leave you stuck in the form of something else with no way of changing back without their help. Drying his hands, he rubbed the cloth up his muscular arms to his elbows. How much more dangerous was this Capaci, as a both a giant and a Shifter. Sinking back to his seat, he picked up a tiny object from the table, examining it closely; it was the hook.
My stomach turned, caught in a wave of discomfort that swirled it around until I felt sick. The shadow of a frown tainted his face; his eyes suddenly shifted on me. I went rigid, shrinking beneath his gaze, peering out at him warily. He studied me intensely, his warm, green eyes taking in every inch, as unreadable thoughts swam through their depths. My insides wrung with emotion, rising to my throat. What were his plans now? Everything in me desired to beg him to let me go home- dump me back in the ocean- but numb hopelessness settled over me like a vice in my chest and I turned my gaze away from him, wrapping my tail over my head and hugging myself desperately. I closed my eyes, my chest tight and stomach knotted. The table shifted beneath me and I flinched, glancing up at him, only to find that huge creature rubbing against his arm and rumbling again.
He smiled tiredly to himself, snorting softly as it rubbed it's head incessantly against his wrist. “Alright- alright,” he said lowly, “I see you.” He scratched behind it's ears, until it flopped onto it's side in front of him, and he grinned, rubbing it's side as it's tail curled and twitched. It reached up, snagging the string hanging from the collar of his shirt and he sat back, scolding the creature gently. It only batted at his pointed finger, just missing him as he reeled his hand back. “And now you're off the table,” he announced, scooping it up and depositing it on the ground. “How are you feeling?” I flinched, as he distractedly brushed fur off his shirt. Was that directed at me? He lifted his gaze, pinning me in the glass and my insides shrank; apparently yes. My voice was still knotted up in my chest and I stared at him, my mouth cracked open speechlessly. “Well enough to eat something?” he pursued further. My gut sank like a rock and I shied back a little more. “I don't have any coral but I have Nimri Kelp,” he added casually. My stomach cramped and I suddenly felt starved, but something between dignity and fear held me still. What was he playing at?
He studied me closely, unspoken thoughts passing through his gaze. I swallowed, my hunger making me sick all of a sudden. “My name's Stephen by the way,” he said, sitting up in his chair and rest his arms across the table in front of him, as he tilted his head and fixed me in a direct gaze, “I'm a friend, not an enemy.” I fidgeted; he still had a long ways to proving that. Swallowing, I mustered up my voice with a deep breath and forced out my words, trying to be loud enough for him to hear me, but it just came out weak.
“When are you going to let me go?” His brow rose faintly and he eased back, his chair creaking beneath him, as he crossed his arms over his chest.
“Tomorrow,” he stated, my blood rushing to my head. “It's too dark for you to swim home tonight,” he reasoned, “you won't be able to avoid the traps or the nets- you might even end up turned around and back in the shallows again.” My frame slackened more with each word until I doubled over and squeezed my upset stomach. “It may be illegal to do you any harm,” he said soberly, “but best not risk ending up in the hands of someone who doesn't care.” I glanced up, my heart ever wary to believe he wasn't one of those people. “And what kind of a gentleman would I be,” he asked suddenly, as he sat up shrugging his shoulders, casting me a incredulous glance, “if I sent a lady alone, into the wilderness, to find her way home in the dead of night?” He held me in his gaze, his brow furrowed, a shadow of a smile playing on his lips and reaching his green eyes and making them twinkle with mischief. My insides turned with unease, as I tried to gauge if this was a trustworthy man or not- that he was both a Capaci and a Shifter didn't help his case one bit. He had a point to his reasoning, but doubt raged in my gut. He sighed, casting his gaze to the ground as his shoulders sagged, a small smile still playing on his mouth. He propped a hand on his thigh and glanced back up at me, defeat written all over his face. “What's your name?” he asked quietly. I swallowed, anxiety twisting in my gut like a knife.
“Runa.” I regretted speaking instantly, but I couldn't take it back. I glanced up at him, his brow lifted slightly and his mouth cracked open, the shadow of a smile tugging at the corner.
“That means Destiny, doesn't it?” he asked warmly. I met his gaze- how would he know that? Never had I heard of anyone studying ancient Nix dialect, Like the girl said, nobody cares about the Nix- we stay in the depths and everyone else above the surface. He grinned deeply and my stomach knotted, “Am I right?” I nodded, my face heating. A soft chuckle escaped him and he pulled his eyes away, gripping his jaw and scratching the stubbly scruff on his cheeks. “Perhaps it's destiny,” he suddenly said ominously, rising to his full height, “that you've ended up in my home at my mercy tonight.” I watched him like a hawk, shrinking back ever so slightly as I tried to read him. A playful twinkle flickered through his gaze. He picked up an article clothing from the back of his chair and started across the room. “If you're not hungry, I can turn some of the lights down so you can sleep,” he said softly, stopping at a flickering lamp and casting me a sideways glance, “I'm not retiring yet, but you can- you've had a long day I'm sure.” A shiver ran down my spine at the memories that rushed me and I swallowed, wincing them away.
He twisted a small knob on each light, dimming the room until I could only make out his expression when he looked into the lamp, his features highlighted with ribbons of golden light. He scooped up the dark animal in his arms on it's back and stalked toward me, his heavy footsteps quickening my pulse instinctively. I couldn't help but flatten myself against the glass as he moved passed. “And you're sure you're not hungry,” he said turning back, as he stopped before a doorway to another room. I shook my head, my gut twisting at the lie, just wanting him to leave the room. He eyed me for a long second, before his shoulders sank with his tired exhale. “Very well,” he resigned, offering a deep bow and lifting his twinkling green eyes up at me. “We bid you a goodnight,” he said, a suppressed smile playing on his lips as he rose back to his full height and offered one last nod, “Sleep well.” Turning, he gently dumped the animal into the next room, following it in and shutting the door behind him.
My cheeks burned and my stomach did somersaults. Was I being paranoid? Or was he truly untrustworthy still? I didn't want to risk being wrong- getting my hopes up- his kindness, so odd in regards to the situation, only served to unnerve me even more, making me feel as though I couldn't read the situation for what it was- or read him for what he was. I took a deep breath, sinking down to the floor on my side, curling up and hugging my tail beneath my head. Somehow, despite the tempest of thoughts frothing about in my mind, it was only a matter of seconds before I slipped into unconsciousness, and only a few seconds more before I was dragging open my heavy eyes.
A pair of huge, warm, honey-colored eyes, smiled at me. I surged back, slamming into the glass behind me and knocking my skull against it. A high-pitched gasp seeped through the glass, “It's okay!” I grimaced, holding my head and leaning into my tail, pulled up to my chest, all the tensions and fears from the night before inking back into my muscles and my stomach. Being chased, being speared, the Capaci teenagers, and him- but that voice- that voice was oddly familiar. I knew who it was before I looked up. Her young, tan face was nearly pressed against the glass, her messy, dark-blonde waves tousled about her cheeks, framing those deep and vibrant, honey-colored eyes; a dash of freckles speckled her button nose and the shadow of a smile played at the corner of her plump, rosy lips, as she studied my entire being in awe.
“Tabby,” his deep voice sounded warily from somewhere behind her, “give 'er her space.” His heavy footsteps shook the ground as he moved across the room, “She's had a rough night.” She retreated off the table, crouching in her chair, as he set a plate a food in front of her. “She doesn't need to wake and have your big face be the first thing she sees,” he scolded, casting me a glance before heading back to the kitchen. “Eat your breakfast before your mother comes looking for you and you can come with me to send her home.” My heart leapt to my throat.
“Really?” she straightened in delight, looking back at him, her fork in her fist. The huge gray animal leapt up onto the table, inspecting her plate.
“Yes, really,” he said, coming around the table with his own plate and casting her a distracted glance. He shooed the creature away, “Now eat your food before Mog eats it.” He sat down, starting on his own plate ravenously. I watched them, my stomach growling audibly now, as a wave of hunger washed over me. I didn't care- my fingers trembled with anticipation against the glass, too afraid to address the hope rising in me. The young girl watched me from her place at the table, distractedly shoveling food into her mouth, a thousand thoughts spinning in her head behind her bright eyes. She chewed, staring into the water from over her plate, before her chewing slowed to halt, her mouth cracked open for a moment. Her eyes shifted over every inch of me and she blinked, suddenly remembering there was food in her mouth. She swallowed, casting him a sudden glance to see if he'd noticed, but he was too focused on his own breakfast. A thought crossed my mind- did this little girl know he was a Shifter? She took another huge bite, shifting her gaze between him and me.
“Did she tell you her name?” she suddenly asked. He looked up at her for a moment, his eyes shifting to me. My chest flooded with warmth and I eased back, my gaze falling from his.
“Yes,” he said matter-a-factly, turning back to his food, “Why don't you ask her?” He cast her a coy glance as he took a bite. She swung her gaze to me, a pink hue tinting her cheeks.
“Sorry,” she mumbled. His eyes smiled, as he looked down at his food, suppressing a minuscule smile. “My name's Tabby,” she said, tucking a strand of her wild hair behind her ear, “What's your name?” I glanced to him suddenly, his eyes already on me, smiling in almost the same way he'd been smiling at her. It startled me for some reason and my gaze skittered back toward her, as I fidgeted for a split second, digging up my voice.
“Runa,” I said loudly, evoking a beaming grin across the young girl's face.
“That's such a pretty name,” she beamed, her eyes twinkling with wonder, “I wish my name was as pretty as that.” A deep choking chuckle erupted from across the table,
“What are you talking about, Tabby,” he asked, his brow knit but a smile forming on his lips, “You have a very pretty name.”
“Not really,” she retreated, suddenly distracted by the food on her plate. She pushed what was left, back and forth with her fork. He leaned back in his chair, studying her until she glanced up at him and a smile played on his lips.
“Are you ready to go to the beach?” he asked. She sat up, brightening and nodded, fidgeting with anticipation. Grinning, he took their plates and heading around the table, calling back as he disappeared behind her, “Get a blanket, if you plan on going in the water.” Scrambling from her chair the girl quickly disappeared into another room.
He stood at a counter, his back to me, as I began to tremble once more. Was this it? Was he really going to let me go? He turned around, drying his arms with a cloth as he started toward me. Memories of last night rushed into my mind as he approached and I sank back, my gut knotting as he fixed me in his gaze and tossed the cloth on the table. His form overflowed my view, as he came to tower over the water. I bit my lip, shrinking as I desperately tried to stifle the panic, kicking and screaming in my stomach. “Easy,” he said, as his hands dipped into the water, slowly sinking deeper and deeper, until they hovered around the glass jar and gently enclosed it in his grasp. My heart threatened to pound out of my chest and my lungs labored for breath. The lid latched shut and I began to rise. The familiar feeling sent my stomach tumbling and I closed my eyes and hugged myself, trying to silence the violent tremors running through me. The movement faded and I peeked open my eyes. The huge cloth wiped across the glass, as the sand settled around me. His brow was furrowed as he dried the jar, sitting on the table, his face nearer than it ever had been, yet practically looking through me, focused on the glass.
“Ready?” the girl asked suddenly, appearing beside him.
“I am,” he stated, meeting my gaze and casting me a smile, before rising to his full height and carefully taking the glass in his arms.
She marched beside him the whole way, fixing me in her gaze from time to time. I quivered uncontrollably, hope and panic fighting in my gut. What if I was wrong. What if this was some cruel trick. What if something happened. Were we at the shore yet? They strolled along the dirt ridge just above the beach, before finally starting toward the water, casually taking the switchbacks until they reached the sand. I caught myself pressed up against the glass, my skin heating, but I couldn't pull myself away. The water was right there- the huge blue-green sea that was home- if I could only get into the water- “She doesn't talk much,” she remarked suddenly, sending heat across my face; I shrank back from the glass, away from her gaze, behind his hand. He snorted softly, the glass vibrating against his stomach as he spoke.
“Small people don't talk much,” he said quietly, “It's hard to talk when you're afraid.” My core wrung and I grimaced, swallowing down mortification as my face burned hotter.
“Afraid? But you saved her!” she said incredulously, “She shouldn't be afraid anymore.”
“Fear is a funny thing,” he replied lowly, as he moved steadily across the beach, “It doesn't like letting go. Sometimes it holds onto people for years, reminding them of the bad things that could happen if they stop being afraid. Truth is, being afraid won't stop bad things from happening. It can help you avoid them or run from them and you might get away, but it always stops good things from happening.” He stopped at the water and I peered down, watching the waves wash up, just reaching his bare feet. “Fear is good in balance, it can keep you safe from things you 'know' will hurt you, but it can very easily consume a person until they're afraid to live or hope- until they can't even speak.” My heart turned in my chest but I shoved the feeling down. The water was right below me- my being ached with longing for the salty, ocean waves, so hard that I was sure I would melt if he didn't put me down soon. “Say goodbye, Tabby,” he said, turning me toward the girl. I tensed, striving to calm myself in preparation for her huge topaz gaze.
“Aw, you said I could go in the water,” she said, peering up at him with disappointment.
“I changed my mind, it's too cold,” he stated, “say your goodbyes now.” Sulking, she huffed, bending down a little and peering in at me.
“Goodbye, Runa,” she said, “If you ever come to the shore again, I'll protect you.” Heat seeped up my neck and I fidgeted, nodding and forcing myself to reply,
“Thankyou.” Smiling, she straightened, casting Stephen a proud glance, before he turned, and stepped out into the water. With each step, as he waded into the water, he made huge waves, crested in white foam. My pulse raced and I shook with fear, so close to getting home. The jar suddenly rose and I stared at the water getting farther away, before the motion stopped and I felt panic play on my back. I cast a glance over my shoulder, spinning and flattening myself against the glass, as he held me in his warm, green eyes.
“It's okay,” he said, a warm smile on his face, “I just wanted to let you know, Tabby is the reason I knew to come last night.” My heart twisted a little; I hadn't really thought about it. “She's the reason you're alive right now.” My face flushed and my gaze faltered, unable to hold his. I nodded, still looking down. “I know we're big, scary giants,” he said, his voice low and playful, “But we're not all mean.” My heart twisted and I glanced up, catching the spark of mischief in his eye. My gaze skittered away frantically, my chest rising and falling with tense breaths. “Also, I need to ask you,” he said lowly, “If you would be so kind, as to keep my.. 'methods of healing,' a secret.” I glance up at him, unease seeping through me. “Wouldn't want a bunch of people flocking to my door in search of miracles and healings,” he said suppressing a smile, but seriousness clouded his eyes. He inhaled deeply and scanned the horizon, his brow furrowed, “People don't really care for 'my kind.'” He glanced back at the girl standing on the shore, her blonde waves blowing wildly about her face. “Would you do that for me?” he asked, meeting my gaze imploringly. Questions and faint suspicions bloomed in my heart, as I glanced at Tabby, and back to him. I nodded slowly. He smiled, sending a wave of heat through me and I glanced away, shifting beneath his gaze. “Alright, I'll stop torturing you,” he said suddenly, lowering the glass. I spun, watching the water get closer and closer, until the bottom of the jar dipped into the waves. The lid flipped open, water dumping from the tilted jar and before I could stop myself, I dove into the waves.
The salt was fresh and the water chilled in comparison to the water in the glass, making me flinch and tense from the cold, but I didn't stop. I swam deeper, until I found the ground, still in the shallows, but far from him. I looked back at his gigantic legs in the water, up to his knees, my insides twisting with unease and fear that shouted, swim far away from here and never look back. I floated above the ocean floor, my back facing home, as I stared at a fate I had just narrowly escaped. Fish swam dumbly passed me and around his ankles, unaware of the danger. Something knotted in my chest, holding me still and keeping me from leaving the shore and this entire nightmare behind. His feet shifted slowly in the water, but he didn't move. Guilt- it was guilt- stupid, reckless, unrealistic guilt, twinging in my chest like the prick of a needle. He'd saved me, healed me, and set me free. I almost growled with frustration. I shot toward the surface, before I had time to change my mind, slowing as I neared and caught sight of his towering form. My core wrung with discomfort and I fisted my hands at my side, taking a deep breath and rising until my shoulders touched the open air. He dumped the water out of the jar, closing the lid and rising to his full height.
“Thankyou,” I almost shouted, sinking back down just up to my jaw, so I could take a well needed breath through my gills and escape the frigid air, not to mention his gaze. His green eyes landed on me, shock passing through them and he almost dropped the glass jar into the water. He half-chuckled, before a smile formed on his lips and in his eyes, that sent warm waves through my gut.
“You're very welcome,” he chuckled with a nod. My stomach tossed and turned like the waves around me and I backed away, suddenly unsure of how to leave. I wanted to tell him I would keep his secret, the only thing I could truly do in return, but he snorted softly. “Safe swimming and stay out of the shallows will you.” My face heated, a smile threatening on my lips and I nodded, something between anxiousness and excitement bubbling in my chest, as I ducked beneath the water and started home. I'd keep his secret.