Choppy waves beat against the rocks, the sound drowning out the rest of the world. The stars twinkle and disappear, dark clouds moving across a darker sky.
I stand at the edge of the pier, take a deep breath and jump into the freezing ocean.
The cold spreads across my body, bringing with it the momentary sharp pain, before my clothes slip away. The rush of the water stills, holding its breath, as my legs go numb. Slivers of silver wisp up the lower half of my body, encasing my legs, shimmering a blinding white. I rise up through the murkiness, opening my eyes and breathing in the water. Immeasurable power flows through me. The water swirls around me, gently at first, and then faster until it is a mini-hurricane. It recognizes me, it embraces me. I close my eyes and breathe in deeper, feeling the intensity build within me-
It lasts only a moment. The water breaks away from me, snatched out of my control, as I sink back deep into the ocean. The shimmering around me disappears, and I look down at what used to be my legs.
They are replaced with a magnificent tail, translucent fins at the end covered entirely with intricate lines. Scales the color of blood stretch across my tail, glimmering dangerously in the depths. The top half of my body is bare, except for the swirling lines of red tracing upwards and around my arms.
Even as I know the water around me is not in my control anymore, courtesy of being so far away from it and not able to use my powers, even as I know I should hate myself, for being what I am is what caused all of this, just for a moment, I am all wonder again, eyes shining in delight at the familiar feeling, just like years ago, when we went in for the first time- swimming and finding the whole ocean at our feet, free to discover all that lay in the vast unknown, hand in hand, together.
But I left. I left him alone.
I look up as warmth floods the water.
The change is not subtle- it is loud and demanding. I hear the clicks and whistles in my head long before they appear in front of me, along with pulse waves that appear as enormous circles of white. Barks act as horns, signaling his arrival.
Out of the darkness, he appears, his tail swishing powerfully behind him, a brilliant blue and aquamarine that speaks of a sunny day at the beach, azure and sapphire, for the blue of the ocean, and midnight with pools of black, the bottom most parts with unimaginable creatures. He holds a spear that glints of pure gold, emitting a powerful aura. An army of marine animals surround him, spreading a sense of horrific beauty.
I hang there in the water, facing him and his entourage, unable to speak. He has truly become one with the ocean, he has discovered all that we ever hoped to. I smile at him, happy that we are finally together, that he lived in without me, did everything I couldn’t, but in that moment, our eyes meet. Rage, barely controlled fury burns behind his dark blue eyes, a thousand storms and hurricanes threaten to spill out at me. Behind it all is a waterfall of pain, of hurt.
Guilt lances through me. I think to move forward, to touch his face, apologize, but the second I move, his face twists with anger. I barely have time to brace myself as he fists his hand and a hundred tonnes of water crushes me.
I am pushed back through kelp and sea grass as my back hits the rough sand at the bottom of the ocean. It takes a moment to regain my breath before I try getting back up.
He is angry. He has every right to be. I made a mistake and-
Another stronger force ripples through the water, and once again it crushes me down, the weight of a thousand whales on my chest. A second is all I get to recover, as he punches the water into me again and again and again.
I do not attempt to fight back or defend myself- the water could never really hurt me in a way that matters. I am a part of it, just as he, and he knows it. It is his rage and desperation at my return that makes him do this. So I let him. And I know too, that I need his forgiveness for my folly.
As the water slams into me continuously, I let my limbs loose, searching for him in the flurry. He is alone now, his entourage gone, his blue figure as bright as the distant moonlight. Once again, I catch his eye. Pearls roll down his face, several more are suspended in the water around him. He’s crying.
A thousand moments flash before me- us, running on the beach, him tripping on the rocks and hurting himself, crying human tears. Us, climbing the trees that surrounded the orphanage, falling down and brushing ourselves, crying and laughing at the same time, human tears.
But after we left for the ocean, he never cried. Not once. The ocean was a place we were free, where nothing could hurt us. Neither of us cried.
But here we are, in the water, and I am the reason for his tears. I wonder how many pearls already lay in the depths, released during the long time I was away.
With a start, I realize that the pearls are leaking out of my eyes too, embedded into the sand with the force of the water.
We stay like that for a long time, as he pounds on relentlessly. Eons pass, the glimmering silver light of the moon and whirling water the only constant, as finally, the water slows down, slower and slower until it is not of more force than waves lapping at feet on the beach.
As the water clears, I see his figure, blurred at the edges, above me. He is but a few feet away. I push my thoughts towards him.
Brother, I say. Brother, I missed you. I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I made a mistake. We both- both paid for it. I’m sorry.
He glides towards me, lifting his face up and in that moment, I know we both are thinking of the past.
The first time we’d been taken to the ocean was when we were four, along with the other orphans. At first, we had been delighted with our tails, red and blue and glittering, and we had swum around, splashing water at each other. It was by sheer luck that no one saw us. We had returned, again and again, to explore more of the ocean.
But then one day, he got sick. Very sick. He vomited after eating anything and his viral fever didn’t reduce even after the nurse’s special remedy. He confessed to me when she had gone after checking up on him that he felt like he was walking on knives when he moved. He said he knew why- it was the ocean. He had to go back to the ocean. It’s our real home, he said. We both belong there.
But why wasn’t I sick then? He said he thought if I stayed here long enough, it would affect me too. Didn’t I realise it? We were of the ocean. We belonged in the water!
We snuck out two days later, after I couldn’t stand seeing him in so much pain. Somehow, we made it to the ocean. The moment we stepped inside, a laugh of relief erupted from him. For some time we couldn’t stop swimming around delightedly, dancing with the fish, going round the whales.
We couldn’t go back, he said. He’d die if we went back. The pain would be too much. I wouldn’t last either, he told me. And so we stayed. We found food. We could sleep on the ocean bed. Everything we needed was there.
But it wasn’t enough for me. I missed the feel of solid ground under my feet, the feel of air around me instead of the water. I wanted to go out and relive it, if only for a short time. We argued a lot about it- I wanted to go, he didn’t want me to go.
One day, it got a little heated. We both faced each other, floating apart, with angry looks and crossed arms, little tremors that shook the surface of the sea. I wanted to get out of the water; he wouldn’t let me.
It’s not safe, he said. What if someone sees you come out? They would take you away, you know.
I’ll stay under cover! I protested. I won’t let anyone see me, I swear. And I’ll be back in half an hour- that’s all. I’ll come back and I’ll never go again. I swear it.
I suspected then, that he didn’t want me to leave because it’d mean he would be left alone. I begged him, I would be back soon. I would get him something from the land. Just for a little, please.
He didn’t listen. He kept telling me, it wasn’t safe. It wasn’t safe. I didn’t listen either after that. I stormed off, thinking, he’s just jealous and possessive. I would go if I wanted to. What could he do to stop me?
That was the last we saw each other.
I look at him now, boring into his eyes, pushing images into his mind to show him what happened next.
I stumble out on the beach, and run around on the sand, soaking in the feeling. The sunlight is bright, blinding, burning my skin. It feels amazing. I close my eyes and twirl around, a crazy smile on my face, enjoying the air, the freedom. I don’t hear the soft footsteps from behind me. Two rough hands close around my face, a handkerchief is pressed onto my mouth. I breathe in a sweet smell, before everything goes dark.
I wake up with my tail, in water, and I wonder if I dreamed it all up, but when I move, glass walls obstruct my path. I can’t see anything behind it, only darkness. On all four sides, walls blocking me. An aquarium, I realize, I’m in an aquarium. Once again, everything goes dark.
Days bleed into nights, and time doesn’t seem to exist as I stay there all alone. I hear voices sometimes, from the darkness, making observations- on me. He’s a magnificent creature, a male voice says. Look at those scales, absolutely beautiful.
He speaks the most.
There’s another voice too, that speaks up sometimes, a woman’s voice, gentle and sweet. She talks to me when the man isn’t there, telling me about her life and how she hates being the man’s assistant, and how the world’s coming to hell these days, and always sorry, if you can understand me, sorry. Sorry for trapping you here.
And then it’s silence again, nothing but the sound of my movement.
One day, I try to break the glass, use the water’s power to force my way out, but just as I feel the intensity build in me, the man calls out. Accelerated heartbeat, he says, abnormally high. He’s doing something.
Somehow, the top of the aquarium slides open, a hand reaches out into the water and I feel a sharp pain at the side of my neck. The hand disappears, and everything goes black again.
They make me come out and walk too. Blindfolded, of course. I have to feel for things and use the voices to guide me. They ask me questions. What are you? Are there more of you? I never answer. I have not spoken since the day I was taken.
I do not know how many years pass, how many centuries. I’m left to my thoughts, thoughts that are cruel and harsh and berate me for leaving the ocean in the first place, for leaving my brother. And thoughts that ask why he hasn’t come looking for me, bearing the pain to release me. Why he can’t bear a little hurt to end my ceaseless suffering. The darkness closes in on me, the cramped walls getting tighter. I banish the thoughts. I vow not to think of it ever again.
It is a day no different from the others, I cross my hands and bend on myself, making myself as small as possible. The sound of the upper wall sliding open does not make me move- they have done this before, injecting me with some fluid that makes me hallucinate and fall unconscious. I wait for the pinprick, but it doesn’t come. I look up warily. A woman’s face looks back at me.
She looks worried, panicked even. Her eyes dart to and fro, searching for something I can’t see.
Hey, she whispers. Hey. I’m getting you out of here. Be strong, okay? Just for a little while.
Then the pinprick comes, and the familiar black envelopes me.
I wake up uncomfortable, my bare legs in front of me, rocks poking into my side. The moon shines full and bright in the sky. I breathe in the fresh ocean air, struggling on to my feet, swaying a little. I’m in the corner of the beach, where no one might accidentally spot me.
I move towards the pier, allowing my thoughts to return for the first time in a long, long time. She got me out. An ocean of gratitude wells up in me. And then other thoughts- I know I will see him again, the feeling is rooted in my bones.
I stop the flow of the images now, breaking off the connection. His eyes are wide, and a single pearl, more beautiful than anything I have even seen, escapes the corner of his eye, and then his arms are around me.
Brother, he says, and I wrap my own around him. Brother, I missed you too. I hate you, I hate you so much. I’m so happy you’re back.
We pull back, wobbly smiles on our faces and take in the moment.
I ask him then, where were you? Why didn’t you come find me? And sorry, again and again, sorry. I made a mistake and- it cost the both of us. Forgive me. How did you do the thing with the animals?
He tells me, he tried the first few months. He searched for me on land, even though each step was more painful than the last. He questioned people, and found nothing. For a while, he tells me, turning his head to the side, he was sure I’d left on my own- that I’d gotten sick of him and the water and left.
My heart twists at that, and the familiar crushing guilt hammers down on me.
He doesn’t stop, tells me that after a few more months of looking out for a person that never came, he turned back to the ocean. Went and discovered as much as he could, distracted himself with learning more about the unknown, making it his own.
His eyes glitter as he says this, and then dull again.
But you weren’t there, he tells me. The euphoria didn’t last.
It feels like an accusation. He opens his mouth to continue, but I apologize again, to him and to myself and what we could’ve been together.
I’m sorry. I really am. Forgive me.
He stills and furrows his eyebrows. Still? Whatever for? Brothers don’t ask each other for forgiveness, you know. We don’t say sorry, that’s not how it works. He shakes his head. Come on, now. I have something amazing to show you.
I stare at him, uncertain, but then he grins at me- and I can’t help grinning back.
We swim together into the ocean- and suddenly we are both 6 years old again, exploring the ocean for the first time.