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Salvage

Hey, I’m excited to announce that my novel-length webserial Glamourhai starts tomorrow at 6pm ET. Stop by and check it out!

ETA: Trigger warnings for transphobia.

Aidohán, formerly Skerrie, was dragged before the new king. He had failed to overcome the young challenger, and lost his throne. Such was the way of the Skul Skerrie. What happened next was not.

The new king–Aidohán never even learned his name–tore Aidohán’s seal skin from him and slashed it to pieces. Trapping him forever in human form. He had expected the king to turn on him next. Instead, the king turned his back, saying, “Leave him for salvage.”

Aidohán screamed then. Screamed and fought with every ounce of strength left to him. But he was old, and injured. The guards were young and hale.

They brought him out of Skul Skerrie and to the human realm. With strong ropes, they tied him to the piling of a pier. As the tide was going out, they left him there. Unless someone salvaged him, when the tide returned, it would cover his head, and he would drown.

Throughout the long day, the tide slowly receded until his feet hung in the air, then crept back in, covering first his feet, then legs, hips, stomach… He listened in silence to the humans walking the pier above his head. He thought of calling for help, shouting loud enough for the humans to hear, and come find him. But he feared being salvage more than he feared death. Or thought he did.

When the sun set, the waves were rolling across his chest. The courage, or foolhardiness, that held him silent through the day ebbed with the light. A clean death, he could have faced unflinchingly. A sword, a shark, a hunter’s harpoon even. But to drown, slowly suffocated by the sea which was Ruler and Mother of them all…He would have called for help then. Begged, pleaded, screamed. But the pier was silent. The humans gone. And what little pride he had left would not allow him to weep. So he closed his eyes and waited.

John stuck to the shadows. Going out at night was a foolish risk, but he needed to get away for a while. Needed to get somewhere he could just relax, be himself. He loved his family, and they tried, they really did. But they didn’t understand. After two damn years, he shouldn’t still be hearing, “Joan—oh, sorry, John, can you— ”

He crossed his arms across his chest, flattening his thankfully-small breasts. Maybe this time the docs would come through for him and he’d be able to start on T. Ya just gotta keep going, he told himself, never give up, cause when you give up the fuckers win. Which didn’t keep him from needing a break sometimes.

Lost in thought, he didn’t see the figures standing in the warehouse door until it was too late.

“Hey, Joanie, here for the party?”

“Fuck off, Ned.” He started walking faster.

John’s ex-boyfriend and his friends swung in beside him. “Aw, don’t be like that, hon. I’m just trying to be friendly.”

“I said, fuck off.”

Ned grabbed his arm. John tried to pull away but couldn’t.

“Let go.”

“Make me.”

John rolled his eyes, “What are you, five years old?”

“What you running away from?” Ned spat on the ground. “Real man doesn’t run away. Guess you’re not a real man, hey Joanie?”

John took a deep breath and carefully didn’t think about the knife tucked in his boot. He started carrying it with him after a bad incident last month…

A police car turned down the street, and they all froze. It slowed as it passed the small group. Ned cursed and dropped John’s arm.

“See you next time, Joanie,” he called as he and his buddie headed back to the warehouse. John nodded to the officer—no one he recognized—and hurried down the street. It was only two more blocks to the pier.

The sea was calm. If it hadn’t been, the waves would have been rolling over his face long since. Instead, the swells passed just under his jaw—if he lifted his chin as high as he could. When Aidohán heard the first steps on the pier, he thought he was dreaming.

“Ho!” The cry was torn from his lips. An unusually large wave washed over his head. He sputtered and spat sea water, gulping for air. Pride tried to rear up, but was strangled by survival. “Under the pier! Help!”

Only silence answered him. Silence and the sound of footsteps, walking away.

John enjoyed visiting the pier at night. It was peaceful and quiet. He could watch the stars and forget about the shit he dealt with everyday. Just be for a while.

He hadn’t gotten halfway across the pier when he heard a voice. He cursed. There went some time alone. But looking around, he didn’t see anyone. He heard the voice again. This time it sounded like it came from below. From under the pier. Shaking his head, he walked off the pier and went looking for the stairs down to the beach. Some fool kid might have gotten stuck down there when the tide came in.

It was pitch black under the pier, and there was nothing to hear but the waves slowly rolling in. John nearly decided he had been imagining thing. Then he heard a sputtering cough. Cursing, John plunged into the waves. “Where are you?” he called.

After a moment, “Here.”

John hurried towards the voice, first wading, then swimming. “Keep calling!” he yelled, then had to spit out sea water.

“I’ll try.” A pause. “Over here.” A pause. “The waves are too high.”

It was the calmest sea John had seen in months, but by then he was close enough to see what looked like a head, leaning against a piling. As he watched a wave rolled over it. When the wave passed the voice cried again, “Here!”

Now that he had a target, John was able to reach the person before another wave passed. “I’m here. Just grab hold of me. I’ll get you to shore.”

“I can’t. I’m tied.” Up close, John could see the face more clearly. Long brown hair floating in the water to matched the beard on the chin held above the waves. For a moment, John couldn’t understand. Then his eyes widened in horror.

Taking a deep breath, he ducked below the waves, feeling in the dark water for whatever had the stranger trapped. It took only a moment. He was cocooned in rope from nipples to knees. Pulling his knife, John went to work on the first coil. The rope and the water both fought him, but he managed to get half way through by the time he needed to go up for air.

As he gasped for breath, the stranger watched him with despairing eyes. “Not enough time.”

John ignored him and dove again. It took him a moment to find the cut, but he managed to finish sawing through the first loop. It uncoiled and fell away. More rope remained.

Surfacing, he saw the waves were getting larger. As the trough of a wave passed, the man, or at least, he presents as a man, and isn’t that a stupid thought to have at a time like this, gasped for breath. “Go.” he said. “Don’t…” another wave cut him off, but John knew what he would have said. A whisper in the back of his mind agreed—it was foolish to risk his life for a stranger. If he got himself tangled in the rope, or a wave bashed his head into the piling, they’d both die. Even more foolish to risk his life pointlessly, for a stranger he had little hope of saving. He heard the whisper, and ignored it.

Never give up. Another dive.

Two dives later, he had cleared the ropes to the strangers waist. He was tiring, losing focus. So at first he didn’t realize that the waves had completely covered the man’s head. Cursing, nearly weeping from exhaustion, he took a breath and grabbed the strangers chin. Leaning down into the water, he pressed his lips against the stranger’s and opened his mouth. Air passed between them. The breath of life, John’s mind conjured the phrase from somewhere.

He dove again. The rope that fell away this time freed the stranger’s hands. The stranger grabbed him. John cursed and kicked—if the guy didn’t let go they would both drown. A hand grabbed his wrist. Another tried to wrench the knife away from him. Unable to fight any longer, praying the guy knew what he was doing, John let go. As soon as he released the knife, the stranger grabbed it, letting John swim for the surface and fresh air.

A single breath and he dove again. The stranger was bent over in the water. Sawing at the remaining ropes. As John came near, he exhaled, a stream of bubbles tickling John’s nose. Desperate, John grabbed him, pressing lip to lip and giving the maniac air. For a moment, they held each other in a desperate embrace. Then John lunged for the surface. Understanding came. He would breathe for both of them, while the stranger cut the last of the ropes.

A few minutes later, the stranger flailed free. For a moment, he just floated in the water. John grabbed his arm, pulling him to the surface. Clinging to eachother, they swam for shore.

Aidohán lay on the sand, desperately dragging air into his abused lungs. Out of the corner of his eye, he watched his salvager sputter beside him. By mutual agreement, they had staggered out of the shadow of the pier before collapsing. Under the water, Aidohán would have sworn he felt small breasts press against him, but in the moonlight it was a man who knelt on the sand and wrung water from the hem of a brightly colored shirt. In the end, he ignored the confusion. The stranger had salvaged him from the sea. That was all that mattered.

And he was delaying.

He forced himself onto his knees. If anyone had asked him that morning, he would have said that lowering himself to kneel before another would be the hardest thing possible. It was ironic to find how hard it was to RAISE himself to his knees. But he managed it. Managed it and bowed his head to the stranger before him. “Thank you… Master.”

His salvager shook his head, spraying water across the sand. “What did you say?”

“I said, thank you, Master.” Remembering the feeling of breasts, Aidohán asked, “Should I say Mistress?”

“I am not a woman!”

Aidohán heard the sea’s rumble, and held up a placating hand. “Master, then. I meant no offence.”

John blinked. “You…you don’t care?” Then realized how stupid he sounded. The poor guy was nearly dead, and probably shocky. How could he have any clue that John was trans?

The guy chuckled. “In one day, I have lost my throne, been left for salvage, and rescued by a human even as the sea stole my breath. Whether my rescuer is a man or woman is not exactly a concern at the moment, Master.”

For one moment, the idea of someone who just accepted John as he was shut his brain down. Then the rest of the guy’s words registered.

“Hold on a bloody moment. Master? Throne? What are you talking about, anyway?”

The stranger looked up at him. His eyes seemed to shine green in the light of the full moon. “I was king in Skul Skerrie. Early this morning I lost a challenge. The new king ordered me brought here and left as salvage. You pulled me from the waves. By the law of the sea, I am yours now.” The words were full of bitterness, but the man took a deep breath and said, “I mean my thanks truly, Master.”

“Oo-kay. I think we need to get you to a doctor.” Did near-drowning cause hallucinations? John thought he remembered something about divers hallucinating if they stayed down too long.

The man looked down and rubbed at the raw patches the rope had left on his skin. He moved like something was wrong with his side, too. Definitely needed to get this guy to a doctor. “If that is your wish, Master.”

John took a deep breath. “Don’t call me that. I’m glad I was there to help, and I’m gonna stick around and make sure you land on your feet, but I’m no ones ‘Master.’ You’re no ‘salvage,’ or whatever you call it, of mine.”

Aidohán gaped. In all his nightmares, in all his worst fears and imagings, never had he imaged this. He would have begged, but pride closed his throat. Head bowed, he crouched on the sand and waited for the end. It came quickly. With a roar the sea reached out and grabbed its stolen prize. He didn’t bother trying to fight the wave that dragged him from the beach and pulled him to the Deep. He was cast off, not even worth claiming as salvage. At least, it would be quick.

John had no warning. One moment, the stranger was staring at him like John had just stuck a knife in him, the next a monster wave knocked him head over heels. He caught a single glimpse of the stranger, an arm flailing in the waves. Then he was gone.

Without stopping to think, John dove after him. Two steps in it was like the sand disappeared under him, and he struggled through a malestrom of water far to deep to be a few feet from the beach. Blind in the dark water, he flailed desperately. Seeking air, seeking the stranger, seeking something to grab hold of. But there was nothing.

Aidohán floated in the dark of the Deep, feeling the burn of his lungs and waiting for the end. The sea cradled him one last time, and with utter hopelessness came a kind of peace. A few minutes more and it would be over.

Suddenly, someone else was there in the deep with him. Even in human form, he could hear the vibrations of their flailing. See them in the phospherescent outline of the plankton they disturbed.

He recognized the shape. The human who rescued him and cast back to the sea. Bitter grief nearly had him turning his back on his might-have-been master. But there was no point in that now. The human probably didn’t know what he had done.

There should have been no way for the human to enter the Deep, and there was no way out now that he was here. The sea did not easily release what it had claimed.

With powerful strokes, he approached the half-seen shape and grabbed a flailing arm. They were both dead, but they did not need to die alone. The man stilled, and Aidohán pulled him close. The burning in his chest was unbearable. He couldn’t hold his breath any longer. He found the human’s lips, and pressed his against them. As he released his last breath, he felt the man’s lips move.

The feel of bearded lips against his pulled John out of his panic. He didn’t know what had happened. Didn’t really need to. He and the stranger were underwater–again. Even as his lungs screamed, his mind and body reacted. “Salvage, then.” The words bubbled from his lips, lost in the water. He didn’t care, he hooked an arm under the other’s shoulder and started swimming. Didn’t matter where. Didn’t matter that it was hopeless. You never gave up. “Salvage us both, I will.”

Aidohán awoke to the feel of sand under his belly and an arm across his back. Stunned, he sat up slowly and looked around. Next to him, the man who had twice pulled him from the sea coughed weakly.

Not knowing what else to do, Aidohán helped him sit up. The man coughed up a pint of sea water, then looked at him with bleerly eyes.

“The laws of the sea, hey?”

“Yes, Master.” Aidohán shuddered.

“Call me John.” John slowly stood up, and offered Aidohán his hand. “Ah…will that be a problem?” He looked nervously over his shoulder at the now-calm sea.

“Not if it is your wish…John.” Thankfully, the sea stayed quiet.

“Ah…I’m thinking it’s best we stick together for a bit. But there is something you should know.”

John pulled up his shirt, and Aidohán could clearly see that he did, indeed, have breasts. What he couldn’t see was why his salvager thought it mattered. He shrugged. Yes, it was strange for a man to have breasts, but it was no concern of his.

John stared at him a moment then stood and offered him a hand. Aidohán took it, and leveraged himself to his feet. “Let’s get you some clothes, and then I think I should hear about these ‘laws of the sea.’

“Hey, what’s your name?”

John found a tatty pair of sweats someone had tossed in a dumpster. It wasn’t much, but it covered things until they could get Aidohán some actual clothes. They’d need to call the police, but somehow he was pretty sure his ‘salvage’ wasn’t going to turn up on any missing persons list.

Distracted (again) he didn’t realize they were taking the same route home until Ned called out to him from a doorway.

“Hey, Joanie. Where’d you find this weirdo?”

John froze. He couldn’t deal with this right now. He couldn’t…

Aidohán strode forward, still favoring his left side. He grabbed Ned by the front of his shirt and lifted the bigger man into the air. “His name is John.” He waited a moment. Ned kicked and flaied in the air, “Okay, okay, I’m sorry!” Aidohán set Ned back on his feet, gentle as anything, and brushed him off. “I think you have somewhere else to be. Now.”

Ned took off.

John started breathing again. “I can usually handle that myself. And you aren’t in any shape to be picking fights.”

Aidohán ducked his head and chuckled. “You pulled us both from the Deep. I believe you could do anything, if you wished. That doesn’t me you should need to.

“And I fought for my throne for 30 years. If I couldn’t intimidate a fool like that while half-dead, I would have been all dead long ago.”

They walked on in silence. Each, in their own way, thinking that they could get used to the strange twist their lives had taken.

And under the pier, a ripped and tatted seal skin floated on the waves. Lost and waiting to be found.

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