Beyond the Sea

written and illustrated by Iron Eater


Obed heard the blare of the outboard motor long before he saw the boat itself, and it was all he could do to keep from swimming out to meet it in person. There could be many reasons someone might come out all this way in a small watercraft that had nothing to do with him, after all; sometimes they’d see fishermen hoping to catch sharks, other times photographers wanting to capture the look of the reef. One time it had even been a naturalist who’d wanted to study the screaming beach birds that crowded the north shore and crapped on everything. For a piece of land so small it sometimes wasn’t even a blip on the maps they got a surprising amount of visitors.

He watched over the island between visits from the outside world, writing things down longhand every time there was a storm or a whale spouted off-shore or a piece of garbage got tangled up with the usual flotsam, and once a day he’d crank up the hand-powered part of the solar generator to make sure the equipment never went all the way dead. Neither took much of his time. While it wasn’t one of his official duties, he also made sure that Dakkar didn’t get into anything, because while a remote island could be a perfectly acceptable home for a boy of his age, a research station’s record storage room probably wasn’t. Eke would never let him hear the end of it if word got back to her that their son managed to eat an entire season’s worth of field notes.

The motor drew closer, getting gradually louder until someone killed it with a rattling fart of machinery, replacing the buzzing with the rhythmic splash of oars in water. That had to be Aaron, then: he always rowed the last few dozen yards to keep from damaging the reefs or julienning any wildlife.
Obed sometimes wondered if Aaron was extra-careful on general principle or if it was because he knew Obed and Dakkar regularly swam in the shallows around the island. Either way, it was thoughtful of him.

Obed hauled himself out of the water and waited on the pier. He waved to Aaron when the latter glanced his way, and beamed when Aaron waved back between swipes of the oars. The boat itself was loaded down with enough supplies to replenish what they’d gone through and then some. That was a good sign, then, since Aaron only brought the bare minimum with him if it was a simple data-collection visit; this time he had what looked like multiple changes of clothes in addition to the usual food and equipment, which almost definitely meant he’d be staying for a few days. What had started out a nice day was only promising to get nicer.

He waited until Aaron had moored the boat and stepped fully off the deck before enveloping him in a fierce hug. Aaron hugged back and gave Obed a peck on the cheek; he smelled like sweat, processed seaweed bars, and engine fumes, so he had to have been away from the mother platform for a few days. Exhaustion seemed to ooze from Aaron’s every pore and he looked like he wanted to sleep for twenty hours straight. That was okay, though, especially if he was going to be there longer than just an evening or two.

“It’s good to see you,” said Obed. It had been a while since he’d used any English–it was important that Dakkar learn the language of his grandmothers first, he and Eke had agreed–and it took him a moment to line up the words in his head. Aaron always understood and never made fun of his accent. They broke their hug but kept their fingers laced together.

“Good to see you, too.” Aaron’s smile was genuine but weary. “It’s really good having a place to sit down that isn’t moving under my feet.”

“You look tired. I’ll help move your things.” Obed grudgingly tore himself away to pick up one of the coolers piled up on the deck; coolers usually had things related to specimen samples in them, or materials used to acquire said samples in the first place, so leaving them out in the weather probably wasn’t the best idea. The way the noonday sun beat down on Obed’s back, it felt like the day was only going to get hotter.

Aaron didn’t bother waiting for Obed to return with a dolly, instead grabbing a cooler of his own as he walked next to him. “Will we be seeing Eke today?” he asked, hesitantly.

Obed shrugged. “Not sure. She’s been going out to look at the white smokers. If she’s back near the surface before you leave again, maybe you can talk.” He grinned. “If you’d bothered to radio ahead first I might’ve been able to ask her to stick around.”

“I tried when I first set out,” said Aaron. “Someone doesn’t check the station call logs very often.”

It was true, as Obed generally had as little to do with the equipment rooms as possible aside from making sure everything was powered and wasn’t displaying any weird messages, but he still made a show of how deeply, irrevocably wounded he was by Aaron’s callousness. Aaron wasn’t tired enough not to laugh. Obed had missed that sound.

They chatted and teased one another until every piece of luggage from cooler to duffel bag had been unloaded from the boat. Surprisingly, Aaron didn’t insist on staying inside once he slung the last jug of purified saline solution into the fridge room, instead helping himself to a beer (also kept in the fridge room, because it just made sense) and walking out to sit on the end of the pier with his feet in the water. Obed seated himself next to him. They were quite a mismatched pair, one tall and brown and clad in nothing but a sarong; the other shorter, lighter, and wearing the durable vest-and-cargo-shorts uniform of the travelling scientist. Here on the island nobody cared.

Aaron sat in silence as he drank his beer. Birds called around them and the tide sloshed and hissed. Sometimes the can would click against Aaron’s teeth when he took a sip. Obed wanted to ask him about everything that had happened since they’d last seen each other, how things back on the platform were doing, what all was new on the mainland…. There were a thousand different questions he had, but they could wait. For now he was happy enough watching the sea breeze ruffle Aaron’s sweat-spiked hair. After Aaron finished his beer he crushed the can into a little aluminum disc and tucked it into one of his many front vest pockets, then put his arm around Obed’s side, Obed being a bit too tall for Aaron to get an arm across his shoulders.

They sat that way for a while, not talking, and neither of them had to.

illustrated by Iron Eater

The silence was broken when Dakkar swam up to the side of the pier and lifted his arms insistently, making a tremendous racket in something that wasn’t quite real words. He’d mimic things he heard, sometimes adding his impressions of Obed’s voice, but it was going to be a while before his gibberish started making sense. Obed leaned down and scooped him up onto dry land; Dakkar rewarded his kindness by ignoring his father entirely and clamping on to Aaron’s leg with as much enthusiasm as a toddler could muster. Dakkar wasn’t very clear on how hugging non-family worked just yet.

“He’s getting big!” said Aaron, laughing.

Obed peeled Dakkar off and held him closely. “Too big,” he agreed. “He’s still a better swimmer than he is walking, but he gets into everything anyway. His mother calls him a delightful handful.” Dakkar chirped and gurgled; English or not, he had a knack for knowing when he was the subject of conversation. “Yes, I’m talking about you,” said Obed to him in their own language. “Are you going to be good while Uncle Aaron is visiting us?

Yes!” said Dakkar.

And are you going to behave when Mommy comes to get you?


“We’re going to have to feed him to the lizards, it looks like,” said Obed, raising his voice so he could be heard over the happy squeals of his son in the throes of being tickled. “This one’s hopeless. I’ll talk to Eke and we’ll look into getting a new one brewing.”

That got another laugh out of Aaron. Whenever he talked about his work back home he described himself as the serious, business-first type, but ever since they’d met Obed had always known him as a cheerful man an instant away from breaking into a fresh grin. Not that Obed minded.

Aaron tapped a finger against Dakkar’s forehead. “I’m afraid you’ll have to keep him, hopeless or not. Endangered species.” Obed groaned in mock irritation and Aaron waved him off. “I’m sorry, but as a naturalist my first interest is the continuation of the Dagoniformes selkii species, whether or not the members of said species appreciate it. That goes for you, too, Obed.” Aaron wiped his forehead, now glittering with salt. “This Homo sapiens has had enough of the sun for one day, though. Let’s go inside.”

Obed wasn’t about to argue with that.

Once they had all retired to the shelter of the station Aaron excused himself to shower. Obed put Dakkar in the water-filled aquarium that served as a playpen, which Dakkar responded to in typical fashion by immediately trying to escape. They had a stern, if mostly one-sided, conversation about how staying in the tank was important when visiting Uncle Aaron’s house, and Dakkar changed many different colors to voice how he was too a big boy now, but in the end he accepted that they had to wait for Uncle Aaron to tell them what they could touch and what they couldn’t before he could be out of the glass again.

It couldn’t have been longer than fifteen minutes, but in the time it took Aaron to finish washing up Obed could have sworn he felt continents rise and fall. Being a good influence on his son was such a chore at times. Aaron had changed clothes, though it was just another variation on the shirt and shorts he’d rowed in wearing with the same vest pulled over the top of it; his hair had barely been given a cursory towel-drying, leaving it to lie close to his head like a dark, spiny halo. Beads of water still clung to his skin like little stars. Obed sighed. Why did the most handsome ones have to live on dry land?

He pulled up a chair next to the crate Obed was sitting on and collapsed like a sack of pudding. It was like this every time he visited, and no matter how many times others suggested he consider learning to rig a sail, or use a smaller craft to get from ship to shore, or anything else that didn’t require rowing to the docks, he’d brush it off as being “a chance to get some exercise.” So Aaron would be exhausted, his hosts would dote on him, and more often than not he’d be back on deck within forty-eight hours to get back to the research platform with his latest crop of findings until it was time to do it all over again. Obed viewed him as an object lesson in the need for tempering one’s passions with the odd dollop of practical advice. It didn’t mean he loved Aaron any less, of course; after everything they’d been through together it would take a lot more than just being stubborn for Aaron to drive him off.

Dakkar did a somersault in his tank and chirped a greeting when Aaron pressed his palm against the aquarium glass. Aaron still had a large scar on the side of his left hand where Dakkar, frightened and disoriented from getting caught in a fishing net, had once bitten him. It was definitely one way to be introduced to a new species. Aaron always refused to hear Obed’s apologies, claiming it was all part of being a visitor to the natural world and how each lasting injury made him more like Steve Irwin; Obed didn’t know who that was, but he was grateful to this mysterious figure who could inspire Aaron to laugh off getting maimed by needle-sharp baby teeth.

“Hey, squiddo,” said Aaron, doing his best to use a funny voice despite being tired. “You miss me any?” Dakkar giggled. Dagoniformes selkii (it was weird for Obed to think of himself as that, but these days “people” was too broad a term) weren’t actually squids, nor mollusks of any sort, but Obed had been getting used to the concept of wordplay after spending enough time around Aaron. Dakkar peeked out of the top of the tank, glancing pleadingly at Obed, who took the hint.

“So, what stuff is safe, and what should I keep the boy from getting into?” he asked. “I’d be happy to help you unpack, but you’ve got all of–” He waved his hand at the piles of luggage. “–this.

Aaron groaned and rubbed his shoulder. “I was trying not to think about that,” he said. “Anything packed in a soft bag goes in the bedroom, everything else can go in the fridge room for now. I’ll sort it out later.” He leaned back with a crackle of vertebrae. “Throw the deadbolts when you’re done and I don’t think Aqualad can cause too much damage.”

They chatted lightly as Obed pushed, pulled, and otherwise manhandled the materials. The subject was nothing important, mostly how the trip had been and how the island’s weather was this time of year, but the more Obed talked the more comfortable he became. It felt like Aaron had never really left. Given the range of the radio transmitter and the many photos of him stored in the communications room upstairs, Obed supposed Aaron never really had.

It took a lot less time to put things up than it did actually getting them inside, so by the time Aaron was ready to stand back up again everything but two bags had already been stored appropriately. He slung the final pair unceremoniously onto the bed (its sheets freshly-laundered, because Obed was nothing if not a thoughtful host) before collapsing on it himself. “Okay, go ahead and release the kraken,” he said around a mouthful of pillow. One of these days Obed was going to ask him what a kraken was.

Getting Dakkar out of the tank was much easier than getting him into it, and while he couldn’t mimic legs well enough to walk around like his father could, he could slither around at a startling rate. He scooted around the main room until he found Aaron’s boots; Obed lifted them to safety before Dakkar could start chewing on them, much to Dakkar’s dismay. Dakkar had a knack for ignoring the chew toys Aaron brought with him one time in favor of things other people had intentions of using later on. Jaws designed for crushing clam shells were suddenly a lot more of a hindrance than a help when dealing with a nibbly child.

Denied a mouthful of shoe, Dakkar busied himself with scooting along the floor like a tentacle-trailing comet while Obed watched over him from the doorway. He heard Aaron unzip something behind him. The sound went on too long for it to be Aaron’s fly, but he couldn’t help but shiver a little at the thought that maybe, somehow, it was. He glanced over his shoulder as much as he could without taking his eye off Dakkar.

“Did you want to…?” He let the question hang in the air unfinished.

Aaron rolled over to face him. The half-open duffel bag in his hands answered the other question on Obed’s mind. “Obed, there’s nothing I’d like more than to have the gayest of gay sex with you right now, but I am tired,” he said, his energy dribbling away with each word. “Let me get some rest and I’ll get back to you, okay?” He tossed Obed a small package loosely wrapped in twine and newsprint. “I brought something that should keep you out of trouble until then. Let the kid open it.” Yawning, he wrapped the comforter around himself without actually getting under the covers. Humans could be really weird when they slept; Aaron wasn’t about to prove otherwise any time soon.

The package rustled when Obed set it on the floor. Dakkar’s hearing was tuned to hear distant subvocal cues from miles away; it wasn’t as good out of the water, but it was still sharp enough for him to stop climbing up the chair Aaron had abandoned and scurry, belly-down, to intercept it. He peered up at Obed hopefully; Obed’s fingers still lightly touched the top of the parcel, and while Dakkar was a little pistol shrimp of a child he still sometimes paid attention to his father.

Uncle Aaron brought a present,” said Obed. “Now, no putting your mouth on it unless I tell you it’s safe to eat, okay?

Okay,” said Dakkar. He was wiggling his bottom like the cat Obed met on the mainland did just before it pounced on something. It was a shame Eke wasn’t there to see it.

Obed lifted his fingers away from the string and paper. “There you go. Can you figure out how to open it up?

It was more or less a rhetorical question. Dakkar pounced, and it took only a single warning noise from Obed to keep him from using his teeth. His nimble little hands pulled the bow loose after only a try or two–and given how Dakkar had never seen a knot before Obed found himself quite proud of that–and as soon as he learned the newsprint tore like paper, and that this was paper he was allowed to tear, it was all over. Soon Dakkar was lying in the middle of a scrap-print snowdrift with a brightly-colored something resting on his chest.

He lifted it up so Obed could see. “Daddy, what is it?

Obed knelt down to take a look. It was made of several different panels of floppy plastic, each a different color, and when he took it from Dakkar it unfolded into a round, hollow shape. There was a little valve at one end that looked like it could cap itself. He smiled. This he knew how to handle.

Dakkar’s eyes went wide as Obed inflated the beach ball. Lungs that could take breaths as deep as a seal’s came in handy for this sort of thing, and in no time at all it was full and tight like the skin of a drum. They had a brief discussion about how the big color bubble (there wasn’t really a word for it in their language, and why would there be?) was made for playing, not for biting, and how just like a bubble all the air would come out if it touched something sharp or was pushed on too hard. Obed eyed the station interior and added a coda about how unless it was rolling along the ground, a color bubble was an outside toy. Dakkar bounced in place with excitement the entire time.

It seemed cruel to leave him waiting, and if Dakkar got any more wound up he’d probably start keening with glee, so with his son under one arm and the ball under the other Obed headed down to the shore.

Dakkar skittered into the waves almost immediately. “Swim with me!” he demanded. “Do it the right way.

Oh? Am I doing this wrong?” asked Obed, already up past the waist of his sarong in the water. He tossed the ball to Dakkar, who caught it before nodding furiously.

Your fins are all funny! You look like Uncle Aaron, not a people. My daddy’s a people. Mommy said so.

He had been masquerading as a human for a while now, hadn’t he? A boy had the right to recognize a parent now and again. Obed let his chromatophores relax and his mimicry unspool, the long, messy tail of dreadlocks that draped down his back ruffling into gills, and he rubbed his jaw as his teeth stopped looking like the parrotfish-flat nubs humans used for eating. It felt good to have webs between his fingers again. The sarong stayed, though; some dry-land affectations he refused to give up, even when back in his element.

Better?” he asked. It was so much easier to talk when he didn’t have to adjust for a larynx shaped differently than usual.

Dakkar laughed without words, dove down to the sandy bottom, then popped up to breach like a whale. He tossed the ball back with a flip of his tentacles. Obed did him one better by actually leaping from the water to catch the ball, and when he landed the splash was tremendous. Swimming was better with the proper number of limbs.

illustrated by Iron Eater

They played until the sun went down and the sky erupted with stars. Dakkar still wanted more time with the ball, but he’d clearly tired himself out long before; he’d barely caught anything when hunting for his dinner, and he nearly went facedown in the seaweed while grazing on his daily greens. He curled up in his grotto with little complaint. Obed kissed him on the forehead and sang gently to him, singing quiet nonsense rhymes until Dakkar’s eyes closed and his breathing became slow and even. He looked so much like his mother already.

Aaron was still in bed when Obed returned to the station, and he didn’t stir until Obed had already gotten halfway through preparing a simple meal. Fire was amazing stuff. You could cook yourself a fish in the Vailulu’u smokers, but it wasn’t quite the same. It had taken Obed a few tries to figure out how to make pasta come out right; now he was able to prepare noodles and a simple sauce without Aaron guiding his every move, and the look on Aaron’s face when he shambled into the kitchen–his hair sticking straight up on one side like a rooster comb–was worth the trouble.

“I get room service now?” Aaron said around a yawn.

Obed hooked his foot around a chair leg and pulled it out for Aaron. He’d changed back after putting Dakkar to bed; a man had to be prepared. “It’ll sit better in your stomach than an energy bar.” He put a little red sauce on the bottom of a bowl, scooped some noodles on top of it, then drizzled another ladleful of sauce on top of that; after he sprinkled a little generic-green-seasoning-substance over everything, he presented it to Aaron with a smile.

Aaron tucked in eagerly. He’d talked before about how he ate lightly when taking his boat to and from the island, and this time didn’t seem any different. “This is delicious,” he said. “You sure you don’t want any?”

Obed shook his head. “I got the better of a low-flying albatross when we were hunting. I’ll be full for a while.” He picked at a bit of feather still stuck between his teeth. Aaron had gotten used to Obed’s dietary habits fairly early on; Obed supposed a man whose job involved staring at animals all day quickly inured him to the cruelties of nature so long as Obed didn’t insist on sharing the shark pups he brought home.

“Your loss.” Aaron made a huge show of licking his bowl clean. The noise was horrifying, like slurping oysters but several times worse. “I’m glad to see Dakkar doing so well,” he continued once he started on his second helping. “Where is the little guy?”

“Down for the night. He loves that beach ball you gave him,” said Obed.

“Good! That’s good. You know, he’s something of a little ambassador for your species these days.”

“And I’m not?”

Aaron gestured dismissively with his fork. “He’s the one who ended up in all the news stories. You were more of a forced-into-interacting-with-humans-thro

ugh-outside-means case, and that’s nowhere near as charismatic as a cute baby sea monster. Plus, you wear clothes. People would claim you’re biased.”

“Oh, I definitely am,” said Obed, leaning in with what he hoped was his most suggestive smile. He had his human teeth showing, didn’t he? Aaron quirked an eyebrow but didn’t complain, which was a good sign. Obed traced Aaron’s exposed collarbone with his finger. “You don’t seem to mind, though.”

“That I don’t,” Aaron said. He nuzzled Obed’s hand. “Now about that gayest of gay sex…” The bowl of over-sauced pasta found itself scooted to the side of the table in favor of Aaron pulling Obed closer.

Kissing a human was different from kissing a normal person. There were far too many specifics to count, but the big ones were how their mouths were shaped strangely, how you had to remember they had (at best) three holes for oxygen to get in through, and how their tongues were big floppy meat flaps that could barely stick out past their lips at all. Obed had learned how to manage, though. He ran his fingers (unwebbed, unclawed) through Aaron’s hair (which was not secretly a mass of camouflaged gill tendrils) as he did his best to pin Aaron to the chair. Aaron continued not to complain.

They left the kitchen in mild disarray as they orbited one another, their bedward advance pausing every so often for one to press the other against a wall in order to get a better angle on a lip or shoulder. Aaron had made the bed before he’d staggered out to dinner, but he probably shouldn’t have bothered; the way he writhed once Obed got him on his back mussed them almost instantly. He raised his thigh to grind against Obed’s crotch. Obed shivered and moaned into his mouth.

When their lips parted again Aaron chuckled, low and self-satisfied. “Missed me?”

“Yesss…” rasped Obed as he rubbed against him. Cargo shorts were not the sexiest of evening wear, but the material of his sarong was so thin it didn’t matter. He rolled his hips with the anxiousness of a teenager. “It’s been a long time.”

Aaron looked surprised. “Really? No one else from Eke’s comes out this way?”

“Sometimes. I like you best, though.” It was true. He enjoyed it when the others would visit, especially when someone would agree to watch Dakkar while he swam out past the shallows with an obliging friend or two, but that was just something fun to do with friends. Aaron had never had to flee from a hungry sperm whale or worry about being menaced by one of Eke’s rivals, but he’d put himself in a very human kind of danger–the sort that could have meant he’d never be able to so much as shuffle a stack of papers without being put away–to get Dakkar home, and that meant the world to Obed.

That had been a long time ago, though, when Dakkar wasn’t even talking in his own language yet. Things were better now. It was no time to dwell on the past when there were more pressing matters, such as the one tenting khaki fabric against his hip.

He nibbled the curve of Aaron’s ear and smiled when he got a purr in response. The purr became a lower, more insistent sound when Obed began tracing the inner contours with the tip of his tongue. Aaron was wearing a new set of plugs, these made out of some kind of green rock with fierce little faces carved into them, and the stretched skin of his lobes was still sensitive enough to get a response when Obed stroked them with a feather-light touch. Human ears were weird and complicated, but they had the decency to make up for being annoying to mimic with how fun they were to play with.

At some point Aaron had taken his vest off, and the crushed beer can still tucked inside one of the pockets clanked dully when the vest slid onto the floor. Obed snaked a hand up Aaron’s shirt to touch his skin and reacquaint himself with every bit of Aaron’s torso. Aaron was a large man in a small man’s body, with a wiry frame that belied how densely-packed he was and how delightfully parts of him squished when pressed. His tan skin had a slightly leathery texture to it in places from all the long hours he spent in the sun. Why humans who didn’t have the equipment to feed their children had nipples was something of a mystery–eyespots, maybe–but they were fun to play with, and Aaron made a lot of happy little gasps every time one of them got tweaked or caressed. The fine dusting of hair on his chest was something Obed’s kinsmen simply couldn’t offer. He also had entirely the wrong number of ribs, but whatever, Obed had gotten used to it.

He peeled the shirt off Aaron and sent it to join the vest, leaving them lying stomach to stomach in the yellow sodium light of the hallway. Another few rummagings left the shorts’ zipper pulled open and Aaron’s cock pulled free to arc over his belly. His long lashes hid his eyes in shadow as he lounged. He fumbled with the knot securing Obed’s sarong in place as he muttered to himself. Obed couldn’t hide his grin as Aaron fought with the fabric. It was a heated battle, but in the end Aaron won after having to untangle himself from the wave-patterned skirts. He actually seemed to have forgotten his raging erection for a moment as he admired Obed’s now fully naked figure.

When he’d first started passing himself off as a human, Obed hadn’t really thought to much about what all his dick should look like. Humans were, to use the technical term, kind of icky, prone to rubbing things against other things with all the sexual appetite of dolphins and the bad manners to match. Things had been nice and simple and easily concealed beneath a three-piece suit until Aaron came along. Aaron had made things difficult. He wasn’t so much worried about upsetting Eke–she had long since established that so long as he took good care of Dakkar she didn’t mind who he played with–as he was upsetting Aaron, because if there was anything he’d learned from his time on the surface it was that humans would spook at the slightest provocation. Through some whim of evolution he was blessed with something that looked more or less like the pictures he’d found during some extremely awkward research; aside from having to move his testes to be on the outside (which, while useless for swimming, was kind of fun once he got used to it) he didn’t have to do anything other than maintain his usual color and texture. A few private tests in his hotel bathroom had verified that it worked exactly the way he assumed it would. When the time came to thank Aaron for everything he’d done, Obed hadn’t heard any complaints.

The fact that they kept seeing each other after that was something of an added bonus.

“So,” said Aaron, his breaths heavy, “you have any requests?” He wet his lips with deliberate slowness. “Because I’m sure I can think of something.” Aaron was politer than any dolphin.

“Show me,” said Obed, and Aaron did.

He pulled Obed down to straddle him again, their shafts rubbing against each other, and Aaron helped that along by squeezing them together in one hand. His other hand pulled Obed’s head down (careful not to tear any concealed gill filaments, because Aaron was so thoughtful), though it wasn’t for a kiss like Obed thought (not that he didn’t expect surprises, because Aaron was so clever). Instead, Aaron ran his tongue along Obed’s neck before placing a nip just below his ear. After that Aaron alternated light kisses with fiercer ones, sometimes leading into or out of a fresh set of affections with a coy little lick that made Obed shudder. This was nice. Obed had asked the occasional visiting friend to try it themselves, but they never quite managed to duplicate the way Aaron did it. It must have been something to do with the inherent weirdness of human tongues.

Aaron’s hand stroked them with long, casual movements that seemed uninterested in actually getting either of them off. Obed rolled his hips against him. He strained and tried to coax any extra friction he could out of Aaron’s callused palm, both through angles and through urgency, but it was no use: that just made Aaron stop entirely, an impish little grin on his face. He released Obed’s hair and waggled a finger at him (which Obed refused to admit he enjoyed, because Aaron was so frustrating) before putting his hand behind his head and stroking them both again. Obed clawed his fingers into the sheets and gave in. If Aaron could have his fill of fun maybe they’d be able to get something accomplished.

“Excited?” whispered Aaron in his ear. They were lying cheek to cheek, Obed’s forehead resting on the pillow and his eyes screwed shut, but he could still feel Aaron’s grin. Obed nodded. Aaron’s grin grew bigger. “Good.” He nipped at Obed’s neck again as he chuckled to himself. “Make you a deal: you do something nice for me, and I’ll do something extra-nice for you.”

That sounded like an extraordinarily dangerous deal. Obed, of course, agreed.

Aaron released their cocks, though not before thumbing Obed’s tip. He looked pleased at the smear of moisture it left against the meat of his thumb, examining it this way and that, then licked it clean and laced his fingers behind his head. He wiggled his toes. “Do your worst,” he said. The way he looked Obed straight in the eye as he said that, to say nothing of that sly expression he’d adopted, was hot to the point of being unfair. Obed decided that given his subject it behooved him to approach his end of the bargain from a more scientific point of view.

Take balls, for example. They were clearly left on the outside for playing with; Obed could think of no other reason anyone would bother with such an inconvenient arrangement. He weighed Aaron’s in his hand and kneaded them gently (as way back when during his pre-reveal solo experimentation he’d found out what happened if one was not gentle with the damn things), letting his fingers brush against the light coat of bristles Aaron had there and tease at the soft, loose skin. There were so many textures! All it took was the lightest of squeezes to make something new and interesting happen. He glanced up at Aaron’s face, which was still far too smug for its own good, though now and again a ripple of joy ruined the effect. A good sign, for certain, but it could be better.

He propped himself up on his elbows to grip Aaron with his free hand, then neatly enveloped the head of Aaron’s cock with his mouth. Aaron made a low, happy moan which Obed could feel vibrating through his entire body. Success! He swiped his tongue around the glans and savored the taste of Aaron’s anticipation, which was another thing he couldn’t exactly experience with just his friends. Obed liked the way his kind tasted, but the sweet, slightly alkaline flavor just wasn’t the same as the sharp, musky tang a human–or at least a human with a very similar diet to Aaron’s–produced. Aaron smelled rich, peppery, and horny, all in the nicest possible way. After a quick self-check to make sure nothing sharp had been left anywhere sensitive, Obed sucked Aaron further in.

Being out of the water meant they couldn’t get up to anything really acrobatic, and Aaron would probably need a scuba tank to get the most out of that sort of arrangement, so Obed had decided to make up for it by putting all his efforts into good, solid fundamentals. He kept his lips firmly sealed around Aaron’s cock but was careful they never got so tense that there wasn’t any give. When pulling back his tongue brushed the sensitive underside of Aaron’s shaft, and when pushing forward he applied just enough suction to pull Aaron in more easily without chafing. Sometimes he’d pump the base of Aaron’s cock with his hand and sometimes he didn’t, and sometimes he’d use his free hand to toy with Aaron’s balls and sometimes he didn’t; it was all about knowing when less was more and when more was more.

Aaron whined and panted, the harsh light from the hall casting pools of shadow on his arms as he strained to keep his hands to himself. He hadn’t yet shaved the whiskers he’d grown during his trip and his stubble made an interesting sound as it rasped against the sheets. Sweat gleamed on his skin in spite of the cool evening breeze. Obed smiled with his eyes (his mouth being occupied with more pressing affairs) and started moving faster. It was fierce and straightforward, letting himself take the time to build Aaron up instead of rushing to the finish line. This time he didn’t have to worry about packing everything he wanted to do into a single evening.

It wasn’t long before he heard what he’d been aching to hear for a good two and a half months.

“Oh, God,” Aaron whispered. “Obed. Obed, I’m close.” Close wasn’t close enough, though, and Obed jerked Aaron as fiercely as he dared until he heard Aaron gasp and felt a warm, familiar pulsing against his tongue. He swallowed until there was nothing left for him. Obed released Aaron gently and placed a kiss against the side of his cock. Based on how much there had been, he suspected he hadn’t been the only one who’d been looking forward to Aaron’s island visit.

Obed elbow-crawled up to lie beside Aaron on the bed. Aaron panted as the wind returned to him, having been knocked breathless by his orgasm as usual, and he scooted back to lie against Obed with a glazed but happy expression.

He needed a try or two before he was able to speak properly. “That was something nice, all right,” said Aaron. He nuzzled Obed’s neck and leaned in to steal a chaste kiss, which was followed by something a lot less dainty with a lot more tongue. Obed wondered if Aaron could taste himself on Obed’s lips. “Give me a minute to clear my head and it’ll be your turn.” Obed wasn’t about to argue with an opportunity to cuddle his favorite human. Lying there with the sound of the ocean in his ears and the warmth of Aaron in his arms, he couldn’t think of anywhere he’d rather be.

The mechanics of Obed’s turn had involved him not being on the bed at all; Aaron had suggested he lean his back against a wall for it, which had required a quick test to see which of the bedroom walls was most comfortable for that sort of thing. Obed brushed his hair over one shoulder to keep from pinning the sensitive tendrils between himself and the prefab polybuilding material. Aaron got on his knees between Obed’s legs and grinned up at him.

“I think this’ll be fun,” he said, already recovered and half-hard again, “but let me know if it ever isn’t, okay? We can always do something else instead.” Obed, still not wholly sure what was so strange about Aaron being down there aside from their respective positions, nodded.

Aaron kissed the inside of Obed’s thigh just above his knee. He rubbed his cheek against Obed’s skin; the stubble was equal parts stinging-rough and tickly, not something Obed saw himself begging for in the future but hardly unpleasant. Another kiss found its way a little ways up his leg, then another slightly above that, each one a little bit higher than the last but never quite reaching his cock. It was a nice little game that was frustrating in a fun way. This was what Aaron had been worried about?

It was then that Aaron leaned forward to cup Obed’s behind (which he’d heard on good authority was a very nice one, particularly if one took into account the fact that by nature he didn’t have an ass at all) and pressed his lips against Obed’s stomach just below where he’d placed the simalcrum of a navel. He kneaded Obed’s ass like the bread dough they’d made the last time Aaron visited. Things got very interesting once Aaron slipped a finger down the cleft between Obed’s cheeks; he ended up with his thumb up against Obed’s perineum and the pad of his long middle finger resting against Obed’s pucker. Well. Aaron looked up at Obed again, his expression wordlessly asking permission. He was, after all, politer than any dolphin.

Obed nodded and Aaron’s face lit up. Aaron reached into one of his bags and rummaged around inside before pulling out a little bottle with a purple cap. He thumbed it open with a click and drizzled a good amount of clear fluid on his fingers, then smeared the excess around where his hand had been before. Obed focused on relaxing himself; when Aaron started cautiously working a finger into him it slipped in easily and comfortably up to the second knuckle. A sigh coaxed itself from Obed’s lips. He’d done far more than this with his own kind, of course, both giving and receiving with cocks and hands and tentacles alike, but it was different out of the water. Usually he didn’t have to concentrate on mimicking a pair of legs. At least this time nobody had to mind their claws.

This was not enough for Aaron by a long shot. He licked at Obed’s cock like he had to finish it before it melted; licks gave way to suckling at the tip, which in turn metamorphosed into Aaron’s bobbing his head furiously along nearly the entirety Obed’s length. Human tongues made that feel weird, too, but Obed had found it to be a taste worth acquiring, especially given how Aaron not only wasn’t bothered by their mutual differences but relished them. Things were so much easier now that neither of them had to worry about repulsing the other.

Aaron crooked his finger inside Obed to press at a spot that felt fantastic, never missing a beat of the rhythm he’d established, and Obed had to concentrate fully on not collapsing into a pile of aquatic taxonomy. The thumb grinding up behind his balls was not helping in the slightest. Obed kept one hand pressed flush against the wall while the other gripped the back of Aaron’s head the way Aaron liked it. He murmured words under his breath in his own language, and even if Aaron could barely say hello in it Obed didn’t worry much about whether the sentiment was clear. He twitched and flexed in Aaron’s mouth as he felt the familiar boiling in his gut of an impending orgasm, and it was just as well Dakkar was asleep or he would have learned some truly filthy words just then. It was a wonder he wasn’t changing colors like a shameless cuttlefish.

When he came, Obed cried out in a flurry of foreign profanity, which wasn’t helped by Aaron’s clamping his free hand around the base of Obed’s cock. He wrenched away from Obed’s grip to pull back at the last moment, letting a few delicate ropes of come spatter across his chest. With slow and meticulous motions Aaron pulled out of Obed’s ass–freeing Obed to slide bonelessly down the wall–and wiped off his fingers with a hand towel kept near the bed. He looked enormously pleased with himself.

“So, does that count as ‘extra nice’ to you?” he asked, daubing at his messy front.

Obed kissed him. “Yeah. Yeah, I think it does.”

They took a brief shower together, Aaron having opinions on sleeping in his (or anyone else’s) own post-coital funk, and by the time they had finished Obed was hard again. He decided to sleep with it and take care of things in the morning; if he had sex with Aaron every time he stood to attention they’d never get anything else done. They helped each other make up the bed. Obed usually slept in a grotto of his own, as he found it harder to get to sleep with the air pressing strange and dry against his skin, but it was easier to keep his mind off things with a warm mammalian friend to hold.

He was too excited to start winding down, and Aaron had just come off of a multi-hour nap, so actually getting in bed was more for the sake of being close than anything else. They touched their foreheads together and laced their fingers. Obed’s friends were wonderful and he loved them dearly, but none of them could take the place of the land-walker that had stumbled into his life. Aaron was best because he actually liked to spend time with Obed doing things other than playing.

illustrated by Iron Eater

Obed decided it had been too long since they’d talked about things that weren’t food or sex, so he tried to get the ball rolling. “Aaron?” he murmured, keeping his voice low in the dark out of instinct. Aaron made a questioning sound. “What were your plans for your future like, before we met?”

Aaron popped his lips before answering. “I dunno. I always wanted to work with animals ever since I saw my first nature show. After that, I thought maybe I’d find another hapa kid and we’d take on the world together.” Obed was going to have to ask what hapa meant, but it sounded like a nice thing. “That’s turned out different, but in a good way, I think. How about you?”

“Nothing fancy. I wanted to live long enough to see the world and eat interesting things, and a few years ago I really wanted to make a baby with Eke, and a year or two after that she decided I was actually responsible enough to be a father, and she tells me she knows she made the right decision. She’s even forgiven me for the time that fishing boat took Dakkar away. Now I take care of him and the island, in that order, and I’m a happy man.” He nuzzled Aaron’s neck. “And I’m happiest when you’re here.”

“You make me a pretty happy guy, too,” said Aaron. Obed knew that, of course, but he still wiggled his shoulders at the compliment. “It’s worth pulling strings to come out here from the platform so often. You and Dakkar should visit us someday. Half an hour of chasing him through one of the labs should convince my bosses why it’s better I come out here instead.”

“Are you trying to weaponize a toddler so you can potentially get laid more often?”

Aaron laughed. “It sounds so unethical when you say that.” He’d told stories of how the platform was kept as militarily precise as a bunch of nerds in the middle of the ocean could manage it, and Obed couldn’t help but entertain the thought of the chaos his swift-slithering son could sow by careening through the abyssal study robots’ storage hangar, an upset scientist in hot pursuit. “Besides, he’s cute. Everyone loves a sea cutie.”

He was distracted enough by Aaron’s suggestion that he missed the next question, and had to ask Aaron to repeat himself.

“I said, have you ever thought about us, you know, being together, without you having to disguise yourself all the time? More than just swimming, if you know what I mean.”

Obed knew what he meant. He hadn’t really thought about it, given how humans were (aside from the balls thing) a lot more compact than other people. “That would be weird.”

“Maybe I’d like it a little weird.”

“Maybe later, then,” said Obed with a laugh. Aaron was never short on surprises. He was about to make a joke about getting Aaron fitted for some swim fins when a deep rumble thrummed through the floor from somewhere further out to sea. It was too low and too subtle for Aaron to notice, probably, but Obed sat bolt upright.

“She’s here!” he said excitedly as he rushed to the window. He squinted out over the water, but there was nothing to see but waves and the open ocean. It was hard for Obed to keep from hopping from one foot to the other. Here he was, potentially about to see all three of his favorite people in the same day!

Aaron sat up more slowly. “What, Eke’s back already? I thought you said she was having fun down in the crush depths.” He swung his legs over the side of the bed and started hunting for his clothes. “She’ll have to wait until tomorrow for her present. It’s still packed up somewhere in the bowels of Mount Crapmore.”

“I’m sure she won’t mind,” said Obed, who didn’t bother getting dressed. He fidgeted as Aaron laced up his boots. “Come on, let’s go welcome her.”

Obed practically pulled Aaron down to the water’s edge. The sea birds had all gone to roost by then, as had the daytime crabs and the lizards, leaving only the night crabs and the odd washed-ashore mussel to greet them there. Obed waded into the water until he was submerged to his un-navel; it was easier to hear her if there wasn’t so much air in the way causing interference, and this way he could still keep in contact with Aaron. A great dark shape bigger than Aaron’s boat approached the island and Obed called out to it; it didn’t matter how loud he was this time, he reasoned, since if Dakkar woke up he’d be able to see his mother, and that was always a nice thing for a growing boy who had the chance. Another rumble cut through the water, this one more nuanced and elegant, and as lights appeared along the outside of the dark figure Obed’s heart lept into his throat. It was the same way it had when Aaron had first waved back to him mere hours ago.

Eke surfaced. Her long jaws and longer neck flashed in the moonlight, her skin burning with color and bioluminescence as her tentacles broke through to lash at the sky. Obed had never seen her so beautiful.

“Hi, Eke,” said Aaron as he wrote something in a spiral-topped notebook that must have been tucked in one of his pockets. Eke’s glow spots rippled in acknowledgement. It was comforting that he wasn’t afraid of her, given all the stories he had of being savaged by the animal kingdom, but Obed supposed that most of the animal kingdom never bothered talking back. “Really glad to see you so soon! I just got in today, and Obed’s been as gracious a host you could ask for.”

Eke dipped her toothy mouth until she was closer to Aaron’s eye level. “Ran you ragged already, hm?” she asked, her eyes twinkling. Her voice was as deep and sweet as whale song.

Aaron didn’t miss a beat. “Only after I slept off the trip. He made me dinner and even let me finish some of it before we got distracted. A dignified lady such as yourself deserves no less than our Obed when it comes to being pampered, and I’m honored you let me borrow him. Not that I could compete with a ravishing figure such as yourself.” He blew her a kiss.

She laughed, echoes of it booming out into the distance like the scrape of an iceberg. Obed let the sound wash over him. His son was safe and happy, his son’s mother was pleased with him, and on top of everything else he had someone to look forward to whenever the grant money allowed.

He had to admit, he had a good thing going.


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