Chapter 68: October, Meet Onyx
Torin rose from his kneeling position before me, releasing my face, his tender kiss on my forehead lingering. He’d said to trust him and that he’d show me. But I was confused—where did this talk about werewolves, er were-dolphins come from? Yet, I didn’t voice my doubts or concerns further. Instead, I sat at the edge of the pool, watching as he turned to the female dolphin I knew so well.
I had to admit, it was a bit bizarre—of all the dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico, how did Dawn, or rather Gina, happen inside this particular cavern?
Torin gently spoke to her. “Gina, I’m so glad you’re here. You found us.”
The dolphin bobbed in the water, seemingly talking to Torin in return. It wasn’t an usual sight for dolphins to communicate with humans, especially in my field. But considering his adamance that Gina was mated to his supposed dolphin spirit named Onyx, well, I had to admit their connection was a bit eerie. And again, I asked myself how in the world she ended up here.
Then Torin turned to me, “October, after you see what you’re gonna see, you might not want to be with me anymore. I hope you don’t change your mind, but- Well, I don’t know what you’re gonna think. Just promise me one thing.”
Goodness, I had just agreed to be his girlfriend, hadn’t I? I waited, and when he didn’t continue I answered with serious apprehension, “Okay. I promise.”
“Please, please don’t tell anyone. My people—Florida dolphin shifters—have kept ourselves hidden from the non-shifter public for thousands of years. We can’t be exposed, otherwise run the risk of extinction. Promise me you’ll keep our secret as long as you live.”
Okay, he was more than serious. He was sincerely worried and yet, I could sense something else. Was it pride? He was dragging me under the spell of his wild tale and I could do no more than nod as I watched him with half curiosity and half fear that he’d lost his mind.
Seemingly content with my promise, he unbuttoned his uniform shirt, then kicked off his boots, setting them neatly next to his shirt on the ground. Standing again, he was focused and I wasn’t even sure he remembered I was sitting there. What’s he doing, going for a swim? Of course, he’d have to if he was going to prove his ludacris claim. He faced the water then reached for his belt, quickly unbuckling it. My eyes went wide as he proceeded to shed his pants, underwear and all. Oh my god, was I ready to see him naked? “What are you doing?” I hesitantly tried to be a voice of reason.
He blinked over his shoulder with slight embarrassment, surely seeing my eyes falling out of my head as I stared at his stunning backside, “Yeah, uh, clothes can strangle or injure a dolphin.” Then, as if that explained everything, the stark naked Marine Patrol Chief proceeded to fold up the last of his garments, setting them aside with the rest of his clothes, then submerged himself up to his neck in the clear water.
Gina eagerly swam up to him and he smiled as he pet her head and spoke to her kindly. There was no doubt they knew each other. Then parting from her he paddled to slightly deeper water, acknowledging me again as his voice bounced off the cave walls. “You ready?”
“Sure,” I finally responded, not sure what to expect exactly, but giving him the go ahead to do whatever it was he was planning. I bit my lip with apprehension, a multitude of crazy stuff running through my mind. This had better be good.
“I’m going to let Onyx out so he can find out what Gina knows and see if the route she took to get in here is safe for us to get out. Then, I’ll take over again and we’ll go from there.” Not waiting for me to respond, he took a deep sucking breath in, expelling it with just as much force. Then, without warning his skin paled, turning slightly grey, and I blinked my eyes to be sure I wasn’t imagining things.
“Oh... Holy... Fu-” I couldn’t even complete my expletive. Before my very eyes, the man I had just kissed this morning broke every rule in animal biology. In a matter of seconds he was no longer the human who’d stripped naked moments ago, but was instead a living, breathing, god-forsaken dolphin.
My breath was coming in as though I’d just ran a mile. Was this a panic attack? I was a scientist, a marine biologist. This was not possible. “Shit, shit, shit.” I climbed to my feet unconsciously, only to have the sharp stab of pain in my ankle force my knees to buckle, toppling me over onto the rocks where I skinned the base of my palms, shocking me back to reality. “Fuck!” I hissed, looking briefly at my small, but stinging wounds before focusing again on the creatures in the tidepool. Perhaps, the driftwood smoke had gotten to me, too!
Getting on my hands and knees, the pain in my skinned hands was already gone, though my ankle throbbed furiously. I crawled as close to the water’s edge as possible, then shook my head to clear my mind. Sure enough, there were now two dolphins and they were swimming towards me.
Then it hit me. I knew this new dolphin, too. “Dusky? Oh my God!” The dolphin pair in front of my eyes were no doubt the same two who had been regularly visiting my dock since we moved in. I lowered my hip down to sit as they both approached, squeaking and whistling their hellos just like they normally do at home.
Without thinking, I reached my fingers out, waiting for them to greet me with a touch of their noses. The first to respond was the dark male. “Torin,” I whispered. “Is this really you? No,” I paused to correct myself, “you’re Onyx, huh?” I recalled Torin’s explanation that they were separate beings, though still couldn’t fathom in all of science how that was possible.
Then, everything I knew about this particular pair of dolphins washed over me. I’d always thought it strange that they acted similar to mated pairs of other species—always together or by themselves, but never bringing other dolphins from their pod with them to my dock, as I would have expected of the species.
Onyx bumped his nose against my hand with familiarity, and I couldn’t help but let out an amazed puff of a laugh. This was all so impossible, yet somehow I knew I had to believe what I’d just witnessed. A miracle of nature, that’s what this was. The scientist in me was elated and my fingers itched for a notebook to record the events that had just unfolded. This was a historic moment in biology. Was this a new species? Or some sort of mutated gene? My mind was reeling with questions.
But my moment of awe was broken as Gina called to Onyx, and he swam to her side. They spoke in the animated language of dolphins for a moment before he paused, the water still reverberating around him. I held my breath and my eyes open, fearing that if I blinked, I’d miss something. But they both disappeared underwater and I waited expectantly and impatiently. My eyes never left the water for what seemed like forever. When they finally reappeared, I released a small squeal of excitement. They were still there, still real!
But my excitement changed to slight apprehension as Onyx began to change and morph again. It was a soundless process, but looked painful as his skin and the anatomy beneath moved and ebbed with an almost liquid fluidity, changing in color with equal speed. My god, he melted back into human form once more, and within seconds it was Torin who was treading water in the middle of the tidepool as if he’d been there the whole time.
His attention focused on me as he swam over, stopping when he was waist deep in the water. Wiping the water from his face, his chest heaved as he took in oxygen. His eyes were searching me, and he sounded concerned, “Are you alright, October?”
I closed my codfish mouth and sputtered, “You- you can do that?” He laughed nervously, yet relief came off of him in waves, and I realized he was genuinely worried about what I thought. I tried again, “Wh- How? I mean, you know you have a lot of explaining to do, right?” I couldn’t help but smile, my curiosity and excitement getting the better of me. “You have to tell me everything about this, uh… shifter species stuff. Does it hurt? Are you in pain, because…,” I drifted off as he rubbed his neck embarrassedly, then I realized that worry was clouding his pleasant expression again.
“You won’t tell anyone, right?”
I knew exactly what was running through his mind as thoughts of which tests and samples I would need to take to study a new ocean species ran through my mind. While I practiced ethical testing, I knew the reputation scientists had, and he had every right to be frightened. I quickly sobered, “God no, Torin! I won’t tell a soul, I swear.” His eyes continued to search mine and I realized something else, “Rhonda and Rainie are- can they...?”
I knew enough as a parent and daughter myself to know the look in Torin’s eye meant he would do anything to protect his mother and daughter. His hesitancy to answer right away assured me that they were, in fact, dolphin-people as well. “Torin, I will protect your family’s secret with my life. I’d never let anything happen to them, or you. You can trust me. As much as I would protect Anne or my own parents, no one will ever know anything from me.”
He visibly relaxed, releasing his bated breath. Then allowing his body to ease back into the water, he crawled the few feet up the steep side of the tidepool to where I sat at the edge. His naked, finely tanned body glistened with water as he unabashedly approached me on all fours, then reached to cup my face with one hand, drinking in a fervent, saltwatery kiss that expressed his gratitude and relief in the short moment it lasted.
I was bewildered as I consumed his presence with feelings I had difficulty putting words to. Why did all this feel so natural? From his confession to his nakedness, it was like a missing puzzle piece had been found and my mind was at peace with it all. Everything was as it should be in the most wondrous, exciting way.
But there was no time to ponder this further, as Torin pulled away, looking deep into my eyes. “Thank you. It feels good to finally let you know the truth. I’d been afraid to, but now that it’s out, I feel such a relief. Especially, since you seem okay with it. You are okay with it, right?” There was that worry again.
I laughed through my breath, shaking my head, “As if you have to ask. I’m just amazed, I mean it’s just… amazing.”
It was his turn to breathe out a laugh as his lips finally upturned, “I’ll tell you everything later, but for now we need to concentrate on getting out of here.” He leaned in for another quick peck, then pulled himself up off the ground, quickly making a water-dripping beeline for his clothes, seemingly quite unembarrassed or concerned about his well-endowed nudity. With his back to me, he kneeled, carefully piling his uniform together into a ball. “Gina entered through a narrow opening beneath the far wall over there,” he jutted his chin towards the pool. “Onyx can fit through just fine. The tricky part will be getting you out.”
Cinching the arms of his uniform blouse tight around the garments it now contained, he grabbed my nearby shoes, tying the laces together and onto the package along with his boots. Rising again, he carried the clothes over as he squatted next to me. “She also said that my patrol unit isn’t far, combing the coastline again a few knots back towards your house and coming this way. But the wreckage from the boat isn’t outside anymore. So, if we’re going to be found today, we’ve gotta get out of here soon. I know you know how to swim with dolphins. But with your ankle, do you think you’d be able to at least hold onto Onyx’s dorsal fin if he carried you underwater for about thirty seconds?”
“She said all that?” I couldn’t help but ask, amazed at the level of communication he’d had from Gina. How did that work? If Onyx was talking to her, had Torin heard everything that went on while Onyx was in form? And if that was the case, was Onyx aware of what was going on between Torin and me now?
Torin nodded to my original question, but the look on his face said that he was back in Marine Chief mode. There was no time for my scientific ponderings or observations. “Sorry,” I said. “Yeah, I should have no problem hanging on.”
“Good. Gina can carry these,” he motioned to the clothes, “and I’ll help you into the water before letting Onyx out so you won’t have to try to get down there on your own. Sound like a plan?”
“Yeah, um, I guess I’m ready, whenever you are.” But I was nervous as hell, not only about making such a dive riding on the fin of a dolphin with my bum ankle, but about Torin transforming into Onyx. “Onyx knows the plan? He won’t let me go halfway through this opening or anything, right?”
Torin’s all-business atmosphere broke slightly and he softened, “It was his idea. He’s usually the one with the smarts.”
“Oh?” I was surprised. “That explains a lot,” I teased, finally relaxing my own reserves and to my satisfaction, getting a grin out of Torin.
“No, he wouldn’t let anything happen to you,” he simply countered with genuine assurity. But there was something else in his tone that tugged at something deep inside of me. It was as if he meant that Onyx would take extra special care of me because I was me.
Pushing any remaining unsettled thoughts and fears of what was to come away, I made for one last joke before acquiescing to our departure from our cavernous prison. “I don’t have to get naked for this, right?”
He leaned in for yet another peck on my lips, before standing in his glorious birthday suit with a glowing smirk, ready to help me up as my heart fluttered from both nerves and elation, “Unfortunately not.”