Beyond the Ocean's Depths (Not an Average Shifter Romance)

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Chapter 70: Torin’s Fears

TORIN

I felt the gentle buoy of the lapping waves as my consciousness returned to the physical world. The wonderful wetness of the saltwater was cool on my limbs as they returned to their normal state, stretching and morphing from Onyx’s dolphin body into my own. October’s earlier question about whether the transition hurt came briefly to mind. I couldn’t wait to tell her exactly how it felt. How I wished she could experience it too.

Treading water, I wiped the water from my eyes, the early evening sunlight feeling good on my face.

“Torin!” October called from her perch on the rocks a few feet away, and I swam in her direction, pulling myself out of the water. She was beaming, and if thoughts were tangible, I’m sure I would have been able to see a multitude of them floating around her bustling mind. As usual, I was breathless and unable to speak right away coming out of the water, but I knew she was waiting for me to get settled before speaking herself.

“Clothes…,” I finally uttered, not minding her seeing me naked, but not necessarily wanting to flaunt my stuff either, especially if the patrol unit was supposed to be coming any time soon.

“Oh! Yeah!” She came back to the moment, turning to untie the knot of clothes Gina had successfully carried with us to freedom, before handing all but her shoes over to me. “We did it,” she simply stated with an excited, but unsure tone. Perhaps, she didn’t know what else to say. After all, she had a lot to process right now.

“Yeah, we did,” I smiled back at her as I wrung out my underwear, before turning away from her to get them on. “Are you okay? You didn’t hurt yourself further coming out of there?” I did up my pants and faced her again, shaking out my uniform blouse to lay out to dry some.

“No, I’m just fine. Onyx did great!” I could tell she wanted to say more, but wasn’t sure where to start. Instead, she hesitated, her expression a mixture of excitement, confusion, and maybe apprehension. I was confident that once I opened the door though, all her inhibitions would dissipate.

“Let’s move you up there,” I motioned to a more comfortable area, further from the water’s edge. “It’ll be less breezy, so you don’t get chilled, and we can take a look at your ankle again, okay?”

I could feel her eyes on me as she leaned into my side. She was studying me. I knew all along that telling her would change things, but now I silently prayed that it wouldn’t make things awkward between us. Not now that we seemed to have passed our awkward phase so recently.

Once she got seated again, I wasted no time and moved to her injury. She cringed as I unwrapped the sopping wet strips of my undershirt from around her lower extremity. “I’m still me,” I finally said, my own anxiety getting the better of me. I was scared she would see me differently. She was a scientist, after all, and though I knew she was more than a capable and caring doctor, I worried that she would want to be with me, not because of us, because of our soul mate connection, but because she was interested in finding out how I tick. “I’ve been like this the whole time.”

October regarded me silently, her eyes more than obviously studying me now as I wrung out the cloth, laying it out to dry, then moving back to her now-bare, very swollen, and black and blue ankle. She hissed through her teeth as I lifted her leg just enough to get her sock under her heel as a cushion from the hard ground.

“I just-” I didn’t know what I wanted to say, but I knew I was making things awkward, so just shut up, focusing my attention to the horizon to see if I could spot the rescue crew. “I don’t see anyone yet, so it might be a while.”

“Torin, I already promised you that I won’t tell anyone. If that’s what you’re worried-”

“No, that’s not it,” I cut her off quickly, but didn’t continue, my eyes afraid to meet hers, for surely as my soul mate, she would be able to easily ready my worries. And if she weren’t already thinking of the various tests she’d want to run on me and my family, I didn’t want to be the one to give her the idea.

“Are you afraid I wouldn’t want to be with you anymore because of what you are? Because, if that’s it, you’re wrong. I’m smart enough to know that you’re still the same person from before.”

“I know,” I simply replied, giving her a small smile, the worry that I did something horrific by telling her the truth, still eating at my insides.

Apparently unsatisfied, she folded her arms across her chest and continued, “Can you not be with me because I’m not like you? Is it against the rules of your people or something?”

“What?” I sputtered, surprised and appalled by her assumption that my people would shun the soul mate connection on the basis of her being a pure human. “Why would you think that? It’s not typical, but not unheard of—mixed couples that is.”

“Well, you might not be different physically, but your attitude has changed from the cave to now and I get the feeling I’m the cause. If I did something to offend you, I apologize, but you can’t suddenly distance yourself from me and not tell me what I did.”

God, she was going to drag it out of me one way or the other, and I swallowed heavily, my mouth suddenly dry as I sat so we were facing each other. “I know you’re excited about all this, but I don’t want to be your science experiment or anything. I mean, I can’t subject myself and my family to-”

Her eyes got wide, and so did her mouth just before she cut in, “Are you saying you think I would blackmail you or something into allowing me to run tests on you? That I’d keep quiet only if you submitted your body to science?”

She said it a bit harsher than I had been thinking, but my eyes must have betrayed my admission.

“I’m not a mad scientist, Torin! I’m a marine veterinarian and my sole mission is to aid in the health and betterment of all sea life. And I suppose that includes you, too, now—sort of.” She cleared her throat, while her eyes betrayed her own feelings of hurt. “I’ve come in contact with new species before, and yes, I’ve run tests on their blood and stuff, but I’ve never put a single animal through undue torment or pain simply for the extraction of information. I don’t do that, Torin. I would have thought you, of all people, would have understood that already.” Her voice was wavering now, and I suddenly felt like a huge idiot and jerk.

Yet, I needed to hear her vocalize those sentiments and verbalize her vow to uphold the ethics of her doctorship. As bad as I had felt for doubting her, I felt equally relieved, and before she could utter another word, I leaned forward, crushing my lips on hers.

She stiffened momentarily with surprise, then, to my own delighted surprise, grabbed me by the face and proceeded to match my kiss with her own hunger. With each breathtaking moment, every ounce of doubt or fear I’d been holding inside ebbed away into oblivion.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered into her hair as we parted, feeling embarrassed now.

Of course, she sensed this, too. With a mischievous grin, she teased, “If I remember right, you were the one who said my hard headed turtle back at the rehab had it good being under my care. And I specifically remember you saying—quote, un-quote—that ‘if you were my patient, you’d try to stay in my care as long as possible.’”

I winced at her perfect memory, unable to hold back my chagrined grin. “You’re right, you’re right. I’m an idiot who panics. Forgive me Dr. Davis?” I gave her my best puppy dog pleading face.

“I forgive you... you Delphinus-sapien,” she giggled warmly, giving me another peck on the lips as I looked at her with mused confusion.

“What’d you just call me?”

She laughed again, “A ‘Delphinus-sapien.’ ‘Delphinus’ being the scientific name for dolphin and…”

“‘Sapien,’ being human,” I finished for her, catching on to her corny science humor. Her laughter was infectious and I had to admit, she was a one-of-a-kind human being.

Once our shared laughter died down, she leaned back against the giant rock she’d been propped up against, and put her hands behind her head, a more serious, but still pleasant expression coming over her. “Okay, so now tell me everything about the Delphinus-sapien species.”

I maneuvered myself so we were sitting shoulder-to-shoulder, settling comfortably, still eyeing the horizon for signs of rescue. “Well, we’re actually kind of a dying species. Especially here in Florida. In general, wherever dolphins live, we can live. But because of our need to be near saltwater, dolphin-shifters have a limited scope in comparison to wolf-shifters and other land animal shifter groups.”

“You mean werewolves are real, then?” she interjected with fascination.

“Sort of. They’re not like in the movies, where they only come out during full moons and bite people. And none of us shifters can turn a pure human into a shifter. You’re born with the ability.” She nodded in serious contemplation, as I continued my train of thought. “Back in the 1800s when the US government forced the southern Native American tribes to Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears, the shifters who went west lost their ability to shift, not having the ocean to allow their inner dolphin to cohabitate with them. While they turned all-human, many of the others who stayed behind traded in feet for permanent fins in order to keep their homeland, or home-water.

My ancestors managed to hide out in the Everglades and maintained their shifting abilities, passing their magic onto their children and children’s children. There’s only a few dozen dolphin-shifting families left in Florida now, though tribes on the west coast and Hawaii are still quite large.”

“Wow. I never would’ve guessed. Now, you said there were other animal shifter groups. What else is there?”

“Oh goodness, I think just about any non-domesticated mammal has had a tribe associated with them as a shifter at some point in history. I’ve heard of bird-shifters as well, like eagles and ravens. Oh, and some of the more dominant ocean animals, too. Sharks, seals, whales. Though to be honest, because of the secrecy involved with being a shifter, it’s not like we tend to publicize our existences even among other shifters. At least not in areas like this. Out west and in bigger cities, there’s supposed to be shifter community groups, but here in small-town Navarro Beach, we keep to ourselves.”

“Wow,” she repeated in awe, the wheels in her mind spinning with new revelations as I proceeded to fill her in with details of life as a Delphinus-sapien.

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