Tamaki looked out to the open ocean. His nerves were on edge for the fifth time that morning and his gills took in water even more quickly than they had just a few minutes prior. The distance to the reefs seemed to increase by the minute as he watched the other children tumbling around in the white sand. Parents swam away after giving their goodbyes to their children, chatting with each other about things Tamaki probably wouldn’t understand.
Even though the water was warm, Tamaki could feel a shiver run down his spine as he huddled closer to his mother, a hand gripping the closest of her eight tentacles. There were so many mer here – what if they hated him for his appearance? What if they saw him as a monster? What if…?
“Tamaki.” His mother whispered. She placed a hand on his head and ruffled his black locks fondly. He realized the amount of force he was applying to his grip and pulled back hesitantly, leaving only his fingertips touching her tentacle. Tamaki’s mother flashed him a soft smile, and turned back to the mer she was talking to.
Before long, the two finished what they were talking about and the other mer swam towards the other children. As they approached, the children slowed down and gathered around him, chattering about their adventures over the weekend, each of them too absorbed in their stories to notice the new child hiding behind his mother.
From behind his mother, Tamaki could see the excited flicking of their tails, so different from his own. While their lower halves came together in a single tail, his own broke off into eight tentacles. Would they ask about it? Then again why would anyone care? Surely, it would turn out exactly like the last time he transferred schools: he knew they would avoid and isolate him.
The other adult mer, most likely a teacher Tamaki realized, somehow managed to shush the other children and…
Oh no no no….
They were looking in his direction now and his mother gently nudged him forward and he felt himself starting to shake again; Tamaki could just sense their disgust.
“Tamaki, breathe.” He opened his eyes, not realizing that he had closed them in fear. His gills shook with the uneven amount of water he was breathing in; everything seemed too close and too far, all at the same time. The only thing he could register was the feeling of his mother’s tentacles wrapping around him with their familiar warmth. He focused on the suckers surrounding him, feeling the tentacles close around his finger as he poked them. The outside world and everyone’s murmurs were suddenly oceans away.
From a crack between his mother’s tentacles, he could spot a flash of gold coming closer and closer until it stopped right before his mother. Tamaki’s mind went blank as the golden blur rattled off a string of words that he couldn’t quite comprehend. The blur then swam off, getting smaller as he went off into the distance. After what felt like a second, the tentacles around him unravelled to reveal the group of children a short distance away, now focused on their own activities for the day while the teacher supervised them. From where he was, Tamaki could see that nobody was watching, or at least, they were managing to avoid being seen watching him.
His mother leaned down and whispered into Tamaki’s ear, “Go on, they won’t hurt you.” With that, Tamaki let go of her tentacle and swam cautiously toward the group of children. The crowd got larger and clearer, and when he looked back to his mother, she gave a gentle smile and waved. When Tamaki waved back nervously, she swam off. With nowhere else to go but forward, he swam towards the group. It was the teacher who noticed him first, silencing the children and grouping them together.
They huddled together, friends moving to go next to each other in anticipation for what their teacher would say next. Once they were settled, the teacher swam towards him and offered a hand that Tamaki graciously took, wrapping a hand over several fingers. Tamaki trailed slightly behind the teacher as they swam towards the class with their inquisitive eyes.
With the same gentleness that his mother possessed, he gently nudged Tamaki forward. “Would you mind introducing yourself to the class?” Almost immediately Tamaki could feel his throat closing up once again as tremors started to wrack his body. Looking out at his classmates, he could feel them staring back, the weight of their eyes heavy on his soul and mind, doing nothing to help his anxiety.
Sucking in a breath, Tamaki opened his mouth, “M.. my name is.. Tama…ki.. A.. Amajiki..” He gulped in more and more water, feeling the world around him turn blurry once again. He was now visibly shaking, and could feel tears well in his eyes.