Nobody spoke. The room was dead silent, except for the sound of Temaki ‘s shaking gulps. What did this mean? Did Tamaki shock them into silence? Did they hate him now? Would his family need to move again because of bullies? If not for his crippling anxiety, they would make fun of him for his tentacles or pointed ears, calling him a witch or a monster. Then they would either run away or throw rocks at him. What then…?
Tamaki snapped out of his thoughts when he heard a clap followed by a wave of applause. A chorus of welcomes and greetings caught him by surprise.. While the attention was positive, it still made Tamaki shake in fear. He wanted to go back. Back to his mother, back home, back to the dark caves that he used to stay in when his parents were out working. One by one, curious voices emerged, innocent but overwhelming.
“Can you control all your tentacles at once?”
“Where did you live before?”
“Can you use black magic?”
“How can you survive here? Don’t octopuses live in deep areas?”
Tamaki could feel his nerves rising up again. He couldn’t think. His mind locked up, but his body could still move. And so he did. His body propelled him away. Away from the prying eyes, away from the questions and all the attention. He sped past the reef bed, past schools of fish that would have outsped many adult mers to the safety of solitude.
It was too bright. He needed a place to calm down, and the open ocean was not the place. He swam and swam until he found a small cave where the sunlight was dancing across the rock surface. Tamaki dove in headfirst, the warm water parting for him as he entered the cave.
His tentacles brushed against the slightly claustrophobic walls, running over the rocky and smooth edges alike. He wrapped his hands around one of his own tentacles and squeezed, the pressure grounding him. He breathed in, then out, in, then out, going through the exercises that his father taught him when he first heard about his son’s anxiety.
Tamaki squeezed his eyes shut, focusing on the textures and sounds around him.
He could feel the cold stone below him warming up due to his body heat. He heard the sound of small schools of fish passing by, as well as the soft glow of the sun against his eyelids. Everything seemed to come back to the present.
“AAH!” Tamaki sputtered, a child’s face appeared suddenly in front of his own.
The child in front of him was all shiny, bright and smiley. The surrounding sun made him seem otherworldly, and the rays of sunlight glittered off his golden scales. Tamaki could only stare at him in wonder. For some reason, his presence didn’t scare him like others’ did. It felt safe, as if no harm would come from him, even if he did shock him with his appearance.
“Oh! Sorry if I scared you, but you swam away from class so quickly! Lucky for me, I know all the best hiding spots around this area!” The golden child said, hands on the cave floor that Tamaki was lying on.
“O-oh… Um…” Tamaki didn’t know what to say. Was he supposed to apologize? The other child didn’t seem to notice his hesitation.
“Before I forget, I’m Mirio Togata! But you can just call me Mirio since we’re going to be friends from now on!” This was going so fast, but Tamaki couldn’t find it in himself to hate it.
“Then… You can call me Tamaki…” He managed to whisper, unsure if the other boy heard him.
It seemed that he did, because Mirio then offered his hand excitedly. “Ok, Tamaki! Let’s go back to class! We’re going to start crab hunting soon and it would be sad if you missed it!”
Through the doubts and worries that plagued him continuously, a thought came from somewhere even deeper.
Perhaps this time around, school won’t be that bad?