Internally Tadashi had been kicking himself but outside he had just nodded at Zora's explanation. He still wasn't completely sure what a water witch was exactly but from what she said it was clear he didn't really have a chance at winning this. To be fair though, he had already figured that was going to be the case. This was more about impressing Rhode with his determination and helping Ethan do some fun stuff than about winning challenges anyway.
Tadashi's start was less of an actual dive into the water than a sort of enthusiastic plop as he began splashing his way forward. Like a young child still getting used to being in the water he was very hesitant to let his head get under the surface. His technique, if you could even call it that, was very rough and he spent a lot more time splashing than actually using proper controlled strokes. Ethan was a little more practiced at swimming, but he remained generally near Tadashi.
The boys got about 2/3 of the way out to the buoy before Tadashi started to get pretty tired from all the splashing he was doing. He was really going to be struggling by the time he got to the buoy.
"Hey... um, Tadashi... you sure you got this?" Ethan piped up as he worked to stay afloat himself. Tadashi was a little too focused on trying to swim to respond.
Back on shore Rhode stood up out of their chair and watched. They couldn't relax while it looked like Tadashi was struggling and they began shedding the layer of sparkling minerals that formed their armor. If thy had to go into the water the minerals would only make them sink but it would take a little bit to be rid of them.
Zora got to the buoy in almost no time and turned around in the water, emerging, she hung on to the buoy and looked to see how the two boys were doing. After a split second, she saw Tadashi struggling in the water, his strokes were decidedly uneven and Zora knew that if he kept that up, he'd end up tiring himself out.
Fearing that the young man would not be able to go on, or might even be in trouble, she pushed herself off the buoy and swam back to Tadashi. "Are you okay?" she asked worriedly, treading water as she reached out a hand to him.
"It's okay... look," Shadow said laying a hand on Rhodes's arm and pointing out that Zora had made her way back to Ethan and Tadashi.
Tadashi wanted so badly to just ignore her hand and keep going. To prove that he was strong enough. Capable enough to do it without help. But he wasn't so blinded that he was going to put himself in further danger. He spluttered as his face dipped into the water briefly and that made the decision much easier.
Tadashi reached out for Zora's hand and coughed before he could say anything. Ethan looked somewhat panicked at the whole thing, with wide eyes, but he calmed a little when Tadashi finally took Zora's hand. Back on shore Rhode had stopped removing their armor as they watched the interaction. They were so glad that Tadashi looked like he was going to be safe. Rhode's bared arm, along with the other portions of bared skin seemed to pulse with a violet light that actually radiated just a little bit of warmth in tune with the pulses.
Tadashi didn't pull on Zora like a person drowning might do in their panic but he did hold on tightly with his gloved hand while he kicked and pushed against the water with his other arm to help keep afloat. "I'm... I shouldn't have come out here like this. I'm sorry." He was embarrassed and ashamed but most of all he felt really stupid. Since when was a cat swimming in the ocean a good idea? "Um, can you help me get back to the beach please? You won."
Ethan also swam over to Zora. He wasn't struggling as much as Tadashi but he wasn't doing super great either. Plus he really didn't want to be the one left there without help.
"It's okay, just relax..." Zora said calmly as she wrapped and gripped her arm around his when Tadashi grabbed onto her hand, pulling him a bit closer to her in the water. Now fully aware that he was in trouble - or would soon be - and needed her help. In fact, it wasn't a minute later he was asking her if she might help him.
"Of course, I'll help you..." she replied gently, not extremely worried about winning or losing the challenge. She was more concerned with getting Tadashi out of the water and to safety. Treading water, Zora looked at the boy calmly holding his gaze, making sure he was looking only at her, listening to her.
"I need you to let go of my arm for one moment, I am going to swim around you, behind you and I need you to relax, just lean back into me, okay" she told him, planning to pull him to safety, or at least until they could stand up safely in the water.
When Rhodes skin changed slightly, got a bit warmer, Shadow removed her hand and smiled, "It's okay... he'll be fine," she stated confidently that Zora, her partner, knew what she was doing. Not that she had ever seen the witch in action, but the fact the woman had come back for Tadashi made Shadow feel confident she had placed her trust in the right person when she bonded with her.
What relief Tadashi felt when she said she would help him was buried behind his growing fear that he might make a mistake and slip underwater while she was getting into a better position. Or that he'd relax and it wouldn't work right and he'd sink. Or that...
The fear was something familiar to Tadashi. Not the fear of drowning necessarily, but fear itself and the monster that strong fear tended to draw out of him. Something he had spoken to his regalia about and asked for help with. His stomach dropped as he could feel the uncomfortable surge of adrenaline that indicated he could be getting close to losing control. It was still a ways off but it sent a chill down his spine and he desperately focused on Zora's eyes. Pleading for them to help keep him calm. He was far more afraid of his half-cat form than drowning and focusing on her eyes and gentle tone helped a lot. Probably far more than she even knew, in that moment.
Tadashi looked at Zora right in the eyes and nodded. Slowly he released his grip on her hand
and did his best to tread water while she moved around him. "O-ok. I'll try to be relaxed." After that though he took a deep breath and held it, hoping that would also help to keep him afloat as he half leaned back to try to float on his back a little and half waited for Zora to get in position. Depending on how Zora pulle dhim his plan was probably going to include reaching out and pulling Ethan with him if he could.
Ethan swam right up near Tadashi but didn't grab onto him yet. "Wait, don't leave me!" The poor kid seemed to default to the idea that people were going to abandon him if he didn't cling to them. But he also didn't want to pull his new friend underwater while he was struggling either.
Once more on the shore Rhode stood there watching all this. He was comforted by Zora's apparent decision to help the young boy and Shadow's confidence in her partner's abilities. Still, he had never once lost a student and he didn't plan to start then. He couldn't wait there and do nothing so he began to wade into the water. He wouldn't go past where he could safely stand- about half of his armor was still on after all.
"Okay, I am just behind you now, you will be fine," she spoke calmly, purposefully keeping him engaged as she swam behind him, and slipped her arms under his and held him up to her chest, "Relax, Tadashi, I've got you, just let the water hold you... " she instructed calmly tightening her grip on him, swimming back towards the shore, "just kick the water lightly okay. Don't struggle against it...it makes it worse."
"Grab on to Tadashi's hand, Ethan, and please, don't panic," Zora called out to him when she saw his partner hurrying over almost frantically. Obviously, he didn't want to left behind, but she couldn't afford for him to pull both of them under.
Swimming slowing backwards, letting the water carry Tadashi's weight, Zora finally started to felt the change in buoyancy. The water was becoming shallower as Tadashi got heavier, finally, with a last kick backwards, Zora felt sand, solid ground. Slowly to a stop, she said, "You can stand now." she said gently as she incorporated herself, taking Tadashi with her, still holding onto him just til he was sure he was okay.
Tadashi listened to Zora's calm instructions and willed himself to relax and trust that she knew what she was doing. He tried to keep his breathing steady and do his best to float on his back as much as he could, but he was too focused on that to really respond to her.
Ethan barely needed to be told to grab on before his hand latched onto Tadashi's glove. Between Tadashi and Ethan both kicking they were at least helping move them a little bit so Zora didn't have to do all the work.
Tadashi was looking up and didn't know they were getting close to shore until Zora told him they could stand up now. Hesitantly he stopped trying to float and put his legs down. At first he thought it might have still been too soon but then his feet touched the sandy bottom again and he stood up. Ethan was actually crying a little and refused to let go so Tadashi pulled the boy into a hug, which seemed to make both of them start calming down a little. "Again, thank you so much," Tadashi said to Zora as he stood there relieved and still very much embarrassed. He wasn't able to meet her eyes. He'd put himself and Ethan in danger for no good reason.
Before anything else could happen though there was a ton of splashing as Rhode made his way over to them. They could be graceful when they moved if they wanted to but they had been pretty worried about Tadashi and as they came closer they put out their unarmored hand to grab the boy by the shoulder and just hold him. "Tadashi you're normally quite reasonable. Why did you pick such a challenge to compete in?" They sounded both confused and stern at the boys foolishness, but then their tone softened a little as they added, "You had me very worried young Tadashi. If you were trying to impress me, do it by learning how to swim properly instead of diving right in."
"I am just glad you are fine, and didn't drown," Zora said as she gazed kindly at Tadashi, very aware of how he must be feeling at the moment. Probably very relieved at not drowning, grateful but also very embarrassed by what had just happened.
Seeing, or more like hearing Rhodes come splashing across the short expanse of water to where they were, Zora watched quietly, moved actually at how much the young man cared for his partner Tadashi. "You know, if you'd like, I could teach you to swim better than you do right now?" she offered.
Tadashi nodded at Zora's first statement and then hung his head a bit at Rhode's words. They were right and he had no good excuse. Except maybe that he was still a kid and made mistakes. A fair number of them when it came to dealing with people, it seemed. "I shouldn't keep saying i'm sorry but that's the only thing I can say. I'll try to be more careful so you don't have to worry so much- all of you. I know how bad it feels to be worrying a lot," he said as he brought his gaze up to meet Rhode's. Or rather half of partially armored form's gaze. The other half was still hidden behind an array of probably colorful stones. They kind of looked a bit like someone had dipped part of them in some sort of candy coating and then didn't finish the job.
There was a faint smile on Tadashi's face as he added one last thing before turning back to Zora, "You know you're kinda funny looking with only some of the armor on." Ethan giggled and Rhode looked a little dumbstruck before they started to chuckle.
Tadashi's eyes widened at Zora's offer and he met her eyes again. Then he glanced over at the water and back to Ethan, still clutched in their hug, before looking back at Zora. "Are you sure? I can't really pay you for lessons or anything... but I think I do need to learn to swim better."
Rhode, for their part looked surprised that Zora had offered such a thing. But they were surprised in a good way. They could respect someone willing to set aside the tournament to just teach a child struggling with something.
Zora grinned at Tadashi when he looked at her surprised by her offer, "I don't require payment, just the promise that you will be more careful about water challenges, and that you continue to practice with me until I think you are good enough to swim out to that buoy and back by yourself." she explained simply, meeting Rhodes's surprised gaze calmly for a moment, just nodding in acquiescence, before returning to look at Tadashi, then his friend Ethan.
"If you want, Ethan can practice with us too," Zora added remembering how relieved and scared the young regalia had been for Tadashi. Knowing he'd probably closeby anyway and it really made no difference if she taught one or two people.