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Golden Glow

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As a child, Magnus had never believed in mermaids or magic, despite the tales his mother always told him. He had not believed that there were people living in the sea. He had not believed that there was a thing such as magic, making plants grow with just the power of one's mind, healing people from sickness. Giving life. Creating wonders. And he definitely had not believed that his father allegedly had been one of them.
As he turned fourteen years of age, Magnus watched his mother waste away from the fever. And he wanted to believe in magic, he desperately searched for his father's alleged power inside of him to heal his mother, to save her or to at least take the pain away. His mother smiled up at him as a golden glow spread from his fingers, running warmly through his veins. She  closed her eyes, finally at peace and then she was gone.
And at sixteen, Magnus would grow to believe in mermaids as well.

Chapter Text

Unlike his mother, Magnus' adoptive family never told him tales of mermaids. He didn't complain. They were a painful reminder of his mother and he never believed in them anyway. What they did tell him about was magic. The magic of healing, of making grow, a soft golden glow. And Magnus wished he didn't believed that either. It too was a painful reminder of his mom. But he had no choice, for he had seen it with his own eyes. He had felt it run through his veins. He had seen the effect it had had on his mother, or, more specifically, her sickness. It didn't matter how much he hated it, he had no choice but to believe. He still refused to believe in mermaids, though. He didn't know why, he just did.

Magnus learned about mermaids the same day he learned that chickens can float in water. He hadn't known they could. Hearthstone hadn't either. That's why one sunny day in early spring, he pushed Magnus out of his hammock.

'Help me. Chicken in danger!', he signed at Magnus.
Magnus stumbled to his feet and brushed the dirt off his clothes. 'What?'
Hearth just grabbed is hand and pulled him behind the barn. Their farm was located on a small cliff over the sea and the edge was just a few feet behind the barn. Hearth pulled Magnus, who was trying not to trip over his own feet, to the edge and pointed downwards. His words - signs - had been true: there was a chicken in danger. Alberta, their best laying hen, was perching on a prominent rock around half way down. Six feet beneath them. HOW?!

Magnus turned to Hearth and turned up his palms like 'what do you want me to do about it?' Hearth thought for a moment then signed: 'I'm going to climb down and grab her'

An absolutely horrible idea. But before Magnus could grab Hearth's arm to stop him, Hearthstone was already on his way. Magnus watched him with worry as he gracefully swung his legs over the edge, but he knew Hearthstone was stubborn and kind-hearted. This was right up his alley. He was going to rescue this damn chicken. Magnus had to kneel down on the grass and peek over the edge of the cliff to watch Hearthstone descend further downwards the rock wall. His heart pounded in his ears. His hands were so sweaty he was worried they might make Hearth's sweaty, too. Hearthstone had almost reached Alberta and suddenly - Magnus cursed himself for thinking about the sweaty, slippery hands as his heart stopped. The rock under Hearthstone's feet had broken off and now he was falling, falling in slow motion for what seemed like hours. Alberta must have frozen just like Magnus had, she had fallen from her rock like an apple off the tree and she was just as graceful. But, unlike Hearthstone, she had the advantage of wings and even though she was too stupid to simply fly, she at least opened them just before hitting the water, softening the impact.
Hearth's impact meanwhile, was anything but soft. He hit the water the way a dead body hits the ground. Magnus heard someone screaming his name and realized he had done so himself, although absolutely useless, it had been an instinct.

Hearthstone didn't reply, as expected. Because he was deaf and because he had just fallen off a cliff and into the sea. Magnus stared at the splash. He wanted to call for Blitzen, but he knew Blitzen wasn't around. He needs help, he thought, his mind sluggish from shock, before he realized he should be the one doing the helping. He almost toppled over the edge as he tried to get up, then stumbled a few feet before running, sprinting along the path down to the beach. His heart was pounding in his ears, he tripped over a rock and fell, rolling a few feet and getting back up again. Blood trickled down his shin, he didn't care, he kept running. There was the beach. Magnus ran onto the dock, bare feet thumping on the wood, ready to jump into the water. But when he looked around, panicked, he couldn't spot Hearthstone anywhere. Only Alberta was floating on the water, seemingly calm, next to the rest of the bubbles left from Hearth hitting the water. But no Hearth.

No, wait. Something broke through the surface of the water. Something light. Blond hair, pale skin. Hearth! But his eyes were closed and he seemed to be floating on his back. Was he dead? Please don't be dead! Magnus was ready to cry. But Hearthstone wasn't just floating, he was moving towards the shore. And not in the way a dead body was moved by the waves, no, faster, steadier. And his head was positioned weirdly, as if something was holding him up. Something? Someone. The someone soon emerged from the water, only for a splitsecond, a flash of green and pink along with it. But Magnus could tell it was a person, maybe not a human, but humanoid. It took only a few heartbeats - Magnus knew because he could hear his heart beat - for the person  to reach the shore. Magnus watched Hearth float by him as they passed the dock, too shocked and too fascinated to move. Then Hearthstone washed onto the beach and the person immediately disappeared into the water again. And Magnus was finally able to react, to move and he ran off the dock and over to Hearth, falling to his knees next to his friend's body. His healing power was already burning in his veins, tickling his fingertips and he laid, or slapped, rather, his hands onto Hearth's chest and forehead. The golden glow was soft but right now, it blinded him and he closed his eyes until he felt a jerk go trough Hearth's body. Hearth sat up, coughing and spluttering and Magnus let out some air he hadn't even realized he had been holding in. Hearth groaned and laid back down on the sand, closing his eyes. But Magnus was so relieved he couldn't be bothered, he had felt Hearthstone being healed and he knew he was okay.

A splashing sound made him turn around. The person was back. A humanoid being with tan skin and green hair was watching him from the water, half hidden by the dock. Magnus tilted his head to the side, curious and trying not to scare them (it?) away. After a few seconds of shy eye contact they emerged from under the bridge and Magnus could fully see them: something that looked like pink fins, Magnus assumed they were ears, peaked out from between choppy green curls. A few pink scales glittered on their cheeks. But their eyes were what fascinated Magnus the most: one was dark brown, the other a golden amber, and they watched Magnus with a sense of curiosity. Magnus stared back, just as curious but undoubtedly more scared. After a few seconds of awkward eye contact, his gaze fell onto what the being was holding: Alberta.
Alberta the hen was leaning against the being's chest, wet but unharmed. Magnus blinked a few times, then looked back at the person's face. They caught his gaze and nodded towards the dock. Magnus blinked. The person nodded again and this time, Magnus caught on and slowly stood up, brushing sand off his knees. He made his way over to the dock, not breaking eye contact with the person. Who knows, they might drown the chicken. Either on purpose or on accident, but he wasn't risking it.

He could hear is heart pounding in his ears again as he slowly kneeled down on the dock, just above where the person was looking up at him from the water. The person raised their arms, handing Alberta up to him and it took Magnus a few seconds to catch on and grab the chicken. Alberta gurgled quietly, Magnus could feel her wet feathers against his fingers. He knew chickens were quite prone to hypothermia and he didn't want Alberta to die, so he, despite his fatigue, channeled his powers, and soft golden light warmed Alberta's white feathers. Her pulse eased. She was healing.
Magnus heard a soft gasp. He looked up and saw the person looking up at him in awe, the golden light reflecting in their golden eye. Magnus stared back, suddenly realizing that, without the chicken, their chest was exposed. He couldn't help it, he had to look down. Just for a second.
The skin looked smooth and tan, with soft pink scales along the collarbones and across the sternum. But, what fascinated him the most, no nipples. Just smooth skin and scales. It looked fascinating. Magnus blinked, suddenly realizing he had been staring a little too long. He stared down at their hands that were clasped onto the wood of dock. Webbed fingers with strange, long nails. Pink scales.

“What... are you?“ He whispered and immediately regretted his question, because the person didn't seem to like it. They hissed at him, baring rows and rows of sharp canines, then dove back underwater. A pink fishtail splashed water onto Magnus, a few spots of pink glittering under the surface of the water, then they were gone. Magnus stared at the small waves rippling the water, blinking a few times.

What the hell?

 

Magnus managed to somehow carry Hearthstone up to the house and into his bed. He stared at him for a few seconds, worried he might still be hurt, that Magnus might have missed something. But, after he laid his hand on Hearth's chest for a moment, he knew he would be alright. He placed a cup of water and an apple on his bedside table and went to fetch Alberta, whom he had left on the beach. She seemed to have enjoyed her time, having left a whole map of footprints in the dark gray sand. Magnus picked her up and stared at the sea for a moment. No pink tail. No green hair. Just water.

Later, as he was laying in his hammock between the apple trees, he finally thought about what had happened. Hearthstone and Alberta had been saved by a person who had emerged from the sea. A person with fascinating eyes and a beautiful face. A person with a fishtail and scales and weird fishy ears and webbed fingers! It took Magnus an embarrassingly long time to realize, partly because he had refused to believe in them all his life and partly because he could be really dense sometimes, that he had met a mermaid. An actual, real-life mermaid. Like from childhood bedtime stories. Woah.

He contemplated for quite a long time whether to tell Hearthstone and Blitzen. They had never told him tales of mermaids, maybe they didn't believe in them. They would think he was crazy! But they had always believed in his magic, even when he hadn't. Hearthstone had been the one to teach him how to use it. Blitzen had protected him from the people in town while his mother had been shamed and bullied for not having a man at her side. They had opened their doors and their hearts for him, gone into hiding together. They had always been there for him. They'd believe him.

Blitzen came home in the evening, exhausted after a long day of tailoring and dealing with people. Magnus ran out front to greet like he always did. Blitzen laughed and waved before gracefully sliding off the horse. He looked as fancy as always in his frock coat and with his black hair tied back neatly.

“Magnus!“ He grinned and hugged him with one arm, the other one still holding onto the horse.
Magnus hugged him back. Blitzen was shorter than him and Magnus could rest his chin on his shoulder.
“Is dinner ready yet?“

“Yeah, about that“, Magnus said as he pulled away. He had made some, but the only thing he could cook was vegetable soup. Usually, Hearthstone was the one to make dinner, but well... Magnus didn't want to scare Blitzen, so he tried to tell the most harmless version possible.
“Hearth fell into the water earlier and is still resting. I made soup!“

Blitz frowned. “Fell into the water? From where? The dock?“

“The cliff“, Magnus said hesitantly. Blitzen's eyes widened.

“The cliff? Hearthstone fell off the cliff?!“ He shouted, sounding more worried than anything else. Magnus nodded slowly. Blitzen handed him the reins and ran towards the house. Magnus stared after him until he was through the door, then turned to the horse.

“Hey Stanley“, he mumbled and stroked his nose.
“C'mon, let's get you comfortable“
He lead Stanley to the barn where he unsaddled him and fed him some hay. Then he grabbed the baggage Blitzen had brought and carried it to the house. He found Blitz in the bedroom, sitting on the bed with Hearth leaning into his side. Hearth seemed to be fully awake now. The times Magnus had checked on him earlier, he had been kind of sleepy or only semi-conscious. Magnus leant against the door frame, not wanting to disturb their moment.

'How are you feeling?', he signed.

Hearth shrugged. No sign language needed here.

'You want soup?'

Hearth nodded and, with Blitzen's help, slowly got up.

“So“, Blitzen said when they were sitting at the table, soup in front of them. “What exactly happened?“

Magnus looked at Hearthstone, but he was busy slurping his soup.
“Uh“, Magnus said. He told Blitzen the story up to the point where Hearthstone would be rescued.

“So you jumped in and pulled him out?“ Blitzen naturally assumed.

“No“, Magnus replied, no sighing along because Hearthstone was watching. “I think- I think a mermaid saved him“
Blitz and Hearth looked equally surprised.

“A what, now?“ Blitzen asked after a moment of silence.

“A mermaid. You know, fishtail, scales, webbed fingers“, Magnus said. “Crazy pointy teeth“

Blitzen nodded slowly. “A mermaid. Sure“

“You don't believe me, do you?“ Magnus sighed.

“No, no no, I do“, Blitzen said, “I just didn't think they'd live around here... did you say thank you?“

“No...“, Magnus replied, a little ashamed.

“Magnus Chase, how dare you forget your manners! You should have thanked the mermaids“ Blitzen jokingly pointed his spoon at Magnus, who laughed.

'Was she pretty?' Hearth asked.

“I don't know if they're a she. But yeah, they were really pretty“, Magnus felt his cheek heat up a little.

“Aww“, Blitzen laughed and ruffled Magnus' hair. Hearth smiled and went back to his soup.

 

Later, when Blitz and Hearth had gone to bed, Magnus was on his way to the beach. He really wanted to see the mermaid again. And thank them for saving Hearthstone. And find out mermaid stuff. He was just really curious.
The grey sand felt cool against his bare feet. Magnus stood there for a second, contemplating what to do, then he decided to sit on the dock, legs crossed. He usually left them dangling, but he was a little afraid of what the mermaid might do. Bite him, pull him underwater, tickle his feet, whatever.

But how should he let the mermaid know he was here? That he wanted to talk? Just call out to them? Splash around? Throw himself into the water so they'd rescue him? Magnus decided that the first option was the best one.

“Hello? Mermaid?“ He carefully called out. No answer, just the soft rushing of the waves.
“I- I wanted to thank you!“ He tried again. “You saved my friend earlier!“
Still, no reply. After a few minutes, Magnus sighed and got up. He didn't know what he expected. Just as he turned around to leave, he heard a voice behind him.

“Hello“

He jumped and turned around, almost falling off the dock. A golden and a brown eye looked up at him from the water.

The mermaid was back.

Chapter Text

Magnus stared at the mermaid. The mermaid stared back. The eyes were pulling Magnus in, mesmerizing him. After several seconds, he blinked, breaking the spell.

“Uh.. hello“, he said. He stood there a little awkwardly, not knowing what to do or say. The mermaid raised an eyebrow at him. He felt stupid.
“Uh... thanks for saving my friend earlier. And our chicken“

“You're welcome“, the mermaid smirked, exposing sharp and pointy teeth. The level of sarcasm in their voice was unbelievable. Magnus resisted the urge to make a snarky remark, he didn't want them to drown him. He awkwardly sat down with a safe distance to the mermaid, hugging his knees to his chest.

“What's your name?“

“Alex. Yours?“
Well, that didn't solve the riddle of their gender. Also, the way they pronounced the x was really weird. A strange, inhuman clicking sound.

“Magnus“
Magnus rested his chin on his knees.
“Are you a boy or a girl?“

He expected some form of teasing for his question, but Alex seemed calm about it.
“Today, I'm a girl“, she said.

Ah. Wait, what? Today?

Magnus must have made a really stupid face, because Alex snickered.
“It's called genderfluid“, she explained. “Some days I'm a girl, some days I'm a boy“

“Genderfluid“, Magnus repeated. “Wait, is that a pun?“

Alex threw her head back and let out a shrill, clicking sound that Magnus realized was laughter. Now that her neck was exposed like this, he noticed gills at the side of her throat, opening and closing lightly. He watched her laugh with fascination.

“What was that bright stuff you did earlier?“ She asked after a few seconds of laughter. She clasped her hands onto the wood of the dock and pulled herself up until she was able to prop herself up on her elbows. Magnus nervously edged back a little further. Alex rolled her eyes.
“Don't worry, I'm not going to hurt you“

Magnus swallowed and nodded. “Uh... the bright stuff. Yeah. That was magic“

“Magic“, Alex repeated slowly, as if tasting each letter. “What does it do? Apart from glowing“

“It heals, makes the chicken lay more eggs, makes plants grow“, Magnus explained.

“Huh“, Alex looked mildly impressed. “Do all humans have it?“

“No“, Magnus relaxed a little and shifted from hugging his knees to his chest like a scared child to sitting cross-legged. “It's rare. Humans fear it, that's why we live out here. So they won't catch me doing magic“

“Can't you just not do magic around people?“ Alex asked dryly.

“I wasn't able to control it as a kid“, Magnus replied. He knew that his magic was no longer the reason they stayed out here. It was also his dads being together, Hearth being deaf and Magnus having his mother's last name and therefore, her bad reputation. Townspeople hadn't liked a woman raising a child on her own.

“Aha“, Alex nodded. She could obviously tell there was more to it.

“Do mermaids have special abilities?“ Magnus asked, partly to change the topic, partly because he was genuinely curious.

“Depends on what you define as special. Compared to you humans, we have a bunch. Breathe underwater, swim faster than you, communication with fish and“, she lowered her voice dramatically, “some of us can see the future“

Magnus couldn't tell whether she was kidding. “You can?“, he said dumbly.

Alex nodded. “I saw your friend fall, that's why I swam up here and saved his ass. I got it from my mother. She's really good at it, she trained it a lot.  But mermaids don't fear special abilities like you humans do. That'd just be stupid“

Magnus didn't know what to reply. Alex had a point. “He's not just my friend“, he said. “He's one of my adoptive fathers“

Alex nodded. “Alright“

A moment of silence.

“Did you expect me to be shocked?“ She asked. “My clan's pretty progressive, we don't care who you marry“

“Clan?“

“Yeah. Mine is called the Jotunns. We live in the caves along the cliffs“

Magnus stared out at the ocean. “Geez, how many of you are out there?“

“My clan are about fifty. But there are other clans. The closest one is the Asgardians, the live a few hours out in a sparkling city. Our clans used to trade and shit but now-“
She bit her lip as if she had said too much. Magnus decided not to ask any further.
“What about your people?“ She asked.

“Most people live in towns or close by. But not in clans, just with closest family“

“Huh“ Alex splashed her tail around. A few drops landed on Magnus' shirt. “What are the towns like?“

Magnus thought for a moment. It had been a long time since he had been to a town.
“Narrow“, he said. “Lots of stone and wood, lots of different smells. Lots of people... what are the caves like?“

Alex chewed on her lip. Magnus was surprised that her sharp teeth weren't drawing blood.
“A maze. It'd be dark if it weren't for the crystals and the luminescent algae and all that. Everyone lives close to one another. Some of us don't even have their own chambers“

Before Magnus could reply, she perked up, her ears flapping.
“Shit, that's my mother“

Magnus was confused, he didn't hear anything. He must have made a pretty dumb face because Alex noticed.

“It's called infrasound“, she snapped, suddenly jumpy and distressed.
“I have to go- will you come back tomorrow?“

“Sure“, Magnus said, stunned. Alex flashed him a quick smile, then turned around and splash - she was gone.

Magnus stared at the small waves she had left behind. Even after a few minutes, he couldn't get her strange eyes off his mind.

 

When he came into the kitchen the next morning, Hearth and Blitzen were already up and preparing breakfast.

“Morning, sleepy head“, Blitz greeted him. Magnus wasn't awake enough to give a clever remark, so he just turned to Hearth.

'You feeling better?'

Hearth nodded. 'Just needed some sleep'

Magnus nodded and went to have a seat at the table.

“Uh, kiddo“, Blitz said and pointed at a small basket in the corner. “Go fetch some eggs first“

Magnus rolled his eyes, but grabbed the basket and went outside, dragging his bare feet over the floorboards on purpose to annoy Blitzen a little. Blitz and Hearth were his friends but they also were his parents and parents just needed to be annoyed sometimes. While collecting the eggs he paid special attention to Alberta. She seemed fine. Magnus knew she easily could have died by now, but apparently his magic had saved her. He felt a little proud. Every time he used his magic, he became better at it. Sadly, Hearth had taught him all he knew already. There wasn't really a way to move forward now.

“Did you sleep in the barn again?“ Blitzen asked when Magnus sat down next to him a few minutes later. “There's straw in your hair“

“Maybe“, Magnus ducked away. He hadn't been able to sleep. There had been too much on his mind. Hell, pretty much his entire world view had changed! Mermaids were real!

“You okay?“ Blitz asked through a mouthful of cheese and bread.

Magnus nodded. He didn't really want to talk about Alex with his dads for some reason. He usually told them everything. They were stuck on a farm together. But this was his own thing. And he wanted to keep it to himself.

 

Meanwhile Alex was just waking up. She had gotten quite a lecture from Loki, her genderfluid mother/father, last night and barely gotten any sleep. Loki hated her going to the surface, he really hated humans.

“Alex!“ A silvery voice called from outside her chamber. “Time to get up!“
Before Alex could call back, the door to her chamber flew open and a mermaid with long black and a white tail swam in.

“Hel“, Alex groaned and rubbed her eyes.

“Rise and shine!“ Hel practically screamed into her ear and pushed her out of bed.

“Piss off“, Alex hissed.

“Nope“, Hel laughed. “There's a meeting in ten minutes. Get ready. Father said it's important“

Alex groaned. She knew Hel loved annoying her. They were half-sisters and while Loki liked to emphasize the 'sister' part, Hel and Alex focussed on the 'half'.

Hel crossed her arms in front of her chest. It was just as flat as Alex's or any other mermaid's. Alex knew female humans had bumps there. She didn't know why.

“So, do I have a brother or a sister today?“

Alex glared at her. “You pushed me out of bed. Today, you have an enemy“

Hel laughed.

“A sister“, Alex told her on their way out the door.

The meeting ended up being as boring as any other meeting Alex had ever been to. It was, once again, politics. Something about the Asgardians and the Olympians now being official enemies of the Jotunns. Alex fell asleep halfway through. After she was awoken by Hel pulling her hair at the end of the meeting, she slowly made her way to the door of the great hall, but was stopped by her father.

“Alex“, he said, voice as silky as always.

“Father“, she replied, trying to sound cold, but she ended up just sounding nervous. Damn it.

“You're not going to the surface again, are you Alex?“

Alex tried to maintain eye contact, but failed.
“No, I'm not“
Could Loki tell she was lying? If so, he didn't show it.

“You, know there are humans up there“, Loki said. He placed a hand on Alex's shoulder, nails digging into her skin and scales. Alex shuddered.
“And you know what humans do“
He pointed to his heavily scarred face.
“They destroy“

Alex wriggled out of his grip.
“I know. I'm not going to the surface“

Loki stared at her with a blank expression, his blond hair swaying around his face, his red tail and ears completely still.
“Good.“

 

When Magnus came to the beach in the evening, Alex was already sitting on the dock.

Chapter Text

Magnus was glad to see Alex. He had feared she might not come. She. Was Alex a she right now? He'd have to ask.

“Hey“, he greeted her quietly as he sat down next to her, swinging his legs over the edge so they hung next to her tail.

“Hey“, Alex replied. Her voice was a little croaky, as if she had been crying. Why? Did something happen?

“Are you- are you okay?“ He asked hesitantly, not wanting to scare her off by crossing a line.

She sniffed, then cleared her throat. “Yes“, she said, her voice firm. “She/her pronouns today“

“Okay“ Magnus didn't know what else to say. He looked over at her in worry. Her green hair was starting to dry and turning curly. Her ears were a little droopier than yesterday. Her scales were dull. Her eyes seemed to glow in the dark, especially the golden one.

“How's the chicken?“ Alex asked.

“White and fluffy“, Magnus replied dryly. Alex snorted and playfully punched him in the arm. As she touched him, a wave of emotions and sensations flooded through him. It was brief but it left him breathless. Stunned. He hadn't expected this much anger and frustration. This much sadness. And definitely not shoulder pain.

“You okay?“ Alex asked from beside him after a few seconds of Magnus just staring at nothing. He snapped out of it.

“Your shoulder“, he mumbled and turned towards her. “What's wrong with it?“

She instinctively reached up and laid a hand on her shoulder, elbowing Magnus in the process. “How the fuck- did you do some kind of freaky magic on me?“

“No! Maybe! I don't know!“ Magnus rambled. He didn't know what happened. Did he do this?

Alex gave him a weird look. She massaged her shoulder, obviously in pain.

“Hey, come on, let me have a look at that“, Magnus mumbled. Reluctantly, Alex turned to him and moved her hand away, revealing what looked like claw marks on her skin. Magnus leaned in closer, trying to get a better look. Alex looked uneasy about him being so close. Her cheeks were bright red.
“Sorry“, he mumbled. She mumbled something he couldn't understand, but he was sure it was something snarky.
“This looks infected“
The scales around the marks were practically crumbling. The skin was turning green. Ouch.

“It's fine.“ Alex said through gritted teeth. It was very obviously not fine. She clasped a hand over it and broken scales trickled out from under her palm. She hissed in pain.

“Alex.“ Magnus tried to put on the 'end of discussion' voice Blitz would use on him when he was being stubborn. He figured that Hearth's 'end of discussion' hands would be no use.
“Let me heal you“

Alex rolled her eyes but dropped her hand off her shoulder. Dead scales fell into her lap. Magnus cracked his knuckles, concentrating on the warm power flowing through his veins. His fingures hummed and quickly warm light was emanating from them, illuminating Alex's face. She looked at them with a childlike expression of amazement.

“Ready?“ Magnus asked her and she nodded quickly.

“Just get it over with!“

Magnus took a deep breath and placed his hand on the claw marks. Once again, the frustration and sadness from before flooded into him, knocking the air out of lungs. It took him everything he had in him to keep going. The glow got so bright he had to close his eyes. As soon as he did, images flooded his mind.

A blond merman seemed to shake his shoulders and yell at him. In less than a second, it changed and he saw the same merman, but with his face heavily burned and infected. He was screaming in pain. Another image. The merman slapping him across the face, yelling at him. And suddenly he was seeing himself, leaning over Hearthstone on the beach, healing him.
Memories. He was seeing memories. Alex's memories. And he was feeling what she was feeling. Which was awful. He couldn't imagine. The only good memory seemed to be the one of him. Weird. Why?

Alex gasped loudly, pulling him back to reality. He openend his eyes and stared right into hers. She was only inches from him. He could feel her breath tickling his lips. He could swear that her eyes flicked down to them for a split second before she pulled herself together and jerked away, brushing his hand off her shoulder. Magnus awkwardly cleared his throat and stared at his lap.

“Thanks“, Alex mumbled. No mean comment?

“No problem“, Magnus mumbled back. He was sure Alex was feeling just as awkward. Why had she been so close? Who was that angry merman? What was it with that memory of him? Was this caused by his magic?
“Does your, uh, does your shoulder feel better?“

Alex moved shoulder, then ran a hand over where the claw marks used to be. As far as Magnus could see, they had faded to scars.
“Yeah“, she said.

“Okay“, Magnus replied just for the sake of replying.

Awkward silence again. They just sat next to each other, Magnus staring at his lap, Alex staring off into the distance, his swinging legs almost brushing against her tail.

 

Alex bit down on her lip until she could taste blood. The weird feeling Magnus' magic had given her still lingered. It was like she was floating. Glowing from the inside. It had been a feeling of ecstasy and she could still feel it in her bones. He was glowing! She thought. His fingers, his lips, the veins under his skin, they glow when he does magic!
Absentmindedly, she ran her fingers over the new scars on her shoulder. They were so sensitive it made her shudder. Her father had left them there. On purpose. Did he really hate her that much? Why was she so different from everyone else in her clan? Why were her scales not as prominent, her eyes more sensitive to the saltwater, why didn't her throat become as dry as others when she was breathing with her lungs?

“Are you okay?“ Magnus asked beside her.

“Yeah, I'm fine“
She wasn't. She stared out at the sea.
“It's getting dark, I should probably go. Father is expecting me“

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Magnus nod.
“Okay“, he mumbled. Was it just her or did he sound a little sad?
She didn't want to go, but she knew she had to. If father found out she had been here... well, it would probably end with more than just scratches. Slowly, very slowly she glid off the dock and into the water. Magnus gave her a small wave and she splashed him, which earned her a small squeak. Then she dove underwater.

 

Magnus had no trouble falling asleep tonight. Magic always exhausted him and this time, it had been especially draining. He still wondered what was up with the sudden waves of emotions.
He decided to sleep outside in his hammock. His room felt too stuffy and too small for him most of the time and tonight, it had been unbearable. Falling asleep under the stars was just what he needed right now.

Magnus usually didn't dream, but tonight, he did. It was a mess, full of Alex's memories, the angry merman screaming in his face, shaking him like a ragdoll. Magnus didn't like it. In fact, he felt awful. Scared. Panicking, he tried to escape his grip but it was no use. He awoke in cold sweat, the full moon right above him.

He didn't remember falling asleep again but he woke up with the sun shining in his face. From the position of the sun he could tell it was close to noon already. He closed his eyes for a second, enjoying the warmth. He didn't usually sleep in and it was probably time to get up. Groaning, he climbed out of his hammock, his feet landing in the grass. It felt higher than it should. When he looked down, he realized that flowers and herbs were growing all around his hammock, the highest ones just underneath it.
Did... did he do this? His magic? He knew he could make plants grow, he had done it before... but never this many. And never in his sleep.

Later, when he feeding the goats, Magnus started to wonder if the flowers might be connected to his nightmare. Maybe the fear he had felt in that dream had activated his magic somehow. Huh. Weird. Magnus decided to shrug it off. He needed to finish feeding the goats, Sam would be here soon.

Samirah Al-Abbas was the heir to the wealthiest and most powerful family in town. Magnus' mother had worked as a gardener on their residence and thus, Magnus and Sam had grown up together. When Magnus had moved out of town a few years ago, she had picked up the habit of visiting whenever she could. Almost every week, she rode out on her horse. Usually, she'd find Blitz in his tailor shop and tell him when she'd be over.
Today, she was back again.

Magnus ran out front to greet her when he spotted her riding up the hill. Sam waved at him, her green headscarf blowing in the wind.

“Magnus!“ She greeted him as she got off her horse.

“Hey Sam“
Magnus pet the horse's neck.
“Hey Sleipnir“
Sleipnir puffed a little.

 

Magnus brought him to the barn while Sam dropped the stuff she brought off at the house.

“I brought some falafel and pita bread and a bunch of books. Fairy tales, geography and medicine. They're on the table“, she announced as they met outside.

“Sam, you are a lifesaver! Falafel!“ Magnus exclaimed.

“Also education“, Sam laughed. “Do you just wanna stay stupid and eat falafel for the rest of your life?“

Magnus had finished school at twelve, like every other kid in town. Most of them went on to either learn their parents profession and some, like Samirah, were able to pursue a higher education because they were rich and had the time. Magnus actually liked learning and used to wish he could still go to school. Sam always brought him new books from her library and picked up the old ones.

“Yes“

She playfully punched his arm. That was the most physical contact the two of them ever had. Sam actually had a betrothed, a man named Amir, the heir to the other rich family in town. He was the one making the falafel for Magnus. Magnus had never met him, but he liked him.

Sam and Magnus strolled around the farm, picking fruit off the trees. They talked about this and that, what had happened in their lives during the last few days and Magnus even got a little gossip about the townspeople out of her. As they wandered towards the beach, Magnus wondered whether he should tell Sam about Alex. He wasn't sure if she would believe him. Also, he felt it might take away the intimacy of their meet ups and he didn't want that.
When they reached the beach, Magnus found himself instinctively looking around for Alex, as if she'd be hanging out there in the middle of the day. But of course, she wasn't there. The only thing he spotted was a pair of scratch marks on the planks of the dock.

Chapter Text

When Alex awoke, he could still feel the high of Magnus' powers. He blinked a few times, not knowing where he was for a second. He was laying on his side, his head against Magnus' chest, an arm around his shoulders. Magnus seemed to still be asleep, breathing calmly, his arm heavy. Lazily, Alex shifted, rolling onto his back. His gills and ears felt dried out after a night without water. He blinked again, suddenly realizing the sun was almost up. Oh crap. Hel was going to kill him. And Loki... Alex didn't even want to think about it.
Slowly, he detached Magnus' arm from his shoulders and sat up. Magnus stirred.

“Sorry“, Alex whispered. His voice was hoarse. He needed water. He turned back to Magnus. He looked younger with his face at rest like this, long blond hair falling into his eyes and over the freckles on his cheeks. Carefully, Alex reached out and brushed a lock out of Magnus' forehead. Magnus' lips curled into a small smile, then relaxed again. Alex smiled back, then snapped out of it. What was wrong with him? He wasn't usually this... emotional. Maybe Magnus' magic had had white an effect. Or maybe this was what friendship was like.

Then sun peaked over the horizon. Alex sighed, flashed another glance at Magnus and slid off the dock.

 

Magnus was woken up by Hearthstone shaking his shoulder. He immediately noticed Alex was gone. The sun was already up. Magnus stretched, his joints cracking.

'What are you doing here?' Hearth signed.

'I fell asleep', Magnus replied with tired hands. He had decided a while ago to keep Alex a secret. It just felt right.

Hearth looked at him for a minute, then nodded. He stood up and held out a hand for Magnus to pull himself up.

'Thanks', Magnus signed. As they made their way back to the house, he kept turning to look at the sea, hoping for a sign of Alex, but no. Nothing.

'Are you okay?' Hearth asked him during breakfast.

Magnus just nodded and shoveled porridge into his mouth. Hearth reached across the table and laid a hand on his forearm. He raised his eyebrows as if to say 'you sure?'
Magnus just nodded again. Hearth gave him another worried look, but he took his hand away again.

 

Alex swum home as fast as he could. As he reached the caves, he was almost sure he had made it there safely. But he was wrong. When he sneaked into his room, he found Hel sitting on his bed.

“Where were you?“ She snarled.

“Hello to you to, my dear sister“, Alex said dryly and swam past her. She stopped him by grabbing his arm.
“Hey!“ He complained.

“You were at the surface again, weren't you?“

“No“, Alex lied but it was no use. Everyone from their clan knew Hel could basically read minds.

She sighed loudly, her gills fluttering. “You leave me no choice“
Alex squirmed in her grip.
“I'm telling father“

Hel pulled him along the corridors and no matter how he struggled, her grip was firm. Her nails scratched his skin every time he moved. Alex's arm was practically raw by the time they reached Loki's chamber. Hel didn't enter immediately, which wasn't unusual since Loki didn't like to be surprised and one would have to ask for permission to enter first. But Hel didn't say anything. Instead, her ears peaked up. Alex raised his eyebrows at her, but then he heard it too. Someone, it sounded like Skadi, was talking to Loki. Or more like shouting at him.

“The halfbreed was seen near the surface again!“ She hissed. Alex flapped his ears, trying to hear more. Halfbreed? Half what? Was there someone else going to the surface, not just him? Or did they mean-

A hissing sound. Loki. “I told Hel to watch her!“

Alex cringed at the wrong pronouns. But now it was clear, they did mean him. Hel couldn't be watching anyone else. She was too busy following him around everywhere he swam and she hated everyone else too much anyway. Not even Loki's direct orders could force her to deal with someone she didn't like.

“Well, Hel must have been doing a splendid job, because the halfbreed has been sighted almost every night“, Skadi hissed again.

Loki cursed, a mix of words and sounds. Not very proper. “Stop her“, he ordered. “Lock her up if you have to! She cannot find out!“

Hel's grip on Alex's arm tightened again. He looked up at her. She no longer looked angry, instead her expression implied fear. Alex swallowed. He had never seen Hel look afraid. This wasn't good. What did all of this mean? Halfbreed? Half mermaid and half what?
Hel tugged at his arm again, pulling him into the direction they had come from.

“Hel, what-“, he tried, but she shushed him.

“Not here“, she looked around, then pulled him down another corridor. “I'll explain everything, I promise, but we need to get you somewhere save first“

Alex let her yank him down corridors and around corners. He wasn't strong enough to tear himself loose and, strangely enough, he trusted her right now. He didn't understand what she was doing. They usually didn't give a damn about each other and she had just been about to rat him out to Loki!

“Why are you doing this?“ He asked. She sushed him, but answered anyway.

“You're my brother“

“HALF-brother“, Alex corrected her.

“Still brother“, she insisted and swam around another corner. Suddenly, they were out of the caves and in a forest of kelp.

“Okay, what is going on?“ Alex asked as soon as Hel let go of his arm.

“Alex, what did you hear in there?“ Hel looked genuinely worried.

“Halfbreed“, he repeated Skadi's words. “That's me isn't it? I'm a halfbreed“

Hel nodded. “Yes“
She didn't look happy about it. Alex didn't know how to feel about it yet, heck, he didn't even know what this meant!

“Half what?“ He asked quietly. “Half mermaid and half what?“

“Human“, Hel sighed. “You're half human, Alex“

 

Magnus was in a weird headspace today. He somehow couldn't stop thinking of Alex. And it made his magic freak out, it seemed. When he picked up a hen to put her back with the others, she popped out an egg right then and there. Flowers kept growing under his hammock after he had had laid down there to read. His hands kept glowing.

But he had no idea why he kept thinking about Alex. Did he miss him? He guessed so. But why? Alex was his friend. But so was Samirah and he didn't constantly think about her. Was he maybe just lonely? Maybe. Did he have a crush like his dads would probably tell him? Definitely not. Absolutely not. No.

'Are you alright?' Hearthstone asked after Magnus had accidentally made a grain in his cereal spring.

He nodded.

Hearth raised his eyebrows, he obviously didn't believe him. He raised his hands as if to say 'c'mon'.

Magnus sighed. Should he- ? He didn't want to. But it might be the smartest decision. And he felt bad about keeping secrets from his fathers. He was sure it'd be okay. So, he opens up.

 

Alex's heart stops in his chest. His stomach drops to his knees.
“What do you mean, half human?“

“Your father was human. Loki met him during his trips to the surface and...“ Hel shrugged. “It's a miracle you're alive. Most halfbreeds are born without gills and they drown“

Alex stared at her with wide eyes. He believed her, he always knew he was somehow different. His mouth wasn't as wide, his skin was more tan, his scales were softer. His hearing wasn't as good. He looked more... human. Was that why he felt himself being drawn to the surface? To Magnus?

“But... but Loki hates humans“, he mumbled.

“Yeah, ever since you hatched and he brought you up to the surface“, Hel said bitterly. “Your father screamed at him. He was the one to burn Loki's face“

Alex nodded slowly. This was a lot to take in.
“How do you know all this?“

“I was there when you hatched. I took care of you while Loki was recovering. I demanded answers and he ended up giving them to me“

“Huh“ Alex felt like he needed to lay down. “What are we going to do now?“

“Pretend you don't know anything. Don't draw attention to yourself“, Hel said firmly. “Do not go up to the surface!“

“But- but I have to!“ Alex blurted out. His usually cool facade had crumbled completely. A storm of emotions was raging inside him and it was messing him up.

Hel raised her eyebrows. “Why on earth would you HAVE to go the surface unless... there's someone there! Alex, that's dangerous! Are you crazy?“

“He's my friend!“ Alex hissed. “And you can't stop me!“

“But father will!“ Hel barked. “And even though you're my brother, I will not hesitate to tell on you!“

“Why?“ Alex asked, his tail lashing through the water. “Why would you do that to me?“

“To protect you! Humans are dangerous!“ Hel was almost screaming now.

“You don't know that!l“ Alex hissed. “You only know the lies Loki told you! I met a human! I know what they are like! And they are NOT dangerous!“

“Alex, you're too naive, you're just a child“ Hel tried to lay a hand on his shoulder, but he slapped his hand away.

“Don't patronize me! I fought in the war just like you did, I can make my own decisions!“ Alex screamed. “And I am going to the surface!“
Then he turned around and swam back into the caves.

 

Hearthstone stared at Magnus in disbelief.
'A mermaid?'

Magnus nodded. 'You don't believe me', he signed.

'I do', Hearth replied. 'I just didn't think there were any left around here'

Magnus raised his eyebrows. 'What do you mean? Did something happen?'

Hearth nodded. 'There was an incident about...', he counted on his fingers, 'seventeen years ago. There were a lot of rumors about what happened and the one thing I know for sure is that this one man, the local potter, he tortured a mermaid. Burnt their face'

Magnus swallowed. 'Ouch'
A brief image, a memory, of a burnt face flashed through his mind. He brushed it off.

'That's why we decided to keep your magic a secret. We knew people weren't ready', Hearth explained.

Magnus nodded. 'I understand'
He wondered if Alex would be angry that he told Hearth about them. But it wasn't like they had determined to keep their friendship a secret. Still, he was worried. And this evening, Alex didn't show.

Chapter Text

Alex stared at the ceiling. She had long given up on trying to pry open the door or screaming for help. It was no use. The whole clan was in on this. Even Hel. Alex hit a fist against the wall. She felt so betrayed. She knew she and Hel had never been close, but she hadn't expected her to stab her in the back like this.

“Did you rat me out?“ she asked when Hel came to visit her in her cell. There was no other way to put it, it was a cell. “Is that how they caught me?“

“I did not“, Hel replied through the door. “I wanted to let you go, I promise“

Alex just snorted. She didn't believe her one bit. How else would Skadi and Loki have caught her on her way out of the caves? Hel must have swum straight to them to let them know. That snitch! That was five days ago. Or was it six? Alex had begun losing track of time. She had no idea what was happening in the outside world. What was happening to Magnus. Was he okay? Was he mad that Alex stopped showing up? Did he worry about her?

 

Magnus did, indeed, worry. When Alex didn't show the first night, he was a simply little upset. He had figured she had just been caught up and couldn't make it. He had waited on the dock for hours and when it was obvious she wouldn't be coming, he had gone straight to bed. Or hammock, to be exact. He couldn't stop thinking about her all day and when she didn't show up the second night, he was starting to worry. Did he do something wrong? Did Alex hate him? Was she HURT? By night three he was a mess. His magic was going nuts, making stuff grow and glowing all over the place. By night four, Hearthstone refused to leave him alone because he was so worried. And now, by night six he practically was permanently attached to the dock, desperately waiting for Alex to appear.

 

Being locked up like this was slowly killing Alex. She wasn't exaggerating. She could barely keep any food down. Her skin was sickly pale. Having to breathe through her gills all the time was troubling. She ached for the sun, for air in her lungs. Her human side was suffering. Her bad mental health wasn't helping. Isolation was hell. Not just being away from Magnus, but the deafening silence except for Hel's occasional visits. Alex didn't want to admit it but she longed for them. Just to have something to fill the silence with. Even if it was fighting.

Over the last few days, there had been some sounds outside her cell, ones she couldn't distinguish. Maybe voices. Shouting.

“What has been going on out there?“ She asked Hel though the door.

“The Asgardians have declared war“, Hel replied. She sounded stressed.

Alex was surprised. She knew there had been tension between the clans for years, decades even, but she had never thought she would live to see a war.
“How bad is it?“ She asked quietly. She had never been particularly fond of her family, but by no means did she want them to die in a damn war.

“Pretty bad“, Hel replied. There was a small hole in the door, for food and fresh water. Hel stuck her hand through it. Instinctively, Alex reached out to hold it. They were sisters, after all.

“Will you be fighting, too?“ She asked.

“Yes“, Hel squeezed her hand. Alex knew that this would the answer, but she had hoped it wouldn't.
“I will fight and die alongside my clan“

“Don't say that“, Alex mumbled. There was a shout outside the door.

“I have to go“, Hel pulled her hand away. “I'll be back“

Alex nodded, really just to herself, and cowered into the corner of the room. She wanted Magnus.

 

“What if she's DEAD?“ Magnus cried into Blitzen's shoulder. “It's been a week!“

“Shh“, Blitzen mumbled and rubbed Magnus' back. He was signing at Hearth over his shoulder, mostly along the lines of 'What exactly is going on?' Or 'Have you tried giving him warm milk?'
Hearth and Blitzen were great fathers, but they were a little helpless at times.

'No, I'll go get some' Hearth signed back. They managed to peel Magnus off of Blitz and thrusted the cup of warm goat's milk into his hands, which promptly started glowing.

“Oh dear“, Blitz exclaimed. “We need to get your mermaid back, your magic is all over the place“

Magnus, glow emanating from every vein visible under his skin, nodded. He wiped a tear off his cheek. “I'm just so scared“

“We understand, buddy“, Blitz assured him and took his hand. Hearth, usually not a toucher, wrapped his arms around him from behind. He rested his chin on Magnus shoulder, shooting worried glances at Blitz.

'We have to do something' he signed at him, later, when Magnus was sitting on the dock again. They were standing on the cliff over the beach, watching their son.

'But what?' Blitz signed back. He leaned against Hearth, his head against his collarbone.

'I haven't the slightest idea' Hearth admitted. He felt Blitzen sneak his arms around his waist and under his linen shirt. They rested against each other, both staring down at the dock and the boy sitting there.

Blitz detached himself from his husband after a few minutes. 'I can't believe he never told us about her'

'He usually tells us everything'

'Maybe that's why. He needed some privacy'

Hearth thought for a moment, then nodded. 'Do you think they are in love? Him and the mermaid?'

Blitz nodded. 'I'm pretty sure' He chuckled and leant against Hearth again. 'Don't you remember what we used to be like? They are even more intense'

'Used to be?' Hearth teased. 'We still are'

Blitz laughed, a loud sound breaking the silence of their conversation. 'That's true'

They kissed softly, Hearth leaning down, Blitz on his tip toes.

'I love you', Blitz signed and Hearth signed it back at him. They both looked down to Magnus, who was kneeling on the dock, his face buried in his hands. Blitz sighed. 'What are we gonna do about this?'

 

Alex was swimming endless circles in her cell. Objectively, she knew she shouldn't be moving this much in her weakened state, but she couldn't care less right now. All she could think about was Magnus. Was he okay? She missed him so much. He appeared in her dreams at night. Sometimes she could still feel his fingers on her skin where he had touched her in her dreams. Just faint touches, affectionate, leaving traces of glow on her skin. She wondered what this meant. Having grown up an outcast, she had never really experienced... friendship. Was this still friendship? Alex had no way of telling. Mermaids were not a very affectionate folk, especially not the Jotunn clan. Even ones that were mates for life didn't do as much as touch in public. Sharing a chamber was a rare thing. Maybe this was her human side. Missing Magnus, craving his touch, that was a very unmermaidy thing to experience. Alex usually wasn't an over-thinker but she had a lot of time on her hands nowadays. So, she tried to analyze every little thing about their relationship. She wanted to understand what she was feeling for Magnus, even though she knew she would probably never see him again.

A knock on their door makes her stop her circling. Hel?

“Alex“, a voice said outside. Loki.

“What the hell do you want?“ Alex hissed.

“Just talk“, Loki replied. His voice was warm, but Alex knew that didn't mean anything.

“About what? How you've been keeping secrets from me all my life? How you threw me in here?“ She hissed.

“Alex, I know a lot has happened“, Loki said fake-softly. “But all this is necessary“

“How?“ Alex snapped. “How is throwing your daughter in jail necessary? Why did you even keep me if you hate me so much?“

“Alex, I can't tell you. I don't have much time, I came here to say goodbye. Ymir is sending me to the front“, Loki's voice had the slightest hint of resignation.

Alex swallowed. She hadn't expected this. Ymir was the head of the Jotunn clan and he was a big fan of war. But she hadn't realized Loki would be fighting at the front lines, too. Even though she hated him, this was a bit of a shock.

“Just tell me one thing“, she said, her voice trembling. “My father. What happened?“

“I met him on a trip to the surface. He was living on a small farm close to the beach and spotted me one day. We met up every night and ended up falling in love. When you hatched I brought you up to him and he got angry and“, Loki sighed, “he poured some sort of burning liquid on my face and told me to show my face up there again“
There's a brief pause. “Just because of you“

Alex stared at the door in hatred. This wasn't her fault! She didn't ask to be born!

“I have to go“, Loki said through the door.

“I hope you die out there“, Alex hissed.

Loki didn't reply. He was gone already.

 

Magnus stared at the glowing veins under his skin. He couldn't think of anything but Alex. His fear. The hundreds of questions on his mind. Was she okay? Did he mess up? Did this have something to do with the blond merman he had seen in Alex's memories and his dreams? What if she was dead? Magnus had never felt this strongly about anyone. No one had ever made his powers go crazy like this. No one had ever kept him up at night. When Magnus thought of Alex, his heart was beating faster. His palms were sweating. He wanted to see her again. Feel her skin under his fingertips. Maybe his dads had been right... maybe he did have a crush.

Chapter Text

Hel was back after two days. As soon as Alex heard her voice, he was at the door, pressing his ear up against it.

“Hel?“

“Yes, it's me. How are holding up?“

“I'm trying“
That was a nice way to put it. In all honesty, Alex felt like he was dying. He needed the sun, he needed air. He needed to see Magnus.
“You? What's going on out there?“

“It's hell“, Hel said. She sounded tired. “Fifteen or twenty of us are dead already. The Asgardians are advancing“

“Oh, shit“, Alex mumbled. He didn't think it was that bad. “Are you fighting, too?“

“Yes“, Hel replied. “But I can take care of myself, don't you worry“

“And father?“ Alex asked reluctantly. “Is he dead?“

“No“, Hel replied. “I watched him kill someone yesterday. It was terrifying“

“I can imagine“, Alex mumbled. He suddenly got a wild idea. “Hel, can you do something for me?“

“Depends“, Hel replied. “What is it?“

“The human I've been visiting at the surface. Magnus. I need you to tell him I'm okay. He's probably worried out of his mind. Can you do that?“

Silence. Alex didn't know why he was trusting Hel with this. She had crossed him before. But he was desperate and honestly, his situation could hardly get worse.

“Alex, you're crazy“, Hel said. “You want me to swim up the surface while there's a war going on?“

“Yes“

Silence.

“Hel, please“, Alex begged. “I know I'll never see him again, I'll probably die either in this war or in this fucking cell, so can you please do this for me“

“Okay“, Hel replied after a moment of silence. “I'll try“

Alex let out a breath of relief. “Thank you“

“I have to go“, Hel said. “I'll let you know how it went“

“Good luck“, Alex mumbled and squeezed a hand through the hole in the door. Hel briefly squeezed his fingers, then she was gone.

 

Magnus was waiting on the dock again. He hadn't yet given up on Alex eventually showing up, even though he knew chances were low. His fathers had stopped by earlier, trying to convince him to come back to the house, maybe eat something, get some sleep. Magnus had refused. So they had just both kissed the top of his head and given up. And now Magnus was just sitting here. Waiting. Glowing.

He almost didn't believe his eyes when the water began rifling in a very familiar way. A head rose from the water, then some shoulders and a pair of hands with webbed fingers and long nails latched onto the dock. Magnus jumped to his feet. Alex? No. This one looked different. Her hair was long and black, her skin was white as porcelain. Her mouth was wider. She looked more fish-like than Alex. Also, what was she doing here?

“Are you Magnus?“, she asked, her voice more inhumane than Alex's.

“Who are you?“ He whispered, leaning down a little.

“My name is Hel“, she replied. “Alex is my brother“

Magnus dropped to his knees. Tears were forming in his eyes.  “Where is he?“ he demanded, his voice trembling.

“Locked up in the caves“, Hel replied quite nonchalantly. She raised a pale hand before Magnus could speak again. He made a pained little noise. “It is forbidden to go up to the surface. Our father had to punish him“

“Your father“, Magnus repeated. A faint image appeared on his mind, just a tiny piece of Alex's memories. He wrung his hands. “Why would he do this?“

“He hates humans“, Hel sighed. “They burned his face“

So it had been her father he had seen in Alex's memories. Magnus had been wondering about that over the last few days, amongst many other things, all of which were concerning Alex. “Why are you telling me this?“

“Because Alex is probably never coming back“, Hel said bluntly.

Magnus' heart stopped in his chest. His skin began glowing brighter. His hands were burning hot. No. No, no, no! “What!?“

Hel jerked back a little, obviously taken aback by his outburst. “Our clan is at war“, she explained. “The enemy is coming closer each day. If they take over the caves, Alex is dead“

 

Alex's scales had started to flake. Whenever he ran his hands over them, more bits broke off, floating away in the water. He really needed to get out of here. There had been no visitors today. Not even to bring him food. Alex figured they were all fighting. He could hear the fighting outside, very faintly through the narrow caves. Mostly just screaming. Merpeople had close to no weapons, they just fought with claws and their natural venom. Venom Alex did not possess. He knew that if the Asgardians reached his cell, he wouldn't stand a chance. He needed to flee. And then somehow avoid the enemy so they couldn't kill him. Then swim to the surface without passing out and find Magnus. Magnus. Had Hel reached him already? Was he okay? Alex missed him so much. The thought of him was the only thing that gave him the strength to keep going, to survive this. His feelings for Magnus were so strong, he wasn't sure it could still be called friendship. Maybe this was love. Alex wouldn't know, love was not something he had felt before. It was awful, that he finally know what he was feeling but being locked up in here, with no way of seeing him ever again or him even knowing. More scales broke when he wrapped his arms around himself. This was killing him.

 

Magnus buried his face in his hands. No, no, no! This couldn't be happening! This was just a bad dream, Alex was okay! Wake up, Magnus! But it was no use. This was real, so very real.

“You need to get him out of there!“ He cried, banging onto the dock with glowing fists. Hel flinched.

“Magnus, there's a war-“, she tried but Magnus interrupted her.

“Get. Him. Out!“ He hissed through gritted teeth.

“A-Alright“, Hel gave in, looking genuinely intimidated.

“And bring him here“, Magnus continued. “I'll protect him“

“How?“ Hel asked the question Magnus didn't know how to answer.

“I'll figure it out“, he mumbled, exhausted all of a sudden. His glow was fading, too. This had been a little much.

Hel nodded. She seemed tired as well. “Alex is lucky to have someone who loves him as much as you do“, she mumbled. “I'll try to get him out“
Then she dipped underwater and was gone.

 

Alex had basically tried everything now. He had tried to pick the lock and broken almost all of his fingernails. He had tried to ram the door open and now his shoulders were swollen and aching. His hands were raw. He felt close to fainting. This was it, he realized. He was going to die in here. The fighting was closer now, he could hear it. Soon, they would reach the caves and then it would be over for him.

“Alex!“ He heard Hel hiss on the other side.

“Hel!“ He gasped, shaking his head to keep himself from passing out. “Hel, how is Magnus?“

“Alex, I'm getting you out!“ Hel hissed instead of answering his question. Less than a second later, the door flew open, bringing a wave of fresh water. Alex desperately sucked it in, his gills aching.

“Is Magnus okay?“ He asked again, already swimming towards Hel.

“He's fine“, she replied, waving at Alex to hurry. “C'mon, move!“

Alex looked at her for a second, his eyes only slowly getting used to the light of the halls again. His cell had been almost completely dark. Hel was covered in bruises and small cuts. Alex wasn't surprised. It was war, afterall.
“Are you okay?“

“I can manage“, she replied, already swimming down the hall. Alex followed as quickly as he could. After only a few wags of his tail, he was already feeling faint again. Nevertheless, he carried on. This wasn't the time to pass out, he needed to get out of here! They swam around a corner and the sound of battle became very clear. It was close. Hel turned back to Alex.

“We need to separate. Swim out the back. Then along the cliffs until you reach Magnus, okay? That's the safest route“

Alex nodded. “And you?“ He didn't really want to leave his sister alone.

Hel looked towards the battle sounds. “My clan needs me. I'll be okay“
Alex reached out and squeezed her hand. He was reluctant to go. He had grown strangely close to Hel. He even trusted her.
“Alex, go“, Hel insisted. She squeezed his hand, then dropped it and swam away. Alex looked after her for a second, then began moving into the other direction.

 

Magnus stared into the water. He had calmed down a little, but he was still glowing bright enough to attract all sorts of insects in the dark night. Hel's words were echoing in his head. She was right. His outburst earlier had proven it to him. He did love Alex, like actually love him. And now Alex might be dead. Magnus banged a fist against the wood in frustration. There was nothing he could do except wait. Wait for Hel to succeed, for Alex to make it through the battlefield that was down there underneath the calm surface. To make it here, to him.

When Hearthstone and he would be waiting for Blitzen to come home during a storm, Hearth would always tell him to 'send him strength'. He claimed it was part of his abilities, but Magnus never found out whether it really was or if it was just a tale, something Hearth would tell him to stop him from worrying. But Magnus was at his last straw. He wouldn't know how to deal with losing Alex forever. Trying this was all he could do. So, he focussed on Alex, summoning his magic.

 

Alex was about to pass out. He had made it out of the caves, mostly by pulling himself along the walls. His tail was so heavy he felt like he was sinking. 'This is it', he thought to himself. 'This is how I die: exhaustion. Oh for fuck's sake!'
His eyes fell shut, his hands went numb. He began to sink, for real this time, too weak to move. A picture of Magnus crossed his mind. So real he could practically feel his warmth. And it was getting warmer. Okay, this wasn't just in his mind. This was happening. Alex slowly felt the life return to his body and when he opened his eyes, he could see a golden glow emanating from his scarred shoulder, then his veins, then his entire body. Strength flooded his muscles, his mind cleared. Alex swished his tail, shooting upwards towards the surface. This was Magnus' doing, he realized. Magnus' power had just saved his life.

 

Magnus kept up his magic until he saw a head rise from the water. Could it be...?

“Alex!“ He called out.

“Magnus!“ Alex called back, swimming towards the dock. Magnus kneeled down, holding his hand out for him to grab. Alex was alive! He couldn't believe it, Alex was alive and he was here! Magnus was so overjoyed he was still glowing.
“Magnus!“ Alex shouted again, now close enough to grab his hand. Magnus held on tight, pulling him up. He had no idea where this superhuman strength had come from, but suddenly Alex was on the dock with him, laying on top of him, Magnus' back pressed against the wood, their faces inches from each other. Both were breathing heavily. Magnus smiled up at Alex brightly, his glow lighting up their faces.

“You're alive“, he whispered. “Alex, you're alive“

“Thanks to you“, Alex mumbled. “Your magic saved me“

Magnus wanted to answer but suddenly Alex was leaning in and Magnus was also leaning in, now their noses brushed past each other and oh god, now they were kissing, they were actually kissing! Magnus' powers exploded like never before as he pulled Alex closer, so warm, so good. Alex grabbed his face, kissing him harder. It was a mess of tongue and teeth and heavy breathing and Magnus felt like he was floating, he was glowing so bright he could see it through his closed eyelids. Alex was also burning hot, so hot Magnus was sure he was leaving a scorching imprint on his body, but he didn't care, he only cared about kissing Alex right now. Alex tugged at his hair, wanting him closer, but suddenly he gasped, pulling away. He let out a scream of pain, making Magnus jump. The glow stopped.

“Magnus“, Alex gasped. “Magnus, my tail!“

Magnus scrambled to sit up a little so he could see Alex's full body. When he spotted what Alex had meant, his jaw dropped.

Alex's tail was gone. Instead, he had legs.

Chapter Text

“Oh my god.“ Magnus stared at Alex's legs. “How the hell-“

“I don't know“, Alex said weakly, “Magic?“

“You mean I did this?“ Magnus blinked a few times, but the legs stayed legs. “How the fuck would I-“

“I'm half human“, Alex cut him off, “And your magic-“, he waved his hands around. “It must have messed with my genes or something when we...“

“Kissed“, Magnus finished for him, cheeks hot.

Alex looked down at his legs, blushing. “Yeah...“

Magnus reached up and slipped his shirt off, handing it over to him. Alex gave him a grateful smile as he wrapped the shirt around his hips, covering himself up. Magnus pretended that he hadn't stared.

“Can you- can you walk?“ He asked when Alex was done.

“Magnus I literally just got legs, how would I be able to walk?“

He had a point.

They somehow made it up the path to the house, Magnus carrying Alex bridal style. Hearth was sitting on the bench outside, reading a book. When Magnus cast a shadow onto him, he looked up. His jaw dropped. Without asking any questions he jumped on his feet to hold open the door for his son.

“Thanks!“, Magnus huffed out since he had no free hand to sign with but his father seemed to understand. He hurried through the house in front of them, opening doors and moving things out of the way while Alex clung to Magnus with trembling fingers.

Magnus' arms were shaking as he gently lowered Alex down onto his bed. Hearth had left the room again, was now rummaging through the kitchen. The magical glow was slowly fading from underneath Alex's heavy eyelids; his body was limp on the mattress. Magnus pulled a blanket over him, earning a small smile. As he turned to leave the room, a cool hand caught his wrist.

“No“, Alex whispered, “stay“

Then he was out cold.

 

Alex's sleep was riddled with dreams. The walls of his cell, slimy with algae. His barely alive and already decaying body. His father, Hel, and the war. Magic flooding through him. Magnus and the kiss. Legs.

He awoke with a gasp as a sharp pain struck through his tail, no, his legs. But as soon as he opened his eyes there was nothing left but a dull ache, pulsing through his head.

“Are you alright?“ Magnus startled him, he was kneeling at his bedside.

Alex nodded, making his hair fall into his eyes. He reached up and touched it, curiously exploring the texture. He had never had dry hair before. The webbing on his hand was also dry; Alex spread his fingers, watching the transparent webs tear a little. It didn't hurt but still, he gasped at the sight of the tear and quickly curled his hand into a fist as he slapped the other to the side of his neck, feeling his gills. They felt okay but strange as they lay flat against his skin.

Magnus' hand slid over his, a warm weight against his neck. Alex looked up at him, slightly nodding to answer the silent question in his eyes. Yes, he was alright. He just needed a moment. Magnus smiled warmly, taking his hand away again. A few of Alex's dried out scales stuck his palm, he tried to hide it. Still, Alex saw. He traced a finger over his already flaking scales, a few snowed onto the blanket that lay over his lap. But those scales that were still pink and healthy remained in their place, slightly shimmering in the yellow light that fell through the window.

Alex knew that that was what the sunlight looked like when it didn't have to travel through the water first. He had never really thought about it before, but it almost looked like Magnus' magic.

“I want to go outside“, he said, almost too loudly.

“Soon“ Magnus' voice was soft. “You need to gather your strength first“ He laid a warm hand on Alex's arm, Alex turned to look at him. “Are you hungry?“

Alex's stomach rumbled in response.

Magnus laughed. He picked up a pile of folded clothes from a nearby chair and handed them to Alex, who knead the soft fabrics with his fingers.

“What's this made of?“

“Those two are linen“, Magnus explained. “That's wool. From a sheep“

“Sheep?“

“I'll show one to you“

Alex nodded and, with Magnus' aid, slipped on the shirt and woollen jacket, but hesitated when it came to the trousers. He experimentally moved his legs, which made his muscles ache. Magnus watched him like a hawk, looking out for every sign of pain.

“I'm okay“, Alex told him, regaining his posture. He grabbed the linen trousers and then pulled away the blanket, belatedly recognizing the heavy blush on Magnus' cheek as he did so. Oh. So those were... those were the reproductive organs. Alex didn't know anything about those, he had hatched from an egg.

“Magnus?“ He asked in an usually small voice. “Humans can't change their sex, right?“

“No...“ Magnus said hesitantly, chewing on his lip.  “But humans don't have green hair either“, he continued, tucking a lock behind Alex's ear, “or gills“, his warm finger traced around them, “or scales.“ He ran his hand down Alex's shoulder and arm. “We'll figure it out, okay?“

Alex nodded and took a deep breath to regain his composure. “So what parts are those?“

“Boy“, Magnus said quietly. “Those are boy parts. Which doesn't mean that everyone who has them is a boy“, he added quickly. “There's this girl I went to school with, she had boy parts but she was a girl“

“Guess that's who I'll be“, Alex mumbled as he stared down at himself. Damn. That worm looked angry.

“Maybe“, Magnus mumbled. He laid his hand on Alex's arm again, making him shiver.

“Alright“ Alex took a deep breath. “Let's get those trousers on“

In addition to the trousers, Magnus also slipped woollen socks onto his feet to help him warm up a little. Alex wiggled his toes, feeling the scratchy fabric. He liked it.

“Supper is almost ready“, Magnus said after they were done getting Alex dressed. “I'll bring you some food“

“No“, Alex objected. “I want to eat with you, and your dads“

A smile fell onto Magnus' face, like a ray of sunshine. “Sure“

Alex's knees cracked and popped as he stood on his feet for the first time. He held onto Magnus with one hand, stretched out the other for balance. He felt the blood flow through his legs, it felt so different from his tail, with a deep inhale he shifted his weight onto one foot, then lifted the other off the ground - and promptly collapsed onto Magnus.

His weight had caught him off guard, they almost tumbled onto the bed, both burst out laughing.

“Maybe I should just carry you to the kitchen“, Magnus said as he held onto the wall for support, Alex safe in his arm.

“No, I want to do this“, Alex insisted and got onto his feet again.

Step by step and while leaning against Magnus, he slowly made it out of the bedroom and to the kitchen. They had to walk through a room with a fireplace that Magnus introduced to him as the living room, full of furniture that looked fancier than that in the rest of the house. The kitchen was warm, with a heavy wooden table and a stove that smelt of ash and charcoal. And another heavy smell, completely unfamiliar but incredibly good.

“That's the stew“, Magnus explained with a chuckled as he lead Alex to a chair.

“Where are your dads?“ Alex moved a little in his seat, getting used to his own weight. Things were lighter underwater.

Just as he said that, two men entered the kitchen. One was short and dark, the other tall and pale as the moon. They didn't look surprised at all to see Alex, Magnus must have prepared them well.

“You must be Alex“, the shorter one said warmly as he sat down at the table.

“Yes“, Alex said, suddenly shy. He felt almost like an intruder. Magnus set a bowl of stew in front of him, his hand brushed over his arm almost incidentally.

“It's good to finally meet you“, Magnus' dad said again. He was waving his hands as he spoke, his husband watched him closely. “We heard a lot about you. I'm Blitzen, that's Hearthstone“

Hearthstone just waved, then took a seat next to Blitzen.

“He can't hear you“, Magnus explained to Alex. He too was waving his hands. “We're using sign language“

Alex nodded, a little overwhelmed. The stew in front him smelled heavenly. The spoon in his hand was light and wooden. Alex had seen spoons before, metal ones, but had never used one. He watched the others pick up their spoons, then mimicked the way they used them to eat. And oh my god the stew was good. Maybe it was because Alex had literally starved for days, but it was the best thing he'd ever eaten.

He was so focused on his food that he only half registered the questions he was asked: how he was feeling (fine), if he wanted more stew (yes, please), if he was going to stay. That one Magnus answered for him.

Yes.

After dinner, Magnus suggested that they should go back to the bedroom but Alex objected.

“I want to go outside“, he repeated his words from earlier, pushing himself up from the table.

Luckily, Magnus caught him before he could fall. “Alright“, he laughed. “We'll go outside“

Alex had to focus on every step as they slowly made it out the door and the wooden floor changed to hard earth, then grass. He could feel it through his socks. Wherever Magnus stepped it grew higher.

“Does your magic always do that?“ Alex eyed the blooming flowers around his feet.

“No“, Magnus chuckled. “Only when I'm feeling strong emotions“ There was a hint of red on his cheeks. Alex smiled to himself.

“We still need to talk about some things“, he said after they had reached the apple trees and he had helped Alex sit down.

“I guess“ Alex pulled off his socks and wiggled his toes in the grass. Magnus' body was warm against his side. “What do you want to talk about?“

 

The kiss, Magnus thought. “You're half human?“ He asked instead.

“Yeah“ Alex stretched out one leg, then the other. His eyes were fixed on the sea, underneath the cliff. “Loki, my father, used to go up to the surface and he met a human...“ he ripped out some grass. “It didn't end well between them. The human burnt his face“

“And you didn't know?“

“No“ Alex sounded bitter. “But I'm not surprised. I never fit in with them“

“Yeah, I know how you feel“ Magnus huffed out a laugh, Alex joined in. “But there's something else we need to talk about“, he quietly added after they stopped giggling. His heart pounded against his ribcage. Thud, thud, thud.

“I know“ Alex turned to look at him, his eyes glowed. “The kiss“

“Yeah“ Magnus couldn't help but glance down at his lips. His cheeks were warm. “Do you... do you like me? More than just a friend?“

Alex's eyes glowed stronger. “Yes“, he said firmly.

Magnus almost laughed in relief. “Good“, he said softly, feeling the magic glow in his veins. “Because I like you too“

Something lit up in Alex's eyes, he leant in - and suddenly they were kissing again, softly and full of pure emotion. Alex's fingers tangled in Magnus' hair as his arms wrapped around his waist and pulled him in ever so slightly. Golden glow flooded through him, warmed his chest, his hands, his lips against Alex's. Alex sighed softly and melted against him, his body relaxed, his lips soft and gentle.

But suddenly he pulled away, groaning. Magnus opened his eyes, saw him doubling over pain. His hands were at his crotch as if someone had kicked him, his face was distorted in pain.

“Shit, Alex“ Magnus caught him by the shoulder so he wouldn't fall to the side. “What's wrong?“

Alex didn't answer, just hissed through his sharp teeth. Magnus summoned his powers, sent it through Alex's body like a tidal wave. Alex's shoulders slumped again, he exhaled heavily. His body fell heavily against Magnus' shoulder, he held him close.

“What happened?“

Alex took another deep breath. “I don't know, I shifted gender and it just... hurt“ She moved her legs a little, bent each knee individually, lifting each thigh off the ground. Then she froze mid-movement. With shaking hands she reached for the waistband of her trousers, took a peak inside.
“Magnus“, she said slowly. “Take a look at this“

Magnus, with a beet red face, leaned over to take a look and... “Oh“, he said. “Yup, those are definitely girl parts“

Alex let out a relieved laugh, which Magnus echoed. “Bless those mermaid genes“, she said, her shoulders dropped as she relaxed.

They watched the sun go down over the ocean, sitting side by side under the apple trees. Alex yawned, her entire weight resting against Magnus' side. She was still wiggling her feet in the grass, but slower and slower by the minute.

“You want to go to bed soon?“ Magnus asked quietly, to which she nodded. Her hand lay on his thigh, scales glistening in the sun's orange light. “There's one more thing I want to ask you“, Magnus said quietly.

She looked up at him. “Ask, then“

“Are we... are we together now? I mean, do you want to be?“

She thought for a moment, looking out at the sea. “Mermaids don't really do that. Relationships, I mean“ She looked back at him. “But humans do, don't they?“

“Yes“ He swallowed nervously.

“Even if they didn't“ Glowing eyes sparkled up at him, a smile tugged at her lips. “I'd want us to be“