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Salt & Sweet

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“Look at those arms. I bet he could swim across the sea in a day.” Viktor hummed, his head just above the water enough that his nose bobbed above the surface. His silver hair sparkled in the sun and floated behind him, caught in the surface currents.

Yuri made a noise somewhere between disgust and apathy. “He looks like any other human on a boat, taking our food.”

“Mmm. He could swim around me any day.” Viktor pressed a hand to his chest, swooning.

They saw this boat more and more often during the summer months. Unlike other boats from the port, this was a small wooden one, piloted by a handsome dark-haired human. He came out in the morning and was gone for sunset, taking ten to twenty fish with him. He was humble, and Viktor liked that. More importantly, he was hot. He didn’t have leathery skin and didn’t throw cigarettes into the water like other sailors.
In fact, the first time he saw him, the human was singing.
He wasn’t a good singer, but it warmed Viktor’s heart. And since he was alone, and so polite, it didn’t really hurt to watch. Viktor was protecting him… and if they were found out… well, no one would believe a man who sung to himself on the sea.
No matter how handsome he was.
“Humans don’t swim.” Yuri said flatly, sinking lower into the water. He wasn’t here by choice-- as a younger member of the court, he was under Viktor’s watch. Even though Viktor wasn’t watching him at all.
“Wrong.” Viktor grinned. “They just don’t swim well. No gills or fins. Just… what do you call em? Feet.”
“They’re hideous.”
“I think they’re beautiful.” Viktor sighed, watching as the man sat down and opened a metal box. Instead of treasure, he pulled out a fluffy white ball, taking a bite out of it. Viktor rose higher out of the water, his interest peaked. He’d seen the man peel the skin off of fish and fling it back into the water. But he’d never seen something quite as peculiar as this.

“Shit. Get down, Viktor.” Yuuri dipped under water as soon as he saw the mans eyes focus onto them.
Viktor stayed, enthralled. The human moved over to the edge of the boat.

“I’m sorry-- am I in a swimming area?” He bowed his head. Humans never liked to look into each others eyes, did they?
“What’s that?” Viktor pointed to the (presumed) food in the mans hand.
“Oh, just my mom’s onigiri.” The man laughed nervously, reaching back into the metal box and handing over a fresh rice ball. “Here.”
Viktor took it, pausing to sniff it. He had seen the barges that the humans laid seaweed onto, but never understood why they took the water out of it. Here, it worked as some kind of wrapper. The gorgeous sailor just blinked at him, offering a shy smile. His hair was short-- something he’d only seen above the surface. His eyes lacked the metallic sheen that all of Viktor’s people possessed. But he’d never seen such depth and warmth in the human’s color.
“It’s good, I promise.”
Viktor realized that he was taking too long, sinking his teeth into the ‘onigiri’. His eyes lit up-- there was nothing like this back home. It was salty and sour and soft-- but not the salt from the blood flowing from a fish or the softness of blubber. He devoured the entire onigiri, even when it fell apart in his fingers. The sailor was quiet.
“Thank you---” Viktor stopped short. Calling him human was suspicious. He was already pressing boundaries by talking to them. Even if the man was clueless, he had to be careful.
“Yuuri.”
Viktor looked back, but his adopted brother was no where to be seen. His eyes fluttered up to the sailors. Oh. Yuuri.
“They call me Viktor.” Did humans have titles? Or did they all go around with short, gutteral names? Except Yuuri. Yuuri was beautiful.
“You’re welcome… Viktor?” Yuuri leaned over the side of the boat as Viktor dissipeared under the surface, struck with sudden inspiration. He charmed the fish swimming underneath them, only feeling a sliver guilty as he willed them to jump onto the boat.

“For you.” Viktor turned on his most charming smile as Yuuri gaped at the pile of fish flapping around the bottom of his boat.

“Oh.. oh wow.” His own mouth gaped and flapped like a fish. Viktor marveled-- his teeth were so smooth and blunt and beautifully white. Every rule said that he shouldn’t do this, but the human was so exotic and exciting and not...normal.
“Thank you.” Yuuri stuttered.
The image of his face did not leave Viktor’s mind for days.

Chapter Text

“I’m beginning to wonder if I am guppysitting you.” Yuri grumbled, following Viktor to the surface again. The water was grey and currents were strong. But Viktor didn’t need the environmental cues to know that something was wrong.

“It’s just a peek.” Viktor waves his hand dismissively. Even he looked grey and dull, his normally glittering blue tail missing it’s sparkle.

“Just watching’ turned into you sharing food with the human.” Yuri scoffed. He protested a lot, but he never did anything to actually stop Viktor. Which worked out quite well.
Their heads broke the surface at the same time. Yakov had been right-- it was a good time to lay low. The upper currents were strong and the water was choppy. The sky was silver and pelting rain into the water hard enough that Viktor felt no difference between breaths above or below.
Far away at shore, boats bobbed furiously, securely tied to the pier.
Except for one.
Viktor fought to stay in one place as the water pushed and pulled them around. He turned, pushing his long hair out of his eyes again and again.
Oh, no.
That foolish human, trying to fight the sea. A battle they never won-- and why his family owned so many jewels and their children had so many sunken ships to explore. The tiny wooden boat bobbed so much that poor Yuuri could only move on his hands and knees. It was headed right for the small island of sharp rocks cropping out of the water a few hundred yards away. The sailor was soaked to his skin, but it seemed to slow him down rather than help him.

“What do we do now?” Yuri said, right before lightning cracked open the sky. He flinched-- he was still a child, no matter the act he put on.

“Yuuri!” Viktor called. The man looked up, fruitlessly trying to tie down the fishing poles to the side of the boat.
Yuuri’s eyes found Viktor’s just as he was thrown from the boat.

The back of head smacked the side of the boat, and he sunk easily into the depths.

“No!” Viktor gasped, diving under the water and racing for the dark shape that was slowly drifting further down to the silt and seaweed.
No no no. Humans didn’t swim. Humans didn’t breathe water, and they certainly didn’t crack their heads against rock and survive. Viktor knew this.
Yuuri was no warmer than the water surrounding them when Viktor reached him, wrapping his arms around his body. His hair floated like a halo around him, and his blood diluted into the water around them.
Viktor’s heart pumped so fast he could feel it pushing to escape from his body. He pulled Yuuri further downward, past the fast upper current and down to the bottom, where it was calmer. A bubble escaped his blue lips, and despite the red spilling from the crown of his head, he didn’t move.
He swam. He swam like his own life depended on it, until he reached the rocks, swimming up the rough anenome-covered monolith until he reached the surface again.
He threw Yuuri onto the flattest part he could find, watching and waiting for air to sputter in his lungs.
Nothing. His hair stuck to his beautiful eyes, pasted to his dark lashes.
Viktor felt sick.
“Breathe.” He begged, throwing himself up onto the rock beside Yuuri. He had been so happy when Viktor had charmed the fish onto his boat. But his magic was limited to charms and glamour. Mer magic great enough to change lives only happened once in a lifetime. His father had used it at his wedding, and his father before that.
If only.
Viktor closed his eyes, pressing his lips to his drowned Yuuri’s mouth. This was all his fault-- he wanted to save this stupid human. Instead he was dead, and because Viktor called his name.

The body beneath him crumpled in pain. Yuuri groaned and writhed beneath him. Viktor’s heart leapt higher than the sun.
“Where does it hurt? Where?” He pulled up the strange cloth humans draped over their bodies. He stopped, staring at the beautiful muscles hidden underneath the cloth.
And above them-- the pink skin fading into grey scales.

Viktor didn’t know what sense made him dive under the water, pulling off the rubber boots and cloth covering the human’s legs. His mind was buzzing, so electric with excitement that he didn’t have the presence of mind to feel sorry. Yuuri’s teeth ground against each other, and his wails of pain were lost to the wind.

“Be at peace.” Viktor smiled, brushing his fingers across Yuuri’s eyelids.
The charm took immediate effect, his face smoothing and body melting into the craggy rock.

“Oh, look at you.” Viktor breathed, tracing the line of Yuuri’s jaw. His gills ran just below them, and his spindly legs melted into a beautiful steel grey tail.
Viktor was in love.

And it had nothing to do with the magic marking Yuuri as his lifetime mate.

Chapter Text

“He’s beautiful.”

“That’s not going to fix anything, Viktor.” Yuri swam behind them, as Viktor cradled Yuuri in his arms. He still slept, although he no longer bled into the water. “Especially with your dad.”

“Our dad.”

“You realize what you’ve done?” Yuri nearly started a waterspout, whipping around to face Viktor. “You’re the prince. You’re mated, to a human, who now has a TAIL. Our people will revolt.”

“Mariana was a human.”

“When she was a guppy. There’s no way people are going to accept some newbie as their prince.”
“I can teach him everything he needs to know.” Viktor smiled, looking down at Yuuri again. Under the water, he looked softer. Huggable.

“And family?”

“We’ll find someone to lay the eggs.”

“Who am I kidding? You’ll be kicked out as soon as the king finds out.” Yuri threw up his hands in frustration. “If you even live. Neptune have pity on your soul.”

“Okay.” Viktor chirped. They were almost to the coral they called home. The king would find out eventually-- right now, all Viktor wanted was to be tied up to sleep with his Yuuri.

“Welcome home,” Viktor brushed his hand across Yuuri’s cheek, hoping the charm would wear off. He had never used magic for long, and whatever happened up on the surface… it had done some good.

His eyes fluttered open-- and the warmth spread from Viktor’s chest. Still the soft honey-brown. The moment was ruined as they widened in panic. Yuuri thrashed, his hands pressed to his mouth as he held his breath. He kicked stiffly, jerking toward Viktor instead of away. He moved like a human, using his tail clumsil,y in parts instead of one smooth movement.
“Yuuri! Yuuri, just breathe!” Viktor reached out, cupping his mate’s face in his hands at the same time as he shook his head.
“I promise its okay. Please.” Viktor smoothed his thumb across Yuuri’s puffed up cheeks. His brow was furrowed, his face creased into apprehension. “Please.” Viktor pressed his forehead against Yuuri’s, before he felt a bubble brush against his face. The panic didn’t fade as Yuuri breathed, water rushing in his mouth and stirring the hair near his gills. His eyes were wide and lost, but he only looked at Viktor.
“Viktor.” Yuuri’s voice warbled, the water carrying the sound differently than the air.
The confusion and pain written onto his face hurt almost as much as watching him drown.

“I had to save you.”
Viktor kept his face cupped in his hands, watching as his eyes nervously scanned downward. He didn’t flinch, but Viktor could see the tears form, and float upward as they released from his eyes.

Chapter Text

By the time Yuuri calmed, Viktor ached with hunger. And if Viktor was hungry… Yuuri was starving.

 

At first, he didn’t want to stray too far. He searched the bottom, cracking open a sea urchin on a sharp rock.. He slurped off half of the contents, before holding it out to Yuuri. He took it, but only stared at it morosely.

“Stay.” He motioned Yuuri to float near a clearing, before he swam into a seaweed forest. This time, he bit into the fish, ripping at its flesh with his sharp teeth. He returned with strips of flesh, leaving the skeleton behind in the kelp.  His hunch was right-- his mate ate more when food didn’t look like food. He hid his mouth behind his hands and chewed thoughtfully but hungrily. They shared in a meal of three more fish before Yuuri wilted.

 

“Tell me, Yuuri.” Tears sprung from his eyes yet again, and Viktor felt powerless.

 

“Mari… my mom and dad. They’ll think I’m dead. I’m so stupid..” His voice was remarkably even, even drowned in tears.

 

“Well…” Viktor gulped. “We’ll tell them.”

Yuuri’s eyes lifted, full of hope. “I can go home?”

“Well…” Viktor’s confidence faded. “Maybe.”

 

“Maybe what?”

 

“I don’t know how this works.”

 

“You don’t know? You did this!”

Viktor was glad he didn’t say to me.  The few words hurt enough.

 

“I…. I did what we usually do at weddings. We don’t usually have the magic explained to us until we find our intended mate.”

 

Yuuri’s silence was worse than any words he could utter.

“So...we’re married.”, Viktor continued. Yuuri was hard to read--so human . Viktor was so used to long flowing hair, billowing up behind those who did not tie it into braids. Yuuri’s hair floated close to his head like a halo. He bobbed unevenly, unable to keep steady on the currents and waves in a way that Viktor found second nature.  He was a mess, in the best way.

He twisted his hands in a peculiar and useless way. Strange enough that Viktor watched it for a while before he noticed his mate’s gills moving way too fast. He gulped and panicked like he had when Viktor  woke him.

 

“It’s okay. You can breathe.”

 

Yuuri didn’t seem to hear him. He bit on the sleeve of the shirt he still wore--another  strong marker of human .  No Mer folk covered their bodies except for jewelry,  and that was saved for ceremonies and celebrations. The humans here wore long sleeves even in the summer heat--at least the ones that looked like Yuuri.  Viktor had a long (and secret) history of watching humans. He remembered sandy-haired visitors who wore string and not much else. They didn’t matter anymore. Viktor’s mate did.

“It’s okay.” Viktor swam forward, pressing his forehead to Yuuri’s. He’d never been this intimate with anyone before, and his cheeks felt warm. But he felt drawn to Yuuri, and he wanted to comfort him--even if understanding him was beyond his reach. He took Yuuri’s hands, helping him stay upright in the water. The currents weren’t that strong, but the ocean was always moving. He waited until Yuuri calmed, focusing on the feeling of Yuuri’s soft changeling flesh. He would be like Mariana-- easily cut by coral and sensitive to the temperature drop between seasons.

 

“I’m sorry,” Yuuri finally said, lifting his eyes from the sand to their linked hands.

 

“What for?” Viktor tried to smile comfortingly. He had no idea what was going on.  If there was one thing he was good at, it was acting.

 

“ I was stupid and now you’ll pay for it.”

 

“You didn’t make me kiss you. It was my choice.” Viktor said seriously, pulling back and tilting Yuuri’s head up with a slender finger to his jawline. “I actually feel really lucky.”

 

Yuuri’s eyes widened, and by the grace of Neptune, he didn’t look away.

 

“I couldn’t stop thinking about you.” Yuuri stammered. “I didn’t think-- I didn’t know. I thought you were just a really good looking tourist.”

 

“Tourist?” Viktor tilted his head to the side.

 

“Ah, um, a visitor?”

 

“Oh, I’m not. I was born in the Sea of Okhotsk, but our kingdom reaches into the Bay of Bengal.” Viktor didn’t add  I like this beach because of the cute fishermen .

 

“Kingdom?”

 

Viktor’s smile wore thin. “Well, yes. My father’s the king of the North Sea, which is a really archaic title, considering we’ve been in contact with the Arctic folk.”

 

“Your dad...is the king.”

 

“Mhmm.”

Poor Yuuri looked like he was about to have another panic attack.

 

“About that…. That makes you my prince. One day, we’d rule together.”

 

“But, I’m human.”

 

Viktor grimaced and shook his hand side to the side. “You were?”

 

“Are you saying it’s okay for you to just.. Marry someone you find?” Yuuri let the first subject drop.

 

“Oh, definitely not. That’s why we’re hanging out here and not in the city.”

 

There’s a city?”

 

“I can’t wait to show you. But I need to think of a good explanation first.”

 

“Oh, there better be a good explanation for this creature.” Viktor paled at the worn voice that floated from behind him.

 

“Yes, father,” He gulped.

Chapter Text

Viktor turned to face his father. Floating behind him was Yuri, and judging by the stricken look on his face… he was surprised. To say the least.

 

Yuuri shrunk behind Viktor, as if he was big enough to actually hide behind. His father definitely had a family resemblance, but looked much harsher. His hair was grey with age (not silver) and was kept back in a severe braid that trailed meters behind him. It wasn’t age that made him look harsh, but the steel blue eyes that lacked the warmth and sparkle of Viktor’s own blue.

Yuuri felt himself blush at his own thoughts. Here he was, at the bottom of the ocean, not dead and thinking in detail about a man’s (fishes?) eye color. Like he was a crush.

 

“I saved his life,” Viktor began, steeling himself. For the king, every action had a reason and thought behind it. I wasn’t thinking wasn’t an excuse.

 

“He looks unharmed, if not dumb.” The king said flatly. Yuuri scrunched up his nose, offended, before quickly swallowing it back. There was a very good reason why they were hiding. Even if Yuuri didn’t know it.

 

“He hit his head off his boat, and was going to drown.” Viktor kept his eyes on his fathers to lend credibility. It wasn’t a lie, just an omission, that Yuuri got hurt because he called for him…

 

“Many humans die in the water. It’s a fools errand not to be messed with. You were taught since hatching that your kiss is to be saved , Viktor. And you go and waste it, knowing full well the consequences.”

 

“Consequences?” Viktor  blinked.

 

“The magical bond you created is only broken by death. Even so, you will remain affected, even after this… is dealt with.  Your future bride will be dealt with a weakened half-bond, and for what? Your silly fantasies, running off to the surface. You think you are sneaky, Viktor. But you are still young and stupid.”

 

Yuuri could feel Viktor tense.

 

“What if I don’t want to break it.” His voice wobbled, despite his best attempt at trying to keep it steady and strong.

 

“Vitya, don’t be silly.” His father sounded exasperated, his demeanor softening into something more fatherly.

 

“You accept Mariana.”

 

“That was different. She grew up with us. She only knows the sea. This one..” He hesitated, gesturing toward Yuuri. “He’s human. They are a different kind. He knows nothing about how we live.”

 

“That didn’t seem to bother you with my mother.” Viktor said flippantly.

 

“That was different. She never…. It was never like this.”

 

“Well, I’m not you. I never was, and I never will be. I’ll teach him everything I know, everything he needs to know. If I need to find a new pod, I’ll do it.”

 

“Viktor, don’t be stubborn.” The harsh tone returned. “Think of your family. Yura was worried sick for you.”

Yuri perked up, shaking his head shortly side-to side but otherwise keeping quiet. He had seen from Viktor’s look that he was not going to live this down-- no matter what intentions he began with.

 

“Give me until the next full moon. I’ll show you.”

 

“Show me what?”

 

“That he can live here, too. That this isn’t a mistake.”

~~~

 

“You look mad.” Viktor said, as they settled into a cave Viktor favored for the coating of bio luminescent algae that lived on its walls.  The king left, after trying one more time to convince Viktor to change his mind. They parted ways, a heaviness left between them.

 

“Why?” Yuuri turned his back to Viktor, examining the glowing  patterns painted onto the wall.

 

“Well, your mouth--”

 

“Why do you want to be King? Why do you think I’d want to be a king, or prince, or whatever?”

 

Viktor looked like a deer in the headlights. “Are you saying you’d rather die?”

 

“N-no. I just…” Yuuri felt this throat swell with emotion--a feeling he is already exhausted from. “I want to go home. I don’t want to be a prince, or a fish,or a mistake. I don’t belong here.”

 

“Oh.” Viktor let silence fall between them.

 

“I’m sorry. My sister said I lose my filter when I’m tired, and hungry… I have no  idea what time it is.”

 

“Time?”

 

“You know.. Two… three o clock?”

 

“Where is the sun at two three oclock?”

 

“Nevermind.” Yuuri shook his head.

 

“Well… I’ll get us some more food… and we’ll sleep. We sleep when we tire. First lesson of Mer culture.” Viktor forced a smile.

 

“Okay…. Where’s the bed?”

 

“Bed?”

 

“To sleep in.”

 

“Oh, we’ll sleep together.  We’re in a cave, so we won’t need to tie down tonight.”

 

“T-together?” Yuuri faced Viktor, his cheeks pink.

 

“Of course. We’re mates… and I have to protect you.”

 

The color didn’t leave Yuuri’s skin until after their second meal of  raw fish and seaweed. It only brightened when Viktor wrapped his arms and tail around Yuuri. He still couldn’t float steadily to save his life, and he lacked the flexibility Viktor grew up seeing in his own people.

But he softened when he slept-- his mouth open just a little, and his hands tangled into Viktor’s hair. For a moment, everything felt alright.

Chapter Text

 

Viktor started the day with a plan.

 

Mission 1: Make Yuuri happy.

 

Misson 2: Make Yuuri fall in love with the sea. (and with Viktor)

 

Both missions would start with one task. Viktor knew of a rock closer to shore that acted like a tide pool. Although surrounded by water the rock had a hollow middle filled with sea stars and anemone. Viktor fell in love with it because of the birds that often perched on top of the bowl-like structure.  It could also to do with the fact that it was the perfect spot to warm himself and watch the creatures on the beach.

 

Yuuri took to it immediately. He pulled himself up onto the rocks, out of the water completely. He pushed his hair out of his eyes, inadvertently smiling.

“I missed breathing air.”

 

Viktor pulled himself up after Yuuri. He never tried to leave the water completely-- and he soon remembered why. He felt his skin tighten and he felt  uncomfortably dry and salty. But Yuuri didn’t seem to notice-- or mention any discomfort.

 

“Hey Viktor.”

 

“Yes?” Viktor perked up, caught in his starin at the human-turned fish. Yuuri didn’t seem to notice.

 

“Tell me about yourself.” Yuuri hummed, laying against the bowled rock and closing his eyes. “If I’m going to spend the rest of my life with you, we shouldn’t be strangers.

 

“Okay. But you’ll have to do the same.”

 

“Deal.”

 

Viktor was silent...what was there to tell him?

 

“What’s your favorite color?” Yuuri offered. In the sun,  Yuuri’s new tail looked different. It was mainly a dark grey, but a few scales here and there sparkled brightly. Viktor’s tail matched his eyes, which he only knew because of a few nosy girls at school. Mirrors were scarce under the surface--few of them made it into Mer hands without damage.

 

“Blue. The bright blue, like on your shirt.” The shirt they had discarded the night before, so that Yuuri would blend in more.

 

“Oh. Me too, I guess.” Yuuri could think of another blue he liked, but wasn’t brave enough to share.

“What about  your family? Your dad, Yura…”

 

“Call him Yuri. Yura is a pet name. He won’t like it if he hears it from you.” Viktor laughed.

 

“Is that it?”

 

“I never knew my mother. Neither does anyone in the kingdom.  My father won’t say if she was an outsider or a human. If she’s dead… well, my father hasn’t found another mate.” Viktor felt the light mood fading. “What about your family?”

 

“Well… I have a big sister, Mari.. and my mom.. And my dad. They run an inn in town. I usually try to get enough fish to feed the guests.  I like it a lot better than working with the guests. I try to do what I can… my parents work really hard. They met in junior high, and it was my mom’s idea to start Yuutopia. “ Yuuri blinked away the tears that sprung to his eyes.

 

“Sorry-- we should talk about something else.” He sat up, his  gut twisting.

“What’s wrong?” Viktor  dragged himself closer to Yuuri as his face crumpled in pain.

“I don’t know-- I just feel-- awful.” His words strangled themselves in his throat in a sound too familiar from the day before.

 

“Oh. Oh Yuuri, look.” Viktor hispered when Yuuri’s writhing and fightin stopped. He had curled up into a ball against the warm rock.

 

“I’m gonna throw up.” Yuuri murmured, before opening his eyes, surprised, as Viktor’s hand’s cupped his feet. He kissed his toes, wrinkled from the salt water. His heart sprung up into his throat.

 

“What are you doing, Viktor?” Yuuri’s voice shook.

 

“You’re human again.” Viktor pressed his cheek against the top of Yuuri’s pink, soft foot.

He tried not to miss the silver tail. “You should go, before the magic wears off completely.”

“But, your dad said--”

Viktor clenched his teeth. He felt like he was punched in the stomach-- and not figuratively. He could feel bone grind against bone and his cells cry out in protest. If this was anything like what Yuuri felt… he felt guilty.

 

Yuuri held Viktor up as he fought through the pain. It lasted longer for Viktor, to the point that Yuuri began massaging Viktor’s scalp, combing his fingers through his hair in an effort to comfort him.

 

“Did you poison yourself, Viktor?” Yuuri cupped Viktor’s face in his hands, turning it up to face his. He looked like he was about to cry-- something he did easily. “Please tell me you didn’t.”

 

“I didn--nnn’t.” Viktor groaned. He pulled himself into a ball, like he had seen Yuuri too,  but his tail screamed in pain.

 

“Oh, Viktor.” Yuuri breathed. He pushed Viktor against the rock, lifting Viktor’s leg into the air, the limb burning with pain. “Look.”

Chapter Text

“Wow.” was all Viktor could muster. Thankfully the pain subsided rather quickly. He flexed his toes, lifted his legs to the sky. They weren’t as toned or tanned as Yuuri’s, but they were longer.

 

They opened a world of possibilities.

 

“Oh my god. I can go home. I can tell my mom and dad I’m not dead. Your dad won’t have to kill me!”

 

Viktor looked displeased. “He wasn’t going to. We made a deal.”

 

“Let’s go, Viktor.”

 

“Together?” A little hope sparked in Viktor’s eyes.

 

“Well, yeah.” Yuuri fidgeted. “You saved my life, after all.”

 

Viktor smiled, nodding before he dove back into the water. He’d figure out how to swim with these gangly limbs. They’d go to shore, he’d meet his family… and Yuuri would love Viktor just as much as he loved him.

 

“Viktor?” Yuuri called out. He had expected Viktor to bob up immediately. They didn’t technically have a plan… And Yuuri needed one. Not only because of his personality type… but because they were both stark naked.

Viktor emerged from the water well beyond the point Yuuri started to panic. His eyes were downcast and gloomy.

 

“I thought you drowned.” Yuuri gasped, and Viktor shook his head gloomily.

 

“The tail is back.” He muttered. He felt like a disappointment.

 

“Okay.” Yuuri said hollowly. “So...maybe it’s not the magic wearing off?”

Viktor shrugged. He had already fantasized about eating more   onigiri.

 

“It’s gone.  We might as well go home… I’ll start teaching you what you need to know.”

“What do I need to know?” Yuuri felt vaguely insulted. He ha gone to college, after all.

 

“To be a prince. With me.”

 

Viktor’s heart broke with the look of disappointment that spread like ink across Yuuri’s face. His hands played idly at the bones of his bare ankles.

Something in Viktor ached to see more of them. More of the ankles, the legs, his soft looking feet.

 

“Or. Let’s go to the shore and try again.”

“Are you crazy? There’s people all over there.” Yuuri hissed.

 

“Then we’ll wait until sunset.”

Yuuri looked unsure, but he didn’t say no. His face softened, and that was enough.

Chapter Text

Viktor couldn’t tear his eyes away from Yuuri’s body, bathed in the remaining orange light from the sunset. With the cool of the evening, it had taken longer. However, once they had dried off, and Viktor felt the desperate edge to crawl back to the water, it happened.

“This isn’t working. Look at your feet.” Yuuri huffed. He had both of Viktor’s hands in his own, holding him up. Viktor could still taste the grit of the sand of his first few steps--before they realized that walking was a skill not every creature was born with. (And Viktor Nikiforov was one of them)
“I am.” Viktor breathed.

“I know you’re not. Please. We can’t get any clothes if you can’t walk.” Yuuri’s cheeks flushed even redder. If he gave up and carried Viktor, and someone saw them--they’d be arrested. That was if Yuuri could even muster the courage to put his hands on the beautiful body before him.
“Oh. Clothes! You mean all that stuff you wore on the boat?”
“Yes.” Yuuri started to sound annoyed. “One foot forward.”
Viktor moved forward before Yuuri remembered to step back. Their bodies collided into each other, skin smacking into skin. Yuuri sputtered, but Viktor only smiled serenely.
“I did it!”
Yuuri nodded, averting his eyes. “Now the other foot.” He muttered, red as a hermit crab.
“Again.”
It took a while, and he looked a little drunk, but Viktor eventually mastered the skill enough to close the distance to the salt-worn shack on the edge of the shoreline.

“Please forgive me.” Yuuri muttered, overturning a rock before pulling out the key to the metal gate that covered the store front. He unlocked it, revealing racks of brightly coloredswimsuits, swimsuit covers and beach toys.

“This doesn’t look like Makkachin at all!” Viktor cooed, picking up a blow up shark ring. Yuuri ignored him, going for the racks. He knew what size he wore, and guessed that Viktor was a size or two up. He ripped the tags off and stepped into the swim shorts. He’d bring the tags home and ask for the cash to pay for them-- his wallet was somewhere at the bottom of the ocean, along with his brand-new glasses.

“Yuuri! We close at five, you silly boy!”
Yuuri froze as the lights flickered on. He prayed that Viktor was hidden behind a convenient table.
“Hi Phichit! I um, had a rough day, and I knew you’d save the day.” Yuuri stuttered.

“Oh man, have I heard. I was the one who posted your missing poster on mixi!”

“Okay, well, you can take it down now.” Yuuri laughed nervously. “I was on my way home.”

“Do you have a good excuse?”

“Good what?” Yuuri tried to find Viktor without looking suspicious.

“A good excuse. You know, you can go on a hot date without making the entire town think you’re dead.”

“It wasn’t a hot date!” Yuuri sputtered.
“Mmmmmhm.” Phichit hummed as his head bobbed along with his eyes, moving up and down Viktor’s body.

“Be nice to my mate, Phichits.” Viktor said sternly, moving toward Yuuri, shark blow-up toy still in hand.

“No, no , no stop!” Yuuri shrieked at his best friend’s reaction and movement toward his cell phone. Thankfully, he stopped.

“Look… I’ll explain it to you later. Right now, I need to see my family.” Yuuri’s voice shook without him meaning to. He crumpled the price tags in his hands, Viktor was a quick learner, and despite appearances--had not taken his eyes off Yuuri. He was able to put the strange clothes on, and even managed some slightly-too-small sandals.

The world beyond the beach was terrifying. Loud, rattling machines sped by faster than a boat motor. The air stopped smelling of salt and instead smelled like gasoline and pollen-- neither of which Viktor knew of. Everything was smoothed over with a flat layer of rock, some of which Yuuri naturally gravitated to. By some reason of magic, the loud mechanical beasts stayed on one side, and the humans the other. The street was lit by giant stick-like corals. Everything was sharp corners and dark colors. The air around him felt empty, everything far out of reach.

Viktor reached toward a bush of what looked like seaweed-- only to spring backwards.

“What are those?” He hid behind Yuuri, pointing to the buzzing animals. Everything here had volume turned up to ten-- everything made a noise, and most were unpleasant.

“Bees?” Yuuri said slowly. “Just.. don’t worry. They’ll sting if you freak out.”
“Are they poisonous?” Viktor hung back from the bush.
“I guess? It depends on the person. Mari’s allergic..”
Viktor didn’t touch another bush.
He followed Yuuri up a gravel path and past another door. This time, Yuuri slipped off his shoes, his hands shaking as he slid a second door aside.
“Tadaima?” He called out, his voice unsure. The ground here was smoother than outside, and made more noise. Thunder sounded as footsteps sounded, followed by more humans.
The first had Yuuri’s softness. He knew the warm eyes and round cheeks of his mate anywhere-- his mother. The other human had Yuuri’s height and strangely shaped eyebrows, his eyes sleepy with age and wrinkles.
A third human was there-- closer to Yuuri, but shorter and with strange multicolored hair. She was the first to wrap her arms around Yuuri, as they all cried his name.
“Where were you? We were worried sick!”
“Tanaka towed in the boat.”
“I’m so glad you’re back.”
The words blurred into each other-- he didn’t understand them as easily as he did Yuuri’s words. Yuuri, who was now unable to speak, tears spilling down his cheeks. Here, in this world, they dribbled downward in crooked streaks.

“This is Viktor. He...saved my life.” Yuuri’s voice rose above the rest, and Viktor suddenly felt four sets of eyes on him.
Saving his life was only a small part of it. The only part Yuuri was going to share.

Chapter Text

“I...I wanted to thank him, so I was hoping he could stay with us for a while… before he goes back to his, uh, home country.” Yuuri stammered. Viktor smiled brightly trying to put his best charm on. The soft older later nodded, gesturing into the room. It felt like livin in a box-- four walls pressing in, protecting from who knows what. It was the opposite of the ocean, endless in all directions. This was a shelter, designed to keep things out. But it slowly grew on Victor-- mainly because of the strange prints of what he instantly knew as Yuuri and his family in the past. They looked younger, and Yuuri was softer, child like. The photos lined the wall, going back until Yuuri was a small guppy, wrapped in white and held by who Viktor assumed to be an elder sister. Yuuri would never see Viktor’s childhood-- it disappeared with every second Viktor grew older. Mer didn’t focus on the past, only the present and surviving to the future, after all. Now Yuuri was a part of that future.
“Come on.” Yuuri said in a hushed whisper, before taking Viktor’s hand and pulling him upstairs.
“These won’t be long enough, but it will have to do until we can go shopping.” Yuuri muttered as he led Viktor to his bedroom and started rifling through his closet. Viktor turned in a slow circle, drinking in the details of his mate’s shelter. Humans slept on large cushions-- and Yuuri’s looked like a nest, a tangle of blankets and a frame of wood with a few stickers stuck to the side of it. He had a weird box-like contraption that held books and a potted plant that seemed to stand up on its own regardless of current. Pinned to the walls were photographs, the background of which Viktor recognized from the walk from the shore… and the majority of which were from the sea. His beloved home at sunset and at sunrise-- a cloud of jellyfish. Viktor followed the smattering of photographs around the room, leaving Yuuri to dig through his closet. Yuuri jumped at the sound of a squeal-- Viktor had found it.

“It’s me!” He jabbed a finger at the photo pinned right above Yuuri’s bed. It was blurry, but Viktor remembered the day the photo had been taken. Not that he had been aware-- just that it was sunset, and he was sitting on his favorite rock. Yuuri had captured him on film-- his strong back and long silver hair.

“Oh. Yeah.” Yuuri stepped back from the closet, his arms full of options to dress Viktor more appropriately “It...it’s my favorite shot.”

Viktor felt like dancing-- instead he stumbled until he fell onto Yuuri, squeezing him tightly.

“Please put something on.” Yuuri mumbled, his cheeks red. Viktor loved it-- everything under the water had a bluish hue-- and he was sure his own blood was a darker color as well. The human world was so soft and warm.
The feeling continued with the return to the rest of the family. Yuuri changed into jeans and a tshirt after helping Viktor into a pair of khaki capris-turned-shorts and an old college sweatshirt. When they slowly made their way back downstairs, they entered a room even more warm and comforting than Yuuri’s. There were cushions everywhere, and a heaping bowl of the fluffy white food Victor loved-- topped off by something brown , gold and delicious smelling.

“Katsudon, mom, really?” Yuuri looked ashamed, but Viktor remained delighted.

“Vicchan saved your life! We’re happy you’re home.” Hiroko sang. “Come, please eat.” Viktor sat down without hesitation, digging in before his mate even sat down.
“Holy mackerel! This is the most delicious thing I’ve ever tasted!” Viktor sang a little too loudly. Yuuri’s mother’s smile widened and she pressed her hand to her heart. “What a sweet man.” She cooed.
They ate dinner together-- mostly alone. Yuuri’s mother and father had to attend to the evening crowd, which just left Mari in the room with them.

“So. Where are you from?” Mari said cooly, lighting a cigarette as she sat across from them.

“Um…. near Sakhalin?” Viktor forced a smile. He felt ready to take a nap, feeling full, warm and content. No wonder humans lived in these strange boxes.

“A foreigner. That explains a lot.” Mari mused. Yuuri looked at her as if he was going to strangle her.
“Thanks for saving my little brother. It was a little short notice, so we only have the banquet room. Hope it's okay.” The interview session was short, but seemed to be over. She gathered Viktor’s empty plates, leaving Yuuri to tend to his own. “Show him, will ya?” She jerked her head to the doorway. “I hope whatever happened to you out on the sea didn’t rattle the last your brains out of your head.”
Yuuri ignored her, carrying his dishes to the kitchen before returning to Victor.
“Come on. This way.” He touched his shoulder, trying to snap him out of whatever reverie had him staring at the walls in awe. He led him a few short steps down the hall before sliding a door open and pointing to a human-sized cushion on the floor. “There’s where you’ll sleep… If you want it dark… pull that string.” He gestured to the light hanging from the ceiling.
“Goodnight.” Yuuri said shortly, disappearing before Viktor realized what it meant.

“Good...night…” Viktor echoed, stepping into the room. It didn’t look as homey as Yuuri’s room. There was a scroll on the wall, a few flowers in a vase. But that was it. There was no trace of the man he felt irrevocably connected to. It was… lonely. But it was where Yuuri told him to go, and where the family expected him to be. And so he stayed.

Yuuri dove into is bed, thankful to have the soft blanket and pillow back. One night of clinging to a beautifully sculpted mer...man? Had hardly been restful. His head still ached from the storm several days earlier. The familiarity was more comforting than it had been the year he spent the summer overseas as an exchange student. He relished it, burying his face in his pillow.
But sleep didn’t come. Instead, a hollow ache bloomed in his stomach. His arms felt empty and they ached to hold something.
Well.. someone. Squeezing a pillow to his chest did nothing, and the hollow feeling was enough to keep him awake.

It had been over an hour. Yuuri crept quietly downstairs, edging the sliding door to the side and peeking in Viktor’s room. He felt instantly better, the feeling in his stomach dissolving away the closer he got to Viktor. The tatami floor creaked under his feet as he stepped into the room. Viktor didn’t move--- maybe he didn’t feel it? But Yuuri didn’t mind. He acted on impulse, sliding onto the edge of the futon next to Victor.

“Yuuri.” He could feel the happy hum of his name through Viktor’s back. He had been awake-- just still.

“Is….is it okay?” Yuuri stuttered. He was exhausted, and with his chest pressed to Viktor’s back, he felt whole and healthy. Sleep was tugging at the corner of his eyes, drawing him in.

“Of course. You’re my mate, after all.” Viktor turned to face him, curling around Yuuri. It was unfair-- he was taller on land.

“Is...that why?”

“Why what?” Viktor opened one eye to look down at Yuuri.

“Why...it hurt to be away from you…” Yuuri mumbled shyly.
Viktor placed a kiss to Yuuri’s forehead. “I don’t know. But I do know that I feel better with you close by.”

Chapter Text

“We’ll be back before dinner!” Yuuri shouted up the stairs. He was glad everyone was too busy to see him help Viktor into his shoes, or tie them for him like he was a child. Viktor wasn’t…. They just had no need for sneakers under the water. His feet were slightly too large for Yuuri’s shoes, and Yuuri was dreading when his mother was asking where the garden sandals went… thankfully Viktor was a sound sleeper and Amazon delivered to the Lawson down the street.

Viktor could now go outside without anyone wondering why he was in Yuuri’s clothing again. But Amazon only had so much, and Yuuri could only guess so closely on clothing. Which meant shopping.

Viktor was terrified of cars. He still jumped back when one passed them, and he absolutely refused to get into the family van.  Even when Yuuri crawled in and pretended to ignore him, he steadfastly refused to ‘crawl into the steel beast’.

Luckily, Youmetown was only a fifteen minute walk away.

 

“Ooh, I want this Yuuri!” Viktor cooed on the third floor of the department store.

 

“No! Um, sorry, you can’t.”

“Why not?” Viktor pouted. He quickly learned that this worked really well with Yuuri, and he wasn’t sure it was because of their mating bond.

 

“Well, its 4-man en, which is more than I have in my bank account.. And it’s a girls kimono.”

 

“Oh. Another human rule?” Viktor pouted. Yuuri shrank. Not only was Viktor outgoing and opinionated… he was gorgeous. Every shopper that passed them commented on his long silver hair and high nose.

Yuuri grabbed Viktor’s hand, pulling him to the escalators for the fourth floor-- and the discount stores he could afford.

“Oh Yuuri, I like this!” Viktor sang, and Yuuri stopped, looking around for whatever shiny trinket his mer-mate laid his eyes on. But he didn’t find anything-- except Viktor pressing his cold lips to Yuuri’s knuckles, his eyes closed. Yuuri stared at  his feathery ash colored eyelashes.

God. He really was beautiful-- not just handsome, but beautiful. Concerningly so.

 

“Ah- try this on!” Yuuri stuttered, grabbing the closest shirt off a rack and shoving it into Viktor’s chest.

 

“In the dressing room! Dressing room!” Yuuri shrieked as Viktor obediently began to strip in the center of the store. He paused, staring expectantly for his mate to tell him about yet another human custom. Instead, Yuuri gathered the shirt back.

“Forget it-- let’s look some more.” He mumbled, his cheeks flushed as he stomped between another rack of clothing.

 

Viktor followed, running his hands over the different fabrics hanging off the crystal-and-wire racks. He knew his mate preferred soft fabrics, and that kimono men wear was a soft and light green fabric. The selection was over-whelming-- there were short pants, long ones.. Some even covered the chest, something humans seemed to be obsessed with. He let Yuuri grab what he thought seemed suitable-- a thin white shirt with many round pearls down the front, a thicker pair of trousers and a plastic wrapper of ‘under-ware’ that Yuuri made him carry.

 

“Yuuri, you get this!” Viktor stopped short at the jewel-blue sweater hanging off a crystal holder near the register. He held it up-- it was perfect. Blue was Yuuri’s color--and it reminded Viktor of home.

 

“I--I don’t need anything.” Yuuri stuttered, shoving the pile of clothing onto the counter. There was yet another set script that Yuuri knew by heart. They talked about ‘coupons’ and ‘credit’ and ‘yen’, none of which meant anything to Viktor. He ended up tuning the conversation out, staring at the giant pictures hanging above the clothing. Pictures of men with the same dark hair as Yuuri were everywhere. All sharp cheekbones and smouldering gaze… all handsome, but none of them had Yuuri’s slim shoulders and delicious looking thighs. Everything about Yuuri was perfect for swimming…

Which made his father's disapproval sting even more.

Viktor ached to see Yuuri rule beside him-- stripped of all the layers of fancy clothing… wrapped in pearls and woven jewellery made by his own hand.

 

Yuuri  took his hand again, breaking his from his reverie.

“Are you hungry?” Any disappointment from being pulled from the store was replaced by the warm fuzzies Viktor felt when Yuuri touched him. When Yuuri asked him how he was-- if it was okay-- if this was okay.

 

Maybe… maybe being on land was better.

 

Maybe.

 

Yuuri ordered him anything he wanted, from a large bright-green melon soda to the extra-large karaage chicken set. It was enough food for both of them, but Yuuri ordered his own (much smaller) set.

 

“Yuuri-- try this--it’s amazing!” Viktor cooed at every bite. Yuuei laughed, humoring him each time. They shared their food without even trying, Yuuri’s eyes lowering as he took shy bites off of Viktor’s fork. (Walking was enough of a challenge and Yuuri hadn’t wanted to add chopsticks to the mix. Yuuri thanked every God that Viktor looked foreign enough that no one questioned it.)

 

After eating, they circled the top floor of the mall. Viktor immediately tuned into the bright lights and loud noises-- a grouping of video games and claw monster boxes surrounded by small children.

“What’s that?” Viktor grabbed Yuuri’s arm-- which made him flinch instead of jump. (Progress.)

“Oh, it’s an arcade… video games… and UFO catcher… you try to grab toys..” Yuuri stopped explaining as Viktor left him, running into the small arcade set up.

He knew his mate loved video games. He played them every night on small lighted screens. But the games didn’t catch his attention...

Viktor stared into each UFO catcher machine like the five year olds next to him-- bright eyed and entranced. He recognized the small playthings mainly from the basket of soft things for Vicchan (a ‘poodle’, which apparently was also called ‘dog’, ‘puppy’, ‘pupper’ and ‘sweetheart’ and was just as cuddly as the dogfish shark Victor kept at home.

 

The biggest reaction came at the last  game box.

“Yuuri! Look!” Viktor gasped, tapping the glass as he came upon the cat mermaids plushies.

 

“It’s a fish! And a cat! Like Momo!” Viktor, for some reason, had befriended the neighborhood stray that liked to sleep on the hood of the family van. The cat hated most people--except Viktor. Which made sense after some thought… But Viktor had spent several hours petting the cat, entranced by her soft fur.

“It’s cute..” Yuuri said softly, touching the smudged glass. His hand slid into his pocket, and before he was fully conscious of it, his wallet was out. He unsnapped the coin purse, shaking a few coins into his palm. Viktor looked so excited… it was kind of adorable.

It wouldn’t hurt to try… would it? Maybe it would help convince Viktor to stay on land, where Yuuri could breathe, and he knew everything and didn’t have to sleep tangled up with someone else. (Well… the last part wasn’t true anymore… but Yuuri didn’t mind.  Viktor felt cool, and his touch put his mind at ease. He didn’t mind it even with the sticky late spring weather and humidity weighing him down.

 

Viktor didn’t even notice Yuuri’s movements until the metallic clink of a coin set the machine to life. He jumped back before smiling brilliantly. It wouldn’t hurt to try turned into I have to get it.

Yuuri knew every trick in the book. How to push on one end if the arms were too weak to lift the toy up fairly.

Yuuri dropped in another 500 yen coin, just to make sure he had enough tries to get the plush he wanted. Each cat mermaid had the same shiny green tail-- but Yuuri found himself going after the silver-grey toy.

 

“Wow, Yuuri! “ Viktor gasped, watching him edge the claw  over with quick movements. He pressed his nose to the glass when it got closer and closer and cheered when it tipped over the edge into the collection box.

Yuuri pulled it up, holding it up to Viktor, his cheeks flushed and smile edging wider at the comparison.

It was perfect.

Viktor wrapped his arms around Yuuri, pulling him closer so quickly that he nearly lifted him off of his feet.

“Thank you, Yuuri! You’re the best mate I could ask for!”

 

“N-not so loud!” Yuuri stuttered, turning red until the tips of his ears. Viktor knew it was because he was embarrassed-- but he loved seeing the color. It was so human and warm and intimately Yuuri.

His Yuuri, who didn’t push him away anymore.

“I love it.  I love my poodle doll.” Viktor let go, watching Yuuri shrink and hide his face.

 

“We should go home…” Yuuri mumbled. “And… plushie.” He stroked the ear of the toy, tapping its head.

 

“Plush..ie?” Viktor repeated. “Not poodle doll? But Vicchan…”

Yuuri laughed. “Yeah, I guess so. But it’s really called a plushie. Or a doll. Vicchan is just spoiled.

Viktor followed Yuuri as they took the four escalators back to the bottom floor. They passed a large row of bicycles-- Viktor had seen one parked at the onsen, but Yuuri had refused to teach him how to use it. So they walked everywhere, together.

 

They were halfway home when it happened.

The air had felt heavier than it had before--as it got warmer, the air was thicker. Yuuri called it humidity, but Viktor felt it as comfort. Yuuri didn’t seem to worry, though he realized he really should have.

 

They were halfway home, walking along the concrete-tamed rivers on residential streets when the sky opened up. It first felt like a soft ocean spray, a few drops Viktor mistook for a hallucination. He second guessed himself, holding out his palm and peering up into the gray sky.

 

“Yuuri?” Their slow pace came to a stop, as the few drops turned into a steady stream. Rain-- heavy rain that usually turned the surface to a boiling pot. But here, there was no surface. The streets flooded with the instant downpour, small rivers flowing into the concrete gutters and churning the low-flowing rivers.

 

Yuuri muttered under his breath, squinting past the water droplets on his glasses. His hair was already plastered to his forehead and the water was spreading through their clothing.

 

“We have to hurry. I didn’t  bring any umbrellas.” Yuuri reached back, taking Viktor’s hand. They ran through the rain, splashing through puddles and dodging through red lights.

Viktor’s foot hit the ground the same moment the bone-twisting pain shot up his spine.

“Yuuri!” He didn’t stop, until Viktor dug in his heels and stopped, their hands sliding out of each others grasp.

 

He felt sick, hunching over as the pain squeezed his next breathe out of him. “I… I don’t think we’ll make it.

Yuuri looked like a deer in the headlights, his eyes wide, before he swayed on his feet, his eyes scrunching shut. They were only a few blocks from home, but each step would be excruciating. Yuuri dropped their shopping bags, turning in a circle, looking for an escape route.

 

It was too late.

 

Mari’s phone rang. Even though he had graduated years ago, Yuuri’s caller ID was still a picture of him in front of the gates of Hasetsu Chuou. He looked happy, and Mari liked remembering him like that.

 

“Yeah?” Mari picked up without much formality. Yuuri would call if he saw a good sale, or if he was going to be late from fishing for the inn. It was just the kind of person he was.

 

“Uh-- hi Mari-nee-san.. Can you… can you bring the van… to Tengawa? I….I’ll explain when you get here?”

 

“Huh?” Mari scoffed. “That’s like two blocks, and you want me to drive?”

 

“Please,” Yuuri’s voice sounded small.  

“Okay. What intersection are you at?” Mari let her Big Sister voice take over.

 

“Um… I don’t know. You’ll see Viktor’s jacket..and some bags.”

 

“Okay. You’ll definitely have to explain. I’ll see you in five.” Mari hung up, going to search for her rain boots.

 

Yuuri had found the cement stairs down to the river with seconds to spare. It wasn’t the most comfortable place-- the cement had dug into his skin, and the water was unpleasantly muddy. It didn’t feel refreshing at all, and it barely covered Viktor’s fin. But it was the least of his worry.

 

“Yuuri?” A van door slammed, worry tinging Mari’s voice as she called out. She found the bags and the light knit jacket Viktor had left in. But she was expecting her brother standing next to them.

 

“Down here,” her brothers voice rang out, comforting her and raising new concerns all at once. She leaned over the short concrete wall that lined both sides of the river.

 

“What, did you trip?” She called, tugging down the hood of her rain coat over her hair.  Yuuri was hiding behind the support beam for the bridge that allowed cars to cross the river. A flash of silver told her Viktor was there too.

 

“Um… can you come down?” Yuuri shrank back-- embarrassed.

“If this is  the result of some romantic tryst I’m never letting you live it down!” Mari called, carefully picking her way down the narrow stairs to the shallow river.

 

Yuuri smiled awkwardly from his seat on the mud, his tail twisting in nervous movements.

Mari froze-- her brother sat there, hair plastered down and his navy blue pullover soaked.. And ending in the body of a fish.

 

“Hi!” Viktor chirped-- in the same condition, but much more relaxed about it. “We can’t really walk home!”

 

“I---I have to talk to mom!” Mari stomped forward, grabbing her little brother under the arms and dragging him back toward the stairs.  It was a struggle, even with Yuuri trying his best to help out. Mari huffed as she swung her little brother (fish? Guppy?) into the back seat of the van, wiping the sweat from her brow before going back for Viktor.

 

“Buckle up,” Mari said strainedly after she set Viktor in the seat next to Yuuri, slamming the sliding door after her. Viktor leaned into his mate-- who had his arms curled around himself as he shook. The shopping bags and wet fabric of his jacket flopped at his tail as Mari threw the bags in before climbing into the front seat.

“I--I can explain,” Yuuri stuttered, but no other words came out. Mari ignored him, driving a good ten kilometers over the speed limit.

 

“Mom!” Mari called out, knowing her voice would carry. “We have a problem!”

Chapter Text

“It isn’t the first time we lost someone to the sea.” Hiroko sighed, cupping her son’s cheek in her hand.

It wasn’t what he was hoping to hear. He expected shock. Disbelief. Stress, like what Mari was emanating.

Yuuri shrunk back, his tail curling back. Viktor sat next to him in the hallway (the farthest Mari could carry them before her mother arrived.)

“It’s not?” Viktor didn’t feel ashamed in the slightest. His eyes looked brighter, as if this was TOTALLY okay.

“The last time it happened, I was in high school.” Hiroko smoothed Viktor’s hair behind his ear. “To one of my friends.”

“How come I never heard of her?” Yuuri muttered. It came out sounding defensive.

“It happened a lot. Too much. After my friend.. Everyone in Hasetsu decided to stop talking about it. It romanticized it too much.”

“It’s not romantic at all! I didn’t even ask, I swear!” Yuuri started to panic. “I, I was in the boat, and I got knocked off and next time I knew---”

Viktor bowed his head.

“Oh, Yuuri.” Hiroko hugged him to her chest, patting his head. “It will be okay. We have the onsen, so you won’t have to go back to the sea often. You can continue working here, too. You’ll be fine, splitting your time.”

“I don’t want to.” Yuuri’s voice wobbled. “Viktor’s a prince. His family doesn’t approve. You mean we can’t stay here?”

“Not forever, or you’ll dry out. Our sea salt baths will help… but Akari ended up staying in the sea.”

Viktor’s heart ached. It hurt suffocatingly, as if he was feeling his emotions layered on top of his mate’s, magnifying it a hundred times over.

“It may be different.” Viktor interjected, the words too fast, not thought out. “My mother was human.”

“Any other surprises to spring on us?” Mari bit out, her hands on her hips.

“Well, we are bonded mates.” Viktor smiled uneasily. “With my mother being human, maybe we can just stay on land…”

Mari and Hiroko merely stared at them.

“Yeah, and hide every time it rains? Sure. What’s next, pregnant leprechauns?” Mari threw up her hands.

“While some species of Mer don’t have sexual dimorphism, my particular pod does, so we would need a female companion to provide eggs for a family.” Viktor chirped. “I...we haven’t talked about that yet, though.”

Yuuri looked pale, his hair and rain slicker dripping onto the hardwood floor.

“Yuuri?” Viktor touched his other cheek as Hiroko patted his back.

“Eggs….” Yuuri muttered

Chapter Text

At Yuuri’s request, his family left the room when they had dried enough to start earning back their legs. Instead of climbing stairs on his wobbly feet, he pulled two pairs of kannaigi from the downstairs storage closet. Viktor never thought that green was his color-- there was too much of it around at home. But on the surface, it looked like a jewel… and the fabric smelled like the bed he shared with Yuuri. It smelled like his new home. It also fit better than borrowed clothes, and the fact that Yuuri pulled on the same outfit made an odd happy feeling bloom in his chest.

 

Yuuri, however, was quiet, his agate eyes downcast. Hiroko came back into the room with a light dinner. Yuuri always ate his fish headless and cooked. The cooking part would be impossible underwater, but cutting was easy, even if it was removing the best part. Viktor had decided during their first night together that he would watch for his mate’s intricacies and file them away, making sure Yuuri always had something to make him happy. It was Viktor’s fault he had almost died… and now, it was his fault for not being ‘romantic’.

Another thing Viktor had learned about Yuuri was his penchant for sweets. It was a new flavor for Viktor, a strange sensation on his tongue. But Yuuri always ate whatever it was that was sweet. Whether it was bean paste between pancakes or a sprinkling of colorful stars on a earthenware plate, Yuuri would eat it. Today, Hiroko had served their portions together, two tiny glass bowls filled with a clear agar gelatin.  A small sugar goldfish floated in the middle of the jelly.

 

“Funny, Kaa-san.” Yuuri said, an edge of sadness to his tone.

 

“Jelly-fish?” Viktor hummed, picking up the miniature spoon sitting next to the bowl closest to him.

 

“No,” Yuuri laughed, sounding the smallest bit happier. “It’s… Japanese sweets.” Yuuri picked up his spoon and scooped out the top layer of jelly. He held it up to Viktor’s lips.

This must be what romantic meant. Viktor felt his skin warm as he wrapped his lips around the spoon. It was perfect. Lightly sweet, the jelly melted on his tongue and filled his whole mouth with the flavor.

 

“It’s not funny at all. It’s delicious.” Viktor sighed.

 

“The goldfish bowl was always my favorite wagashi.” Yuuri murmured, the cute blushed returning to his soft cheeks. “Now… I’m a fish too.”

 

“Mer. We’re a lot smarter than most fish.” Viktor huffed. Yuuri laughed, bright and musical, and the sting of ‘not romantic at all’ that sat in Viktor’s chest dulled slightly.

 

Yuuri took their dishes back to the kitchen, stepping just out of Viktor’s touch when he reached out.

 

“I--I’ll come to bed later.” Yuuri stuttered, his feet beating a steady rhythm as he darted out of the kitchen and out of earshot.

 

Viktor found Hiroko first.

 

“Hiroko…?” His voice shook a little, unsure. She looked up, smiling, wringing out the rag in her hand. “You can call me mama, Vicchan.”

 

Viktor’s heart fluttered. But he had bigger issues. “Where does Yuuri go when he’s scared?” There was no sand to bury into. Both of their beds lay empty: He had checked.

 

“Well, he usually went to Minako-senpai’s studio, or to his friend’s rink…” Hiroko hummed, wiping her hands on her apron. “His shoes are still here, though. Have you checked the baths?”

 

Viktor worried his bottom lip. He said his thanks to Hiroko before heading to the baths. He slid his feet into the too-small plastic slippers. It would be best to put as much distance between his skin and the wet floor as possible.  The baths were empty--business hours had ended a short time ago, but patrons seemed to be polite here.

Viktor searched the showers, then the big outdoor pool. He had yet to venture to the onsen despite multiple invitations by Yuuri’s family. The water was much hotter than his Russian-sea blood could handle.

 

“Yuuri?” Viktor called out  in exasperation, his search futile.  He paced back, until he stopped by the wood-barrel cooling baths that lined the wall between the inner and outer baths.

 

“Yuuri…” Viktor gasped, feeling all the air sucked out of his lungs. Yuuri was curled up in the tub, his back following the curve of the barrel. His eyelids were heavy, but small bubbles trailed from the corner of his mouth under the surface of the water.

Viktor leaned over the edge of the tub, watching Yuuri, both lost in thought. Viktor trailed his fingers on the surface of the water, watching as Yuuri’s eyes widened. He sat up, his dark hair pasted flat against his face. Viktor watched his eyes grow clearer, the translucent membrane of his third eyelid sliding back across his eye, no longer needed outside of the water.

 

“Is something wrong?” Yuuri asked, his skin glistening with water.  It was strange, how so many parts of Yuuri could be perfect, some staying the same, and some, like his eyes, adapting to the water perfectly. And yet, some things never changed. His strange, dark coloring. His straight, dull teeth. Viktor loved those things about Yuuri. Not only because it was irrevocably Yuuri… but because it told him that despite his decisions, despite the magic, there were some things that Viktor couldn’t ruin.

 

“Yuuri…” Viktor gasped, wrapping his arms around Yuuri and pulling him from the water. He immediately tensed, wrapping his tail around Viktor’s body. “What are you doing?”

 

“Practicing,” Yuuri said, octopusing to Viktor with a white-knuckle grip. “This is wierd.”

 

“I can leave.”  

 

Yuuri immediately regretted his comment. Viktor sounded heartbroken.  “I… no. Please don’t.” He felt his fin fan against Viktor’s backside. “I was just...saying.. That this is wierd. Me, having the tail, and you, legs..”

 

“I’d love you with legs or tentacles, or no legs at all.” Viktor swallowed. “Whatever would make you happy.”

 

“What makes you think I’m not happy?” Yuuri didn’t lessen his grip. The conversation would have to happen with his chin cradled against Viktor’s shoulder.

 

“I can feel it, Yuuri.”

 

“I’m… “ Yuuri’s  voice grew quieter, more fragile. “I’m scared.”

 

“I am too. But I know that I can do anything, if you stay close to me.”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“I can’t make you happy if you run away from me. The distance hurts. I know I didn’t give you a choice in this, but I promise I’ll do anything to fix this.”

 

Yuuri’s weight shifted as he pulled back, hanging off Viktor’s neck enough to face him. “Viktor… you saved my life. Y-you are really cute, especially when you learn something new.. I just...It’s all new to me.”

 

Viktor only blinked, lifting his eyebrows questioningly. Yuuri rarely talked so openly, and it was a crime to interrupt him and stop it so soon.

 

“I… I never dated anyone before.. And now we’re married? But more? I don’t even know how to take care of myself, and now I’m worried that I’ll mess you up too.” Yuuri’s eyes were wide, until he looked away. “You’re stuck with me…”

 

“Oh, Yuuri.” Viktor shook his head, earning a bone-crushing tight squeeze from Yuuri. “The Fates put us together. If anything, I forced this on you. All I want is for you to be happy. Even if that means we’re friends until we grow old and grey.”

 

“You’re already grey.” Yuuri muttered, blinking, his cheeks growing pink.

 

“I’m blonde, thank you.” Viktor said, his tone a little sharp with a layer of love underneath it.

 

“What if….we were more than friends? In the future?” Yuuri hid his face. All Viktor could see was how his hair curled behind his ear as it dried.

 

“I would love that. Wherever you are, I’ll meet you there.”  Viktor relished the shiver from Yuuri as he placed a kiss by the sensitive skin by the gills on his neck.

 

“Do you...want to go in the baths too?” Yuuri asked quietly into Viktor’s shoulder. Viktor smiled,carrying Yuuri to the bath he pointed to, before lowering him into the water. He averted his eyes while Viktor stripped his clothes off, gritting his teeth when his body reacted to being submerged in the water. It hurt, still, but the frequency of the changes was making the pain familiar.

 

“It’s not as hot as I thought it would be.” Viktor said once the pain had passed. They swam with their heads above the water.

 

“I turned the heater off.” Yuuri blushed. He floated closer than he did in the sea. Eventually, they both laid on the bottom, watching the stars twinkle in the sky above through the blur of water.

 

When Yuuri woke up in their shared bed the next morning, Viktor was gone.

 

“Are you sure,  Vicchan?” Hiroko hummed,  her thumbs holding together his thick braid of hair at the bottom.

 

“I am.” Viktor’s fingers danced over the picture he had found in the magazine Mari had left out in the common room. If Yuuri was practicing being human, then Viktor would practice being human.

 

Hiroko paused again, before  picking up the scissors from the kitchen table. “It… just seems a shame to cut it.” She said, even as the crisp sound of blades against hair met his ears.

 

It can grow back . Viktor reminded himself. He told himself that he wasn’t particularly fond of his hair. It was just long because Mer rarely cut their hair. It was impossible to tame underwater, so most trims were to keep it at waist length.

“It takes too long to dry.” Viktor said, but his response felt canned. His head felt immediately lighter at the last snip , his neck cold with a breeze he had never noticed before.

 

Viktor went to stand up, before Hiroko’s firm hand pushed him down in the chair. “Sit. Let me fix.”

 

She spent five times as long with the scissors, trimming the back even shorter, brushing his hair out of his eyes.  His skin started to itch, even though Hiroko had dressed him in a trash bag before sitting him down in the kitchen.

 

Kaa-san, have you seen Viktor?” The kitchen door slid open the same time as  Yuuri spoke.

 

“Right here.” Hiroko hummed. She patted Viktor’s shoulder, and he turned.

 

“Good morning, Yuuri. Do you like it?” Viktor decided that he would only like it if his mate did.  “Very human, isn’t it?” He tossed his hair, the ends whipping his face in a new way. It was fun, if not a little strange.

 

Yuuri’s face immediately grew red, and he hid behind the sliding door. “I liked it before, too.”

Chapter Text

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Chapter Text

The humidity hanging in the air during the day made it hard to venture outside. Viktor and Yuuri spent their days next to the dehumidifier, the air conditioner on high to avoid the itchy feeling of being in-between forms.
Despite their deep bond, Yuuri was still shy. Viktor made every effort to drape himself over his mate, touch him where he could without having him draw away. He knew Yuuri felt the same peace he did when they touched, but Yuuri rarely initiated it. It started out a fear, but the longer Viktor spent among Yuuri’s family, the more he realized how different humans were. He had to remind himself that Yuuri’s mother didn’t love him any less than Viktor’s mother had loved Viktor. Even if he never saw them touch or cling to each other. Maybe there was no need to-- there is, after all, no tides to rip them apart.

Viktor’s favorite part of Yuuri to cling to is his stomach. It is soft and smooth, and he thinks its a tragedy that Yuuri hides it under his human garb everywhere except the bath.

“Vicchan, will you check on Yuuri? He’s been in the bath for… two hours.” Hiroko hummed, patting the crown of Viktor’s silver head. Every time he has ventured out with Yuuri, at least two humans ask to touch his hair. It is mostly children who ask, or old ladies, but Viktor doesn’t mind. They never comment on it being thin-- just how soft and shiny it is. The only negative part is the irritation Viktor bites back about Yuuri never getting the same treatment. No one ever compliments the soft feathery hair on his mates head, or the gentle curls in it or the way it falls into his eyes.

“Okay!” Viktor sung, climbing up the stairs to the bathroom and knocking on the door. “Yuuri!” His smile fades when he hears a sniffle from the other side of the door. “Yuuri?”

“I--I can’t” Yuuri’s voice trembled.

“Can I come in?” Viktor knows to ask now, but he doesn’t wait. Yuuri is still sitting on the shower stool, newly purchased for Yuuri’s new predicament.

“What’s wrong?” Viktor pauses. The air isn’t anymore humid inside the bath room than it is outside, and Yuuri’s tail still remains, his fin brushing the tile floor.

“I can’t change back.” Yuuri’s mouth twists in worry. A two liter jug of water still sits on the counter. Yuuri had been carrying it around, drinking from it throughout the day. Viktor had done the same-- the longer he spent away from his home, the more parched he felt.

“You just need to dry out..” Viktor stepped forward, resting a hand on Yuuri’s silver-blue tail. It was dry, even to the point of the thin mucous layer free of its usual stickiness. “Oh.”

Yuuri’s human clothes are folded neatly on the countertop-- but they are pointless.
“I think we should go back.” Viktor said, his voice low and melancholic.

He would keep Yuuri away from the larger currents. They’d avoid the areas his people usually traveled until he had a plan. A plan on how to keep Yuuri without having to kill his father and anyone else who wanted to break their bond.

“Okay.” Yuuri sniffled, settling against Viktor when he lifted him from the shower chair. It felt strange to carry him without the buoyancy of the water, but it was a nice kind of strange. Yuuri tucked himself against Viktor, their roles reversed yet again as Viktor used his feet to bring them downstairs.

“Katsuki-Mama.” Viktor called out, his voice catching. “I… I have to take Yuuri back.”

Yuuri’s family looks stricken, emerging from the kitchen and Mari from the hallway. Hiroko only nods. They leave, Hiroko pressing a kiss to Yuuri’s cheek before they climb into the back of Yuutopia’s van. Mari waves her goodbye, watching until Viktor’s feet sink into the sand and then sticks to the wet mud and ache with the start of the change.

By the time Viktor opens his eyes from the squeeze of pain, Yuuri looks like a natural. He sits a few inches away, perfectly balanced with the current, water moving through his gills peacefully.
It is the opposite of their last time in the water, but it doesn’t put Viktor at ease.

Yuuri’s practice time in the onsen has helped. He even smiles, a soft quirk of his mouth, his transparent eyelids catching the underwater light just right.
He looks like he belongs here, not by form but by action. By the feeling in Viktor’s chest.

His dark coloring would never have him pass for natural mer.

His people would never take him as how perfect Viktor sees him. But there’s nothing Viktor wants more.

 

Something bumped against Viktor’s fin, breaking him from his reverie. Yuuri’s easy smile disappeared.
“Makkachin?” Viktor cooed the moment his eyes fell on the dogfish bumping her nose against his tail. “Oh, hi baby!” He ran his hand down her tail, his other petting her belly. “Makka, this is my mate Yuuri!”

“Viktor,” Yuuri said shyly. “That’s a shark.”

“A tiny one. She can’t hurt you. She’s a baby.” Viktor blinked. “Yes, yes you are.” He cooed at Makkachin.

Yuuri looked unsure.

“I’ve had her since she was a pup. I promise.” Viktor held out his hand, and Makkachin swam along the length of his arm before stopping at his fingertips. Yuuri watched, expression unreadable for a second before he laughed.

“She’s kind of cute, I guess.” He watched as Makkachin swam circles around him, leaving bubbles in her wake.

“I missed her,” Viktor sighed, hugging her gently to his chest. It was no nice to have her back that he did not realize the implication of it until he stared it right in the face.

“Viktor,” Chris said curtly. “I’m sorry it has to be like this.”