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In dangerous (Kinda) Waters

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Why we were on the lake-today, of all days-was a mystery. Dad said he missed the old days, when he used to fish on this lake and catch upwards of thirty pounds in a few hours. But we don't live in this area anymore, haven't been back in close to twenty years. I don't remember this town, not that there's much to remember.

As we rented the boat, casting worried glances at the gloomy clouds overhead, the man at the counter of the open shack scowled. "Whatever you're looking for out there, you won't find it. And don't try to fish. Invasive species took over. Killed everything in the lake."
"Oh, what kind of fish? Come in from the ocean?" Dad asked. The lake did connect to the ocean, but the water in the lake was fresh and pure, not salty.
The giant man in the shack glared heavily at dad, his mouth set in a firm line.
"Yeah, came in from the ocean. Don't provoke it and it won't tip your boat and make dinner out of you." Suddenly I didn't want to go boating anymore.

It's not like boating was my idea, on such a gloomy, cold day like today. Dad was just nostalgic and old. All we really did was putter around the lake in the old boat, dad peering into the water while I watched the sky. "How 'bout we cast a line?"
"He said no fishing, Dad. Casting a line kinda goes against that."
Dad shrugged, already pulling a fishing rod out of seemingly nowhere. How did he get it on the boat?
"He just wants to keep the fish in the lake, doesn't want tourists killing all of them."
"Dad, if this place had tourists it wouldn't be as rundown as it is. Nobody's come to this town since the beginning of time." Dad didn't listen, as usual.
Thirty minutes later and he was still perched by the side of the boat, staring out over the water as he waited for the line to bob, signifying a fish. I was now just relaxing near the back of the boat, staring up at the calmly-grey sky. A swishing noise caught my attention, followed by several drops of water splashing onto the back of my head. Startled, I bolted upright, whipping around to face the water behind me. Ripples graced the surface, and I faintly saw something swimming underneath the boat, towards Dads line. Must be a big fish. I laid back down again, figuring Dad would catch it and then we'd be on our way. It's not that I didn't like nature, I just didn't like being out on water in a rickety old boat with the threat of an "invasive species" tipping us over and eating me. With that thought, Dad whooped, standing up excitedly and tugging on the fishing pole. "I got one of those suckers! Haha!"

Then the boat lurched.

I bolted upright, again, scrabbling desperately to hold onto something solid. But we were in a boat. On water. Nothing was solid.
"Dad, let it go.... Cut the line!" My voice rising in pitch as the boat rocked again, more violently this time. Dad turned to smile at me, probably going to make some comment about catching the dang fish, but he didn't get to. Without warning, the boat tipped over, sending Dad, me, and all of our stuff crashing into cold water.
Surfacing, I caught sight of Dad's graying hair, splayed across the top of the boat. He was kneeling on it, his eyes wide as he looked, not at me, but under me. "Slow movements, swim to the boat. Slow." He emphasized. Now would probably be a good time to mention that I'm horrible in stressful situation. I started crying, sure that this is it. This is how I die, goodbye me. Dad was trying to comfort me from ten feet away, shushing me and murmuring "Slow, slow" as he waited for me to swim over. I shrieked in fear when something slimy brushed up against my thigh. It was big, and it was gross. I stayed still, as well as one can when they are trying to sob their lungs out. I didn't want to go out like this, eaten by an invasive species. Thankfully I blacked out before the thing ate me, sparing me from the pain of a slow, conscious death at the teeth of a man-eating fish.

 

Coincidentally, teeth were the first thing I saw when I woke up. A large grey.... Thing was draped beside me, and I could tell it had a face, but all I could see was teeth. Understandably, I started screaming, back pedaling as fast as I could in a prone position, until my back hit the wall of the open cave we were in.
"Hey, hey, don't be scared, I'm not going to hurt you. I'm here to help"
It talked???? I didn't know what kind of fish talked to their food before eating it, but I didn't really want to know. Or maybe I was having a psychotic break. No matter, I looked closer, I mean, fish can't talk, right? This closer inspection made my heart stop. It wasn't a fish. That made sense, I guess, no, it was a fricking mermaid.
Slick grey scales covered it's thick bottom half, the majority of it submerged in dark water. I was up on a rough stone ledge in a surprisingly well-lit cave, surrounded by water, except for the part of me that was pressed up against the wall of the cave. The rest of the mermaid was laid out on the ledge, leaning towards me. It's dark grey scales slowly transitioned to pale, greyish skin, the full transition to skin being above the belly button, which it didn't seem to have. Well muscled arms gave way to veiny, thinly-webbed hands, one on the ground supporting it's body, the other, reaching towards me, Palm out. As my eyes moved towards its face, I shivered as two rows of razor sharp teeth came into view, pale lips stretched around them in a sheepish smile. A cute button nose and high cheekbones led way to beautiful, slitted blue eyes, the color of a glacier as it's melting. So blue that they themselves also looked pale. dirty white hair hung down to it's ears, finishing off the appearance of a sun-deprived mutation. Yes I screamed once more for good measure.
"I told you, I'm not going to hurt you, or eat you, or anything else the townsfolk told you." It said, calmingly. I curled up, getting my body as far away from it as I could. Despite what it said, I knew how this story ended. Nothing left of my body except for the bones, left to be found by some poor passerby centuries from now "Hey, it's okay! Please don't cry."
Too late, fish.
The thing dragged itself closer, and I sobbed harder. "Oh, please don't pass out again, I don't know how to make you wake up again." It sounded genuinely concerned. Probably has had millennia to work on lying through it’s razor-sharp teeth. Wait. Pass out again?
“What do you mean, ’pass out again’?”
It blinked it’s pale blue eyes at me in confusion. “You don’t remember? You passed out in the water and started sinking. Next time, don’t wear so many layers.”
I glanced around, noticing I wasn’t wearing my coat, or the jacket under that, or my parka. They were situated a few feet away, laid out neatly to dry. I guess the Thing has a point.
“Where am I?” I timidly asked, hoping the mermaid wouldn’t get mad or anything equally worse.
"In a cave, close to the surface. Your companion hasn't even gotten back to the shore yet, so no need to worry about him. He's safe." The thing smiled gently, both hands now supporting it’s upper body weight. "I can answer any questions you like, I don't mind as long as you don't go to sleep again. After all, I don't bite" It bared it's teeth in a grimacing smile, causing me to further shrink against the wall.
"So you aren't going to eat me?"
The thing looked disgusted. It's sharp eyes narrowing even more as it glared at me.
"No, your kind is not edible for me. Plus, it would be like eating a dolphin, or an octopus."
At my confused state, the thing explained further, "Octopus and Dolphins are intelligent enough to be friends. Fish like trout and salmon, river fish and regular sea fish are food."
"So you‘re half fish, yet you eat fish?" It's eyes lit up, apparently pleased.
"Ahh! Yes and no. I am actually a shark hybrid." It pulled its tail fully out of the water, showcasing the hard, shark like fin at the bottom, and as I looked closer, I realized that those weren't scales, it was skin. Smooth grey sharkskin.
"I don't eat humans, as I've said. I just have the physical characteristic of a shark. Particularly a bull shark. If I was a tiger shark hybrid I would have those pretty little stripes. Pity I don't. " The shark.... Thing stared wistfully down at its tail, lowering its bulk into the water once more. Turning its attention back to me, it brightened up again.
"Any more questions?"
"None that I can think of right now, I'll get back to you later."
It beamed, before shuffling forward with surprising, frightening speed. I yelped again, causing it to stop short, a few feet away from my feet. It drew back slightly when my scared crying reached it’s ears.
"So can I ask you some things?" The bright slotted eyes peered inquisitively into mine, and before waiting for an answer, it launched into his own interrogation. I guess it could only pick up on some human social cues.
"What does your food taste like? What are restaurants? And why don't cats like to come to the water? Dogs do, some of them will play with me, but not cats? It makes me sad. How do you humans make friends? What are these shiny metal things you drop into the lake? How do yo-"
"Woah! Woah woah woah! Slow down there Sharkie, one at a time." The nickname slipped out, my tears forgotten at it’s sudden outburst. A bright flush graced the shark hybrids cheeks, bringing color to it’s pale face.
"Sorry, I just got excited. I've never met a human before and I have so many questions."
“ Well, for one, please don’t… slide…. Towards me so fast. I thought you were going to hurt me.”
It shrunk back to it’s original spot, looking apologetic.
“Our food tastes fine, some stuff is better than others. Restaurants are places you can go to eat food. Cat just don’t like water, I guess? The shiny metal things are either fish hooks, or maybe coins. Oh, and humans make friends just by talking to people they like, I guess.”
The shark hybrid shuffled closer again, this time not as fast or as close. “Can we be friends?” It looked so hopeful, it’s eyes bright and it’s teeth showing slightly in a semblance of a smile. Honestly, with that many teeth it was kinda hard to tell.
“I…. I-I mean I guess?”
I shrieked again as it writhed into the water, splashing freezing cold liquid onto me again. It seemed to thrash around, before flopped back up onto the ledge, half-in, half-out. It had a huge smile on it’s face, so I guess it was happy. “I’ve never had one before! How exciting!!” An awkward moment passed. What was I even supposed to say to that?
“Uuhh… How do I get to land? I want to find my Dad and make sure he’s okay.”
The hybrid furrowed it’s eyebrows. “But you said we were friends? Don’t friends ‘hang out’?”
“They do! They do!” I hurriedly assured it. I could see where this was going and I needed to steer the conversation back into safe waters so I could leave this cave in one piece.
“Human friends hang out when it’s convenient for both parties. If someone’s dad is hurt or sick, they can’t hang out.” I explained, keeping a close eye on the shark’s expression. It softened slightly, thank goodness.
“I see! So you’ll check on your Dad, and then you’ll come back?”
“Maybe tomorrow, I have to make sure he gets home okay.”
It frowned deeply, it’s tail coming out of the water briefly, only for it to slap it back down in irritation. “Fine, but please come back. I haven’t had anybody to talk to for years. Everyone’s gone now.” Suddenly the shark’s expression dropped, it’s eyes misting up. A webbed hand pointed towards the faint light coming in, and honestly, I’m so dumb. Of course that’s the way out.
“Follow the ledge out.” It mumbled. I turned to gather my still-wet layers from where they were drying, standing up slowly to ensure I wouldn’t hit my head.
“Thank yo-” As I turned back to thank the Hybrid, it was nowhere to be seen. Not even a ripple on the water’s surface. Now it was my turn to be confused. Did I just hallucinate that entire thing?

 

Dad was shaken up, but okay. He almost had a heart attack when I sank underneath the water. Apparently he thought a shark had pulled me under, he swore he saw a fin. I just told him I had blacked out, woke up on one of the many, many ‘secret beaches’ around the lake. The drive home was filled with him swearing to never take me fishing, threatening to sue the boat-rental-man and me talking him down. After all, he was the one who ignored the man’s instructions

 

I still wasn‘t sure whether I had hallucinated the shark hybrid in the lake, or if that had actually happened. Unfortunately, there was only one way to find out. That’s why I, against my better judgment, laced up my boots the next day. Thankfully, I was staying in my own apartment, my parents were merely helping me move in before going back to where we had previously lived. It was actually the weirdest coincidence that I got a job in the town I was born in. My parents were ‘seeing the town’ before they leave tomorrow, so I had the whole day to myself. Might as well try to determine if I needed a therapist and some mental help. Who knows, maybe the shark-hybrid is real, and I can finally have a friend?

Chapter Text

Finding the cave proved to be slightly more difficult than I had anticipated. Lets just say that I wasn’t paying as much attention as I could’ve the previous day when I left. When I finally found the beginning of the stone ledge, I was irritated, mainly at myself. I mean, what was I even doing?? Going into some spooky cave to convince myself that I need to be institutionalized. That I somehow conjured up some fantasy of a shark-mermaid-thing saving me from drowning. That’ll be fun to explain. It got slightly darker as I ducked into the cave, steeling myself for anything. Despite it being enclosed, it was still well lit, although the water beside me was pitch black, and I had no clue how deep it was. Progressing a little further over the uneven rock, I found the area that looked like where I was yesterday. I remained standing; if that thing came rushing to eat me, I was going to Usain Bolt out of here.
“H-hello? Sharkie? I’m bac-Ohmygosh” Before I could even finish my sentence, there it was, grinning at me with it’s death-razor teeth. I flinched slightly when it came out of the water, pale blue eyes gleaming as it hauled the front part of it’s body onto the ledge.
“You came back! I’m surprised, I thought you might report me to the police people that they have. I’m glad you didn’t.” The shark sounded so pleased, I smiled slightly.
“Actually, I just wanted to make sure I’m not going crazy. I mean, a shark-hybrid…. And it talks? My life isn’t exactly a fairytale, so this is a little new.”
The teeth showed in a smile again, this one more gentle than the last.
“I understand. But I’m very glad you came back to hang out with me.” It paused, it’s eyes narrowing slightly in confusion. “How do humans hang out, exactly?”
“Ummm…” I sat down, back against the rough stone wall, facing the shark.
“When I hung out with friends back home, we would go see movies, sometimes shop together, like grocery shopping. Uhhh… board games, we’d play those. Sometimes we’d go swimming, or biking, or on hikes.” Glancing at the tail that was submerged in the water, I hesitated. “I’m not sure how much of that you can do….. I should’ve planned ahead.” Its head lowered, eyes hidden by the dirty, tangled hair. I didn’t want it to be unsatisfied with my company and decide to hurt me or something, so I scrambled for my next words.

“But! Uhh, we can…… Learn… more about each other? That’s what human friends do when they are new friends, like us.” It seemed to want to have a human-like friendship, so I’ll try to steer us in that direction as well as I could. Sharkie lifted their head, eyes gleaming as it smiled softly. “Hey, that sounds good! I’ll go first. What’s your name?”
“Chiyo. My parents thought it would be a fun name, it means ‘a thousand sparkles’ Now you, what’s your name?”
The hybrid softly repeated my name, entranced with the way it felt as they sounded it out.
“My name is Sidereus.” I tilted my head.
“Are you going to explain what it means? All names have meaning.”
“It means that I belong to the stars.”
“How pretty! Did you parents name you that?”
Sidereus looked to the side quickly, their voice lowering.
“I read it in a book once. I like floating in the lake at night, looking up at the stars. I talk to them when I get lonely, they always listen.”
My heart wrenched out of my chest; I knew what that felt like. Unending sadness and a life time of being lonely let me understand the shark’s pain. I didn’t miss the subtle way it glossed over mentioning parents. It looked back up at me, seemingly surprised as it read my face, it’s own features softening in return. We were similar, so what.
“It’s still a nice name, I like it. Sidereus.”
Silence passed between us, the shark apparently done asking me questions. It simply studied me, pale blue eyes flicking over my face, studying my clothes, watching my hands as I fiddled with my fingers.
“Are there uh, more of you in the lake?”
Sidereus shook it’s head.
“No, just me. I’m sorry for eating all the fish, I know it makes the locals angry.”
A soft blush dusted it’s cheeks, Sidereus sheepishly ducking it’s head closer to the water. I laughed slightly.
“Haha, doesn’t bother me, there are other places they can fish, doesn’t have to be here. How long have you lived here?”
“No more questions about me.” Sidereus’s voice changed in pitch, louder and deeper. I looked up at it’s face quickly, then back down. The pale eyes were slitted, eyebrows furrowed, and pale lips upturned into a dangerous frown. I didn’t want to mess with that.
“No problem! We can talk about me, ask me anything you’d like.” I’d have to google ‘how to diffuse dangerous situation with a shark hybrid’ when I got home. Sidereus seemed to relax, eyes opening and brow relaxing.
“I’m sorry, we can talk more about me at a later date. I have a question; I know most humans don’t look alike, but I’ve never seen any that look quite like you. Are you a fire hybrid?”
A fire hybrid?

I burst out laughing, although I quickly tried to compose myself as Sidereus quirked an eyebrow in confusion.
“Oh goodness, I’m sorry. I’ve just never heard that before. Are you referring to my hair?”
My hair was bright red, and super fluffy. It hung a little past my ears, due to the recent cut. It used to be mid back, and curly. Now it was just floofy and soft. Sidereus nodded, it’s eyes scanning over my red locks, so different from it’s own.
“Would you like to touch it?”
This could either be really good, or Sidereus could grab my hair and yank me into the water to drown me. But then again, the shark was big enough and fast enough that it could’ve done that already. So why not let its (probably) slimy hands feel my hair. The shark’s eyes got huge, lit up with excitement.
“Can I really?” Sidereus breathed. I nodded, shuffling closer to it’s lean mass, close enough for the hybrid to touch my hair. I tilted my head so that The hybrid had better access to me hair. Surprisingly, the webbed hands were not slimy. Very softly and tentatively, Sidereus began to caress my hair, feeling the texture between it’s fingers, inspecting the natural color, and simply enthralled with the texture.
“It feels so different to mine, I didn’t know hair could look like this!” The shark whispered.
“Can I feel yours?”
Wow, bold.

Sidereus nodded, tilting it’s pale head down to where I could touch the dirty hair, while still running the webbed fingers through my own. I followed the shark’s example, very slowly and softly beginning to touch the white hair. It was rough, and dirty. Probably what happens when you spend your entire life in water. Tomorrow I’ll bring shampoo and conditioner, and wash it. Wait…. Was I already planning to come back here? Suddenly, I stood, scaring Sidereus as it’s hands slipped out of my hair. The hybrid quickly took a defensive position, slitted eyes narrowed.
“oh, hey, sorry! I want to wash your hair. I know there’s a store like, a mile down the road that probably has shampoo and conditioner. Can I go get some and wash your hair? It’ll look better and feel better.”
The eyes widen in surprise.
“Is this something most humans do? Washing hair?”
“Yeah! Everybody does it. Makes your hair feel like mine. Well, it might not feel exactly like mine, but it’ll feel better than it does…….no offense.”
Sidereus smiled, revealing the sharp teeth again. Still makes me nervous.
“I think I’d like that. But you are coming back??”
“As soon as I get that conditioner.”
I started hurrying towards the exit of the cave, before turning back to Sidereus.
“Uhm, also? What are you?”
Confusion emanated across it’s features.
“We went over this yesterday, a Shark hybrid.”
“No…. I mean, like, are you a dude or a lady?”
“Ah, I’m a male.”
“Right, right. It’s just hard for me to tell with……I’m gonna go.”

 

Fifty minutes later saw me hurrying back into the cave, a bag with shampoo and conditioner in my hand. I got the kind with super hydration, maybe that’ll, work, maybe not. I’d never washed a shark hybrid’s hair before. Coming back to the same spot, Sidereus was still lounging on the rock ledge, his tail now fully out of the water. It spread out behind him, the tail itself probably close to six feet long. That probably made him around seven feet in total length. Although he looked formidable, he seemed to be comprised entirely of lean muscle, as I saw hardly any fat on his form.
“Hey, I got the stuff.”
His eyes flicked over to me, brightening as they zeroed in on the grocery bag.
“Ah, grocery shopping. Are you going to wash my hair now?”
“Yupp, Although You have to get back into the water.”
He nodded, before pulling himself with his arms to the edge, then tipping in like a seal. It caused a small splash, almost drenching me in it’s spray.
“Hey! Bro careful with the water, some of us aren’t aquatic.”
I spluttered, stuffing the empty bag into a back pocket as I set the contents on the ledge. I rolled up my longsleeved shirt, as well as my pant legs, trying to minimize the amount of fabric that could get wet. Set out before me was a bottle of shampoo, a bottle of conditioner, a hairbrush, and hairtyes. Setting the last two aside, I knelt down on my knees, close to Sidereus’s head.
“Alright, So I’m going to soap up your hair with this soap, and then you’ll rinse it, okay? Don’t get it into your eyes, it might sting.”
The pale head nodded, staring up at me.
“Uhh, your going to have to turn, It’ll be easier for both of us that way.”
“Oh… right.”
He shifted, his back now turned to me, head resting on the ledge. I soaped up his white hair, noticing how a pleased rumble flowed through his body, a small smile stretched across his features, his eyes closed. Apparently he liked it. After scrubbing each strand, and his scalp, I rinsed my hands in the water.
“Now I’m going to tip your head back, okay? I have to rinse out the shampoo.”
Sidereus nodded, eyes still closed as I tipped his head into the water, scrubbing at his scalp. I repeated this process for the conditioner, before instructing him to climb out of the water again.
“How long can you be out of water anyway?” I asked, watching as the shark smoothly exited the water.
“Since I have both gills and human lungs, however long I want. Sometimes if there’s water in my human lungs it can be a little bit painful at first, but I won’t die. Now what next with my hair?”

I nodded to myself, pulling the hand towel out of my other back pocket. Good thing I kept cleaning rags in my car.
“Now I’ll dry it…. I wanted to see what it would look like dry.”
He hummed pleasantly, so I gently toweled off the snowy hair, glad he had closed his eyes again. It was better that way, less awkwardness. When I finished I shuffled back, still on my knees.
“Wow…. Look at you! Your hair is so pretty…”
Whipping out my phone, I focused the screen on him, snapping a picture of his relaxed face before he opened his eyes. The shutter sound caused them to snap open, turning into thin, irritated slits.
“What are you doing?” There was that gravelly tone again. I take it that meant he didn’t like it.

 

“Just a picture! Here, look.” I turned the screen so he could see the photo, him looking angelic with his white hair all fluffy and straight. Sure, the texture was still a little rough, but that’s what happens when you live in water. Scanning over the picture, Sidereus relaxed, his lips quirking up into a small smile.
“I didn’t know…… That’s me.”
Lowering my phone, I glanced up at him.
“Have you, uh, ever seen yourself?”
There goes my heart, clenching up again.
“Only in the shiny things that some of the old humans used to drop in the lake. Knives I think they were called. But mine rusted over a while back….. I haven’t seen what I look like for a long time.”
He met my eyes, smiling brightly.
“Thank you.”

 

“We’re not done yet, next order of business is braiding.”

 

I had never seen anything, human or other, so relaxed and pleased. Utter bliss was written over Sidereus’s face as I finished braiding his hair away from his angular face. After initially being reluctant about the idea, he eventually admitted that his hair does get in the way when he’s in the water, just like I had thought. So in an easy style, I braided it back, in two tails that hugged his hair. I joined them at the base of his skull and tied it off, before raising my hands.
“Ta-da! Next time I’ll bring you a mirror or something, right now we’ll have to use my phone.”
Tapping to the camera, I showed the shark what he looked like again, this time with no picture, just letting him hold my phone. He opened his eyes, and I smiled. He looked much better than he did previously, you could see his eyes sparkling, and the fine structure of his delicate face. Also, a feature hidden previously by the white hair, were his slightly pointed ears. I chose not to comment, instead watching as he turned his head this way and that.
“I like it. Let me see though…”
Absently, he handed my phone back to me, and I turned it off, only to look up and see no Sidereus. What? I wash and braid his hair and this is how he thanks me? Rude. Maybe sharks don’t have manners. With a huff, I started gathering everything, leaving it in a pile near the wall, before making to stand. Suddenly, Sidereus popped out of the water, teeth bared in the biggest smile yet.
“It feels so much better! I can see!!!!!!”
He thrashed around in the water, like he did yesterday, expressing his joy over the new hair. That makes sense, he was just trying it out. I chuckled as he slapped his tail several times on the surface, but I quickly stopped as I tried to dodge the water he was splashing about.
“I’m glad you like it buddy, I have to go now though…. My parents are meeting me for dinner soon and I smell like the lake.”
I pointed down to my soaked clothes, and Sidereus stopped splashing, swimming up to the edge.
“Oops, sorry about that. But seriously-” He grasped one of my hands in his own, webbed ones. “-Chiyo, Thank you so much. Can you come back tomorrow?” Hopeful eyes again. Now that I could see his entire face, I didn’t feel so threatened, although it was still alarming when he showed the rows of sharp teeth.
“Yeah, sure. I’m leaving the hair stuff here, feel free to use it whenever you want to, not more than once a day though. And I can just re-braid your hair afterwards.”
I smiled gently, And Sidereus whooped, launching himself backwards in a graceful arc, disappearing under the black water. He re-appeared a second later, waving.
“Goodbye then, Chiyo!! I’ll see you tomorrow!”
“Bye Sidereus!” I stood up, brushing of my wet clothes, before heading for the exit of the cave. I looked back, hearing a scuffle, only to see the shark mermaid up on the ledge, running his hands over the hair products, feeling the bristles of the brush, and picking up the bottles of shampoo and conditioner.

 

Today was a good day