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Had you told Dave Katz that one day, during one of his usual routine days at the lighthouse, he was going to meet a merman he would’ve laughed right at your face.

It wasn’t that mermaids weren’t real. Anyone who had a minimum of common sense knew they were, and those who bushed it off as yet another ‘conspiracy theory’ or whatever was hot at the time didn’t earn anything more than an eye-roll from everyone else. It’s just that encountering a mermaid was as common as winning the lottery twice in a row.

Sure, two or three lucky encounters had made everyone realize that yes, merpeople existed and lived in their oceans, but they didn’t exactly let themselves be seen enough to have whole encyclopaedias dedicated to them. Since they possessed human intelligence, that much was attested to be true, people simply avoided coming in contact with them, in fear of what could happen, given the strict laws created to protect them. There were also some people that believed that merpeople were predators, and that people didn’t know much about them simply because they never survived an encounter, but Dave always brushed those metropolitan legends off. He lived in a lighthouse at the edge of the ocean and had to deal with dozens of sharks and other much scarier creatures than a person with fins, he wasn’t going to stay up at night thinking about fish people and fearing them.

So when one morning, looking down from the lighthouse’s window as he sipped a cup of coffee, he spotted a tangle of fishing nets moving on his shoreline he didn't think much of it. He unfortunately often had to rescue wild animals that got stuck in nets and plastic and had found themselves getting dragged to his shore, so after a quick look at the struggling tangle down below he gulped down what was left of his coffee and grabbed his pocket knife, heading down the stairs towards the bottom floor.

He didn’t really have a reason to be already up so early when he could’ve easily stayed in bed in his little house beside the lighthouse, but he simply loved the ocean- and his job- too much for that. The moment he stepped foot outside he took in a big breath, the humid smell of the day mingling with the salty scent of the sea and ruffling his hair as he went. The wind wasn’t too strong but he already knew he would find his hair and skin coated in salt by the end of the day, and to be honest that was just a perk of the job.

Quickening his pace, not wanting to leave the poor sea creature to suffer any longer, he found his way down the rocks with a steady pace, his feet too experienced to slip on the wet reef, until he finally reached the shoreline. He could see the tangle of nets moving just over a large rock, and he let out a sigh of relief at the sight that the animal was still alive.

Making soft shushing sounds to warn the creature of his presence and not startle it, he jumped over the rock, ready to greet the turtle, or the seal, or the seagull, even, that had had the misfortune of getting tangled in a fishing net and dragged to his shore. He was expecting anything, really, except what he actually found, eyes widening in shock as he lost his footing for a second.

Tightly tangled up in a fishing net, breath heaving out in measured intakes and outtakes, was, well. Was a mermaid.

Or a merman, he guessed, taking in the sight before him with a bit too hysterical eye raking over the figure. The creature (man?) was lying on his side, panting in what he assumed was stress and exhaustion. He had no idea how long he had been there for but if his dried skin and ruffled human-looking hair was anything to go by it must have been a while. His tail, eerily similar to that of a thresher shark, was long and lean, part of it almost invisible with how much it was tangled up. It was long enough to reach the edge of the water with its tip, and Dave lost himself for a second admiring how fascinating it was, one half of the fin much longer than the other. If this creature was anything like a thresher he probably used it as a weapon, he mused, carefully taking a single step to the side away from it. It probably wasn’t a nice death.

His movement seemed to set off the creature because he suddenly tensed, looking up at Dave in alarm. His whole chest, too, was tangled up in the net, his arms held in a death grip that kept him from making any kind of movement, and so was his neck. His gills, protruding from either side of it, were actively bleeding, and so was every cut and scratch the net had caused. That was enough to make up Dave’s mind and decide to help this creature as quickly as possible, but once his eyes reached the merman’s face he stopped.

His eyes were huge and green, framed by thick black lines that he could’ve attributed to make-up if he wasn’t, well, a sea creature, and they were searching Dave’s face with palpable anxiety. Then, once they spotted Dave’s pocket knife, hanging from his belt, they immediately closed off, a mask of anger replacing their previous vulnerability.

If Dave had any doubt the creature wasn’t inhuman, the moment it opened its mouth, showing off its sharp canines with an animalistic growl, he suddenly found his answer.

“Hey, it’s okay, calm down,” he found himself saying, holding up both of his hands as a peace offering, “I only want to help.”

The creature didn’t seem to hear or understand him because it only kept growling, a low sound that Dave was sure he couldn’t possibly replicate and that made some ancient, odd part of him want to lower his eyes. Then, almost like a spasm, the creature started pulling at the trap it had found itself stuck into, trying to break free. Its growl suddenly died off, broken by a gasp for air as the net tightened its hold on his neck, and Dave stepped even further forward against any better judgment.

The merman stopped his actions again and regarded Dave with a cold gaze, this time sans growl, but it wasn’t necessary. Its meaning was universal: do not fuck with me.

“Dude, you can threaten me all you want but all you’re going to get is yourself killed,” he replied, matter-of-factly. He had no idea whether the merman could understand him or not- as he said, not much knowledge on the subject- but he was starting to get a little worried. The net had only dug ever deeper into the creature’s skin and he didn’t like it at all. He probably should have asked for help- two or three men would have been enough to keep him still and take the net off of him- but something, probably the fact that it was a goddamn mythological creature he was dealing with, stopped him. He had to do this alone.

“Fuck,” he swore, trying to come up with an idea. He needed to approach the creature in order to free him, but he also needed to not die in the process, preferably. When he looked down and spotted a loose strand of net hanging from the merman’s tail he huffed, looking up at him just to be met by the same defensive expression as before, “I’m going to bend down now, okay?”

He went through with his actions, slowly and measuredly, until he was hunched on his feet, knees bent and close enough to be able to reach the net without much problem. The creature just kept looking at him, letting out a low growl from the back of his throat, but without the teeth this time around- maybe he could consider it progress?

He slowly reached for his knife, not breaking eye contact with the merman, until he had it firm in his hand. He showed it to the creature, trying to make him understand that he and it meant no harm to him, and he just hissed in response, kind of like a cat, but much bigger and scarier.

Quickly, before he could ponder it any further and chicken out of it, he reached for the net, swiftly cutting through one of its holes before stepping back again, holding up his hands. It wasn’t enough to truly make a difference, it only freed a small patch of the merman’s grey tail, but it was enough to suddenly make him stop growling. He lifted himself up a bit, looking down at his own tail in wonder, then at Dave, eyes wide and surprised, no longer threatening. He wasn’t exactly familiar with mermaid body language but he could guess he seemed impressed.

“Okay?” Dave asked, daring to step up again towards the creature. He didn’t growl this time, “Can I keep going without fearing for my life?”

The creature huffed, laying back down on the shore with a thud, his eyes cast to the sky almost in defeat. Then, with a gesture Dave had no idea how to interpret, he looked up at him again and deliberately tilted his head to the side, hair pressed against the sand and his gills twitching almost imperceptibly in the sunlight, no sign of aggression coming from him this time. Dave’s self-preservation instincts were so messed up he decided to interpret it as the merman giving him permission to get closer, and that he did, hands still held up and his movements carefully calculated.

“Alright, it shouldn’t take long,” he soothed, more for himself than for the merman, and set himself to work. Carefully pulling at the net, not enough to bruise the creature even more, he started cutting through it, freeing his tail and he went. That part wasn’t too hard, he could tell he was going to have serious problems with his neck, which was far too close to the creature’s sharp teeth for his liking, but he still took his time. He didn’t want to accidentally hurt the creature even more and, probably more important, somehow scare him into attacking him.

He didn’t stop talking, murmuring soft words of reassurance every once in a while. They were mostly nonsensical and unnecessary, but listen. He was currently freeing a living, breathing merman from a fishing net he had somehow gotten tangled up in, and there was a serious possibility that he might die. If he didn’t tell himself that everything was going to be all right he was going to lose his goddamn mind.

Once he managed to free all of the creature’s body from the waist down he stopped to check out his work, and the merman seemed to do the same, lifting his head up enough to glance down at his tail. He then looked up at Dave again and, surprising him, he hummed, the first noise he made since Dave had found him. It was a low and husky sound, but at the same time it was incredibly melodic. It didn’t last long, probably not even a second, but it still made Dave chuckle, his smile dying out once he looked down again at the damage the net had done.

Little cuts and scratched were littered all around his tail, and Dave had to hold himself back from reaching out to touch it in reassurance. He had no idea how the merman might react to being touched and he didn’t particularly wish to find out. He had touched a shark once, holding a little pup that had the misfortune of washing up on his shore to help him get back in the water, so he guessed the texture was probably the same. Like sandpaper.

“Okay, time for the hard part,” he sighed, moving up on his knees to loom over the merman to assess the situation. He could already tell it was a bad idea from the way the creature tensed up, so when he closed his eyes and growled at him in warning as he looked down at him he wasn’t surprised. He immediately moved off, staying at his side rather than over him, and the merman opened a green eye to glance at him as though offended, “Fair enough, my bad.”

Dave wasn’t a squeamish person- he worked with fishermen and had to cut open innumerable fish, he was used to much worse than a few bruises- but as he looked at the way the net was cutting through the merman’s skin deeper and deeper, blood starting to pool around it, he couldn’t help but shiver, hand immediately reaching for his knife with determination, “Let’s get you out of there shall we,”

The merman seemed to agree because he just lay more still on the sand and let Dave do his work. He was careful not to touch his skin- he hadn’t wanted to touch his tail, and it was nothing more than a shark tail, there was no way he was touching his bare skin, inhuman or not- so it took him more time than strictly necessary, but soon enough the creature was getting freed from the tangles.

He seemed to sense how close Dave was getting to freeing his torso because he started getting more and more jittery under him, and when Dave finally reached his hands he seemed to almost be vibrating with nerves. Now all that was left to do was free his hands and neck from the net, and Dave paused, looking up at him. Anxious green eyes met his as the merman made a quick little nod in his direction, as though asking him why he had stopped. He reached for the net tangled up around his hands and pulled it slightly towards him.

“If you attack me as soon as you’re free I’m leaving you here to die, understood?” he said, trying to be as firm as possible, but even he knew he was lying. He had once fought with a seagull that wanted nothing more than tear his eyes off of him just to free it from the wire it had somehow gotten caught in, so it was ridiculous to imagine him leaving the merman to die. The creature wasn’t human, any kind of negative reaction he caused in him was probably his nature, not his fault. He was probably going to help him even if he attacked him with teeth and nails. The merman didn’t respond to that but he did stop jittering, and Dave decided to be satisfied with that.

Lifting his hands up and away from his chest, Dave started cutting through the net laced around his wrists. It was thicker than everywhere else and the entire area around it was bruised red in a way he had only seen in thrillers on tv when the poor fictional victim ended up being tied up by their kidnapper. Nobody had actually wanted to purposefully hurt this merman in particular, at least to his knowledge, but it still made his blood boil in anger at the careless fishermen that had left the net in the ocean.

As he cut through the net he spotted something black on the merman’s palms. For a second he thought he was holding something in his hands but he soon realized it was ink. He couldn’t make out the patter of the tattoo, his hands still tied up together too much to free them, but it didn’t matter. Dave was freeing a merman tangled up in fishnets, and that merman happened to have tattoos on his palms. Nobody was ever going to fucking believe it.

“Just a little more,” he said, struggling with the last tie, and the merman started jittering again. He probably should have expected it, really, but when he finally freed his hands he jumped back in surprise when the merman immediately sprang up. Before Dave could do anything to stop him he started pulling at the net tangled around his neck, growling in frustration when that only made it tighter and made it cut deeper into his skin. It didn’t seem to stop him because he only tried harder, clawing at his neck in frustration and anger.

“Hey hey hey, stop, you’ll only hurt yourself like that,” Dave warned, not managing to keep his tone down and leave the worry out of his voice. When that got him nowhere he reached out, touching the merman’s shoulder.

Before he could react or step out of the way, the creature’s tail whipped up, a surprised yelp escaping his grimacing mouth, and its tip grazed at Dave’s cheek. He could tell it was fully involuntary because when he hissed out in pain, hand flying up to touch the cut that has just opened on his face, the merman ceased all movements, looking up at him in alarm. He took in Dave’s pained expression for all but two seconds before he held his hands up, a clear imitation of what Dave had been doing until then, his chest heaving with his laboured frantic breaths.

Blinking through a couple of tears of pain Dave glanced down at the merman’s hands. Hello and Goodbye, they read, and he almost laughed at the nonsense of it all. He didn’t, though, because as soon as he spotted the creature’s panicked look he hurried to reassure him, his emphatic soul not even caring for his own wellbeing.

“It’s okay, it’s just a scratch,” he brushed it off, distractedly licking off a droplet of blood as it descended along his cheek to his lips. He ignored the way the merman’s eyes concernedly followed the movement, “Now could you please stay still so we can get his thing over with?”

The merman seemed to understand because he let his head fall back on the sand, hands still up in surrender. If all it was necessary to make him stay still was a small cut Dave would’ve gotten it much earlier.

Ignoring the pain in his cheek, Dave set himself to work the merman out of the last tangle of net. He found himself to be fascinated by his gills, mostly unmoving against his neck, but he held himself back from touching them or any other spot of skin for the matter. One cut was enough.

With the merman staying so still under his hands it didn’t take long to fully remove the fishing net, and once he was free from it he quickly pulled it away, discarding it to the side before he did something stupid like getting stuck in it again.

He expected the merman to run- or well, swim- away at full speed once his last tie was cut off, after all, that’s what he had been wanting to do since he found him on the shore, but in a surprising turn of events, he barely reacted. As soon as Dave took his hands off his neck he reached for it, feeling the sensitive bruised skin there, but other than that he just stayed there, looking up at Dave in silence.

Dave let himself fall back on his butt on the sand, a couple of feet away from the merman, and he sighed in relief, happy to have gotten this thing over with. The merman breathed out loudly, still looking at him, and he wondered whether he had done that by his own accord or to imitate Dave again.

“You’re welcome,” he sighed, a little ashamed to find himself practically exhausted after that rescue. He smiled, happy with himself and his good action of the day, and the merman- he swore the merman smiled back. It looked unnatural, like he wasn’t sure what to do with his lips and his teeth, and it was obvious he was also trying not to show off his sharp canines in the meanwhile, but it was still unmistakably a smile.

Slowly, as though he was afraid to scare Dave off, which was ironic but completely understandable, he sat up, his eyes not leaving his rescuer. He quickly ran his hands over his body, checking all the little cuts and gashes the net had caused, but he didn’t give it more than a one-second thought because immediately after he was hedging closer to Dave, eyes searching and curious. He would have expected him to move awkwardly on the sand since he was a water creature and all, but he crawled almost gracefully, or as gracefully as a mermaid covered in sand and bruises could move. When he finally reached Dave he stopped, tail held away from him as though he was afraid it would hurt him again, and he regarded him with an unnervingly close eye.

Dave held himself still, not daring to move a muscle and scare the merman again, his heart beating faster and faster as the creature just sat there, kind of analysing his face in wonder. He idly wondered what kind of interaction this merman must’ve had with humans to be so wary of them and be so surprised to be helped by one, but that train of thoughts was cut off when the merman lifted up a hand. He did so slowly, as though he, too, didn’t want to scare Dave off, and Dave found himself closing his eyes.

He wasn’t scared, per se. After all, that creature had simply cut his cheek with surgical precision with a mere unconscious gesture of his tail, so he truly had no idea what he was capable of. Saying he was scared was minimizing. He was fucking terrified.

As it tuned out, he didn’t need to be, because all the merman did was reach out to his cheek and flick away another droplet of blood that had started slipping down his cheek. He dared to open his eyes again, and before he could react the merman’s lips were on his skin.

He loudly held his breath, both in shock and in fear, as the creature’s cold lips landed on his cut. The kiss didn’t last long, but that didn’t mean it didn't completely turn Dave’s world upside down for a second. Then, as quickly as he had gotten close to him, he pulled back, huge green eyes fixed on his cheek. He flicked the cut again, now coming up clean, and he nodded resolutely.

Dave’s hand reached up to his cut, too, confused, and was surprised to find it completely healed. No sign of it existing before.

“What the-“ he breathed out, completely amazed by the creature before him, and the merman simply held his hands up again with an amused expression, hello and goodbye flashing up for a moment.

Then, in a quick blur of sand and a splash of water, he was gone, swimming away freely like no sea creature he had ever seen before, leaving Dave sitting on the sand, confused, slightly out of breath, and with a brand new little scar adorning his face.

Chapter Text

During the couple of weeks that followed the encounter Dave tried to find the merman again, but to no avail. 

It wasn’t an obsessive research, let’s put that out immediately; sure, meeting that creature had truly completely changed his life- one day he thought it was mostly a legend, the other he had one in flesh and bones underneath his hands- but he wasn’t going to search the sea wide and deep to find him again. He wasn’t one of those mermaid obsessed freaks that would comb through every square centimetre of water looking for a specimen- he wasn’t that weird.

What he did, instead, was simply keep an eye out for him. In the morning he would look down at his shore, making sure that the merman hadn’t somehow found his way back to the beach in another fishing net, he would scold all the fishermen in the area to remind them not to litter their used nets- he was a marine biologist, so that much wasn’t odd of him to ask- and he would sometimes go snorkelling in the nearby shallow waters, where he knew he might find thresher sharks, but as he said, it was to no avail. Either the merman had found himself at Dave’s shore by pure chance, or he simply didn’t want to be seen.

After a dozen of days, he started relaxing again, going back to his normal routine. He might have thought that he had imagined or dreamed the whole encounter, but the sure presence of the brand new scar on his cheek reminded him that it had all been real.

He thought about talking about it with someone else but then decided against it. His family didn’t live nearby, and their conversations were already awkward as it was- apparently being the queer relative that liked the sea and lived in a lighthouse was kind of frowned upon in his family- and there was nobody in town he trusted enough for it. He had also heard of more than one sailor that seemed particularly interested in finding mermaids, if the way they talked about them in a slurred voice over their umpteenth bottle of beer was any indication, and just the thought of them putting their oily, gross hands on the merman he had saved sent a shiver down his spine.

So, all in all, Dave would have considered the matter kind of archived, he mused as he walked down his beach barefoot, hands held securely clasped in front of his chest. Sure, if he happened to see the merman again he would be ecstatic, but it wasn’t a constant thought anymore. His heart had stopped beating out of his chest every time he saw a grey fin graze the water on the horizon, and he had stopped confusing whale calls with the merman’s low hum that he could still recall to that day. He was fine, really.

His tiny companion started wiggling in his hands, tiny legs scratching on his palm as it tried to get out of his grasp, and he chuckled, “We’re almost there, little buddy, hold on.”

Making sure not to make it fall on the ground, Dave opened his hands and smiled down at the hermit crab held between them. Its beady little eyes looked up at him in return, and he seemed eager to be going back to his natural habit- or as eager as a crustacean could look. He had found it on the same beach they were on at that moment, his shell broken into pieces and one of its sheds stuck into its body, and Dave had immediately picked it up and brought it back to his house, ready to nurse it back to its full health. A brand new shell and four or five days later, the little guy was ready to go, and Dave had to ignore the odd pang of sadness he felt at the realization that he had to say goodbye to it so soon.

Call him sentimental, but he really had gotten attached to the crab, and not giving it a name and exclusively referring to it as ‘it’ had not avoided the issue at all. There was something just so goddamn cute about those little creatures that always put him in a good mood whenever he walked up to its terrarium, but he had a feeling it probably had something to do with the fact that he lived at the edge of the earth alone in a lighthouse and was touch starved as hell. God, he needed friends.

“Here we are, tiny fella,” he soothed once he reached the same spot where he had found the crab. He crouched down, glad to have worn shorts when the water grazed at his legs up to his calves, and lowered his hands until they were on the same level as the sand, opening them. The hermit crab immediately scrambled out of his grasp, seemingly excited to be going back home, his tiny legs leaving almost invisible prints on the sand, “Have a safe journey home!”

The crab seemed to be assessing the situation, his front legs twitching in thought, before it turned around, facing Dave. It stayed there unmoving for a second, then, it lifted a single leg towards him, for no apparent reason, which made him laugh softly, “Come on, up you go!”

“He’s saying thank you.”

The new voice startled him, making him jump out of his skin, and he looked up in surprise. As the crab scurried away happily his eyes landed on the figure sat a couple of meters away from him, and his proverbial last brain cell stopped working.

It was the merman.

Dave’s muscle memory had to fight with his jaw to keep it from falling open in shock as he looked at the sight before him. The merman was sitting on the reef, half of his body in the water while the other half was basking in the sun, and if his wet dripping hair was any indication he had been there for very little time. He had probably jumped out of the water while Dave had been busy talking to the crab, and he wondered exactly how unobservant he was- or how stealthy the creature was- to not have noticed it. He couldn’t see his tail and assess the damage caused by the net, but even at a distance he could spot the tiny scars littered all around his torso, as well as the big one around his throat. They seemed to be on their way to healing, but the sight still made his heart clench.

The merman was still looking at him curiously, and he was probably expecting Dave to speak up because he quickly nodded towards him, looking down for a second at the spot where the crab had been until then, “The hermit. He was thanking you."

“Oh. That’s- yeah, it was no problem, I mean,” he stumbled over his words, amazed. His brain wouldn’t properly function and honestly, he didn’t blame it. Not only had the merman come back, but he could also speak perfectly and was not showing any sign of aggression towards him; he couldn’t believe his eyes. Dumbfounded, he smiled, not knowing exactly what to do with himself, “Hello.”

The merman beamed, carefully keeping his lips closed, “Hello.”

Dave’s hands twitched. He had been waiting for nothing more than seeing the merman again but now, with him sitting not even ten feet away from him, he was panicking. What was he supposed to do? Last time he had been in close contact with the creature he had been growling at him and had ended up cutting his cheek with surgical accuracy, so he was a bit apprehensive now. He wanted to stand up, feeling too defenceless on the ground, but then decided against it, thinking that he probably looked less threatening like that. Was he supposed to lower his eyes and show his neck, too, or did that only work with wild dogs?

“Hello,” he found himself repeating, struggling to find something to say. The merman laughed, and it was like music to his ears. He suddenly found himself wanting to make him laugh again.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you,” the merman said, looking down for a second at his tail, then up again at him, looking more vulnerable than before- but not vulnerable enough to make Dave relax, “I just wanted to properly say thank you, for saving me. And to apologize.”

“It was nothing-“ Dave started replying, then stopped, going over what the merman had just said. He tilted his head to the side, confused, and the creature mirrored him, adorably letting his wet hair fall on the side of his face, “Wait, why would you apologize?”

“I hurt you,” he replied, his tone emotionless and his eyes downcast. His tail twitched slightly at his words, “You only wanted to help me and I hurt you.”

“Hey, no, it’s okay,” Dave waved him off, reassuring him. The last thing he wanted was the creature tracking him down just because he felt like he owed him an apology, it seemed wrong, “You were just scared, it was nothing.”

The merman didn’t seem too satisfied with his answer because he just stared at him in silence for a moment. Then, visibly calculating every single step, he started moving from his sitting position. His hands landed on the reef on either side of his hips and he lifted himself off of it, tail lightly splashing in the water as he tried to turn around towards Dave. It seemed like an extremely uncomfortable movement, but soon enough he was bridging the small distance between the two in that weird but surprisingly smooth way of crawling he had.

His gaze was guarded, as though he (rightfully) expected Dave to bolt at any moment, and once he got close enough he adverted his black-rimmed eyes, looking at him from the corner of them. He then did something he had already done during their first encounter; he deliberately tilted his head to the side, exposing his neck and gills, and when he saw that Dave hadn’t closed off he sat right next to him.

Maybe mermaids were actually like wild dogs. Who knew?

Dave certainly didn’t.

“You have a scar now,” he said, same emotionless tone as before, looking right at Dave’s cheek almost sadly. He was so close he could feel his warm breath on his skin, but still far away enough to be able to see his expression, and to allow him to notice how his arm suddenly twitched, as though he wanted to lift it but then decided against it, “Doesn’t seem like nothing to me.”

“I’ve had worse,” Dave replied, softly, as though letting him in on a secret. When the merman’s gaze didn’t subside he started itching, feeling the need to do something with all the restless energy he had stored. What he settled on was offering his hand to the merman, ignoring the tremble in it, “I’m Dave.”

The merman seemed surprised by the sudden change of topic but quickly overcame it, looking down at Dave’s offered hand in wonder. Dave didn’t have time to regret his actions- he was a merman, for god’s sake, how was he supposed to know what shaking hands was- because the creature leaned back until he wasn’t leaning on his arms anymore. His now free hands slowly reached up, as though he was waiting for Dave to bolt at any second, and Dave tried to seem as calm as he could with an apex predator sitting right in front of him.

Instead of shaking Dave’s hand he simply held it in both of his, smiling up at him. He could at least see four different shades of green in his eyes, “I’m Klaus.”

“Klaus,” he repeated, testing it out on his tongue. He didn’t know what he had been expecting, exactly, but it surely wasn’t a human-sounding name. He pulled back his hand out of habit then regretted it immediately when Klaus seemed confused by the action. He didn’t have time to backtrack, though, because the merman leaned back on his hands, looking up at him with interest, “Did you know how to speak the last time too or did you learn?”

Klaus cocked an eyebrow, something akin to mischief dancing in his eyes, “You think I learned English just to speak with you, Davey?”

Dave flushed violently, having no idea how to reply to that. Great, now he was embarrassing himself in front of a merman. Simply awesome. Klaus seemed to take pity on him because he laughed, his face breaking into an amused expression.

“I’m just messing with you. Yes, I knew how to speak before, too,” he explained, letting his head fall back to face the sky, his eyes closed in contentment. His pale smooth skin seemed almost transparent under the sun rays and Dave had to advert his eyes before his biologist side got the best of him and he did something stupid like reaching out to see whether his skin was actually see-through or just a trick of the sun, “My mum was born human, you know? She taught us.”

That only raised more questions than anything- born human? Us?- but Dave decided to ignore them for the time being, “Then why didn’t you speak at all?”

Klaus seemed to sense the confusion in his voice because he raised his head again, regarding him with intense eyes. He was starting to think that was just how he looked at people and not a conscious choice, “It’s kind of a rule we have, us merpeople. If you’re faced with a human, you have to play dumb. It’s part of the protocol,” he sat up again, closer to Dave, and curled his tail under himself. It was long enough that it could’ve easily fully draped itself over Dave’s legs without him moving, “Never speak, never behave like a human would behave, just simply act like an animal,” he looked down at his tail, in defeat, and pulled it back towards him, “That didn’t really work out well, though, did it?”

“Why, though?” Dave asked, confused by that logic. It only seemed to work against them than in their favour.

“Well, what do you think would happen if people found out that merpeople have the same level of intelligence as you humans?” Klaus asked, rhetorically, his eyes a bit colder now, “I’ll give you a hint. It starts with a hell lot and it ends with of experimentation.”

Dave nodded, averting his eyes. He wanted to argue, point out that many researchers like himself were extremely concerned with the wildlife and would never let anything bad happen to any of its creatures, but he had to agree. He had seen the way some people talked about mermen and women. Minimizing their intelligence and presence was definitely for the best.

A thought struck him, then, and he looked back at Klaus only to find him already looking at him, “Then why are you...?”

Here? Talking with me? Telling me all of this?

Klaus didn’t need him to end his sentence because he suddenly scooted closer, as though wanting to tell him a secret, “Because I trust you.”

Dave frowned, “Because I saved you?” he guessed, but hoped that wasn’t it, because then it would’ve meant that Dave had been the only man in Klaus’s life to help him in some way and he didn’t want to think about the implications of that, of Klaus having nothing but bad encounters with humans.

“Yes, but also because I’ve been observing you,” Klaus leaned back again on his hands, smiling almost smugly, “And I can certify that you, Dave, are the most kind-hearted soul I’ve seen walk the land.”

He ignored the way his heart puffed up at the compliment, or the way his chest seemed to melt, or even the way the tips of his ears coloured under Klaus’s praises, and instead focused his attention on something else he had said, “You’ve been watching me?”

Klaus raised an eyebrow, “Is that not what you do with us?” he pointed out, nodding to the sea to include the entire marine life as belonging to that us.

Dave had to call it touché, wondering yet again how unobservant he was. He had specifically been looking for Klaus for a good ten days and he had been there all along and he still hadn’t managed to see him. He was the worst scientist on the planet.

“Also if something bad happened and you turned on me I can also say that I wouldn’t have any problem killing you.”

He ignored the way Klaus casually mentioned killing him like it was no big deal, like it was a factor to be taken into consideration, “And how is that?”

Suddenly, with no warning or explanation, Klaus’s tail lashed out, kicking his legs out of under him. He fell on the sand with a huff, the sea water immediately wetting his pants and shirt, and looked up surprised to see Klaus looming over him with interest. His hair was still slightly damp, but no longer dripping, and his eyes scanned his face up and down as if he was some interesting creature he had never seen before- which he probably was.

“I don’t know, call it intuition,” he mused, leaning his chin on his hand. He was obviously joking, that much he could tell, his eyes were sparkling in amusement and his lips were stretched into a lazy smirk, but Dave couldn’t help the rush of fear that overcame him. There was just something about lying supine on the wet sand, looking dead in the eye a predator that had just pinned him down without effort, that simply terrified him. He swallowed thickly, and that seemed to make Klaus realize what was going on.

He leaned back, leaving him room to sit up, and curled in on himself, trying to look as small as possible, “Apologies,” his tail flicked back until it was behind him, well away from Dave, and he looked so sad he felt his heart ache.

“It’s okay, you just surprised me,” he reassured him, sitting up on the wet sand and reaching out a hand to pat his shoulder as a peace offering and Klaus flinched, looking at his hand warily before he relaxed again with an obvious conscious effort. Dave retreated his hand, scratching the back of his neck with it, and they shared an awkward laugh, “I guess we both suck at interspecies interactions.”

“Yeah that’s- that’s actually another reason why I’m here again,” Klaus said, avoiding Dave’s eyes to look at some random point at the horizon, his hands distractedly playing with the sand around him, picking some of it up before letting it fall through his fingers, “My encounters with humans haven’t exactly been the best until now and, well,” Dave wanted to probe more about that, make a list of the name and surnames of everyone who caused Klaus to be so wary of his species and make them pay for it, but he didn’t have time to because Klaus just continued on his own line of thoughts, “I still want to learn about you humans and you seem like a perfect way to go about it.”

He gulped in a breath at the end of the sentence and looked up at Dave with those big concerned eyes of his. He almost lost track of the conversation because of them, but he still managed to react accordingly, frowning in confusion. 

“Didn’t you say it’s against merpeople’s rules to interact with humans?”

Klaus simply shrugged, “I also said I could kill you no problem but it’s not like I actually plan to.”

Dave shook his head, confused by his logic, “So let me get this straight, you want to befriend a human, which goes against the laws you’re supposed to follow, a human you only met once before and that you think you can trust, to, what? Learn about us?”

He hadn’t meant for it to come off so patronizing but by the end of the sentence he was frowning, realizing that even said aloud it all made very little sense. For a second it looked like even Klaus was doubting his own reasoning, or like he hadn’t even thought it through before. He titled his head to the side, evident confusion dancing across his eyes as he worried at one of his sharp canines with the tip of his tongue. It was an odd image to witness. Then, as though it was nothing, his expression immediately cleared and he regarded Dave again, “The learning would be mutual, you know?”

That was just an invitation for trouble if he knew one.

Here he was, at nine am, soaked in cold seawater, sitting beside a merman he had saved days before and that was now offering him his friendship. A merman that was a good ten feet bigger than him, had actively expressed his ability to kill him like he was talking about the weather, and that was a species protected by the US government and the UN. And he was offering him to be his friend.

A sensible person would have laughed at the offer and kindly declined it. But Dave wasn’t known for being sensible. As he looked over at Klaus, still staring up at him in expectation, he realized that he was a very, very weak man.

It was a merman that was sitting beside him. A merman. A merman that just promised him to let him learn more about him and his species. It was like offering a literature major a time machine to go back in time and save the library of Alexandria, or at least take a peek at it.

Feeling like he was signing his own fate, Dave breathed out, nodding resolutely, “Alright.”

God, he wasn’t paid enough for the troubles he got himself into. 

Chapter Text

What followed were two of the craziest months in Dave’s life- and this was coming from a gay Jewish scientist from the south.

He had no idea what Klaus had meant by saying that he wanted to study humans, but what was for sure was that he felt like it was necessary to show up unexpectedly at Dave’s side every time he felt like it, more often than not scaring the living daylight out of him. In a way, it felt exactly like his teen years, when he would meet up with his cute next-door neighbour he had a crush on; the secrecy of it, the fear of someone seeing them together, and the giddy happiness he felt whenever he saw him. He hadn’t felt this content in ages, probably years.

With that being said, it didn’t mean that Dave wouldn’t have appreciated a bit more consideration on his part, he thought one day, a hand on his pounding heart and the other on his knee as he heaved out a sigh. Klaus had suddenly poked his head out of the water just as he had finally managed to capture a particularly stubborn shrimp he needed for research and that he, needless to say, dropped back into the water in surprise when the merman had made his presence cheerfully known.

“Jesus, Christ.”

“No, it’s me, Klaus,” the merman smiled at him in that weird closed-mouthed way of his, and Dave couldn’t find it within himself to be mad at him. Not when Klaus immediately launched himself into telling him about that one time he had to fight a swordfish that had taken a particular dislike in him, and definitely not when he dove back into the water and caught a good dozen of shrimps as an apology.

He felt like the luckiest man alive, and he made sure to not waste the opportunity, asking Klaus all sorts of questions that his ever-curious brain came up with.

“Do you breathe through your nose when you’re out of the water or is it all gills work?” he asked one of those days, looking up from the sample of algae that was that day’s research topic- nothing that could hold the comparison to a merman in terms of interest.

Klaus tilted his head back to look at him and Dave chuckled at the sight. He looked like a dopey owl.

“Oh, this old thing?” he touched his own nose, shrugging, “It’s just part of the human-looking half. It has no purpose, it’s only there cause if it weren’t I’d look like a freak.”

“Odd,” Dave frowned. Evolutionarily speaking that made close to no sense. He should look into it, “May I?”

Klaus regarded his raised hand for a second before his expression relaxed, turning around towards him so that his head looked more properly attached to the rest of his body, “Knock yourself out.”

He scooted closer to the merman until he was just in arm’s reach, and he tried not to look too surprised when Klaus took his hand from the wrist and raised it until he could cover his mouth and nose with it. Just as he had said, he couldn’t feel him breathe in or out of them, it was just gills work.

“Odd,” he repeated, taking his hand back when Klaus stopped gripping his wrist, “Your humanoid characteristics don’t seem to have any real purpose, it’s almost like they’re there just for aesthetic reasons.”

“That sound about right, anything for the aesthetic,” the merman easily replied. He then tilted his head to the side, motioning to his gills, “Want to go all David Attenborough over these?”

Idly wondering how Klaus could possibly know of those documentaries, Dave raised a hand, scientific curiosity pushing him forward. His personal dislike for odd textures stopped him halfway through, “I’d rather… not. I always found fish gills gross,” he held his own hand against his chest, sheepishly looking up at the merman, “No offence."

“None taken,” Klaus shrugged good-naturedly before he scooted closer to him. He lifted his own hand, a clear imitation of Dave’s ask for permission, and pointed at Dave’s own mouth, “May I?”

Figuring it was only fair, Dave nodded, expecting Klaus to cover his mouth and nose with a hand like he had just done. What he definitely didn’t expect was for him to reach both of his hands up and nonchalantly open his mouth like a dentist, peeking into it with interest. Dave almost laughed at the absurdity of the motion and at Klaus’s intense gaze, and thanked whatever poor guardian angel was looking after him that had made him brush his teeth that morning.

“Sorry for the intrusion, I just wanted to prove a point,” he poked at one of Dave’s teeth and then nodded resolutely. He almost expected him to say ‘you see, it’s because you don’t floss’, “You have canines too, they’re just smaller and not as sharp.”

Dave tried to reply, then tried again once Klaus let his face go and he could actually move his lips, “I’m still an omnivore, I just stopped tearing meat apart centuries ago,” he almost shivered at his own words, and at the idea of Klaus biting into his prey’s flesh, and he shook the thought off, “How… how bigger are your teeth, exactly?”

Klaus promptly opened his mouth for him and Dave thought wow, we really look like two dumbasses right now.

What greeted him was not the nightmarish and shark-like sight he had expected, but rather a human-looking pair of rows of teeth. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, except for the sharp couples of canines that stood on display. Not only were they as sharp as razor blades, but they also seemed to be a good half a centimetre longer than human teeth. He reached out a hand to measure them but Klaus stopped him with quick reflexes, closing his mouth.

“I wouldn’t touch them, they’re pretty sharp,” he informed him, and didn’t he just look a scary lot like a vampire. A water vampire, if you will.

“How do you not have a lisp? Those are huge!”

Klaus frowned at him, more amused than confused, “How do you not have a lisp? They’re just teeth, it’s nothing exceptional.”

“That should be the name of my research,” Dave replied, purely because he had no idea what else to say, “They’re just teeth: it’s nothing exceptional.

Klaus sized him up with an accusatory finger, “Excuse you, I’m all sorts of exceptional.”

Dave smiled, not even trying to deny it, “That you are."

 


 

The odd and unexpected meeting-ups continued for a couple of weeks until they stopped being odd and unexpected and became the new normality for Dave. Every time he went down to the beach, to study or simply to hang out during one of his free days, he would instinctively look for Klaus, and he would already find him basking in the sun more often than not. Other times, Klaus would show up later, with some new story to tell him or even brining him a gift from the ocean. He assumed that was his way of showing friendliness.

“I made sure no crab was inhabiting it so you don’t have to worry about it,” he informed him one day, showing off a huge seashell he had found on his way there and that ‘I’m sure would look lovely in your house, don’t need to have seen it to know it’.

He treasured every single one of those gifts, lining them all up on his study desk. Initially, he had read the occurrence as normal merman behaviour, and added the notion in his precious and ever-growing notes on the matter (merpeople like to give gifts? Question mark?) but after the seventh gift he had received he ended up scribbling it out and replacing it with, might just be a Klaus thing.

He had tried to bring it up to him one of those days, but Klaus had turned uncharacteristically evasive, trying to talk him into forgetting about even asking the question, so he had assumed that he was either embarrassed by the occurrence or didn’t want to talk about it. He stopped asking, and instead decided to return the gifts whenever he could.

“That’s a harmonica,” he explained one day, watching with fond amusement as Klaus turned the instrument in his hands in fascination. Oddly enough, it had been the first gift that had come to his mind, but any awkwardness he might have felt about it had immediately melted away the second Klaus had beamed in amazement at its mere sight, “A little girl was selling them at the town’s market so I figured I’d buy you one.”

“I love it,” Klaus breathed out, still fascinated by the instrument. He held it up with two fingers and examined it, tilting his head to the side, and Dave couldn’t help but chuckle, “How do you play it?”

“I don’t think anyone truly knows,” he shrugged, reaching out to take the harmonica and show him, “You just kinda hold it up against your lips and hope for the best.”

Klaus’s head fully tilted to the side like a dog when Dave blew through the instrument, then hurriedly grabbed it back to try it out himself. His ecstatic expression was worth the deafening tuneless screams of the harmonica.

 


 

He tried asking Klaus about his tattoos, those he had immediately noticed during their first encounter and that adorned his hands in such an odd way that was bound to raise eyebrows had he been a human, let alone a merman, but he never received a direct answer.

A couple of times Klaus played dumb with him, frowning confusedly in a way that took him a while to realise was nothing more than teasing, while other times he just replied with ‘what’s a tattoo?’ and even ‘what are you talking about, there’s nothing there’.

He decided to let that, too, go. If he wanted to be secretive and mysterious, so be it.

 


 

“I can hear the sea.”

Dave looked up from his notes, shooting a quick glance at Klaus. He was sitting just a couple of meters away from him, the setting sun illuminating his scales. A seashell was pressed to his ear and he looked lost in thought, intently listening.

“Oh, yeah?” he asked, turning back to his notes. Who would have thought that being a biologist involved so much paperwork? It was absurd, “What does it say?”

“It says you’re a bitch.”

Completely forgetting his work, Dave reached for the closest seaweed he could find and threw it at the merman. He didn’t even pretend to be surprised when it promptly missed.

 


 

He could feel Klaus’s presence without having to look up from his book. The way that he was leaning on the edge of the rowboat, making it all lean to the side, was actually quite telling, “What are you reading?”

Dave glanced at him from over the book, finding Klaus already smiling up at him with his chin leaned on his crossed forearms, “The old man and the sea.”

The merman hummed, “Is that your autobiography?”

Dave closed the book on his lap, glaring at Klaus in mock offence. The merman just laughed, “I’ll have you know I’m not that old. I might actually be younger than you,” he let the book fall at the bottom of the rowboat, idly watching it as gravity made it slid to Klaus’s side, “How do merpeople age, anyway?”

“Same way as you, I would guess,” Klaus ruffled his wet hair trying to get the water out of it but only ended up looking like a mad scientist, dark messy hair sticking everywhere, “I’m thirty, but to be honest I only know because my siblings and I were all born the same day and year. Easier to keep track if someone else is doing it for you.”

Dave nodded, holding himself back from asking more about Klaus’s family. All in due time, “See,” he smirked, laying down on his seat, feet popped up on the other side of the boat, not too far from Klaus’s bare arms, “I’m 29. I’m younger than you.”

“Age isn’t just how old your body is, but also how old your soul is,” Klaus pointed out, as if that was supposed to make sense, jabbing a finger in Dave’s general direction, “And you, sir, are old as fuck.”

“Alright, did you need anything apart from insulting my alleged old soul?” Dave laughed, not actually bothered by the merman’s presence. It was a slow day, and he had found himself floating aimlessly on his rowboat just over half a hundred meters away from his shore, so he was more than happy to have company. 

Klaus held up a finger and turned around for a second, reaching for something in the water that he couldn’t see, “Actually, I was wondering if you were hungry, cause in that case, I got you covered.”

And apparently out of nowhere Klaus pulled out a mullet- a whole, actual, thankfully dead, mullet- and heaved it over the side of the boat and at Dave’s feet. He sat up immediately, looking down at the fish in surprise, then at Klaus, who was looking at him in expectation.

“I am a little peckish, now that you mention it,” he mumbled, too busy staring at Klaus’s prey in shock to put too much effort into the conversation. He suddenly felt like the owner of a cat who had just caught a particularly big rabbit and he didn't know how to properly react, “Did you catch this?”

“Uh, duh,” Klaus laughed, but he could tell he was nervous. His tail kept moving anxiously in the water and the rowboat was shaking along with it, “You eat fish, right? Is it okay? Do you like it?”

“Yeah, yeah, I-“ Dave found himself at a loss for words. The fact that Klaus had spent time and effort to catch him something to eat and brought it back to him was making some odd part of his stomach fuzzy. He decided to ignore the feeling, covering up his true emotions the best way he knew- by talking, “Did you kill it with your tail like a thresher? It’s impressive.”

Klaus’s eyes sparkled at the praise and he nodded, his smile so genuine he forgot to cover his sharp teeth. It was something he had started doing more and more often the more time he spent with Dave, and he found it endearing, “I did. I didn’t know you knew about threshers.”

“I’m a marine biologist,” Dave pointed out, “It’s my job to know.”

The merman hummed in thought, not taking his eyes off of him. It was an intense look, but not uncomfortably so, “Hey, if studying marine life makes you a biologist does this make me an anthropologist?”

Dave laughed, sitting up until he could reach out and touch Klaus’s head. The idiot beamed at him as if he had just won the lottery, “It makes you a pain in the ass, is what it does,” and he pushed Klaus’s head under the water, earning himself an offended splash of his tail.

 


 

The new normality became a little less normal one Sunday morning. It was still early enough that the sun had barely risen, shyly making its presence known over the bay, but Dave, ever the morning person- especially now, when he had a reason to be excited for the day- was already up and about, skipping through the rocks that he knew like the back of his hand and breathing in the cool salty air.

It was still too early to meet up with Klaus- he had no idea what kind of sleeping schedule merpeople followed, but this one merman didn’t seem to particularly like waking up before eight- so he wandered aimlessly, checking over his beach as any other good lighthouse keeper would. He picked up a few discarded algae and threw them back into the water, helped an overturned crab find its way back home, and even found time to feed the couple of pelicans that liked to hang out on the sharper edges of the reef.

He was just pondering whether he should go into town to grab a coffee or procrastinate there until Klaus showed up when he spotted something sitting not too far away from him on the reef, maybe a couple dozens of meters or so. Or rather, someone. 

It looked like a person, probably a man, was sitting on the reef. He couldn’t fully see them, half of their body was hidden by one large rock, but it seemed like they were bare-chested and not doing anything at all, just kind of sitting there, motionless. He would have shrugged it off as it being just some early bird that had come down to have a swim in the cool morning water, but the fact that nobody but him was allowed on the beach and that the figure seemed unnaturally still propelled him forward.

With a sigh, he started making his way towards the figure, praying that they were coherent and not inebriated. He had once dealt with an exceptionally high gentleman who had insisted on coming down his beach to, allegedly, ‘have a nice little sip of that blue water there’, and it had been near impossible to get him back on land and to safety.

With his luck, it was probably a dead body, and he was going to be framed for murder because who was going to confirm his alibi? His friends? Don’t know anyone that would have fit that description.

“Uh, excuse me,” he called out once he was in earshot, breathing out in relief when the person turned their head towards him. Awesome, not dead, “Sorry, I don’t mean to bother but you shouldn’t be here, this is-“

His usual costumer service-like mantra died in his lips once he finally got close enough to look at the figure, properly look at them, and yep, that definitely wasn’t a man nor a woman, nor anything that could be classified as human, really.

The guy- he had no idea how old he was but he looked young if his boyish face was anything to go by- was looking up at him warily, dark eyes scanning him up and down with the same intensity and accuracy that Klaus had shown during their first encounter. Everything about him looked human, from his messy black hair to his gills-less smooth neck, until you reached his hips: long dark tendrils stood where his legs would have been had he been human, and Dave found himself loudly gulping.

It was another merman.

“You’re Klaus’s human, right?” he spoke out, soft voice that didn’t match his guarded gaze. Dave wasn’t sure why he seemed so scared of him, not when those tendrils- one of them unfurled as he watched and oh shit, tentacles, they were tentacles- looked strong enough to snap his neck in half before he could even react.

“I- I guess so?” he half-asked, confused by the epitome but not enough to stop ranking his eyes over the merman in front of him. Just like Klaus, he was beautiful, although not in the same way. He seemed like the typical good kid, polite and composed, the kind that would say please and thank you in every sentence. Klaus looked like devil incarnate, in a way that made it impossible to not be fascinated by him.

“Oh good, I really didn’t want to kill anyone today,” the merman smiled, eerie-looking teeth poking out from between his lips, and Dave was abruptly brought back to the reality of it being a predator sitting in front of him, “Klaus said I could ask you for help, and I don’t really know who else to ask. I didn’t want to worry mum, you know?”

Before Dave could reply and tell him that no, he didn’t know, the merman unfurled his tentacles until he could sit sideways, facing Dave, and it was then that he noticed the hook that was hanging out from his shoulder.

“Jesus!” he hissed, worry sweeping through him in waves. It looked deep-rooted in the merman’s skin, and a large red gash countered it, and it generally was nothing he would wish to anyone, “How did it even get stuck in there?”

He instinctively reached out, ready to get rid of the hook and put an end to the merman’s unnecessary pain, but before he could even touch him he tensed, a low growl rumbling from deep in his throat. A tentacle curled in on itself, ready to snap if necessary, and Dave thought, right, merman.

Recalling Klaus’s odd guarded movements during their first couple of encounters, Dave stepped back again, tilting his head and looking down, avoiding his gaze. He moderately felt like an idiot but he had spent enough time with Klaus to know how important body language was for his species, and he valued his life more than he valued his dignity.

The merman immediately breathed out, all of his body relaxing, and he nodded, letting Dave know he could come closer, “I’m sorry, I’m just- not used to all of this.”

He had no idea what ‘all of this’ was- the hook? Asking for help? Dave himself? - but he just nodded, eyes fixed on the problem at hand, still sticking out of the merman’s shoulder, “It’s okay, I understand,” his hands hovered nervously over his skin, trying to figure out the less intrusive way to get rid of that hook. He really needed to have a talk with the town’s fishermen, this was getting ridiculous, "I’m Dave, by the way.”

“I know,” the merman easily replied, averting his gaze from his wound- was he squeamish? “I’m Ben. One of Klaus’s siblings."

“Oh,” he paused, looking back at Ben. That was unexpected, “You don’t look-“

He immediately stopped talking when he realized how dumb he sounded, and when Ben raised a single unimpressed eyebrow at him.

Really, Dave? Really? The half-Asian half-octopus merman didn’t look like Klaus? Really?

“We’re all adopted,” Ben informed him, obvious amusement dancing in his tone. Dave only nodded, going back to his work. For a couple of minutes, they sat in companionable silence as he figured out a way to slowly extract the hook- it wasn’t in as deep as it looked, he could take it out without needing to go back to the lighthouse and fetch his tools. Ben didn’t seem too happy with the silence because after a while he could sense his gaze on him, looking him up and down in quiet curiosity. He pretended to ignore him, “Klaus makes you out to be much more muscular than you actually are.”

He paused, hook halfway out of Ben’s skin, “What?”

“Nothing,” Ben’s tone still sounded amused, and like it was anything but nothing. He decided not to ponder it too much. He had bigger fish to catch. Pun intended.

One he finally managed to pull the hook out he held it up to Ben, showing it off, “If you see any fishermen littering any of these again you have my blessing to beat them up with those tentacles of yours.”

Ben laughed half-heartedly, watching in contentment as Dave stood up and pocketed the hook. His wound still looked an ugly red against his skin but he didn’t seem all that bothered about it, and he just waved him off when Dave expressed his concern on it, “It’s okay, I’ll just get Klaus to kiss it better for me.”

His tone was teasing, as though it was some sort of inside joke he was supposed to get (he didn’t). Ben didn’t elaborate any further, simply thanking him for his help and cheerfully informing him that ‘we should hang out more’ before he was gone with a quick splash of cold water.

Dave looked him go for a few of seconds, then up at the now fully risen sun. What an odd life he led.

Chapter Text

Dave wasn’t entirely sure this was a good idea.

Despite Klaus’s constant reassurances and the sure knowledge that nobody but him was allowed to enter the bay he felt on edge, constantly glancing over his shoulder in case someone was watching them. The merman had just rolled his eyes when he had expressed his concerns about the idea of the two of them swimming together in broad daylight headed god only knew where, reassuring him that wherever he was taking him, ‘nobody will see us’.

“That isn’t all that reassuring,” Dave had commented, snorkel mask awkwardly propped on his forehead, and Klaus had just jumped in the water, ignoring him or pretending to not have heard him.

So now there he was, swimming alongside Klaus at 10am on one of his days off towards somewhere he wasn’t allowed to know (it’s a surprise, Dave, come on), with only the merman to serve as protection in case one of the sharks in the area decided he looked like a good enough snack to have a nibble at. He would have blamed the universe for all the sketchy situations he kept ending up into, but he knew this was entirely on him.

The aforementioned merman was currently swimming in lazy circles around him, he could see him pop up in his field of vision every once in a while, too fast to keep his own pace without leaving Dave behind but also too much of a prick to actually help Dave and pull him along with him. 

“Are we there yet?” he huffed, breaking through the surface for a second and ungracefully spitting out his mouthpiece. Klaus, show-off that he was, did a flip in the water, splashing it in his face with a whip of his tail, and he ended up sputtering on a few droplets, “I don’t know if you have noticed but it’s getting deeper and deeper here, and I’m not exactly a sea creature.”

He tried to keep the nervousness out of his voice but he guessed he failed, if Klaus’s cocked eyebrow and amused smile was anything to go by, “What is it Dave? Are you afraid of the sea?” his tail was held proudly in the water at its full length, and Dave was uncomfortably reminded of how much bigger than him he was, “You’re a scientist, you know what’s under here.”

“That’s exactly why I’m afraid,” he snapped, not caring to admit his fear. It might have sounded paradoxical since he was a marine biologist and lived in a lighthouse, but Dave was honestly, legitimately, truly terrified of the open sea. Shallow waters? He could do that. But the actual ocean? No thank you. Leave it to some Jacques Cousteau wannabe to explore that. He was okay as he was.

He wondered if his fear was what still made his heart beat faster whenever Klaus did something inhuman, like yawn showing too sharp teeth or growl in unhappiness, but deep down he knew that wasn’t the reason.

“You do look like a seal if you want me to be honest,” Klaus mused, swimming up to him close enough to pinch the wet suit covering his torso. Dave rubbed the spot in mock-offence, “I can’t say I’m into it, but I doubt a shark wouldn’t take a second look at you.”

“Thank you,” he deadpanned because honestly, how was that supposed to make him feel better?

“Oh, stop it with the frowning already, it’s not a good look,” Klaus reached out a hand to rub at his forehead, trying to smooth the skin out, and Dave kept frowning out of pure spite, “Nobody is going to touch you as long as you’re with me. Apex predator, remember? No need to worry.”

As much as it made Klaus gloat, it was true. He had noticed it immediately, the usual fish that would curiously make their way up to him whenever he went out swimming were completely gone, only a few brave ones remained, carefully keeping their distance, and there was no way it wasn’t connected to the merman’s presence. There was no telling whether another predator would risk it and go against Klaus to figure out how much of a meal Dave could be, but he doubted any animal was reckless enough to try it. 

Truth be told, as long as he didn’t look down at the abyss under him, he felt safe with Klaus. Or as safe as someone swimming beside a sixteen feet long creature was.

Klaus lightly patted him on the head, sweetly smiling at him in a way that said ‘suck it up and just keep following me’, before diving back into the water, giving Dave no choice but to comply.

After another five minutes, Dave was starting to reconsider the trip. They were venturing farther and farther away from the shore, and soon enough they would reach the open sea. Once there, there was no way passing ships wouldn’t see them. Fortunately for him, Klaus seemed to feel his worry because he stopped, emerging from the water again and pushing his hair out of his eyes. It was always odd to see him do that, to watch him poke his head out of the water without having to gasp for air like Dave did; he found it fascinating, for some reason.

“Here we are,” he nodded, resolutely, and Dave made the mistake of looking down through the snorkeler. Over his kicking legs there was nothing but deep blue. If he squinted hard enough he could almost make out the bottom of the sea, just barely.

It was terrifying.

“Is this where you tell me that human meat is a delicacy for mermen and you kill me?” Dave wondered with a raised eyebrow because honestly, what? That was it? What were they supposed to do there?

“No, this is where you take a big breath and hold it.”

“What?”

Without any kind of warning, the absolute madman jumped at him, grabbing him from the shoulders and pushing him under the water, a small graceful ripple the only indication of their disappearance. His brain had just a second to panic and grab the nearest thing he could find- incidentally, Klaus’s arms- before he activated a synapse or two and remembered that there was no reason to worry. This was Klaus. The merman he had been befriending for the last few months now. He was safe with him.

Right?

The merman hummed a low, reassuring tune at him, his tail pushing through the water effortlessly as he dragged Dave deeper and deeper into the sea, and he decided to trust him. Worst case scenario, he would die peacefully, with his blood pressure still relatively decent.

With that being said, he had no goddamn clue what Klaus was doing and he was planning to have a word or two with him as soon as he was able to talk- and breathe- again.

His ears suddenly popped, a sharp headache bursting at the temples, and he knew they were close to reaching the bottom. He tried to turn around in Klaus’s grasp to gauge what exactly was happening, but the water rushing around them was so strong he barely could.

As it turned out, he didn’t need to, because after a second his back softly hit the sand at the bottom of the ocean and Klaus released his shoulders, swimming a couple of feet away. The snorkeler mask was starting to hurt, the pressure of the water too much for it to be comfortable, and he quickly pulled it off, blinking through the salty water to look at Klaus. He tried to sit up, his whole balance completely thrown off by the quick unexpected trip underwater, and once he managed to, slowly floating over the sand, he noticed that Klaus was holding something right over his mouth, his face frowned in concentration and eyes jumping back and forth between his hands and Dave.

Well, not holding, exactly. It was hard to tell, the adrenaline, the surprise, and the water pressure too much to allow him to truly understand what he was seeing, but it looked like Klaus was blowing into a tiny balloon held between his hands. It grew bigger and bigger, soon it was big enough to allow the merman to let it float in the water without his help, his hands still keeping it against his mouth, and it was then that Dave realized it wasn’t a balloon, it was a bubble. A bubble that was becoming big enough to fit a person in it.

He wanted to laugh, amazed by the sight before him, but his headache and rapidly constricting lungs reminded him that if he did he would have signed his death sentence. Lucky for him, Klaus seemed to sense his turmoil, because, with a graceful movement, he let go of the bubble, gently pushing it towards Dave until it slowly but surely hurled towards him.

He closed his eyes, anticipating the impact with the bubble, and was knocked onto his back again when he was embraced by it, suddenly and incredibly surrounded by breathing air. It didn’t feel any different than emerging from the water through the surface. He took in a breath, glad to be able to do that again, and frantically looked around, wet hair dripping on his face, trying to figure out what had just happened.

Just like a snow globe, the bubble was set on the sand all around him like his little personal window on the sea. It was like an aquarium exhibit, only more hysterical. He sat up, reaching out a hand to touch the surface of the bubble just above his head, and gasped when his hand dipped into- or well, upward- the cold sea water.

He couldn’t help but laugh, admiring the world around him, until his eyes set on Klaus. He was still floating just a couple of feet away from him, now casually upside down and looking at him in interest, and he marvelled at the sight. It was an entirely new perspective for him, and one that was flattering for the merman: with his hair floating in the water, his tail unfurled behind him and his eyes sparkling with playfulness, he looked ethereal.

Slowly, although measuring his movements- which was absurd, considering he had just pushed Dave to the bottom of the goddamn ocean without warning- he swam up to him, and with a quick whip of his tail he jumped into the bubble as it expanded, accommodating his presence. He didn’t even have time to properly sit up that Dave grabbed him by the arms, shaking him like a scrambled egg.

“You absolute moron,” he laughed, too ecstatic to be actually angry, “Are you out of your mind? Never do that again.”

“What? You don’t like it?” Klaus swatted his hands away, pulling away from him enough to make a sweeping motion pointing at everything around him, “I thought it was a nice idea, but if you want I can-“

Dave hurried to reassure the merman, shaking his head with an almost hysterical laugh, “No, Klaus, it’s amazing, I swear,” and it really was; from their spot he could easily see everything around them, from the reef to the corals to the occasional fish, and he now wanted nothing more than just sit there and gaze through the bubble for hours on end, “It’s just- you really scared the shit out of me, man, give a guy a warning next time.”

He laughed, expecting the merman to do the same, but when he looked up at him his expression was suddenly guarded, his previous excitement crumpling away. He sat up straighter, curling his tail on himself and scooting a bit further away from Dave, and he did that thing where he looked up at him through his lashed, his head tilted down and slightly to the side. He still wasn’t sure what that expression meant but it was never anything good, “You didn’t… you didn’t think I was going to drown you, did you?”

Something about his voice, so carefully measured and even, made Dave’s heart shatter. He could almost hear the unspoken question underneath Klaus’s closed off and defensive posture: are you afraid of me?

He looked like a large dog that had just been scolded for playing too harshly when he had actually done nothing wrong and it was just Dave who was not used to him. He reached out to touch Klaus’s hand, desperate to fix the situation. Hell, he had already forgotten about the merman dragging him underwater so unexpectedly, it was nothing compared to the anxiety Klaus’s nervousness had ignited in him, “Hey, no, I swear I didn't. It’s just-“ he looked down, happy to notice that the merman hadn’t pulled away from his touch, while at the same time he had also carefully not reacted to it, “Instinct, I guess?”

Klaus only tilted his head further to the side, and Dave struggled with his words. He knew exactly why he had panicked, but how was he supposed to explain to the merman that for half a second there he had felt like a helpless prey in the hands of a vicious predator without making it sound so incredibly wrong?

Instead of trying to phrase his thoughts, he just laced their fingers together, loose enough that Klaus could pull his hand away if he wanted to. Instead of doing just that, he stopped tilting his head, looking down at their hands in wonder. He wiggled his fingers, probably trying to understand what was the meaning of that gesture, and Dave squeezed his hand once, earning himself a quick twitching of his tail.

“I swear, I’m not afraid of you,” he softly but resolutely said, then smiled to lighten up the mood, “If I were I would’ve booked it and skipped town ages ago, trust me.”

Klaus chuckled, still transfixed by his hand. He didn’t let it go, but rather started playing with it, “I guess next time I should warn you before pulling you under,” he distractedly thumbed at his pulse point and there was no way he couldn’t feel how fast his heart was beating. He only hoped he didn’t interpret it as fear.

Dave breathed out a chuckle himself, feeling the tension ease off his shoulders just as Klaus did, his wobbly posture coming back in place, “Yeah, that’d be really appreciated.”

Misunderstanding and shocks notwithstanding, Klaus’s idea was honestly really brilliant, and Dave told him so, repeatedly, as the merman warmed back up to him, literally preening at his compliments.

“I know you can scuba-dive and use all those funky tools you scientists have, but I thought this might be more fun for you,” the merman explained, making a grand gesture to the sea around them, their fingers still intertwined. More fish were swimming around here, either bolder or not seeing Klaus as a threat as long as he was in the bubble.

Dave nodded, his eyes following a school of saddled breams that seemed as interested in him as he was in them, “Definitely more fun than my funky tools, I can assure you.”

It took another ten or so minutes before Dave’s blood pressure returned to what could be considered as normal and Klaus finally calmed down from the self-deprecation moment he had had, but soon enough the two of them ended up laying down on the sand, pointing at the marine life they saw passing by and talking about everything and nothing. The merman was still loosely holding onto his hand- and Dave was too content to break the embrace- and once his hair fully dried he started playing with those as well, apparently not finding the sea as interesting as Dave did.

“Oh hey, look, a cuttlefish,” Dave pointed out at one point, firmly ignoring Klaus’s hand combing through his curls in soothing, curious motions before he did something embarrassing like close his eyes and lean into him, touch starved idiot that he was, “I had one as a pet when I was little, you know?”

“A pet?” Klaus’s tone was confused, as though he couldn't fathom why anyone would grab a cuttlefish and decide to put it in a tank in their house, of all things.

“Yeah, it’s a long story,” he averted his eyes from the squid and turned around to look at Klaus, taking in a sharp breath when he found him closer than expected, curious green eyes already staring back at him, “I saw a fisherman catch it on the beach when I was ten or so, and I’m pretty sure I started crying on spot, so the guy just handed it over to me immediately to make me stop,” he looked down at their joined hands, then at Klaus’s tail curled up near his legs. He was tempted to reach out and touch it, curiosity nagging at him, but the merman was holding it carefully away from his reach and he didn’t want to break his boundaries, “It was wounded, and would have died if released back into the ocean, so I decided to bring it home. I think that was the reason why I decided to become a marine biologist."

Klaus hummed, seeming entertained by his story, “So you’ve been rescuing cute marine life for almost two decades, huh?”

“Klaus, you’re a nice guy, but you don’t come anywhere close to cuttlefish level of cuteness, I’m sorry,” Dave laughed, and laughed even more when the merman hit his arm in mock-offence.

All in all, he had to admit it was probably the most fun he had had in a long while. Although after an hour or so the marine life that kept swimming around the bubble was more or less the same, Dave never got tired of it, not when it was his passion, and definitely not when Klaus was there to listen to him narrate everything he knew about those fish with some correlated childhood memory of his thrown in for good measure, curled up on the sand like a cat with his eyes closed, humming in contentment from time to time.

Eventually, the few rays of sun brave enough to reach the ocean floor to shine on them started casting more and more different shadows, indicating the passage of time, and when Dave’s stomach started rumbling he knew it was well past noon. Klaus offered to hunt something for him, a fish or even some crustacean if he so desired, but it didn’t take much effort to keep him from doing just so. Eating raw fish was the last of Dave’s problems at the moment, and he was more concerned for his own heart if Klaus went and killed one of the fish he had been gazing at for the past four hours or so just for him.

Trying to distract him- not that it was hard, the merman would swoon just by simply squeezing his hand, he was like an overly touchy puppy- Dave looked around the bubble, still marvelling at its mere existence, “I can’t believe you can do something like this, when did you learn?”

Klaus happily answered his curiosities, explaining that everyone in his family had been trained since they were young to learn how to handle their skills- he said so with an odd bittersweet tone, and Dave didn’t want to bring back any possible bad memory so he didn’t question it- so he learned pretty early on, “I’m not sure what my father intended us to do with it but what he surely didn’t want was for us to play with it, and that’s exactly what we did.”

“You could save people from drowning with it,” Dave mused, absently poking at the water as he talked, watching a crab scurry away at the movement, “Say you end up near a shipwreck by pure coincidence, you’d just have to blow bubbles to save anyone.”

Klaus’s head dropped to the side until he was leaning on his shoulder and Dave’s breath inexplicably hitched as he spoke, “Yeah, that’s- that’s probably not going to happen,” his tone was suddenly oddly low, almost sad, and Dave glanced down at him, confused by the sudden change, but could only see a mop of brown hair, “As I said, my encounters with humans haven’t gone well in the past, so now I just tend to avoid human-inhabited zones, I doubt I would even end up in a situation like that.”

He had mentioned something about bad encounters in the past, Dave could remember it vividly, and his blood boiled at the mere thought, but he didn’t want to push Klaus to tell him more. If he had his way he would ask him to make him an accurate list of the people who hurt him to hunt them down and show them how to properly respect marine life, so to say, but he would rather let his blood pressure go through the roof with anger than make the merman uncomfortable with probing questions.

“If you need to talk about it, I’m here,” he murmured, matching Klaus’s soft tone and letting his thumb absently trace the back of the merman’s hand one, two times, “But you don’t have to tell me anything if you don’t want to.”

Apart from a slight twitch at the soft brush of his thumb, the merman was fully quiet for a while. He seemed lost in his own thoughts, and after two minutes or so Dave was about to try and change the subject as inconspicuously as he could when Klaus suddenly sat up, quickly enough to make him jump in surprise. He still didn’t drop his hand, he only held it tighter.

“It’s nothing too bad, I’ve heard of people who had it worse, really,” he breathed out, tail furling under him as he looked down at Dave’s hand, tracing his veins with a soft and almost imperceptible finger. It sent all sorts of shivers down his spine.

Dave stayed quiet, letting the merman speak at his own pace. He sat up as well, close enough to not pull his hand away but still far enough to give him space, and he just stayed there, ready to listen if necessary.

He pulled his legs up until he could lean his chin on his knee and when Klaus turned around at the movement he smiled from over it. Luckily enough, the merman smiled back, “There was this guy, let’s call him Tom, that I thought I liked,” he started, his tone weary and tired as though he had said that story many, many times, or had thought it over enough to feel like he had, “I was wrong. One day, after we hung out for about a month or so, he started acting weird, asking me weird questions about my family and species. A week after that he showed up with a net and a knife.”

“What?” Dave squeaked, confused by how quickly the story escalated, “Just like that? Out of the blue?”

“I mean, it really wasn’t out of the blue,” Klaus squinted an eye, looking up at him as though confused himself, “My family warned me about him repeatedly, and even I could tell something was off with him, but I was young and dumb and thought I could trust him. I still have no idea what he meant to do with me but he tried to drag me out of the water and away with him, and he ended up hurting me when that didn’t work,” the merman shrugged in a ‘welp that’s just how it is sometimes isn’t it’ kind of way and Dave was pretty sure he was about to burst the vein on his temple, “Thankfully Diego had come to keep an eye on me and managed to fight him off to the point that I had to drag him away before he mauled the guy, but it stuck with me for a long time,” he looked right at him then, gazing into his eyes in a way that almost made him look down, and he could tell that the issue was mostly forgotten and it didn’t hurt him as much anymore but that didn’t mean Dave shouldn’t hunt down the guy regardless, “It’s still kind of stuck with me, and I think our first encounter is enough of a proof of that, don’t you think?”

Dave shook his head at his attempt to lighten the mood, trying with all his might to not squeeze his hand too tight, “This Tom guy, what was his real name?”

Klaus immediately caught up with what he was trying to do and he smiled that cheeky smirk of his, ignoring Dave’s inner turmoil, “What, you want to find him and fight for my honour like the good knight in shining armour you are?”

“You don’t need anyone to fight for you,” he pointed out, letting Klaus distract him by ruffling his curls. The merman seemed happy now, the shadow of the past seemed to only be a mere memory. That didn’t mean that he wouldn’t beat the living daylight out of this Tom guy if he ever found him, “But I doubt kicking his ass wouldn’t do any good, and I’d be happy to assist with that.”

Klaus laughed easily, back to his happy self as always, and Dave felt honoured that he trusted him enough to share something like that with him. Speaking of which, “Why do you trust me so much? With a story like that it’s a wonder you even interacted with me, to begin with.”

“I told you, it’s not that bad,” Klaus waved him off, then waved him off a second time when he went to argue, “Besides, I already explained. You’re different,” he poked him in his chest, right in the middle of it, and Dave wondered whether that was metaphorical or if he really thought that was where his heart was, “Your soul is the purest I’ve seen in my life. It’d be crazy to not trust you.”

You can see souls? Dave thought.

“How are you so sure? I could be lying, for all you know”, Dave said. He assumed merpeople had some kind of sixth sense about this since it wasn’t the first time Klaus had mentioned his soul and him trusting him based on it, but that still didn’t make any sense to him- nor did it keep him from blushing every time he replayed those words in his mind.

Rather than give him a proper explanation, Klaus just shrugged with a tiny smile, “Nah."

He waited for him to elaborate on that but when it was clear he had no plan to he just raised an unimpressed eyebrow at him, “Astonishing. How could I possibly dispute such a well-thought-out argument?”

With a snort, Klaus half-heartedly punched his shoulder- the second time that day- and snuggled right back against it. It wasn’t a nuzzle, per se, he was merely leaning on him with his eyes closed and a content smile stretched on his face, but for some reason it still made Dave’s heart do a flip in his chest.

Weird.

“I’ll give you five more minutes but then we’ll have to go, or I’ll have to eat you to not starve,” Dave teased him, hardly feeling the hunger anymore with how much fun he was having. Klaus only hummed, and he let himself relax against him, looking up at the sea above them with a sigh. He truly was a lucky man.

Klaus barely lasted a minute before he started squirming unhappily against him. He tried to ignore him for a while, but when he leaned away from his shoulder he looked down at him, confused at a little hurt at the unexplained sudden loss of contact.

Like a dog that had just heard an odd noise, the merman’s head was cocked to the side and he was staring off in the distance, intently listening to something Dave couldn’t hear. It was only after another minute that he stopped, huffing out an exasperated sigh, and when Dave squinted his eyes to look in the same direction the merman had stared off into he started to make out a shape of some sort approaching them.

His fight or flight instincts kicked in, preparing for whatever animal the shape might reveal itself to be, but when he noticed how calm Klaus was he relaxed. He didn’t seem worried about it, he just seemed annoyed.

“What-“ he started asking before he was interrupted by a soft hum. It wasn’t of the same pitch as Klaus, it was much higher, but at the same time not chipper, and he could vaguely recognize it as belonging to some sort of cetacean creature, “What is that?”

His confusion was soon answered when the figure finally swam up into the light and towards them, only to be replaced by more confusion.

It was another merman, and at this point Dave had to ask himself how he was still surprised.

It was a kid, a really young one too by the looks of it, but his boyish appearance only left space for the sternest expression Dave had ever seen on someone so young. He had no gills, and it made full sense if you considered his tail, shaped exactly like a dolphin’s, and Dave almost laughed with the absurdity of it all because how the hell did he keep coming across more and more different merpeople species when everyone on land assumed they all looked the same- white, skinny, and with a stereotypical little mermaid-like tail.

“What?” Klaus drawled out, boredom and annoyance evident in his tone. He didn’t seem to be too happy to see the merman- was he his brother too, just like Ben? He must be- and the merman himself seemed to share the feeling.

He glanced at Dave, icy eyes giving no sign of warmth towards him, then he looked down at their still joined hands, with such intensity to make him feel self-conscious. He almost pulled his hand back out of pure uneasiness, but Klaus only held on tighter. The two proceeded to have what seemed to be some sort of stare down before the kid hummed again, more insistent this time, and after a sharp hum of his own Klaus turned to him.

“Dave, this is Five, my brother,” the merman explained, and Dave made a little wave at the kid. Five just ignored him, which was impressive considering he was still staring directly at him with probably the sole purpose of making him uncomfortable, “I would have you shake hands but he never learned how to behave like a proper person so he might bite.”

The merman frowned at him, offended enough to drop his facade.

“Didn’t you say that you and your siblings were all born the same year?”

“Yeah, I did,” Klaus easily replied, completely ignoring Dave’s confusion and the fact that the kid in front of him who looked like a seventh-grader with a tail was apparently supposed to be older than him, “He came to collect me, because apparently now I can’t swim home by my own,” this last bit was obviously a jab at his brother and Five only shook his head with pursed lips, “So I’m afraid we have to end our date here.”

Before he could dumbly ask wait, date? like the idiot he was, Klaus told him to hold his breath again- this time with a bit more warning than before- and with a quick pop they were out of their little bubble and back into the sea.

 


 

Once on the surface, Five tried to immediately swim away with Klaus, muttering something about important family business in a soft boyish voice that almost made Dave aww out loud- he was glad he controlled himself, from the looks of it it would have been his last words- but his brother managed to stall him enough to let him take Dave back to the shore.

He kept to himself how grateful he was for that little gesture- he had not been looking forward to swimming alone in deep water- and once they were out of earshot he turned to Klaus, “Is everyone in your family like this?”

The merman only winked at him, still swimming at his side rather than helping him along the way, “Let’s just say you got stuck with the best one."

Chapter Text

A slender cold finger poked his leg, its nail scratching the skin there. When he only ignored the jab it poked harder, its owner whining pathetically.

“Stop trying to distract me, I’m busy,” he swatted the finger away, trying to keep the smile from his voice as he focused on the task at hand. Klaus only whined more loudly.

“Daaaave,” he cried, scooting closer so that he could poke him better. Dave ignored him even more, “I’m bored. This is the most boring thing ever.”

“Well, the thing needs to be done, so if you don’t want to help me-“ he made a vague gesture with his knife in Klaus’s direction, fixing him up with a look, “At least don’t make this more boring than it already is.”

“So you do admit it’s boring,” Klaus mumbled, trying to scoot closer again, and Dave swatted his hand away a second time, “God, you’re no fun.”

Looking like a kicked puppy, the merman sighed, letting his head fall down on his crossed arms. He was lying prone on the sand, his tail twitching every once in a while in bored motions, and he really had no business looking as adorable as he did. His hair had completely dried out, letting it fall in an unruly fashion over his forehead, and if you ignored the tail, the gills, and his sharp teeth, he looked as human as it could get.

Dave shook his head fondly, trying to get back to his task. His rowboat was overthrown on the sand before him, its bottom lying under the setting sun, and as he looked over the few barnacles he still had to get rid of he sighed.

“You know we would have gotten this over with ages ago if you had helped, right?” he complained, scraping at a particularly stubborn barnacle with his pocketknife. It barely budged, and he asked himself not for the first time that day what was the point of it all.

“Yeah but then you wouldn’t have started sweating like crazy and you would still have your shirt on,” Klaus easily replied, lazily stretching with a small groan. He turned around on the sand until he was on his back and looked up at Dave with a small smile, his gaze playfully ranking over his bare torso, “And it really would’ve been a shame.”

Dave had to fight against the urge to cover himself under Klaus’s teasing gaze. For some reason, the merman had found it incredibly fascinating when he had taken his shirt off, too warm to keep working with it, and he still had to decide whether it had been weird or amusing. He guessed the reason was because their anatomy was slightly different- he was a mammal, Klaus was, well, he was a fish, if we want to look at it from a technical point of view- but the more the merman stared at him or tried to poke him in the chest the more he felt like blushing.

He tried to hide his internal turmoil behind an eye-roll. It was 2019, for the love of God, and Klaus was a completely different species. There was literally no reason to feel embarrassed.

Get a grip, Katz.

A small sand crab scampered by near his leg and he grabbed it, throwing it at Klaus. The merman barely reacted, lifting his head to stare as it scurried over his stomach, “You’re the laziest person in existence.”

“Yada yada,” Klaus brushed him off, reaching for the crab to play with it. He turned it over in his hands, laughing softly as it tickled his skin. It was an odd image. 

He shook his head, going back to work. He tried to scrape at the same barnacle again, but still with no success.

Leaning more fully on the boat, he tried again, pushing the tip of his knife under the little bastard’s base. Like a big ‘fuck you’ coming directly from the universe, the knife slipped, completely missing the barnacle in the process, but perfectly slicing his thumb instead. Great.

“You know, I’m starting to think these little guys here are sentient and just really hate me,” he sighed, discarding his knife to take a look at the cut it had caused. It was nothing too bad, just a small graze, but the salt in the knife made him hiss in pain as it burned at the newly opened skin there. 

Klaus looked up at the sound, his previous annoyed demeanour completely gone and a sudden flash of worry sliding in its place, “I stop looking at you for one second,” he sighed, sitting up and reaching for Dave’s hand. The crab he had been playing with scrambled away, as though it too could feel the sudden change in the mood.

“It’s okay, don’t worry,” he brushed him off, sticking his thumb in his mouth to suck off the blood that had started spilling out, “I’ll just wash it in the sea water for a second, it’ll disinfect it.”

Klaus frowned, hello and goodbye hands still held out, “You’re a scientist, you should know that’s not true.”

The two of them argued for a bit longer, mostly because Dave didn’t want Klaus to take care of a wound he had caused by so stubbornly doing something that wasn’t even really needed at the time being, and by the end of it Dave was scooting closer, letting the merman take his hand with a defeated sigh.

Klaus’s entire body language changed at the contact, and he sat more fully in front of Dave, his expression almost solemn. He watched as he cradled his hand in his own, as though it was the most precious thing in the world, his brows furrowed at the sight of the cut. He knew what to expect- after all, he had already experienced it on his cheek, the very first time they met- but he still inhaled in surprise when Klaus brought it up to his lips, kissing it softly, almost reverently. The kiss lasted longer than the first one had (don’t ask him how he knew, he just did) and when Klaus looked up at him over his lashes Dave blushed, averting his eyes. When the merman pulled back the cut had sutured up, only a tiny scar attesting of its existence.

“There you go, clumsy,” Klaus breathed out, so quiet he barely heard it. He didn’t let go of his hand and he didn’t try to pull it back.

“Can all merpeople do that or is that just a you thing?” Dave asked, trying to will his blood vessels to chill the hell out on his face. It was something he had been wondering for ages but never managed to bring up to Klaus.

“Everyone can do it, but not everyone is willing to,” Klaus replied, his eyes downcast. He started playing with Dave’s fingers absent-mindedly, and Dave had to force himself not to move a muscle, “You’re just lucky I’m so generous.”

He chuckled at that, watching in fond amusement as Klaus started comparing the sizes of their hands, pushing them together at the palm. His skin was cold and smooth, “Any other power you want to talk about?”

“We can also turn humans into merpeople.”

He said it so casually Dave thought he was joking for a second. But instead of laughing or making one of his ‘just kidding’ gestures with a shrug, Klaus just clasped their hands together, intertwining their fingers and letting them fall on his tail, his face devoid of any sign of joke.

“Wait, really?” Dave squealed, and the merman just nodded.

“It’s extremely rare, mind, and often frowned upon,” he explained, still not meeting Dave’s gaze, “All it takes is a kiss and the human will be turned.”

Dave had actually heard of that story before but had never given it much credit. Countless bad romance books were written about it, narrating how a mermaid managed to turn a human into a merman so they could live happily ever after, but it had all seemed ridiculous. He had heard of drunk sailors going on and on about how a kiss from a mermaid could save a drowning man, turning his lungs into gills and his legs into a tail, effectively saving his life, but it had all sounded like fairy tales.

But now, watching as Klaus ran his fingers over his knuckles in small soothing movements, he had to rethink what he knew and thought he knew.

“So you’d just have to kiss someone to…?” he didn’t finish his sentence, his brain already providing him with a practical image of Klaus kissing a nameless man or a nameless woman and watching as they turned into one of his kind. He didn’t know why but that thought made his stomach clench unpleasantly.

“It’s not that easy,” Klaus shook his head, finally looking up at him. There was something unreadable in his gaze, something that Dave couldn’t quite place, “I can’t just go around kissing and turning people. It has to be a choice of both parties, based on a strong bond between the two.”

“Like love?” Dave found himself asking, immediately blushing at how cheesy he sounded. Klaus didn’t laugh nor blush, though. He simply continued looking at him with the stoic unreadable expression as before.

“It’s a bit more than that. It would mean spending the rest of your life with another person as another species. It needs to be deeper than just a passing feeling,” he looked down at their clasped hands, letting a curious finger trace one of Dave’s inflated veins, “Let it be a romantic or non-romantic connection, the turned needs to be willing to spend the rest of their life with the one who turned them. Sure, they can switch between the two forms, but they can’t escape the bond that was created.”

Dave tilted his head to the side, looking up at the darkening sky. Spending the rest of his life with someone he loved- or, well, felt some sort of deep connection with- didn’t seem all that bad. He didn’t voice that thought out loud though, his mind already focusing on the second half of Klaus’s sentence, “Wait, switch between the two forms? What does that mean?”

“Oh, yeah, you can switch back and forth between human and merman,” Klaus happily supplied, as though that wasn’t the wildest information Dave had ever received, “It only works if you were born human, later generations can’t do it, and from what I’ve heard it’s an exhausting process, but they can totally turn into either of their halves without problem,” he looked down at his tail for a second, wiggling it slightly, and he smiled, “That doesn’t mean that their human half would be unchanged, they’d still have a more animalistic side running into their veins, but I guess having legs from time to time does have its perks."

“Is it an unconscious process or can they choose when to turn?” Dave asked, his mind already supplying him with the only example of what Klaus had just described that he had ever heard of, something out of a tv series he definitely didn’t like and that he totally only watched because his little sister was obsessed with it when she was a kid, “Like, for example, does touching water trigger the transformation or...?”

He didn’t need Klaus’s confused expression to know he had said something ridiculous but he still provided him with one, “That makes no sense, why would they?”

“Never mind, then.”

“Dave that’s so impractical.”

“I said never mind.”

“How would they shower-“ he reached over and put his hand over Klaus’s mouth, earning himself an offended frown. He tried not to glee at the fact that he didn’t even flinch- they had come such a long way.

“It was a stupid question, I get it,” he laughed, then pulled his hand back in horror when Klaus’s cool tongue darted out, licking its palm. He made a show of cleaning it off on the merman’s shoulder, wincing in disgust, “Klaus! Ew!”

“Oh I don’t get you, one second you’re fascinated by my regenerative saliva and the next you’re all ‘ew Klaus’, you humans are impossible,” Klaus held up his hands in mock frustration and, with a movement that surprised Dave, he dramatically let himself fall on his lap. It must’ve been an unconscious gesture if the way he immediately tensed up was any indication, but by the time he realized his mistake it was too late, his torso already draped over Dave like a haphazardly thrown blanket. He was so cold to the touch Dave could feel it both on his naked calves and through his shorts. He could feel Klaus’s panic and embarrassment building up and he decided that he was having none of it. If he had unconsciously decided to drape himself over him dramatically it meant that was just how he behaved naturally, and he didn’t want to be an obstacle to his nature.

“Don’t act like you wouldn’t find my saliva gross, mister,” Dave laughed, poking the merman in the ribs, and Klaus immediately relaxed. Maybe all he needed was to know that Dave was happy with his unexpected (but not unwelcome) touchiness.

“That’s because your saliva doesn’t have curative powers, as far as I’m aware,” Klaus replied, Dave’s hand still held in his own. He let it fall on his chest, cradling it against his heart and humming in contentment, “Let’s stop saying saliva, it’s getting weird.”

“Agreed,” Dave chuckled, and a comfortable silence fell between the two. Keeping his hand exactly where it was, he leaned back until he was leaning against the boat and he sighed, admiring the sunset. Its warm colours fell into Klaus’s eyes almost artistically, different shades of green standing out in a way that would’ve made impressionists have a run for their money.

“My mum is one of the turned,” he said after a while, his voice much softer than before.

Dave had to admit he loved the dissonance the word was bringing on the table. For him, the term ‘turned’ was to be associated with every single piece of media to have ever been created that somehow related to zombies or the undead, so all sorts of images to be evoked by it were negative. But the way Klaus said it, with such fondness and fascination, it seemed poetic.

He didn’t know how to reply to that information, didn’t know whether he was allowed to probe further explanations, so he just hummed an inquisitive sound. Klaus perked up at it, glancing at him quickly, and he remembered with a jolt of surprise that humming was merpeople’s favourite medium of communication.

“My father turned her a few years after he adopted us,” he continued, looking down at their clasped hands in wonder, “He needed help raising us, both because we were just too many and too much but also because he was fucking incompetent, and she was the perfect candidate for the role.”

He had never heard Klaus swear like that, so it surprised him when he blurted out that insult towards his father. He also had no idea what kind of relationship Klaus had with him so that was kind of a moot point.

“Were they in love?” Dave found himself asking against better judgment, and Klaus softly chuckled at him.

“Are you a romantic soul, Davey dear?” he asked, fondness sweeping through his tone before his expression closed off again, “Nah, not at all. I told you, the two parties don’t have to feel any sort of romantic attachment towards one another to make it work. He was just desperate for help, and she was foolish enough to fall in love with us the moment she saw us, and she wanted nothing more than to give us the care our father was incapable of feeling.”

Dave raised his eyebrows at that, a newfound respect for Klaus’s mother filling his chest, “She turned for you.”

Klaus nodded, his eyes glassy, making him look like he wasn’t there with him, “Crazy, right?” he sighed, letting go of Dave’s hand, as though just then realizing he was still holding it. Dave took it back but didn’t let it fall too far out of the merman’s reach, “Thankfully the old guy died, so now we actually look like a barely functional family, but when he was alive it was the worst. For everyone, but especially for her.”

It was obvious that the subject wasn’t one of Klaus’s favourites if his sad eyes and frowning lips were anything to go by, so Dave quickly scrambled for something to say and to distract him with, “What do you call a baby mermaid?” he winced internally. He was the worst. Klaus didn’t seem bothered by the weird question, though, already looking up at him with interest, so he continued with his odd train of thoughts, “I’m tempted to refer to them as kids but I don’t think it’s correct.”

“It depends on the species,” he turned around to better look at Dave, his hair squished against his tight, and Dave tried to ignore as much as he could how his body slowly slid over his legs with the movement, tickling his skin, “We just classify the little ones based on their animal half. My brother Diego was an elver, for example, while Five was a calf.”

Dave nodded, understanding the logic, “And you were a pup?”

Klaus beamed, “I was a pup.”

“That’s not fair,” he sighed, letting his head fall back, stretching it from side to side. A vertebra or two cracked with a satisfying sound that made the merman perk up in curiosity, “Child can be used as an insult, but you’re immune to it. Pup sounds more like a term of endearment than anything.”

He knew he should’ve kept the last part to himself because when he looked down at Klaus again he found him smirking up at him, comfortable enough to let his canines peek out from between his lips, “You can call me puppy any time, baby.”

Dave groaned, trying to hide his blush with an amused scoff. God, he was impossible, “Please never say something like that ever again.”

“You’re such a party pooper,” Klaus sat up, stretching his arms and back and huffing when he didn’t get the same satisfying pop Dave had gotten, “Anyway I’m off. My saliva and I are going.”

Dave hummed with a nod, letting his eyes fall closed as he enjoyed the last rays of the sun as it descended over the horizon. He expected to hear a splash of water as the merman left, but what he got instead was Klaus cheekily saying, “Actually you can have some of it, too,” before a slimy wet hand was quickly pressed against his cheek with a breathless laugh.

“Oh my god.”

 


 

He had been enjoying his time with Klaus so much in the past few months that his brain had started to gloss over the fact that he was, well, a merman. The two of them just clicked so well together that whenever they talked he felt like he was speaking to an old friend, rather than a creature belonging to an almost mythological species. The universe hadn’t forgotten about that fact, apparently, and it decided to remind him of it one chilly Friday morning, at the town biological market, of all places.

He was staring almost unseeingly at a peach held in his hand when someone tapped him on his shoulder, a touch so light he almost completely missed it. He turned around, confused by the unexpected contact, peach still in hand, and regarded the shorter man in front of him with raised inquisitive eyebrows.

The town was small, and everyone knew everyone, but he found himself at a loss of a name to associate with the man. He had seen him around before, it was kind of hard to miss someone with only 2000 people living in the same place, but he had never stood out to him as anyone of interest to the town life. It wasn't like he was unimportant or anything, it’s just that the few times he had seen him he always seemed so quiet, he almost blended in with the background. He had always seemed just kind of… there.

He was kept from embarrassing himself by asking for a name when the man took initiative, offering him his hand, “You’re the new guy- David, right? The marine biologist?”

Dave quickly turned around to put the peach back in its place with a smile to the fruit seller before he shook the man’s hand, “Yeah that’s me, you can just call me Dave.”

The man smiled, shaking his hand vigorously. There was something about his smile that made Dave’s stomach squirm, and not in a nice way. It wasn’t how it would usually squirm whenever he spotted Klaus at the horizon, or when he missed a step walking down the lighthouse’s stairs. It was uncomfortable, “We might have met before, I’m Harold Jenkins, the town’s woodworker.”

“Right, right,” Dave nodded, purely to fill his part of the conversation. He wasn’t someone to have prejudices, and he hated whenever someone made up their mind about something without even giving the other party a chance, but with that being said, something inside of him told him that he did not like Harold Jenkins. Not one bit.

Call it intuition, call it stereotypes, but the soft guarded way in which he spoke and how he kept averting his eyes nervously was sending him on edge. Maybe he was biased, having been talking to pretty much just Klaus for months, someone who was an open book of body language and expressions, but he still found himself squirming, wishing he was anywhere but there.

He internally shook his head at himself. He had no reason to dislike this Jenkins guy, he needed to calm down and just stop it with the paranoia already.

“I’m going to go straight to the point with you, I need your help with something,” Harold looked around the square for a second, and Dave followed his gaze with a frown. The only people present apart from the two of them were elderly people with nothing better to do with their Friday morning, “Have you by any chance ever heard of mermaids?”

There it was. There it fucking was.

That’s what you get for interacting with a government-protected species, you moron, he vehemently thought, screaming internally.

Dave held himself back from sighing in exasperation at the question, trying to school his features as much as he could. Jenkins didn’t know about Klaus. There was no way he did. He was just- some random townsfolk wanting to know more about the new guy. That was it.

That must be it.

“You could say that, yeah,” he nodded, an amused tilt in his voice. To be fair, it was a weird question to ask. Everyone had heard of mermaids. It was like asking him if he had ever heard of the moon landing, or of the Syrian refugee family that lived next to the pharmacy and that everyone pretended were locals whenever the police brought them up.

“No, yeah, I mean-“ Jenkins shook his head, and his words were so calculated it made his speech seem unnatural, “In your field of work. Have you ever encountered mermaids?”

Thankfully for him, Dave knew exactly what to reply, “I can’t say I have. They’re not exactly a common species to come across, as well as a highly protected species,” he put emphasis on that last point as he hid his hands in his pockets, regarding Jenkins in the most casual manner he could muster, “What I can tell you for sure is that if someone of my colleagues ever stumbles across one they’d never call a random 29 years old newbie with an ichthyology specialization to work on it.”

Jenkins seemed to understand what he was getting at, nodding wisely. Or maybe he was just pretending like he did, “Competition in the field?”

Dave shrugged, “I’m just saying, I had the luck to get a research of my own and go solo, I doubt they’d call me of all people to deal with something as ground-breaking as mermaids,” he made a vague gesture at the noun, trying to make it seem as foreign as possible, hands still shoved in his (fake) leather jacket’s pockets, and Jenkins chuckles softly, “But hey, if you want to know all about life and death and everything in between of saddle breams, I’m your man.”

“Thank you, but I think I’m good,” Jenkins waved him off with a laugh, and when he took a step back, ready to end the conversation and leave, Dave almost passed out in relief, “Could you keep me in mind, though?” his voice was soft again, as though talking about a conspiracy he didn’t want others to hear, “If you do find anything about them, I mean?”

Dave almost asked him why he cared so much, but then decided against it. Not the best person to open that can of worms with. The quicker he left the better it was, “You’ll be the first one I’ll call,” he nodded, then took a second to think his words through, “After the local coast guard, I mean. And my boss. And her boss. And his-“

“Alright, I get it,” Jenkins waved him off again, taking another step back, “Thank you. In the meanwhile, I think I’ll just keep looking myself. You know,” he shrugged in a ‘what can you do’ kind of way, “Who’s to say I don’t get lucky and actually stumble across one?”

Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck-

“Sounds like a great plan,” Dave mused through gritted teeth. The moment Jenkins turned around, fake-looking smile plastered on his round face, he all but ran out of the square, barely remembering to pay for his fruit before fleeing.

He needed to find Klaus immediately.

Chapter Text

Trying not to attract attention to himself Dave made his way back to the lighthouse as quickly as he could without actually running. What he ended up with was a power walk that was just on the side of awkward, his brain already spiralling down the anxiety hole.

He definitely should have seen it coming, but the idea of someone actually actively starting to look for merpeople when he routinely met up with one every day was making him legitimately freak out. He had no idea what Jenkins planned to do with the discovery, or what his true goal was, and he honestly hoped he would never find out. Just the idea of someone, anyone, finding out about Klaus made his stomach turn.

By the time he reached the lighthouse, he was full-on panicking. God, he hadn’t been this anxious since his father caught him kissing the cute boy next door when he was fifteen.

“Klaus!” he yelled, racing down the rocks and towards the beach, then flinched at his own loud tone, dropping it to a half-whispered hiss, “Klaus! Where the hell are you?”

He had no idea where Klaus was that early in the morning but he hoped he could hear him. He probably had superior hearing, right? He must have.

“Klaus!” he was nowhere to be seen on the beach, but that much was to be expected, it was still too early for their daily encounters. He only wished he knew where he lived. They talked so much but knew so little about each other.

Dave pulled at his hair, almost laughing in frustration. He couldn’t wait for Klaus to come to him himself and risk being seen by Jenkins. He needed to find him.

“Fuck,” he hissed, pacing towards his rowboat, still throw over from the last time he had cleaned it, “Fuck fuck fuck-“

After finding a cool spot to hide his purchase from the town’s market that he had been dragging along during his mad dash, he turned the boat over with a groan and unceremoniously pushed it into the cold water. It was way too early to be going out already, the air still had a stiff breeze to it that made Dave’s skin crawl back into his clothes, but he had no time to wait around for better weather. Without a second thought to his poor combat boots, he pushed the boat forward, jumping on it once it reached more deep waters. Working with the expertise of someone who had done this a million times before, he easily made it out of the bay against the light current, and soon enough he was rowing away with every ounce of strength in his being.

“Come on, Klaus,” he heaved with a push of the oars, hoping that Klaus could somehow sense his presence among the calm sea, “If you could pretty please show up that’d be grand.”

He got no answer, as expected, and he just sighed, a sound halfway between a sob and a groan, “Klaus please this is not the time to be a cryptic bastard, come out already.”

For another couple of minutes, there was no sign of life at sea, except of course for Dave, now panting against the effort of moving the boat on. He could already feel his hands starting to bruise at the palms, so when something finally moved beside the boat he almost cried in relief.

Dropping everything, Dave launched himself to the side of the boat towards the movement, making the whole thing sway dangerously, “Klaus? That you?”

He didn’t know what he had seen, but it definitely wasn’t a small fish, so two were the options: either some shark had heard his unhappy mumbling and wanted to see how close he was to dying and becoming his breakfast, or Klaus had heard it and had come to the rescue.

Something moved again, quickly and sharply, and Dave just had enough time to realize that whatever it was, it wasn’t Klaus. At all.

Then, quicker than anything he could’ve reacted to, a long thick tendril shot out of the water, wrapping itself around his torso, effectively trapping his arms. He had enough time and good sense to take in a breath before he was dragged into the water, his boat just barely keeping itself from turning over.

Pure survival instincts kept him from screaming out in terror, preferring to keep his last resource of oxygen to himself rather than waste it, and Dave prayed to god it was either Ben or Klaus with some bran new weird abilities that had grabbed him and was now dragging him deeper into the water, salt picking at his eyes and his now soaked clothes clinging to him- because if it wasn’t he was honestly, truly, fucked.

Before he could try to fight against whatever had grabbed him- a thought that was ridiculously pathetic on itself- something swam into his field of vision and towards him. Or, well. someone.

He couldn’t help the surprised gasp that escaped him, this time, and he immediately regretted when his lungs constricted, tiny bubbles of precious oxygen leaving him. Whoever the creature before him was he was pissed. There was no other word to describe it.

He could barely see over the lack of oxygen and the sting of the salty water but it seemed like he was face to face with the most terrifying merman in existence. Dark eyes were glaring right into his soul, framed by two sharp eyebrows, one of which was badly scarred. His lips were turned into a frown, almost a snarl, and Dave felt a little bit of hope at the absence of teeth- maybe he wasn’t there to kill him, after all? The muscle of his torso and arms were so defined he felt like he could snap his neck in half without effort, and his long black and white striped tail seemed to be of the same power if the death grip it had on Dave was anything to go by.

A simmer of hope lit itself in Dave’s quickly fading mind when he looked down at the tail that still held him. An eel tail.

Klaus had mentioned something about one of his brothers having been an elven, a baby eel. Was this him? Was this Diego?

The merman suddenly reached out, his hand roughly grabbing Dave’s chin and turning his face to the side to look at his cheek. He had no idea what he was doing or looking for, and to be honest, he was starting to lose the ability to actually see what was going on, but after his eyes quickly scanned his skin he nodded, short and resolute.

Then, just as he was about to run out of the last bit of air he had left, he was quickly dragged away at full speed. He barely had time to wince at the motion sickness it caused before he was unceremoniously dumped on a beach.

He gasped, his lungs signing now that he was able to breathe again, then immediately coughed. He had no idea what was up with that day but he was fucking done with it.

“I thought we wanted to talk to him, not kill him,” a female voice rang out, seeming annoyed and a bit worried, but Dave was too busy grasping fists of sand to pay attention to it. His clothes were dripping wet with cold water, his skin already chilling against the slight breeze of the morning, and his combat boots were most definitely ruined, but honestly, it was the last of his problems at the moment.

“He’s fine,” the merman, probably Diego, huffed in reply, “You’re fine, right?”

A long thick tail wormed its way towards him, now probing and no longer threatening, and Dave swatted it away, sitting up with a groan.

“Keep that thing away from me or I’m going to lose it,” he growled, droplets of water shooting out of his mouth with each syllable. He probably shouldn’t have answered the merman like that when he was sure he could kill him in ten seconds top, but he was really, really tired. All he had wanted to do was go to the local farmer market, buy some fruit and make himself a nice smoothie and what he had gotten instead was a creepy stranger probing him with weirdly placed questions and goddamn merpeople kidnapping him.

Fortunately for him, Diego just quirked an eyebrow, watching as he picked at his shirt, wincing when it slapped back on his skin with a wet and unpleasant sound, “You’re Klaus’s human, aren’t you?”

“And I’m assuming you’re Klaus’ siblings,” his eyes quickly moved to the second figure sat before him, purposefully ignoring the epithet. It was a mermaid this time- a first, but he really couldn’t find it within himself to be happy about it- her tail was much more elaborate than her brothers and it seemed like a perfect match for her long wavy hair. All folded up like that it was hard to tell but its tendrils and stripes reminded him of a lionfish, “No offence, but I prefer Ben over you two.”

“Everyone does,” the girl hummed, looking more bored than anything. He wanted to ask her her name but he felt like they were already over introductions at this point. 

He went to stand up, feeling too vulnerable looking up at the two siblings like he was, but let himself fall back again on the sand when he realized his boots were filled with water. He took one off, pouring it out, and watched in fascination as the water dripped out of it.

“Enough with the pleasantries,” Diego snapped, as though they were having a casual conversation at the bar over a nice cup of tea and he wasn’t still trying to catch his breath after almost drowning. He fixed Dave up with another cold glare, and he ignored him, taking off his other boot, “Now, I don’t know what you want with Klaus, Danny boy-“

“Dave. His name is Dave.”

“But you better watch yourself ‘cause if you hurt him I’m killing you, understood?”

Dave let his foot fall back on the sand, frowning up at Diego. Was that guy really giving him the big brother talk? 

In a way, he could almost understand him. Klaus had a traumatising experience last time he had interacted with a human, so it was understandable that everyone was on edge now that he was befriending another one, and Diego only wanted to protect his brother from more harm. At the same time, though- what the fuck.

“First of all,” he started, pointing a finger at the merman like a teacher giving a lecture. The other just glared at him with his arms crossed over his chest, giving him his chance to defend himself but looking ready to snap back, “I know for a fact that Klaus can kill me himself, so I don’t see why you should bother. Second of all,” he stood up and marched over to Diego, aware of looking ridiculous with his clothes all wet and askew, his hair dripping, and his boots squeaking with every step. He didn’t get close enough to be toe to, well, tail with him- he was mad but he still had some sort of self-preservation instinct- but it was still enough to make Diego curl his tail better under himself to look taller (typical), “Did you really have to almost drown me to tell me that?”

“And miss a chance to be dramatic? Nah,” the mermaid shook her head, evidently fed up with Diego at least half as much as Dave was, which was a relief. Diego only glared at her before looking back at Dave, even more furious than before, if possible.

“Listen up,” he poked Dave in the chest, hard, and he was smart enough not to react to it, “We don’t exactly have a good history with humans, Klaus in particular, so if you plan to do something I swear I-“

“Then I’m not the one human you should worry about,” Dave cut him off, instantly remembering about Harold Jenkins and why he had been looking for Klaus to begin with, “Now, where is your brother? I need to talk to him.”

“You’ll talk to him when I decide you talk to him-“

“Wait wait, not the human we should worry about?” the mermaid spoke up, casual and bored facade replaced by sudden confusion. Her brother glared at her for interrupting his ramble but she ignored him, stepping further towards Dave, “What do you mean?”

He was ready to snap back at her but her expression stopped him. She looked legitimately concerned, which clashed with the confident air they had been radiating from the very first second, “Some guy approached me this morning, asking about merpeople, and not in a casual way,” he explained, and the girl went pale, “I don’t know what his intentions are but-“

“Did you tell him anything?” Diego interrupted him, looking as worried about the sudden change of subject as his sister, and Dave frowned.

“Of course I didn’t,” he huffed, offended. Did that guy really think he would just sell Klaus over to a random stranger like that? “I just played dumb. I need to tell Klaus, though, before-“

“We need to tell everyone,” the mermaid cut him off, now looking like she was on the edge of panic, and Dave felt his stomach drop. He had thought the situation was bad, but not this bad.

“Fuck,” the merman breathed out, and before he could get a word out he looked right at him, his expression serious, “You’re coming with us.”

“What?” Dave squeaked, watching as the two started crawling back towards the sea.

“We need to warn the others now,” the mermaid quickly explained, which did nothing to ease off his confusion, “And we need you to do that.”

“Wait, why? Wait- do I have to swim there or can we at least go back to-“

Ignoring him, Diego grabbed his arm, this time using his human limbs instead of his freakish tail, unceremoniously dragging him back into the freezing water. Swimming it was, then.

 


 

Ten minutes and a few swears later, Dave was unceremoniously dropped onto some rock hard ground. He said ‘some’ because by that point he was completely drained by all energies to even try to take in his surroundings.

He had tried keeping up with Diego and his sister- it turned out her name was Allison, wasn’t that nice- but his clothes kept weighing him down and his very human limbs were no match for the two siblings, so in the end they had gotten impatient and started dragging him along with them, allowing him to poke his head out the water and breathe when necessary. He had no way of knowing how that scene must have looked like to an outside viewer but it certainly was ridiculous, and its only result was that he now felt like a scrambled egg, or like a worn t-shirt that had been spin-dried a bit too violently.

He let his eyes fall closed as his legs relax on the ground, breathing heavily and pointedly ignoring the constant dripping of his soaked clothes. Diego and Allison had immediately swum off to somewhere else, evidently not too fond of being around him, and he should have probably gathered himself and done something about his current predicament but he was just so tired.

“Is that your catch of the day?”

He blinked his eyes open at the sudden booming voice coming from somewhere further away for him, and his brain was too slow to catch on the fact that whoever had spoken was definitely joking and by the time he caught on the sarcasm he was already sitting up, taking in his surroundings with a mildly wild gaze.

Geographically speaking, he had no clue where he was, but he could tell it was inside a cave. A rocky ceiling towered over him high above his wet figure, some cracks and holes in the stone allowing the sunlight to filter in. Below it, and just at Dave’s side, was the sea, deep and beautiful as always, and turning around he could see the point where it swept in from the outside, through an opening at the far side of the cave that was certainly bigger underwater. Circling the body of water and ingrained into the rock was what Dave would have described as a pier if it had been home to boats, or people. The wooden boards he was currently sitting on with his still dripping clothes were definitely part of a wharf, but instead of housing rowdy fishermen and pier staff loading and unloading crafts, it was inhabited by merpeople. 

Diego and Allison were opposite of him, chatting quietly with the biggest guy had ever seen. He was sure that even without his white shark-like tail he would’ve looked tremendously threatening, so when he glanced up at him he immediately averted his eyes, only to land on a second figure he didn’t recognize. It was a second mermaid, holding herself a bit further away from the others with a shy and calm look on her face. She didn’t have a tail, but rather what looked like a nautilus shell, her body protruding from one end and small thin tendrils from the other. He met her eyes, and something white flickered in them, noticeable enough to make him look away again.

He gulped, slowly pulling his feet towards his chest to sit cross-legged on the hard floor, wishing for a hole to swallow him whole. Was this where Klaus lived? Were those all his siblings?

As though answering his confusion, something splashed out of the water beside him, making him jump out of his skin and yelp, but sadly enough it turned out to not be Klaus. It was Five, now perched on the quay with him, and he breathed out. At least it was a familiar face, right?

The kid looked down at him, his lips pulled in a smile that didn’t remotely reach his eyes, “Hello, Darryl. Fancy seeing you here.”

Dave waved at him weakly, too breathless to even speak. Was the whole calling him by a random name bit a way to assert dominance or was that just merman humour?

Five didn’t elaborate his comment any further, he just jumped back into the water and away. Thankfully, he wasn’t left alone for much longer because another merman swam up to him, and he almost cried in relief at his sight. 

“Please tell me I’m not about to be sacrificed in some weird mermaid ritual,” he murmured, trying not to be heard by the others, and realized with surprise that his teeth were clattering. It was way too cold in the cave for his chilled skin. Ben laughed, more to be polite than anything, warm eyes searching his face inquisitively.

“I’m positive you’ll live,” he confirmed, heaving himself on the wharf beside Dave with the help of his tentacles and oh, Jesus, he had forgotten how big they were, “They didn’t hurt you, did they? Klaus would freak out if they did.”

“I’m okay,” he brushed his concern off, but let him reach out to examine his face with almost medical interest, “Is he here?”

“Not yet,” Ben let go of him but he didn’t look any less troubled. His eyes landed on his clattering teeth and his frown deepened, “Are you sure you’re alright? Your lips are turning purple.”

“Yeah that tends to happen when a land creature is forced into cold water for too long,” he simply replied, trying not to snap. Ben was on his side, he only wanted to help; being an ass to him was just pointless.

The merman nodded knowingly, as though immediately understanding the issue. He held up a finger, silently telling Dave to wait, and turned his head away from him, facing the furthest wall of rocks. He hadn’t noticed it before but now that he looked closely he could see a wooden door set into it. Odd.

Ben hummed, a low sound that was different from Klaus’s but still calming, and not even a minute later the door opened, revealing a blonde woman in a polka dots dress; literally the last thing he would’ve expected. The merman beckoned the woman closer with little squeaks that Dave would’ve found adorable in any other situation, and as she approached he realized that he actually knew her.

He had seen her around the town a couple of times, always looking oddly off, almost disoriented, and was vaguely aware that she owned a small tavern at the edge of the sea and right over- and here Dave felt like he just had a sudden religious epiphany- an underwater cave. The couple of times he had seen her she had seemed lost, her eyes unfocused and her movements stiff, and one of the town elders had informed him that she suffered from some untreated mental illness and to not mind her. Oddly enough, she seemed perfectly fine now, smiling down at Ben with joy in her eyes, and although her movements were still weirdly mechanical she looked like a totally different person.

As she stopped in front of them and Ben introduced her as their mother his brain almost imploded.

Had Klaus’s mother- the mermaid that was once human and was turned to take care of Klaus and his siblings, that same woman- actually been living in the same town as him for the entire time and he had just never realised it? Just how good were they at playing dumb and fooling humans if the entire town had just assumed she was an odd and most likely mentally ill woman and never even remotely suspected she was actually the mother of seven merpeople?

It was too much.

“Dave, this is our mother, Grace,” Dave stumbled to his feet, offering Grace his still trembling hand. She smiled and shook it, looking more present and less apathetic than the few glances he had gotten of her, “Mum, this is Dave, Klaus’s boyfriend.”

“He is not,” Diego snapped from the other side of the room before Dave could even open his mouth to correct Ben, and Grace laughed good-naturedly at that, letting his hand go.

“Are you alright, honey?” her voice was cheerful as he scanned him up and down but her eyes were sharp and almost worried, “You’re cold, aren’t you?”

Dave almost denied it, feeling oddly guilty for making Grace worry for him- which was weird, considering they had just met- but before he could she turned on her heels and walked back through the door and into the tavern (or at least he suspected that’s where the door led, he was still trying to fully grasp the architecture of the cave). After another small wait, she emerged again, carrying a blanket in her hands, and he almost cried at the sight.

“Thank you-“ he tried to reach for it but she shushed him, stepping closer to him to snuggle him in the blanket like a burrito (a six-foot-tall soaked burrito, that is), “You didn’t have to-“

“Nonsense,” Grace cheerfully hummed, and for some weird reason he wanted to do nothing more but hug her. She just had a very ‘mum’ vibe and he- let’s just say he and his mother weren’t on good enough terms to hug each other, “Klaus’s friends are more than welcome here.”

“Damn right,” Ben nodded at the sentiment, and Dave was suddenly reminded of his presence. He was still sitting down on the deck, he really couldn't do anything else, and Dave decided to sit back down next to him, still snuggled tight in his blanket. It just didn’t feel right to leave him down there, what kind of biped privilege was that, “Speaking of the devil, do you know where he is? We need to talk about something important and he needs to be here.”

“Don’t worry, dear, I’ll get him here,” Grace reassured him, running a hand through his black hair and making it stand up in all directions. Ben chuckled, trying to smooth it down again, and his mother walked off, humming a soft happy tune as she went.

He didn’t know exactly what he expected her to do- it’s not like she could call Klaus, or wave him over from the edge of the cave as if calling back home a kid who had been playing in the park down the street for too long- but as the seconds ticked by he raised that that was all she was going to do: hum.

It was clear that whatever she was singing wasn’t anything random, but rather an actual message, because after a while some the other merpeople joined in, seemingly unconsciously, all humming together in harmony with their mother. Ben took part in it, too, his voice clearly different from Grace’s (was it because he was born a merman and she wasn’t or was it just different from person to person?) and even Dave eventually found himself nodding along with it, letting his still shivering body slowly sway from side to side.

He had no idea for how long Grace kept humming, but she eventually let the tune die off, and as if on cue a ripple announced a new arrival in the cave. Unsurprisingly, it was Klaus, and if Dave had been a dog he would have been wagging his tail by then with how happy he was to finally see him. Ben seemed to be, too, because he shuffled away from Dave and closer to the water, watching his brother intensely.

He poked his head out of the water as he swam closer, looking slightly annoyed, and sized his mother up with a confused look, “What is it? Impromptu family meeting?”

Grace smiled sweetly at him, welcoming him with a warm ‘hello’ and looking like she was ready to offer him some cookies and tea, so Diego jumped up into the conversation.

“Your friend, here, has something to tell us, and it’s quite important.”

The other merman frowned, following his brother’s line of sight, and when his gaze fell on Dave his eyes widened, annoyance making space for surprise and even more confusion. They did soften though, and Dave, weak as he was, felt his stomach flip at the sight, “Dave? What are you doing here?”

He waved at him from under his newly found blanket, his teeth still clattering, “I’m wondering the same thing, to be honest.”

Klaus took in his shivering form all for two seconds, his eyes quickly going over his wet messy hair, his wetter clothes, and his pale lips, before they suddenly hardened with anger. He probably didn’t take long to connect the dots and realize how Dave had gotten there, but when he did he turned around, sizing his siblings up.

The biggest of them seemed to be his primary suspect because he shook his head curtly under Klaus’s intense gaze, “Don’t look at me, it was Diego’s doing.”

And like that Klaus bolted, closing the distance between himself and Diego with a quick whip of his tail. 

“What did you do with him? Did you seriously try to scare him off like a fucking weirdo?” he hissed, leaning on a rock to loom over his brother. He had seen Klaus angry once when he had found him tied and afraid on his beach, but it was nothing like this. His chest was heaving with his growls, his posture screamed dominance, his teeth were bared and- something Dave had never seen him do before- his gills were puffed out. It was a behaviour he had only witnessed in particularly aggressive and territorial species such as betta fish, so he was fairly surprised to see Klaus engage in it, it almost seemed unnatural. Apparently, Diego thought so too, if his offended gasp at the sight of his brother’s gills was anything to go by.

“Don’t you dare flare at me,” he hissed, squaring up to Klaus and trying to flare his own gills to no avail- they were simply too small to make him look any bigger- not that he needed to, his muscles were already enough as it was. They looked like they were about to start a physical fight, and Dave glanced at the other members of the family to see if they were ready to intervene if needed, but they all seemed to be purposefully ignoring the confrontation. Only Grace was observing the stare-down but she didn’t look concerned, but rather curious to see how it would develop.

“Don’t you dare threaten Dave,” Klaus immediately snapped back, and Dave was touched by how protective he sounded. He had no idea what kind of relationship him and Diego had beside the little snippets he had gotten from Klaus’s stories, and if Diego threatening him was something much bigger than the simple ‘hey, that was weird and unnecessary, but you just want to protect your brother so I’ll let it slide, don’t do that again’ Dave interpreted the event as, but Klaus seemed pretty affronted by the whole deal, “He has never done anything wrong, I told you, just because some humans were assholes doesn’t mean you get to treat like shit the only one that isn’t.”

Diego looked like he was about to reply to that but then he sighed, his jaw clenching unhappily. Then, under Klaus’s irate gaze, he adverted his eye, looking down at something to the left. He tilted his head to the side, humming a low and almost sad tune, and Klaus’s entire frame relaxed. His usual slouched, wobbly posture was back, no longer looming over his sibling, and his gills were flat against his neck again. He hummed back in response, something less melodic and curter than his usual sounds, and the two siblings went their separate ways as if nothing had happened.

Had he witnessed that interaction months before he would’ve completely missed its meaning but he was pretty sure Diego had just apologized to his brother in their own language.

“Hey,” Klaus said softly, swimming back to him concernedly, his aggressive behaviour gone so quickly he felt like he had missed part of the conversation, “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, don’t worry about me,” Dave waved him off with a small chuckle, not wanting to aggravate Klaus any more, “It’s just… a hell of a day.”

As if on cue, Dave shivered almost violently, his wet skin not enjoying the cool temperature in the cave one bit, and the merman’s eyes frowned in worry. He was about to reassure him again and tell him that he was fine, but before he could get one word out Klaus swiftly jumped out of the water and onto the quay, all noodle limbs and wet hair. He scooted closer to Dave until they were just a few inches apart, and pulled his tail along with him, curling it around him until Dave was encircled with it. He had no idea why, but he suddenly felt like nothing and nobody could hurt him as long as he stayed there, hugged by Klaus’s scratchy tail.

Then, surprising him for the second time that day, Klaus scooted even closer and leaned forward until he could rest his forehead against the side of Dave’s head. Dave froze, confused by the sudden closeness, then lost all sense of dignity when he felt Klaus’s lashes flutter against his cheek in what he realized, with a gasp, were tiny merman butterfly kisses.

Call him weak, but sat there shivering in a towel with a merman protecting him from the world and pressed against his face he couldn’t help but blush. Violently.

Klaus chuckled softly and when his breath caressed his skin he blushed even more, “I’m not a scientist, but I figure getting your blood to pump faster will make you warmer, right?”

Dave sucked in a breath. Was he doing it on purpose?

“How do you know my blood pumps faster when I-“ he stopped himself, realizing that Klaus might not know the implications of blushing. He had never seen him blush, and was sure his cardiovascular system was entirely different from his own- he had taken his pulse once and not only was his heartbeat extremely slow, he could also choose to make it stop for minutes on end- so there was no way he was purposefully making him blush, “How did you know how to make my heartbeat quicker?”

Klaus was silent for an uncomfortable about of time, his arms left discarded to the sides as they kept dripping with water, “Well, you already know this, but I have very sensitive hearing, and I can actually also hear your heartbeat if I focus hard enough,” Dave momentarily set that information aside to dwell on the idea that Klaus spent time and effort to listen to his heart in another moment, “And I might have noticed that it picks up whenever I’m really close to you.”

Dave took that in, then closed his eyes, swallowing thickly. 

What had he done to make god hate him so much?

“See! Here it goes again!” and as though god herself had read his thoughts Klaus moved again, nuzzling his neck until his nose was pressed right on his pulse point and Dave wanted to just die, “Gotta say, Dave, your heart has the cutest pitter-patters ever, I could listen to it all day long.”

“Please don’t,” Dave laughed, trying to ease the tension and ignore what Klaus had just said. How could he even say stuff like that and act like it was no big deal?

“Are you guys done canoodling or do you need a couple more minutes?” Ben asked, and Dave was immediately and rudely reminded that they were, in fact, not alone. Only Ben seemed to have noticed them, grinning mischievously from his seat just a couple of meters away where he was trying- and failing- to mind his own business and give them some space, but it was still enough to make Dave tense up. That was until Klaus jokingly growled at his brother from his spot against Dave’s throat and he was feeling all sorts of shivers as the sound travelled along his spine.

Apparently what the family had in mind was an actual impromptu meeting because in a matter of seconds Grace clapped her hands, calling everyone to attention. Klaus didn’t even move, only leaned his chin on Dave’s shoulder almost stubbornly, and he could tell it was purely out of spite because his siblings all sighed, piling up around him to accommodate him.

'Piling up’ wasn’t the correct way to describe it, actually. It was more like watching a flock of puffins find their spot on a steep wall, ready to start their daily fishing. Ben perched himself on the other side of Dave, close enough to make him feel like he and Klaus were his two personal bodyguards, which they probably were; Diego sat a couple of meters away, glancing at the three of them every once in a while; Five somehow managed to climb on a wooden post in the water, probably just to look taller and loom over the others, Allison and the big guy sat side by side beside Diego, while the nautilus mermaid leaned her crossed arms on the quay, shelled body soaked into the water. With Grace standing in the middle of all of them, leaning against the rock behind her, it looked like a haphazardly arranged council from some fantasy novel.

All the while, Klaus didn’t move an inch, his tail still curled protectively around Dave and his eyes scanning his siblings one by one, as though daring them to try or say something.

“Very well,” Grace hummed, looking calmer than all of them combined, and he wondered whether that was her nature or she had learned that to calm all of her children with her soothing voice. She scanned all of her kids one by one before landing her eyes on Dave and he straightened up, “Dave, dear. I believe we need you to start. Can you tell us what happened?”

Dave swallowed, hard, now deeply uncomfortable under all the eyes looking at him. Klaus lifted his chin from his shoulder, enough to let him speak freely while also not moving away from him, and he took in a breath, “Uh yeah, sure."

So he told them about his meeting with Harold Jenkins, making sure to go over all the details and not leave anything out from the story. It didn’t take long- after all, it had been a brief conversation he had had with the odd unsettling man- but the siblings still looked fully captivated by the story, as though they were hanging on his every word. The shelled girl- he still didn’t know her name and felt mildly guilty about it- was even leaning her chin on her hand, listening to him intently, and he felt like he was under a microscope.

Once he was done he finally exhaled, trying to gauge what the others were thinking. He didn’t let himself fall back into his usual comfortable posture, preferring to keep his spine straight and his chin high, something about it making him feel slightly safer in the face of the apex predators in the room.

“So he’s looking for us, and we don’t know why,” Ben was the first one to speak, easily recapping the whole story for them. He nodded, stomach curled in uncomfortable knots, and the others hummed.

“It’s nothing new,” Allison was the next one to talk, and Dave decided that out of all the siblings he had met she was the one he trusted the most- besides Ben, of course, “Humans have always looked for us, and always will.”

“This is different, though,” Five butted into the conversation, seeming pensive and looking older than he appeared, “Humans usually look for us at random. This one went and looked directly for the only human Klaus hangs out with. He knows what he’s doing.”

“You’re right,” Diego’s low voice was the next one to jump in and Dave felt uncomfortably out of place amongst those merpeople addressing him without even saying his name, “I doubt he was just trying to make small talk. He sounds dangerous.”

“Well, I think we all know what we should do,” Luther glanced at Klaus but only briefly, before addressing Diego, and Dave thought that the two of them must have been the leaders- or they at least thought they were, “Klaus needs to stop seeing the human.”

Klaus, who until then had been quietly watching the conversation unfurl in front of him, finally spoke up. Or well, he technically didn’t. He growled, a low sound coming from deep in his throat, and his tail curled itself tighter around Dave. It was starting to feel like a seatbelt.

He probably said something in his native language because Luther quickly looked back at him, the sharpness in his eyes a bad match for their warm colour. Grace, on the other hand, only hummed, staring off into the distance as though completely unaffected by the conversation.

“Use your words, dear.”

The human has a name,” he practically hissed, and Luther’s tail flickered in annoyance like a cat’s, “And that won’t happen.”

“This is not negotiable,” was the sharp response, and Dave was as uncomfortable as one could be witnessing a family argument, “It’s for the sake of the clan-”

“You didn’t seem to worry for the clan when Allison was in the same situation I am in now,” Klaus rebutted, and whatever that meant it was definitely a sore spot for the siblings because their body language changed immediately. Luther looked like he had been slapped, something borderline furious dancing in his eyes, while Allison glanced up in shock.

“How dare you-“

“Hey, don’t drag me into this, I’m on your side, Klaus-“

“Everyone shut up,” Diego’s booming voice rang out, and his siblings obeyed immediately, though Luther and Klaus still kept shooting each other death glares, “Although that might work, we don’t know Dave’s intentions either,” he didn’t look at him, only spoke like he wasn’t even in the room, and it was honestly infuriating, “I don’t trust either of them. I think we should take care of them both.”

He almost asked for clarification, to understand what taking care of meant in that context, because there was no way Diego had just threatened to kill him, right there, in front of him, but if the others’ reactions were anything to go by it really wasn’t anything that was up for interpretation.

“Whoa whoa whoa, where does that come from-“

“Are you out of your mind?”

“Dear, that seems a bit excessive.”

Klaus, too, reacted to it, almost launching himself at his brother if Dave hadn’t grabbed him at the last moment, and Allison stepped in to defuse the situation.

“Diego, this is not the nineteenth century,” she reasoned, looking way too calm for someone who had just heard one of their siblings propose they went on a quick killing spree, “If two humans disappeared suddenly with no explanation people would immediately relate it to us, we can’t risk it.”

“Also, who tells you Dave is as bad as this Jenkins guy?” Ben pointed out, the sole voice of reason in a mile radius, apparently, “He’s a cool one, you have to give him a chance.”

“Given Klaus’s track record with human men forgive me for being a bit sceptical.”

“Listen,” Dave finally decided to step in and defend himself, both because he was tired of hearing the others treat him like he wasn’t right there and because Klaus looked a second away from breaking Diego’s teeth. Everyone looked up in surprise at his voice, almost as though they had actually forgotten about his presence, and well wasn’t that just nice, “If you really want me to stop seeing Klaus I will, I would do anything to make sure nothing happens to him, or you-“

“I beg your fucking pardon-“

He covered Klaus’s mouth with his hand, not willing to have that conversation there, where everyone could witness it, and he frowned up at him, offended, “But I already told you, I am not the person you need to worry about. I don’t know what Jenkins wants or whether he works alone or not but I need to know he doesn’t get anywhere near Klaus, too, so it’s in our best of interests to do this together."

His speech wasn’t all that convincing, he knew- you go and try to make a captatio benevolentiae in front of a group of predators while the only one of them you know is currency mouthing something indiscernible against your palm- so he wasn’t too surprised when Diego frowned at him in disbelief and almost disgust.

“And I’m supposed to believe you just because you say so? You could be working with this guy for all we know, I think-“

“He’s telling the truth.”

Dave almost jumped at the new, soft voice, and his eyes- along with everyone else’s in the room- moved to the shelled girl. She was staring straight at him, soft eyes looking almost into his soul as tiny droplets of white danced in them, and he was about to look away on instinct when she spoke again, her tone almost mystical, “He means no harm, and cares about Klaus as much as everyone else here,” her eyes flickered to Luther, before setting back on him, “Maybe more.”

He was about to open his mouth to reply with an awkward ‘uhh, thank you?’ but before he could he realized that everyone else in the room had suddenly quieted down. They were all staring at the mermaid in shock, some in disbelief some in amazement, which he could not fully understand since what she had said hadn’t seemed life-changing to him. She had just expressed her trust in him- if he could call it that- but the others were acting like she had just announced exactly when the world was going to end.

Klaus was the only one who didn’t seem baffled by the girl and was instead staring back at his siblings with… smugness? 

He reached out to pull Dave’s hand away from his mouth- he had completely forgotten it was still there- and he held it in his own while wearing the most shit-eating grin he had ever seen, “Well well well, what do you say to that, Diego?”

Diego turned back towards him quickly enough to probably give a human whiplash, and only half-heartedly growled at the jab. His body language had completely changed and he didn’t look defensive or aggressive anymore. His still wide eyes ranked over Klaus before moving to Dave, no trace of anger or mistrust could be found in them. Whatever the girl had meant by what she said, it was obvious that it was extremely important, “Alright, I guess we aren’t killing him.”

Ben fist-pumped the air while Klaus only looked even smugger. Dave couldn’t really find it within himself to celebrate a missed murder like it was a normal thing.

He was about to ask for clarifications- why did Diego trust him now? What had the girl meant? Was the girl actually the leader? Was it sexist of him to have assumed she wasn’t? Should he reconsider his personal biases?- but Klaus only squeezed his hand, drawing his eyes back to him.

He shook his head once. Not now, he mouthed, and he let his shoulders drop.

“So, what are we supposed to do then?” Five spoke up, glancing at Dave every once in a while, as one would do with an animal they didn’t want to lose sight of. It was unnerving.

“Yeah, Vanya,” Luther nodded, his leader-like stance and facade dropping away in favour of letting his sister lead, “What do you feel like it’s best?”

Vanya- it was nice to have a name to associate to the mysterious looking girl- finally took her eyes off of Dave, sizing up Klaus instead. They were slightly softer now, and the white started to fade away, “Exactly what Klaus has been doing until now. We keep the human close.”

 


 

Two hours later, Dave felt completely and utterly drained. He wasn’t sure what the siblings had ended up deciding to do with him- they didn’t want to kill him just yet and that was what mattered for him- so now he had more questions than answers.

After the impromptu meeting had ended, with everyone looking calmer but not fonder of Dave, Klaus had offered to take him back to his boat, since him walking home completely soaked and traumatised-looking was bound to raise some eyebrows in town, and when they finally reached it, after a good half an hour of swimming by Klaus’s side, he decided it was the best moment to seek out his answers.

Heaving himself on the boat with a groan he took off his dripping jacket, sizing Klaus up with a tired gaze, “Mind explaining to me what just happened there?”

Klaus sighed, looking almost as exhausted as he felt. Once Dave was settled on the boat he followed suit, pulling his tail along with him until he was curled beside him like an overly touchy boa constrictor, “My family confuses me, too, so I’d figured you’d have questions.”

Dave nodded, looking at the merman. His tiny placoid scales shined under the sunlight and so did his bright eyes, “Why did everyone opt against killing me as soon as your sister spoke up?”

Klaus titled his head to the side, considering it. He pursed his lips and Dave found himself following the movement with his eyes, “You know how us merpeople communicate through tones rather than words?”

Dave frowned at the odd answer but didn’t argue. He had just assumed Klaus’s hums were words in his native tongue, not just simple sounds and nothing more, “You do?”

“That’s the simplest way to put it, but yes. We have a heightened sense of empathy, and it helps to perceive people’s intentions and feelings through their tones regardless of what they are saying. It gets better with age- it definitely didn’t work out well for me when I was younger- and not only can we immediately tell if someone is lying but we can also sense when someone might turn out to be dangerous,” Klaus lowered his eyes, looking down at Dave’s hand on the boat beside his tail. His fingers twitched, as though wanting to reach out to touch him, but he didn’t, “That’s what made me trust you, actually.”

He blinked, surprised by that revelation, “You trusted me because you could tell I wasn’t lying to you?”

“It’s not just that. You don’t have the means to understand what I mean by this, but your tone is… soothing, claiming,” again he adverted his gaze, “The only other human I can associate with that kind of sound is my mother, but it’s not the same. Your voice makes me feel safe, maybe too much so.”

Dave found himself adverting his own gaze to hide his blush. How could he find that flattering? That’s just how Klaus saw the world, it wasn’t a compliment, “And your sister?”

“She was always a bit different from us,” Klaus apparently decided that he was too tired to sit up because he let himself fall back on the boat, splayed like a starfish. He didn’t drape himself over Dave’s lap like he had taken a liking to and he tried not to feel hurt by that, “She’s much more sensitive to tones and sounds than we are, it’s like a sixth sense. If I can tell if you’re lying she can tell exactly what you’re thinking every time you open your mouth,” green eyes met his and they seemed almost... proud. That was the only word to describe how Klaus was looking at him, “If she says we can trust you, that’s enough to welcome you into our family without thinking twice about it.”

“Oh,” Dave dumbly replied, feeling breathless. He had started the day thinking of making a smoothie and now apparently a psychic mermaid had read his mind just by hearing him speak once, “So I’m assuming your siblings now have no reason to doubt me?”

“That’s exactly what it means,” Klaus nodded, again looking weirdly proud, like Dave was a boyfriend he had just introduced to his family and everyone had immediately took a liking to- and don’t ask him why that was the first comparison that had come to mind, he had no idea, but at that point he was sure that Vanya did, “If my sister takes your side there’s really nothing you can say to dispute it. You just have to listen to her.”

He nodded, looking up towards the horizon, unseeingly. There seemed to be just them in the bay, nobody else was in sight, but he was still thankful that Klaus had pulled up his tail, making him indiscernible from a human from enough of a distance. If anyone had seen them they would have only seen him and a shirtless boy alone on a boat, and he wasn’t too against gaining that kind of reputation if it meant Klaus was safe.

Speaking of which, and with a sudden knot in his throat, “Should we… should we stop seeing each other?"

Klaus’s head snapped up, and for a second he seemed angry. Then his features schooled into a more neutral expression, but it was clear that he was hurt by his proposal, which almost made him take it back, “Do you want to not see me again?”

“What? No,” Dave immediately denied. Did Klaus really think he would give him up so quickly? It broke his heart to even say the words aloud, but he needed the merman to be safe more than he needed to see him, “It’s just-“

“Then that’s set,” Klaus stubbornly went back to stare up at the sky, although his frown of worry and hurt stayed fixed in its place, “No reason to stop seeing each other.”

“No reason? Klaus-“ Dave sighed, why did he have to do this? Couldn’t Klaus see how much the mere thought was tearing him apart? “A man is looking for you, and I doubt he’s going to give up, you heard your siblings, we need to-“

“Dave, listen,” Klaus suddenly sat up again so quickly that the boat swayed before fully turning towards Dave. His expression was so solemn he almost looked away but his eyes were like magnets, keeping him hooked, “I’m not going to stop seeing you just because it might be dangerous. It has always been dangerous and I have no intention to give this up.”

Dave opened his mouth to reply and Klaus reached out to cover it with his 'hello' hand. The touch was so unexpected the surprise was enough to shut him up for good, “Allison has been seeing a human for so long they would be probably married by now by your standards, and everyone gave up warning her ages ago. Just because we encounter obstacles doesn’t mean we don’t have to try and jump over them.”

He reached up to touch Klaus’s wrist and move his hand away from his mouth. Instead of dropping it he kept it against his cheek, stroking the skin there almost reverently, “I know you’re scared,” Klaus’s lips quirked at the implication of that sentence. He literally knew, he wasn't saying it just for the sake of it, he could feel it, “But I swear it will be okay. We just have to be more careful."

“I’m not scared, I’m fucking terrified,” Dave breathed out, not ashamed of admitting his fears, not when Klaus was the one he could lose if they turned out to be true, “If something happened to you-“

“You’d jump right in to save me and carry me away bridal style like the prince charming you are,” Klaus unhelpfully filled the rest of the sentence for him, and he snorted. He was about to reply to that but the merman seemed to be of other ideas because after a quick, “Stop worrying, it’s not a good look on you,” he suddenly had an armful of Klaus.

It took him a good five seconds to react, hesitant hands coming up to rest on the merman’s back to reciprocate the impromptu hug, and another five seconds to realize that was the first time they had hugged. It was officially the closest the two of them had ever been, and it was all Klaus’s idea. 

He felt ridiculously giddy, so much that he preoccupied himself with hugging Klaus back rather than focusing on the myriad of emotions he was feeling.

“You’re a stubborn bastard, you know that, right?” he sighed, letting his chin rest on Klaus’s shoulder.

“Oh, you love me,” was the merman’s cheerful reply against his ear and Dave only nodded. He did.

He looked up at the sky from over Klaus’s back, trying to pinpoint the sun’s position. It was still early, not even noon. Maybe he could still make himself that smoothie. 

Chapter Text

Saying that for the following days he was on edge would have been an understatement. Regardless of how naive and innocent-looking Harold Jenkins was and how he barely reached Dave’s chin, that encounter had triggered some fight or flight reaction in him that left him skittish and jumping at every noise he heard and movement he saw.

Saying that it exasperated Klaus to no end would have also been an understatement.

His frustration was almost palpable, he could feel it every time he flinched at some unfamiliar sound or urged Klaus to stay in the water and not come out on the beach, but he could honestly not do anything about it. He tried, he really did, but he had always been a bit anxious and prone to worry over those who were close to him. It was just his nature: something threatened his everyday life, he had a breakdown. That was just how it was.

Klaus had tried to snap him out of it, sometimes kindly- like gently pulling at his wrist, reassuring him that nobody was there, he swore, he could hear and see better than him and there was nothing- and sometimes… not so kindly.

“Were you a fish I would have eaten you ages ago,” he deadpanned one day, looking at him from under a raised eyebrow. It was a bit over a week after the infamous encounter with Jenkins, and Klaus was starting to lose his patience with him. 

Dave tore his gaze away from the horizon to look at him. He didn’t seem angry, per se, but he definitely wasn’t happy. He looked like a stern parent who was a second away from putting his misbehaving kid in timeout.

“You’re saying I look like a snack?” he tried to joke, but it sounded off even to his own ears. Klaus’s comment hadn’t been a compliment, and if his tone hadn’t been enough of a giveaway the way he was looking at him now cleared any doubt. His head was tilted upwards and towards the sky, as if asking his guardian angel why he had made him end up with Dave of all humans, and his eyes were closed under a frown. In one word, you could say he looked exasperated.

“I’m saying you’re acting like prey,” was the stiff reply, and Dave went back to watch over the bay. He knew that he wasn’t exactly a predator, not on the same level of Klaus at least, but getting called out on his pathetic behaviour still hurt, “You’re scared and you’re not doing anything to face that fear. You’re just hiding away hoping it will leave by its own accord, but it won’t,” he paused, his eyes softening a bit, “You need to snap out of it, otherwise it’s going to kill you- or I am.”

He wasn’t sure what Klaus expected him to do, but it definitely wasn’t to keep acting like a startled rabbit, because a week or so after that conversation he decided to take matters into his own hands, evidently fed up with the entire situation.

Dave was standing on the beach, his back to the lighthouse and his arms crossed in what Klaus liked to call the Micromanaging Meerkat Pose, when the merman himself suddenly made his grand appearance, looking downright done with everything and way too exposed to prying eyes for Dave’s liking.

Klaus nodded to his left in the general direction of the rowboat docked a dozen of meters away, his tired eyes not leaving Dave, “Get in the boat right now before I put you there myself.”

Dave raised both of his eyebrows, amused despite himself. They hadn’t gone on one of their usual trips and swims around the bay in quite a while, not with him so worried about everything at all times, and he could tell that Klaus missed it. He, too, missed it, but he was willing to sacrifice his own interests if it meant that Klaus was safe.

With that being said it didn’t mean that they spent the last couple of weeks holed up on the beach with nothing to do. On the contrary, they had spent a couple of afternoons at Klaus’s home- or nest, as he called it- just enjoying some quality time in the company of merpeople that either seemed to despise or tolerate his presence, depending on who you asked. It wasn’t the same as going for a swim or doing one of their underwater excursions, but it was still better than nothing.

“We’re bossy this morning, huh?” he replied, a nervous kind of humorous flirting he had seemed to have taken upon since what had been dubbed as the Harold Jenkins Accident. It was just a way to hide his emotions, better than admitting his fears and concerns out loud.

Klaus’s stern gaze didn’t subdue, although his tail twitched in annoyance. He didn’t bother to reply, he only made his way to the boat, crawling on the sand with that surprisingly quick way of his. With a last annoyed glance at Dave, he curled one hand around the side of the boat and- here Dave almost swooned in surprise- he pushed it forward and towards him until it was just a couple of feet away from him. He did so completely effortlessly, without even breaking a sweat or breathing harder, and Dave was reminded yet again of how much stronger than him he was. He could easily snap his neck in half if he so desired. He wasn’t sure whether he found that impressive or terrifying.

“Boat,” Klaus snapped, without much heat behind it- he only seemed monumentally annoyed with him, which was honestly fair. He would be annoyed at himself too, “Now.”

The tiny rabbit-like anxious voice in his head screamed at him to deny the request and keep on watching out for any potential danger, but the rest of his brain easily overrode it. 

He was tired. Really tired. Tired of jumping at every noise, tired of having to stand there like a scarecrow, tired of disappointing Klaus- all for one stupid guy who had spoken to him once and not shown his face again since (at least for now, the rabbit reminded him).

With a resigned but also relieved sigh, he reached for the boat, pushing it towards the water, and Klaus smiled. It wasn’t a full smile, the ones he would offer him usually, but it was still such an open and happy expression that all of his worries momentarily decided to give him a break. He couldn’t keep living in fear like that, he needed to take a breather, if not for him at least for Klaus.

“Where are we going?” he asked, suddenly feeling oddly awkward. He had spent so much time on the beach that now he wondered if going back to normality with Klaus would come naturally or if he would still be tormented by paranoia.

“You’ll see, just follow me,” was the quick reply before Klaus disappeared in the water and Dave was left to follow him, with a heavy heart and an oar for each hand. The merman didn’t poke his head of the water even once, only coming close to the surface to give directions, and it was almost too painful for him. It was just one of the many things that Jenkins had taken away from them, just swimming care-freely without fear, and it broke his heart.

It didn’t take long to reach their destination and nothing worrisome enough happened on the way there to make him chicken out of it, thankfully. The most eventful thing was when an older woman from the town, Mrs Peterson, the baker, spotted him from the distance and decided it was a good enough time to start a conversation with him. After the first moment of panic at hearing someone call his name Dave had immediately relaxed, remembering that the woman was incredibly nearsighted, and could only recognise him because she knew no one else was allowed in the bay but him. Still, it was a worrisome encounter, but for a completely different reason.

“You should come by the bakery more often, dear,” the woman happily shouted from up the hill, apparently not bothered by the distance between her and Dave, “I’m sure Lucy would love that, you guys seem to have so much in common.”

“Right, of course,” Dave laughed nervously, trying with all his might to not explain to Mrs Person exactly how little he and her daughter had in common, starting from but not stopping at their romantic preferences.

After the woman had gone on her way, which took longer than he was comfortable with, Klaus poked his head out of the water long enough to gesture him to the rocks and reef overlooking the sea, before diving back into the water.

With a quick whip of his tail, he swam towards the reef before disappearing seemingly into thin air. It was the entrance to a cave.

Dave’s heart made an odd flip at the realization that Klaus had chosen to bring him to a cave to stop him from worrying about who might be able to see them, and he wasn’t sure whether to feel touched or sad about it. Klaus never had any problem living his life carefreely, not feeling the need to hide like a mouse, and he hoped he wasn’t rubbing his own worries onto him.

After quickly tying his boat to one of the reefs- naturally only after checking that it wouldn’t disturb any animal life there, he was a biologist after all- he dove into the water, easily following Klaus. The cave’s entrance was narrow, almost claustrophobic, but nothing impossible to swim through and soon enough he found himself breaking the surface on the other side of the rock wall into a tiny cave. It was mostly submerged, only a reef stood out of the water in the middle of it, big enough to fit both him and Klaus, and it shone softly with the sun rays filtering through the few cracks and holes in its ceiling. It was picturesque.

Klaus was lounging on the dry rock, having absolutely no problem taking up as much space as it allowed him to, and Dave heaved himself on it with a huff, sitting down beside him. He was about to ask him why he had taken them there since there didn’t seem to be much to do in the cave but he beat him to it.

“Who’s Lucy?” he asked, tone oddly lacking any kind of inflection, and the question surprised him enough to turn around and look at him. One of his arms was behind his head, pillowing it, while the other was being held up to analyse his nails, making him look uninterested.

“Mrs Peterson’s daughter,” he replied, deciding to lie down next to Klaus. There was a hole in the rock just above their heads and he could see the sky through it and the few leaves growing around it, “She works at the bakery in town and has been trying to set me up with her for a while.”

“Oh,” came Klaus’s reply. Glancing at him, Dave tried to read his body language, something he had gotten increasingly good at, and could only guess that Klaus was either embarrassed or hiding something if his lowered gaze and twitching gills were of any indication, “And is it working?”

Dave almost burst out laughing at that. How do you explain homosexuality to a merman?

“Let’s just say she’s not my type,” he answered, trying to keep the amusement out of his voice. It didn’t work- he’s not sure what he was expecting when the merman had told him himself that he can guess pretty easily what he really thinks- and soon he found Klaus’s eyes looking up at him, wide and curious.

“What’s a type?” Klaus asked easily, letting the hand he had been inspecting until then fall on his stomach, and Dave almost choked. Like hell he was opening that can of worms with him.

“Something I am not explaining to you right now, that’s for sure,” Klaus seemed to be about to argue so he decided to redirect his attention, “Why are we here, of all places?"

The merman went back to staring up at the cave. He was too long to properly fit on the rock so half of his tail was in the water, moving in slow stirring motions, “It’s somewhere safe where nobody can see us, so you can chill out for a second,” and with that the annoyed tone he had dropped was back, calling him out on his behaviour, “And also a quiet place where we can talk.”

He suddenly sat up, and Dave felt his heart jump in his throat quite literally. A rant was coming, that much was obvious, and he avoided his gaze like a dog caught misbehaving. He knew he had let Klaus down but hearing him give him a detailed explanation as to how exactly he disappointed him was going to be tough.

Klaus turned around in his seat, looking at him where he was still laying down, and he prepared himself for the worse, hoping that at least his vulnerable position would make the merman take pity on him.

“You’re worrying me, Dave.”

Wait, what?

Dave blinked, looking up at Klaus. His mouth was pulled into a tight frown and he didn’t look annoyed anymore, he seemed exactly as he had said himself- worried. He hadn’t expected that.

“What do you mean I’m worrying you? We should be worried about-“

“Harold Jenkins, yes, you’ve mentioned,” Klaus looked a second away from reaching out and shaking Dave like a salt dispenser but his defeated tone was enough to achieve the same goal, “I don’t care for Harold Jenkins, he’s the last one of my problems. Right now what I’m concerned about is how much you’ve been hurting yourself for the past weeks.”

He opened his mouth again to argue, but something in Klaus’s expression stopped him. He looked at the merman- truly looked at him- noticing all the lines of tension that he had dismissed as annoyance until then. He looked weary, tired, but not the kind of tired that could go away with a good nap, and Dave’s brain connected the dots. He had mentioned something about merpeople being exceptionally empathic, but how much of it was to be taken literally?

“Klaus,” he breathed, sitting up quickly enough to get dizzy, “How much of what I feel do you feel, exactly?"

“Enough that sitting next to you when you’re anxious gives me a headache.”

Klaus’s tone was light and teasing, an obvious effort to try and lighten up the mood, to make Dave feel better, and he almost screamed.

Klaus could actually feel, literally, the turmoil of emotions he had been going through for the past weeks and he hadn’t even realized.

“Oh my god, I’m an asshole,” he breathed out, running his hands through his hair. He was the worst imaginable friend, for sure, “I hadn’t even realized it, I’m sorry-“

“What? No-“ Klaus shook his head, now looking more confused than exasperated. He reached out a hand to touch Dave’s arm, “Why are you apologizing? I’m saying this for you, not me, you dumbass, I want you to feel better.”

“You literally said I’m giving you a headache, even right now,” Dave whined, feeling like complete garbage, “I swear I didn’t know, I-“

“Okay, no, let’s start over,” Klaus shook his head and laid down again, and after pulling at Dave’s shirt he got him to lay down too, “When I say I can feel what you feel I don’t mean I share your same emotions, I’m not that emphatic,” he laughed to alleviate the tension and Dave offered a half-hearted smile in return, “That would be a mess, can you imagine?”

“What are you saying then?”

“Take it as a volume setting,” the merman suddenly raised his voice, as though struck by that example, and Dave frowned, trying to follow that train of thoughts, “You and me talking like this doesn’t bother anyone, does it? But turn up the volume and you’ll soon get a headache. That’s the same thing for me, only with emotions, in a way. I’m your very own megaphone.”

He smiled at that, this time for real, before sobering up again, “So what you’re saying is…”

“I can tell that you’re worried and anxious, and that worries me, too.”

His gaze wasn't accusatory or angry, he didn’t look mad that Dave was projecting his own feelings so strongly, albeit unknowingly. He simply looked genuinely concerned for him, the same way someone that cared about him would. For some reason, that knowledge made his heart ache, and he found himself looking down, no longer able to look Klaus in the eye.

“I never felt the need to hide, and I don’t want you to, either.”

He nodded, still not meeting his eyes, “I know I worry too much, but I swear I’ll try not to.”

Klaus hummed, apparently happy with that, “That’s my boy.”

He laughed, pulling a face at the weird term of endearment. Not worrying about things wasn’t his default mode, he was an over-thinker by nature, but he was willing to put an end to it if it meant Klaus was happy. Deep down, he wondered if that had been the merman’s plan all along, “I’m sorry out of all the possible humans you could’ve come across you ended up with me.”

Klaus shrugged, a little smile pulling at his lips. He reached over to scratch at Dave’s arm, peeling off the dried salt on the skin there, “Eh, I take what I can get.”

Dave half-heartedly shoved his hand away, smiling too widely to even pretend to be mad at him, “Speaking of which, how’s your study going?”

“What study?”

He frowned at the confusing reply, “You told me you wanted to study humans when we first met, remember?” they hadn’t talked about that topic again, now that he thought about it. Each of them asked their fair amount of questions from time to time, ranging from do you growl on purpose or is it an involuntary reaction? to why do you even have toes, what are they for? but they had never openly discussed it. He had taken notes, many notes, of everything he found peculiar or interesting about Klaus- notes that he would never show to another living soul, for more than one reason- and even made a couple of drawings from memory, but he had no idea if the merman had been keeping track too, “How is that going for you?”

“Oh, that,” Klaus finally looked up at him, apparently bored with peeling the salt off his arm, and offered him the most innocent expression he could muster. He just looked like he was high as a kite, “It’s not going. I lied about that, I never wanted to study humans.”

“What?” Dave frowned, confused. He must have been sporting the most dumbfounded expression ever because Klaus wiggled on the rock, turning to fully face him.

“This is going to sound nuts,” he started, and Dave sighed in automatic. Nothing good could come after such a start, “But I, uh… had a feeling. About you. A feeling that I needed to investigate. That’s why I wanted to see you again.”

“A feeling? Wait- why did you lie, though?” he turned on the rock, too, until they were facing each other, both of them on their sides. It looked and felt like they were confessing their secrets to one another at a sleepover, as long as you ignored the cave they were in, “Couldn’t you just say that? Why make up an excuse?”

“Ah, yes, because that would have gone wonderfully,” Klaus cleared his throat and started talking in a weird feebly voice, a clear parody of himself, “Excuse me, young man, would you mind if I stuck around watching you creepily until I figure out what this feeling I’m having means? No I don’t plan on attacking you like a wild animal again, why would you ask that?”

“Okay, first of all,” he held up a finger of his hand that wasn’t pressed to the rock, cutting off Klaus’s little monologue, “You need to stop beating yourself up over the cut thing, it’s been months, let it go.”

“You still have a scar!”

“That’s just how scars work, dumbass.”

“And coming from you! You’ve been acting like a paranoid meerkat for weeks now!”

Second of all,” he reached out to cover Klaus’s mouth with his hand and shut him up, manly ignoring when he tried to lick his palm, “What kind of feeling were you… well, feeling, exactly? Is it something that has to do with your weird merman superpowers?”

Klaus peeled his hand off his mouth, a smug Cheshire cat smirk adorning his face, “Weird merman superpowers. How very scientific of you,” Dave was about to argue with that but the words died in his mouth when the merman twined their fingers together- the non-licked ones, thankfully- and brought their joined hands under his chin, “But yes. It had something to do with that. I felt a… connection, I guess you could call it that. I felt a connection with you and needed to figure out what it meant. It was bugging me, so I just found an excuse to pursue it.”

“Right,” Dave cleared his throat, suddenly feeling uncomfortable. He didn’t know what it was that made him uneasy, what Klaus was saying or the way he was looking at him, but he felt oddly vulnerable, almost emotionally so. He didn’t like it, “What kind of connection are you talking about? Is it some other merman thing or do you have a term of comparison I could work with?”

Klaus shook his head, but his eyes betrayed him. Whatever it was, he knew exactly how to describe it, he just didn’t want to, for some reason, “I don’t know, and it’s not important. What’s important is that I figured it out, so it doesn’t matter anymore.”

“Oh?” he momentarily forgot about his odd evasion of the question, now curious again, “You did? What did you find out?”

Something flickered again in his eyes, this time too quick to catch, before that smug grin was back in place, “Now, why would I tell you and do the dirty work for you? You figure it out yourself.”

“What!” he laughed, and when Klaus turned around, ready to get back in the water, he reached for him, trying to pull him back, “You can’t say that and then leave me hanging like this! Klaus!”

“I’m not talking, you figure it out,” he let himself fall into the water, aware of Dave clinging to him and pulled him along with him.

“How am I supposed to figure out something that you feel? That’s unfair,” the merman gave a couple of swipes with his tail, evidently having had enough of the cave and wanting to leave, but he didn’t let go of his shoulders, purely to annoy him, “Can I at least get a hint?”

Klaus turned around, trying to peel off his hands, and laughed when he only clung tighter, koala style, “It’s not just a merman thing, you’ll eventually know what I’m talking about. Hopefully. The only advantage I have is that it took me less time to realize it.”

“Thanks to your weird merman superpowers?” Dave asked, letting go of Klaus. He didn’t let him float too far away, grabbing his arm with cool fingers to bring him back to him and his now affectionate smile.

“Precisely thanks to my weird merman superpowers.”

 


 

On Wednesdays, maybe not all Wednesdays but definitely most of them, he called his family.

It started as a casual occurrence, him calling his parents to make sure they were doing okay or his sister checking on his research, but over time it became a tradition. He usually only talked to his sister, the only one who was willing to have a conversation with him that went beyond the boring ‘so how’s the weather there like?’ his parents only seemed to be able to come up with, but he didn’t complain.

He was secretly glad, actually, that it was mostly his sister he spoke to, he pondered one of those Wednesdays, dialling their number as he hummed off-key to some random song he heard on the radio, probably one about being young and free and in love with a girl- nothing he could relate to.

Since his coming out- accidental coming out, he would like to point out, as his family found out he was gay solely because he hadn’t hidden his crush for the kid next door well enough for them to not notice- his parents had started acting weird with him. It had now been well over ten years since that day, so at this point he had to consider that behaviour the new normal for him, but he could still tell, after years, and with the hundreds of miles separating them, that they still hadn’t accepted it.

It hurt, that was for sure, it hurt to hear the stiff tone with which his father asked him anything related to his personal life, or how his mother carefully avoided asking him about his romantic relationships, but, sadly enough, he had gotten used to it. He had already done his part, although not voluntarily, there was nothing more he could do to talk his parents out of it, and he surely wasn't going to beat himself up over it- he had spent enough of his early teen years doing that, and it was enough for a lifetime.

So as he put the phone close to his ear he mused that it wasn't so weird to hope that his sister picked up instead of his parents. That was just how things were then. And when he found himself breathing out in relief when Laura’s cheerful tone filled his ears he didn’t feel guilty about it. Just another Wednesday like any other.

“Oh hey, Davey-poo, I was just thinking about you,” his sister immediately started talking his ear off, and he gladly welcomed it.

“I’m sure you were,” he replied, cleaning up the kitchen counter to sit on it. He could see the sea below from there, so it was his favourite spot in the lighthouse, “How are mum and dad? Are they there?”

There was a second of silence on the other line of what Dave assumed was Laura silently asking their parents if they wanted to come to the phone, and her waiting for their reply. If that was any other Wednesday, he already knew the answer.

“No, actually, they went out,” Laura said not long after, and anyone could have guessed she was making that up- she was never a good liar, “I’ll tell them you called, though.”

He let it slide, like he always did, wondering what kind of person he would be considered to be if he said that he didn’t feel sad or bummed about it.

The two of them easily talked for a good five minutes or so, Dave about his research and Laura about her saloon and her weird customer stories (of which she had hundreds, as any other hairstylist had, he guessed). It was lovely if he said so himself. He wished she was there with him, even if just for one conversation, to fill the silence and loneliness of the lighthouse at least for five minutes, and found himself not feeling as distraught about that wish as he usually would. Klaus’s presence in the past months had changed that, and he barely felt lonely anymore. He would thank him for it but he knew it would only get to his head, inflating his ego, and soon he found himself smiling like a lunatic thinking about his friend.

Like a psychic, or like any other sister, Laura finished her story about that one lady with the weird name that had showed up at her saloon with her whole head badly shaved clean and demanding that she fixed it, but before he could comment on it she went on to ask, “So how are things going with Klaus?”

His smile only widened at his mention, and he crossed his legs at the ankle, rocking them back and forth like a little boy. He had been careful not to mention anything about Klaus’s, well, species, but he had found it impossible not to talk about him to his sister, so now Laura thought that Klaus was a two-legged guy that liked to hang out around Dave, and he couldn't feel bad about the lie since it was pretty much the reality, extra limbs notwithstanding, “Oh, great. He’s great, we’re having lots of fun.”

“Mhmm,” Laura’s tone should have been enough of a warning, really, with how knowing and mischievous it sounded, but Dave still wasn’t prepared for when she casually asked, “So when are you banging him?”

Dave almost fell off the counter right there and then, “What?”

“You know, banging. Sleeping with. Having sex. Getting laid. Fu-“

“Yeah I know what that means, thank you very much,” he cut her off briskly, his face heating up in embarrassment. He thanked not only god but also Jesus for the privacy of the lighthouse because he was sure he was sporting the most comical blush in the history of sisters embarrassing their brothers, “Laura! We’re just friends!”

“Doesn’t sound like it, if I’m being honest,” there was some noises on the other side of the line followed with a tiny huff, so he guessed she must have sat down on the couch, or thrown herself on her bad. He hoped it was the second option, his parents didn’t need to have a heart attack over who Dave was allegedly sleeping with according to their daughter, “You keep talking about him and waxing poetry about him so I’m assuming you really like this Klaus guy.”

“I mean, yeah,” Dave didn’t have any problem admitting that he liked Klaus- he did. The guy was incredible. He was definitely his favourite person in the world, “He’s amazing. Can’t a man like another man without wanting to sleep with him? It’s 2019, Laura, come on.”

“Why are you getting all defensive on me? I’m just saying!” he could almost picture her, holding up her hands and acting all innocent and naive, “To be honest, I’m only asking because you’re making him out to be a lot like Matt.”

Dave froze, hand halfway to reaching for his cup of coffee near his leg. He dropped his arm immediately. That was new, “What?”

“You know, Matt, from next door. The guy dad caught you smooching when you were fifteen. He’s a doctor now, you know-“

“Yes, I know who Matt is, I remember that part of my childhood very vividly,” he rubbed a hand over his forehead, suddenly exhausted. God, his sister really put all of herself into her stories, “What do he and Klaus have in common, though?”

“From the way you describe him, it seems like this Klaus looks a lot like Matt. A twinkier version of Matt. And they both have green eyes.”

“Wh- no, they’re nothing alike, what even are you talking about?”

“I don’t know, maybe you just have a type,” his sister seemed to be on her own train of thought and he was barely keeping up with it, “Or your type has a type. I don’t judge, I support all of your hookups.”

“Klaus is not a hookup,” Dave hissed, offended that Laura would define him as such, “And they’re nothing alike. Matt’s eyes were more hazel-ish than green. Klaus’s eyes are four different shades of green all melted together but emerald would be the best way to describe them.”

“Been staring at his eyes much, huh?”

Laura,” he pulled at his curls, annoyed that his sister wouldn’t see his point and just reduce Klaus to be a copycat of one guy he had a crush on once when he was a teenager, “It’s not just that, he’s so much more. Klaus is amazing, he’s smart, he’s kind, he’s caring, he does this thing with his mouth when he’s thinking where he pulls a face for no reason and I’m sure he’s not aware of it but it’s so cute, and when he’s angry he’s unstoppable and he honestly kind of scares me- he’s stubborn, and a dumbass, and he’s so funny and adorable, but he’s also so vulnerable and I wish I could protect him and take him away somewhere where he will be safe and we’ll both be happy together, but I know I can’t so I just want to stay there with him for as long as he’ll have me and- oh.”

There was silence on the other side of the line as he took in everything he had said so far. He hadn’t meant to start rambling but he soon realized he had meant every single word that came out of his mouth, “Oh indeed, Dave.”

He took the phone away from his ear, biting his nails. It made sense, all of a sudden. Everything he had said out of frustration at his teasing sister had always been there, he had just never connected the dots and read them for what they truly were.

He already knew the feeling, he could recall it from fourteen years before, the first time he had ever encountered it, but he still found himself gasping as it took form in a fragile but hopeful thing.

Was… was he in love with Klaus?

“It certainly sounds like you are,” came Laura’s soft reply, all teasing gone from her tone, and he hadn’t even realized he had said that out loud.

“Fuck,” he pulled his hand away from his mouth, a few nails now slightly bleeding, and shoved it back up into his hair, pulling at it out of frustration.

He was in love with Klaus? Like, in love in love? Like the ‘I want to grow old together and die by your side’ type of in love? Was that why he always felt so breathless when he was with him, and how he wanted to do nothing but pull him closer, and fucking hell how was he realizing all of this just now?

“So I guess I am right, you do want to sleep with him.”

“Laura,” he choked out, his eyes suddenly itching. This was too much information to deal with right then. He needed to lie down, “What the fuck am I even supposed to do with this?”

“Just ask him out!” Laura’s helpful tip came from the other side and he almost laughed. Oh, if she only knew, “I’m sure he likes you back! It sounds like he does, anyway.”

“It’s not that easy, he’s-“ he paused, his mind trying to come up with an alternative to ‘he’s a merman and I’m a human’, and he winced at what he ended up with, “I’m not even sure he likes guys.”

As expected, his sister immediately went to reassure him that Klaus most definitely liked guys, especially considering that one time when Dave had gotten hurt and he had kissed the pain away, and it was really too much for Dave right then to think back at how Klaus’s lips had felt on his skin and how much he now craved to feel them again. 

A ten minutes Wednesday conversation with his sister and he was now a trembling gay mess. Great.

He somehow stumbled through the rest of the call, listening to all of his sister’s advice and thanking her for ruining his life by making him realize he was in love with his best friend, and once the phone clicked in his ear he sat there, staring off into the distance.

What was he supposed to do? Keep it for himself? Tell Klaus and risk his dignity and mental health to see if he felt the same? Run away to Mexico and start a new life as a shepherd named Juan who definitely didn’t fall in love with pretty mermen?

Straightening his back he took in a big breath. He knew exactly what he needed to do.

He marched to his bedroom, a tiny cramped thing improvised near one of the biggest windows of the lighthouse, and let himself fall face-first on his bed, muffling his manly screams of agony into his pillow.

Fuck.

Chapter Text

Living with the knowledge that he was in love with Klaus was surprisingly easier than he anticipated. His heart still threatened to beat out of his chest whenever he was near him and he missed him a ridiculous amount when he was alone, but that was nothing new. He had been feeling like that for months on end, he was used to it by that point.

For the couple of weeks following the Talk- with a capital t- that they had in that cave they started meeting up again, as often as they could but also careful to not attract any attention to themselves. A few times they decided to just spend the evening at Klaus’s home again, or by hanging out in one of the many caves the merman knew, but whenever they did it wasn’t out of fear, not anymore. Dave’s heart still beat faster whenever they were together, but he had stopped associating it with his anxiety for Harold Jenkins ages ago, and now fully knew it was purely because of Klaus’s presence.

So really, life couldn’t be going better. Or so he thought.

It was again a Friday morning- it was always Friday, he was starting to think it was just an unlucky day- that the universe decided to remind him that he wasn’t allowed to have good things in life and that he was destined to suffer through it. It might sound dramatic, even to Dave’s own ears, but it just wasn’t a good day.

He had just come back from the infamous farmer market, where fortunately nobody had bothered him with weirdly placed questions about merpeople, and just as he rounded the corner to the lighthouse he immediately noticed that something was wrong.

First of all, the gate was open. He always left it unlocked- didn’t really feel the need to latch it, he had nothing of value in the lighthouse apart from his research materials- but never wide open like it was now. It was as though somebody had opened it to enter but hadn’t cared enough to close it behind their back.

He looked up from the gate, squinting his eyes to better see the lighthouse, not too far away now, and found the answer to his questions. A car was parked below the lighthouse, just off of the side of the keeper’s suite, a car that he didn’t recognize- it wasn’t of his sister, his parents, or even his supervisor.

Call him paranoid, but that was enough to make all kinds of alarm bells and red flags go off in his head.

“Hello?” he called out, quickly making his way towards the lighthouse as his tote bag bounced under his arm. Something moved over one of the bushes near the house, and he wondered how he should approach the intruder- should he be stern? Angry? Confused? He had no idea, he was a marine biologist, he dealt with animals, not people. When a head poked out from over the bush, waving at him with too much friendliness, he immediately settled for angry.

“Oh hi there!” none other than Harold Jenkins himself sang out, rounding the corner to greet Dave, “Sorry about the intrusion, I thought you were home so I-“

“Decided to break into private property?” Dave finished for him, raising both of his eyebrows in disbelief. His heart was beating faster and faster with each passing second, thinking about what Jenkins wanted, how long he had been there, if- oh god, no no no no- if he had seen Klaus-

Jenkins held up his hands at that, a small awkward smile pulling at his lips as though trying to seem bashful and innocent. He had no idea why he was going for that ‘hey I’m just some quiet guy I’m doing nothing to nobody’ look he seemed to have incorporated into his personality but he was having none of it.

“Now, I know this seems bad, and I’m sorry, but I just thought of something you might be interested in and-“

Dave tried to compose himself and ignore the fake cheerful tone the other guy was using. The more he reacted the more he was going to seem suspicious. He needed to handle this with the calmest and most collected approach he could muster, as much as he wanted to just grab the guy by his ridiculous flannel lapels and drag him out of his home and away from anything remotely related to Klaus.

“Listen,” he breathed out, interrupting Jenkins' nonsense rambling that he had been ignoring for the most part, “You seem like a nice guy, you really do,” spending fifteen years in the closet really made him into a great liar and actor, he had to give himself that much credit, “But you can’t just break in here and act like you own the place. Nobody but me is authorized to be here and we could both end up in some real trouble if my boss finds out.”

That seemed to make Jenkins recoil, if his guilty expression was real and not another facade, “I’m sorry, you’re absolutely right, I’ll go,” Dave was naive enough to hope that was the end of it, but instead the guy just stepped closer to him, nodding toward his car, “But I found some nice surveillance recording equipment that we could maybe set up around the lighthouse and use to scout for mermaids, you know?”

And sure enough, Jenkins opened the trunk of his car, revealing what must have been at least ten security cameras huddled there together in a mess of wires as the guy pointed at them like they were the most fascinating sight in existence.

Dave almost threw up. That wasn’t some red flag or blaring bell, that was a whole orchestra of people banging pans and pots together and screaming ‘get this man the fuck out of here right now’ at the top of their lungs.

Stay calm. You need to stay calm.

As Jenkins rambled off about his idea and what they could achieve with it and how useful it could be Dave sighed, scrubbing a hand down his face. They didn’t pay him enough to deal with this crap.

“Listen,” he said again, cutting the other man off. He almost reached out to grab him by the shoulders but decided against it- he didn’t want to seem threatening and defensive, something that he could easily achieve considering how taller he was than him, although a deep part of him wished to do nothing more than to scare Jenkins off and away from him, a part that could weirdly relate to Klaus’s habit of growling at anything that could be a threat to him, “I get where you’re coming from, and it’s nice that you’re so passionate about this subject,” more like creepy as hell, “But I really, really need you to understand the amount of trouble I could end up in if you do anything like this. I could get fired and sent away if I decided to just do whatever I wanted, that’s now how this works.”

He wasn’t lying or exaggerating. He wasn’t some sort of freelancer that could do anything he wanted, all of his studies and researches were coordinated by his superiors, and if one of them found out that he had agreed with some random guy to set up security cameras around a private property that didn’t even belong to him- and to conduct an unauthorized study on a highly protected species, no less- he was never going to hear the end of it.

Jenkins seemed to sense the urgency in his tone because he immediately schooled his features, excitement leaving room for apprehension, “Sorry, I… shit, I didn’t even think about it. I’m sorry-“

Dave breathed out in relief as Jenkins closed the trunk of his car, awkwardly writhing his hands in obvious shame. Good, back off, “If I ever happen to end up studying merpeople I’ll tell you everything about them, I promise,” he said, good liar that he was, “But you have to let me do my job without interfering with it.”

That last point might have come off a bit too harsh even to his ears, but Jenkins didn’t react badly to it. He just nodded in understanding, an awkward smile pulling at his lips as a peace offering, “You’re right. My apologies again.”

Fortunately, he didn’t need to say anything more to prove his point; Jenkins seemed to have completely gotten it. He apologized again, and Dave brushed his obvious guilt off with as much conviction as he could, and breathed out a sigh of relief when he finally got in his car. He waved at him, wishing him a good day, and drove off with a final apology.

Dave watched him go for a while until he could not see him and his damned car anymore, and when he finally disappeared over a hill he sprinted, rounding the lighthouse in search for anything Jenkins might have planted before he had gotten there. He examined every squared inch of the house, tote bag forgotten on his doorstep, and he especially searched the bush Jenkins had appeared from, but he didn’t find anything. As much as he hated the idea of someone snooping around where he lived he was glad he had actually just been doing that- snooping, and nothing else.

Just as he was starting to calm down and regain a normal, healthy heartbeat he glanced at the sea down below and spotted a very familiar pair of eyes staring back at him with a concerned frown. He almost passed out on spot.

Running down the hill to the shore, skipping over the wet reef as quickly as he could without accidentally killing himself on them, he reached the shore with an almost panicked eye ranking over his friend, “Did he see you?”

Klaus didn’t look confused by the question, and his heart sunk. He swam up to him until he was close enough to sit on the reef as his eyes scanned him over with apprehension, as though he was the one they were supposed to be concerned for, “He didn’t, I hid as soon as I heard him park his car.”

Dave crouched down, hiding his face in his hands and trying to take into deep breathes and not do anything stupid like give himself a panic attack. He was okay, Klaus was okay, they were both okay. There was no need to lose his cool.

“Hey, it’s okay,” Klaus himself reminded him, scooting closer until he could nudge his hands with his head to make him look up at him, “He didn’t see me, he has no idea I’m here, it’s okay.”

For some reason that didn’t make the situation any better. Had Klaus not heard Jenkins coming, or had he gotten there at the wrong time, he would have been seen, and he had no idea what would have happened. The fact that he didn’t know what Jenkins wanted from him made it even worse, and he soon found himself tearing up.

He let himself fall down on the sand, not caring for the water that was now soaking his jeans. His laboured breaths were muffled against his hands but he could still hear Klaus’s low reassuring hums. He felt him shuffle closer until he could lean his forehead against him. In a matter of seconds, he unfurled his tail, protectively encircling Dave with it like he had done back at his nest what now felt like ages ago, and that was the last straw for him.

He looked down at it, letting his hands rest in his lap. If something happened to Klaus it was fully going to be his fault. He was reckless enough to still meet up with him even after everyone else had warned them it was going to end badly, and now that Jenkins had shown up again it felt like a hint he would have been stupid to ignore.

Maybe Klaus’s siblings were right, breaking off this… thing they had between them was the best choice, for Klaus’s sake.

Klaus seemed to sense what kind of turmoil was going on inside of him because he suddenly reached for his chin, turning his face towards him. His canines were peeking out from between his lips pulled into a half-snarl, his gills were slightly puffed out with anxiety, and Dave was reminded of exactly how inhuman Klaus was, and how much what they had would never work out.

“Hey, look at me,” the merman called him up to attention with a curt growl. When he spotted the unshed tears in his eyes he softened, replacing his sharp grip on his chin with both of his hands cupping his cheeks, “Stop that train of thoughts right now, I’m not going anywhere.”

“That's exactly the problem,” he murmured, not daring to speak any louder in fear of his voice breaking with emotion and stress and how could Klaus not see how dangerous this whole friendship was? Was he supposed to be the one to end it just to be sure he was going to be safe? He wasn’t sure he was strong enough to do it, “If something happened to you I would never forgive myself.”

Klaus offered him a sad lopsided smile at that. One of his hands left his face to run through his hair in soothing motions and he melted into the touch, hiding his face against his shoulder, hoping he could burrow himself close enough to Klaus to ignore the rest of the world, “It’s cute that you think I’m the one who needs protection,” he could tell he was trying to lighten the mood so he just snorted at the attempt, “If something happened to me it wouldn’t be the first time, and I would know how to get myself out of danger.”

Dave frowned, sitting up to look at the merman again, “Klaus, just because you have been hurt already doesn’t mean you have to purposefully put yourself in danger again. That’s mental.”

“It isn't if it’s worth it.”

His hand didn’t stop petting through Dave’s hair, and if you added it to the soft look he had in his eyes and what he had just said Dave felt like he could cry. How had he ended up falling in love with this idiot?

“There’s no way I’m stopping you, is there?” he went back to hide his face against Klaus’s neck and he made room for him, tilting his head to the side. He carefully avoided his gills- he loved him, but that was just gross- and let his hand wander until he found the long tip of his tail, grazing it with his finger. It was like touching the sharp end of a blade.

“Nope, not at all,” the merman’s tone was cheerful but it didn’t last. His hand moved away from his hair and to the back of his neck, massaging it almost reverently, and Dave arched into the touch like a cat, “You said it yourself, there are laws protecting my species, if someone decided to do something to me I wouldn’t be the one facing troubles,” his lips pulled into a smile against Dave’s forehead, “Besides, you would be there to protect me.”

He snorted again, “You’re putting way too much faith in me.”

Klaus beamed at him, happy to have lightened up his mood again. The fear and anxiety from the encounter with Jenkins didn’t dissipate, but he did feel more calm and relaxed. He might be feeling hopeless, but Klaus wasn’t, and his confidence was enough for both of them.

“Believe me, the only thing we should fear is a ‘told you so’ from my family, but that’s nothing I’m not already used to,” the merman reassured him, nudging him up until he could meet his eyes. The comfort and care he found him them settled his racing heart, “I’m not giving this up, Dave, and I don’t want you to feel like you have to."

He leaned forward until he could rest his forehead against Klaus’s. He might not trust other people or even himself but he trusted him with his life, so he decided to believe him. He just hoped it wasn’t the wrong choice to make.

 


 

“Why a kiss, specifically?”

He directed the question at the night sky, shining infinitely over him, and Klaus hummed in inquiry, floating just a couple of feet away from him. He swiped his tail lightly, just enough to get closer to him, and he saw one of his fins pop up in his field of vision.

“What do you mean?” his tone was soft, as though he didn’t want to ruin the mood, and he couldn’t agree more. They had been doing nothing but float in the not-so-shallow dark waters for a good hour, Dave starfished and looking up at the sky in contentment as Klaus lazily swam near him. 

After the Harold Jenkins Incident Number Two, Dave had been feeling on edge again- which surprised nobody, really- looking over his shoulder all the time, not only when Klaus was around, and the merman must’ve sensed his anxiety because a few days later he ended up suggesting to meet up at night instead of the broad daylight. Dave had been dubious at first, mostly because he found the sea to be terrifying during the day, he didn’t want to imagine how it must be at night, but after a bit of pushing, and after Klaus reminded him that as long as he was with him no sea creature would try to hurt him, they had finally decided to give it a go, and he had to admit it was the best choice he could've made.

There was just something reassuring about the calm sea at night, along with its inscrutable warm black water, and having Klaus, someone he cared so deeply about- and was not scared of admitting it- just made it all the better. It was like their little private moment in time, somewhere they didn’t need to worry about anything or anybody. He quite loved it.

“I mean-“ he let his legs fall back into the water, leaving the sight of the night sky in favour of looking Klaus in the eye. It was hard, since it was too dark to properly see, but the merman easily swam up to him, all curious eyes shining under the moonlight, and he wondered not for the first time that night if he could see in the dark, “Why is it that you have to kiss someone to turn them? Why a kiss?”

Klaus pondered it for a moment, glancing up at the full moon. He didn’t move away from Dave and when his tail brushed against his calves he shivered, “I guess it’s symbolic,” he settled on, ”Kissing is a very human way of displaying affection, so it would make sense to make it have such great importance.”

Dave frowned at that. It wasn’t the answer he would have expected, “You mean merpeople don’t kiss?” at Klaus’s shrug and disagreeing hum he frowned even more, “But how do you-“

He let the sentence die out, realizing how stupid it was. But how do you express affection? Not only was that a very close-minded way to look at it, but it was also plain ridiculous. All throughout his life people had constantly shown him love in other ways that didn’t include mere kissing, let it be his mother asking him to send her a text to let her know when he got home late at night, or his sister sending him cute pictures of marine animals every time she found some online.

Hell, even Klaus himself had shown him affection in his odd inhuman ways, humming happily whenever he saw him or kissing his cuts and bruises away.

The merman seemed to have sensed his inner turmoil because he swam even closer until they were just a few inches away from being chest to chest. Had it been morning he would’ve been able to count Klaus’s eyelashes, “We do have something that can be considered the equivalent of human kisses,” he paused, looking unsure, “I already showed you, actually.”

Dave must’ve looked dumbfounded, at least half as dumbfounded as he felt, because Klaus laughed lightly at his expression, making him blush, “You- you did?”

For a second both of them were quiet, just kind of staring at each other. Klaus had a slightly eerie look on his face, and before Dave could ask him about it he bridged the distance between them. He tentatively curled his arms around him, moving slowly as though waiting for him to bolt, and Dave was suddenly very grateful that he was wearing a t-shirt along with his swimming trunks or he would’ve collapsed the second Klaus’s chest touched his own. Unfortunately for him, though, no t-shirt could have prepared for the sudden closeness of the merman’s face, and he couldn’t help the little gasp that left him. They really went zero to fifty real fast.

Klaus pulled away at the gasp, his arms loosening around his back and waist, and Dave instinctively reached out to pull him back. Had it been anyone else he would’ve been floored with embarrassment, but the merman only perked up, evidently happy to have his touch reciprocated.

Then, with a quick intake, Klaus leaned forward, until he could let his forehead rest against Dave’s temple. As Dave’s hands tightened on his shoulders his eyelashes fluttered against his skin, hot breath coming out in little puffs, and Dave was suddenly reminded of the last time he had done that, what felt like ages ago. It had been at his family’s nest, with Klaus curled all around him protectively, and now, as he held him between his arms and imperceptibly swayed them back and forth in the water, Dave felt as protected and cared for.

Klaus pulled back, just enough to be able to look at each other in the eye again, and Dave breathed out shakily, “So you… you just kissed me?”

Had he had a human cardiovascular system he was sure Klaus would have blushed furiously at that. Instead, he tried to hide his face from Dave, tucking it into the water for a second and making him laugh, “Yeah, pretty much.”

Dave only laughed more at his squeaky tone, and nudged Klaus’s head up again, enough to lean forward himself. With their foreheads pressed like they were, he could see all of the different shades of green dancing in his eyes. He quickly fluttered his eyelashes, reciprocating the merman’s kiss, and he gasped, as though shocked by it, even though he had been the one initiating it.

“We actually have something like it too,” he murmured, too comfortable to lean back again and away from Klaus. If the merman’s tightened arms around him were anything to go by, he wasn’t bothered by it, “We call it butterfly kisses.”

“That’s pretty cute,” Klaus murmured back. His tail brushed against his leg again and when he reciprocated the brush his breath itched, “I- I thought you showed romantic affection only through mouth kisses.”

All of his nerves shot up to attention and Klaus himself straightened up, realizing what he had just said. Romantic affection. Klaus, in his own odd and over-explained way, was showing him romantic affection, and probably had been since that day at the cave.

He was legitimately freaking out at the new information- he had only started to accept that he was in love with Klaus, and apparently his love might actually be reciprocated? It was too much- and by the looks of it, Klaus was too, so he just did what any reasonable human being would do.

With all of the confidence he had never had, he smiled softly at the merman, “Well, I guess you still have a lot to learn,” and fighting against the urge to instantaneously combust on spot he let one of his hands wander up until he could cup Klaus’s cheek, and before he could chicken out of it he leaned forward, kissing the corner of his mouth.

He was careful not to touch his mouth, just letting his lips rest on Klaus’s cheek for a moment, and when the merman gasped, loudly, he let them spread into a smile.

When he pulled back he was met by a pair of surprised green eyes, looking right back at him with as much awe and fondness and surprise as they could handle, and he suddenly inexplicably felt his eyes itch with tears.

“Oh,” Klaus breathed out, his tail twitching just enough to keep them both upright above the water, and he imperceptibly leaned further into Dave’s touch on his cheek.

Then, as though that night wasn’t already full of surprises, he slowly but surely started glowing.

Dave laughed, marvelling at the sight before him. Soft blue lights were starting to emanate from under Klaus’s skin, a perfect example of bioluminescence, and the most beautiful if you asked him. The light followed tiny geometrical patterns all around his skin. Sharp sure lines were drawn over his tail, some curled around his ribs and fins, and- probably Dave’s favourite sight in existence- two little symmetrical strokes were drawn just under his eyes, as though wanting to frame their colour. It slightly hurt his head to watch, but he couldn’t stop, ranking his eyes over the figure before him, “I didn’t know you could do that.”

Klaus met his gaze, looking as surprised as he was, “I didn’t, either,” he pulled away from Dave enough to look down at his own chest, marvelling at the lights there, but he refused to pull out of the embrace, “I think- I’m pretty sure I’m blushing. You made me blush."

In retrospect, it was something odd to get so emotional over, but Dave suddenly felt like his heart could burst out of his ribcage. 

God, he loved him.

“You,” he reached out to cup both of his hands around Klaus’s cheeks, and the merman looked like Christmas had come early, “Are fucking amazing, you know that?” he kissed his nose, peppering little kisses all over his skin with each word, “Beautiful,” his forehead, “Wonderful,” his jaw, “Breathtaking,” the nape of his neck.

Klaus only blushed more at the praises, light becoming brighter and brighter with each compliment, and once Dave was done it was his turn to cup his cheeks, looking solemnly at him.

When he kissed him, right where his neck met his jaw, he felt like his soul transcended that realm and found its rightful place in the universe. He wanted more of it, already feeling like a drowning man when Klaus pulled back, and when he opened his eyes again- he hadn’t even realized he had closed them- he found him already staring at him.

His eyes, so bright and beautiful, were now slightly darker than before, and they were analysing every inch of his face, as though trying to memorize it, and then- as though Dave’s stomach wasn’t already a quivering mess as it was- he glanced down at his lips. It must’ve been an unconscious gesture if the sheepish expression he offered him immediately after was any indication, but that doesn't mean he still didn’t feel like kneeling over because of it.

Huddled close to Klaus as he was, their breath mingling into a single one, he thought over all the reasons why this was a bad idea, and why he definitely, positively, most certainly, shouldn’t be kissing him right there and then.

First of all- Dave nodded internally at that, he liked bullet points, they made it easier to try and ignore the tantalizing sight of Klaus’s mouth in front of him- they had never really talked about it. They actually have never talked about their now obviously reciprocated feelings for each other, to be completely honest. There was no doubt that they were there, they were almost tangible with how strong they were, it was suffocating, but he had never even told Klaus, out loud, ‘hey, I actually wouldn’t mind spending the rest of my life with you’.

To be fair, he had never really admitted it to himself, either, so he suddenly found himself at a loss of breath. Not the smartest decision to take right at the moment. That’s one point on the ‘let’s not kiss the beautiful merman in my arms’ list.

Second of all-

Klaus let out an annoyed whine, it sounded almost pained, and it was obvious he was going through some internal fight of his own. When he leaned forward again to rest his forehead on Dave’s, his lips still too dangerously close to be entirely comfortable with, he completely forgot his line of thoughts.

Why hadn’t he kissed him already, again? There must’ve been a serious reason for it, he couldn’t quite remember it now...

“You’re thinking about it too, aren’t you?” the merman murmured, his voice suddenly so low and soft it took Dave aback for a second. He didn’t have time to smartly ask ‘thinking about what?’ like the idiot he was because one of Klaus’s hands sneaked away from his shoulder and made its way up to his chin. Cupping his cheek, he let his thumb caress Dave’s bottom lip, and his traitorous mouth slightly opened at the pressure, making Klaus breathe out in a soft laugh.

His metaphorical inner self scrapped the bullet point list and threw it in the gutter, muffling his very manly gay screams in his metaphorical hands.

“Have been thinking about it for a while, actually.”

He had no idea where that sudden confidence came from, but listen- and pardon the French- fuck it. What did he have to lose, exactly? His dignity? He hadn’t heard from that old thing in a good decade or so. Klaus was obviously on the same page as him, and if he was in even half the pain he was in right then, struggling to not just pull him closer and kiss him silly, he pitied him, honestly. They only had to gain from this.

The thumb that had been absently caressing his lips stilled and the merman looked starstruck for a second. Then the soft, open expression from before came back, “Me too.”

He moved, and for a wonderful second Dave thought he was finally going to kiss him, and he braced himself, closing his eyes and probably looking like a total idiot, but next thing he knew Klaus’s face was burrowed in his neck, his arms tight around him in the most tender hug he had ever received.

He hugged him back, obviously, and let his head rest on Klaus’s temple. The merman sighed, almost sadly, swaying them from side to side slowly to the tune of a song only him could hear. He felt so fragile in his arms, none of his hard apex predator facade sweeping through that warm embrace, and he suddenly wished they could just be as they were, without any obstacle between them, imagining how good it must be to keep him close to his heart without a care in the world, knowing nothing could get through them.

One day. Not now, but one day.

 


 

After they had pulled themselves together and neither of them felt like they were about to combust with love anymore, and Dave felt like he could walk again without kissing the merman- that had thankfully stopped glowing in the dark like a Christmas tree- they made their way back to the shore.

Dave went to pull his arms away from Klaus to swim back, but the merman only tightened his hold on him with a playful growl, “Relax, I got you.”

Part of him was terrified of how the situation might turn out, remembering in oh too clear details the nightmare ‘lift’ Diego and Allison had given him, pulling him along with them like a rag doll, but his concerns immediately turned out to be unfounded because all Klaus did was keep the embrace going as his tail lazily swiped at the dark sea, propelling them forward like a small rowboat made of nothing but the two of them hugging.

It was so peaceful he accidentally nodded off with his head safely tucked against Klaus’s shoulder, and he woke up only when they reached the shore.

When he came back to his senses he found himself laying flat on his back on the sand, calm warm waves washing up to his arms and his eyes still turned upwards towards the night sky. He felt a weight on his chest and a much lighter touch on his face, and he was so comfortable it took him a while to realize that Klaus was draped over him, chest pressed to his own, tail between his legs, and a curious finger tracing random lines on his face. He wondered if he was connecting the moles and freckles there, and he found himself smiling, gazing up at the guy. Klaus smiled back, looking at peace with himself.

“You snore, did you know that?” his voice was almost a whisper, as if he still didn’t want to disturb his impromptu nap, and he didn’t stop touching his face, going over his nose, his cheekbones, his eyebrows, then back again at his nose, “It’s cute. You sound like a tiny bear,” his jaw, his bottom lip, then the top too, “Not that I know anything about bears, but I would assume they’re cute since that’s what my mum sometimes calls Diego.”

Dave laughed, more at the ticklish feeling on his skin rather than what Klaus was saying, and let his own hands wander. He reached down to touch the merman’s tail, just at his side, smiling at the sandpaper texture of it, “Do you snore?”

Klaus frowned down at him adorably, “I doubt I could underwater, but I guess you’ll have to see for yourself.”

He couldn’t help but hold his breath in anticipation at the implications that sentence left the door open for, not even his sleepy brain was too slow to pick up on it, and Klaus smiled softly.

His hands stilled on his face, at either side of his cheeks, and as the moon framed the picture over his head he leaned down, softly kissing him on the cheek, right over his now beloved scar. He was close enough that Dave managed to give him a butterfly kiss while he was there.

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” he promised him, looking like it was taking him everything to pull himself away from Dave, but after a second of hesitation he slipped away, leaving a cold spot on Dave’s chest where he had been until now.

He sighed like the love-struck idiot that he was as he watched him go, tail flicking under the moonlight, taking a piece of his heart along with him. 

Chapter Text

The next day he woke up to shouts coming through his open window. He immediately bolted up in his bed, his still fuzzy mind jumping to attention at the unusual noise, and almost passed out on the spot with the sudden movement.

He had been living at the lighthouse for long enough to realize that what he was hearing, an indiscernible number of men yelling things he could not make out, was not normal, and most likely a bad sign. Memories of Harold Jenkins sneaking into the property to look for mermaids flashed before his still sleepy eyes and he jumped out of bed, already putting on the first random clothes he got his hands on. It was definitely a bad sign.

Not bothering to stop and fix his sleep-rumpled hair and look presentable he ran out of the house, only having enough good sense to put some shoes on, and off he was chasing down the shouting like a mad dog. As soon as the cold air of the morning hit him like a rude wake-up call he started actually processing what was going on and his heart jumped up a good dozen of beats per minute. He had no idea what was happening or what the screaming was all about, but he prayed to god or whatever damned deity looked over him that it wasn’t Jenkins again and please, please don’t let it be Klaus.

In a matter of seconds, he reached the edge of the cliff, just twenty or so feet over the sea line, and he almost threw up right then and there. Down below, writhing on the sand and thrashing against the net he was caught in, was Five, and not too far away was Klaus, in the same predicament as his sibling.

All around them were four or so men he didn't recognise, all trying to restrain them but not really managing to- one was obviously scared of Klaus and his lashing tail and he almost pitied the poor bastard- and directing them all through shouts and yells, just a couple of meters away from the mess, was Harold Jenkins.

Saying that Dave saw red would have been a euphemism. As he sprinted down the steps that lead to the beach he was pretty sure that had he been a different person he would have been one hundred per cent ready to kill the guy on spot. A part of him wasn’t entirely sure he wasn’t that kind of person.

“What the fuck are you all doing here?” he shouted as soon as he reached the shore, and everyone ceased all motions. He scanned the people in front of him with a wild eye, aware but not remotely caring of his messy bed hair, and tried to keep all sorts of recognition from his gaze as he looked down at Klaus concernedly. Play dumb, do not let them know.

“Dave! Here you are!” Jenkins greeted him, cheerfully, opening his arms as though welcoming an old friend, and Dave was livid. Just as he started weighting the chances of him punching the man square in the face and making it out of there alive with both mermen, Five sprang up, surprising everyone near him. The man that had been holding him yelped at the sudden movement, and only jumped back when the merman growled at him in an animalistic way, and when someone tried to step up and keep a hold on him it was Klaus’s turn to jump. As his little brother slithered out of his trap, snapping and swiping his tail at anyone who dared approach, Klaus just kept the other men busy, ensuring his sibling’s escape but dooming his own fate. 

It all happened too quickly for Dave to react but soon he was stepping forward, fighting against the urge to reach for Klaus and make sure he was safe and okay and away from this hellish situation.

This is just a nightmare, it must be, it can’t be happening-

“Fuck,” one of the men swore as he dumbly looked at where Five had been just one second before, watching the water ripple almost in fascination, “We lost the small one.”

“It’s okay, one is enough,” Jenkins reassured him with a wave of his hand as the two other men struggled to keep Klaus still, “Just make sure it doesn’t escape.”

The merman’s inhuman growls were muffled against the sand as one of the men pressed his knee into his back with a firm hold on both his wrists and Dave felt like he was a second or two away from going on a murderous rampage.

“I give you all one chance to explain what the fuck you’re doing on my property and leave by your own accord before I call the cops,” he warned Jenkins, trying with every ounce of his being to not outright growl at him. Klaus seemed to be taking his spare anger because he only kept fighting against his restraints, strong grey tail struggling to whip out as one guy kept it down with his full weight.

“Dave, relax, it’s all cool,” Jenkins reached out to put a hand on his shoulder and this time he couldn’t not react. His arms reached up, grabbing it and tossing it to the side, and the other guy seemed dumbfounded for a second, “Hey, we’re all friends here, I’m trying to help you.”

“What part of ‘do not interfere with my work’ was too hard to understand?” he snapped, curling his hands into fists. On one hand it made it easier to control his rage, but on the other hand, he was ready to punch the ever-living shit out of that guy, "Have you got any idea of the amount of trouble you will get in for this?"

I know, but listen! Listen!” this time Jenkins didn’t reach out, only held up his hands as a peace offering, “I have this deal with this woman- no, no, listen! It’s good. She pays me to find her merpeople and if you want to help we’ll do 50/50 on it, okay?”

What?” he yelled, which made Jenkins jump in surprise. He stepped closer, not even trying to act as murderous as he felt, at that point, but the guy still stepped back in apprehension. Good, you should be scared, “Are you out of your mind?”

“It’s okay! She doesn’t want to hurt them, just use them as some sort of attraction or something, it’s good!”

“That is not, as a matter of fact, good at all, Harold,” he couldn’t believe his eyes. All this time Jenkins had been nagging him and making him stay up at night in fear of what he had in store for Klaus and it was all for, what, a mermaid Sea World? That was his devilish plan? That was seriously why he had Klaus roughly held down by three whole men? “You’re out of your mind. I’m calling the police.“

He went to reach for his phone, which he thankfully had the good sense to grab and stuff in his pockets on his mad rush out of the house, but before he could the fourth unnamed man working with Jenkins that had just been standing there silently for all that time grabbed his wrist with surprisingly quick reflexes, stopping him.

And if you were to ask him, out of pure curiosity, or for the sake of the plot of the disgrace that was his life, to pint point the exact moment when it all truly chaotically went to shit, that was it.

Completely out of the blue, Klaus stopped fighting against the men holding him and turned his full attention to the fourth one of them, standing there dead in his tracks with his hand around Dave's wrist. With wild eyes that made him look borderline rabid but that at the same time were scarily calm he looked right in his eyes; his teeth were completely bared, lips pulled back to show off his sharp meat-tearing canines, and the sound that escaped his mouth could have been described as a growl out of habit but it wasn’t anything remotely like it. It was something deep and primordial that resonated through Dave’s whole being and made him lower his eyes before he even knew what he was doing.

Had he not known what kind of person Klaus was he would have honestly been utterly terrified of him.

The man beside him seemed to be because he immediately let go of Dave’s arm, stepping back in fear. Klaus’s gaze didn’t soften, it just followed him with murderous rage as the men keeping him still looked on, seeming just as scared.

Jenkins, on the other hand, didn’t seem as affected as the others were. Sure, he was visibly shaken too, it was impossible not to be when you had one of the world’s deadliest creatures in front of you growling in all its animalistic rage, but his eyes were now dancing quickly between Klaus, Dave, and the man that had touched Dave.

Then, they widened in understanding, connecting the dots much quicker that Dave would have expected from him, and in that moment he knew they were really fucked.

“Oh,” he breathed out, barely audible over Klaus’s ongoing snarls, “That’s- yeah that does make sense, actually.”

“What the hell are you on, now?” Dave snapped, trying to seem unaffected by the situation and play dumb, but even he knew it was too late.

“You know each other, don’t you?” Jenkins beamed, as though it was the best news ever, and he looked slightly maniacal for a good second, “Aw, look at it, going all protective over you. This is, this is honestly amazing.”

He sighed, a smile that could only be described as evil pulling at the corner of his lips, and Dave felt sick to his stomach. The skittish part of his brain screamed at him to get out of there, Jenkins now knew that he had been lying to him all that time and there was no telling what he might do with that information, but he refused to leave Klaus, "It’ll be so much easier this way. You’ll save us a lot of time, dear Dave.”

He didn’t have time to ask what that was supposed to mean because in a matter of seconds Jenkins moved his gaze to something over his shoulder, nodding once. Before he could turn around something hit him over the head, hard, and everything faded to black.

Chapter Text

A pounding headache was what welcomed him back to consciousness, and as he slowly became more and more aware of his surroundings he grimaced in pain. A low rumbling sound could be heard filling the space around him and travelling through his body in slow waves that in any other circumstance would have been soothing. He didn’t have time to elaborate that information because soon he hissed, the pain from his head coming back in full force on the back of his skull. He lifted a hand to rub at the sore spot where the man had unceremoniously hit him but something stopped it. It barely made it halfway before it got stuck around his chest, restrained by something, and he blinked his eyes open, trying to assess the situation as they fought to focus.

The first thing he saw was Klaus, sitting right in front of him, and looking the gloomiest he had ever been. His immediate reaction was to call for him, ask him what was going on and if he was okay, but once the figures beside him came into focus he chocked on his words. Two men were standing directly behind him, one holding onto the leash around his neck and the other worrying with his tail, and a third one stood not too far away, leaning against a corner and looking like he wanted to be anywhere but there, and his fuzzy brain slowly but surely recognized him. What was his name again? Howard? Harold?

Like whiplash, the sequence of misfortunes that had led them to that moment all came back to him at once, and he sat up on instinct, grimacing when he felt himself being restrained against the ground. He looked down at himself, confused, and widened his eyes when he was met with chains tying up his wrists and legs. His ankles were also tied to a small but heavy-looking anchor, and he found himself looking up towards Klaus, confusion and a bit of fear evident in his gaze. Klaus only met his eyes briefly before he curtly shook his head, a small quick motion that would have passed unseen to anyone else.

Don’t freak out. Don’t panic. Don’t give them what they want.

“Hello, David.”

The soft voice startled him and he looked up again, his head pounding with the motion. A woman was standing just a couple of feet away from them, close enough for it to be a wonder how he hadn’t seen her immediately, and although he was still confused and had no idea what was going on his first thought was, huh, that is unusual.

She was wearing all black, and that included a fancy veiled hat she had placed on her white hair. With a hand, she reached up to pull the veil back but that didn’t make her appearance any more clear since she was also wearing some of the biggest sunglasses Dave had ever seen. He was fairly sure he had never seen her in his life- it seemed kind of hard to forget stumbling across someone like that- so she definitely couldn’t be from the town.

He spared a quick glance at Klaus from the corner of his eyes and he found him staring off into the distance with absolutely no care at all for the woman. The fact that he had completely given up fighting against his capturers was concerning.

Dave’s fuzzy brain decided that that was the perfect moment to connect a couple of dots or so together and he tried to sit up as best as he could once he realized that a, he was on the deck of a small ship, b, he and Klaus had been kidnapped by Harold Jenkins and his gang, and c, this was most likely the woman behind all of it. Completely ignoring his pain and current tied-up situation, the anger and annoyance he had felt on the beach before someone had oh so kindly knocked him unconscious came back in all of its force and he found himself frowning up at the woman, trying to mask his pained expression as well as he could.

“Don’t you ‘hello David’ me,” he snapped back, fully sitting up so that he could better shoot daggers at everyone in the room. Tied up as he was there was no way he could stand up or even move on his own, so he jiggled one of his feet for good measure, “Mind explaining what the hell is this?”

“Oh, that is just precaution,” the woman replied, cheerfully and matter-of-factly, like kidnapping someone and tying them to an anchor on a boat was just routine for her, “You and your friend seem to be particularly slippery and I need you to stay still for a moment, just enough to…” she made a vague motion with her hand, looking like she was having a casual conversation over a cup of tea in someone’s fancy living room rather than on a smelly ship, “Talk business.”

Klaus looked up at that, pure hatred visible in his eyes regardless of his still neutral expression, and Dave stumbled for something to stall with. They had to get out of that situation and they had to do it quick,” Friend?” he glanced at the merman, making a show of looking confused, hoping it would sell, “The fish?”

The woman giggled, a terrifying sound that made his very bones shiver, “Aw, you have pet names for each other,” her tone was obviously mocking but Dave and Klaus still frowned at her at the same time, almost fully coordinated, “It’s okay, I know you two know each other,” she pointed at the two of them with a glove-covered index and Dave wondered if this was just how she always dressed and she had just a closet full of the same black outfit for each day of the year or if the villainous look was reserved just for them, “You can stop pretending.”

“Right, of course,” Dave quickly dismissed her, eyes jumping wildly around the deck in search of something that might help them escape. There was hope that Five might look for Klaus’s siblings and come to rescue them but he didn’t want to base their plan around a mere possibility- and to be fully honest, he didn’t want any more mermen near this woman, “Silly me. I can’t wait to talk business with you, miss…”

“Oh, we aren't friends enough to be on first-name basis,” the woman laughed when Dave nodded at her in search of a word to associate to her dislikeable presence, as though she hadn’t referred to him with his non-shortened name first chance she got, “You can call me the Handler.”

Yeah, because that wasn’t ominous or anything.

“Right,” Dave pressed his lips together, trying to express through his facial features just how much he already had enough of this Handler, “As I said, I can’t wait to talk business with you, so if you would be so kind to-“ he shook his hands in her general direction, making the chain jiggle with him, and the woman just shook her head, almost patronizingly.

“Oh no, you’re misinterpreting my words,” the handler took one step forward, enough to point at Klaus but not enough to be in the area of reach of his nails and teeth. It didn’t stop the merman from glaring at her, though, “It’s him I want to talk business with, not you,” her gaze moved from Dave’s face to his chains and his anchor- or at least, he guessed it did- and she seemed to smirk a bit to herself, “You’re here for leverage, let’s say.”

“Leverage?” Dave repeated, sounding dumb even to his own ears, and instead of answering the woman took another step forward, towards him this time. She finally took off her glasses and pocketed them, and he wasn’t too surprised to find a pair of cold emotionless eyes behind them. She wasn’t looking at him, her gaze was intently fixed on Klaus, and it didn’t move even when she reached out a hand to touch Dave’s head. He tried to move away from the odd and unexpected touch but she persisted, eyes trained on Klaus’s now tense jaw and set shoulders, and a metaphorical light bulb went off in Dave’s head.

Oh. Oh, fuck.

Klaus was carefully avoiding looking at him, preferring to have a staredown with the Handler, and Dave realized with a sorrow sense of dread that whatever those people wanted from Klaus, they were going to try and get it by using him.

“Now that we’re all together and awake, let’s have a little chat,” the Handler kept touching his head but she did so very clinically. There was no discernable intention behind the gesture other than annoying Klaus, and if he knew anything about the merman and his body language, it seemed to be working, “Let’s start from the basis. What’s your name, dear?”

Klaus’s answer was a glare, and the Handler clicked her tongue in disapproval, “Now, there’s no reason to be rude, come on.”

Jenkins shifted in the corner, evidently uncomfortable with the whole situation, and Dave fixed him up with a hatred-filled gaze for good measure. He immediately lowered his eyes and stopped moving.

“You’re already up to three felonies, Harold,” he informed him, tone as glacial as one who had just been kidnapped could possess, “Prison is not going to be a good look on you.”

“Don’t try to scare my collaborators off like that, Mr Katz,” the Handler lightly hit him on the back of the head, not strong enough to hurt but still sudden enough to surprise him, and Klaus seemed to be surprised too if the sudden growl that filled the dock was anything to go by. It was louder than the soft waves that kept hitting the side of the ship and the woman laughed, clapping her hands at him as though it was the best news ever.

“Ah, I see we’re getting somewhere,” she went back to touching Dave’s head, this time more intently, and smiled almost maniacally down at Klaus, “Help me out and I’ll make sure that doesn't happen again.”

“What are you even trying to accomplish here?” Dave huffed, pulling his head away from the woman’s reach and sitting up straighter. One of her so-called collaborators hissed something at him, probably a warning to stay still or else, but he ignored the voice, “You think he’s going to talk if you pet me aggressively enough?”

“Oh, David,” she tutted, and he was starting to get nauseated at the way she rolled his name around her tongue, “You’re a man of science, I know you can get there yourself. You see, as someone who has always loved these creatures-“

“Loved them so much you want to cage them up for your entertainment-“

Another light hit on the back of his head, but this time Klaus kept himself back from reacting, “Hush now, where was I? Ah yes, as someone who has always loved these creatures, I consider myself to know quite a lot about them, more than what is common knowledge, for sure,” she started walking around the dock, staring off into the sea as everyone’s eyes followed her, and Dave took a breath now that he was nowhere near her spidery hands. She suddenly turned around, staring straight at him with those cold eyes of hers, and she smiled “Are you familiar with animals that mate for life, David?”

He frowned, confused by the question, “What is this, who wants to be a millionaire?”

“It will be if you comply,” was the sweet reply, before the Handler went back to her business voice, “Animals that mate for life, as I’m sure you know but are too stubborn to say, are species that have only one companion through their life until their death. Pretty romantic, don’t you reckon?” she looked for approval from the others in the room as if this was an interactive biology lesson and her collaborators made various sounds of bored or confused agreement, “Well, mermaid and mermen are the same-“

“Just say merpeople, that’s just tacky.”

She suddenly came to a halt beside him, and for a second he thought she was going to hit him again or call him out for his snarky remarks, but she only smiled once again. It was starting to get creepy, “I might be wrong, I admit I’m not omniscient, but I think that’s exactly the occurrence that we’re having here with you two.”

There were a good ten seconds of silence as she probably waited for the shoe to drop. Dave only frowned at her, “Pardon?”, he looked at Klaus for help but found him staring down at the floorboards of the dock, not meeting his eyes.

“You heard me,” the Handler’s voice suddenly changed pitch. It wasn’t cheerful nor the polite infomercial-like voice she had used to talk about her mermaid knowledge, it was deliberate, “Early on the beach, before dear old Harold decided to bring you to me, your merman here tried to protect you when those bad, bad guys touched you,” she leaned forward until she was leaning on her knees with her hands, too close for Dave’s likes but he refused to back down, “No merperson would ever do that to a random human they don’t know so I think,” she poked him in the chest, hard enough to bend her nail a little, “That you, Mr Katz, are this merman’s mate.”

He looked at Klaus again, expecting him to deny what the Handler had just said and look annoyed at her, but what he found in his eyes, those big green eyes he loved so much, was just guilt and shame. The look was quickly gone, and Klaus went back to glare at the woman, this time with more heat than before, but it was enough to constrict Dave’s chest and make it hard to breathe.

If it was true, and Klaus’s heartbreaking expression told him that it was, if he was truly Klaus’s mate, what in human terms he would assume is the love of his life, then the Handler had them in the palm of her hand.

As though reading his mind, the Handler straightened up, an infuriatingly satisfied smile adorning her face, “And chances are, this merman, like any other merperson, would do anything for his mate. Now let’s go back to business.”

Without taking her eyes off of Klaus she held out a hand for one of the men standing nearby, and he obediently set a knife in them. It was a tiny little thing, not enough to stab someone with but surely enough to make them bleed if used wisely, and the entire mood on the dock changed drastically.

“Whoa whoa whoa, what the hell?” Harold practically squeaked, holding his hands up as if he was the one in danger of being hurt, or worse. The men holding Klaus seemed nervous too, the one holding the leash around his neck tightened his hold on it, but Dave had absolutely no empathy for any of them.

“I swear to god if you Philip Swift me-“

“I don’t know who that is nor am I talking to you, David, read the room,” the Handler shot back, curter than anything she had said so far, before she smiled again that creepy smile of hers down at Klaus, who now looked seconds away from snapping her neck in half. His gills were puffed out and heaving with his laboured breaths and his teeth were poking out from under his upper lip, “Let’s do this again. What is your name?”

All she got as an answer was a quick whip of Klaus’s tail, enough to make the man holding it flail wildly to keep it down. It wasn’t strong enough to hit or hurt anybody, it was a warning.

“Very well,” the Handler deadpanned, completely unfazed. She looked back at Dave, sizing him and his glaring eyes up, and smirked. She moved back a bit until she was right beside him, and Klaus’s posture only became tenser, “Where are your brothers and sisters?”

She absently started playing with the knife, maybe to intimidate Klaus or maybe out of boredom, and Dave realized with a flip of his heart that whatever she planned to do next with that knife was not going to turn out well for him- and it was all to make Klaus talk. He curtly shook his head at him, knowing he was out of the Handler’s line of sight, and Klaus glanced at him briefly. The same pained expression was there again.

“These are white floorboards, do we really have to do this?” the Handler sighed, as though legitimately bored with the interrogation, and moved behind Dave. He couldn't see what she was doing but before he could react a hand grabbed his hair, pulling his head back, and the blade of the knife was pressed to his throat.

“What the fuck-“

“Jesus Christ-“

“Ma’am, I don’t think that’s necessary-“

“My patience isn’t infinite, dear,” the Handler informed Klaus, completely ignoring the distressed commotion that was going through her crew. He had no idea exactly how much this whole plan of kidnapping marine life was important for her but if she was truly willing to assault or possibly kill someone over it then he guessed it was very important, “Where are they?”

Dave closed his eyes, trying to breathe through the fear that was now sweeping through his veins and pounding against the knife’s blade. Logically, he knew the Handler wasn’t going to kill him, not yet at least. He was of no use to her as a dead man, no way Klaus would decide to cooperate once she had let him bleed out in front of his eyes, so whatever she had in store it wasn’t going to be fatal for him. That didn’t mean that he wasn't fucking terrified.

He opened his eyes and searched for Klaus’s, finding him already staring back at him. Trying to seem as calm and collected as possible, he shook his head again, just once, jaw tightened with tension.

If you cave in and put your siblings in danger just for me I’m going to kick your scaly ass, he thought vehemently, hoping that Klaus would get at least a whiff of the determination and pure hatred for the woman he was feeling right then.

He couldn’t be sure whether it worked or not, but when Klaus took his eyes off of him to size up the Handler his expression completely changed. He didn’t look scared or nervous anymore. He wasn’t even threatening her with teeth, growls and whatnot. He was completely and fully impassive, a mask of neutrality washing over his face. One might mistake it as him giving up and surrendering, but Dave knew him. He didn’t look like the Handler had won. He looked like he was one hundred per cent ready to tear her arteries out one by one if she tried to do anything to hurt him. Even with a knife pressed to his throat, he had to admit it made his heart falter pleasantly.

The Handler tilted her head to the side, and probably cocked an eyebrow, since she most definitely was the kind of person to be able to do that impeccably, and breathed out with a quick laugh, “No? Alright then, let’s set up a ticking clock, shall we?”

Her hand moved on his neck before she pulled completely away, and for a second he thought she had just decided to change strategy. The relief didn’t last long, though, because once she took her hand off his head and he was able to look down again he was greeted with the most nightmarish sight he had ever witnessed. Warm blood was slowly dripping down his front, darkening his shirt and jeans, and he gasped, reaching up both hands to cover the large cut that was now openly bleeding.

She did it, she literally slit my throat, he thought, his mind racing wildly as the pain from the cut was finally registered by his shocked brain. He let himself fall back on the floor, shaky hands pressing on his neck as much as he could without choking himself, I’m going to die.

You’re not going to die, the more logical part of his brain spoke out, almost unheard over the alarm bells going off in his mind. Dumbly, as if his brain was stumbling through all the survival knowledge he had stored and just threw the first one he could find at him, he remembered a true-crime documentary he had seen ages before, about how the sight and fear of your own blood will actually make you bleed to death quicker, so he took in a shaky breath and looked up at the ceiling, trying to think straight, She knows Klaus will not cooperate if she kills you, whatever she just did is not going to be fatal, chill the fuck out.

He nodded to himself, repeating not fatal not fatal not fatal over and over in an effort to calm down. If he made it out alive he was going to punch the ever-living shit out of everyone involved in this plan.

Vaguely, he registered some voices in the background, sounding like they were coming from the bottom of a well. The handler saying that now Klaus had up to ten minutes before Dave bled to death (that sounded like useful information, didn’t it? He should probably jot it down) before one of the men screamed in horror, letting something fall down in shock- probably Klaus's chains- and then chaos. He tried to look up through the tears flooding his eyes but before he could something- or rather, someone- knocked him against the floor again.

“Hey it’s okay, it’s okay, you’re fine,” the blur above him that was Klaus said, swaying in and out of focus as he shakily pulled his hands away from his slash. It took a bit of effort, since he had a death spasm-like grip on his neck and was still too in shock to be fully aware of what was going on, but once the merman managed to pry his hands away he tilted his head back against the dock to give him space to frantically suture up the cut with his lips, leaving quick trembling kisses all over his neck. He kept murmuring soft words of reassurance like we’re going to make it out of here don’t worry and please Dave stay with me don’t pass out and once he realized that he wasn’t bleeding anymore he gasped, breathing in the salty air of the ocean.

“You look like a nightmare,” was the first thing his brain incoherently came up with as he took in the sight of Klaus above him. His face was smeared in blood like some freaky vampire from a horror novel. To an outside witness, he probably looked like he had just ripped Dave’s neck open with his bare teeth instead of doing the exact opposite.

“I can assure you you don’t look any better,” Klaus pointed out, a hand running over his neck soothingly but without a doubt to assess that the cut had fully closed. He then looked around the deck nervously, as though expecting someone to jump out on them at any moment, and Dave realized that they were alone, “I managed to scare them away but they will be back at any moment, we have to go.”

As if he had heard him, a man suddenly appeared from around the corner, and Dave vaguely realized that he was holding a weapon before Klaus cut in his line of sight, holding himself up defensively with his arms over Dave’s prone figure and practically screeching at the man. He couldn’t see his face from where he was but he could bet that he looked absolutely terrifying.

“What the fuck,” the man actually screamed, scrambling back to where he came from. Klaus looked like he was about to follow him and tear him apart so Dave sat up, pulling at his shoulder to get him back to the present.

“Not that I don’t appreciate this protective alpha stance you got going on,” he joked, because listen, he literally almost died and there was no guarantee that they were going to make it out alive, if he didn’t joke he was going to have a breakdown, “But as you say, we have to go,” Klaus shook his head, teeth still bared in anger but now fully focused on Dave, “I need to get out of this thing, can you break it open?”

The merman immediately reached for the chain still tied around his wrists and with a quick snap he broke him free. When he moved to the chain around his ankles, however, the one that was evidently much thicker and sturdier, he didn’t tear it off as easily, heaving as his hands shook over the rings of the chain. After a minute or so of effort, Klaus stopped, looking defeated and even angrier than before.

“I can’t,” he tried another time, but still with no result, and he growled in frustration, “They sedated me before they got me here, I’m still too weak to break it.”

“I’m sorry, you were sedated?” Dave half-yelled, his current predicament momentarily forgotten. He wasn’t sure if he had the stomach to actually kill the handler but he was surely starting to feel it.

“Dave, she almost killed you, how does that even surprise you at this point?"

Realizing there was no point in even trying to get rid of the chain, Dave shakily stood up. He moved his feet a little, loosely tied up to one another in a way that allowed him to shakily walk, and with a bit of effort the anchor followed the movement. He could improvise until they figured something out, “Come on, we need to get to the cockpit and call for help.”

Without waiting for Klaus’s reply he leaned down and scooped him up against his chest, adrenaline fuelling him forward. His tail was way too long to be held up too so it just kind of hung down to the side but Klaus didn’t complain, only grabbed onto Dave tight- probably tighter than entirely necessary, but he didn’t blame him- and looked over his shoulders like an owl, scanning the area for danger. Part of him wanted to just throw him overboard and get him to safety in the water but he knew that the bastard would only scramble back onto the ship, refusing to leave him- and to be honest, he had to admit he'd do the exact same thing were the roles reversed.

They made it up to the closest door on the dock, one that with some luck might have led to the cockpit, when it swung open by itself, startling them. He stopped in his tracks, Klaus still held against his chest, and straightened up as best as he could to face whoever it was. Klaus let out a low rumbling growl before the figure even stepped out in the light, so it wasn’t hard to guess who it was.

“I have to say, that’s impressive,” the Handler sang out, walking out of the shadows and towards them with a small smile on her face. Klaus’s growls only intensified when he spotted the gun she was holding, but thankfully she didn’t step any further towards them, “Out of all the phenomena I’ve observed in merpeople I had never seen or heard of their regenerative powers, that’s truly something.”

Her tone was honest, like she was legitimately impressed, but at that point, with fresh blood drying on his neck and an anchor tied to his feet, Dave would have given anything to not hear it again, “Let us go and I won’t press charges against you.”

“Charges?” the Handler laughed again, but he could barely hear it over Klaus’s growls, “Darling, you have no idea how much power I have in my hands, a charge or two wouldn’t change anything,” slowly and deliberately she held up her gun, pointing it right at him, and he tried not to stiffen at the threat, just to not give her the satisfaction, “You can’t go anywhere, you’ll drown in no time with that fun little thing attached to you, and I’m sure not letting you go anywhere,” her sweet smile turned malicious, and although she didn’t move at all he suddenly felt like she was too close, and needed her to back away at least a couple of steps, “You’ll tell me where his siblings are or I-“

Klaus lashed out, whipping his tail up so quickly Dave almost lost his balance with the motion. The Handler herself seemed surprised by the action, and for a moment she just stood there, dumbfounded. Then, as the blood started dripping down her cheek she reached out a hand, touching the cut that had just opened on her face. What Klaus had given him the very first time they met paled in comparison to the size of the cut, running from the handler’s temple to her chin in a precise oblique pattern. The first one had been an accident; this was a deliberate warning for something worse to come. Soon the blood clumped around the opening became too much to hold itself together and started falling down from her chin and jaw and it was only when one droplet hit the wooden floor that time seemed to set itself back again.

“If you even try to lay a finger on him again I will rip you open myself and make you watch,” Klaus said in a low and perfectly neutral tone. His English was impeccable, a mockery of the Handler’s previous request to hear him speak, and he had ceased all sorts of growling and fidgeting. Had he been a tiger, this would have probably been the few seconds before he pounced on his prey.

The Handler blinked, realizing what had just happened, and with a quick and almost imperceptible shake of her head, she regained her composure. Her smile was completely gone and she seemed to be fully ignoring the ongoing bleeding on her cheek, “Very well, have it your way.”

Dave braced for the impact, already turning around to put himself between Klaus and the Handler, but before she could pull the trigger something hit the ship and the three of them lost their balance with the impact. The Handler managed to keep herself upright, only reaching up a hand to quickly fix her hair while keeping a sharp eye on the two of them, while Dave- still tied up and with a rowdy merman in his arms- fell to the side, only avoiding hitting his head on the floor thanks to Klaus’s quick reflex. He immediately sat up, thinking that maybe they had carelessly hit a reef or even a beach and that someone might decide to come to rescue them, but looking around he found nothing that could have caused the impact.

“What was that?” the Handler asked, and from her tone Dave supposed she wasn’t actually expecting an answer from them. After she found her composure again she lifted her arm back up, already aiming at Dave, but stopped halfway when her eyes fell on Klaus. Her gaze was so transfixed Dave suddenly wanted to put himself between Klaus and the Handler again to protect him from her prying eyes, but when he looked down at him too he realized what had stopped her.

Klaus’s eyes were wide, his head tilted to the side as though listening to something, and his tail was twitching. The Handler looked like she had just won the lottery,

“They’re here, aren’t they?” she laughed, looking straight up maniacal. The ship shook a second time, enough to snap Klaus out of the weird trance he was in, but she didn't look remotely affected, “All that effort to try and find them and then they show up themselves, this is-“

Something jumped out of the water and onto the ship, and before any of them could react a tentacle shot out and curled itself around the Handler’s wrist, keeping her armed hand still.

“You guys need any help?” none other than Ben smirked, fully aware of being the knight in shining armour of the moment. His eyes quickly scanned over the two of them, pausing just enough to widen at the sight of Dave’s blood-soaked skin and shirt before they relaxed again when he realized he was okay, and without giving them time to reply he looked back at the Handler, sizing her up with unfamiliarly cold eyes. The Handler was still smiling maniacally, somehow still convinced that the events were in her favour, but she soon was forced to change her mind when Ben snapped her wrist to the side without warning, making her drop the weapon with a shout.

“We have to go,” Dave warned a joyous Klaus, picking him up again with a grunt as more and more of the merman’s siblings filled the ship: Allison fighting one of the men that had captured Klaus, Diego crawling after a terrified Jenkins, Five reaching for the gun as Ben wrestled the Handler- it was literal chaos. He barely made it two steps before the ship shook again and he was thrown to the side, hitting the floor quite ungracefully but still managing to keep Klaus unharmed, “The cockpit should be nearby, we just have to-“

“Forget the cockpit, we need to get this thing off of you,” Klaus quickly scrambled off of him and reached for his chain, trying in vain to break it open. The happiness for his siblings' arrival had quickly worn off and now he looked terrified, “Luther and Vanya will sink the ship in no time, we have to get you out of here.”

“Sink the ship?” Dave dumbly asked, barely audible over the ongoing chaos. Someone ran by them screaming, a slithering Allison on their heels, “Why would they- do they want to drown them?“

The ship shook once more, and this time a loud metallic noise accompanied the motion. Either he was getting light-headed or it was also starting to tilt to the side.

“Not drown, just give them something bigger to worry about than trying to get us. It’s the only way to get out of here unharmed and undetected,” Klaus quickly explained, his face crumpled with effort and he tried with all his might to break the chain open. When it still didn't work he looked around wildly, trying to attract any of his siblings’ attention over the noise of the fight, “Ben! Ben, I need help here, Dave is tied up, he can’t swim like this- Diego, I-“

“Klaus,” Dave called out, wildly pointing at the other side of the deck. The ship was definitely starting to tilt to the side, quicker than anything he had ever seen, and water was now filling the deck. Klaus paled when he followed his line of sight, his screams only getting more desperate as Dave started hyperventilating. He found the nearest rail and clung to it, fully knowing that it was going to be useless but still unable to fight his instinct.

“Luther, stop! He’s tied up, he will drown!” Klaus screamed desperately, his hands clenched around Dave’s shoulders as he called out to his sibling, but it was too late. With a final blow, the ship was overturned, and Dave only had a moment to breathe in one last time before he was pulled under the water.

The anchor’s weight immediately dragged him down, the movement so quick and unexpected that Klaus even lost his grip on him- his hands were literally snatched away by the movement, he was sure he left some marks on his shoulder- and soon he was plummeting towards the ocean floor, his feet still tied up and the rest of his body hopelessly following along. 

As he fell further and further into the dark sea, his ears ringing and hurting with the change of pressure and Klaus hopelessly swimming after him with outstretched hands, Dave very clearly realized- this was it. This was how he died.

He was too heavy to be lifted up and towards the surface, and Klaus was still too weak to try and save him in any way, so unless a miracle happened this was really it. Dave Katz, the marine biologist, was going to drown because he had fallen in love with a sea creature.

The anchor finally hit the bottom and he swayed with the sudden violent motion. Everything around him was dark and getting darker with each passing second, and without giving his surrounding a second glance he immediately reached down, trying against all hopes to untie himself. Klaus was soon there with him, pulling desperately at the chain and the anchor with growing despair. He could faintly hear his screams over the white noise in his ears as he called for his siblings for someone to please help them, but he knew it was useless. He was going to die in less than a minute and Klaus was going to be forced to watch the light leave his eyes. It was the end.

Letting go of his ties he looked down at the merman, at his anguished face as he angrily shook the chain in a frenzy, as if it would magically break if he wished hard enough.

Or was it?

With slowed down movements he reached down to touch Klaus’s shoulder, and the merman immediately looked up. Although they were underwater he could clearly see tears starting to pool in his green eyes- god he loved those eyes so much- and he instinctively clung to him, pulling at his shoulders with growing need. He abandoned what he had been doing, probably realizing himself that it was useless and that they were truly hopeless, and pulled himself up until he was face to face with Dave.

It took one look at him for his face to completely crumble in emotion, green eyes not leaving his as though wanting to memorize as many details about him as he could as he mouthed I’m sorry and I can’t do it and I love you. Dave reached out to cup his cheeks in his hands and despite the ticking clock in his head and lungs, he couldn't help but marvel and how well they fit together.

Klaus was openly crying now, still refusing to close his eyes as Dave held him, and he reached his own hands up to wrap around Dave’s wrists to keep them there and press them closer on his skin. Dave sneaked one of his hands away to trail them lower until he could touch his mouth. He deliberately ran his thumb over his bottom lip before he met his eyes again, and he found Klaus already looking at him, bewildered. 

He went to pull away from his touch, surprised, but he kept him where he was, desperate for the small contact for those that were hopefully not going to be his last moments on this planet.

I want this, he mouthed, less smoothly than Klaus, but if the merman’s even more crumpled eyes were anything to go by he definitely understood him. And I’m not saying that just because I’m about to die, he thought after, hoping that Klaus could tell anyway.

He didn’t need to be told twice. Slowly, as though they had all the time in the world, Klaus moved closer, until their breaths would have mingled together had they been above the surface. He searched his eyes one last time as a hand came up to cup his neck, looking for a sign of confirmation, and Dave simply nodded, covering his hand with his own. That’s all he needed to close the gap between them and kiss him.

Whatever he had thought kissing Klaus was going to be like held no comparison to the real thing. Maybe it was the adrenaline, maybe it was the near-death experience, maybe it was the prospect of a new life with Klaus that was clouding his mind, but he wouldn’t have been lying if he said that it was the best kiss he had ever experienced. Klaus held him like he was something precious that needed protecting, and in his own way he assumed he was, and when his tail curled around one of his legs, a protective reminder of how much he cared for him, he felt right at home.

Sooner than he would’ve wanted Klaus pulled back, and he blinked to find him looking at him almost reverently through half-lidded eyes. He didn’t need any prodding to make him kiss him again, and as Dave marvelled at how well his top lip fit between Klaus’s lips he dove a hand between the merman’s swaying curls, pulling him as close as physically possible without becoming one person.

When his lungs started to burn with the need for oxygen he instinctively pulled away to gasp against Klaus’s mouth and for a moment he swore he could actually breathe. Then, the harsh reality of his death came crashing down on him and water filled his lungs, snatching his last breath away from him with the violence only nature could possess.

His body convulsed as it tried to cling to the last crumb of oxygen it had left but Klaus only pulled him closer, arms tight around him and uncaring of his jerking movements. A soft melody filled his ears, a not so empty consolation as he chocked in the one thing he had dedicated his entire life to, and as he slowly faded from existence it never ceased.

 


 

The first thing he became aware of as the world slowly unfurled around him was the solid body he was pressed against. His skin almost burned with over-sensitivity but the cool skin under his cheek and around his back was comforting in a way he wasn’t sure he had words to describe.

The second thing he registered was the voice. A melodic voice filled his ears and its owner sang the sweetest tune he had ever heard, and he vaguely realized that it was much clearer than before. It wasn’t like hearing something from behind a glass wall, it was clear and proud and he was sure he could never get enough of it. He could spend all day- hell, all of his life- right there, between those arms, with that sweet voice singing to him so softly, and he would have considered himself the luckiest man on earth.

Alas, all good things eventually come to an end, and so did the soft tune, albeit a bit suddenly. What replaced it was a low growl, a warning noise, and as the arms tightened protectively around him Dave thought, yeah, this is nice.

“Relax, it’s just me,” a new voice said, its tone reassuring but hesitant. The growling stopped and the tune was back. Distantly, Dave realized that he knew that voice, too, but he didn’t find it as pleasing, “You did it. I mean, you really did it. I knew you were fully gone for this human but damn, Klaus. I’m impressed.”

The arms stiffened, and after a second their owner leaned his cheek against his head and yes, this is very nice.

“I’m sorry I wasn’t there to help,” the new voice said when there was no answer. Its owner sounded sad now, legitimately sad, and Dave frowned. Nothing about this was sad, “I know it’s useless to say this now but I truly am.”

“Leave it to Diego to swoop in and save the day,” Dave spoke up, sarcastic but harmless teasing trying to lighten the odd gloomy mood. Or well, he tried to speak up. His voice was rough, for some reason, and his throat itched, as though it was filled with salt, and his head was still pressed against the nice voice’s owner’s neck so he mostly mumbled against the skin there. It didn’t matter, because the owner shivered at the vibration of his voice and that was also very nice.

“You’re awake,” Klaus softly observed, pulling away enough to look at him. His voice sounded curious but his tone was obviously concerned, and possibly scared, and it was enough to make Dave blink his eyes open. Soft green eyes met his, scanning his face and probably looking for some sight of harm or discomfort and murmuring words of reassurance of it’s all okay, nothing will hurt you anymore, I promise and Dave dumbly thought, you have no idea how happy I am that you’re the first thing I see.

He slowly lifted his hands, his movements not as hard as they used to be underwater, and cupped Klaus’s face with them. The merman immediately stopped talking, his eyes comically big and his mouth closing with a loud click, and Dave would have giggled at the sight if he still had the vocal range to, “I am,” he reverently rubbed his thumb against Klaus’s cheek and the merman looked like he was about to implode, or squeal, or both, “You saved my life.”

Apparently, that was not the right thing to say because the merman’s face crumbled and he looked away, shame clouding his features. That was not nice at all, “I’m sorry,” he choked out, sounding like he was on the verge of crying, and Dave almost pulled him back to his chest to shield him from everything and everyone, but he held himself back. A literal life-changing event had just happened, they needed to talk it out, “I never should have put you in a situation where you were forced to turn, that was fucking horrible I don’t even know how to earn your forgiveness, I’m so so-“

“Hold on there, now,” Dave cupped Klaus’s cheeks again to keep him in place, struggling to work with so many new stimuli and senses. That didn’t stop the tears from gathering in his eyes and he quickly tried to fix the misunderstanding, “You didn’t force me to do anything, I wanted this. I’ve wanted this for too long to not be embarrassed about.”

That seemed to calm Klaus’s tempestuous emotions but the shame didn’t leave his eyes, “But you never said anything! I know we both flirted about it the other night- oh god yesterday, it was just yesterday- but we never really talked about it and we didn’t even have time to consider it, it was a literal life or death situation and-“

“Wait,” Dave suddenly leaned back, hands dropping from Klaus’s cheeks as his heart clenched with hurt, a sentence away from completely breaking, “Do you… do you not want this?”

Shame left room for an almost patronizing look, “Were you not paying attention while they were torturing you up there? The Handler might be a crazy motherfucker but she was right- you’re my literal soulmate, Dave."

“Then that’s all I need to know.”

Klaus didn’t seem happy with that so he persisted, “But you never said-“

“I also never said that I love you but that doesn’t mean it’s not true,” he easily pointed out, and the merman immediately shut up, just like a tv turned to mute.

“You… you do?” he hesitantly whispered, looking like Dave held the key to his happiness in his hands, and he probably did. He would’ve laughed with how cheesy this whole situation was if the merman didn’t look a second away from just starting to sob.

“Klaus, I would die for you,” he tapped his throat and winked, referring to both his respiratory system that had stopped working not too long ago and the scar that now adorned his neck and perfectly matched Klaus’s own scar from oh so long ago, “Literally.”

The merman looked like he wanted to punch him, and he prepared for a blow.

“I really want to kiss you right now.”

Or maybe not.

He took just one second to glance to the side and make sure that Diego wasn’t watching- he wasn’t, he had swum over to his other siblings nearby and they were talking about things Dave most definitely didn’t care about at the moment- before he landed back in and embraced Klaus. He was still wearing his long-sleeved shirt and not being able to fully feel Klaus’s skin against his own almost made him pull back to tear it off, but once their lips met he completely forgot about anything and anyone else besides the one tucked safely in his arms.

Maybe it was his new enhanced senses or perhaps the fact that now the water wasn’t an obstacle to his movements, but somehow this kiss was even better than the first one. He let his hands wander around Klaus’s ribs and his back until he could pull him closer and the other merman hummed, a pleased sound that ran from his mouth into his veins. Scrap that, this kiss was literal heaven on earth, and he was willing to give up everything if it meant he could stay in that moment for the rest of his life. Absently, he realized that he already had.

He managed to hold back the squeal that threatened to escape his mouth when Klaus ran his hands up his chest, over his neck and into his curls, but when he opened his mouth to deepen the kiss his knees buckled under him. Was this how Klaus always felt? How did he even manage to get things done?

He didn’t get to ask him that because he soon realized that his knees did not, as a matter of fact, buckle. Something else did.

“Holy sh-“ he breathed out against Klaus’s mouth, pulling back to look down. He didn’t break the embrace, didn't think he was physically able to just yet- he had just died, he was allowed to be a bit clingy, okay?- and when the merman realized what had gotten him so shocked all of a sudden he moved to his side, arm around his shoulder in a casual and domestic manner, and he chuckled, “That’s-“

“Yup, a tail,” Klaus confirmed for him, as though the long blue tail that stood proudly where his legs once were didn’t already speak for itself, “Kinda comes with the package since you’re, you know, a merman now.”

It was the first time either of them had said the word aloud and it made Dave shiver. A merman. He was a merman, just like Klaus. A merman that could apparently shift back to his original human form, but still one that could live the rest of his life with the man he loved. Who happened to be his literal soulmate. It was a lot to take in for just one man with one heart. 

Trying not to tear up, he held his tail out, admiring it, chuckling when Klaus held his own tail out too and curled its tip around Dave’s. Small dots were scattered all around the dark scales in precise geometrical patterns and even though the sun rays barely reached them they were as bright as day, “It’s- I’m like a whale shark.”

Klaus hummed, still busy looking down at their tails. It didn't take long to realize that he was comparing their sizes, like a normal boyfriend would have done with their hands, “Yes, love. You are a marine biologist after all.”

Dave pulled Klaus back close to him and he went willingly, abandoning his previous task to look up at him. He had never seen him look so openly carefree, “I love whale sharks,” he breathed out, then immediately sobered up, "I love you.”

If he sounded ridiculous- which he probably did, he felt exhilarating and like he was floating, there was too much to take in- Klaus didn't seem to mind. He only beamed, literally beamed, showing all of his sharp teeth, and when Dave mimicked him he realized that he hadn’t inherited that trait, “You’ve mentioned. I love you too,” the merman’s gaze fell down to just around his neck, and he nodded at it, “Since we’re in a time of revelations and you don’t seem very observant, you should know that you also have gills now.”

He had figured, but now that Klaus had acknowledged it he found himself breathing heavily, deliberately measuring every manual breath he took, marvelling at how it felt to be breathing through his gills and not his nose, and Klaus giggled, probably enjoying how ridiculous he looked. He didn't reach out to touch them, though. He still found them gross.

Their presence reminded him of the very first time he had seen Klaus’s gills, that time at the beach so long ago, when he had leaned his neck to the side to give Dave permission to get closer to him and free him from the net he had been caught into, so he made eye contact with him and tilted his head, baring his neck. He hadn’t fully grasped what he was conveying with this kind of body language, but it was clear that it was an important display of trust because Klaus’s breath faltered, and quicker than he could fully see he was in his arms again, hugging him like someone might take him away from him again.

“I love you,” he murmured against his neck as he peppered tiny reverent kisses all over his skin, showing extra care for the new scar on his neck.

Dave chuckled. He nuzzled the side of Klaus’s head until he could find his temple and fluttered his lashes, leaving a butterfly kiss there, “You’ve mentioned.”

Someone softly cleared their throat nearby and the two of them reluctantly broke the embrace. They didn't let go of each other, though, still keeping a firm hold of each other’s hand between them, but Klaus’s siblings, now in front of them, didn't seem to mind.

“We need to go,” Ben informed them, having a really hard time trying not to grin at them. It was obvious he was gleeful- hell, even the others seemed happy to see them alive and together- and didn't seem to mind showing it to his brother, “It’s not safe here, and Dave is still healing from turning, the sooner we get home the better.”

Klaus nodded, and as his brothers and sisters started swimming away he turned to Dave. The mischievous glint in his eyes was familiar. It looked like home, “Come on, you have a lot to learn."