The sunlight slowly dims as he swims deeper, but the excited smile on his face doesn’t. Hizashi doesn’t get to see his mate often; their natural habitats don’t really overlap. The brightly contrasting stripes and delicate fins mark him as a creature of sunlight and gentle tides, a beautiful reef fish. Those stripes also warn of the venomous spines hidden among those fins, an advertisement of the danger he can pose. They’re pretty, like the golden hair that streams out behind him as he swims, but that at least is just an indication of his health and age, shiny and long.
It’s dark, and getting darker, the fading light making it hard to see—his eyes are adapted to bright sunlight, and it’s as dark as midnight now. But that means he’s almost there.
Suddenly, the ocean floor drops away beneath him, the edge of the trench yawning dizzyingly deep and black. There’s just enough sunlight, just enough light, reaching this far down to see—movement. Something shifts, down in the darkness, something huge and monstrous, a mass of tentacles. It stops, catching sight of him—Hizashi can barely see down here, his eyes made for bright reef sunlight, but anything that lives down here has excellent low-light vision if they’re not completely blind—and turns all at once in a flurry of inky black tentacles, heading straight for Hizashi.
He only smiles wider, throwing out his arms and striking an exuberant pose. “Hey! Shouta!”
The mass of tentacles resolves into a more coherent being, the weak sunlight falling on pale skin amid the black tentacles, a head with similarly inky black hair waving, framing a small smile. “Hizashi,” he rumbles, swimming to the edge of the trench, reaching out with one long tentacle, wrapping it around Hizashi’s back and drawing him closer. This close, it becomes obvious just how much bigger the kraken is than the lionfish, easily ten times as big. When Shouta pulls Hizashi close, pressing him against his broad chest, Hizashi’s entire body doesn’t reach from his neck to his waist, and instead of trying to hug him back, Hizashi turns, wrapping himself around the tentacle against his back, squeezing it tightly, feeling the purr-like vibration against his back that means Shouta is happy to see him.
“I missed you, baby,” Hizashi hums, rubbing his face against the slick rubbery flesh, pressing a kiss to it. The pet name started as a joke, Hizashi using such a diminutive term of endearment for a creature so much larger than him, but at this point the humor has gotten lost, forgotten, and it’s just what he calls him.
“I missed you too,” Shouta says, the vibrations of his speech humming through Hizashi’s body before he swims away, doing a quick lap around his mate. Shouta’s words are slow, hesitant, but Hizashi knows it’s not because he’s at all unsure about the sentiment, just wary of showing it. As he swims, Hizashi sticks out a hand, trailing it through the ends of Shouta’s thick hair. “How have you been?”
Hizashi circles back to his face, so he can see him while he talks. “Oh! I’ve been good! A new family moved into the reef, and they already have kids, and they’re so cute! I’m going to see if they’ll let me play with them, even though...you know...” he pauses, running a hand across the venomous spines along the sides of his tail. Then he bounces back, smiling. “But they seem nice! I went yesterday to say hi and I brought some of those kelp cakes, and they seemed to really like them!” He leaves out that he had only been there for half an hour before one of his new neighbors started stealing glances at her mate, face a little sour, and how it hadn’t been long before they had come up with what he suspected was an excuse to shoo him away. He’s a little much, he knows, too loud for most, too much unbridled enthusiasm for people to stand for very long. “I hope things go well with them,” he continues, wrapping his arms around himself. It’s cold down here, the warmth of the sun dropping away with its light, even in the tropical waters. Shouta sees his shivering, sharp eyes catching that among his more extraneous movements, and he brings up a hand, cupping it around Hizashi. Hizashi carefully settles backwards, his tail slung over Shouta’s palm, both elbows resting on the thumb that curls around him. He wouldn’t feel warm at the surface, Hizashi suspects, but he does here, the heat of his skin warming the water around him. Warmer now, he continues talking, arms still waving in exaggerated movements. “Nemuri and I went hunting together the other day! We had a good catch. She’s so fast! It’s nice that she hunts with me, she’s good with a spear but when I’m there she can’t sing her prey to sleep like she can if she’s alone, since she can’t do that without it effecting me. She still wants to meet you, you know,” he says, and then, at the look on Shouta’s face, he quickly follows it up with, “I know! You’re shy. I gave her some non-answer.”
“Not shy,” Shouta disagrees. “Your kind just...doesn’t tend to like mine. And I don’t see the point in talking to anyone but you.”
Hizashi smiles at his blunt words. “You’re so sweet,” he swoons, resting his chin in his hands and batting his eyelashes, elbows resting on Shouta’s thumb. Then he shifts uncomfortably. “Sorry for just like...rambling at you for so long! I’ll shut up now,” he says with a self-conscious laugh. He knows he talks too much. Shouta has barely said anything this whole conversation.
Shouta’s impassive face softens. “No,” he says shortly, bringing his other hand up to use the tip of one finger to stroke Hizashi’s head, down his back, through his long hair. Hizashi presses into the touch. “Keep talking. I like hearing you.”
He knew that Shouta would say that, he always does, but it still makes him smile, makes his heart warm. He opens his mouth again, ready to start chattering again, but as he does, he shifts backwards just as Shouta’s hand curls closer around him, and he can feel, at the same time, a pressure at the base of one of his spines and Shouta’s hand jerk. “Oh shit,” Hizashi curses, feeling the color drain from his face, and he whirls, feeling his spine pull out of Shouta’s skin. In the low light, he can just barely see the wisp of blood from the small puncture. As he pulls away from Shouta’s hand, he grabs it with his other one, obviously in pain. Hizashi flies to Shouta’s face, cupping it with one hand even though that puts him close enough that he has to lean back to see his eyes. “Shouta, fuck, I’m so sorry,” he says, voice breaking.
“It’s okay,” Shouta says, and Hizashi shakes his head quickly, tears building at the corners of his eyes.
“No! Shouta, it’s not okay, I can be deadly, it’s not—” A sob wracks through him, voice and muscles tight with panic, heaving in another breath and letting it out shakily in another sob.
“Hizashi,” Shouta rumbles, so soothingly it cuts through Hizashi’s spiraling guilt. He brings up his uninjured hand, stroking the tips of his fingers along Hizashi’s back, petting down his spines, laying them harmlessly down. “It’s okay,” he repeats, sounding so sure. “You’re deadly to things your size,” he says, finally driving a wedge into Hizashi’s panic. “You’re really small, compared to me. I’ll be fine. It doesn’t even hurt that much.”
Hizashi bites his lip, worrying it between his teeth, but he’s back from the edge of despair now. “You’re sure?” True to his word, Shouta doesn’t look like he’s in that much pain. Hizashi’s venom is painful; usually someone he’s stung would be doubled over in agony by now, and Shouta’s face is unclouded, his eyes easy, narrowed in concern for Hizashi but not tight with pain.
“I’m fine,” Shouta says, bracing Hizashi with his hand to lean in and brush his lips against his body. “Like I said, it barely hurts.”
“Okay,” Hizashi says on a rough exhale, leaning in to kiss back, pressing his lips to the middle of Shouta’s bottom lip. He moves back with a kick of tail to fix Shouta with a serious stare. “Tell me if you start to feel worse, though, okay?”
“Okay,” Shouta agrees, so easily Hizashi can tell he genuinely feels fine, isn’t even worried about it.
That lets Hizashi relax just a little more, shoulders slumping as he exhales again. Shouta reaches out again, catching Hizashi in his hand, his thumb stroking down his front, one finger running through his hair. Hizashi leans back, enjoying the sensation and the attention, being enveloped in his warm hand. “Feels nice, baby,” he says, catching his thumb with both hands, pulling it towards it mouth. He can’t really make Shouta move, not even one small part of his body with his whole strength, but when he pulls, Shouta takes the suggestion and moves how he wants. It never ceases to make Hizashi feel a strange mix of powerful and help less, that Shouta could so easily close his hand now and simply crush Hizashi, but he never would, and instead treats him so gently, and in fact seems to follow his lead. Shouta’s hand almost covers Hizashi’s entire body, but all Hizashi can do to reciprocate is wrap his arms around his thumb, kissing the tip of it. He never feels like he’s in any danger, but it’s still exciting to feel so small—among other regular mer, he’s one of the bigger ones. Usually it would just be an affectionate brush of his lips, but he’s still keyed up from panicking over accidentally stinging his mate, still so relieved that he really does seem fine, and Hizashi turns over, pressing his body against his wrist, kissing him again, opening his mouth to bite—not exactly gently, if Shouta was his size it would be rather rough, but he couldn’t hurt Shouta with his mouth if he tried.
He’ d miss it if he wasn’t so close to Shouta’s face, if Shouta wasn’t so big, because it’s just a small sound, but he doesn’t miss it, looking up at Shouta’s face, at his eyes that are suddenly just a little darker, at the way he’s looking at Hizashi. “Oh,” he says, pulling back, and he can feel his face heat. He wonders if Shouta can see that, in the dim light.
“What?” Shouta asks, brows pulling together, and his voice is just slightly rougher in a way Hizashi would never notice if he wasn’t as attuned to sounds as he is.
“Nothing!” Hizashi is still kind of blindsided by the fact that he had been turning Shouta on. He’d be lying if he said he’d never considered what sex with him would be like—they call each other mates, and their relationship is undeniably romantic, but they haven’t really gotten there yet. Hizashi has thought about it, but his imagination only gets him so far, there’s just so much he doesn’t know about Shouta’s species, how that would even work. He had been close to giving up, deciding that there was nothing they could do for each other in that way, that they were just too different.
W hile he’s mulling that over, he’s distracted by the sight of Shouta’s mouth suddenly opening wide, showing off rows of sharp teeth, and Hizashi stares as he yawns. That’s always somewhere between disturbing and transfixing—of course Hizashi never feels like he’s quite in any danger from Shouta, but there’s still something about a mouth that could nearly swallow him whole opening so close to him. He gets over it quickly. “Sleepy, babe?”
Shouta shrugs, the movement creating currents around him. “I could use a nap.” He had told Hizashi once that his species can spend weeks or months asleep, and Hizashi is almost glad that he counts as an insomniac for only ever sleeping for days at most. “But there’s something I wanted to show you, first.”
“Oh? Alright, take me there.”
“It’s just in my cave,” Shouta says as Hizashi carefully flattens his spines in preparation for being gently grabbed. Shouta’s hand closes around him, and he pulls him close to his chest, sheltering him as he pulses his tentacles and jets down into the trench.
I t gets even darker down here, as they descend, but as Shouta swims, Hizashi sees a faint glow, too dim to be anything but the slightest suggestion of light, until as they approach it, it resolves into the mouth of a cave. He’s been here before, but it didn’t look like this before—he doesn’t know what it did look like, his eyes not sensitive enough to show him anything but pitch blackness. As Shouta pulls his tentacles in, carefully fitting himself through the relatively narrow mouth of the cave without jostling his tiny mate, Hizashi gasps. The cave is now illuminated now, bioluminescent plants hung along every crevasse of the ceiling, looking like artificial starlight. Hizashi wiggles free of Shouta’s grasp, swimming up to them, trailing a hand along them before dropping back down to marvel at the effect, swimming a slow loop around the cave. “Wow,” he breathes, turning to look wide-eyed at his mate, grinning ear-to-ear. “You did this for me? It’s beautiful!”
“Oh,” Shouta says, sounding faintly embarrassed, bringing up a hand to run through his hair. “That’s not what I wanted to show you. Those are just so you can see what I did want to show you.”
Hizashi’s eyes widen even further, and his smile finds a way to do so as well. “Yeah?” he asks, swimming an excited loop. “What did you want to show me, then? I can’t wait to see it!”
In answer, Shouta moves over to a corner of the cave, no longer swimming now that he’s in an enclosed space, his tentacles gripping the floor and pulling him along in a mesmerizing rolling motion. He picks up a bundle of cloth, and when he unfurls it, Hizashi recognizes the sail of a ship. Inside are a pile of small objects—or, small from Shouta’s perspective. One wooden object is as long as Hizashi’s arm.
“Oh, awesome!” Hizashi swims closer, grabbing something shiny. It flashes even in the low light, gleaming golden and red, and he pulls it close to his face, examining it. It’s a shiny red stone, cut in hard, exact planes, attached to a loop of golden chain. “Wow, this is really cool!”
Shouta reaches out, infinitely gentle, and carefully takes it from him with two fingers, looping it over Hizashi’s neck. “It...reminded me of you. Bright,” he says, and the hesitant, embarrassed tone is back in his voice, but that just further melts Hizashi’s heart.
Hizashi picks up the stone again, admiring it, before turning to Shouta, grinning wide. “Aw, baby, I love it!” He does another spin, making the necklace thump against his chest. “It’s so pretty! Thank you so much!” He strikes a pose, puffing out his chest. “How do I look?”
“Pretty,” Shouta says, a smile tugging on his lips. “Like always.”
Hizashi jets backwards as if the flattery had hit him in the chest, collapsing over a high-pitched squeal. “Aww! You’re so sweet!”
“There’s more stuff,” Shouta says quickly, tugging at a corner of the sail, making the objects roll around.
Hizashi lets him have the distraction. “So there is!” He grabs the biggest object, the wooden one. It’s an odd shape, a bulbous, rounded side and a long, thick stem. It’s hollow, when he picks it up, explaining why it isn’t floating like most wood. It has strings stretched along it, and when Hizashi picks at one, it makes a sound. A rather nice one, in fact. He immediately plucks the other strings, making a range of notes. “Oh, wow!” He finds a comfortable way to hold it so he can reach the strings with one hand, drawing his hand along them, causing a flurry of distinct notes. He grins up at Shouta. “This is really cool! It’s like a harp!”
“Thought you’d like that,” Shouta says. He picks up one of the objects that’s left. They’re all about the same, dull metal cylinders. “I don’t know how you’d open these, but...” he brings one to his mouth, carefully biting it in half. He carefully picks up the halves, handing them to Hizashi. There’s something inside the cylinders, something that smells sweet, golden-yellow chunks and a thick syrup. “It’s food, but I think you’d like it more than me.” While Shouta is almost entirely carnivorous, Hizashi is an omnivore. The cylinders are also too small to be of much interest to Shouta.
He digs out a chunk, biting into it. “Oh, yeah, it’s good! Thanks!” He finishes the can quickly, then swims up to Shouta’s face, putting his hands on his cheeks. “You got me so much stuff! I love it! I love you!” He grins at him, heart full.
Shouta smiles back. “Glad you like it.” This time, it’s more than a little frightening when he yawns, and Hizashi kicks his tail hard, jerking backwards.
“Shit, babe, I’m going to fall into your mouth, what the fuck,” he says, but he laughs.
“I wouldn’t bite down if you did,” Shouta rumbles back, amused.
“Still! I’d rather not.” Hizashi swims in a circle, shaking off his nervous energy. “Oh, that’s right. You wanted to take a nap.”
“I can stay awake. I don’t want to sleep through your visit.” Shouta is usually fairly still, but even the small movements he makes are so big to Hizashi. Now he just shifts. “Unless you need to go soon.”
“No, I can stay for a while! I was actually thinking we could take a nap together,” Hizashi suggests, running a hand along the heavy golden chain around his neck. “If you want to.”
Shouta hesitates. “It’s not nighttime. Doesn’t your kind only sleep at night?”
“Usually! We usually sleep all night, but we can sleep during the day if we want to. Usually just for a little while, a couple hours at most.” He looks around the cave. “Besides, it’s pretty dark down here. Like nighttime. And I want to cuddle with you.”
“Alright. You want to...cuddle with me? What do I do for that?”
“Hm...” Hizashi considers, his chin in his hand. “Lay on your back? And I can lay on your chest.”
Shouta does as he’s asked, settling on his back on the rock, and Hizashi swims over to rest on him, shifting to get comfortable, laying on his stomach Shouta is always surprisingly soft, as his habitat is deeper and colder than Hizashi’s, meaning he has a layer of insulating fat that Hizashi mostly doesn’t have. Hizashi hums happily as Shouta hand comes up to rest over him, supporting some of its own weight but also pressing down on him a little, a mix between a mini cave and a heavy blanket. Either way, it’s warm. He tugs until Shouta moves his thumb to a position where he can use it as a pillow.
At first, it’s just Hizashi sitting quiet and content, still for once, but as Shouta falls asleep, he makes that purring sound again, just faintly, deep in his chest, and Hizashi wasn’t sure he was going to fall asleep at all, but after a while, he lays his head down, and his eyes slip shut, and he’s gone, feeling warm and safe.
Hizashi startles as something zooms past him, whipping his hair around his face in the current. “Woah! Are we under attack?” It’s only a half-serious question, because he thinks he recognizes the blur, and then his suspicions are confirmed when another, smaller creature shoots past him.
“Brother!” he barks, but the effect is a little ruined by how squeaky Tenya’s little five-year-old voice is. “I’m going to beat you!”
At Hizashi’s words, Tensei stops, whirling around to cancel out his momentum. Tenya...doesn’t, almost as fast but not as agile as his brother, and he shrieks for a moment before plowing directly into Tensei’s broad chest. He just lets out an “oof” and catches him, skidding back in the water.
“Hey, Hizashi,” Tensei says with a smile, wrapping Tenya up more comfortably in his arms. The two sailfish have long, shark-like blue and silver tails, and tall fins. “Nah, we’re all good, just racing!”
“Tenya is getting so fast, yo! I can’t believe it!” Hizashi gushes, swimming up to them. He pokes the younger mer. “And you’re getting so big!”
“Isn’t he?” Tensei marvels, shifting him to his hip.
“Yes, I am,” Tenya says gravely. He starts squirming to be let down, and Tensei releases him. When he does, he shoots off in a random direction with a kick of his tail, almost like he can’t control his own speed.
“So what’s up? Where are you headed?” Tensei asks. It sounds like he’s just making conversation, and it’s a reasonable thing to ask, seeing as Hizashi is clearly headed out of the reef, and he doesn’t have a basket or a spear for either hunting or gathering food, but Hizashi cringes internally.
“Uh, to meet Shouta.”
“Your mate from another colony, right? Are we ever going to get to meet him?” Tensei stops for a moment, like he knows he shouldn’t pry, but then asks anyway. “Does he ever come and visit you?”
“Yes,” Hizashi lies defensively. “You just—haven’t seen him. He’s shy.”
Tensei seems to accept his answer, laughing. “I have a hard time imagining any mate of yours being shy! B ut I suppose in a way it makes sense. Opposites attract and all that. Still, that makes me even more curious!” He swims a little closer. “You don’t talk about him much. What else is he like, other than shy?”
There’s a reason Hizashi tries not to talk about Shouta much, because he’s been omitting some pretty key details about his mate , like his species, but right now he can’t hold back a smile. “He’s really sweet. He got me this necklace!” he says, holding out the pendant. “And, uh, strong? He’s a really good hunter.”
Tensei leans in closer to see, then leans back. “That’s pretty cool. Very shiny.” Then he smirks at Hizashi. “Figures you’d go for the buff guys. You’re so skinny yourself.”
Hizashi lets out an indignant squawk, crossing his arms. “I’m not skinny! I’m lean! I’m plenty strong!” he says, jetting forward to push Tensei, knocking him back a few feet.
Tensei laughs and shoves back, sending Hizashi further. Hizashi might be strong for his size, but Tensei is bigger. Hizashi darts forward again, pulling him into a headlock. They’re both pulled upwards when Tensei kicks his tail.
“Tensei!” Tenya’s small voice shrieks as he barrels into Hizashi’s back, throwing his arms around his neck. “I’ll help you!”
“Careful,” Hizashi gasps, not in pain but in panic, going stiff and releasing Tensei. He carefully reaches up to detangle Tenya, pulling him into his arms. He seems fine, scowling up at Hizashi, not screaming in pain, and Hizashi takes a deep breath, trying to relax a little, calm his racing heart.
Tensei reaches forward to pull Tenya roughly into his arms . “Hizashi is venomous,” he says sternly, voice tight . “Stay away from his back.”
Tenya reads the sudden and complete change in the adults’ demeanor and the way he’s being scolded and bursts into tears.
“We should...go home,” Tensei says, apologetic but distant, and Hizashi forces a smile.
“Alright. See you later!” They part, Hizashi swimming slowly in the other direction from the sobbing child, but he doesn’t get far before Tensei zips back past him.
“Hizashi, go,” he says urgently, grabbing his arm as Hizashi startles.
“What? Why? What’s going on?” His first thought isn’t to panic—it’s that maybe Shouta has come looking for him, and he looks around for him.
“There’s a ship,” Tensei says, speaking low and quick. “They have harpoons and divers.”
“Shit,” Hizashi curses, but he turns back towards the reef. “I have to help!”
T ensei gives him a calculated look. “Okay,” he says. “Let me hide Tenya and I’ll come with you.”
They race back towards the center of the reef together, Tensei outstripping Hizashi’s pace, swimming ahead despite how hard Hizashi is swimming. As they approach, there are faint screams, and then they’re rocked back by the concussive blast of a bomb going off. Hizashi curses again, recovering and kicking his tail harder, moving faster.
As they approach, they pass several other mer, swimming in the opposite direction. Tensei swims down and grabs a spear from a house they pass, and Hizashi moves to follow him, but as Tensei turns, he shouts a warning and Hizashi is grabbed from behind—by a hand that’s gloved, not webbed. He only hesitates for a moment before kicking his tail hard, throwing himself backwards. There’s a muffled grunt of pain as his spines catch on the diver’s suit, but they go through, stabbing into flesh. Hizashi’s head bounces off a helmet, stunning him slightly, but the hand has let go. The smell of blood fills the water.
Tensei swims forward, raising his spear, but the diver is convulsing, not in any condition to fight anymore. “Are you okay?” he asks Hizashi.
“I’m fine,” he says, but then he looks down. There’s a red glow, and for a moment Hizashi thinks it’s blood, that his chest is bleeding, but it’s light, not liquid, and it’s coming from the necklace he’s wearing. He picks it up, turning it around. The stone on it is glowing, pulsing light. “Magic?” Hizashi wonders, but there’s no time to worry about what it’s going to do. It’s not hurting him, so he leaves it on, turning and swimming further into the fray.
T ensei catches up with him again, pressing a second spear into his hands, and Hizashi accepts it gratefully. His venom is potent, but his spines are on his back—they’re more useful as a defensive weapon, for anything chasing him when he’s running away, than as an offense.
Mer are streaming past them, many holding or trailing children, and Hizashi and Tensei swim against that tide, heading for where they heard the bomb. The necklace is still glowing, pulsing out a bloody light, catching on the dust and rubble in the water as they get closer.
Suddenly, Tensei kicks hard and jets forward, stabbing out with his spear at one of the divers. He strikes true, stabbing him through the chest, but Hizashi shouts a warning as he catches sight of another, leveling his harpoon gun at him. Tensei turns, dodging the first projectile, but the diver loads another, and Hizashi rushes him. The humans are clumsy in the water, and his spear catches him in the arm. The necklace is pulsing madly now, in time with the adrenaline hammering through Hizashi’s heart, a strobelight lighting up the battle.
His next stab breaks the diver’s glass helmet, and he yells as the water rushes in, the bubble of air shivering upwards. “Yeah!” Hizashi cheers, viciously delighted. The diver is trying to swim away now, kicking himself upwards, and Hizashi doesn’t follow but looks after him. Above them rocks the broad wooden bottom of a ship, and there are flurries of bubbles as more divers jump in.
He’s soon to be surrounded, but for the moment Hizashi isn’t being attacked, and he spins, scanning the battle. That blur is Tensei, racing towards another group of divers. The mer are staying deep, forcing the humans to come to them—if they get too close to the surface, those still in the boats will be able to see and shoot them. In a group of houses, Hizashi spots—“Nemuri!” he calls, racing over to her. She’s tangling with a group of three, and she’s bleeding, one of her delicate black fins torn and leeching blood into the water. The water all around her is hazy and red, and it doesn’t look like all her blood—she has a spear, and she’s striking out with it, but she’s outmatched.
She’s singing, Hizashi can tell as he gets closer, a battle hymn rather than a lullaby, but it still has its intended purpose. None of the divers are limp and asleep—maybe it doesn’t work as well through their helmets, maybe the sound is too muffled—but they seem slowed, sluggish.
As he approaches, it starts to work on Hizashi, slowing down his thoughts, making him sleepy, but he tries to push through the effect, instead adding his own voice to hers, harmonizing with her. When she hears him, she doesn’t turn—she can’t spare the attention—but he can see her grin. Together, their song cuts through the glass, and one diver finally goes limp, the harpoon falling from his open hands. Nemuri wastes no time, whirling her spear around, using the blunt end of it to crack his helmet open. This one doesn’t scream.
The other two are too entranced to fight back, and she makes quick work of them too, brutally taking them down. They won’t be getting back to the surface.
When she’s done, she grins toothily at Hizashi. “Thanks for the assist,” she says smoothly. Then she looks down at his chest. “What’s that?”
He shrugs. “I don’t know! It’s magic, I guess.” In the momentary lull, it’s slowed slightly, pulsing slightly dimmer.
“Shouta gave that to you, right?” she says, but before Hizashi can answer, she looks up, watching the divers sinking down to their level. “Shit.”
There must be twenty of them, all around them, and Hizashi echoes her sentiment. “Fuck.” They both resettle their spears, gripping them tight, ready to fight to the death.
T hey’re both ready, but the humans have harpoon guns, they’re slow and clumsy but they can attack from a greater distance. Against this many, they’re never going to make it. There’s no escaping now—even faster than the humans, they’re surrounded.
Nemuri starts a new song, this one defiant rather than triumphant, and Hizashi joins her, gripping his spear and raising it high, rushing out towards one of the divers.
He doesn’t make it there.
Before he can, a dark shadow passes over him, momentarily blotting out all light, and he has to look up. For just a moment, he’s terrified, but then he cheers. “Shouta!” The mass of dark tentacles can’t be anything else.
“Shouta?” Nemuri gasps, turning from her course of attack. There’s as much shock in her voice as there is relief and joy in Hizashi’s.
“No,” Shouta says, under his breath but loud, as his tentacles dart out, grabbing the divers who had been about to attack Hizashi and Nemuri, and red floats out as he does. He’s crushing them, as easily as picking them up. He has eight tentacles, not twenty, he can’t grab them all at once, some are left free, firing their guns at him—but even though Shouta’s blood floats out into the water, they might as well have done nothing, the pokes too small to slow him down. He grabs them too, growling, then whirls upwards in a flurry of tentacles, reaching the surface. There’s an explosion of bubbles as he hauls himself up out of the water, onto the ship, and faint screams as he does so. His tentacles wrap around the bottom of the boat as Nemuri and Hizashi watch in silent awe, and as they look—he starts ripping it apart, strong wooden boards cracking beneath his grip. Debris rains down on them, and Hizashi just narrowly avoids a swiftly sinking cannon.
The words come from over the water, distorted by the transition, but still loud and clear enough to hear. “You will not have him!”
The necklace has stopped pulsing, and it’s now just beaming out a steady glow. It seems calmer, somehow, like it’s as relieved as Hizashi .
The water is filled with the sounds of splashes and cracking, splintering wood, and then a splash loud enough to shake the water thirty feet down as Shouta falls back into the water, the ship now strewn across the surface of the water, completely destroyed. There are humans splashing around in the debris, but without suits they can’t swim far enough down to reach the mer colony, and Shouta ignores them, swimming back down to Hizashi.
Hizashi swims up to meet him, but out of the corner of his eye, he sees Nemuri push herself backwards just a little, raising her spear before she lets it fall.
Shouta scoops up Hizashi in both hands, less gently than he normally would, bringing him up to his face. “Are you okay?” he asks urgently.
“I’m fine!” Hizashi wiggles out of grasp, breaking free to swim a loop around Shouta, scanning him for injuries. “Are you hurt?” Shouta turns with him, keeping him in his sight, and Hizashi huffs. “Hey! Stay still!”
“I’m not hurt,” Shouta says, but stops turning. He amends his statement as Hizashi swims closer to yank out a crossbow bolt that had been stuck in his shoulder, as he winces slightly. “Barely. I’m okay.”
Satisfied, Hizashi swims back to his face. He smiles. “I can’t believe you’re here! You saved all of us!” Then he pauses for a moment. “Why are you here? Like, how did you know?”
“I...don’t know,” Shouta says, shaking his head, the current that this makes shaking Hizashi back and forth. “I just...got this sense you were in danger. I tried to ignore it at first, but it just got stronger and stronger, and then I came up here, and your colony was under attack.”
“It must have been this!” Hizashi says, holding up the necklace. It’s barely lit up at all now, just faintly glowing. “It’s magic, apparently. It started flashing when I started fighting.”
“Huh,” Shouta says, reaching out to touch it with the tip of a finger. “When the wearer is in danger, it warns the people who love them?”
It still makes Hizashi’s heart melt, puts a bright smile on his face, whenever Shouta so matter-of-factly says he loves him. “ I guess so!” he chirps. “That, or whoever gave it to them, or whoever put it on them, or just someone powerful enough to save them...there are a lot of options! More testing would be needed.”
“Can’t test it without you being in danger,” Shouta points out, fingertip moving from his chest to smooth along his hair. “So we won’t be testing it.”
Hizashi closes his eyes for a moment as he’s pet, still catching the last of his breath from the battle. Then they pop open, and he grins. “Now that you’re here, there are so many things I can show you!” He grabs Shouta’s thumb, starting to pull him along.
Shouta doesn’t move this time. Instead, he looks around. “I don’t think that would be a good idea,” he says.
Hizashi turns, looking too. Nemuri’s spear is by her side, but she’s gripping it tightly, and she’s several feet back from where she was. Farther away, there are other mer, spears at the ready and all waiting a safe distance away, not approaching Shouta. Nobody is celebrating yet.
“Nemuri, he’s not going to hurt you!” Hizashi says, frowning, swimming closer to her.
She looks at him, eyes still wide. “Holy shit, Hizashi, you’re fucking that?” she asks incredulously, waving out a hand.
Hizashi bristles at the tone in her voice. “He’s my mate!” he says angrily. “Be nice!”
“Hizashi, that’s a monster,” she continues. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, good for you, but oh my god be careful.”
“I don’t need to be careful! He’s not a monster!” Hizashi argues. “Watch your tone, yo!” He swims a little closer to her, hands in fists at his sides.
He turns at a gentle touch on his back. “Hizashi, it’s okay,” Shouta rumbles. “I should just leave.”
“But...” Hizashi says. He looks at the other mer, who are clearly terrified. He sighs. “Yeah, okay. Take me with you, though. I was just coming to visit when we were attacked.” He turns, swimming towards the trench.
Shouta follows slowly. “I heard an explosion. Is your house okay?”
“I don’t know,” Hizashi says shortly. “It should be. It’s on the outskirts. It doesn’t matter, though. I just want to get out of here.”
“Okay,” Shouta says, picking him up. “I’m sorry,” he says quietly.
Hizashi shakes his head. “It’s not your fault. You saved us! They should be welcoming you with open arms. It’s their fault they can’t see you, just your size. ” As Shouta pulls him close in preparation to move fast, Hizashi turns, wrapping his arms around one of the fingers holding him, giving it a hug. He can feel the mistrustful eyes of his colonymates on not just Shouta, but him too. He hopes he still has a place here when he comes back.
But right now, he’s pulled close to a warm chest with a heavy, slow heartbeat, and he’s safe.
This chapter is basically entirely smut, so skip it if that's not your thing.
My current guess is that there will be two more chapters! I originally planned for this to be a 1,000 word one-shot, but it's kind of gotten out of hand.
I don't really have an update schedule for this. I don't have any more of it written right now. I'm still working on two other fics at the same time. I'll post chapters as I get them done.
When they arrive at Shouta’s cave, Shouta releases Hizashi, who swims a loop around the cave. The ceiling is still glowing faintly, enough that he can see Shouta as he settles to the ground, as Hizashi whirls around. “I can’t believe they’d treat you like that!” He braces his hands on his hips.
“It’s okay,” Shouta says with a shrug. “I knew they would.”
“Still! It’s not fair! There’s nothing wrong with you! Just because it’s how you were born, just because of who you are. You’re not going to hurt them!”
“Hizashi...” Shouta reaches out, picking him up again, bringing him up to his face. “They shouldn’t treat you like that, either.”
Hizashi bites his lip and wonders if Shouta is close enough to see such a small expression. “It’s...okay,” he echoes. “I’m dangerous. And annoying.”
Shouta frowns. “You’re not annoying. And you’re not dangerous.”
Hizashi bites back his arguments and just smiles shakily instead. “At least I have you.”
“You’ll always have me,” Shouta says softly, a promise, and Hizashi’s smile isn’t shaky anymore. He darts forward to press a kiss to Shouta’s bottom lip. Shouta hums, and Hizashi kisses him again, open-mouthed this time, dragging his tongue along the sensitive skin. Last time, when he kissed Shouta’s hand...the skin on his lips is thinner, so he doesn’t bite as hard, but Shouta makes the same noise. His hand comes up to cup around Hizashi, and for a moment Hizashi thinks he’s going to pull him away, but he doesn’t, just curling around him, holding him, and he gets bolder, moving to a new spot and nipping him again. He feels the press of water from Shouta’s gills as he exhales hard. He drags a hand along his lips, moving to kiss a new spot.
A ll of Shouta’s reactions are so big. They’d be so subtle if he was smaller; he would seem so inexpressive. But how they are, every little motion is so obvious. It makes getting him to react so much fun.
When Hizashi pushes himself backwards, Shouta moves his hand to let him move away, and Hizashi takes a good look at his face. His eyes seem darker, and he’s slightly flushed. Hizashi grins. Then he fidgets, twisting his tail side to side. “ What Nemuri said...” he starts, obliquely. “Do you want to?”
“What she...” Shouta takes a second to figure out what he means. Then his eyes widen just slightly. “I...yeah. Do you?”
Hizashi laughs, a sound with a slightly nervous edge. “That was an offer! So, yes. Have you ever before?”
“No,” Shouta admits, his hand touching the back of his neck. “I haven’t had much contact with my own kind.”
“I haven’t either,” Hizashi says, “so...we can figure it out together!” He smiles at Shouta.
The hand on the back of his neck reaches over to touch Hizashi again, one finger tracing along his hair—but it doesn’t stop, running down his back and tail. “Okay,” he rumbles, eyes hooded, as he cups his hand around Hizashi, bringing him closer to his mouth. He presses a kiss to his chest, then sticks out his tongue, dragging it across Hizashi’s chest.
“O-oh,” Hizashi stutters out, surprised. It’s warm and slippery, and Hizashi tips his head back with a small noise as it travels slowly up to his neck. “That’s—good,” he says, and Shouta does it again. Hizashi laughs a little breathlessly. “Just—don’t eat me.”
“Not gonna hurt you,” Shouta says reassuringly, low, and with his face so close the sound buzzes through Hizashi, his tone making Hizashi shiver a little. He licks Hizashi again, this time starting slightly lower, just above the swell of his hips, where his skin changes to scales.
It feels good, making Hizashi squirm a little, but—“A little lower,” Hizashi says, his voice coming out high and breathy.
Shouta moves back enough that Hizashi can see his lips curl in a smirk. “Be patient,” he says, a note of amusement in his voice. Nevertheless, he does as he’s asked, the next pass of his tongue licking across his slit, catching the tip of his cock that’s just beginning to emerge.
It’s almost too much, the broad, slick pressure of his tongue, and Hizashi bites off the end of a whine.
Shouta draws back a little, looking at him. “Is that a good sound?”
“Yeah.” He’s a little self-conscious at first, but the heat in Shouta’s eyes as he runs his hand over his now-slick chest and wraps a hand around his own cock warms any hesitation he had as he coaxes it out. Shouta is still just looking at him, and that sets his heart racing in a way he decides he likes, and he gives him a smile that’s a little more confident than he feels and he pushes his hips out, putting himself on display. “Now, do that again,” he commands.
There’s that rumble deep in Shouta’s chest as he does, and the pressure of his tongue makes Hizashi gasp and squirm. It’s slick over a slightly rough, bumpy texture, and it feels amazing. Hizashi reaches behind himself to grab at the hand holding him, trying to grip something. Shouta’s appreciative purr picks up when Hizashi moans, dropping his head back, bucking his hips up.
“Ah, fuck,” Hizashi pants as Shouta’s tongue gets more insistent, still comparatively gentle but a little faster, strokes traveling from his tail up across his cock and then his stomach. “That feels—really good, baby,” he says, “but—stop.”
Shouta immediately draws back, frowning a little. “Did I—”
Hizashi shakes his head. “You didn’t do anything wrong! I just wanna touch you too. Make you feel good too.” He pushes himself off from Shouta’s hand.
“I’m enjoying this,” Shouta promises, voice low. “You look—really good like that.”
The praise makes his face hot, his heart glow a little. When Hizashi moves away from his hand, he can see that Shouta is hard too, fully out of his slit. His cock is black like his tentacles, slick and shiny, thick at the base and pointed at the tip, curved slightly towards his stomach. He takes a second to just look, ignoring the sensitivity of water moving over his own erection. “Oh, you look like me,” he comments. Except for the way that it’s almost as long as Hizashi’s entire head and torso. His gaze roams over the rest of Shouta’s body.
A fter a moment, he moves forward to kiss his lips again, first the bottom and then the top, but this time he moves past them, pressing a kiss to the corner of his mouth, then swimming farther, down to his neck. He knows he’s in the right place when Shouta’s gills flutter as he runs his hand along the edge of one and Shouta makes a small noise, tipping his head back to give Hizashi better access. He moves closer to kiss and then bite the edge of one, and Shouta sucks in a breath. The tone in his voice when he sighs “Hizashi,” makes Hizashi grin triumphantly.
“Feel good, baby?” he asks in a purr, and Shouta head twitches as he starts to nod, before stopping himself.
“Yeah, those are sen—sitive,” Shouta says, the last few syllables catching as Hizashi runs his tongue along the edge of a gill. The water moves as he shifts, clearly trying and failing to stay completely still to avoid moving Hizashi.
“You can...” Hizashi starts, then makes it into more of an order than a suggestion. “Touch yourself.”
H e’s never heard anything better than the quiet way Shouta moans when he wraps his hand around his own cock, pumping slowly. He just meant to watch Shouta get himself off, but looking at him makes his mouth water, and he wants. He swims closer, and Shouta moves his hand away as he approaches, leaving his cock pointing towards him like it wants him too, twitching slightly.
Hizashi bites his lip. “I need that,” he says, barely aware of speaking, as he reaches out a hand to touch it. It’s smooth and hot, pouring off heat into the water around it, and Hizashi moves closer, running a hand down it. It jerks at his touch and his own cock throbs. He glances back at Shouta, hesitating slightly, but the way he’s looking down at him, eyes half-lidded and face flushed, the heat in his gaze, emboldens Hizashi, and he moves forward, wrapping his arms around Shouta’s cock and pulling it to his chest. He moans when he presses his hips flush against it, and he slowly grinds against it.
“Hizashi,” Shouta groans, hand touching his back and then moving away. “I can feel your—I can feel you.”
Hizashi agrees with a moan. “Feels good, Shou.” Like this, the tip is right in front of his face, and he leans forward to press a kiss to it. It’s tapered enough that he can take the very end into his mouth, and when he sucks, a bitter-sweet- salty taste rolls across his tongue. He makes a surprised noise and repeats the motion, eyes fluttering shut as h is hips keep working. Shouta makes another deep groaning sound when he sticks his tongue in the hole, hips jerking almost hard enough to buck Hizashi off, and he grips him tighter. Shouta’s hand just barely grazes him again before moving back, realizing he can’t grab him like he wants to without hurting him.
Hizashi moves his head back to moan helplessly. “You’re so big,” he says, and where normally it would just be a statement of fact, it’s now almost a plea. “I wish—I wish you could fuck me,” he says, despite there being no way that could ever work.
“Maybe...” Shouta says, and Hizashi jumps a little as he feels a tentacle rather than his hand touch his back. Shouta mostly uses his tentacles to get around, but they’re nearly as dexterous as his hands, and the tips are more tapered than his fingers. It writhes against him, searching, and Hizashi stiffens as it brushes against the hole it’s looking for.
“Shouta, it’s—it’s still too big,” he says quickly, and the tentacle moves away.
“Sorry,” Shouta says, and he sounds both apologetic and as disappointed as Hizashi feels.
“No, it’s—I think I can—just let me—” The fluid from Shouta’s cock is slippery, and Hizashi coats his fingers in it before moving them behind himself, dropping his head forward with a groan as he shoves his fingers into himself. He’s too close to go gentle and slow, and he has to stop grinding on Shouta so he doesn’t come right there. He pants roughly as he pumps a third finger in and out of himself, then a fourth. He pulls his fingers out, quickly gathering more fluid—more has leaked out, just from Shouta watching him, and that makes him feel powerful. When four fingers are easy, he pulls them out again. “Okay, try it now.”
T his time, he relaxes as much as he can as the tip of his tentacle comes back, and it pushes in without too much resistance. “Oh, fuck,” Hizashi moans as he’s filled. “Yeah, baby, that’s good.” He couldn’t stop the moans that fall from his mouth if he wanted to, moving between grinding back against the tentacle slowly pumping in and out of him and Shouta’s cock in front of him.
It twitches again, pouring out more of that fluid into the water, and the water stirs as Shouta lifts his hand again before putting it down. “Hizashi, I’m—really close.”
“Fuck, yeah, me too, go on, baby,” Hizashi pants, moving his hips faster, careening towards his own orgasm. “Come on, Shou.”
The noise starts as a rumble in Shouta’s chest and travels up his body, where it ends in a deep whine as his hips twitch, bouncing Hizashi against him as he fills the water with that bitter taste. Hizashi can’t do anything but hang out and moan as the tentacle in him curls and he comes with a scream.
For a moment, they’re both still, just catching their breath, coming down.
Hizashi winces as the tentacle pulls back, leaving him feeling empty. He laughs breathlessly. Shouta’s cock is softening and retreating, like his own, so he slumps backwards, pushing himself against Shouta until he lays back. Hizashi turns over, laying down on his stomach. He just grins lazily up at Shouta, for the moment out of words.
Shouta’s stomach shakes Hizashi when he laughs softly. “Wow.”
Hizashi grins brighter. “That was good, huh?” He strokes a hand across Shouta’s skin.
“Yeah,” Shouta agrees. Then his mouth cracks open wide in a yawn. “Tired now.”
“Mm,” Hizashi agrees, rolling over and stretching. All his muscles feel loose, his body still thrumming, like he fits better into his skin now. Then he rolls back onto his stomach to look at Shouta. “I love you, you know. A lot!” He wiggles himself further up his chest, settling himself over Shouta’s heartbeat. “I’m glad I got to do that with you.”
Shouta’s blinking sleepily, but he smiles back at Hizashi. “I love you, too.”
“And now I’m happy to take a nap with you!” Hizashi says, and Shouta’s hand comes up to cover him again, warm and heavy and secure. His other hand strokes Hizashi’s hair, and Hizashi closes his eyes as his movements get slower, clumsier, and that hand finally drops off to his side and he falls asleep.
H e isn’t thinking about the other things that happened today, the rejection that both of them faced, the danger he was in. He’s not thinking of anything but the present moment, in which he’s safe, sated, and loved.
“Come on, Nemuri! We’re almost there!” Hizashi takes her arm, pulling her along.
She shakes him off. “I said I’m coming, so I’m coming,” she says, but she swims a little faster, from where she had been lagging behind. “You don’t need to grab me,” she grouses.
“I can’t believe Shouta is a kraken,” Tensei says. He’s swimming a little ahead of both of them, but it’s just because he’s normally so much faster than the other two. “I can’t believe there’s a kraken this close to the reef.”
Hizashi turns to frown at his back. “Hey, you say that like it’s a bad thing. He’s the only reason the colony wasn’t destroyed!”
Tensei turns around, swimming backwards as easily as he would swim forwards. “I know that. But if there’s a place a kraken can live this close, a different one could have moved in, and then we’d be in trouble.”
Hizashi doesn’t stop frowning. “Maybe that wouldn’t be a problem. Maybe all the stories about krakens eating other mer are just stories.”
Tensei just shrugs. “Maybe. Have you met any other krakens? Does Shouta know any?”
“I don’t think so,” Hizashi has to concede. He kicks his tail hard to catch up with Tensei, a little uncomfortable. He worries, sometimes, that Shouta is just settling for him as a mate since he doesn’t really know any other krakens, that he would prefer to date his own species.
Nemuri’s fins flutter as she swims up beside them. She’s the smallest of the three of them, but she’s very strong for her size, even as much as she uses her magic voice to hunt and fight. “How did you meet Shouta, anyway?”
Hizashi lights up with a bright grin, worries forgotten. “Oh! I can finally tell that story! Well, I was out hunting, and I came across this school of mackerel near the surface. There was already a boat in the middle of it...but I thought I’d be fine if I just stayed far enough away from it. So I started fishing from the same school.”
“Hizashi,” Tensei scolds, voice dripping with disappointment.
“That’s like the first thing everyone’s parents teach them not to do!” Nemuri cries, throwing up her hands.
“I know!” Hizashi says. “But I was young and dumb and—”
“Wait, this couldn’t have been more than a year ago,” Tensei interrupts, and Hizashi shoots him a crooked grin.
“Did I say I wasn’t still young and dumb?” He pauses to look pleased as Nemuri laughs. “Anyway, let me tell the story. It didn’t go that badly! Not at first. They didn’t see me, and I had a bag full of fish, and I was just about to leave, but I wasn’t paying attention, and I...got caught in the net,” he says, but he doesn’t leave enough time for his friends to comment on his bad decisions before he keeps talking. “They were reeling it in, and I didn’t see, and you know how schooling fish like that move, like they’re trying to suck you in and swallow you, so I was in the middle of the school, and it came up behind me and my fins got all tangled. I tried to get it off, but before I knew I was all wrapped up and being hauled out of the water!”
“Hizashi, how are you not dead?” Nemuri says, giving him a look.
Hizashi basks in the attention, his fins fanning out. “Well,” he says, “The humans saw they had caught more than they meant to, and they pulled me out of the net and onto the deck. It was so weird, they look so much like us without helmets on, I had never seen them before, then. I tried talking to them, asking them to put me back in the water, but I don’t think we speak the same language, because they didn’t seem to understand me, and I couldn’t understand them. But some of them looked scared, and other ones looked excited, like they were happy to have caught me. That didn’t seem like a good sign! So I started moving towards the side of the boat. But it’s really hard to move up out of the water, because you can’t swim, and they can move really well out of the water, so they caught me and grabbed me. They got some more rope and tied me up so I couldn’t use my hands, and they tied them to the end of my tail so I couldn’t really move that either. Not very well, anyway.”
“How did you escape, then?” Nemuri demands, riveted. Tensei just looks horrified.
Hizashi preens. “Well! You know how I was being dumb? So were they! They looked mostly not much older than me, although there was one that did, and it looked like he was the one telling the other ones what to do. Anyway, they got me tied up, but there was some rope left, and they were going to like tie me to the railings on the edge of the boat, but I think they didn’t realize that even if I couldn’t really swim, I’d still rather be in the water than their boat. When they got me over there, I twisted free and got myself half over the railing. But! They grabbed the ropes on my tail and pulled me back! But I don’t think they knew about my venom, so I was able to stab one of them, and then I got away!” Hizashi’s hands flutter through the water as he talks, excited. “But I still couldn’t swim! So I was just sinking through the water, and the boat had moved a lot while I was on it, so now I was over the trench! I was struggling and thrashing around, trying to get out of the ropes, and I kept thinking I was close, but I just could never quite get it.” Hizashi takes a deep breath, his voice getting deeper and more ominous for a moment. “I was facing up towards the air most of the time. So I didn’t see him...not until he grabbed me! All I could tell at first was that it was something big, and that it had a hold of me. So of course I screamed and tried to get away! But he just used his other hand to hold me, not squishing me at all even though he totally could, and he was holding me so gently, I started to think maybe he didn’t want to hurt me. I couldn’t get away anyway, so even when I felt him breathing on me, I stayed still, and then all he did was bite the ropes off! Once I was free, I swam away, because it wasn’t like I wasn’t still scared, but then I turned back, and, well...you know what Shouta looks like! I was surprised I’d been saved by someone so handsome.”
“Really, Hizashi?” Tensei interrupts to laugh. “That was your first thought? This whole story has just been about how you have no self-preservation instincts.”
“Maybe not,” Hizashi says, shrugging. He smiles. “But I’m so witty and charming that it usually works out for me anyway! Like this time. I thought maybe the kraken was like the humans, and we didn’t speak the same language, because he never tried to talk to me, even when it might have made sense, like to tell me it was okay and he wasn’t going to eat me. Still, I wanted to try, so I started out just saying hi. He seemed to understand that, but when he said hi back, he sounded like he’s never said it before, so then I thought maybe I was right. So I started trying to explain my name and ask what his was, you know, pointing at myself and saying ‘Hizashi’ real slow. But he just looked at me and said, in perfect mer, but kind of slow, ‘My name is Shouta.’ But still all rough, like he hadn’t spoken in years. And...you’ve heard what it’s like what he talks, but maybe you weren’t paying attention? It’s so deep, because he’s so big, and it’s not really loud but it’s so...like you can feel it in your bones, it’s amazing.” His voice goes dreamy at the end, staring off into space for a moment.
“Hizashi, you’re kind of showing your freaky side,” Nemuri points out, amused rather than judgmental.
“There’s nothing weird about finding your mate attractive!” Hizashi argues, but she doesn’t mean it in a bad way, and he’s not offended. “Not even when you first meet them! So anyway, I was really excited! Because that meant I could say thank you! And then we ended up talking more than that...you know how sometimes you can just find the right person and it’s like you could talk to them forever, like time doesn’t even pass when you’re with them?”
“Okay, that’s pretty sweet,” Tensei says, and Hizashi smiles.
“It was like that! Mostly me talking, but he seemed to like that. He’s such a good listener!”
“Any mate of yours would have to be,” Nemuri teases.
“So we talked until it got dark, which worked out well because then nobody noticed me coming back to the colony. Even then, I didn’t want to leave, so I told him I would come back. He doesn’t really emote that much, but I could tell he was really happy about that. And I did, and we talked more, and you know...” he shrugs. “Things just went from there!”
“A surprisingly typical love story, in some ways,” Tensei says consideringly.
“Okay, this is the place,” Hizashi says unnecessarily, because the ground drops out beneath them, as they swim over the edge of a cliff. All three involuntarily shiver at the sudden feeling of cold water below them and the sensation of empty water signaling the danger of not having a place to hide, making them feel exposed. “Hey, Shouta!” he yells, using just a little of his siren abilities to boost his voice a little louder.
He has to wait a moment, but then he sees him, darkening the mouth of the faintly glowing cave, slowly emerging.
Hizashi waves an excited hello, heading down into the trench, but Tensei jets forward and takes his arm. When he turns to look at him, Tensei glances significantly at Nemuri, who’s all but hugging the edge of the cliff, making no movement to follow Hizashi, and then back at him. “Maybe Shouta should come up here, instead of us going down there,” he suggests.
Nemuri catches the look and bristles. “I’m not scared, you know! I know it’s safe.” She tentatively pushes off the wall, moving further into the trench.
Tensei looks steadily back at her. “You might not be, but I kind of am,” he says, swimming up out of the trench. “I believe Hizashi when he says Shouta is safe, but it’s still scary. Fear isn’t always rational.”
Nemuri wavers for a moment, not sure if she’s going to let him do what he’s doing. Then she backs down, sighing, following him to the edge of the trench. “Alright, if it would make you feel better.”
At this point, Shouta has seen that there are two extra mer, and he hangs back in the entrance of his cave. Hizashi waves a hand at him. “Come on up!” he calls. “It’s just my friends!”
Slowly, Shouta pushes himself through the hole in the rock, every bit as hesitant as Nemuri. He swims up to float above the trench, his head level with the other three mer. “Hello,” he says slowly.
Tensei waves. “Nice to meet you, Shouta. I’m Tensei.”
“...Nice to meet you,” Shouta echoes, a little bit like he’s not sure what the words mean.
“I’m Nemuri. Nice tentacles.”
“...Thanks,” Shouta says after a long pause. He stares at her for a moment, then looks at Hizashi. “How is the mer colony doing, after the attack?”
Hizashi launches into speech like it had built up in him while he had been waiting for the introductions to end. “Oh, yeah! There are some problems still, mer are still rebuilding the houses that got hit with the bomb. The good thing, though: nobody died! A couple of injuries,” he stops to look at the healing injuries on Nemuri’s fins, “but everyone is going to be okay. You really helped, it definitely would have been worse if you hadn’t showed up,” Hizashi says, smiling bright and grateful, but as he does, he really looks at Shouta—and he has to turn to do so, because Shouta has shifted, just slightly—putting Hizashi in between him and the other two mer. He looks like...he looks like he’s trying to make himself smaller, pulling in his tentacles, hunching his shoulders.
Nemuri has noticed the same thing. “Oh my god,” she says, quiet but overwhelmingly delighted.
Hizashi can’t help but melt a little bit, and he smiles encouragingly at Shouta, who’s trying to hide. “I swear they’re okay! They’re both really nice, I promise!”
“...Okay,” Shouta says, but his shoulders don’t drop, and he doesn’t un-ball his tentacles.
He also hasn’t reached for Hizashi yet, like he usually would, so Hizashi smiles again, swimming up to his face, giving his bottom lip a quick kiss, and when Shouta’s hand comes up to touch him, he turns, giving a couple of his fingers a hug. Slowly, he watches Shouta’s shoulders relax, not all the way but enough to be progress. He’s close enough to Shouta’s face that he can whisper to him and not be heard by the other two. “It really is okay.”
Shouta just nods, face as impassive as ever, but Hizashi thinks he sees a trace of uncertainty. He should have realized he’d be calming down both sides of what is really starting to feel like a diplomatic meeting. He looks over at Tensei and Nemuri, waiting on the edge of the cliff. If only Hizashi was as good at using his voice for emotion manipulation as Nemuri is...but then he brightens when he realizes that she’s here.
“Hey, Nemuri, do you wanna sing a little song to make us all calm down?” He turns back to Shouta. “Would that be okay, babe?”
Shouta hesitates, but nods. He’s probably not really worried about Nemuri and Tensei hurting him; it’s probably more of a social anxiety situation.
Nemuri nods too. “I could do that.”
“Great! I can help.” Using his siren abilities to boost hers isn’t difficult, even if this kind of thing isn’t his area of expertise. He’s just as strong as her, but he’s better at volume, screaming loud enough to stun prey or enemies. Hizashi pushes back against Shouta’s hand, who cups his palm to make a seat for Hizashi.
She picks a simple enough lullaby, one Hizashi is able to pick up after the first few words. Even if the two weren’t sirens, it might be calming enough, bringing back memories of being sung to sleep as a child. Halfway through, even though he isn’t a siren, Tensei picks up the melody, adding his deeper voice. He’s probably sung this song to Tenya before.
Hizashi isn’t watching him, but he can feel the tension leave Shouta’s body through his hand, muscles going lax under him. Hizashi hadn’t thought he was tense himself, but he realizes how much he was as he relaxes. He’s comfortable with both parties, but he wanted this meeting to go well, wanted everyone involved to like each other. Now it feels like it’s all going to go okay.
It’s a short song, one meant for multiple mindless repetitions, so Nemuri sings it through a few times. It’s nice, beyond the actual magical effects Hizashi is enjoying it, weaving his voice together with his two friends, making music. He’s been figuring out how to play the instrument Shouta gave him, if only he had that to accompany them…
He doesn’t expect it, but it’s also somehow not surprising, when Shouta’s voice joins them. His voice lays below all the others, deeper than any of the smaller mer could be. His voice is quiet and unpracticed, but it thrums though Hizashi’s bones, adding another dimension to the song.
When Nemuri stops, everyone else does too, but Hizashi doesn’t give the silence time to settle. “That was fun! I didn’t know you would sing, Shou!” He turns around, swimming back up to Shouta’s face, putting his hand on his cheek.
Shouta shrugs. “Everyone else was doing it.”
“Yeah! That was great! You have a beautiful voice.” He leans forward and kisses the tip of his nose.
Nemuri laughs. “You’re supposed to be calm, Hizashi.”
Hizashi turns around to look at her. “I am calm!” He feels good now, not sleepy but relaxed, maybe like he just woke up from a nice nap.
“Whatever you say. We all feel good now?” Nemuri asks. She looks a lot more confident now, settled on her tail in the sand, leaning back.
“Yeah, thanks,” Tensei says. Hizashi thinks he had probably been the chillest of the four of them to begin with, but he does look more comfortable now.
“That was siren magic?” Shouta asks, sounding more curious than guarded now.
“Yep! Krakens don’t have that, do they?” It’s a little uncomfortable to be so close to his face while he talks, especially for extended periods of time, so Hizashi moves away, back to his hand.
Shouta shakes his head. “No. Not that I know of, anyway. Not all mer can do that, right?”
“Right. It’s kind of unusual. Nemuri and I can, but Tensei can’t. It tends to run in families, so his brother can’t, either.”
“Ah,” Shouta says. “Maybe it’s just that my mother and siblings couldn’t, then.”
Hizashi leans forward. Shouta rarely mentions his family. “Oh? I didn’t know you had siblings.”
“I did. A brother and a sister.”
“Older or younger?” Tensei asks.
“Born at the same time as me.”
“Oh, triplets? That’s really rare in our kind of mer,” Tensei says.
“Did?” Nemuri jumps in. “Did something happen to them?”
Shouta just shrugs. “I don’t know. If they’re still alive, they’re far away now. I probably won’t see them again.”
“That’s too bad,” Tensei says.
“You were raised by just your mother? She didn’t have a mate?” Hizashi asks. If Shouta is willing to talk about this now, he’s going to jump on that.
Shouta hesitates. “No,” he says slowly. He doesn’t offer more information, and Hizashi doesn’t push further. Especially not in front of Tensei and Nemuri—maybe he doesn’t want to talk about whatever he’s not saying in front of people he barely knows.
The rest of the meeting goes well, Hizashi thinks. If Shouta isn’t being asked any direct questions, it turns into the three smaller mer talking to each other while he listens, but that’s not bad. It’s still a way for the three of them to get more comfortable with each other. Nemuri’s magic helped, but by the time they leave, Hizashi thinks everyone is just naturally calm, reassured that nobody means any harm.
When Nemuri and Tensei swim back towards the reef, Hizashi is draped over Shouta’s hand, and he leans over to wave goodbye, then rolls back over towards Shouta. “So! How do you think that went?”
“That was fine,” Shouta rumbles.
Hizashi smiles, amused, but he says, “Sorry for just springing them on you like that—I know some warning would have been nice! But it just felt important after the way everyone reacted when you came to save the colony that at least some mer saw what you were really like.”
“But now they’re gone! And it’s just us.” Hizashi voice is just slightly suggestive.
“Yeah.” Shouta doesn’t move right away, doesn’t head towards his cave where they usually spend most of their time. He hesitates, looking conflicted, like there’s something he’s trying to say. Hizashi just waits, curious. He’s a little surprised when Shouta brings up what they talked about earlier by himself. “My mother didn’t have a mate. Is that so unusual among other kinds of mer?”
“No, not really,” Hizashi says, voice careful. “Being raised by your parents, a mom and a dad, is kind of like the default, but other kinds of families aren’t weird. Even when a couple has children, they don’t always stay together to raise them, or at least not always for the whole time their children need care. Things happens, you know? And other mer might help raise kids too, like Tensei and his brother. If a couple breaks up, whether they have kids or not, usually they both get with other mer, but not always. And yeah, some mer never take mates at all. Everyone is different.” That part seems to interest Shouta, so he keeps talking. “Whether they just never find the right mer, or they’re just not interested—they still get included in the community.” He tries to be patient, waiting for what else Shouta is going to say. He doesn’t think he’s really worried that his mother, who he’s hardly ever mentioned before, would be considered unusual by the standards of Hizashi’s species.
Finally, he’s rewarded by Shouta’s slow voice. “I’m not really sure how my species works. I only know what my mother told me and my siblings. But everything she said seems to be true, from what I’ve seen. Krakens aren’t...very social. Not when they’re adults. Mothers raise children, but if we meet others of our kind as adults, it’s either to fight over territory or reproduce.”
He doesn’t offer more, and Hizashi mulls that over, especially his word choice in ‘reproduce.’ “Krakens don’t take mates like other mer do,” he says, after a pause.
Shouta shakes his head. “I don’t think so.”
“So you’re...” he thinks over his next word, and but he still isn’t quite happy with what he settles on, “unusual. As far as you know?”
“Yes,” he says simply. He watches Hizashi carefully, waiting for his response.
Hizashi’s face breaks into a wide grin. “Aww, baby!” Shouta twitches slightly in surprise, then relaxes, as Hizashi darts forward to kiss first his top and then his bottom lip. He pulls back a little to grin at his mate. “That’s really romantic!”
Shouta smiles faintly, but his brows knit together slightly in confusion. “How is that romantic?”
“It’s like...well, it’s kind of already cool how we’re making it work even though we’re different species! But knowing that...you’re not supposed to be equipped for this at all, it’s like you’re going against your biology for me! Like you just love me that much.” Hizashi’s smile gets softer, hand stroking along Shouta’s cheek.
Hizashi can feel Shouta’s cheek warm slightly under his hand as it turns faintly pink. “You’re too sappy,” he grumbles, but he’s smiling slightly. “But...it kind of is like that, I suppose. And I do love you.”
“I love you too!” Hizashi says, almost a shout, grinning brightly. He dives forward to kiss Shouta’s lip again.
Shouta’s hand comes up to cup around him, the tips of his fingers trailing down Hizashi’s long golden hair and down his back and tail. “Want to go down to my cave?”
“Yeah!” Hizashi settles backwards into Shouta’s hand as it wraps around him, pulling him close to move them down into the darkness, towards the soft glow of the mouth of the cave.
Hizashi still feels traces of an afterglow, even after he wakes up from the short nap they took together, stretching out lazily on Shouta’s chest, feeling his body from the tips of his fingers down to the frills of his fins. Shouta is purring faintly, the slight vibration sending tingles through his body—now Hizashi wonders what the purpose of that sound is, if krakens aren’t social. Maybe it’s normally something mother krakens do for their children, or maybe it does normally have something to do with mating, like a noise to reassure their partners that they don’t want to fight. He wonders if Shouta even knows.
Then he wonders what woke him up. On the edge of his consciousness, it feels like it was something, some sound or—and there it is again, a faint rustling. Then voices.
Hizashi jerks in surprise as he hears them, then stills to listen. They’re quiet, outside the cave, and...high-pitched? As he listens longer, he gets more sure—all the voices belong to children.
He carefully eases himself out from under Shouta’s hand, trying not to wake him. Shouta doesn’t complain about it, exactly, but he always seems tired. He needs all the sleep he can get.
Hizashi moves towards the mouth of the cave, more curious than anything. He’s also a little worried—kids shouldn’t be this far from the reef. It’s dangerous for even adults to come this far—although maybe less because of Shouta, since he probably keeps smaller predators away.
As he gets closer, the voices get louder, and he can start to distinguish what they’re saying and make guesses at who they are. The first voice is brash and abrasive, speaking not in a whisper but a low growl. “If there’s a giant kraken in there, I’ll fight it! It needs to be driven away from the reef!” Okay, that’s unmistakely Katsuki, Mitsuki and Masaru’s boy. The next mer to talk confirms it.
“Kacchan, no! It’s too dangerous!” That has to be Izuku, Inko’s kid.
Katsuki again. “Let go of me, Deku! All Might wouldn’t back down. He’d do whatever he needed to, to keep the colony safe!”
Hizashi can imagine Izuku wavering at the mention of their mutual hero, the colony’s most respected warrior. “Well...”
The next voice is more familiar, louder than the other two, barking out his words like orders. “Stop this now, you two! We never should have followed my brother out here in the first place! We must go back now!” Even the serious, rules-following Tenya is here.
“Whatever we do, we need to be quiet,” a fourth voice reminds them. This one sounds like a girl, but Hizashi doesn’t recognize her from her voice alone. “So you guys should keep your voices down!”
“I agree!” Tenya barks as if he’s not part of the problem.
“I can’t believe I let you all drag me out here,” a completely unfamiliar voice drawls.
“We didn’t drag you anywhere, purple-hair! You can leave if you’re a coward!” Katsuki growls.
“Don’t go back by yourself, Hitoshi!” Izuku says. “It’s too dangerous!”
“Fuck dangerous,” Katsuki proclaims, and there are assorted gasps from the others at his profanity. He can’t be any older than Tenya, no more than five, and Hizashi makes a note to tell his parents about his word choice as well as his adventuring before he remembers how much Mitsuki swears. That’s almost certainly where he learned it. “I’m going in there,” he continues.
“Kacchan, no,” Izuku gasps, as Tenya yelps, “Don’t!”
There’s a scuffle as Katsuki growls, “Get off me!” and suddenly Tenya jets through the mouth of the cave, still unable to control the speed and direction of his powerful tail. He flies across the cave, too fast for Hizashi to react or even really track him with his eyes—
And smacks directly into Shouta.
For a moment, Hizashi is frozen. Shouta isn’t dangerous, he’s always infinitely gentle, but Tenya is hardly bigger than one of his fingers, and Shouta knows to be careful when he’s awake but he’s asleep right now, and him doing something as simple and mindless as batting at the child or brushing him away could kill or seriously injure him.
But Shouta barely moves. He just opens his eyes, shifting slowly upright. “Hizashi?” he mumbles sleepily. Tenya is frozen in fear, staring up at him with wide eyes as the kraken towers over him. “Oh,” Shouta says, brows drawing together. “What are you doing here?”
Tenya will be as brave as his older brother someday, but right now he’s hardly more than a baby, and he’s facing down a creature a hundred times his size with a voice that, though it’s currently merely confused and comparatively soft, is still rough and deep enough to shake his bones, and he bursts into tears.
At first, Shouta draws back, surprised, but then he leans forward again, very carefully scooping the child up in two hands, lifting him up. “Oh, hey. It’s okay.”
Before his consoling can have any effect, Katsuki comes barreling into the cave, screaming a battle cry, fists first, and hurls himself at Shouta, shouting, “Let go of him! I’ll fight you!”
Shouta just blinks down at the child in surprise, shifting Tenya to one hand to reach out for Katsuki, who wraps himself around his finger, doing his best to bite, though he doesn’t actually seem to be succeeding in hurting Shouta, his teeth to small to break his skin.
Not to be outdone, Izuku rushes into the cave, ready to attack to protect his friends, and two more small mer follow him. One has short, bobbed brown hair and a round face, and the other has a wild mess of purple hair.
Hizashi rushes forward. “Kids! You all need to chill, yo! It’s okay!”
Shouta just turns to him, face infinitely confused. “Hizashi? Why is my cave suddenly full of tiny mer?”
“They’re kids, babe,” Hizashi says, moving forward to take Tenya from Shouta’s hand. Tenya clings to the more familiar –and familiarly-sized—adult, not crying anymore, just watching Shouta with big eyes. “They’re small because they’re young.”
“Ah,” Shouta says, frowning at the tiny blond mer still wrestling with his finger. “That makes sense. They’re...aggressive.”
Hizashi just laughs. “It’s mostly just that one! Katsuki, stop it.”
Katsuki doesn’t listen at all, just growling and redoubling his efforts. Izuku notices Hizashi for the first time, gasping and swimming over to him, grabbing his hand. “Are you a prisoner? We’ll save you!” He tugs at Hizashi’s hand, trying to lead him to the mouth of the cave. “Quick, while Kacchan has him distracted!” He’s surprisingly strong—Hizashi is actually pulled through the water a few feet before he kicks his tail and moves himself back.
“I’m not a prisoner! Could you all just calm down?” Hizashi is starting to wish, yet again, that his siren powers were different, but he doesn’t think being really loud is going to help this situation any.
“Stop.” The voice cuts through everything, making even Hizashi and Shouta instinctively obey for a moment, everyone freezing at the command from the tiny purple-haired mer.
Hizashi shakes it off first, laughing in surprise at the sudden silence. “Oh, wow! You’re a really powerful siren, aren’t you?”
The kids are most effected, and they all float limp in the water for a moment. Shouta comes to and takes his hand back from Katsuki.
“Alright,” Hizashi says while they have no choice but to be quiet and listen for a moment. “It’s safe, kids! He’s a nice kraken.”
That finally seems to get through to them, and the girl speaks after a pause. “There are nice krakens?”
“Yeah! There are, because Shouta is one!” Hizashi says.
“You’re a nice kraken?” Katsuki demands, fixing Shouta with a glare, his fists braced on his hips. He’s still not being friendly, but it’s an improvement.
“Yes, I am,” Shouta rumbles bemusedly.
“You’re really a kraken? I’ve never met a kraken!” Izuku says, starting to sound excited. “What do krakens eat? Is this your house? Do all krakens live in caves? Are you really strong? I saw you destroy that ship! Do you eat humans? Do you eat mer? No, you’re a nice kraken...” he fades into mumbling.
“Uh...” Shouta says, not sure what to do with the rapid-fire questions. He glances over at Hizashi for help. He’s starting to ball up again, his tentacles twisting up into themselves, held close to his body.
“Hey, leave him alone, kids! He’s shy,” Hizashi says.
“Ohh,” the girl says, nodding. She moves forward to tug Katsuki away. “Come on, guys, be nice!”
Hizashi sighs, looking over all of them. “I guess I better get these guys back to their parents,” he tells Shouta. He puts Tenya down, then moves up to Shouta’s face to give him a quick kiss. “I’ll be back, though!”
“Yuck!” Katsuki exclaims. “Did you just kiss him?”
“He’s my mate!” Hizashi fires back, starting to usher the kids towards the mouth of the cave. “Come on, kids! Time to go home!”
They follow after him. Hizashi quickly counts them—there are five, so he needs to have five when he gets back to the colony, too.
As they swim, Hizashi talks to them. “Now, I know three of you—Tenya, Katsuki, and Izuku—and I know your parents well enough to find them, but who are other two?” He turns to the girl first.
“My name is Ochako, and I know where my house is,” she says proudly. “So you don’t need to take me there.”
“We all know how to get home,” Katsuki grouches. “We got out here, so we can get back.”
“Nuh-uh,” Hizashi says. “I’m taking you home, both so I know you’re safe, and so I can tell your parents where you were. You’re all in big trouble. Coming out this far was really dangerous!”
“But the kraken is nice, you said so yourself!” Izuku protests.
“There are other dangerous things out here! You’re all way too small to leave the reef!”
“We’re not small,” Katsuki says. “We’re brave.”
“Yeah!” Ochako says. “Brave!”
Tenya says “Mm!”
Izuku nods vigorously. “Mhm! Mhm!”
“There’s being brave, and then there’s being stupid,” Hizashi says sternly, but he can’t help but think how he would have done the exact same thing as a child. He realizes one of the kids has barely talked yet, and he turns to the purple-haired one. His silence seems somewhere between sullen and bored. “I don’t think I’ve even seen you around! What’s your name?”
“I’m Hitoshi,” he says. “And I don’t have any parents.”
Hizashi blinks, surprised. “Okay. Then who do you live with?”
Hitoshi shrugs. “I stay with my aunt and uncle, sometimes. But they have other kids.”
“I guess I’ll...take you there, then,” Hizashi says slowly, uneasy. Hitoshi just shrugs again. It’s bothering him that the kid is being so quiet, so Hizashi says, “Thanks for using your magic to make everyone listen, by the way! That was rad.”
Hitoshi blinks at him, surprised. “You’re...not mad at me for that?”
“What? No! Of course not! You were very helpful. Why would I be mad at you for that?”
Hitoshi just looks down. “I...don’t know my own strength. And I don’t have good control.”
He says it so matter of factly, and Hizashi’s heart squeezes at what he must have been told. “Your control seemed perfect!”
“I mess up a lot, though,” Hitoshi says simply.
“Well, yeah! You’re learning! You’re just a kid!” Now Hizashi is mad.
Hitoshi’s face doesn’t change, but his shoulders hunch at the anger in Hizashi’s voice, like he expects to be hit, and he doesn’t respond.
“I’m not taking you back to your aunt and uncle’s,” Hizashi decides, firm but trying to make his tone kinder and softer. “Is there anywhere else you can stay?”
Hitoshi just shrugs. “I’ve stayed at Izuku’s house before.”
He must not have talked to Inko much about his home life if she left him leave her house. Still, it’s a lot to ask of her to take care of another child when she’s already a single mother. “You can hang out there for a bit while I talk to Shouta,” Hizashi says.
Hitoshi tilts his head curiously, but just says, “Okay.”
From the back, Izuku pipes up. “Are we going to have another sleepover? I’m sure my mom will say yes!”
Hizashi nods. “Yeah, we can ask your mom. I just need to...figure some things out.”
One by one, the kids are dropped off with disapproving parents. Hizashi saves Izuku and Hitoshi for last. He doesn’t know Inko well—they live close by each other, not quite neighbors, and he’s only ever talked to her casually. She seems nice, but recently enough the ten-year gap in their ages mattered enough that they’re not close.
“Oh, hello, Hizashi,” she says when he swims up to her house. She’s outside, working in their garden. When she sees who’s with him, she frowns. “Was Izuku bothering you?”
Hizashi shakes his head, but doesn’t smile. “Nah, but I did want to talk about him. Izuku, do you want to tell your mom where I found you?”
At first, Izuku twists in place, shaking his head, but then a flash of determination crosses his face, and he bursts out, “We weren’t being stupid, we were being brave!”
Inko’s lips purse. “Izuku, what were you and your friends doing?”
“The kraken was nice! But if he wasn’t, the colony would have been in danger! Kacchan and I needed to chase him away!”
Inko swims forward, grabbing Izuku by his little shoulders. “Izuku! What kraken? Did you leave the reef?” Her voice is between urgent and angry, a scolding edge to her questions.
“Yeah, we did, but—”
“Izuku! That’s really, really dangerous! You’re grounded, young man!”
“But Kacchan said—”
“You need to stop listening to everything that boy says,” Inko says, disappointment dripping from every syllable. She looks over at Hizashi. “I assume you took him home too?”
“I dropped him off with his parents, yeah. He’s in just as much trouble.”
Inko sighs. “I suppose it’s too much to hope that he’ll learn his lesson. Katsuki is a good kid at heart, but the trouble those two get into...”
“They’ll settle down?” Hizashi suggests. “I was the same way as a kid.”
He’s surprised when Inko laughs, not meanly but definitely at him rather than with him. “They’re not even teenagers yet. It’s only going to get worse. And I wouldn’t say you’ve settled down any, have you? That kraken my son and his friends were trying to fight is your mate, isn’t he?”
“He kissed him on the lips,” Izuku says. He doesn’t seem too upset by the trouble he’s in.
“Ah—yeah,” Hizashi says, rubbing the back of his neck. “I see your point, I guess!”
“Also,” Inko says, her tone serious but a slight smile on her face, “don’t think I don’t remember what you were like as a kid. I remember that date I had with Hisashi that you and your friends ruined.”
Hizashi cringes, laughing nervously. “I didn’t know you remembered that! I’m sorry about it now, if that helps!”
To his relief, Inko laughs too. “I was picking rotten fish out of my hair for days, of course I remember that. But I’m not going to hold something you did fifteen years against you now.” She finally notices Hitoshi, who has been quietly wandering around the garden, making himself unobtrusive. “Are you taking him home next?”
Hizashi hesitates. He could, this is really not his business, and it’s more a vague suspicion than anything else. Then he rallies himself. These flags are bright red and he’s not going to ignore them. “I was actually wondering if you could watch him for a little while.”
“Oh? Why? Izuku’s friends are always welcome here, but he’s grounded right now. Having a friend over would ruin that, a little.”
“Well...I’ve been talking to him, and he doesn’t seem to have a safe place to go right now. It sounds like nobody is really looking after him most of the time, and when they do...I don’t think they treat him very well.”
Inko doesn’t answer right away, just looking at Hitoshi consideringly. Then she looks back at Hizashi. “Of course he can stay here, if that would help. But it sounds like you aren’t asking me to take him forever. Where do you plan to have him stay after that?”
She’s treating this like he can do something here, like he has some say in this child’s life. Just because it seems like nobody else does. Hitoshi doesn’t seem to think his current caretakers will miss him, but Hizashi will have to talk to them, to make sure they really won’t. “With...with me,” he admits, finally. “I just need to talk to my mate, first. I’ve always wanted kids, and I can’t have them with him. I just...need to make sure he feels the same way.”
Inko nods approvingly, but she asks, “What are you going to do if he doesn’t?”
“I’m not sure,” Hizashi says. “I don’t live with him right now, so I could take care of Hitoshi on my own.”
“It’s not easy,” Inko warns him seriously. “Not on your own, and not with another person.”
“I know,” Hizashi says. He’s willing to try this on his own, but it would be nice to have help...and the image of Shouta holding a crying Tenya in his hands is playing over in his mind. He had been so gentle, and the look on his face…
Then Inko smiles. “Good luck, whatever you decide,” she says. “I think you’d make a good father, Hizashi.”
Hizashi laughs, because that statement really drives it home, what he’s been considering—for all of an hour. “Thanks!” He kicks his tail, drifting backwards a few feet. “Now, if you can watch Hitoshi for a bit...I have to go talk to Shouta.”
“Go on,” Inko says, waving him off. “He’ll be safe here.”
Hizashi is nervous the whole way back to Shouta’s cave. At first, he tries to plan what he’s going to say, but that just makes him more anxious, so he just focuses on getting there as fast as possible.
“Hizashi,” Shouta rumbles in greeting, reaching out to take him into his hands. Hizashi relaxes as Shouta presses a kiss to his chest. Whatever they decide together, Shouta will still love him.
He isn’t sure how to start talking about what he wants to talk about, so he chatters about nothing as Shouta pulls him close and takes them down to his cave. As always, Shouta listens, patient and quiet, but he frowns as Hizashi twists from his perch on Shouta’s hand. “You seem...nervous,” he says, looking at Hizashi carefully.
When Hizashi laughs, even he can hear how on-edge it is. “Yeah, I guess so,” he says, fingers drumming against Shouta’s palm. He doesn’t offer anything else right away, and Shouta doesn’t push, so he takes a deep breath and starts, albeit on an only tangentially related topic. “I was just...thinking about something. You said your first time with me was your first time, right?”
“Right,” Shouta says slowly.
“And you’ve always said you haven’t had much contact with your other krakens. Do you...want to?”
Shouta’s face relaxes slightly, and he curls one finger to stroke Hizashi’s hair. “No,” he says. “I’m happy with you.”
His eyebrows draw back together when Hizashi shakes his head. “That’s not what I was thinking about. Not exactly. I mean, good to know, I was just...you said krakens meet to mate, sometimes. So if you happened to meet a female kraken...you could have kids with her. Would you want to do that?”
This time, Shouta takes a moment to answer, a thoughtful look on his face. Maybe he’s trying to puzzle out what response Hizashi is even hoping for—though he doesn’t think Shouta would just tell him what he wants to hear. “I don’t know,” Shouta says finally. “It would feel weird, to mate with someone else when I have you.”
“You could, if you wanted to,” Hizashi says lightly. “You have my blessing, if that helps. Just to have kids, right? My kind of mer does that sometimes—if you can’t have kids with your partner, you can find someone you can with, and make a deal with them. It doesn’t count as cheating if your partner is okay with it.”
Shouta thinks for a moment more, then shakes his head. “Male krakens don’t raise children. If I had kids with another kraken, I would likely never even know for sure that they existed.”
“What if you could? What if you did get to raise them?”
Shouta huffs. “Hizashi, has this whole conversation just been you asking me if I want kids?”
“Well...yeah,” Hizashi admits, twisting his tail again. Then he looks up at Shouta hopefully. “So do you?”
“I don’t...know. I don’t know if I’d be a good parent. I’ve never spent any time around kids.”
“You’ve spent about five minutes, now,” Hizashi points out. Then his tone softens. “And you were a natural. And I’m so much smaller than you and you’re so gentle with me—I think you’d be a good dad.”
Shouta blinks, then smiles. “Yeah?” he asks quietly, and the faraway look in his eyes makes Hizashi sure he made the right choice. Then he focuses again, fixing Hizashi with a serious look. “Do you want kids?”
“Yeah! I love kids. I know I’m still pretty young...and you are too, but...” Hizashi trails off, tail twisting beneath him again.
“There’s no rush,” Shouta says. “We’re both young, and I’m not going anywhere.”
For a moment, Hizashi just smiles at him, heart melting, twisting around to press a kiss to one of his fingertips. “You’re so sweet!” he says, then, more tentatively, “But...there kind of is a rush.” Shouta just waits, so he continues, words spilling out of his mouth. “It’s okay if you don’t want to! I’ll figure something out. But I need to soon...I don’t want him going back to them, I left him with Inko...”
“Hizashi,” Shouta says, calming, stopping him in his tracks. Hizashi had hopped up from his place on Shouta’s hand, swimming a circle around his hand, and Shouta grabs him gently, wrapping his fingers around him in something like a hug. “Who?”
Hizashi stops, taking a deep breath. “His name is Hitoshi,” he says, slower now. “He’s one of the kids who was here. The one with the siren magic. I think he needs someone to take care of him.”
“And you want that to be us,” Shouta says steadily. ‘Us’. Not just Hizashi.
“Yeah,” Hizashi says.
“Mer aren’t self-sufficient that young, are they? Who’s taking care of him right now?”
Hizashi bites his lip. “He said his aunt and uncle, sometimes. And some of the other stuff he said...” Hizashi stops for a moment, running his hand along the curve of Shouta’s finger wrapped around his chest. “Nothing he said was concrete, I know that. And I’m going to talk to them first. But...I can’t ignore this, either. I just...see myself in him,” he admits quietly. “Especially how they treat his magic. He says he loses control of it. I did, too. And he doesn’t feel wanted.” Hizashi takes another deep breath. “I just want to be who I needed when I was that age.”
It seems to take Shouta a second before he gets it, and his eyes widen for a split second before softening. His hand tightens around Hizashi, squeezing gently enough to be comforting rather than painful, a hug when he’s capable of easily crushing. He draws a fingertip down Hizashi’s hair. “I...wish you had gotten what you needed then, too.”
Hizashi can only let it be for a moment before laughing, a deflection, but a gentle one. “It’s okay. That was a long time ago.” He rests his elbows on Shouta’s fingers, his chin in his hands. “So now that we’re talking about it, how was your childhood?”
Shouta shrugs, causing ripples through the water. “I don’t really know. I imagine it would be easier to describe if I had known any other families. I was happy enough, I suppose. I missed my home, when I left. I suppose that means something.”
“Do you miss your mom and your siblings? Do you wish you could see them again?”
“Yes...but if I saw them now, we would have nothing to do but fight. In the best case scenario, we would ignore each other.”
“That’s sad,” Hizashi comments, before straightening up. “So...Hitoshi. I know it’s super fast to make a decision like this, but...he needs somewhere to go.”
Shouta takes a moment to speak, and when he does, it’s slow and halting. “I would...like it, if we took care of him. We could be...a family.”
Hizashi melts, his smile bright on his face. “You’re already my family! But I’m really, really glad you want to consider adding him.”
Shouta blinks at him, lips pursing slightly. “Does this mean you want us to live together, too?”
“Oh! Yeah, I guess that does make sense as a question, doesn’t it! I would like that, yeah. We just need to find a way for that to work. Do you want that?”
This time Shouta doesn’t hesitate. “Yes,” he says simply.
Hizashi smiles again. “Well...we have some things to figure out, then. How all of this is going to work. I should go get Hitoshi from Inko and bring him back to my house, for now.” When he wiggles, bracing his hands against Shouta’s hand and pushing, he releases him, but before swimming away, Hizashi swims forward, stroking Shouta’s face. “But I haven’t gotten much time with you, yet. I want to stay here just a little longer.” He leans forward to kiss Shouta’s lip. “I love you.”
Hizashi is right in front of his mouth, and Shouta knows it would be uncomfortable if he spoke at full volume, so he answers in almost a whisper. “I love you too.”
Ten years later, everything is good.
“Hey, Dad,” Hitoshi calls in his drawling voice, already so low even though he’s only sixteen. It’s like he takes after Shouta, somehow. Even though they’re not related—being different species and drastically different sizes—Hitoshi is starting to look more and more like him, with the same tired eyes, the same thick, wavy hair—although his is lavender to Shouta’s black. It’s no surprise that he’s picked up some of his mannerisms, touching the back of his neck idly as he waits in the mouth of the cave.
Hizashi looks up from where he was stringing together the beads Eri had picked out from the crate Shouta had found in the trench. They’re too little for her to string them herself, she’s only six and doesn’t have either the patience or the coordination yet. “Yeah?”
“Which one?” Shouta rumbles from where he’s stretched out on his front on the floor of the cave, holding his fingers in the arrangement Eri had moved them into so she could use them like an obstacle course, swimming through the hoops his thumbs and pointer fingers make, threading herself through the gaps between his other fingers like she’s weaving, giggling as he gently traps her.
“Either,” Hitoshi says. “Both. Dads. Just wanted to say I’m going out.”
“Okay, have fun!” Hizashi says, carefully laying down the necklace he’s making before waving. “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do!”
Hitoshi gives him a lazy salute and turns to go, but Shouta says, “Wait. Where are you going? When are you going to be back?”
Hitoshi turns back. “To the edge of the reef, I’m meeting...friends. I don’t know when I’ll be back.”
Shouta nods. “Make sure you’re back by nightfall.”
“Daddy!” Eri whines, bored of this game. “Let me go!” So Shouta does, picking her up and tossing her through the water before letting her go. She laughs brightly, swimming a loop back to his hand. “Again!”
“Hold on,” Hizashi says, catching the slight pause before Hitoshi had said ‘friends.’ A mischievous smile spreads across his face. “Is Izuku going to be there?”
He knows he’s hit his mark when Hitoshi twists in place. It’s too dark down here to see if he’s blushing at this distance, even with the bioluminescent plants Shouta grows in the cave, but Hizashi thinks he might be. “No,” Hitoshi says, before amending, “Well, yes. But it’s not just us. Tenya and Ochako are going to be there, too.”
“So it’s not a date?” Hizashi says, faux-innocently.
“Why not?” Hizashi teases. “Izuku is a good kid—well, okay, he’s kind of a troublemaker, but he’s got a good heart! And me and Shouta already know him, you wouldn’t even need to introduce us!”
Shouta nods seriously. “Izuku would make a good mate.”
Hitoshi throws up his hands, kicking his tail hard to spin himself abruptly around, hiding his expression. “That’s it! I’m leaving!”
“Have a good time!” Hizashi calls after him, waiting until he’s out of sight before rolling onto his back, laughing.
Shouta watches him for a moment, smiling faintly, idly swooping Eri through the water as she clings to one of his fingers. “Are they actually together?”
Hizashi rolls back onto his front to face his mate. “No, not yet, I don’t think. I think Hitoshi would tell us if he was actually dating someone. I’m just teasing him about having a crush!”
“They’re both so young,” Shouta says, frowning slightly.
“Not that young, anymore,” Hizashi disagrees. “He’ll be an adult in a few years. Our baby’s growing up!”
“Strange,” Shouta comments, holding his fingers up in a ramp for Eri to roll down. When she reaches his palm, she stops, tired out, splayed on her back with her arms outstretched. She looks exhausted, and her exuberant play would certainly suggest that she should be, but after only a moment she kicks her tail and jets back up to Shouta’s fingers, ready to play again.
Hizashi watches, smiling. She’s only been with them for a little less than a year, but she already seems so much happier than when Mirio first brought her to them. “Hey, did Mirio say when he was next visiting? He’s about due to take her out to the reef again.”
“I don’t know,” Shouta says, catching Eri by her tail, making her squeal in mock outrage, trying to get free. He leaves his grip loose enough that she can, and she races away, giggling, hiding in his thick dark hair.
“It’s good that he helps out with her,” Hizashi thinks out loud. “After what she’s been through, she needs more socialization with other mer, to learn that most people are good. Plus, it’s good for her to get back to the reef sometimes, be a part of the colony.” Hizashi looks back down at the necklace he’s holding, stretching it out, judging the length he’s at now. “Eri, sweetheart, come over here,” he calls.
“I’m hiding!” she calls back, drawing Shouta’s hair around herself like a curtain. She’s not well hidden—her white hair, white tail, and bright red eyes stand out from the black strands more than a little bit.
Hizashi smiles, then glances around theatrically, adopting a comically confused voice. “What?? Who said that??” When Eri just giggles, he holds up the necklace, frowning sadly. “Well...I was making this lovely necklace for my beautiful daughter, but...she tragically went missing! I guess...in memory of her...I’ll just have to wear it myself!” He slowly lifts the necklace up to his neck.
“No!” Eri shrieks. “You said you were making it for me!” She struggles, caught in Shouta’s hair.
“Hey, calm down,” Shouta says, reaching up to gently brush her free from his tangles. Once released, she jets over to Hizashi, grabbing at the necklace.
He holds it out of her reach, one hand on her chest to keep her back. “Hold on! It’s not tied yet. I just want to check if it’s long enough for you.”
Eri looks at him suspiciously, her little hands on her hips. “You’re not stealing it?”
“No, I was only kidding!” Hizashi shakes his head quickly, making his long blond hair float up around him. When Eri purses her lips and nods, holding still, he carefully holds the necklace up to her. “Yeah, I think it’s long enough now!” he says, quickly knotting it together. When he’s done, he holds it out to Eri. “Here you go!”
Despite all her exuberance before, the way she takes it from him is almost reverent. “It’s pretty,” she says softly, running one hand over it.
“Glad you like it, starfish!” Hizashi reaches out to ruffle her hair, making her crinkle up her nose.
Eri lifts the necklace carefully, putting it over her head, the heavier beads in front settling on her chest. She puffs her chest out, posing with her hands on her hips. “Does it look good?”
Hizashi sticks both thumbs up, grinning wide. “Beautiful! Stunning! Gorgeous!”
Eri smiles, twirling around. Then she heads for the mouth of the cave, grabbing her doll as she goes.
“Going up to the garden to play?” Hizashi asks.
Eri nods, turning around. “Uh-huh!”
“Don’t go far,” Shouta reminds her.
“Okay,” she says, humming as she swims out of the cave and up out of the trench.
Hizashi sighs, not unhappily. “It feels like soon they’ll both be leaving for good.”
Shouta reaches out, wrapping a hand around Hizashi, pulling him closer. Hizashi goes willingly, relaxing back into Shouta’s hand. “We still have a few more years with Eri,” Shouta reminds him. “And even if Hitoshi leaves, we’ll still be able to see him sometimes.”
“That’s true,” Hizashi says, resting his elbows on the finger that wraps around his front. “He probably won’t go farther than the reef. Still, I’ll miss him.”
“So will I,” Shouta says, carefully moving his thumb to stroke Hizashi’s hair, down to his cheek.
Hizashi turns his head, pressing a kiss to the tip of it. “I’ll still have you,” he says.
“You’ll always have me,” Shouta says, low and quiet because he’s pulling Hizashi closer to his face, uncurling his fingers to press a kiss to his chest.
Hizashi smiles, because at this point, he knows it’s true. It’s been ten years, Shouta isn’t going anywhere. Ten years of a relationship that was never supposed to work in the first place, that doesn’t make sense to most people.
He wouldn’t trade it for the world.