Hank paused and looked up from where he’d seated himself on a rock to roll up the hem of his pants in time to see Simon haul himself up out of the surf onto a similar rock a few yards out into the water. The merman swept his long blue tail through the water as he made himself comfortable while Hank dropped his gaze so he could unlace his boots and discard them and his socks on the sand nearby.
“’Course I did,” the man said with a frown as he stood and waded out into the chill water, barely registering its harsh bite against his warm skin. “You were bein’ even more cryptic than usual, which is impressive, considering,” Hank pointed out unhappily as he reached the merman’s perch, but did not move to climb onto it himself. He’d probably regret it in a few minutes when his feet went totally numb.
A small smile tugged at Simon’s lips at the fisherman’s grumbling. Had he really known him less than three months? Sometimes the merman felt as though he’d known Hank Anderson for a lifetime, and sometimes like he didn’t know him at all. He’d thought he’d had Hank figured out within days of arriving in the small seaside town; gruff, introverted, and cold… Well, Simon hadn’t been wrong about Hank being gruff and introverted, but gradually he had come to realize he was anything but cold. He tried to pretend he was, for reasons that had taken Simon some time determine, but in reality he was a warm, caring man that would go out of his way to help someone in need, stranger or not.
He’d complain the entire time, of course, but he’d still do it.
Simon hadn’t been able to see that until after he’d saved the fisherman when he’d gone overboard during a bad storm, of course. They hadn’t been on good terms before that point; in fact, Hank had been outright suspicious of him, but the merman could hardly blame him, and he hadn’t let the man’s hostility stop him from saving his life.
He’d only been in town for two weeks at that point, sticking to the story that he had amnesia and thus no memory of where he’d come from before Markus had found him washed up on the beach. It’d been a lie, of course, and Hank could tell, though the truth of the matter was far wilder than anything he could have guessed.
While merfolk generally kept to themselves down in the depths of the sea, Simon had always been fascinated by the surface, and during one of his frequent trips to the coast, he had become smitten with a handsome musician performing at the pier. He’d taken to watching Markus any time he was beside the water, and it hadn’t been long before he’d been head over fins for the human with his beautiful voice and kind ways.
It’d been foolhardy to seek out the witch that lived in the sea caves along the shore, but Simon had heard she sometimes helped people and he had grown desperate for a chance to be with the man he’d fallen in love with. Her price for the magic he wanted was paltry, seafloor trinkets found easily by a merman, but the price of the magic itself had been significantly steeper. He would be mute so long as he remained in human form, and his every step an agony, like striding across a bed of needles. More importantly, though, the magic would last for only three months, and if he had not received true love’s kiss by then… he would die.
Simon had paid the price gladly, certain of his success in spite of the obstacles. Oh what a fool he had been.
Markus had found Simon on the beach during his morning jog, taken him back to town and even found himself a place to stay until he could get his bearings and remember where he had come from. His friend Josh had an extra room over his bookshop and the man had been kind enough to let him work in exchange for some under the table pay and a place to stay. Simon had been delighted, inundated in so many new things to see and learn, people to meet, friends to make…
It didn’t take him long to realize he had made a grave error, however. Markus, it turned out, already had someone he loved, and while he became close friends with with Simon, his heart belonged to North, and nothing the merman tried could begin to sway it.
“Sorry,” Simon mused with a soft huff and a melancholy smile that intensified Hank’s worry rather than eased it.
“What’s going on?” the fisherman asked with a frown as he studied the merman’s face, tracing its familiar lines and trying to catch his eyes as though he might read the truth in their depths. Hank tried not to think too hard about the way his chest ached when Simon smiled like that; the sorrow in his blue gaze was like a blade that slid between his ribs and directly into his heart. It was an expression he’d been wearing more and more of late, and the fisherman was convinced it was slowly killing him.
Markus, Hank thought, was an idiot. Not that North wasn’t a nice girl; they suited one another, really, but Simon…
Alright, so maybe Hank was, in fact, the idiot in this scenario. He was the one that had fallen in love with a merman already in love with someone else, after all. Simon had literally put his life on the line for a chance to be with Markus, of course he’d never look look twice at someone like Hank.
Knowing it was all for naught didn’t stop the way his heart skipped a beat every time Simon smiled at him, though. It didn’t stop him from coveting the fact that he was the only one that knew the merman’s secret, that he’d been willing to risk himself to save Hank when he’d gone overboard that stormy night almost three months ago. He was the only person that got to see Simon like this, in his natural form; achingly beautiful in the rosy light of the setting sun and looking at him and only him.
He’d do anything Simon asked of him; it was a truth that frightened Hank sometimes, drove the air from his lungs and left him aching with a need he couldn’t put words to. It had been a terrifying realization when he’d first had it, but at the same time he trusted the merman enough to know he would never take advantage of Hank’s weakness, which only made the fisherman love him more.
“I-” Simon began, then stopped as he finally lifted his gaze to meet Hank’s, struggling to speak. The concern on the man’s face made the merman’s stomach twist and his throat tighten and it took everything in him to finally say, “My time’s almost up, Hank. I just… I wanted-”
What did he want?
Not to be alone in his final moments, of course, but he could have gone anywhere, been with anyone. He could have left town for the sea and gone back home before meeting his inevitable end.
Mostly, he thought, he wanted to not be in love with Hank.
It’d all seemed so simple when he’d first arrived. Find Markus, make the musician fall in love with him, get his kiss, then live happily ever after. Things had been anything but simple from minute one, though. First, it turned out Markus was already in love with someone else, and no amount of Simon’s charm could lure the man into anything more than friendship. And then, when Simon had been at his lowest, he had rescued Hank and in the process earned himself an unexpected confidant and friend. Someone who knew the truth of his identity, someone he could speak to freely while in his natural form, someone who gifted him earnest advice and even did his best to turn Markus’ attention his way. It had been to no avail, of course, but Simon had appreciated the gesture, even as it slowly began to chafe.
As weeks passed, Simon thought of Markus less and Hank more. Making the gruff fisherman smile was a triumph, and his laugh never failed to send a pleasant warmth racing through the merman. He wasn’t sure quite when it was he had fallen in love with Hank Anderson, but he knew as he looked at him now, standing beside him without a care for the ice cold water ebbing around his calves, that there could never be anyone else. Not anymore.
It wasn’t fair, Simon thought as tears pricked at the corners of his eyes and the air rushed from his chest. It wasn’t fair that he’d sold his life for a chance to be with Markus when what he wanted more than anything was to spend the rest of his days with Hank.
Something was terribly wrong, and Hank felt his veins turn to ice even as he asked, “What’s wrong?”
Simon was quiet for a long moment, but eventually, the merman began to explain the nature of the magic that allowed him to shift between his natural and human forms. He dropped his eyes only a few words in, unable to look at Hank as the truth finally came pouring out of him, and by the time he was finished, his gaze was locked, unseeing, on the distant horizon.
The fisherman stood frozen in place, mind reeling at the immensity of a situation so much more complicated and dire than he had ever realized.
“How long do you have?” he finally asked, voice rough, words seeming to catch in his throat on their way past his lips. The whole world felt as though it were careening wildly around him, the gentle sigh of the incoming tide suddenly a deafening roar in his ears.
Somehow, though, he didn’t have any trouble hearing Simon when the merman quietly admitted, “Sunrise,” and finally looked at him once more.
“Sunrise,” Hank repeated numbly. “If Markus doesn’t kiss you by sunrise, you’re going to die?”
A stupid question. Why couldn’t he stop parroting what Simon had already told him? Something important stirred beneath the panic rising in him, though, and Hank latched onto it like a lifeline.
“Yes,” Simon replied softly. “I asked you to be here because I… I guess I didn’t want to be alone,” he admitted and managed to choke out a sad laugh as his tears broke free and spilled down his sea damp cheeks.
“No,” Hank said abruptly, and Simon blinked up at him in confusion to find the man looking at him with curious intensity.
“What?” the merman asked. The thought that Hank might not want to be with him in his last moments, that he might not want to have to witness his death occurred to him and Simon was suddenly struck with the realization that he’d been terribly selfish in his request. “I’m sorry, you don’t have to stay,” he began, heart aching more than ever, only to be cut off again when the fisherman grabbed him unexpectedly by the shoulders.
“That’s not what that witch said, was it?” Hank asked, voice low and fervent as he searched Simon’s confused eyes with his own. “What were her exact words, Simon?” he demanded and gave the baffled merman a gentle shake, as if to jar the truth from him by force.
“She said I had to get true love’s kiss by sunrise of the third full moon,” Simon stammered, heart jumping behind his breastbone when his words brought something like hope to Hank’s eyes. The merman opened his mouth to say something else, but whatever it was dropped right out of his head as the man shifted forward to rest one knee against the rock Simon perched on, bringing him in closer than ever. Thought of anything but how warm the man’s skin was against his fled altogether when Hank shifted his calloused hands from Simon’s shoulders upwards to cradle the merman’s face. Simon’s eyes fluttered shut in pure bliss as the sheer heat of them, breath coming quick and shallow at this unexpected shift in the energy between them.
He wondered briefly if he had already died and found that merfolk did indeed go to heaven, because if there was a heaven, Simon was completely convinced it felt like Hank’s hands on him as the fisherman leaned in, nose scant inches away from his own. The merman could feel the heat radiating off the man and he reached out instinctively to rest his hands on Hank’s hips.
Before Simon could consider what he might do next, Hank said, “Kiss me.”The merman’s eyes flew open in shock at the words, heart pounding behind his ribs as he registered that Hank really was as close as he’d suspected. The barest shift on either of their part would send them crashing together…
“What?” Simon gasped, feeling like a broken record now, though he couldn’t have asked anything else if his life had depended on it.
“Kiss me,” Hank repeated, a little more self conscious this time, though just as emphatic. Simon’s eyes were wide with surprise, but he hadn’t recoiled in horror at the suggestion, so the fisherman continued, “the witch just said you had to get ‘true love’s kiss’, right?” Simon nodded dumbly, unable to speak but hanging on Hank’s every word. “Well I… I love you,” Hank said, cheeks flushing at the admission but, riding high on a desperate, wild hope that he might be enough to save the merman’s life, he managed to add, “-truly. I don’t know if it counts if it’s just me… I know I’m not who you want; I’m not Markus, but it’s worth a try, right?”
Simon’s grip on Hank’s hips tightened reflexively, hands fisting in the thick wool of his sweater as the immensity of the man’s words settled over him.
He loved him. Hank loved him. He loved him and he wanted to kiss him and-
A quiet sob escaped Simon and a fresh wave of tears spilled over his cheeks as the emotion welling up within him became to big to contain.
“Hey, hey don’t cry, it’s okay,” Hank said, voice gentle but verging on panic as he wiped away Simon’s tears with his thumbs. “You don’t have to if you don’t want to, I just thought-”
Laughter interrupted the merman’s crying, though didn’t stop it as he admitted, “No, I’m just…” He managed to smile at Hank then, and continued, “I’m such an idiot.”
“Listen, you’re a lot of things, idiot is not one of them,” Hank insisted, torn painfully between hope and fear in the face of the merman’s smile.
Simon shook his head and used his hold on Hank’s sweater to pull him in closer, making the fisherman’s eyes go wide as he said, “You don’t have to flatter me, Hank. I am. I’ve been so blind… but I guess that’s just something being in love does to a person.” He smiled shyly and admitted, “I was so busy falling in love with you I didn’t even notice you’d fallen in love with me.”
The words felt like lightning racing up Hank’s spine, sharp and clear and beautiful as they left him stunned and staring down at the merman. Finally he sucked in a breath and laughed, “Well, that makes two of us, I guess.” Simon’s smile widened and tilted his chin under Hank’s hands where they lingered along the merman’s jaw in silent invitation. Nervous energy humming under his skin at the tiny gesture, Hank hesitated for a moment then carefully, reverently even, closed the distance between them to press a kiss to Simon’s lips.
They were cool and soft under his own, and Hank could feel a shudder ripple through the merman before Simon pulled him in closer, taking their kiss from tender to passionate in the span of a breath. The intensity of it dragged a groan of bliss from the fisherman, his only coherent thought that they were not anywhere near close enough for his liking; a sentiment Simon clearly shared as he slid his hands up under Hank’s shirt. His cool, slick touch made Hank gasp and shift forward as Simon parted his lips and welcomed him inside, though before they got any further, both men were reminded of just how precarious their positions were when they suddenly found themselves tumbling backwards into the waves.
The water was only a few feet deep, but it was more than enough to submerge both of them and send Hank bobbing back to the surface with a ragged gasp. Simon was immediately at his side, supporting him so he didn’t topple and go under again, arms sliding around Hank and dragging him in close. “I’ve got you,” he reassured the man with a chuckle.
Hank wiped water from his face with a hand then raked his fingers back through his sodden curls so he could see, soaked sweater hanging off his muscular frame as he twisted so he and Simon were face-to-face. “Did it work?” he asked, and to Simon’s embarrassment it took him a moment to realize what he was asking.
Heart jumping in his chest at the moment of truth, Simon twisted in the water and revealed… a tail.
The merman’s stomach dropped sickeningly at the sight of the blue appendage as it broke the surface of the water and he realized their gamble had not payed off. He was still a merman.
Beside him, Hank swore vehemently and slapped the water, furious. Not at Simon, but at himself. He wasn’t good enough to break the spell and now Simon would die in a few hours time and-
The fisherman let out a voiceless cry of pain and fury at the unfairness of it all, then turned to Simon, regret and sorrow written clear on the sharp lines of his face. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I really thought I-”
Simon shushed him gently, and rather than rail against the unfairness of his fate, reached out to Hank and pulled him in for another kiss. It was gentle and sweet and it stole Hank’s breath away, leaving him gasping and weak under the blissful onslaught.
“It’s alright,” Simon murmured gently against his lips, then pulled back and traced his fingers along Hank’s jaw, smiling softly as he continued, “It’s not your fault.”
Hank searched the other man’s face for any hint of blame, but found none, though he wished he had. It would, he thought as he leaned forward to press his face into the crook of Simon’s neck, be easier if the merman hated him for his failure. Trembling under the weight of his own inadequacy, the fisherman slipped his arms around Simon, unwilling to let him go.
The merman pressed a kiss to the crown of Hank’s curls and held him for a time before being forced to recall the man’s more fragile human nature. “We should get you out of the water. You’ll catch your death this time of year,” he murmured gently. Hank tried to resist, but Simon firmly, if reluctantly, disentangled himself from the man’s hold and gently pushed him back towards the shore. “I’ll change too, we’ll sit on the beach and make a fire,” he said and finally Hank nodded in silent agreement.
When he went to stand up, however, he fell over, feeling as though his legs had become tangled together while sitting there in the water. “I think my legs went numb,” he said and spit a mouthful of seawater as Simon looked on with concern.
“Here, I’ll change and drag you in,” Simon began, but Hank immediately waved him off, not wanting the merman to go through the additional struggle of carrying something heavy when just walking was painful enough for him in human form.
“No, I got it, I’ll just-” the fisherman twisted in place, intent on lifting his legs so he could see if they had indeed become tangled in seaweed, but instead of a pair of long, muscular legs… a dark, silvery tail broke the surface.
They both stared at it in mute disbelief for a long moment until Hank dropped what should have been his legs beneath the water again. He took a breath, then lifted them once more and was, again, met with the sight of an unfamiliar fish tail quite similar to Simon’s aside from the color.
“You’re seeing this, right?” he asked the merman, his own gaze locked on the tail. Simon nodded and Hank said, “Oh, good.” Silence stretched between them again and finally Hank asked, “Am I a fucking merman?”
“I think so,” Simon answered and finally tore his eyes from Hank’s new appendage to look at his face once more. “Are you okay? Does it hurt?”
The fisherman (fish man?) turned to regard him in turn and blinked as he finally seemed to shake off his initial shock. “I think I’m fine,” he answered and moved his tail again. “Doesn’t hurt, anyways,” he mused, then turned his attention back towards Simon, and asked, “Do you… think it worked after all?” in a hopeful tone. Simon looked confused by the question, so he clarified, “Do you think you’re safe?”
“I- oh!” the merman said as he realized what Hank was asking. “I don’t know,” he admitted uncertainly. He didn’t feel any different, but then he hadn’t felt different besides and overriding sense of dread about his impending doom before the kiss either. “I’m not sure we’ll be able to know for sure until sunrise,” he speculated with a frown.
Hank nodded absently, but something inside him knew that everything was going to be just fine. Well, he was a merman and he wasn’t entirely sure that was fine, but… it certainly wasn’t not fine. “So we’ve got a few hours to burn then?” he remarked as the last of the sun sank below the horizon, leaving the both of them illuminated by only the moon where it hung high overhead.
“I suppose we do,” Simon said and felt a sudden onslaught of butterflies overtake his belly when something in Hank’s gaze shifted and a crooked smile pulled at the man’s mouth for the first time that evening.
“Well then,” the former fisherman murmured as he reached out and gently pulled the other merman towards him. “I can think of a few ways to pass them, I think.”
Simon’s breath hitched as Hank drew him in against his chest, and he didn’t hesitate to slip his arms up and around the man’s neck where his fingers could tangle in the thick, wet curls of his hair. “Oh?” he said and tilted his chin up once more, pulse jumping as Hank’s hands roved down the length of his pale back to settle on his hips. “I suppose a little insurance wouldn’t hurt.”
“Nope,” Hank said. “Always did say that anything worth doing is worth doing well,” he teased with a low chuckle that Simon quickly silenced with another kiss.