Kaoru found that mermaids were not what he expected.
Having nearly escaped drowning incidents multiple times in his life, not one part of him was ever dissuaded. A phantom force had saved him every time, with hair dark as the night, and eyes that glowed fluorescent in deep water. Except, there was no possible way for mermaids to be real. Right? They were mythical creatures. Sirens that led wayward sailors to their untimely death. Beasts behind the guise of a beautiful woman–sharpened teeth and greedy viciousness tucked away into the shadows of haunting melodies.
Mermaids, Kaoru finds himself thinking, thoughts escaping him in a haze of dodging a near traumatic experience, were much more terrifying than anything he has ever expected or experienced.
Now, being thrown off a surfboard was unavoidable. Every person who has ever stood on a surfboard knew what a wipeout felt like. What could have been avoided though was the fact that he had lost his footing far from the shoreline—great, not only would he lose his expensive and loved surfboard, but he would lose his life too in the process. An unpredictable experience like this was something that he couldn't plan for, but it was definitely unavoidable. Amazing. Luck normally followed him, fortune smiling at every step, but he had been forsaken and tossed into the tumultuous waters beneath him. Bubbles of memories flit past his eyes, the currents dragging him further into the depths.
Well, isn’t this a lame way to die?
Except, he realizes that he wasn’t necessarily abandoned by Lady Luck in the slightest. Far from it, really.
In one second he feels a cold tongue pry his lips open, even colder lips pressing against his as he feels air pass through his lungs. Sinking in deep, cold water was terrifying, but the prospect of a fish gnawing on his lips while he was still alive was much more harrowing. He wanted to be immortalized in all his glory right before he was inevitably eaten by sharks and fishes. If he could, he would have screamed (water aside, of course). He doesn’t get to savor the feeling of sharp fangs pricking tongue or the way a sharp chill emanated from softness, or the way piercing claws pressed insistent crescents into his waist—before he realizes it, water pressure hits him like a bus and his back is laid down on the cold stone.
He coughs, feeling water bubble in his lungs. His eyes snap open. He was supposed to die–teetering over the edge of consciousness and unconsciousness from shock and residual water damage. Drowning was terrifying, but what was more terrifying was the fact that he had survived that. Somehow, against all logic, he had lived to tell the tale. He should have died back there. He should have been swallowed whole by the deep, dark abyss of the ocean.
And, yet. Here he was. Breathing. Alive.
Kaoru winces, leaning over to his side and spitting out the saltwater collecting inside of his throat. He groans, grimacing. That was the thing about surviving: the consequences. An immediate stop at the hospital was to check if he was at risk for pneumonia–maybe, a few phone calls had to be made as well. Surely, he was spared for a reason. That wasn’t enough incentive for him to reconcile with his father, but he could show his face the next time they’re forced into the same room. Ugh. He could throw up again if he could. Post-traumatic thoughts aside, he had to figure out how to retrieve his surfboard. That was clearly the most important task on his agenda, ranking above a hospital visit and possible familial reconciliation. That was a gift from his late mother and he couldn't just lose it without a fight.
A quiet thud is enough for him to snap back to his senses.
Kaoru slowly turns his head.
His first thought: Oh. She's quite pretty.
The thought that follows immediately after: Oh. This was the fish gnawing on my lips… Wait. Was I just kissed by a–
Kaoru’s jaw unhinges, falling open.
Mermaids were supposed to be beautiful. The one that he was now acquainted with certainly was, but not in the ways that he had been taught to anticipate. With sharp teeth and an even sharper grin—this mermaid was more creature than human. Anyone that had a modicum of common sense would have been wise enough to find another beach as a surfing spot, but Kaoru was not like most people. His eyes trail over to his surfboard, watching black claws trail over the well-loved scratches left behind after years of tumbling and navigating with the waves. Oh, there's my surfboard. Wait. That's my surfboard. That mermaid just returned my...
There was an honest to God fish-human, mermaid-thing just mere inches from him.
“Hey, uh…” Kaoru pushes himself into a more comfortable sitting position, not quite believing his eyes. The mermaid stares at him, arms resting against the cold stone of the cove. He props his chin on them, eyes tracking his every movement with curiosity. Oh, he was speaking to a mermaid—an actual, living, breathing human-fish hybrid thing that was supposed to only exist in fairy tales. Unless, of course, he was in the middle of delusion. The kind of delusion that you would have if you were mere seconds to dying. Well, the mermaid was a beautiful woman. So, at least he could say that he was kissed by an alluring siren of a lady.
That is, until his eyes land lower and, oh, that was not a woman in the slightest.
The mermaid– merman, tilts his head at him. He seemed to consider his every move, studying him. A shiver runs down his spine, ambiguous in intent and indeliberate in action. Being the sole focus of an otherworldly sea creature was not the way he wanted to spend his Thursday afternoon, but here was, front and center to an otherworldly sea creature that was far more beautiful than anyone he has ever seen before. Gender aside, Kaoru would be a fool to not consider this mercreature as flawless, charming in the way terrifying things were meant to view at a distance.
“Were you the one that…” Kaoru can’t believe himself right now. He was willingly engaging with a merman. “That… saved me?”
A single splash is enough to catch him off guard, saltwater leaving his face even warmer than it should be. Consciously, he wondered about many aspects of the encounter. Clearly, the merman could understand human speech (unless, of course, that the fish-human hybrid was just messing around with him). Mermaids were supposed to sing, so they had vocal chords (somehow). But, this one was completely mute. By choice or by birth? Did mermen even sing? It didn’t really matter, did it? The fact didn’t change: this mermaid refused to reply to him. Or, was at least, selectively keeping silent.
Kaoru finds his fingers trembling as he reaches for his surfboard. Any closer and he could touch the creature, a simple brush of his fingertips. Enough days spent near aquarium tanks taught him that waving your fingers around recklessly could only lead to bad consequences. As much as his morbid curiosity tugged at him to reach out and prod at the merman, the more rational part of him begged him to not try anything stupid.
That is until the merman lowers his head. Chin resting down on the cove’s ground, eyes closed as long eyelashes fluttered against high cheekbones. Kaoru peers over at him, claws slack against the surface of his surfboard. Deathly pale, almost like a trail of moonlight over the ocean in starlit nights. Soft black hair like the depths, framing the alluring curve of his jaw, soft lips marred only by needle-sharp canines. Kaoru has never felt so terrified in his whole life, a spell bewitching him and keeping him glued in place. There were many opportunities to leave after all–he knew the beach like the back of his hand and this cove was in a secluded location near his mother’s old laboratory. Now it was his.
His fingers itch to take notes of the encounter.
The merman peeks one eye open.
“Can you talk?” Kaoru asks, slowly.
“Okay.” Kaoru inhales, steadying himself and willing his heart to calm itself from adrenaline. “Okay, yeah, that’s fine.” He babbles, tugging his surfboard closer to him. Could he even rationalize this? It was paradoxical for a man of science like himself to even entertain the idea of a seemingly fictional being, but every life-changing situation lends twice as more meaningful experience than a mundane one.
At the receiving end of an intense gaze, all Kaoru can do is shift in place.
“...Thank you.” Kaoru mumbles, feeling his cheeks warm. Shit, what was happening to him? “For saving my life and returning my surfboard.” The least he could do was to recognize the merman’s effort, even if that meant acknowledging that mercreatures were actually real and that he wasn’t actually hallucinating. A murmur is all he gets in response. Strangely enough, it sounded similar to human language–just hoarser and more jumbled. As if the beholder lacked the practice to convey his words out loud; as if he was unused to the feeling of words were stuck to his throat, viscous and uncomfortable. Kaoru doesn’t question it, but it leaves him curious.
The murmur comes back, crackling and croaking. He lowers his head back to his clasped hands, leaning his cheek against it. Against his better judgment and whatever sense of self-preservation he had left, he reaches his hand out and lets raven hair fall between his fingertips. The water must have made it to his head for him to wave his fingers, much less his hand close to a creature with sharp incisors.
Kaoru pulls his hand back, a shocked gasp leaving his mouth at the realization of what had just transpired. “Sorry. Don’t know what came over me. You just reminded me of a cat that I take care of back at home.” He prattles, turning red in embarrassment. Recklessness was the enemy of a human at the mercy of a, well, non-human. Part of him knows not to trust so easily, especially since mercreatures were known to be merciless with their prey, but his instincts tell him that this one means no harm. If he had any desire to sink Kaoru into the depths, then surely he would have done so already? Much less, wouldn’t he have been savoring on his bones at this point if he truly meant to hurt him?
The merman opens his eyes, a silent protest causing his gills to flicker and glow in a quiet show of a tantrum.
‘What?” Kaoru chuckles, nervous.
He receives a frown and a pointed glare.
“You want me to…” Kaoru blanks out. It’s his turn to tilt his head, utter disbelief nearly making him fall over. “Continue?” A nod. “Seriously?”
The creature looked very serious if the flash of sharp canines was any indication for that. Any self-respecting and cautious individual would have stood up and thanked him for his service, but Kaoru was anything but right now. So, he resumes the petting. As strange as it may be. He lets his fingers run through ebony hair, mildly amazed at how docile this merman was. Maybe, he wasn’t the first human he ever came into contact with? That would have made sense-but, at the same time, it left Kaoru wondering about the proper circumstances in meeting mercreatures.
“Heh. You’re not so scary, actually.” Kaoru chuckles, stroking a dark mop of hair. It was impossibly soft for a thing (was it rude to refer to someone who was vaguely human as a thing…) that was submerged in saltwater.
“Oh.” Kaoru stops his onslaught of petting with a belated realization. This earns him a nibble on his wrist, insistent and ticklish even with the soft nick of teeth against his artery. It gets him to yelp, nearly smacking him away. Whatever movement he could have attempted is hindered by a single hand curling around his wrist, keeping him shackled in place for an inevitable hour of hair stroking. “Hey, hey. I’m not leaving? Could you, maybe, let go?”
His reply comes in the form of a disgruntled mutter.
Kaoru feels his heart shoot up in his chest as he rubs his wrist, the phantom touch of claws lingering against his skin–a reminder of just what he was dealing with. He swallows, not wanting to upset his new friend (well, he did have his life saved, so clearly there was some bond binding them together).
“Right.” Kaoru snaps out of it, not wanting to lower his guard any more than he already has. His mind returns and recalls his previous question. “I never asked you what your name was?”
The creature keeps his eyes closed, a low rumbling making the gills along his neck thrum. So, now he was being ignored? Kaoru thinks, absentmindedly. He scratches his scalp gently, finding the mermaid melting under his touch. What was he, a cat? Kaoru had to admit that it was adorable. Maybe, if he closed his eyes and really imagined it then it would be like petting his cat back at home–except, that didn’t work since the cat-surrogate in front of him was terrifying, mysterious, and drenched.
He receives no response, but at this point, he’s more than used to it. Wasn’t his first time carrying a conversation and it probably wouldn’t be his last.
“Well, should I just call you Lorelei, then?” Kaoru ponders, a soft lilt dulling the edges of his words kindly. “It’s a pretty name, don’t you think? But, her story is pretty tragic, so I don’t think it would be very appropriate to call you that, huh. What do you think, Lorelei?” He smiles, curling his fingers underneath his ear-gill, rubbing gentle circles around its edge.
Names were essential in forming relationships. After all, he couldn’t possibly refer to him namelessly forever. But, that only meant that subconsciously some part of him had wanted to see him again. In the academic sense, obviously. Why else would he willingly seek out a merman otherwise? Minutes pass without a whispered name or a raspy preen. Kaoru doesn’t push the topic. He would rather stay on the good side of a creature he didn’t quite understand (and was still quite wary of). He scratches under Rei’s chin, cooing when the mermaid purrs.
Kaoru grins. The longer he stayed, the more receptive he was to foreign merman nonsense. Perhaps that was the spell that would eventually be his undoing–well, no matter. He would just have to be the first one to break it off (again, not the first time. Won’t be the last given his track record).
He’s about ready to move onto another topic (something interesting like mermaid society, if it even existed. He was just practicing the principles of the scientific method) when he hears a single whisper.
“Your name is Rei?” Kaoru repeats, his fingers stilling underneath Rei’s chin.
“Well, nice to meet you, Rei.”
Rei smiles again, closing his eyes and leaning into Kaoru’s touch. Kaoru can’t resist rubbing his thumb against the apple of a sharp cheekbone. Never would he have thought to have spent an afternoon surviving another drowning mishap because a mythical creature saved him. His mother would have wanted to hear that story—no matter how outlandish the story may have been. Though, he probably would have been questioned intensely given how curious she could be over the most specific of topics. Mythology and pretty mermen included. Here’s what he knows about Rei: absolutely nothing save for his name and the fact that he was a merman. Oh, and the fact that there was a mystifying allure that drew Kaoru in. He was beautiful, ethereal in a mystifying way that left Kaoru fearing for the direction of his life. Getting carried away by the current was a constant in his life, always going with the flow and adjusting based on his circumstances. Something felt different about this current encounter as if it had been preordained. What a silly and pointless line of thought. What am I even saying?
Rei opens his eyes, staring at him expectantly.
“Oh, me?” Kaoru snaps out of it, curling his fingers under Rei’s chin. “Ah, I never gave you my name, did I?”
“The name’s Kaoru.” He winks a throwaway gesture that’s more unconscious habit than conscious decision nowadays. “You ought to remember it.” He would have written it down somewhere, maybe in the sand if there was any, but he was far too busy watching the mermaid closely. Behind him, the sun continued to disappear into the horizon, sky-lit in a perfect tableau of lilacs and oranges. It only served to highlight the deep lavender of his scales, sparkling against the water like gemstones.
It was growing late. He needed to return home eventually. Kaoru had a cat to feed and a mountain of research to sort and tabulate once all was said and done. It was still extremely strange to have survived a near-death experience, but he was more than thankful to have dodged that. It made him feel lonely seeing Rei’s expression drop. He had to give it to the merman, he was far more perceptive than one would expect.
“I’ll come and visit,” Kaoru says, words leaving his mouth faster than he could comprehend what he was saying and insinuating. “I just work at the lab nearby. I’m, like, a specialist when it comes to studying the ocean and what’s in it.” He explains, pulling his hand away from Rei’s hair. “I wasn’t so active with field research since I was at another beach, but I transferred just recently. This is my usual surfing spot, though.”
Rei hums, keeping his eyes trained on Kaoru as he waved his hands around in explanation.
“So, um,” Kaoru lowers his hands. “I’ll see you around?”
Rei holds out his hand, Kaoru meets him halfway. What he expects is a handshake, cordial and short as he thinks of the damp softness of Rei’s hand. But, what he gets instead is the mercreature tugging him forward roughly. All he can see is red eyes glimmering like blood staring into his, lips against his in a tender lock. He gasps, surprised. A nibble against his lips is enough for him to let out a near-pitiful sound, a mix between a whimper and a moan that only leaves him more defenseless to Rei’s sudden advance. Strangely enough, he doesn’t want to pull away from him. An effect of merman magic, definitely, because if Kaoru was in his right mind, he would have pushed him away and never turn back.
Kaoru ends up closing his eyes, deepening the kiss with a slight turn of his head.
“Now,” Kaoru pulls away, holding a hand up between them. “That is certainly one way to say goodbye.” He laughs breathlessly. “But, be sure not to do that with every human you come across, okay? Not everyone would be happy to be kissed randomly, not even by someone as beautiful as you.” Another case of brain-to-mouth filter effectively shuttered and tucked away. No doubt the Kaoru in ten minutes would be biting his tongue in shame, but the current one was far too preoccupied memorizing the embarrassed blush on Rei’s face.
Kaoru stands, but not without one last affectionate ruffle of his hair.
“See you tomorrow!” Kaoru says, grin on his face as he tucks his surfboard under his arm. Just as he exits the cove, he sneaks a glance at the merman. He lifts his hand, waving goodbye. The momentary smile that flits Rei’s face is enough for him, heart thundering in his chest insistent and subconscious. Now wasn’t the time to unpack it, managing and tucking those parts of him away.
All he could really think about on his trek back to the main beach was the shimmer of lavender against the setting sun.