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Bonne Nuit, Monsieur Poisson

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Marco Bodt is a man of faith, to be sure, but he is also sound of sanity and capable of reasoning. Absolutely.

This is kind of testing his suspension of disbelief.

But really, what is there to reason when his eyes, which have never betrayed him before, are giving him plain-as-day evidence? Regardless of his stance on merperson existence, his eyes tell him that the thing he just found beached by the side of the River Seine is, in fact, a human with the lower half of a fish.

He’s really not sure what to believe. Still, there they are. A merperson.

They’ve got a brilliant tail, jewel-like scales glittering in the pale moonlight, and their chest heaves with weak breaths as their sightless eyes stare toward the star-dotted October night sky.

No matter what faith or deception tells him, this person is obviously in need of help. So Marco Bodt does what comes most instinctively to him.

He helps.

--

It turns out, his bathtub is of the perfect size to submerge them to the dry-looking gills. At least he hadn’t hauled a half-dead fishperson down the road and up the rickety stairs at four in the morning for nothing. (He’d checked as he paused for breath somewhere around the third floor; the tail isn’t an ill-fated costume. Merpeople are apparently real, at least in this instance.)

Marco watches closely after he submerges them in cool water, his worried eyes flicking over the bathtub’s occupant.

Just as he starts panicking, their eyes clear of the haze clouding them, and Marco breathes a tentatively relieved sigh. No impromptu fishperson funerals, thank god. Relief or not, though, their violent emersion from the bathtub probably could have done with some warning.

The merperson flails upright, at least half of the water exploding out after them, and Marco finds himself sprawled on his bathroom floor, much wetter and more confused than before. The merperson breathes heavily for a moment, their gills working hard, before they crash back into the water with a loud wheeze.

Marco lets the fishperson do whatever the fuck they want for a while as he stares at the ceiling and contemplates existence as he knows it.

After several decently-loud crashes and a fair few shampoo-bottle projectiles, he leans up on his hands, dripping extensively, and watches the tail flicking out and slapping wetly against the wall. The pretty, silk-like fins toward the end probably spread like those of a betta fish in water, but plastered up against the wall they just kind of look like a mess. Plus, if he’s not mistaken, one of them is torn pretty badly. He watches the way their scales shimmer, squinting at the bluish-green hue they seem to take, then leans up further and tries to catch a glimpse of the creature writhing loudly in his bathtub.

He doesn’t have to wait long. They emerge again, their powerful tail curled under them, and they’re clearly pulling out all the stops. Their short blonde hair spikes intimidatingly, their gills flush, and their eyes narrow as they bare their dark teeth, but Marco’s currently under the suspicion that he’s gone just a little too long without sleeping and is starting to hallucinate. Thus, he makes a probably-terrible decision.

He laughs.

The creature balks, staring at him with an expression that, to Marco, translates into, ‘Are you fucking stupid?’

Marco just laughs harder.

His palms slip in the water pooling on his bathroom floor, so he finds himself flat on his back again, cackling at the ceiling.

The merperson seems more confused than enraged, and slaps the edge of the bathtub. “Hey, arsehole,” they grouse, their voice rough. “What’s so fuckin’ funny?” Marco recognizes English when he hears it, although the merperson’s distinctly-British accent is a little thicker than he’s used to. Not like he can talk, his own English is bordering on rusty.

Je suis désolé, s-sorry,” Marco manages, leaning up onto his elbows. “I’m, ah. Wow.”

The merperson deadpans. Loudly.

“No, no,” Marco says, crawling forward onto his knees and glancing again at the scales shining in the cool water. “No, it’s not you. Well, uh.” He scratches the back of his head. “Hm.”

The fishperson stares, squinting their eyes, before they flop back into the water and cross their arms over their thin chest. “So, what, then. Gonna call the fuckin’ papers? Gonna tell the media? ‘Weirdo finds merman in French river,’ yeah, that’s fucking cool.”

Marco blinks, unfazed by their harsh tone, before he shakes his head. “I don’t think so. I’m not one to crave attention.” He leans closer, resting his elbows cautiously on the edge of the tub. “I figured I’d make sure you were okay, then take you back down.”

“… Oh.” They deflate, peering up at him somewhat sullenly.

“Yeah.” Marco runs a hand through his soaked hair, pushing his dripping bangs back against his head, and smiles warmly. “Are you okay? What happened?”

Tch. Nothing. Shit-all.”

Marco stares for a moment, then shrugs. “Okay. Are you hurt, though?”

They grouse and grumble, flicking their tail irately, before they flip over and cross their arms on the end of the tub. “I’m fine.”

“Oh.” Marco scratches his head, definitely not letting his eyes trail curiously down the curve of their spine. “Good.”

“Anyway,” they mumble, wiggling so their tail is submerged. “I’m Jean. Merman extraordinaire.”

“O-oh, so you’re a guy, then?”

Jean looks over his shoulder for a moment, then shrugs. “Yeah.”

“Cool. Uh. Me too.” Lame. Marco laughs at himself, extending his hand. “I’m Marco. Human ordinaire.

Jean looks down at Marco’s hand, then chuckles softly, rolling onto his back so he can give Marco a damp handshake. “Nice to meet you, Marco.”

Smiling kindly, Marco scoots closer, right up against the edge of the tub. “And you.” He leans his chin in his palm, rubbing at his tired eyes, and murmurs, “Although I don’t think I ever expected it.”

The blonde watches Marco with bright, honey-colored eyes, relaxing slightly as the quiet settles between them, then laces his fingers on his stomach and flicks his fins idly. “Yeah, we kind of make it a point to avoid you guys. Although so far, you don’t seem so bad. For a Frenchman.” He narrows his eyes. “You aren’t planning on eating me, are you?”

“No, I don’t think so,” Marco laughs, scratching his cheek. “Not a big, er. Fish. Person.”

Jean stares, watching Marco fidget, before he bursts out laughing. His teeth aren’t slick with the same murky darkness he’d flashed earlier, Marco notices, and it’s definitely a better look. His gills lie flat against his neck, nearly blending in with his pale skin, but his ears are still rather toward the pointy end. Not too bad, overall. “You have a terrible sense of humor, Marco.”

“I know, I know,” Marco laughs, letting his head drop. “Forgive me, I’m tired.” He looks up at Jean again, then down to the floating ends of his fins. “What’s wrong with your tail?”

Breathing a loud sigh, his gills fluttering slightly, Jean slinks down into the water and sulks. “Boat caught me.” He flicks idly at the water, curling in on himself as he continues. “’S why I got washed up. Think I hit my head, and while I was out, the night got damn cold. Merfolk don’t do well in the cold.” Jean glances at Marco out of the corner of his eye, then stares hard into the water. “So I guess I owe you a debt.”

“Oh, it’s nothing like that,” Marco says quickly, rubbing the back of his neck. “I helped you because I wanted to, not because I wanted you to owe me something.”

Jean blinks widely, searching Marco’s face, then gives an unconvincing shrug. He slinks further into the water, unsuccessfully hiding a shiver.

“Here,” Marco murmurs. Pointing to the dial, he says, “Turn this if you need warmer water, yeah? But let some water out first, my neighbor below will yell if it leaks again.”

Jean sits up again, gathering his tail to himself to protect his wispy fins, then pokes at the drain. He figures it out, though, jumping slightly at the sound it makes. Marco shows him how to get the temperature he likes, and Jean cheers up visibly. His scales seem to take on a warmer hue, too, shimmering almost purple.

Marco leans up after watching Jean spread his fingers contently over the water’s surface and grabs his phone off the sink, then sighs when the weather app confirms his suspicions. “Listen, um.” Jean glances over at him warily. “It’ll be really cold for a while,” Marco says, running a hand through his hair again. “What will you do?”

Staring at the water for a while, Jean rubs the back of his neck slowly before he flicks his tail out from under him and brings his busted fin close to his face. He inspects it carefully, running his fingers over sharp little holes and alongside a huge gap where it seems a piece had been torn away, and as he does so, water drips along the pattern of his scales in thin trails. Marco’s hard-pressed not to feel somewhat breathless.

“You can take me back out,” Jean mumbles, fingers spreading his delicate fins wide before letting them flop again, sticky and stringy in the humid air. “I’ll pack it with mud or something.”

“Where are you going?”

Jean shrugs, slipping his tail back into the bath. “South. We migrate, normally, but I didn’t feel like it this year. Figured I’d find out what Paris looks like.”

“You made it a long way,” Marco mumbles, leaning his chin down onto his folded arms, the warm air making him yet sleepier. “Where will you go? You might stick out a bit in Paris.”

“Once it gets cold enough, the tail goes away.” Marco blinks up at Jean, who inexplicably flushes. “Haven’t had legs in twenty years, but I’ll figure it out.”

Marco watches Jean’s fingers play through the water, his eyelids growing heavy with the way soft, soothing ripples echo across the surface. Of course someone who’s lived underwater their whole life would have an artful sort of mastery of the stuff, but Jean’s touch still spreads intricate patterns the likes of which Marco can only dream of creating.

Maybe he’s exhausted, and definitely not thinking straight, but the conclusion Marco comes to seems obvious to him.

“Stay.”

Jean’s fingers pause in the water, soft trickling sounds coming to a halt, before he croaks, “Come again?”

“Stay.” Marco nuzzles into his elbow and sighs slowly, feeling long-awaited sleep creep up on him. “Stay until your legs come.”

“… Marco, I already owe you a debt.”

Having apparently run out of words, Marco lifts his limp hand and waves it lazily. He lets his hand fall again, startling them both with the loud splash when his fingers hit the water, before he smiles sleepily and hauls himself to his feet. Jean watches him stand, somewhere between confused and amused.

“Bonne nuit, monsieur poisson.”

With that, Marco stumbles out of the bathroom, shedding his soaked clothes as he goes, and Jean barely contains his laughter at the way Marco faceplants into bed and essentially rolls himself into a blanket cocoon. Jean watches the blanket’s breath even out, though, until soft snores lilt through the apartment.

He wonders briefly if he hit his head a little too hard, given how strongly he’s considering taking Marco up on his offer.

--

Jean wakes up absolutely frozen and shivering, his head cloudy from it, but he somehow remembers Marco’s instructions and manages to revive himself somewhat. As the tub fills up nice and warm again, he peers out into what part of Marco’s bedroom he can see. As far as he can tell, he’s alone.

Sunlight filters in through a window somewhere, and when Jean turns the tap off again, the silence confirms the lack of any Marcos nearby.

It’s bizarrely lonely, he thinks idly, before finding himself mildly disgusted by the thought. Leave it to him to already feel attached to this random Frenchman he now owes two debts. He’ll be lucky to make it out alive.

He’s always been the impulsive type. Thus the whole Paris thing. As well as that’s been working out.

With too much time to himself and no room to swim, Jean’s incredibly crabby again by the time Marco comes back, letting himself in and humming cheerfully. He makes his way into the bathroom, wearing glasses and holding coffee, and he doesn’t seem surprised in the least to see Jean.

Bonjour, monsieur poisson. Sorry I didn’t leave a note, but I didn’t want to wake you.” Shrugging grumpily, Jean slinks down into the water and flicks his tail idly. Marco scratches the back of his neck, watching him somehow sink further into his tiny bathtub, before he smiles again. “Do you drink coffee?”

“Can’t say I do.”

Marco hums, shrugging his bag off his shoulder and onto something beside the door, before he comes and sits delicately on the edge of the tub. “Would you like to try it?”

Jean squints up at Marco, who offers him the paper cup, and figures, why the fuck not.

It takes approximately thirty-four minutes for Marco to strongly regret the decision.

Even when he’s hyper, fidgety, and somewhat violent in his gesturing, though, Marco can’t help but think the fishman’s pretty cute. Then again, as the speed of his chattering increases, so does the thickness of his accent, so Marco’s only understood a small percentage of Jean’s tirade against the Welsh fishing industry. From what he’s picked out, the Welsh are improbably good at nearly catching merfolk, and Jean is rather unhappy about it.

When Jean finally stops to breathe after something like an hour, Marco interrupts his stream of consciousness rambling. “Jean, er, do you need water to survive?”

“Well, kinda, yeah,” the blonde replies, leaning his elbows on the edge of the tub and blinking up at Marco. “Why?”

“Oh, I only ask because you’re, ah.” Marco flushes slightly, rubbing his nose. “You’re in the shower.” Jean blinks again. “Wh-which I use to clean m-myself?” A quirked eyebrow. “N-never mind.” Jean shrugs and flops back into the water, flicking his tail contently.

Marco sighs softly and watches Jean play with the water until the blonde finds something else to talk about, which admittedly doesn’t take long.

If Jean’s legs take much longer, Marco fears he might have to scour the internet for a kiddy pool or something. Jean had been resoundingly unhelpful in his estimate, but merfolk measuring water temperature in units of migratory fish admittedly makes more sense than using Celsius. Seems like he’s just gonna have to wait it out. Until then, his neighbor Armin tends not to ask questions, which is nice. That, or the gym showers at his university.

He lets Jean chatter for a while longer, until homework beckons, but even then he finds himself quickly setting up camp in the bathroom. Staying away from someone as interesting as Jean is just too damn hard.

--

Jean notices things about Marco over the next few days. Namely, that the brunette doesn’t appear to sleep much. Also, he chews his nails. When he’s really focusing on something, his brow furrows, and a frown line pops up between his eyebrows. He’s got a million freckles, all over his face and his neck and his arms and hands, and they’re much darker than the sparse dusting of freckles littered across Jean’s pale shoulders. When Marco’s sleepy, he mumbles under his breath in slurred French to keep himself on track.

There’s also this strange fondness Jean appears to have developed, which is not going away over time, as Jean had strongly hoped. In fact, it’s kind of getting worse, especially considering how relaxing it is to be around Marco. He’s just a soothing sort of human. Maybe it’s the fact that Marco really isn’t trying to eat him, nor has he sold Jean to the circus or anything. He hasn’t even taken any pictures. He’s just waiting, and in the meantime, he’s treating Jean like a welcome guest. A friend, even.

No matter how hard Jean searches for reasons to be annoyed by him, he always just ends up being charmed by him instead.

He wishes this whole thing bothered him at all. But it doesn’t. Not in the slightest.

--

Despite not having much time for pleasure reading, what with the rigor of his coursework, Marco seems to come home with more books than he left the house with pretty frequently. Over the summer, a used bookstore had opened up along his commute, and having to walk past it every day quickly became too much of a temptation for Marco. He generally has the good grace to look sheepish when Jean spies the small piles of books in his arms and quirks his eyebrows, especially after Jean grows comfortable enough around Marco that he starts giving him shit for it.

(It takes about three days total for Jean to start ribbing Marco. It’s too easy to resist, honestly, and he’s almost surprised it even took this long.)

On Friday, Marco lets himself in with another little stack of books held to his chest, ready for a night off to relax and talk to Jean without a mountain of his work between them.

“So, Marco,” Jean laughs, already grinning his ‘you’re-in-for-it’ grin when Marco rounds the corner into his bedroom, “Help me out here.”

Marco hums, putting his bag down on what Jean now knows is his desk before he comes into the bathroom with his new acquisitions, settling onto his usual perch on the closed toilet.

“I’ve only ever seen your bathroom, you know. The paint’s peeling in that corner, by the way.” Jean points past Marco’s head, so the brunette turns to look, and there is indeed a tiny little edge of paint curling away from the ceiling. He turns back when Jean continues, “But I’ve never actually seen this pile of books you’re meaning to read. I get the feeling that you could probably open a bookstore of your own.”

Marco flushes slightly, pushing his glasses up his nose with a warm laugh. “Maybe, yes. Although I think that if I did I’d probably just buy them all over again.”

Jean barks laughter, wiggling upright so he can lean on the tub’s rim and peer at the musty-looking books on Marco’s lap. “Anything good?”

“Oh, yes,” Marco says, excitedly scooting closer to show Jean. “These are books I read when I was young. I couldn’t resist once I started reading them again in the store.” He holds up one of the bigger ones, thin but absurdly wide, the cover’s colorful art muted with age. “This one was one of my favorites, ‘Restons bons copains!’” Jean leans his chin on his crossed forearms and takes in the ridiculous-looking kids dressed as pirates on the cover, squinting at the enormous blue letters spelling out the title.

A thought occurs to Marco. He realizes suddenly that he takes books completely for granted, given that he’s a landlubber with more than his fair share of the damn things. Someone who’d always lived underwater, though… biting his lip for a moment, Marco taps his fingers on the book’s well-worn spine.

Before he can find the words or work up the guts to ask, Jean looks back up at Marco and answers his unspoken question. “No, I can’t read.” He pauses. “Well, not much, anyway. Just some letters.”

“O-oh!” Marco quickly stuffs the book back under the pile, flushing hot with guilt. He tries to think of some sort of adequate response, but everything that comes to mind either seems dismissive or just awkward, and that only makes him feel worse.

Of course mermen don’t read. Paper and water don’t play too well, and all that. Jean only ever seems interested, though, so eager to hear Marco talk about the books he brings home that it had honestly never occurred to him that maybe it’s not that Jean likes books themselves. Maybe the interest just stems from Jean being bored out of his skull. Shit, anyone would be, sitting in a bathtub alone for so long.

Jean breaks Marco out of his introspection by reaching over and tugging the book back out of the pile so he can look it over some more. He holds it safely away from the water, sharp eyes scanning the cover while Marco fidgets nervously, until Jean peers up at him and says, “What’s it about?”

“Oh, um. It’s about a boy and his little sister. She thinks the boy’s turtle needs exercise and sets him loose in a pond, and the boy gets really mad when he finds out.” Marco leans forward, crossing his arms on his knees so he can peer at the cover as well. “It’s okay in the end, though, because he forgives her.”

Jean’s squint narrows, almost into a frown. “Why?”

“Why does he forgive her?” Jean nods absently. “Because she’s a child, you know? She didn’t know the turtle would get lost. She was just trying to be helpful.” Frown deepening, Jean lays the book on the floor and opens it, flipping slowly through the pages and staring intently at the pastel-colored, friendly illustrations of a little boy shouting at a littler girl, of the boy glowering in his bed, imagining snakes and dragons eating the girl, of the boy hiding in his blanket and watching her play in the yard, until he comes across the light-hearted ending pages.

Seemingly confused, Jean flicks between the last few pages, as if trying to pinpoint the spot where the boy’s anger turns to forgiveness. After a while, slumped against the edge of the tub and distinctly pouting, Jean glances up at Marco and points to a word at random. “What does this say?”

Pausing for a beat, Marco blinks at Jean, who shyly flicks his gaze back to the page and flushes slightly. He doesn’t have much for Jean to do right now, but this? This he can manage.

He smiles and looks down at Jean’s finger, resting aimlessly between two words. “Well, that’s a space, to show where one word ends and the other begins.” Licking his lips nervously, Marco leans closer and quietly asks, “Do you want me to read it to you?”

Jean twitches his nose a few times, glowering down at the indecipherable answer to his apparently-burning questions, before he gives a tiny little nod.

The sneaking suspicion that Jean might be too cute for his own good comes over Marco as he gives a nod of his own and picks the book up. He pauses, trying to think of how to best arrange himself, but Jean’s already tugging at Marco’s pant leg and mumbling, “Come down here, I wanna see.”

Once he’s shifted around to Jean’s liking, leaning back against the tub with the book propped open against his knees, he starts reading softly. He follows along with his finger, more careful in his pronunciation than usual and pausing to translate as he tells Jean the story of two little kids who have a little-kid fight. Jean leans over his shoulder, raptly paying attention and soaking in every word Marco says. If Marco catches him softly repeating some of the harder words, he doesn’t say anything, only nodding approvingly.

He’s still affronted when Marco reaches the end, though, when the brother rolls out of bed after spending a whole night angry and goes straight to his sister with forgiveness, even more so when they skip off together to go buy friendship hamsters to share.

“Why’s he willingly sharing hamsters with this lass?” Marco peers over his shoulder, startling slightly at how close Jean’s face is to his, especially with that grimace. “She’s obviously terrible with pets. I give the hamsters a week at most.”

Marco tries to stifle a giggle in his palm, the effort largely unsuccessful. “She probably learned her lesson, Jean, jeez. He chased her all over the house for the turtle.”

“That’s another thing.” Jean reaches over and plucks the book out of Marco’s lap, paging through as if making sure Marco didn’t miss something. “He’s so pissed off, why’s he just turning around and saying it’s okay? She didn’t even apologize!”

Marco shrugs, turning to face Jean again. “He’s the older sibling, it’s his job.”

“Bullshit,” Jean grouses, flapping his fins irately. He stares at the last page again, a big, cute picture of the kids literally skipping into the sunset, before he turns to the beginning once more.

“Maybe there is no answer,” Marco says softly, rubbing the back of his neck. “I think it’s just to tell children that it’s okay to be angry about things, but you can’t stay angry forever, especially because of an honest mistake.” Jean peers intently at Marco, bright eyes almost uncomfortably intense, before Marco shrugs and smiles feebly. “Or something, I’m not sure.”

Jean chooses to keep his thoughts to himself, instead flipping through the book again, but this time he squints at the words, devouring them slowly.

--

The next day, Marco leaves to celebrate a friend’s birthday, but he gives Jean another stack of books to occupy him. He’d left him with a little notebook, too, in case he came across any words he didn’t know. Jean doesn’t particularly care for it, though, preferring to glower at a word until it makes sense to him.

Marco seems to like a particular sort of story, based on what he’s got to offer Jean to read. He likes stories about siblings, and about forgiving others and oneself, and about learning to accept peoples’ flaws, even when they’re maddening. Stories about living happily in the company of friends. Jean can’t figure out if that’s a Marco thing or if it’s a French thing.

Not like he’ll have to wait long to find out.

Once he gets to Paris, he can read all kinds of books. Maybe books about not forgiving people. Books about falling in love. Books about people who don’t have siblings or huge families. Books about runaways. Things he can really relate to. They have to exist, he reasons.

Jean’s alone for several hours, well into the night, but he has these stories to keep him company. It’s not so bad. He’s careful not to get the books wet, even when his tail flicks agitatedly, cramped and restless from sitting in such a tiny container for so long.

When Marco finally comes home, he crashes into what sounds like everything in existence on his way in. Jean peers up at the doorway, raising his eyebrows at the way Marco laughs and bounces off the walls. When the brunette finally whirlwinds into the bedroom, his hair’s all stuck up in messy cowlicks and his cheeks are flushed bright, and he positively beams once he catches sight of Jean in the bathroom.

Bonsoir, monsieur poisson,” Marco giggles, leaning heavily on the bathroom doorframe. Even now, with this sunny smile on his face, he’s still chewing his nails. “Sorry, sorry, I’m a little, erm. Drunk. Yes.”

Jean grins back, flicking his book closed and tossing it up onto the stack. “Oh yeah?”

Oui. Yes.” Marco jolts when his phone rings loudly from his pocket, holding up a finger as he answers in slurred French. He leans back against the doorframe, carrying on a short conversation with his free hand shoved deep in his pocket.

Jean can’t help but think Marco looks pretty cute, even hammered. Especially with the way his warm eyes trail across the ground and the way his feet shift, the way he bites his lip and hums.

When Marco hangs up the phone, he tosses it onto the bed and immediately rips his hoodie off, turning back to Jean. “That was, um. A man from the bar. A friend of a friend.”

“And his name is?”

Marco pauses midway through unbuttoning his shirt to tilt his head. “Oh.” Jean leans his chin in his hand, watching Marco shift his hands to his hips in thought. “Il s’appelle... well, his name in my phone is, um.” He grins sheepishly, scratching the back of his head. “The Tall Man.”

Jean snorts, curling his tail under him idly. “I take it you had a good time.”

“I suppose,” Marco laughs, unbuttoning his shirt the rest of the way and tossing it elsewhere. He moves immediately to his pants, unfastening them and kicking them off, leaving him standing there in nothing but a pair of bright-ass red briefs. They’re also inexplicably adorable, even if Jean isn’t entirely sure what they’re for.

Marco waffles for a moment in the doorway before he visibly steels himself, strides over, and climbs right into the half of the tub Jean’s tail usually occupies. Jean stares wide-eyed at Marco, who shrinks into his corner and folds his knees to his chest with a flushed little smile.

“You alright?” Jean asks, a grin cracking across his face. This is definitely the closest that Marco’s ever been. His pulse is quick, probably the alcohol, and it ticks through the shallow water and prickles across Jean’s feathery fins, little sparks that redundantly set off his ‘human nearby’ senses.

“You know, Jean,” Marco mumbles, trailing his fingers through the water. “The tall man wanted to come home with me.”

“That might’ve been an issue,” the blonde replies, crossing his arms lazily.

“Mm, yes.” A long pause. “I don’t think he actually likes me, though. I can tell. He just, ah. Well, a purely physical interest.”

Jean’s not entirely sure how to respond to that, so he doesn’t, instead watching Marco’s clumsy little ripples spread across the surface while he waits. Marco doesn’t continue that train of thought, though. He just stares at the water between them, chin resting on his knees. For someone as tall as he seems to be, he sure doesn’t take up much room when he doesn’t want to.

“I know it’s silly,” Marco sighs after a while, “But I’m tired of only being interesting in that way. I want to be special.”

“It’s not silly,” Jean murmurs, carefully watching Marco’s face. “Why is that silly?”

Marco shrugs widely, wrapping his arms around his legs. He grins up at Jean. It doesn’t quite reach his eyes. “I don’t know.”

It occurs to Jean then that Marco’s lonely.

That’s why he offered to let Jean stay. Why he spends so much time with him. Why he’s teaching him to read, why he’s sitting in this bathtub with him in his underwear, smiling a smile that seems more like it’s made to fend off tears than anything else.

Jean sighs and glances at the water, his own hands coming to draw rippling little patterns in the quiet surface.

Soon, his legs will come. Then Marco will take him to Paris, and they’ll say their goodbyes, and Jean will blend in with the humans and read books about running away and falling in love and never having to answer to anyone. He’ll be free, and Marco will be alone again.

He doesn’t bother giving a name to the emotion curling tight in his chest.

A week is enough to learn a little about Marco, but Jean’s still floored by how much he doesn’t know yet. He wonders how much they’ll know about each other when they shake hands and go their separate ways.

However much it is, it’s infinitely more than the tall man bothered to learn before he tried to get Marco to sleep with him.

Marco watches Jean play with the water, silent and tiny and lonely, and Jean finds himself getting more and more pissed off.

“It’s not silly.” Marco blinks widely up at the blonde, who’s glaring into the water and grinding his teeth. “Fuck that. Hardly a week, and I fuckin’ know it. You’re special, Marco. You deserve more than some dick who tries to hold you before he knows you. You were right not to go home with that asshole.”

Jean looks up at Marco, who can’t quite hide the brimming of tears in his eyes.

“You, um.” Marco stares back down at Jean’s hands, resting limp in his lap. “D-did you have any trouble with the books?”

After a long, pointed stare, Jean lets him change the subject, but the look on Marco’s face doesn’t slip his mind.

--

Marco blames their conversation on the alcohol, and Jean lets him, if only because he’s not entirely keen on the idea of being thrown back into the half-frozen river if he pushes it. Things go back to normal between the two of them. Well, as normal as is feasibly possible between an overworked human and a bathtub-bound merman.

The topic of Marco’s lackluster social life doesn’t come up again. Jean doesn’t ask. He doesn’t ask about his apparent preference for sickly-sweet happy endings, either, although the temptation is strong.

Somewhere between his urge to learn everything about Marco and the looming shadow of Paris, Jean finds himself growing fonder of his host with every passing day. Uncomfortably, to be sure, but every time Marco cracks a terrible fish pun at his expense or listens earnestly to Jean’s opinion on the books he’s reading, Jean finds himself more and more convinced that he’s right.

Marco’s special. Stupid Marco.

--

Marco comes home shivering on one particularly bitter day, huddling deep into his scarf even as he rounds into the bathroom.

Rather than torn fins sprawled prettily up against the wall or floating cramped in the water, though, Marco finds Jean grimacing as he inspects a pair of laughably skinny legs. His ankles are particularly dainty, and his distaste for the things is obvious.

Tugging his scarf down off his face, Marco smiles over at Jean. “They came!”

Jean sniffs loudly. “I guess. Hey, what’s this thing?” He looks up at Marco as he points between his thighs, his grimace growing more sour.

“What a face,” Marco laughs, setting his bag down and moving to take his coat off. “It’s just, um. God, Jean, that’s your penis.”

“What’s that again? Is it like a tail or something?”

“N-not quite.”

Jean squints at Marco suspiciously, then down at the thing in question. “It looks weird.”

“You get used to it.”

“Do you have one?”

“A-ah, yes,” Marco stammers, busying himself at his desk. Jean’s eyes narrow further. “Many men do.”

“Does yours look like this? It’s weird. Floppy.”

Marco loses his already-shaky composure entirely. He buries his face in his hands with a shrill giggle and disappears further out of Jean’s line of sight, apparently struggling to keep his shit together. When he finally comes back, he chucks a truly hideous pair of shorts at Jean.

If Jean’s face went any sourer, he might physically become a lemon. He holds up the loudly-colored shorts and sniffs again, then peers over at Marco, who’s covering his mouth and still shaking with snorting little giggles.

“I don’t want these.”

“I’m sorry, I don’t have any others,” Marco replies, moving to chew on his jagged thumbnail. “But I must insist.”

“Why.”

“Well, um. Decency?”

Jean blinks at him, then back down at the shorts. It occurs to him that he’s never really seen Marco’s—what, his penis. It must be weird-looking if he keeps it covered all the time. Then again, he’s making Jean cover his too, so.

“I’ve never covered myself before now,” Jean grouses, flinging the now-soaked shorts at the wall. “Why should I start just because I have this weird growth thing?”

Marco loses it again.

--

Despite having avoided his legs for twenty straight years, Jean picks up walking fairly quickly. Well, more like waddling, but. It’s an improvement.

Marco shows him around his apartment, which is much smaller than Jean had anticipated, but filled to capacity with books. Everywhere he turns, more books. Along the walls, crammed into the shelves, piled on just about every stable surface in the apartment. Marco claims to have read every one of them at some point, all except for the towering stack beside a big, cushy armchair in the corner of his bedroom.

It’s small, but it’s homey. The windows are faced in a way that allows soft afternoon sunlight to filter in and fill the whole place, breathing life into tomes old and dusty and yellowed, and little dust motes swirl through the hazy beams and catch like daylight constellations.

Significantly nicer than the bathroom.

Jean crosses his arms over his chest and looks around more while Marco digs around for something for him to wear, something nicer than atrocious neon swim trunks.

“Here, it’s a little big,” Marco murmurs, pressing a lumpy sweater into Jean’s chest. “But it’ll keep you warm.”

Jean takes the thing, then stares up at Marco somewhat helplessly.

“Ah, sorry, here—” Marco takes the sweater back and pushes Jean’s arms up into the air. It looks ridiculous. Even more so when he stuffs the sweater onto his raised arms and leaves it hanging over the blonde’s face with a giggle. “C’est bon.”

Grousing loudly, Jean wiggles until the thing falls into place, covering his skinny chest and hanging low over the hem of his shorts. “It’s weird.”

“You say that about many things, I think,” Marco laughs, leaning against a bookshelf. He watches Jean for a moment, then rubs his nose and flicks his gaze to the floor. “So, the, um. The train into Paris is close by.”

“Oh.”

Marco nods slowly. “Yes, uh. I can give you some pants—maybe a belt, too, you’re so thin.”

“Uh—” Jean looks around for a moment, then down at his dainty-ass ankles. “I think, um. Shit. Well—”

“Oh, do they hurt?” Marco leans forward, his expression genuinely concerned, as if checking for some hint of the damage his tail had suffered.

Jean lies.

“Ah, yeah, shit,” he says, half-laughing as he flops backward into Marco’s chair. “I think, uh, maybe a few more days. To g-get used to them. Ow.”

“Ah, right,” Marco hums, stuffing his hands in his pockets. “Well, you can s-sleep—where do you want to sleep? In the tub again, or…?”

Jean sucks on his lip as he fiddles with the edge of the sweater. “Truth be told, I’m kinda sick of it.”

“Of course, of course.” Marco looks around, searching aimlessly for accommodations. “Oh, you can take the bed. I don’t mind the floor, if you, um. If you want.”

“That’s ass.” Jean runs a hand through his hair and stares out the window, momentarily distracted by the view. Beats the hell out of finding flaws in the bathroom paint. Jean’s never had much of an appreciation for the towns of men, but he supposes this one’s alright.

Paris is probably much larger.

Jean shakes his head quickly and looks back up at Marco. “Uh. Bed seems big.”

Blinking rapidly, Marco rubs the back of his neck and turns to looks at it. “I suppose, yes.” A long, awkward pause ticks between them, until Marco rattles himself out of it and laughs a weird little laugh. “Y-you can take it. It’s really fine.”

Ugh,” Jean harrumphs, crossing his arms irritably. “Stop being so weird and share the bed.”

“O-oh. Okay. Um.”

Jean waves his hands crossly, staring out the window while the pointed tips of his ears flush dark. His gills are starting to flatten against his neck, Marco notices, although they still flutter slightly whenever the rough edge of the sweater brushes against them.

--

Jean manages to stall for another three days before Marco starts getting suspicious. He’d stopped wearing pants again shortly after he’d donned the sweater, much to Marco’s combined amusement and dismay, but Jean insists that having legs is weird enough for him without having something separating them.

He sits in Marco’s chair mostly, his legs pressed together in the closest approximation of a tail that he can manage. Thanks to Marco’s patient guidance, he’d also stopped causing himself grievous injury in the form of squishing his balls between his thighs. Apparently that’s a thing. His tirades about the genuine inconvenience of having external equipment leave Marco a wheezing mess still, though, especially when Jean’s voice goes all squeaky while he clutches himself and curls into a little ball.

“You get used to it,” Marco keeps saying, unabashedly laughing at Jean’s agony.

As he mopes around, watching Marco do his schoolwork and whatever else, Jean rifles around for more books he can manage and more reasons to put off leaving.

--

Jean hadn’t been too hot on the idea of roaming around town at first, but he unfortunately understands the necessity of practicing walking, and pacing the apartment doesn’t quite cut it.

He forgets all about his complaints fairly quickly.

“Everything smells, Marco,” Jean babbles, wearing the biggest grin Marco’s ever seen on any living creature. “Everything smells different and weird and cool!”

“What does underwater smell like?” Marco laughs, watching Jean noisily investigate a newspaper stand.

“Mm, hard to describe,” Jean replies around a faceful of newsprint. Marco grimaces and takes the paper away, unable to stifle a snort at the way the ink leaves smudges on Jean’s red nose. “It’s all just kind of thick. We don’t get by on smell much. But this, the air’s light enough that I can smell everything!”

“A blessing and a curse, I promise.”

After letting Jean thoroughly assault his nose with all kinds of things he’d never considered smelling before (mostly things that aren’t food, including an unamused stray cat), Marco pulls Jean into his bookstore.

“You know, I just had a thought,” Marco says, watching as Jean crouches in front of some boxy little shelves clearly meant for small children and immediately falls on his ass. “You know how to read French now. How can you understand it?”

Jean grumps and slithers into his usual sitting position, running his fingers along the books’ brightly-colored spines. “Mostly because I speak French, dummy.”

Marco raises his eyebrows and blinks rapidly. “You do?”

Oui, mon chou,” Jean laughs. He pulls a book off the shelf, a little thicker than he’s used to, then grins up at Marco. “You think I’d run away to a foreign country and not learn some of the language first? I’d end up on someone’s dinner plate.”

“I guess so,” Marco mumbles. “Who taught you?”

“French merfolk, and right assholes they are, I’ll tell you what. Practically had to beat the French out of ‘em. Hey, what’s this word?”

Chuckling quietly, Marco leans down and squints where Jean’s pointing. “Luciole. It means ‘firefly.’”

Jean blinks up at him. “The hell is a firefly?”

“They’re summer bugs, really pretty. They fly through the grass and light up at night.”

“That’s weird.”

Marco laughs again, reaching down and tugging Jean’s hat down over his face, which earns him a stream of heavily-accented cursing and a few good swats to the knee with the book.

--

Another Friday rolls around by the time Jean’s stalling grows entirely unconvincing.

“So, um,” Marco hums, setting to taking off his jacket and his scarf. The air around him is still cold from the winter chill outside, something Jean’s far too attuned to. “Are you meeting anyone in Paris?”

Jean tucks his knobbly knees up against his chest and pulls the sweater down over them, picking at little woolen pills in the stitching. “Nope.”

“No one waiting for you?”

“No.”

“O-oh. Um. Sorry.”

Shrugging irritably, Jean rakes a hand through his hair and shrinks further into his sweater shell.

It’s not the first time Marco’s asked about Paris. Nor will it be the last, Jean imagines. Not as long as he’s still here, hogging Marco’s bed and his chair, asking him what words mean while he’s trying to work.

The thing Jean hadn’t realized about running away is that he tends to do poorly on his own, which he is surprisingly often. Marco’s schedule is getting more hectic, and he lapses into French more often than not these days, even when he’s drinking coffee by the gallon. It’s the lack of sleep, probably. Something Marco calls ‘exams,’ whatever that’s supposed to mean.

“I still owe you a debt, you know,” Jean says finally, pulling Marco’s attention away from the sprawl of textbooks across his desk. “Well, two, actually.”

Marco leans back and spins his chair to face the sweater blob. “I told you, yeah? You don’t owe me anything.”

“‘S not how it works.” Sighing slowly, Jean reaches around and pokes at his toes as he continues. “It’s a merfolk thing. I owe you debts. Probably more than two, now that I think about it.”

Frowning slightly, Marco pushes his glasses up into his hair and rubs at his eyes. “What if I can’t think of anything?”

Jean deadpans. “Marco, I’m magic. You can think of something, I’m sure.”

“What sort of magic?” Marco stands and stretches, dropping his glasses on the desk as he does.

“No money,” Jean starts, squinting as he tries to remember the rules. “No love, either, I don’t think. Sorry.”

Marco sniffs pointedly, earning another embarrassed apology, before he comes to perch on the fat arm of the chair next to Jean. The blonde makes room for him, but it doesn’t take much. The chair’s big enough for both of them.

“What else?” Marco asks quietly, his hands resting idle in his lap.

“I dunno,” Jean huffs. “What d’you want?”

With a low hum, Marco flicks his gaze to the ceiling, trying to figure that out himself. Jean lets him ponder, even if it drives him a little crazy, staring awkward and silent up at his host. Most men only want money or love, which is why they tend not to like merfolk for very long after they catch them. Marco, though, just takes it in stride.

“I don’t know what I want,” Marco finally murmurs, chewing on his nails again. They’re already bitten down to the meat. Jean frowns as he reaches up and grabs Marco’s wrist, pushing it firmly into the brunette’s lap. “Sturdier bookshelves, I imagine.”

“Not quite that magic,” Jean laughs.

“So no money, no love, and no bookshelves.” Marco grins down at Jean, reaching down to poke him in the bony ribs. “You can’t do much of anything, can you?”

“Shut it.”

Marco sighs, looking back up at the ceiling. He ponders for a while longer while the sky grows darker outside, the winter sun setting early over Marco’s sleepy little town.

“Can you fix people?”

Jean blinks up at him, watching him carefully avoid eye contact. “What d’you mean?”

Laughing softly, Marco runs a hand through his hair, shifting so he can lay his head more comfortably against the back of the chair. “Like, broken people.”

“Who’s broken?”

“Mm, never mind,” Marco mumbles, reaching to chew his nails again. Jean leans up and swats his hand before it reaches his mouth.

Against his better judgment, Jean lets the subject drop. Marco’s not exactly an expert at changing it, but Jean can take a hint where it’s obvious.

“I’ll try to think of something other than bookshelves,” Marco says after a while, sliding off the arm of the chair to dive back into his schoolwork, seemingly unaware of the way bright honey eyes bore holes into him for the rest of the night.

--

Another few days pass before Marco wastes one of his favors on getting Jean to make a fresh pot of coffee. He’d insisted somewhat forcefully.

Jean’s slowly learning even more about his host. Namely, that once Marco’s hit three days without sleep, he is occasionally terrifying. The only reason he’d let Marco waste his favor is because he’d just watched him accidentally chew a pen in half and narrowly avoid a mouthful of ink, with a muttered but colorful stream of curses.

Once all his exams are done, Marco celebrates by sleeping for something like two days straight, and he wastes another favor on asking Jean to stay in bed next to him. Marco’s warm as hell, though, pressed tight against Jean’s back, arms wrapped around his thin waist, his breath warm and even against the nape of his neck. It’s a distinctly human sort of arrangement.

Jean lets himself enjoy it for as long as it lasts.

--

When Marco finally rejoins the world of the living, he buys a genuinely impressive amount of junk food and a few bottles of wine, but he doesn’t invite anyone over to enjoy it with him. Jean doesn’t bring it up, instead content to have Marco to himself for a while. As much as the thought irritates him.

Stuffed full of takeout and midway through a second bottle of wine, Marco finds that the degree to which Jean cannot hold his alcohol is hilarious.

Seriously,” Jean slurs from the armchair, flopping his legs out of his sweater fort and frowning loudly. “What the hell is this jiggly little thing even for? Other than pissin’, I mean, I got that part down. Why’s it gotta be outside?”

Marco snorts into his wine-filled coffee mug, sitting cross-legged on the bed facing his inebriated guest. “Some people use it for sex.”

Jean squints at Marco, his frown deepening. “What? Why?”

“I think,” Marco giggles as he tops his mug off. “Perhaps I’m misunderstanding. So merfolk don’t have penises?”

No,” Jean grumbles, finishing his own mug. He holds it out lamely, but Marco laughs and gestures him over, holding the bottle up. When Jean stands, he starts to complain, until the wine hits his already-unsteady legs and sends him toppling facefirst onto the bed next to Marco. “Oof.”

Biting his lip against more giggles, Marco helps Jean roll onto his back and get settled more comfortably, filling his mug again once he’s done so.

“This might be weird to ask,” Marco hums after a moment, his curiosity burning hotter than his prudence, “How do you, ah. Make love?”

Jean blinks up at Marco, holding his mug comfortably on his stomach, then leans up on one elbow and sips idly while he thinks.

“Well, uh. The normal way.” He watches Marco giggle, peering at him around the rim of his mug, before he continues. “You know, we, uh. See, there’s this slit thing on the front of our tails, right? So we just, um.” Jean swallows, sitting up and cautiously pressing his knees together. “We wind our tails together and kiss and hold hands and whatever, and sorta. Uh. Rub the slits together. Until we come. I guess.”

Marco hums into his mug. “And that feels good?”

“Well, yeah, why the hell else would we do it?” Jean takes another swig before he shifts uncomfortably and pulls the hem of his sweater up. “Hey, little bastard’s standing up.”

Once Marco’s done coughing half a mug of wine back out of his lungs, mostly through his nose, and once he’s done laughing himself stupid in the bathroom, he comes back out and refills his mug, still shaking with badly-contained laughter. Jean’s dick had settled back down, much to the blonde’s endless curiosity.

“So it gets hard when you wanna have sex?” Jean wheezes, washing the idea down with the last of his mug and immediately holding it out for more, which Marco is more than happy to oblige. “That’s so weird, mate.”

“I guess so, yeah,” Marco says, covering his mouth to stifle more laughter.

“How do you use it, then?”

“Mm, it depends.” Marco’s eyes wander for a moment, his lips pursed against the rim of his mug, before he smiles over at Jean and gives him a lopsided little shrug.

“Nooo, that’s bullshit, I told you how merfolk do it. C’mon!”

“There’s a lot of ways! I don’t know them all.”

Jean squints pensively, drumming his fingers against his knee, before he leans forward and blurts, “How do you do it, then?”

Flushing dark, Marco narrowly avoids choking on his wine again, but only just barely. He rubs his nose and grins shyly at Jean. “I, um. Well, I’m gay, so.” Jean just blinks. “You know, h-homosexual?”

“The fuck does that mean.”

Marco snorts and finishes out his mug, then stretches his legs out with a hum. “It means, ah, I only like other men that way. S-so I don’t really know how sex with a woman works, but I’m sure it’s very nice.”

Jean considers that for a moment, scratching his cheek idly. “I guess that makes me kinda gay.”

“O-oh, you’ve, um. With other mermen?”

“Well, duh. And mer-lasses. Why wouldn’t I?” Jean waves his free hand, scooting closer to Marco with a pointed stare. “Stop dodgin’. Tell me how you fuck.”

Groaning softly, Marco drags his hands down his face, then generously refills his mug while he tries to figure out where to even start.

“Well, um. We kiss too. And the rubbing thing, that too.”

“’Lots of ways’ my arse.”

“It’s not just that!” Marco laughs, digging a hand into his hair. “We use our mouths, too. Like, um. Well, it gets hard, right?”

“And you put it in your mouth?”

“Yes!”

“... Is that good?”

Marco’s already flushing, and his valiant attempts to drown his embarrassment with wine are all failing miserably. “Y-yes. It’s really good.”

“I wonder why we don’t do that,” Jean hums, pausing to sip noisily. “Seems like something we ought to do. Kissin’s probably nicer, though. Anyway, keep on, what else?”

Marco balks slightly, staring deeply into his wine. “Well, um. W-we touch each other, too. And, uh, ohhh, mon Dieu this is embarrassing,” Marco whines, burying his face in his hand.

“So you’re okay with doin’ it, but not okay with talkin’ about it?”

“It’s just, ah. H-hard to explain. You’ll think it’s weird.”

“What if I promise not to say it’s weird?” Peeking out between his fingers, Marco squints suspiciously at Jean, who sits up straight and slaps a hand against his chest. “On my mum’s honor. I won’t say it’s weird.”

For a brief moment, Marco honestly considers just showing Jean some porn, rather than having to explain it, but he gets the feeling that might just confuse him even more.

Fine,” Marco huffs finally, downing the rest of his wine in two big gulps before he gives up on the mug entirely and just grabs the bottle. “It’s, um. If we want to have sex, we, uh. One guy puts his dick in the other guy’s. A-ass. Ohmygod.

Jean opens his mouth, then quickly closes it, pursing his lips in thought. “Like. Just puts it in there?”

“No, there’s, um. There’s fingers first, and once it’s in, there’s, um. Movement. Back and forth.” Marco takes a good pull from the bottle, mostly to avoid having to watch Jean contemplate that.

“And you like that?” Jean asks, honestly curious. Nodding slowly, Marco fidgets with the label on the bottle, trying not to think about it too hard. “Which part?”

“Which what?”

“Like, which part do you like?”

Marco shrugs, blinking up at Jean. “B-both. I guess. It depends on how I feel that day.”

Jean hums and stares down into his mug, swirling his wine idly until he asks, “Back and forth?”

“Y-yes. Like, um. Thrusting? Pulling out a little and pushing back in.”

After a long moment, Jean sniffs loudly, then mumbles, “It’s hard again.”

“O-oh.”

Rather than fight with himself about looking at Jean’s dick, Marco stutters something about getting another bottle of wine, and he stays in the kitchen until his own half-chub goes away.

If Jean’s so adamant about his debts, he might end up doing something he doesn’t really want to if Marco pushes.

So he swears not to. No matter how much he likes his unexpected guest.

--

“You must be bored,” Marco mumbles the next morning, brutally hung over and nowhere close to recovering from it. He’s sitting on the edge of the bed, his hair all in disarray, nursing a cup of coffee Jean had brought him. “My apartment isn’t much bigger than the bath.”

“It’s not so bad,” Jean rumbles, running his fingers along the spines of the books lining Marco’s wall. He’s biting his lip, though, his toes curling against the wood floor.

Marco sighs, sipping his coffee in the quiet between them.

“You know,” Jean hums, a faint approximation of being casual. “Maybe we could go out again. Go back to the bookstore or something.”

Another long silence.

“Jean, you don’t owe me anything,” Marco says finally. “Whenever you’re ready, w-we can.” His voice cracks slightly, so he stops to clear his throat and wash it away with another sip of coffee. “There’s an even bigger bookstore in Paris. You’d like it.”

Jean’s teeth dig harder into his lip.

He can’t quite stop his heart from breaking as he nods, knowing Marco’s watching him from the bed.

--

Marco’s pants don’t fit Jean, nor do his shoes, and the train ride into Paris is tense and uncomfortable.

Neither of them speak. Jean stares out the window, taking in the sights and watching for bodies of water and straining for glimpses of Marco’s pale reflection in the glass. Marco tries to look like he’s not watching Jean as they travel, but he fails utterly, just as much as Jean fails to mask his sideways glances.

Even when they get off the train, striding through the frigid streets of Paris with their cold hands in their pockets and a careful space between them, they don’t say anything. Jean just follows Marco wherever he leads, barely able to focus on the architecture he’d spent so long daydreaming about with the heavy gloom hovering around them. It’s grey and dismal out, too, a light, misting rain chilling the already-cold air.

When Marco finally stops in front of a shop, staring up at the glass front and the colorful signs as he gathers himself, Jean pauses behind him and just watches him. People stream past them, entering and leaving, perusing stacks of books almost as impressive as Marco’s, but Jean stopped noticing other humans a few blocks back.

“Here, um,” Marco says, clearing his throat of the shake to his voice. “This store, it’s very famous. I think you’ll like it.”

Jean nods. When Marco turns to face him, shoulders hunched and that fake-ass smile spread across his face again, Jean meets his gaze. Marco’s eyes wander when he’s uncomfortable, or when he’s thinking, but here, stood in front of this little green bookstore in a city Jean’s entirely lost interest in, Marco holds his stare.

“Thanks,” Jean whispers after a long moment, after he’s failed again to unlearn the way Marco’s eyes look when he’s trying not to cry.

“Yes. Um.” Marco kicks at the concrete beneath them, his tongue wetting his dry lips. He rattles himself, though, and pulls one cold hand out of his pocket and holds it out for Jean to shake. “I’m very glad I met you, monsieur poisson. Thank you.”

Jean swallows nervously, staring down at Marco’s hand. “A-and you. For saving me. Thank you.”

Marco licks his lips again, holding his hand out further, even as his fingers start to shake.

As much as he tries to find them, words escape Jean entirely.

Still, he stalls, seconds ticking louder the longer he clutches the insides of his coat pockets. He thinks desperately of everything he wants to say. Of every time Marco’s changed the subject, and every time Jean’s let him. Of every time he could’ve found something to say if he’d tried at all.

He could tell Marco that he’s incredible, and funny in a weird way, and bizarrely cute, and that nothing in Paris compares at all to the way Marco looks when he smiles, and that he deserves to love and be loved every hour of every day for the rest of his life.

Instead, Jean reaches out and grasps Marco’s hand, and when they shake, it’s stiff and awkward, but their hands linger for a beat longer than they ought to.

“Au revoir, monsieur poisson.”

Jean swallows, his throat dry.

“A-au revoir.”

Marco nods, stuffing his hand back in his pocket, before he brushes past and starts back toward the train station.

Jean watches him until he rounds the corner. Until he’s gone. He stares after him for a moment longer before he turns and looks up at the bookstore again, up at the tall letters spelling out the name of the shop, at the countless books waiting for him inside.

His chest is tight, but he can’t quite figure out why. Even when it starts to rain harder, cold drops dripping down the back of the coat and the shirt that don’t belong to him, Jean can’t bring himself to go in.

Just a few steps, and he can be free.

Wherever he goes, his own path starts here. No more family, no more asshole sisters picking apart everything he does, driving away everyone he’s with. No more pack migrations. He can be his own creature from here.

Jean’s eyes slide closed as he tilts his face up into the rain, near-frozen water pattering against his pale skin, trickling down into his ears.

He’s free to be whoever he wants. Especially because Marco taught him to read.

Marco, who saved him from freezing to death in the bank mud of the River Seine. Who befriended him and took him in and let him stay longer than he had to without complaint. Who buries his loneliness under the worst fake smile anyone has ever seen, even when it’s overflowing from every part of him.

Marco, who just wants to be special.

The bell above the shop’s door rings, but Jean’s already long gone.

His legs are weak from traveling, but he sprints anyway. They shake and burn and threaten to give out on him. His breath is short, choppy, his sides aching from the exertion. It doesn’t matter. Nothing else matters.

Jean frantically recreates their route as he bolts through the streets, his hair dripping into his eyes and his too-big shoes sliding precariously, and when he finally catches a glimpse of broad shoulders hunched against the rain, Jean can’t stop himself from calling out to him.

“Marco!”

Marco freezes, wiping his face as he turns back just in time for Jean to catch up to him, wheezing loudly and leaning down on his shaking knees.

“J-Jean, what—”

Cutting him off with a broad wave of his hand, Jean heaves in rattling breaths until he has enough saved up to gasp, “I l-left something.”

His brow furrowing slightly, Marco lets Jean catch his breath, running a hand over his back soothingly as he does. He knows well enough that Jean doesn’t own a damn thing in this world, not even the clothes on his back. He waits, though, until the blonde sounds slightly less decrepit to ask, “What did you leave?”

Jean stands up with a grimace, rubbing at the fearsome stitch in his side as he pants, “S-something—I forgot something in your apartment.”

Marco nods vacantly, his eyes searching Jean’s face for a moment before he mumbles, “Do, um. Do you want to come back and get it?”

Swallowing heavily, Jean peers over at Marco, then runs a hand through his soaked hair, pasting his bangs back against his head. “If you’ll have me,” he rasps finally.

“O-okay.”

--

The ride back is no less awkward than before, with Jean biting his tongue and staring down at his hands and Marco watching him anxiously, afraid to assume anything. They’re both antsy as hell by the time they get back to the apartment.

Marco carefully pulls his scarf off and watches Jean stand in the middle of his living room, staring hard at the floor. His leg is jittering, though, a habit he’d picked up from Marco that irritates him endlessly but that he can’t seem to drop. It’s one of many things he’d picked up from Marco, including a taste for coffee and bad puns and happy endings.

Things no one else had ever impressed on him. Special things. Marco things.

“Um,” Marco murmurs, sliding his hands into his pockets. Before he can say anything, or before anything to say even comes to mind, Jean’s already turned to face him, his hands fisting and flexing agitatedly.

“I know I don’t owe you anything,” Jean manages, his eyes flicking between Marco’s face and his shoulder. “That’s not what I forgot.”

Marco just stares, nodding vaguely, watching Jean apparently fight with himself until the blonde huffs out an irate breath and stomps right into Marco’s space, their chests nearly brushing. Marco doesn’t step back, though, nor does he take his hands out of his pockets. He just waits.

Jean licks his lips, his breath soft and shaky, before he says, “I f-forgot to tell you that you’re special to me. And fuck everyone else who can’t see it, because they’re missing out. And I really really like you, because you’re a little broken, but that’s okay because so am I and I kinda think you like me too, but if I’m wrong please tell me and I’ll bugger off south because there’s nothing for me in all of Europe except right here.”

By the time he’s finished, his voice is ragged and squeaky and his eyes are squeezed shut, and his words are starting to run together in his haste, but Marco still breathes a soft, wavering little laugh. Jean takes a deep breath and chances a look up at him.

Gone is that fake-ass smile that barely caps off Marco’s sadness. This one’s lopsided, and soaked with tears, but it’s real, and it makes Jean’s heart skip a dangerous number of beats.

Marco laughs again, more tears running down his flushed cheeks, before he wraps his arms tight around Jean’s shoulders and crushes him against his chest. He ducks his face into Jean’s hair, thick blonde still somehow smelling of sea salt even after all this time. It’s nice. Jean reaches up and fists his hands weakly in Marco’s wet coat, content to let him nuzzle deeper into his hair.

“I really like you too, Jean,” Marco murmurs wetly, giving him another firm squeeze before he straightens up and brings his shaking hands to Jean’s cheeks. Jean’s own hands come to cover Marco’s as he leans up and presses their foreheads together gently.

“Would it, um,” Jean mumbles, “Would it be okay if I stayed a little longer?”

No debts.”

Jean agrees quietly, his eyes fluttering open to meet Marco’s, flecks of gold brighter than stars under the bare sheen of yet more tears. He smiles softly and nudges their noses together, before he tilts his chin up and cautiously brushes his lips against Marco’s.

Marco meets him in kind, running his thumbs along Jean’s cheeks and dipping to kiss him more firmly, more warmly, lingering as long as he dares.

Before he can pull away, Jean threads his fingers through soft black hair and kisses him again, and some more, and a thousand times more, until Marco can’t help but laugh against his lips.

“Stay,” he murmurs, already retrieving his hands to shrug out of his coat. Jean mirrors the movement, trying not to stop kissing Marco, and once the coat’s gone his hands immediately fall to the catch of his pants. Marco grins down at him, stepping back so the blonde can kick the damn things off before he comes right back for more kisses. Pressing his warm palms to Jean’s cheeks, Marco repeats the word several times, gently guiding him back toward the bedroom.

Marco pauses to turn on the light on the nightstand before he pulls his shirt off, running a hand through his hair and grinning at Jean, who just flushes and fiddles with the hem of his own shirt. Rather than pull at it, though, Marco dips to catch Jean’s lips again, wrapping his arms gently around the blonde’s waist. Jean yelps when Marco laughs against him and falls back onto the bed, taking Jean with him and leaving him sprawled across Marco’s chest.

“Oof,” Jean laughs, unable to keep himself from grinning like a lovestruck asshole. He can’t keep himself from kissing Marco again either, wiggling until he’s balanced over him on his elbows. “Listen, Marco,” he murmurs, running his knuckles gently down the brunette’s cheek. “I don’t want you thinkin’ I’ve got a, uh. ‘Purely physical’ interest in you.” Marco blinks up at him, his hands settling warm on his sides while Jean fidgets. “I mean, I want you, don’t get me wrong. But I want all of you. So I can wait if you want me to.”

Marco hums and purses his lips, lacing his fingers comfortably on the small of Jean’s back. “I think you and the tall man are quite a bit different, you know.” He smiles shyly, biting his lip, before he laughs and pulls Jean down to his chest, where he can kiss the blonde’s cheek, his ear, the pale scars from his gills, until he gathers the courage to whisper, “I think making love means having more than a purely physical interest, don’t you?”

Shivering slightly, Jean chuckles and shifts so he can brush his lips against Marco’s again, gladly letting him deepen the kiss as he sees fit. “Yeah, I do,” he mumbles, punctuating the thought with a few more kisses. “You okay with letting me make love to you?”

His smile widening, Marco laughs and runs his fingers through Jean’s hair, combing out a few stray tangles. “I would like that very much.”

“Nice,” Jean breathes, nudging his nose gently against Marco’s. “You might have to help me out here, though. You’re the expert.”

The way Marco grins at him is all the warning Jean gets before the brunette flips them with a clever twist of his hips and straddles Jean easily. “My pleasure, monsieur poisson.” He runs his hand down Jean’s chest, his fingers dragging over the wrinkled fabric of his shirt. “Can I take this off?”

“Shit, it’s yours anyway,” Jean laughs, ripping it off without a moment’s hesitation. He bites his lip, though, when Marco’s gaze burns hot all down his chest, his stomach, pausing with a warm hum at his already-hard cock.

Before Jean can ask any dumb questions, Marco flicks his eyes back up and smiles widely, murmuring, “It’s very nice. Not weird at all.”

“Oh yeah?”

Marco nods, slowly shifting his position and coaxing Jean into spreading his legs so he can kneel between them. “Mhm. It’s perfect.” He grins up at the blonde, leaning forward to kiss him softly. “Can I touch you?”

“Fuck, Marco,” Jean rasps, threading his shaking fingers through Marco’s hair. “You can do everything to me. However you want it. I wanna do what you like.”

“Mm, I’ll save the weird stuff for later,” Marco laughs, mostly just to see the face Jean makes. He kisses him again, and some more, before he ducks to mouth warmly down the blonde’s throat. Jean’s gill scars are sensitive, he finds, earning sweet little bitten-back moans when he traces them with his tongue.

The urge to put his hands and his mouth on every part of Jean is nearly overwhelming. Marco wants to find every sensitive spot, every part of him that makes him tremble and gasp, and to show Jean all of his in return.

It’s hard to believe Jean’s been sitting in his room wearing nothing but a sweater for weeks, and yet somehow it had escaped Marco’s notice how fucking hot Jean is. Especially now that Marco’s putting his hands all over him, pulling enticing little sounds out of him. The thought wrings a low hum out of Marco as he sloppily kisses his way down Jean’s smooth chest, over the bare arch of his ribs, and down his flat stomach, watching him the entire time for any sign of hesitance. There’s nothing in Jean’s eyes but intense, burning desire, though, even when Marco shifts down the bed and drags his palms firmly up his narrow thighs, his kisses growing slower and hotter as he drags his tongue down the blonde’s sharp hip bone.

When Marco wraps his hand around Jean’s pretty, uncut cock and gives him a firm stroke, he finds that Jean is incredibly sensitive. The blonde squirms and gasps, his back arching tight and his hips bucking into the attention.

“S-shit, Marco,” Jean gasps, his breath panting out heavy as he stares down at Marco again. “Fuck, that’s—ah...”

Marco bites his lip and smiles, stroking him again, and the way Jean shivers is fucking gorgeous. It makes sense, though, if Jean’s essentially never used his cock for anything. He didn’t even have one for most of his life. Basically untouched.

The idea probably shouldn’t make Marco as hot as it does, but all he can think about is all the ways he’s gonna make Jean moan for him.

“Mm, Jean, you’re so responsive,” Marco murmurs, running his hand across Jean’s tensing stomach. He grins, waiting until the blonde opens his bleary eyes again to shift his hand and slowly drag his tongue up the underside of Jean’s cock, watching his eyes roll shut again and his mouth fall open on a gasping moan. Jean’s hands fist tight in the sheets, his thighs already trembling on either side of Marco.

“God, M-Marco—”

Marco moans softly, licking his lips at the way Jean’s breath hitches. He shifts one of Jean’s hands onto his head, giving him an encouraging smile when the blonde tangles his fingers in his hair, then leans down and takes the soaked head of Jean’s cock between his lips.

He takes it slow, half for Jean’s sake and half for his own, but as he bobs his head and sucks and licks, he can see Jean falling apart for him. The blonde struggles to remember to breathe, his every heavy exhale colored with a panted, needy little sound, his thighs twitching and squeezing until Marco slips them over his shoulders and wiggles closer. Jean’s other hand comes to twine in Marco’s hair too, trying not to pull. When Marco shifts again, bringing his hands around to run soothingly up and down Jean’s narrow thighs, over his bony hips, the blonde arches off the bed again, choking on a breathy whine. He’s so sensitive, so vocal, it’s driving Marco crazy.

As he takes Jean’s cock deeper, sucking harder and moving his tongue against him, he works his way down until he can swallow around him, and the way Jean cries out for him and grinds his hips up pulls a low, muffled moan out of Marco. He watches Jean arch and writhe as he moves his head faster, his hands resting high on his thighs to keep them spread. Jean’s noises grow louder, his hips rocking shakily, until he gasps, “Fuck, Marco, ‘m g-gonna come, ‘m right there—”

Groaning softly, Marco slides his hands to Jean’s hips and tugs encouragingly, letting Jean thrust up into his mouth. Even as the blonde moves faster, his voice shaking and his body tensing and tightening, Marco keeps sucking, the slick wet sounds of Jean’s uneven movements only serving to make them both hotter. Jean’s moans come faster and higher in pitch as he shivers, his hands fisting in Marco’s hair, until he snaps his hips up hard and gives a loud, breathy cry of Marco’s name, head thrown back, pale chest flushed bright, his cock twitching as he holds Marco down and comes right down his throat. Marco lets him, though, his own eyes shuttering closed, working to swallow everything Jean has for him.

Jean remembers himself at some point, still gasping for air when he untangles his fingers and wheezes a frantic apology, every slight movement of Marco’s tongue sending shocks through him. Marco gently pulls off of him and licks his lips with a weak moan before Jean pulls insistently at his shoulders, desperate to feel his lover’s weight on him as he recovers.

“God, you look so pretty when you come, Jean,” Marco rasps, nuzzling his nose against Jean’s breathlessly, his throat rough from Jean’s dick.

“Fucking hell, Marco,” Jean whimpers, pulling the brunette over him and wrapping tight around him. He can taste what he assumes must be his come on Marco’s tongue when he kisses him deeply, but he’s too fucked out to think about it too hard. Marco moves to straddle him again, wrapping his arms around Jean’s waist as he falls under his spell, moaning at the intensity in Jean’s kiss. As Jean trails his fingers down his back, Marco shivers, unable to keep himself from grinding his trapped arousal against whatever part of Jean he can reach.

Once he’s found his strength again, Jean flips them back over with a rumbling moan and kisses Marco harder, reaching between them to palm at his cock through his jeans. Marco arches and whimpers, wrapping his thighs loosely around Jean’s hips, before he opens his eyes and leans up to nip at the blonde’s lips. “J-Jean, I want you, please...”

“Show me what to do, love,” Jean murmurs, sitting up and quickly unfastening his jeans for him. Marco lifts his hips, letting Jean rip his pants and his underwear down and off, his cock bouncing out hard and soaked with precome already. Sighing raggedly, Jean bites his lip and gives Marco a tentative stroke, watching him melt under the attention. “Let me do somethin’, Marco, I’m dyin’ here.”

Marco swallows and nods. He wiggles regretfully onto his stomach and digs around in the nightstand until he finds the deeply-buried lube and condoms. Jean’s still watching him intently, sharp eyes widening when Marco shifts up onto his knees and pops the cap on the lube.

“J-just, um,” Marco starts, pausing with a hum to consider. “Just watch me first, I’ll s-show you.”

“Okay, yeah,” Jean breathes. He watches as Marco squirts the lube onto his own fingers, then as he spreads it around and warms it up, until the brunette’s reaching behind himself and rubbing his fingers over his entrance with a shaky sigh. Marco leans his forehead down into the sheets and arches his back, slowly working a finger inside himself. He relaxes and thrusts gently, almost running on autopilot until Jean reaches out and runs his finger curiously through the excess lube. Marco jumps slightly, peering over his shoulder, but the blonde’s squinting at the lube spread over the tip of his finger.

“I-it’s, um,” Marco stutters, “It’s to make things wet.”

“O-oh.”

Marco can’t help but laugh softly at the face Jean’s pulling—determined and focused and mildly confused. He works a second finger into himself with a low moan, his teeth snagging his lip, before Jean quietly asks, “C-can I try?”

He looks over his shoulder again. Jean sheepishly grins and wiggles his already-slick fingers, having apparently picked up on Marco’s teaching quickly.

Smiling widely, Marco licks his lips and nods, pulling his own fingers out and spreading his thighs more.

“Slowly, right?”

“At first, yes,” Marco replies. “I’ll let you know how it feels, okay?”

“Okay,” Jean mumbles, scooting closer behind Marco. He takes a deep breath and presses his slick fingers over Marco’s loose entrance, his eyebrows shooting up when he slides one finger inside with no resistance. Marco hums his breathy encouragement, rocking back for more.

With his lover’s patient guidance, Jean manages to fit three slender fingers inside of Marco, but he’s already about to lose his mind. Marco’s mouth had been incredible, like nothing he’d ever felt, but the way Marco tenses around his fingers and the way he looks taking them is threatening to drive Jean over the edge. He’s already near-achingly hard again, his thick cock heavy and slick where he’s rubbing it against one of Marco’s thighs brainlessly, and the idea of putting the damn oversensitive thing inside Marco is kind of short-circuiting Jean’s brain. That, plus the way Marco’s rolling his hips back so perfectly into Jean’s unsure thrusts, on top of the fact that Marco just started chewing on one of his knuckles and whining for Jean, fuck.

“M-Marco, god, you’re so—fuck, baby,” Jean babbles, his free hand smoothing reverently over Marco’s ass, across his hips, up his back. “’M s-so hard, Marco, tell me what to do, please?”

“D-do—nnh, like th-this,” Marco gasps, holding up his own fingers and spreading them slightly. Jean mimics the motion, moaning softly at the feeling. “Okay, Jean, o-okay.”

Letting Marco pull his fingers out of him, Jean sits back on his heels and while the brunette straightens up and grabs a condom. He melts against Marco’s back and mouths up his shoulder, moaning his name quietly into his ear, and Marco shivers and leans into his embrace with a breathy whimper. He shakes his head clear then and turns back to Jean, ripping the foil open with his teeth and reaching to roll the condom onto Jean’s cock for him.

“What’s that?” Jean mumbles, watching Marco’s skilled fingers spread more lube over the weird plastic thing.

“I-it’s, um,” Marco says, flushing even darker. “Um, I’ll explain later, yeah? It’s c-cleaner this way.”

“O-oh.” Jean’s confused for a moment, but then Marco’s leaning back against him again, and he’s coaxing him into another deep, needy kiss, and Jean forgets about it altogether. He wraps his arms tight around Marco’s waist, moving his tongue against Marco’s with a slow sigh. His lover pulls away with a soft moan and leans forward on his hands and knees, arching his ass toward Jean again.

Before Jean can say anything, Marco reaches back and coaxes Jean up onto his knees, his cock arching out tense until the brunette guides it to his entrance. He starts to lean back onto it, watching Jean’s face, and as Jean presses inside of him, they both moan breathlessly, their eyes fluttering closed. Jean tilts his head back with a choked gasp, his hands moving to grip Marco’s hips tightly, and the way Marco sighs his name when his ass settles into Jean’s lap leaves him fucking helpless for him.

“W-wait a moment,” Marco manages, sliding one hand slowly up and down Jean’s thigh as he adjusts. He manages to hold his weight on his other hand, but his arm is shaking, already threatening to give out. “J-Jean, put your—ah—put your hands on me, p-please?”

His hands are already wrapped around Marco’s hips, but Jean catches his drift, swallowing before he slips his warm palms up Marco’s stomach, up his chest, across his ribs and back down the curve of his spine, everywhere he can possibly think to touch. Marco whines for him, sliding his own hand up to squeeze Jean’s side. He leans his head back, eyes shuttering closed, while Jean slowly maps out every part of Marco with shaking fingertips, cautiously leaning down until he’s resting against his sweat-slick back so he can kiss across his smooth shoulder.

He’s used to being so much closer, with deep kisses and fingers twined between his and another powerful tail wrapped around his, but Marco’s so new, so patient that Jean can’t help but fall into him. When Marco squeezes his hip and mumbles that he’s okay, Jean freezes, but Marco’s prepared for that too.

“You feel so good, Jean,” Marco breathes, his voice thick with arousal, before he fists both his hands in the sheets and spreads his thighs a little wider. “I’ll show you first, so watch me, okay?”

Jean nods blearily and nuzzles into Marco’s neck with a low moan, brainless from how fucking hot Marco feels around him, and still almost unable to believe that he’s inside him, nearly a part of him, for god’s sake. He wants to let Marco do his thing, but he can’t help but want to be closer to him, filled with this intense desire to hold Marco tight to his chest and kiss him until he forgets everything else, until he’s breathless and pliant and clinging to him. He straightens up, though, and rests his hands lightly on the small of Marco’s back, the eagerness to learn how to have his lover crying out for him winning out.

With a deep, steadying breath, Marco licks his lips and peers over his shoulder, then arches his back so he pulls off Jean slightly. Jean raises his eyebrows, his mouth opening in question, but then Marco’s sinking back onto him and squeezing, and all Jean can do is moan his lover’s name desperately.

Marco repeats the motion, then again, until he’s moaning shakily and rocking onto Jean’s cock, and Jean’s fucking losing his mind.

He can’t do anything except watch, trying to memorize all of Marco at once. He watches his cock disappear inside Marco’s insanely tight, amazing ass, he watches Marco’s face when he looks over his shoulder again, he watches the way Marco flushes dark and the way sweat shines on his skin, but mostly he watches the part of his beautiful, bitten lips around long, perfect moans of Jean’s name.

As he rides back onto Jean, Marco shivers and grips the sheets under him. When Jean starts grinding into him in return, though, matching his slow pace perfectly, Marco can’t help the shuddering whine that escapes him. Such a quick learner. He eases Jean into picking up the rhythm for himself, murmuring encouragingly as he does, and before long Jean’s thrusting into him in long, even strokes, filling him up and hitting him so good and moaning for him, fuck.

“F-fuck, fuck, Marco,” Jean rasps, dragging his nails lightly down Marco’s back, trying not to lose his mind when the feeling makes Marco keen and tighten around him. “Baby, fuck, you feel so good, so good—i-is this how you d-do it?”

Marco laughs breathlessly and looks back at Jean, biting his lip temptingly as he beckons him closer. He leans up into Jean’s needy kisses, happily letting the blonde cling to him, his hips still rocking carefully into him as he holds Marco against his chest. “There are many ways I can make you moan for me, love,” Marco breathes, flicking his tongue between the bare part of Jean’s lips, and the way Jean whimpers for him spreads a wide, lazy grin across Marco’s face. Jean shivers and drags his palms down Marco’s chest, his fingers slipping in his sweat and tracing the lines of his tensing muscles, shifting to run his tongue up Marco’s sensitive ear with a shaky sigh.

He dips to mouth at Marco’s neck, moaning softly at the sweet taste of his skin, before he whispers, “C-can I show you one of mine, too?”

He waits for Marco to nod quickly before he pulls out entirely, wringing a fucking adorable little groan out of him at the loss. Before Marco can get impatient, though, Jean sits up and pulls at him until he’s sprawled on his back, legs spread around Jean, face and chest flushed so pretty it kind of knocks Jean sideways. He moans quietly, leaning over Marco on his elbows so he can kiss him brainless again.

As Marco wraps his thighs around his waist, Jean settles down against him and sighs into their slow, deep kiss, his hands quickly finding Marco’s and twining their fingers tightly. With a little wiggling, Jean manages to sink his cock deep into Marco again, swallowing the brunette’s breathy moan as he does. Marco’s so tight, so fucking hot it’s insane, and it’s pretty much all Jean can do to keep it together as he positions them. He lets Marco take one hand back to wrap his arm tight around Jean’s shoulders, the other squeezing the blonde’s fingers in his. Jean runs his thumb gently over Marco’s jaw, then whispers his name, and then he’s moving his hips again and neither of them can think anymore.

Jean’s cock is curved just right, apparently, because Marco’s already losing control. He feels so good, so incredible moving inside him, even though Jean’s barely pulling back. He’s grinding deep, though, his movements strong and fluid and amazing, and when Marco can’t find any advice to give but a cracked little whimper, Jean speeds up slightly.

His spine arching tight, Marco pulls away from their kiss and whines his name, tilting his head back for Jean’s lips as his mouth travels hot and wet down his exposed throat. Jean’s breathing hard, moaning against Marco’s pulse and rocking into him steady like the tide. He’s nearly overwhelmed, every firm, perfect grind sending chills running across his pale skin, but when he’s this close and Marco’s wrapped warm and shaky all around him, Jean’s in his element. This close, he knows exactly how to take Marco higher, how to leave him gasping for breath.

Jean drags his tongue slowly back up Marco’s throat, kissing across his jaw until he can moan softly in the brunette’s ear, and somehow his voice as he whispers to him is fucking hypnotizing.

He tells Marco how amazing he feels, how sweet he sounds moaning for him, how beautiful he is, and he does so while he’s moving into him and surrounding him and sharing in his warmth, and Marco can’t help but find himself entirely entranced.

“J-Jean, Jean, more, p-please,” Marco gasps, unashamed of his stuttering, because Jean’s moaning for him and he’s obliging, moving harder and deeper and telling him he’s doing so fucking well, and all Marco can do is cling to him as Jean coaxes him higher and higher with his ragged voice and his perfect cock and his fingers laced with Marco’s. He’s arched tight against Jean, but the blonde just uses the angle to make Marco hotter, his words growing reverent and loving and so damn vulnerable, and Marco finds he’s fallen happily under Jean’s spell as he slides closer and closer to the edge.

“K-kiss me, Jean, please, please—”

When Jean does, he moans into Marco again and gathers him closer, hitting Marco just right. He’s perfect, so warm and so good and tender and—fuck, everything. Marco feels so loved under him, so special. Jean’s gasping his name, he’s losing it in his arms, and when their lips part again, the words slip out of Marco’s mouth without a single doubt.

Je t’aime, je t’aime, je t’aime—Jean, Jean—”

Jean whimpers and moves harder, repeating Marco’s breathless words against his lips, hot, sweet whispers affirming his adoration for him as he takes them both higher, higher, and when Marco falls, it’s with Jean’s confession breathed shakily against his pulse, melting inside of him and wrapping around him, and everything is fucking perfect.

“I love you, Marco—”

Marco’s voice echoes around them as he finally comes, Jean pressed tightly against him and fireworks behind his eyes, and nothing except the way Jean’s voice pitches rough and desperate and then breathless matters right then. Jean moans against Marco’s cheek, grinding deep into him, but Marco’s already floating.

Their fingers are still laced tight together, even as the blonde’s hips come to a shaky stop and his voice shivers out weak and beautiful against him, and as Marco comes down from it, Jean kisses him so wet and messy and fucking amazing that it sends him brainless again. All he can do is cling to his lover, high off the heat of his breath and the pull of his hands as he drags Marco closer, closer.

“H-holy shit, Marco,” Jean manages, leaning his forehead against Marco’s as he trembles. “That was perfect, fuck, you’re perfect, god. S-seriously, I’ve never—shit, Marco—”

Marco stutters Jean’s name and tightens his grip on the blonde, flicking his tongue out against his lips and kissing him lazily. It gets Jean to quit babbling and instead leaves him molten across his flushed, beautiful lover, carding tender fingers through soft, messy black hair.

It takes a while, but Jean eventually pulls out and lets Marco take the condom off him, tying it off and throwing it in the trashcan beside the bed. He ends up right where he started, though, snuggled tight against Marco and kissing him deeply, slowly, the brunette’s hands holding him ever closer.

“I mean what I said, you know,” Marco murmurs shyly, almost silent in the quieting air around them.

Jean blinks, resting his hand soothingly on Marco’s side. “That you love me?” Marco flushes bright red and bites his lip, giving a tiny nod, and the way Jean laughs almost startles him. “I mean it too, dummy. I love the shit out of you. Why wouldn’t I?”

Marco swallows nervously, carefully meeting Jean’s eyes again. Jean smiles widely at him, squeezing their twined fingers and kissing Marco gently on the nose. “I-it’s just—I don’t know, I don’t think people usually like hearing it so soon.”

“That’s weird,” Jean huffs, resting his free hand gently against Marco’s still-flushed cheek. “I’ve already learned enough about you to know that I love you, and there’s no reason not to tell you I love you, because I’m only going to love you more and you deserve to hear it. Every day.” He pauses for a moment, pursing his lips. “U-unless you don’t wanna hear it. Is that weird?”

Unable to keep himself from laughing, even as happy tears spill from the corners of his eyes, Marco rolls them back over and kisses Jean brainless, repeating the words to him in every language he knows, and Jean takes that as his answer.

--

When winter ends, Jean finds himself confined to the bathtub again, and he and Marco have to make a hard choice. Marco’s about to finish school, though, so they put up with it until the beginning of summer, taking time to cautiously find places for Jean to swim at night. He finally gets to see fireflies, and he still insists that they’re weird, even as they sparkle across his fingertips and light pretty fires in his sharp eyes.

One humid night, as they’re once again curled around each other in the tiny bathtub and considering their options, Jean quietly mentions that he thinks Marco would like the northern lights, although they’re bound to be cold forever.

The Norwegian city of Tromsø is literally in the Arctic Circle, and the sun doesn’t set between May and August, but when night finally falls on their quiet little house across the street from the community’s indoor swimming pool, Jean laces his chilly fingers in Marco’s and together they watch the auroras chase each other across the shining north stars.