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'Till we meet again

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Haru was a strange child, quiet and thoughtful. Together with his five siblings, he lived in his father’s castle, deep under the sea. He was the most beautiful, with smooth pale skin and eyes as blue as the deepest ocean. All day he would sit in his garden, surrounded by fiery red flowers which waved to and fro, almost dancing with the current. In amongst these flowers, stood a marble statue of a handsome boy, which had fallen to the bottom many years ago.

This statue was his pride and joy, and he cared for nothing else quite as much as he cared for it. His deep blue eyes would gaze upon its marble features, as if imploring questions which he knew it could not answer.

The little merman had a curiosity for the land above that no one quite understood. His wise grandmother told him many tales of what lay over their heads; towns and cities teeming with people, the most sweet-smelling flowers, and little fish, called birds, which sung perched in the trees. He wished to see these things for himself, however he was too young and the surface too dangerous.
‘On your fifteenth birthday, you may swim to the surface,’ she told him.

Haru’s blue eyes sparkled with joy, for he would finally be able to see what he could previously only imagine, however, being the youngest, he would have five years to wait and the joy left his eyes as soon as it had arrived. He envied his siblings, each of them would see the land sooner than he, but none of them cared for it like he did.

As the years passed, each of his siblings went to the surface and when they came back, told tales of the wonders that they had seen. This pained the young merman. Haru longed to be fifteen. He couldn't wait to break free from the grasp of the water, to breathe air, to hear the birds singing. He outstretched his pale little hand, reaching for something he could not quite grasp. Soon, he thought, soon it would be his turn.

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On the evening of his fifteenth, his grandmother waved him off as he eagerly swam away, not at all hesitant or scared. Soon, he broke through the surface and his eyes widened in awe. The sun had begun to set, leaving the sky streaked with crimson and gold, illuminating the peaks of waves.

There in front of him, lay a great ship, illuminated with colourful lanterns and bustling with people. They seemed to be celebrating, and the air was light with laughter. Haru cautiously swam closer. With the rise and fall of the waves, he was able to see through a small port hole. There stood a prince, with the most beautiful green eyes, more vibrant than any emerald found in a sunken treasure chest, more radiant than the orb in the sky that people call the sun.

He was greeting his guests and bore the kindest smile Haru had ever seen. His features were soft and gentle, not unlike the statue Haru loved so much. Haru had been so mesmerized by the boy that he had swum closer, his nose almost brushing against the cold glass of the window.

The prince turned his head and green eyes met blue. Startled, Haru dived back under the water. He had gotten lost in the boy’s eyes for too long. After a few minutes, he cautiously poked his head above the water, however the prince was already gone.

It was getting late and he knew he should return home, however Haru could not bring himself to leave. He was mesmerized by the ship and its passengers, especially the prince. From out of nowhere, great gusts of wind began tossing the ship about, and the sea grew restless, waves crashing on board the vessel. People began frantically running around, hastily unfurling the huge sails in a vain attempt to make it to land. By now, raging waves crashed against the hull of the ship, spraying white sea foam creating artificial rain.

The mast had been snapped easily in the palm of the sea, like a mere toothpick, and pieces of wood cascaded into the water below. Haru had to be careful, otherwise he could be crushed. Everything grew dark, before a flash of lighting illuminated the scene. Haru observed the passengers on board; they were all there, but one. He had been swept off the deck of the ship, into the cold depths below.

There he was, the prince, being strewn about like a piece of driftwood. Without a second thought, Haru began to swim towards the boy, swerving between the various debris. Blindly, he reached out his hand, managing to grab the thin fabric of his shirt as he slipped further into the depths of the sea. Holding the boy’s head above the water, Haru slowly made his way to land.

Dawn began to break as they reached the sandy shore, slivers of pink and yellow cutting through the darkness. Haru placed the prince down. Gently, he pushed his wet brown hair away from his face as he got a closer look. His pink lips were slightly parted, and the slight rise and fall of his chest indicated the prince was alive. Relief swelled in Haru’s chest; he was so glad the boy had survived.

They laid on the beach as the sun rose further into the sky before voices could be heard. Reluctantly, Haru slipped back into the sea, safely obscured from the sight of some young girls who, at the sight of the prince, rushed onto the beach. When his emerald eyes opened, Haru could not help but feel jealous that he was not the first one whom he laid his gaze upon, however he knew it was far too dangerous. The girls soon took the prince along with them and Haru dived down, back to his father’s castle.

He resigned himself to the garden, silently sat by the marble statue. His siblings questioned him what he saw, however he ignored their enquiries. Each day, he returned to shore, hoping to see the prince again, but never saw him, returning home more sorrowful each time, his only comfort being the statue. He neglected to tending to his garden, the plants growing wild and unruly.

One day, he could no longer bear it and told his sibling everything. The news spread around the others and it just so happened that one knew who this prince was. They took him to the surface, to a splendid palace with winding turrets and marble stairs which ran to the sea. Indeed, there he was. He could not have felt any happier to have found him again, however the prince did not know who he was and it would have to stay that way.

Every day, Haru would swim to the castle, longingly watching the boy. One day, as he returned from the surface, he asked his grandma,
‘Do humans live forever?’
‘Humans have an immortal soul and carry on living after death unlike us. After we die, we become sea foam and there ends our existence,’ she responded. This piqued Haru’s curiosity.
‘Is there anything I can do to win an immortal soul?’
‘If a man were to love you so much that you were more important than everything to him, and you became wed, his soul would be shared between the two of you. However, that cannot happen. Humans think your tail is ugly, unnatural, compared to the two stumps that they call legs.’
Haru sighed, staring wistfully at his tail. Perhaps if he wished hard enough, it would become a pair of legs instead.
‘Come,’ said his grandmother, startling him, ‘there is a ball tonight. Let's be happy.’
With that, the two made their way to the castle.

The ball was magical; light spilled through the coloured crystal windows and the hall was filled with merpeople of all kinds, dancing and singing. Multicoloured fish swam through the castle, light bouncing off of their scales. Even quiet Haru sang, his voice lovelier than that of any merperson or human. However, even the merriment could not calm his restless mind, which was filled with constant thoughts of the prince and the idea of winning an immortal soul. Suddenly, he remembered of a person who could help. He snuck away, unnoticed, to the lair of the sea witch.

He had never been there before, no plants grew there and the ground was bare and sandy. Instead, was a forest of strange, many-legged creatures resembling trees, which flailed their multiple limbs, grasping at anything close by. Some were holding various items in a vice like grip; bodies of sunken humans, treasure chests, and even a mermaid which they had caught. Taking a deep breath, Haru darted between the waving arms, careful not to be caught. Soon he reached an area of flat, marshy land, in which stood a house made of human bone. There sat the sea witch, surrounded by fat water snakes, which rolled on the ground at her feet, whom she called her pets.

'I know what you want,' suddenly spoke the witch, 'it is stupid, and you shall only suffer. You want to get rid of your tail to win an immortal soul.’ At this, the witch laughed, a loud and ugly laugh, as if it was the funniest thing she had heard, before continuing.
‘I shall prepare a draught, which you must then drink on the land before sunrise tomorrow. Your tail will then shrivel up and become two; however every step will cause you great pain, like that of sharp knives. If you are willing to bear this, I shall help you.’
‘Yes, anything,’ he blurted out. He would be willing to do anything if it meant he could be with the prince.
‘Listen carefully. Once you lose your tail, you can never be a merman again and will never be able to return to your family and if you do not win the love of the prince, on the day that he marries another, your heart shall break and you will become part of the foam on the waves.’

Haru nodded. Fear overcame him but he would do it.
‘I must be paid,’ said the witch, eyes gleaming wickedly. ‘You have the nicest voice in all the land. I find that should be sufficient payment.’
The merman paled; if he had no voice, how would he win the prince’s love? As if reading his mind, the witch answered, ‘use your beauty, grace and those deep blue eyes. Surely you can enchant a man’s heart.’
Haru agreed and with that the witch took his voice before beginning to create the draught.
In no time, it was ready and Haru hastily took the glimmering liquid and hastily made his way back. From a distance, he observed his father’s castle. The lights were out, meaning his family must be sleeping. He could never return and that pained his heart greatly, however he would surely find happiness in his new life. With a final glance, Haru swam away, towards land and his new future.

Chapter Text

He sat on the marble stairs, water soothingly lapping at his tail, before downing the contents of the glass bottle. Instantly, he felt a sharp pain, shooting through his tail, almost ripping him in half. Haru gripped the stairs, knuckles whitening, however the pain did not subside. Soon it became too much to bear and he passed out upon the cool marble.

When the sun had risen, his eyes opened. There stood the prince, a concerned look on his face before melting into a relived one as he saw Haru awaken. The prince reached out his hand for Haru, which he gently took in his own. As soon as his foot made contact with the floor, pain tore through his feet. Haru held back a cry, instead biting hard on his cheek. A metallic taste covered his tongue, indicating he’d drawn blood and yet he carried on, placing one foot in front of the other, led by the prince.

He was taken into the palace, where servants soon rushed to find him clothes; splendid robes of silk and muslin, adorned with jewels and vividly coloured patterns. As soon as he was dressed, Haru was bombarded with questions, where had he come from? Who was he? What was his name? He simply stared silently and sorrowfully, for he had given his voice to the witch as payment for his legs. The people soon gave up with their questioning; it was pointless.

Haru did everything to please the prince. His beauty alone was enchanting, with his milky skin, dark hair and deep, blue expressive eyes. His gait was light and graceful, a mask covering the agony felt with every step. He could dance better than any of the women in the palace. He would endure the pain if it meant the prince would love him. The one thing he couldn't do was speak.

He wished he could talk to the boy, have conversations, sing for him. Most of all, he hated the sympathy he received; people assumed he was dumb and treated him almost like a child. If only they knew the real reason behind his silence.

The prince and Haru became really close, almost inseparable. Haru had learnt that he was called Makoto and yearned to be able to say his name, feel the syllables roll off his tongue. Makoto wasn't like the others. He seemed to understand Haru, to comfort him and was perfectly content to talk while Haru listened. Nobody at the castle took the time to listen and be with him. He enjoyed Haru’s company. It was soothing, like the gentle hum of the sea.

Everything seemed perfect. However, Makoto talked about how he wished to meet the one who saved his life that night. It broke Haru’s heart, how the one he wished to meet was beside him, that he thought it was another. He spoke with his eyes, it was me, but the prince couldn't understand.

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Soon the prince was to turn eighteen and it was decided that he must marry. Fair women were brought to him from all over the kingdom, however he declined all of them. It felt wrong to marry someone he just met, someone he didn't love; he didn't want that for the poor girl roped into being his bride by their power-hungry parents.

His own parents grew frustrated. They wanted him to be able to take over as king with a wife who could produce him an heir, not necessarily to love her. He always turned to Haru who he knew wouldn't scrutinize or judge him, who would not only listen but understand.

He received one more offer, from the king of a neighbouring kingdom, requesting that he come to meet his beautiful daughter. Makoto was reluctant however his parents begged. Not wanting to upset them, he accepted the offer.
‘I must travel to meet another beautiful princess,’ he confided, as usual, Haru listening alertly. ‘My parents are desperate, but I can't marry someone I can't love. It feels wrong.’
Haru wondered if the prince loved him, if he could ever gain an eternal soul to be with him forever.

The time to meet the princess soon came. Makoto insisted on taking Haru; the two were hardly ever apart. The ship sailed silently over the cool waves as Haru silently watched as the waves crashed against the hull, stray drops hitting him every now and again. He had a bad feeling. This meeting could be different to the rest- the prince would fall in love and Haru’s fate as nothing more than foam cresting the waves would be sealed. Chances were slim, but the chance was still there.

The ship sailed into the harbor just as dawn was breaking, the city slowly awaking with the sun. They were helped onto the dock, before being escorted to yet another grand palace. Haru had seen enough of these grand palaces to last him a life time. Silently, he followed behind Makoto. They were led to a door of a grand hall, where the girl was. As the doors slowly opened, she came into sight.

She really was as beautiful as many had claimed, like a picture in a child’s story book. Each step closer magnified her beauty, as well as Haru’s dread. When they stopped before her to bow, the prince’s gaze widened as he looked upon her pretty face.

‘It was you,’ he choked out. Taking a deep breath, he continued. ‘You saved my life that night, didn't you? I am forever grateful.’ He bowed again. Haru wanted to scream. It was him who saved Makoto. He gave away everything to be with him, not this girl. Quickly, the parents intervened.
‘Perhaps you could pay off your debt to my daughter. She did save your life after all,’ the girl’s father slyly spoke.
‘Of course, anything.’ Offered the prince. It seemed only fair, after all, however the request he was given was far from what he had expected.
‘Very well then. Take her hand in marriage.’

Makoto’s face paled. Anything but marriage. Of course, he was thankful the girl saved him but he couldn't marry her. He didn't know her, he didn't love her, but it was too late to decline. He had no option but to accept the offer. Forcing a smile, he gave a shaky nod.

Haru could feel his heart breaking. All this hard work, effort, pain. All to be thwarted. Tears burned at his eyes, but he hastily wiped them away, instead forcing a smile. He could do nothing but be happy for Makoto. He would soon be gone anyway.

The chime of bells rang out as they left the castle, but neither Haru nor Makoto felt happy. Preparations for the wedding would be sure to take place as soon as the prince returned home. On the way back to the boat, people everywhere were cheering and congratulating the prince on his engagement. Makoto took the time to thank them all, face straining to maintain a believable smile. Haru simply followed behind, the usual pain in his feet just a mere sting compared to the ache in his chest.

His time with Makoto would end soon, but Makoto didn't even know. He wished he could tell him. Haru wondered if Makoto would miss him once he was gone. They were so busy with preparations that they barely had time to spend alone together. Haru was obviously always with Makoto, but constantly rushing around. The rare time that they spent alone together was different. They walked down the beach in silence, the prince’s usual ramblings now a distant memory.

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Time had passed too quickly and it was the evening before the wedding, mere hours before Haru would die. The witch’s words echoed in his head, almost tauntingly, as if laughing at his poor attempt at winning the prince’s heart. His efforts had gone to waste and he would never gain an eternal soul with the prince, whom he loved so dearly. He should have known, he was being foolish giving up his life, his voice for someone who he barely knew. Should've known his feelings would have been unrequited. He should've known, but he couldn't say he hadn't enjoyed what little time he had with the prince, whether his feelings were mutual or unrequited. He had gained his friendship and that was enough.

Night had settled upon the bustling town, full of excitement for the celebration the morning was to bring. The bride and groom were sent to their chambers, to rest for the supposed ‘happiest day of their lives’ while Haru sat on the marble stairs, the very ones on which Makoto had found him on. While watching waves glittering under the moonlight, he noticed figures a short distance away, slowly becoming larger as they neared him. From under the water surfaced his siblings, the surprise so great Haru immediately rose, blue eyes wide, asking why are you here?. Their faces bore sad expressions.
‘We heard,’ answered one,’the prince is to marry tomorrow and you will die.’ Haru simply nodded.
‘Haru, listen. We went to the sea witch and she gave us this dagger,’ said another, bringing out a small, silver blade, which glinted menacingly in the moonlight.
‘Before sunrise, you must kill the prince and when his blood touches your legs, they shall become a tail once more,’ the eldest held out the dagger. He reached out his hand, hesitating, however he took it.
‘Hurry, and return to us,’ and with a final wave, they were gone. Clutching the knife, he hastily made his way to Makoto’s chamber.

Carefully pushing open the doors as not to wake him, Haru made his way into the room. There he was, asleep, brown hair slightly tussled. Silently approaching the bed, Haru held up the knife, directly over the prince’s heart, who stirred slightly. His hands began to tremble. He couldn't. Clutching the knife tightly, he bolted out of the room, back to the stairs where he tossed the damned thing back into the sea, which upon contact momentarily glowed red. There was no way he could ever consider killing the prince, Makoto, the one he loved. He would rather die.

Slowly, he sank to the ground. Soon it would be dawn and he would never see Makoto again, hear his voice, feel his presence. His presence. Haru whipped his head back. There he was, slightly panting, green eyes fixed on blue. When the erratic rise and fall of his chest slowed, he spoke.
‘You,’ he began. Haru tensed. Had he seen him with the knife? ‘You were the one who I saw, through the ship’s window, you were the one that saved me. Right?...’
His voice trailed off, awaiting Haru’s reply. Bewildered, he nodded, raven hair swaying with the movement. The brown haired boy’s face lit up.
‘I made such a mistake,’ he continued,’ it wasn't her, it was you. And now I'm forced to marry her and the truth is… I don't want to because…’ He stopped to take a deep breath. A thousand possible endings to his sentence flashed through Haru’s mind.
‘Because, I love you.’

Haru’s eyes widened. Had he heard correctly? Of all times, why did he have to reveal this now? Makoto sank down to his knees, now level with Haru.
‘I love you, but I have to marry another.’ His voice cracked, a pearly tear slipping out from under his long lashes. Haru gently wiped it away, leaving his hand to rest on Makoto’s cheek. It hurt to see him like this, it hurt that he didn't know of Haru’s fate. Jade eyes gazed into sapphire, lovingly, longingly. Before he had time to react, Makoto captured Haru’s lips in a gentle kiss. They broke apart, resting their foreheads together. Haru’s arms wound their way round the other’s neck, gently smoothing his brown hair. He wanted to stay, wished to remain like this forever, however fate had other plans.

As the first rays of light broke through the night, Haru placed a gentle kiss on Makoto’s lips. Blue eyes gazed into green one more time before the merman slowly dissipated, rolling down the marble stairs and back to the sea, this time as foam cresting the waves. All that was left was the heartbroken prince, his tears following suit and becoming one with the sea and the one he loved.