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Saltwater Melodies

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Viktor had no idea what he was doing here.

His best friend Christophe - semi-professional surfer, professional beach bum, and owner of a malfunctioning Zodiac - had invited Viktor to spend the afternoon with him buzzing around the nearby island and soaking up some sun before witnessing the solar eclipse, an event that hadn’t happened for SoCal in fifty-eight years.

For all intents and purposes, they were sticking to that plan until the aforementioned malfunctioning Zodiac had proceeded to sputter out and die only a few miles off the beaches of Islaluna, an uninhabited patch of land that had been designated as a state park. So, it had only made sense to paddle over to Islaluna and attempt to fix the motor. When that hadn’t worked, the next step was to try to call for help. Except for the fact that they were so far away from a cell tower that their smartphones were basically shiny paperweights.

“Come on a beach trip with me, he says,” Yuri kept grumbling, stabbing the sand with a stick he’d found. “It’ll be fun, he says. A day of relaxation, he says.”

It probably hadn’t been a good idea for them to drag Yuri Plisetsky, one of Viktor’s conservatory students, along with. It had taken a lot of coercion. Mila Babicheva had been easier, and even she was getting frustrated with their plight.

“Lighten up!” Chris laughed, and oh god he’d already lost his shirt. Yuri was glaring at the surfer, his lip curled in disdain as Chris leaned back on his makeshift bed.

“You’re supposed to be helping with the signal fire!” Yuri shouted, and Viktor and Mila winced as Chris shrugged.

“It’s already big enough,” he said, tapping his round sunglasses and nodding to the bonfire they had going. “Someone’s bound to see it sooner or later.”

“The eclipse is soon!” Yuri snapped, wringing his hands. “Do you seriously think the water police will be looking for signal fires when that happens?!”

“Viktor, tell short stack here to chill out~!”

“Why-- you--!

Viktor caught the blond teen by the collar of his sweat-soaked t-shirt and sighed. Being the eldest in the group meant he had to be the adult, right? “Yura, relax. The fire’s big enough, the smoke is going to be visible for miles. You did a good job.”

We did a good job,” Mila insisted, fanning herself with a palm frond. “I figured out how to light the thing.”

“Yes, yes, both of you.”

Yuri squinted up at them both, and his eyes glittered dangerously. “You know what would make it even bigger?” He wrenched himself out of Viktor’s grasp and sprinted away to Chris’s dead motorboat.

Viktor blinked and Chris sat up, eyebrows raised, as Yuri leaned over the side of the boat and rummaged around in the bottom. Then they both scrambled to their feet in alarm as Yuri hauled his armload of rum out of the cooler. Mila just laughed at them.

“What are you doing?!” Chris cried out as Yuri dropped his bounty on the merrily-crackling signal fire.

“I saw it in a movie,” Yuri answered smugly. “So there.”

“But… that was the good booze!”

“Oh no, what a hardship.”

Viktor let himself mourn the Bacardi, one of his sole indulgences for the week, before he sighed and retreated to the shade. His cheeks were already burning in the bright west coast sun. He didn’t want to think about the tan lines he’d be dealing with after that day.

Chris was still looking forlorn, but Yuri looked pleased with himself. And if Viktor was being honest with himself, the smoke was looking thicker and more plentiful.

Yuri joined Mila and Viktor under the palm tree, smirking, and leaned up against the trunk with his arms crossed.

“Good thing it’s the weekend, huh?” Viktor said aloud, and Yuri snorted.

“Yeah, just how I wanted to spend my Friday. Marooned on an abandoned island.” Yuri blew his hair out of his face and glared at the empty horizon. “I was going to hang out with Beka and do remixes with him today.”

Viktor winced. “Damn, I’m sorry.”

“And I can’t even text him because there’s no fucking signal out here!” Yuri exploded, kicking a tuft of sand up.

“That’s what I like about this place,” Chris offered. “I mean, sure, it’s a drag when it comes to updating Instagram, but as long as I’ve got battery and memory space, I can always upload when I get home!”

“Not helping,” Mila sing-songed as Yuri went scarlet. “Not that anyone cares, but I did want to go clubbing tonight with Sara and some of the other girls from school.”

Viktor pushed his overgrown bangs off his forehead. “I had plans for the evening as well, but there’s nothing to be done. We’ll get off this island soon enough, you’ll see.”

“Were you going to just hang around the conservatory and play sad jazz music all night?” Chris tossed over his shoulder.

Viktor frowned. “Not sad music. Contemplative.”

“No, yeah, sad music,” Mila chimed in. She made a face at Viktor. “This dry spell of yours is really not good for your artistry.” She did the exaggerated air quotes, and Chris laughed.

“I’m hurt,” Viktor muttered. “Maybe I’ll write a song about that.”

“Of course you are,” Chris replied, grinning. “You know what Georgi says, heartbreak makes for the best kind of art.”

“Heartbreak?” Viktor repeated. “What makes you think of that?”

“Well, okay, maybe not heartbreak,” Chris admitted. “More like… ennui.”

“I don’t need to be psychoanalyzed by a sunbathing beach bum,” Viktor said, rolling his eyes.

“Hm, good point,” Chris said, rolling onto his stomach. “I could be sunbathing instead of psychoanalyzing you.”

“You were already doing that!” Yuri shouted.

Viktor sank to a sitting position against the tree, letting his head fall back against the trunk with a soft thud. He closed his eyes as Yuri began to rant again and Mila started to egg him on. The breeze in the shade was heavenly, and he felt himself starting to drift as the wind blew softly again.

He had no idea how long he dozed, but the next thing he knew he was being shaken awake by Chris. The normally carefree surfer actually looked concerned. “Hey, Yuri went off into the forest some time ago and he hasn’t come back yet. The eclipse is starting soon, it’s going to be too dark to search in a few minutes.”

Viktor scrambled to his feet and together he and Chris dashed back to the boat to find the flashlights. Mila had smartly put her phone in airplane mode after the zodiac engine had gone out, and still had enough battery to use the flashlight function in it.

The three of them spent the next ten minutes searching desperately through the foliage, calling for Yuri. Viktor had a vivid image of being eviscerated by Yuri’s mother if he wasn’t successful in finding the teen, and he became increasingly frenzied as time went on with no sign of the youngest member of their quartet.

Worst of all, the eclipse was clearly starting; it was as if the sun was being blotted out in the sky above, like some kind of impossible sunset. Viktor didn’t have the special glasses, but he had checked using his powered-down phone and had been able to see the beginning of the shadow of the moon crossing into the disk of the sun. Viktor switched on his flashlight as darkness continued to fall. They had to be getting close to totality.

And then Mila shouted for him, and Viktor followed her voice through the trees until he broke the treeline.

He blinked. “Wow.”

“I know, right!” Mila twirled. “Isn’t it pretty?”

Pretty was an understatement.

They’d stumbled into a lagoon straight out of a fairy tale, a generously-sized body of water connected to the greater breadth of the sea with a tiny inlet. There was a small rocky drop-off from the treeline, ending in a sandy little beach. It absolutely lovely, and the greater ocean beyond the rocks blended right into the darkening sky over the inlet. To the left, Viktor spotted a small waterfall fed by a river snaking through the trees on the opposite side of the pool. The water in the lagoon was gently pulsing and reflecting the diminished sun overhead. It was breathtaking.

Viktor was beside himself with relief when he saw Yuri perched near the water, feet dangling off the edge of the cliff. He was still as sulky as ever, but he was okay.

“We’re still lost, Baba,” Yuri muttered.

“Yes, but Viktor found us! Viktor, do you remember the way back?”

“Of course,” Viktor answered.

“See, we’re not lost anymore.” Mila stuck her tongue out at Yuri. She poked him on the shoulder. “Cheer up, Yura!”

“Shut up,” Yuri grumbled, shoving her back.

“Seriously?” Viktor muttered, making his way down the little hill towards them. Things were starting to devolve into a shoving match until Mila overbalanced and started to fall back towards the water. Viktor picked up speed as her eyes widened and she grabbed Yuri’s arm, and he yelled as his minimal counterweight did absolutely nothing to prevent them both from falling, screaming, over the cliff’s edge.

Viktor skidded to a stop, but his momentum was not having it, plus he couldn’t see the cliff anymore. Thus, he too ended up pitching over the edge, landing in the lagoon with an ungraceful belly-flop.

He resurfaced, spitting out seawater.

“Nice,” Yuri said flatly, and Viktor splashed the teen in irritation.

“Shit,” he said, treading water. “I can’t see a thing.”

“Oh,” Mila said, pointing upward. “I think it’s happening.”

“Don’t look up!” Yuri sputtered. “You’ll burn your retinas!”

Mila held up her phone, which was of course waterproofed. “I think it’s the totality! We’re in the total eclipse of the sun.”

“In the middle of the ocean,” Yuri snapped. “Turn the flashlight back on so we can swim to shore.”

“Yeah, one se- agh!” Mila squawked, and then Viktor could hear her splashing around for a second before she gasped. “Guys, check this out!”

Viktor frowned and began to swim towards the sound of her voice. Judging by the noises to his right, Yuri was doing the same. It took a minute, but he eventually found Mila with the help of a… massive glowing rock jutting out of the lagoon waters.

“Wow,” he breathed, and Mila giggled, having partially climbed onto it already. “How did we not see this before?”

“It was too dark,” Mila shrugged. “I couldn’t tell if there was anything in the water until it started glowing.”

“Why did it only start?” Yuri eyed it suspiciously. He was staying away, eyes narrowed. “If either of you says ‘bioluminescence’ I’m calling bullshit.”

“Maybe it’s some kind of mineral?” Mila suggested.

“I’m not touching that,” Yuri insisted.

Viktor rolls his eyes at the younger teen and put his hand flat against the rock. “I’m sure it’s harmless, or else the preserve staff would have put signs up.”

“Yeah, you say that until you get radiation poisoning,” Yuri grumbled.

“Oooh,” Mila said, peering at her phone. “I think that’s the ‘ring of fire’ up there.”

“What?” Viktor asked, and Mila handed her phone to him so he could see.

“Look at the reflection. Isn’t that cool? You can see the ring of the sun, just barely!”

Viktor squinted, and yeah, Mila was right. The moon was almost perfectly situated in front of the sun. “Yeah. That is pretty cool.”

“So cool,” Yuri griped. “We’re out here in the middle of the ocean--”

“Chill out, Yura. It’s a lagoon,” Mila laughed. “Not like you’re gonna get eaten by a shark!”

“You dragged me into this, Baba. I won’t be forgetting it.” Yuri kept treading water, then yelped as the lagoon began to bubble.

“What the hell?” Viktor shouted, grabbing onto the rock. The rock that was now glowing even more brightly.

And now Yuri was doing the same, panicking as the water thrashed around them.

“It’s like a hot tub,” Mila said, surprised. “But it’s not hot.”

“It’s freaking me out!” Yuri shot back, making a valiant effort to haul himself up onto the rock.

The water began to roil and sparkle like it was being lit from beneath. Fairy lights that had to be a trick of the light danced around their sodden heads, and Viktor blinked and went cross-eyed as one of them booped his nose, winking out.

“What in the world…?” he wondered aloud, squinting at the air above them.

“I don't like this,” Yuri said nervously, but none of them made an effort to swim towards the shore.

After a few long moments, the totality ended above them and the sun began to emerge from behind the moon as water settled, the fairy lights fading away.

“What the hell,” Yuri demanded, still clinging to the rock.

“I think it’s safe,” Viktor said, venturing out away from the others.

Indeed, the water was now as calm as it had been before the totality, gently lapping at the sand that Viktor could now barely make out just a dozen feet away. He started to swim; eventually, his feet touched the bottom of the pool. “I’m at the edge,” he called back, hauling himself out of the lagoon.

Yuri was off like a shot, paddling desperately for the beach and laughing in relief when he reached the shallows.

“But this is such a cool spot,” Mila whined, but she stowed her phone and pushed off the rock, moving into a graceful breaststroke and joining Yuri on the sand, where the younger teen was wheezing and flopping around at the waterline.

“Don’t be such a drama queen.” Viktor rolled his eyes.

Yuri flipped him off and rolled over before fishing his own phone out of his pocket. “Fuckin’ bricked,” he said flatly. “Great.”

“Stick it in rice,” Mila suggested.

What rice?!” Yuri yelled at her. “We are stranded on a friggin’ island!

“When we get home,” Mila said, getting to her feet and shaking her hair out. “Vitya, do you remember the way back to the Zodiac?”

“Yeah,” Viktor answered, looking around at the little beach. “We’ll have to climb those rocks and head back into the forest. It’s that way,” he added, pointing.

As they scrambled up the rocky incline back towards the treeline, the eclipse was ending. It was like a midday sunrise. Viktor hadn’t brought his phone with him, so they were forced to rely on Mila’s compass app to make sure they were headed in the right direction. As the sunlight returned, they were able to look up and see the smoke of the still-burning signal fire.

At long last, they emerged from the forest and finally reached the beach where the zodiac had been left behind.

“Well,” Viktor said as Yuri collapsed next to the bonfire, “at least this is still going.”

“Ugh,” Yuri said. “It’s already getting hot again.”

Mila and Viktor exchanged exasperated looks and rolled their eyes in unison. “Yura, you’re such a brat,” Mila sang as Chris emerged from the trees a few dozen feet to the left.

“Ffffffuck youuuuu.”

“You kiss your mother with that mouth?” Chris called, fanning himself.

Yuri cracked a baleful eye and looked right at Viktor. “Speaking of her, she’s gonna kill you both.”

Viktor sighed and sat down, burying his face in his hands. “I accept my fate.”

Chris blew a raspberry and stripped off his shirt again. “So how about that eclipse? Hey, why are you all soaking wet?”

“We fell into a lagoon,” Mila informed him, sweeping her hair to the side and exposing her undercut.

“Ooh, do tell?” Chris waggled his eyebrows. “Which lagoon?”

“It’s maybe a mile that way,” Viktor said, pointing. “It’s weird, though. Filled with some kind of weird reactive… thing that started acting up during the eclipse.”

“Oh, hm,” Chris frowned. “I’ve never heard of that.”

“You wouldn’t,” Mila pointed out before they were all startled by the sound of a shrill siren.

“The water police!” Yuri literally jumped to his feet, exhaustion forgotten.

The next ten minutes were a whirlwind. The water police officer, a smiling bespectacled older man named Captain Katsuki, managed to bundle the four of them up in scratchy - but dry - blankets and settle them in on the patrol boat, making sure to tow Chris’s Zodiac along back to port. The trip across the channel took around forty minutes, and Viktor ended up dozing off a little at some point before they pulled into the harbor.

“Oh god,” Chris said, nudging Viktor back into awareness.

Mr. and Mrs. Plisetsky were standing at the end of the pier; Yuri’s father merely looked concerned but his mother, as Viktor had predicted, looked furious.

Viktor sank down in his seat and tried to bury himself in the scratchy trauma blanket. “If anyone asks, I died on the way over of heat exhaustion.”

“What was that about accepting fate?” Yuri snorted, but he still jumped off the boat and threw himself into his mother’s arms once they were docked.

Mila sniggered into her elbow while Chris and Viktor both were notably subdued once Mrs. Plisetsky turned to them, and honestly, if Viktor said that his student took mostly after his mother he didn’t think anyone would disagree.

“What the hell, Viktor?!” Mrs. Plisetsky demanded, and Viktor flinched.

“Honestly, ma’am,” Chris said quickly, raising his hand. “It’s all my fault. I had too much faith in the Zodiac.”

“No, he’s my responsibility,” Viktor argued, poking Chris in the shoulder. “I don’t know what I was thinking, artistic retreat. It was spur of the moment--”

“Well, at least that’ll never change,” Mr. Plisetsky muttered.

“Mom, I don’t even care, I’m not even mad anymore,” Yuri whined. “Can we go home?”

“Of course, dear. Your grandfather should be getting off work soon,” Mrs. Plisetsky squeezed her son tightly and whisked him away, leaving her husband to say goodbye.

“I get the feeling that’s not the end of it,” Chris said as Viktor watched the family leave. “Ah, well, I’m going to get my stuff settled and then head home too. Need a ride?”

“I’ve got my scooter parked at the wharf,” Mila said, shaking sand out of her shirt.

Chris shrugged. “Viktor?”

Viktor shook his head. “Nah, I’ll just hoof it.” He retrieved his bag from the patrol boat and set off along the shoreline, heading towards his neighborhood a short walk away.

When he unlocked his apartment door and let himself in, he was greeted by a loud bark and a ball of curly fluff as his pet poodle greeted him enthusiastically. “Ah, Makkachin, I hope you were okay while I was away,” he said, dropping to his knees to accept the slobbery doggy kisses. “I’m so sorry for leaving you alone, I won’t ever do it again.”

Makkachin whined, crowding onto Viktor’s lap like she thought she was still a puppy, and Viktor allowed himself to cuddle with the poodle for a bit longer before he had to get up. He fed Makkachin a jerky snack to tide her over until dinner that night, and briefly considered taking a shower before discarding the idea and just falling onto his bed, still clothed, for a well-earned nap. Makkachin jumped up next to him and Viktor could feel the mattress shift as the poodle curled up at the foot of the bed, and once that was settled he could finally give into the weariness tugging at his consciousness.

And as soon as he drifted off, he dreamed of dancing lights on the water.

 

When he awoke that evening, the first order of business was to make sure Makkachin got fed properly. As she shoved her face into the food bowl, to Viktor’s amusement, he checked his now-charged phone to see what he’d missed.

Yuri had managed to get himself a new phone, and Mila had tagged the four of them on Facebook for “Watching the Eclipse @ Islaluna”. Yuri was complaining about his lost data on the post in question. Chris had uploaded his photos of Islaluna and the eclipse to Instagram and Facebook, and he’d managed to get a nice shot of the corona with the moon centered in it. Viktor scrolled through his timeline before he couldn’t deny how itchy he was from the dried salt and sand on his skin, so he left Makkachin in the kitchen with her dinner in order to take a shower.

That turned out to be a mistake.

He turned on the shower and waited for the water to heat up, sticking his hand into the stream to gauge the temperature. It still had a ways to go towards being just right, so he shook the excess water off and was about to go brush his teeth when he felt a strange tingling traveling up and down his legs.

He glanced down and had a second to realize the fairy lights were back and swarming him from the waist down before his legs just… disappeared.

Oh. Oh, that was a tail.

And it couldn’t hold his weight so he pitched face forward onto his bath rug, making plenty of noise on the way down.

It took a moment for his brain to recalibrate, and then he flipped over and stared down his body in shock.

“What the fuck,” he said in a dazed, hollow voice.

He pushed himself into a sitting position and found that he couldn’t actually sit - he didn’t really have hips anymore. His hands were shaking as he slowly reached out to poke and then touch the new appendage, which was very solidly a part of him.

It was smooth and scaly, shifting between plum and magenta, and was incredibly muscular. He felt the new muscles shifting under the scales, which was both weird and fascinating. And it didn’t hinge where his knees would be, which allowed him to curl the fin upwards towards his face and examine it.

“Jeez,” he said, tugging on the fin and actually feeling it through the nerve endings in it. “How?” He let it flop back onto the tiles and then jolted at the sound of his phone buzzing on the counter.

“Ah, shit,” he muttered, and then he flipped back onto his belly so he could haul himself over to the sink and drag himself upwards enough so he could grab for his mobile.

The missed call was from Yuri, and he knew right then that this wasn’t just happening to him. He immediately called back.

“Viktor!” Yuri hissed without preamble as soon as he answered. “Don’t get wet!”

“Or else I’ll grow a tail?” Viktor asked dully, glancing over his shoulder at the tail in question. “Too late. You too, huh?”

Yuri was quiet for a moment then said, “Do you think Mila…?”

“Probably.”

“Have you called her?”

“I was kind of stuck on the floor.” Viktor sighed. “No more showers, I guess.”

“Shit.”

Viktor pinched the bridge of his nose. “Yuri, focus. Did you manage to get it to go away?”

“Yeah, it disappears when you dry off.”

Viktor breathed in relief and released the tension he hadn’t realized had been growing in his shoulders and neck. “Thank God.”

“Should I call Mila or do you want to?” Yuri asked, and Viktor picked up on his unease.

“How much trouble are you in?”

Yuri laughed flatly. “None, really. Mom’s still mad at you guys.”

“Okay, I’ll call Chris. You call Mila. Let’s meet at my place if we can get ahold of them. I need to get to a towel.”

“Okay.” Yuri made a pained noise. “I’ll tell my mom I’m meeting with Otabek early or something.”

“Don’t lie-- you know what?” Viktor eyed the towel on the opposite wall. “Do what you gotta do. I’ll text you.” He hung up and put the mobile down so he could start dragging himself across the bathroom.

His shoulders were burning with the effort by the time he got to the towel rack, and he just wearily reached up and tugged one off of its perch, rolling onto his back so he could start trying to dry off the - his - tail.

True to Yuri’s word, once he was completely dry, the tingling and fairy lights returned; his legs reappeared, replacing the tail. He breathed a sigh of relief, and then remembered that he’d left the shower running.

He allowed himself to indulge in a string of curses in three different languages before he tossed aside the used towel and grabbed the one that was more dry. Quickly, before he could get soaked again, he reached into the shower and flipped off the spigot, toweling off again before the tail could reappear once more.

Viktor sighed and scratched at the back of his head. This… this was not going to be easy.

 

After a lot of consideration, Viktor was forced to take a bath instead of a shower for the first time in a very long time, and luckily that seemed to wash away all of the salt and sand, even if it was awkward as hell. He had to drain the tub and then haul himself out in order to dry off, but he figured out how to use the tail to counterbalance and push off the bottom. It couldn’t sustain his weight, but it was better than solely using his upper body strength.

Chris eventually responded to the voicemail that Viktor had left with a confused text affirming that he was on his way over. A few minutes later, Yuri and Mila checked in as well.

Makkachin needed to go out, and once she’d relieved herself and was settled on the couch with a squeaky toy, Viktor tossed some leftovers from last week’s dinner with his parents into the microwave.

When the intercom buzzed, Viktor ducked out onto his balcony and glanced down at the front door. Chris waved from three stories down, and Viktor quickly buzzed him in.

Chris raised his eyebrows at Viktor when he unlocked his front door and let him in. “So what was so important that you couldn’t tell me over the phone?” he asked as the microwave dinged.

Viktor grabbed a towel so he could handle the hot plate and set it on his stove to cool off. “Chris,” he said slowly, unsure of how to proceed. “Have you been in the water since we got back from Islaluna?”

“Yeah, I went surfing with Masumi,” Chris said, referring to his boyfriend.

Viktor stared at him. “You went surfing.”

“Yyyyyeah?”

“And nothing happened?”

Chris frowned. “What was supposed to happen?”

Viktor opened his mouth to answer, but his intercom buzzed again.

Chris eyed him with concern as he hit the LISTEN button. They both heard Yuri’s angry shouting immediately, and Chris buzzed him in.

When the knock came, Viktor opened his door to reveal both Yuri and Mila.

“Well?” Yuri demanded, stalking in. Mila followed him and immediately squatted down to say hi to Makkachin, who had bounded forward in excitement to greet the visitors.

“He went surfing,” Viktor said, jerking a thumb at Chris.

Chris blinked in confusion as Yuri stared at him, aghast.

“And?” the teen asked.

“Didn’t happen to him,” Viktor answered.

“What are you two talking about?” Mila asked, making a show of checking her watch. “You know, I’m meeting Sara and Phoebe and the others pretty soon--”

“Mila, have you gotten wet since we got back from Islaluna?” Yuri rounded on her.

Mila made a face. “Yura. Seriously.”

“I’m serious!”

“No, I still need to take a shower before I go out!”

“That’s not happening,” Viktor said, poking at the leftover lasagna with a fork.

Mila groaned. “Vitya…”

“Miloshka, go ahead and turn on the sink and stick your arm under the faucet,” Viktor replied, raising his eyebrows. “See what happens.”

“Is that a good idea?” Yuri asked as Mila made another face at him.

Viktor shrugged, and Mila made a frustrated noise.

“Fine,” she grumbled, nudging Viktor aside and moving to the sink. “Does it matter if it’s hot water or cold water, старик?”

“Low blow,” Viktor muttered as Yuri answered, “doesn’t matter.”

Mila rolled her eyes and flipped the faucet on, putting her hand into the stream. “Ooooh,” she said in a spooky voice, waving her wet hand and sprinkling droplets on the counter. Yuri and Viktor both stepped out of range, and she stared at them in bemusement. “What are you--”

The change overtook her as quickly as it had both times for Viktor. The fairy lights suddenly appeared from thin air and swarmed her, and Viktor could swear he could hear twinkling noises before there was a brief flash of light and then Mila pitched forward, her new tail bending and failing to sustain her weight.

WHAT THE FUCK,” she shouted in Russian, eyes wide enough that Viktor could see the whites all around her irises. “Viktor, what did you do to me?

“I didn’t do anything,” Viktor said flatly as Chris yelled in wordless shock. “It happened to me earlier.”

“Same here,” Yuri added, crossing his arms.

Mila heaved herself into flipping over and stared down at her body. “What the hell,” she squeaked.

Her clothes had disappeared, replaced with blue-green scales over any body parts that Viktor probably wouldn’t want to see. And of course, her legs had vanished to make way for a long, muscular tail covered in matching scales that glinted in the kitchen lights.

Mila tentatively reached out to touch what had been her hips just a minute ago and yelped in surprise as her fin flexed on the tile floor. “What is this?!” she demanded.

“That’s a tail,” Yuri said sarcastically. “And it goes away when you dry off.”

“And it’s not a one-off thing,” Viktor added, chewing on a bite of lasagna. “It happened to me twice. I had to take a bath earlier instead of showering.”

Mila looked back and forth at both of them, mouth flapping silently. “How?” she finally asked.

“We have no idea,” Viktor said. “Probably magic.”

“Magic is not real,” Chris sputtered.

“Sure looks real to me,” Yuri said. “Hey, you don’t have knees anymore. Flex it towards you.”

“What?” Mila said, and did so. “HOLYSHIT.”

Viktor nodded. “Yeah. Weird, right?”

How are you two so calm?!” Mila yelled at them.

“We got our freakouts done with earlier,” Yuri answered.

Mila let out a long, high-pitched wail and let her head flop down onto the floor.

“Let me get you a towel,” Viktor said, putting down his plate on his table. “One second.”

“Sure,” Mila said, sounding dazed, and Viktor ducked into the hallway to rummage through his linen closet. When he returned to the kitchen, Makkachin was investigating Mila’s new appendage and jolting away every time it flexed or moved.

Mila took the towels from him and started scrubbing down her tail, which was slightly damp for some reason, and refused to look at any of them.

“So this didn’t happen to you?” Yuri asked Chris, who shook his head.

“I spent most of the afternoon in the water,” Chris answered, looking like he’d gotten whacked in the face with a two-by-four.

“So it’s just us three,” Viktor said, and Yuri said exactly what he was thinking:

“It was that lagoon.” He crossed his arms again. “It has to be that. It’s the only thing we all have in common that he wasn’t there for.” He jerked his chin at Chris

“Maybe it was specifically the rock?” Viktor mused.

“Who cares?” Mila snapped. “How do we make it stop happening?”

Viktor and Yuri both shrugged in unison, and Mila groaned.

“I can’t go to the beach ever again,” she said, burying her face in the towel. “What would happen if someone saw me like this?”

Chris sat down on the loveseat, still looking dazed. “You’d get hauled into an aquarium, probably,” he said slowly. “Possibly even dissected. Holy shit.”

“Jesus Christ, Chris!” Viktor snapped.

“Am I wrong?!” Chris demanded. “My boyfriend is a marine park worker, remember? They capture and hold rare specimens for study!”

“I didn’t need to hear that,” Yuri said, sitting down on the floor. “Fuck.”

“We have to go back to the island,” Viktor decided. “There has to be some kind of answer in that lagoon.”

They all looked to Chris, who sputtered. “Don’t look at me! The Zodiac needs to be fixed!”

“So what do you expect us to do?” Yuri demanded. “Swim?

“Why not?” Chris quipped, eyeing Mila’s tail.

“Okay, first of all, up yours,” Mila said, pointing at him. “This is freaky.”

“But it works, right? Theoretically, at least.” Chris crossed his arms and stroked his goatee. “I mean, you could jump in at the docks and probably make decent time on your own. You could even approach the lagoon from the ocean instead of trying to find it from the forest.”

“We don’t even know if these things work,” Yuri started to say, but Mila’s shrill laugh cut him off.

“Yura, I’m willing to bet they do,” she said as she furiously rubbed at her sides. “I’m feeling muscles that I’ve never had before.”

“Okay, so the tails probably work.” Viktor began to pace. “And we have a general idea of where the lagoon is.”

“Do we?” Yuri asked, raising an eyebrow.

“GPS,” Chris pointed out. “We have satellite views of Islaluna. Let’s see if we can’t find your lagoon on Google Earth before you set out.”

“And my phone is waterproof, so we’d have navigation,” Mila added as the fairy lights finally came back, returning her legs to her. She got to her feet, only a little unsteady, and pinched her thigh as if afraid it wasn’t real. “We can’t go out tonight,” she said. “I have plans, it’s Last Fling.”

“What if you get splashed in public, at a crowded club?” Yuri looked ready to grab her by the shoulders and shake her.

“I’ll be careful,” Mila waved him off. “It would look weird if I didn’t show.”

“What if it’s just water that does this?” Chris asked, tapping his chin. “Maybe there’s a scientific method to all of this--”

“If you’re even thinking of asking Masu about this, don’t,” Viktor warned. “We need to get a handle on this before we consult anyone. Nothing leaves this room, otherwise.”

“Don’t be so paranoid,” Chris said. “Who would believe us?”

“I don’t want to find out,” Viktor muttered.

“He’s right,” Mila agreed. “We all know our phones are tapped by the NSA anyway.”

Chris rolled his eyes. “My god, you’re a bunch of conspiracy theorists.”

“Better to be safe than sorry,” Mila sing-songed.

“So basically, act like nothing’s out of the ordinary,” Viktor said. He picked up his plate again and poked the cooling lasagna with his fork. “Be extra careful, and tell no one.”

“I think we can manage that.” Yuri narrowed his eyes at Chris. “Mostly.”

“I don’t want to see my best friend strapped to an examination table, thanks,” Chris replied coolly. “I’ll keep my mouth shut.”

Viktor waved Yuri’s concerns off. “He’s good for it. He didn’t breathe a word about my stint in rehab.”

“You went to rehab?” Mila and Yuri demanded in unison.

“See? You didn’t know. We’re good.”

Chris winced at him. “Viktor…”

“It’s fine. I’m fine.” Viktor took a generous bite of his lasagna to prove it. “See?”

Chris sighed and looked away. “Fine.”

“So we good?” Viktor asked, looking to the younger teens.

Mila and Yuri exchanged conflicted looks but ultimately nodded.

“Miloshka, be careful tonight. Yura, what about you?”

“I’ll just go over to Otabek’s place and hang with him.” Yuri shrugged. “No danger there.”

“Masu’s getting dinner,” Chris said. “I’ll try and get the Zodiac fixed tonight in case you need me out there.”

“When are we doing that?” Yuri asked, face still twisted in a frown.

“Tomorrow?” Viktor suggested, and no one protested. “Okay. Tomorrow. My apartment’s closest to the marina, so we can meet up here tomorrow, maybe around ten in the morning. I’m staying in tonight anyway, so I’ll do research into the area. Cool?”

“Works for me,” Mila said. “Now I gotta figure out how to shower without falling over.”

“Bath,” Viktor stated. “Say goodbye to showers forever, at least until we figure this out.”

Mila groaned, and Yuri rolled his eyes at her. “C’mon, Baba,” he said, heading towards the apartment door. “Don’t you girls love taking baths all the time?”

“You really need to stop generalizing an entire gender, Yurashka,” Mila grumbled as she followed him out.

That left Chris, Viktor, and Makkachin alone in the apartment.

“You’re really all right?” Chris asked.

Viktor smiled, allowing the expression to be as tired as he actually felt. “I mean, it’s not the end of the world. It’s weird and inconvenient, but I’ll be okay.”

“You’re not going to do anything drastic, are you?” Chris pressed.

Viktor shook his head. “I won’t. I promise.”

“Listen, if you need me for any reason…”

“I’ll call my therapist,” Viktor finished for him, and Chris snorted.

“You do that,” the surfer said as he let himself out. Viktor locked the door behind him and collapsed onto his couch, Makkachin immediately hopping up to put her head in his lap.

“I should finish eating,” he told the poodle, who looked up at him adoringly. “I’ll finish eating. I promise.”

She licked his chin in response.

Chapter Text

Islaluna was “discovered” by the Spaniards in the 1600’s. They colonized what would eventually be known as Lucía Bay, but for some reason, all attempts to settle on the island itself were mysteriously abandoned. This is what Viktor discovered once he pulled his laptop out of the office/studio and set up at the kitchen table to finish his meal, scrolling through the local digitized archives and reading translations of varying quality.

It has been explained to me by the natives, one man’s journal entry read, that the island is a sacred place, a meeting place of the moon and sea. To tread there is to invite mishap. I believe it to be true, after these months.

But what happened? Viktor grew frustrated after countless perusals of the archives that revealed nothing specific. It wasn’t until he switched to a university website that he started hitting paydirt.

There were several attempts to commercialize the island, throughout the nineteenth and twentieth century. One such attempt was halted after the man planning a hotel was killed after being struck by lightning. Another saw any progress gained washed away by an entire season’s worth of horrible storms and floods.

Bad luck, at first glance. After a while, people gave up on trying to put their mark on the island and eventually the entire place was made into a state park and wildlife sanctuary. There was a healthy population of harbor seals there and plenty of whales and sharks that passed by consistently, but no humans lived on the island and rarely did anyone go there… except for wildlife types and the occasional idiot with a malfunctioning Zodiac.

Viktor hit a dead end with the research, having learned a lot and yet very little useful information. Just legends and secondhand accounts of strange misfortunes, and not much else. So, because he had to do something to occupy himself, he pulled up Google Earth so he could examine the island and see if he could spot the lagoon.

Islaluna translated to Moon Island in Spanish. Quite a fitting name, if Viktor was being honest with himself. The land mass was shaped like a fat crescent from above, the hollow part facing the mainland coast and the rounded part facing open sea. Viktor zoomed in very close and examined the island’s shoreline, and he eventually found it.

It was on the round part of the island, almost perfectly situated in the center of the outward curve facing the ocean. Viktor could even pick out the rock they’d climbed onto, and the waterfall he recalled.

Sertori’s Cove, he read. Hm.

He found himself fighting a yawn and realized it had been hours since sunset. He plugged in his laptop and put it to sleep before grabbing his plate and dumping it in the sink. He didn’t know yet how he’d do the dishes - maybe he’d go get himself some thick rubber gloves for the inevitable scrubbing he’d have to do - but he was too out of it to really care about cleaning right then. Tomorrow, he told himself. His nap earlier may have thrown off his sleep schedule, but he’d be starting up work at the conservatory again, which meant he needed to readjust his bodyclock before it messed with him enough to endanger his focus on his work.

He took Makkachin out one last time and then stripped down to his underwear and flopped onto his bed. Then he groaned and rolled off, spitting out sand. Dammit, he needed to change the sheets. But the bed had been made when he’d taken his nap earlier, so he stripped off the comforter, fluffed it, and left it in a heap next to his hamper.

Viktor instead crawled onto his bed, made with only the sheets and a thin summer blanket - the night was cool enough that he felt all right with opening his windows for a breeze and switching off the air conditioning - and Makkachin curled up next to him.

Tomorrow, he told himself again. He’d get everything done tomorrow. And then it was back to the island, to fix this… problem.

He hadn’t let himself say - or even think - the word merman. But… that was what he undoubtedly looked like when he’d touched water.

Viktor sighed and rolled onto his back, staring down at his bare legs. “I don’t feel like a merman,” he told Makkachin, who huffed sleepily.

Still, if this weirdness was still happening tomorrow, maybe a return visit to the island would bring answers in a way that the internet hadn’t.

Viktor closed his eyes, and he could swear he heard the sound of the ocean washing up on the shore as he fell asleep.

 

The next day dawned bright and clear and brought with it a text from Chris, apologizing for the fact that his Zodiac was still not operational. Apparently, he was going to need to get the engine rebuilt, and a few parts needed to be ordered.

Viktor told him not to worry about it and instead texted Mila and Yuri to check in on them.

Mila responded after thirty minutes, reaffirming nothing had happened the previous night. Yuri took longer - the kid liked to sleep in insanely late - but also reported no aquatic incidents.

They all confirmed their meeting spot and Viktor set out to get done what he could without getting wet. He decided to stick his comforter in the dryer on air fluff mode to shake off any remaining sand, and debated walking to the corner store to grab some utility rubber gloves. He eventually decided against it and let his dishes pile up in the sink instead, but he couldn’t deny that he would definitely need those gloves if he wanted to keep up his tidy habits.

Nine o’clock whizzed past, and he locked up his apartment and stuck his valuables into the waterproof pouch he’d purchased after a previous Zodiac adventure had resulted in his phone getting ruined. ID cards, money clip, various keys, and cell phone all went in and were carefully sealed against the elements.

He was pacing in front of the entry to his building when Mila walked up, looking pleasantly worn out. They were exchanging inane small talk when Yuri showed up on his scooter, which he parked at the bike rack. The keys went into Viktor’s waterproof pouch, as did Yuri’s phone. Mila’s phone was, as Viktor was already aware, quite waterproof, so she held onto it as they made their way over to the north marina, the closer of the two.

Most of the commercial fishers were already out at sea, so there weren’t many onlookers when the three of them stepped up to the end of one dock and stared out at the cerulean waters.

“Well,” Mila said briskly, handing Viktor her phone in its wristlet case. “Here goes nothing.”

She assumed the traditional diver’s position and propelled herself into the water, executing the dive nicely, and Yuri and Viktor watched the rippling sea underneath them and waited.

She surfaced a dozen feet away and waved, and Viktor tossed her phone to her. She held her hand up for the pouch, and he threw it to her as well before preparing to jump. He was about to step out over the edge of the dock when he glanced at Yuri.

The blond teen was clearly having second thoughts, and Viktor sighed before giving Yuri a small push, sending him over the edge with a yelp. He quickly followed so Yuri wouldn’t have a chance to gripe at him, and hit the water feet-first.

It took a few seconds, but then the magic happened and his legs were gone once more. He took a moment to gather his bearings and caught sight of Yuri’s scowling face. Their clothes were all gone, replaced by their bare chests, and Yuri’s tail was revealed in the blue murkiness to be a striking gold-orange color. Viktor began to… kick, for lack of a better word, and it was nothing like swimming with a monofin, so he kind of floundered a bit.

Mila suddenly appeared, swimming smoothly in front of him and twisting elegantly in the water. She gestured widely to catch the guys’ attention and brought her arms straight out in front of her face, elbows locked, and demonstrated her stroke. It was clearly very effective because she wasn’t having much trouble maneuvering at all.

Viktor copied her and found himself settling into an undulating motion that propelled him forward with a shocking speed. He found himself grinning in delight -- so much faster than the breaststroke he usually did! Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Yuri doing the same.

They swam out past the buoys marking the docking waters and regrouped beyond the safe swimming limits, surfacing far enough away from any boats or onlookers to not be noticed. Mila handed Viktor his pouch back, which he put around his shoulder like a purse, and woke up her phone. “Okay,” she said, pulling up the GPS. “Here we are, and that’s the direction we need to be headed in.” She pointed a little to their right, and sure enough, Viktor could make out the island in the distance. “How fast do you think we can go?”

“Fast enough to make it in much less time than the Zodiac,” Yuri said, smirking.

“Let’s go, then,” Mila said, putting her phone back into the little wristlet, and they set off.

 

They stuck together for the most part, but Yuri was clearly starting to enjoy his newfound swimming abilities and zoomed ahead a few times before having to double back. It was kind of adorable.

It took a little less than half an hour to get across the area between the mainland and Islaluna, but once they were close enough they surfaced again and Mila pulled up the GPS map.

“Okay, there it is. Sertori’s Cove.” Viktor pointed at it on the screen.

“Here we are,” Mila said, tapping their location. “So it’s that way.” She pointed to the left side of the island, and they all looked around to make sure no one was around before ducking back under the water again.

The next time they surfaced, Yuri grabbed Mila and said, “Hey, have you noticed we haven’t needed to come up for air as much?”

That made them pause. “I wonder if we even need to?” Viktor finally mused before a large wave buffeted them around.

“The cove is right there,” Mila called, pointing, and they swam for it. Now that they were nearing shore, the waves were becoming more pronounced. Yuri yelled “dive!” and they all did, submerging deeply enough that the waves’ strength was halved, and it was easy swimming from there.

While they made their way to the cove entrance, Viktor took an experimental breath and nearly choked. Okay, no breathing under water then.

Or at least, no direct breathing. While he moved, he could feel an odd fluttering on his sides. Gills? he wondered as they swam past the little rock wall, aided slightly by the waves as the sea floor came up to meet them.

They surfaced within the cove and Mila made a beeline for the rock at the center, transitioning into a forward crawl stroke made inhumanly faster by her new appendage. She put the strap of her phone case in her mouth and began to haul herself up onto the rock, barely able to manage it on upper body strength alone.

“Use the tail,” Viktor called to her, having made his way over at a more leisurely pace. “Find a good foothold and push, those muscles have to be good for something.”

Mila made a harrumphing noise at him and splashed around with her fin for a bit before she was able to securely push off the rock with her tail and use it as leverage. “Wow,” she eventually said, safely atop the rock and spitting out her phone case. “I feel like Ariel.” She preened a little, pretending to comb her hair as she reclined on the rock.

“More like Punk Ariel,” Viktor laughed. “Hey, have you noticed the gills?”

“Hm?” Mila blinked. “That would explain why we didn’t need to come up for air so often.”

“You losers done?” Yuri hollered from the shore. He’d beached himself and was trying to shuffle away from the water, presumably to dry off.

Viktor and Mila exchanged exasperated looks, and Mila dove off the rock and swam for the beach, Viktor following.

Yuri was rolling around in the soft white sand, tail flopping uselessly, when Mila and Viktor emerged from the surf and began to haul themselves out onto the beach.

“What on earth are you doing?” Mila asked, putting her chin in her hand and watching the youngest member of their trio flop face-down on the sand.

“Trying to dry off so I can friggin’ walk,” Yuri answered, rolling onto his back and shading his eyes from the sun. His tail was now caked in sand, but still glistening with moisture.

“This could take a bit,” Viktor said, reclining on his side. “And we’ve got all day.”

“I don’t wanna spend all day here,” Yuri grumbled.

“If it takes all day to figure out why we grow tails when we touch water, I’ll do it,” Mila said, rolling over as well and shuffling her fin away from the little waves lapping gently at the beach.

“We were all in the water, touching that rock,” Viktor recalled, pointing at it. “There were lights on the water, and the rock was glowing.”

“Yeah, I remember that,” Mila agreed, sitting up a little on her forearms. “Right during the totality.”

“The water was bubbling, too,” Yuri added, brushing sand off of his arms. “But it wasn’t hot. Just bubbly.”

“Vitya, did you find out anything interesting about the island last night?” Mila asked, glancing over at him.

Viktor let his head thump softly to the sand, rolling his shoulders a little. “Mostly that the natives in the area considered it to be cursed,” he said after a while. “And anybody who tried to build on the island either ended up dead or… good as, I think.”

“What?!” Yuri demanded, sitting straight up as best as he could. “Dead?!

“Well, I think we’ll be alright,” Mila pointed out. “We aren’t trying to turn the island into a resort.”

“Still!” Yuri insisted, his eyes wide and frightened. “Doesn’t this whole transformation thing make you think maybe there’s something to the curse?”

“Maybe it’s the island’s way of protecting itself?” Mila mused, looking out at the lagoon.

“Maybe,” Viktor agreed, and then they blinked as Yuri’s body was swarmed by dancing lights and he changed back, clothes and all.

“I don’t think I’m going to get used to that,” Yuri grumbled, climbing to his feet. “Too weird.”

“I wonder what happens to our clothes,” Mila said thoughtfully as she transformed as well. She got up and brushed her capris off, shaking out her hair and sticking her phone into a pocket.

Viktor was last to change back, and it felt strange to go from basically naked to fully clothed again in an instant. “Holy shit, it’s hot,” he said, fanning himself. “Shade?”

“Shade,” the other two agreed, and they made for the treeline.

 

They combed the area around the lagoon, and Yuri accidentally fell into the little stream that fed the tiny waterfall and had to flop gracelessly out of the water and onto dry land again so he could dry off again. Viktor and Mila carefully did not laugh at him as he spent the entire time grumbling and bitching about how it had been an accident, he’d only put a foot in, this entire thing is so unfair…

Once Yuri was mobile again, they headed further into the brush and poked around the beach where they’d landed the failed Zodiac voyage, but nothing jumped out at them.

“You know what we might need,” Mila asked as she scanned the horizon, the mainland visible in the distance. “We might need a scientific approach.”

“Chris did say that last night,” Viktor nodded. “And honestly, we’ve got nothing to lose.”

“But we leave his boyfriend out of it,” Yuri insisted. He shaded his eyes from the sun and scowled out at the open sea.

“Of course,” Viktor agreed. He liked the guy fine, but something this bizarre should probably stay among a small group. How did the saying go? Two can keep a secret as long as one of them is dead? Wow, morbid. Pretty sure that’s a song lyric.

“Well,” he said aloud, dragging his mind away from the random intrusive thoughts, “this was certainly an interesting way to end the summer.”

“Interesting,” Yuri scoffed.

“I think it’s kinda cool,” Mila ventured, grinning. “I like being able to swim fast, honestly.”

“It is kinda cool,” Viktor admitted. “But I’d like to see if we can control it. I don’t want to be trapped inside on the off-chance of it raining.”

Mila raised her eyebrows. “Good point.”

She and Viktor exchanged thoughtful glances, and then in unison kicked off their shoes and dropped their personal belongings on the sand before heading out to the surf.

“H-hey! What are you two doing?!” Yuri yelled, chasing after them.

“Seeing if we can control it,” Mila answered.

“Mind over matter,” Viktor added.

Yuri made a face at them. “Fine,” he said, backing away from the water. “Go ahead. Fall on your faces. I’ll be here, pointing and laughing.”

Viktor and Mila both blew raspberries at the teen and then turned and eyed the waves licking at the sand. “Time us,” Mila called over her shoulder.

Yuri yelled something that Viktor didn’t catch thanks to a gust of wind coming off the sea, but after a minute Yuri called “ready” and then Mila and Viktor stepped into the sea.

Viktor concentrated. He concentrated every fiber of his being on not transforming. He stared down at his legs, willing them to remain. His focus was ironclad, honed from years of performing in front of crowds and in noisy concert halls. He concentrated.

It did nothing. The fairy lights reappeared, flowing over him and he fell backward as the tail reappeared. He heard a loud “OOF!” to his right and a splash as Mila fell as well.

“That was about ten seconds,” Yuri said, moving a little closer but still out of reach of the waves. “Give or take a jiff.”

“I was focusing,” Mila said, rolling onto her side. “Were you?”

“Yeah, definitely.” Viktor sighed and scrubbed at his hair. “So it looks like the change happens regardless of whether or not we want it.”

“Shit,” Yuri said. “I hope it doesn’t rain on a school day.”

“We can’t help if that happens,” Mila pointed out, but she looked concerned as well.

They dragged themselves out of the surf and waited in the sun to dry off, and Yuri retreated back to the shade so he could pace around.

“Well,” Mila sighed, rolling onto her belly and drawing spirals in the sand. “Good thing I don’t use the bathrooms at school.”

Viktor made a face “Seriously?”

“Yeah, you ever been in a women's public restroom? It’s gross.”

“I thought that was just the guys’ bathroom.”

Mila snorted. “I feel like I’ve just stolen your innocence.”

They evidently dried off enough to transform back, and then they were getting to their feet and brushing off the sand from their clothes before they both grabbed their belongings and joined Yuri under the trees.

“So should we go poke around the cove again?” Mila asked, and neither of the guys could find anything to disagree with, so they checked their directions and set off.

 

The sun was high overhead when they all finally gave up on finding anything useful in the lagoon. They had combed the beach, examining foliage and trees, looking at the rock faces on the cliffside, and carefully searched the waterfall for some sort of hint as to whatever had happened on the day of the eclipse. When that yielded nothing, they re-entered the water once more and examined the rock that they had perched on the previous day, ducking underwater to check the submerged side, and then the floor of the cove.

Nothing jumped out at them, so they surfaced to reconvene at the rock.

“I think,” Mila said slowly. “Maybe this is an eclipse-only thing.”

“And the next time we’ll see an eclipse like this is in… uh,” Yuri grimaced. “How many years?”

“At least fifty,” Viktor said, wincing. “Yeah, we might be S-O-L.”

“What if we bring Chris here to do science?” Yuri pressed, seeming a little frantic.

“Yeah, Chris is known for his scientific prowess,” Mila snorted.

Yuri looked to Viktor. “But he can get his boyfriend to test stuff for him, right?”

Viktor pondered it. “Let’s head back to the mainland and we can talk with him then.”

Mila nodded in agreement and Yuri made a disgruntled noise, but they swam around the rock at the center of the pool and exited the cove the same way they’d arrived.

For some reason, Mila suddenly dived down to the ocean floor a few dozen feet out, and Yuri and Viktor both stopped and doubled back to see what she was investigating.

Mila waved excitedly and pointed down to something on the ground. Viktor followed her finger and blinked in surprise as something on the ocean floor shifted. Yuri flailed as he and Viktor simultaneously realized that an octopus was right underneath them, camouflaged against the sea floor.

The entire island was ringed by hydrocoral reefs, and this eight-legged crawly was taking advantage of all the colors. Viktor jolted back as it began to scamper away, with more speed than he would have thought possible.

Mila’s face was alight with glee, and she had her phone out and was taking pictures. Yuri exhaled a frustrated stream of bubbles and poked her arm. She waved him off, and Yuri shot Viktor a disgruntled look. Viktor shrugged helplessly.

Eventually, Mila frowned at her phone and tucked it away. She started to swim for the surface, and Yuri and Viktor followed.

“Finally!” Yuri snapped as they broke the surface, splashing Mila in annoyance. “What were you think--”

“I ran out of space,” Mila complained, pouting. “I should come back out here with a waterproof camera and a big memory card.”

Viktor snorted. “What will you do with those photos?”

Mila shrugged. “It’s just really cool! Did you see that octopus?”

“Only after he started moving,” Yuri muttered.

“It was pretty cool,” Viktor admitted. “Even if it was a little freaky.”

“Did you see how he camouflaged?” Mila was still excited, even with Yuri the party pooper doing his best to live up to his name. “I wonder if we can find more stuff out here?”

“Like what?” Yuri asked, making a face. “Like sharks?”

“Dolphins,” Mila answered airily, “Reef fish. Seals. Ooh, I’ve always wanted to play with a seal! We should check out the kelp forest!”

“Maybe some other day,” Viktor said, eying Yuri. “In the meantime, I say we stick together when we go out swimming. Buddy system and all.”

“I bet we’d be okay on our own,” Mila argued, but she didn’t protest further. They set back out for the mainland, and this time nobody broke away to investigate anything.

It was the weekend; they were confronted with this fact when they started seeing the pleasure crafts launched from the north marina. Then came the surfers, and the sailboats. And the beach was packed, of course.

They surfaced again beyond the buoys for the public beach, and it was clear they all had one thought in mind: where would be private and safe enough for them to come ashore and to dry off?

“Let's head towards the south marina,” Viktor eventually said. “That one isn’t as big, and past that it’s protected park land. I know a spot out there, it's secluded.”

“It’s also rocky as fuck,” Yuri argued, but they couldn’t think of a better place, so they ended up following the coast down past the public beaches.

As they drew closer to the pier, the beaches gave way to steep hills and cliffs. Yuri had been right, there were rocks in abundance along the shore. And, to Mila’s delight, plenty of seals. Or sea lions. Viktor had lived in Lucía Bay for almost all of his life, and he still couldn’t tell the difference. He should probably find out, if only because the coast was full of sea mammals. And, really… he was kind of one, now. Sort of.

They ended up overshooting past the south marina, and as they neared the Alexander Neptune Marine Park and Wildlife Center - otherwise known as “the good Sea World” - they found a perfect spot for their reentry to the mainland: a modestly-sized sea cave that they could swim into and enough space for them to climb out of the water and dry off.

“Holy crap,” Mila said, her mouth dropping as she looked around.. “I didn’t know this was here.”

“It’s one of the best-kept secrets of the park,” Viktor recalled. “Chris and his surfing buddies found it a couple years ago. There’s an entrance that’ll take us up to the trail, and we can hike back onto the street from there.”

“How come there aren’t tourists hanging around?” Yuri asked as they waited to transform back. “Aren’t sea caves huge attractions?”

“Well, it’s a pain in the ass to climb out of here,” Viktor admitted. “Also, did I mention the hike?”

He took his phone out of the waterproof pouch and powered it back on. While it was booting back up and getting the signal, he pulled Yuri’s phone out as well and set it away from the water.

“Thanks,” Yuri said, but didn’t reach for it.

“Well, it’s officially been about four hours since I ate last,” Mila announced, lounging back and carefully keeping her tail away from the pool. “Shall we go grab something?”

“Sounds okay to me,” Viktor agreed. “Casual or fast food? We could hit the In-N-Out.”

“Summer’s over.” Mila let her head flop back on her arms. “I have to start eating healthy again for dance.” She was part of a couple performance groups at her school, plus the dancing she did at the conservatory.

“Is it such a good idea to keep that up?” Yuri asked, wringing his hair out. “I mean, it might be dangerous.”

“Uh, no?” Mila gave him an odd look. “Yura, there is literally no reason to quit dancing.”

“Are you looking for a reason to quit violin? Lilia’s not gonna be happy about that,” Viktor teased.

Yuri sneered at him. “It’s not like someone could spill water on me in the music rooms. Yakov would literally murder anyone putting the instruments at risk. But dancing?”

“I’d be careful,” Mila argued. “I was able to do it last night.”

Viktor privately agreed with Mila. If she could keep herself dry in a dance club, she’d have no problem at orchesis. And despite her airy attitude, Mila was smart enough to know when she might be in real danger.

His phone finally connected with the cell network and chirped with an incoming message. “Chris is asking if we’re done yet,” he reported, thumbing the messaging app open. “He’s telling me to come meet him at Chihoko’s? Who the hell is that?”

“Ooh, I like that place!” Mila chirped. “It’s a cute cafe on the boardwalk! The wifi is fantastic, and they have an awesome healthy menu that actually tastes like real food.”

“They have a lot of live performers there, too.” Yuri examined his nails. “Otabek’s worked on a few gigs there, helping with sound and stuff.”

“Well, then I guess I’d better tell him we’re on our way.” Viktor fired off the message just as the fairy lights swept over them and they changed back. “Now, watch your step. The gravel’s a little loose.” He got to his feet, and Mila and Yuri followed suit.

Once they emerged from the cave, it took them a few minutes to find a trail that would take them to the park’s north entrance. They ended up on Neptune State Beach, and it was just a matter of finding the nearest bus stop and collapsing on a nearby bench under a conveniently-placed palm tree.

The bus that arrived was air-conditioned, and it was a route that would take them up the coast to the boardwalk. The trip was another half hour, with a handful of stops along the way, so they passed the time on their phones. Mila and Viktor reviewed her snaps of the reef, and Yuri ignored them in favor of texting someone - probably Otabek - and listening to music.

“You know,” Mila said eventually, stopping on a picture of the reef complete with small, colorful fish. “Maybe we should think of this whole… magic business… as a gift?”

“I mean,” Viktor considered it. “I guess it could be construed as… such? But we literally live a couple blocks away from one of the biggest bodies of water in the world. Shit’s gonna happen.”

“But it’s worth it,” Mila countered. “Do you know how much work and money goes into getting views like this? And all we have to do is jump into the sea with a waterproof camera.”

Viktor shrugged, not really willing to argue. “I do want to know why, though,” he said after a while. “Just to put it to rest.”

“I think it’s safe to assume we were in the right place at the right time.” Mila put her phone away. “I mean, sure, let’s do some investigating to find out for sure, but Occam’s Razor and all.”

And she had a point, Viktor had to admit that as Mila poked Yuri on the arm and mouthed “our stop” at him.

They filed off the bus and began to meander down the boardwalk, weaving in and out of crowds of tourists and shoppers. The busy season was winding down, what with school starting up for the most part in the next two weeks, but that didn’t mean that vacationers would empty out of the town. Still, as Mila led the way past a bunch of chain stores and restaurants, Viktor began to notice a lot more college students than tourists.

“Here we are!” Mila sang out, spreading her arms in front of an unassuming building, set apart from the block of shops lining the boardwalk. Viktor’s eyes traveled up past the doorway to the sign, which read “Sachihoko Cafe” in bright gold lettering, flanked by two Asian-looking fish statues.

They ducked into the cafe, and Viktor blinked in surprise. “How have I never been here before?” he asked, taking in the cozy interior.

The cafe had two levels to it; the upper level looked to be more like a lounge, with comfy chairs and couches surrounding low coffee tables. The lower level was clearly more of an eatery, with an actual bar for patrons to sit at and an assortment of booths and tables scattered around. It was modestly full, the noise a gentle murmur over the easygoing music filtering through various speakers set into the walls. Mood lighting completed the setting, but the big windows and skylights ensured plenty of natural daylight.

“Well,” Mila tapped her finger against her lips and winked. “This is where normal college students hang out. And besides, it only got established a couple years ago. The owner used to be a dancer, that’s how I found out about it.”

“C’mon, let’s get a seat so I can eat something,” Yuri said impatiently.

Chris saved them the trouble, waving to them from the upper floor and quickly coming downstairs to slip his arm through Viktor’s and purr in his ear, “So how was the island?”

“Disappointing,” Viktor answered, as Yuri stomped over to a booth and plopped himself down in one of the seats. “How’s the Zodiac?”

“Still utterly useless. Masu had a good laugh at me last night about what bad shape it was in. There was a lot of ‘I told you so,’” Chris sniffled dramatically, but Viktor could see his eyes sparkling with fondness.

“I’m surprised it didn’t die on you sooner,” Mila teased as they crossed the cafe to join Yuri in his booth. “That thing has been on its last leg for years. I’d accuse you of keeping it alive with magic, but we all know your stance on that.”

Chris made a face as he settled into his seat. “Speaking of which, is that little thing still happening?”

“Yep. Pretty consistently,” Viktor said, picking up a laminated drink menu and perusing it. “Wheatgrass smoothies?” He wrinkled his nose. “Is it worth trying?”

“Mix in a ton of superfruit and it’s delicious,” Chris told him.

“Can you still do science?” Yuri demanded, slumping into the worn pleather of the booth seat.

“Care to elaborate?” Chris raised his eyebrows.

Yuri growled at him, and Mila rolled her eyes. “We didn’t find anything on the island, nothing pointing to why this whole thing happened.” She crossed her arms and leaned on the table. “So we decided to take you up on your offer to scientifically approach this situation.”

“My offer?” Chris laughed. “I mean, yeah, I’ll help you. But when did I offer?”

Viktor fluttered his eyelashes at his friend. “Oh, Chris, I knew you’d come through for us.”

“It’s your fault we were on that stupid island in the first place,” Yuri grumbled.

Chris shrugged but was saved from having to respond when a waiter popped up to their table, wearing a big smile and a clean apron with a palm tree pattern printed on it.

“Welcome to Chihoko’s! What can I get for you guys?”

“Hey, Phichit!” Mila said, grinning. “Ready for swing season?”

“You know it,” their server answered, winking. He was a cute guy, probably right around Mila’s age, definitely of Southeastern Asian descent. He was fairly willowy, but if he danced with Mila then he probably was a lot more sturdy than he seemed. On closer inspection, Viktor realized he had perfectly applied eyeliner with the tiniest of wings at the tips. “I’m guessing you’re back on your health shake kick?”

Mila stuck her tongue out. “As long as it isn’t whey, I’ll be okay.”

“Extra whey, got it,” Phichit said, pretending to scribble it on his pad. “Drinks?”

“Strawberry-banana milkshake,” Yuri said. “And a large curly fries.”

“Mmkay.”

“I’ll have a tofu burger, with waffle fries.” Chris raised his hand. “And sparkling water, if you’ve still got it.”

“We totally do, what kind of an establishment do you think this is?” Phichit snorted. “For the sparkling water, do you want a specific flavor?”

“Nah, regular’s fine.” Chris nodded.

“I’ll have a salmon burger with waffle fries, and my usual smoothie.” Mila narrowed her eyes at the waiter. “If I taste a hint of whey, your shoes are all vanishing forever.”

“Extra-extra whey, gotcha.” Phichit blew a raspberry at her. He looked at Viktor expectantly.

Viktor glanced at the menu, searching for something that interested him. “Uh, I’ve never been here before--”

“Yeah, I know,” Phichit replied blithely. “I’ve never seen you in here before. Want my recommendation?”

Viktor blinked, bemused. “Sure.”

“We have a special today, the turkey avocado club with sea salt chips. The avocado is super fresh and buttery, and I’m not gonna lie, it’s pretty amazing.”

“Sounds great,” Viktor said. “I’ll try that.”

Phichit wrote it down. “And to drink?”

“Uh. Just a Coke, if that’s all right.”

“Diet?”

Viktor made a face. “No, thanks.”

“Is it all right if we serve you Pepsi?” Phichit asked, lips curling into a wicked smile as he glanced at Mila. "That's what we've got."

Mila looked affronted. “You heathens.”

“Hey, take it up with the boss. I just work here. I’ll be right back with your drinks.” Phichit glided away, chortling.

Viktor watched him go, and then looked at Mila. “Friend of yours?”

“I have a couple classes with him,” Mila said, playing with her coaster. “And he’s in the swing dance club with me. I’ve paired up with him a couple times, he’s really good. He does pole dancing, too.”

Viktor’s eyes widened and he looked back at their waiter, who was chatting animatedly to the guy behind the counter. “Where do you take pole dancing in this town?”

Mila shrugged. “Who knows? Maybe they have a studio set up for it at the conservatory.”

“I should totally check that out,” Viktor mused, and Yuri gagged.

The conversation turned to the upcoming semester - Mila was entering her first year of college, while Yuri was a sophomore in high school. Chris had decided to skip the college experience entirely, and when he wasn’t surfing he worked at a board rental and surf shop on the boardwalk. He also had gotten into teaching lessons during heavy tourist season.

Viktor had finished his studies years ago, and was now mostly working with students as an accompanying pianist. He did a few jazz gigs in town every month, and sometimes traveled to larger cities to perform, but not nearly as much as he used to do. He honestly preferred it this way, after the fiasco that had initially landed him in rehab for several months. His old instructor, Yakov Feltsman, had been the first person to welcome him back to the conservatory and offer him full-time work, and it was thanks to Yakov that he was able to stay afloat these past few years.

His parents had offered several times to take care of his finances, but Viktor had been determined to make it himself. Of course, he pretended not to know that his father had been the one to make his current apartment available for him at its current rate. He’d scared his parents that year in rehab, and if this made them feel better then he might as well not fight it. But he paid for his own rent and utilities, and he worked as close to a forty-hour week as he could. It wasn’t a horrible way to live, especially since he basically lived in a combination of a university town and a beach town.

A shadow fell over their table and Viktor was brought back to the present as their drinks were brought out, but by a different server. This waiter was another cute Asian boy, with floppy black hair and blue-rimmed glasses. He didn’t meet any of their eyes and stammered as he set their drinks down in front of them and checked that they were the correct orders, then fled as soon as they had their straws.

“Oh,” Viktor watched him go. “Is he all right?”

“I dunno,” Mila scrunched her nose. “Maybe he’s just a really shy guy.”

“Whatever,” Yuri said, already slurping his milkshake. He’d wiped the glass down with a handful of napkins to avoid getting wet by the condensation on the side of the cup.

Mila and Viktor both shrugged and turned back to the conversation, but Viktor could swear he felt the shy waiter’s eyes on him for the rest of his time there. Phichit returned to serving them their food and ended up being the one who took their payments. He got a strange grin on his face when he gave Viktor his check, and kept looking over his shoulder at the bar and the other server, who kept ducking below the bar and avoiding eye contact.

“What’s up with him?” Chris asked, nodding at the bar.

“Oh, that’s just Yuuri,” Phichit answered, smirking. “He’s shy.”

“His name is Yuri?” the other Yuri demanded, flushing. “I don’t wanna share my name with a dweeb!”

Yuu-ri,” Phichit corrected him, pronouncing his fellow server’s name slowly. “Make the ‘u’ nice and long. And sorry, dude, but that’s his name.” He nodded at their table and moved onto the next one.

“What’re the odds?” Mila laughed, and Yuri kicked her under the table.

“If he’s so shy, maybe the service industry isn’t the best place for him,” Chris mused.

“Oh, leave him be,” Viktor said, leaving a tip and putting his card back into his money clip. “What do we want to do now?”

“I have to get back to the shop,” Chris shrugged. “I’m sorry you guys didn’t find out anything on Islaluna, but things are still just starting out.”

“Maybe we should hit the library,” Viktor mused, and Yuri and Mila blanched. “God, you two are such children.”

“Why would we go to the library?” Mila demanded. “We have the internet.”

“Why does the library even still exist?” Yuri whined at the same time.

“One, free access to encyclopedias. Two, it’s air-conditioned.” Viktor ticked off his points on his fingers. “Three, less chance of drinks spilling because the librarians are strict about enforcing the no-food policy.”

“It still sounds boring,” Yuri insisted.

“Fine, don’t come with me,” Viktor said, shrugging and pulling Yuri's keyring out of the waterproof pouch. “I’m sure you have better things to do.”

“Damn straight,” Yuri said, pushing him out of the booth. “I’m going to hit the arcade.”

“With Beka?” Mila teased. “One of these days he’s going to realize you have no other friends.”

“Shut up, Baba,” Yuri snapped, his face turning beet red.

Realizing she’d hit a nerve, Mila added in a kinder tone, “I think I’ll join you at the arcade. After all, it is yet another building that is air-conditioned.” She waggled her eyebrows at Viktor.

“Just be careful,” Chris reminded them.

“Don’t worry, we will,” Mila flapped a hand at him, and she and Yuri trooped out the door.

Chris eyed Viktor. “Kids, am I right?”

“You’re literally only a few years older than Mila,” Viktor reminded him.

Chris snorted and nudged Viktor’s arm. “Hey, check out who’s staring again.”

Viktor glanced over his shoulder and met the gaze of the shy waiter from earlier, who jolted back and disappeared into the kitchen.

“Maybe he’s a fan,” Chris mused, and Viktor sighed.

“Does it really matter?” he asked. “C’mon, you need to get back to work.”

“Are you seriously going to just show up at the library and read every book on mermaids that you can get your hands on?” Chris asked him, making a face halfway towards incredulous and halfway amused.

“I mean, it’s a start.” Viktor tapped his chin. “But I also want to look into the island, too. I wasn’t able to find much online, maybe some of the older print books will have more.”

“Ah, yes, our lunar-shaped lady of mystery,” Chris sighed. He patted Viktor on the shoulder before also taking his leave. “Good luck!” he called back, and then the door shut with a tinkle.

Viktor sighed and checked to make sure he still had his things, before following his friend back out into the sunlight.

Chapter Text

The arcade was further down the boardwalk, and only took a few minutes of walking to reach. Mila filled those minutes with useless babbling. Yuri mostly ignored her in favor of focusing on his phone.

Mila was checking out Wikipedia pages on some of the fish she’d seen on the reef, and she had figured out what kind of octopus that had freaked him out - not that he’d admit it.

Yuri really didn’t care. Sure, it was cool to be able to swim really fast, but they lived right by the ocean. If they couldn’t control when they sprouted fins, that would mean they were a splash away from exposure to the world.

Too bad Yuri couldn’t come up with a solution that would keep water away from him that didn’t involve hitchhiking to the nearest desert. The cell coverage was probably shit out there, anyway.

Otabek had responded to his text; Yuri had wanted to hang out with him but he was still working. That meant he’d probably be on his own at the arcade.

Well, as long as no one spilled a drink on him, he had nothing to worry about.

Mila gave him a sideways look, biting her lip. “You know, I was just teasing you. About Otabek.”

Yuri sneered at her but didn’t otherwise answer. Truth be told, there were a few other kids in his grade that he did hang out with - all orchestra nerds - but Otabek Altin was the person he’d always tended to gravitate toward.

At first, he’d been the cool older guy who hadn’t been too snobby to talk to the freshman violinist who’d heard him speaking fluent Russian and seized on the possible connection between them. Then he’d been the only sane guy in the high school orchestra on one of the school trips to Costa Mesa who Yuri had hidden out with while everyone else was sneaking off to get drunk. Beka had opted out because of his religion, and Yuri had opted out because he was scared of doing something stupid under the influence. They’d spent the day wandering the city together, staying out of trouble and having fun all the same.

Since then, Beka had been one of the few people Yuri felt safe telling his secrets to. His other friends were all in awe of him, for befriending the mysterious new student and being able to talk to him in basically gibberish (other than Viktor, Mila, Otabek, Lilia and Yakov, Yuri didn’t really speak Russian to anyone outside of his family.) It had been kind of awful when Beka had graduated, but he’d moved to Lucía Bay in the first place so he could attend the college and train at the Ariel. Yuri took his lessons with Lilia at the Ariel, so they still saw each other a lot.

Beka had been there for him the first time Mom and Dad had fought really badly, and Yuri had needed to escape his house. The older boy had met him a couple blocks away on his motorcycle, tossed Yuri the spare helmet, and taken him back to his apartment. They’d spent the night watching stupid Adam Sandler movies and mocking the actor’s de-evolution into shitty fart jokes until Yuri had fallen asleep sometime in the early morning.

Beka wasn’t like any of the other orchestra kids. He was smart and mature, already living on his own and working and earning scholarships through sheer determination. He was still funny, in his own dry and sarcastic way, and he had a motorcycle.

But yeah, he was responsible and that meant working until the end of his shift like a good employee. And his shift didn’t end for another few hours, so that meant Yuri was stuck with Mila.

“Yura?”

Yuri groaned and rolled his eyes. “I know you were just joking.”

“I really didn’t mean to hurt you, or whatever,” Mila insisted.

Yuri didn’t look at her. “I know.”

“Beka’s a good friend for you, and that’s the truth. He’s a good guy.”

“Yep.”

Mila sighed and bumped his shoulder. “So. You feel up to challenging me to DDR?”

“Fuck no,” Yuri growled. “I don’t want to make an ass of myself. Bloody Roar or nothing.”

Mila grinned. “I call Jenny.”

“No shit, of course you do,” Yuri rolled his eyes. He always tended to play as either Shina or Shenlong, but for some reason his best fighter was Uriko. Everyone gave him shit for it.

Mila stuck her tongue out at him, and they stepped into the arcade as they pulled out their reloadable token passes.

Twenty dollars bought them eighty tokens, and they spent half an hour trying to one-up each other at skeeball before Mila challenged another regular to old-school DDR to defend her title as reigning champion. Yuri took pleasure in shit-talking the challenger while Mila used her superior dancer’s stamina and coordination to snatch victory from the jaws of victory twice before the guy gave up. Yuri knew the asshole, a senior at his school, and he knew that the guy was trying to dance his way into Mila’s skirt. Too bad for him Mila was a giant lesbian.

After Mila had ground a few more admirers’ faces into the dust of defeat (Yuri should really get that printed on a t-shirt one of these days, along with the jaws of victory thing) they drifted into the vintage game section, with all the carefully-preserved 80’s-era stalls and the fighting games with horrible graphics that for some reason Yuri couldn’t get enough of.

His phone buzzed in his pocket - another text from Beka, mostly just stating that work was pretty boring and that he’d much rather be goofing off at the arcade with Yuri and Mila. Sometimes Yuri wondered if Beka was just humoring him, but then Beka texted him a photo with a caption scribbled on - he worked in a restaurant in the downtown part of the Bay, a fancy seafood restaurant that hosted prom dinners and fancy society brunches, and sometimes they got people who didn’t get how seafood tended to be served. He’d sent Yuri a snap of one of his fellow servers putting down a plate of lobster dinner in front of a customer, a woman probably around Viktor’s age, and she was clearly screaming at the dead lobster’s beady eyes staring up at her from the plate. Had she never eaten lobster before? How high pitched was her voice?

Just another day, read Otabek’s caption. Yuri heard it in Beka’s dry monotone that only came out when Beka was being sarcastic, and he snorted before showing Mila.

“I’m guessing she’s from out of town?” Mila said, giggling.

“Pretty sure they ship lobster inland,” Yuri answered.

“Yeah, but most people are expecting the ones with claws,” Mila pointed out, and Yuri burst out in laughter.

They passed some time playing Bloody Roar, and Yuri gave in and played as Uriko after Mila’s Jenny beat his Shina, Long, and even Gado. She yelled at him when he managed to pull off Uriko’s special attack and finally KO’d Jenny, but she was three up on him and he challenged her again. She switched up her character, and they went at it again.

He’d lost count of how many times he’d won or lost when his phone buzzed again. Instead of swiping his card for a rematch, he checked it and groaned. “It’s my mom,” he said out loud.

Mila frowned. “What’s wrong?”

“She’s telling me to come home,” Yuri muttered, sending off a response. “She wants to have a family dinner.”

“It’s kind of early for a dinner,” Mila commented, raising her eyebrows. “Is everything okay?”

Yuri shrugged.

“You want me to come along and invite myself over?”

“Nah,” Yuri brushed her off. “I’m sure you’ve got stuff you wanna do. Don’t worry about it.”

Mila’s forehead crunched as her eyebrows drew together. “Are you sure?”

“Yeah. Positive. No problem.”

 

The minute Yuri walked into his family’s kitchen and saw his mom at the stove, he regretted agreeing to come home.

“Ah, Yura,” Mom said, not even turning around. “Your grandfather should be up soon. Can I get your help with dinner?”

“We’re eating early?” Yuri asked, eyeing the countertop absolutely covered in food.

“Yes, I thought it would be a good idea to get back into school year schedules.” Mom popped open the oven and slid her ceramic tray onto the middle rack. “I need you to start washing the vegetables for a salad.”

Yuri’s entire body went cold. “Uh, I’m kind of all gross,” he said, edging towards the hallway that would lead to the stairs and safe refuge. “I was out with Mila.”

Mom stilled, and then looked at him over her shoulder. “Yura.”

“Mom,” Yuri shot back at her, crossing his arms.

“After everything that happened yesterday, I thought you would start winding down a bit,” she said, giving him a stern look.

“We just went to the boardwalk.” Yuri shoved his hands into his pockets. “We got lunch at the cafe and went to the arcade.” He didn’t mention the whole sprouting-tails-and-swimming-out-to-sea thing. Obviously.

Mom sniffed. “School starts up on Monday. So does violin. Can you really afford to be slacking off?”

“I haven’t been slacking off,” Yuri muttered. “I still practice every day, I just missed today.” He’d spent the afternoon after the eclipse yesterday playing in his room, angrily scratching out a meandering melody while making sure his phone data transferred properly. It wasn’t like he would have forgotten how to play once he started up lessons with Lilia again.

“Ah, Yura!” Dad said, coming into the kitchen from the hallway. “Haven’t seen you all day, you slept in and then disappeared on us!”

Yuri rolled his eyes. “Last weekend before school, duh.”

His dad laughed and ruffled his hair, then frowned. “You have salt in your hair.”

“Well, yeah,” Yuri said quickly. “I was at the boardwalk. Stuff happens.”

“On the boardwalk?” Dad repeated, raising his eyebrows. “Did you take another ocean bath?”

“No.” Yuri reached up to try and fix his hair a little, and yeah, it was definitely stiff. “I don’t wanna brick another phone.” He only felt a little guilty about lying to his parents, but they didn’t need to know about this weirdness until he got it all fixed. Besides, Mom was still pissed at Viktor and Chris over their getting everyone stranded yesterday. There were too many minefields in this conversation. I have got to get outta here.

“Well, you can take a shower after dinner,” Mom said briskly. “Wash your hands and help me cut the lettuce.”

“I’ll just…” Yuri jerked his thumb at the stairs. “I’m gonna go charge my phone before it dies. I’ll wash up in my bathroom.”

“You can wash up here, and I’m sure your phone will be fine,” Mom said, pointing at the kitchen sink. “C’mon, Yura, don’t make me ask again.”

“Mom,” Yuri said, fighting down panic. “I’ll just be a minute.”

“You’ve got five,” Dad said, and Mom glared at him.

“Seriously, Sergei?” she hissed, and Yuri made his escape while she was distracted.

“I don’t see what the big deal is,” Dad said behind him as Yuri practically sprinted upstairs. “I can help you cut vegetables, Rach.”

“I asked our son, and he dodged me. This is becoming a problem!”

Yuri paused at the top of the stairs, feeling deflated. But he couldn’t just go back down there and explain it, could he?

If his mom and dad found out what had happened, they’d whisk him away somewhere and try to fix him, and probably take him to… like, a lab or something. And that would probably lead to him disappearing forever…

Nope. Not worth the risk. Yuri went along with everything else his parents set for him, they could give him some wiggle room with this.

He plugged his phone in and left it on his desk before locking himself in the bathroom he shared with Dedushka. Before, on Islaluna, it had taken ten seconds after getting wet before Mila and Viktor had sprouted their tails. He would have to wash his hands in less time than that.

Yuri squirted the soap into his palm and nudged the spigot on the faucet until the water was streaming out pretty strongly, and then shoved his hands into the stream before furiously sudsing up and scrubbing under his nails. He rinsed, keeping a countdown in his head, and went for the nearest towel, but he wasn’t fast enough.

“Oof!” he grunted as his legs morphed into the tail again. His clothes had vanished again, too. “Fuck.” He rolled onto his back, fighting the urge to groan in frustration.

“Yura?” his mother yelled from downstairs. “What was that? Are you all right?”

“I’m fine,” he shouted back, his voice echoing in the tiled bathroom. “I’ll be a minute.”

“Yura, come on!”

He reached up for his bath towel and started rubbing the moisture off of his upper body, grumbling the whole time.

It had been worse yesterday, because he’d been outside when he initially discovered it. Luckily, no one had been around to see what had happened - Mom and Dad had gone back to work after they’d gotten Yuri’s phone replaced, and Dedushka had taken an afternoon nap in his room. Dad made sure to ask Yuri to clean the pool before he’d left, and Yuri wasn’t gonna make his grandfather do it, so he’d left his phone on the patio table and grabbed the skimmer from the deck.

He had gotten a ton of gunk scooped out of the pool before the net had popped off the pole and fallen into the pool. Luckily, it floated. Unluckily, he’d had to grab it out of the water, and had fallen into the pool when the tail appeared. He’d been too freaked out to do much more than drag himself out onto the deck and have a silent freakout until the sun had baked the moisture off of him and his legs had reappeared.

He’d practically wet himself with relief, but then had gotten scared again when he realized that he might not be the only one dealing with it. His call to Viktor had confirmed his hunch.

At least he wasn’t alone, he reflected sardonically, wiping at the giant fish tail as it flopped on the bathmat.

“Yura, turn off the water!” Mom hollered. “We can’t afford to waste any!”

“Okay!” he yelled, and then sighed in relief when he transformed back. He shot to his feet and flipped the spigot off. Fucking magic, he thought ruefully as he hung his towel back up on the hook.

“That was more than five minutes, Yura!” Dad called, and Yuri fought down his annoyance and threw the door open.

“Okay, I’m coming!”

He stomped down the stairs and noticed his dad had migrated into the TV room and was reading something on his iPad.

“What’s your attitude about?” Mom asked from the kitchen, shooting a look over her shoulder.

Yuri shrugged. “I dunno, why’re you freaking out over me taking five minutes to wash my hands?” he grumbled, and his mom put down her knife with a loud clink and turned to fully face him.

“That was more than five minutes,” she said, “and I did not do anything to you to deserve this kind of treatment. I immediately got you a new phone after you broke your old one. You do not get to take that tone with me.”

Yuri winced and looked away from her, searching for a knife. “What do you want me to cut?”

“Thank you. The carrots and tomatoes, please.”

“Are they washed?” Yuri asked, and Mom made an affirmative noise. Yuri steeled himself and grabbed a dishtowel from the drawer before picking up a knife.

“What are you doing?” Mom asked, making a face.

“Cutting your vegetables,” Yuri said, keeping his voice as expressionless as possible.

“Are you seriously going to dry them off?”

“I mean, yeah? It’ll keep the knife from getting messed up, I read that on the internet.” Yuri fought down panic, and then squeaked in surprise as Mom took the towel and the knife away from him and pushed him out of the kitchen. “If you’re gonna be weird like that, go and set the table,” she said, snapping the towel. “Grab the Italian dressing and the croutons.”

Yuri breathed a sigh of relief and grabbed the everyday plates and salad bowls from the nearest cabinet before his mom could say anything else.

 

Dedushka was awake by the time Mom’s meatloaf finished cooking and slowly made his way into the dining room. He was rubbing his back again, and Yuri wondered what it would take to convince him to retire.

His grandfather was an archivist at Anderson College, which was the school connected to the Ariel Conservatory. He had worked previously in the library but then decided that the technology was getting too fast and too complicated for him to keep up with.

Dedushka was at the point where the college would probably shell out a decent pension, but he claimed that he would be too bored with staying home all day and doing whatever retired people did. Yuri had no idea what that would be.

Nobody was in a particularly chatty mood at dinner, and Yuri didn’t feel like carrying any conversation, so he picked at the meatloaf and salad as Dedushka kept shooting him concerned looks. Mom and Dad were still kind of not talking to each other, and it was making Yuri’s skin crawl.

“You have your classes for school, yes?” his grandfather asked at long last.

Yuri mumbled and nodded, chewing on the bite of meatloaf.

“Do you need things?” Dedushka gently pressed. “School things? For study?”

Yuri shook his head, and his mother sighed. “Yura, your grandfather is talking to you.”

“I know,” Yuri said.

“So answer him.”

“Stop riding him,” Dad said tiredly.

“Is fine,” Dedushka added neutrally, his eyes still on Yuri. “I just want to make sure.”

“We got all my stuff last week,” Yuri pointed out, stabbing his salad and impaling a crouton.

“Good,” Dedushka said. “I want you do well in school, yes?”

Yuri sighed and nodded. “I’ll be fine,” he said in Russian. “You don’t have to worry.”

His grandfather smiled at him wryly. “I’m not worried,” he answered in the same language. “But you’ve been withdrawn lately. Are you nervous?”

“About school?” Yuri wrinkled his nose.

“Anything.”

Yuri shrugged. “Not really.”

Dedushka wasn’t convinced. “Are you feeling unhappy that Miloshka and Otabek aren’t going to go back to school with you?”

“It’s not like I won’t see them anymore,” Yuri said. “And I didn’t have classes with them anyway.”

“Except orchestra,” Dad said, and Mom sighed in exasperation. She was the only one at the table who wasn’t fluent in Russian. “Dedushka has a point, Yura.”

“Please stop reminding me,” Yuri muttered.

“Sorry,” Dad said immediately, and then sighed. “We were just making sure he was ready for his classes,” he added to Mom, who didn’t answer.

“I not worry,” Dedushka said, winking at Yuri. “Yurochka is good student.”

“I know you don’t take any SAT’s until the third semester, but you should focus on maintaining a good GPA,” Mom said, fixing Yuri with a serious look.

“I will,” Yuri agreed, reflecting sourly that it wasn’t like he had much of a choice. It was practically impossible to get into a decent in-state college without a scholarship, and if Yuri couldn’t manage to get a music scholarship with violin then he needed an academic one. It fucking sucked, but that was the way colleges worked.

“I know you will,” Dedushka said, and then changed the subject to an interesting man who had come to the college looking for an unusual paper in the archives. Yuri tuned out the conversation, but he kept thinking back to his grandfather’s point from earlier.

Yeah, Mila and Beka weren’t in high school anymore. He was completely on his own at this point. Mila would be at Anderson, which was literally next door to the conservatory where Viktor usually was. If anything happened, they could cover for each other. Yuri didn’t have anyone.

He would have to never use a public restroom ever again. This was going to suck so hard.

Note to self, stock up on hand sanitizer, Yuri thought as Dad laughed at something Dedushka had said.

“You hear this, Yura?” Dad asked, actually wiping at his eyes. “This weirdo at the college is looking for mermaids!”

Yuri choked on the lettuce in his mouth and gaped once he’d cleared his throat. “What?”

“The man that came into the archives today,” Dedushka said, switching back to Russian. “He was looking for historical records of mermaid sightings. I thought it was a strange request.”

“Why?” Yuri demanded.

Dedushka shrugged. “He claimed he was doing some kind of research into the history of the area. He was interested in Islaluna too.”

Yuri blinked. “What does Islaluna have to do with it?”

“I have no idea.” Dedushka went back to eating. “The man himself was quite strange. Very intense.”

Yuri wondered if the man had found anything, and filed away that tidbit for later. “Weird,” he said, shoving another forkful of salad into his mouth.

Mom sighed again, and Yuri and Dad both muttered apologies before the rest of the conversation switched back to English.

Still, Dedushka kept looking at Yuri like he wanted to ask something, but he didn’t.

 

After dinner, Mom insisted that Yuri help clean up the table. Yuri had anticipated this and grabbed rubber gloves from the cleaning closet. Mom had rolled her eyes at him, but let him wear the gloves as he rinsed the dishes.

It was weird; he would feel the cold of the water through the rubber, and he’d panic and think he was getting wet only to realize the gloves were so thin that he was feeling the temperature.

Mom seemed satisfied with his lack of complaining as he helped her tidy up the dining room and kitchen, and let him retreat up to his room.

Yuri was messing around on his computer, playing a first-person shooter with some of the guys from orchestra as his cat curled up in his lap, when Dedushka knocked on his door.

“Hold on,” Yuri said as Guang-hong and Kenjirou were bickering about the next campaign, and he yanked his headset off as his grandfather let himself in.

“You were in the ocean today,” Dedushka said, eyeing him. “You smell like the sea.”

Yuri grimaced. “Don’t tell Mom,” he pleaded, eyeing the hallway behind his grandfather. It was empty, and they were talking in Russian, but his mother was terrifyingly perceptive.

“Why? It’s not a crime for a young man to swim in the sea.”

Yuri shrugged as he distantly heard Leo log in and ask what the hell was going on. “She’s been kind of touchy lately, after the thing on Islaluna,” he said.

Dedushka raised his eyebrows. “What happened on Islaluna?”

“We got stranded?” Yuri reminded him. “Christophe Giacometti’s Zodiac broke down and we had to paddle to the island?”

Dedushka nodded slowly. “The man in the archives today, he was interested in the history behind Islaluna,” he said in a carefully neutral tone. “There are records of myths about the island, especially regarding eclipses.”

Yuri almost jerked in surprise but instead was able to school his expression into a bored one. “Is this history stuff? Dedushka, I have another day left before I have to do school stuff.”

Dedushka narrowed his eyes at Yuri, but then snorted and reached out to ruffle Yuri’s hair. “I can tell I’m boring you. Have fun with your friends, Yurochka.”

“We’re gonna hunt alien hordes,” Yuri informed him, hitching up his headset. “As soon as the guys stop fighting.”

His grandfather chuckled. “Sounds exciting.” He quietly let himself out and shut the door behind him, and Yuri waited a moment before diving for his phone.

Yuri finished up texting Viktor and tuned back into the conversation online. “Okay, so did we decide on a mission or what?”

“Yuri, where’ve you been?” Kenjirou whined. “Back me up here, I say we stay out of the Andromeda sector.”

“What, and pass up the Blue Flag team?” Yuri grinned savagely. This was a world he could dominate. “Let’s take it back from them.”

 

After several satisfying - if not entirely successful - missions and a whole lot of bug hunting, Yuri signed off from his PC and flopped onto his bed, checking his phone. Potya curled up by his head, purring as he absently scratched her behind the ears.

Mila had snapchatted him a few photos of her new high score on DDR - looked like someone else had been foolish enough to challenge her after he’d left - and then spammed his SMS with the photos she’d taken on the reef. Yuri showed them to Potya, who made indifferent noises.

Even if the octopus had freaked him out, Yuri had to admit that the fishes they’d seen were pretty cool. He’d only ever seen them in biology books, or on TV. But the trade-off kind of sucked, and if Viktor’s research found them a way to stop transforming whenever they touched a little bit of water then maybe he’d change his mind. He knew that Mila was enjoying herself.

Yuri was texting Beka when he was suddenly seized with the urge to tell his friend everything. It only seemed right that Beka, who knew about all of Yuri’s deepest darkest fears, should be in on this too. But Mila and Viktor would probably point out what a hypocrite he was being, so he deleted what he’d written and instead whined about the upcoming week.

Yuri was smiling as he said goodnight and tossed his phone onto his bedside table. The park was a safe place to be, it was a couple dozen blocks away from the sea, and he and Beka would probably be there long after any sprinklers were run. Tomorrow would be a good way to end the summer.

 

He was practicing his violin in the den when Dedushka came in and settled in the winged armchair by the window.

Yuri let the scale he was doing trail off and he blinked at his grandfather. “Did I wake you up?”

“Not at all,” Dedushka said, smiling. “I was hoping to hear you play when you weren’t feeling so negative.”

Yuri made a face. “I don’t always sound negative.”

“Of course not.” Dedushka leaned back in the armchair and looked at Yuri over folded hands. “Am I distracting you?”

Yuri snorted and resumed his scales before moving to a quicker-paced warm-up. After a little bit of that, he switched to a sonata that he knew his grandfather liked.

He played for a while, meandering from easier songs to stuff he’d learned more recently, as his grandfather just listened and hummed along when he recognized the piece. Yuri would never admit it, but Dedushka enjoying his music was better than when even Lilia gave him her rare approval. Maybe it was just nice to not be a child prodigy while he played, but a violinist.

He attempted to scratch out a Lindsey Stirling song he’d been learning by ear, one off her most recent album, and got frustrated when he forgot the melody and fell out of tune.

“What was that one?” Dedushka asked, his eyes still closed.

Yuri shrugged. “Just a pop song I liked.”

“Mm. You’ll get it eventually, you always do.”

Yuri grinned at his grandfather before replacing his violin in the case and laying the bow across his music stand. “Thanks, Dedushka.”

“Are you done?”

“Yeah, I’m going out after lunch to meet Beka before school starts up again.” Yuri snapped the clasps on his violin case shut and picked up both the case and the bow so he could put them by his backpack in his room.

Dedushka got to his feet, and Yuri could hear his bones creaking from across the den. “I hope you have fun, then,” he said, patting Yuri on the head. “Thank you for playing for me.”

“You’re welcome,” Yuri answered, and he actually meant it.

 

The park was not at all packed for Somnambulant Misseltoe, and they were definitely hipster.

“What even is this?” Yuri demanded, perched on a park bench with an incredulous look on his face. It must have looked hilarious because Beka couldn’t look at him without laughing. “No, seriously, you’re lucky you didn’t bet money on this. You would owe me so much money.”

“I bought you a corn dog,” Beka pointed out, nibbling on his pretzel. “And they’re not that bad.”

“They have sock puppets,” Yuri said, gesturing wildly. “And they’re a capella. Beka, where did you even find these geeks?”

“They had fliers all over the place.” Beka’s eyes glimmered. “And they take requests.”

“Someone’s gonna yell ‘Freebird’ and it’s not gonna be me.”

They waited, and as soon as the group wrapped up their performance of Hips Don’t Lie, one of the frat boys lounging on a picnic blanket with his friends yelled, “do Freebird!”

A couple of the performers looked annoyed, but then they actually started to sing the opening to Freebird, and Yuri nearly fell off the bench laughing.

“I’m friggin’ psychic!” he gasped, as Beka snorted. “You didn’t pay that guy to yell that, did you?”

“Yes, Yura,” Beka deadpanned. “I have connections to every pedestrian in this town, and I orchestrate elaborately staged pranks just to make you think you can predict the future.”

“Cool, good use of your money,” Yuri sniggered, taking another bite of his corndog.

The group did Freebird, a couple pop songs that Yuri had definitely heard way too often over the summer but was actually delighted to hear being performed by literal sock puppets, and even Bohemian Rhapsody, which usually was only good if it was being sung by Freddie Mercury or Brendon Urie and just those two. Still, Yuri was pleasantly surprised by how much fun it was to watch a bunch of musical nerds sing brainless pop songs with sock puppets, and he was actually having fun right up until he and Beka were heading back towards the downtown area and he bumped into someone.

It wasn’t that he bumped into someone that ruined his day, but that they spilled water on him.

“Oh, shit, I’m sorry,” said the girl who he’d bumped into, but Yuri was already panicking. He yanked himself away and tore off towards the trees that ringed the park, his brain screaming the ten-second countdown at him. He heard Beka calling after him in concern, but he didn’t even bother to focus on that as he found the park restrooms and threw himself into the handicapped bathroom. He barely made it before the little twinkling lights swarmed him and he transformed, his flopping tail pushing the door shut behind him.

“Fffffffuck,” he ground out, pushing himself up on his forearms and glaring down at the tail. “Fuck, fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck.”

He tried to roll onto his side, but there wasn’t a lot of space to move around in. Also, he was stuck in a public bathroom. “Gross,” he gagged as he scooted away from a pile of wet toilet paper. It could have been water, but he didn’t want to take a chance. “Fuck, fuck me, fuck.”

“Yura?”

Otabek pounded on the door, and Yuri felt his heart rate pick up. “I’m fine!” he shouted, wincing. “Don’t worry, I’ll be out in a second!”

“Yura, what happened? Are you hurt?”

“I said I’m fine!”

“Yura, let me in.”

No!” Yuri yelped as he belatedly realized he hadn’t locked the door and Beka tried the handle. “Don’t come in!”

Too late. Beka pushed the door open and his jaw dropped.

Yuri winced and let his head drop onto his arms. “Fuck.”

“What the hell?” Beka demanded, sounding like he’d been punched in the head. “Yuri, how…?”

“Please close the door so no one else sees me like this,” Yuri begged, not even able to make himself lift his head up.

There was a slight shuffling noise, and then the clicking of the door being locked. “What in the world?” Beka asked again, sounding less dazed and more straight-up confused.

“I don’t know,” Yuri said quietly.

Beka made a soft noise, and Yuri heard him squat down. “Where are your clothes?”

“Dunno,” Yuri muttered.

“Are you all right?”

Yuri laughed semi-hysterically. “I’m not hurt.”

Beka was silent for a second, and Yuri looked up at him. The older boy’s face was drawn in a thoughtful expression. “When did this start happening?”

“Just Friday,” Yuri said cautiously. “After I got stuck on Islaluna during the eclipse.”

“You hung out with me on Friday.”

“And I tried not to get splashed,” Yuri pointed out.

Beka’s eyebrows went up. “This only happens when you get splashed?”

Yuri nodded.

“So this isn’t, like… a family curse or anything?” Beka ventured, and Yuri snorted.

“Nope, definitely not.”

Beka eyed him. “How do you know?”

Yuri almost said because Viktor and Mila have it too, but caught himself just in time. “Just trust me.”

“Can you change yourself back?”

“Not until I dry off,” Yuri groaned. “I need a towel or something.”

They both looked dubiously at the empty toilet paper dispenser, and then at the electric hand dryer mounted on the wall.

“Well, we could stick you under that,” Beka said, but he didn’t sound all that into it.

“Ugh,” Yuri responded, trying again to flip over.

Beka glanced at the tail and then gestured at it. “May I?”

“Knock yourself out,” Yuri grunted, and Beka scooted forward to help Yuri rearrange his tail so he had more space to adjust himself on the floor. “This thing is such a pain in the ass on dry land.”

“I can imagine,” Beka said dryly.

“It’s cool in the water, though,” Yuri admitted.

“You’ve been out swimming with it?”

“Yeah, yesterday. I can go really fast with it.”

Beka smiled. “That’s actually really cool, yeah.”

They sat in silence for a minute, and then Beka tugged at the collar of his t-shirt. “Do you want to borrow this to towel off?”

“Nah, it would take more than a t-shirt to manage that.” Yuri waved his hand at the several feet of moist scales. “It actually dries off really fast in the sun.”

“Well, that’s out of the question,” Beka said firmly. “I’m assuming you don’t want people to find out.”

“You assume right,” Yuri answered, groaning. “God, today was going so perfect, too.” He clenched a fist in frustration, and then both he and Beka blinked when they heard a hissing noise start up in the bathroom with them.

“What the hell is that?” Beka asked warily, looking around for the source of it.

Yuri shook his head, then yelped as he felt a weird stinging sensation around his fin. “Wait. Wait! I think it’s… me?” He peered down at his tail, and to his utter shock, he saw steam rising from it.

“Wha… how?” Beka waved his hand over it and drew his hand back in surprise. “It’s really hot,” he said, surprised.

Yuri looked at his fist and then did the gesture again. “I think I’m doing this,” he said, dumbfounded.

“Again, how?

“Magic?” Yuri hedged, as more and more of the moisture on his tail evaporated away. He brought his hand in towards his chest and winced as the water on his skin boiled and vanished, and then suddenly the lights were back and swarming him, eventually disappearing to reveal his legs and clothes again.

“Holy shit,” Beka said, putting Yuri’s feelings perfectly into words. “Did you know you could do that?”

“Take a wild guess.” Yuri scrambled to his feet, staring at his hands. “I wonder if I can do it again?”

Beka looked at him for a long moment and then raised his eyebrows. “Let’s find out.”

Yuri grinned.

Chapter Text

The chiming of her phone woke Mila on Sunday, and she allowed herself a groan before rolling over to check it.

It was a text from Sara. Mila smiled as she thumbed the message open.

Mila stretched and rubbed at her eyes, making a face when she had to wipe eye gunk on her shirt. “Ugh,” she said, and then louder, “ugh.” She kicked her covers off and swung her legs out over the edge of her twin bed. She wiggled her toes and winced at the two days’ growth on her legs. “I guess I’m going au naturale,” she grumbled.

She stretched and scooted off the bed, digging her feet into the plush rug she’d put down next to her bed, and stuck her phone in her pajama pants pocket as she shuffled into the hallway.

If there was one thing she was grateful for over the past few days, it was the fact that her aunt and uncle were both incredibly busy with work this week, and her cousin was spending as much time as she could with her friends before school started up the next day. Mila had to share the bathroom with Tamara, who was only 11 and just begun to preen and explore adolescence. Tammy had been hogging the bathroom lately, and barging in when she felt like it. Mila had started locking the door, just to be safe.

She used to be so sweet, Mila thought as she made her way downstairs and veered into the kitchen. She lived with her aunt, uncle, and cousin in a townhouse that was only a couple miles away from downtown, and was situated close to the high school. Tammy got bussed in to the middle school every day, and Mila took public transit downtown to reach the conservatory. Her aunt and uncle commuted out of town on an almost daily basis… which is why Mila was a bit surprised when she stumbled upon both of them still at the kitchen table.

“Good morning, Miloshka,” Auntie chirped, and how was she such a morning person?

“How’s our favorite collegiate?” Uncle Erik chimed in.

Mila sighed and shuffled over to the stove so she could put a kettle on boil. She pulled her favorite mug, a Tinkerbell mug from Disneyland, out of the cabinet and hunted for her box of teabags. “Still waking up. Can Sara come over today?”

“Of course!”

Mila hummed at her aunt’s answer and cut a bagel in half to stick it in the toaster. “Jam,” she muttered, popping the fridge open. “Jam, jam, jam, jam.” She pulled her aunt’s fake butter and favorite lingonberry jam out, grabbing a plate and leaving all of her breakfast things on the counter while her bagel toasted. The kettle began to whistle, and Mila took it off the stove to carefully pour the hot water into her mug.

It felt weird to be doing such mundane stuff when she knew on an intellectual level that if she so much as got a drop of water on her skin, she’d grow a tail.

Mila smiled to herself; one she’d gotten over the shock and had come home to bathe, she’d been kind of excited. She’d crawled into the bathtub, turned on the water, and waited. Once she’d transformed again, she’d taken the opportunity to examine the wide fin and the jewel-like scales. The lack of knees was also kind of intriguing. Thinking about all the movies she’d seen with live-action mermaids in them, she had to snort. Tails didn’t need to hinge at any halfway points, there weren’t joints like in a leg or an arm. Illusion destroyed, she thought sardonically.

Her fins had an interesting flexibility to them, there had to be cartilage in them. It flexed, but there wasn’t a lot of fine motor control to it. Mostly, they reminded her of a fish’s fin more than a dolphin’s fin or a whale’s fin.

“What are you laughing at?” her uncle asked. Mila shrugged and pulled her bagel out of the toaster and dug a butter knife out of her utensil drawer. Once her bagel was properly prepared and her tea was steeped and cooled, she joined her aunt and uncle at the table.

Auntie Yulia was a lawyer in Costa Mesa and Uncle Erik worked in the neurosciences institute at Hoag Memorial, so eating breakfast with both of them was kind of a rare occurrence. Uncle Erik didn’t often take Sundays off, and Auntie was one of those people who had to plan everything out.

Sometimes, Mila had to envy Viktor. His parents, for the most part, were pretty easy-going from what she remembered of her previous encounters with them. Of course, Viktor was also working full time and paying for his own living expenses, something that Mila had yet to do.

“That’s an awful lot of carbs,” Uncle Erik said, and Auntie elbowed him.

“Are you excited for university?” she said as her husband fell quiet.

Mila paused in chewing her bagel and swallowed. “Of course,” she said, wiping her mouth on the back of her hand. Then, something clicked and she narrowed her eyes. “What happened?”

Auntie’s face went blank and Uncle Erik’s mouth turned down in a massive frown. “Nothing,” he said too quickly, and Mila narrowed her eyes.

“I don’t believe you,” she said, putting her bagel down on her plate and sitting back. “Why are you not at the office today?”

“I had some errands to run,” Auntie said immediately.

“What errands?”

“Shopping errands.”

Mila raised her eyebrows. “Says the woman who swears by Amazon Prime.”

“Can’t a grown woman enjoy going out on shopping dates with her husband?” Auntie asked, mirroring Mila’s expression.

“Of course you can, but I’m pretty sure you’re not telling me something.”

“Not everything is a conspiracy,” Uncle Erik pointed out. “Miloshka, you’re being unfair.”

“And you’re not telling me something. I can’t believe you’re hiding something from me. Dyad’ka, Tetushka, I can handle it,” Mila protested, crossing her arms. “I can keep this up all morning.”

Her aunt and uncle winced.

“Fine,” Auntie grumbled. “Fine. Your father is back in California.”

Mila blinked. “What? When did he--?”

“This week.” Uncle Erik sighed, rubbing the bridge of his nose. “So I take it that he hasn’t contacted you?”

Mila shook her head. “I didn’t even know he was back in America,” she said, dazed.

“Well,” Auntie said briskly, “you don’t have to reach out to him. If he calls, you’re within your rights to hang up.”

Mila thought about it but didn’t have an answer to that statement. “When did you find out?”

“When he called my office yesterday asking for our new address.” Auntie’s face twisted into a distasteful expression, like she was about to spit.

“Why did he want to know that?”

“He mentioned your birthday,” Uncle Erik said, and Mila made a face.

“Uh, he’s a bit off the mark.” Mila’s birthday was in October.

“Well, he doesn’t know that we’ve moved since the last time he saw us,” Auntie grumbled. They had lived in a smaller apartment home before Tammy had been born, eleven years ago.

Mila bit her lip, but she had weathered so many strange things in the past couple of days that she was feeling strangely brave. “Do you have his contact info?”

Her aunt and uncle exchanged unreadable expressions, and then Auntie nodded. “We have his phone number and address.”

Mila closed her eyes but pressed on. “Don’t throw it out.”

Her uncle made a quiet noise of surprise. “Miloshka.”

“I know, I know I don’t have to. But…” Mila fixed her eyes on her abandoned breakfast and sighed softly. “I don’t know, it’s been years.”

“Exactly, it’s been years,” Uncle Erik grumbled. “And now he’s suddenly reaching out?”

“This has been a special year,” Mila mused. She blinked and snorted when her aunt and uncle both stared at her. “What? It has,” she insisted.

“How so?” Auntie asked, raising her eyebrows.

Mila smiled. “Well, you remember Vitya, right?”

“The idiot who got himself stuck on Yakov Feltsman’s roof a few years ago?” Uncle Erik asked slowly, forehead crinkling. He didn’t really pay all that much attention to the music scene in Lucía Bay, that was Auntie’s field.

“Yep. I went with him and Yura Plisetsky, and another friend, and we were on Islaluna during the eclipse. It was pretty cool.” Mila picked up her bagel again so she could nibble on it.

“Oh, yes, I saw that on your Facebook,” Uncle Erik nodded, smiling. “That looked fun.”

“The totality was pretty cool,” Mila agreed. “We didn’t have any glasses, but we were able to use our phones to see it.”

“Trust me, those glasses were overrated,” Auntie said, waving her coffee spoon at Mila. “A cheap cash grab for a once-in-a-lifetime event.”

Mila giggled and shrugged. If she were going to be honest, she’d gotten the rarest souvenir of all; she didn’t need to mourn not having gotten the sunglasses.

“Well, I’m happy you got home safely,” Uncle Erik told him, spearing a strawberry on his fork. “And you seem to have had a good time, which is all that matters.”

“Yep!” Mila agreed.

Her aunt and uncle seemed eager to leave the topic of her father behind, so she let them quiz her on her class schedule and her dance tryouts. When Auntie got up to get herself a fresh cup of coffee, Tammy stomped in and took her mother’s seat.

“Good morning, Tamara,” Uncle Erik said, and Tammy grumbled something that was definitely not human speech.

Mila snorted, then made an indignant noise when her cousin stole the other half of her bagel. “Tammy, what the heck?!”

“Mmrghfurglerduh,” Tammy answered, biting into her purloined breakfast. She scowled. “What jelly is this?”

“Lingonberry,” Mila said sweetly as Tammy gagged. “This is why you don’t steal other people’s breakfast.”

“I hate that stuff,” Tammy whined, shoving her chair back so she could scramble over to the garbage and spit the offending bite out.

“Tomochka, that was rude,” Uncle Erik admonished her, but Tammy ignored him to go dig in the fridge for something else.

“Tamara,” Auntie jumped in, frowning. “Your father is talking to you.”

“That’s not my name,” Tammy tossed over her shoulder.

“Thank god you weren’t like this as a teenager,” Uncle Erik muttered to Mila, who sighed and reclaimed the rest of her bagel. While her aunt and uncle dealt with their grumpy daughter, she checked her phone again.

Mila snorted.

 

Mila was halfway through her pilates workout when the doorbell rang.

“Oh, good, you’re wearing exercise clothes,” Sara said when Mila let her in. “Where’s the fam?”

Mila shrugged. “Tammy’s out with friends again, last hurrah. Auntie and Uncle Erik went shopping, not sure where. Why, what’s up?”

“Not much, I had a copy of the last orchesis performance from May and figured you’d want to look at it for tryouts.” Sara reached into her purse to extract a DVD with the words Orchesis Spring Finale scribbled on it. “The captain’s kind of a hardass, so you’re gonna wanna bone up on some of the jumps.”

“Oh, goody,” Mila clapped her hands. “I’ve been looking for footage of that!”

“Ask and ye shall receive,” Sara intoned, bestowing the DVD upon her with a smirk. Sara had been part of the university’s Orchesis group since she herself had been a freshman, and Mila had befriended her while they were both in high school so it was kind of like having the inside track to making it past auditions. “Do you need a spot to practice?”

“I’m sure the gym will let me have one of their yoga studios.” Mila shrugged.

“You know, since you’re a student, you have access to the public parts of the conservatory,” Sara pointed out. “Plus, I know all the staff out there. I can get you in one of the private rooms.”

“With your masterful powers of seduction?” Mila waggled her eyebrows, and Sara whacked her lightly on the shoulder.

“You know Mickey would burst a blood vessel,” Sara giggled. “I’m pretty sure he’d have a stroke if I ever got a boyfriend.”

Mila frowned. “Okay, that was kind of sweet when you were both much younger, but you’re a grown-ass woman now.” She flopped down onto the couch cushions and blew a raspberry.

“I know, I’m working on it.” Sara bit her lip, then grinned. “But hey, speaking of boyfriends…” Her eyes sparkled. “Guess who I met the other day?”

“Who?”

Sara waggled her eyebrows. “Bella’s boyfriend.”

Mila sat up, jaw dropping. “The Canadian? He actually exists?”

“He actually exists,” Sara confirmed. “He’s… quite a character.”

“Wow.” Mila tapped her chin. “That’s the first time I’ve ever heard of there being an actual ‘boyfriend in Canada’.”

“He’s totally head-over-heels for her,” Sara reported, steepling her fingers. “It’s pretty cute.”

“D’awh.” Mila stretched a leg, resting her foot on the coffee table. “What brings him to Cali?”

“He’s transferring out here, to Anderson’s. He wanted to be with Bella.” Sara sighed. “Can you imagine, having someone as devoted to you as that?”

“Nope,” Mila declared. “Love is terrifying and not at all something I’m old enough for.”

“You’re ridiculous.” Sara elbowed her again and then fluffed her hair. “Get your laptop. We’re going out, I know a spot.”

“Ugh, school isn’t even started yet and already it’s work, work, work, work, work.”

“You bet your bottom,” Sara sang out. “Let’s goooooooo~!”

 

Sara ended up dragging Mila to the Y that was out by the public schools, surrounded by the more typical style of single-family homes that had yards and everything.

“This way, we can get all sweaty and then jump in the pool afterward!” Sara said, pointing to the Olympic pool behind the building.

“Ah, hard pass,” Mila said immediately, then shrugged when Sara gave her an odd look. “Not feeling it today. Besides, I didn’t bring a suit.”

“Not feeling it?” Sara made a face. “Who are you and what have you done with my best friend?”

“She’s tied up in the garage,” Mila deadpanned. “Are we going to dance or not?”

They went in, and Sara flashed her membership card at the front desk before asking if the yoga class was done. They ended up having to wait a bit before it was and they could take the room the class was in, and Mila took the opportunity to stretch and warm up.

Mila had been dancing for as long as she could remember, even before she’d come to live with her aunt and uncle. They had been happy to continue her lessons, and she’d danced competitively in high school. Of course, you had to have at least two or three extracurriculars in primary school in order to look good on college applications, so Mila had joined the Russian club at school (there were a lot of Russian students in the public schools) and then her aunt had signed her up for piano lessons with Yakov Feltsman when she was in middle school.

Hilariously, the reason for those lessons was… Viktor. Auntie had seen him perform and decided that Mila should follow his example, and while Mila had had fun with piano throughout high school, she’d dropped it in her senior year to focus more closely on dance. Yakov had actually lamented it, in his own gruff way. She still made sure to drop in and visit her old instructor every now and then, and of course she’d managed to befriend Viktor over the seven years she’d been playing piano so she certainly didn’t regret learning. Viktor had even done music for her routines, jazz ditties that were just unfairly fun to dance to.

The song that she and Sara were going to be dancing to wasn’t one of Viktor’s though, and once she’d plugged in her laptop and Sara had connected a Bluetooth speaker, they put on the DVD of the Orchesis performance. Sara began to meticulously run Mila through the choreography, and it felt good to be dancing intensely again.

Halfway through their third or fourth run-through, there was a knock at the door. Mila blinked in surprise when Phichit Chulanont poked his head in. “Hey, I thought I recognized you two!”

“Phichit!” Sara waved. “I didn’t know you did pole dancing!”

“Good morning to you too,” Phichit stuck his tongue out at her and cocked his head. “Is this the Orchesis showcase music?”

“Yep, I’m giving Mila a rundown on the choreography for tryouts.” Sara fanned herself and sat down. “Now’s a good time to take a break, I think.”

“I can keep going,” Mila sang out, twirling a little. The song in question was pretty fun to dance to.

“Can we join?” Phichit asked, edging into the room a little more. “I’m trying out too, and I swear this is the year I’m getting in. I swear it.”

“We?” Mila asked, and Phichit ducked back out for a second to pull someone from behind him and nudge them into the room. She blinked when Yuuri from Chihoko’s shuffled in, looking a bit flustered. “Oh, hi there!”

“Yuuri!” Sara called from her prone position on the floor. “How’s it going?”

“Fine?” Yuuri looked back at Phichit, who snorted at him and shut the door behind them.

“You two know each other?” Mila asked, and Sara laughed and nodded.

“Yuuri’s on the Orchesis roster!”

“Ooooh,” Mila clapped. “We can make this a big practice session!”

“I don’t want to intrude,” Yuuri said hesitantly, but Mila shook her head.

“You’re not intruding, I want as much insider knowledge as I can get. Phichit?”

“I’m ready,” Phichit agreed, stripping off his loose over shirt. “Yuuri, change your shoes. We’re staying.”

“Oh, this’ll be fun!” Sara said, raising an arm. “Someone help me up, this girl is gonna kill me. Yuuri, your stamina might be a match for Mila, can you keep up with her?”

“I don’t know?” Yuuri made a face.

“I dare you to try,” Sara challenged.

“He can, totally,” Phichit stage-whispered. “Okay, time to get back up, Crispy!”

“I really wanna swim,” Sara moaned as Yuuri and Phichit switched out their street shoes for ones more suited to dancing. “Milaaaaa, why didn’t you bring a suit?”

“Because I don’t feel like swimming,” Mila said briskly. “You’re such a whiner-baby.”

Sara made a face and let out a long whine just to prove Mila’s point, but hauled herself to her feet again. “Okay. From the top?”

“Which one?” Yuuri asked.

Wild Child.” Sara poked Mila’s laptop to wake it up. “Come through, Spotify.”

Mila stretched her back out, rolling her shoulders and neck. “So I know Phichit from swing dance, but what do you do, Yuuri?”

“Ballet, mostly,” Yuuri said, also stretching. “I try everything, though.”

“Nice. Wait.” Mila blinked. “Are you related to Minako?”

“She’s my godmother,” Yuuri answered.

That made sense. “Tell her I love her cafe and also that she needs to change her soda options.”

Phichit snorted as Yuuri frowned. “What--?”

“Ignore that,” Phichit said.

“Don’t ignore that,” Mila insisted.

Stretch, dammit!” Sara yelled. “I don’t need to deal with any strains today!”

“We’ll discuss this later,” Mila told Phichit, who smirked as he sank into a lunge.

“You shouldn’t be drinking soda anyway,” Yuuri said, taking off his glasses and setting them aside. “Sugar is bad for you.”

Mila sighed. “Point,” she admitted, and then Sara turned the song back on and they started up again.

An hour later, Mila was beginning to realize that Sara was right. Yuuri’s stamina gave Mila a run for her money, and Mila was almost jealous when they took a water break and he was barely sweaty. “Are you even human?” she demanded, panting.

He blinked and blushed. “Yes?”

“It’s a compliment,” Sara reassured him, flopping against the wall that didn’t have a mirror on it. “I’m telling you, Yuuri.”

Yuuri tugged at the collar of his t-shirt. “Right.” He put his glasses back on and stooped down to grab his phone. “How long do you have the room for?”

“Ah, I don’t think anyone requested it after us,” Mila said, using the bottom hem of her tank top to pat the sweat off her face.

“Nice!” Phichit said. “Is it okay if we keep using it after you guys are done?”

“Sure,” Sara agreed. “But if someone comes in and kicks us out, I can’t do anything.”

“That’s fine,” Yuuri said, finishing what he was doing with his phone. “We have to work in a couple hours anyway.”

“Last Sunday Funday before the school year starts!” Phichit pumped a fist. “After this, it’s weekend mornings and weekday evenings until the cows come home.”

“Maybe I should get a job,” Mila ventured. “Is Minako hiring?”

“She’s always accepting applications,” Yuuri answered automatically.

“Spoken like a true service worker,” Sara snorted.

Yuuri cracked a wry smile. “Yep. Go again?”

 

A while later, they were kicked out by a Jazzercise group and split up, Yuuri and Phichit heading to their apartment to shower before work while Mila and Sara heading back towards Mila’s home.

“We could hit the beach,” Sara wheedled, and Mila sighed. Yeah, the no-knees thing and the fast swimming was really cool, but the mermaid thing was going to cramp her social life at this rate. “C’mon, this is our second-to-last weekend before classes. We’re going to be so bogged down after syllabus week!”

“I’m really not feeling it,” Mila said, wincing. “I’m sorry, I’m really sorry. Maybe we can hit Main Street instead?”

Sara wrinkled her nose. “I mean, sure. But. Beach, Mila.”

New jeans,” Mila mimicked her friend's tone. “I’ve been thinking of getting a chandelier for my room, maybe we can go to the Dorm Store.”

“Why would you need a chandelier in your room?” Sara demanded, making a face.

“Aesthetic?”

“You’re weird,” Sara shook her head. “Okay, sounds good to me.”

“Cool, I’ll--” Mila cut herself off when she looked up and saw Yuri and Otabek sitting on her front steps. “Uh.”

“Where have you been?” Yuri demanded, standing. “Stuff happened!”

“Uh.” Mila made a face. “Stuff?”

Stuff!” Yuri reiterated, bouncing on the balls of his feet. “Viktor won’t answer his phone either.”

Mila’s eyebrows shot up without her input, and she gave Otabek a meaningful look. “Viktor?” she repeated slowly. There was only one reason she could think of that Yuri would want to get in touch with both her and Viktor on a Sunday about.

Otabek smiled wryly. “We had a water incident,” he said in Russian, and Mila quickly schooled her expression into a blank one.

“Water, huh?” she answered in the same language. “Sure is a lot of it outside.”

“Yep.”

“What’s going on?” Sara asked, confused.

“Nothing at all,” Mila said immediately. “Yura here has a Russian thing for me.”

“You Russians and your Russian things,” Sara snorted. “I’m going home to shower and change, give me a call when you’re ready to go downtown.” She waved and took off, and Mila waited until her friend was a block away before whirling around to face the boys on her front stoop. “What the hell, Yura?!” she hissed. “My family could be around!”

“They’re not, we knocked on the door for, like, ten minutes,” Yuri shot back at her.

“Still!”

“Where were you?!” Yuri steamrollered over her. “We’ve been sitting here for, like, an hour.”

“I was dancing. God, Yura!”

“So you haven’t gotten wet?” Yuri pressed, and Mila eyed Otabek.

“I’m guessing you did?”

Otabek remained impassive. “I saw his tail, yes.”

Mila stared at him, and then at Yuri. “So he knows?”

“Not like I could help it,” Yuri grumbled. “I had to hide in a public bathroom.”

Mila shuddered at the thought. “Eew.”

“So yeah, but I made an important discovery,” Yuri added, vibrating. “Mila, we can dry ourselves off! Almost instantly!”

Mila blinked. “What?”

“I was able to make all the water boil off of me!” Yuri looked at Otabek and nudged him. “Beka, back me up here.”

“It’s true,” Otabek offered.

Mila blinked. “Nice backup.”

Yuri rolled his eyes.

“I did see it happen myself,” Otabek added.

Mila closed her eyes and took a deep breath, centering herself. “Okay, what happened?”

“I got water spilled on me,” Yuri said. “And then I sprouted the fucking tail--”

“You know what, let’s go inside,” Mila interrupted, pulling her keys out from her pocket and ushering the boys in.

Once they were safely indoors and Mila had confirmed that her family was still out, she crossed her arms and leaned back against the kitchen counter. “Continue.”

“As I was saying,” Yuri stuck his tongue out at her. “We were at the park, I got a drink spilled on me, the tail came back, and I was stuck on a bathroom floor with no way to dry off until I did this.” He brandished a fist dramatically.

Nothing happened.

Mila stared at him, unsure of what she was supposed to be seeing. “Uh huh. Interesting.”

“It really did happen,” Otabek added.

“Give me water,” Yuri demanded. “I can show you.”

Mila made a face at him, but grabbed a dirty glass from the sink and filled it with water from the faucet. “Okay, show me.” She set the cup on the counter in front of the younger teen, and Yuri raised his hand over it before slowly curling his fingers back into a fist.

Mila was about to snort when the water began to bubble and froth, and steam began to rise from the rim of the glass. “What the fuck,” she gasped, crouching down and staring at it up close. “How are you doing that?”

“Fucking magic, that’s how,” Yuri muttered, and relaxed his hand. The bubbling stopped.

Mila ran a finger along the outside of the glass. “It’s hot,” she exclaimed, still shocked. “Holy shit.”

“Yeah, so I did that and the water evaporated off of me, and I changed back,” Yuri finished, hopping onto one of the stools. He was grinning. “So now if there are any accidents at school, we’ll be all right!”

“You think all of us can do this?” Mila asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Well, why not?” Yuri countered, still bouncing a little. “I mean, we all got hit by the same mojo, right?” To their left, Otabek was watching with what Yuri referred to as his “resting bitch face” but Mila knew was actually just intense focus. He shrugged when they looked to him for his opinion.

“I guess that’s… true…” Mila considered it. She raised her hand and glanced at Yuri. “Like this?”

“Yeah.”

Mila mimicked Yuri’s fist, but nothing happened. “Do it again,” she said after a minute of nothing happening.

Yuri did so and got the water to boil again.

“Okay,” Mila said after examining Yuri’s gesture closely. “Let me try again.”

Again, nothing happened.

“Maybe I’m special,” Yuri offered, sniggering, and Otabek made an exasperated noise and nudged him while Mila narrowed her eyes at him.

“That is such a you thing to do,” Mila grumbled as she relaxed her fist, “waiting for me at my house to show off how special you are.” She compounded her statement with a jab in Yuri’s face, and then they all yelped and drew back as the water in the glass literally jumped out and splashed Yuri’s face and chest.

“What the fuck?!” Yuri yelled as he tried to peel off his wet shirt, but he wasn’t fast enough and he transformed again. Mila stared, jaw dropped, as Yuri slumped back on the stool, his tail flopping against the wooden legs.

“Did you do that?” Otabek asked, looking from the empty glass to Mila.

“I… maybe?” She picked up the glass and shuffled around the counter over to the sink so she could refill the glass. She set it back on the counter and then, carefully, pointed at it. The glass actually shuddered, and Yuri stopped fidgeting as he and Otabek both watched as Mila slowly raised her hand.

“Wait,” Yuri said, but Mila felt a sudden sort of tugging, not a physical sensation but still there, and she twisted her wrist and opened her hand, and the water rose out of the glass in a steady stream that defied gravity.

“Wow,” Otabek breathed, and Mila brought her hand up higher, spreading her fingers, and the top of the pillar of water opened like a flower.

“That’s… that’s insane,” Yuri said, eyes wide. “So… you can’t boil it but you can… like, waterbend?”

“It’s like I’m shaping it, or like it’s a puppet and I’m pulling the strings,” Mila said softly. She stopped concentrating, but only realized her mistake when the water splashed down onto the counter again and hit both Yuri once more and her as well.

“Oh shit,” she said as her legs vanished again and she fell on her face.

“Wow,” Otabek said, looking down at her on the tile floor and then at Yuri, who was still stuck on the stool. “You two are kind of helpless if you get splashed.”

“No shit,” Yuri said wryly, and then began to use his newly-discovered power to dry himself off.

“C… can you do me next?” Mila asked weakly, flopping over onto her back.

“Sure.”

“You’re a peach.”

Otabek sighed and grabbed a roll of paper towels so he could mop up the mess while the other two were indisposed.

“So do you think Viktor has one of these powers?” Mila wondered as she waited for Yuri to finish drying off. “Or a different one?”

“We should go find out,” Yuri said as steam began to rise off of his tail. “Just so you know, this stings a little.”

“I can handle it,” Mila said, flapping a hand.

“So who else has this?” Otabek asked as he swept the water back into the sink. “Is it just you three?”

“Yeah, Chris was on the island with us but he wasn’t in the lagoon when the eclipse happened,” Mila said.

“Hm.” Otabek tapped his chin. “You guys can trust Chris with this?”

“I trust him,” Mila said. “He’s been friends with Viktor since they were both really little, and honestly we have no reason to not.”

“Well, most of the human body is water,” Yuri said matter-of-factly as he transformed back. “I’ll show him what I can do and tell him that I’ll boil him inside-out if he outs us.”

“I really don’t think you’ll need to do that,” Mila rolled her eyes. “Chris regularly campaigns against Sea World and literally went to Australia to protect sharks. He’s not going to turn on us.”

“When did he do that?” Yuri demanded. “I don’t remember that!”

“What, the shark thing? That was last year. The finning thing, that got huge online.” Mila played with one of her fins. “It’s on his Facebook, you can find it.”

“Huh. Hidden depths. Never knew.” Yuri slid off the stool and squatted down next to her. “And he’s okay with his boyfriend working at the marine park?”

“It’s a rehabilitation and education center, and they do research and conservation,” Mila reminded him. “They’re literally the ethical version of Sea World.”

Yuri shrugged and raised his fist over her. “If you say so.”

“You know, you probably could have cleaned up the mess yourself without making Beka do it,” Mila added.

“I don’t mind,” Otabek said, dropping the soggy paper towels in the trash under the sink. “I’m still kind of processing all of this.”

“Trust me, we all are,” Mila said as she felt the aforementioned stinging up and down her tail. “Oh, that’s kind of itchy,” she complained as the steam began to rise off her scales.

“Yeah, yeah, quit whining.”

Mila slapped Yuri’s knee, and he glared at her. “I can stop, you know,” he said, narrowing his eyes.

Mila stuck her tongue out at him.

“So, do we call Viktor?” Otabek asked, switching to a dishtowel to wipe off the remaining moisture on the counter.

“I’d say yes, just to be safe,” Mila said as Yuri moved onto her upper body. “I’m curious, I wonder what he can do.”

“He’s probably at the library,” Yuri sniggered. “Like the old fart that he is.”

“Well, maybe he found something out,” Mila suggested as she felt the water evaporate off her skin. “That’s so nifty!” she added after she’d changed back. “Man, I wish I could do that.”

“Well, you can literally control it,” Otabek pointed out. “Just think of me, I can’t do either.”

“True.” Mila giggled. “But then again, you don’t sprout fins if you get so much as a drop of water on you.”

“True,” Otabek agreed.

Yuri had picked up his phone, and he made a quiet noise. “I just got a response from Viktor, he’s at the board shop with Chris. Of course he is.”

“Well, we can meet him there. I’ll tell Sara I’ll be a little late. Oh, crap,” Mila checked her still-sweaty shirt. “I gotta take a bath.”

“Oops,” Yuri cackled, and Mila whapped him on the arm.

“You two hang tight, I’ll be quick,” she said, heading for the stairs. “If my aunt and uncle come home and find you, don’t answer any questions.”

“I’ll handle them,” Otabek said evenly as Yuri blew a raspberry at her.

“And if my cousin comes home, pretend she doesn’t exist.”

Yuri winced. “Yeah, fair enough.” He’d been on the receiving end of Tammy’s insufferable preteen-ness before.

Mila sighed and made her way upstairs, quickly grabbing her bathrobe and stripping off her dirty workout clothes before locking herself in the bathroom.

“Well,” she said to herself as she pulled a few extra bath towels out of the closet and set them by the tub. “I guess things just got even more interesting.”

Chapter Text

Chris knew it was going to be an interesting day when the tourists arrived halfway through his shift.

“Why do we have to be so highly recommended?” he groaned, and Josef slapped him on the shoulder before disappearing into the backroom to hide. Lucky jerk.

The kids were already touching everything, including the things that had “DO NOT TOUCH” signs on them, and the parents were awkwardly examining things that would probably end up in storage bins labeled “family vacation to California” in a few months. A tragedy. God help him hold his tongue.

“This is so expensive, though,” the wife was saying as Chris rescued yet another ukulele from an untimely death. “I’m sure the Ron Jon’s has it for much cheaper.”

“Excuse me? Is there a Ron Jon’s near here?” the husband asked.

Chris turned away to school his expression into one of cheerful servitude before engaging. “I’m sorry, Ron Jon doesn’t have a store in this entire state.”

The wife frowned. “But I could swear--”

“Nope!” Chris gritted his teeth and grimaced hard enough that it could pass for a smile. “Not here!”

“Maybe the Walmart has something instead, dear,” the husband said sotto voce, but Chris still heard him.

“Mom, I like this one!” one of the kids yelled, trying to tug a five-hundred-dollar longboard off the wall.

Ah!” Chris shouted, catching it. “You break it, you bought it.” He pointed at the sign on the wall that stated exactly that, hand-painted and decorated with palm trees.

The parents both got deer-in-headlights expressions and quickly ushered their children out.

Chris breathed a sigh of relief as the door tinkled with their exit, and Josef poked his head out of the backroom. “Did they ask for a Ron Jon?”

“I’m going to go back in time and destroy their first-ever store,” Chris said in an aggressively cheerful voice.

“Oh Lord.” Josef checked his watch. “Why don’t you go grab the refresher for the t-shirts? I’ll watch the till.”

Chris carefully did not stomp into the backroom to grab the shirts that would go up on the display table nearest to the door. He was digging through the box that had just come in from the print shop that Josef had partnered with when the door creaked open again.

“I’ll be just a minute,” he tossed over his shoulder.

“Psst, do you have this in pink?”

Chris dropped his armload of t-shirts and whirled around. “You are not supposed to be back here,” he hissed, chasing Viktor out of the backroom. “For the love of god, if you want to work here then apply!”

“Josef never complained before,” Viktor whined, but he went willingly as Chris doubled back to grab the abandoned shirts so he could earn his pay.

People often gave him shit about being laid-back, but that was only when he was off the clock. Chris knew where to put the bulk of his energy: earning his paycheck and destroying Sea World.

If he were being fair, Josef knew very well that Viktor wouldn’t mess around in the backroom… but still. Chris was one of the shift managers. He had to have standards while working.

Viktor eyed the shirts in his arms and stepped back to let Chris edge around the sunglasses display. “Soooo. Pink?”

“What’s up, Viktor?” Chris weaved through the shop so he could dump his armload on the table.

Josef waved from behind the point-of-sales counter. “Hey Viktor!”

Viktor waved back and leaned against the display table that Chris had begun to restock. “I spent the morning on the floor, getting a doggy tongue bath, all because I forgot to buy rubber gloves at the corner store last night. I just needed to get some fresh air.”

“So you came to bother me at work?” Chris quipped, refolding the kids’ shirts that had been pawed through earlier. “But seriously, wow. That sucks.”

Sucks?” Viktor repeated incredulously, and Chris hid a snigger in his hand. “Chris. Chris. I can never get my hands wet ever again.”

“Well, until we figure out how this whole thing works,” Chris reminded him.

“But what if this is how it works? Chris. Chris. Chriiiiiiisssssss. I can’t wash my own dishes anymore!!”

Chris snorted, and Viktor glared at him.

“No, you’re right, it’s not funny,” Chris admitted. “But at least we don’t get insane weather here?”

“How am I supposed to clean?!” Viktor demanded, tugging at his shirt collar.

Chris went back to folding the shirts. “Just let your parents finally hire a housekeeper for you like they keep bugging you to do?”

“I’m an independent adult!”

“Do you know how badly others would want to be in your shoes?”

Viktor groaned and leaned against the jewelry counter. “I had a handle on things, and I mean, it’s cool and all? But this whole--” he dropped his voice to a murmur, “--this whole growing a tail when wet thing is super inconvenient and I want to be able to opt out of it.”

Chris pondered it for a second. “I bet there’s something out there that could stop it. Maybe I can look into compounds that form a film on your skin?”

“That… sounds… uncomfortable?”

“Well, yes, but you could do things away from home without having to worry about being splashed.”

Viktor frowned, but then shrugged. “I guess it’s an option.”

Chris winked. “That’s the spirit. So, any plans for the week?”

“Uh, Yakov wanted to talk to me so I’ll be stopping by the conservatory tomorrow.” Viktor made a face. “I guess there are some new kids he wants me to work with? I’m just… preemptively worn out.”

Chris frowned. “Viktor, if piano is starting to get too tiring for you--”

“It’s not, I’m just not very inspired lately.” Viktor shrugged. “I’ll get over it.”

Chris was about to press when the door jingled, and two familiar figures stepped into the shop.

Viktor perked up, probably at the conversational escape route that had presented itself. “Gosha!”

Georgi Popovich, who worked with Viktor at the Ariel, looked up and waved before he went back to the quiet discussion he’d been having with Faddei, his older brother (who frankly looked nothing like him, if Chris was being honest with himself: where Georgi was tall, thin, and fairly athletic, Faddei only came up to Chris’s chin and was very, very round and easily winded.)

“What brings both of you in here today?” Chris asked as the Popovich brothers drifted closer.

“I don’t think Deya has ever set foot in this store before in his life,” Viktor added.

“Yes, well,” Georgi sighed. “Deya is here to replace my longboard that he destroyed the other day while trying to show off on the beach for tourists.”

Faddei looked fairly unperturbed at Georgi’s ire. “Sometimes, little brother, you gotta do what you gotta do.”

Georgi looked like he was trying to set his brother on fire with his mind.

“So what’s your cheapest board?” Faddei added, waggling his eyebrows.

Chris glanced at Georgi, who gave him a look, and then looked back at the grinning man. “Well, I know what Georgi uses, and you’re not getting off easy with this one, dude.” He thumbed at a similar board on the wall. “You’re gonna have to shell out for around $650 to replace Georgi’s last board.”

Faddei blanched.

Viktor and Georgi both snorted at the older man’s expression. Chris tried to keep his expression as neutral as possible.

“Are you sure you can’t… settle for a different one?” Faddei pleaded, turning to Georgi.

Georgi crossed his arms and narrowed his eyes. “No.”

Faddei shifted on his heels, like a little kid that needed to pee really badly. “D-do you think you can swing a deal?” he asked, widening his eyes at Chris.

Chris once saw Faddei try to sweet talk his way out of paying for an expensive seafood dinner and leave his then-girlfriend with the bill, forcing her to stay at the restaurant all night working off the balance. “Not a chance.”

Faddei’s face fell. “Six-fifty?”

Chris nodded. “Six-fifty plus tax. We take credit.”

Faddei slumped and dramatically hung his head, and Georgi looked fairly pleased as Chris led his brother to the till so that Josef could ring up the purchase.

While Chris fetched the ladder to pull the board off the wall, Viktor and Georgi ended up nearby.

“So. Showing off to his admirers?” Viktor said, and Georgi sighed. Heavily.

“One of these days, I’m going to kill him.”

“Ah, brotherly love,” Chris offered as he unlocked the rack so he could remove the board. “So glad I’m an only child.”

“So helpful,” Georgi groused. He rubbed his forehead, carefully avoiding his carefully gelled hair. “I don’t get it all. He just shows up at places and carries on, and the women are all charmed.”

Chris reflected that Faddei had nearly gotten married three times, and he was only 27. “Mmhm.”

“He has all the luck,” Georgi continued mournfully.

Ah, that’s right. Georgi's most recent girlfriend Sylvia had dumped him the previous week. “Maybe you should take a break from the dating game,” Chris suggested.

Viktor groaned. “At least you’re playing the game, Gosha. I wonder if there’s something wrong with me.”

“You’re just picky,” Chris offered, handing the board down before carefully descending the ladder. “Get over your high standards and get out there.”

Georgi and Viktor both glared at him with similarly prissy expressions. “He doesn’t understand it, he’s been with the same guy for almost four years now,” Viktor muttered.

“Some people just have all the luck,” Georgi repeated, dark brows drawn together in a severe line.

“You know what?” Viktor turned to Georgi dramatically. “How about if we’re both still single by the time we’re thirty, let’s just make a marriage pact so we don’t die alone.”

Georgi looked his former classmate up and down, grimacing. “No offense, Vitya, but you’re not exactly my type.”

Viktor laughed. “Yeah, you know what, I could say the same.”

Georgi snorted and hefted his new longboard before calling to his brother in rapid Russian. Faddei flipped him off before waving the receipt at him, and then Georgi turned back to the others. “That’s it for me. I’ll see you out there, Chris.”

“Count on it,” Chris said, saluting, and the Popovich brothers departed with another tinkle of the doorbell.

“I wonder how he broke the last board,” Josef said mildly.

“I don’t,” Viktor replied, idly messing with his phone.

He stuck around while Chris continued to tidy up the shop, ducking into the backroom to grab a replacement for the board he’d sold Faddei, and finishing up the t-shirt display. Chris’s half-day shift was nearly almost over when Yuri, Mila, and Yuri’s older friend Otabek burst into the shop.

Chris blinked as they surveyed the store and then made a beeline for Viktor and him, over by the till. Josef was in the back doing inventory, and Chris was waiting for the two other employees to show up and clock in. Once he was done at the surf shop, he had about forty-five minutes for a lunch break before he was scheduled to teach bodyboarding classes. He and Viktor had been discussing going down the boardwalk to find somewhere to eat before splitting up. The city library would be opening up around noon and Viktor wanted to get some more time in there before it closed again at five, because he apparently planned to spend the following day at either the Ariel or the college anyway.

“Yura,” Viktor said in surprise as the teens drew near. “You guys, what’s--”

“We need to show you something,” Mila said urgently, raising her eyebrows.

“It’s eclipse-related,” Yuri added. He frowned. “We should come up with a codename. Like rutabaga or something.”

“Eclipse-related gets the point across fine,” Otabek said, and Chris and Viktor exchanged alarmed looks.

“Yeah, he saw me get splashed,” Yuri added before either of them could ask. “He’s sworn to secrecy.”

Chris didn’t know Otabek very well, but Viktor’s expression cleared and he nodded in satisfaction. “Well, okay then.”

While Viktor had a tendency towards being a drama queen, his judgment of people usually was fairly solid. If Otabek knowing about their tail situation didn’t set off alarm bells for him, Chris could afford to relax. Still, with how little they actually knew about all of the merman stuff, Chris’s first instinct was to play everything close to the vest. He knew for a fact that while the marine park to the south was primarily a conservation facility, there were a couple military bases to the north that probably would give them trouble if the news about magical merkids got out into the open.

“Well, Indiana and Luke should be in any minute to take over, and I can clock out.” Chris looked up just as the two aforementioned high school students walked through the door, chatting and waving to him. “Perfect timing, hold that thought.” He ducked away to let Josef know he was finishing up, and then pass the to-do list off to Indiana, before punching out via the cash register. He grabbed his bag and did a quick sweep of the store, noting that Viktor and the others had exited.

“Have a nice Sunday,” Indiana said, waving, and Luke echoed her. Chris nodded goodbye and took his leave.

He found the others a few paces down the boardwalk, hanging by the railing.

“Incredible,” Viktor was saying, and then he caught sight of Chris and beckoned him over. “Mila and Yura have additional powers, apparently!”

“Powers?” Chris made a face. “Can the whole… tail thing really be called a power as opposed to a condition?”

“Point,” Viktor conceded. His eyes still sparkled as he turned to the younger kids. “So… you guys think--”

“Only one way to find out!” Mila said excitedly.

“Should we go somewhere more private?” Otabek nodded at the passerby.

“Probably a good call,” Chris agreed, and they all started trooping along the boardwalk.

“Cafe?” Mila suggested, nodding at the familiar fish statues in the distance.

“We were literally just there yesterday,” Yuri groused.

“Oh, I’m sorry, where would you rather go?” Mila asked, raising her eyebrows.

Yuri opened his mouth to snap at her, but Otabek cut in smoothly. “I could go for Chihoko’s, honestly.”

Chris and Viktor exchanged amused looks as Yuri shut his mouth and his nostrils flared. “I mean, I guess it’s fine.”

Chris spared a moment to thank whatever benevolent service industry gods were out there for the fact that Sachihoko Cafe tended to cater to cash-strapped and half-crazed college students because if it were any other eatery on the boardwalk, he would probably be uncomfortably close to spending more than he’d budgeted for the week. The five of them grabbed a table outside on the patio and Yuri drummed his fingers impatiently.

“So, what’s the deal?” Viktor asked, eyeing the younger kids. “I’m kind of intrigued.”

“You probably got something,” Mila reminded him. “We just need to figure out what.”

Viktor tapped a finger to his lips. “So go over this for me again, you…?”

“I can control water, sort of like waterbending from Avatar. Yura can boil it.”

“Hm.” Viktor glanced at Chris. “I kind of want to see this.”

“I guarantee that’s a bad idea,” Yuri said. “Baba splashed me while she was figuring her power out.”

“Yeah, that would be a problem,” Chris immediately agreed, envisioning three flopping merpeople right there in the middle of the crowd of tourists.

“I think I have an idea of how to handle it,” Mila argued, and she was all smiles when the cute Asian waiter from yesterday approached with a tray full of water glasses. “Hi, Yuuri! Nice seeing you again!”

To Chris’s surprise, Yuuri flashed Mila a quick smile - then again, everybody loved Mila once they spent an hour in her presence - and carefully set down the glasses. “Hi again. Great to have you all back here. Do you need a moment to pick through the menu?”

“That would be nice, thanks!” Viktor said cheerfully, and then he trailed off and stared at something near Yuuri’s ankle. “Oh my god.”

Yuuri froze like a deer in headlights and Chris blinked, leaning back in his seat so he could follow Viktor’s eyeline. Oh.

There, sitting patiently by Yuuri’s feet, was an adorable toy poodle wearing something that Chris quickly identified as a red service dog vest. The poodle’s eyes were trained on Yuuri, and it was completely ignoring everything else nearby.

“Oh my god. Oh my god.” Viktor babbled, pressing his hands to his cheeks. “Oh my god, so cute!

Yuuri flushed bright red and pushed his glasses up his nose. “Ah. Thanks. Please don’t distract him, he’s working when he has the vest on.”

“Of course!” Viktor immediately agreed. “What a good boy! What’s his name?”

“V-Vicchan,” Yuuri stammered, looking away.

Viktor beamed. “He’s so adorable! I’m sorry, I really love poodles--”

“Yes, right,” Yuuri interrupted, shifting nervously from one foot to the other. “I do too. Thanks.”

Viktor snapped out of his “oh my god I love dogs” mode and seemed to pick up on how uncomfortable he was making the waiter. “Clearly you have the best taste!” he said, leaning his elbows on the table. Chris figured it was one of the ones with a messed up leg, because it wobbled, making Yuri and Mila exclaim in protest. “What would you recommend?”

Yuuri swallowed, and the little poodle nudged at his ankle. “Ah. Pick your favorite three fruits and get a smoothie,” he said, his voice strained. “That’s what I usually do.”

Viktor beamed. “Sounds great! Hmm, what are my top three fruits,” he muttered, diving deep into thought.

Chris snorted at the Serious Thinker face he was pulling, and caught Yuuri’s attention. “While he’s mulling that over, can I get sparkling water?”

“Sure,” Yuuri answered, scribbling it down on his pad.

“Can I just get a Coke?” Yuri asked, and to his right, Mila made an annoyed noise.

“Pepsi okay?” Yuuri asked.

Yuri slapped Mila’s hand down from whatever gesture she was going to make and sneered at her. “I literally don’t care, dude.”

“Great.” Yuuri glanced at Otabek. “For you?”

“I’m good with water,” the teen answered.

“Okay.” Yuuri looked at Mila. “Do you want your usual smoothie with no whey?”

“You are nicer than Phichit and I love you,” Mila said in a single breath. “Also ditch the Pepsi.”

“I have no control over that,” Yuuri said immediately. He looked at Viktor. “Do you know…?”

“Ah!” Viktor snapped his fingers. “Mango! And strawberry and banana! Does that work?”

“Sure.” Yuuri scribbled the order down and bobbed his head. “I’ll be right back with your drinks.” He scurried away, his poodle close on his heels.

Viktor squeaked. “That dog is the cutest dog that isn’t my own dog. I love him.”

“He’s a service dog,” Yuri reminded him, eyebrows drawn together. “Don’t fuck with him, he’s working.”

“Oh, I won’t!” Viktor immediately said, making a face. “That’d be a dick move.”

Chris sighed and snagged a menu. “You guys want to just get a giant plate of nachos?”

“I don’t really care,” Viktor shrugged, turning back to the table. “I want to see what you guys can do.”

Mila waggled her eyebrows and gently nudged her glass forward. She waved a hand at it, and Chris leaned forward as a round glob of water began to rise from the glass almost like a mushroom cloud. She spread her fingers, and the head of it flared out, flattening like a plate. Chris glanced at Mila’s face, and she had an expression of intense concentration, complete with lip-biting. She carefully lowered her hand, relaxing her fingers, and the little pillar of water collapsed back into the glass. “Last time I did that, I splashed us both,” she said, tilting her head at Yuri. “I think I’ve got an idea of how to handle it.”

“That’s.. insane,” Chris said, mind whirring. “You just thought of a shape and it obeyed?”

“Pretty much, yeah. I can’t just look at it and move it, at least not yet.” Mila sighed and slumped forward. “It’s like a pulling in my mind.”

“Wow,” Viktor breathed, glancing at Yuri. “And you?”

Yuri brandished a hand and closed it into a fist. The water in Mila’s glass began to bubble and froth, boiling almost immediately. Chris’s mouth dropped open as steam rose from the glass’s rim and half of its contents evaporated away. “That defies all laws of thermodynamics if I’m not mistaken.”

“It’s magic, surfer boy,” Yuri said. “It doesn’t have to make scientific sense.”

“I’m pretty sure our tail situation defies other laws of physics,” Viktor agreed. He rubbed his chin. “So you just kind of gesture at it, and it boils?”

“Make a fist,” Yuri confirmed.

Mila waggled her fingers, and the glass actually shook.

Chris rubbed the bridge of his nose. Insane.

Viktor glanced around to make sure no one was obviously watching, and then did a Spider-man web-shooting motion at the glass. Chris snorted when nothing happened.

“Worth a shot,” Viktor laughed and then mimicked Mila’s gesture.

They all leaned forward to examine the glass. “Anything?” Chris asked.

“Not that I can tell,” Otabek said, and the others murmured their agreement.

“Try boiling it,” Yuri ordered, and Viktor brandished a fist at the glass.

Again, nothing.

“So you don’t have my power or Yura’s power,” Mila mused, drumming her fingers on the table. “You might have a different one.”

“Or you might not have any powers at all,” Yuri sniggered.

Viktor pouted.

“I doubt that,” Chris said, stroking his goatee. “I mean, honestly, there’s got to be some logic to this magic stuff. Think about it: Yuri has the power of boiling, which could be considered one direction, and Mila can manipulate it in its medium state, which could be neutral. So the opposite of boiling is freezing, which would be the logical ability left.”

“Again, magic,” Yuri argued. “For all we know, magic doesn’t have rules.”

“It has to,” Chris answered. “Otherwise, you guys wouldn’t be able to really do much with it on purpose.”

“Chaos is a thing,” Otabek spoke up. “I’m sure magic could possibly follow that too.”

“We literally found out about magic’s existence two days ago,” Viktor sighed. “But I kind of agree with Chris, especially since our tails go away when we dry off. That’s a pattern of logic.”

Yuri and Mila both looked surprised, and then Mila nodded. “Yeah, okay, that makes a lot of sense.”

Viktor eyed the glass again, and then opened his hand and thrust it, palm-out, at the water. His fingers straightened snapped together, and his brow furrowed as he concentrated.

Chris almost jumped in surprise when the glass suddenly flash-froze, complete with frost and fuzzy ice crystals around the rim. “Holy shit,” he gasped, snatching the glass up and hefting it in his hand. The water within was literally frozen solid. “Well, that answers the question about rules.”

“You were right, though,” Viktor said excitedly. “I can freeze stuff. Wow. That’s… kind of cool!”

“Why didn’t we all three get the same powers?” Mila wondered. “I imagine it would be more helpful that way since Yura here can at least boil off any water he gets on himself.”

“That’s true,” Viktor agreed as Chris put the glass back down on the table. “Maybe someone figured it out and I’ll be lucky enough to find a book in the library about their discovery.”

“That would be awfully convenient,” Otabek said blandly, and Chris had to laugh at that.

“That was a huge hypothetical, of course,” Viktor grinned. “Still. Wow. I have magic powers, how cool is that?”

“It’s pretty cool, yeah,” Chris nodded, putting the glass back down in the middle of the table. “Yuri, can you bring that down to liquid?”

Yuri pulled a face but made a fist again and concentrated on the ice. Chris watched in bemusement as it changed back into liquid like it was sped-up footage of ice melting. Yuri cut it off, pulling his hand away, and Chris probed the water with his finger. It was only just about room temperature if a bit warmer than it had been before Mila had demonstrated her abilities.

“Nice,” he said, looking up at the teens in front of him. “So obviously, practicing should help with finer control, just to be safe.”

“Practice making a fist and making water boil,” Yuri snorted. “Okay, professor.”

“You might be able to control how hot you make something, or how quickly it heats up,” Chris said. “It’s worth trying out, I think.”

“This could be really fun!” Mila exclaimed brightly. Her phone buzzed and she pulled it out to check it. “Ah, Sara’s on her way. Let’s get all eclipse-related stuff figured out?”

“How much is there to figure out that we actually can right now?” Chris asked, and then Yuuri showed back up with his drink tray loaded down with their orders and his admittedly adorable service poodle.

“Sparkling water,” he said, nodding to Chris. “Cola. Blueberry-blackberry-raspberry smoothie, absolutely no whey. Mango-strawberry-banana smoothie, also no whey. All good?”

Everyone murmured in the positive, and Yuuri slipped his drink tray under his arm. “Are you all ready to order?”

“Can we get the nacho party platter?” Chris asked, looking around at his tablemates and checking for dissent. No one spoke up, so Yuuri wrote down their order and headed back inside to deliver it to the kitchen, calling to his little dog as he went.

“What a good dog,” Viktor said, with feeling, making Chris need to smother his laughter with the back of his hand. “What? It’s true!”

“You’re so obsessed,” Yuri deadpanned, taking a sip of his drink. “Literally.”

“Anybody who has a poodle of any sort is immediately the other classiest person in the room,” Viktor stated, playing with the little umbrella that came with his drink. “This is scientific fact.”

“Well, we live in a world where an eclipse gave us magic powers,” Mila said, nudging Yuri. “Science just threw its hands up and went back to bed.”

Yuri choked on his drink and had to duck to the side, his laughter broken up with weak coughs.

Viktor made a face, but Chris was laughing too. “Viktor, you are fixating. Plus, you’re biased. Just let it go.”

“He’s literally Elsa,” Mila squeaked, clapping her hands. “He’s got the ice powers, that makes him Elsa!”

“Oh my god,” Yuri sputtered, devolving into giggles. Even Otabek was laughing.

“Does this mean I get a sparkly blue dress and a bitchin’ ice castle? Because hell yes, I want a castle.” Viktor grinned and made a dramatic hand flourish. “The cold never bothered me anyway,” he sang, and of course he sounded good while mockingly singing a Disney song.

That set the teenagers into even louder laughter, and Chris waggled his eyebrows at Viktor. “If you freeze the Bay and flounce off to your ice castle, I’m showing up with a reindeer and kicking your ass.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Viktor answered, smirking.

The conversation shifted to the upcoming school year and Yuri’s annoyance that he was the only one in their party to be starting up classes the next day. Sara Crispino joined them right before Yuuri brought out their nacho platter, and she ordered a sparkling water from him as well.

“Okay, so help me convince Crispy here that a chandelier in my bedroom would be the best thing ever,” Mila said, and Viktor smacked the table with his palm, causing it to jolt and everyone to yell at him.

“Sara, I love you as best as I know how, but how do you not know how classy chandeliers are?”

Sara rolled her eyes at Mila. “Yes, chandeliers are great. Not exactly for swinging from, and they’re not my first choice for bedroom lighting. Besides, don’t you have a ceiling fan?”

Mila lifted her chin as if she’d stumbled upon the winning argument. “I do not, no.”

“Well,” Sara said slowly, shrugging. “I think a ceiling fan would be a better investment. Air circulation helps lower energy costs, and helps cycle out stale air, resulting in a healthier occupant.”

“You sound like an infomercial,” Yuri snorted. “I think Baba here could use all the help she can get when it comes to classiness.”

“Yura, one of these days I’m going to shave you bald,” Mila said sweetly.

“You wouldn’t dare.”

Try me.”

“Children, children, please,” Viktor said. “There will be no shaving done on anyone unless they want it.”

Mila sniggered and burst into laughter when Viktor narrowed his eyes at her. “What?” she demanded. “Just because you’re insecure about your receding hairline doesn’t mean everyone else is!”

“His hairline is not receding,” Sara disagreed.

Viktor made a fake sobbing noise of gratitude.

“I dunno,” Chris said, poking at Viktor’s forehead. “I could swear there wasn’t this much real estate a week ago.”

“I have a wide forehead, I refuse to go bald.”

“Whatever you say, Binktop.”

“You’re all the worst,” Viktor groaned, pressing his fingers to his scalp.

“It’s okay, Binktop,” Mila said kindly. “We’ll still love you when you’re bald.”

“I hate you all. Except for Sara.”

Sara beamed, and that was when Yuuri reappeared with her drink order. He seemed a lot less nervous now and even chatted with Sara about the Orchesis group they both were in while the rest of the others kept picking at the nachos and talking about school stuff and other plans later in the week. Chris was eyeing his watch, trying to figure out how much time he had before he had to head out to the beach, when another customer walking past the table squealed and dropped to her knees next to Yuuri’s service dog.

“Oh my god, what a cute little baby!” She started petting the poodle’s head, trying to redirect his attention to her.

“Uh,” Yuuri said, going stiff again. “Miss, I’m sorry, but he’s a working service dog. Can you please leave him alone?”

“Oh, lighten up, jerk!” the girl giggled. “I’m just saying hi.”

“No, you really should stop,” Viktor said, tapping her shoulder. “He’s wearing a vest, that means he’s working.”

“Hey, butt out,” the girl snapped at him, slapping his hand away. “This isn’t any of your business.”

To Chris’s surprise, Yuri shot to his feet, complete with his chair skidding back on the floor. “Listen, asshole,” he growled, getting in the girl’s face. “They asked nicely, so now I’m telling you to back the fuck off.”

You fuck off!” the girl shoved him back. “I’m just saying hi!”

“No, you are distracting a working service dog from his work, you idiot.” Yuri refused to back down. “Do you not know how to read English? Do you not understand manners? Go away!”

“What the fuck!” the girl yelled, and she turned to Yuuri. “What the fuck, dude? What’s your deal?”

Yuuri’s eyes were wide again, and Chris caught sight of the tiniest tremor in his rigid shoulders. “Ah--”

“Call your posse off, dude! I’m just saying hi!”

“Um--” Yuuri stammered, and Chris couldn’t take it anymore. He got up and caught the girl’s attention, giving her his flirtiest grin.

“Looks like there’s been a misunderstanding. Do you want me to get the owner of this establishment to clear things up?”

“Fuck you all,” the girl spat. “I’m leaving.” She stomped away, and Chris breathed a sigh of relief.

“Hey,” Viktor was saying. “Are you okay?”

Chris looked back at Yuuri, who looked close to tears. Vicchan was barking and pawing at his ankles, clearly alerted to his owner’s distress.

Shit. “Yuuri, take a seat,” he said, scooting his chair out and maneuvering their waiter into it. “Do you want to hold your dog?”

“P-please,” Yuuri said, sucking in a breath.

Viktor caught the poodle and set him in Yuuri’s lap, and Sara grabbed one of the extra glasses of water from the center of the table and pushed it over next to him. “Here, take a drink,” Viktor said. “You’re fine, we won’t let anything happen. Do you want me to go grab someone?”

“M-Minako,” Yuuri sobbed, burying his face in Vicchan’s fur.

Viktor looked up at the others. “Who’s Minako?”

“The cafe owner,” Mila answered, and Viktor nodded before heading inside.

“That girl was a fucking asshole,” Yuri said, still indignant. “Who does that?”

“Yura, that’s not helpful,” Otabek admonished.

“H-he’s right, though,” Yuuri mumbled, still shaking. “But people do i-it a lot.”

“Jeez,” Mila said, and that seemed to be the shared sentiment. “That’s awful.”

Viktor returned with an older Asian woman in tow, and she immediately dropped to her knees next to Yuuri and started talking to him in Japanese. He shook his head at whatever she was saying, and she put her arm around his shoulders and chivvied him to his feet. “Thanks for getting me,” she said to Viktor. “Your bill’s on me.” She escorted Yuuri back inside, and everyone just sat in silence for a moment.

“That was enough fun for the day,” Sara finally said, but she sounded worried. “I hope Yuuri’s okay.”

“Yeah, I hope so too,” Mila agreed softly.

They finished up their drinks and lunch, and despite the woman’s statement on their bill, they all pulled out cash and left it with the other waiter who had taken over the patio before taking their leave.

The group split up, the younger kids heading downtown to goof around in the shopping district, and Viktor and Chris towards the beach. Viktor kept glancing back at the cafe, clearly still worried. “I feel like I didn’t do enough.”

“You did fine,” Chris said. “I’m surprised at little Yuri, though. I’ve never seen him jump to anyone’s defense like that.”

“Yeah, well, he’s really a good kid underneath all that bluster. I’ve known him for years.” Viktor smiled slightly. “Plus, I’m pretty sure his other grandfather had a seeing-eye dog at one point. I’m sure he knows more about this stuff than the rest of us do.”

That made sense. “Well, Yuuri’s in Minako’s care now. Right?”

“Yeah, that was who answered when I called for Minako. I think he’ll be safe with her, at least.” Viktor sighed. “That just sucked, man. God.”

“Yeah, but the world’s full of assholes. Nothing we can do about it.” Chris looked out over the bay, filled with pleasure crafts and a spattering of surfers. “Well, except for imitating the Tiger Child.”

Viktor snorted. “Very true.” He fiddled with his phone and then rolled his shoulders. “Well, the library should be open now and I know you’ve got a class to teach. I’ll catch you later, yeah?”

“Let me know if you find anything interesting,” Chris said. “This additional powers thing is a bit of a doozy.”

“Yeah, for sure.” Viktor winked, and then headed off in the direction of the municipal sector of the downtown area.

Chris turned to the beach again, and then shook off the midday’s events so he could get himself in the mood to deal with enthusiastic tourists and nervous parents.

“Well,” he muttered to himself. “There aren’t a lot of more interesting ways to end the summer.”

But, if he were being honest with himself, he’d probably be proven wrong soon enough.

Chapter Text

Yuri would have thought that accidentally getting magic powers over the weekend would make starting his sophomore year of high school a little more interesting. And he’d be right.

Didn’t mean it was good.

And that was added to waking up at six in the morning so he could roll out of bed before his mom broke down his door to make sure he was up.

Yuri had been careful on Sunday night, locking himself in the bathroom so he could take a bath without being interrupted. He’d been able to wash his hair and face, and scrub down as much of himself as he could before draining the tub and using his newfound powers to dry off.

He should have felt bad, since Mila and Viktor didn’t have the same luck when it came to the magic lottery, but he didn’t. He was clean.

For now.

And now he had to be hyper-aware of every single drop of water that he might come near. To make matters worse, he lived in California.

Hopefully no one threw a water balloon at him or anything. Water balloon wars had been banned years ago, but that didn’t stop some genius asshats from trying to start one in the middle of passing period.

Yuri fought down a yawn and fired off a text to Beka, just to be a little shit and make him wake up early too. Although, Beka probably had his phone on sleep mode. He was smart like that.

Anyway, Dedushka was driving Yuri to school, since it was on his way to work. Dedushka was already up and about, pouring coffee into his thermos and adding his sugar. Mom was leaving for work, and Dad had already left, so Yuri was left to make his own breakfast and scarf it down before tossing his stuff in the back of Dedushka’s Oldsmobile; he had also put out his backpack and violin case out the night before so he didn’t have to rush to pack. He knew what he was doing.

“Be grateful that we live in America,” Dedushka had once told him, his mother tongue rough and harsh compared to the English that Yuri tended to speak every day. “When I lived in Moscow, I had the absolute worst old car. Even more so than this one. Americans call those cars ‘lemons’.”

Yuri had seen pictures. Yeah, Soviet Russia had to have sucked. His uncles never shut up about it, even if they’d only been in their teens when the Soviet Union was broken up. Dedushka didn’t talk about it much, other than the car stuff.

So when Dedushka started talking in Russian as Yuri was slouched in the passenger seat as they pulled out of the neighborhood, he was a bit surprised.

“This time of year is very pretty in Saint Petersburg,” he said, and Yuri looked up from his phone in confusion. “I remember when I was your age, even if there wasn’t time to dally at the seaside, we still tried to.”

Yuri swallowed. “I don’t see why it’s such a big deal,” he finally muttered, tugging his jacket hood down over his eyes.

“It is not,” Dedushka answered. “But you are a young man in your prime, and while I wouldn’t dream of contradicting your mother’s wishes, I do firmly believe you should enjoy the freedom afforded to you as an American in the modern day.” He smiled wryly.

Oh.

“Thanks,” Yuri said. If Dedushka wanted to… make up for his own youth spent under a communist regime by encouraging Yuri to have fun, Yuri wouldn’t fight him. And Yuri did have fun, just not the kind of fun that everyone else seemed to be having.

When they were stopped at a red light, Dedushka looked at him. His face was very serious. “Yura, is there anything you want to tell me? You’ve been distant and distracted these past few days.”

Yuri met his grandfather’s gaze and he wondered if it was true that some people could read minds using nothing but what was in another person’s eyes.

“Nope,” he said, and hoped that even if Dedushka didn’t believe him, he understood that Yuri was not going to talk about it.

Dedushka breathed out a sigh and nodded, the light turned green, and kept driving. The conversation stalled after that.

Yuri wasn’t sure what to think, but he was relieved when they arrived at the hellhole of a high school and Dedushka dropped him off at the curb.

“Hey Yoooooooooriiiiiiiiiii,” Matt called, walking past with his crowd of jock loser friends. “You need help with that thing? It’s bigger than you are.”

“I could beat your head in with this case, you dick!” Yuri yelled, hefting his violin case. “Try me!”

“Angry little kitten, eh?” Matt’s buddy Jamie cooed, making meowing noises.

Yuri growled, but was stopped from shoving the hard case up Jamie’s ass when Guang-hong grabbed him and hauled him away.

“First day back and you’re trying to get suspended?” the viola first chair demanded in exasperation. “Jeez, Yuri!”

“I swear to god I’m going to--”

“Ignore him,” Kenjirou finished for him, popping up on his other side and tugging the case from Yuri’s grasp. “Everyone else does.”

“They’re all clowns,” Guang-hong agreed. “Too many jet skis to the head, am I right?”

Kenjirou stared at him. “That sounds fatal.”

“Good,” Yuri muttered, reclaiming his violin from Kenjirou. “Stupid assholes, I can’t wait until they graduate and leave.”

“Yuri, they’re in our graduating class,” Guang-hong pointed out. And yeah, that was true; by the end of the current school year, Yuri would be left behind yet again by people he knew and tolerated. Both Kenjirou and Guang-hong were seniors this year, and Yuri was only a junior.

Yuri made a face and hunched his shoulders. “Don’t remind me.”

“It’s not like we’re leaving town, though,” Kenjirou added. He grinned and nudged Yuri’s arm. “And you’ll be at Anderson too, right?”

Yuri shrugged.

“C’mon, homeroom first. I want to see if I got P.E. before or after lunch.” Guang-hong picked up speed, and the other two matched him as they made their way to the front entrance.

“I hope they got someone else to do announcements,” Kenjirou said. “Mrs. Geddes talks too much.”

“I don’t care who’s doing them as long as they don’t play Taylor Swift over the loudspeakers anymore,” Yuri answered.

Guang-hong made a face. “What is your deal with Taylor?”

“She makes me want to destroy everything around me,” Yuri deadpanned. “Everything.

“She’s a little overplayed,” Kenjirou agreed.

“I’m not talking to either of you ever again.” Guang-hong turned his nose up at them.

Yuri rolled his eyes and turned to Kenjirou. “See? This is what all her fans do. Annoying.”

Kenjirou looked flustered. “I mean, I like some of her older songs?”

Guang-hong made a scoffing noise.

“There’s no pleasing them,” Yuri said sotto voce, and Kenjirou actually snickered.

They goofed around a little more before the warning bell rang, and then they split up to go to their homerooms. Yuri was upstairs, in the English wing.

The problem with homeroom was that it was all with people in his grade, and Yuri didn’t really hang out with other juniors. Especially not the ones in his homeroom.

“Hey Yori.”

Yuri rolled his eyes and dumped his book bag and violin case next to the desk closest to the door before slouching into the seat.

“Yori.”

Yuri checked his phone to make sure he had no messages before putting his phone into silent mode and sticking it in his bag.

“He’s so rude, he won’t even look at us.”

Rude? You’re the ones who won’t say my name right. Yuri folded his arms on top of the desk and buried his face in his jacket sleeves.

“Well, if he’s going to ignore me, he’s not getting invited to my birthday party.” Annabelle said dismissively, her voice carrying over the din of the classroom.

“So rude,” her Yes Woman Tiffany agreed.

Yuri really didn’t care. He’d been in school with Annabelle since the sixth grade. Her birthday parties were all the same - her dad would rent out an entire place and then would invite the entire class to come and worship the birthday girl for a few hours before she went back to ignoring everyone for the rest of the year. Yuri wished he could pretend Annabelle didn’t exist, but she was the third chair violinist in the orchestra.

He was actually relieved when the bell to signal homeroom finally rang, and Mrs. Amor greeted them all. She’d been his homeroom teacher for his entire time in high school, and she was pretty chill for an English teacher. He’d never gotten her for that subject, but from what he understood she tended to let the students come up with their own interpretations of the books they had to read. She even assigned a Harry Potter book as summer reading for homeroom one year. Easiest “A” he’d ever gotten.

He got his assigned schedule, and noted with satisfaction that his two-hour orchestra allotment was exactly the same as it had been last year. Orchestra, band, and choir students were given a two-hour block at some point in the day so that they could either have the entire block devoted to a group rehearsal, or split it into two and allow for one-on-one practice in the music wing. Yuri wasn’t sure if other schools did this, but he had no problem with it; since he had lessons with Lilia at the Ariel, he tended to use that extra hour as either a free period to get his homework done or a chance to just hang out.

 

After a morning of a couple close calls with spraying drinking fountains and over-pressured faucets he finally escaped to the safety of the orchestra room, and as usual he was one of the first to arrive. Miss Atkinson looked up from the piano and smiled at him. “Hello, Yuri! Welcome back.”

“Nice to be back,” he answered honestly, sticking his bookbag into his assigned locker and setting his violin case down on the first chair. The auditions for the current school year had been at the end of the previous year, and Yuri had managed to earn first chair for the second year in a row.

“Did you have a good summer?”

Yuri nodded as he settled in his seat and unlatched his violin case so he could get his instrument out.

“I suppose I can assume Ms. Baranovskaya has kept you in shape?”

“Of course she has,” Yuri snorted, fiddling with his bow.

“I expected no less.” Miss Atkinson laughed and put the fallboard down over the keys of the upright. She disappeared into her office as the rest of the student body orchestra began to trickle in.

There were three orchestras in the school; the freshman one, the upperclassman one, and the audition one. Yuri, Guang-hong, and Kenjirou were all in the audition one, so of course they joined him for the same class block. Since the other guys also took private lessons at the Ariel, they all tended to have the second hour free if the group practice was cut short. Back before Mila and Beka had graduated, they all would go outside into the quad and goof around until the bell rang.

Yuri was not going to admit missing those days. Nope.

“So I hear Annabelle is going to invite the entire orchestra, not just ours, to her birthday party this year,” Kenjirou said, setting up shop next to Yuri with his own violin.

“Who cares?” Yuri grumbled.

“Eh,” Guang-hong leaned against the lockers to Yuri’s right, looking a bit pouty. “I’m kind of sick of parties, to be honest.”

“You’re weird,” Kenjirou snorted. “School’s started up again, summer’s over.”

“I’m the one with SAT’s this year,” Yuri pointed out sourly. “You two are seniors. This is your coast year.”

Kenjirou and Guang-hong both gave him incredulous looks. “Uh, you do know that our families expect us to keep up our academics, right?” Guang-hong asked, raising an eyebrow.

Yuri thought about it. “Oh. Yeah. Right. Sorry.”

“You’re lucky,” Kenjirou muttered. “I bet you’ll be allowed to coast senior year.”

“Have you met my mom?” Yuri shot back at him. “She’s been riding my ass about scholarships and grants since May.”

“Fistbump of solidarity,” Kenjirou said solumnly, offering a fist.

Yuri rolled his eyes but obliged him.

“Anyway, yes, I am totally sick of parties,” Guang-hong swerved them back to their original topic. He hefted his viola case. “Especially since everyone’s pulling crap that I don’t feel like getting arrested for.”

“Big mood,” Yuri agreed. “Parties are overrated.”

“Well, small parties are okay,” Kenjirou offered.

“Since when has Annabelle ever had a small party?” Yuri asked, making a face.

Kenjirou deflated. “Good point. I mean, I probably wouldn’t go anyway, but still.”

“There are events at the Ariel coming up that we have to attend, I’d rather save my social energy for those,” Guang-hong said as the bell rang. He waved and picked his way across the room to the viola section.

Annabelle slid into her seat on Kenjirou’s other side and quickly got her violin set up as Miss Atkinson stepped up to the director’s podium and called for everyone’s attention.

“So, as I’m sure you’ll all be happy to hear, we will be going through with the entire two-hour block today.” She smiled indulgently as some of the kids groaned. “You’ll get used to it. We have some new faces joining us, so allow me to welcome you to the Chamber Orchestra. We’re going to have a lot of fun this year, and I want to get started on that right away.” She picked up a stack of papers off the top of the upright. “So, let’s pass out the syllabus and then we can get right to warming up. Please go over the syllabus when you’ve got a moment, as it has contact information and the required essay assignment included along with our rules for conduct in class.”

Yuri had seen her syllabus before and assumed that nothing serious had changed, but he still stuck it on his music stand to take with him after class. Once the shuffling of papers had died down, everyone took up their instruments as Miss Atkinson led them through warm-ups and scales. She passed out sheet music for them to put into their required binders for the class, and then they were off learning their newest piece.

“Please be sure to practice this during your time at home,” she called over the din as they took a breather to hand out more sheet music. “These songs will be the ones we perform at the Showcase at the end of September.”

The first piece they worked on was a Mozart piece that Yuri had done before, years ago - it was definitely a different arrangement for a different skill level, but he knew how it should sound - and the second was a piece done by a contemporary composer, called Agape.

Ah-gah-peh,” Miss Atkinson intoned, looking around at them. “The form of unconditional love. The purest of emotions. Any person may feel agape for any other, regardless of their relationship. I think this piece will resonate well at the Showcase.”

“That’s kind of romantic,” Kenjirou said softly, and Yuri made a face at him. “What?”

“Romance is so boring,” Yuri muttered. “And it’s not the only kind of love out there.”

Kenjirou shrugged, and the guy behind them shushed them as Miss Atkinson gestured for them to pick up again.

Agape was kind of wistful sounding, too soft for Yuri’s tastes. But it was the piece that they had to learn, and Yuri supposed he’d figure out the feeling of it after he’d learned the incredibly intricate violin part and memorized the bulk of it.

“Geez,” Kenjirou muttered as they stopped halfway through the first movement. “This is intense.”

“I hate it,” Annabelle groused, and Yuri barely fought down the urge to scoff at her before they started over again.

Agape took up the rest of the block, and then Miss Atkinson announced (to loud cheers) that the next class would be an hour block with the remainder dedicated to one-on-one practice. She pointed out the sign-up sheet on her door for people to put their names down for the lessons, and then dismissed them.

Yuri left his violin in his locker for the rest of the day, heading to lunch with Guang-hong and Kenjirou. Thanks to scheduling being somewhat automated, most of the audition orchestra had similar lunch periods, so a good majority of the class all started walking in the direction of the cafeteria.

Once he stepped through the doors of the lunchroom, Yuri’s entire body went cold. Oh, shit.

On the other side of the room, Matt and his buddies were having what looked like a squirt gun fight. Yuri couldn’t even fathom how they’d managed to sneak gun-shaped objects into school in the first place, but the lunchroom monitor that was stomping over to them looked pretty annoyed. Even if they didn’t seem to care about it, they were going to be in deep shit.

Still. Yuri found himself ducking behind the others and edging towards the wall. Growing a fish tail in the middle of the cafeteria was not how he wanted to start off the year.

“You okay, Yuri?” Guang-hong asked, looking confused.

“I really don’t want to get squirted,” Yuri said, eying Jamie as he managed to get one last shot off at Matt before the monitor confiscated the toys.

“They just got the water guns taken away,” Kenjirou pointed out.

Yuri caught sight of one of the janitors grimly pushing a mop and bucket over to the mess. “Yep. Those meatheads were totally the only ones who brought water guns to school today.”

“Well, they’ll probably take it outside,” Kenjirou said reassuringly, and Yuri made a face at him. “Fine, don’t believe me. Let’s get lunch.”

To Yuri’s relief, no one else started an impromptu water war in the cafeteria. He grabbed a packaged meal from the sandwich bar, paid, and joined Guang-hong, Kenjirou, and a few other orchestra kids at a thankfully dry table.

“That fucking eclipse, though, man,” Chai was saying. “Did you guys see? Fucking wild.”

“I don’t see what the big deal was,” his girlfriend Gemma said, pushing her salad around in the cheap container it had come in. “There’s literally eclipses all the time, I thought?”

“Yeah, but we don’t get to see them very often,” another guy said. Yuri was pretty sure his name was Dom. “Usually they’re over a different part of the world.”

“What about eclipses of the moon?” Kenjirou piped up. “Those are more common.”

“That’s when the Earth overshadows the moon,” Dom said in a know-it-all voice.

Yuri snorted. “Literally everyone has learned that by now,” he said, popping his potato chip bag open. “The solar eclipse was a big deal, yeah yeah.”

“You were stuck on Islaluna for that, though,” Guang-hong said, sniggering. “The infamous Zodiac, huh?”

Yuri sneered at his friend. “Viktor has shit like that happen to him all the time.”

“Ohmigod,” Gemma said, eyes widening. “Wait. You know the Viktor Nikiforov?”

Yuri blinked and looked up at the others. Guang-hong and Kenjirou were somewhat used to the fact that Yuri had known Viktor for years - they were a bit nervous in his actual presence, but they’d heard Yuri griping about Viktor’s antics for so long that it didn’t phase them anymore. The others, not so much.

“Uh, yeah?” he said slowly. “He’s been accompanying me since I was in middle school.”

Wow,” Gemma said softly, covering her mouth with her hands. “Is it true he almost got a record deal?”

“I dunno,” Yuri shrugged. “He doesn’t talk about it to me.”

“It’s totally true,” Chai said. “But he turned it down due to creative differences.”

Yuri snorted again. “Uh, trust me. It wasn’t that.” Anybody who knew Viktor would probably willingly bend over backwards to accommodate his creative choices. There wasn’t a record executive in the entire world who would try to stifle him. Yakov certainly couldn’t contain him, and Yakov was one of the biggest hardasses Yuri knew. That was saying something. “Anyway, Viktor’s always getting roped into harebrained schemes, and he dragged me into it. I spent hours on that island and my phone got bricked. It fucking sucked.”

“Why were you guys out there on the island?” Brooke, one of the other girls, asked. She leaned forward in interest.

“Chris Giacometti suggested we go out to sea for the eclipse, and Viktor got it into his head that it would be a good exercise in creativity or something.” Yuri bit into his sandwich. He chewed and swallowed before continuing. “Only one problem: Chris’s boat is a piece of shit. It broke down and we had to paddle to the island. Then we were stuck there for the eclipse, and no one noticed us until after it was over. I had to build a signal fire.”

“That sounds like an adventure,” Brooke said excitedly.

You don’t know the half of it, Yuri thought bitterly.

He was spared from having to answer when Annabelle plopped down onto the bench next to him, grinning. “Happy birthday to me! And to celebrate, you’re all invited to my pool party at the country club!” She brandished a stack of invitations, and some of the others made vaguely interested noises as they plucked one for themselves.

Guang-hong passed, as did Kenjirou, and Annabelle turned to Yuri, sticking the pamphlets right in his face. “Yori, don’t tell me you’re skipping out on this!”

“Okay, I won’t tell you,” Yuri grumbled, pushing her hand away. “Pool parties aren’t my style.”

Annabelle pouted. “I guess if you wanted to bring a friend along, so you wouldn’t be lonely, you totally could.” She toyed with the corner of one invitation. “I mean, if Otabek doesn’t feel weird about hanging out with a bunch of high schoolers, I guess you could bring him.”

Yuri narrowed his eyes at Annabelle. “He’s busy. He works, you know.”

“Wow,” she said breathily, fluttering her eyelashes. “He’s so grown-up!”

“Yeah, so you’re probably right, he won’t want to hang out with a bunch of high schoolers,” Yuri sniped.

“Doesn’t he hang out with you?” Tiffany asked, snickering.

Yuri froze, but snapped out of it to shake off Guang-hong’s hand on his arm. “Fuck off!” he hissed at Tiffany, who frowed.

“Rude,” she said, and then turned on her heel and flounced off.

“Jeez,” Chai said. He frowned at Annabelle. “You know, I think I’m busy this Saturday. Sorry.”

“Yeah,” said Gemma. “I’m meant to start up my harpsichord lessons this weekend. I’ll have to dip, sorry.”

The other orchestra kids looked like they were feeling similarly, so Annabelle shot Yuri a forced smile and got up to follow Tiffany across the lunchroom. “I don’t get her,” Kenjirou said, mystified. “It’s like she thinks she’s in Mean Girls or something.”

“People with low self-esteem often feel the need to compensate with shiny things,” Dom rolled his eyes. “I dunno, I’ve never been all that interested in her parties. It all feels like a cry for attention.”

“That’s because it is,” Brooke said knowingly. “Plus, her dad’s running for Mayor next year. The homeowners’ association’s been talking about it all summer.”

“Wow, politics,” Gemma said, pushing her salad away. “Suddenly, I’ve lost my appetite.”

“Hey, I didn’t know you were taking harpsichord lessons,” Kenjirou quickly jumped in with a subject change. “That’s so cool!”

Yuri sat back and let the conversation wash over him. He was starting to slump into dark thoughts when Guang-hong nudged him again.

“Otabek hangs out with you because you’re his friend,” he said softly. “And fuck anyone who makes you feel badly about it.”

Yuri smiled tightly and went back to his sandwich.

 

He was heading to his next class after lunch when it finally happened.

“Think fast, prettyboy!” Jamie shouted, then spritzed Yuri with his uncapped water bottle.

OH SHIT.

Yuri shoved Jamie away and ran, his bag hanging off his shoulder. He heard Guang-hong and Gemma calling his name out behind him, but he couldn’t acknowledge them.

Ten seconds.

Nine.

Bathroom too public. He ducked down a hallway and yanked at the janitorial closet before throwing himself in and pulling the door shut behind him.

Five.

Four.

He heard people running past, including Kenjirou yelling for him, and quickly dropped his bag on the floor and dropped into a crouch before he could transform and fall over. He still landed on his ass with a thump and winced. “Fuck,” he growled, and raised his hand over the tail flopping uselessly on the floor. His fin smacked a bucket, sending it skidding on the linoleum, and Yuri made a fist and waited for the steam to start rising off of him.

Passing period was only about six minutes long. He and the others had left the lunchroom before the end of the lunch hour, so the bell chiming overhead was to signal the end of the class period. Fuck. His next class was on the other side of the building.

He concentrated harder, and felt the stinging on his skin and on his tail. Faster, he thought, gritting his teeth.

It took another minute before the tail disappeared again, and he scrambled to his feet, grabbed his bag off the floor and bursting out of the closet.

There were a few kids walking past who gave him odd looks as he straightened his clothes and threw the strap of his bag over his shoulder before slinking off. He checked his phone for the time and broke into a mad dash in order to make it to his next class.

When he collapsed at the only empty lab table left in the chemistry lab, he was wheezing. Stupid fucking Jamie. Yuri laid his head down on the cold slate tabletop and tried to get his breathing back under control.

The rest of the day passed uneventfully after the closet incident. Yuri caught a ride to the Ariel with Allie and Isabel, other girls from the music program, in Allie’s car. She was nice enough, even if she was a bit too chatty for his liking. He could barely get a word in here and there, but Yuri didn’t really care about what she was talking about.

As they pulled into the Arial’s parking lot, Allie winced. “Ugh, I’ll let you guys out here,” she said, turning into the drop-off lane. “Parking is gonna suck. Izzy, take my oboe?”

When Allie let them out, Isabel grabbed the other case from the backseat next to Yuri and hefted it under one arm. Yuri took it from her so she could pick up her French horn, and then they headed into the building.

“This is what happens when you pick a heavy brass instrument,” Yuri said as Isabel switched the horn to her other hand.

“I usually just leave it in the band room all day,” she whined. “This is exactly why!” Still, Isabel was the one with one hand free, so she had to let them into the building.

Soft piano music rang out through the hallway as they made their way to the practice rooms. Yuri stopped by an open door to the auditorium and poked his head in.

The waiter from Chihoko’s was seated at the grand piano, seemingly lost to the world as he played. It wasn’t a piece that Yuri recognized, but it was simple and yet flowed like water in a stream. On second look, he saw that the little poodle was sitting right next to the bench, still clad in his red service vest. One of the conductors from the college was pacing in the middle of the audience seats - the Italian guy who handled private studies with the music majors. Yuri couldn’t remember his name.

“That’s Ciao Ciao,” Isabel whispered. “He’s a conductor for the top level orchestra.”

Yuri nodded. “I know the pianist.”

“Oh, Yuuri? Yeah, he’s always around. He’s been my accompanist a couple times, he’s really sweet.”

“Does he always have that dog with him?”

Isabel giggled. “Vicchan? Yeah, always. Vicchan helps him stay calm. He even goes to class with Yuuri. Lucky.”

Yuri raised his eyebrows. “Well, if it works out for him.” He backed away from the auditorium door, and Isabel followed. “I gotta check in with Yakov,” he said. “You?”

“I’m meeting Mrs. O’Donnell in our regular practice room, but it’s not for a while.” Isabel held out her hand for Allie’s oboe case. “Have fun.”

“Oh, yeah,” Yuri drawled, taking off down the hallway.

The Ariel hosted several programs for performance art majors, the bulk of which was the music department. There was also various forms of theater, a TV/film production course, and of course visual arts programs like costuming and makeup. Then there were the fine arts programs, which weren’t exactly hosted at the Ariel but still saw a lot of bleed-over. The general art courses tended to interweave with each other, like a big symbiotic circle of life straight out of a Disney movie.

Yuri didn’t really care about the visual art majors, only that he didn’t trip over any in the hallway (there were always first-year drawing students hanging out in the hallways with their sketchpads, trying to practice perspective. It was annoying.) He rounded the corner to the atrium of the administrative offices for the Ariel and let himself in.

Viktor was already there, fighting with a copy machine. “Oh, hey Yura!” He grinned, too cheerful for a Monday of any kind. “How was your first day back?”

Yuri glanced at Yakov’s secretary, an older lady named Mrs. Stimler. “I got splashed at school,” he said in Russian, and Viktor’s face went paler than he’d ever thought possible. “Don’t worry, no one saw,” he added, dropping his things onto one of the empty chairs outside of Yakov’s office and shook out his arms. “I was careful.”

“That’s good,” Viktor said in English, forcing a smile onto his face. “Lilia’s already here in her office, she’ll probably be out in a minute.”

Yuri nodded and flopped into another chair. He eyed Mrs. Stimler, who seemed oblivious to the world. Then he squinted. “Uh, is she wearing a shower cap?”

Viktor shook his head at Yuri. “Don’t ask.”

“Don’t ask what?”

“Just don’t,” Viktor said as Mrs. Stimler got up and shuffled around her desk to poke at the fax machine. Yuri saw that she was wearing a t-shirt for the Ariel over what were probably pajama bottoms, and that she’d put her bra over the t-shirt. She was also wearing a fluffy bathrobe and matching slippers.

Yuri’s eyebrows went up. Viktor shook his head at him again.

“Ah, Yura,” Yakov said, coming out of his office. “How was your first day back at school?”

“Uneventful,” Yuri said, before nodding at Mrs. Stimler. “Yakov, what’s up with her? I don’t remember her being this weird last year.”

Behind Yakov, Viktor smacked himself on the forehead in exasperation.

Mrs. Stimler was now using scissors to cut up a magazine, and as Yuri watched she stopped what she was doing, put the scissors down, and picked up a permanent marker. She examined it, put it back down, and picked up the scissors again.

Yuri really doubted she should be allowed sharp objects.

Lilia had also come out of her own office by now and was eying the secretary as well. “Yakov,” she said flatly.

“Don’t mind her,” Yakov said dismissively. “She went to visit family in New York over the summer and had a little incident.”

“Incident?” Yuri repeated, confused.

“She. Ah.” Yakov winced. “She got zapped a little. With electricity.”

“How do you get a little zapped?” Yuri demanded, making a face. Over on the desk, the phone began to ring. Mrs. Stimler took a second too long to notice it.

“Well, it wasn’t so bad that she can no longer work, obviously,” Yakov sniffed.

Viktor tapped Yakov on the shoulder. “She’s trying to answer a shoe, Yakov.”

Yakov whirled around to see that yep, Mrs. Stimler was trying to speak into a shoe and looking pretty annoyed that no one was answering her. “Hello?” she said, frowning as the phone continued to ring shrilly on her other side. “Hello? Well, if you’re going to be rude like that, then I guess I won’t bother.” She put the shoe down on her desk and went back to cutting up magazines.

Yakov dived across the desk for the phone and answered it. “Hello, this is Yakov Feltsman. I apologize. Yes.” He waved at Lilia, who sighed and beckoned for Yuri to follow her. Yuri glanced at Viktor, who was literally facepalming.

“Uh, I think she probably could afford not to work anymore,” Yuri said to Lilia as they made their way towards the reserved practice room for lessons.

“Yes, well, I’m fairly certain her family figured they could get a free babysitter out of Yakov and unloaded her on us. She’s even getting paid, good grief.”

“Sounds about right.”

Lilia snorted. “In any case, Yura, you had better not have slacked off over the summer.”

“Of course I haven’t,” Yuri grumbled.

Lilia raised her pencil-thin eyebrows. “We shall see about that.”

 

Sixty grueling minutes later, and Lilia finally called a stop to Yuri’s drilling. “I’m quite satisfied,” she said, and coming from Lilia that was glowing praise. “You have not worsened over your vacation, Yura.”

“Thank you, ma’am.” Yuri lowered his bow and glanced at the clock set into the wall. His grandfather would be finishing up in the archives by now. But, this was Lilia he was dealing with; you were finished when she told you that you were finished.

Lilia snapped her fingers at him, and he looked back at her. “You are still having problems with your progressions, however. I want you to continue to work on those as well as your part for Agape, but for the Winter Showcase I’m planning on having you work on another piece. You will have an accompanist, as well.”

“Viktor again?” he asked as he flipped back to the first page of Agape, raising his violin to his chin again for another run-through.

“Perhaps. He’s very in-demand this year, we may have to work with a different pianist.”

That was a surprise. Yuri usually worked with Viktor if he needed a pianist. They tended to work well together, or at least Viktor knew how Yuri played and could match him if needed.

Lilia was looking at him as if daring him to comment, but Yuri really couldn’t be bothered to protest. Viktor could be annoying if Yuri saw him too often, and this whole merman thing was definitely already bringing them all together one time too many. He shrugged and mumbled “whatever” before starting up Agape again.

After that run-through, where Yuri stumbled a few times over the fingerings and lost the pacing more than he was happy with, Lilia finally let him go. “Keep at it,” she said. “You’ve already got an idea of how it should sound.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“And don’t slack with those progressions, Yura. You can’t afford to get sloppy.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Go,” Lilia ordered, picking up her sweater from the chair behind her. “I can hear that phone of yours buzzing in your messenger bag.”

Yuri blinked and paused in putting away his violin to dig for his phone. He blinked when he saw the notification from Otabek.

What was he planning? Yuri finished putting away his violin and bow, securely zipping up the case, before he actually responded.

Yuri suddenly realized he was smiling. Suddenly the prospect of suddenly growing a tail didn’t seem so bad. He said his goodbye to Lilia and ducked into the hallway with his things, making a beeline for the campus library.

It took him another ten minutes before he was able to get down to the archives, and Dedushka looked up in surprise as Yuri skidded to a halt next to him. “Yurochka, you’re done with your lessons?”

“Yeah,” Yuri said, wheezing for breath. “I’m meeting Beka and Mila for a little bit, can you take my violin home?”

His grandfather blinked, but he smiled. “Of course. I’ll make excuses to your mother.”

Yuri snorted. “Thanks, Dedushka.” He hugged his grandfather and carefully set down his violin next to the desk. “I’ll have my phone with me, and I’ll be back before the sun goes down.”

“Have a good time,” Dedushka called as Yuri backtracked out of the archives and into the sun.

 

He had to run to catch a bus that was headed to the boardwalk, and it took another twenty minutes before he reached the entrance on foot. He looked around and caught sight of Mila’s familiar hair.

“Yura!” she called, waving and catching his attention.

Yuri wove through the throngs of tourists until he could join Mila at the railing overlooking the water. “Where’s Beka?” he asked.

“Down below,” she said, grabbing his arm. “C’mon, let’s go!”

They left the crowds behind as they made their way down a dune until they were both carefully picking their way between the boardwalk’s support beams. A couple dozen feet in, and Yuri caught sight of Otabek a bit further down. They were pretty well out of sight from anyone looking from the sea, and they were definitely hidden from the tourists above.

“Wow, you really know a spot, huh?” Yuri called as Beka got to his feet.

“You gonna need a ride home?” Beka asked.

Yuri shrugged, and dropped his bag on the sand. They were high enough up the dune so that high tide wouldn’t get to their stuff.

“Beka brought his bike, and I’ve got my scooter,” Mila said. She pulled her dress off, revealing a swimsuit underneath.

“Uh,” Yuri said, making a face at her. “I didn’t bring my trunks.”

“You don’t need to,” Mila pointed out. She kicked off her sandals and looked at him expectantly.

Yuri started to take off his shoes and socks, but froze as Beka stripped off his t-shirt. Beka raised his eyebrows at him, and he ducked his head and went back to unlacing his sneakers.

“So it’s about ten seconds?” Beka asked.

“Yeah, more or less,” Mila confirmed, playing with her phone. “Yura, come on.”

“I got splashed at school today,” Yuri said, and the others gasped. “I didn’t know I could move that fast, but I found a janitor’s closet in under ten seconds. No one saw.”

“Good,” Mila said, sounding winded. “Geez, Yura, what happened?”

“Matt and Jamie,” Yuri muttered, tossing his balled-up socks aside.

“Oh. Eew.” Mila sighed, and then tugged Yuri to his feet and dragged him towards the water. “Let’s go, let’s go! It’s hot out here.”

“We’re in the shade,” Yuri reminded her, but he still ran with her into the waves as they lapped at the support beams.

Transforming on land was very different from transforming in the sea, and as soon as he knew his tail was back he was wiggling up towards the air again. His head broke the surface of the water and Mila popped up next to him. “Much better!” Mila sang out, throwing her arms around Yuri and dragging him down a little. “C’mon, Beka!”

Yuri looked back towards the dune and saw Beka staring at them, face unreadable. When he caught Yuri looking, he shook his head and charged after them.

Mila let Yuri go and they swam back to meet Beka as he paddled closer. His eyes widened as he caught sight of Mila’s tail in the water. “Amazing,” he said.

Yuri pouted, but then again Beka had already seen his tail up close. “Don’t slow us down,” he said instead, and dived.

To his surprise, Beka ducked down under the waves right after him. He blinked at the saltwater stinging his eyes, but he got used to it enough that he was chasing after Yuri pretty quickly. Still, Yuri had the element of speed on his side. He easily evaded Beka, and Mila tugged at Beka’s ankle, surprising him into releasing a burst of bubbles

They resurfaced and Beka blinked again. “Okay, note to self, get goggles.” He was grinning anyway. “Wow, you two are so fast in the water.”

“Told you,” Yuri said, preening a little. He lay backwards into a back-float and stretched, feeling it all throughout the tail. “This is a lot better than the janitor’s closet.”

“I’ll bet,” Mila giggled, and she dived again. Yuri felt bubbles tickling his back, and he flipped over to chase after her. They doubled back to pull Beka further into the sea, and the three of them spent another hour playing tag in the shadow of the boardwalk.

After they tired themselves out, Beka helped drag both Yuri and Mila up the dune a little bit so Yuri could start drying them off with his powers. All in all, a pretty nice ending to a kind of weird day.

“So did anything else happen at school, other than idiot teenagers being idiot teenagers?” Mila asked, rolling onto her back as she waited for Yuri to finish up.

Yuri snorted. “Just Annabelle being a pain.”

“Annabelle? Ugh, god, not her.” Mila made a face. “I remember her throwing a tantrum at Miss Atkinson because she was put in the fourth chair.”

“She’s third chair this year,” Yuri reported, barely hiding his contempt as steam continued to rise off of him. “She’s having a pool party at the country club for her birthday, and she wants me to show up. But of course, she’s sure that I won’t feel comfortable there without a friend,” he added, piling on the sarcasm. “So she told me it would be totally fine to bring Beka along.”

“When is it?” Beka asked, sounding barely interested.

“Saturday, I think.”

“Wouldn’t work. I have a shift at the restaurant.” Beka scrubbed a hand through his hair. “I wouldn’t want to go, anyways. Annabelle was always a little too much for me.”

“Yeah, well,” Yuri grumbled.

Mila looked at him, and dammit but she knew him too well. “Did Annabelle say something else to you?”

“No,” Yuri answered, and technically that was true.

“Did someone else say something?”

Yuri shrugged.

“Yura,” Beka said, and Yuri looked up at him. “Look, everyone has a tough time in high school. The people who go out of their way to make everyone else feel miserable like they feel, they don’t deserve your energy.”

“Besides,” Mila added, “I’m sure plenty of the orchestra kids don’t like Annabelle enough to go. People eventually figure out that nasty kids aren’t worth the time.”

“Yeah, I guess.” Yuri looked back at his tail, and winced a little at the heat of the evaporating water. “But I’m stuck dealing with her, you know?”

“Well, yeah,” Mila admitted. “But only when you’re at school, and you only have a few classes with her. So don’t sweat it.”

Yuri finally changed back, and he scooted over next to Mila so he could start steam-drying her off too. “I guess.”

“And I’ll bet she’d be jealous if she knew what you can do,” Beka added, completely deadpan.

Yuri pictured the look on Annabelle’s face if she ever saw him with his badass tail and magic powers. “Good point,” he said, smirking.

“You can’t show her, though,” Mila reminded him.

Yuri snorted. “No worries. She doesn’t deserve to know.”

“If that works for you,” Mila said, and Yuri went back to drying her off.

Once they both had their legs back and put their clothes to right, Yuri checked his phone and saw two missed calls from his mom. “Shit,” he groaned as they emerged from under the boardwalk and headed over to where the vehicles were parked. “I’m gonna be in trouble.”

“Oh no,” Mila said sympathetically. “Call her back.”

Yuri pulled a face but called, sighing in relief when it went to voicemail. “Hey, Mom,” he said, turning away and playing with the zipper on his jacket. “Sorry for missing your call, I was with Mila and Beka. I’m on my way home now. I’ll see you in a bit.”

He turned back to his friends. “Uh. I kinda need to go home now,” he said, fidgeting.

Beka nodded, and tossed Yuri the spare helmet from his bike. “No worries, I’ll get you there.”

“See you later, Yura!” Mila added, putting her own helmet on and starting her scooter. She pulled out of her parking spot and zipped away.

Yuri was latching the helmet under his chin when Beka got the motorcycle started and revved up. He made sure his bookbag was secure and then climbed on behind the older boy. “Thanks,” he yelled in Beka’s ear, and Beka nodded. As they pulled away from the curb and headed back towards the residential part of town, Yuri put his arms around Beka’s chest.

And he definitely did not feel all warm and tingly all over.

Definitely not.