Leonard stood looking out of the widow of the beach house he'd manage to salvage from the divorce, and he sighed. This had once been a summer home- every summer, for a month, he, his wife, and his baby girl would drive from Georgia to California and spend their time sunbathing and surfing.
The cause of his sigh, a certain Geoffrey M'Benga, was stood watching him. He was still in his wetsuit, board tucked under his arm.
Leonard board stood in the corner, unused.
"You've got to get back out sometime."
Leonard considered his words, gaze still directed out of the window, at the waves that lapped at the shore. It was a good day for surfing. Big waves. He could see a group already out there.
"I can't, Geoff."
Another sigh, but not from him. That one came from M'Benga.
"It's been a year, Leonard."
"No it will be a year." He snapped, half turning, his brow furrowing and mouth turning down as he scowled. "It will be a year. Two months. Two months and it'll be a year."
"Staying shut up in here won't change what happened." M'Benga said, after a momentary pause. "And Jo wouldn't want you to give it up."
Leonard hissed at the outright mention of his daughter, turning his back to the other completely. M'Benga graciously took that as his cue to leave.
"When you change your mind, I'll be out there." He said, pausing one last time before he left, shutting the front door behind him.
Leonard wasn't sue what he was doing, but it felt right. M'Benga was only waist deep in water when he ran out, wetsuit on and board under his arm. He'd waited, obviously.
"M'Benga!" He called, jogging into the surf, settling onto his board when it felt right.
"I knew you'd show up!" M'Benga grinned.
They paddled out at the same time, Leonard easily meeting the other's strokes.
"Anything to make you go away!" Leonard retorted.
It was all a lie. He was grinning.
"Whatever you say, man!"
M'Benga knew it, too.
He was met with a big wave, too big, and he lost his balance, tumbling into the surf.
But he got back up again, because he was a man like that.
The sea had gone oddly calm. Quiet. There were no waves, none big enough for him to surf on, so Leonard settled on his board, and waited.
And then he saw it.
The face looking up at him through the water.
Bright blue eyes, bluer than the ocean itself, and sandy blonde hair looked up at him. There was a flash of a grin-
And he was knocked from his board by a wave that would have been perfect for surfing.
When he clambered back onto his board and looked down at the water, the face was gone.
Leonard didn't mention it to M'Benga.
"Good day?" The other asked as Leonard clambered into the sand.
"Good day." He agreed.
"You should come out more often." M'Benga grinned.
"Yeah." Leonard nodded. "Yeah. I will."
Leonard had to know that he wasn't insane. He had to know that what he had seen out there wasn't just a figment of his imagination.
Maybe the guy had been scuba diving, or maybe he was just out for a swim. He'd seen Leonard on his board, went to have a look, smiled out of politeness and carried on when Leonard had gotten distracted.
That didn't explain the long, golden tail Leonard had seen swishing around behind him.
Leonard paddled out dutifully, and he surfed. Whenever a big wave hit he would surf as far as he could, and then swim out to the same spot. He marked the spot by the rock bed ten metres or so away, making sure he got about the same spot each time.
After surfing and paddling back a good ten times, Leonard decided that enough was enough. A large wave hit, buy he didn't try to ride it. he let it wash over him, knocking him from his board and sending him tumbling into the surf.
Salt water stung his eyes as he opened them, and he held his breath as he tried to keep himself afloat.
And there he was. Sandy hair, bright blue eyes, and long, golden tail. He swam a lap around Leonard, and then he grabbed him by the biceps.
Leonard didn't move, didn't fight it.
Although he was a little surprised when the other leaned in and pressed a kiss to his cheek.
"Go." He said, his voice sounding thick and muted through the water. "Before you pass out."
He was right- Leonard was going to pass out. But before he could argue, the other had already left, swimming low down into the murky depths.
Leonard resurfaced, spluttering, his eyes and chest stinging. He paddled back to shore, was his eyes out and showered.
But no matter how hard he scrubbed, he could still fell that kiss linger on his cheek.
"Daddy, daddy! Look at the waves! Look at the waves!"
Joanna hopped from foot to foot, grinning excitedly.
"Yeah, Jojo, they're great, but just stay close to daddy, okay?" Leonard told her, patting her back.
"The waves, daddy!" She insisted, grabbing her board from him to toddle into the surf.
"Just be careful, Jo."
He went out surfing the next day, and the next day, and the next day.
And every day he would catch a glimpse of the face beneath the waves, or he'd slip beneath the surface to let the other circle him, letting him touch but never getting to touch himself. No matter how many times he'd reach his fingers out, the other would slip away, moving around him, dodging.
But when Leonard swam out that day, things were very, very different.
Shrieks rang out across the waves when he reached his usual spot, and that was when he saw it.
Three girls, each with different coloured long, elegant looking tails flying out behind them as they fled. They seemed to leave so quickly, Leonard only catching a flash of one red tail as all three slipped below the surface.
One, however, remained.
"Hey!" He called, waving. "Mr. Human. C'mon over!"
Leonard hesitated for a very long time, watching as his gold-finned mermaid waved him over.
Eventually, his waving stopped.
"Or don't, then." The other called.
Leonard grumbled something about pushy mermen before he swam forward, pushing himself through the waves to get to the rock bed.
He was grinning when Leonard got there, but the other didn't pull himself off his board and up onto the rocks. Rather, he sat there, letting the waves gently rock him.
"I don't bite, you know. Not hard, anyway."
He grinned, but Leonard didn't. Leonard looked at his tail, swishing backwards and forward in the water.
"If it's going to help, you can touch it." He nodded.
Leonard's brow furrowed.
"Are you okay? Can you talk? Are you like the Little Mermaid in reverse?"
"I can talk." Leonard assured him.
"Good." The other grinned. "For a second there I was worried."
Silence. Leonard didn't have a clue what he should say.
"Let's do this the proper way."
He held his hand out, but Leonard just stared at it.
"My name's Jim. Jim Kirk."
"Jim Kirk?" Leonard snorted.
"Well what were you expecting me to be called, Aquamarine? Yeah my name's Jim."
With a chuckle, Leonard shook his hand. "McCoy." He said. "Leonard McCoy."
"Yeah, no. 'm gonna call you Bones." Jim nodded, shaking his hand.
"It's the pattern on the underside of your board, right?"
Right. He'd bought it when he'd just finished med school. He'd had the same board ever since; back then he'd thought the pattern was pretty damn cool; now he didn't care.
"Right." He agreed.
"I'm guessing you're not coming up to join me." Jim said, after a moment's silence.
"Not today." Leonard admitted.
"Not today." Jim nodded. "That's good."
"Want me to push you back to shore?" Jim asked. He was grinning. Just joking, then.
"I'll surf." Leonard answered.
Jim grinned. "Good. That way I can get a good view of your ass."
Leonard just shook his head, paddling away from the rock face. So he definitely wasn't seeing things, that much was for sure. He managed to catch a wave when he got back to his usual spot, clambering onto the board and trying to ignore the feeling of Jim's eyes on his back.
Leonard tried to instruct her, sitting beside her on his board. "Okay sweetheart-"
"Daddy, I know what I'm doing." She pouted, giving him a very grown-up look for a six year old.
Leonard nodded, conceding. "Alright. Sorry. This one's a big one though, just be-"
"Be careful. I know. I promise."
Joanna loved mermaids.
Leonard thought about that as he sat in her room, lying against the wall that she would draw on all of the time when she was a toddler. After a while, Jocelyn had stopped trying to scrub the crayon off, and Leonard had stopped painting over it. The drawings of Joanna, her parents and the mermaids still lingered.
She swore blind that she saw mermaids every time they went out onto the waves. The one with the golden hair and the long blue tail was her favourite, she said. She always smiled at her. The one with the dark hair and the bright red tail was nice too though, and the one with the green skin and the bright red hair always pulled funny faces.
Leonard and Jocelyn had laughed.
Leonard was starting to believe his baby girl.
A week after just sitting on his board in the water, Leonard got up onto the rock face.
He threw his board up first, and then clambered on after it.
"Ooh Bones, look at you." Jim grinned. "Getting adventurous."
"Yeah well, gotta get out of the water sometime." Leonard muttered, grimacing as he seated himself on a particularly jagged piece of rock. He shifted a little, Jim watching him with obvious amusement.
"Well that's what I tell the rest of them, but they're never convinced."
"The rest of them?" Leonard asked. "There's more?"
"You kidding me?" Jim asked, tail swishing back and forth. Leonard hadn't touched it yet, but he was starting to feel a lot less weird about it. "There's more of us than there is of you."
"You mean like- across the whole world?" Leonard asked, brow furrowing.
"No." Jim shook his head. "The beach. The beach on a really, really hot day. There's way more of us."
The beach on a busy day could hold a good two thousand people.
"How any more?" Leonard asked.
"Tonnes." Jim nodded knowingly.
Leonard paused, and bit his lip. No wonder Joanna had thought that she had seen so many. Maybe she had.
"Is there- do you-" Leonard fumbled with his words. "Do you know anyone with blonde hair? Blue tail."
"Sure." Jim nodded. "Carol."
"Carol." Leonard muttered. He was so done with these mermaid names that really weren't mermaid names.
Jim grinned. "She loved your little girl."
Leonard visibly flinched. No one spoke about is baby girl, not ever, not even him. Even when he had settled in her bed room a few nights ago, it had been with one glass of bourbon down his neck and another in his hand. No one, absolutely no one spoke of his baby girl.
"I'm sorry." Jim murmured. "You don't talk about her much, huh?"
"No." Leonard shook his head, eyes on the waves.
Jim didn't bring it up again. Rather, he looked down at the waves too, and settled for distracting Leonard by asking if he wanted to touch his tail.
The weird smoothness of them, the strange pattern printed on each one, like a fingerprint, was enough to distract him from his previous thoughts.
He tried to reach for her but she was gone. He dipped under the waves, salt water stinging his eyes.
He saw her as she sank to the bottom, reaching up for the daddy that couldn't save her.
The rock face was actually pretty big, and no so jagged if you knew where to lie. Leonard, after a month of these strange meetings, was finally learning where best to position himself.
He lay spread out on his stomach, his chin leaning on his arm. Jim lay back too, arms crossed behind his head, eyes closed, fin dipping into the water to keep him hydrated. Every so often he'd have to get up and dip back in, but he did manage to go quite a while without it.
Leonard traced his scales, finger running along the outline of each one. Ever since he had had his first touch he hadn't quite been able to stop. The large, fan-like fin had been almost slimy, so Leonard stuck to the scales.
He would have liked to trace the muscles of Jim's stomach, too, but he kept his fingers confined to the fish-like skin, rather than the human.
"We tried to save her, you know."
The words were uttered in a tone so low Leonard almost missed them. He looked up to find Jim staring at the sky.
"We have bad people down there, Bones. Just like you have bad people up here."
Leonard didn't say anything. He simply listened.
"Carol-" Whether Jim's voice broke or he just didn't know what to say, Leonard wasn't sure, but he was sure he heard Jim's voice waver when he continued. "Carol and Gaila swam so low. Lower than any of us have ever been. Too low. Me and Uhura had to go and get them before they hurt themselves."
Jim paused in his story telling, eyes slipping closed. Leonard's finger stilled, still pressed against the warm skin. He still didn't say anything.
"Carol cried for a week. She blamed herself, but it wasn't her fault. 'Course it wasn't."
There was silence. Jim's story was, apparently, over. And now Leonard was forced to speak.
"I blamed myself. My wife blamed me too." He murmured, and he saw Jim deflate a little out of the corner of his eye. "Split up our marriage. Drove me here."
Jim sat up, pushing himself up onto his hands, looking at Bones was sad, sea-blue eyes. Eyes sadder than Leonard had ever seen them.
"It wasn't your fault." He said, like he was trying to make Leonard really believe it. Like it was imperative. "I wasn't your fault. You couldn't- you couldn't have known that, Bones, but it wasn't. We tried. We tried so hard, but no one could have saved her, not from Khan, not-"
Leonard had to stop him talking, and he could only see one way to do that. He pushed himself up and kissed him hard, lips pressed firmly against his. He tasted like salt, reminded Leonard of the sea, and it was good.
"Bones." Jim whispered when he pulled away. Leonard pulled his knees up so that he was kneeling, but his knees were on a jagged patch, cutting into his skin despite the wetsuit.
"I'm going to go." Leonard said, because he had to. He was going to do what he always did whenever he talked about his daughter for longer than two minutes: escape.
"Will you come back tomorrow?" Jim asked, and he sounded so hopeful.
Leonard, however, could make no promises.
"I don't know." He admitted.
Jim nodded. "I'll be here." He said softly.
Leonard gave him a small smile as he grabbed his board, setting it down in the water.
"I'll see you later." He murmured, clambering down into the water.
"See you." Jim nodded.
Leonard wanted to turn around the whole ride back, but he didn't. He reached the shore, took a too-hot shower, and then he drank.
If he cried, there was no one around the prove it.
He didn't go back the next day, or the next day, or the next. A week had passed, and he still had went out there.
And then another week passed.
And then the anniversary came.
A year. A year since it had all happened. Leonard did consider drinking through the entire day, knowing that no one was going to bother him, but he only got through half a drink before he knew what he had to do.
He slipped into a pair of trunks, ignored the wetsuit, and grabbed his board.
He paddled out with a newfound determination, but he paused when he was that familiar ten metres away.
Jim wasn't alone today, not like he had been for the month Leonard had been meeting him. There was a girl sat there, long blue tail dipping into the water, blonde hair covering her face as she cried.
Jim held an arm around her shoulders, pulled her into his side. Behind her, a girl with dark skin and a scarlet tail seemed to be stroking her back. By her side, another girl with green skin and flame red hair gave her a mournful look.
Leonard was paddling forward before he even knew about it, and the one with dark skin and even darker eyes gave a yelp.
"It's alright." Jim assured them softly, Leonard barely able to hear his voice above the waves. "That's her dad."
Carol's head snapped up, and Leonard could see the track marks down her cheeks. Her eyes looked red, and puffy.
She had cried more than Leonard had.
Leonard felt worse than he ever had before.
He settled on his board, still a metre or so away from them. Jim wouldn't look directly at him, but that was alright- Leonard was pretty focused on Carol.
"Jim said you really tried to save her." he said, voice wobbling and wavering. "Thank you."
She sniffed, and nodded. When she spoke, she sounded oddly... British.
"I'm sorry I couldn't save her." She said.
Leonard shook his head, tears pricking at the corner of his eyes. Crying had hardly been on his agenda, and not in front of... them.
"It's alright." He told her, voice wobbling even more, sounding oddly thick.
There was a whispered "Jim, go." and the barely-there sound of something hit the water.
And then he was a little unbalanced, Jim settling close to him on the board.
"I'm sorry I didn't come back." Leonard said. Fuck. He wasn't going to cry, he wasn't going to cry, he wasn't going to-
Jim wiped a stray tear from his cheek, only succeeding in dampening his skin even more.
"You're here now, right?" He said, giving Leonard a gentle smile.
Biting his lip, Leonard nodded.
Jim wrapped his arms around him, and held him tight. Leonard could feel the thrumming of his heart against his skin.
"I'm sorry, Bones. Leonard. I'm so sorry." Jim murmured.
Leonard paused, giving an odd sort of chuckle. "She'd be so happy." He said, smiling weakly. "So happy if she knew her daddy was friends with a mermaid."
"Merman." Jim corrected. He was grinning a little. "Friends with a merman."
"My mistake." Leonard murmured.
He was grinning a little too.
It was an odd sort of relationship that they shared, and Leonard only really began to realise this as he kissed him again, soft and slow. How the hell it was going to work, however, he didn't know. But he was damn well going to try to make it work. Because he knew if Joanna could know that her daddy was in love with a merman, well- she'd be over the moon.