The whole thing started with Ann panicking over extracurriculars. At some point during her second year, it seemed to dawn on her that not a whole lot of prestigious colleges would be blown away by a resume consisting only of part-time modelling and one disastrous attempt at a babysitting service back in middle school.
For about two weeks, their group chat was continuously spammed by Ann’s increasingly frustrated rants about colleges’ “ungodly expectations” and the city’s “complete lack of anything for a student to do that doesn’t involve running a fucking frozen yogurt shop why the hell are there so many frozen yogurt shops!”. It was beginning to drive everyone else nuts when Makoto, the group’s personal source of divine intervention, finally stepped in. Apparently, she’d done some searching around and found that a nearby aquarium was looking for volunteers to help with maintaining the place and other small tasks, and was willing to accept students. Annoyed as she’d been over the whole “not actually getting paid” aspect, the fact that it was a good resume booster that didn’t involve refilling a yogurt machine eventually won her over, and she’d started working some time around May.
Much to everyone’s surprise, Ann loved it. Something seemed to have clicked with her, and she became avidly interested in the facility’s marine life, even going out of her way to research the material and learn more about the creatures she worked around, indicating a level of interest that she’d never shown for anything before. Her enthusiasm didn’t go unnoticed by her employers. One of the scientists who worked in the conservation and research part of the facility seemed particularly taken by the girl’s passion. He would later confess that he had a daughter around her age, and that he saw in Ann the same level of eagerness in her that he did in his daughter whenever she found something she loved. Mr. Sakura was so taken with her that he would end up offering her an internship with him, meaning she’d be able to directly take part in the research, rescue, and conservation efforts that the aquarium was known for. Ann had happily accepted, and since then seemed to fall even more in love with the work.
While her friends were all happy that she finally seemed to have found her calling, (Makoto in particular. Something about “needing more women in scientific fields”), they were considerably less happy with the fact that it now composed about 76% of any conversation involving her, including the group chat. Fish were great and all, but when you had to scroll through 5 pages of pictures and facts about them to see what the weekend plans were, it became kind of annoying.
On top of that, Ann kept constantly inviting them down to the aquarium to come look at whatever new thing they’d found/rescued. Yusuke, with his never ending passion for aesthetics and inspiration, almost always went, but the rest of them frankly couldn’t be bothered. Sure, the sea turtle had been cool, but 99% of the time it was just a fish. And sure, Ann could go on and on about how cool this particular species was or whatever, but to everyone except her it was just a fish, and a fish was not necessarily worth the minimum three hours of their time.
It was because of this that Ryuji was unsurprised by the buzzing of his phone one afternoon. A quick check of his messages revealed that yup, his suspicions had been correct; she was at it again.
THE HOT ONE: Ryuji holy shit you need to get over here
THE HOT ONE: Ryuji
THE HOT ONE: Ryuji I’m not kidding get your ass over here you need to see this
Ryuji rolled his eyes before responding.
“GANGSTA”: Ann for the last time I’m not interested in fish that haven’t already been made into sushi
He’d barely got to put his phone down for half a second before it buzzed again.
THE HOT ONE: This is different! You’re not going to believe this! I can barely believe this!
THE HOT ONE: We found something incredible!
“GANGSTA”: Ann oh my god I don’t care about some cool miracle fish or whatever! It could shoot lasers out of its ass and it’d still be just a fish.
“GANGSTA”: Well, okay, actually, I’d be interested in a fish that shot ass lasers.
“GANGSTA”: Does this fish shoot ass lasers?
He could practically feel Ann’s irritation from miles away.
THE HOT ONE: No it does not shoot ass lasers you moron!
THE HOT ONE: It’s a mer! We found a fucking mer!
That got his attention.
“GANGSTA”: Bull. Shit.
She had to by making it up. Mer were practically extinct and their intelligence made it such that they were virtually impossible to corner. And even if, by some streak of crazy luck, someone did manage to corner a mer, their disposition was such that only one of them was leaving that situation alive. There was absolutely no way Ann was telling the truth on this one.
THE HOT ONE: No it is not bullshit!
THE HOT ONE: Here, check this out
Ryuji tapped the photo she sent and his jaw dropped. Sure enough, right there in the picture, was a fucking mer. It was a little blurry, and it wasn’t at the best angle, but even with those factors it was obvious what he was looking at: from the waist up; dark hair and pale, smooth skin. From the waist down; tail.
“GANGSTA”: Holy fuck!
“GANGSTA”: I’ll be right there!
When Akira came to, his first thought was that he had actually died and this was some sort of purgatory space. It looked empty enough to be purgatory; the water around him was completely devoid of sand, rocks, seaweed, or any marine life (save for himself of course), and the light was like none he’d ever seen. He didn’t hear the distant calls of whales or dolphins either, just an odd white noise that seemed to come from all directions at once. All in all, the purgatory theory was a pretty strong one until he remembered that things weren’t supposed to still hurt after you died, and he felt like he’d been bitch-slapped by a blue whale straight into a boulder.
His whole body ached, and his gills felt sore every time he inhaled, which was especially unpleasant given that inhaling was kind of a necessity. Akira groaned, then startled at the unnatural way his voice echoed. Oh yeah, he’d somehow almost forgotten; he had absolutely no fucking idea where he was.
Trying hard not to move too quickly or harshly, he glanced around the space. He didn’t like what he saw. For starters, he was clearly above ground, as the water he lay in was confined to a fair-sized glass tank, with air all around otherwise. The rest of the area was fairly barren, with floors made of some unnatural rock substance, and lights on the ceiling that, though dimmed, were still artificially bright. A strange box on a nearby table emitted colorful light, and enclosed shelves full of unknown materials lined the walls. In its entirety, the room pointed towards the conclusion that Akira had suspected but desperately not wanted; he’d been captured by humans.
Panic began to gnaw at the back of his brain, but he quickly suppressed it as best he could. Freaking out would only make things worse, he’d have to be logical about this. His ability to assess the situation and act accordingly was how he’d survived this long anyway, and if there was one place that’s come in handy it’d have to be here.
Humans were the greatest threat to mer, even more so than the hunger-crazed sharks which sometimes ate their kind. At least the sharks had practical reason to harm them; humans seemed to do it purely for amusement. He’d heard the horror stories: mer being hunted for their scales or their voices or simply because they made good trophies; slaughtered and maimed and tortured, all for the entertainment or personal gain of humans. Humankind’s obsession with them was the reason they were nearly extinct, the reason why those who were left had evolved stronger natural weapons and higher intelligence. Humans were the bane of every living creature’s existence, and his dumb ass had managed to get caught by them.
How had that happened anyway? Akira wracked his brain trying to remember how he fucked up this bad, but nothing really came to mind. All he remembered was relaxing in the shallows, then pain, then nothing. Sure, the whole “shallows” bit probably had something to do with it, but those waters were protected! For whatever reason, humans had banned their own kind from the section of the ocean where Akira had chosen to sun himself, and in the 3 years since he’d been living in the area he’d never once even seen a human there. It made no sense!
'Well, whatever it was', he thought to himself, 'I guess it doesn’t really matter much how I got into this situation, it’s more important to know how to get out.'
Akira glanced around the room again. Unfortunately, no deus ex machina had appeared to whisk him out of this shit-hole. No humans were in the room, but he knew that wouldn’t last long. How could they resist coming to take a look at their prize? Besides, if they were going to kill him or torture him or whatever the hell it was they were planning, they’d have to come in here to do it, and then he could figure out his options.
Taking a deep breath, wincing as he did so, Akira settled himself to the bottom of the tank and faced the door, waiting for whatever might come.
It was times like these that Ryuji hated not having a driver’s license. Of course, the city was so jam packed that it wouldn’t have meant much anyway, but he still found himself wishing desperately for the ability to transport himself places instead of spending 20 something minutes sardined in between several very smelly people and experiencing uncomfortable levels of personal contact the entire time. No matter how efficient or convenient public transport may be, something about having some guy you don’t know practically attached to your ass for several minutes makes those benefits seem much less important.
Today though, he was excited enough about Ann’s text that he barely felt the horrifically sweaty bodies pressing up against his own. A fucking mer!! Most people went their entire lives and never saw one of those suckers, even seeing documentaries with them was super rare as almost no footage existed (turns out they were not too fond of cameras in like, a bitey way). And yet here he was, still in freaking high school, about to see a live one up close! He never thought he’d be so excited about going to a stupid aquarium, but hey, whaddya know? Shit happens.
After what felt like forever, Ryuji finally arrived at the aquarium, his breathing ragged from having run the rest of the way from the train station. Ann was there by the door to the research and conservation building, along with Makoto (god she was always with fucking Makoto), Yusuke, and Haru, all of whom appeared to have been waiting for him. Ann was the first to see him.
“Oh my god Ryuji there you are! I texted you, like, half an hour ago!” She complained, drawing the rest of the group's’ attention to the new arrival.
“Jeez, Ann, gimme a break! My house is the farthest away and I can’t freakin teleport! Although holy shit, that would be awesome.” He responded, briefly imagining all the things he could do with teleportation. At least three of these things involved a bank or cash register in some way.
“Ryuji! Great to see you, I’m glad you could make it!” Haru chirped, and Ryuji smiled. They’d only recently begun hanging out with the third year girl, but she’d grown on everyone quickly, in large part due to the fact that she was probably the sweetest person on the face of the earth. Why she liked hanging around with the asshole squad was a mystery, but they weren’t complaining.
“Now that we are all present and accounted for, may we please head at once for the place where this mer is being kept? The opportunity for an artistic model such as this is an exceedingly rare one indeed.” Yusuke piped up, and Ryuji rolled his eyes. Of course that was why the weirdo was here; that friggin drawing crap again. Never mind the fact that mer were rare and cool as hell, what clearly mattered here was the painting opportunity. For such a creative guy, Yusuke sure did have a one-track mind at times.
“Ooh, yes, yes, yes, yes!! God, I’ve been dying to for this! Let’s go!” Ann said, bouncing slightly in the way that she did when she was extra excited about something. Makoto was smiling at her, and Ann bolted towards the door, grabbing hold of the other girl’s forearm and dragging her behind. Ryuji snorted. Those two weren’t technically dating, but they might as well be.
The group followed Ann through a series of identical looking hallways, passing by what looked like multiple medical rooms and several sciency-looking adults who waved at Ann when she passed, clearly used to the girl’s presence. At last, the reached a secure looking metal door with a key card reader in front of it, and Ann stopped, turning to them all.
“So, obviously, this is pretty high-security cause like, mer are pretty rare, you know, and we don’t want anyone trying to run off with this guy. Uh, sorta related to that, we aren’t exactly advertising that we have a mer here, cause again, high theft probability, so with that in mind, please don’t like, take any pictures or videos or anything. Cause if that got posted, we’d get swamped, and I’d probably get fired. Technically I wasn’t even supposed to tell you guys about it, but I managed to convince Mr. Sakura by telling him you were all like, super responsible and definitely wouldn’t take pictures or post anything so… don’t let me down, alright?” Ann said.
“Yeah yeah, totally, you got it. Now come on, let’s go!” Ryuji whined. Before Ann could do anything else though, a small girl that Ryuji recognized as Mr Sakura’s daughter, Futaba, turned the corner.
Ryuji had only really met Futaba in person once, and that was just when he came over to the lab to study with Ann (the lab had plenty of quiet rooms where they could study, and his house gave him access to video games, which would prevent him from studying, so it was the logical choice). He hadn’t really known what to think of her; she’d just kinda sat perched on a counter nearby, typing away at her laptop and staring at him. She was apparently pretty close to Ann though, as she’d been added to the group chat not long after that particular encounter. From his experience with her via chat, she seemed pretty cool. Kinda rude, pretty sarcastic, and frequently weird. In other words; a perfect addition to their merry band of assholes.
“Oh, Futaba! You’re just in time! I was gonna show them the mer we rescued earlier, wanna come?” Ann shouted, waving exuberantly, which seemed perhaps a little unnecessary given Futaba was only about 40 feet away. Ann always had some trouble with regulating excitement, but then again, so did Ryuji, so he couldn't complain.
“Seriously? Hell yeah!” Futaba replied, running up to Ann. She seemed a little nervous around the rest of them, and Ryuji vaguely remembered Ann telling them that she was usually some kind of nervous shut-in, but for the most part she seemed fine, and she seemed relaxed around Ann, so it probably was nothing to worry about.
“Alright guys, here we go! Remember; no. pictures.” Ann said, and with that she swiped her keycard through the reader, making the metal doors slide open to reveal a fairly dim, mostly empty room with a big glass tank in it. And laying on the floor of that tank, sure enough, was the same mer from the photo.
“Holy shit”, Ryuji breathed out, walking quickly up to the tank and stopping about four feet away from the surface of the glass. The photo really didn’t do a good job of capturing the mer’s likeness. In person, for example, the reddish-silver scales of his long tail flashed hypnotizingly in the light, the scarlet fins on the appendage dancing slowly in the water, reminding Ryuji vaguely of those thin scarves some dancers had around their wrists. The fins on his forearms and the sides of his head were more rigid, but still that same vibrant blood red color, reflected again in the webbing between his fingers. The boy’s dark hair floated around his face like a halo and oh god, his face.
Ryuji had known for a while that he wasn’t straight. Sure, he liked girls, but he also definitely, definitely liked boys. This had been a major source of confusion for a while, (didn’t you have to just pick one?), but when Ann finally explained the concept of bisexual to him some time around middle school, his entire fucking worldview was shattered. So that was a thing! Thank god, he’d just thought he was crazy, or some kind of pervert or something. But yeah, bisexual. Some days he wondered if he was making it up, because his attraction was much more frequently towards girls than guys, but right then, standing in that aquarium, Ryuji suddenly became wholly and completely aware of his sexuality in a way that he’d never before experienced because god. damn.
To put it in the simplest possible terms, the mer was fucking gorgeous. His eyes were so dark you couldn’t tall pupil from iris, and they reflected the light in a way that made them look like polished stone. His eyelashes were dark and long, his lips were full, and Ryuji had to quickly banish some of the thoughts that arose from that second observation. God hormones were a bad trip. But yeah. Wow. He definitely looked like an idiot right now, he never had been good at being subtle with these things, but he lacked the presence of mind to care much about that, nevermind do anything to stop it.
Akira didn’t have to wait very long. Perhaps only ten minutes had passed before he heard voices on the other side of the door. He tensed. From the sound of it, that was a lot of people, which could complicate things. But oh well, it wasn’t like he had any other choice. He steeled himself and watched as the door slid open.
Six humans entered the room. They chattered amongst themselves, all of them staring at him, making him slightly uncomfortable, but not so much so that he was thrown off.
Akira eyed them over. Assuming human physiology was similar enough to mer, he was facing two males and four females. Shit. He didn’t know about humans, but female mer were nothing to fuck with. Sure, they were on average a fair bit smaller than their male counterparts, but they made up for it in terms of sheer aggression and violence. Didn’t matter how much smaller they were when their teeth were latched around your throat, now did it?
As reluctant as he was to take his eyes off the females, it was actually one of the males who drew Akira’s attention the most. He looked to be about Akira’s age (or whatever the human equivalent of Akira’s age was, he had no idea), with short, spiky yellow hair and deep brown eyes. He was fairly muscular, draped in odd, brightly colored fabric, and most notably; he was straight up gaping at Akira. Sure, the other humans were staring as well, but this one in particular seemed taken, wearing an expression of such open awe that Akira couldn’t decide whether to feel uncomfortable or proud. Interesting.
Ryuji was definitely staring. Normally he’d be mortified, but at the moment he found his mind was barely able to process any thought other than “pretty boy!!!!!!”. That is, until he heard Ann snickering.
He turned to face her, reluctant to take his eyes off the mer but prideful enough to be unable to let it go.
“How you doing there, lover boy?” Ann asked, her voice dripping with fake innocence. Ryuji scowled, his face flushing bright red.
“Shaddup! It’s just- he’s just- i-it’s just cool, alright? I’ve never seen a mer before and I didn’t expect them to be that attra- er, shiny!” He blustered. Ann laughed even harder.
“Oh boy, you’ve got it ba~aa~d!” She sang, and much to Ryuji’s horror, the rest of his friends were beginning to giggle as well. Well, not Yusuke, he wasn’t paying attention, but still.
“Can it!” Ryuji snapped, and to their credit the girls did go quiet, but kept smirking at him nonetheless. Ears heated, Ryuji turned his back on them and stared at the mer instead. The other boy had a strange look on his face.
The blond human’s gaping was interrupted by laughter from one of the females, a tall golden haired girl wearing bright red. This seemed to get the boy’s attention and he turned away from Akira to look at her. Wise. It was never a good idea to leave one’s back to such a potentially deadly foe for long.
The red girl said something to him that Akira couldn’t quite understand over the other foreign noises in the room. That and she talked fast. But he did understand the boy’s response to be a demand for silence, which shocked him. Had this boy lost his mind? He’d known females to kill for far less.
To Akira’s surprise however, there was no snapping of teeth or burst of blood, just a smile and further talking. Were the two mated? No, that couldn’t be. If they were mated, she surely would’ve had a much more violent reaction to the boy’s obvious staring at Akira, but the fact that they clearly weren’t mated just left Akira even more confused as to why the boy hadn’t been attacked. All of the girls began to giggle, and once again the blond boy demanded silence, something which boggled Akira’s mind. Clearly, he had a death wish. Perhaps one would’ve been willing to tolerate him, but challenging four all at once? It would have been less suicidal for him to rush straight into a great white’s jaws.
But again, he was left alone. No, not just left alone, he was obeyed. The girls, all four of them, ceased laughing, and Akira was stunned. At once it became clear to him that the loud male in front of him must have been incredibly powerful. How else could he have gotten away with what he’d just done? But wait, this was good. Akira could use this. The boy who was so obviously taken with him was also clearly the most powerful one present, so if he could work his way into this boy’s favor, then he would likely be protected from any of the other humans. Granted, he had no idea what this boy wanted, but his previous open-mouthed staring seemed to indicate a fascination with the mer, which could easily be played to. All Akira had to do was swallow his pride and remain interesting to the loud blond, and then he’d likely win himself a protector. Of course, this could all blow up in his face, but hey, it was the best shot he had right now at saving himself.
Inhaling deeply, wincing again at the pain that bought with it, (seriously, what the fuck was up with his gills?), Akira began to move.