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From the Hollow Sphere of the Sea

Chapter Text

Once upon a time there lived a beautiful mermaid under the sea. Her hair was dark like the ocean depths and her smile cut brighter than a sunbeam slicing through the film that separates sea from sky. When the King of the Sea saw her, it was love at first sight, and he set out to court her for his very own. Soon she was showered with strands of pearls, which she reluctantly accepted and wound through her hair, secured by strips of seaweed. Tournaments were held in her honour and the merfolk rode astride seahorses, clashing their tridents as they attempted to unseat their opponents. He held a feast, offering all the delicacies of the deep and she dipped her head shyly, but refused all his advances, for he was the King and she feared she was nothing more than a passing fancy. He had, after all, not even attempted to speak to her. With all the riches of the world at his disposal, he would grow weary of her and cast her away like the baubles he so recklessly threw her way.

With a sad heart, the King stopped his relentless pursuit, realising he only seemed to be pushing his love further away. Once he ceased his ostentatious show, he was delighted when next he spied the pretty young maid, she gifted him with a priceless smile. This time his courtship was different—quiet swims to corners of his kingdom that were marvellous to behold; longs talks that left him tongue-tied and confused and more often than not, embroiled in spirited arguments where he would return to his underwater castle fuming with anger, but somehow more in love than ever before. When he declared he intended to make her his bride, she laughed in his face, the sound of which was somehow both the most beautiful and the most cruel he had ever heard. Each time he repeated the sentiment, she’d banish him from her company to his frustrated roars asking what he was doing wrong.

The answer struck him unexpectedly like a spear finding its mark after being shot from a harpoon, and he showed up to the reef she called home, devoid of entourage or gifts, and bowed his head, hands outstretched before him, asking her if she would please do him the honour of becoming his bride. When she slipped her hands in his, saying, “All you had to do was ask,” he thought his heart might burst. They wed in a ceremony fit for a King, and for a Queen—she allowed him to shower her with riches and jewels once she was convinced of his sincerity—and together they ruled the kingdom for many, many years. No one was more happy than he when his belly began to swell, and before long, he gave birth to a half dozen daughters, every single one as lovely as his beautiful bride.

Tragedy struck one ordinary day when his bride, lured by her love of the world above the surface, swam too close to a sailing vessel—so much faster and larger and different from ships of old with loud, unfamiliar moving parts—and was killed by a whirling propeller. The entire Kingdom went into mourning, devastated by the loss of their beloved Queen. In his grief, the King forbade the merfolk from venturing ever again up to the land of men.

Only the tiny flutters in his belly were able to pull the King out of the blackness into which he had sunk. He cradled his growing middle as it swelled with life and smiled with a bittersweet joy when he gave birth to a son—hair as curly and thick as his lost love, although lighter in colour, but with eyes and a smile so familiar, he’d never be able to look at them without seeing his beloved’s face.

He wanted to do right by the child, but each glance at the babe pierced his heart anew with grief. He threw himself into ruling his kingdom and surrendered the child to his daughters’ care, vowing to take a more active role in his son’s life once his grief had faded. Yet the years passed and the grief was still fresh and the child only grew more into his mother’s face. He was oft left neglected, much loved by his sisters, but each of them too involved in her own life to pay strict attention to the antics of a much younger brother. Not a one of them noticed how often he slipped off on his own, or saw him swim to the surface, or knew of his growing fascination with the world of men.

-o-

Harry watched the small girl covetously, eyes tracking her movements as she sat the doll in the chair next to her and selected a leaf from the ground to set on its head.

“There, Matilda. Now you’ve got a lovely hat, just in time for tea.”

The girl’s own head was adorned with a crown of flowers, stems split and the blossoms threaded through in a chain. Harry was eager to try and create one of his own. For now, though, he stayed quiet, hidden amongst the thick vegetation at the banks of the river while the girl pantomimed pouring liquid into non-existent cups. She brought her hand up to her face, little finger extended, and mimicked taking a sip.

“Sarah,” a voice called from the house.

“Yes, mum?” the girl yelled back.

“Tea’s ready. Come inside.”

“But I’m having tea out here with Matilda,” the girl protested.

A woman appeared at the door, holding it open while she conversed with her daughter.

“You need to eat something. Come on in and I’ll let you bring a plate back outside.”

The girl jumped up from the child’s play table and said, “You wait here, Matilda. Mum’s made us some treats.” Then she ran to the house and disappeared inside. The door shut behind them with a loud thwack.

Harry moved closer to the shore, eyes darting round, heart pounding. When he was sure he was alone, save the watchful eyes of a nearby frog, he made his move. Hoisting himself onto the bank, he used his arms to propel his body, long tail dragging behind him, toward the table. Then he snatched Matilda out of her chair, hurried back to the water and disappeared from sight with a small splash before the leaf formerly on Matilda’s head had fluttered to rest on the now empty chair.

With the speed of a sailfish he swam to the mouth of the river where fresh water merged into salt then dived deep into the ocean, spiriting away his prize. Through the currents and under the waves he made his way to an opening in the rocks. Giving a strong flick of his tail, he disappeared inside, shadows swallowing his entry, and followed a narrow tunnel, barely wide enough for his shoulders. Before too long, the passage opened up and he rose to the surface, emerging in an open cave. The tall walls of his hidden fortress glittered with minerals embedded in the rocks—pinks and oranges and purples and blues. An opening to the sky beyond, high above, let in a pillar of light which shone like a spotlight on the sandy shore.

Sometimes he liked to come to the cave to dream; he’d lie with his head resting on his arms, majestic tail stretched long, with only the tip of the fan trailing into the water. When he’d become too warm from the sun, he’d flip his tail up like a bucket and shower his skin with a splash of the sea. On nights when the moon was shy, the cave was illuminated by an array of bioluminescence, making the walls shine, and the small spring-fed pool in the far corner glimmer, and the gentle ripples lapping against the beach’s edge dance with a magical glow.

But as beautiful as his cave was beneath the rocks and beyond the sea, its riches paled compared to the treasures he’d secreted away within. Harry slid onto the sand and moved to the back of the cave, doll clutched tightly in his fist. As he approached his trove, he could feel the familiar wonder overtake him, a sensation he always experienced when he was amongst his collection.

And what a collection it was! A metal fork with four sharp tines, a green glass bottle with a dark liquid inside sealed by a spongy stopper at the top of its neck, a cup with a small handle he knew the land dwellers used to drink something called tea. He could only imagine how this remarkable liquid would taste, but he knew it must be delicious; the humans enacted a daily ritual around its consumption with something akin to reverence. The sides of his cup were reed thin, but strong like coral. There was a chip on the edge, and a hairline crack down the side, but he could stare for hours at the image of the soft pink rose painted on the side, marvelling that something so beautiful was resting in his hands.

Many more treasures lay in his cache, retrieved from sunken vessels at the bottom of the sea. Some he found on the beaches after people had gone home from their day in the sun—items forgotten or lost in the sand. Still others he’d collected like Matilda, stolen outright when temptation had proved all too strong.

Harry examined the doll he’d gone to so much effort to acquire. Her appearance was a little worse for wear after her trip through the water. The hair on the doll’s head was now bedraggled and limp instead of sporting the soft golden curls she’d modelled before. Her formerly pristine dress with its full skirt now clung to her legs and drooped down her shoulder. But the smile on her face remained the same pretty one she’d worn while sitting in Sarah’s yard drinking imaginary tea, and her eyes were as bright and as blue as ever.

Tugging the material of her dress away from her body, Harry attempted to repair her appearance. It was no use; he’d have to wait for the fabric to dry. In the meantime, however, he could offer her some refreshments while she grew accustomed to her new home. Lifting his prized tea cup, the one with the chip on the lip and the rose on its side, Harry tilted it towards Matilda’s face, just as he’d seen Sarah do.

“One lump or two?” he asked, not at all concerned that he had no idea what the lumps even were.

She didn’t respond, but Harry was prepared; he’d been through this before. He glanced up at the statue tucked away near the back of his trove, the white marble gleaming. He’d found the sculpture of the boy while exploring an old shipwreck not far from his coral home. The piece was heavy and unwieldy, but he’d been enraptured by the face of the boy carved out of stone. Even more fascinating than his mysterious smile were his round curved buttocks and slim hips, the boy’s sex where his flesh split at his thighs, and the long legs ending in two graceful feet, each with five perfect marble toes.

He’d wrestled the statue from out of the wreckage and somehow managed to transport it to his hideaway cave. For months he’d been consumed with his find, telling stories about his home beneath the sea, creating adventures the two of them would share, as if the boy were real. But the boy never responded, of course. His smile stayed fixed upon his face, never changing, never moving. Eventually, Harry had sighed mid-story.

“I wish you were real,” he’d whispered, chin resting in his fists.

The boy didn’t answer.

Harry loved his family, and his coral home, and all the merfolk, and the creatures beneath the sea, but he’d often felt as if he didn’t quite belong. He knew he was different; he had little interest in learning to fight, an endeavour in which most of the male merfolk took great pride. He loved his sisters fiercely, but at times it seemed he was like Matilda to them—a great doll they could play with and dress up at will. Not that he complained. He loved when they twined his hair with flowers and bedecked him with sparkling jewels. His father was the King, of course, and always occupied with matters of state. It wasn’t as though he wouldn’t make time for Harry if Harry requested; he’d never felt that way. But he could see his presence made his father sad. He understood the reason, but that knowledge didn’t make it any easier to realise he was the cause of someone else’s pain.

So he’d taken to going off on his own, trying not to become saddened himself when no one even seemed to notice he was gone. The ocean was vast and deep and for a time he’d explored far and wide, even places he knew he definitely ought not. He wasn’t so much brave and bold; more he was inquisitive. Curious. He learned from his sisters that prior to the King’s decree, the custom had been that at the age of fifteen years, freedom was granted to explore at will. He could listen for hours to tales they would tell about what they’d seen in the world above. The stories were so fascinating, he despaired he’d ever live to see such marvels himself. Desire grew within him, like sharp hunger gnawing at his belly, until it was all he could think about, the world beyond the sea. He’d ask his sisters to repeat their tales to the point of exasperation.

“Again, Harry?” they’d ask.

He’d look at them with his big beseeching eyes, and they’d sigh, very put-upon, but indulgent nonetheless, spinning wonders from words about the magical things they’d seen.

“Just like mother,” Gemma, his favourite sister, would say, a fond smile on her face, tugging one of his curls before recounting her tale for the umpteenth time.

He wanted to talk about their mother, hear again the stories about how beautiful she was, how much she loved to swim to the surface, follow the ships that sailed upon the sea, but he knew that would only make his sister sad. Instead he’d ask, “Do you miss it? The world above?”

She’d sigh, a wistful expression on her face. “Sometimes.”

“What do you miss the most?”

“The moon,” she’d answer. “The stars above.”

And he’d listen while she described the beauty of the night sky, stars strewn like a wave across the vastness of space.

“The birds,” another sister would answer to the same question. “They fly through the air like the fish swim in the sea. And they make such pretty music, not as beautiful as our own, of course. But lovely in their own way, each kind having its own song.”

“The towns,” still another sister would reply. “At night you can see them lit up like stars. And if you swim close to the shore, you can hear all the people. There’s so much to listen to—laughter, conversation, music, even traffic.”

“Traffic?”

“The humans move around on land by riding in machines. Their legs are too short and too weak to allow them travel as fast as our tails let us swim in the water. On the sea they use boats and ride on the waves. But on land they have metal boxes with round feet that carry them where they want to go. They call them ‘cars’ and when they move, they make a loud growling noise. And when they travel in groups, they call them ‘traffic’.”

“Like a school of fish?”

“Yes,” his sister nodded. “Just like that.”

“Cars. Traffic,” Harry said softly to himself, letting the unfamiliar words roll over his tongue.

And then one day, after following a sperm whale for an afternoon and witnessing its epic battle with a giant squid, he realised the water around him was growing brighter and brighter. So intent had he been on observing the creature, Harry had barely noticed they were swimming towards more shallow water. Nearly an hour had passed, maybe more; of course it was in need of air. Looking upwards, Harry saw a bright glowing object and knew it must be the sun. A shadow flitted past, quickly and then it was gone, and he knew a bird had just flown overhead.

Stopping his pursuit, he floated in the water below the surface, but so close, one swish of his tail would propel him to the world beyond. He knew it was forbidden; he was not yet even fifteen years of age. But the temptation to see what had captured his mother’s imagination so strongly it led to her death, to see the marvels of his sisters’ tales, was too much for Harry to resist. Without giving himself time to think, to consider whether or not he actually should, Harry gave his tail a mighty flick and sped towards the light.

His head broke through the surface and he blinked against the glare. He gasped as the gills in his neck lay flat and his windpipe opened up and his lungs breathed in air for the very first time. He flinched against the sounds that assaulted his ears—the spray of the water from the blowhole of the whale, the lapping waves of the ocean, the harsh cries of the birds soaring overhead. But even with these confusing sensations, his entire body thrummed with excitement and he was filled with wonder.

A pod of dolphins came to investigate, whistling their joy that the merfolk had returned, and Harry didn’t have it in his heart to tell them the truth. But he spent the next few hours playing with them, learning to leap into the air and dive in a graceful arc, how to float on his back and bask in the sun. The dolphins laughed at his antics and a noise tore from Harry’s throat that he recognised as laughter of his own. He marvelled at how different everything sounded out in the open air.

When the sun began to dip back to the water’s edge, Harry knew he’d best get back. Reluctantly, he made his goodbyes and promised to come again soon, knowing full well it might not be a promise he’d be able to keep. But when he returned to the castle under the sea, once again, his absence had gone unmissed. For once, his usual loneliness was supplanted by a sense of elation and excitement. His secret was safe.

After that day, he’d swum to the surface whenever he could. The dolphins and he became old friends. He learned the shipping routes and migratory paths of the birds, discovered the towns and the beaches at the water’s edge, and he spied on the humans wherever he could.

He’d made his refuge in his hidden cave and filled it with beautiful objects, each a priceless treasure to him, even ones he knew the humans discarded away—a tin can with Dr. Pepper written on the side, a broken mirror, an old rubber tire. He had an especial fascination with shoes—boots, flip flops, high heels, trainers. There’d been more than one human who’d returned from the beach without a matching pair. Every item had a story, a tale he’d made up about its origins, the things it had seen, the varied places it had been.

Propping two of his footwear favourites against his tail—a chartreuse trainer and a suede boot—Harry cocked his head and imagined his tail was split in two. He imagined what it’d be like to walk on the ground, to head inland away from the sea. He wondered how far one could walk before needing to rest. Dolphins could swim almost indefinitely at a comfortable cruising speed, shutting down half their brain at a time when they needed sleep. Strong swimmers as well, the Merfolk, however, enjoyed their rest, spending long hours of their day safely asleep. In fact, the hours they slept almost equalled the ones spent awake. From what Harry had gathered, humans fell somewhere in between. Once the sun went to bed, the humans soon followed.

Noting that the sun had already started its descent, Harry looked at Matilda and said, “We better get you to sleep.”

He picked up the doll, moved over to his treasure trove and poked around for a suitable nest. The small chest filled with gold doubloons was the right size, but Harry feared the jumbled mess of coins would be uncomfortable and far too noisy for a little girl trying to sleep. Digging through a trunk, he found just the thing to solve the dilemma—a large scarf which he folded in quarters and placed over the treasure. He set Matilda on top of the scarf then found another to place another across her body, the edges tucked against her sides. Cocking his head, he looked at the doll thinking something was missing. A pillow, that’s what it was. A third scarf, this one made of silk, was quickly folded in quarters and then in quarters again, and placed under the back of Matilda’s head.

“I hope you won’t be scared,” Harry said. “I can’t stay. But Jonny will keep you company,” he added, referring to the marble boy. “I’m very happy you’ve come to stay.”

Pausing, as if listening to Matilda’s imaginary response, Harry nodded his head.

“Of course, I’ll stay until you fall asleep. I’ll sing you a song, so you have sweet dreams. Goodnight, Matilda,” and Harry leaned over to kiss the doll’s rosy cheek.

He opened his mouth and a song poured forth, a song about the beauty of the ocean and the denizens of the deep. He sang of the coral reef and the kelp, meadows of eelgrass, the fishes in the sea. He sang of the dolphins at play and the taste of salt. And he sang out his heart in words decked with seaweed. Of the power of a merfolk song Harry was well aware. Many a tale he’d been told about sailors held in thrall. Maybe he was being unfair, unleashing such beauty upon little Matilda’s ears, but he hoped that by listening, she’d be convinced to stay.

When his song was done, Harry whispered one final “goodnight” to his new little friend. Then he moved back to the water’s edge, raised his arms for the dive, and disappeared with a small splash.

-o-

Harry peered up at the bottom of the Sunseeker, thrilled when the craft slowed to a stop. He was more used to seeing the rigid-inflatable boats filled with tourists out here, coming to view the famous rock formation, Durdle Dor. The luxury vehicles usually sailed past and anchored in Lulworth Cove. Poking his head out of the water, he listened to the voices onboard.

“I want to go ashore. Have a kip on the sand.”

“Here? It’s swarming with tourists.” The boy’s voice had a musical lilt to it.

“Why don’t you just take a kip down below?” a third boy asked.

“C’mon, guys. You’ve been saying that at every good beach we pass. I barely got any sleep last night, thanks to you two. I’ve no idea how you can keep going for all hours and not be dead tired today. And it’s far too nice to be below. I could use some solid ground under my feet. Don’t exactly feel fantastic today. Still a little hungover, to be honest. Not used to drinking so much. Besides, Loki could use the exercise.”

The boy with the appealing voice—the tone was unusual, notable—spoke again. “We’ll stop at Lulworth Cove. Anchor down. Maybe grab a bite somewhere.”

“No. I’m ready to stop now,” the first boy insisted.

“C’mon, Liam. It’s not that far.”

“It’s far enough. I really need off this boat.”

“Fine. No one’s stopping you. Maybe we’ll be back to pick you up later.”

“What the fuck’s your problem, Tommo? Should hide your weed, if you’re going to act like this—” Liam said as the other boy cut in with, “Don’t be an arse. No reason we can’t stop here. Not like it’s going to be tourist-free in Lulworth.”

The voices faded as the three boys argued about the situation. Before long, there was a loud splash, then a second. Harry barely had time to duck out of sight around the side of the yacht.

“Race you,” the one with the pretty voice called, and then two figures were swimming towards the shore. Surprisingly, the smaller, less muscular one was speeding ahead of the other boy. Harry wondering who was whom.

The third boy, not-Liam, not-Tommo, was very carefully manoeuvring a tender into the water. He wore swim trunks and a life vest. A dog barked down at him from the deck as he made his way down the ladder. Once he was settled in the small craft, he called up, “Come on, Loki! Jump!”

The dog barked again, but stayed on board.

“Come on, boy! You can do it,” the boy coaxed. “Come on!”

With a wiggle, then a jump, then a splash, the dog landed in the water alongside the tender.

The boy winced as he was sprayed by the sea. “Fuck, that’s cold.” But he reached over to help haul the paddling dog into the dinghy. Once inside, the dog shook out his fur, water droplets flying everywhere. The boy yelped again, cursing.

With a growl, the small motor on the back of the tender roared to life and the craft headed towards shore.

Harry followed its progress, seeing it veer to the far edge of the beach, close to the Dor side and as far away from the crowd as possible. The two swimmers had made it to shore and Harry watched as the smaller one stood in the shallows and shook out his hair, just like Loki, a peal of laughing ringing out. The musical sound carried over the water and Harry was enchanted. So that one was Tommo. The strong one must be Liam. He still didn’t know the name of the boy in the boat.

When the tender neared the shore, Tommo waded back out into the water to help push the boat onto the sand. Loki jumped out and bounded towards Liam, shaking out his fur again and running enthusiastically around his legs.

The boy in the boat caught Liam’s attention with a shout, then tossed him a towel. Then he grabbed a small cooler, a Frisbee, and a few more towels before stepping onto the shore.

Intrigued by the trio and wanting a closer look, Harry dove under the water and swam to the far side the beach, all the way through the opening in the rock formation and to the back side of the Dor. He peered around the edge, keeping out of sight of all the people on the beach.

Liam was stretched out on his back lying on a towel, an arm folded across his eyes. The third boy was sitting next to him, digging through the cooler. Tommo was tossing the Frisbee to Loki, laughing as the dog leaped to catch the flying object then chasing the dog as it played hard to get with its prize.

Harry was captivated. Tommo had such life to his movements, an energy that radiated off of him, like the sonar pulses of a dolphin’s laugh. His skin was a lovely shade of golden brown, clearly having been worshipped by the sun. As the boy ran on the beach, Harry was particularly fascinated by his legs—strong thighs, powerful movements, yet agile and graceful, with slim ankles, pretty feet. He wished he could see the toes up close, see the grains of sand cling to them, the nail at the top of each tip. If Tommo hadn’t swum to shore, Harry was quite certain he would already be planning the theft of his shoes. As it was, he had to be content to watch from afar.

He wasn’t close enough to determine the colour of his eyes; nevertheless, he was able to soak up the sound of Tommo’s voice, catalogue the contours of his body, slim and curvy from the column of his neck to the dip at his waist, to the rounded shape of his arse. He couldn’t count his toes, but Harry was close enough to come to an incontrovertible conclusion in spite of the distance: Tommo was lovely. All together beautiful. Maybe the most beautiful boy Harry had ever seen.

Harry lost track of time. The afternoon sun had reached its zenith a while ago. He wasn’t sure how long he’d been observing the boys—hours, at least. All three of them had napped at one point or another. The boy who had brought Loki to shore, whom Harry now knew was called Zayn, was still asleep, curled on his side with a towel completely covering his face. Loki, who had also taken a nap in the sun, was currently chasing the Frisbee with Liam, who was seemingly refreshed from his earlier sleep.

The one who had occupied Harry’s attention most frequently, though, had been Tommo. Harry had been riveted, barely taking his eyes off him. Everything about him was fascinating. The energy he had first noticed was in evidence even while the boy was asleep. His body had twitched as he had lain on his towel, as if it abhorred being kept from motion. Harry felt an inexplicable kinship with the boy; he wasn’t exactly sure why. He, himself, was quiet, a loner; Tommo was loud and boisterous, the life of the party. But there was something about him that Harry recognised. He wasn’t sure what. Maybe it was his curiosity.

Other beach goers had clearly been attracted to Tommo as well. Now that Harry had got a good look at all three of the boys, he could see that by human standards, they were all very attractive. The other people on the beach certainly seemed to think so. Several groups had made their way over to the far side of the beach, using the excuse of the Frisbee and Loki to start up a conversation. But Harry could tell, by the tilt of the girls’ heads, the coquettish stance of their bodies, that they were there for the purpose of flirting. Of all the human’s rituals, he found their mating rituals most interesting. Zayn, in particular, seemed to attract the majority of the visitors, undeterred by his air of general aloofness.

That’s not to say that Liam and Tommo didn’t attract their fair share too. Boys, especially, seemed to gravitate towards Tommo. A furrow appeared on Harry’s brow at each encounter Tommo had with an approaching male. He did flirt back; that much was apparent. Yet each interloper eventually returned to his mates when Tommo seemed disinclined to continue their interaction further. One gave a cheeky grin and a shrug of his shoulders saying, “You can’t blame me for trying.” Harry could, and did.

Right now, Tommo was alone and exploring the rocks, every moment coming closer to Harry’s hiding place by the Dor. Now that he’d seen Tommo in action, he realised it was inevitable that he’d make his way over, no chance he’d pass up the opportunity to swim through the Dor. The unique landscape feature was, after all, what drew people to this beach in the first place. Heart beating like the fins of a seahorse, Harry remained still as Tommo approached, determined to finally discover the colour of his eyes. But Tommo’s head remained down as he watched his footing, carefully picking his way over the rocks. Harry was captivated by the precision with which Tommo placed his feet, the grip of his toes on the rocks helping him keep his balance. Because of his efforts to get a better look at the beautiful human, Harry didn’t realise how far he’d drifted around the side of the Dor. When he sensed the shift in Tommo’s concentration and knew he was about to look up, it was almost too late for Harry to hide. With a splash, he dove into the water, just in time to avoid being seen.

He surfaced back on the other side of the Dor and carefully peered around the rock formation. Tommo was standing still, head cocked, as if trying to determine what had caused the splash. Apparently deciding that it was nothing of concern, he continued his way towards the Dor. They were so close. And Tommo’s eyes were blue.

Feeling as if he’d discovered a prize of immense value, Harry’s body thrummed with excitement. Having already pushed his luck, Harry dove again, burning off his frisson of energy with a fast and strong swim out to where the ocean was deep. He wanted to shout his discovery to the universe, sing a melody about the particular colour of blue, but he settled instead for a leap out of the water high into the air, knowing he was far enough out to be mistaken for a dolphin were anyone to catch sight of him.

Realising he’d be far too tempted to get close to Tommo again and likely risk discovery if he returned to the Dor, Harry stayed out in deep water. Even so, he couldn’t bring himself to leave the area, so long as their yacht remained anchored off the beach. Eventually, he saw the little tender make its way back and the boat, saw the boys climbing up the ladder and back on board, lifting Loki to safety. And then he watched as the Sunseeker pulled up anchor and moved through the water out to the open sea.

Harry followed at a discreet distance, loath to let Tommo slip from his life like krill through a fishing net. Maybe he could discover where the boat would dock, the place that Tommo called home. The sleek yacht, however, seemed to have no particular destination in mind. Instead, the motor was cut and they dropped anchor again, floating far from shore in the middle of the ocean.

Head popping through the surface once again, Harry swam around the boat, listening for voices, attempting to hear the conversation on board. Strains of music reached his ears, and the sweet pungent smell of smoke wafted under his nose. The sharp cry of a gull pierced the air and the ocean glowed with the rays of the sun, still bright, even as it dipped low on the horizon. Harry wondered if they intended to stay the night out on the water.

And then he spied them, hanging over the bow, dangling in the air: two perfect feet, attached to two perfect legs. He recognised them immediately. Tommo’s feet. Tommo’s toes. Ten of them, pink and rounded. First checking to make sure Tommo wasn’t looking—only his feet and legs were in sight—Harry swam closer. The appendages were even more remarkable up close. Each foot was delicately arched, the colour slightly lighter than the rest of the foot. The heels were somewhat rough, and Harry wondered what they’d feel like if he were to touch one. They were too far out of reach, however, which he noted to himself, was probably for the best. A movement from above caused him to tense in fear of discovery, but it was only Tommo’s hand, wrist resting on the rail. A cigarette of some sort, wisp of smoke trailing off the end, was held between his thumb and forefinger.

Harry’s attention returned to Tommo’s feet. He counted the toes again, one through ten, delighted at their appearance, the small spaces between them, their plump padded perfection, the way the biggest curved upwards and the remaining four curled down and around towards the bottom of the foot. The toes were remarkable. Amazing. Delectable.

His eyes trailed over the rest of Tommo’s visible skin, the elegant ankles, one with a small black mark in the shape of a triangle inscribed on the side. Then his gaze travelled up to the shape of his calves, muscular yet slim, then to the knees that were folded over the side of the boat. He raised his eyes even farther up, back to the hand with the cigarette resting on top of the rail. And froze. Because Tommo’s hand was no longer the only part of his body leaning atop of the rail. No, now, Tommo’s arms were folded across it, chin resting on his forearms. And his bright blue eyes were staring down towards the water, right into Harry’s face.

Immobilised with shock, Harry could only stare back, eyes locked with the beautiful boy’s. Tommo’s face wore a puzzled expression, as if he wasn’t sure what he was seeing. Briefly, he glanced away to the cigarette in his fingers and then back at Harry’s face.

“Zayn, this joint laced with anything?” he called, keeping his eyes trained on Harry’s, not looking back at his friend as he asked the question.

“Not that I know of,” Harry heard Zayn reply. “’S good shit, though, isn’t it?”

“Yeah,” Tommo agreed. “Yeah, it really is.”

Damage done, Harry stayed where he was, directly below Tommo, taking in every detail while he could. His eyes were slightly bloodshot, making the blue stand out even brighter. His hair had dried into a messy fringe swept across his forehead. The bridge of his nose, his chin and his cheekbones were flushed pink from the sun, and his white pointy teeth made a nice contrast to his tanned skin and rosy lips. He was even more beautiful up close.

“Are you real?” Tommo asked, voice calm but curious.

Harry only stared.

After another few minutes of their staring match, Tommo called out to his friend again. “Zayn, can you c’mere a minute? Got something to ask you.”

Alarmed—it was one thing for Tommo to see him, that was bad enough, but for his friend too?—Harry was spurred into action. With a quick gasp and a swift flick of his tail, he tore his eyes away from the fascinating human and dove fast and deep, swimming away from the boat just as quickly as he could. When his heart rate calmed and he wasn’t still shaking from the unexpected encounter, he floated in the water, reliving the experience, thinking back on everything that had just happened.

He could hardly believe it. And he didn’t regret it, no matter how forbidden such interactions had been decreed to be. No, he wouldn’t have traded those moments for any one of the treasures tucked away in his cave—not for pearls, nor silver, nor any sort of riches found in the castle under the sea. He wouldn’t trade those moments for anything. Because he had seen Tommo and Tommo had seen him. They had looked into each other’s eyes and shared silent communication that said: I know you. I know you exist in the world. And strange as it seemed, as impossible and unlikely and implausible as it was, Harry felt sure they’d been fated to meet.

-o-