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Devil in the Deep

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Within two hours of college graduation, Tony was on a plane heading to Indonesia. He had no plans for a desk job now that he had been freed from college. With his trust-fund money burning a hole in his pocket, no family ties, and an itch to spend a few years wandering across the globe, Tony set off with high hopes for grand adventure. He went everywhere and anywhere, staying as long as he wanted, leaving when he was bored. By his mid-twenties, he had run out of steam and found himself in a rented seaside apartment in the Maldives.

Tony loved the hot and sunny weather of the islands, never wearing anything but board shorts, t-shirts and sandals. After trekking through the islands during the day, he lazed about on his Malé apartment’s balcony staring out at the deep blue water of the harbor. Yet, despite the fabulous scenery and the stunning weather, Tony was restless after staying put for the longest time since he fled Boston. He had no plans for where he was going next and worse, no ideas or motivation. He scoured travel sites and books for ideas and even threw a dart at a map, but nothing really grabbed him.

He finally rediscovered his inspiration one night while standing with a beer in his hand on his balcony. He was watching the fishing fleet and visiting yachts stream in and out of the port as the sun began to set. Then he saw the catamaran cruising into the harbor under full sail. Immediately fascinated by the way it glided smoothly across the waves, he knew what he wanted to do next. He would build his own catamaran and set sail.

Over the next three months, he rehabbed and outfitted an old cruising sail cat for short trips to sea and around the islands in the Indian Ocean. He had to rebuild the cabin to his specifications for his internet needs and to include a small workshop. Once his rehab was underway, he spent time relearning how to sail and how to manage the sail for his small craft. If asked, Tony would have to admit it was probably a bit indulgent to paint the hull in red and gold, like one of the old hotrods his father had collected.

During his work on the catamaran, he spent long hours at the boatyard and had gotten to know the workers there well. He was doing final preparations for his first trip on the catamaran one late afternoon when one of the oldest workers stopped by. “Oh, hi, Mohammed,” Tony greeted him as he walked down the steps built into the end of one of the hulls. He grabbed a towel to wipe the sweat off his face. He had been working hard on a hot, humid day.

“Fine sail cat there, Tony,” Mohammed replied as his experienced eyes swept over the catamaran. “So where are you taking her?”

“I heard about the Devil’s Atolls, so I thought I’d check them out.” He tossed the towel back on the catamaran and leaned against the hull.

Suddenly looking pale, Mohammed shook his head forcefully. “No good. You should go north instead.”

“I’ve been all over the Maldives. I’d like to go somewhere new.” Tony was surprised to see the unflappable Mohammed unnerved by the mention of the atolls.

“Tony, don’t go,” his friend insisted. “Bad things happen there – that’s why we call them the Devil’s Atolls.”

“Hmm, just sounds like someone needed to name them something. Creampuff Atolls doesn’t have quite the same ring,” Tony replied optimistically.

“Please, my friend, listen to me.” Mohammed looked around the boat yard and then leaned in closer to Tony. He spoke in a low voice. “If you are determined to go, be warned. There is this – what I can I call it? – monster – who lives in those atolls. The monster swims as fast as sailfish and is stronger than a great white shark.”

“I’ve never heard of any animal in any ocean like that,” Tony said drily. “Sounds made up.”

“A friend of my cousin’s friend saw it once,” Mohammed replied with all seriousness. “He said it had tentacles.”

“Tentacles? Like a jellyfish?”

“Tentacles strong enough to shred their nets. And rip off their anchor. That monster is dangerous. No sensible fisherman goes there. And we don’t see the foolish return,” Mohammed said with deep concern. “No one has lived to talk about it.”

“Warning duly noted,” Tony replied.

That night Tony joined his friend Happy Hogan for dinner. Happy was in port for a couple of days with his championship sailing team. They were seated at an open window framed with large green tropical plants and flowers. Over dessert, Tony retold his story about Mohammed’s warning at the boatyard. He shrugged. “So after that, a couple of other workers said the same thing to me. Don’t go to the Devil’s Atolls, no one ever comes back.” He caught a look of extreme concern on Happy’s face. “What’s wrong?”

“I’ve heard of the Devil’s Atolls,” Happy said reflectively. “And I haven’t heard a single good thing about them.”

“Really? Because everything I’ve heard so far sounds made up,” Tony replied. A slight breeze from the ocean scattered the paper napkins on the table and rustled the plant leaves.

“I heard a story from a friend of a friend that a siren lives in the Devil’s Atolls.”

“A siren? Like from a kid’s book on mythical creatures?” Tony laughed. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

“No, I’m not,” Happy snapped. “I’ve heard enough from other sailors that there is something seriously wrong in those atolls. One man told me that they found the wreckage of a small sailboat – the fiberglass hull had been punched through and the mast snapped in three pieces. It didn’t look like the boat had been wrecked by a storm but by something or someone.”

Tony threw up his hands. “Just sayin’, Happy, in this day and age of scientific discovery, I’m sure someone would have seen this siren thing and taken pictures of it.”

Happy frowned at Tony. “We’ve both done enough sailing to know that there are mysterious things out there in the ocean that no oceanographer has documented.” He pushed angrily at his food. “I wish you’d take the warnings seriously, Tony. It’s not a good idea – not safe.”

As much as Tony admired Mohammed and his boat building skills, he thought that his story was complete bunk and that some fisherman made up the story to drive away the competition. He also knew that Happy could be a bit of worrywart – a major understatement – and was probably exaggerating the stories. Honestly, the stories about some mysterious ‘siren’ sounded like they came from a bad science fiction movie. He stuck to his original plan to sail to the Devil’s Atolls and anchor off the reef for a week or so and soak up the scenery.

He cast off in the misty dawn thinking that he would have an uneventful trip. The Devil’s Atolls were a three-day sail from Malé. Tony had great wind on his way and the red-and-gold-hulled catamaran cut beautifully through the waves. Once he reached his destination, Tony set the anchor just off an atoll. The water was a rich blue and green and the water lapped musically on the hull. He ate a simple dinner sitting on the hull stairs, splashing the water with his feet. He felt tired from the journey and decided to set up his satellite antenna in the morning. Filled with a peaceful, content feeling, he turned in just as the stars filled the skies.

Tony had no idea that he was being watched and had been from the minute he came in sight of the atolls.

He stripped down to a pair of shorts and quickly set up the catamaran for a couple of days’ stay in the morning. He planned on taking a scuba trip in the afternoon, after checking in with his friend Rhodey on the satellite phone. He spent longer on the phone that he expected, laughing with Rhodey about his friend’s latest adventures in the Air Force. After a quick lunch in the cool of his cabin, he pulled out the scuba gear and went out on deck. On the hull stair, he found a beautiful whelk shell. He examined the large, colorful shell carefully. It was a deep red around the mouth of the shell fading to pink across the whorls. Maybe a bird had dropped it by accident.

He went scuba diving around the reefs surrounding the atoll. He swam through the schools of colorful tropical fish and explored the nooks and crannies of the reef. He looked up one time and swore he saw something dart behind a rock outcropping. He hated to think that Happy’s caution had poisoned his mind. There were fish, anemones and eels and all sorts of living things in the reef. He must have just seen a fish float by.

When he returned to the boat, there was another shell on the stairs. Tony put it with the other one.

In the morning, clad again only in his swim trunks, he went to his favorite spot on the stairs and found a fish. The fish was fresh so all he could do was think that the unfortunate fish had washed up on the step. He cooked it up for breakfast, then went back to sit on the stairs to think about when he would sail onto another atoll. He heard a splash and whipped his head around. He saw nothing. Tony took a deep breath and repeated that he was not getting paranoid.

That afternoon, when he returned to the boat from another dive, he found another fish. He appreciated the fresh dinner. But he decided to move the boat the next day.

As he prepared to set sail, he saw another fish and a shell. Tony sat uneasily on the steps, suddenly reluctant to put his feet in the water. He studied the ocean waves around him, wondering if it was worth the effort to figure out what was going on. If he was on land, he would set up a webcam to record what was going on. Tony ended up spending the morning designing a waterproof webcam, but he didn’t have the parts to build one. In the afternoon he moved the boat to another atoll.

That night he did not find anything on the stairs so he figured it had been a strange fluke. He settled down with a couple of beers to watch the stars come out as the sun set. As he scanned over the waves, he thought he glimpsed a set of eyes staring at him just above the surface of the water. He startled and then looked again. Whatever he saw was long gone. He shivered a little, but that was just from the cool evening breeze.

He didn’t even bother to have breakfast before deciding to sail to another atoll. Setting anchor off the next large atoll, he worked below-decks for a while in his little workshop. He thought that he was letting the warnings about the Devil’s Atolls get to him. Maybe he was getting bored and that’s why he was seeing things. He had lunch and went for an exploratory dive around the atoll.

When he came back, he washed the salt off his skin and wet his hair. After putting pair of shorts on, he grabbed a beer and went to sit and relax on the hull stairs before making dinner. Tired from the dive, he sprawled across the stairs, soaking up the hot afternoon sun. He drank his beer and started to feel drowsy. He’d never felt more relaxed in his life. Or unwary.

~~~~~

In the darkness of a deep underwater cave, a solitary sea-siren stirred. Waking, he stretched his arms and tentacles and flexed his tail. The hungry siren needed to hunt for a meal again and this time he was after something big. He would need to travel to his usual hunting grounds on the edge of his territory. Swimming along the reef ringing his dark cave, he enjoyed the frenetic activity of the fish and anemones around him. He had lived here for many seasons and knew each and every thing on his reef. The small tropical fish shied away from him until they sensed that he was hunting for big game this time and then went about their business.

He was fiercely protective of his small territory around the atolls. He patrolled often, driving off sharks and barracuda who ventured too close. He understood his fellow predators – they all had to eat after all. But he did not want to be bothered by the land creatures who came to his territory on boats and poached his fish with their nets. The land creatures who bothered him the most were the ones who poked and prodded at the animals and reefs under his protection. He wrathfully drove them all away from his territory, making it clear how unwelcome they were.

On his way to his hunting grounds, he noted an anchor on the seafloor. He followed the chain all the way up to a sailing vessel. Immediately irritated, he swam away from the craft to a safe distance to evaluate his new foe. He poked his head above the waves.

Instead of men with nets, he saw the most magnificent sight he had seen in many a season. The man on the deck was gorgeous, lithe, and tan with thick wavy hair. He took the siren’s breath away.

Something long asleep in the siren stirred and woke. His instincts told him he had found what he was seeking. He wanted that man. He wanted him as his mate. Mine. All mine.

The siren swam closer in case he was mistaken about what he had seen. But, no, the man was perfect in every way. He wanted to stay and watch him work on his craft, but he still had to hunt down his dinner. And find a suitable gift for his new mate.

Having met his destiny, the siren could not escape the feeling that his cave was empty, and the loneliness of his life in the reef. He imagined himself and his mate swimming around their reef together. Or the man waiting for him in their cave as the siren hunted down their meal. He smiled, thinking of a wonderful shared future for them.

But first, he would need to prove himself worthy by showing his mate that he could provide for them. He knew where the best fish swam and he rooted around the seafloor for cast-off shells. He spent a long time looking for the right shell to show off for his mate. He carefully placed his find on a step where the man would find it.

After that first time he saw the man and offered his gift of the best shell he had, he kept an eye out for him. He watched the man explore his reef. He loved the play of muscles on the man’s arms as he swam and the sheer beauty of his body in motion. He admired how industriously the man worked on his craft. He found his bravery and curiosity irresistibly attractive.

The siren gave the man fish. And he swam around the craft protecting him from all the sea creatures who could cause him harm. He hoped to be able to show off for his mate, show how strong and fast the siren was. Maybe the man might find his blue tail and fins streaked with red beautiful too.

Then the craft was gone. The siren looked for the small craft through his atolls and finally found him again. His heart soared with hope when he saw the man look directly at him. He swam closer to show off how high he could leap, but the man was gone.

He needed to eat and when he returned from his hunt, he found that the craft was gone again. So the man was now testing him to see what he was made of and making him prove his worthiness to be his mate. While he searched for the man, his instincts kicked in and he knew it was now time to conclude the dance. With a little patience, he would find the right time to make his move.

The siren moved swiftly towards the craft and evaluated the situation carefully. The fins on his ears curled in anticipation. All he had to do was bring the man to his cave. Then he would have the mate of his dreams.

The man was dangerously unwary as he lay asleep on his steps. He would be his protector from now on. He would give his mate the world and all the fish he wanted. This was the opportunity he was waiting for.

He swam stealthily and deliberately closer to the craft. His mate was now asleep and unaware of the approaching siren. The siren ducked under the water and scanned the area for any obstacles. He poked his head above the waves. No impediments here either.

With a powerful flick of his tail, he leaped out of the water and pulled the man off the craft. He dove under the waves, heading towards his cave. Panicking, the man flailed and sputtered. The siren reached up to curl a tentacle protectively around his mate’s head. The man hit him with his fists, trying desperately to pull away. The man headbutted him, then began to choke, before falling unconscious, his body limp in the siren’s arms.

Stricken with horror, the siren knew he had made a terrible mistake. He thought his mate could breathe underwater since he had seen him swim around the reefs. And now he was killing this magnificent creature in his arms. Immediately, he changed his course. Tucking his mate firmly in his tentacles, he swam as fast as he could to a secluded beach he knew. He tossed the unconscious man onto the shore. And hoped desperately that he acted in time.

 

 Siren!Steve and Tony on a boat

~~~~~

Feeling a mother of a headache assaulting his temples, Tony blinked a couple of times before getting up. He felt the rough scratch of sand beneath him, a fresh ocean breeze over his skin and a strange light brushing on his lower leg. It felt gentle and reassuring. He pushed himself up on his side to violently cough some water out of his lungs, and grimaced as the motion shook his head. Finally the blurriness cleared from his vision and he looked straight into the concerned blue eyes of some sort of merman creature, who was stroking his leg with one long tentacle.

Tony scrambled to get away from his strange attacker. He rolled to his knees and lurched to his feet, shouting, “What the hell is wrong with you? Get away from me!” Gasping for breath, he shuddered with adrenaline reaction as he watched the creature slip back into the water and disappear under the waves.

Blinded by anger and filled with outrage, Tony began to stomp around the small sandy beach, barely taking note of his surroundings. It took him a long time to calm down. All he could piece together was that he had fallen asleep on his catamaran and that the creature had pulled him off the boat, for some unknown but no doubt unsavory reason. He remembered being startled out of his nap by strong arms grabbing him around his shoulders. Then he was pulled under the water and he could do nothing about it. He fought as hard as he could against the creature’s strong hold, but passed out as he ran out of air.

Tony ran his hand through his hair and sighed deeply. What was he going to do now? And was that thing still out there? How safe was he? Still agitated, he looked around and discovered he was on a shallow beach in a small cave. The only source of light came from the cave mouth, so he could barely see into the back of the cave.

Carefully exploring the cave, he looked for something he could make fire with. He was not sure how cold the cave would get. As he analyzed the flotsam and jetsam in the dim light at the back of the cave, he noticed the creature warily watching him from the water. It was unsettling and disturbing to be watched, especially since all he could see was the creature’s eyes just above the water.

Tony got angry all over again. “This is all your fault, you know,” he snapped.

After diligent searching, Tony had pulled together a small pile of dry wood and trash that he could use as the base of his fire and found some promising rocks. He was grateful that he had learned how to make fire during his travels. He concentrated on using a variety of techniques to start a spark or two. It all took far longer than it should have. Once the fire was going, he then started to think about food.

He heard a splash and looked up to see the creature offering him a fish. Tony could swear that the creature almost looked remorseful. As much as he was still very angry at the thing, he was also very hungry. Wading into the water, Tony glared at him and sullenly reached out for the gift. The creature handed it over gingerly with his tentacles and kept his distance from Tony. He slipped back into the water once Tony had the fish.

Fortunately, Tony always had a small folding tool kit on him. It was certainly coming in handy now as he gutted the fish and cooked it. Seeing that the light was now fading, he would need to figure out shelter next. He hoped that in the morning he would be able to figure out a way to get back to his catamaran. He wanted to get away from that creature as soon as he could.

After a breakfast of yet more fish, Tony explored the cave. As far as he could discover, the only way out was to swim for it. He not inclined to do so as long as that creature was out there. He still didn’t know why the monster had kidnapped him and why he was still hanging around Tony and the cave. And it was certainly out there watching him. The creature had even built up some rocks on the edge of the beach and the cave walls like a sort of reclining chair where he could haul himself up out of the water and keep an eye on Tony and the entrance of the cave.

Tony found it all very disconcerting. He spent his morning giving the creature dirty looks to let him know exactly how Tony felt about the situation. But by the afternoon, Tony was tired from foraging scrap and building a small shelter. He sat tending to his fire after another meal of fish. It might be warm out there in the tropical sun, but in the shade of the cave it got chilly once the sun went down, especially since Tony was clad only in shorts. Guess he should have planned better for being kidnapped and nearly drowned by a sea monster, he thought bitterly. The only thing he felt pleased about was finding a freshwater spring in the back of the cave. And he didn’t have to worry about eating, as the creature seemed dedicated to providing food. He was still creeped out about the tentacles, which were strong and not at all slimy.

After waking, Tony began to design a method for collecting, storing and delivering the spring water to his shelter. Engineering work calmed his agitated mind. While he drew his plans in the sand, he looked up to see that the creature regarding his drawings with intent interest. The creature pulled himself onto the beach to look closer. Tony regarded him with wariness. Because it wasn’t like the monster hadn’t dragged him off somewhere else before.

“What do you want?” Tony sneered. This was his first good look at the creature who snatched him. He noted the fins for ears, the long tail and fins and disconcerting tentacles and wondered if this creature was the famous siren Happy had mentioned.

The siren-creature cocked his head to the side, as if analyzing Tony. Then he (Tony decided, with a look at the angled jaw line and broadly defined chest and shoulders) tapped the sand with a tentacle, while he rubbed his chin thoughtfully with another tentacle.

“I’m working on something,” Tony said, then frowned. It was not as if the siren could understand his explanation.

Meanwhile the siren started to draw in the sand with one of his fingers. Tony was surprised by the artistry in the small picture of fish and a reef. He then studied the siren more carefully. There was an intelligence in his blue eyes. And joy as he drew. Still, it didn’t mean that he wouldn’t try something.

“What’s your name? Because I have to call you something.” Tony figured befriending his sea-siren captor might be helpful when he tried to escape.

The siren made a series of low, throbbing squeaks and whistles reminiscent of dolphins and whales.

“I don’t speak Siren,” Tony huffed.

Looking strangely hopeful, the siren made another series of noises which seemed familiar enough to be a name. “Sss-t-eve? Is that your name?” Tony asked.

The siren tried again, but shrugged in mute frustration when Tony couldn’t understand.

At last Tony declared, “Well, whether or not it’s your name, I’m calling you Steve.”

Then Tony dismissed the odd conversation from his mind and went about building his water system while Steve the Siren retreated back into the ocean. Tony guessed that Steve had gone off to find them dinner. He was appreciative of the regular food service, but he was getting tired of fish day in and day out.

Over the next day, Tony assessed his unusual situation. He had food and water, a small shelter, and was caught up on his sleep. With his basic needs met, he was able to focus on plotting his escape. He would need light to explore more of the cave behind him to determine if there was a possible escape route. Tony worked out when Steve went hunting and when he would return, and he decided to try to swim out of the cave and see how things went from there. In the meantime, he planned to work on the lighting issue.

While sorting through some flotsam he had collected, he speculated why Steve had kidnapped him and what he planned to do with him. He checked to see where Steve was exactly. He was swimming around the small bay inside the cave, not exactly looking threatening at all. Tony thought about all the stories he heard about what happened to the unwary who went to the Devil’s Atolls. If Steve was the monster behind all the death and destruction, he hadn’t killed Tony. And it was not as if Steve didn’t have the opportunity – he could have let Tony drown or let him starve in the cave.

Maybe Steve wasn’t planning on doing away with Tony, but Tony still wanted to escape as soon as he could. He had a chance when Steve swam out of the cave on some errand. Tony waded into the water and swam towards the cave mouth. He had barely cleared the entrance when Steve appeared out of nowhere and started to corral him back into the cave. Tony was determined to fight his way free until Steve frantically pointed to the rapidly darkening sky. Tony frowned, realizing that the clouds might mean a cyclone, especially with the stiff wind now blowing.

Once they were safely back inside the cave, Steve hauled himself onto his resting spot on the rocks. Tony, frustrated at his preempted dash for freedom, sat down on the beach near the rocks. Now he could see the sky turn even darker with flashes of lightning. If Steve hadn’t noticed the weather, Tony knew he would likely be in big trouble right now. Steve whistled at him, pointing towards the storm.

“Yeah, looks like a bad storm,” Tony said finally.

Steve suddenly looked upset.

“Hey, no, I get that you can’t bring us dinner,” Tony offered as a guess. Awkwardly, he reached out to pat Steve’s tail. One of Steve’s tentacles patted him in return, and Tony snatched back his hand. He wasn’t at all sure what he thought about Steve, considering that Steve had stopped him from swimming into an angry, agitated ocean. But he could not truly trust the siren, since he was the reason Tony was trapped on the beach of this small cave in the first place.

Steve leaned forward, putting his chin in his hands, his tentacles folded around him, the tip of his tail curved around a rock. Blinded by his initial shock and anger, Tony hadn’t noticed before how beautiful the siren was, with his blue eyes and blond, human-like hair. His ear fins were delicately fringed with streaks of blue and red, matching the fringed fins at his waist. His lower body was covered in iridescent blue scales, ending in a large, fringed blue, white and red tail fin. Tony now had a close-up view of the muscle definition of the siren’s strong pectorals, abs and biceps and the blue scales scattered over his shoulders. But he couldn’t make any sense of Steve’s tentacles, which grew out of his back and which the siren seemed to use for everything from piling rocks and offering him fish.

Tony turned back to watching the sea storm, the flashing lighting a sharp and startling contrast against the black sky. The dangerous storm was awesome in its power. The waves hit the beach higher and faster, driven by the storm. The wind howled around the entrance of the cave. Tony shivered in the dropping temperature. He crept back to his small shelter where he could keep warm. He didn’t notice Steve’s concerned look as Steve watched him leave.

~~~~~

Now that the man had been saved, Steve had no idea what to do next. He wasn’t an impulsive siren; he always carefully thought out his plans, knew his territory inside and out and hated surprises. He just lost all control when he saw the dark-haired man and acted on instinct. He really should put the man back where he found him. But he could tell that the man didn’t want to come anywhere near him and he couldn’t talk to him. The best he could do was offer fish and keep dangerous predators away from the cave and beach.

He admired the man greatly for quickly building shelter and managing to survive. He liked that the man knew how to draw just like Steve could, although Steve couldn’t quite figure out what he was drawing. And the man must be very intelligent if he could figure out Steve’s name, even if he couldn’t understand when Steve offered to take him home.

Steve felt trapped in the cave with all the debris floating in the water. He didn’t want to expose himself to possible injury while the sea was agitated. He would have to wait for the sea to calm down before he went hunting again, and this time he would have to hunt for big fish since he was so hungry. But he was responsible now for the man stranded on the beach so he had to make sure the man ate before he did.

Once the clouds parted and the blue sky shone again, Steve knew he had to go. He let go of the rocks and swam over to the opposite corner of the cave where the man had set up his shelter. The siren tried to see if the man had woken up. But no sign of stirring in the shelter. Steve knew enough that the man would not take it all well if he tried to wake him. Dodging the debris on the water, Steve darted out of the cave to grab an unwary fish for the man. He left the food for the man and then headed out for his own meal.

Despite his hunger, he felt sad and reluctant to leave the cave behind. Maybe he was a little heartbroken because the man did not care for him. Sirens mated for life and this could have been Steve’s only chance. He had never felt this way about anyone else. Choking down any feelings of disappointment, Steve went off in search of big prey. When he came back, he needed to figure out how to help the man get back to his boat. It was the least he could do for someone under his protection, for whom he had strong feelings. Tony might not care for him back, but Steve would not swerve from his decision to help him get free of the cave. Even if it caused him to lose everything he had hoped for when he first saw Tony shining in the sun.

It was only the right thing to do.

~~~~~

The morning after the storm was like Christmas on the beach. So much debris was washing up – wood, pieces of metal, cans, bottles, a tarp, and plastic parts. Tony gleefully gathered up what he could find, even wading out to pull in useful wreckage. And still, Steve was nowhere to be found. Tony was rather glad to be out of Steve’s constant watchfulness.

Free to go where he wanted, he swam out to the mouth of the cave where he discovered a ledge of rock exposed by the low tide. If Tony timed it right, he could stand on the ledge, reach around the cave wall, and climb up to get out of the cave. Tony decided he needed to first build a raft first. Once out of the cave, he still needed to get away from the atoll. He filed the information away.

Standing on the ledge, he scanned the sea outside the cave to see if he could identify any landmarks. He noticed some wreckage on a rock outcropping, but it was too far to swim to salvage. Then he took a closer look. Tony drew in an angry breath and started cursing. “Damn it all to hell,” he groaned. That wreckage was what was left of his catamaran. The gold-and-red hull had been broken in two, the mast snapped in half and the parts of the sail were wrapped around the wreckage. Apparently he had secretly been hoping he could build a raft so that he could return to his catamaran. Now he was really, really screwed.

Well, Tony would have to think this out more. He cursed again when he cut his foot on an unexpected rock as he stepped back into the water. He was bleeding slightly, but nothing to be worried about. That is, until he saw the three tiger sharks patrolling just outside the cave. And now he was bleeding into the water. He scrambled onto some rocks to get out of the water and plastered himself against the cave wall. And hoped desperately that the sharks failed to notice him.

When the sharks started coming closer to where he was stranded, Tony considered how deeply unlucky he was. First, he was kidnapped by a siren. Second, he was stuck and getting terminally bored in a cave. And third, he was going to be eaten by sharks. This was completely ridiculous, he thought.

Then he saw Steve swimming confidently back to the cave, his strong arms cutting through the water and tail propelling him forward. He wasn’t sure what he thought of Steve, but he didn’t want to see him attacked and killed by the sharks. He tried to get Steve’s attention by waving and shouting. “Go back! Sharks! Dangerous sharks!”

But Steve had seen the sharks already. He hesitated a minute, then stealthily approached the sharks as they were homing in on Tony. Tony frantically looked around for something, anything to drive them off. He had a limited supply of rocks. As he picked up the first rock to throw, he saw a steely-faced Steve grapple one of the powerful sharks. Tony was shocked at Steve’s sheer strength. The shark tried to bite Steve, but Steve soon had the shark in a headlock with his tentacles. The shark went limp and Steve tossed the body outside the cave. The other sharks turned on Steve, who hit one with his fists and pummeled the other with his tentacles. Tony held his breath, wondering if Steve could survive the attack. Then Steve grabbed one shark by the tail and hurled it out to sea. The other shark kept circling Steve, biting Steve on the shoulder and drawing blood. Steve growled and then the shark and the siren were locked in a fierce wrestling battle. Steve pulled them both down under the water. A few tense moments later, the body of the third shark floated to the surface.

“Steve? Steve!” Tony called out.

The siren surfaced, cut and scraped all over his face and torso. He glanced up at Tony and gave a brief smile. He reached out with a tentacle. Tony hesitantly took hold and looked into Steve’s eyes. Steve nodded. Taking a deep breath, Tony jumped into the water and Steve tucked him in against Steve’s body, the tentacles wrapping around Tony to hold him safe as Steve swam towards the cave beach.

Once at the beach, Steve released Tony. Tony staggered to his feet and looked down at Steve, who was breathing harshly. “Are you okay?” he asked worriedly.

Steve nodded sharply and then sank under the water. “Steve!” Tony shouted. For all he knew Steve was dying after saving Tony’s life.

Tony heard splashing and saw that Steve was hauling himself onto his rock lounge chair. Tony was actually glad to see that Steve seemed to be recovering after his fight with the sharks. He walked over to Steve, who looked very tired. Tony settled gingerly on the rocks next to Steve, not wanting to get poked or stabbed by a sharp rock. He let Steve lay his head on Tony’s shoulder. He combed through Steve’s hair, feeling Steve slowly relax against him. Then Steve tentatively put a tentacle on Tony’s knee.

“It’s okay, Big Guy,” Tony said reassuringly, even though he knew that Steve couldn’t understand him. He rubbed Steve’s shoulder, surprisingly enjoying the warmth of his skin, the texture of the scales, and the slight pressure of the tentacle on the knee. He should still be angry at Steve, especially with the wreckage of the catamaran. But he was grateful to Steve for saving his life. He could at least sit with the injured siren while he recovered. It didn’t mean that he was going to let Steve off the hook for causing all his problems. But it might be difficult to forget the feel of Steve’s hard, muscled body against his.

~~~~~

In the morning, Tony stacked debris on the beach while Steve restlessly swam back and forth in the small bay of the cave. Tony hated that he had to rely on Steve on food and protection. He hated being cooped up in this small cave. He hated that his pride and joy, the catamaran, had been wrecked. But what he hated even more was that he was finding Steve attractive, that he welcomed the warmth and strength of Steve’s body, and that he had the odd stray thought of what Steve could do with his tentacles. “Stockholm Syndrome” kept echoing in Tony’s mind.

But Steve had saved his life twice. Tony put his hands on his hips and thought hard. Any lingering anger towards Steve dissipated and floated away. Obviously he had reached some sort of unspoken detente with the siren. And once Tony was not angry with the siren, he could admit that he found Steve rather interesting.

Steve finally swam over to see what Tony was doing. The siren sat in the shallow water, letting the small waves wash over him, watching Tony lay out pieces of metal sheeting and wood boards on the sand. He had a questioning look on his face and made low squeaks and whistles.

“Building a raft, that’s what I’m doing, Sunshine,” Tony replied. “Raft.”

The siren concentrated hard and then tried again. “Rr-aaa-ftt.”

“Huh.” Maybe he could teach the guy a few words. Maybe he could get Steve to swim out to the catamaran and bring back parts from wreckage. Maybe even another pair of shorts or some t-shirts.

Tony stopped working and pointed to himself. “Tony.”

“Tonnneee,” Steve responded.

“Tony.”

Steve nodded and smiled. “Tony.”

The unexpected smile knocked Tony back on his heels. Seeing Steve propped up in the water, all golden skin, hard muscle and sparkling scales, his face lit up with a broad smile, just hit Tony like a ton of bricks because Steve looked nothing short of spectacular. Tony shook his head and refused to be distracted from getting Steve to help him. Even if one of Steve’s tentacles was sweeping back and forth provocatively on his tail.

“Okay, Fish Boy, I need you” – he pointed at Steve – “to swim out there” – at the catamaran – “and bring back things like this.” He held up a metal strut and a board.

Steve looked carefully at both items and turned around to swim towards the catamaran. The rest of the day Steve went back and forth from the wreckage and the beach bringing things for Tony. Tony regretfully sorted the parts of his beautiful broken catamaran into useful and not useful piles.

Then he had an idea. Tony pointed to his shorts. “Shorts. T-shirt,” he said. He even drew a picture. Steve, clearly confused by the concept of clothes, nodded. After returning from the wreckage, he shrugged sadly, holding out his empty hands and tentacles. Tony rubbed his face. “Okay. It’s okay,” he said reassuringly.

He worked until close to sundown when he knew that Steve would could back with dinner. He was heartily sick of fish, and the shorts were starting to show signs of wear and tear. He could go naked, but he wasn’t ready to show vulnerability in front of Steve. He was also disappointed because he had apparently hoped too much that Steve could find him additional clothing. He was always cold at night and couldn’t have a fire in his shelter for fear of burning down the little shack.

This time Steve brought him reef lobsters for dinner. Tony cooked them over his fire and offered a taste to Steve, who didn’t like cooked food. “Your loss, buddy,” Tony said to Steve, propped up nearby on elbows and tentacles, tail in the water. Steve was fascinated with Tony’s fire, as if he had never seen one before.

Tony yawned, knowing he should turn in for the night. Especially since he was getting cold again. He stood up, shivering a little. Steve was alarmed and reached out with a tentacle as if to comfort him. Tony stepped back involuntarily. He wasn’t sure he wanted what Steve was offering. He struggled with his thoughts. Steve had been helpful today and he had brought Tony something other than fish for dinner. Despite all that, he wasn’t sure that Steve wouldn’t try to molest him because that might be the reason Steve had kidnapped him. But Steve had been so warm the night before and hadn’t tried anything. So against his better judgment – and Tony was not the model for good judgment to begin with – he let Steve lead him over to Steve’s rock perch.

The siren hauled himself up onto his rocky lounge and positioned himself so that Tony could snuggle against him and be spared the rocks. Once Tony was settled in nicely, Steve wrapped his arms and tentacles around him. Steve whistled reassuringly at him, gently rubbing Tony’s shoulders and arms with his tentacles trying to warm him up. Tony shifted to make himself more comfortable against Steve, who was like a furnace. Tony found it very peaceful to be lying in Steve’s arms and listening to the repeating sound of the waves lapping against the rocks. He drifted off to sleep thinking that this wasn’t that bad after all.

~~~~~

Steve felt uncomfortably dry when he woke. It was worth it though to see the faint smile on Tony’s sleeping face. Tony had turned around in the night to face Steve and his hair had fallen into his face. Tony smelled of sea salt and wood and metal and warm skin with an underlying scent that could only be described as Tony. Tony stirred awake and yawned. He pushed at Steve to get untangled from his arms and tentacles.

“Back to work, Ariel,” Tony grumpily said, poking at Steve.

Steve flicked his tail to splash water over his body. “Hey, watch it there,” Tony complained. Steve splashed him again, making Tony laugh this time. Tony splashed him back.

Then Steve stretched and dove into the water. Despite the sting of his healing cuts and abrasions, the water felt very refreshing, especially over his gills. He swam around the cave working out the kinks. Feeling out of sorts, he knew he needed a much longer and challenging swim. He was restless, edgy and feeling cooped up in this small cave. He hadn’t really even eaten as much as he needed to since his trip to his usual hunting grounds had been interrupted when he saw the tiger sharks heading towards the cave.

He poked his head up and saw Tony hard at work on the beach building something. He smiled, thinking of the man asleep in his arms. He been so worried and anxious when he saw his Tony trapped by the sharks. Then Steve had been very surprised when the man held him until he fell asleep. And better still, Tony willingly took him up on his offer to share body heat. Maybe things were changing between them.

Swimming up to the beach, he greeted the man. The man, knee-deep in a pile of wood and metal, grunted and waved. He seemed very preoccupied with his structure. Steve hauled himself up on the beach closer to the structure and tapped it with his tentacles. He looked up at the man curiously. The man started making noises at him as usual. He was always making noises and gesturing. Steve tried to be attentive and understand.

Steve had to work hard to suppress the little flickers of hope that maybe Tony was interested in being his mate now. He was always an optimistic soul. Recently Tony had seemed more open and less wary of Steve. He smiled at Steve at mealtimes and wanted to share what he was working on.

But whatever Steve was doing, it still wasn’t enough to show Tony that he was the mate for him. He had saved Tony’s life, gave him food daily, and had done everything a well brought up siren could do for his mate. Tony was friendly, but by Tony’s actions, Steve could tell that Tony didn’t want him that way. Maybe the best he could hope for was Tony’s companionship. Steve felt rejected and sad.

Over the next few days, they fell into a regular rhythm of spending time together; Steve bringing Tony food and parts from the wrecked boat, and Tony working on his raft. During the cool evenings, Tony cuddled against Steve for warmth. He couldn’t figure out what Tony wanted or needed for the most part, but he helped out as much as best he could. He wanted to.

Steve could tell that Tony was building a floating craft. He should have guessed that someone as smart as Tony clearly was would be able to find a way to return to wherever he came from. Steve knew in his heart that this was best for Tony because both of them were slowly going crazy from being cooped up in this small cave. Tony was stuck here because of Steve, and Steve because of needing to make sure Tony was safe. He’d have to take what Tony was willing to give him and be happy with the scraps offered. Eventually though, Steve would lose him and have to return to his lonely existence.

~~~~~

Tony considered whether he should extinguish his fire before he took out his raft for a try. He had to see if it was seaworthy before attempting to sail back to inhabited areas. A part of him was willing to push it and maybe continue to sail on if the raft turned out to be wildly successful. He glanced over at Steve, who was warily watching his last preparations. Better to cut ties now, he thought, and doused the fire.

He watched Steve doing his usual laps in the small bay. Tony was surprised by the thoughts he had about Steve as he moved sleekly through the water, sweeping his tail back and forth. “Want to go now!” Tony shouted, waving Steve in. He pushed the raft into the water and started to row with his improvised paddle.

“Not springing a leak. So far so good,” Tony said with relief. He wished he had something to record his notes about his progress on the raft. The plan was to sail around the atoll and then go for the longer journey the next day.

Steve helped by pushing the raft into the open water beyond the cave. Tony finally saw the tentacles in action. Steve used them when he swam, the tentacles propelling him forward and faster. Steve was gorgeous and impressive in his own element, his fins floating delicately around him, his scales glittering in the diffuse light under the water, his back muscles flexing as he swam and pushed the raft along. They quickly passed the catamaran wreckage.

The siren started to swim around the raft, diving deep under the raft, surfacing on the other side. A smile crept over Tony’s face when Steve leaped high into the air and then dove down, flicking his iridescent tail fin as he went. “Hey, if you got it, flaunt it,” Tony approved. It was like Steve was showing off for him.

Blood rushed from Tony’s face. In all the excitement after the kidnapping, Tony had forgotten about the fish and shells that had been mysteriously left on the catamaran steps. Like gifts. Like gifts from a boyfriend or girlfriend. He had figured long ago out that Steve didn’t want to kill him. He had thought that Steve might have wanted to molest him, but Steve never made a single untoward move towards Tony. Instead Steve fed, helped, and looked after him, as if Tony mattered to him.

Steve must have been the person who left the shells and fish on the boat for Tony. Like he was courting Tony. God, it was all so clear now – Steve was showing his love for him, Tony realized in complete shock. He looked over to see a smiling Steve now swimming on his back, displaying abs Tony could bounce a quarter off.

He didn’t know how he felt about a blue-eyed, blond-haired, golden-skinned siren in love with him to the point that he would snatch Tony off to a secret love cave. Especially since Tony had had some very provocative thoughts about Steve while Tony huddled against his strong, firm body for warmth.

Some splashing from Steve sharply reminded Tony what he was doing. Snapping his mind back to the raft, he considered their progress and how well it was handling in the water. Tony wondered if they could try to go to the next atoll. He tapped the raft to get Steve’s attention. But now Steve was swimming slightly ahead and stopped in front of the raft. Tony sighed exasperatedly. He worried Steve was going back on their unspoken agreement to help Tony get home.

“Get with the program here, Steve,” Tony snarled.

But Steve was not paying attention at all to Tony. He was raptly studying a small fishing craft approaching them. Tony smiled in relief. He was saved. “Wow, Steve, this is great. Unbelievable – I’m so lucky.”

Looking sternly at Tony, Steve shook his head forcefully. He began to push the raft away as quickly as he could. Tony gasped. “What’s wrong with you? They could help me.” Tony hit Steve to stop him. “I need to get out of here.”

Alarmed, Steve shook his head. “Nnoo,” he said. He pointed to the boat. The men on board were pulling a net with some fish onto the deck.

Ignoring the frantic Steve, Tony found a piece of shiny metal to flash a signal to the boat. He got their attention all right as he saw men draw out and aim guns at him. One man aimed a warning shot over his head.

Damn, he was in trouble now. “Okay,” he conceded. He could count five armed men on the boat, and they were up to no good since they were so quick to shoot first. The deck was covered with salvaged goods from the sea and fishing nets. Tony immediately thought about his catamaran and realized that the men on the boat were sailing directly towards the wreckage. He guessed since they were armed that they weren’t above forcefully taking what they wanted. And they were apparently willing to kill on sight. He began to row rapidly to get away before it got worse.

But Steve didn’t come with him. Instead he swam closer to the boat. Tony watched in horror as the men on the boat opened fire on the siren. He had seen Steve handily defeat three tiger sharks, but even as strong a fighter as Steve was, Steve couldn’t take on five armed men. Tony looked all over the raft to see if he could make something, anything, to help Steve.

Steve dodged the bullets by diving under the water. He swam under the hull of the boat and started to rock the boat back and forth. The men swarmed all over the deck and one of them started to shove a harpoon at Steve. Steve rocked the hull harder as the men shot at him, grazing him a couple of times. Then the siren began to tow the boat away from the atoll and move it towards the open water.

His shock at Steve’s strength distracted him for a moment. Then Tony quickly ginned up a slingshot with spare ties he had on the raft and collected small projectiles to sling at the boat. He realized he should try to take out the rudder and engine to do any significant damage. He aimed at his targets and started shooting.

The man with the harpoon stabbed Steve once in the shoulder. It only served to make Steve angrier. His tentacles wrapped around the rudder and ripped it off. Tony cheered quietly, especially since the removal of the rudder exposed some of the engine housing. Tony paddled in closer. He had the opportunity to gum up to the engine works with his small metal shards.

Then Steve cried out loudly as he was stabbed again. Tony got a direct hit on the engine. He could see one of the men jump down a hatch to start bailing out the hold. Good, he thought grimly. Then Steve started to crush the hull with his tentacles. Tony, Steve and the men on the boat heard the fiberglass crack. Another man ran over to the wheelhouse to get control of the boat. The boat began to sail away from the atoll and Steve. The men kept shooting but they couldn’t get a hit on fast-dodging Steve. Finally, the boat pulled away and was soon far distant from them.

Tony crowed, “I bet this is going to add to the whole reputation of the Devil’s Atolls, Steve, buddy. They won’t want to tangle with you ever again.”

But Steve did not look at all good when he limped back to the raft. The stab wounds in his shoulder and arms looked ugly and he had cuts and abrasions all over his body and tentacles. His tentacles clung to the edge of the raft. Tony looked around, calculating how long it would take to get back to the cave. Fortunately they had not gotten very far. He said encouragingly, “Okay, Steve, we’ll get you somewhere safe. Just hold on to the raft.” He patted the tentacles.

Tony rowed back to the cave as best he could. Steve’s dead weight made the trip nearly impossible. But Tony gritted his teeth and rowed harder. He passed the rock outcropping with the catamaran wreckage. The waves gently drew the raft into the cave and back on the beach just as Tony was starting to tire from the rowing.

Once close to the beach, Steve stirred and let go of the raft. Tony stowed the raft on the dry sand. Then he pulled at Steve until Steve was partially on the sand, leaving his tail in the water. He examined Steve’s wounds, which had mostly stopped bleeding, and dressed them the best he could. He strong-armed Steve over to his rocky perch and with great effort he arranged Steve as comfortably as he could. Steve fell asleep soon, tentacles wrapped around his body and arms.

Tony stood by him and sighed. He wasn’t a doctor by any means, though he had learned some tricks over the years during his travels. He hoped it was enough to help Steve. Steve would have died to save him from the pirates and that was a very sobering thought.

Over the next few days, Tony used the raft to travel back and forth to the catamaran wreckage. He recovered a couple of tools, sections of torn sail, and even found some t-shirts. The satellite radio was a complete loss though, as it was damaged too heavily to fix, and he couldn’t see any of the other electronics. As he stood on the rock looking over the wreckage, he thought back on the last time he had been in the catamaran cabin. He got back on the raft and headed home.

Taking care of Steve was the hardest thing Tony had ever done. He had to find food from himself and Steve, and Tony did not have Steve’s talent for hunting for fish. He only started catching fish when he designed a couple of high-tech (for what was available to him in the cave) fish traps. That’s how he found out Steve needed a lot of fish on a daily basis. Then Steve seemed not to be healing well. Tony suspected he had sustained far more damage than Tony saw and Steve would admit to, although Steve was not a complainer. As he tended to Steve, Tony also had to wet Steve’s gills and scales or Steve would dry up and be in pain.

As Tony slogged back to Steve with the tiny fish recovered from a fish trap, he wondered why he was doing this. There was some unstated connection between them now, as they had lived and worked together on the raft. And Steve had saved Tony’s life three times now. When he pressed the all-too-small dinner in Steve’s hand, he saw a deep gratitude in Steve’s blue eyes and a tentacle caressed Tony’s arm.

Later, he settled down next to Steve to watch the sky turn to night. Steve leaned into him, drowsy, and put a couple of tentacles on his leg. Tony wondered what Steve really did around the atolls, unless he was some sort of protector for the reef communities around the little islands. Suddenly it all made sense now, what Steve had been doing for years was driving off anyone who came close to his territory. Steve protected his territory and everything that lived there. He smiled down at Steve, brushing his blond hair off his forehead.

Tony studied the siren now asleep at his side. Steve looked adorable as he slept, with a little crinkle in his forehead. And he loved Tony. Since the kidnapping, everything he did was to keep Tony safe. He did everything in his power to give Tony what he needed, he looked for the fish that Tony liked, he watched over Tony while he built the raft so he wouldn’t be attacked. He remembered Steve cheerfully helping him, comforting him when he was down, willing to do whatever Tony asked. It was love and Tony had never seen it.

Steve was an extremely attractive being, including the whole intriguing tentacle thing. Tony enjoyed spending time with him, even if they couldn’t quite talk together. Tony started to panic. What did Steve even see in Tony? Steve had a very good purpose in life as a protector of the reefs and little islands of the Devil’s Atolls. And what was Tony doing? Nothing, just bumming around the world, avoiding responsibility and any personal connections, not spending his time or considerable talents in any productive manner. He felt ashamed comparing himself to Steve.

Despite his admiration and deep feelings for Steve as a friend, Tony wasn’t sure that he felt anything more than that for Steve. They had gone through some hardships together, but that’s what made them friends. He decided he would stay as long as he needed to make sure that Steve could survive on his own. He owed that to Steve as a friend.

But no more cuddling at night from now on. He carefully extracted himself from Steve and returned to his own shelter, glad that he was wearing a t-shirt, even though the clothes and the shelter weren’t as warm as Steve. But he couldn’t lead Steve on, especially now that Tony understood what he wanted.

~~~~~

Soon enough Steve was up and moving about to both Tony and Steve’s great relief. Tony was grateful that Steve was able to hunt as well, because Steve just had the knack for finding fish that Tony didn’t. And Tony didn’t have much more to do with the raft.

Even though Tony had worked out some sort of communication with Steve which involved a lot of pointing, smiling or frowning, and holding up things, Tony had questions now for Steve that didn’t involve pointing at a stick. Tony had noticed that Steve liked to draw in the sand whenever he wasn’t hunting or swimming or fighting off pirates. Maybe he could reach Steve that way.

Tony had built a couple of low stands on the beach just at the waterline with some of the debris so that Steve could prop himself up easily and keep his tail in the water while he kept Tony company. Steve seemed unusually unsettled even though he tried to hide it from Tony.

Not sure how to draw a question, Tony drew a fish with a question mark. Steve looked puzzled but with some back-and-forth Tony got him to understand that Tony was asking a question. So Steve drew pictures about needing fish and hunting. Slowly Tony asked and drew pictures with more complicated questions and Steve answered and asked him his own questions.

Feeling confident that he was finally able to have a conversation with Steve, Tony drew a picture of the catamaran, Tony on the catamaran, and Steve pulling him off the boat. Steve slumped a little and patted Tony’s arm with a tentacle. He then tried to draw a couple of pictures but struggled. Steve looked very upset.

Tony rubbed one of Steve’s shoulders. “It’s okay, Blondie, really.”

“Tonee, sss-oorr-ee,” Steve huffed out. He drew a picture of Steve and Tony in a cave under the sea.

“Humans, um, don’t snatch people to make them their boyfriends. Guess that’s what sirens do.”

Then Steve drew a x over the picture. He looked questioningly at Tony who didn’t contradict what Steve was thinking.

“Oh well, what’s a little interspecies misunderstanding between friends?” Tony replied, as he clapped Steve’s shoulder. Well, he couldn’t be angry with Steve if Steve was just acting on instinct. “Got to get back to work.”

He got up and went back over to the raft and his debris piles, not noticing the stricken look on Steve’s face.

~~~~~

When Tony got up in the morning, he stretched, scratched and yawned. He was ready to go back home. He missed his morning, afternoon and evening coffee way too much. He missed Pepper and Rhodey’s calls. He missed his comfortable bed in his Malé apartment. He’d have to figure out how to say goodbye to Steve. But otherwise, he could jump on the raft without a single regret.

Outside the shelter, Steve had left a drawing that seemed to say that he was out hunting somewhere, along with a fish and a shell for Tony. “Good ol’ Steve,” Tony thought.

Focused on making final preparations, Tony hadn’t noticed that Steve had not returned at the usual time. He hadn’t returned even by late afternoon. Tony wondered what Steve had gotten up to on his trip out to the ocean. Tony actually felt a little lonely for once without a friendly siren to watch him while he worked. He turned in early.

What was strange was that Steve hadn’t even returned in the morning when Tony woke up. Combing his hand through his hair, Tony pondered what to do. Maybe the picture and the shell were Steve’s way of saying goodbye. Tony waited a while longer but no Steve. He had no idea where Steve was or whether Steve would be coming back, and he couldn’t wait forever.

First though, he thought he would check out the atoll he had been staying in for over a month. He rowed the raft out of the cave and located a safe place to land. He had to scramble up a low rocky cliff to reach the top of the atoll. It did not take long for Tony to explore the rocky little island covered with plants. He sat down on a rock and looked out at the stunning deep blue sea and the collection of coral reefs and green islets that made up the Devil’s Atolls. The sight was breathtaking.

But then he thought about Steve. He hadn’t seen Steve for over a day, and he missed the gorgeous siren. He had completely forgiven Steve for dragging him off the boat. And they had lived and worked together very closely and survived some tough times. And Steve’s actions with the fishermen inspired Tony. He had come to really like these atolls and wanted to see them protected, just like Steve did.

Tony pushed around the pebbles and sand with his toe. He frowned deeply and thought back over the past few weeks with Steve. When exactly had he started thinking of Steve as a person? Why had it mattered to him to sort out why Steve had snatched him? And why did he act as if he were letting a friend down easy after a clumsy pass when he figured out that Steve more than liked him? So, despite everything, he had become friends with Steve after all. Friends don’t slink out of caves without saying goodbye. He decided he really should go back just one more time to let Steve know he was leaving.

As he made his way down to the raft, Tony also had to admit that he was also incredibly attracted to Steve. Steve was noble, strong and athletic, creative, loyal and sweet … he could go on and on about Steve’s qualities. The point was, Steve really had a lot to offer someone. And he had picked Tony to love. Actually, when he reflected on what he had to offer, maybe Tony didn’t deserve Steve. He didn’t think that Steve was all that impressed with his raft-building skills.

He had to give it one more shot to see Steve for the last time. Steve was his friend, and Tony owed him for helping him get through this ordeal, even if Steve was the cause. He’d hate himself if he didn’t say good-bye.

~~~~~

When Steve returned to the cave, Tony and the raft were gone. Steve should have guessed that would happen. He had been very hungry that morning and needed to hunt for something substantial and satisfying. That type of hunt took a long time and he couldn’t quite express how long in his picture message for Tony. He left a shell in the hope that Tony might see that Steve would return.

Tony was always going to leave and return to his people wherever they were. Devastated, Steve sat on his rocky perch and looked sadly around the now empty beach. It had been a long time since Steve had been around other sirens. His siren family and friends were lost to him and he had been on his own for innumerable years. Then Tony had appeared like a bolt of lightning in his life. Tony was exciting, handsome, sexy and thoroughly amazing. Steve could do without the impulsiveness, but he could live with that fault if he could have everything else.

Steve was heartbroken that Tony did not love him back. But Tony had proven to be a very good friend and Steve could use friends. Now he didn’t even have that.

He wrapped a tentacle around his wrist and put his chin on two other tentacles. He couldn’t really go back to his solitary existence. Maybe he would go somewhere new, dare to move closer to humans. There were good humans out there, as Tony proved. He could start over; he’d done it before and could do it again. Maybe his destined mate was still out there. Steve just wished he could have Tony with him.

As he slipped into the water, he swore he heard Tony shouting at him. He poked his head up and saw Tony on the raft bearing down on him. Tony was waving and shouting, and it was music to Steve’s fin-ears. Excitedly, he swam to the raft, overjoyed to see Tony again. He reached up and Tony grasped his hand.

~~~~~

After Tony decided to return, memories of moments with Steve flooded his mind. The way that Steve smiled at him, lit up from within, Steve’s patience with Tony babbling at him, how Steve picked out the fish that Tony liked – all the ways that Steve showed Tony he loved him. And Tony’s heart opened up to all the possibilities of being in love with the lonely siren.

He rowed toward the cave and saw Steve dive into the water. “Hey! Stop! Stop! Steve, come back!” he shouted. He waved his hands. He worried that he had come too late and had blown his chances with Steve. Mercifully, Steve surfaced and reached out to Tony, who grabbed his hand and held it to his face.

He looked into Steve’s questioning eyes and smiled. He kissed Steve’s palm. “Did you miss me?” he joked.

Steve looked at him quizzically. Then Tony laid down on the raft to look directly at Steve. He glanced down at Steve’s lips. Steve was quiet in the water, barely moving his tentacles to stay in place, his blue eyes full of worry. Then Tony leaned forward to kiss him quickly, then kissed him again. He pulled back to see a smile on Steve’s face and his eyes still closed.

Tony rolled off the raft to help Steve tow it to shore. As Tony waded toward the beach, he splashed the still-dazed Steve. He figured it would be the only time he would get the first shot on Steve. But as soon as Steve felt that the raft was safely ashore, he splashed right back. They batted water back and forth until Steve finally tackled Tony, pulling him under the water. Tony quickly jumped to the surface and hid behind Steve. He tapped Steve on the shoulder. Steve kept turning around and around trying to grab at the laughing Tony until finally he snagged Tony in his tentacles.

Steve turned Tony around to face him, resting his tentacles around Tony’s waist. He lifted Tony’s chin with his hands and kissed Tony. Grasping Steve, Tony deepened the kiss with tongue and teeth. Steve kissed just like a human, and besides, he was finding the caresses of Steve’s tentacles on his body rather exciting. He slapped Steve’s backside, encouraging Steve in his explorations.

Tony wished he could talk to Steve and tell him everything, that he felt strongly about Steve too, and that he really liked the shells Steve had given him. All he could do was kiss Steve as passionately as he could, give as good as he got, and let Steve know how he felt by touching, caressing and groping him. Yes, Steve was alien to him with his scales and the tentacles, but enthusiastic desire was a universal language. And Steve was getting the message.

Holding Tony close, Steve pulled him over to the well-loved rocky perch. This time, Steve used his tentacles to push some loose rocks around to make room for them to lean. Tony had had his share of experience but he had no idea where this would go, until one of the tentacle tips slid under the waistband of his shorts and another tentacle pushed up his t-shirt. Steve held him and kissed his face, chin and neck and down to his shoulders. Tony kissed back fiercely, tasting and nipping the salt and sweat on Steve’s skin. He mouthed at the scales on Steve’s shoulders and then kissed and licked across Steve’s gills, pulling a deep moan from Steve. Tony would have to remember that erogenous zone for the future.

Steve shifted a little so that he could pull Tony’s t-shirt off, supporting him with his strong tentacles. The supple tentacles moved over Tony’s body, caressing his back, arms, legs, the dip at his waist and the swell of his ass, dragging low moans from Tony as the tips found each new area to explore. Steve’s mouth worried the skin along Tony’s collarbone, sucking bruises as he went. Tony reveled in being manhandled by Steve as Steve shifted and moved him to explore his body with fingers, lips, tongue and tentacles. Tony swept his hands down Steve’s arms and up his abs and chest and guided the tentacles to touch him in just the right spots.

Then the tentacles tugged at and pulled down Tony’s shorts. He gasped as the fabric pressed against his hardening cock. A tentacle hooked the shorts and t-shirt onto a rock. Tony would likely appreciate the thoughtfulness later, but he really wanted the feel of a tentacle or a hand on his cock at the moment. Steve was a step ahead and wrapped another tentacle around Tony, gently stroking. Then another tentacle started to caress Tony’s ass. Steve slotted his tail between Tony’s legs so that Tony was practically straddling him.

Tony loved it all, loved the feeling of being touched all over, loved Steve’s excitement, loved how Steve’s irises were blown black, sweat slicking his skin. Then Steve drew Tony’s hand down to a slight indentation just below his waist where his tail began. He showed Tony how to stroke him there and Tony bit his lip when suddenly the scales separated and Steve’s slick cock slid into Tony’s hand. And Steve was a big boy, Tony grinned.

He began to stroke Steve’s cock, using all the skills he had learned over the years. Then a tentacle caressing his ass slipped down between his cheeks and circled his hole. Tony was overwhelmed with Steve kissing him, the tentacles entwined around his arms and legs, his arms and hands holding Tony just so, Steve’s cock heavy and thickening in his hand, and the tip of a slick, wet tentacle pushing into him.

Throwing his head back, Tony began to pant heavily with each caress, intrusion, and thrust. He had no idea what he was doing, only that he was surrounded completely by Steve, who was confident and direct and knew exactly what he wanted from Tony. Tony gasped harshly. He rolled onto his stomach and began to grind his ass against Steve. Two tentacles pinned his hands against the rock. Steve’s lips brushed against his neck as Steve’s hands gripped Tony’s waist. Another tentacle stroked Tony’s leaking cock in rhythm with Steve’s pulsing hips, while the last slid more deeply against Tony’s prostate.

“Please, Steve, god, just – please, more, more,” Tony begged. Tony had never been so out of control and was thoroughly enjoying it.

Then Steve pulled out the tentacle in Tony’s ass, and Tony nearly sobbed from the loss. Slowly, Steve pushed his cock in as Tony fell apart and pleaded urgently, “Oh, god, move, move, please, give me something here.” Steve bottomed out, then began to thrust. Tony moaned, shuddering in Steve’s embrace, rocking back against Steve, working up the friction, while Steve pressed a tentacle into Tony’s open mouth.

Steve relentlessly thrust into Tony, his hands bruising on Tony’s hips as he held him in place. Tony bucked against the tentacle stroking his cock. He could feel the electric pressure building up in his muscles and nerves. Steve was panting and gasping and his sweat slick on Tony’s skin. Tony’s senses were filled with Steve’s musky scent, the rasp of his scales, wetness of his lips, and his throbbing moans. He didn’t want to be anywhere but here, surrendering completely to Steve.

Tony nearly screamed with pleasure when the tentacle in his mouth began to thrust in and out. Steve groaned with each movement and was now moving erratically. Tony cried out as he came, his body shuddering with the release. Steve’s tentacles and arms held his limp body as Steve kept grinding through his orgasm. Then Steve stiffened and moaned in Tony’s ear as he followed Tony over the edge.

Feeling weak and exhausted from Steve’s thorough and passionate working-over, Tony didn’t want to move at all. Steve peppered his neck with kisses, nuzzling his ear. Finally Steve nudged him away from the rocks and washed him off in the seawater. Steve held him up as they made their way over to Tony’s shelter and they lay entwined together on the beach, lapped at by the gentle waves until Tony fell asleep.

Much later, Tony cooked his fish dinner over his restarted fire with Steve nearby. Tony felt a twinge of guilt when Steve had to go out and hunt their dinner after the afternoon’s vigorous activities. But it made Steve happy to provide for Tony, especially since he could present Tony with a special shell along with dinner.

Listening to the crackle of the fire and Steve’s low whistles as Steve tried to talk to him, Tony thought he could get used to this. He reached out to hold Steve’s hand and smiled at the siren. Steve looked startled then pleased. Tony had the sudden thought that he might have promised Steve something pretty serious, but seeing how beautiful Steve looked with a smile he could roll with it.

They had all the time in the world to figure each other out, wherever it led them.

~~~~~

When Tony returned to civilization, he used every advantage that his multi-millions could get him. First he bought the Devil’s Atolls outright. Then, with Pepper’s much-needed assistance, he oversaw the building of a home on the largest of the islets. It was a post-modern miracle of architecture equipped with all the latest technology, including a state-of-the-art workshop and a helicopter pad for visitors and cargo deliveries.

The house had been built around the enormous tiled patio designed purely for Steve. The patio overlooked the ocean with a large pool that Steve could live in with entrances to the ocean so that he could swim in and out. There was even an artificial cave with a waterfall built on the side of the patio that Steve could use as a bedroom.

Smiling at Steve basking in the sun in the pool beside his lounge chair, Tony reviewed the latest list of his charity projects. Tony once thought he would never settle down, but now he couldn’t imagine being anywhere but here. They had their up and downs, and Steve (and Tony) had the occasional bout of pig-headed stubbornness. But having Steve in his life was worth all the work.

Tony toed the sleeping Steve to wake him. Steve blinked at him through his long eyelashes. Tony reached down and wrote on the large chalkboard built into the edge of the patio deck, “Dinner?” Steve nodded.

As Tony headed back to the kitchen to figure out what to grill for his dinner, he thought back on the past few years with Steve. Steve had awakened his love of inventing and his desire to help the world. He had given Steve his longed-for home. They worked on their communications with each other, which was far more fun than it should have been. Oh, the games they played as they learned to talk to each other – well, it was probably best that they didn’t have neighbors for a couple hundred miles. Plus, he had the bonus of finding the occasional rare seashell on the patio put there just for him, more precious than any jewel.

Turning back, he watched Steve splash around the pool. He was amazed at how much he loved that beautiful siren smiling and showing off for him. To this day, Tony was glad he had not listened at all to the people who warned him to not go to the Devil’s Atolls. He never would have encountered Steve and began his greatest adventure.