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Lover, Thalassic

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Yixing’s feet dipped into the water at the edge of the beach, his toes curled under the diminishing foam that crawled up the sand and his throat constricted with a song. There was a strong thumping coming from his spine, his feet began to web and his fingers glistened an opalescent green shade. His whole body called for him to remain by the sea, to find his home amongst the rocks and coves of unoccupied spaces; resisting had always been the hardest part. He belonged at the waterline, he needed the oceans to stretch vastly in front of him and for the salt to sting around his eyes. Half his heart lay beneath the waves he could only look at in silence. Half his head listened out for the sweet songs that flew like birds through the air to him calling him, luring him.

“If you look out there any longer, I’d say you want to go in,” a deep voice whispered against his neck and he shuddered at the inhumanly hot breath that touched it, strong arms circled around him to make sure he stayed steady. “You don’t have to stay on the shore for my sake.”

“I know,” Yixing hummed, and he really did know. “It’s just better to be with you than alone in the water.”

“If you say so.” A soft kiss was pushed against his skin and he let himself be pulled away from the waves that licked like flames at his feet. The sand began to stick between his toes and kick up his wet ankles, he knew Yifan hated it with the fiery vehemence of his breath and Yixing had never revealed how at home he felt with that feeling.

They lived in the mountains, cohabiting in a house made of metal, slate and glass that jutted out on a large perch in the middle of nowhere. They were so far from the sea, it was always out of reach and Yixing only had the snow to surround himself in, and Yifan, too. The couple came down from the peaks when they stayed with Yifan’s parents, it was infrequent for them to visit and they were on their way back to the home they shared in the cold recesses of the country.

Yifan looked at Yixing for a few moments, making the younger look around to him as they stilled on the beach and the dragon let his waist go for a few minutes, the elder bowed his head to be in line with Yixing’s mouth, “I can fly home and you can stay here for a few days more, I know how you like the warmth and the sun.”

The smaller considered it for a few minutes, rolling the idea of swimming without inhibitions under the sky and relishing in the form he had only taken a few times since his adolescence. Then he simply looked at the worried glint in the dragon’s eyes, the fiery golds and reds swirled just beneath the surface like lava under the calm sheen of brown. The dragon had always been protective and Yixing was sure that Yifan assumed that he was the only one who knew what lurked around the sea.

“No, I’ll feel better if I drive with you,” Yixing smiled uneasily as he spoke, only finding comfort in the fact that all heat was extinguished from Yifan’s eyes immediately. “You’re warm enough for me, anyway.”

Yifan unwrapped himself from Yixing instantly, he took his hand instead and drew him towards his brand new Jaguar SUV. Being with Yifan was a shift from the lifestyle he’d been raised in; the humble fishing household he had been a part of with his single parent family was a world away from him. Yifan had money and a clan where Yixing only had his father and working days from the moment he could think for himself. He loved Yifan and with that came all the extras he had to accept; blazing tempers from his family, flaming passion and the scaly creature that remained beneath the surface of his skin.

Yixing looked over his shoulder once more to the sea, the ache in his back and feet disappeared with each step he took. He knew he would feel fine when he was back in his own home with his boyfriend, a secret was always hard to keep when the catalyst for change was just out of reach.

 

 

i.

 

Their home in the mountains was structured with large windows, strong metal beams and hints of cool blues around the edges. Yixing was surprised that Yifan liked the cold so much, especially being that he was a partly cold blooded animal and raised in the warm south yet he seemed to adore where they lived. They had furnished the house together, a joint project when they decided to leave the city they met in and travel for hours up the country; there were markers of themselves singularly and together everywhere. Photographs covered a wall in their lounge from floor to ceiling, most of them included the couple save for the few of Yifan’s family, their friends and Yixing’s father. Nothing of his mother. The half-siren had thought it best to not have any reminders of her, reminders of himself, in the area the couple lingered in the most. It made it easier to hide and keep the secret from Yifan.

Yixing’s favourite part was the fireplace with its hot flames and glowing coals that funnelled up through the roof however the beautiful part was the back. It glittered like pure obsidian and glinted like a black kaleidoscope as the tongues of fire licked at it, Yixing was mesmerised so often by its beauty that it would distract him from everything else. Very few of their human guests know what the shining darkness really was, Yifan and Yixing always claimed that it was tinted glass whenever asked, but it was a perfectly fitted layer of dragon scales. When Yifan shed his skin with the season turn, the scales seemed to harden and turn a more glossy black colour rather than stay their matte black and silver. Their fireplace hadn’t been lined with the material for any aesthetic reason, it was simply to keep Yixing safe enough to leave the fire to burn through the night if Yifan weren’t ever able to shield him from a fire that had escaped those confines. Everybody who knew about dragons knew that they were completely resistant to fire in any of their forms and the shed scales retained that ability to deflect heat. It was a safety precaution, and a magnificent one at that.

Their living room led openly into their kitchen, there were more photographs on the walls but there were mainly wipeable tiles and pots labelled with the name of the contents inside. That space was warm and inviting, just like the living area, despite the cold, modernist exterior of the house. There was a dining area in the next room that was parted with a glass wall, to keep things intimate while inclusive during parties and gatherings. Not that they had many, being the only people around for miles.

It did feel like home when Yixing took his feet out of his slippers and dug his toes into the fur rugs they had in every room or settled in the soft, fur throws they bought from their most local village. The house was always warm inside, even with all the windows, and Yixing relished in that. Especially on the days when Yifan was out flying one of his longer flights, those ones were the most special of days because they were rare.

It was when Yixing would head into the garage, pick up a bucket and scoop out a fair amount of salt from the industrial sized bag that always kept full in order to sprinkle on their driveway to keep the ice at bay. He could walk through the house, pour the contents of the bucket into their large bath then fill that with hot water.

The half-siren would slip into the bath and relax for a little while until the water shimmered then rippled. Yixing’s hips and legs changed to bind together and he dipped his fingers below the surface to feel aquatic scales beneath his fingers. They were smooth, almost slimy to the touch but that didn’t stop him from touching where his skin met the monofin. Yifan going out flying for hours upon hours was the only time Yixing could connect with that side of him. Although he couldn’t remember the last time he let his wings out, it was most likely during his childhood when he was still discovering that he wasn’t a normal human. Salty water was all Yixing needed to unleash his tail and since he had last been to the sea, he couldn’t resist the urge.

Those baths did not quell the want to swim, the need to undulate his hips to be able to flick his toes out as he swam through currents was did not ebb away like the burning of his muscles under his skin had. He couldn’t do such things until the almost non-existent summer months when the lakes melted for a day at most and Yifan flew further away, higher into the sky to soak in sunlight to his almost serpentine body.

Yixing wished he could be as free about his mystical form with Yifan as the elder was with him. The younger got to feel, touch and meet Yifan as a dragon with his burning breath, reptilian eyes and large claws. Yixing had had even flown on dragon Yifan’s black and silver scaled back a few times. Though, that always led to days of a backache for the half-siren as his own wings begged to come out so he could fly with Yifan. Not on Yifan.

But he was content with his baths, the could flick water around and change his legs back quickly when he heard the door a floor below open and close. Yifan had thought it to be a quirk, Yixing’s salt baths, one that was about keeping his skin exfoliated and Yixing had always smiled along with the elder’s soft teasing.

When Yixing did hear Yifan enter, his fingers had begun to crinkle and his body made a few popping sounds as his legs became two flesh covered limbs, not a singular fin. He rose out of the water once the plug had been pulled, encased himself in a fluffy towel he’d placed on the heated rack and made his way out into the bedroom he shared with Yifan. The older of the two was already in the upstairs corridor at that time and his eyes fell on Yixing’s towel clad body as soon as he walked in through the door.

“I wonder how many people would murder to be in my place to see this sight straight after walking in through the front door?” Yifan’s words seemed sleazy but his smile was wide, genuine and guilt inducing. “How are you human?”

Yixing laughed in the way he always did when Yifan said such things, the one that covered his guilt thickly and made lying that little bit harder every time. He stayed still, just watching, as the dragon made his way over and pressed his fingers onto Yixing’s shoulders. “Are you cold?”

The half-siren shook his head but Yifan’s arms went around his waist, where his towel was tied and pulled him closer. It was impossible not to feel at home when the dragon’s chest grew warm and Yixing could snuggle into it with his hands curled into Yifan’s clothes.

It was late evening, the winter sky had turned a lavender colour, it spread warmth into the bedroom as Yifan guided Yixing over to the bed. They had already eaten and there wasn’t much else to do than to climb into bed, switch the television on and spend the hours before sleeping curled up with one another. Yifan always grew slightly clingy after flying, the elder had said something about not wanting to have Yixing feel like he flew to get away from him, and Yixing did it to remind himself that Yifan loved him. Even if Yifan didn’t know everything.

 

 

ii.

 

Normality ensued as Yixing spent time apart from the sea, his urges died as his instincts retreated back and Yixing didn't think anything more of it. Yifan worked, as did Yixing, but their free time was always spent wrapped up with one another. Other than when Yifan was out flying but Yixing never really cared that he would be alone in those times, the other had always told him that a dragon without his wings was no dragon at all and Yixing would never be the one to get in the way of that.

They would eat dinner together on the floor next to the windows, they'd migrate to the sofa and Yifan would cuddle Yixing up to keep him warm as the fire died. It always happened that they would end up naked, often not even with sexual intent; more like a baring of softness to the other and Yixing would have to coax Yifan off the sofa to go to bed with kisses.

Yifan was always the one to wake second in the mornings, he'd grumble lowly as he roused and throw an arm around Yixing, who'd often be sat up against the headboard with his sketchbook in hand, scribbling ideas or trying to sketch the way Yifan's lips pouted out slightly in his slumber. The dragon would bury his nose in Yixing's hip, his floppy bed hair would tickle the younger's skin and his eyelashes would flutter gently against the bare flesh there too. Yixing never recoiled from those touches.

Dragons weren't much for softness but Yifan on his sleepy mornings was the gentlest of beings in the way he would kiss up Yixing's side until their lips were in line before he would speak his first words of the day. Everything was a cold Prussian blue colour, it often cast raw tones into the room but Yifan always soaked him in warmth.

It was a struggle to pluck Yifan out of bed without the elder letting his chest rumble with a dragonesque growl; kisses didn't work in those moments because Yixing was always drawn back under the duvet and kissed until his mind went blank of all responsibilities. It was Yixing leaving the bedroom, trailing down to the kitchen and cooking breakfast that had Yifan appearing in at the bottom of the stairs with a hand pressed sleepily to his eyes.

Yifan would leave soon after then, once he was showered and dressed, to drive off to work to start their routine all over again. The house wasn't lonely without Yifan during the day, Yixing worked hard and occupied himself until his boyfriend walked through the front door. He didn't have the time or the thought space to miss the other, though he knew he would if he gave into those thoughts.

It wasn't unlike Yixing to be sprawled out across the floor while he worked on his laptop, there were usually hundreds of pieces of paper, pens and pencils all over the living room floor and he could while away his hours sketching and designing things for his clients. He was organised until he started working because then his ability to keep track of 0.2MM fine liners and his 0.5MM ones went out the window. Yifan usually came back to the mess that became progressively littered with empty, cold and half-drunk cups of coffee. He never scolded Yixing for it, he always sank down onto the sofa and watched the younger do his work.

Yixing always liked that, he could sense the admiration from Yifan and that always gave him a wave of inspiration whenever it had begun to wane at around six in the evening.

However, Yixing could feel the dark, thunderous clouds that followed his boyfriend in through the front door and in the steps that echoed through the foyer one day; the sounds of his entry ricocheted differently to normal. Yifan was advancing towards Yixing. Not swanning across the tiles like he usually did.

The half-siren moved closer into himself because he knew that an angry dragon was not one to be messed with no matter who was present. He worked quietly and swiftly to finish up, he even moved to clean up after himself as quickly as he could to not rile Yifan up even more with his messiness. There was a list of reasons why Yifan may not have been his normal relaxed self and Yixing knew that any of those plausible situations could take hours to calm Yifan down from. Dragon tempers were volatile things however Yixing had developed numerous techniques to soften Yifan up over the years.

Yixing's brows drew together when the steps didn't stop in the living room, instead, they continued on and Yixing's heart started hammering as he cleaned up faster. It resulted in a knocked over a cup of coffee running over one of his designs, he muttered a curse and began trying to salvage what he could of the sheets.

He reached out to his paper as a hand wrapped around his upper arm and yanked him up until he was up off of the floor with his feet skidding across the rug he'd been sat on and his whole body turned rigid.

"Yifan," he yelped, half in fright and the other half in shock. "What's wrong with you?"

Yifan didn't say anything. Yixing could see his eyes, though. They swirled like a black rock in lava, they were not a deep shade of brown that Yixing looked into affectionately so often, it was terrifying to see the irises like that through anything but worry. The angry—no, furious—stare the other fixed on him had his throat closing over in fear. The grip on his arm was firm, taut enough that Yixing's hand began to feel heavy with blood and he reached over with his other hand touch the dragon's wrist. "Yifan?"

The angry male released Yixing as if the younger had scalded him with his fingertips and ran his fingers through his hair, a clear sign of stress and Yixing's back rippled with a want to protect himself. The younger stumbled as he caught his footing again with the lack of strength holding him up and yet he still stepped toward to the older as tentatively as he possibly could.

"Have you ever lied to me?" Yifan muttered whilst his eyes burned ever hotter and Yixing gulped, the heat in Yifan's irises seemed to have dried up the entirety of Yixing's mouth and throat like the sun in a drought.

"No," he croaked out.

He could see Yifan's face darken, even more, each of his features turned intensely threatening and Yixing could feel his spine-rattling further. His wings sang into his head that he should let them out, that he should use them to protect himself from a threat. But the human half of him could see the way Yifan's hands balled up at his sides, how his pupils changed size as he battled against his own anger and Yixing knew conflict anywhere, especially on Yifan.

Yifan's fingers delved into his pocket without speaking and drew something out slowly. His hand trembled as he held the object out. That had Yixing's heart stopping for a few beats as he took the item in. It was a simple silver chain that had a small sized pebble dangling from it, the stone itself was a black fire opal; it resembled the look of Yifan's eyes. Yixing couldn't answer as his mouth fell open slightly, he could feel the sting of tears in his own orbs. "Is this what I think it is? If I am wrong then tell me."

Yifan held the necklace tighter as Yixing's head nodded in the affirmative almost instantly as he searched his own chest for the item. "Fan, I—"

The dragon's eyes set on him, they were almost wholly red and that was more than enough to cut him off. Yixing tried to stumble away from the other again but he felt pinned down by his gaze. There was no longer only the fury in those eyes, hurt and upset danced there too. The dragon ground his teeth before he spoke again. "Why do you have this? Why do you have a siren's pendant?"

"I—"

Yixing wasn't allowed to answer before the other's next questions came out and made him freeze where he was stood. "Where did you get it? Where did you get this thing from?"

"M-m-my mo-mother."

"Why did your mother have one?" Yifan, again, did not let Yixing respond before he spoke once more. "Are you human?" Yifan sounded like he was holding his breath, containing himself from unleashing the full wrath of his feelings and it made Yixing feel the actionless damage. "Don't lie, please be honest with me."

The words were laced with something vulnerable as if Yifan would break if he found out the truth. Yixing couldn't speak. He shook his head. That seemed to be more than enough.

Yifan's anger resembled an explosion as the amulet was thrown powerfully across the room, it clattered against the wall hard enough that Yixing feared that it would shatter on the slates. The younger dashed across the room, having found the courage to break out from the penetrating glare, his hands reached out for the pendant instantly and he held it as close to his chest as soon as he could. It was the only thing he had left of his mother's.

Nothing was said as Yifan watched him cradle the item to his chest, tears fell from the smaller man's eyes and he was verging on certain that Yifan's eyes had cooled down to pool with his own tears. "You're a—"

The feeling of having Yifan know what he was strange and it did nothing but settle with an uncomfortable weight of guilt in his stomach. There had been a vision that there would be a sense of relief with his boyfriend knowing who he really was but instead, he felt like a gutted fish with his innards out on display. He was afraid. Not necessarily of Yifan but more of what was going to happen next.

"You lied to me." Yifan sibilated as he approached Yixing, he continued to clench his fists and Yixing could feel the aura of betrayal radiating off Yifan in waves that he couldn't fight against. "Do you realise what you—" Yifan took one step closer, his shoe caught on the edge of Yixing's jeans and the half-siren flinched away, he knew Yifan would never harm him but his body seemed to think otherwise in reaction to the elder's coiled stance. And yet, Yixing was sure that nothing could have hurt him anymore that the next words from the other's lips: "This—we—are over, Yixing."

The dragon twisted on his heel as his hands pushed back up into his hair to pull at the strands while Yixing's eyes flooded with too much fluid to see clearly, he walked away from Yixing in a blurry form of black and went straight back out through the front door that slammed shut with a house shuddering force behind him. The sounds of tires on the gritted driveway screeched and ground in a strange cacophony. Yixing curled up further into himself on the floor with the pendant clutched in his hands and water drowning his eyes. He couldn't see, he could barely feel, as he sobbed into the empty house he'd been abandoned in.

He didn't move from his spot, even when the sun went down later in the evening. Yixing felt as though he was stranded on an island waiting for Yifan to return to him. He knew the dragon wouldn't. Yixing was a siren. He embodied everything Yifan and his family despised with each of their shimmering scales. Even with that, Yixing had lied to him for years. Not only was it a cold resentment he'd induced but a tearing sense of dishonesty.

Yixing felt hollow so deep down that the marrows of his bones felt like despairing caves no sound or light could fill. His hands shook around his mother's necklace as he held it close to his chest. He could almost hear the soothing songs he could vaguely remember coming from the seas when he was a child, the songs that were a sign that she was thinking of him and that she would return soon. He wished with every part of his sparrow heart that the songs would make him feel better but they did nothing to help him, they made everything in the house seem benign and unimportant.

The fire burned low, to a dying ember, and Yixing no longer felt the warmth on his body but he didn't mind that, it was easier to not mind it as the night drew in. He didn't sleep until his eyes slipped completely out of focus and he crumpled onto himself with an unheard whimper of isolation on the side of the cold mountain.

 

 

iii.

 

Nothing reverted to normal as days passed by him. The house stayed cold, the mess in the living room had become a permanent fixture and Yixing had taken to sleeping in the bath. He couldn't return to the bed he'd shared with Yifan, all the memories of lavender sunsets and crystal blue mornings would only be tarnished by the ever-present grey looming over him. It wasn't even indulgent, each of his aches and pains. He felt no satisfaction from nudging those bruises on his heart or pressing on the stinging abscesses of loss with his salt laden fingers. Everything was burning him like his skin would bubble up then harden to blacken and become pure carbon, and he knew he deserved it.

His own need to keep Yifan close had overtaken the streak of honesty he had been nurtured into having, he was selfish to have Yifan and his own secret. He knew he couldn't keep them both at the same time but he wished he'd done more to make Yifan stay, to make the dragon listen to his most honest reason; he had lied because he had already fallen in love with Yifan before he knew everything.

He was a teenager, smitten and rosy-cheeked when he met Yifan by chance in his home village. He'd call it love at first sight but he knew better than that; what had felt like instant love in that moment had been the exact thing that had evolved into love.

It was what had him dragging his feet to answer the door every time the bell went in hopes his love had returned to him. Yixing's closest neighbours had been checking in on him, he wasn't sure why at first but they had explained that Yifan's car hadn't been past their house in almost a week and Yixing hadn't approached them about keeping their driveway gritted. Something that he did before every trip with Yifan. They dropped by nearly every day with dishes of food, of which Yixing threw contents away and then scrubbed out the container to give back to them the next time they appeared.

Yixing guessed it was time for their arrival, he had readied himself by washing a little more than usual and had shaved to get rid of the hairs that had begun to scratch at his skin. He felt a little more put together on the outside but internally, he felt utterly lost. So much so that he wore one of Yifan’s shirts that had been hooked over the end of the bed, untouched since the elder’s departure until then and the scent of Yifan had turned stale between the stitches.

The siren stood dumbfounded and exhausted when he took in the sight of one of Yifan's cousins in front of him. The whole Wu clan were tall and imposing, Yixing had always felt so small and vulnerable around them, and Yixing knew that Yifan's family must have known what he was by then. It made those initial moments all the more anxiety-inducing.

Yixing assumed he was there for Yifan's things. The elder hadn't left with anything, after all. He moved to the side to allow the man in without speaking, his head was bowed down and Yixing was ready to hide away in one of the spare bedrooms to avoid Yifan's cousin. Instead, a large hand, one that was far meatier and less primped than Yifan's, wrapped around his wrist.

Lack of eating, sleep and will had removed his energy to fight his way away from the harsh yanks on his arm and he was forcefully pushed into the back of a large SUV. It was warm inside and it smelt faintly like the dragon. Yixing knew he shouldn't have been soothed by that generic scent but it reminded him of the way Yifan would smell after a flight and would seek Yixing out for some home comfort. His fatigue and longing for the warmth of the past had Yixing's eyes falling shut as the man pulled away from the mountain house in his car. A quiet, echoing voice in his head told him that he deserved whatever he got.

He had twisted the emotions of the man that he loved, he had hurt him until he was backed into a corner of rage. Yifan championed honesty over all and Yixing had kept a too-complex-to-solve lie from him for years. He had so many chances to say something about who he really was, he had let each of them slip away and bit his tongue until the very last moment. Yixing couldn't blame Yifan for anything. It was a self-inflicted pain for Yixing, all of it. Yifan didn't have the luxury of controlling his own pain, he'd been crushed by something out of his hands and Yixing had been the one to create that black chasm of betrayal between them.

It used to be easy to justify the lie to himself; he would say holding his secret to his chest and falling in love was better than having no chance with Yifan at all in the beginning. But as simple as that had been to think, he had never fully thought through Yifan finding out. The idea of being openly hated by a whole species frightened him but the notion that Yifan wouldn't love him anymore was far worse.

As scared as he felt, he didn't have the energy to show it; he felt a twisted sense of hope that he could see Yifan once more for a few heartbeats. Yixing knew Yifan's family abhorred sirens, they hated Yixing's kind and they were not above killing them. The half-siren wasn't wishing for death but there was at least a sense of peace in it, especially if he could see the man who was once his dragon lover.

Yixing didn't rouse from his long but fitful sleep until his shoulder was jostled roughly under his body weight, the door going from where he had crooked his neck uncomfortably against it to sleep and his safety belt was the only thing that stopped him from falling straight out of the vehicle. He barely got the plug out of the socket before he was being jerked from the seat.

He blinked blearily a few times before his eyes adjusted to the hot sunlight of the south. He knew where he was before he'd even opened his eyes; the smell was different there, it was thicker somehow. The cold north was sharp and fresh, the south was dry but not quite dusty. There was a familiarity to it, Yixing had been around that air so many times before but never had it felt so suffocating. That, paired with the accusatory gazes of Yifan's parents that Yixing met, made his head bow down and allow himself to be pulled across the large driveway and down some stairs he'd never noticed before.

There was a door that Yixing couldn't see with his sight so low but he heard the handle turn and the hinge creek. A gentle rush of cooler air hit him, raising gooseflesh from his skin. He could feel eyes on him, they burned in a way that Yixing hadn't ever felt before from Yifan's clan and that hurt him that little bit more. He could hear some of the dragons murmuring about how easily he was moving and how they had expected more of a fight.

Yixing, too, had expected that he would put more resistance if he was ever wordlessly extracted from his home and taken somewhere that should have been against his will. But a part of him knew, the wild and instinctive part, told him that Yifan would be there.

He had no illusions of winning the dragon back, or salvaging any part of their relationship, but the week they'd been apart had been the longest amount of time they'd had no contact at all. He was still very much in love with the tall beast. That certainly had not changed and every bone within him urged him to seek the elder out, his glass heart pushed him to find if his boyfriend was faring well and his hands burned to touch the skin on the other's face. He knew he wouldn't be privy to such a thing with how both his wrists were pushed together, sharp plastic was coiled around it and was pulled to be uncomfortable on his trapezium.

The half-siren was pushed to the floor, directly onto his knees and that same was done as his wrists on his ankles. Those tethers burned into his flesh a little more, however. He was twisted into a limp ball, shoved into the back corner of the concrete walls that were so cold that they felt somewhat warm through his thin shirt.

It was then that reality really seemed to sink into his skin. He was not a guest who would sleep in Yifan's childhood bedroom wrapped up in the strong, adoring arms of the dragon. He was there against his own volition because he was something Yifan's kind hated, the rift between the two species ran deeper than oceans and longer than his twenty-four years. He knew that pursuing the dragon came with consequences, that there would be backlash but he hadn't anticipated an end in fear.

His optimistic thought was that Yifan would love him despite his heritage, he doubted that he would ever know if that was correct but he had hoped. He really had not expected to be bound, with what felt like cable ties, in a basement room of Yifan's parents' house, scared and trembling under the eyes of countless dragons.

Yixing watched in fear as Yifan's parents stared across the room at him, he could see almost every person in the clan stood around but Yifan wasn't anywhere in sight. His previous thoughts of finding peace in death left his mind as he saw the burning eyes of everybody surrounding him. He was terrified for his own life, he didn't know how he could defend himself and his fingers found his necklace instantly. The feeling of it in his hands made him seek some sense of calm. Albeit, not much.

Nothing was said but somebody spat at Yixing, he could feel the phlegm filled saliva in his hair until it dripped down onto his face and across his temple. He felt humiliated by the fact he couldn't move to wipe it away. He wanted to cry to call for somebody to rush to his aid but he didn't have anybody. It left him open to a series of spatters from the clan's mouths all over his retreated body. He felt the fluid on his cheeks, dribbling onto his jaw and the worst were those that touched the edge of his lips.

"That's enough," a large, foreboding man hissed like a serpent. Yifan's father. The man who had hugged and kissed Yixing like a son a couple of months before. The man moved with a slithering grace until he was in front of Yixing. "Do you know how much of a fool you've made of my son?"

Yixing knew he wasn't supposed to answer but shook his head weakly anyway. He would have taken any opportunity to rid his face from the wetness splattered all over it.

Yifan's father didn't speak again but stepped back, a few others Yixing half recognised from clan occasions he'd been invited to moved into his place and pulled Yixing up to his feet. As if being spat at and vulnerable to the people around him had not been humiliating enough, they took Yixing back deeper into the bowels of the house that Yixing hadn't even known existed. There was a large room, almost the size of a warehouse and Yixing could see the water-filled container in the centre. Yifan’s shirt was removed from Yixing’s shoulders by cutting him out of it, the same with his jeans and Yixing’s clenched his eyes shut as he felt hands on the waistband of his underwear then scissors cutting those away, too.

He was hoisted up by three dragons onto a platform and pushed instantly into the water. His body shuddered and he fought his urge to change, he willed those thoughts away from himself but he could hear the call from the pendant around his neck, that was always irresistible to him. His legs shimmered, the skin on his ankles cut as pushed against the ties, and joined together until he had his long monofin extended from his torso for just below two metres. He didn't look at anybody, even though they stared at him like spectators watching a morbid sport. He was too ashamed.

 

 

iv.

 

Yixing's arms ached like they never had before with the ties that had been around them, he was certain that they would have indented or bruised him at the very least. He could barely feel his fingers anymore, sudden relief over the fact he could breathe under the water rushed in because he knew he would have drowned if he didn't have that ability. He didn't often have to rely on his underwater capabilities but his instincts had guided him into breathing through the gills lined up his throat in slits and not his mouth. If it was any other situation, Yixing could have probably laughed over the fact that his imprisonment had brought him closer to that part of his natural makeup.

While that was a sliver of positivity deep in a well of negativity, the accumulation of his arms being disabled, his tail muscles not quite being strong enough to keep him buoyant for long periods of time and the lack of food was eating chipped away at him. He felt far weaker than he ever had before. He was sat at the bottom of the tank, having taken to one of the corners, and he barely even looked up whenever somebody walked into the room anymore.

He was never spoken to. Not one of the dragons tried to converse with him as the hours passed and the ones who guarded him changed. The most contact he'd had was when a handful of them spat at the glass of his tank. It always made him flinch but he never stared back defiantly, as he would have wanted to do through fear of the consequences.

The heaviest burden he carried was the fact that Yifan hadn't yet visited him, not even to express his anger or hurt. Yixing had never felt so alone with only the ever so dull weight of his amulet around his neck before. There had always been a hand in his, whether that was from his father or Yifan, and he'd never known anything different. It was strange, being alone, he suggested to himself. He had never known the creeping feeling of emptiness and lack of connection.

It was possibly the seventh day when somebody tapped on his tank. He ignored it, thinking that it was an accidental knock but when the tapping appeared by his ear, he turned to the noise and saw a familiar face. He hadn't felt the hope that it would have been Yifan, he didn't think he could wish for such a thing but was surprised to see one of Yifan's younger cousins there.

He knew the boy was sixteen and Korean, that particular extension of the Wu family had most likely been called over to be there for the rest of the group as support or guidance over the matter of Yixing's existence. He remembered Sehun well, he had met him countless times over the years and had always liked him. His temperament was soft for a dragon but Yixing was sure he could be fierce, much like how Yifan on occasion.

The young dragon held a notepad and a pen, which Yixing eyed curiously as the boy looked over his shoulder quickly at the door.

'I have food, swim up?'

The question was written in shaky and unsteady Chinese but Yixing understood it enough to see what the Korean had meant. Yixing shook his head, his neck cracked with the movement but he didn't harbour much trust for the dragons he was surrounded with, even if they were young and softhearted.

The dragon seemed to read his apprehension like a book and scribbled down: 'I won't hurt you.'

He used the wrong characters for hurt but Yixing understood the general meaning behind it and flicked his tail out to test its mobility. The ache there was like a bruise with how its prolonged but slowly fading pain waned after a few ripples. He still didn't quite trust Sehun but through the thought of Yixing deserving any of the pain he received, it was easy to relent against his tenseness and swim up to the top of the tank.

Yixing's lungs went into shock as he gasped for breath and his arms limply held onto the edge of the container, he watched Sehun move around and disappear out of the room for a minute before he reappeared on a small balcony that was half a metre from the edge of the pool. He placed the plate at the edge before stepping back to sit down and watch Yixing, once he had cut the ties on the half-siren's arms.

The elder smelt the food thoroughly prior to putting any of it in his mouth to see if anything seemed off. Then when he did let himself eat, he scarfed the entire plate as quickly as it had been put down in front of him. He felt starved with his stomach cramping and the painful clenches around the food, the helping Sehun had given him barely touched the sides of his stomach but he appreciated the gesture more than he could show.

He watched the young dragon from the waterline and was soothed to see that he’d brought a book to read with him, he didn’t have to spark up a conversation as the other brought him some company. While he didn’t fill the hole in Yixing’s chest, he would be incapable of that, and yet the sound of pages turning and breathing were enough to make him feel that little bit less alone.

 

 

v.

 

The first glimpse of Yifan that Yixing got was when the dragon’s mother came to check on the system that kept Yixing’s water fresh enough to not be a hazard to any of the other guests in the house, however, he was ignored entirely by his ex-boyfriend. Yifan didn’t look at him and Yixing couldn’t decipher whether it was through shame, guilt or hurt. Yixing was half convinced that it was a volatile mix of all three that he had caused the other to feel.

That didn’t stop him, though, from watching Yifan with the sharpest eyes he could give to take in everything about the elder and quell his concern for his well-being since their breakup had taken place. Yixing hated that Yifan appeared haggard and worn down, his hair framed his face dully and is his clothes didn’t fit him as well as Yixing could recall. He resisted the urge to reach out for Yifan through the glass, to draw him in closer and convince him to take him away from the tank, the house and the other dragons.

The dragon clan came first before everything for all of the fiery creatures and Yixing could fully understand why but there was a small part of Yixing that did wish that Yifan would choose him.

He registered swiftly that Yifan wouldn’t acknowledge him and from that he allowed himself to indulge in idle chatter with Sehun while he ate what the younger dragon brought for him to dispel the feeling of hurt for a short while. The young dragon grew more and more attentive and alert whenever they met, the food portions also grew and Yixing began to feel a little more satisfied.

Nevertheless, Sehun always had to leave.

Yixing had exhausted every interesting avenue he could possibly take to cure his boredom in his confines before he attempted to sing. He rarely was able to do so in such a large body of water—most bodies of water were bigger than his bath—and he had to admit to himself that he adored the contained freedom that he had to explore the new parts of himself.

The half-siren focused on what his mother had taught him, channelling her voice from his younger years in his head and following through with whatever she said. He could hear everything clearly in his mind and when he sang, he felt the pendant around his neck tremor with the noises it hadn’t heard in the years since Yixing’s mother’s death. Yixing tried his hardest to get one of the songs perfect and was relieved knowing that he hadn’t ever been taught to sing out publicly to anybody; his parents were the only ones who could ever hear him when he was younger.

On the third cycle of the playthroughs, the ground floor door opened with a slam against the back wall and Yixing could see a seething Yifan on the other side of the glass. His eyes were lined with purple, his hair really was all over the place and Yixing could see the comfortable fabric of his night clothes.

“What are you playing at?” Yifan glared down at him from through the glass.

Yixing shrugged, his innocence displayed itself as he tilted his head to the side to put his point across. Yifan moved closer until he was very much in line with the younger in the tank he had been told to call home.

“All that singing really needs to stop, Yixing. I am two floors above this place and I can still hear you lamenting from there, so please be quiet if you don’t one of the more angry dragons on your back,” Yifan explained and Yixing wasn’t one for truly shocking revelations but his heart raced all the same.

“You can hear me?” Yixing's voice sounded a little distorted from the water but Yifan could clearly understand him.

"Yes, you woke me up. What if it wasn't me that had heard you?" Yifan hissed to him and Yixing's stomach dropped down.

"You can hear me singing?" Yixing's question was nothing like a question at all, it was more like a statement of disbelief.

"Yes, of course, I can," Yifan growled to him. "I wouldn't be here otherwise."

"Nobody should be able to hear me sing"—unless they loved me enough—"you shouldn't be able to hear me."

"Well, I can."

Yixing was certain that if he could cry under the water, he most certainly would have because those words cut into him with a sharp blade. He recoiled from where he had drifted towards Yifan on the other side of the glass. He was frightened of the fact that he hadn't considered whether or not Yifan would have heard him. His mother had only taught him to call for the people who loved him.

"You're the only one," Yixing muttered and that time, Yifan's head was the one tilted to the side.

"So you were luring me?" Yifan gasped and Yixing's eyes widened.

"No," his vehement denial came out in a rush, "I was never taught how to. That's only something that can be taught, you're not born a siren who can sing. Everything a siren knows, other than swimming and breathing underwater, is nurtured and I have never had that. You know my past."

"I didn't even know you were a siren, how could I possibly know your past?" Yifan all but spat out at him, Yixing flinched from the words but he could feel that the hurt anger still swirled beneath Yifan's every inch of skin.

"Half-siren," Yixing corrected so quietly that he couldn't even hear it himself.

Yifan ran a hand through his hair, "Please stop doing it, it drives me insane."

"But I have nothing else to do," Yixing pleaded. "I only have my songs. Please Yifan, don't take them from me."

"You took everything from me," Yifan bit back like a sharp viper, "I can't believe you."

"I didn't mean it," Yixing cried out as he approached Yifan again, his palms flat on the glass. "I didn't want to keep it from you."

"Then why didn't you tell me?" The dragon seethed, his chest vibrated visibly under his night shirt and Yixing wished to stroke it until the tremors stopped. "You could have told me. I, unknowingly, gave you so many chances to tell me."

"I knew you would have left me if I told you," air rushed out Yixing's mouth in bubbles rising up and Yifan paced up and down in front of him. He looked just as utterly wrecked as Yixing felt on the inside, and all Yixing still wanted to do was touch his face and tell him that everything was going to be okay between them. Despite knowing it probably wouldn't ever be. "Is it so bad that I wanted to be happy? I wanted to make you happy, too."

"And look how well you did that," Yifan fumed, "with all your lying."

"I didn't mean it."

"If you didn't mean that then what else didn't you mean? Because you seemed committed to your lie until the very end."

"Don't twist this," Yixing whimpered.

"You played me. I put everything on the line by revealing that I was a dragon to you, you made me believe that you—who I thought was a human—could mean that."

"I'm so sorry." Yixing's fists curled up on the glass like he could grab at Yifan. "I really am so sorry. I wish I had told you, I really do, but would you have stayed if I did reveal this to you?"

"I don't know because you didn't believe in me enough to even let me try." Yifan levelled Yixing with a wired look, it burrowed right through Yixing's head and the half-siren crumbled weakly. "You never even gave me a chance. What if I"—Yifan took a breath—"what if I could have loved you in spite of all of this? You never let me try for you. And now I've had my heart broken because you didn't want to believe that I could be different."

Yixing's eyes fell down to Yifan's feet, he didn't want to watch as the dragon's lip trembled and eyes flooded in with tears. He didn't even look as Yifan left and Yixing wished so hard that he could cry. He had so much built up within him and he felt lost within the sea of the emotion that smothered him.

His hands beat against the glass of the tank, it echoed around the room until he stopped when his hands hurt. Silence crushed against him as the water felt like heavy cement around him and he shot straight up to the surface as fast as he could.

When air gushed into his lungs through his mouth, a dry sob erupted out of him and he clutched the edge of the tank as hard as he possibly could. His head bowed down limply, he wanted to scream and he wanted to claw his way out of the tank to chase after Yifan. He wished to beg for his forgiveness and tell him that he'd done it because he loved him more than anything and that Yifan's heart meant the world to Yixing. He felt disconnected from himself because he didn't.

Yixing hated how close Yifan was, how he could sometimes see him and he couldn't talk to him, and he couldn't reach out for him, and he couldn't touch him. Yifan was suddenly unattainable for him. Yixing had never been so close and yet so far from happiness before in his life.