'The sea has never been friendly to man. At most, it has been the accomplice of human restlessness.' ㅡ Joseph Conrad
White daggers of air rushed past, the blue blades of water stabbed through his body and into his lungs, but it was pushing and pulling that had his panic rising. The salt water compressed his body until he got to his ever nearing breaking point.
Wave after wave crashed over him as he tried to come up for air, all the attempts were futile and only worsened the situation. He delved deeper into the inky blue, a colour that reminded him of when his father would paint different tales onto porcelain cups and one stood out vividly in his mind.
A story of a girl being dragged out into a tempest, her lover working tirelessly to retrieve her and return them both home to the shore.
Yixing saw himself as the girl in that moment.
He'd never been a great swimmer, his eleven-year-old body failing him in almost every way. His eyes stung and his vision clotted with darkness, limbs moving frantically but receiving no traction and his light weight dragged him down to the ocean floor. He fought the idea of his body to becoming part of the debris the fish fed from, his feet kicking and hands clasping around nothing but water.
It was when the water filled his lungs, knocking the air out through his silently screaming mouth, that he resigned himself to the glittering temple of the sea, his eyes seeing a mosaic of light reflected from the surface as its rays tried to reach down to him. Or pull him up to heaven.
As it happened, it wasn't warm fingers that clasped around his arm to drag him to the surface. Instead, it felt like seaweed twirling over his skin and pulling tight in a knot but he definitely saw a hand. A darkened one, but still a hand, attached to a sinuous arm that glittered like oil on water. The colours of the sea swirling in with the palette of the sun, a cacophony of light in the increasing black. He saw eyes; etched in emerald and electrifyingly beautiful.
His face broke the water tension in a calmer stretch of sea, close to shore but far enough from the coast for it to be impossible that a human had the power to save him in such a place.
The grip left him and something glittering darted under the waves, dashing deeper into the liquid night.
His near death experience didn't turn Yixing to God, no, he felt as if something even bigger was calling out to him. He could feel a gentle thrum through his bones whenever he went near the sea; his fear halting him from going anywhere near those foamy crests but there was a definite pull. A tether around his neck that guided him to the coast whenever he went for walks.
He'd look down from the cliffs, body flat to the ground and only his head peeking over the edge. Some nights, he was certain that a set of beautifully green eyes stared back but they would be gone as soon as he tried to get a better look. He never saw them in the daylight, he was sure it was a moonlit illusion.
Yixing wouldn’t be the first in the village to speculate over there being people of the sea living under that crystalline surface. He was the first, that he knew of, to have come in contact with one. Not that he told anybody. He had no wish to be labelled as a heretic.
“Yixing, there you are,” Lu Han called as said boy was laid out across the Ammophila that adorned the sand dusted rocky height with his sketchbook. “I thought you weren’t going to go into the sea again.”
“I’m on the cliff,” Yixing retorted. “I’m not on the beach.”
“But what if you fall in?”
“Then I’ll die when I hit the rocks first,” he quipped morbidly and he could picture the horrified expression on his fraternal twin’s face, he immediately began to draw it out on the cream cartridge paper with his pencil.
“Yixing, you can’t say stuff like that. People will think you’re—” Lu Han began to scold and Yixing looked up to him from over his shoulder, his assumption about his brother’s face was correct. The older of the twins faltered then turned around to check their surroundings, “—they’ll think you’re looking for death.”
“They’ll think I want to kill myself,” he replied brashly, relishing in how easy it was to make Lu Han utterly mortified.
“Don’t joke, Yixing,” he hissed out, bending down to pick up the younger thirteen-year-old's belongings that he’d scattered around himself. “You know the elders don’t take kindly to that sort of talk, especially from somebody like you.”
“Like me?” Yixing’s face furrowed, eyebrows sinking downwards.
“Talented, exceptional,” Lu Han supplied. “Chosen.”
“I said not to call me that,” Yixing hissed as he turned over, sitting up to face Lu Han completely. “I told you that all of that stuff isn’t true.”
“Yixing,” Lu Han gaped. “You were dragged out by a riptide during the worst storm for half a century and you survived. God has laid his hands upon you.”
While Yixing hadn’t turned to religion because of his ordeal, the rest of the village had but Yixing couldn’t dispute the latter part of what his brother had said. A god, not the God, had gripped him that day but it had eyes the colour of greed and envy. Or Spring and nature. Yixing couldn't decipher which. One thought made him long for the sea and the other made him worship it, whether or not those things were positive, he couldn't tell.
“You know I don’t believe in that religion,” Yixing murmured, he didn’t dislike what the elders preached but he hated how closely his family followed their words. Sheeps led blindly by those wolves who thought themselves to be prey. Those people who had exploited Yixing's almost-death to broadcast their own views.
“And you know that has to change.”
Yixing didn’t want to fight, each argument was the same in the past few weeks. His lack of faith contrasting their credence of the unproven. He stood, brushing away the sea rocket petals that had adorned his trousers and approached his brother who now had all of this possessions. A gentle dismissal.
“Anyway, why were you looking for me?” He asked when they drew further inland and away from the coast.
“We’re having an early dinner, the Zhou's are coming over,” Lu Han’s constantly bright eyes somehow lightened even more and Yixing could see his excitement.
The shining eyes were a trait both boys had, a biological gift from their mother.
“And I take it that it’s only about midday, which means that I have to wash your hair?” Yixing laughed and Lu Han frowned.
“You know I never get that bit on the back of my head.”
“I know, I know,” he smiled, eyes probably matching his brother’s at that moment.
Yixing didn’t meet somebody from the sea again until he was fifteen and woke with a headache, the kind he knew the sounds of the sea would soothe. He’d not been down to the beach since he was washed out into the sea but his confidence with the water had grown; he still hadn’t been in any other body of water than his bath or puddles, but he knew if he stayed close enough to the mainland then he’d not be pulled out.
It was so that night he stood with his sleeping trousers rolled up to his knees and the ocean soothingly licking at his ankles. The wind was what kissed at the parts of him that were neither submerged or clothed, making him cool under the moonlight. He could feel that ever-present pinching feeling in his head dull down to an ignorable ache.
He saw a glowing tail first; ribbons of yellow, pink and lilac swirling under the water and then startlingly blue orbs. The face cast in shadow, the light coming from the fin not reaching through the water just yet. With their eyes meeting, he was transfixed and felt the urge to get closer.
The finger that beckomed him with short curls made his legs start to break through the slowly growing waves as he went deeper. His clothes became saturated with the sickly salty liquid but his stare never wavered, he was being captured and governed by the merman. Everything about him was entrancing and Yixing felt absent from his own mind, the only thing echoing in his brain was the call to the sea.
It was another set of bright, more illumined than the other, colours which passed in a blur of a cooler blue, hot orange and the most lucent of whites that halted him when he was, chest deep. There was a dark shadow in front of him, blocking the form of the other sea creature and it was the being attached to the more phosphorescent tail.
“Jongin, stop,” a deep voice commanded in a feral hiss. “He can’t swim.”
“He was coming to me, I did nothing,” the other japed, an underlying simmer of curiosity bouncing over the sounds of the waves. “If they come to me then I am liable for nothing.”
“Don’t mess around,” the figure obscured by Yixing’s lack of sight whistled back quickly. “You beckoned him, I watched you.”
“That’s a trick of the light,” the one with blue eyes huffed and Yixing thought he sounded like a teenager. Almost like Lu Han. “You’re seeing things.”
“You know I never falter in my sight, Jongin, you wanted to drown this boy.” The one in front of Yixing rose upwards, enough to show the beginning of his scaled lower half and Yixing was shocked at the size of him. His tail alone had to be at least two metres long. “He is a child.”
There was silence then an almost delighted shrill, "This is the one you saved? This is your boy?”
“Jongin, stop,” the sentence from before was repeated and Yixing didn’t want to hazard a guess over if such a thing happened often. It was likely to be more often than he’d like to hope. “Don’t you dare twist things, this is none of your business.”
“Yifan, you said it yourself that he’s a child.” Jongin’s delight turned into something a little more sinister and there was a hissing sound from the one called Yifan. “And yet, your tail has already changed.”
“You know I can’t help that,” the risen one said with a shrug. “It isn’t like I’ve acted upon anything. I can control myself and you need to learn how to do that too.”
There was a deafening crash of water and Yixing felt the droplets hit the back of his head, dribbling down from the thin hair at the crown to the nape of his neck.
The figure in front of him moved stepping, or swimming, away from him before it turned. The first thing Yixing saw were the Shamrock irises that were as iridescent as his tail. Maybe even more so.
“Go back,” the deep voice unfurled in Yixing’s ears and he took in the scaled gills on the merman’s neck, they opened and closed as he insufflated. Menacing teeth that hung like fangs from his jaw, looking completely ghastly. “You can’t swim, go back to the shore.”
The imposing figure began to loom towards him and he scrambled back to the shore as fast as he could, the waves carried him forward as if they were lifting him from his feet. There were no sounds of movement behind him, only the noises of his legs rushing through the water thundered around him.
He didn’t stop running, not even for a beat, as he rushed home. His heart hammered in his chest as he flung himself through the window he’d left open when he had snuck out. He stripped off his clothes and tried to soothe the short breaths flushing him.
At twenty-one, Yixing and Lu Han both worked in the sweet shop that sat on the opposite headland to Yixing’s favourite cliff. They could see the water clearly; where the waves were running up and down the sand with the children une'er the summer sun.
“Where are the mint balls?” Lu Han asked as he popped his head around one of the protruding shelves. “I can’t find them anywhere.”
“They’re next to the strawberry bonbons,” Yixing didn’t look up from the book he was reading, the detailed illustrations of wildflowers were what drew Yixing in to buy the hardback with his first paycheck. That had been two years before and the pages had become well worn with use.
“Ah, yes. Got them,” Lu Han used the ladder to ascend up to the top shelf and pull the tub down. “Why are the racks so high in here?”
“There are two hundred kinds of sweets and they’re kept in three-kilo containers, there is no other choice than to build high. There just isn’t the floor space.”
“Sell less candy, make the workers happier.”
“I won’t be happy when there’s a child crying because he doesn’t have his liquorice wheels,” Yixing turned the page and could see Lu Han pouring the packet covered menthol sweets onto the weighing scales for the boy on the other side of the counter. “Maybe if you memorised where they all are, like you’re supposed to, maybe you would complain a little less.”
“Less of the attitude, Xing,” Lu Han groaned, his back turned and Yixing knew his eyes would be rolling upwards. “You’ll make me annoyed.”
The older twin moved to hand the mint balls to the child, the register dinging as the money drawer slid out and then a rattle as Lu Han took in the change, handing back the money the boy was owed. An iconic ringing of a bell as the door opened and closed signified that the customer had left.
“Do you ever get bored of this life?” Yixing enquired, it would seem to strike at random to Lu Han but it had been exactly six years to the day since he’d seen the two mermen. He always wondered what could have been. The older twin looked perplexed as he settled at the table in front of Yixing. “You know, do you ever get the urge to seek out more?”
“No, God has placed me here and I’ll leave when he permits it to be so,” Lu Han picked up one of the sweets that had out-gone its shelf life but not yet reached its expiry date. He unwrapped it and popped it into his mouth. “Why?”
“I don’t know, I’ve just been thinking about things recently.”
“Yixing, maybe all this reading and drawing isn’t doing you any good?” Lu Han seemed genuinely concerned, which only seemed to rile the younger brother up.
“What’s wrong with having an imagination?” Yixing argued gently, having lost the patience he used to have for his brother when they were younger and Lu Han had only just accepted God into his heart.
The ringer above the entrance sounded and Yixing urged himself forward to greet the new arrival, he stopped short as he observed the person in front of him. He knew who it was immediately who it was.
There was no long but powerful fin, no opal skin and no gills on his neck.
There was brown hair that was styled perfectly, two legs that were impossibly long and the handsome face was no different at all.
But it was most certainly the one who had saved him; Yixing’s merman.
Yixing kept his composure until they met eyes, after which he found something invisible tighten around his neck, it was the normal pulling sensation but he couldn’t help but feel it more in that moment. It was as if the constant tugs he’d felt since he was eleven were guiding him to the man, and not the sea.
“Hello,” the voice was sweeter than what Yixing had last heard from the tall being; it was almost a purr of pure happiness. “Zhang Yixing?”
“Uh-uh, yes?” Yixing stuttered, his face flashing a shade of red as he was acknowledged. “Yifan?”
“You know my name?” He looked surprised, almost shocked that the human had known such a thing.
Yixing dropped his voice to a whisper, his eyes casting back to his brother who was still happily munching on sweets. “The one that was there last time called you it, I assumed that it was your name.”
“Ah, Jongin has never had any tact,” the merman laughed a little and Yixing was startled at the sound, he had almost expected Yifan to talk in hisses like he had done before. “He’s a lot tamer now, your waters are safe from his siren-like ways.”
“Hey, Xing,” Lu Han suddenly shouted and his muscled contracted with fright as he looked over his shoulder to see his brother approaching. “Have you ever tried these apple sour candies before?”
“No, I haven’t,” Yixing mumbled, his gaze flickering from Yifan to Lu Han.
“Have one,” Lu Han held out his hand to the dimpled twin. “They taste really weird, fizzy like they have sherbet in them.”
Yixing flicked the creased join of the packet, his eyes reading the words and numbers quickly. “They aren't supposed to fizz and the reason why they are is because they're ridiculously out of date.”
Lu Han’s jaw immediately opened, the saliva glossed bead of nuclear green toppling out and onto the floor. The elder of the two immediately scuttled back into the store room to clean his mouth up. With soap, most likely.
“I was wondering if I could talk to you? About you know…” Yifan enquired quietly, obviously not wanting to alert Yixing’s brother of how they knew each other.
“Can you wait half an hour? That's when my shift here ends,” Yixing didn't want to disrupt the merman's plans but he had his own schedule to abide by, which was why he was surprised to see those green eyes smiling.
“Yes, I'll go and sit on the beach,” Yifan turned and left without another word.
Yixing could see the slightly uncertain wobble of the tall man’s gait, his feet scuffing on the floor at the toes when he walked out to the cobbled walkway that flowed past the sweet shop.
“Who was that? You looked like you knew him.”
Yixing, once again, felt his body convulse with momentary fear as his silent-footed brother spoke.
“Uh, nobody,” Yixing tried to busy himself by looking through the cash register, counting the money by value diligently in hopes Lu Han would drop the topic.
“Why are you meeting him then? I've never seen him around before.” They were quiet before an extra, “I don't think the elders would take too well if they caught wind that you were planning meeting tall unknown men with unnaturally green eyes,” was added.
“He isn't unknown, I met him years ago,” Yixing responded harshly and closed his eyes when he considered his own stupidity. The younger brother was never quick to defend anybody, other than Lu Han, and his flashed hiss was going to cause a stir.
His twin wasn't going to brush off the subject anymore.
“Yixing,” the tone was lowered to a whisper, much like how Lu Han spoke whenever he was trying to safeguard his brother or say something that could be misconstrued by listening ears. “When we were fifteen and you told me that you felt romantically for other men, was it him you felt it for? Because, Yixing, he looked like he could be about twenty-five and I don't like the idea of you being lured in by him at that age with that difference between you.”
“No,” Yixing frowned, he's not had time to marvel over Yifan’s natural form whenever he saw him. His adrenaline blinded him to the beauty in anything than those seaweed eyes. “He was there for me when I needed somebody the most, I don't need another reason to want to speak with him”
“I don't like that you're hiding things from me; God loves the honest,” Lu Han scolded ten minutes later. “Just because you were chosen, doesn't mean that you're exempt from sin.”
“There are things in life that no god can know nor any preacher spew in a sermon,” Yixing tried to remain level, to not raise his voice but his twin had called him that name, the one which he wore every day since Yifan had first saved him. “He is one of those things and I need you to keep your nose out of business that doesn't concern you. If you're so worried about me, go pray to your God for me and get off my back. It's not like he exists anyway.”
There was another silence, that one rang out like death among them. Yixing hadn't snapped with such bursts of angered flames before, especially not to Lu Han. Never had he so openly rejected the other’s beliefs, he usually was glad that Lu Han had something to turn to in rough times. Their parents’ deaths being a prime example; while Yixing saw it as part of the rolling motion of one life then going to feed another, Lu Han was different. He'd been miserably despondent.
“You can go and meet your man,” Lu Han calmly hummed, a silent mask for the splitting sadness he must have felt in the iciness of Yixing’s demeanour. “I'll see you tomorrow.”
The younger was reluctant to leave the situation with Lu Han as it was; their relationship had been rocky since Yixing realised he was homosexual. Laying in the bed of, and with, another man was a sin in his twin’s sparkling brown eyes. He had, however, looked past it for Yixing. He'd even offered support in either conversion to heterosexuality or concealing it from the village.
The punishment for such a thing was said to be harsh, nobody quite knew what it was because nobody had ever been caught.
The walk to the beach was short, a zigzag to the bottom of the path until there was nothing but powdered rock beneath his well-fitted dark tan brogues. He would have loved to feel it beneath the pads of his feet but he always hated how the sand clung in the crevices betwixt his toes, making his skin rub painfully.
Yifan was hard to miss, the man was the only adult sat playing with the golden grains, using his large fingers to sift it like flour and draw carved patterns in the piles he made. The merman caught sight of Yixing treading his way, he immediately abandoned his creations in favour of standing. He didn't brush himself off, the small dots of lightness reminded Yixing of when the water had glistened from Yifan the six years before.
The human didn't stop to tell Yifan where they were going, he carried on walking and could hear the awkward footfalls behind him, each one out of time to the last. As if Yifan was moving to a different set of beats to Yixing.
No words passed between them as they crossed the full length of the long beach until they reached the slate steps that ascended to the bottom of the cliff.
Yixing’s small abode was situated on top of his favourite place; being the supposed chosen one of the village had a couple of perks. Which included choosing where he could live from any plot of land once he'd come of age. Lu Han was in their family bungalow, having had it as a part of their joint inheritance. Yixing also lived in a home of one storey but it had to be two-thirds bigger than Lu Han’s. There were fandangled appliances and even a four-footed bath that was larger than Yixing would ever need.
The ascent to the black wooden door was long, Yifan didn't have the grace or speed that he had in water and Yixing found it momentarily endearing. Yixing could keep himself afloat (if only for a couple dozen seconds) and Yifan could only stumble on hard earth, it was strangely fitting.
The sun beamed down, bathing the cliff side in warmth and a hue of gold. While the burning orb was setting, it made the sky become a palette of romance. The swirling shades and tones of the clouds had Yixing thinking of the sea; how each thing flower from one entity to another to then create something beautiful.
He opened his front door with ease, never locking it and never fearing robbery. Yifan had to duck his head down when entering, his neck shifting to the left as he followed obediently. Yixing’s hOuse was full whilst being utterly empty, his possessions were all cold and sharp. There was no warmth emanating from the walls or the fireplace.
Yixing’s home was somewhere that solitude thrived in and seeing somebody other than Lu Han standing in his entrance hallway was a slight shock. Not to mention the fact that said man was, in fact, the merman Yixing had seen twice in his life, with those hauntingly green eyes.
“Make yourself comfortable,” he mumbled, gesturing to one of two wooden chairs in his kitchen. “I’ll make some tea, would you like some?”
“Tea?” Yifan asked, mouth shaping the foreign word past his lips.
“Uh, it’s like dried leaves that you put hot water with and it tastes nice,” Yixing explained and Yifan still looked confused, his frown creating a downwards bow on his lips. “I’ll make you a little to try.”
“Okay,” Yifan nodded and Yixing was suddenly struck by how different life must be beneath the undulating thrum the waves. He mulled it over, thinking of what contrasts there must have been there.
They driders into quiet again when he began to fill up the kettle to put on the stove, the leaves being dropped into the pot in waiting for the boiled water. Yixing placed the flame of the stove on a low heat, making the boil happen more slowly, before moving to sit opposite Yifan.
“So, you wanted to talk?”
“I want you to be my human companion,” Yifan was blunt and curt, stirring rigidity in yixing'a stomach. Nerves had caught the best of the merman, in Yixing's eyes.
“Your companion?” Yixing questioned, confused as to what Yifan could be talking about. “Don’t you mean friend?”
“I’m not sure what you call it but I’m certain you’ve felt the pull between us."
Yixing nodded before opening his mouth to confirm the answer verbally, “I think I do.”
“It’s because of when I helped you,” the merman suddenly looked at Yixing’s arm, the upper part where the human had been gripped and pulled through the water to safety, which made the Yixing rub at it gently as the memory replayed. “In my kind, companionship is for the rest of life and you can only create those bonds within a three month period when you turn a certain age.”
“And you’re at that age now?” he guessed, his voice holding a slight tremor but Yifan didn’t seem to care.
“No,” he shook his head, it was suddenly Yixing whose face was contorting with befuddlement. “I was going through it when I guided you, I didn’t mean to but it just happened.”
“You bonded with me?”
Yifan nodded his head slightly, the shame of the fact he’d done so with a child was evident but Yixing was comforted by the fact that Yifan was conscious of his wrongdoing. “You don’t choose who you connect with, it is something preordained but you can choose to sever it when you find it. I could feel it in the air around me when I first saw you on the beach and then in the water as you began to wade out, I was going to stay clear of you but then you got caught in that riptide. I’ve never been one for death, causing or witnessing it, so I knew I had to do something to help you.”
“Could you not break the bond after you’d saved me?” Yixing wondered aloud and Yifan grimaced, showing his ever so slightly pointed teeth.
“No,” the merman mumbled, Yixing could tell that he was searching for words and there was tension clenching his muscles, so the human decided to remove the whistling kettle from the stove and pour out the tea. “Bonding happens in five stages. First, you sense their presence. Second, you touch them to initiate the physical link. Third, you go to the surface together. Fourth, you bind your lips. Then fifth, you attempt procreation.”
Yixing choked and gasped on the steam floating up from the spout of the kettle when the merman said the last two, “Do you mean kissing and sex?”
“I think so, I don’t know all the words yet.”
The silence was there and it stayed, thirty seconds became a minute and that turned to two. Shock rippled, danced and cascaded around and down Yixing’s body, leaving him defenceless to the consuming quiet. Yixing expertly produced two small cups of tea, his hands trembling and he knocked some of the boiled water onto the sensitive underside of his fingers, a small hissing sound whistling from between his teeth. “You’re saying that because you touched me, to save me, you completed the second step?”
“Yes,” the other answered simply, eyes fixated on what Yixing was offering to him and he could see the wonder flashing in those mysteriously coloured eyes.
“And, there is no going back once it’s been done?”
“No, the second stage is the most important. It is a physical acknowledgement of each other and that’s what creates that feeling of hammering in your head when you’re apart from the one you’ve bonded with.”
Yixing’s headaches, that’s what he was referring to and the human could feel the cogs in his brain winding up. It was true that he’d never had one before he had met Yifan but he had never seriously considered that it was because of Yifan. “Why does it hurt?”
“It is like a...tracker? Is that the right word?” Yifan asked with a cocked head as he observed Yixing drink from his cup, only to copy the actions like a reflection in a mirror.
Yixing bore witness to Yifan’s eyes opening wider to marvel at the taste of the warm liquid in his mouth, he could see how the merman was rolling the tea across his tongue to savour it. It made something flare up within Yixing, like a spark on tinder deep down in the darker chambers of his chest.
Only when Yifan swallowed did Yixing continue. “It hurts to bring you together?”
Yifan nodded as he took another sip of his tea, those droplets flowing down faster as he took gulp after gulp.
“That’s until the bond is completed but if prolonged periods are spent apart, then it tends to return but my people are very orientated around their bond partner. We are reluctant to part ways if it cannot be helped. Separation can be enough to break our minds.”
Yixing sat back down, his own fingers tapping the tips on the surface of the deep gold drink, not enough to break the water tension but more than enough to dampen his skin.
“How would this, us, work when we live in two different worlds? Especially when I barely know anything about you other than you’re a merman and your name, worsened by the fact that I can’t swim to save my life, evidently.” Yixing hadn’t meant to sound harsh or like he was unaffected by everything because he was. Yifan’s bond had altered his life in so many ways, from actually living and his craving for solitude from those he held dearly in the years before the event. “I need to know what to expect because I tread a thin line in this town as it is, I have people breathing down my neck and I don’t want to let them down. I cannot deal with disappointing another person—let’s say, you—because I cannot do what is fundamental for being close to them.”
Yifan’s expression became one of warring emotions as if he was suppressing a smile and fighting a frown simultaneously. “Yixing,” the voice rang smoothly from his lips, making that small bundle of flames within Yixing burn even brighter. “I knew you couldn’t swim when I saw you and believe me when I say that I didn’t want to sever the tie because of that. It was an age thing that drove me away, you were not yet at adolescence and I was, am, a fully developed and grown being. There is no need for you to come to the sea when the people of the sea can now come to you.”
Yixing was watching Yifan move around the kitchen, he had turned twenty-two and the merman had spent more and more time on dry land. So much so that he'd attracted quite a lot of attention from the townspeople. The elders had already been to see Yixing about the man that would suddenly appear as if from nowhere. Lu Han always came to the rescue, claiming the man to be a lost friend from one of their childish adventures. His linguistic skills had improved tenfold, especially after admitting that he had only begun to learn human languages because of Yixing.
“You’re getting good at making tea,” he commented and he could see Yifan’s cheeks push up as he smiled, the slight bulge at his cheekbones were all he could see but he knew the open-mouthed grin would be there.
“Yes, I told Jongin about it and he said he might come to try it one day. If that’s okay with you?” Yifan asked, looking back at the human over his shoulders and Yixing felt like lightening had just flashed through his veins.
It always happened when he looked into the merman’s eyes recently.
“As long as he doesn’t try to drown me again,” Yixing’s tone was light but the words were real, he doubted he’d trust another merman that wasn’t Yifan after what had happened with Jongin.
Yifan poured the water into the teapot, a small spoon mixing the leaves to pull out more taste, “He’s different now, he lives under my father as punishment for his actions.”
Yixing was sceptical of whether or not somebody could shirk the urge to lure unwitting people to their death, no matter if it would be for a just reason or personal pleasure. So, with an uncertain hum, he smiled at Yifan’s back. The tea was poured out carefully, some of the leaf fragments floating down to the bottom of the sipping cups, not that Yixing minded that much. It was worth pulling the papery shards out from under his tongue and between his teeth when Yifan smiled proudly at himself for doing something even slightly human.
“So, how is life beneath the water?”
Yifan was swilling the tea in his mouth somewhat greedily before his eyelids moved up into the lower folds of his brow-line as he swallowed. "The same, a little bit boring because it’s not quite like being on land with you.”
The human still wasn’t used to how forthright Yifan was with his affectionate words and how they came from him boldly. However, he did love the eloquence in which he spoke. There was a nineteenth-century lilt to his voice, the lengthy way in which he spoke was reflective of the fact that he was learning the words in their purest forms. There was no need to read between the lines with Yifan, no coded words of religion, it was just what was said.
“How long are you staying?” Yixing’s voice hushed down and he could see how happy Yifan was despite talk of their limited time together.
It wasn’t unknown to either of them that the merman had duties to his people, while he was not royalty or anything of the sort, his family were powerful from what Yixing could gather. The fact that Jongin, the other merman, had been placed under the care of Yifan’s father. It would only be natural that Yifan would have a role to fill.
“Four nights,” Yifan beamed, his cheeks swelling up as his lips crescented themselves under his nose. “It’s an occasion where you spend time only with your bond partner, it’s important to my kind.”
The merman had never stayed overnight, his visits only being during the hours he knew the human would be awake and it made the both of them smile widely. Maybe a little shyly on Yixing’s behalf, especially given that he’d recently begun to think a little more carnally of Yifan. He knew what Yifan looked like as a merman, his torso rippling like stones had been skidded across a lake and his human legs appeared powerful, enough so that Yixing had dreamed of Yifan pinning him to a wall as they joined together in what Lu Han would describe as sinful intimacy.
Self-pleasure was never something that Yixing had ever been consciously aware of, with that also being a selfish action which was deemed immoral by many of the townspeople. But, when he would wake up in a heated sweat and an aching hardness between his legs, his hands moved to clench and stroke automatically. Sometimes, when he felt the urge for it, his free hand would creep between his legs to fondle and prod into the hole he knew was there. It was on those nights when he felt his fingers brush past something electrifying that he was certain that the people of the town, and Yifan under the sea, could hear him cry out a shameless ‘Yifan’ as loud as his lungs would let him.
Yixing didn’t think Yifan to be naive, in his time alive he must have also had thoughts that lacked in decorum. It was more that he was worried that Yifan didn’t direct those thoughts towards him. Surely both merman society and Yifan’s subconscious would have more preference those like themselves, rather than somebody who was only half similar.
That thought was gone once Yixing had left the bathroom after his nightly shower and Yifan had pushed down him onto the bed with a feral grock. Yixing’s head had bounced off the mattress once before Yifan was kissing him, while Yixing had wanted something a little softer and tender for his first liplock but he found himself being uncaring of that fact once Yifan was nipping lightly at his neck. Yixing wasn’t sure of how to move, where to place his hands and so, he just did what felt good when he was alone.
There was a hiss from Yifan, the same kind that had come out from his gills when he’d threatened Jongin after his attempt to take Yixing out to sea, when one of Yixing’s hands began to rub at the material cladding Yifan’s crotch. “Yixing, don’t do that, it feels too good.”
Yixing looked up to see Yifan’s eyes glowing like they did at night, halos of green light on the white orbs but the colour was only a thin ring, the central pupils were blown to be black lustful voids. “It will feel better if I touch it, Yifan.”
The merman looked bewildered as if he couldn’t believe that there would be an, even more, pleasure inducing feeling and Yixing had a feeling that he would be the one with more knowledge of what to do.
“Can I touch you?” Yifan asked quietly, “I’ve never touched a male human before.”
Yixing ignored the implication that Yifan had been close to being intimate with women and even other mer-creatures, but then again, Yixing guessed that Yifan was far older than he. Thus meaning that the likelihood of such liaisons is higher. He could only groan and nod his head to give consent. “Yes.”
The human should have expected Yifan to move with the same conviction that he did when he spoke; the towel that had fallen loose around his waist was torn away and there was an ever so slightly slimy feeling hand encasing his hardened cock within moments. It was clear that Yifan’s impulse was correct because he squeezed teasingly at the base of Yixing’s curving erection and even moved it with that flick to the left when he began to pump his wrist up and down. It wasn’t a fast pace, as the merman seemed to be watching how Yixing reacted in awe but when Yixing began to thrust his hips upwards, Yifan understood the silent plea to move at a more nimble pace.
It was a surprise that Yixing had the ability to strip Yifan’s lower half bare, to his knees anyway. But, he did so and returned the favour of stroking Yifan. It had the merman groaning vocally, his eyes flittering shut and removing the green glow from the room around them. It was no surprise that Yifan had taken so much time to consider Yixing when as he touched him, through the glassy poly-chromatic haze of his own arousal, he could see the look of utter longing displayed on Yifan’s face. His bold brows were pinching together, his nose scrunching up to crease at the bridge and his lips were relaxed to show a small glimpse of a pale pink tongue.
Yifan appeared utterly enthralled with the pleasure Yixing was dealing him, Yixing could completely understand as he felt himself losing all tension in his body. He was familiar with the way his muscles were naturally uncoiling, his natural instincts telling him to relax in the hold of the older man. There was nothing that could stop his body from heating up unnaturally fast, the way the fire bit from his abdominal out to his every limb at the way Yifan was stroking him, the way he would curve his wrist making him feel slightly taken aback by the notion that Yifan had never touched another human male before him.
It felt expert, the gentle caress with the tight pressure, his stamina turning from something that was strong to a small twig Yifan was squeezing out to break. It was something he had never considered before, having Yifan touch him in such a way but he didn't regret the elder male doing it. He was sure that no religion could ever tell him that was he was doing, and allowing to be done to him, wasn't right. Not when it felt as good as it did. He felt high, as though he had taken the opiates he had read about in books and there was no way that he could stop himself.
It was a strange contrast, how Yifan's cold hands had begun to sear at his skin and had turned into something hot and branded his skin with every touch. He felt as his body was closed and that Yifan was tearing him open, the way there felt as though he was going to explode but Yifan picked up on the tension, release both of their bodies before either of them could chase their release and Yixing was feeling as though he was stilted as he tried to sit himself into a seated position on the bed. His cock was hot and heavy between his legs, the way it felt as though it was pulsating had him wanting to attack Yifan like some primal animal. He had every desire to give Yifan everything he had and there was no escaping that fact as Yifan pinned him into the bed with a feral growl, his eyes moving into small slits and Yixing could feel the rolling waves of desire and lust coming from the merman. There was no way that he could possibly resist such a tempting expression.
His legs, as if by their own accord, slipped open for Yifan to go between and the contact of both of their erections made Yixing curge up from the bed and relish in the connection. He had never felt so close to somebody before, the way his sweat mixed with whatever Yifan was perspiring and he couldn't help but watch as Yifan began to kiss at his body. The merman was tearing down every idea Yixing had of passion and pleasure, the way his lips slid across the hot skin had Yixing panting with broken chokes every so often. It was a relentless assault as Yifan worked out how Yixing reacted to his nipples getting the slightest bit of attention and Yixing had to stop the elder from sucking them raw before he pushed him away. They stared at each other for a while, the bright green irises of Yifan's eyes burned into his head and there was no way he could ever expel that vision. His memory would never let him forget how Yifan acted when he was aroused, the animalistic side of him revealing itself and Yixing could only gaze on in wonderment. There was something feral about watching something so beautiful acting so instinctively and it seemed as though Yifan was the same. They were mirrors and reflections of each other; two forms gasping for breath and there was nothing either of them could do to expel the lust they were sharing.
Yixing's solo sessions of pleasure had never riled him up so sharply, not wanting him to act so barbarically and there was nothing he could to shake that feeling of chasing some part of heaven that was completely tangible to humans. His body could rocket up into new heights and there was nothing that he wanted more than to let Yifan ravage him but there was something lower thrumming between the. Their bond. It was beginning to fuse, starting to set them both aglow with whatever Yifan's species thought was companionship and Yixing felt as though he was slipping under the waves. There was no place that he couldn't imagine sharing with yifan and there was something that felt as if it was once in a lifetime when he spent time with Yifan.
"Do you know what we should do now?" The elder asked him, his voice biting with nervousness and Yixing gingerly reached into his bedside drawer for the oil based substance he usually used to drive himself into frenzied pleasure.
There was something perfect about the way Yifan's eyes zeroed in on the bottle, his hands reaching out to grab it and squeeze it onto his fingers, the way he layered it over the skin of his fingers made Yixing think of how his own fingers had felt skirting around himself when he had attempted in getting pleasure where he had never thought possible. He could only play witness as Yifan moved down his body, his tongue leaving a shiny trail down, paying special attention to the small glistening puddle that Yixing had felt himself releasing as Yifan had touched him.
Yifan pushed his legs up, so they were bent up to the ceiling and Yixing let a small squeak out at the way he had done it and the elder flicked him a look of slight bashfulness. The teasing remark that had nestled on Yixing's tongue quickly left as Yifan began to circle around his entrance, the cool liquid had warmed up on contact with his skin and Yixing could only feel the delight in the way the fluid felt, one of Yifan's fingers edging its way in to swirl and create more of a stretched out cavern for them to both prepare for what was to come.
"I thought you didn't know what to do," Yixing asked as Yifan took a few moments to pause, Yixing's body adjusting itself to accommodate the foreign intrusion.
"When I knew that you were male," Yifan's voice had not improved in its tone of anxiety, yet Yixing felt as though he was endeared by that fact because he had made this creature of the sea react in that way, "I went to shore a couple of years ago and learned about it." Yifan laughed, to which Yixing recoiled slightly, hoping he wasn't the butt of whatever joke Yifan had thought of. "It is surprising how liberal many other humans are, they are slightly more depraved than your people."
"Is that a gooㅡ"
"It is a great thing, as I would not want my companion to be leagues ahead of me," Yifan cut him off, his eyes shining in a rounder shape and there was no way Yixing could avoid the clear look of adoration that was littered through the speckles of orange. "We are the same here as we are."
Yifan slid his finger out an inch, Yixing feeling the pressure leave and suddenly he felt something within him shift as pleasure spiralled out from the touch and Yifan was watching him with lidded eyes as small moans left his mouth. There was an incredible sensation creeping up and out of his rear end, the delicate way in which he was being touched made him feel as though he was being chased through corridors of pleasure. It was seductive. The allure dragging him in deeper and there was no way he could think of closing the doors he had opened, his body reacting with a burning fire as Yifan touched him with a delicate edge. There was no force, only a wariness for what would make Yixing feel good. His body changing to allow a second finger to intrude and there was a moment when he winced. The discomfort had become something that felt too much.
It was far too soon to derive only pleasure, his first timeㅡas books had saidㅡwas supposed to hurt. He had felt the elder in his hand, the way his manhood had swollen to a size that he surely could not accommodate instantly without feeling discomforr and there was a sharp ache at the third finger. Yixing could not believe that he was feeling something as much as what he was. There was no way he was wanting to leave Yifan's side and he knew it was the bond slowly building up as the pleasure began to creep in. The merman brushed past a part of Yixing that part of him that churned up pleasure, the only way Yixing could possibly describe it would be a live wire in water that would build up to create an inferno. The current was unstoppable and Yifan took note, his finger pressing rapidly over it and Yixing's body began to feel as though it was jerking under the ministrations.
There was a while more of Yixing gaining his main barrels of pleasure from Yifan, the minutes flowing into one another as Yixing felt his eyes sparkle with tears of unending satisfaction that was slowly edging up his spine. He could only whine, his displeased moan echoing through the small house as Yifan withdrew his fingers and Yixing could feel the cool air against his hole, it was an incredible feeling and there was heated silence as Yifan started to cover his fully hard cock in the oil Yixing had provided, his eyes focusing on the way that the pre-cum at the head was mingling with the clear fluid, making him lick his lips to reduce the urge to taste Yifan intently. He wanted to suck the fluid away, to cover his tongue in it and get more of the feeling of ecstasy in his mouth. He couldn't stop the guttural moan that vibrated through him as he watched Yifan stroke himself, saliva flooding onto his tongue.
He could feel himself leaking over his navel like that would quench the burning thirst he had but Yixing knew he wanted Yifan to be inside of him, to be sliding as his fingers and had Yixing could only imagine what the beating throbs of Yifan's cock would feel against his walls. He wondered if he would ever feel the same again. As though he would need to be filled by Yifan endlessly.
However, all thoughts of easily attained pleasure left his head as Yifan began to push himself in and Yixing could all but grimace in pain as he did so. The elder kissed him sweetly, his tenderness translating up from the way he was entering him and into the way he was treating him with his mouth. His tongue slid up and down Yixing's neck, collecting the pooling sweat that had begun to dribble from his jaw down to his nape. There was no way he could think that Yifan would like the taste, the salt always hung heavy in Yixing's mouth but the elder seemed eager to collect it all, to gather it with his tongue and swallow it down until it was all he could pick up on his palette.
Once the merman was fully seated inside of him, Yixing stared up at him with wide eyes and Yifan was above him with clenched eyes and a look that spoke only of waning self-control. Yixing bit back a smile, his body beginning to numb the pain which was morphing into an ache and he felt relieved that Yifan was taking the sacred act as seriously as him. That there was something they could share outside of their companionship bond and Yixing found himself being surprised as he ground his hips against Yifan's. There was an intense moment when Yifan's eyes flew open, his breathless moan ripping out and he bucked forward, much deeper into Yixing. The younger was thrown off by how much he felt from the unintentional snap of Yifan's hips, the difference in how he felt was ridiculous and there was no way he could bring himself to verbalise that as the elder pulled out to press back in.
Yixing felt his body rocking, the fervour he had expected with his first time disappeared as Yifan only drew out their contact. It was slow, like water rising in a tank and Yixing could hear the water crashing outside, resembling in a mimic the way he was quaking inside. He felt as if he was losing his grip, like he was on a constant cycle of his body waning Yifan that little bit more every time. He wanted everything all at once; something hard and fast and something else caring and slow. There was no way Yifan could give him both and let the elder decide as it was his bond they were completing. He could see light strobing behind his eyes, something reflecting from Yifan as the elder continued to thrust into him.
The human felt himself reciprocate the movement, his hips moving up to meet Yifan's and the merman rested his forehead against Yixing's, his hand pressing one of Yixing's legs up to his chest and Yixing felt more inside of him. He felt something within reacting to Yifan, the physical feeling of something falling into place as Yifan joined their lips together. Their bond searing behind Yixing's own eyes and there was no struggle for him to believe the feelings that rushed into him weren't Yifan's.
With nothing but the merman above him, Yixing's body shuddered to an eye flickering stop. Heat rushed through his body, tension rising in the pit of his stomach, taking him up and up and up. Until he stopped. The world stopped spinning for what felt like hours, his eyes focusing in and out of Yifan's pleasure stricken face then there was an explosion of light from Yifan's eyes. They flashed, burned and fizzled as Yixing toppled downwards. His body shuddered, his shaft twitched and he came in a pearly stream between himself and his lover. His body loosening with the glowing aftershocks as his mouth slipped open in a soundless moan.
A groan vibrated through Yixing via Yifan's throat, the pulsing heat of Yifan rushing into his body until it faded to nothing but a pleasingly balmy warmth swirling within him with Yifan's continually shallowing thrusts.
Like lovers entwined, they each let out a breath with the heated air mingling in the short space between them. Yixing blinked, his gaze blurred and lips puckered with exhaustion. Yifan's mouth clasped onto his, drawing him through the trembling remnants of the sheerest pleasure of his life, balancing out his heaving breath and drawing them closer. A bond, unbreakable and ever-binding, sealed permanently between their souls.
Yixing always felt numbed whenever Lu Han visited, his sparkling eyes nothing alike the glowing ones Yixing longed to see. Yifan had only been gone for a day, his departure quiet as he walked out into the sea before the sun rose as Yixing watched him from the cliffs, his sketchbook in hand to scrawl down what he could see as his lover disappeared below the waves like a fading ray of light.
His twin could be cold and stern, his voice harder than Yixing could ever like and their unconscious twin connection wavered under the anger. Yixing felt it before he saw it, his heart hammering in time with the punching knocks left on his front door as it echoed throughout the small abode. He opened the door with a tentative tug and his twin stormed inside like the raging sea licking at the cliffs.
"You were with that man," Lu Han screamed, the veins in his neck bulging to show that his fury had been broiling for a long time. Yixing didn't have to respond, it wasn't a question and it wasn't something he felt like he needed to heed.
"Would you like some tea?"
Lu Han burned hotter, turning from a red to white glow, "Were you not listening? I saw you with that man, the one that came into the sweet shop that time."
"You like it with sugar in," Yixing busied himself with preparing the cup and brought the sugar out of the cupboard, finding a spoon instantly afterwards. "One sugar, for sweetness, and another for luck."
The scoops of white crystals fell into the warm tea and Yixing felt the raging aura behind him, his brother was not budging from his state of wrath.
"You absolute idiot," Lu Han howled out, making Yixing freeze up. "I warned you. I told you that this isn't something you should pursue and I was shocked when I saw another person in this house with you last night, your shadows danced on the walls and I could see that what was happening was not natural."
Yixing place the spoon down after stirring the sugar thoroughly into the flavoured hot water, he remained composed as he approached his twin with the cup. "You are not the one to deem what's natural and what isn't, brother. You say this like I've committed some heinous crime."
"You have. The sin you have committed is one not even your chosen ways could save you from," Lu Han's voice curled into the howling wind outside, the thrashing of thunder beginning to play over his hissed out tones. "Either you stop whatever games you're playing, or you face the repercussions of it when they come."
"I can't stop this," Yixing's voice was stronger than he thought it could ever be but the pull from within him guided him. His lighthouse in the ravaging storm. "I can do anything but that."
"Then I can't protect you." Lu Han didn't take the tea, he left his mouth hinged before shaking his head and coiling up like a cobra, ready to strike. "Scratch that, I won't protect you."
It was Yifan’s next prolonged visit when Yixing noticed something was going wrong. Yifan’s fingers were starting to dry out as they rested in bed one morning and they both watched as the cracks began to form and run toward each other on his skin. As horrible it was to watch the red lines hurtling down his hand and up into his arms, both men were just staring. They didn’t move or even break eye contact with it.
“I need water,” Yifan’s voice was suddenly raspier, sounding similar to when Yixing had lost his voice during an unrelenting cold the year before.
“I’ll run the bath,” Yixing finally decided, darting from his bedroom and down the corridor to the bathroom. He flicked both the taps on with his hand in hopes of it filling the bath up faster and went to the kitchen, he tore through the pantry trying to find the stained plastic of a certain tupperware box and he almost cheered when he picked it up. It was weighted and he felt incredibly relieved.
He ran back into the bathroom and saw Yifan there waiting for him on the closed toilet seat. The tall male watched as Yixing opened the pouring gap for the salt to rush out and into the water, it made small tinkles as it hit the porcelain tub that could easily fit two average humans. He saw Yifan begin to strip himself off as the waterline reached halfway, the cracks making him look like mud during a drought.
“Get in,” Yixing tried to usher him into the water but Yifan stumbled, still not quite used to having legs again instead of a monofin.
When he did get in, they both bore witness to his flesh knitting back together, as well as his long legs binding while the scales rippled up from the under the skin. Just as he’d seen before, it was a sea blue down from the waist to the tip, detailed with shimmering and shining whites and oranges. No matter how many times Yixing watched Yifan, he was always taken aback by the beauty of the older male’s natural form. He forever had the urge to paint it, “You’re so beautiful like this.”
Yifan laughed, the sound bubbling out through his mouth and gills, it was a strange sound but it warmed Yixing from the innermost depths of his body. There was something fluid about Yifan when he was in the water, not just the fact that he was a sea creature, but that everything felt so much more connatural. Yixing suspected that the same could have been said for him when it came to being on land when compared to water.
“Are you not joining me?” Yifan asked quietly, the slits in the sides of his throat whistling softly as he breathed in oxygen from the air and not water.
“There’s no room for me,” Yixing hummed, using his hands to cup water to let it run down Yifan’s chest. The surface seemed to soak in the fluid, stitching the flesh together like a neatly woven blanket of soft tan. Yixing let his fingertips coasted over where the cracks disappeared and his mind whirred with wonderment as the water hitting the edge of the tub was all they could hear over their gentle movements.
Yixing felt Yifan then, his heart beating and his flesh warming. He was real, his sinews and muscles showed Yixing as much, and the human couldn't believe it. Yifan's natural form was a beauty Yixing couldn't compare a single thing to, it had haunted the nightmares turned to sweet dreams of his childhood and taken over his aching chest. The human let his hand slip below the waterline, touching over Yifan's tail whilst it rippled in a way much akin to a reptile on sand. It had Yixing's curiosity curling his hands around the curvature of Yifan's body, his bold fingers travelling lower and lower until he shuffled down the edge of the bath and touched the frail looking tips of the merman's tail.
It didn't have to be said, Yixing was sure his eyes did all the talking as he looked up to meet gaze with Yifan. The merman smiled, his lips receding to show gums and teeth, too wide to be fake and too sweet to do anything but make Yixing's heart falter.
They remained like that for what must have been hours, Yixing exploring Yifan's monofin and the elder observing him with the softest of gazes. Yixing wished he'd crept into the water, to feel Yifan's silken form against his but the room in the tub was non-existent with the sheer size of Yifan's body. Tugging the merman's body out of the tub was a task within itself, he had no legs to propel himself up and out, leaving Yixing to use all of his strength to pry the taller out and letting out choruses of laughter as Yifan slipped down and soaked them both in water. When the merman was finally out, he stood up on the ground and Yixing drew a fluffy towel around his bare body. He dried the elder then, patting him all over as they edged into the bedroom and Yifan found some of the clothes he had begun to leave in Yixing's wardrobe. He sat on the bed, as per Yixing's request for him to soak up the rest of the excess water.
Yixing was patting Yifan's hair dry with a towel as a knock on the door echoed through the quiet, his eyes widening as he looked down to Yifan and the taller male immediately slipped into somewhere that couldn’t be seen from the window. A blind spot. His identity needing to be shielded from the world Yixing resided in. The human made his way to the front door quietly, as if him creeping through the house would halt the person outside and make them leave.
He was nervous, fingers knocking together as he clenched the door handle and he pulled it towards himself.
A small squeak escaped his lips as he opened the door, just as the person, or rather being, said, “I was invited for tea.”
Yixing stood gaping at the man he had only ever seen in his natural form but there was no fin, no slicked skin and no neck gills. Jongin in his human form, Yixing had to admit, was glorious. He didn’t say anything as Jongin peered around him to look into the house, his smile curling up as footsteps behind Yixing grew closer until they were directly behind him.
“Jongin, why are you here?” Yifan’s voice hummed, he was so close that each puff of breath that came out was making Yixing’s hair on his crown move a little.
“You said your human would be okay with me coming here to try that tea thing you’re always going on about,” Jongin began to walk towards the couple in the doorway, barging somewhat rudely past Yixing but Yifan’s imposing presence seemed to stop him in his tracks. “I am here to take you up on that offer.”
Yixing turned around to see both the taller men looking intensely at each other, their eyes’ colours swirling like whirlpools as they retained the contact. It was a strange sight to bear witness to but Yixing knew he was in no place to interrupt it. He wasn’t sure if it was a fight for dominance or some sort of greeting ritual merpeople went through.
Without moving his gaze, Yifan’s hand came to clasp around the human’s wrist, “Yixing, I think there’s some water in the kettle.”
“Oh, okay,” Yixing mumbled, stepping to the side to get around the two males and head into the kitchen. He was still shaking as he turned the stove on, the flames popping up to burn blue as he placed the heating pot onto the metal framing.
The house was quiet, not the relaxing kind that allowed the couple to hear the waves lap at the cliff face. It was eerie. A calm before the most ravaging storm. Water bubbling against the metal casing of the kettle was the only thing that broke the tension in his mind. He didn’t want the other merman in his house, in the home he was only just settling in to with Yifan around and there was a constant nagging in the back of his head that something was going to go wrong.
That idea didn’t leave as the water pot began to whistle, when he put the leaves into the pot or when he poured the water over the leaves. He wasn’t sure if the situation between the mermen had been resolved but he decided upon setting up a tray to carry through to the living area.
When he had done so, the black tray that was wearing back to brown at the edges rattled as the cups clinked as his arms shook with nerves. It was no better when he saw that Yifan and Jongin hadn’t moved.
He cleared his throat, to which green eyes flicked over to him immediately. Followed closely behind by blue irises, “I made some tea.”
Yifan sat in the chair he usually occupied whenever Yixing was busy drawing or reading, his hands moving expertly to fill the cups, no leaves flowing out of the spout. The scene made Yixing smile slightly, Yifan had managed to move along so quickly in his time on land, so much so that he looked at home in Yixing’s world. As if that was where he was supposed to be.
“Have a seat,” Yixing offered the second chair to the guest, who moved awkwardly to sit down. It reminded Yixing of how his partner had been when he first came to the house, the way his hips would jar slightly and legs would wobble with the pressure of his upper body. Their legs were always muscular but they had no memory to work from when it came to walking, it made Yixing wonder even more how old both the men were. “Help yourself to it, Jongin.”
Yifan lifted the cup closest to Jongin and passed it over, the newcomer eyeing it warily as he wrapped his fingers around it.
“It’s so warm,” Jongin gasped, withdrawing his touch and looking at Yifan accusingly.
“You drink it hot,” he explained, his voice coming out coaxingly and Yixing wondered if they shared a brotherly bond. “It goes bitter if you leave it to cool. Look, watch me.”
The more comfortable one of the sea people took a confident sip from his own teacup, the steam pushing against his cheeks and settling as a thin film of water across the skin. It made him glimmer in the way that Yixing had seen his whole body do earlier. Jongin was watching Yifan just as intently as Yixing was.
The smaller of the mermen copied the actions intently but recoiled when the liquid hit his tongue: “It burns!”
“Don’t be so weak, Jongin,” Yifan chastised, gulping down the rest of his drink and pour himself another. “Just drink it, Yixing has made this and it is the least you can do for your hospitable host.”
Jongin pouted, making his face contort to look younger than he probably really was. But, he followed Yifan’s request but blew on the tea before sipping it down. There was no grimace that time around, only a swirling of the liquid around his mouth before swallowing it completely.
“It’s nice.” Yifan scoffed but Yixing managed to reach over to smack his head lightly, a small telling off for being rude. Jongin watched with wide eyes as Yixing’s arm retracted back to his own side. “What did you just do?”
Yixing froze in confusion until Jongin gestured to the hand that had playfully hit Yifan, “Oh, I clipped his head because he was rude.”
“Is that something that all humans do to each other?”
“No,” Yifan answered. “Only those who are close enough to understand that there is no harm to be done.”
“You two are ‘close’?” Jongin allowed a teasing eyebrow to raise and Yixing’s face flamed, his gaze drifting over to the window.
“We are fully bonded,” Yifan confirmed, Yixing wondering how long it had been since Yifan and Jongin had been together if he hadn’t have known that. “Not that it is any business of yours.”
“You are one to talk, Yifan. You’ve given everything up to be with a human.” Jongin spat raising up from his seat to narrow his expression at Yixing. “You can’t stay here forever, this isn’t where you belong.”
“I belong wherever Yixing is,” Yifan was suddenly making a hissing noise, his eyes shooting through with red. “And if that isn’t in the water, then I do not belong there.”
“You are needed at home.”
“Yixing needs me here,” Yifan's voice was raising so loudly that it made Yixing flinch back behind him. He had never seen Yifan angry and he never wanted to, he guessed that with him being half sea monster, it wouldn’t be good. But Yifan had seen it, the looks the villagers gave Yixing and he saw how Yixing crumbled down at the weight of it. He also knew of the simmering war between the twins, often leaving Yixing alone without Yifan's companionship. “Nobody can change my mind.”
Jongin scoffed, the noise catching in his throat and making it sound a little more like a choke. “Your mother is sice and you’re here making tea instead, where’s your loyalty to the one that raised you?”
Yifan deflated visibly, his shoulders dipping down lower than Yixing had ever witnessed and there was defeat emanating from him. “I know she’s dying but she told me to be where I can be happy.”
“She wanted you to say you’d stay with her, that she makes you happy,” Jongin’s hand rose up to cup the bridge of his nose, a pose of utter exasperation. “You were supposed to pick her.”
“And how would you know that? Since when were you so close to her?”
Jongin laughed, his head shaking from side to side as he made his way to the front door, “Since her son, her only child, said he’d never be coming back? What about since you said you would rather be with him than us? Yifan, you can’t forget who you really are,” Jongin warned as he took his leave from the house. “Just stop running.”
Things were silent between them as Yifan sat back down, his body limply hanging forwards and the human had no idea what to do.
Yixing was still shocked that Yifan had pretty renounced his position as the heir to whatever his parents were offering just to be with him. No matter how much Yifan reminded him that merpeople were utterly devoted to their companions, he didn’t think the shaking in his bones would stop when he thought of how in love Yifan had grown to be. The elder rarely spoke about his life under the water, Yixing knew nothing of Yifan's family and his relationship with them. Everything felt sudden as Jongin spoke but Yifan looked tired and worn, reminding him of himself and Lu Han. It must have been a conversation had often between the two mermen, there was no way it couldn't have been.
“Maybe you should go back,” Yixing’s voice was weak as he spoke, a hand going to run across his partner’s back soothingly. “Spend some time with your mother.”
“Can I just be happy with you for a little while before everything goes wrong?” Yifan whimpered and Yixing’s heart broke a little at how feeble he sounded. “Just let me be here.”
“Of course. I’ll still be here when you go and when you return. You know I'd always wait for you here.”
As Jongin left, each cup of tea on the table turned bitter and cold, leaving Yixing to throw it away, undrunk and wasted.
They knew it couldn’t last, especially with Jongin’s appearance disrupting everything. As much as Yifan said that his home was on land with Yixing, they knew he longed for the water. His body half destroyed itself whenever he was away from it for too much time. It happened for the third time at the dead of night when Yixing felt himself shift enough to wake up, only to see Yifan sitting up in the bed just watching as his hand shrivelled with avenues of red and burning pinks.
“I’ll run the bath,” Yixing mumbled as he moved upright.
“No,” Yifan shook his head but Yixing didn’t stop moving. “Yixing, no.”
“Yifan, you’re dehydrating, you need to,” he scolded but froze in his movements, eyes settling on the man still on the bed.
“I want to swim,” he said quietly like it was some horrific thing that Yixing would never allow. “I want to go to the ocean.”
“Get yourself dressed and I’ll grab some towels then,” Yixing announced and Yifan’s head moved up like lightning.
“I think you’re forgetting that you can’t swim, Xing.”
“Then I won’t go in,” he smiled.
“I want to swim,” Yifan, however, didn’t look any brighter. “I want to swim with you.”
The merman sighed but stood up, making the cracks on his skin run faster to his chest and all Yixing could think about was how much that would hurt. Yifan’s pain tolerance would have had to have been sky high to not even flinch.
“It’s just that my kind swim to the surface at night to look at the moon together,” Yifan was still talking quietly and Yixing couldn’t help but be the one to frown that time around.
He wished he could swim; Yifan did all the things humans did to express their love for each other but Yixing couldn’t do the most basic of things for him when it came to sea customs. It pained his heart every time.
“It’s a trust thing, that we won’t let the other get hurt while so far from home, so close to humans,” the other continued and it was no surprise that Yixing was almost completely desolate at this point. He could remember Yifan once saying that swimming to the surface was part of the bonding process. “And because we see the moon as a mother, a pearl in the sky that shifts the sea and its creatures at her every command. It's like we are confessing ourselves to her to search for her approval of us.”
It was silent as they both changed, their night clothes folded neatly on their pillows and they went to the front door. Their shoes sat uniformly together and they used each other to balance as they slipped them on. The walk to the beach was short from Yixing’s small house on the cliffs, the water was crawling up the sand and then running back to the sea. He could feel Yifan’s movements quicken ever so slightly beside him with each step closer they got to the shoreline and Yixing was happy that the merman was so excited.
“You know, I do trust you,” Yixing said when Yifan was stripping off at the small camp of towels and spare clothing.
“Yes?” The tall male looked down at Yixing in the moonlight, which only made him look all the mystical to the human.
“Then I’ll go in wi—”
“You can’t swim, Yixing,” Yifan’s face became worried, his eyes searching Yixing’s face for something but the human didn’t budge.
“And you’ll never let me drown.”
Yifan opened his mouth to retort but they both knew it was true. Yifan would always do everything in his power to never let Yixing drown. Instead, the elder was silent for a few moments before turning to look out the water which looked like a jet black canvas that had fragments of stars floating in it.
He looked thoughtful and utterly orphic.
“Fine. Stay with me, though, at all times. Don't let go of me,” Yifan shifted back to Yixing, "not even for a second, okay?”
That was his cue to strip off and he did so rather gingerly, despite the fact that Yifan had seen him naked so many times before. It was the threat of somebody seeing them, two men stark naked watching the water ripple in the limited light.
A large and much cooler hand encased his, the fingers lacing and joining to connect them and suddenly he was being guided to where the water met the earth. The first few steps in were like needle sized icicles digging into his flesh but he soon numbed to it, only the parts that were slowly being submerged tingled with the cold. Yifan’s body began to change as they reach his hip height, which was the apex of Yixing’s ribs and something silky was grazing his legs every so often.
“Lean forwards,” Yifan said softly, his tail beginning to glimmer in a spectrum of colours as the luminescence shone out. “Put all your weight on my arm.”
The merman’s left arm was placed in front of him, making Yifan have to face Yixing as the human was standing to his right. Yixing did as commanded, his chest still not immersed but he felt the oily hydration on Yifan’s skin as they touched.
“When you feel the current get too strong, just use me as an anchor but as soon as we get to your shoulders we are going to stop,” they were still walking out to the sea and Yixing had a sudden but strange fear of what could be lurking beneath the waterline.
Yifan was right about the tidal movements being too much for Yixing and he was gripping after wading in a further metre in. The sea creature looked in his element as they proceeded, his skin no longer fracturing to reveal the muscle below but instead, it glistened as it had during their first encounters, the swirling of colour adorning his upper epidermis like the most precious kind of jewels.
“Do you want to try laying back?” Yifan asked once they were at their stopping point, but Yixing didn’t even need to answer when his back was drawn into Yifan’s chest, his legs were pushed up by the slightly undulating tail.
His whole body was stretched across Yifan’s, it was strange that his lover was so long and lithe, enough to keep a whole fully grown man buoyant. But, he could feel the beating heart against his spine as he rested back comfortably. The strong arm around his waist had him pinned in and it made him feel safe, there was nothing that could harm him with Yifan there.
It was an idyllic bliss that Yixing wished he could share with his loved one forever, he hated how his two legs were weak and his body wasn’t anywhere near strong enough to survive out at sea. He longed to have been born like Yifan. But as he turned over to curl into Yifan’s neck, he couldn’t help the feeling of contentment that washed over him. He didn’t care about much else, only Yifan. The merman was quiet as he spoke, “I don’t want to leave you.”
“I love you,” Yixing whispered and Yifan’s gills flicked against his cheek softly as he took each breath. “As morbid as this sounds, I would be dead without you.”
Years flitted around their many meetings, the merman never staying for too long but when he did, Yixing could breathe again. The time apart was filled with drawing; evergreen eyes with small explosions of orange littered through them now coated his walls. Yifan found it creepy, seeing his own eyes scattered on almost every surface of the house but he quickly confessed that he kept every shell, rock or piece of coral that was the same shade of hickory as Yixing’s eyesㅡall taking pride of place in his underwater chamber.
Their time together grew ever more precious as Yixing aged; his body moving a little slower with each turn of time and his muscles had lost a lot of their definition. Yifan never seemed to mind that, his smile always showing pride in Yixing. It was the same in the way he touched the slowly darkening skin was just as heated yet tender, as it had always been. They both knew that they wouldn’t have the eternity they deserved but neither of them said it aloud, especially as Yixing found it increasingly harder to find the energy to do anything. They both comforted themselves thinking of the handful of decades they could still have together.
Years that they thought they had left.
The scratches of feet against grass outside were what Yixing heard first, his restlessness at night making his wariness of the world sharpen and he could hear the movements of people. Yixing had hoped it was Yifan but there were too many footfalls for it to be the merman, even if he’d brought Jongin back with him. Yixing’s fear spiked as he heard calls for him through almost every wall of the house, the closest being outside of his closed window. In all of his years alive, he had only felt terror like it once and Yifan had been there to rescue him.
It wasn’t wasn't the same, this was on land. While Yifan was large and powerful, he was only formidable in the water and this was land. The merman still stumbled over small inclinations on the ground, his limbs not acting accordingly and even through Yixing found that cute, cute would not save him.
He rose from his bed, his joints aching as he removed his night clothes in favour of the thicker winter ones, he held a worn smooth pebble in his hand. A gift from the ocean floor. The one that Yifan had inscribed their names on in his native language on one side and Yixing had done the same on the reverse. It was a symbol for Yixing to be able to remember that Yifan wasn't a figment of his imagination or a dream.
He didn't put any shoes on, his bare soles touching the cold slate as he soundlessly padded the short distance to the door. The sight that greeted him was somewhat similar to the tales of pitchforks and wooden torches that he told Yifan of.
“Zhang Yixing,” one of the men whom he recognised to be the head of the elders’ council announced. “There is proof of you committing sins that are punishable by death. The first being that you have lain with another man in this very house and the second being that the man in question holds unworldly power, shown in the fact that he has not aged since his first appearance.”
Yixing didn't hear anything more than his own gushing blood in his ears, a little like when Yifan pressed a shell to his ear and told him it was like the sounds of the waves. He knew what was to come but that didn’t help to calm him; his palms immediately became slick with sweat and his knees shook as he tried to remain stood. That latter detail was disregarded as two men whom he recognised as people he used to give free sweets to when they’d turn up at the shop when they were younger.
He didn’t fight it, not as he came to meet eyes with his twin. There was defeat, along with the unrelenting sense that he was hurting Yifan by not doing anything to stop what was happening, panic pushing pointlessly in his veins. The walk down to the beach was long, feeling as if it took up so much more time than when he’d make the descent with Yifan.
He looked out to the water to see if Yifan was coming, the glowing palette of his tail fragmenting under the water but there was nothing but blackness. In that moment, he knew. Yifan wasn’t going to come for him this time. He was too far away, out of reach.
They got to the centre of the beach, where Yixing was pushed down onto his knees, and the villagers all stood in a half circle around him. There were titters of distaste, even spits of hatred coming from many. Others looked on in fear, whether it was for Yixing or of Yixing. He couldn’t tell.
“God may have looked upon your childish innocence all those years ago with pity but there is nothing as heinous as the sins you have committed. You knew the punishment for these crimes, yet you continued on. It is because of this, no trial is to be conducted. It is the law of our god.” The man from before hissed out, getting small murmurs of approval. Yixing knew there was a small chance that somebody could free him but that likelihood slipped away from him like sand between fingers. “Is there anybody who would vouch for the life of this man?”
Yixing stared pleadingly up at his twin with fists clenching closely around the pebble, his eyes completely glazed with tears and bottom lip shaking to contain the sob that was going to seep out as he knelt on the floor. It was the last favour he’d ever ask.
Lu Han turned his head away, eyes closing.
Nobody was coming for him; not as he was dragged to the edge of the waves, not as he screamed out his lover’s name desperately to the ocean, not as his head was pressed under water while his arms were restrained behind his back to minimise his violent thrashing.
Not even as his lungs filled too much for his choking to dispel.
Not a soul came as his own left him, his body turning limp in the water.
The stone dropped down, drifting to the bottom of the sea that claimed Yixing’s final breath.
Yifan watched from the water, the coffin that was being lowered into the sea was making its descent slowly and he itched to speed it along. It was his Yixing in there. He had permission from his father to be able to take the human's body to their family's burial area, for him to eternally be in the space reserved for Yifan's ‘wife’. When his death would come, he'd be placed beside his love, his human lover.
The underwater kingdom was still in uproar over Yifan periodic leaving for almost seventy years, though he hadn't appeared to have aged a day. However, in the short time that Yixing had been dead, he felt like he'd aged a century. He hated humans for their short lives, for their weak bodies and shallow minds but he loved Yixing. The struggling boy he'd saved from drowning, the man who had been his obsession for years and then his love. While Yixing may have been weak, he had total control over the waves in Yifan's chest. He could summon the merman with a call of his name and he'd come dashing, body gliding through the water until he saw the face he longed for always. It was just that he was too late when he needed to be there the most. He could only find one of the beloved gems from the depths that he had brought up for Yixing laying in the water and the smell of death lingering around it like a hollow hum. He had known instantly, a husking and harrowed feeling having made its home in his chest days before. He knew he'd lost his love.
"Sir," a voice said behind him. "We've been here for longer than permitted, I have to urge you home."
"Jongin, he's almost here," Yifan snapped, his temper shortening each moment he didn't have Yixing. His hatred for humankind driving him to almost insanity, he was certain he could hear the screams of his name in the wind when he’d resurfaced in the days before. And every time after that. "Have some patience and respect."
"Yes, sir," the servant swam a few metres back, not wanting to offend the higher ranked merman in his time of emotional turmoil. His rigid formalities kept a distance between them that had once dissipated, returning as Yifan shifted to become someone else. Something else.
Yifan heard the sound of the casket hitting the water and his body ached to move to his love but his rationality told him that he shouldn't, he had to wait for the congregation to move off before he could find the wooden box to pry it open. His tail had begun to turn a mix of axinite and onyx as he waited, the shimmering shades of sorrow that his people carried once they were left behind. While it was beautiful, Yifan knew he’d have to live on with those colours declaring to the sea-world that he was alone and would never feel the comfort of company until he was laid to rest himself.
The casket hit the rocky floor with an echoed thud, making the fish that had swirled around Yifan and Jongin clear off in a blink. That was his sign to retrieve Yixing, his fin powering him through the currents until he saw the plain box. It didn’t matter to him what the wretched coffin was made from, it wasn’t what Yixing wanted from death. Yes, he was given to the sea but not in the way either of them wanted. The human wanted to leave him as they met, his body being adorned in the kisses of each rolling wave and the salt caressing every inch of him. Yixing’s life was taken prematurely, robbing their chance at prolonged love and even something as simple as a goodbye.
Yifan couldn’t cry, if he had the ability to then he wasn’t sure if he would have as he used all his strength to pull the lid away but as soon as he saw the eerily calm expression on the face he adored, he knew he would have dehydrated himself with tears. His fingers shook as he reached for the corpse and he could smell the decay mixing with the water, he knew it would slow as the saline water would help to preserve his love but it still made him frown. Death choked his throat, the scented taste even had Jongin coughing behind him.
It never bothered him that Yixing aged, that his taut skin had begun to rumple and darken as the sun damaged it or that his body had become nothing compared to Yifan’s almost eternal youth. It was his eyes that never lost their gaiety or vivacity. Even when Yifan had surfaced from the deep in the months before having felt his beacon on land waver, only to return to a weaker Yixing and yet those eyes, much darker than the merman’s, were shining brighter than ever.
Yifan hated that the mortician had sewn Yixing’s eyelids down, it wasn’t something his people did as they believed that being buried with your eyes open would help you look over those you were departing from. He couldn’t bare the thought of trying to unstitch it himself, his hands were too large and reckless for such a thing, but it was a custom that only the deceased’s lover or children could touch the body. Yixing would sleep for the rest of time, peacefully and in a way Yifan could never disturb.
He pulled the body upright, clutching the aged human in his arms and returning back to Jongin, “Get rid of the casket, the varnish isn’t right for the water.”
“Of course,” the younger merman agreed, his focus shifting to the now splintered wood.
Yifan didn’t watch as Jongin swam past him, he only looked at the silvery strands that had replaced black on Yixing’s head and he couldn’t help but smile. His human had aged so well and was handsome even after life had left him.
“What did they dress you in, huh?” Yifan whispered as his body from the waist down undulated to drive him back to where Yixing would be left to wait for him. “I’ve got this Butte Opal threaded cloak for you from that place called America you told me about, it’s why I wasn’t here sooner. I would have loved to have seen you wear it while animated but having it wrapped around you for the rest of eternity doesn’t sound too bad either.”
It wasn’t too long until Yifan began to descend into the water that had once made Yixing’s ears ring and lungs constrict painfully, it was as he went deeper that he could hear the faint sounds of the water replacing air in Yixing’s body. The pressure was slowly crushing him and Yifan could only frown over the fact that the human body was so weak, there were no pressure-resistant structures in his body nor were there piezolytes in the human makeup.
“So fragile in my home,” Yifan stroked Yixing’s hair that was swaying with the currents as his eyes adjusted to the lack of light, his tail’s bio-luminescent qualities beginning to show themselves.
The glowing shades of pearl white, robin egg blue and clementine, that Yixing used to see during their nightly swims together, were replaced with midnight blue, plum and grey. The underwater mourning colours. Yifan could feel the glowing eyes of other merfolk but he ignored each glance he encountered until he came to the place adorned in flat sand. He took the cloak from his father’s arms and had it replace the clothing on Yixing’s body.
There were no stones, no shells, no life other than himself as he swam to crepuscule coloured water.
Burial sites below the surface were different to the ones Yixing had shown Yifan; they were barren and were not places for pining after the dead.
It was for abiding only.
Waiting until your family join you in the life of the sea itself.
He had centuries to wait until his reunion and he no longer felt the warmth in the tidal motion surrounding him. Something was slipping in through his mouth and gills, down his throat then into his lungs. It coated everything within him in darkness, an endless night eclipsing his soul.
Yifan finally knew the meaning of drowning.
With every cry of a name, each screaming of pain and all the gasps of murderous choking curling in the tempestuous wind, a life was taken. The tale of a creature with a single black serpentine fin and green eyes streaked with blood red, luring each person, from child to those bed bound with age, into the water lived. It was said that the monster would clasp his hands around the left wrist and the neck until the human was dragged out into the ocean. The village in the east was a ghost town, each person disappearing one by one until there was nobody at all.
But one, one death, was different to the others. The man, said to be half of a set of twins with glittering eyes, his body was the only one found. A hole in his chest that revealed a heartless cavity, eyes dried up and open. It was told that the body on the beach whispered an apology as the waves lapped over it twice a day. Nothing bred revenge like limply atoned guilt.
Once the townspeople were gone, the beast disappeared into the depths too but the echoes of a tortured voice during storms restlessly remained.