The ocean water was a gentle, intimate caress against every inch of him as it carried him on a current- by himself, but never truly alone. Not in the vastness that was the sea.
Perhaps it was seen as merciless, to some- seen as violent, mysterious, and terrifying, but anyone who knew the waters as well as he did, who shared the same disposition, knew that the sea was much, much deeper than just that. While no one could truly understand the sea, they knew the benevolence that it displayed towards its people. That they belonged only to the sea, and it took care all in it's possession.
Sentient, and though without a voice of it's own, it's people spoke on it's behalf. Respected it, revered it, and protected it against those who didn't.
Those who arrogantly believed that they were brought into creation to conquer everything and everyone they saw as beneath them. Those who assumed that they were the only truly intelligent, sentient beings capable of rational thought and conscience.
Renowned, and infamous for having outrageous superiority complexes- a vanity that oft brought them to their inevitable demise.
Two-legged, weak beings susceptible to illness and injury that required specialized tools to fight their own battles. The battles which they waged-sometimes against themselves, and sometimes against anything that they didn't, couldn't understand.
Their insecurity and tendency to act rashly, to assume that unknown automatically equated to dangerous, kept seafolk from emerging- sometimes for the entirety of their lives, dependant on their place of origin or lineage.
And so while the people of the sea had inhabited the earth- both water and land, long before humans had, the destructive, hurtful nature of humans inevitably confined them to the deep waters.
What had once been innocuous curiosity morphed into resentment over time.
Humans took to the seas, spread a plague composed primarily out of pollution and senseless violence. Unnecessary deaths- harming not only one another, but eventually even the children of the ocean.
Every life lost contributed- every unnatural and needless mortality left the ocean in anguish. The humans took, and took, selfishly giving naught in return.
The necessity and intent behind the taking was what differentiated some humans from others; those which respected the seas, and those which did not. A small fishing boat set to sea to feed families, taking only what was required, was exempt. A larger vessel taking to the waters, with their oversized, impenetrable nets, there to gather mass amounts fish for profit over need, was not.
But the humans were greedy- couldn't stop at solely gathering sea creatures for sustenance. They got more creative, as time passed- they got bored , and soon it become commonplace for them to kill for fun. For sport.
For a long while, the ocean did nothing, remaining silent- but as the death tally rose with each passing day, the populations of specific species slowly but surely dwindling, it's aggravation began to manifest in the form of rough, unrelenting waters which were infeasible for any sane being to sail through safely.
It kept the humans at bay, for a time, but soon even that wasn't enough, only prompting them to build larger, stronger vessels. Taking it as a challenge, so much as actively enjoying the thrill and corresponding adrenaline rush- in the end, the ocean was only a thing to be conquered. A task which mankind took on with diligence, no matter how many lives were lost in the process.
Then came the ocean storms.
Came the upturned boats and drowned sailors, the missing fishermen that would never again return home to their families. Over time, it became clear that the ocean adapted to whatever mankind threw its way- would develop methods to prevent the destruction of both it and it's children, and when those methods were overcome, would only strengthen their intensity.
No matter how massive, how strong, or how unstoppable , nothing was a match for it's fury, for its turbulent, unforgiving waters.
But humans, in spite of their weaknesses, were evasive. Had impressive self-preservation instincts, which sometimes even the ocean couldn't overcome. Some lived to tell the story, to relay the horrifying things they'd witnessed, had been subjected to.
Then came the tales of the monsters that lurked in the deep. The monsters with glowing eyes, their mouths full of what had to have been hundreds of razor-sharp teeth, occasionally venomous- designed to tear into the flesh of man. Their elongated claws, and pure unadulterated hatred radiating from their very beings. Iridescent scales adorning discolored skin, their top halves vaguely reminiscent of humans, but their lower-halves embodied by the lateral line of differing aquatic craniates, complete with dorsal, pelvic, and caudal fins.
The comparisons to predatory oceanic creatures were recurring- visions of what could only have been half man, half shark. They dragged humans deep into the water, grips vice like as they waited for them to drown, only for their bodies to almost always never resurface. Never be found.
Some believed the stories, Pirates primarily among them, but most, the humans that would never set to sea, amounted the vivid descriptions to just being entertaining tall tales at best. Faraway pipe or fever-dreams at their worst.
The ocean would forever be his home, but Jongin was intrigued by land- going so far as to directly disregard and disobey the laws that governed his shoal in breaching it.
His love of the greenery that sprouted from the dark soil, and for the creatures that inhabited the forests, overrode the absolute, unadulterated loathing he felt towards humans, prompting him to temporarily adopt his unstable bipedal form in order to venture further.
He found it regrettable that he didn't know the names, didn't have the words- probably never would, without the aid of someone who knew them already.
But at the end of the day, come the beginnings of sunset, Jongin returned to his actual dwelling. His actual dwelling, where he understood his surroundings, and his surroundings understood him.
On the days of his infrequent, impromptu visits, he left early in the morning, before the people of his shoal were awake to witness his forbidden departures. He knew the way by heart- his only objective being to arrive, see, and leave; he didn't have time for distractions. Didn't have time to doddle.
He swam near the surface, where the sun touched his skin- warm, and comforting. His route skirted past the various landmarks that mapped the sea- and as he swam past the ravine of allure, occasionally made pause, despite his adamance towards not stopping, to hear the sirens’ call- to hear the women of the water project their melodic, sweet voices in song. Their kind weren't friends, but nor were they enemies- the two seafolk maintaining a delicate balance of protecting the waters from both within and above.
The sirens lured sailors to their deaths, entranced by their soft singing, their unfathomable, but inevitably fatal, beauty. They caused shipwrecks within their trap that came in the form of a darkened, steep chasm- lined with large, jagged rocks that punctured holes in their wooden vessels.
Their processes differed, but their methods of execution were the same; the humans invaded the waters, and the people that called the ocean their home drew them down into the very waters they'd trespassed.
Jongin enjoyed the singing, became entranced, in his own right, but not in the same way. The songs were ever-changing, but the tones remained the same.
Thus the sound of loud, boisterous, and all around obnoxious singing, a decisively masculine voice bouncing, echoing off of the canyon walls that funneled into the ravine, was something decidedly confounding. Something foreign. Unprecedented. Always allowing his curiosity to rule him, Jongin ventured closer.
There, in the midst of the ocean, near the mouth of the ravine, with no habitable or reachable land for miles upon miles, was a small, insignificant fragment of the intense loathing imbedded into the residents of the sea.
Alone- Jongin registered as his eyebrows furrowed- no demolished ship nearby to indicate how it had arrived there. But perhaps even more befuddling, was that it was very much alive and moving.
Any of the humans he'd had the displeasure of encountering in the past had either been dead, or on land- had been out of Jongin's element, virtually untouchable. They weren't intruding into his territory; thus leaving no room, nor need for bloodshed
But this… This lone, abandoned human was in a place it most definitely didn't belong- no damage being done, no wrath to be incurred, but indisputably making way for further curiosity and confusion.
He sensed sorrow.
The ocean air was heavy, salty on his tongue, filling his lungs with every breath, but not stinging his eyes nor phasing him much at all. The gentle sea breeze blew through his hair as they sailed the calm, even waters; the weather was ideal for any voyage, especially one as time sensitive as this.
He'd done this countless times before, sailing for weeks, months on end to reach destinations some could scarcely even dream of, or maybe not want to dream of at all . Could operate on muscle memory alone, could recite everything he needed to keep watch of backwards, and navigate the ocean with his eyes closed.
At sea, he felt at ease.
At sea, he felt at home.
At sea… He felt free.
Or felt the nearest thing to freedom he'd ever obtain- he'd never tasted true freedom, not even as a boy. While his mind was loyal the crown, wouldn't dare even consider defying his Queen, his heart belonged to the ocean, and everything that it brang.
He'd pledged an oath, had lost blood for his clause, had killed for it on a whim. One did not simply nullify a sworn, documented contract- once he'd accepted his duty, young and ignorant and under a tremendous amount of stress at the time, he'd solidified his fate.
Because the only way to get out of the role of a Naval Captain, serving directly under the queen herself, was through either death, or treason. Treason, which would result in death regardless, for betraying his country and everyone he had ever met.
He would be lying to say he was content, with where he was at in life- a life dedicated solely to his position, with scarcely any time to himself to meet someone, or start the family his mother had always yearned for him to have. He'd made the decision on his own, dug his own grave, but to say it was without the pressure of his peers and family, frankly just wouldn't be truthful.
Baekhyun peered into the deep abyss of the ocean beneath and tried to push aside that he'd entertained the idea of plunging into its depths countless times. He'd always been a free spirit, his grandfather had said, and there he was, a bird trapped in a cage. A dog on a leash.
He didn't want to die, but sometimes… Sometimes Baekhyun wanted to disappear forever.
But in the end he was in a position of power, was respected, and high on the Queen's list of favorites, he tried to rationalize.
On the surface, no one could ever guess the severity of the turmoil roiling inside of him- some days worse than others.
Initially, he had been content, happy .
Until his grandfather fell ill, and by the time he returned home on that occasion, he'd long passed.
He'd never considered the fact, prior to signing his life away, that time still turned without him present. That things wouldn't always be the same when he returned from the sea.
That was strike one.
Strike two came in the form of his fiance telling him that she couldn't wait for him for months on end. To wait to see the day when he didn't return home to her at all. She wanted a family, wanted stability, and it was belatedly that she realized that Baekhyun was far from stable. Could never be a constant in her life.
Perhaps in spite of all this, Baekhyun still managed to keep himself in high spirits, found strength in being able to make others laugh. To brighten any room he graced.
He'd been told that he lacked professionalism, a handful of times, to which he didn't bat an eyelash at- just letting a deep, genuine laugh reverberate through his chest as his flat expression morphed into something of amusement. He knew that. After six years, it was impossible for him not to.
He found reprieve in the people that surrounded him; his crew, and Military Officers. His boat. It made it easy to forget everything, for a time.
The sound of a throat being cleared snapped him out of his apparent reverie, turning his head to regard his Lieutenant with an eyebrow arched- prompting her to speak up.
“You're fully aware of the extreme risks involved in the course you routed,” She began, not in a question so much as it was an incredulous statement.
He offered her a tight-lipped, undeniably forced smile, “You're fully aware that I do, in fact, have an inkling as to how I am meant to sail my ship.” He responded in turn, nonchalant.
“Forgive me for prioritizing the safety of our crew over your reckless, hasty decisions, Captain .”
“Baekhyun,” she sighed in exasperation, prompting him to finally divert his full attention towards her, one hand on the wooden steering wheel of the ship.
“I do know what I'm doing,” He repeated, imploring, droopy eyes searching. “Do you really have so little faith in me?”
“Don't even try to pull that shit with me,” She responded, disgruntled, displeasure clear on her face, “Even the wisest of Ship Captains have made grave mistakes- You've succeeded in leading your ship thus far. Why must you be so keen on throwing that away? It's my job to question you, and I'm questioning you, because this is absolutely mad.”
“I, too, am capable of rational thought- and while there are countless tales, where is the proof? Where is the evidence that these stories are indeed true? I've considered all potential variables, looked at this from every possible angle, and there discernible reason that we shouldn't proceed.”
“Not only will this save us valuable time, but it too will save us precious resources- I see no downside.”
“I'm telling you, Captain , as not only a colleague, but as a friend , that if you care about your crew, about your ship, you'll change course now,” Her words were harsh, clipped- frustration evident, and Baekhyun almost felt bad. Almost, as she turned and walked away from him, boots clacking loudly against the wooden deck.
The ship creaked beneath him, as though punctuating her upset- either that, or voicing a protest of its own altogether.
It went without saying that Baekhyun had absolutely no intention of changing course due to something as irrefutably inane as mere superstition. Something clearly a fallacy at best. Had she, or another member of his crew, provided him with clear evidence, with tangible proof , and he would have considered paying it heed.
As it stood, the route would remain the same, and the voyage would continue as planned. The skies were clear, and the waters calm- granting him a smooth, steady sailing through and through.
He didn't believe in the old wives’ tales, didn't believe in the myths- he hadn't since he was a boy. As a Naval Captain, he didn't have time to hold onto the frivolous superstitions he'd adopted at a young age, easily influenced by his peers.
Yet still, in spite of his steadfast beliefs, an odd sort of spine-chilling trepidation settled over him, weighing heavily in his chest, when the gorge came into view. Baekhyun swallowed dryly, grip tightening on the knobs of the ship's wheel imperceptibly, white-knuckled beneath the leather of his gloves.
“Ensure that all loose cargo on deck is securely tied down!” His voice rang out, the order being received with a collective “Yes, Sir!” From the seamen above deck.
“We're nearing the gorge now! I want all officers on deck, and all civilians and seamen below. Gentlemen, be on your guard- it looks like there are rough waters just up ahead. Brace yourselves.” The words projected were thoughtless, effortless- instinctive, as his concentration lay only on the path sprawled out before him.
As predicted, the water steadily grew rougher and rougher beneath the ship- swaying heavily, now, but nothing unmanageable.
“Captain! The storm is growing, are you certain it's safe to proceed?”
Was he certain?
No. In fact, he acknowledged that not waiting out the storm was unwise, but now wasn't the time for second guessing himself. For second thoughts.
Thunder rumbled, sporadic flashes of lightning illuminating the darkened skies, now clouded over with the heavy rain clouds overhead. The sudden onset of bad weather was abnormal at best, especially with their journey having been marked thus far with sunny skies and smooth seas.
The rain didn't begin with a light drizzle, but rather, a heavy, unrelenting pour- quickly wetting, flooding the deck while soaking him to the bone, uniform growing heavy with water. The ship began rocking more violently, water crashing against its sides, and against the field of large, elongated, jagged rocks, now bordering them from then onward.
Baekhyun had fared harsh weather in his time, had fared violent, unforgiving storms before, but the one he was currently faced with went unmatched by anything he'd ever experienced or preyed witness to.
Panic gripped him, but now wasn't the time to allow fear to rule him.
Amidst the chaos, a soft melodic singing sounded- audible even beneath the storm raging around them. It formed a chorus of voices, the further they neared, the bow now entering the mouth of the violent ravine.
He glanced around him, found his officers holding, clutching onto the railings, or whatever they possibly could, for dear life.
It was too late to admit defeat, but the only chance they had was to drop the sails entirely and attempt to anchor- there was no possible way the ship would make it through the gorge. Not in one piece.
“Lieutenant! Man the wheel!” He ordered, projecting his voice as loudly as possible beneath the cacophony of waves crashing and pelting rain, hearing what he hoped was an affirmative as he stepped, stumbled away, unable to walk in a straight line with the violent swaying, to drop the sails entirely on his own, fumbling with the tight knots of the wet rope with a curse.
There wasn't enough time.
He procured the blade on his hip to slash the ropes instead, the sails dropping with a resounding slam as he quickly re holstered his weapon. The singing grew louder, more intense, pitch almost piercing.
Something at his right creaked obtrusively, an unmistakable snap from beside him, the ear-splitting sound of wood cracking and breaking, followed by the sound of something heavy dragging along the top deck.
A chanced glance sideways revealed the the cargo he'd previously ordered to be strapped down had gone loose- the ship dipping dangerously to one side at one second, only for it to divert to the other, sending the stack careening towards him.
Unlike the idealistic stories, unlike the unrealistic expectation that some otherworldly influence was watching over him, would extend its benevolence upon him and save him mere seconds from certain death and perilous defeat, as it had many times before, Baekhyun's risky decision to travel through the reputably hazardous ravine would prove to be the last decision he'd ever make aboard his vessel.
Everything that followed from there, onwards, was inexorable- events proceeding in quick succession.
The impact from the loosened cargo colliding with his body was equal parts forceful and rapid. Baekhyun felt the air leave his lungs, diaphragm spasming from the sheer force that slammed into his abdomen- and he didn't even have the chance to make a sound, didn't even have the chance to breathe before the weight of the crates was taking him along with it- slamming and crushing him into the ship's railing- creaking precariously behind him as adrenaline pumped through his veins. It hurt, he registered- but the thought was fleeting. Pain was nothing in the face of his life being on the line.
He was allowed but a few seconds to struggle, to wiggle away, but the stack, bound together by ropes, was too heavy for him to move.
Creak- wood protesting loudly beneath the pressure.
The wooden bars- his final reprieve, gave way behind him, and Baekhyun went overboard in the midst of the storm. In the midst of the chaos.
He plunged into the inky black depths of the ocean, back breaking the surface of the water- sinking. Sinking. Sinking.
His eyes clenched shut, body having been braced for impact, but as soon as he was fully submerged, a peculiar sense of calmness washed over him.
“The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient, Baekhyun ,” It was his grandfather, staring out towards the sea, and he spoke wistfully, kind eyes crinkled with age.
Baekhyun was ten.
“ One should lie empty, open, choiceless as this beach; waiting for a gift from the sea itself. ” He continued, and Baekhyun looked towards him curiously- the words were wise, were spoken with resolve, and he dimly registered that his grandfather was attempting to teach him something valuable.
“ Grandpa I…” A short pause. “I'm sorry, I don't know what any of that means .” He replied apologetically, frown on his small mouth, confusion only amplifying when the old man only laughed softly in response. Baekhyun fought back a scowl.
“I know you don't, Baekhyun. But you will, in time. If your heart is truly set on the sea, you will come to understand.”
“But, to simplify it for now- think of the phrase 'Good things happen to those who wait.’”
As he found himself plummeting into the ocean, in the eye of a storm, betrayed by his very own ship, after setting their course through a ravine infamous for inciting shipwrecks; having found encouragement in the time and resources that would be preserved in doing so, he understood his grandfather's words with perfect clarity.
The ocean had its own rules, its own laws- and therefore, its own punishments, and its own repercussions. He knew that.
He knew that.
But perhaps- he'd become so reckless, so cocky as to lose the ability to care. To pay heed.
After all, what did he have to lose?
The world had proven that it went on just fine without him there. He no longer had anyone waiting for him to come home. Didn't have anything of noteworthy importance beyond his material possessions, and gold.
But what of his crew?
His Lieutenant had more than proven, on numerous occasions, that she was equally as qualified as he to be the Captain of a ship- if not moreso; a woman wise beyond her years.
Amidst the seemingly impervious, harmful cycle of self deprecation, he thought to himself.
Did he really believe any of that?
His grandfather would be disappointed to see him give up so easily- he'd raised him to be far better, to be far stronger than that.
Baekhyun's desire to live . To survive would always prevail.
The salt water stung his eyes as he swam up towards the Ocean’s surface- breaking through with a sharp gasp, only to be taken under once more, as a wave came crashing down towards him. He fought with everything he had in him- coughing, heaving, choking on sea water, battling to catch his breath each time he surfaced.
It repeated- a seemingly endless, vicious cycle- characterized by the very same roughness that had assailed his ship just moments prior.
The seconds- Minutes , passed, each wave pushing him backwards substantially- all he could do was struggle to keep his head above the water long enough to breathe between each relentless assault of the strong, enraged waves in succession.
After ten minutes of being tormented, ten minutes of being abused, by the unforgiving, raging sea surrounding him, he was finally offered some reprieve; tired body being pushed into moderately calmer waters.
He paddled, kicked, half-heartedly towards a nearby angled, smooth stone protruding sharply from the surface of the ocean- coming upon a small rock formation. The area was littered with what he could only conclude to be human remains- bones, and tattered pieces of clothing, some of the rocks pointed enough to easily impale any human who had the misfortune of falling into them, bringing them to their inevitable deaths.
Weakly, he dragged his exhausted form up the slope of the stone, clinging to it like a lifeline as the storm continued to rage and the rain continued to pour. What held importance was that every part of his body was entirely above the water.
The sound of voices, and the sound of singing echoed from within the ravine. The sky was dark- dusk having come upon them, in accompaniment with the heavy rain clouds that lingered above. It made it difficult to see much of anything beyond what was in the immediate area.
But one thing that was for certain was that his ship was nowhere in sight. Gone. He felt a definite emptiness inside of him, dread heavy at the pit of his stomach, heart sinking- and he allowed exhaustion to claim him without a struggle or thought, as the sound of the waves crashing, splashing around him filled the silence.
It was the sixteenth day in August of 1685- in the early reaches of the Morean War, fought between the Republic of Venice and The Ottoman Empire.
It was day that was imprinted into his memory. A day that he had silently defined as being one of the worst days of his entire life. A day he should forget, should let go of- but such is easier said than done.
Each recollection is equally as vivid as the last- the pain he felt, the sadness that had overwhelmed him.
It was the day he'd had his heart broken irreparably.
His uniform was freshly washed and ironed, and his bag was packed- he was to depart come midday.
The ship was docked at bay, supplies and stocks replenished, the civilian crewmen already on board, ready to set sail for an indefinite length of time. He was scheduled to meet with distant foreign dignitaries, but there was no telling how long that would take.
The weather was warm, and the sky was bright- picturesque, and as perfect a day as any to begin his journey.
He recalled spending the final hours before his departure with a bone-deep contentedness taking hold- watching, smiling fondly as his first love had excitedly relayed what her plans were while he was at sea. She was to pay a visit to her elder sister, a few towns over- a days’ worth of travelling by carriage. It had been some time since they'd last seen one another, the trip was long overdue.
Her name was Eunji.
She had been oddly, overly attentive that morning- he would come to wish she hadn't been.
He had awoken surrounded by her warm embrace, her dainty fingers stroking through his dark hair, with her opposite hand stroking his back- his face pressed into her chest. When he'd first come to, she'd said good morning, leaning down to kiss his forehead, and he'd hummed contentedly, nuzzling in closer to catch a few more minutes of much needed rest for the long day ahead of him.
She'd went on to pamper him- making him a full breakfast, washing his hair for him, assisting him in ensuring he was ready to leave.
She had been smiling, then, but Baekhyun would later come to realize that it hadn't just been a simple trick of the lighting when he'd looked into her eyes and found that her smile didn't reach them.
Ever observant, Baekhyun could see she was nervous, constantly smoothing, and re-smoothing out not-existent wrinkles from her dress, but tried not the pay it any heed. Perhaps she was just anxious about his departure.
As it turned out, she was anxious about his departure.
Just as she had been for the last departure, and the one before that.
He hadn't thought it odd to see her bags and belongings packed- she was staying with her sister, after-all. It was likely that she'd remain there over the course of his excursion.
“They should be here to collect me soon,” She'd said, roughly an hour before he was set to leave- nibbling at her lower lip, and Baekhyun nodded in understanding, eyebrows furrowing when she inhaled shakily. He reached out to lay a hand over hers- folded atop the kitchen table where they were seated, while offering her a warm, reassuring smile.
“You should relax. What's got you so wound up? It is simply a meeting- my officers will be there along with me.”
She nodded, forcing a smile onto her on face- it seemed pained, wobbling- she averted her gaze, eyes downcast.
“Eunji?” He tried gently, trying not to let his own rising anxiety show with the sudden onset of the unusual behavior she exhibited.
“Is there something you would like to tell me?”
Reluctantly, she drew her hands away to fold them in her lap. Baekhyun felt his heart sink.
“Baekhyun…” She began, at least having the decency to meet his eyes- holding his gaze. Baekhyun swallowed dryly, nodding, not trusting is voice.
“When you return, I… Won't be here.” She began, gaze imploring, eyes searching. He had a feeling that her absence wouldn't be due to her simply staying at her sister's place for a little while longer than his trip.
A chanced glance downwards told him that she was playing with her engagement ring. Baekhyun couldn't speak, but his sad, droopy eyes, and pitiful expression told her everything.
“And I will not be returning. I will be staying with my sister, for a time, but I… Am not coming back again, afterwards.”
“Why?” He croaked, mouth dry.
“Because I simply can't do this anymore, Baekhyun. You are a good man- don't think for a second that you aren't enough- but being a good man doesn't mean anything in the long run when you can't be here beside me.”
“You are never home. And I understand why, Baekhyun, but how can I marry a man who is destined to be an absent husband?”
A shuddering breath, “Please… Please don't do this, Eunji- I can-”
“You can't, Baekhyun. You're under a contract. You've sworn an oath to serve- and that is admirable, Baekhyun, but that isn't fair to me.”
“I've thought about this at length. Debated over it for months, and… It's time.”
“I know this is painful, and I do not want to hurt you- but I have constantly been hurting without you here.”
“What if you never come home, Baekhyun? Do you expect me to wait here, alone, in this empty house, for the day an officer comes to inform me that my husband has been killed?”
“I have always wanted a family with you, Baekhyun- but a family requires efforts on both ends. Any children we could possibly have would grow up with an absent father , in addition. This is what is best for both of us.”
His heart ached in his chest, and he didn't trust his voice to speak, to protest- he knew he couldn't stop her, he wasn't a selfish man.
Each word she stated, admitted, cut him a little bit deeper.
“Eunji, please-” He pleaded quietly, just narrowly suppressing a sob, eyes clenched shut, hands balled into fists.
A knock sounded at the door.
“I need to leave now, Baekhyun.” She replied simply, pity written across her face as she made to stand. Her steps were light across the wooden flooring, nearing the entryway.
“But I… I love you,” He choked out, eyes wet, and her expression was sad, eyes momentarily closing, as though in pain. She took a deep breath to steel herself as she reached for the door handle.
“I know, Baekhyun. I know you do,” She smiled softly, expression affectionate, and she struggled not to allow her own emotions to overwhelm her.
“You've just always loved the ocean more, Baekhyun.” She stated it with finality as she opened the door, possessions being collected- and as the door closed behind her, she walked out of his life forever- leaving behind nothing but the memory of her warm smiles and tender love, of the precious hours and days spent together. He shakily made to stand, eyes on the table in front of him as he used it for leverage.
The metal of her ring glinted in the sunlight streaming in through the windows.
Baekhyun broke down.
He came to at the sound of the gentle splashing of waves against the rocks surrounding him and the walls of the wide canyon, the distant chirping of birds sounding, echoing in the distance. His entire body ached, head filled with a dull, insistent throbbing.
As he gingerly sat up atop the sloped stone, he slowly recollected the events that had transpired just some hours prior. How long had he been asleep? There was no way to tell, but the water was calm, and the weather was warm- the sun shining down upon him. He squinted in the harsh lighting, raising a hand to shade his eyes from the rays, and as he observed his surroundings, he couldn’t help but feel that the the sea, the world was mocking him, the conditions met now the polar opposite of what they had been the night before. The conditions which had inevitably left him stranded, alone, in the center of the atlantic ocean.
Baekhyun sighed and laid back down- hand fanned out over his face.
He was a Captain of the Royal Navy- Elected by the Queen herself. He was indispensable. There was no way that his ship and crew wouldn’t come back for him.
He turned his head to the side- eyes falling upon the mouth of the ravine where he’d gone overboard, the singing had softened, was almost soothing to his ears.
One thing he could discern was that he was nowhere near civilization. Another was that his position was highly inconvenient in that it wasn’t anywhere near the typical routes taken by transport ships, freighters, or cargo ships. Perhaps pirate ships- but Baekhyun knew as well as any seasoned seaman that being picked up by a pirate ship would render him as good as dead.
That, and pirates knew better than the test the ocean. He couldn’t help but find it ironic that lawless , uneducated pirates, of all people, knew better than he when it came to the customs of the sea.
As his stomach growled loudly, it occurred to him that not only was he far, far away from civilization, but he was also far, far away from anywhere he could find food, or a drinkable source of water.
The irony of the latter was not lost on him- surrounded by nothing but water for miles upon miles, but being unable to drink any of it, lest he dehydrate himself even further.
As the minutes, hours ticked by with nothing but the ambient noise from the ocean surrounding him, and the birds overhead, Baekhyun began to grow restless.
He had never been one for remaining still, nor silent, for extended periods of time- such was a flaw that had brought upon him the admonishment of his family and peers for the entirety of his life.
‘Would you just sit still, Baekhyun?’ 'Baekhyun, why can't you listen like your brother?’
Baekhyun, Baekhyun, Baekhyun-
With an audible sigh, and a frown pulling at his mouth, he sat back up and made to undo the fastenings of his Naval frock coat. The insignia and crest stitched into the thick fabric represented both his rank and division- represented his seniority, marked him of a man worthy of respect.
Humorous, how that had all come to mean a resounding absolutely nothing, in the grand scheme of things. Would it help him now, out there in the middle of the ocean? Was he to expect the cooperation of the fish in the sea beneath him, and the birds gliding through the high sky?
Almost idly folding the thick material into a makeshift pillow, Baekhyun's too loud, nonsensical thoughts came to an abrupt halt when his hand passed over a definite hard lump in the pocket of his coat.
Water? Was his first, fleeting thought, hopeful as he dug into the pocket- only to produce a large metal flask.
A frown found his face, eyes narrowing at the offending object.
Most definitely not water, he reluctantly accepted, but unscrewed the cap to sniff the liquid inside just to be certain.
Whiskey , he supplied instead- eyeing it in consideration for all of five seconds before tossing it back to take a long, healthy swig. He hissed at the burn of the alcohol down his throat, face pulling into a grimace.
Followed by another, for the road - afterall, what did he have to lose?
He tucked it away again afterwards, drawing his knees up, resting his elbows atop them, and hanging his head in-between. It was enough to distract him from his predicament, for a time- mind slowly growing fuzzy around the edges.
The day dragged on, with naught but his thoughts to accompany him.
Baekhyun sat in relative silence for the duration, and watched the sun slowly set- illuminating the skies with brilliant pinks and purples, it's golden rays reflecting off of the gentle ripples of the expanse of the ocean ahead. Beautiful. Picturesque.
On the first day, sleep found him easily when darkness unfurled across the sky- the stars imprinting themselves behind his eyelids as he fell into a dreamless, stress-induced slumber beneath their gaze.
On the second day, his building restlessness- previously suppressed for the sake of conserving his energy, got best of him- leg jittering, fingers tapping incessantly against the surface of the stone. His hunger and thirst had long since faded- something Baekhyun knew to be a bad sign, but he didn't exactly have much in the ways of options to remedy his predicament.
In spite of the dire situation, Baekhyun firmly resolved to remain optimistic. Someone would come back for him, he was sure of it.
All he had to do was wait it out.
Too quiet. Too quiet.
As someone who thrived off of the company, and energy of others, Baekhyun knew it was only a matter of time before the separation anxiety impacted his psychological stability. He hadn't been designed to withstand absolute silence for extended periods of time.
At some point, he began to hum to himself- quietly, initially, but then he raised his head, eyes sweeping over his barren surroundings. With he being the only person in sight, he started to sing to fill the silence shortly thereafter- voice gradually increasing in volume with each verse he reiterated.
It was an old sea shanty- one he'd learned some years back, just shortly after he'd begun sailing.
“ Whiskey killed me poor old dad,
Whiskey drove me mother mad
My wife and I do not agree,
She puts whiskey in her tea
I had a girl and her name was Lize
She puts whiskey in her pies
Oh whiskey straight, and whiskey strong
Give me some whiskey and I'll sing you a song
If whiskey comes too near my nose
I tip it up and down she goes-”
He'd begun belting out the lyrics, voice echoing throughout the enclosed canyon- likely putting too much strain on his throat, seeing as he had no water to alleviate himself, but he didn't have it in him to care at that point in time.
As it always had, his being excessively raucous was relieving. The sound, the vibration of his vocal chords, and the hum in his chest. His face was upturned towards the sky, comforted by the warmth of the sun falling across his forehead and his cheeks; soaking it in. A slight, amused smile pulled at the corners of his mouth.
Ludicrous. Absolutely ludicrous.
“Up jumps the eel with his slippery tail,
Climbs up aloft and reefs the topsail,”
“Up jumps the herring, the king of the sea,
Saying, ‘All other fishes, now you follow me!’”
“Up jumps the halibut, lies flat on the deck,
He says, "Mister Captain, don't step on my neck! And it's-"
The sound of the water rippling had his tasteless screeching coming to a halt, lowering his head to survey his surroundings once more.
He blinked heavily, disbelief overtaking him as he rubbed at his eyes in an attempt to clear his vision.
As a sailor, one had to understand that they'd come to encounter many odd, oftentimes unbelievable , instances and things. Things that were better kept hidden, that had no reasonable explanation.
But a person emerging partially from the water near his perch, where he'd been deserted by his shipmates just a day prior…
It was with absolute certainty that Baekhyun knew that there was no habitable land anywhere nearby, and most definitely none within swimming distance of the ravine.
That was perhaps the oddest thing he'd come across yet.
Contrary to how one might expect someone to act in that scenario- perhaps with fear, or perhaps with surprise… An odd sense of what could only be described as relief washed over him.
“Oh…” He began, making pause as his thoughts tumbled around inside of his head.
Slowly, a grin began to form on his mouth- eyes curving up into small half-crescents- elated as he exclaimed, perhaps too loudly, “Hello!”
The only discernible explanation was that he was hallucinating . There was no leeway for questioning or dubiousness.
It wasn't a good sign… But stultified, and isolated as he was, his mental state deteriorating at a frankly alarming rate- he'd most certainly take a hallucination over the deafening silence.
Water man , he internalized- it ought to have a name if it was there.
“Thank god you're here- I was certain that I was well on my way to becoming unhinged Someone can not be insane if they are self-aware, which I most certainly am, but I could nearly… Feel the madness sinking in.” A short, humorless, and bitter laugh.
“But at the very least, I do have you to accompany me while I await the reappearance of my companions, correct? Does one usually request things of their hallucinations? Am I required to ask?”
“No?” He tried, eyebrows furrowed at the baffled expression that had settled on the water man’s face, “Yes? Are you…. Going to respond?”
No response. With a soft frown, Baekhyun shifted to lay down on his front- peering directly into his face.
“Are you… Are you truly, presently disregarding my existence and words? What in the hell… ” Baekhyun scoffed, bemusement evident, “That is horribly ill-mannered.”
“I would never have figured that my very own illusion would be disrespectful. I can not say that I believe I deserve this treatment.”
His expression smoothed out a few seconds later, “With that issue aside... I sincerely hope you intend on staying. Someone should be coming to retrieve me shortly.”
The person in the water appeared dubious.
Baekhyun's small smile faltered, beginning to second guess himself.
“Is… Is anyone searching for me?”
A crestfallen expression took over his face, something akin to panic gripping him.
“They probably have not yet even realized that I am gone…” Baekhyun rolled over to lay on his back instead, struggling to suppress the dark, mixed feelings stewing inside of him.
After a few minutes of tense silence, “This… Is all really… Pardon my language, but this is… Fucking terrible. Have you considered speaking to me, yet?”
“Ever…? No? Okay. Still, even if you happen to be completely non-verbal, at least I'm no longer alone.”
Jongin's first, fleeting thought upon engaging the lone human, quite literally out of his depths and undoubtedly stranded, was something along the lines of…
‘ He's absolutely delusional.’
There was no one specific way for one to react upon encountering a mer-person, but pleasantly surprised and happy certainly weren't ones he, or likely anyone else, would ever have ever anticipated.
‘ They probably have not yet even realized that I am gone…’ The human said, resignation and defeat clear on his face and in his intonation. Prompting Jongin to almost feel sorry for him. Almost.
He'd been abandoned near the siren's ravine, from what Jongin had gathered- left by his shipmates to die. Jongin knew that the likelihood of anyone coming back for him was null. How terrible .
With he being so close to the mouth, the only way he could have wound up stranded there was if he'd gone overboard while his boat was passing through. No ship made it through unscathed. It was a wonder that he hadn't died, hadn't drowned in the process.
Stupid humans . He internalized, tuning out the rest of the human’s mindless jabber. They always think that they can control the ocean.
He couldn't help but consider the idea of ending it now, before this lone, pathetic soul could suffer even further. Perhaps it'd be too merciful, he reasoned- it was ultimately his own fault that he'd found himself stranded there.
Either way, it could wait until nightfall- could be done while he was fast asleep, enabling Jongin to finish the deed without there being a struggle or scuffle. The concept wasn't cruel- not with how his people were captured and strung up like prizes, or so he'd heard. It had long been engrained into him that should he ever encounter a human, he was to kill them on sight.
They would do the same to you , his father had implored to a Jongin of a much, much younger age. Finish it quickly and carry on. The consensus among his small shoal was that humans were to be feared and hated- but through observing this lone sailor, Jongin couldn't say he saw anything noteworthy to fear nor hate.
Perhaps he was just too young, perhaps he just hadn't learned, yet- he could rationalize over and over, but it became apparent that the human before him was harmless at best.
It was still early on in the day, and he could discern that the human wouldn't be going anywhere anytime soon. He could leave him with the knowledge that he'd still be exactly as he'd left him by the time he returned.
‘ At least I am no longer alone , ’ echoed in his mind, and Jongin found himself hesitating for reasons unbeknownst to even him. He did feel pity for him, he realized belatedly.
He'd remain, for the time being.
“Hmm…” Baekhyun hummed, rolling onto his side to face him again, “Not that it matters, since you will not even consider talking to me, but I'm Capt-” He paused, a conflicted expression on his face, and Jongin could only stare expectantly.
“Baekhyun. I am Baekhyun,” He continued, finally, and Jongin mouthed it back to him, startling when a wide, genuine grin broke out across Baekhyun's face. Too happy. Too bright. Jongin glanced away.
“I wish I had a name for you . I have been calling you water man ever since you appeared. It is not exactly befitting.”
Jongin grimaced- vaguely offended by the indirect implication that he was human .
Baekhyun hung his head over the edge of the rock to peer into the water- eyebrows raising.
“If I had had any doubts as to whether or not I was hallucinating you, I think it's fair to say that they have now been properly dispelled.”
“A mermaid, huh? My head must be worse than I thought.” He chuckled, seemingly to himself, “ Mermaids do not exist.”
A glare found Jongin's face, and in a matter of seconds he was turning and diving into the water.
Baekhyun caught a brief glimpse of a long, long tail- white, iridescent scales decorated by splotches and speckles of bright orange and black, caudal fin translucent towards the far reaches with a vaguely wispy detail. Easily recognizable as a koi.
A fraction of a second thereafter, and a harsh, albeit small wave was splashing over him at soaking him from head to toe- hair sticking to the sides of his face.
When Jongin resurfaced, he stared at Baekhyun pointedly, a sheepish smile finding the human's face.
“Wow. Uhh. Okay- Did I?” His eyebrows furrowed, considering his words, “I must have offended you? Not that that was called for in the slightest, because it most certainly was not, but… Was it, perhaps… The mer maid thing?” He tried.
Jongin simply stared in response.
“Alright, then, I will do my utmost best to refrain from referring to you in that manner, okay? See? No need for violence, I actually happen to be quite reasonable, sometimes.”
“Instead I shall call you…. Koi? Please don't… Splash me again, it just so happens that your fish… Tail thing , is vaguely reminiscent of a Koi fish. .”
“Well, You're not exactly talking to me , now are you? What in the hell am I meant to call you?” Baekhyun frowned in turn for all of five seconds before continuing, face brightening, as though struck, lit up by a sudden idea.
“I won't call you koi, since you probably think that is, derogatory, or something to that effect- but… Kai!” He announced triumphantly, smiling again.
Jongin was oddly unbothered by his new title. Kai , he mouthed once more to himself.
“You like it? Indeed, my mother used to say I was a genius, as well. Of course, that was before I decided to sail anywhere near a place infamous for causing shipwrecks, but, there is no possible way she will find out about it.”
He paused, expression growing gravely serious for but a few seconds, “This matter stays between you and I, do you understand?” His eyes narrowed. “ This was an idiot thing, and see… Usually, I do not do idiot things. So do not spread any hearsay, alright? Refrain from telling your ocean friends, as well- I know, this will make quite the story, but…”
Baekhyun held out his hand, fingers folded but pinky extended. Jongin eyed the hand warily.
“Just you and I, Kai. Pinky promise me.”
Jongin arched an eyebrow.
“I'll show you, alright? Give me your hand.”
He hesitated, but slowly withdrew his hand from the water to hold it out, startling when Baekhyun reached out to grab it. The drastically different body temperature was pleasant as heat bled into his cool, finely scaled skin.
“Is that…” Baekhyun leaned into inspect his hand, forcing his fingers to span out, and the absolute awe on his face dispelled his rising wariness.
A thin membrane spanned between each of his fingers- orange, and translucent like his tailfin.
“You have webbed fingers? That's… That's considerably remarkable. ” Baekhyun's eyebrows rose, and he held Jongin's hand for a few seconds longer than what was absolutely necessary.
“Oh, right. Indeed. Pinky promise.” He shook his head as though to clear it, carefully folding four of Jongin's fingers, leaving only his pinky extended- mirroring his own.
“When you pinky promise someone, you can never break that promise. Breaking a pinky promise is the ultimate form of betrayal.”
Something compelled Jongin to remain there alongside him- to not even return to his shoal before nightfall.
Jongin stayed, and Baekhyun talked. And talked. And Jongin listened- only partially paying attention to the words he was forming, and instead allowing just the pleasant, soft tone of his voice to fill his ears and occupy his mind. He was rambling on, about something or another- seemingly perfectly content to do enough talking for the both of them.
He wouldn't go so far as to say that he enjoyed the human's company, but he had found his nonsensical ramblings mildly entertaining for the duration of their time together.
But the fact that he was a human still remained. From what Jongin had gathered, he was also a navigator of some sort, having implied that he had charted the route of the ship on which he had gone overboard- no less.
They weren't friends, nor would they ever be friends. Jongin couldn't say he even particularly liked Baekhyun himself. At some point, towards the late evening, between Baekhyun's intermittent pauses lasting longer and longer, Jongin's resolve to to carry out what he'd intended to upon their initial encounter began to waver.
“I am… So dehydrated,” He rasped, some time later. Jongin's questioning gaze found his conflicted expression, Baekhyun's eyebrows drawn together.
“Talking this much can't possibly be a good thing, but, I never could stand long silences without anything else to occupy me- and even then,” He trailed off, the picture of miserable beneath the face of the slowly setting sun. Forlorn. Sad.
He went completely quiet, shortly thereafter. Each beat of terse silence only served to strengthen his resolve further.
When the human laid down for the night, fast asleep beneath the light of the stars and the gaze of the waning moon, Jongin's silent agenda came to a close.
He would do it, he decided firmly. Perhaps it was his natural empathy speaking for him- Baekhyun was suffering both physically and mentally, with no light at the end of the tunnel coming into view.
Jongin was many things, but he wasn't cruel- and Baekhyun's humanity didn't negate that.
The turnout was almost a pity.
Once the human's breathing had evened out, Jongin moved quietly- carefully reaching out of the water to hoist his body up onto the large stone, awkwardly maneuvering himself so that his hands were braced on either side of Baekhyun's head. It was there that Jongin made pause, as he stared into his face- expression serene, and soft, highlighting his youthful features. It occurred to him, belatedly, that Baekhyun was young - that his life had yet to even begin , and there Jongin was, making the executive decision to take it from him.
There was a twinge in his chest.
All he had to do was grab Baekhyun and drag him down into the ocean along with him- a feat that could be accomplished in a matter of seconds. It would be effortless.
But for a cause beyond his apparent comprehension, Jongin found himself hesitating.
Baekhyun hummed softly in his sleep- the tiniest of smiles pulling at his mouth, and-
Jongin couldn't do it.
As silently as he could, Jongin slipped back into the dark water- face upturned towards the night sky when he resurfaced, eyebrows drawn together in befuddlement. If he couldn’t do it, then why was he still there? It was with that thought in mind that Jongin reluctantly propelled himself away from the rocks and began swimming back towards his shoal- he’d be scolded for returning so late, but there was nothing left for him to do by the human’s side.
Halfway to his destination, and he was struck by a sudden current- pushing him back substantially. Jongin frowned, making pause- it occuring to him that he was attempting to swim upstream. All things considered, he could technically fight it, but Jongin knew just as well as any other seaperson that the Ocean only ever acted with intent, that, ultimately , the Ocean would accomplish what it desired to accomplish.
Sometimes, it’s motivation was upholding important morals or unsaid laws. Sometimes, it’s motivation was the uninvited guests that polluted it and slaughtered it’s possessions, killed it’s people and the various creatures which inhabited it. And sometimes , it’s motivation was simply to act on the will of its own people.
Jongin’s heart could never lie.
Was it best for him to leave? Absolutely. But the real question, the question that ultimately mattered the most, was… Did he want to leave?
He knew better than to involve himself with humans, but Baekhyun was equal parts intriguing and pitiful, strikingly reminiscent to the furred creatures scattered across the land that made loud noises when they were excited, and whimpered when they were upset- the ones that seemed to always be alone, that seemed to have nowhere to go. Jongin swam back towards the abandoned sailor, forearms folded atop part of the rock as to prevent him from drifting away.
Baekhyun remained asleep for what seemed like too long- but then again, Jongin had no real scale to gauge whether or not it was normal for a human to sleep so long.
When he finally awoke, he made a soft, strained sound from his throat- eyes slowly blinking open, squinting beneath the harsh light of the sun. He took stock of himself as he struggled to process his thoughts, shaking his head as though to clear it. The thirst and hunger had mercifully abated on the second day, but his throat was parched- perhaps due to his untuned squawking the day before- and his entire body seemed to ache.
The memory of the day prior came back to him all at once, and his eyes widened in alarm, jolting up, arms shaking beneath his weight as he leaned back onto them. Something that felt a lot like relief washed through him at the sight of his new acquaintance, a low sigh escaping him.
He lowered himself back down- arms weak holding up even the meager weight of his upper-body, head turned towards Jongin. He offered him a wobbly smile, eyes curving up, but it wasn’t nearly as bright as it had been the day before.
Something was wrong. Jongin just couldn’t figure out what.
“You… Are still here.” He mumbled weakly, eyes closing again, and Jongin had to listen carefully to hear it. A frown formed on his mouth, and it was all he could do to nod minutely, despite the fact that Baekhyun couldn’t see it.
Today, Baekhyun didn’t seem to have as many words to share- the only thing indicating that he was still awake being his minute fidgeting and that his eyes would open every few minutes.
“No one is coming for me,” He announced suddenly, and with conviction, voice hoarse, wincing with the protest of his vocal chords. Resolute. He brought up a hand to scrub at his eyes, and it stayed there, shielding part of his face from view. “And I have only myself to blame, do I not?,” His self deprecating grin came out as more of a grimace, and then faintly, nearly imperceptible, his lips trembled.
Baekhyun’s chest hurt, and his head throbbed, a seemingly permanent dizzy spell plaguing him, the light burning his retinas. He felt weak, struggled to even move his limbs- all of his energy had been exerted. Had been effectively sapped from him.
But perhaps most pertinently, Baekhyun had been left behind by the crew that would operate just fine without him to Captain the ship.
Baekhyun was, for all intents and purposes, alone.
“God, I am such an imbecile,” He choked out the final word, shoulders shaking and chest heaving, breathing growing uneven.
Jongin opened his mouth as though to protest, but of course, no words came out- he couldn’t help but find it frustrating that his ability to communicate with the human like this was so drastically hindered by the ocean surrounding them both, physically being unable to speak above water in his present form.
Regardless, did he really have anything to say? Was he in a place to deny Baekhyun’s words? Did he have any real insight on the situation at hand?
The answer to all of those questions was a resounding no.
Baekhyun inhaled shaklily, and Jongin’s eyebrows drew together in something that felt a lot like concern when the human released a first sob, making way for him to promptly break down entirely mere seconds thereafter.
And it wasn’t just tears , it wasn’t a soft crying fit that was easily hidden or repressed, but Baekhyun wept - his hurt, his anguish tainting the air. Ugly, loud sobs were torn from his chest, teeth clenched, body convulsing with every passing one, and eachintake of air coming out as either a sharp gasp or a thin, pained hiss.
It went on for what seemed like a short eternity, went on until Baekhyun didn’t even have the energy to cry anymore- his tears eventually running dry.
What a shame, for all he had accomplished to end so pathetically. He’d lost towards something that could easily have been avoided, if only he’d just listened. It wouldn’t be long at all, now, until his story came to a close.
Would he be missed?
Once his breathing had begun to even out once more, Baekhyun cleared his throat with a wince.
“I can't... Feel my arms,” He confessed, numbly, “I think I'm soon to meet my end, Kai.”
Jongin tilted his head to the side in confusion.
Meet his end? What? He’d hoped Baekhyun might elaborate, but the human no longer had the capacity to even think of it.
“Thank you,” He began, “For listening to me, and keeping me company,” He rasped, each word seeming to pain him more.
Jongin wished he would stop talking, but nodded in acknowledgement.
“You are the best… Hallucination I have ever had, I think,” A low sigh, “And I have had some remarkably wild hallucinations, you know? I know. I probably don't strike you as the type.”
It then occurred to Jongin that Baekhyun was attempting to joke with him, despite- or perhaps, in spite of his evident suffering.
“But you have listened to me ramble for… How long? How long has it been, now? I no longer remember.”
“And well, that's… That's wonderful, I believe. ”
“You are certainly the first one that has actually listened. You probably do not even realize it, but… You have made this whole dying business a lot more pleasant than it would have been without you.”
A pause, for effect, and then more softly, “Thank you.”
Jongin stiffened in alarm- dying? How could the human be dying? He had no injuries, from what he had observed, was Jongin somehow mistaken?
He felt his heartbeat in his throat, heard each racing pound of it inside of his head, between his ears, anxiousness welling up from inside of him. He could only assume, could only hope that the human was being cryptic with his words.
Jongin didn't like Baekhyun. Jongin didn't enjoy Baekhyun's company.
Both of which only begged the question as to why he was so torn up over to notion of Baekhyun ceasing to exist during his timeline.
He watched, helplessly, as the human he'd only recently come to be acquainted with fell into an indefinite, dreamless sleep- giving in easily to the clutches of unconsciousness and embracing the dire circumstances with the softest of smiles on his face.
This time, his sleep lasted even longer than it had before. Jongin watched over him closely, ready to track any sign of movement, or anything to otherwise indicate that he'd find consciousness once more.
It was only befitting that the sky had begun to rain.
And he waited, for an indefinite amount of time. Waited until the sun set, night befell them, and the sun began to rise once more- endlessly patient, but as an essentially immortal creature, Jongin really did have all the time in the world.
All Jongin had ever known was the sea- only recently having come into contact with the land and its various inhabitants. All Jongin had ever known was his shoal- were his people, and the creatures which they coexisted with peacefully. Jongin knew of history, knew of the wars between the ocean and the land. Knew of the timeless, omnipresent animosity that all sea people felt towards humans.
But that was where his knowledge ended.
Of course, as was the will of the world, everyone and everything met their end at some point- some, more quickly than others. Some, seemingly everlasting.
But merpeople would never experience their bodies growing frail, or their hair going grey- would never experience the suffering of humans, of slow, painful deaths that could last decades. Would never experience basic human needs, such as hunger, thirst, or a consistent need for rest.
Deep in the sea, where merpeople resided, there were no graves for their loved ones. Merpeople didn't truly die, but rather, they ceased to exist entirely- leaving behind scarcely even their memory. There were no remains, nothing to indicate they'd met their end. No final farewells, no period of mourning.
Their demise came in the form of them vanishing from the world completely, as though they were never even there to begin with. It was then that they began anew.
Warily, Jongin reached out to nudge the human- an attempt to re-animate him that yielded no discernable success. He tried again- a bit more roughly, this time, and watched, helplessly as his body limply rolled back into its previous state. Jongin recoiled, then, raising his hand as though he'd been burned.
Baekhyun didn't wake up.
Was this death? A motionless, lifeless corpse, left to be found by another?
Simply leaving him alone wasn't even part of the equation. For reasons he couldn't comprehend, Jongin's hands shook as he reached up to pull the human into the water, watching as Baekhyun's head lolled to the side.
Careful to keep his head above water, and with some trepidation, Jongin shifted to press his ear against his chest- eyes closing to focus, and shooting open again shortly thereafter.
It was faint, weak , and just barely there, but his heart continued to beat in his chest. But for how much longer?
He had no choice but to act quickly, and it was with that motivation and determination that he set out onto the ocean with Baekhyun's body on his back, one hand holding the human's wrists in place around his neck to keep him close. He swam near the surface of the water, orientation awkward as he moved, but a necessity to prevent the human from drowning.
Jongin couldn't delude himself into believing he knew what to do, but he was certain that, if anyone could help, it would almost certainly be another human. He was hopeful. He had to be.
Jongin's reprieve came in the form of a large wooden ship sailing into view just off in the distance- Black sails standing proud, the sight of the skull and crossbones decorating the largest of them and standing out in sharp contrast. Exposing himself to more humans was less than ideal, but, he'd come this far, and there was no telling how much longer Baekhyun would continue to breathe, or his heart would continue to beat. He didn't know if they were good humans, or if they were bad humans that hurt other humans, but he'd do all he could to guarantee Baekhyun's continued survival. To guarantee that Baekhyun would make silly jokes again and smile at everything and nothing as he had the day before.
Dimly, he registered that in the short span of time they'd spent together, Jongin had grown attached . He didn't have it in him to be alarmed, nor care much at all.
“Aye! Do not dare come any closer,” The first human shouted aboard, a frown on his face and eyebrows furrowed.
Jongin didn't pay heed to his words, approaching the ship that he'd found to be presently anchored in place.
“Are you daft? Do you not speak English? I said, do not come any closer!”
Jongin shot him a vaguely unimpressed look, pausing near the side of the ship to awkwardly maneuver himself so that Baekhyun was held in front of him instead, their bodies both upright in the water.
“Captain! Two men have flanked the broadside! What do we do?”
“Figure out what they want .” Came a softer, lower voice from beyond Jongin's field of vision.
“They aren't responding, Captain!” He implored, appearing vaguely panicked.
“Calm yourself, Park. Are they armed?”
“No…” He trailed off.
“Do they appear particularly threatening?” The Captain asked, pointedly.
“No, but… They just… Suddenly appeared, Captain. There is no boat or areas of land in the vicinity.”
Heavy, quick steps sounded on the deck, the man who Jongin could only assume to be the Captain peering over the railing.
“What business do you have here?” He questioned plainly, frowning when he was met with silence, eyes widening a fraction when Jongin gestured vaguely to the man in his arms- unresponsive and unmoving.
“Do you expect us to help you? Complete strangers? We're Pirates , if that wasn't clear.” He scoffed, shaking his head on disbelief.
In response, Jongin only insisted- lifting Baekhyun up a little further for emphasis.
“What's wrong with him?” He tried warily, thick eyebrows drawn together in irritation.
“Can you not speak?” He continued after a few seconds of prolonged silence, sighing to himself when Jongin clearly shook his head no.
Gradually, dark clouds rolled in from above, previously clear skies seeming to vanish in a matter of seconds.
“It looks like we're about to be hit by a storm, Captain!” Another member of his crew announced, and the Captain turned his face towards the sky to find that it indeed appeared so- what could only be rain clouds looming heavily overhead.
His eyes darted from the sky and to their unwelcome visitors several times before he leaned over the railing to see more clearly, eyes squinting in the dimmed lighting. Jongin took great satisfaction in the mixture of shock and fear that was displayed across his face once realization seemed to dawn on him, even if he didn't quite understand the exact cause.
“By the Gods,” the Captain hissed through his teeth, before righting himself once more.
“Listen up! A demon of the sea seems to have approached our ship,” he announced, earning a chorus of flabbergasted responses from the rest of the pirates on deck.
“Demon! Will you leave us be if we assist you?”
Demon? Jongin internalized, suppressing an amused smile. They were scared of him, he realized belatedly. He'd use it to his advantage.
Jongin nodded, adjusting his grip on the human in his arms.
“Avast Ye! We’re best off to do as the demon wishes! Seungwan, drop the lifeboat so he might put the human inside! The demon has agreed to leave us be, should we do his bidding.”
“Aye, Captain!” Rang a soft, distinctly female voice, and Jongin watched as a lifeboat attached to a crank was slowly lowered into the water. He first carefully deposited Baekhyun inside, before hoisting himself into it, the second half of his tail hanging over the edge.
“Demon! Did you not say you'd leave us be should we provide assistance?” Came the Captain's voice once more, and Jongin glared, thunder sounding in the near distance.
“Reel er’ up!” He ordered instead of trying to fight it, the sky choosing that moment to release the beginnings of what could only be a heavy downpour.
With the exception of the pirate reeling them up, everyone else kept their distance- looking towards him with a mixture of awe and caution .
But to their collective relief, the storm seemed to choose that moment to let up- a few of them accounting that it wasn't simply a myth that merpeople could summon ocean storms and creatures of the deep, then, should they feel distressed.
They had no choice but to help him and pray that he'd allow them to sail another day.
Perhaps the claims of how helping a merperson bestowed great luck and fortune upon a person or a people, rang true.
They could only hope that was the case.
“Fetch Yixing from below deck immediately!”
Yixing had to all but pry Baekhyun from Jongin's grasp once he made his timely appearance- strikingly unphased by the notion that there was a potentially deadly creature, infamous for bringing misfortune to those which slighted them, just before him. All it took was their eyes meeting for Jongin to let go- momentarily entranced by the clearest, purest of blue eyes.
He's taking it from me .
Jongin soundlessly cried out, mouth open, but there was no noise to be released nor heard, wiggling fruitlessly and with increasing frustration- the rain began to pour. They were taking his human away from him.
Jongin didn't like Baekhyun. Jongin didn't enjoy Baekhyun's company. He reiterated to himself internally, what he’d been repeating continuously for the past two days, as though attempting to convince himself that, if he were to say it enough, it would suddenly become true.
Baekhyun was a human. Jongin had been raised to resent humans, yet still, he couldn’t help but be incredibly intrigued by the human he’d found alone in the middle of the Ocean- defying the odds stacked against him simply by being alive. The human that had smiled his way, not an ounce of fear to be found within him, and had been, in fact, happy to have Jongin, someone who had originally intended on killing him and was very much capable of doing so, at his side. He’d remained absolutely silent for the duration of their time together, and still, Baekhyun had continued to speak to him as though he were a friend.
A friend. A friend? Had they become friends, somewhere along the way? A human and a merman? An unlikely duo. He ran over these thoughts over, and over again.
One thing he could discern was that without legs, he’d be stuck in the small, cramped lifeboat, and would remain separated from his human for an indefinite amount of time.
In an instant, before watchful eyes could even detect the the transition, Jongin's lower body was converting from that which was reminiscent of a sea-creature and into legs that were very much human.
Beneath clothing, and Jongin was virtually indistinguishable from any other man.
His rich, smooth skin was decorated with sporadic patterns of fine, iridescent scales- cascading down each of his legs and spanning out across his toned arms. Fine, sharp fins feathered out from each of his elbows and to his mid-forearms, akin to the dorsal fin that ran along the length of his back, the differentiating factor being that sharp, long spines protruded from each of his vertebrae. His form was statuesque- as though his body had been carefully, painstakingly carved out from a slab of marble. Predictably, his beauty went beyond measure- merpeople and sirens alike were engineered to be equal parts enticing and entrancing to humans, just as much a defense mechanism as it was fatal weapon.
Unsteadily, Jongin made to stand.
“ Blimey !” A member of the crew cursed loudly from off to the side, hands brought up to shield his eyes from the sight. Jongin didn't quite understand the issue at hand, chancing a glance down his body and furrowing his eyebrows, strands of midnight black hair sticking to the sides of his face, water dripping down his nose.
“Get the man something to wear! Quit gawking like a bunch of knaves!”
The gears were in motion once more, members returning to their respective posts and tasks.
“It fit alright?” The Chandler questioned- eyeing Jongin up and down with a cursory nod of satisfaction. He'd lent him a linen drawstring shirt and a loose pair of trousers; Jongin just shrugged noncommittally, worrying at his lower lip and eyeing the door- fingers clenching and unclenching at his sides.
“We'll take you to your friend, don't you worry about that. Just know that he’s in good hands; our Yixing really works wonders.”
“Right, then. Let's go- follow me, and watch your head!”
Even arriving quickly wasn't quick enough for Jongin- uneasy and horribly unsettled, as he had been from the moment Baekhyun had lost responsiveness. No- from the moment Baekhyun had taken ages to awaken and could scarcely hold himself up once he had.
Upon seeing the human once more, Jongin would come to feel immensely relieved. He was received by a man named Sicheng who addressed himself as Yixing's medical assistant- explaining to him that they were hired hands rather than members of the pirate crew proper.
It ultimately all meant nothing to Jongin in the grand scheme of things. He had known so very little to begin with that any explanations that followed went entirely over his head. His stay on the ship, however long that may be would see a lot more of him simply nodding his head as though he actually understood the things they tried to teach him.
He couldn't say he was interested, either way- the disdain he felt towards humans as a collective race would remain ever-present.
At some point during the past two days, Baekhyun had created his own category altogether. Jongin was surprisingly unperturbed by the realization.
Still, if the humans were helping Baekhyun, they couldn't be all that terrible.
Upon entering Yixing's quarters, Jongin immediately felt his shoulders sink in relief. Baekhyun was tucked into a cot, expression peaceful with his chest rising and falling at a steady rate.
But was perplexed to find a small, pure white bird nestled in his lap- seemingly watching over him, and no Yixing in sight.
Briefly, Jongin entertained the possibility that the bird was, in fact-
He heard rustling from off to the side, raising his head to find the man in question.
In his own defense, Jongin had seen much stranger things in his time. The idea wasn't entirely unfounded.
“Take a seat,” The man in question gestured towards a chair set off to the side, watching with some amusement as Jongin pointedly sat himself not on the chair, but on the floor just beside Baekhyun's cot instead.
“Your friend will be alright. Fortunately, you got him to us in a timely manner. Had it been any longer, and his lungs may have seized up entirely.”
“He's been extremely dehydrated, and starved- but hydration is the priority. If you look, I've inserted a catheter into his peripheral vein-”
Jongin looked up at him with his eyebrows furrowed in confusion, watching as he approached Baekhyun to gesture towards his wrist, from where a thin tube was protruding.
“Using this, hourly I can administer a solution I've developed during my time as a surgeon. This will allow me to safely rehydrate him. He's a likely to develop a fever within the next few hours, and we can address that then, should we need to.”
Throughout the duration, not once did Jongin leave Baekhyun's side.
His position, seated adjacent to Baekhyun's cot, was vaguely reminiscent of how they'd been situated for the days prior. Oddly, Jongin found comfort in it, as though it brought upon him a sense of normalcy he would otherwise have been deprived of.
Yixing had taken the liberty of explaining to him that the bird was something he occasionally used to dictate the likelihood of whether or not a patient would heal- if it faced towards them, then there was a good chance that they would recover. If it were to face away, the chances of a full recovery were slim to none. Supposedly, the avian possessed healing capabilities, but Jongin had reason to believe that Yixing was a bit… Eccentric, and equal parts unpredictable
On the second day, Baekhyun stirred in the early reaches of morning- releasing a soft sound from his throat and shifting in the cot, his free arm falling and hanging over the edge nearest to Jongin. He made to carefully replace it, hand folding around the humans fingers.
Warm he reiterated to himself once again, taking the liberty of deciding that there was ultimately no harm to be had in holding onto the human's hand for just a little while longer.
Baekhyun's mind was occupied purely by static, by white noise as he was brought back to consciousness- the static slowly being washed out by sensation. By feeling.
First, there was heat, and comfort- lying supine on what has to have been a mattress; in any case, he could discern that he was no longer reclined on a large rock as he had been for the duration of the days prior. There was a nearly imperceptible weight settled on top of him, the source of his warmth- a blanket?
Initially, in his disoriented state, he came to wonder if the past three days had just been a vivid dream. Was he still aboard his ship? Had his crew collected him after he'd gone overboard? The likelihood was doubtful at best, perhaps he was just projecting- he was no stranger to dreaming, nor to wishful thinking.
Granted, hope was all he had ever really had.
Koi , the word rang out suddenly amidst his scattered thoughts, the ones that had ultimately replaced the previous white noise and fogginess.
Kai , he corrected himself, hastily, but he experienced something that felt a lot like disappointment when he too, recalled, that Kai, the gorgeous, expressive merman who never spoke, had likely been an additional part of his dream, too. If not that, he'd still been a hallucination at most.
His favorite part- the part that, somehow, made him feel a lot less lonely despite being but an illusion conjured by Baekhyun's unstable mind- punctuated by certain delirium.
The gentle swaying of the mattress told him that he was at sea- supporting his theory that he was still aboard his vessel. Had he… Not gone overboard at all?
One thing that was for certain was that Baekhyun seemed to have lost his ability to define reality. To discern what was real, and what was not.
What he heard was the subtle creaking of wood and the muffled sound of the ocean outside the boat.
He cracked open his eyes, but almost immediately slammed then shut again, retinas burned even by the dimmed lighting. He made to bring his hands up to rub his palms into his eyes, but promptly discovered that he was unable to move either of them. Squinting, he slowly turned his head to one side- taking a few seconds to process the view of a tube sticking out of his wrist- affixed in place by adhesive bandages, with his forearm strapped down to prevent him from jostling the… Whatever it was.
Peculiar, for certain- but none the more peculiar than sight that found his eyes when he turned his head to the opposite side. Baekhyun took note of a few different things in succession; firstly, that his hand was being held, effectively just as restrained as the other, caught in a cool, tight, grasp. Secondly, that deep black hair was spilling out across the mattress, indicating that someone was resting their head there. And finally, thirdly, that a cheek equally as cool as the hand that was wrapped around his own, was pressed flush against the top of his hand- their twined hands trapped in between his face and the cot.
Despite how disoriented and sluggish his mind had felt just moments prior, that very same, foolish sense of hopefulness, which he was so wont to, resurfaced- awakening him substantially.
“ Kai,” he croaked, promptly breaking into a coughing fit thereafter, his throat burning beneath the strain, voice hoarse from it’s evident disuse.
The call hadn’t been enough to rouse him, but the resulting coughing fit had him startling awake- abruptly letting go of his hand and scrabbling backwards, alarmed by the sound. His first impulse was to whip his head around in search of Yixing- the human was making an awful, painful sound, reminiscent of choking, yet not quite identical. Yixing would know what to-
A chanced glance towards Baekhyun and his racing thoughts came to an abrupt halt- eyes widening minutely, because the human was looking directly at him- making the… Awful sound, whatever it was, into his now unrestrained hand, fingers curled into a fist to stifle it. He crept closer- gaze owlish as he made to kneel in front of the cot once more- hands clutching feebly at the edge.
The awful sound stopped shortly, and in its stead, the human offered him a tiny, nearly imperceptible smile.
The smile which spoke a thousand words, the smile which had Jongin grimacing at the sudden twinge in his chest, unconsciously raising one hand to clutch at his racing heart, glancing downwards as though it would reveal to him it’s meaning. He hadn’t exerted himself in any form, so why was his heart beating so quickly?
Baekhyun cleared his throat, and Jongin raised his head once more to meet his gaze- eyes furrowed in confusion.
“I must have frightened you,” Baekhyun supplied, pointedly glancing to where Jongin’s hand remained.
Frightened him? Was this fear? Jongin knew that was false, he knew fear, just as he knew shock, and the rapid beating of his heart alluded to neither.
“Kai, may I… Might I still be dreaming? Might I still be conjuring hallucinations to satiate my own loneliness?” And then, almost as an afterthought, “Might I have been so lonely all along?” He shook his head as though to dispel his confusion.
“May I touch you? If only for my own peace of mind?”
Jongin hastily nodded.
Tentatively, Baekhyun reached his hand out towards him- and Jongin found himself leaning in to meet him halfway without so much as a second thought.
And it wasn’t the same as it had been, where they were surrounded by nothing but stone and ocean for miles upon miles, with only the two of them present, and Baekhyun only having just met him.
It wasn’t the same as Baekhyun childishly, innocently teaching him the meaning of a pinky promise.
Baekhyun’s palm was warm against his cool skin, cupping his cheek in a manner that could only possibly be defined as affectionately. Jongin’s eyes fell shut of their own accord, allowing him to hone in on the sensation, and to take note of the fact that his heart was somehow beating even faster. His sigh was nothing short of pleased- a sigh which was very much audible. It was a caress , Jongin discerned, Baekhyun’s thumb brushing, stroking across his cheekbone.
And he found that he was oddly undisturbed by the notion.
Jongin did, and forever would, despise humans- in part, owed to the resentment that had long been embedded into him, alongside the knowledge that the reason Jongin was not to go on land, was because it was, in fact, the humans who had confined them to the ocean so very long ago. The humans that had objectified them, captured them, and murdered them just as they did all the creatures in the sea.
Jongin leaned into the touch.
That all was in accordance with the truth, he discerned. All the horrible things that humans had done, and would continue to do until time was overturned. Each one of those things applied to humans as a race collectively.
But none of those humans were his human.
A tiny smile pulled at Jongin’s mouth, and Baekhyun almost felt the urge to coo. Almost.
The ship’s surgeon chose that moment to enter- but neither party were in any hurry to separate from one another.
The pair found themselves being offered a small cabin on the lower-deck, rather than bed in the cramped rooms where the crew retired each night. Baekhyun was pleasantly surprised, and when Jongin realized that it meant they were being offered complete privacy, he was, too.
With the exception of Yixing, Baekhyun couldn't help but notice that nearly every member they had crossed paths with thus far had refused to look either of them in the eye. For a reason Baekhyun couldn't place, they were wary around the pair of them.
What had prompted such a response from Pirates , of all people? Baekhyun reasoned the he'd discover the answer, sooner or later.
Reclined on the mattress- a single, to no one's surprise, Baekhyun decided he'd at least attempt to earn a real, tangible response beyond just the reoccurring shake or nod of Jongin's head.
“What, exactly, is it that you did ?” He asked curtly, arms folded across his chest, an eyebrow arched.
Jongin appeared contemplative.
Jongin had yet to actually speak to Baekhyun- and it wasn't that he was shy, or embarrassed, so much as it was that he just… Really don't know what to say, how to communicate effectively and cohesively.
His thoughts all worked very well together in his head, but when it came to actually speaking, his communication skills fell short. It wasn't a flaw unique to the land, where he breathed and spoke in air rather than the ocean where he resided, but rather, he'd never been particularly gifted with his speech, nor words to begin with; something often mistaken as unintelligence.
To Baekhyun's credit, he didn't appear particularly surprised, nor awed to hear him speak. His lack of reaction made breaking his week-long silence a lot less daunting.
Jongin finally answered his question, some hours later.
“They are afraid,” He answered simply, voice almost impossibly soft, deep , and slightly raspy from disuse.
Baekhyun paused in consideration, “For what cause?”
“They are superstitious,” he elaborated firmly, gaining more confidence, more momentum with each word that he spoke.
“They believe that me…” he trailed off, gesturing towards himself, “My kind? Bring bad luck… That they curse sailors who cause them harm.”
“Is it true?”
“It is, but… But it is not because of luck. ” Jongin wet his lips, “It is solely through upsetting us that brings them any kind of misfortune. Oftentimes, men will attempt to catch us, or hurt us. To retaliate, we simply use our element as our weapon. Storms, rain, large waves- they are all things that occur naturally, however, they also occur when we become deeply upset.”
“So in short…”
“They bring it upon themselves,” Jongin supplied, satisfied that Baekhyun seemed to approve of his response. It was… Surprisingly easy to speak to Baekhyun, like this. Jongin was pleased.
“What… For what reason did you accompany me, near the ravine?”
Plainly, “You were singing… Quite loudly, and poorly. Even in the water, it hurt my ears. I was… Curious, about you- and more curious, yet, when you gave me a reaction I would never have anticipated.”
“But why did you stay?”
“I believe I felt… Pity for you.”
Baekhyun snorted, grinning, “Well, you certainly wouldn't be the first to tell me that.”
“No, I felt… You were very, very alone. And far away from home. I am uncertain of how to describe it.”
“Well, do your best, and I’ll attempt to find your meaning.”
A deep breath, “I, on occasion, visit the land. The piece of land I go to is far, but, the population is scarce, and the creatures and greenery are abundant. I enjoy it.”
Baekhyun nodded, imploring him to continue.
“On the land, sometimes there are creatures that stray near the shore. From what I have observed, they are there to search for food, but they are always… Alone.
I feel pity for them, I feel… Sad for them. The type of sad that makes your heart hurt. When I found you, I was only curious at first, but then, when you asked me if anyone was looking for you, and turned silent… My heart hurt the same way.”
“Oh,” Baekhyun nodded dumbly, eyebrows drawn together as he considered his words.
“Those are dogs ,” Baekhyun began, and Jongin looked pleased with the revelation, repeating the word under his breath.
“You're comparing me to a stray dog,” Baekhyun supplied, deadpan, and Jongin nodded in agreement, entirely unperturbed by the realization that he was comparing a human to a stray dog.
“Are you not the same?”
Baekhyun went silent once more, surprised to find that he was actually considering the similarities.
“They are sad, and you are also very sad,” Jongin murmured, voice nearly a whisper, as though tentative to put a voice to the words.
“I… We, my kind. We can feel what others feel, to a lesser agree. When I found you, I could feel your sadness. That is why I felt sorry for you.”
Baekhyun appeared to be lost in thought.
“I was going to kill you,” He admitted, shamelessly,and Baekhyun startled.
“You were hurting, and delusional. I felt like… It was cruel to allow you to suffer like that. I was going to drown you, after you fell asleep.”
“That… Is slightly concerning,” Baekhyun mumbled quietly.
“We are encouraged to kill humans who intrude upon our waters. You most certainly were not meant to be there. I was shocked that the sirens hadn't yet taken you.”
“So why did you change your decision? Why didn't you kill me?"
“Because you were not the same as the humans we have learnt of. You went so far as to call me your friend. I changed my mind because of that.”
“Oh… well… Thank you for not killing me?” Baekhyun tried.
“You… Are welcome.”
A few beats of silence passed.
“Might I learn your actual name? Now that I have discovered that you are, in fact, very much real, and not a hallucination, I feel slightly infantile, calling you Kai all this time.”
“Jongin,” He supplied, humming in consideration, “I did not mind the name you gave me. It was… Oddly endearing. And thoughtful.”
“So,” Baekhyun began once more, Jongin just humming in response.
Baekhyun made an almost impossibly smooth recovery. Yixing would contribute the success to his bird, but Baekhyun would contribute it to his very own, personal good luck charm, alongside his natural resilience.
Upon realization dawning on him that they were, in fact, aboard a pirate ship, Baekhyun pointedly did not mention his career as a Naval Captain- instead explaining, briefly, that he’d been aboard a merchant ship and had gone overboard in the midst of a storm. It felt strikingly good, felt liberating to, for once, not identify with the path he had chosen for himself- Introducing himself as a member of the royal navy had long ago lost its charm.
Here, he was just Byun Baekhyun, a traveller with naught but the clothes on his back.
How and where his merman friend had found him, well, that was something they could decide amongst themselves.
Unsurprisingly, the crew took to his unconventional sense of humor and crude jokes- jokes that, quite frankly, Jongin didn’t understand, but it was nice to see his human laughing and smiling, anyways.
Regardless of the fact that they’d picked up two guests somewhere along the way, the crew still had their own agenda. Their own objectives, and they fully intended on completing them in a timely fashion.
They came upon numerous merchant and military vessels amidst their travels- and each time, without fail, Baekhyun had to remind himself that they were amongst a gang of Pirates , and that Baekhyun no longer had a clause to stay loyal to. Had no one to impress, or prove himself to. Here, he was but a clumsy, silly, traveling sailor that had lost his way.
He was playing it up quite well, he'd decided- had everyone entirely, completely convinced and a good third of the crew enamored.
His façade lasted as long as the Pirates succeeded.
It very quickly became clear to him that this gang was, in fact, a band of misfits. It became even clearer , when they happened upon a ship full of well trained Naval ship, with a much different coat of arms than his own. It was there that Baekhyun understood that while they were indeed Pirates, they weren't very good Pirates.
He'd resolved to stay out of their battles, but was ultimately forced into action when one of the seamen targeted him directly- anticipating a quick, easy fight, or for Baekhyun to perhaps even surrender.
Neither were remotely accurate.
“Y’catch many fish like that? With a rapier? Or make many trades?”
Baekhyun looked sheepish.
“ New sailor, my arse.”
It became clear that their passenger had a little more experience than he’d originally let on- surprisingly, they didn’t push too much for information.
They’d taken to calling him seadog shortly thereafter. Baekhyun accepted the title.
“It'd been raining like cats and dogs for a few days, after the two of you arrived. We all thought you were sharkbait, for sure,” It was the ship’s navigator, a beautiful, fine , Pirate named Sooyoung.
She elbowed him in the ribs to punctuate her own joke, underestimating her own strength, and Baekhyun had to stifle a whimper to save face.
“As soon as you were up, the rain stopped again. It's been clear skies ever since.”
“And… Why do you think that is?”
“The crew happen t’reckon it's your fish boy. He looked awfully sad, when he brought you to us. Now he's smiling, and the sun is up.”
Baekhyun found it oddly befitting, and his fondness only continued to grow.
With Jongin rarely requiring rest, and thus, scarcely sleeping, Baekhyun had shortly become accustomed to sleeping in the cabin alone. Thus, it was only reasonable that he was taken by surprise when he awoke to find Jongin sleeping directly opposite of him- deep black hair splayed across the pillow, expression peaceful. The picture of serene.
Almost unconsciously, he found himself reaching out to touch, fingers dancing along the edge of his jaw and trailing down his neck before spanning out against his chest; Firm, and cool even beneath the coarse material of his shirt. Jongin made a soft noise in his sleep, drawing Baekhyun's eyes up towards his face again.
He looked awfully sad, when he brought you to us. Baekhyun's reiterated internally, heart doing a vaguely uncomfortable thing in his chest.
Now he's smiling, and the sun is up.
Baekhyun had come to wonder a great many things about Jongin during their time together- the majority of which, he'd never put a voice to, but no amount of questioning would ever enable Baekhyun to truly understand the merman's fixation with him. Jongin very adamantly, openly despised humans, had confessed rather honestly that he'd originally intended on killing Baekhyun, because of it.
Are you not the same?
They are sad, and you are also very sad.
It was irrefutable.
A muffled groan, and- “Stop thinking so loudly.”
Jongin was met with silence, he awakened further, if only marginally.
“Whatever it might be that you are upsetting yourself over, it is not as bad as you believe it to be.”
Jongin was right, Baekhyun realized- yes, he had been extremely lonely for much too long, but ultimately… He was still alive. Still breathing. Still, surprisingly, healthy. It was easy to rationalize, easy to profess, but did Baekhyun honestly, truly believe that? That his perpetual sadness was but a hurdle he could easily overcome?
“I… I’m lonely, Jongin,” Baekhyun confessed, eyebrows drawn together, hurt emanating from his very being. Jongin opened his eyes to fix him with a long, contemplative stare, expression unreadable.
“And I have been lonely for a long, long time,” He inhaled shakily, hand slowly curling into a fist against Jongin’s chest.
“Perhaps it is time for you to stop being lonely, then,” he answered with finality- an answer which Baekhyun was certain was a double entendre. Jongin took his fist into his hand, gently prying at Baekhyun’s fingers to have him uncurl it.
Baekhyun dared to be hopeful.
“And… How do you propose I accomplish that?”
“By meeting another, I would only imagine,” Jongin sighed softly. “And by letting go of your past hurt. By moving on. You can not possibly expect to remedy your loneliness, when your heart is closed.”
“How can you possibly be so insightful?” He murmured sarcastically, exasperatedly shaking his head.
Jongin shrugged noncommittally, “I have lived for a very long time.”
“Humans live monogamously. They confine their heart to another, and form a bond. They dedicate all of their love, and all of their caring to one single person. Devote themselves, to that person. It is intense, and unfounded, and when it fails, it is destructive.”
“Merpeople coexist with an open heart, and an open mind. We see no sense in forming permanent bonds in the ways that humans might- We love, but, we love differently.”
“To put it into perspective, when another passes, we do not mourn for their loss. We pay respects where they are due, but, time in a fickle thing. You never know when someone may disappear- be it in what you define as death, or by someone leaving unannounced. We live from one day to the next. We take one day at a time. We live for… Far too long, to constantly experience heartbreak.”
“Ultimately, the point I am attempting to make in saying this is… Humans are souls, and merpeople are spirits. What enables a human to love so immeasurably, just as it allows them to experience hatred, is that they possess a soul. We do not have souls, and so, we do not love as humans love..” He finished finally, their gazes interlocked. Jongin squeezed his hand gently.
“When I met you, I would never have believed that you would be able to talk so much,” Baekhyun offered him a small, half-hearted smile. “What happens when you have no one to coexist with? As you stated… We live with closed hearts. This applies to all humans, and applies to every type of love.”
“We all have our own families, our own friends, and lives, and that is all we care about. Land is not a place where everyone loves one another. Land is not a place where everyone is happy. What you're failing to take into account is that human beings are so very selfish, Jongin. Love, and hatred are just two of the many forms that it manifests in. Humans hate each other just as much as you do.”
A deep breath in, “That is why I am lonely. Not because my heart is closed, not because I am unable to move on.”
It was Jongin’s turn to lapse into silence, eyes searching, “And what of your family? Your friends?”
“I have spent the entirety of my life attempting to live up to the expectations of others- attempting to live up to what I presumed others expected of me. I cared- care far too much about how others might perceive me, and so I have always done my utmost best to succeed. It didn’t come naturally- it was not easy. When I accepted my promotion, I assumed that I had earned an advantage- that my moving up in ranks would somehow add to my credibility, I was surpassing my peers. I could not have been any happier.”
“All I earned was material possessions, and an abundance of gold. I was respected- but for what gain? Slowly, everything I had come to know, disappeared. What remained of my family, my fiance, my friends. Eventually, I learned that I had not gained anything in joining the Royal Navy.
Instead, I lost all of the things I held dear. The things that were important to me.”
Jongin rolled over onto his back- facing the ceiling. He responded some minutes later.
“A few days ago, I decided that you belonged in your own category,” He began, prompting Baekhyun to make a soft, inquisitive noise.
“Before, I told you that I originally intended on killing you. That was because initially, you were simply another human to me. A nameless face. At that time, you were unimportant to me.”
“If you… You're attempting to comfort me, Jongin, I must say, You're doing a terrible job of it.”
“I became intrigued, at first. But that was not what compelled me to stay. You endeared yourself to me, somehow. I did not accept it- not initially, but I came to do so. Because of that… I could no longer think of you as just another destructive, cruel, and hateful human,” Jongin trailed off, seeming to consider his following words carefully.
“And what was I categorized under?”
“You created your own category,” He answered, turning his head to the side to meet his gaze once more.
“There are humans, and then... There is my human; Baekhyun,” Jongin smiled softly, watching as a mixture of emotions flickered across Baekhyun’s face.
“How can you possibly say that with a straight face?” Numbly, Baekhyun responded.
“Is there something wrong with what I said?”
“No… Yes- I…” Baekhyun took a deep breath, closing his eyes for a few seconds to organize his thoughts, “Usually, we… Humans, do not take possession of one another. Not in the way that You're saying. That generally applies to objects, or things- for example… If I were to own a dog, I would refer to it as my dog. ”
Jongin hummed in consideration, “But I am not human,” He responded simply, arching an eyebrow.
“ But I am ,” Baekhyun insisted, lightheartedly. He, perhaps, wasn’t as bothered as he let on.
“No… We just discussed this; You're not human, you're my human. You are Baekhyun,” The way he punctuated his statement left no room for argument, but baekhyun would reason that he didn’t really want to argue what he was saying, regardless.
“What does this mean?” Baekhyun tried instead, genuinely curious.
“It means that… You are important to me, and that I will not allow anyone to take you from me.” He stated it simply, as though simply discussing the weather. Baekhyun answered him with a prolonged silence.
“Is that wrong?”
“No, no… Just… I… No one has ever said that to me before,” He mumbled, rolling over onto his back and hiding his face in his hands.
“Are you embarrassed?”
Baekhyun shook his head.
“Do you doubt me?”
Baekhyun shook his head once more.
“Then I am unsure of what the issue might be.”
Baekhyun made a weak noise of frustration, inhaling deeply, “What happens when you have to return? For how long will I remain important to you, and for how long will you feel strongly enough about me to want to protect me?” He questioned in succession, imploring, eyes wide.
“What do you mean by… Return?” He tried, confusion evident in his tone.
“To your home? To your family? Your friends?” Baekhyun pushed his fingers through his hair, shaking his head to himself minutely.
“Why would I do that?”
“What do you mean why would you do that? Why would you not do that?”
“My shoal is not my home, Baekhyun…” Jongin stated, as though it were obvious. Baekhyun’s heart constricted uncomfortably in his chest.
“My home is not a specified location, dwelling, or gathering. I was granted the ability to leave my shoal as soon as I reached maturity- A shoal… Is not a permanent residence. As most Ocean mammals, my people migrate. Sometimes, that means migrating to an entirely new shoal altogether. Sometimes, that means beginning anew,” Jongin paused, considering his final words.
“My home is wherever I decide it is. It just took me a long time to discover it.”
“If you say your home is aboard this ship, I swear by the gods that I will throw you back into the ocean right now,” He began, humorously, but his voice sounded oddly thick. Baekhyun inhaled wetly, hands remaining firmly in place, and Jongin reached out to take one of his hands into his own, brushing his lips against his palm.
“You’re making me cry, you sick fuck,” Baekhyun uttered shakily, sniffling.
“ What ?” He responded, appalled.
“If you find that I am making you to cry, then cry,” Jongin stated noncommittally, casually- as though crying were a perfectly acceptable response.
Contrary to baekhyun’s adamant protests, he found his face buried into Jongin’s shirt only a minute or so later- sobs muffled into the material, his tears and resulting running nose wetting the fabric. Jongin held him through it, stroked his hair- relaying all of his caring into his actions rather than his words. Somehow, it took an immense weight off of his shoulders, made his chest feel just the slightest but lighter.
Roughly an hour later, and Baekhyun found himself resting on top of Jongin’s chest- cheek resting against his bare skin, with the bindings of Jongin’s shirt pulled open, their legs twined together- bone-tired, but ultimately… Content. Baekhyun felt content. He drew repetitive, lazy circles against his shoulder- something Jongin found peculiar, but didn’t think to question, one arm wrapped snugly around his waist.
“So did you ever get any…” A pause, “You know, hot… Mermaid tail, in your… Shoal thing?”
“Did I ever get any what? ”
“Mermaid tail,” He insisted, and Jongin released a long-suffering sigh.
“You are going to have to elaborate,” Jongin replied, deadpan.
“Have you ever fucked anyone?” He asked, plainly, unsurprised by Jongin’s resulting extended period of silence.
“I am choosing not to dignify what you said with a response.”
“Are you telling me… You’ re a virgin? ” Baekhyun tried, amused.
“I am telling you nothing,” He offered, coldly.
“Jongin…” Baekhyun trailed off into a whine, raising his head to fix him with a faux pout.
“Go to sleep.”
Jongin awoke with a heavy weight on top of him, and an insistent pressure molding to the shape of his mouth. Slowly, he blinked awake- requiring a few long seconds to take stock of the situation before assuming, or doing anything in response. Baekhyun being on top of him, as he had been upon falling asleep the night before, came as no surprise, but Baekhyun also hadn't been attempting to defile him, either.
“What are you doing…” He murmured tightly, muffled against Baekhyun's lips.
“Kissing you,” he answered simply, and Jongin sighed softly.
“I am aware…” He trailed off, breathing through his nose, “Why?”
“Stop talking,” Baekhyun insisted, tongue swiping over his lower lip, “And kiss me back, damnit.”
It took a few minutes of prolonged silence before Baekhyun earned a response- a response in which he found himself pinned beneath weight of Jongin's body in a matter of seconds. Motionless.
“What are you doing?” He echoed, and Jongin could hear the frown in his voice.
“I intend on resting,” He mumbled, voice low.
“ Jongin,” He whined, wiggling beneath him, but to no avail.
But then, a few minutes later, Baekhyun found hot breath ghosting over his skin. His breath hitched, and his body shuddered. If he'd at any point thought that Jongin was, perhaps, doing it accidentally, the theory was very quickly disproven when he felt lips brush against his skin, pressing a series of short, wet kisses along the expanse of his neck.
Much to Baekhyun's frustration, Jongin took his time- kisses slowly turning into the grazing of teeth against the flesh. Coincidentally, Baekhyun's neck happened to be his weak point, and he was reduced to a mess of want in what seemed like no time at all. Almost embarrassingly quickly.
Small, involuntary whimpers and whines escaped him intermittently, gradually increasing in volume and frequency. It was just his neck, he reiterated internally, finding how affected he was absolutely absurd- absurd , until Jongin bit down at the junction of his neck and shoulder- not hard enough to break skin, nor hard enough to leave a lasting mark, but apparently hard enough to have Baekhyun crying out beneath him and rutting up against his thigh.
“Shhhh…” He hushed, lapping over the irritated skin before finally shifting upwards to pressing their lips together, while simultaneously nudging his knee upwards. Baekhyun keened, hands scrabbling to find the hem of his shirt to pull it off over his head. He seemed to be met with little success, forcing Jongin to make pause to divest himself of the article on his own, the placement of his fins making it slightly awkward to remove. Warm hands found his shoulders, and smoothed over his chest and abdomen, the muscles tensing beneath his touch.
“Is every part of you perfect?” He questioned almost offhandedly in between open-mouthed kisses, a comment that went either ignored or unheard. Regardless, Baekhyun didn’t have the capacity to care, Jongin’s fingers curling into his hair, his opposite hand around the back of his neck- grip firm. Unrelenting. Baekhyun turned almost boneless, pliant beneath his touch.
The hand in his hair slowly trailed downward- stroking along his side and finding his hip, settling just under the curve of his ass, fingers digging into the material of his trousers, and forcing him to rock his hips against the thigh wedged in between his spread legs. It was stilted, slightly awkward- like Jongin has a vague idea of what he was doing, and understood the mechanics, but wasn’t quite well versed in practice.
Understandably so, as Baekhyun highly doubted he’d ever interacted with a human as much as he had interacted with him, let alone been in any sort of sexual scenario with one. He considered the potential that legs were still something of a foreign topic, but his mind very quickly switched tracks when he repeated the action once more, simultaneously nudging his thigh upwards.
When Baekhyun’s lips parted on a gasp, Jongin took it as further encouragement and affirmation that whatever he was doing, he was doing it right.
Jongin set the initial pace, hand remaining in place, but forced him to move on his own shortly thereafter- figured that if it’s friction he craved, he wouldn’t hesitate to do so- and he was right. Their lips moved together, and any beginning finesse or technique was very quickly overridden by both passion and by the way their bodies were moving together.
Baekhyun panted against his mouth, rocking his hips against the up and down motion of Jongin’s leg in between both of his own, his pace gradually increasing, until Baekhyun was effectively riding his thigh, cock still confined beneath two layers of fabric. It was vaguely uncomfortable, but what was more uncomfortable was that his cock was painfully hard, and arousal was simmering hot, and tight inside of him- gradually increasing with every movement. With every hitched breath, but not nearly quickly enough for his liking.
There was a fleeting thought that maybe, Jongin was doing it on purpose- that he knew precisely what would feel better, but instead, wanted to make Baekhyun come undone entirely on his own, until he was delirious with pleasure. Baekhyun wrapped his legs around the back of his thigh to pull him in as close as possible- pace slowing to that of an almost tortuously slow grind, and the thought was forgotten.
“J-Jongin..” He began, panting heavily, Jongin hummed in acknowledgement before trailing his mouth back down to his neck once more- the skin irritated and reddened, some patches darker than others, having sucked hickeys to the surface of his skin. Baekhyun had fully intended on saying something of relevance, but then Jongin bit his neck once more, fingers tightening in his hair, and with one last rock of his hips, Baekhyun was coming in his pants- the moan he released as he achieved relief was loud, and uninhibited, and Jongin didn’t care to muffle it.
He jerked beneath him, muscles spasming, his nails biting into Jongin’s tanned skin, continuing to ride his thigh for a few seconds longer before he went still beneath him- eyes closed, a forearm thrown over his face as he came down from his high, legs falling back down to the mattress, and Baekhyun grimaced at the sticky, wet sensation of his cum cooling on his skin, trapped between his body and the material of his underwear.
The thought he’d originally intended on voicing came back to him roughly half a minute later, and before he lost track of it once more, he was grabbing Jongin by his hip and encouraging him to come closer. Jongin made a soft noise of inquiry in his throat.
“C’mere,” He grunted lowly, urging him once more, and this time Jongin went without protest or thought, eyebrows furrowing as Baekhyun encouraged him to straddle his face.
“I really hope…” Baekhyun began between breaths, “That you have a normal dick.”
Jongin looked vaguely unimpressed, but didn’t press to find what, precisely, he was imagining.
Position slightly awkward, Jongin shifted his hips to allow Baekhyun to undo the drawstrings of his trousers- focusing intently on Baekhyun’s expression, eyes narrowing imperceptibly when Baekhyun’s eyes widened a fraction.
“Oh….” Baekhyun began, swallowing dryly and staring as he considered his words,
“This isn’t… Alright, I’ll be honest with you here,” He continued, and Jongin gasped softly when Baekhyun reached out to curl his fingers around his length.
“I’ve done this more than you might think, and-” A small pause.
“Don’t judge. When you’re constantly surrounded by nothing but men for years upon years, you learn to either make do with what is available, or become very close acquaintances with your hand.” He wet his lips, tongue lingering on his lower, while slowly beginning to stroke him from base to tip.
“I’ll take the liberty of stating that people don’t truly know what they’re saying when mermaids… Merpeople… Are monsters of the deep,” The last words were said mockingly, and Jongin simply hummed in ascent. He wasn’t entirely sure how that pertained to the situation at hand, but-
“Because this right here?” He squeezed gently, and Jongin’s breath hitched. “This has to be the real monster of the deep.”
“Are you… Honestly making jokes right now?” Jongin murmured lowly, dangerously, and Baekhyun thought twice before answering.
“I don’t know how well this is going to work because… Us humans have… Dicks proportionate to our body size, typically, but I’ve always been one for a challenge, so, I’ll give it a shot,” Baekhyun urged him even closer, continuing to stroke him a handful of times before guiding the head of his cock between his lips- tongue lapping over, and around the tip before he attempted to take him in further- making it scarcely a quarter of the way before he was gagging and pushing Jongin back, who looked down at him in concern. Baekhyun held up a finger as if to indicate to give him a few moments- eyes fluttering shut, and then open again as he took a deep breath.
“Again,” He managed, determined, and Jongin hesitated, but shifted closer once more, watching as Baekhyun lapped around the tip again, though instead of attempting to take him down further, as he had the last, Baekhyun mouthed along his length- every movement slow, dragged out. Jongin braced his hands on the headboard in front of him, watching, while Baekhyun’s eyes were shut in concentration.
He repeated the motion, licking along the opposite side, while holding his length in place, and then once more, tongue stroking up the underside. Jongin released a soft, barely audible sound from his throat- and then again, more loudly, when Baekhyun copied the action. Baekhyun opened his eyes, taking the time to continue mouthing along the shaft before finally alternating back towards the head- hand slowly stroking him.
Baekhyun meeting his gaze only served to intensify the experience further- Jongin releasing something akin to a moan with the corresponding surge of arousal, his lower lip finding its way between his teeth.
Slowly, this time, Baekhyun took his length into his mouth again- lips stretching wide around the girth, tongue lying flat. He focused on breathing as evenly as he could through his nose, pausing a portion of the way to become more accustomed to the stretch, alongside the dull ache, and attempting to relax his jaw and throat. He inched downward- hand stroking what he was unable to reach, holding himself in place for a few seconds, and then drawing his head back with a slurp, saliva dripping messily down his chin.
It was clearly a process, but one that Baekhyun seemed to be taking on with diligence- setting, building up, a pace for himself as he began alternating between taking him down as far as he could, and drawing back, in succession- taking his length in a little further each time, noises slick, and obscene.
Jongin was, frustratingly, in comparison to how loud Baekhyun had been just moments prior, quiet- soft gasps and barely audible grunts and groans being all that accompanied each repetition, but when Baekhyun hollowed his cheeks around him and pulled his head back almost tortuously slowly and moaned around him, as though Baekhyun were the one receiving pleasure, it earned him an elongated, throaty groan.
It wasn’t the best blowjob he’d given, but Baekhyun liked to think he was doing well if the fact that the frequency and volume of the noises he earned were increasing, albeit gradually, was any indication. He worked his way up as far as he possibly could- gagging several times more and requiring Jongin to pull his hips back, but quickly resuming where he’d left off each time, until he reached a point where he could swallow around his gag-reflex, saliva pooling in his mouth- and tears leaking from his eyes; something that alarmed Jongin enough for him to attempt to pull away, only for Baekhyun to hold his hips firmly in place as his eyes fluttered shut in concentration.
It was just sex, but Baekhyun felt something a lot like pride well in his chest when he finally succeeded in taking him into his mouth entirely- swallowing around him, once, twice, until Jongin’s stomach muscles tensed and his cock throbbed inside of his mouth. When he was certain Jongin was about to come, he reached down to trace his fingers downwards, past his balls, and press upwards against his perineum. Jongin jolted on top of him, and came with a stifled cry, followed by a satisfying series of breathy, whiny, “Baekhyun, Baekhyun, Baekhyun”’s.
While Baekhyun would have loved to draw it out further, until he was whining from being overstimulated, his airway being blocked off required him to rather abruptly draw his head back to gasp for breath, before dissolving into a series of coughs- panting softly beneath him.
He didn’t know how to take it when he, belatedly, realized that Jongin hadn’t yet stopped coming- a discovery which was made when the rest of his climax ended up dripping down his face and neck.
“Did you just….” Baekhyun began, eyes meeting Jongin’s once more- whose face was flushed pink as he panted harshly for breath.
His reaction was delayed, but he nodded slowly- the slightest of smirks on his mouth.
“You’re a bastard,” Baekhyun cursed, using his hand to wipe away what he could before pointedly slapping and dragging his slick hand down Jongin’s stomach.
“It’s… You got it in my hair ,” He complained with a whine. “Get off.” He demanded, the pair finally separating.
They both began taking off what remained of their clothing- in Baekhyun’s case, everything, and he grimaced as he peeled off his underwear and shoved them down his legs- shirt following suit.
“I feel disgusting,” He winced, using the inside of his shirt to mop up the rest of the cum sticking to his face, after which he chanced a glance towards Jongin.
“Are you… Seriously not even sweaty?” Whereas Baekhyun had a faint sheen of sweat covering his skin, Jongin’s skin appeared to be completely dry.
Jongin hummed noncommittally.
They both fell into bed together again shortly thereafter- Jongin enjoying the warmth, and sensation of Baekhyun’s naked body pressed against his own, and Baekhyun enjoying the feeling of Jongin’s arms wrapped around him in turn, his cheek resting on Jongin’s chest.