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Riptide

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Judging by the moon’s position, the night is nearly over, just a few more hours and the sun’s rays will start peaking over the horizon, nudging out the night sky. Darkness still drapes heavily over the ocean for the moment, though, and where this fact would normally bring a sense of calm to the ship’s crew, it is replaced with urgency and unease.

Shouta’s grip on the wheel is firm, perhaps a little tighter than usual, as his first mate, Nemuri, presses up against the railing, leaning forward as she holds the brass telescope steady in front of her eye. She sighs, stepping back, and collapses the instrument. Shaking her head, her ponytail gently brushing her shoulders with the motion, she says, “Can’t see a thing, Captain.”

Shouta groans quietly and steps away from the wheel, nodding at the ship’s navigator, Tensei. “Take over for me,” he says, walking down the short set of stairs to the main deck.

A strong wind surges briefly, billowing the sails that tower above them, and lifting Shouta’s loose, white cotton shirt up a bit. He tucks his nose inside his thin, tattered grey scarf, and pulls the offending fabric down to tuck the front into his black pants and keep it from getting caught in the breeze again. One of his sleeves creeps down with the motion and he quickly shoves it back up to bunch around his elbow like the other, twisting the branded leather cuff around his wrist absentmindedly as he approaches Nemuri.

His steps pause, though, boot raised above the wooden boards, as he hears the noise that had started their investigation once more.

There is a short, high pitched, melodic humming.

It’s quickly followed by a string of longer notes, all varying in pitch.

It almost sounds like someone singing, which is perhaps the most concerning part of it.

There was only one creature on these seas that they might run into making those kinds of noises, one with enchanting songs that made people lose their minds, happily throw themselves into the ocean, sink down to the sandy bottom just to follow that voice.

Shouta raises his chin, clenching his jaw and keeping his impassive face as he continues his stride toward Nemuri. His knee-high boots’ heels clack a little louder with his more forceful gait, breaking the crew members’ attention away from the odd noise floating in.

“What do you think?” Nemuri asks, placing her hand on her hip.

“The same thing you do,” Shouta says, turning toward the railing and looking out into the endless stretch of ocean. “It’s a siren.”

He gives Nemuri a quick glance, sees she’s frowning, her eyes narrowed.

“What do you want us to do?” she asks.

Shouta sighs, glaring down at the railing, following the grain pattern with his eye.

“I want you to do nothing.”

“Shouta-”

“Captain.”

Nemuri groans and Shouta sees her hand come into his view, grasping his wrist. He turns to look at her.

Captain, you can’t seriously think I’m going to let you go out there alone.”

“You’d rather leave the crew with no one to lead them?” he asks, keeping his gaze steady and unyielding. Nemuri’s glare deepens for a moment, but then her eyes drop down to the floor between them and she sighs.

“Shou...please…” She whispers. “If it’s really a siren…”

“I’m pretty sure they don’t actually eat the flesh of men,” Shouta scoffs. “Those things are stories, nothing more.”

“Sirens are real, though, and we don’t know enough about them,” she chides him. “Please, take someone with you. I know I have to watch the ship, but…”

Shouta shakes his head.

“You know I won’t put anyone at risk like that.”

“But you’ll put yourself at risk?”

Shouta glares. She knows he has no response for that, just like he knows she has already lost the argument. They’re just bickering because they’re friends, because she doesn’t want him to go out there and he’s not willing to take her, or anyone, with him. It’s not the first time he’d put himself in harm's way for the sake of the crew, and should he come back, he’ll do it again next time as well.

He sighs, letting his brow relax, and turns his wrist around to loosen her grip around his arm, filling it with his hand instead and squeezing gently.

“I’ll be careful,” he promises.

“I know,” she says.

Most of the members of his crew were important to him, everyone feeling like family, handpicked by Shouta or Nemuri after an intense background check and test of their skills, but it was no secret Nemuri was his closest confidant. Shouta was a rather relaxed captain, not wearing the hat or coat or all the frills he saw others adorned with, letting his crew say and wear and do whatever they’d like so long as they performed their duties and kept the ship running smoothly. That being said, he tried to keep some air of professionalism, tried to keep a clear chain of command, to not show favoritism.

When Nemuri steps forward into his space, wrapping her arms around him, and pulls him into a hug, though, he lets it slide.

She is his best friend.

He thinks some allowances can be made.

When she steps back, he gives her a small smile.

“I’ll come back,” he promises, which is something he usually wouldn’t do. They both know this isn’t a guarantee.

“You better,” she grumbles out, gripping his shirt tightly before pushing him away.

He stumbles back a bit and runs his hand through his hair, messing it up further. He reaches down to the leather holster on his thigh, checking that his gun is snapped into place, then runs his hand around his belt to his other side, fingers brushing over the hilt of his sheathed sword.

Shouta turns around and yells, “I’m going out, drop the dinghy.”

The crew seems to hesitate, no one moving at first, and Shouta frowns.

“He said drop the dingy, people!” Nemuri shouts beside him, stepping forward, her black heeled boots making a harsh clacking noise. They jump to attention, moving to prepare the boat. Shouta says a thank you to Nemuri and heads over to the boat, grabbing a spare lantern in addition to the one already fastened to the dingy. One of the crew hands him an extra sword and pistol. Another places a net into the bottom of the boat.

“Be careful, sir,” they say quietly, and Shouta gives them a smile. He didn’t think any of this would really be necessary, while the noise was surely a siren, he wasn’t sailing out with intent to fight. He knew their added measures were out of concern, a fondness for their captain, so he accepted them.

“If I’m not back in a half hour, start sailing,” he says to Nemuri, who hovers to the side. She nods, not arguing this time.

Shouta indicates he’s ready and the boat begins to lower, rocking a bit as it descends down the side of their larger vessel.

As the smaller ship touches the water, jostling briefly, Shouta picks up the paddles and takes a deep breath. Despite his insistence, he was a little nervous. He didn’t know much about sirens, and didn’t like to believe they were as ferocious as the drunken tales he’d heard floating around the pubs on land, but he knew they possessed dangerous capabilities. He knew he had to be suspicious, wary of their intent, no matter how beautiful, no matter how sweet their words.

In an instant, they could spin syllables laced with powerful magic.

He didn’t have much of a plan. Those who’d seen sirens and lived to tell the tale clearly hadn’t been enchanted, and those who had witnessed their songs hadn’t come back to share their information. He had no way to know when or if the siren waiting for him would use their magic, if there were any indicators, anyway for him to tell and stand guard, cover his ears perhaps.

Should it come to that, all he could hope for was that his finger on his trigger could move faster than the siren’s lips.

The silence is concerning, as he continues paddling out away from the boat, the light it casts fading away and leaving him with only a few feet of vision from his much smaller lanterns. He hears nothing except the wind and shifting water as it brushes up against the sides of the dinghy.

Soon, though, he hears something else, there are rougher waves, crashing against rock. He’d heard that sound countless times before. He knew this area well, had travelled it for years with his crew, coming to and from the large coastal city stretched along the shoreline for assignments. He knew the waters were full of small clusters of rocks and spotted with islands, but it was difficult to tell the position of these much smaller land masses during nightfall. It was one of the reasons they tended not to sail this close to shore once the light faded.

What was a siren doing this close by to humans anyway? From what Shouta had heard, they preferred to keep their distance, stay far off in secluded areas.

A shiver runs down Shouta’s spine as a few theories crop up in his mind.

The siren could be injured, which meant they were probably hostile.

This could also be a trap.

He tries to keep his breathing under control, but when he hears a new, gentle hum break through the quiet, he can’t help the small gasp that escapes through his lips.

The singing is close.

Alarmingly close.

Shouta slowly pushes the paddles once more, sending the boat forward, and watches carefully as his lantern’s light falls upon the rocks.

The humming cuts off and so does Shouta’s breathing.

His boat knocks into the small cluster of rocks, swaying, as he stares at the creature in front of him.

Lying casually, almost lazily draped across the stone, is a male siren. It’s hard for Shouta to make out all the details of his features in the shadows, but he can tell his hair is blond, its length impressive, cascading over his shoulders, spotted with scales, and down his chest, resting on the rocks by his hips. Something appears to be twisted into his hair by his temple, perhaps a shell of some sort, Shouta had heard of sirens adorning their bodies with jewelry. This one seemed to have some sort of choker around his neck, though this too Shouta couldn’t make out well. He could see small fins protruding from the sides of his forearms, and the top half of his tail where he was seated on the rocks, the rest disappearing below the water. Shouta knew this was the most dangerous part of the siren’s body, the thick muscle built for propelling them through the water at breakneck speeds, as well as easily taking down predators.

Right now, as Shouta swallows, dragging his gaze up to the siren’s face, where two bright, glowing green eyes stared him down, Shouta felt an awful lot like prey.

There’s something sparkling below the siren’s eyes, catching light from their glow, but like everything else about the creature, Shouta can’t quite distinguish the intricacies.

He takes in a breath and the creature moves, pushing up from the rock to sit straight. Shouta’s hand moves to the gun on his thigh.

The siren’s hands move quickly, holding them up in front of his body, fingers spread, and Shouta can see something translucent between them. Webbing, perhaps?

He undoes the snap on his holster.

“Don’t shoot!” the creature says. “I won’t hurt you.”

Shouta pulls out the gun. If the creature was talking to him, he might already be too late, though he admittedly didn’t feel any different than before. He wasn’t sure how the magic worked. Did it have a delay?

He holds the pistol up, pointing it at the siren, and his eyes seem to widen, the glow getting larger.

“Please, stop,” the siren says. “I don’t want trouble.”

Shouta’s finger moves to the trigger, but he hesitates. The siren hadn’t moved closer to him yet, and he’d stopped singing the moment Shouta had gotten near enough for them to hear his presence.

Could he trust the siren’s words?

“What are you doing this close to shore?” he asks, looking for information. His eyes try to focus more in the dark, scan the siren’s body for any signs of injury or tension, but it’s impossible to tell. He couldn’t make out anything besides the thinner, ribbon fins along the sides of his tail.

“I...uh…”

Shouta moves his gun and the siren twitches.

“You, uh , what?” Shouta asks.

“I live nearby.”

“Live nearby?” Shouta narrows his eyes. “Where?”

“I can’t tell you that,” the sirens says quietly.

“Why not?”

“You’ll come after me, or if not you, someone else.” The siren’s voice sounds sad and Shouta’s heart lurches a bit. He tries to shake off the feeling. Why should he feel pity for the siren? He knew what they were capable of. He’d heard of the tragic deaths caused by their hands.

The siren’s eyes close, the bright green disappearing, and Shouta starts having doubts.

Wasn’t that a generalization?

People saw his crew and assumed they were pirates, wasn’t he making assumptions now? The siren hadn’t tried to hurt him yet, and he hadn’t heard any other movement nearby. This didn’t seem to be a trap.

Shouta sighs, lowering his gun, hoping this isn’t a huge mistake.

“Fine,” he says. “I’ll let you go.”

The sirens hands stay raised between them, obviously still unsure whether he should trust Shouta’s words. He’s not sure what the creature had to worry about, clearly he was the bigger danger here. Shouta reaches for his paddle and the siren flinches back, his hand hovers just above the handle, eyes narrowing.

The small twinge of guilt he’d felt a few moments ago intensifies.

He knew there were siren hunters, and worse, he’d seen bags adorned with their scales in the shadier street markets during their travels. He’d tried to keep his head ducked down and not let his eyes linger on the skinned tails that hung in the window of a shop in one of the far off cities his crew had stopped in for an assignment.

Shouta considered himself a fairly peace loving man. He didn’t pick unnecessary fights. His crew stuck mostly to trading goods and finding stolen items, but they’d done a few missing persons missions that ended in scuffles with pirates and criminals. His right elbow twitches slightly at the memory of a particularly bad night where their rescue attempt had not gone as planned.

He didn’t want to be the cause of any innocent bloodshed.

Humans had reason to fear sirens, but clearly, as the creature in front of him slinks slowly into the water, ducking behind the rocks, sirens had just as much reason to fear humans.  

Shouta grabs the paddles and begins rowing backward, keeping his gaze steady on the siren as he does so. He doesn’t move, staring at Shouta from where the top of his head peeks out above the stone.

When the light starts to pull away from the rocks, Shouta pauses his rowing, shouting, “Don’t go any closer to shore! Stay away from the town, you hear?”

He’s not sure, in the moment, whether the thought comes to him out of concern for the villagers or for the cowering creature.

He hears a soft, “Yes” in reply.

Shaking his head, wondering how he’d managed to have such bad luck as to bump into one of the ocean’s most dangerous predators in such calm waters, Shouta steers himself back in the direction of his waiting crew. It doesn’t take long to reach them, and when he does, Nemuri is waving happily over the side of the railing. She and another crewmember lower down the hooks and rope, which he fastens to his dinghy and tugs once to signal he’s ready to be lifted. As the boat slowly pulls out of the water and up the side of the larger ship, Shouta stares out in the direction of his encounter. No more humming reaches his ears.

“So?” Nemuri asks as soon as he has stepped out of the boat, offering him a hand to steady himself.

“It was a siren.”

“What!? Really!?” She says, more than a little shocked. The other crew members’ interest is piqued as well, as they all start moving a little slower with their work to secure the dinghy, leaning toward him. Shouta rolls his eyes, but lets them dawdle.

“Yeah, male. I couldn’t really see much, but he had a tail and fins and what not,” Shouta explains, keeping his voice steady and impassive, purely because he knows it will drive Nemuri crazy.

She whines and grabs his sleeve as he starts walking back toward the wheel.

“Come on, give me more details!”

“There’s not much to say. It was too dark.”

“Okay, so you couldn’t see him, but what was he like? He talked to you? Clearly he didn’t put you under a spell…” she says, looking him up and down. Then her voice drops down, almost reluctant as she asks, “Unless you...did you…you didn’t shoot him, did you?”

Shouta is a little relieved to hear the slight sadness in her voice at the prospect. While Nemuri had been concerned about the risk sirens posed, just as he had, she also showed compassion for all the Earth’s creations. Sailors had to be wary of many things, sharks, whales, storms, waves, and other mystical creatures, but none were inherently evil.

He remembers a night a few months ago, when they had been a few drinks into a new bottle of whiskey and she’d started theorizing about the beautiful merpeople. She’d been babbling a bit, but when she’d slurred out, “at the end of the day we all just want to live, don’t we? Don’t matter what you are…” the words had stuck with him.  

“No,” Shouta says, taking the wheel from Tensei, and giving him a nod of thanks. They hadn’t actually been sailing, since they’d paused to investigate the noise, but it was good to have someone manning the wheel in times when immediate movement might be necessary.  

“I didn’t shoot him,” he continues. She releases a small breath. Shouta looks at her out of the corner of his eye. She looks relieved. “He didn’t seem like a threat. If anything, he seemed afraid of me.”

“Of you?” she laughs and Shouta shoots her a glare. “No offense, but besides that scar under your eye and that sad scruff you refuse to shave off, you don’t exactly scream rugged captain.”

“Whatever,” Shouta says under his breath, pouting a bit. She throws her arm over his shoulder, squeezing gently.

“I’m glad you came back,” she says softly into his ear. “I would have missed you.”

“Yeah...I’m glad too.”

She slides her arm off and backs up a few steps.

“I wonder what he is doing out here. He was alone?”

“Mhm.”

“He wasn’t injured?”

“Not that I could tell.”

“I’ve never heard of sirens travelling alone…”

“He said-” Shouta cuts off. He’d intended to tell her about the siren’s home, how he’d mentioned living here, but the frightened look in the creature’s eyes as he hid behind the rocks forces Shouta’s mouth closed.

You’ll come after me.

Shouta wouldn’t, but the rest of the siren’s statement comes flooding back to his mind, if not you, someone else.

Nemuri certainly wouldn’t either, but while Shouta knew his crew was loyal, he didn’t know where their opinions fell when it came to sirens. How many would let one continue to live this close to a major hub of civilization?

Shouta bites his lip.

“He said what?” Nemuri asks.

Shouta shakes his head.

“Nothing, really. He just wanted me to leave him alone.”

“Hmm...makes sense. I’m glad he didn’t want trouble.”

“Yeah…” Shouta mumbles out his agreement. Then, speaking louder, he says, “Let’s anchor for the night.”

“Sounds good, I’m ready to hit the hay.”

Nemuri walks down the stairs to start instructing the crew to get the anchor ready and Shouta stares down at his hands around the wheel. He can’t get the siren’s worried face out of his mind. Each time he thinks about it, that tight feeling in his chest gets worse.

He’d rowed out there cautious, maybe even a little afraid, but now he found himself just hoping no one else would find the siren.

He found himself hoping the creature was safe.

---

As the light from the sailor’s boat fades away completely, Hizashi finally allows himself to creep out from behind the rocks he’d been lounging on. He pulls his body back up onto the surface, letting his tail dangle down into the mellow waves. He still feels a little on edge, jumping when a gust of wind howls through the air. He slinks down a bit, trying to keep himself covered by the higher surrounding rocks.

Hizashi sighs, folding his arms across his chest and holding tightly. He stares up into the night sky, looking over the clusters of stars and waiting for any to fall while he focuses on steadying his racing heart.

He hadn’t expected to catch anyone’s attention, hadn’t even thought his humming was very loud. He hadn’t been using his magic, so it shouldn’t have attracted anyone to him.

He closes his eyes, tries to ignore the nagging voices of the elders in his clan, telling him to be wary. They were the same ones that tried year after year to drag him back to their cove, begged him to stay when he travelled back for visits or to trade the pieces of art and jewelry he made from trinkets found on the ocean floor.

He didn’t want to be like them.

The man had let him go. He hadn’t pushed for information.

Hizashi was safe.

He rolls onto his side, looking off into the direction the sailor had disappeared into.

If he’d warned Hizashi to stay away from the town, that meant he was familiar with the area. So did he frequent these waters? Hizashi tended to stay away from the large vessels that travelled around here, not wanting to bring too much attention to his lone status or have anyone find his home, but he’d always been curious.

He’d never really feared humans too much. He’d thought the other sirens were quick to judge. He knew all too well that there were hunters, and he knew the stories that were spread about his species. He was cautious, for these reasons. As much as he wanted to get closer, wanted to ask questions, hold a conversation, he couldn’t.

Unless he could trust them not to make snap decisions...which that man certainly hadn’t.

Sure, he’d pulled his gun, but he hadn’t fired it.

He’d listened to Hizashi’s pleas.

He’d paused.

Hizashi bites his lip.

Maybe...maybe he could just explore a little? Maybe he could keep his distance and just see what kind of person the sailor was? Maybe it would turn out he was a kind man...maybe he was trustworthy.

Maybe Hizashi could talk to him.

The nagging voice is there again, but is quickly shoved away by a softer, sweeter one. A memory from his childhood floods his mind, his mother, holding him against her chest, running her fingers through his hair, comforting him after a particularly trying incident.

He runs his hand absentmindedly over the small, jagged scar on his hip.

“Don’t blame them,” she’d whispered, kissing his forehead. “Don’t blame them, Zashi.”

He pulls his fingers away from his side and pushes off the rocks, diving into the water. With one strong push from his tail, he starts off in the direction the sailor came from.

---

The boat is large. It has a navy blue body and gold, cursive lettering that reads “Eraser” down the back side. The tall mast and railings are a deep mahogany. The sails are a creamy tan color where they’re still tied down from the night before.

The sun begins to rise and Hizashi thinks he should probably back off, put some distance between himself and the ship, but he’s too interested in the fine details, swimming along the bottom of the ship and running his hand over the nicks in the wood. When he surfaces, flipping his long hair away from his face, he’s startled to look up and see a person looking over the edge of the ship.

“Sh-shit,” he mutters, ducking down into the water, but keeping his eyes and the top of his head out just a bit. He knows he has already been spotted, that he can’t do a very good job of hiding like this, not with his hip-length, bright blond hair fanning out around him on the water’s surface. Still, it felt safer ducking down like this.

The person leans out farther and he can see it’s a woman. She has red rimmed glasses and long, dark hair pulled into a ponytail. She’s wearing fingerless gloves, one of which she holds out and waves at him.

Okay, hiding was definitely useless.

He tentatively raises his own hand out of the water, just a bit, waving back at her slowly.

She looks behind her, and then runs down the length of the boat to stand directly above him. She cups her hands around her mouth and leans forward.

“Are you the one from last night?” she asks.

Hizashi nods.

“You followed Shouta back?”

Shouta .

His name is Shouta?

Hizashi is tempted to try saying it aloud, but instead nods again in response to her question, thinking it might be weird for him to start mumbling her friend’s name.

Was she the captain?

She was wearing a deep purple button up shirt with the sleeves rolled up and a black vest. She had tight black pants and shiny, polished knee high boots. She wore no hat. Didn’t captains normally wear hats?

Maybe he should leave…it certainly didn’t look good that he’d followed the man here.

Hizashi moves to turn around, but she yells out, “Wait!”

He looks back over his shoulder at her.

“Why did you follow him?”

Hizashi didn’t have a good answer. He stares up at the woman for several long seconds.

“I...I was curious,” he admits.

“About?”

Hizashi tilts his head. She had a lot of questions.

“Humans.”

She folds her arms across the railing and smiles.

“I’ve never met a siren before,” she comments. “I thought you’d be scarier. But you seem...hmm how do I say this...shy?”

Hizashi blushes, sinking back into the water so only his eyes show again. The woman lets out a loud laugh.

“Aw, don’t be like that! I’m sorry! Was that insulting?”

This was odd. She seemed kind. She’d said she was concerned he would be scary...but she certainly didn’t seem afraid now. She didn’t appear to have any weapons, and certainly hadn’t made any hostile movements. Hizashi decides to swim a bit closer to the boat.

“Your friend...his name is Shouta?” Hizashi asks. “The one from yesterday?”

“Mhm,” she hums. “He’s our captain.”

Hizashi’s eyes widen.

“C-captain?”

“Of our boat. Our leader?”

“I know what a captain is!” Hizashi huffs out. She laughs again, covering her mouth with her hand.

“You’re such a cutie,” she says. She props her chin up on the heel of her hand as she stares down at him. “So, what’s your name?”

Hizashi flicks his tail, contemplates whether he should tell her. What could it hurt? It’s not like hunters usually asked the names of sirens.

“Hizashi.”

“Like the sun? So fitting...with colors like that.”

Hizashi narrows his eyes, retreating into the water again. He knew he stood out. The elder sirens had been warning him about his bright scales since he could understand words. His mother too, despite her constant praises and encouragement when she brought him along to explore beyond their cove, she too looked at his vibrant hues with concern.

A pretty thing like you would fetch a nice price on the market , his grandmother had said. He remembers his mother’s hands coming down over his ears, too late to block out the words.

“Why are you hiding?” she asks.

Hizashi isn’t sure how to answer that. She and her friend didn’t seem interested in his tail, and this certainly wasn’t a hunting vessel.

So he decides not to answer at all, ducking fully down in the water, swimming toward the bottom, where he knew he’d vanish from her view.

---

“Weird…” Nemuri mumbles to herself, watching the water settle around where the siren had just been floating a few moments ago.

She steps away from the side of the boat and walks out onto the main deck just as Shouta is opening the door to his captain’s chambers. Part of her thinks she should tell him the siren followed him back to the ship, but as she watches Shouta rub his tired, red eyes, she thinks better of it. The siren seemed skittish, and was clearly traveling solitary. While just one siren was still a danger, capable of hypnotizing the entire crew with one sung note, she didn’t get the feeling this one was interested in enchanting them.

He’d said he was curious...about humans? Nemuri’s eyes follow Shouta’s back as he walks up the stairs to the wheelhouse, thinking about the way the siren’s body had shifted, leaning in closer, straightening up a bit, as he heard her say Shouta’s name.

Perhaps the creature was only curious about one human.

Deciding to keep an eye trained on the water for the rest of the day, keep tabs on the creature, she steps up next to Shouta.

“Someone is still sleepy,” she comments.

“Mmm…” he grumbles in reply.

He opens up his black and silver thermos, a small trail of steam emerging from the lip, and takes a long swig of his morning coffee. It was a bit unusual to see him drinking it up in the wheelhouse. Usually, Nemuri would find him somewhere on the deck, long since having finished his coffee, legs hanging out between the bars of the railing, his knee high boots laying on the deck beside him, as he swings his bare feet out over the ocean. He was nearly always the first to rise, taking over the last shift from whoever had been keeping an eye on things through the night.

“What has you getting up so late?” she questions.

Shouta shrugs, screwing the cap back on his thermos.

“Couldn’t sleep.”

Nemuri raises her eyebrow.

“How come? Dreaming about that pretty little mermaid you saw?” she teases.

“Merman,” Shouta corrects.

“Whatever. You didn’t deny it!” she pokes at his chest, grinning. Shouta looks down at her with his typical impassive face, but Nemuri had gotten plenty good at reading all his tiny tells over the years spent traveling by each other’s side.

She notes the almost imperceptible twitch of his left eye.

Nemuri whistles.

The siren she’d met a few moments ago hardly seemed dangerous, but alone in a boat, rowing out to your potential death, with nothing but a lantern providing light, she could see how the thought might give her nightmares. She wouldn’t ridicule him for admitting he’d been afraid, but Shouta’s face isn’t one of fear.

His stare breaks from hers, as he looks down to unscrew his cap and take another sip of his drink.

“You couldn’t sleep...because...you were thinking of him? Not because you were scared, but because...what? You’re…” Nemuri hears the siren’s voice echoing in her head. “Curious?”

Shouta’s mouth twitches.

“I guess so,” he admits. “It was just a weird experience. There was a lot to think about…”

Nemuri’s eyes narrow, but she decides to let it drop.

With the way Hizashi had been eating up every little morsel of info she gave him, she doubted he wouldn’t be coming back for more soon enough.

Maybe Shouta wouldn’t have to be “curious” for much longer.

---

For the third time in two days, Shouta walks out of his room to see Nemuri leaned over the side of the railing, smiling down at the water below. He narrows his eyes.

“What are you doing?” he asks, walking up to her. She quickly backs away from the railing, just heightening his suspicions. When he reaches the side of the boat, he glances down, but sees nothing but the small cluster of rocks they’d anchored near last night. Though, the water did look a bit disturbed beside it, rippling outward from one point as if something had just been dropped below.

He shifts his gaze back to Nemuri.

“Admiring the view.”

“Of the ocean?” he questions, raising an eyebrow. “You see it every day.”

“I can’t appreciate it?”

Shouta rolls his eyes and places a hand on the railing.

“You’re out here every morning now, looking over the side of the ship. What are you looking at...or for?” he questions, trying to gauge her reaction, but Nemuri had always been good at keeping secrets.

Now, though, she looks unsure. She fidgets, shifting her weight, looking away from Shouta’s eyes.

“What are you hiding from me?” he asks.

Nemuri opens her mouth to answer, but a splashing noise from below reaches his ears before she can make any words. He glances down for a moment and has to do a double take, turning fully toward the railing, mouth cracked open a bit as his eyes widen.

It was the siren he’d met a few nights ago, when they were closer to the town, except now it’s daylight and he can make out far more than just the glowing green eyes.

Shouta didn’t like to admit when he was awestruck, but dammit he’d be a fool not to say this creature was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen.

The siren has settled back against the rocks he must have been sitting on when he’d been talking to Nemuri. His long, blond hair is brighter, laced with fine, lighter strands Shouta couldn’t have seen in the dark. It falls down his back and rests against the stone at his hips. A thin braid starts at his temple on one side of his head, twisting into the rest of his hair. The other side is adorned with a small shell. Shouta had thought his eyes were very large when he’d first met him, but now he sees the bright glow was just reflecting off the sprinkling of purple and pink scales, almost freckle like, along the tops of his cheeks. The same scales litter his shoulders, just a little larger, glistening in the sun as he turns toward them. Around his neck is a choker, weaved from seaweed, with a gorgeous, polished abalone shell hanging from its center. Shouta had a much bigger one of these precious, delicate shells in his bed chamber, sitting on his desk.

His eyes travel lower, taking in the siren’s lean, but powerful body, equipped for travelling immense distances at intense speeds. Both of his forearms have thin, almost translucent fins, color transitioning from purple to blue. Where his hand rests on the rock beside him, Shouta can see his fingernails are an iridescent multichrome color, and between each finger there is thin, light purple webbing.

Shouta’s eyes grow impossibly larger as he takes in the siren’s tail. He had never seen one in person, but from the stories he’d been told, most sirens were one or two colors, mostly greens and tans, allowing them to blend in with their environment. Not this one. No, this one was stunningly bright. At his hips, his scales were a deep orange, which faded to lighter, creamier shades that mixed with yellow, and then ended in pink at the tip. It reminded him of a sunset falling across the horizon, the way the sky looked every night before they dropped anchor and the stars swept in. Which was perhaps why he couldn’t look away, because while the majority of the siren’s tail was the sunset, the thinner, more delicate fins running down his sides and back of his tail, and the large, billowing one at the tip, were all a gorgeous mixture of pastel blue, purple, and pink, blending and fading into one another just as the daylight faded into the first touch of night.

When his eyes have made what must be their twelfth pass over the siren’s body, they finally settle back on his face, where a small mustache twitches as the creature smiles wide, and his cheeks dimpling slightly.

Shouta swallows hard.

“Hizashi,” Nemuri says, her voice shattering through the odd veil of silence that had fallen over his ears the moment the siren had emerged from the water. “I was looking at Hizashi.”

“Hi…zashi?” he repeats slowly.

The siren, Hizashi, waves at him.

“Why do you know his name?” Shouta asks, tearing his eyes away from the other man to look at Nemuri.

“He’s been following us since you went out to investigate that noise. I caught him spying on us the morning after, but he didn’t seem like a threat,” she explains, shrugging. “He’s friendly. I’ve been talking to him. Keeping tabs.”

“Keeping tabs?” Shouta glances back at the siren, whose smile has dropped off. He looks wary now, uncertain, his eyebrows pulled together. “Don’t you think that this is something you should have told your captain the second you found out?”

Nemuri clicks her tongue and looks away, crossing her arms.

“He seemed harmless.”

“Seeming harmless and being harmless are two different things,” Shouta says. He sighs, running his hand through his hair. “So, what tabs have you kept? What did you learn?”

“He’s alone. No other sirens have shown up. He hasn’t tried to use any magic. He said he’s curious about humans. I don’t know...he seems...nice?” Nemuri shakes her head. “Look, I know we’re supposed to be wary about them...but... come on, Shouta , you’ve taught us to give everyone the benefit of the doubt.”

Shouta gives her a halfhearted glare, and then lets his eyes drop down to the floor.

“I won’t pick a fight,” he says. “He hasn’t done anything wrong, but we are better off keeping our distance, not making friends with him.”

Nemuri pouts, but nods. “I know…” then, laughing a bit. “I thought the same thing in the beginning, but he’s a hard one to forget about.”

She leans over the railing quick to wave at the siren, blowing him a kiss, and then backs away. She gives Shouta wink saying, “Good luck,” and then walks off.

Shouta steps up to the side of the boat, looking down at the merman below, still seated on the rocks, his long tail swishing lazily in the water. With each small movement, his scales shift and twist, catching and throwing sunlight, sparkling magnificently. Shouta almost thinks this is part of the siren’s tricks, that this too must be magic.

“Hizashi, was it?” he asks.

The siren nods quickly, a little over excited. He moves a little closer to the edge of the rocks.

“And you’re Shouta!” he yells out. Shouta’s eyes widen. Had Nemuri given away his name?

“Uh...yeah...I’m Shouta.”

“This is your boat! You’re the captain!”

Was he just going to keep stating facts? How much had Nemuri said?

“That’s pretty impressive, right? Did you build the boat yourself? I like the lettering, it’s really pretty,” he babbles on, pointing to the side of the ship. Shouta frowns. This was a far cry from the tense, fearful creature he’d met that night in the dinghy. Hizashi had clearly gained confidence interacting with humans.

Shouta scans the open waters. Like Nemuri had said, nothing else stirred. He couldn’t see any masses below the surface. While the other sirens may be better at camouflaging, there was still nothing indicating they were nearby. To not have made a move in several days...this one was definitely alone, but why?

If he was out here on his own, it might be that much harder to get him to leave.

Was he using their vessel for protection? Had he gotten lost from his clan?

“What do you want?” Shouta asks.

Hizashi tilts his head to the side.

“To talk to you.”

“Why?” Shouta questions, his tone demanding.

“Why?” Hizashi’s voice is softer, slower.

Shouta nods.

“Uh...I don’t know...because you seem interesting?” Hizashi’s tail twitches in the water. Shouta eyes it warily, following its movement. Was he becoming agitated?

“You’ve followed us for days because we seem interesting? I thought you said you lived nearby that town?”

Hizashi pouts.

“I do.”

“Then why are you following us ?”

“I just said-”

“I want the real reason!” Shouta cuts him off, and Hizashi flinches. His tail stills for a moment, and then he quickly pushes himself off the rocks and into the water. Shouta backs up a few steps, now a little concerned he’d just angered the siren, that he’d pushed the limits of that kindness. What else was he supposed to do, though? He needed answers. He had to know Hizashi’s motives. He had to protect his crew.

His eyes follow the bright array of colors making up the siren’s body as he swims just below the surface, approaching the ship. When he reaches the side, his head peaks out of the water and he reaches up to tap the side of the boat with one hand. The other arm, he raises up above his head, fist held closed, the fin on the side of his arm dripping water down into the calm waves.

“Wh-what are you doing?” Shouta asks, stepping closer to the railing again. He grips it and leans over, trying to get a better view.

“I brought you something.”

His gaze shifts back to the clenched fist.

Should he trust him?

He didn’t know of anything that small that could be dangerous.

Shouta quirks an eyebrow and holds up a finger, signaling that Hizashi should wait. He grabs a metal bucket and some rope, quickly tying a knot around the handle, and brings it back over to where he’d been standing before. He holds the bucket over the side of the ship and Hizashi seems to understand, moving back a bit to make room as Shouta begins lowering it down on the rope. It smacks against the side of the ship on its way down, being pushed by the slight ocean breeze. When it reaches the bottom, Hizashi grabs the rim and places his hand inside, letting go of whatever he’d brought. He gives the rope a small tug and Shouta has to quickly wipe off the smile that briefly rises to his face, finding the gesture a little cute, realizing the siren had probably learned it from watching other sailors.

He pulls the bucket up, being careful not to jostle it, and when it reaches the top, he looks down at Hizashi. The siren has sunk low into the water again, hiding everything but his eyes and the top of his head.

Was he insecure about whatever he’d given Shouta?

Shouta turns away from Hizashi to look down into the bucket. Sitting on the bottom is a small bracelet. It looks to have been woven out of seagrass. A small blue bead is twisted into the weaving. Hizashi must have made it, like the jewelry he wore around his neck, or the little fishhook he’d seen twisted into an earring.

Shouta reaches in and takes the bracelet out, holding it in the palm of his hand.

Nemuri had said he seemed harmless, but in that moment, Shouta feels cold. A shiver runs through his body.

There was plenty of harm to be done here.

Shouta closes his hand around the gift.

Turning back to Hizashi, who has emerged from the water and is grinning up at him, Shouta realizes he has a choice to make.

Clearly this siren wasn’t just curious about humans. He was curious about them specifically. He wasn’t following humans . He was following Shouta and his crew.

Seagrass was a very light material, but it feels heavy in his hand.

Hizashi wasn’t dangerous.

He’d known it the moment he saw him that first night. He’d never liked the assumptions people made about sirens. He didn’t like people making assumptions about anyone or anything. He liked to experience the world, make his own judgments, but he couldn’t ignore the stories. He couldn’t ignore the proof.

Hizashi wasn’t going to hurt him or his crew, but if the rest of the siren clan he had abandoned followed him...they very well might.

It was too risky to play at being friends.

It was better to end this before it began.

“I can’t accept this,” Shouta says.

Hizashi’s smile cracks.

“Why?” he asks, his voice small.

“You need to go away. Stop following us. Go home.”

“I don’t want to.”

Shouta closes his eyes.

He didn’t like to be a bad person. He didn’t like to hurt people, but often times he found that protecting the things he cared about required sacrifices.

It required saying things he didn’t really want to.

Like when he holds his hand out over the boat, turning it over, and lets the bracelet fall through his fingers as he says, “I don’t care.”

Or when he turns his back as he hears the crash of the waves against the side of the ship as Hizashi lunges forward to catch it.

Nemuri had said the siren seemed nice.

He certainly did.

This was exactly why he needed to leave.

---

They have just a few more days left of travel before they’ll reach their destination, a fishing village where they’re to pick up a set of jewels that were passed down in a woman’s will to her nephew. The nephew resided in the large hub they typically went back to for odd jobs and assignments. None of the crew had a place on land, all preferring to stay on the boat or get a spot in an inn if they would be docked for long, but they stayed nearby this town in particular, familiar with the people and business there.

Shouta had thought he knew those waters better than anyone, but apparently he’d been missing one very large, well kept secret, and it was still trailing behind their vessel at this moment.

Hizashi had not been deterred by Shouta’s harsh words.

In the end, he supposed it didn’t matter. If Hizashi truly did live on the outskirts of the village, Shouta would just be sailing back to his territory to complete the job anyway. 

After having been more or less introduced to Shouta, Hizashi seemed to have shucked off his timidness. Now, he swam beside their ship like Shouta had dared him not to. Some of the crew had shown apprehension when they’d first noticed Hizashi’s now constant presence, but the cheerful siren had been winning them over one by one. Yesterday he’d caught Tensei talking to him about navigating, the siren explaining how he followed the stars and moon, and how the names he had for them differed from the ones Tensei used.

Nemuri had apparently become Hizashi’s accomplice, if the shells and trinkets he found on his desk throughout the day were any indication. The siren certainly wasn’t propelling himself up the side of the boat to deliver the gifts himself.

Shouta sighs as he hands the wheel off to Nemuri, telling her that he’s going to take a quick break to check the maps.

On his way to his room, though, his eye catches Hizashi, jumping out of the water and into the waves created by their ship, playing in the wake like the dolphins that would sometimes follow behind them in the open ocean. As he twists midair, he lets out a short laugh, and dives back into the water.

Shouta’s stomach flips at the noise.

He feels a bit of heat on the tips of his ears and across his nose and quickly turns his face away from the playful merman, continuing to his room.

It’s hard to truly shoo his thoughts of the other man away when another new gift has found its way to his desk, sitting atop the map he’d been about to consult. He picks up the silky bundle of cloth. It’s one of the many handkerchiefs Nemuri usually had hanging out of her back pocket to wipe her hands dry before working with the ropes on the deck. Not once on this trip had she tried to keep it a secret that she had grown fond of Hizashi.

He unwraps the fabric, letting the corners fall down around his hand. Inside is a piece of blue sea glass, smoothed perfectly around the edges from years spent tumbling across the ocean floor. It’s much bigger than any small bits he’d found himself over the years, or seen being sold as part of necklaces or bracelets at markets.

He picks up the trinket and turns it over in his fingers.

A quiet “merp” comes from his bed and he turns to see his tabby cat, Hoshi, stretching. He gets up and jumps down off the mattress, trotting up to Shouta and placing his front paws on Shouta’s shin, giving a small meow.

“Hmm? You want this?” he asks, bending down to show his palm to Hoshi. The cat sticks his nose down to sniff the gift and then bats it out of Shouta’s hand. He watches as it skitters across the wooden slats and Hoshi goes chasing after it.

If nothing else, the cat loved it.

Shouta sighs, listening to the clacking noise of the piece of glass being smacked around the floor by the cat’s frantic paws, as he picks up the map and walks over to his bed. He flops down onto the worn mattress, fastened to the ship’s wall, and holds the paper out above him.

As his eyes wander the swirling lines of the map, his mind wanders instead back outside the walls of his bedroom and into the ocean.

He’d taken his fair share of hidden glances at the siren since he’d stopped hiding. Shouta tells himself it’s understandable, who could resist being curious about a siren? Who wouldn’t let their eyes linger on someone so breathtaking?

Except no one else catches Hizashi’s eye the way Shouta seems to. Any time the siren noticed his gaze, he’d immediately dive underneath the surface of the waves and dart in front of wherever Shouta stood. He was all smiles and quick waves of his hand, while Shouta tried to keep a safe distance and ignore the way Nemuri smirked at him.

He had to stand his ground.

He had to, for the crew.

When morning comes, though, it’s hard not to look out his porthole and wait for Hizashi to poke his head out of the water. He’d seen the other man yawning, stretching his arms above his head, as he bobbed up next to their ship. He’d lie out on his back, floating on the surface, and wait for the crew to pick up anchor.

Shouta had noticed the merman seemed to talk to someone in the morning, and his answers came when Nemuri’s loud, booming laugh snuck beneath his door on a number of occasions. He hadn’t bothered telling her not to entice Hizashi, give him the wrong impression, not to make him feel welcome.

He knew that’s what he should have done.

The truth is, though, as he now watches Hizashi’s bright blond hair emerge up through the surface of the turquoise waves, the little puka shell decoration he had twisted into it shining briefly in the morning light, Shouta had grown used to this.

Searching the waters for Hizashi’s colorful body before they pulled up anchor, making sure to give the siren plenty of room as the boat began to move, had become part of his routine. It was just another step to setting sail.

Shouta isn’t sure what he’d do if he looked out there and didn’t see Hizashi. Would he wait? Would he search for him?

As Hizashi slowly swims in closer to the vessel, Shouta’s chest tightens at the idea of him missing. He realizes, without even having exchanged many words with the siren, that Hizashi had somehow started to feel like part of the crew.

He’d have to be deaf not to hear the blond’s boisterous laughter booming up from the water. He’d eavesdropped on a number of the conversations the other man had with Shouta’s crew members.

Shouta knows he’ll end up caving, he can feel it already. Hizashi wasn’t dangerous. He knew this since that first night they met, and though Shouta still had to keep in mind the very frightening reality of other sirens coming to attack them, or hunters capturing them for being in cahoots with a siren of such high caliber, he starts thinking it might be worth the risk.

There were plenty of tragedies waiting to sink his ship. A treacherous storm could destroy them in seconds without more than a few minutes of warning, and there wasn’t anywhere they could go to hide out here, yet they sailed anyway.

He couldn’t live his life afraid of possibilities.

Which is why when dawn breaks the next day, he grabs the remainder of the coffee he’d brewed, pouring it into his thermos, and an apple, and pushes open his bedroom door. He steps out onto the deck, doing a quick check to make sure he’s the only one up this early as usual. He’d been avoiding his morning routine of sitting out on the deck since Hizashi had started showing up, trying to keep up his indifferent facade.

While he was about to break his wall down for Hizashi, he certainly didn’t want Nemuri out here catching him being soft.

She wouldn’t let it go all day, possibly for the rest of the mission.

Satisfied that no one was out, he steps carefully inside the dinghy and begins untying it from where it is fastened to the side of the boat. He hears the water moving below, probably Hizashi coming to check out what is happening. It’s difficult to lower the dinghy on his own, and he cringes when the rope slips a bit and the smaller boat smacks the side of the ship. He listens for any movement above his head, but hears no doors being thrown open.  

Shouta resumes, slowly letting the rope coast through his fingers until the boat touches the surface of the water, rocking and swaying before settling. The second he turns around, Hizashi is already there, shoulders and head sticking up above the water a few feet away, staring at Shouta.

Shouta gives the siren a small wave and then sits down, uncapping his thermos and taking a sip. He sets the metal container down on the bottom of the boat and takes a bite of his apple, watching the sunrise as he’d neglected to do the past several days.

He doesn’t look at Hizashi, but he can feel the man’s gaze heavy on his body.

It takes a few more bites before the blond begins moving toward him. He can hear the soft ripple of water as the siren nears.

When Hizashi reaches the boat, he tentatively raises his hands up, fingers curling around the edge of the dinghy. Shouta looks down at them, getting a better look at his perfectly painted nails. Or were they painted? Maybe sirens were born with nails like these. As Hizashi taps one finger idly against the wood, Shouta realizes they are just as reflective as the scales on Hizashi’s cheekbones and shoulders.

His gaze shifts to the siren’s face, half hidden behind the wooden edge. He’d never been this close to Hizashi before. His eyes aren’t glowing as much now as they had been when he’d first met Hizashi, looking more like they just had a luminescent sheen. His eyelashes are long. A little droplet of water is settled atop one of them.

Shouta takes another bite of his apple and Hizashi’s eyes dart toward the fruit, then back to Shouta’s face. Finally, he straightens up enough to hook his chin over the boat. Shouta’s lip twitches, threatening to break into a small smile at the site of the little mustache above Hizashi’s lip. It was an odd choice, but somehow seemed to fit perfectly.

“What is that?” Hizashi asks, and points one of his fingers out toward the hand Shouta is holding the apple with.

“Food.”

Hizashi rolls his eyes.

“Well clearly,” he huffs out, giving Shouta a pout.

“It’s an apple.”

“What is an apple?”

Shouta snorts, laughing, thinking there is no actual way Hizashi is asking that and being serious, but when he looks at the blond, his laughter comes to an abrupt halt. Hizashi’s pout is back in full force and a little pink flush is spreading across his nose and beneath those purple and pink freckled scales.

“Oh...uh...you’re serious?” Shouta asks.

Hizashi nods.

Shouta looks down at the fruit in his hand, and then holds it out to Hizashi.

“It’s a fruit. It’s sweet,” he says. “Try it.”

Hizashi’s eyebrows pull together as he tilts his head, examining the fruit, and then reaches out to take it from Shouta’s hand. He turns the apple around to a spot Shouta hadn’t already bitten into and holds it up to his lips. When Hizashi looks over at him, as if waiting for his approval, Shouta nods.

The siren opens his mouth and bites too gently at first, his teeth not making much of an impact at all, just barely breaking the skin. He pulls back and glares down at the apple. Shouta laughs.

“Harder,” he says. “Bite harder.”

Hizashi tries again, getting a good bite this time, and starts slowly chewing the fruit. Shouta watches him move it from one side of his mouth to the other, and then Hizashi’s eyes widen. He waves his hand at Shouta and then points at his mouth excitedly, as if trying to say, “can you believe it?”

Cute.

The word comes crashing to the front of his mind and in that moment, Shouta realizes there’s no way he can try and shake Hizashi off their trail.

He doesn’t want to.

As Hizashi passes the apple back to him, swallowing happily, his eyes scrunched closed as he holds his face with both hands, Shouta starts thinking about other foods the siren might not have had the chance to experience. His mind drifts back to his cabin, picturing the treats he could bring down and share with Hizashi.

Then he thinks about Hoshi smacking the little seaglass piece around on the floor and frowns.

Hizashi had wanted to share things with him too.

Shouta reaches into the back pocket of his pants, pulling out one of the woven necklaces Hizashi had given him, with a little piece of blue coral hanging from the middle.

“This is nice,” he says, when the siren opens his eyes. “Thank you.”

Hizashi’s smile is, frankly, breathtaking.

“You think so? I’m glad you like it!” he says, moving closer to where Shouta is seated. “Nemuri said you liked blue. It took me a while to find coral that color.”

“You mean you just made this?”

Hizashi nods.

Shouta had thought the siren had a lot of jewelry, that maybe he had a pack he was storing below the ocean that he’d carried with him, or that he knew of places nearby where other sirens gathered. Shouta didn’t know a lot about their world, but he knew they didn’t exist too differently from humans. They traded goods. They had a society, a culture. This meant they had markets and gathering places, and somewhere miles down below him, they must have cities.

Hizashi, though, it seemed was far away from all of these things.

Why?

“Are you…uh…” Hizashi trails off. He is looking at Shouta’s apple again.

“Going to finish this?” Shouta finishes. He shakes his head, handing the fruit off to Hizashi. The siren chomps down on it happily, humming in contentment.

“What do you normally eat?” Shouta asks.

Hizashi shrugs, speaking around a mouthful of apple, “Seaweed, sea grass, kelp, algae, coral, you know...that kind of stuff?”

“So, you eat plants and rocks?”

Hizashi snorts. He lowers the apple away from his lips, quirks an eyebrow, and leans in closer to Shouta. He holds his other hand up as if telling a secret.

“And sharks.”

“And what? ” Shouta asks his eyes wide.

“Sharks.”

“You’re fucking with me.”

Hizashi shakes his head. He opens his mouth and points to the sharp incisors.

“What do you think these are for?” he asks.

Shouta doesn’t have a good answer for that. He hadn’t noticed how much more defined Hizashi’s two teeth were. They weren’t very large, but they definitely seemed pointier. What did he know about a siren’s diet? Maybe Hizashi did eat sharks.

Hizashi bursts out laughing and Shouta feels like a damn fool for almost falling for it.

When he regains his composure, Hizashi says, “All those ocean plants are really tough and chewy. That’s what they’re for.”

“Oh,” Shouta says, looking away.

“I see that pout! I tricked you!”

“Shut up, no you didn’t.”

“What didn’t he do?”

Shouta’s head snaps back quickly as he looks above him. Nemuri waggles her fingers, looking smug.

Hizashi giggles.

Shouta’s pout grows.

The teasing he receives from Nemuri throughout the rest of the days is relentless, but the light feeling that lingers in his chest from his conversation with Hizashi makes it bearable.

---

It’s late, the lights in the crew’s cabins going out one by one, the anchor dropped for the night. They hadn’t stopped somewhere that Hizashi recognized, which meant he’d have to spend a few hours probably searching for a good place to rest. He’s about to dive under and start combing the ocean for a comfortable spot when he hears something oddly familiar.

He turns back toward the ship, his chest tightening at the memories the low hum brings.

He can’t see who is on the deck, but there’s always someone, switching out throughout the night to keep watch. As he gets closer, though, he recognizes the little rough tint to the song. Shouta hadn’t really said much to him so far, still fruitlessly trying to push Hizashi away when it was obvious he was going to get his way. He’d caught the captain watching him a number of times now, and after their conversation that morning, it seemed Shouta had finally given up the act.

This, though, this felt very private. Hizashi always left their boat to find someplace to sleep. Shouta probably thinks he’s miles under the ocean at this point.

Hizashi can’t turn back, not with this song floating down over him like a carefully placed blanket. No one ever said sirens couldn’t be enchanted too.

He’s tempted to sing along, but he knows it would make Shouta uneasy. He doesn’t blame him, he had every reason not to trust a siren caught up in a melody, but Hizashi has to bite his lip to stop himself.

He turns over on his back, keeping his movements as controlled as possible, as to not make too much of a splash. Closing his eyes, he lets the music carry him.

When it fades away, and he hears boots walking across the deck, Hizashi considers hiding, but decides not to.

He’d wanted alone time with the captain, hadn’t he?

Shouta startles a bit when he looks down and sees Hizashi there, his shoulders twitching and his eyes widening. He quickly regains his composure, sliding his hard set brow and frown into place.

“What are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be off doing whatever it is you do when we go to sleep?” he asks.

Hizashi drops his tail down and swims closer to the boat.

“I sleep too,” he says. “That’s what I do.”

“Oh.”

“You think sirens don’t sleep?”

Shouta shrugs.

“I don’t really think much about anything sirens do.”

If someone else had said the words, Hizashi might take insult to them, but Shouta was looking at him like he meant it. He really didn’t bother with trading theories and stories, and there was something a little endearing about it. The other crewmates had been kind to him, especially Nemuri, but they’d come with all kinds of assumptions and questions. They asked about his gills, his culture, his fins, his name, his magic, his home, you name it and they had inquired about it.

He knew he was just as guilty as the others, asking so many questions of his own about humans and how they lived their lives.

Shouta didn’t.

Shouta didn’t really have questions, and when he did, they came naturally. He didn’t start a conversation with a query about Hizashi’s physique or if sirens spoke a different language to one another.

Shouta didn’t pass judgment.

He just looked down at Hizashi like he was any other person in the water and it was a refreshing change of pace.

“So why aren’t you sleeping now?” he asks, crossing his arms and leaning forward on the railing. A little strand of hair falls loose from the half-bun he has it tucked back in. It blows gently against his forehead in the night air.

“I heard you singing,” Hizashi answers.

Shouta’s mouth opens and then shuts. He looks away, scratching behind his ear.

Is he embarrassed?

Shouta? Embarrassed?

“Oh...uh...” he mumbles.

“I know that song,” Hizashi admits. This brings Shouta’s attention back to him very quickly, the other man’s eyes snapping down to glare at him.

“What? That’s impossible.”

Hizashi huffs and crosses his arms.

“Why? I can’t have heard the same songs you have? Sirens aren’t hermits, you know!”

Shouta sighs and rubs at his face.

“No, I’m sorry. That’s not what I meant...I…” Shouta pinches the bridge of his nose and then lets his hand drop. “It’s not a song anyone else knows...besides me. It was one my father used to sing to me when I was young. I don’t think anyone on the crew has even heard me out here…”

Hizashi’s heart feels like it’s pumping out molasses, pushing hard against his chest as everything seems to slow.

“You...so it’s just a family song?” he stutters out. Shouta nods, frowning a bit, his eyebrows pulled together in confusion.

“My mother used to sing it to me,” Hizashi says.

They spend several long minutes staring at one another in silence. Hizashi bobs in the gentle waves, waiting for Shouta to speak, while Shouta seems to still be processing this information.

“What?” is the only word that comes out of his mouth after the long wait.

“Was your father a sailor too?” Hizashi asks, sinking into the water a bit more, so only his shoulders and head stick out. It’s getting a little chilly and the water is warmer than the air.

“Yes.”

“Wow, maybe my mom heard him singing it! When I was too little to go with her, she used to come home with beautiful melodies and incredible stories she'd discovered during her travels.”

“Your mom got this close to humans?” Shouta asks. “I guess I know where your curiosity comes from now.”

Hizashi smiles and laughs a little.

“Yeah...my mom would take me on all kinds of adventures. She wasn’t like the others. I mean...my dad wasn't like them either, but he was always so much more soft spoken than her.”

“The others?”

“The other adults. The elders in my clan? They don’t really…” Hizashi trails off, looking away. “They didn’t really approve of the way we would go beyond the cove, or when she would take me to look at shipwrecks and stuff.”

“Why not?”

Hizashi’s gaze shifts back to Shouta. He has his chin propped up on his hand, focus entirely on Hizashi. Was he really interested in hearing about Hizashi’s life?

“They don’t trust humans.”

“Mmm, that’s understandable. I don’t trust most humans either, really,” Shouta says, and Hizashi’s heart flutters back to life when the other man shoots him a small smile.

Hizashi laughs.

“Yeah, I mean I guess I can see why, you know? In my experience, they can be pretty grumpy! Kind of scruffy, too!” Hizashi teases, rubbing his hands over his chin where Shouta’s shadow lingers on his.

Shouta snorts, throwing his head back, and laughs.

Hizashi’s smile widens. He ducks under the water further, sliding down to hide his blush.

“Yeah? Well all the sirens I’ve met seem to have this insatiable need for attention. They can’t take no for an answer,” Shouta says, smiling down at him the whole time.

“I like to think we’re just perseverant,” Hizashi sticks his hands out of the water in a shrugging motion, though his shoulders are still hidden underneath.

“Persistent,” Shouta corrects.

“And perseverant! Look what I’ve had to deal with!” he gestures toward Shouta.

Shouta sticks his tongue out briefly. Then, tilting his head as he looks down at Hizashi, a small, soft smile still lingering on his lips, he asks, “Are you happy now? You finally got what you wanted. I’m talking to you.”

Hizashi’s hands drop heavy back into the water. His face starts heating up.

“Yeah, I sure did,” he says. Before Shouta can answer, he waves his hand quickly, shouting, “Gotta go to sleep! Cya tomorrow!”

Hizashi dives under the water, swimming as quickly as he can away from the boat, entirely too wired to even begin thinking about actually stopping to catch some shut eye.

What was that?

One smile from the stoic man and he was...what…? Falling for him?

Hizashi stills his movements, throwing his tail out in front of him to stop himself.

Did he...was he crushing on Shouta?

---

When the coastal town they’d been sailing toward to pick up the jewels finally comes into view through his telescope, Shouta collapses the device and hands the wheel off to Nemuri for a moment. He walks over to the edge of the boat, where he can see Hizashi skimming the water below the waves, swimming alongside them.

He waves his hand at Nemuri, holding his palm out and telling her to slow down the ship. It takes a few moments for the crew to follow her instructions and shift the sails. As their speed drops down, so does Hizashi’s, until he breaks the surface, still keeping pace with them, but flipped over on his back to look up at Shouta.

“What’s wrong?” he calls out.

Shouta points in front of them.

“We’ll be making landfall soon,” he explains.

Hizashi frowns.

“I thought you might want to keep your distance,” Shouta says.

“Yeah, I will,” Hizashi agrees. He ducks his head back into the water, stopping his movements entirely, and their boat easily overtakes him. Shouta watches, leaning over the railing, as Hizashi’s floating form drifts farther away. After a few seconds, though, he sees that powerful tail dip back into the water, a quick splash, and Hizashi catches up to them with minimal effort. He pokes his head back up.

“Can I swim home with you?” he asks.

Shouta almost forgot that Hizashi lived near the same village they’d set up a semi-permanent docking place with. While none of them had a “home” per say, living in the boat on and off the job, they did think of the village as the closest thing to a hometown. They’d get supplies there, check out the markets, gossip with the locals, and sometimes stay at an inn if they wanted a break from the ship. It was the strong connection they’d built with the village’s citizens that kept their business going, allowed them to work independently, underground, rather than as part of any trade group or agency.

“Yeah, sure,” Shouta says, shrugging. It only made sense for them to travel together when they were going in the same direction, though, by Hizashi’s wide grin, the other man is definitely taking this as an indication that Shouta likes him.

If Shouta is being entirely honest, it’s true.

Over the past week, he’d grown fond of Hizashi’s banter and seemingly endless supply of wonder and joy.

His inquisitive nature reminded Shouta of the reason he’d wanted to follow in his family’s footsteps, sailing the world, hungry for discovery and knowledge. He wanted to see everything the Earth had to offer. He wanted to experience it all.

Maybe that’s why Hizashi wasn’t with his kind.

After all, most humans didn’t spend their whole lives on the sea. He supposes most sirens don’t go exploring solo either.

Nemuri calls out, warning them that land is closer.

“We’ll be taking the same route back. We shouldn’t be on land for more than an hour,” Shouta says. Hizashi nods and gives him a thumbs up.

“Cya then!” he calls before diving down and disappearing beneath the ocean waves.

---

Picking up the package, and the half of their payment they’d get from this side of the deal, is easy. As is navigating out of the small harbor and heading back out for their return trip. They don’t bother with hanging around the small city, as they’d already seen this one many times before, more interested in getting back and resting for a few days before their next assignment.

It’s a few hours before Hizashi finally pops up beside their ship. Shouta had admittedly been sending Nemuri to check with the crewmember in the lookout post for any signs of the siren a little more frequently than he should have been, but he’d been expecting the siren to reappear as soon as they were far enough away from the coast.

Shouta’s curiosity gets the better of him and he pulls Tensei over to navigate, promising not to take more than a few minutes, and jogs over to the side of the boat.

“Hizashi!” he yells, cupping his hands around his mouth, but the siren doesn’t seem to notice. He calls out again, but Hizashi doesn’t peek up to look at him like he had before. Nemuri walks over and looks down with him.

“He’s not answering you?” she asks.

“Yeah.”

“That’s weird...I wonder what happened.”

“Maybe he can’t hear me.”

Nemuri scoffs.

“Siren ears are far better than ours, Shouta. He hears you. He’s ignoring you.”

She pushes away from the railing, patting him on the back, and walks off. Shouta frowns down at Hizashi’s back.

It’s not until later, when they’ve stopped the boat for the night, and Shouta offers to take the first watch, that he finally gets Hizashi’s attention, shouting over the railing, “Wait,” as Hizashi is making to dive down.

The siren turns to look at him over his shoulder.

“I’m coming down,” Shouta says. “Give me a sec.”

Hizashi’s eyes widen, but Shouta doesn’t give him time to say anything, stepping into the dinghy and beginning the process of lowering himself down.

Just like the first time, Hizashi keeps his distance. Shouta strings up his lantern to the wooden pole in the middle of the dingy, giving them some light, though Hizashi’s eyes don’t seem to need it now that they’re fully glowing.

“Are you going to tell me what that was about?” Shouta asks, jabbing his thumb over his shoulder in the direction they’d come from.

Hizashi bites his lip. After seeming to consider it for a few moments, he shakes his head.

“Are you alright?” Shouta asks, eyes flickering over what little bit of Hizashi’s body he could see above the waterline. With the darkness, though, he can’t see much more than he could the first night they’d met.

“Yeah, I’m fine.”

Shouta sighs, scooting closer to the edge of the dinghy.

“Then why don’t you sound fine?” he asks.

Hizashi’s shoulders drop down.

After a few seconds of silence, he groans, his hands shooting out of the water to rub at his face. The thin, purple and blue fins on his arms seem to stand out more, as if puffed up the way a cat is when it is frightened.

“I just had a scare with a fishing boat, that’s all,” he admits. “I had to lose their trail.”

Shouta’s heartbeat skyrockets. He knows he should probably be worried about the way the thought of Hizashi in danger just tripled his pulse, but he pushes that aside for another time.

“They saw you?” Shouta asks.

Hizashi shakes his head.

“I don’t think so...I think they mostly just noticed something big was in the water, not specifically what I was. They dropped a net, but it wasn’t one that could capture one of us. They weren’t hunters.”

Shouta frowns at Hizashi’s words, and the way his voice is dull and mechanical. In the week he’d known him, Shouta had learned a great deal about the fear sirens had to shoulder. While the thought of hunters had always left a sour taste in his mouth before, he hadn’t paid them much mind. Now, seeing the way they impacted Hizashi’s mood, the way his fingers trembled when he ran them through his hair, Shouta feels an awful lot like he might punch the next hunter he sees in the jaw.

They’re wrong , he thinks. They’re wrong about you.  

No one had given Hizashi a chance, hell, Shouta had pulled a gun on him the first time he’d seen him. He was lucky Shouta was the one to find him, though. Shouta wouldn’t hurt an innocent person, no matter what species they were, but he was in the minority. Far too many people would have shot Hizashi on sight.

Far too many people didn’t ask questions first or later.

They never asked questions at all.

“I’m glad you made it back,” Shouta says softly. Hizashi’s mouth pops into a little ‘o’ and then flattens out into a small, private smile that Shouta had never seen on him before. It’s not the big, toothy grin he was used to seeing the siren flash at him and his crew during their afternoons.

“Me too,” he says.

Shouta smiles back at him, and then stands up, saying “Get some rest.” He grabs the rope of the pulley to start tugging himself back up.

“You too.”

---

The rest of the trip back goes smoothly. They dock in their usual spot, a few miles away from the harbor where the other larger, flashier trade and travel vessels set up shop, wanting to stay out of their way and have a bit of privacy. Shouta tasks Nemuri with making sure their customer gets the package and that the rest of their payment comes back to the boat whole, though he had told her if she wanted to take her cut beforehand and spend it around the town, he wouldn’t hold it against her. He gives her and Tensei a lazy wave as they walk down the small pier they’d built themselves and onto the shore. The rest of the crew trickles off the boat slowly, chatting about getting some drinks at the pub, visiting family, and other activities.

Shouta chooses to stay behind, though he does walk down the ramp and onto the shore, unsnapping his boots and pulling them and his socks off to feel the sand. He rolls up the bottoms of his pants and pulls the light scarf off from around his neck, setting it carefully down by his shoes. It was nice to feel solid land sometimes, take a break, and lay in the sand.

He walks around the other side of the boat, where a few small tide pools had developed over the years through the wearing of the breaker rocks. He climbs out carefully over the larger stones and finds a dry spot to sit, dipping his feet into the clear water.

“This is nice!”

Shouta smiles at Hizashi’s declaration. Watching the merman pull himself over the breaker wall and into the small, shallow pool had been comical. He’d less than gracefully flopped down onto his face when they’d first arrived and Nemuri had suggested it would be a good place for Hizashi to hang out.

He’s a little surprised Hizashi hadn’t already known about it, but based on his experience at the other coastal village, he can see why the siren wouldn’t allow himself to get this close to shore, especially if Shouta’s boat had been docked her in the past, which it frequently was.

Now, Hizashi looked right at home, laying on his stomach, most of his tail and back poking out of the water, as he spreads his arms and fingers out in front of him and plays with the small rocks and shells that have been pulled in over the years. His fingers comb through the sand, and he closes his eyes, his long tail curving inward beside him. It reminded Shouta of the way Hoshi would curl up on the bed. He looked peaceful here.

Hizashi looked like he belonged here, as if when Shouta had found the pools and suggested they build their own dock, some subconscious part of him had already known this day would come.

A little over two weeks with Hizashi and Shouta doesn’t think he ever wants to sail anywhere with an empty ocean again.

“This must be like laying in a puddle for you,” Shouta comments, smiling as Hizashi lets out a laugh. Shouta kicks his feet a bit, moving the otherwise mostly still water.

“That’s funny. That was my mom’s nickname for me.”

“Puddle?” Shouta asks.

“Mhm…” Hizashi hums. He bends his elbow, propping his chin on the heel of his hand. “I’ve always liked to hang out in the shallow water. There aren’t a lot of places to do that, but I’m always happy when I can find one. She called me her little puddle baby!”

Hizashi laughs again, his eyes scrunching shut.

“That’s cute.”

A light flush appears on Hizashi’s face and Shouta can feel his doing the same. He scratches at his nose and turns away.

“Your mom...what uh...what was she like? You talk about her a lot,” he asks, changing the subject.

Hizashi’s smile is tinged with sadness, and Shouta almost wishes he hadn’t asked and ruined the light mood. The siren’s hands move to the choker around his neck, touching the small abalone shell, shining beautiful with all its rainbow, pearlescent colors.

“She was incredible,” he breathes out. Hizashi’s eyes close as his hand falls back into the water. “You know, I get my colors from my dad. He’s got these really cool neon scales, super flashy! Probably why my mom fell for him!” Hizashi laughs for a second and then trails off. “...Mom was...that’s where I get my thin fins from,” he says, holding up his arms. “And these,” he says, running his fingers over the scales under his eyes. “She had these really pretty, delicate fins on her shoulders and her hips. The ones on her hips were streamers, you don’t see those a lot, but they made her look like some kind of goddess swimming through the water, you know? She was mostly white and this pretty shade of blush pink, super light, almost translucent. Her face was covered in these shiny scales. She used to wear big abalone shells as her bra and smaller ones like the one in my choker in her jewelry. She taught me how to weave and make all these things,” Hizashi explains, touching his earrings and necklace.

“She sounds beautiful,” Shouta says.

“She was...but that wasn’t why she was special. She wasn’t like all the other sirens. She shaved half her head, you know!” Hizashi laughs and covers his face. “She did it just because my grandma told her not to! I thought it looked really cool...she was the one who encouraged me to explore. She’d take me past the cove where we all lived, take me to other reefs where they had all kinds of tropical fish and coral none of the other sirens ever got to see. She’d show me how to take little pieces without hurting the ecosystem...how to care for it. That was always important, keeping everything alive, making sure we never took more than we needed, were never ungrateful…” Hizashi’s smile falters again, staring into the water, but with a gaze that Shouta was sure meant he wasn’t seeing anything here at all.

“She took me to see shipwrecks. She told me about humans. She’d sing me songs she heard sailors sing. One time she even took me to see a boat. The elders always wanted to keep us at home, never leave the cove, never go too far, never get too close...but Mom thought it was important to understand people. She encouraged me to see more and experience more.”

“I’m glad she did,” Shouta says, breaking Hizashi out of his memories. The blond looks up at him, his eyes a little wide, as if he’d forgotten Shouta was even there. “That’s why you’re out here, right? You didn’t hide yourself away like the rest of them.”

“Yeah,” he says. “Yeah, that’s why I’m here.”

“You’ll have to tell your mother I said thank you,” Shouta smiles. “I’m glad I got to meet you, Hizashi. I...I think humans can be like the elders as well...quick to judge. I wish that more people gave you the chance to show who you really are to them.”

Hizashi nods.

“I’m glad I met you too, Shouta. I really, really am.” Hizashi gives him a big grin, but it seems disingenuous. Shouta narrows his eyes at him.

“But?” he prods.

Hizashi’s eyes shift to the side.

“But I can’t tell her thank you,” he whispers.

“She’s dead?”

Hizashi nods again.

Shouta feels like he doesn’t want to know the answer, but he asks it anyway.

“Did humans do it?”

“She was so pretty, Shouta…”

He knew what Hizashi meant by that. His stomach turns, picturing Hizashi’s mom’s tail turned into bags and garments in the market. It makes him furious.

It makes him want to march into town and burn every stall advertising mermaid goods to the ground.

He knew most people didn’t buy that stuff, he knew most of those shops existed in back alleys and on less than legal trade boats, but no one seemed particularly moved to ever shut them down.

Shouta releases his tightly clenched jaw to let out, “That’s so fucked…” before biting back down. His hands curl into fists at his sides.

“Yeah, but…” Hizashi says, moving closer to him, pushing himself into a sitting position in front of Shouta, resting his webbed hands on Shouta’s knees. “But I don’t blame them.”

Shouta’s eyes widen.

“What?”

“I don’t blame them,” Hizashi says, his eyes locked on Shouta’s. “For every hunter out there, there’s also someone good, like you. If the elders found me, they’d drag me home. They hate that I’m out here. They’d hate to see me sitting here with you.”

One of Hizashi’s hands pulls back off his knee and moves to Hizashi’s chest, running down the lean muscles and to his left hip. Shouta hadn’t noticed before, as this was the first time he’d been this close to Hizashi in shallow water, but there is a small, jagged pink scar starting on Hizashi’s human half, right beside his hip bone, and dipping down into his tail a few inches. The scales are gone, not having re-grown over the cut. The pink isn’t too noticeable with the other bright colors, but now, seeing the way his scales are parted around it, it feels like a glaring flaw.

“I got this when I was eight. I was playing with a human girl. She was kind and we were having so much fun. Her parents had a boat nearby, but they weren’t really paying attention. We told each other stories and she swam with me and I would go under the water and bring her little shells. Then her mom saw me, saw that I wasn’t human, and her dad fired a weighted net at me. I got caught in it and dragged down and cut on some rocks. It wasn’t a bad injury, and they didn’t come after me, they just wanted to get away, but I couldn’t get it out of my head,” Hizashi’s eyebrows are pulled together, his voice shaky as he speaks. “I kept seeing that mother’s face, over and over. I’d wake up at night and see her, panicked, pulling her daughter away from me. She was so afraid. Afraid of me .”

Shouta moves his hand to his knee, gripping where Hizashi’s is still placed there, urging him to continue.

“I remember my mom holding me, comforting me, and she would say, ‘Don’t blame them, Zashi,’ and how could I? They were trying to protect their baby. They didn’t understand what I was. They didn’t know who I was. They were ignorant. I got hurt because they were ignorant,” Hizashi’s gaze shifted back to his face. He looked gravely serious. “I decided, back then, that I would never stay in the cove. I couldn’t live there, in hiding my whole life like everyone else. I had fun with that girl. I think we could have been friends. You looked so angry when I told you about my mom dying...and I understand. I was angry too, Shouta...but fear is what is causing this. Sure, there are some fucked up people out there selling our skins for profit, and that’s a whole other issue, but most of the deaths that happen...human or siren...are because of fear. They happen because people don’t understand. They don’t take the time to ask me what I’m doing or who I am or what my name is...they don’t hold their gun up and wait for me to answer, they pull the trigger.”

Shouta feels like he’s stopped breathing.

“But you waited,” Hizashi says. “You saw me and you let me go. You gave me a chance, and everyone on your crew did too. When my mom was killed, I thought, how could I not blame them? How could I ever forgive them? For a second, as my grandmother pulled me back to the safety of our cove, I thought, I never want to see another human again. But that’s not what my mom would have wanted and…” Hizashi brings his other hand up out of the water, cupping Shouta’s cheek. “There are far more good people, far more people who will give me a chance, than there are bad ones. If I can get rid of that fear...that stigma...one person at a time?” Hizashi shakes his head.

“Then I’ve done right by her,” he says.

Shouta doesn’t realize he’s crying at first, until Hizashi’s thumb brushes across his cheek, over the scar there.

“I’ll help you,” Shouta whispers. “I promise. I’ll protect you. I’ll spread the word about sirens. I’ll do whatever it takes, Hizashi.”

Hizashi smiles at him.

“You’re already doing it.”

Shouta brings his hand up to where Hizashi’s is on his cheek.

“Then I’ll do more.”

Merm Hizashi resized

Painting by @Rootistabootus ❤︎❤︎❤︎