Tim’s gaze snapped back and forth as he cautiously poked his head out of his parents’ stone home deep underneath the coral reef above them. There were a few other mermaids flitting about the sea and channels between houses and businesses. He looked down and found the bodyguards weren’t below his window.
Not wasting another second, he gave a strong kick with his tail and propelled himself through the open window, swimming upwards to put as much distance between himself and the city as he could. He spotted the break in the coral and slipped inside, pressing himself out of sight as he waited for the shouts of people coming after him as his chest heaved in the water.
When he didn’t hear anything right away he peeked over the edge of the coral to the city below him. No one was even looking up as the frantic trail of bubbles from his plight dissipated. Tim chuckled to himself lightly before it turned into slightly hysterical giggles.
He grinned and gave another kick of his tail, disappearing over the top of the reef for unfamiliar waters.
Tim kept a few feet below the surface of the water so that if any ships passed by he wouldn’t be hit by them and they’d mistake him for a large dolphin or shark. Or maybe even a whale.
He slowed his pace, rolling onto his back as his tail kicked lazily at the water. He watched the sparkles of light dancing on the water from the sun and smiled, letting his eyes slide shut for a moment as he reveled in his small bit of freedom before he would no doubt have to return to a life of feeling shackled inside his home and forced into so many diplomatic endeavors.
He sighed, making a trail of bubbles drift up to the surface as he opened his eyes. He rolled back over and watched as a few fish darted past him as they moved through the water.
A dull creaking caught his attention and he frowned, looking around where he was in the water until he saw the bottom of a ship off in the distance. Tim cocked his head, wondering who had come out this far since he usually didn’t come into contact with many people.
He dove further into the water to come at the ship from below and swam towards the boat cautiously. He heard the muffled sounds of men shouting to each other. From what he could see, the ship was in decent condition, not new, but it was well-taken care of.
Tim kept right underneath the bottom of the ship and skimmed along the wood, trailing his fingers against it until he reached the stern. He kept close to the back and poked his head above the water, only revealing the top of his head and his eyes.
He looked up the rear of the ship and his vision was blocked by the rear cabin which extended out past the bottom of the stern. Tim let himself fall back slightly, easily keeping pace since the wind was not strong in the sails. He caught sight of someone’s head of dark hair over the rear banister, their red coattails flicking out as they turned on their heel.
Tim swam back under the cabin and moved over to the side of the ship. The wood was warm against the press of his hands and he peeked around the corner, looking up towards the banister.
He caught sight of a few ship hands running back and forth and someone swinging from one of the ropes up next to the sails and down to the deck before tying it off and rushing to attend to something else.
Tim cursed his narrow view of the deck and wanted to move out further to get a better idea of who was on the ship, but he knew he’d most likely be seen if he did that.
He sucked in a breath when the red coated figure approached the side banister and peered out over the sea, his hands clasped behind his back. His black hair ruffled lightly in the wind and his expression was stern as he studied the water, but Tim could see how handsome his face was regardless.
He raised above the water until his whole head was exposed, hands still pressing closely to the side of the boat. He flinched back when the figure’s head started to turn in his direction, but it wasn’t in response to him as he stopped and looked back the other way.
Tim didn’t risk raising further out of the water again, but he kept his eyes locked on the figure until he was called away.
“Captain Todd!” someone called and he turned from the rail.
“Captain Todd,” Tim whispered under his breath, eyes glued to the spot where he had been standing for what felt like an eternity.
Tim spent the afternoon flitting around the sides of the boat, keeping right next to the wood so he wouldn’t be spotted unless someone looked right over the edge. From what he could tell, the atmosphere of the ship was friendly and joyous, more then one person had broken out into a sailing shanty which the others joined in with happy voices and wide grins.
It was looking to be an excellent day for sailing with the blue skies and shining sun. The wind could’ve been better to catch the sails, but the crew didn’t seem to mind. Tim always strove to get another glance of the captain and he wasn’t disappointed.
Unlike some of the other captains on the ships Tim had watched, Captain Todd was very active on the ship and involved with his crew, not satisfying himself with staying in his cabin or behind the wheel. Time seemed to stop when he started to sing the shanties and Tim noticed nothing else.
The first rumble pulled him out of his daze. Tim’s head snapped to the horizon and slowly tilted back so he could look at the dark clouds above his head. He hadn’t noticed the clouds rolling in over their heads and the impending storm. Another rumble sounded above their heads and lightning flashed as a harsh wave pressed Tim against the side of the ship.
Tim’s stomach sank and he looked up at the ship where the jovial atmosphere had already fallen away in favor of preparing the ship for the impending storm.
“Get those sails up men!” Captain Todd shouted as he walked along the banister. “We don’t need them getting torn when we’ve just left port!”
A chorus of ‘ayes’ echoed back to him. Tim hissed when another wave pressed against him and pushed him against the side of the ship, his shoulder catching harshly on the wood. He grabbed his shoulder and blinked, looking up at the deck.
Another wave crashed against him and Tim knew he wouldn’t be able to stay at the top of the waves as the storm began, but something sunk low in his stomach. He didn’t want to leave the ship and had a strange foreboding about what was to come. He looked between the waves and the deck of the ship as more orders were shouted and people ran back and forth.
The skies opened above their heads and rain poured down to meet the crests of the waves as they reached higher and higher. To avoid being battered against the side of the ship, Tim ducked underneath the waves and kept close to the side of the ship which was no longer able to move in a straight line, left to the mercy of the waves.
The rumbles of thunder were muffled from underneath the water and Tim could no longer hear the shouts of the ship hands. He found it unnerving and broke the surface again only to be battered by rain and waves. The ship hands struggled to make themselves heard over the din and Tim barely managed to duck under one of the largest waves yet to avoid being smashed against the side of the ship.
He broke the surface again and found himself a few feet away from the ship, able to see more of the deck. Captain Todd stalked across the deck, coat flapping behind him as he waved his hands and shouted orders which didn’t make it over to Tim as another crack of thunder sounded overhead.
One of the ship hands was working at tying off the sail, struggling to stay on the slick beam as the wind whipped at his clothes. He got everything secured and turned to make his way back to the mast to climb back down.
Tim’s eyes widened as he slipped once, but managed to regain his balance. But the wind whipped up again and pulled at him, forcing him from his perch towards the hard deck below. Tim gasped as he watched him fall, but a blur of red intercepted his path and kept him from splattering on the wood.
Tim blinked and watched as Captain Todd lowered them both to the deck, a length of rope wrapped around the wrist of one hand that he’d used to swing out and stop his fall. The captain gave him a pat on the back and pushed him towards the door that led below deck.
Captain Todd walked over to the side of the ship to tie off the rope as another wave crashed into the side of the ship, water washing over the deck as it rocked from side to side.
Tim darted forward into the water as he watched the Captain slip at the rocking motion and the wet deck. He stumbled forward and flipped over the side of the ship, but still held his grip on the rope.
Another wave crashed into the ship, this time on the opposite side of the boat from the others. It crashed into the captain and pressed him against the ship. His grip held on the rope even as he slid down a little bit. Tim grit his teeth and tried to move faster, but another wave came up behind him and crashed into the ship again.
Tim watched as the captain’s form dropped into the water in front of him. He remained conscious at first, but the next roll of the water shoved him back against the ship where his head cracked against the wood. He started to sink, but Tim caught him under the arms and swam out from under the ship, bringing them both to the surface.
Captain Todd was heavy in his grip and he tried to move him back to the ship where frantic shouts sounded, but the ship was moving away from him quickly thanks to the batter of waves and he knew he wouldn’t catch up in time. He swallowed and looking down at the captain’s peaceful face.
Tim took a shaky breath and turned towards the island he knew was nearby.
Tim’s chest heaved as he struggled to push Captain Todd’s body up the beach and out of the waves. He was already being dragged down by the weight of his own tail and the lack of water, but he knew he couldn’t risk letting the captain get pulled back out to sea.
He’d remained unconscious as Tim had pulled him away from the ship and to safer ground. The edge of the storm was still over them and rain was splattering against their sea-drenched forms. The thunder was more distant now, not cracking overhead anymore.
Tim had no idea where the ship had gone and wasn’t even sure if the captain would be able to get back to his crew, but if he’d gone after the ship they both would’ve died in the fray and Tim wasn’t about to let him drown.
Tim fell into the sand next to his unconscious body and looked over him. He swallowed, thinking the body looked unnaturally still. Tim propped himself up on his elbow and leaned over the captain, lowering his ear over his mouth to see if he was breathing. Soft puffs of air hit the side of his face and Tim let out a relieved sigh.
He moved to back away, eyes roving up to the captain’s eyes. He lurched backwards at finding them open and tried to move backwards into the water but a strong hand wrapped around his wrist. Tim whimpered and clawed at the grip. The captain hissed but didn’t let go.
“Who are you? Where am I? Where’s my ship?” he hissed.
Tim opened his mouth, trying to find an explanation.
Tim shrunk back, throwing up a hand to block the blow he was sure would come.
Nothing happened for a moment and Tim blinked before lowering his hand. He found the captain staring at him, face looking shocked.
“I’m…I’m sorry,” he apologized, slowly releasing Tim’s arm. Tim rubbed at the tender skin and moved backwards, tail dragging in the wet sand.
“I‘m sorry,” he said again. “I didn’t mean to scare you, I…” he trailed off as his eyes drifted to the side. They widened when he saw Tim’s tail where a pair of legs would be on a human. “You’re a mermaid,” he breathed.
The reverence in his voice unnerved Tim and before the captain could make another move he rolled backwards and slid into the waves, having to push against the sand harshly until he was far out enough to move freely in the water.
“Wait!” the captain called after him. “Don’t go!”
Tim didn’t wait to give him another chance to catch him. For a moment it had felt like their different lives hadn’t mattered when blue eyes had met blue-green, but his reaction to Tim’s tail didn’t spell anything good. For all he knew, the captain was as bad as the collectors who’d ravaged more than one colony in the sea.
Tim slowed his speed when he was a few feet off the island. He turned around and faced where he’d just fled and raised his head above the water so his eyes were just above the water line. He could see the captain was on his feet and staring out at the water around him.
Tim couldn’t hear the sigh that came from him, but he did see the heavy movement of his shoulders. He turned on his heel and began to inspect the beach around him.
Tim kicked his tail and drifted a little closer, curious as to what the captain would do now that he was conscious on the island. He didn’t want to leave him, but he was worried about what might happen if he made himself known.
Tim darted back under the water and swam closer to the island, searching for some outcropping of rocks he could hunker down behind to keep himself hidden.
By the time night had fallen, the captain had managed to make a fire for himself on the beach that was burning brightly. He’d captured a handful of fish and was roasting them for dinner. Tim had watched him remove his coat and rolled up the sleeves of his shirt to work more easily.
When he’d moved into the water to hunt for fish, he’d taken off his boots and rolled up the pants of his legs. to move into the water. He’d sharpened a stick to a point and used it as a spear to catch the fish.
Tim had watched from a distance further out in the ocean, curious as to how he was going to survive. The captain had seemed determined in what he was doing and Tim was curious as to how he was going to survive the next few days. He obviously wasn’t going to be dying anytime soon as long as he was able to maintain a source of food.
Now that night was covering his presence, he moved closer to the beach to get a better idea of what the captain was doing. The waves moved gently against the sand of the beach, barely cresting over the body of the ocean. The captain had his head tilted back and was looking up at the sky and the stars above him. He let out a heavy sigh and turned towards the ocean.
Tim instinctively moved backwards, thinking the captain might have spotted him despite the blackness of the ocean concealing his presence. The captain sucked in a breath before he started singing low in the back of his throat. It wasn’t as upbeat and happy as the shanties the crew had been singing earlier, this was more mournful, as though he was searching for something.
Tim slipped closer, tail moving through the water. The captain continued to sing and Tim didn’t realize how close he’d gotten until his fins slapped the top of the water. He froze as the captain stopped singing. He squinted into the darkness and pushed himself to his feet.
Tim swallowed and tried to move himself backwards, pressing his hands into the wet sand to push himself backwards.
“Is someone there?” the captain asked, walking closer.
Tim pushed with more force, but his hand sank deeper into the sand and his shoulder fell forward, making a small splash which sounded loud in the silence. The captain turned in his direction and hurried forward and Tim struggled to back up enough where he could move freely, but the more he tried to move, the more his hands sunk into the sand and got stuck.
Tim took a deep breath as the captain’s feet splashed through the water and he continued to close the distance between them. He regained some of his composure and moved backwards, relieved when the sand below him disappeared and he was in deeper water and could kick his tail.
Tim looked up and caught a glimpse of recognition in the captain’s eyes before he disappeared underneath the waves and moved away to safer waters. He swam around the island to the cluster of rocks he’d found earlier in the day and nestled down between them, trying to calm his racing heartbeat.
The desperation in the captain’s voice hadn’t sounded threatening, but Tim was still nervous to get too close after what happened earlier. He looked out at the dark water in front of him and felt weirdly exposed among the rocks. As much as he snuck out during the day, he’d always usually make it back home before dark. It was unnerving being out with no place to go.
Tim wondered if maybe that was what the captain was feeling too.
He tried to shake off the uneasiness, but something shifted in the water. A quiet he wasn’t used to. Tim looked around, trying to peer into the dark water around him. He squinted and managed to make out the shape of something moving.
Tim pressed a hand against his mouth to fight the instinct to gasp and pressed closer against the rocks. His eyes widened as the being swam closer in the water around him. He tilted his head back, searching for a path of escape. He could get up and over the rocks but it would a close squeeze out of the water. Any other direction and he’d be trying to outswim a predator in open water.
As a dark tail came into view, Tim took a breath and darted around the side of the rock, hoping he’d make it far enough to run up on the beach. He only made it a few feet before something sharp lashed across his side and he let out a scream into the water around him.
Tim pressed a hand against his side and winced at the fiery pain that radiated through his side. He wasn’t sure if whatever had hit him was still following, but he wasn’t about to turn back and look. He was making quick progress for the beach. He knew he had to get out of the water to take care of his wounds and he didn’t know the area well enough to find somewhere he could hunker down until the predator fell away. And it wouldn’t happen as long as whatever it was smelled blood in the water.
He let out a pained gasp as he broke the surface of the water and fought to pull himself up the wet sand and onto the beach. He yelped as a stone pebble pressed against his side and he pulled away from it, flapping his tail as the water level became practically nonexistent underneath him.
He rolled over and looked at the water as he kept trying to push himself further from the water. A few waves still managed to reach his tail, but whatever had attacked him would have to come far out of the water to reach him and if that happened, Tim would have a chance to push himself even further backwards.
He pressed a hand against his side and when he pulled it away it was covered with blood. It would take time to heal, but it wasn’t so bad that he wouldn’t survive the injury. Merpeople he knew had suffered worse injuries than this.
“What are you?”
Tim lurched backwards, hand going back to his side to conceal the wound as he hunched over to try and conceal any sign of pain he might be expressing. He looked over and found Captain Todd standing a few feet away from him, watching him with wide eyes. Tim tried to scoot away, but he was going nowhere fast without any water around him.
“No, no wait,” he said, putting his hands up. “Don’t go, please. I’m not going to hurt you, I promise.”
Tim watched him carefully, chest heaving from a mixture of panic and pain. When he didn’t make another move, the captain lowered his hands slightly and stepped closer.
“Are you hurt?”
Tim swallowed and against his better judgement he pulled his hand away from his side and turned it towards the light of the moon so the captain could see. Before he could do anything else, the captain was kneeling at his side and pulling his shirt over his head.
Tim watched as he tore a long strip of fabric from the hem of his shirt and folded it together.
“This might hurt a little,” he said, not giving Tim time to even contemplate what he was going to do before he pressed the cloth at his side.
Tim whimpered in pain, hands going to the captain’s shoulders and spreading blood on his clean skin as his body curled in on itself.
“Shh, I’m sorry. I know it must hurt, but we need to stop the bleeding,” the captain said, softly. “What happened to you?” he muttered to himself as he caught sight of the long slashes against Tim’s side now that the blood flow was slowly starting to stop.
Tim shook his head. “I don’t know what attacked me. Something with long nails scratched me as I tried to get away.”
“You can talk?!” the captain exclaimed.
Tim’s brow furrowed. “Why wouldn’t I be able to?”
“Well, you’re…a mermaid.”
Tim raised an eyebrow. “And mermaids aren’t supposed to talk?”
“I’m getting sassed by a mermaid who can talk,” the captain muttered. “I’m starting to think I hit my head on something.”
“You did hit your head,” Tim explained, some of the tension leaving his body now that the pain was beginning to subside. “It was on the side of the ship after you fell in the storm.”
“You pulled me from the sea?”
Tim felt his cheeks heat up and he ducked his head before nodding.
“Thank you,” the captain said. “I owe you my life.”
“If you let me live then I’ll consider the debt paid,” Tim whispered.
“Why wouldn’t I let you live?” he asked, sounding genuinely confused.
“Why would you?” Tim waved at his tail. “I’m a mermaid. Don’t you know how much coin I would probably go for on the market?”
He almost wanted to slap himself because he really wasn’t helping his case by saying something like that.
The captain scoffed. “The market for sea creatures is a dirty business and one I have no interest in taking part in.”
Tim stared at him, but the captain kept his gaze on Tim’s side.
Tim poked at the fabric that was now wrapped around his stomach to cover the wound on his side.
“Leave it be,” the captain chastised from where he was seated a couple feet from him, legs crossed in the sand.
“It’s curious,” Tim huffed before letting his hand fall away. He splashed his tail in the concealed pool that was miraculously on the side of the island. Tim hadn’t been prepared to go back into the sea and he couldn’t stay out of it for too long without risking getting sick which would only make the wound on his side worse.
He chose not to think about how the captain had picked him up to get him around the island for the pool.
“What’s your name?”
Tim glanced up through his eyelashes. He swished his tail around the shallow water, wishing he could slip underneath it and hide, but he knew the captain wouldn’t be happy about him getting the fabric over his wound wet.
“Why do you want to know?”
“Well there has to be something I can call you,” the captain said. “I can’t just call you ‘the mermaid’ or ‘hey you’ or something else like that. If you tell me yours, I’ll tell you mine.”
“I already know your name,” Tim said, rolling his head to the side to give the captain a look.
He blinked, eyes going wide in surprise. “You do?”
Tim nodded. “I heard the people on your ship say it. Captain Todd,” he drawled.
He smiled and started dragging a finger through the sand, creating meaningless shapes. “I wouldn’t say that’s my name. That’s more of my official title than anything else.”
Tim’s tail paused in the water. “Oh?” he asked, trying to feign disinterest.
The captain chuckled deep in the back of his throat. The sound made Tim’s throat tighten.
“Yes. My name’s Jason,” he finally offered.
“Jason…” Tim said, testing the word in his mouth and on his tongue. He liked it. It was different.
“Yes,” he said, continuing to draw in the sand. “Can I know yours now?”
Tim hummed and looked at the rippling reflection of the moon in the pool of water his tail was moving back and forth in.
“Tim,” he finally conceded. “My name is Tim.”
“Tim,” Jason said and nodded. “Nice name.”
Silence fell between them for a few moments as they both focused on their movements while being aware of their proximity.
“After you swam off this afternoon I thought I’d never see you again,” Jason said quietly.
“I was…curious,” Tim hedged.
“I’m sensing a theme here,” he said.
Tim smiled. “I wanted to know what you would do. And you seemed…like you didn’t want to be alone.”
“Well,” Jason sighed. “I’m alone on an island with no way to get in contact with my crew. I don’t know where they are or if they even think I’m still alive. I’d welcome to have anyone around and since you saved me….I guess I was curious too.”
“Then we have something in common.”
“I guess we do.”
Tim glanced at him out of the corner of his eye. “It’s late. Shouldn’t you sleep?”
He hummed. “Maybe. Shouldn’t you?”
“Maybe,” Tim muttered.
Without any prompting Jason fell to the side and rolled onto his back, splaying his legs out into the sand in front of him and tucking his hands behind his head. He let out a long sigh and Tim could see his eyelids droop.
Tim lowered himself onto a submerged rock so the bottom of his torso was in the water, but the bandages stayed dry. He crossed his arms on the rocks and rested his head on them, keeping his eyes on Jason as he seemed to drift off to sleep.
Tim busied himself with tracing patterns against the rock, listening as Jason slowly began to snore until the sounds mixed with the lazy crashing of the ocean waves and lulled him to sleep.
Tim’s lips pulled into a smile as he felt the warmth on his skin. He absentmindedly rolled onto his back to soak up more of it, but jolted when he didn’t feel anything pressing into his back.
He sat up with a gasp, his tail accidentally disturbing the water underneath him. He looked around, reorienting himself in the pool he’d fallen asleep in the night before. He looked down at his torso and pressed a hand against the bandages that were still in place.
Tim looked up to the spot where the captain-where Jason-had fallen asleep the night before. It was empty now and he couldn’t see where he might’ve gone from his concealed position.
Tim swallowed, taking in the area around him now that the sun was up and everything was bathed in bright light. The pool he was seated in was set further back from the ocean and was part of a series of pools that bordered the beach. He was in the furthest pool back, most likely because of ease of access for Jason, and if he tried, he’d be able to get to the ocean, but it wouldn’t be the most fun to try and traverse all of the rocks. He didn’t need to get cut up any further on sharp rocks.
“Don’t tell me you’re planning on running?”
“Hm?” Tim asked, slowly dragging his gaze away form the wide expanse of water that was only a few feet away.
Jason had returned and was holding several fish in his hand, the stick he’d been using as a spear was propped over his shoulder.
He nodded towards the ocean. “You’ve got that look in your eyes. Like you’re a caged animal just looking for a way to go back. Now I don’t blame you,” he said, walking over to sit on the rocks around Tim’s pool. “But you’re still hurt and something could come after you.”
Tim looked down at where he’d drifted forward against the opposite grouping of rocks. He moved backwards and settled on the rock he’d perched on for the night before to sleep.
“I know,” he said, softly. “I’ve always felt a tug towards the water and the wide expanses that I haven’t seen yet.”
Jason chuckled. “I can understand. Being on a ship was always better than being on land and around the crowded cities. It’s freeing, like there’s nothing tying me down or telling me what to do. I don’t have to report to anyone and the only people I owe anything to are my crew.”
Tim glanced up at him and saw his distant gaze looking out at the horizon.
“You miss them,” he said.
Jason blinked and turned to look at him. He sighed and dropped his spear, turning to cross his legs on the rock and setting the dead fish next to him. He pulled out a small dagger and started to cut the fish.
“I do. I’m worried about them. Not in the sense that they can’t handle themselves. I’m sure Roy isn’t having an issue keeping everything in order. I just don’t know where they are or what happened because of the storm. As much as I want to be picked up from this island, I don’t want them spending all of their time searching for me when there’s so much more they need to do.”
He sighed. The sound of the dagger scraping against the fish was soft compared to the exhalation. “I’m capable of surviving on my own and there’s plenty of resources on this island for me. I can wait. Besides,” he added with a smile, “I’ve got to keep you out of trouble.”
“Me?” Tim asked, tail flapping indignantly in the water.
“Yes, you,” Jason said, flashing him a smile. “I have to make sure you don’t end up getting yourself killed or irritate your injuries.”
“So you’re going to play nurse until I’m better?”
Jason smiled and flipped his dagger in his hand, a piece of raw fish speared at the end of the tip. He held it out towards Tim.
“I guess I am.”
Tim blinked at the fish before Jason held it closer to him. He reached out and plucked it from the tip of the dagger before popping it into his mouth and chewing. As soon as the food hit his stomach, he realized how hungry he was. Now that he thought about it, he couldn’t remember when his last meal was.
Jason smiled and set the rest of the now skinned fish next to him before he got started on the next one. The sound of the dagger scraping along the skin consistent in the silence between them.
Tim watched carefully as Jason finished prepping the fish before he started gathering wood for a fire. He set it up several feet from where Tim’s pool was, digging a small pit in the sand to place his wood in.
Tim was quickly learning how handy Jason was with working with the elements around him and the few daggers he had on his person, seemingly having no issue in starting a flame with only a few sticks at his disposal.
Jason had given him a second fish after his first and was roasting the other two over the fire. The trail of smoke from the fire was slight and Tim doubted that anyone would be able to see if from a distance, but Jason wasn’t exactly making it so he would be seen and picked up by any stray ship around.
“How are you so good at this?” Tim asked once Jason had pulled the fish from the fire and sat down to eat.
“Hm?” he asked, looking up.
Tim waved his hand. “The island. You seem to know exactly what you’re doing.”
Jason shrugged. “I’ve been on the ocean for a long time. I’ve gotten around. Spent more than a night on an island with few resources. When that happens, you learn a few things and pick up others when you come into contact with other people.”
Tim hummed and swished his tail back and forth for a moment. “But even if that’s the case, you’re not exactly perturbed by the fact you might be stranded here forever without someone coming to pick you up.”
Jason’s smile twisted into something unclear. “I think that’s a story that might be best for another time.”
Tim checked himself, wanting to press the conversation further, but knowing it wouldn’t do him any good. And he didn’t exactly need Jason getting mad at him for poking at things he wasn’t comfortable sharing.
“Okay,” he said softly.
Jason watched him for a few moments as he picked bites of fish off the bones and chewed on them.
“About?” Tim asked.
“That you didn’t keep asking questions even though you wanted to.”
“Just because my curiosity often gets the better of me doesn’t mean I know when to keep it from getting the best of me and ruining an amiable situation,” Tim said.
Jason smiled. “I’m sensing a story here.”
“Let’s just say my mother and father were attending an important social banquet and I got into a bit of an argument with a rather corrupt politician. He got defensive and I kept throwing out evidence,” Tim said with a wave of his hand. “In the end, he ended up smashing a shell and had to be escorted out.”
“You have corrupt politicians?”
Tim’s brow furrowed. “Yeah? Why wouldn’t we?”
“I dunno, that just seems like a very…human thing to have.”
“We have organized society and culture like any other species. We can’t just live together without some way to organize our lives to ensure we’re not constantly fighting with each other.”
Jason leaned forward and tossed the first set of fish bones to the side before pulling the second fish from the stick. “So you have music? Art? Literature?”
“Music and art yes. Our choral is widely known in the seas. As for literature….books don’t exactly last in the ocean, but we have a strong oral tradition and practice.”
“Do you know any stories?”
Tim shrugged. “I might remember a few bits and pieces, but it wasn’t something I was highly invested in. I didn’t stay in the city too often, more interested in what was going on outside the reef and walls.”
“Should’ve guessed,” Jason said with a smile.
“Surely I’m not that predictable,” Tim said, almost insulted.
Jason chuckled and tossed the second set of fish bones to the side. He pushed himself to the feet and walked over to Tim’s pool, sitting down on the rocks and dropping his feet into the water.
“Have you listened to the things that come out of your mouth? Everything has been about curiosity and searching and traveling and moving. Your gaze is always towards the horizon. It’s like mine. I can indulge in music and art when I’m in port, but I don’t keep up with it from one place to the next.”
Tim watched where Jason’s feet kicked back and forth in the water, the ripples and sunlight distorting the shape and color of his skin. His own tail drifted up towards the surface of the water, the sunlight glinting off his red and gold scales. The breeze ruffled his hair. He glanced up at Jason who was looking off towards the horizon, lips ticked up in a half-smile.
Tim shifted in place.
“Stop moving,” Jason chastised and poked him in the side.
Tim flinched away. “I’m restless. I want to swim.”
Jason sighed and secured the bandage back in place. “It’s already healing really well. Give it another day and you should be fine to get back in the water.”
Tim groaned and Jason ruffled his hair. “You’ll survive. It’s not like staying in one place for another day is going to kill you.”
Tim splashed his tail in the water and tried to slip down off the rock he was perched on, but Jason kept a gentle hand on his arm to keep him from submerging in the pool.
“But it’s so boring,” he complained. “I can’t even swim around this tiny pool.”
“What do you normally do when you can’t go swimming?” Jason asked, obviously exasperated.
“Swim around my room,” Tim muttered.
Jason glared at him and Tim gestured to his tail. “I’m a mermaid, Jason! What else am I supposed to do?! I can’t exactly go exploring on this island.”
Jason hummed and looked around them. “What if I let you sit in the sand? Take you to the edge of the beach so the waves can hit your tail?”
“I guess we could try it…” Tim offered.
Jason looked more than a little relieved. He pushed himself to his feet, but paused. “You won’t try to swim off will you?”
Tim sighed. “Really?”
Jason crossed his arms. “Promise me you’re not going to try and run off.”
Tim raised an eyebrow. “Are you serious? You’re a sailor. Since when do you hold any stake in promises?”
Jason’s grin gleamed in the sunlight. “They hold stake with me because if anyone tries to cut ties to the promise they made, I won’t hesitate to shove a dagger through their heart.”
Tim swallowed. “That’s fair,” he said unevenly.
“So…promise you’re not going to run off?” Jason asked again.
“I promise,” Tim said, raising his arms. “Now get me out of this pool.”
Jason stepped down into the pool and stooped, not caring that the bottoms of his pants were getting wet. Tim wrapped his arms around Jason’s shoulders and Jason wrapped a hand around Tim’s back and underneath his tail. He stood, only grunting a little and Tim clutched to him tighter as he felt the safety of the pool disappear beneath him. Jason returned in kind and held him tightly against his chest before he stepped up and out of the pool and hit the sand.
They didn’t move too far from the pool and Jason set him down in the sand, close enough to the sea that the incoming waves washed all the way around him and barely kissed against the skin of his stomach. The feeling immediately brought a smile to Tim’s face and he flicked his tail happily, producing a muffled thump against the wet sand as the waves receded.
He let out a little laugh and ran his hands over the sand around him.
“If I’d known you were going to look that happy, I would’ve taken you out of that pool sooner,” Jason said, crouching down next to him.
Tim felt his cheeks heat up and he stared down at where his fingers were drawing shapes in the sand. “It was cramped,” he mumbled.
“Give it one more day and then you won’t just have to sit on the edge of the water,” Jason said.
Tim wiggled in place, already feeling the urge to roll into the water and swim circles.
“Ah ah ah,” Jason said, placing his hand over Tim’s that was unconsciously pressing into the sand. “You’re not done healing yet.”
Tim blinked, pulled out of the trance that was calling him to the sea. He flopped backwards onto his back, causing his hand to pull out from underneath Jason’s. He stared up at the sky with a sigh.
“I know it’s hard,” Jason said, laying back himself and putting his hands under his head. “But you’ll be back in the water before you know it. And then you can help me by catching fish.”
“And why should I help you?” Tim teased, looking over at Jason.
Jason raised an eyebrow. “Maybe because I took care of you and gave you food?”
Tim sighed and turned his gaze back to the sky. “Fine,” he said, tone filled with fake exasperation.
“Come on, come on,” Tim said impatiently.
“Just give me another minute, okay?” Jason said, hands cradling his side where his healing wound was now exposed.
Tim was itching to get back in the water, but Jason was determined to torture him for as long as possible by scrutinizing every area of the mark on his side. Finally he sighed, letting his hands drop away.
“Okay?” Tim asked, looking over at him.
He nodded. “Let’s get you in the water.”
Jason stood up and Tim didn’t even give him time to pick him up before he was dunking his head underneath the pool and settled down on the floor of the rocks and sand. He sighed and looked up at the sky and clouds that was distorted through the water.
He smiled when he caught sight of Jason standing at the edge of the pool with his hands on his hips. He couldn’t see his expression, but he knew he wouldn’t be too irritated. Tim grinned and breached the surface, hair dripping in his face.
“Don’t you want to do some actual swimming?”
Tim shrugged and raised his hands. “Of course, but I couldn’t pass the chance to dip my head under for the first time in a couple days.”
Jason rolled his eyes and stepped down into the water, wrapping Tim in his arms as he lifted him. Tim couldn’t contain his grin as he got closer and closer to the water, his tail flapping back and forth in the air below him. He wiggled in Jason’s grasp as Jason stepped into the water.
“Calm down,” Jason muttered, holding him tighter as he waded out farther.
Once the bottom of his tail was submerged, Tim pushed out of Jason’s grasp and slipped into the water. Within seconds he was far enough out where the sand had dropped away and he was in more open water. He laughed and swam in a loop, twisting and turning as the water flowed around him.
He paused and looked back towards the island, seeing Jason’s legs as he walked further into the water. Tim stuck his head above water and watched as Jason dived forward.
Tim swam back over to him and swam a circle around Jason who tried to turn in place to match his speed. He surfaced with a laugh, accidentally splashing water in Jason’s face.
“You really missed the water,” Jason said.
“That’s obvious,” Tim muttered, doing another loop around Jason. He sighed and flitted onto his back, using the bottom half of his tail to lazily help keep him afloat.
Jason matched his position, arms thrown out at his sides as he floated in the water. “This is actually kind of nice,” he said softly.
Tim turned his head and looked over at him. “Isn’t it? When was the last time you were actually in the water and not on top of it.”
“I don’t know. Maybe the last time I was on an island that wasn’t a port, but I don’t even remember when that was.”
“Come on,” Tim said before leaning backwards and dipping underneath the water, doing a flip until he was right side up. He watched as Jason slowly righted himself before ducking his head under, cheeks puffed out a little bit from the breath he was holding as bubbles slowly escaped his nose.
Tim flashed him a smile before he grabbed his hand and pulled him along behind him back towards the island. They made it a few feet before Jason had to surface for more air, but they slowly made a tour of the island so Jason could see what Tim always saw.
“Wow,” Jason said as he gasped for air when they’d almost completed the circuit. “This is amazing.”
Tim smiled and swam around him, feeling the water as it moved between his fingers. “Now you know why I was so keen to get back to it. If only you could go deeper and see the really amazing things the waves are hiding.”
“I could say the same about some of the things I’ve found on land,” Jason said.
“Then I guess we’ll never truly know what both is like,” Tim whispered.
He spluttered when a splash of water hit him in the face. Jason chuckled and tried to swim backwards, but his progress was slow compared to Tim. He ducked under the water and darted forward, wrapping a hand around Jason’s ankle to pull him under.
Jason made a noise of surprise when he was dragged under and he stared at Tim, shocked. Tim grinned and chuckled, looping around in the water as Jason watched him before swimming back up to the surface for another breath of air.
Tim broke the surface at the edge of the beach and tossed another fish in Jason’s direction to add to the small pile at his side. When he turned to swim back off again Jason stopped him.
“No more, no more,” Jason said. “If you bring any more fish, they’re only going to go bad.”
Tim shrugged and pulled himself further up onto the sand. He crossed his arms in front of him and let the waves wash over his tail.
“It’s not my fault I’m better at catching fish than you are,” Tim said.
“Only because you have an advantage,” Jason muttered.
“At least you know you’re not going to run out of food,” Tim pointed out.
Jason smiled and tossed the first fish he was finished skinning back to Tim. “Go ahead and eat while I get through the rest of these.”
Tim caught the fish in his hand and turned it over with his fingers. He pulled off a strip of meat and popped it into his mouth, propping his cheek against his fist as his eyes drifted back to Jason. Jason was sitting cross-legged, a few fish resting at his side as he prepped the food for his meal.
While Tim had been picking fish out of the water, Jason had gathered a small bundle of wood for the fire that he’d need to build for cooking.
After Tim had finished his fish he tossed the bones behind him into the water. Jason looked up at the splash and saw he was finished.
“You want another fish?”
Tim shook his head. “No, that’s all for me.”
“Oh,” he said. “Okay. Do you want to help out and skin a fish?” he asked, nodding towards the pile.
Tim shrugged. “Sure.”
Jason pushed himself to his feet and gathered the other fish into his arms before he sat down next to Tim who rolled over and sat up out of the sand. Jason passed him a fish and pulled out one of his other daggers, holding the hilt out towards Tim.
Tim wrapped his fingers around it and watched how Jason scraped the scales off the fish. He tried to mimic the way in which Jason was holding his.
“Need help?” Jason asked.
Tim hummed and tried to scrape along the side of his fish, but the action was unfamiliar with his hands.
“Here,” Jason said, setting his own fish back on the pile with his knife. He moved closer to Tim and placed his hands over where his was holding the fish and knife.
Tim swallowed as Jason pressed the edge of the blade against the fish and pressed it in a downward motion to clear off a thin line of scales. Jason repeated the motion and Tim’s eyes locked on the contrast between Jason’s weathered and calloused hands and his smaller pale hands.
“Got it?” Jason asked.
Tim fought down a shiver at Jason’s voice in his ear. He nodded and felt Jason’s hands slide off of his, but he didn’t move back to his original spot. Instead, Jason reached over and grabbed his fish and knife, resuming his work as Tim tried to repeat the motion that Jason had shown him.
After a few minutes, Jason leaned over and nudged him in the side. Tim looked up to find Jason smiling at him and he smiled back, laughing a little.
“Keep that up and I’ll go ahead and get the fire going,” Jason said, setting the pile of fish next to Tim. He slipped the other dagger into his belt and pushed himself to his feet.
Tim turned and watched Jason dig a hole before he started to build the small fire, expertly placing everything together. Tim swallowed and ducked his head, trying to focus on the task at hand even as his stomach tightened.
“Come on Jason,” Tim said, flitting around him in the water.
Jason chuckled. “Calm down,” he said, wading further into the water until it was almost at his shoulders.
The sun was shining brightly above them, only a few white clouds drifting across the sky. The waves were gentle and a breeze drifted over the water, barely ruffling the leaves of the trees on the island.
“We can’t all be mermaids like you,” Jason said.
Tim smiled and stopped in front of Jason, his tail moving gently below him. He held out his hand, palm facing the sky. Jason looked down at his hand before he raised an eyebrow and placed his hand in Tim’s.
“Deep breath,” Tim said as he swam backward before dipping underneath the water.
Jason sucked in a breath and let the water rush over his head. He blinked against the saltiness that flooded his eyes as he tried to look around. Tim smiled and pulled him along underneath the surface of the water. He pulled Jason up alongside him as a few waves rolled over their heads.
Tim frowned when his hand was tugged on and he looked over his shoulder to find Jason straightening to get another breath of air. He ducked down under again and nodded at Tim to continue forward.
Tim frowned and didn’t make a move to continue. Jason returned the frown and returned to the surface, Tim following after him.
“What’s wrong?” Jason asked.
“I was just thinking that there’s got to be a better way to do this,” Tim said.
Jason sighed. “Maybe it’s just better if I go at my own pace. That way you don’t have to let me keep going up for air.”
“Hmm…” Tim let go of Jason’s hand and dropped down underneath the water.
Jason’s feet were kicking lazily to keep him afloat. He stopped kicking and used his arms to push himself under the water, looking down at Tim. Tim smiled and sank further into the water. Jason surfaced again before he turned and kicked down to Tim, trying to swim around him as Tim did so often to him.
Tim chuckled and turned in place, tracing Jason’s progress easily. Jason smiled and awkwardly fought to keep himself from floating back up to the surface. Tim grabbed his hands and pulled him in a circle in the water before letting him go.
Jason kicked back up to the surface for another breath of air before he returned. The sunlight cut through the waves and shined off Jason’s black hair which floated around his head like a halo. Tim reached out and ran his fingers over the strands as they moved softly in the water.
Jason’s eyes widened as he watched and Tim, feeling a little bold, pressed the palm of his hand against Jason’s cheek, running his thumb over the water softened skin. Jason kicked and moved closer, eyes focused on Tim’s. He framed Tim’s face with his own hands.
Tim leaned into the touch and watched as Jason winced and looked to the surface. Tim smiled and instead of letting Jason go he filtered the oxygen out of the water so he had a breath of air held between his lips. Jason tried to pull away, but Tim leaned in, bringing their lips together.
Jason startled against him, but Tim pressed open Jason’s lips and breathed the oxygen into Jason’s mouth. Jason gasped an inhale before Tim pulled back with a smile.
Jason’s eyes were wide and his lips were parted slightly. He blinked at Tim before pointing a finger to the surface. Tim nodded and kicked his tail, pulling Jason to the surface.
Jason gasped, hair dripping into his face. His mouth moved, but no words came out.
Tim opened his mouth to apologize. “Sor-”
Before he could finish, Jason surged forward and brought their lips together again. Tim made a noise of surprise before he wrapped his arms around Jason’s shoulders and curled his tail around his waist.
Without either of them keeping themselves afloat, they sank underneath the water, twined together.
Until Jason had to surface for another breath of air.
Tim had his head pillowed on his arms. He was back in his pool, finding it comforting to have a place to sleep for the night without having to worry about any predators passing by if he was more exposed on the rocks around the island.
Jason was humming under his breath and working on building a fire to cook his dinner. The sun was already approaching the horizon and they’d spent a long day in the water flitting around the island.
Tim had never remembered a time when he’d been so happy with staying in one place. He could’ve had every opportunity to leave after his side had healed enough, but he hadn’t wanted to. Returning to his colony was the least appealing option and he wouldn’t know where else he would go in the ocean because any direction he would go in would take him away from Jason.
Jason looked up at him and smiled before his gaze moved to the horizon and he frowned. Tim furrowed his brow and looked over his shoulder, catching sight of a ship on the horizon. He pushed himself upright and drifted over to the opposite side of the rock pool.
Tim felt his stomach sink low, dread twisting his insides into something uncomfortable and nausea-inducing.
“Is that your ship?” he whispered.
Jason abandoned his small pile of wood and crossed the small bit of sand between himself and Tim’s pool. He stepped up on the rocks and walked around to the side Tim was leaning against, perching himself on the edge.
He squinted at the horizon and shook his head. “I don’t think so. It looks more like a shipping vessel.”
“That’s the first ship that’s passed by since we’ve gotten here,” Tim said.
“Or just the first we’ve been able to see,” Jason said and sighed. “I guess I’m going to have to wait to cook my dinner.”
Tim shifted, head turning in Jason’s direction.
Jason glanced down at him and smiled. “I can’t let them see the smoke from the fire. They might mistake it for a signal.” He groaned. “And I was really hungry too.”
“You mean you don’t want to leave with them?” Tim asked. “But why not? This is your chance to get off this island!”
Jason turned and faced Tim more fully, eyes leaving the horizon and staying off of it. “The only way I want to leave this island is on my own ship.”
“But why?” Tim asked.
“For one thing, my crew is the only group of people I trust and I don’t need to get caught up with anyone else, especially if it’s a government sanctioned ship. And second, why would I want to get picked up when I’ve got everything here I need to survive. And you,” he said with a smile.
Tim swallowed, feeling a blush spread across his cheeks. “I-I-uh-” he tried.
Jason chuckled and dropped his legs into the water of Tim’s pool before he slid down off the rock, having to kick his feet against the unexpected depth. Tim’s hands immediately went to his hips to keep him above water. Jason used it as an opportunity to back Tim against the edge of the rocks.
He braced his arms over Tim’s shoulders, using the edge of the pool to keep them from sinking. Tim gazed up at Jason, brain trying to make sense of what he’d been told even as he was filled with awe at the man before him.
Jason pressed forward, bringing their lips together in a gentle kiss. Tim wrapped his arms tighter around Jason’s waist, pressing their chests tightly together and Tim could swear Jason would be able to feel the pounding of his heartbeat between their chests.
Jason’s fingers tangled in Tim’s hair, tugging at the strands and forcing Tim’s head back to deepen the kiss. Tim tugged at Jason wanting him closer and closer even though there was no more space between them.
Jason broke the kiss with a gasp, chest heaving as he fought to draw oxygen into his lungs, their equally dark eyes locked together. Jason pressed his lips together and swallowed. Tim’s fingers started rubbing unconscious circles into Jason’s back.
Tim smiled and Jason returned it, a little more shaky than usual.
“Sorry if that was too-”
Tim shook his head. “Don’t apologize. Never apologize for that.”
“I guess I should get back to making dinner…”
Tim looked over his shoulder and found the ship had made a small amount of progress across the horizon. “Ship’s still around,” he murmured.
Tim looked back up at Jason and smiled. “Deep breath,” he said.
When Jason complied, Tim sank under the water, settling down on the bottom of the pool with Jason straddling his tail for the moment.
Tim swam along the side of the island lazily, following Jason’s path as he picked his way around the beaches and rocks. He tried to keep the smile from appearing that always wanted to pull at his lips when he looked at Jason, but found that he couldn’t. Happiness bubbled up inside of him and twisted his stomach happily. For once, there was no other place he wanted to go to and no other place where he wanted to be. Every other corner of the ocean would only feel like he was being pulled away from where he belonged.
Jason looked over at him and smiled as he started to climb up a rougher cropping of rocks that towered over the water where Tim came to a stop. It was an ideal place to jump from, but Tim knew that Jason would do nothing more than climb down the other side.
Tim froze when a disturbance rippled the water. He frowned, barely kicking his tail enough to keep himself afloat as he strained to listen to what was around him. There was something there, but he couldn’t tell if it was a threat or just something passing through.
“Tim?” Jason asked from where he’d stopped at the top of the rocks.
He glanced up at him and barely shook his head. Jason frowned and opened his mouth to say something else as his brow furrowed.
Tim gasped when something wrapped around the end of his tail and dragged him underneath the water.
“Tim!” Jason shouted after him.
Tim prepared to fight back, ready to wrench himself from whatever predator had made the mistake of confronting him.
Unbidden, the grip fell away from his tail and he blinked, looking down to find another mermaid below him. He registered the other two on either side of him.
“What?” he asked.
“Oh Tim, we’ve found you!”
A body slammed into him and arms wrapped around his shoulders.
“Steph?” he asked.
“You’ve been missing for days!” she exclaimed. “I thought you’d run off for good.”
“I hadn’t meant to be gone so long…” he said. He looked around at Bart and Kon.
“Now that we’ve found you, you’re going to come back with us, right?” Kon asked.
Tim’s gaze snapped to the surface, remembered Jason and how he’d left him.
“What’s up there?” Stephanie asked, eyes narrowing.
“Well, you see-”
Before he could come up with some explanation, Jason’s body broke through the water. His narrowed eyes blinked in surprise, defensive mask slipping away at the sight of four mermaids.
“Fuck,” Tim hissed.
“A human!” Steph squeaked.
“We’ve gotta go,” Bart said, grabbing Tim’s wrist.
“No, wait!” Tim said, wrenching his wrist free from their grasp.
“What do you mean, wait?” Kon asked.
Tim moved backwards to Jason even as his friends made sounds of protest. He could tell that Jason was nearing the end of his air and would need to return to the surface.
“This is Jason,” Tim said, holding out a hand.
Jason nodded at the others.
His friends stared at him, lips parted in shock. Tim sighed and caught Jason’s hand in the water before pulling him back to the surface. If he was going to be interrogated about this, he wasn’t going to let Jason drown while it happened.
Tim drifted awkwardly between the space between his friends and where Jason was standing in the softened sand closer to the beach to avoid treading water. Stephanie, Kon, and Bart were staring at the two of them and Tim didn’t even know where to begin explaining the situation.
“You can’t seriously begin to think we’re just going to leave you here,” Kon started.
“I’m here because I want to be,” Tim answered. “I saved Jason when he fell off his ship and he helped me when I was attacked.”
“You were hanging around ships again?” Bart asked, darting forward. “That’s insane man, what did you find this time?”
“Not the point,” Stephanie interrupted. “Of course you were hanging around ships again. I should’ve expected as much.”
“I lost track of time and a storm hit,” Tim said.
“You’ve got to stop being so careless,” Kon said. “And what’s this about being attacked?”
Tim rubbed a hand over his face, knowing he was doing nothing to help his case, but that they wouldn’t leave him along unless he answered their questions. “I was hunkered down among the rocks around the island, trying to settle in for the night and something attacked me. I don’t know what it was, other than it had sharp claws that had great aim at my side.”
“You could’ve come back…” Steph started.
“No, he couldn’t,” Jason interrupted, finally speaking.
Kon narrowed his eyes at Jason and crossed his arms. “And why not?” he asked.
“Because, the way Tim was bleeding, whatever had hurt him would’ve easily followed the trail. Tim either wouldn’t have been able to outswim the thing or would’ve led it right back to your city putting everyone else in danger too.”
“We have warriors who could’ve fought it off-”
Jason shook his head. “Would the risk to Tim’s safety really have been worth it?”
“And he wasn’t at risk here?” Kon scoffed.
“No, I wasn’t,” Tim interjected. “Jason got me patched up and moved me to a pool out of open water. I was safe while my wound healed and since I still don’t know what hurt me, I sleep in the pool each night to stay safe. There’s plenty of fish around here for the both of us so we don’t have to worry about going hungry.”
“But you’re better now,” Steph started. “You can come back with us.”
Tim swallowed and looked over his shoulder at Jason. Jason’s lips were thinned and he wasn’t meeting Tim’s eyes, staring across the water at Tim’s friends instead.
“I…” Tim started. “I…can’t.”
“What do you mean you can’t?” Steph asked.
“I don’t want to go back,” he said, turning to face Jason. Memories of lips pressed to his and Jason’s strong body underneath his hands came to mind. Fragments of images of them swimming around the island together flitted behind his eyes. Jason’s hand in his as Tim pulled him along. The nights on the beach. The fish they caught together. Jason’s laughter.
“I want to stay here with Jason.”
“You can’t be serious,” Kon scoffed.
“And what if I am?” Tim challenged, turning away from Jason’s shocked expression.
“Can we come visit you?” Bart broke in.
“Can we come visit you if you’re staying here?” he elaborated.
“I…sure?” Tim asked.
“Okay,” Bart said. “Let’s go guys.”
“We can’t just leave,” Kon said.
“Sure we can. We know where Tim is and we know he’s safe. That’s all his parents need to know.”
Steph looked like she wanted to continue to argue, but she looked past Tim’s shoulder at where Jason was standing. She sighed. “Okay.”
“Not you too, Steph,” Kon said.
“Bart’s right. Tim’s safe and we can come visit him. We can’t force him to come back with us, so we might as well go. But,” she said, narrowing her eyes at Jason. “If you do anything to hurt him, I won’t hesitate to drag you down to the bottom of the ocean.”
“If I did anything to hurt him, I’d go willingly,” Jason shot back.
Steph smiled. “I like this one.”
Tim watched her disappear under the waves. Bart followed first and then Kon finally dragged himself away. The water shifted behind Tim and strong arms wrapped around his stomach. He placed his hands over Jason’s and leaned back into the embrace.
The sound of Jason’s heartbeat was steady in Tim’s ear. His head was pillowed on Jason’s chest where they were laying in the sand at the edge of the beach. The waves kissed at Tim’s tail and Jason shivered when a breeze blew over their heads.
The sun was already at the horizon and normally they would’ve moved earlier so Jason would be dry and warm as night descended, but they were more than happy to stay tangled together on the beach after the day they’d spent together.
Ever since Steph, Kon, and Bart had paid their visit, Jason and Tim were more reluctant to spend larger amounts of time apart. Tim wasn’t sure if Jason thought he was going to disappear without a word and that’s why he reached out to him or if it was something else.
More than once, Tim had had a dream where he’d been pulled away from the island by something. It varied between a predator, a wave, or even the other merfolk. but he never wanted to leave Jason’s side.
The visit also reminded them of how fragile their current situation was. It could end at any time. A ship might stop by or Jason’s crew might show up and he could easily leave. There was no way that Tim would be able to follow his ship. Life in the open ocean as a nomad would be dangerous, and that wasn’t even considering what Jason’s crew would think of him. As nice as Jason had been about his origins, that wouldn’t mean the rest of his crew would feel the same way and let him off as easily.
Tim curled further against Jason, his thumb brushing against Jason’s side where his hand rested.
“We should move soon before it gets too dark,” Jason murmured, lips brushing against the crown of Tim’s head.
“Yeah…” he agreed, not making any move to get up.
Jason’s grip around him tightened, pulling him closer. “What’s on your mind?”
Tim shrugged. “It’s stupid. You don’t need to worry about it.”
“It’s bothering you, which makes it important.” Jason caught Tim’s hand in his own. “You don’t have to keep this to yourself you know. You can share it with me.”
Tim curled closer into Jason’s side, the edge of his tail pulling out of the water with his movements. Jason sighed underneath him, his hand moving to rub up and down Tim’s back.
“Remember when you asked me about how I was so good at working on the island? Like I’ve had experience with so few resources before?” Jason asked.
Tim paused and nodded.
“That’s because when I was a kid, I stowed away on a ship. I wasn’t really looking to steal anything, I just wanted to get away from my home. I was poor and there was nothing for me there. No job and I couldn’t very well steal food for the rest of my life when I was already living on the streets. So I snuck on a ship.”
Jason shifted underneath him. “It didn’t last long before I was found out. They could tell food rations were already going missing and I wasn’t the stealthiest in such a confined space. So they found me. I tried to convince them to let me work, but they said stowing away was bad enough.”
“So what happened?” Tim asked.
“We were passing by an island and they dropped anchor. I got thrown in a boat and taken to shore. Was left for dead with nothing but a cheap dagger at my disposal. They said the dagger was to end my own life if I didn’t want to starve, but it became my greatest weapon. I fought to survive, built shelter, and hunted. Eventually I got old enough where I knew I could handle myself if anyone tried to start anything.
“So I built a large bonfire and waited. It was a while before I finally saw a ship on the horizon, but it came. I got picked up and they put me to work until we reached port. I left that ship behind for a better one.”
The silence after Jason finished speaking was loud in Tim’s ears, Jason’s heartbeat steady underneath his head.
“I’m…worried,” Tim admitted.
“About?” Jason prompted.
“What’s going to happen now. Of being separated from you.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Jason said. “I’m not going anywhere.”
“But what if-”
Jason rolled onto his side, pushing Tim off his chest. He smiled and looked down at him. “If something happens, we’ll handle it when it comes. But for now, I’m going to stay on this island as long as I can. I’m going to be with you as long as I can.”
Tim let out a relieved breath and closed his eyes. Jason chuckled and pressed their foreheads together.
“You know, Tim. I think it’d be good for you if you stopped thinking so much.”
Tim smiled back. “Impossible.”
Jason grinned. “Come on. We should get you moved back to your pool and I should build a fire before it gets too dark.”
“Oh come on,” Tim said as Jason sat up and gathered him in his arms. “After what you’ve just told me, I’m sure you can build one without even looking.”
“Maybe I can, but why make things more difficult than they need to be.” He pressed a kiss to the side of Tim’s head and Tim pillowed his head on Jason’s shoulder, drinking in the closeness between them as Jason carried him back to his pool.
Jason groaned as he pulled Tim out of the pool.
“Don’t groan like I’m that heavy,” Tim said with a pout.
“I think you’ve eaten too many fish,” Jason said, jostling Tim in his grip as he stepped back down onto the sand. “Haven’t been doing enough swimming.”
“Who’s fault is that?” Tim said. “You’re the one who’s been keeping me in the pool.”
“Only because I couldn’t let you get eaten by something else,” Jason said, nuzzling the side of Tim’s head.
Tim chuckled and squirmed in his hold. He heard the light splash of Jason’s foot as it hit the edge of the waves, but Jason froze underneath him.
“Jason?” Tim asked. He raised his head and found Jason’s gaze was fixed on the ocean. His lips were parted in surprise and Tim followed his gaze, finding a ship a few miles off the coast.
“My ship,” Jason murmured.
Tim flinched in his grasp and looked at Jason and his gaze that didn’t waver from the ship and crew in front of them. His stomach turned over and all of the good feelings he’d been harboring over the past few days started to dissipate, turning sour and bitter, almost like bile.
He squirmed in Jason’s hold, the grip around him unconsciously tightening at his movements. Tim pushed at Jason’s shoulder and the change in his weight distribution caused him to fall from Jason’s grasp. He hit the sand, making a small splash at the edge of the waves. He grunted at the way his side hit the sand and he tried dragging himself forward.
“Tim?” Jason asked, his attention coming back to him.
Tim ignored him, pushing against the wet sand. His hands sank into it, giving him no ground
“Tim…” he tried again, moving to crouch down next to him.
He fought to move forward, but his hands only served to sink further into the sand.
“Tim, stop.” Jason wrapped his hand around where Tim’s was in the sand, fingers curling around to brush against Tim’s palm. “Tim, why are you crying?”
He flinched back, but Jason kept a grip on his hand, keeping him from moving too far away. Tim’s unoccupied hand went to his cheek, feeling the tear streaks that had already rolled down his face.
Jason sighed and pulled Tim into his lap, arranging his tail in the water so it wouldn’t be bent awkwardly behind his back. Tim curled into his chest and Jason wrapped his arms around him, holding him tightly against him.
“Talk to me. What’s going on?” Jason asked, rubbing a hand up and down his back.
“That’s your ship right?” Tim asked. He swallowed, trying to fight down the tightness in his throat and the anxiety that threatened to force his stomach out of him.
“Yes,” Jason answered.
“So they came back for you. They’re here to look for you,” Tim said.
“They still don’t know where I am,” Jason offered.
“But you could show them,” Tim said. “All you would need to do would be to make a fire and they would come running.”
“That’s not guaranteed,” Jason said. “They could easily write it off.”
Tim shook his head. “Not if they’re here looking for you.”
“I’m not going to leave you so easily,” Jason said.
“But they came here for you. You can’t let all of that hard work go to waste,” Tim said. Everything in him was screaming to stop talking. He didn’t need to give Jason any other reasons to leave. He didn’t need to make sure it would happen.
“They’re close, but they’re not here at this island,” Jason said. “I’m still here with you, Tim. And I don’t have any intention of leaving you behind.”
“I wouldn’t blame you if you wanted to go,” Tim muttered. He looked over at the ship where it was still making progress through the water.
Jason buried his head in the back of Tim’s neck. “Stay with me, Tim,” he whispered.
“I think I should be the one asking you that,” Tim breathed.
A light breeze ruffled his hair, but to Tim it felt more like the winds were shifting. A change was coming, but he wasn’t sure what it was going to be.
“Tim!” Jason said as he slipped underneath the water again. He chuckled, bubbles traveling up to the surface as Jason turned in the water.
He darted around Jason’s feet as they kicked lazily in the water. He reached out and dragged his fingers along the underside of his foot. Jason flinched at being tickled and he dropped under the water, giving Tim a glare.
Tim smiled and drifted further down, flicking his tail. Jason surfaced for a quick breath before he ducked back under and swam towards Tim. Tim met him in the middle and let himself get pulled into his arms. He pressed a kiss to the underside of Jason’s jaw and felt his grip tighten around him.
Tim smiled, acting as though he was going to press even closer before he shoved Jason back up to the surface. The pressure caused him to exhale and he kicked frantically to get back to the surface for air. Tim swam after him and breached the surface, swimming in a circle around him.
“Tim!” Jason scoffed,
“Aw, don’t be mad,” he said, wrapping his arms around Jason from behind. He grumbled and Tim pressed a kiss to the back of his neck.
Jason sighed, head dropping forward and Tim took the opportunity to pepper more kisses across his salt-kissed skin.
A shout in the distance had Tim stiffening behind Jason. He peeked around Jason’s shoulder and found the ship from the day before closer to the island. He gasped and shoved Jason away from him, ducking under the waves to hide.
“Tim? Tim!” Jason said, moving around to try and track him in the water.
Jason startled and looked up at the voices that he hadn’t realized had been approaching.
A deckhand was waving a hand over his head trying to get his attention. Jason looked between the water below him and the ship. Before he could make a decision on what to do, he saw someone else run towards the deckhand and pull open a telescope.
The ship was quiet before a flurry of sound erupted.
“Captain Todd! Captain Todd!”
The attention of the first deckhand and the person he didn’t doubt was Roy stopped everyone else in their tracks as they rushed to the side of the ship and fought to get a hand on the telescope. Jason turned in the water and started swimming back towards the island with a sigh.
He stumbled when the sand came up underneath his feet, having to stop himself from falling on his face with his hands forcing them to sink into the sand. He sucked in a breath, feeling gravity once again take hold. He really wanted to just curl up in the sand and wait for Tim to come back.
Instead, he pulled himself out of the waves and sat down in the sand. His ship had sailed closer before lowering it’s anchor and a smaller boat was launching off the side to row towards the island.
Jason looked over the water, hoping for some sign of Tim, but aside from the waves, the surf was unbroken by anything else. He wasn’t sure if Tim had gone to hunker down somewhere else or if he was satisfied with staying close by and hidden by the depth of the waves.
Roy didn’t wait for the boat to beach before he was jumping over the side and rushing to Jason. He stood to meet him. Roy’s body slammed into his, knocking the breath out of him.
“Easy, Roy,” he said.
“Shut it. I thought you were dead so you can take it,” Roy said.
“Yeah…” Jason said.
Roy pushed him back, holding him by his shoulders. “How the hell are you alive anyway?”
Jason ran a hand through his hair and let out a breath. “It’s kind of a long story.”
The other deckhands dragged the ship up on the beach and raced over.
“Doesn’t mean I don’t want to hear it.”
Jason looked over Roy’s shoulder and found the surface still unbroken. “I was saved.”
Roy’s brow furrowed. “How?”
“By a mermaid,” Jason said, waiting for the challenge to come.
“You were saved by a mermaid?” Roy looked out at the ocean. “And she just left you here?”
“He,” Jason automatically corrected.
“He,” Roy said slowly. “And he just left you here?”
“Not exactly,” he amended with a sigh. “We took care of each other.”
Roy must’ve seen something in his gaze because his eyes widened. He grabbed Jason by the arm and walked him away from the deckhands until they were out of earshot. It was several moments before Jason realized they were at Tim’s pool. He stared down at the water he’d come so used to seeing Tim rest in.
“What’s happened since you fell from your ship?” Roy asked.
“I love him,” he whispered, staring into the shallow pool. His eyes widened and he looked up at Roy in shock of his own statement.
Both of their gazes snapped to the water where Tim was staring at him, lips parted in shock.
“Tim,” Jason breathed, taking a step towards him. A hand on his arm stopped him and he looked at Roy with a raised eyebrow.
“So you’re telling me that this mermaid saved you from drowning in the ocean?” he asked, pointing a finger at Tim.
Tim startled as he was pulled out of his thoughts. Jason could see the desire in his eyes to sink back under the waves but he stayed in one place.
“Yes,” Jason confirmed. “And his name is Tim.”
Roy scrubbed a hand over his face and finally let Jason’s arm go.
“So this Tim saved you and brought you here and that’s it?”
Jason shrugged. “For the most part.”
“But you said you took care of each other?”
“We did. Tim got attacked in the water and I bandaged his wounds and moved him to these pools,” he said, waving his hand at what was around them.
“But you’re going to come back with us right?” Roy asked.
Jason but his lip and looked over to Tim who’d shrunk back at the question, gaze fixed on the water. To be honest, he wanted nothing more than to dive into the water and leave the question behind. It was better if he didn’t have to address it and could go on living his life without the hassle of anything else.
“You should go.”
Jason blinked. It took him a minute to realize it was Tim who’d been talking.
“What?” he asked.
Tim let out what would sound to anyone else like a sigh, but Jason could tell it was more of a shaky breath. He was trying to convince himself of something.
“You should go with them, Jason,” Tim clarified. “They came all this way to get you. You can’t just let all of that be for nothing.”
“But Tim-“ Jason said, stepping forward. The rocks at the edge of the pools were sharp underneath his feet. It was unkind. Almost as though the island was turning against him now.
“Jason,” Roy broke in.
He looked over his shoulder.
“Maybe you should leave him,” Roy added with a shrug.
“Tim, please…” Jason said, turning his attention back to the mermaid before him. He moved slowly, crossing the rocks and the pools even when Roy made a sound of protest behind him. “I told you I wasn’t going to leave you.”
Tim bit his lip and looked down at the water around him. He sucked in a breath before looking up at Jason and his stomach sank at the walls he could already see going up in his eyes.
“We both knew that was never going to last,” Tim said, trying and failing to smile. “We come from two different worlds.”
He shook his head. “Oceans separate us, Jason.“
“They don’t have to,” he was closer now, unconsciously crossing the pools that separated them. A wave crashed over his feet, sending a small shock through the tops of his feet and ankles. “We’ve come this far.”
Tim shook his head and moved backward a couple feet. He looked like he was ready to run and the slightest provocation was going to send him to the farthest corner of the ocean that Jason would never be able to find even if he tried.
Without thinking, Jason jumped from the edge of the rocks and crashed under the sea. The water was deeper here than the rest of the edges of the island. Tim’s tail flickered in the water in front of him and he dived , wrapping an arm around Jason’s waist to bring him back to the surface.
“What are you doing?” Tim asked when Jason gasped in a breath. “Jas-”
He surged forward and pressed their lips together, wrapping his arms around Tim’s shoulders. Tim pulled back with wide eyes.
“I love you,” Jason said, gaze boring deep into Tim’s eyes. “I really do, Tim and I never want to let you go.”
Tim buried his face in Jason’s shoulder and wrapped his arms more tightly around his waist, keeping him close as the movements of his tail kept them above water.
“I love you, too,” he mumbled.
“Then why are you running?”
“Because,” he said, lifting his head. “If we do this and you leave, I’ll have nothing.”
Jason pressed their foreheads together. “You’re not the only one,” he murmured.
A whistle sounded from shore and when Jason jerked back, Tim held him close. They looked over and found Roy squatting on the edge of Tim’s pool.
“What do you say we head back to the ship now, lovebirds?” he asked.
Jason and Tim shared a confused look.
“We?” Jason asked.
Roy smirked and straightened. “Bring him back around to where our boat landed alright, Tim?”
“Okay?” Tim asked even as Roy turned and started to walk across the beach.
Tim pulled Jason around the island to where Roy was waiting with the deckhands. The deckhands looked shocked when they made it to the beach and turned to say something to Roy, but he waved off any questions they might have.
“Get the boat ready to head back to the ship,” Roy instructed, setting them back to work. “Now, Jason, you’re going to come on the boat with us so Tim doesn’t have to drag you all the way back. He’ll have a much easier time swimming by himself alongside us.”
Jason and Tim shared a look where they were still in the water.
“Roy, complete offense, but what the hell are you talking about?” Jason asked.
“Didn’t I make it clear?” he huffed. “We’re all going back to the boat. You, me, the deckhands, and Tim.”
“But why me?” Tim asked.
“We can’t very well leave you here, now can we?” Roy said. “And there’s no way that Jason’s going to leave this island behind without you so the only answer is to bring you with us.”
Tim stared at him and Jason pulled out of his grip, swimming back towards the island.
“Sounds good to me,” he admitted. When he was able to stand up in the sand he turned and faced Tim. “You’re not going to run off are you? Promise you won’t?”
Tim’s surprise and confusion faded and he offered Jason a smile. “Promise.”
Jason smiled and hurried as quickly as he could to the boat that was now back in the water and floating gently on the small waves that rolled in. He climbed in and the deckhands began to row, taking them back out to their ship. Tim fell in beside the boat, ducking underneath it and rolling in the water underneath them as they made slow progress.
Jason watched the flit of Tim’s tail in the water, eyes unable to leave him even now.
“Stop staring,” Roy said, bumping their shoulders.
“Shut it,” Jason shot back, tone fond and distracted.
“God if the rest of the shiphands see you like this, they’re going to lose all respect for you. You might even have a mutiny on your hands.”
Jason rolled his eyes and looked over at Roy. “Yeah, right. Like they’d ever be able to take my ship from me.”
Roy shrugged. “This might be enough reason for them to try.”
Jason shook his head, gaze dropping back towards the water where Tim was swimming on his back next to the boat. He grinned when he caught Jason watching him, reaching up a hand to skim the edge of the water. Jason reached over the side and brushed his fingers over Tim’s.
“Captain Todd! Captain Todd!”
Jason sat back and looked up at the side of the ship they were quickly pulling up towards. It looked like all of their crew was at the railing waving hands at their arrival. He raised a hand in greeting and they started to lower the ropes to attach to the sides of the boat and the ladder for them to climb up.
“Tim!” Roy said, looking over the side of the boat.
Tim popped up out of the water a few feet away from the boat. Several of the crew stopped talking, watching Tim curiously.
“Feel like coming up to the boat or would you rather stay here?”
Tim glanced up the high side of the boat and caught the curious looks he was getting. He shook his head and shrank back into the water slightly.
The deckhands caught the lowered ropes and the boat knocked against the side of the ship. They tied off the ends so the boat was secured.
“Hey,” Jason said to catch Tim’s attention as Roy started climbing back up to the deck of the ship. “I’m not going to leave you okay.”
Tim didn’t say anything, glancing up at the ship and the crew again. Jason sighed and turned to follow the deckhands up the rope ladder. He was hoisted over the side before he even made it to the last rung and received several pats on his back.
Jason smiled at his crew and it wasn’t long before someone shoved a new shirt and boots in his hands. He slipped the shirt over his head and shoved his feet into his boots, not bothering to tie off the laces.
“How’d you survive?” someone asked.
“Yeah, we thought you’d died,” someone else added.
Jason looked around at his crew. “I don’t blame you. I wouldn’t have survived if it wasn’t for Tim.”
Curious looks were exchanged between his crew. They looked back at him, hoping for confirmation and Jason smiled. He turned and looked over the edge of the ship at where Tim was still below. Several people scrambled forward to get a look at what he was looking at.
“Everyone, this is Tim,” Jason said, waving a hand at him. “He saved me when I fell into the water.”
A moment of silence passed before a cheer arose from his crew until everyone joined in. Tim waved back shyly, uncertain of the attention.
“Bring him up!” someone shouted from the back. Yells of agreement sounded from several others.
“Yeah we want to meet him!”
Jason held up his hands to quiet them. “I’d think you would all know by now that that’s up to him and not me,” he said. Jason turned and grinned down at Tim who was still watching. He held out a hand towards Tim even though he had no way to reach across that distance. “What do you say, Tim? Would you like to meet my crew?”
Tim took a minute to look over the eager faces of the crew before he slowly nodded, causing another cheer to erupt from the everyone on the ship.
Jason practically jumped back down to the bobbing boat after seeing Tim’s nod.
“We’re going to pull you up in the boat okay?” he said, holding out a hand to Tim.
Now that he was closer he could see how uncertain Tim was, but he still nodded and reached for Jason.
“It’s going to be alright,” Jason said, getting his arms around Tim. “I’m not going to let anything happen to you.”
“Easy for you to say down here,” he said, laughing tightly.
Jason heaved backwards and managed to get most of Tim over the side of the boat. Half of his tail was still hanging over the side, but they got him tucked next to the bench with no problem.
“It’s going to be fine, Tim,” Jason said, tucking a strand of hair behind his ear. Tim stared into his eyes and Jason nodded. “I’ll be up top waiting for you and you don’t have to come out of the boat if you don’t want to.”
“Let’s do this then,” he said letting out a shaky breath.
Jason smiled and grabbed the rope ladder, climbing quickly back to the deck of the ship. He vaulted over the side and grinned at his crew. “Easy bringing him up now.”
The deckhands nodded and divided themselves between the two ropes. Roy perched between them and gave the signal to pull. Jason watched over the side and saw Tim grip the sides of the boat at the first rocking movement. Things smoothed out once he was free of the water, but he could tell that Tim was bouncing more than he would’ve liked.
Tim looked up at him and he offered a smile which Tim tightly returned.
“Tie it off!” Jason called over his shoulder when the boat had reached the railing of the ship.
Tim still gripped the sides of the boat tightly as though he was afraid he was going to start rocking dangerously and crash down from the side of the ship.
“You okay?” Jason asked.
Tim swallowed and nodded.
Jason stepped back and waved at Tim for his crew. “This is Tim,” he introduced.
They looked at him curiously. One of the deckhands rushed forward quickly. It took Tim off guard and he flinched back, but the deckhand bowed, hands clasped tightly in front of him.
“Thank you for saving our captain,” he said.
Tim stared, opening and closing his mouth several times. “I-uh-you’re welcome?”
The deckhand straightened, looking at Tim in surprise. He smiled and nodded. Several other members of the crew hurried forward to get a better look at Tim. A couple of them narrowed their eyes as though they were scrutinizing him and Tim fought not to shift uneasily at the looks.
“You know what I think this calls for?” Roy asked, stepping up behind the crew who were crowding around Tim. He clapped his hands on their shoulders.
He looked around at everyone watching him and grinned. “I think it’s about time we had a celebration!”
Cheers sounded and the crew immediately scattered, no doubt to make preparations. Roy stopped next to Jason and placed a hand on his shoulder. “See if Tim wants to hang around tonight. We can let him have some rum on us.” He patted Jason’s shoulder twice before walking off.
Jason dragged his eyes over the members of his crew working with grins on their faces. He breathed in the smell of salt on the air and let the light breeze wash over his skin. He hadn’t realized how much he’d missed being on his ship. He sighed and glanced over at Tim who was watching his crew.
Jason moved and leaned against the railing, crossing his arms over his chest.
“See?” he asked. “They’re not so bad.”
“No, I guess they’re not,” Tim admitted.
“Want to hang around for the celebration?” Jason asked. “I’m not exactly sure if one is due, but we’ll use any excuse to break out the rum.” He looked over and found Tim watching him, head pillowed on his crossed arms that were resting on the ship railing. “What?” he asked.
“Nothing,” Tim murmured. “I’m just really glad that I met you.”
“You say that now,” Jason said, smirking. “But I haven’t gotten any rum into you yet.”
“How late are these celebrations going to be?” Tim asked. “I’m not sure how long I can stay in this boat without any water.”
Jason hummed. “We can raise some pails of water for you and dump them into the boat so you’re not left dry. I’ll go hunt some down okay?” he asked.
Tim nodded and watched him go, oblivious to the glances he was getting from the rest of the crew.
Tim’s tail splashed lightly in the shallow pool of water that had been poured into the bottom of the boat he was sitting in. The crew was already singing and cheering joyfully, plates of food passed around as they drank from different bottles of rum.
Someone had pulled out a drum and was beating out an upbeat rhythm a few of the crew started to dance to, pulling each other around in circles. Tim smiled at their antics and shifted, wishing he could flip and turn and dive in the water to the rhythm instead of being stuck in one place.
“Care for a drink?” Jason asked, sliding up next to him and perching himself on the railing. He held out a metal cup and Tim could hear the distinct swish of liquid inside. He took the cup and sniffed at it. It was strong and the smell nearly burned his nose.
Jason must’ve seen something on his face because he chuckled and raised his own cup to his lips. “It’s not that bad once you try it,” he explained.
Tim cautiously lifted the cup to his lips and tilted it up. He coughed when the bitter taste hit his tongue and burned his throat. Jason chuckled longer this time.
“The same thing happened to me the first time, too,” he said.
“What is this?” Tim croaked, feeling a strange warmth spreading in his stomach.
“It’s rum,” Jason explained. “Drink more and you’ll end up like that,” he said, pointing to a man who was stumbling around on the deck looking more than a little disoriented. “Drink too much and your head will end up over the side.”
Tim grimaced and held the cup away from himself. “That doesn’t sound very good.”
“Don’t worry, this shouldn’t be enough to upset you too much as long as you don’t drink it too fast.” He took another sip of his drink. He watched Tim as he studied the drink before taking another hesitant sip. He reached out and brushed a strand of hair out of Tim’s face, dragging his fingertips along the soft skin of Tim’s cheek.
Tim looked up at him and smiled, leaning into the touch. He placed his hand over Jason’s and Jason turned his hand, linking their fingers together.
“I wish you could stay,” Tim murmured.
“This doesn’t have to be the end, Tim.”
“But you have your ship and I’m a mermaid,” he protested. “I can’t survive out of the water for long.”
“There has to be something we can do-”
Tim shook his head. “I don’t think there’s a way out of this, Jason. It was nice being on the island, but unless you somehow have a tank on your ship I can’t stay here and I’m not sure I would even want to if I couldn’t swim freely.”
Jason slid off the railing so he was on his knees. He framed Tim’s face with his hands and pressed their foreheads together. “I don’t want to leave you, Tim.”
Tim pressed forward and brought their lips together. The kiss was gentle, soft lips sliding and sucking. Jason thought it felt too much like a goodbye kiss.
“Let’s just enjoy tonight,” Tim said. “Okay?”
He shook his head. “Please, Jason. Don’t think about tomorrow. Not yet.”
A rush of sound reached Jason’s ears. Raucous laughter, pounding feet, and the intense sound of drums. Jason looked over his shoulder at his crew who were seemingly unaware of the two of them. Except for Roy. He was leaning against the mast, nursing a cup of rum. His keen eyes were on the two of them and Jason knew Roy would no doubt pull him to the side later to talk to him.
“Are you hungry?” Jason asked, finally pulling away from Tim and letting his hands fall away. “I can get you something to eat.”
Tim nodded. “If you wouldn’t mind.”
“Anything for you,” he said flashing a grin.
Tim laughed, the sound a little tense in his throat.
Jason smiled and stood from his crouch, turning on his heel to go pick over the bowls and plates of food that had been set out.
“You don’t seem too happy with the celebration,” Roy said, sidling up next to him.
Jason shrugged. “It’s not a big deal.”
“They wouldn’t blame you, you know.”
Jason paused before loading a couple bits of food into his hand. He sighed. “What are you going on about now?”
“Your crew wouldn’t blame you if you wanted to leave. We got on just fine without you and as long as they know you’re alive, they’d be more comfortable taking to the seas again.”
“I can’t just leave my ship,” he scoffed and turned back towards Tim.
He froze. Tim was staring at the people who were dancing and had a wistful smile on his face. The expression was one he hadn’t seen from him before.
“They can tell how much you care about him. You might think you’re subtle, but you’re really not. They wouldn’t blame you for staying with him.”
Jason sighed and shook his head. “I can’t just leave you guys,” he said before walking back over to Tim and leaving Roy behind.
Muffled groans sounded behind Jason on the deck. The sun was already making its way into the sky, but most of the crew was in various states of sleep from the celebrations the night before.
Tim was still sleeping soundly, head pillowed on his crossed arms. His lips were parted as he took gentle breaths. Jason brushed the strands of hair that framed his sleeping face and felt warmth spread through his chest at the sight.
Tim shifted and let out a sigh before he blinked his eyes open. His gaze immediately cleared and he registered Jason in front of him. Jason smiled at him.
“Morning,” he said.
Tim returned the smile and shifted to sit up. “Morning,” he replied, stretching his arms over his head as his back popped in several places from his unusual sleeping position.
They both flinched when the sounds of banging pots rang out behind them. Jason looked over his shoulder and found Roy gleefully making the sound. Muffled sounds of protest came from the crew who were suffering the worst of the hangovers.
“Rise and shine, limpdicks!” Roy called.
Several curses were thrown back at him.
“We can’t lay around all day,” Roy added. “This ship isn’t about to sail itself and we’ve got an ocean to explore.”
The prospect of sailing pulled most of the crew from their self-pity and they pushed themselves to their feet, ready to get to work for the day ahead.
Roy chuckled and turned away from the quickly awakening crew to face Tim and Jason. He walked over, pans hanging at his sides.
“What’s it going to be Tim?” he asked. “You want to hang around for a bit?”
Jason looked back to Tim whose smile disappeared.
He shook his head and shrunk away from the railing. “I should get going. It’s probably time for me to return to my colony.”
“Tim-” Jason started.
He shook his head more fervently, unwilling to meet his eyes. “If you’ll lower the boat to the water I’ll be able to pull myself over the side.”
Roy nodded. “I’ll get a few people to come help you down.” He turned and walked away, banging his pans again as he moved to round up a few people and wake anyone else who wasn’t pulled from sleep the first time.
“Tim…” Jason tried again.
“I have to go Jason,” he interrupted. “I can’t stay here with you. I can’t stay confined on this ship. Maybe we can see each other again someday, but that day isn’t going to be today.”
“I love you, Tim,” he whispered.
“And I love you, Jason. But love isn’t enough to solve all of the things standing between us.”
Jason stared at Tim’s face, trying to memorize every part of him even though he wasn’t meeting his gaze.
“Can I…” he swallowed. “Can I at least have one last kiss before you go?”
Tim finally met his eyes. “I would’ve asked if you hadn’t.”
Jason cradled Tim’s face between his palms. He brushed his thumbs across Tim’s cheeks. Time seemed to hang between them before Jason leaned forward and pressed their lips together. He felt something break inside of him at the thought that this might be their last kiss and that he wouldn’t know when he’d be able to see Tim again. He wondered if it was even worth it.
Jason pulled back with a sigh and watched as Tim’s eyes slowly fluttered open. He looked over his shoulder and found a small crew standing there.
“We’re ready to lower the boat at your orders.”
Jason nodded. He turned back to look at Tim. “Goodbye, Tim.”
Tim nodded. “Goodbye, Jason. Thank you for everything.”
He nodded and let his hands fall away. “At your positions,” he ordered, not taking his eyes off Tim. He could hear them move and the boat bounced when they untied the rope and secured their grip on it.
Jason swallowed and raised his hand. He lowered it slowly and the boat started to descend towards the water. Jason’s and Tim’s gazes stayed locked together until the boat hit the water.
“Stop,” Jason called to the crew. They kept their hold on the rope and Tim gave him one last look before he pushed himself over the side of the boat. He surfaced, flitting around in the open water.
“Prepare to pull the boat back up,” Jason said, raising his hand again. He lowered it and they reversed the process until the boat was back on the side and the ropes were once again secure. Tim was still in the water around the boat and Jason wasn’t sure how long he was going to hang around. A strong breeze ruffled his hair and Jason knew conditions couldn’t get any better for starting their day of sailing.
“To your positions!” Jason called. “Raise the anchor and lower the sails. We’ve got a strong wind behind us.”
His crew jumped into action and the sail had barely been lowered before it caught and they jolted forward, easily picking up speed as the ship was tended to by the crew. Tim swam alongside the ship and Jason nearly stumbled back when a realization went through him.
A hand landed on his shoulder and he looked to find Roy next to him.
“I’m sorry,” Jason blurted.
Roy shook his head.
“Take care of things for me.”
Jason looked over the side and found Tim still swimming beside the ship. He ripped his coat off and shoved off his boots. Roy pulled him into a quick hug before he stepped up on the banister. A few of the crew gave shouts behind him, but he ignored them. Roy would explain everything.
Jason ran along the railing, feet smacking against the wood before he pushed off and dived from the side of the ship.
Jason crashed down into the water in a burst of bubbles. He worked to try and right himself, but was more than a little disoriented from the drop. An arm wrapped around his waist and pulled him to the surface where he gasped and sucked in air.
“Jason, what are you doing?” Tim asked.
He didn’t bother answering. Instead, he surged forward and pressed his lips to Tim’s in a demanding kiss. Tim accepted the kiss, but eventually pushed back on Jason’s shoulders to separate them.
“I realized that I couldn’t leave you,” he interrupted. “As much as I love my ship and my crew, not knowing when I’ll see you again or if I’ll see you again wasn’t something I could bear to live with.”
“I want to stay with you. On our little island. I can easily build sturdier shelter for myself and you’ll have a place in your pool at night and plenty of space to swim during the day. And if you want to go off and explore or visit your friends then that’s fine, but just know that I’ll be there waiting for you when you come back.”
Tim stared at him, lips parted in shock. “But, but your ship…” he tried to protest.
“They can take care of themselves and they’ll probably like sailing under Roy better anyway. He’s always more willing to pull out the rum. And if they ever want to see me, they know where to come find me.”
Tim sighed and closed his eyes. He pressed their foreheads together. “You really want to stay with me?” he whispered.
“More than you’ll ever know,” Jason murmured.
They both looked up and found Roy standing on the railing of the ship. He was holding tightly to one of the ropes that ran from the side of the ship up to the mast to keep his balance. A few of the crew were standing around him, looking down at them with smiles on their faces.
“Take care of our captain for us. You two deserve to be happy!”
“Th-thank you!” he called back, waving a hand over his head.
“Bye Captain!” Someone called, waving.
“Take care, Cap!”
Jason returned the waves. “I’m not you’re captain anymore,” he called back. “Now you’ll have Roy to annoy.”
“Oh fuck you!” Roy shouted.
The crew around him laughed and Jason chuckled. Tim’s grip around him tightened and he looked over at him offering a soft smile.
“Ready to go?” he asked Tim.
Tim nodded. “You feel like swimming or am I going to do all the work?”
Jason gave one last look at his ship as it sailed past. He felt a small stab of longing pierce his heart as it crashed over the waves, but it wasn’t strong enough that he’d ever regret his decision to stay.
“Hey,” Jason said as he started paddling back towards shore.
Tim hummed, swimming on his back and lazily moving his tail as he kept up with Jason easily.
“Maybe I could build a boat to keep on the island. It would give me something to do and I could still go sailing with you.”
“You know,” Tim said, flitting in front of him so he was forced to stop swimming. “You probably could’ve just taken one of the boats from your ship. I don’t think they would’ve minded.”
“Yeah,” Jason said, wrapping his arms around him. “But where’s the fun in that?”
Tim chuckled, eyes sparkling like sunlight on ocean blue. “Where indeed?”
He looked around them and grinned. “Deep breath.”
Jason complied and Tim pulled him under. He kicked his tail with powerful strokes, sending them twisting and turning as they headed back towards the island, offering a better view than the one above water.
They made it back to the island in record time even with Jason’s breaks for air and Jason sat down heavily in the shallow water just off the beach. Tim pulled himself up next to Jason and rested his head on his shoulder, feeling comfortable and at peace as they watched Jason’s old ship sail towards the horizon.
The ocean sparkled in the afternoon light and the waves rolled in gently around them.
“You have a lot of work you should get to,” Tim murmured.
“Yeah,” Jason said. “But it can wait until later.” He wrapped his arm around Tim’s waist to keep him close. “I’ve got all the time in the world to take care of that. I want to stay here just a little bit longer.”
Tim smiled and snuggled closer to Jason more content and happy than he ever expected to be in his life.
Tim wiggled out of Jason’s arms as soon as the water was deep enough for him to swim around in it. He swam a circle around Jason, tail looping around his legs before he surfaced and wrapped his arms around Jason’s shoulders. Jason chuckled and pulled him close, pressing their lips together.
“How many fish do you want?” Tim asked when he pulled away and dropped back down into the water.
Jason hummed. “Get me two and if there’s leftovers I can save them for later.”
“Okay,” Tim said and darted off into the deeper water, searching for the groups of fish that might be circling the island. He kicked his tail lazily, enjoying his time in the water. Jason would still need to build a fire so he wasn’t in a rush to get back yet.
He twisted and turned, darting deeper once the edges of the beach dropped away to reveal the hidden parts of the sea. Tim rolled onto his back and looked up at the surface of the water and the way the sunlight broke through.
Tim froze, swallowing harshly at the shrill voice that called his name. He straightened, head drooping and shoulders heavy.
“Timothy don’t turn your back on me.”
“Do as your mother says,” a second voice added.
He turned in the water and looked at his parents. It had been so long since he’d seen them that he’d forgotten just how suffocating it was to be in their presence alone.
“It’s really about time you stopped running off like this. It’s not appropriate for a young man your age,” she tittered.
“Is there something you needed from me?” he asked. His voice sounded lifeless to his ears.
“It’s time for you to come back with us, son. We have a party coming up to celebrate a special announcement,” his father said.
“Announcement?” Tim asked, feeling dread fill his stomach.
“For your upcoming marriage of course!” his mom said, obviously exasperated.
“We’ve found a young socialite for you to marry. She’s a wonderful girl and her family is very prominent in the government. We’ve agreed that it’s an excellent match,” she continued, almost without hearing his question.
Tim’s mind went to Jason and he didn’t realize he’d moved until his parents called after him. He kicked his tail wildly, speeding back towards the beach and he broke the surface with a gasp, practically rolling the rest of the way out of the water.
“Tim?” Jason asked, surprised.
Tim started clawing at the sand, trying to get to him.
“Tim, what’s wrong?” Jason asked, dropping the firewood he was trying to stack. He rushed over to Tim and gathered him into his arms. “You’re not hurt are you?”
Tim wrapped his arms around Jason’s shoulders and pressed close. “Don’t let them take me, Jason. Don’t let them take me.”
“Who Tim? Who’s trying to take you?”
“I can’t go back with them. I can’t. I love you, Jason.”
Jason shushed him and cradled the back of his neck. “Calm down, Tim. It’s going to be okay. Can you explain to me what’s going on?”
Tim curled forward at the sound of his mother’s screech and Jason’s grip tightened around him.
“Who the hell are you?” Jason spat, glaring at the two newcomers who’d surfaced.
The woman pursed her lips together. “We are Timothy’s parents and you would do well to let him go so we can bring him home.”
“Tim?” Jason asked softly. He ran his fingers through his hair. “Can you answer a question for me?”
“O-okay,” he said, voice shaky.
“Do you want to go back with this people?”
“No. No, I want to stay here with you,” he whimpered.
“Timothy, really,” his mom huffed.
Jason shot another glare at her. “He said he doesn’t want to go. You can leave now.”
“We’re not leaving without our son,” she argued.
“Last time I checked, he was old enough to make decisions of his own and if he wants to stay, he can stay.”
“Don’t act like you know anything about our family,” she hissed. “You know nothing you filthy human.”
“I know that I love Tim and he loves me and that’s enough.”
“Love you? A human?” she scoffed.
Tim sucked in a breath through his teeth and turned in Jason’s grip, finally looked out at his mother and father who were bobbing in the water several feel away from them.
“I love him,” Tim said. “And I’m going to stay here with Jason on this island. You can’t force me to come back. Just tell everyone that I got eaten by a shark or something. I know you won’t want to feel disgraced by the real story.”
“This isn’t over,” his mom snarled, slowly backing away.
“Oh it is,” Jason called after her. “And if you even try to return and force him back to your colony, I won’t hesitate to protect him with everything I have.”
They both turned and disappeared under the waves. Tim sagged against Jason’s chest once he was certain they were gone.
“Thank you,” he murmured.
Jason ducked his head and pressed a kiss to the side of his forehead. “I’ll do anything for you, Tim. If you ever need anything, you can always come to me and I meant it when I said I’d protect you from them.”
“Can you take me back to my pool? I feel too exposed out here.”
“Of course,” Jason said, gathering him up into his arms. Tim curled into his chest as he crossed the beach to the series of his pools. He stepped into Tim’s pool and sat down on one of the rocks. Tim stayed curled against him as the waves rippled gently around them.