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Swimming in a Sea of Sharks

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Barry Allen is going to die, and he's not even scared.

Okay, that's not quite right. He's terrified.

But he's also taking notes as fast as his typing hands will let him and praying his notes will survive even if he doesn’t, because he just made the biggest marine biology discovery ever.

Mermaids!

...okay, no, that just sounds wrong.

Barry peeps out his window at the two creatures (people?) who wrecked his bathysphere and are currently dragging it onwards in their wake with the cables pulled from the top.

They are most certainly not what one would really qualify as mermaids.

For one thing, they lack the, ah, mammary glands associated with the traditional mermaid description.

Actually, wait. Barry can't assume that. They still have nipples, after all...wait, does that mean they’re mammalian? This deep down?! All of those theories about bodily integrity – not to mention the necessary chain of evolutionary development – honestly, if you throw all of that out the window, then who’s to say that they’re not females? So what if their upper bodies are patterned after the typical male human?

Or, y'know, the atypical male human.

God, they're so beautiful.

Strong and muscular and, ugh, those arms; they wouldn’t have been out of place in any of the fitness magazines Barry totally didn’t lots of spend time reading late at night when he was a teenager –

Wait: he could call them mermen!

...no, that also sounds wrong. That still gives rise to mental images of graceful long fish-tails and the background singers in Little Mermaid songs.

These are very clearly not nice peaceful fish-persons with a penchant for cutesy choral music.

These are sharks.

Barry's currently dubbed them Big and Small, even though that's something of a misnomer – with the tail included, even Small is larger than Barry is, though if you measured only from the torso up, Barry's not actually that much shorter, maybe only half a head.

That's just eyeballing it, though. Ugh, what Barry wouldn’t give for some shallow water and a few hours with his measuring tape!

Big, though, Big is...okay, Big is every single stupid football-playing jock Barry's ever unwisely had a crush on, just bigger and better built and freaking gorgeous.

His skin is lighter than Small's, a sandy brown sort of color with a subtle patterning that seems vaguely reminiscent of the tiger shark, and his lower half seems to match up with a particularly spectacular specimen of that species. On his other half, he looks human enough, if you ignore the fact that his skin on the top half is the same color as his tail, and also if you ignore the fin-like spikes on his arms that look sharp enough to cut or the gentle curving fin on his back. And then there are his hands. Broad and gentle-looking, stubby little webs between them, and – while the water is murky and makes seeing difficult – Barry is pretty sure that he has opposable thumbs.

Opposable thumbs!

Underwater!

This is so awesome!

Barry is going to make all of the evolutionary development specialists cry bitter tears!

But putting aside the thumbs, Big's human side has a physique that would make body-builders cry, some seven feet tall (if he'd been human) with broad shoulders and thick arms and chest muscles like whoa that all tapers a little into a thick, firm waist that (if he’d been human) Barry could totally visualize wrapping his legs around. Okay, yes, after that point Big’s hips widen out into a big, thick tail like a shark’s lower half, yes, there’s that, but even that’s just ridiculously attractive, all sleek muscle and rough-textured skin.

Barry used to have a thing about mermaids when he was a kid, okay? It’s not his fault he’s been conditioned to find that sort of thing kinda hot.

Not his fault at all.

And, okay, yes, Barry spends a fair bit of time staring at him, but it's totally not for selfish reasons. It's for science.

Really.

Barry swears.

Also? And this is particularly unbelievable: Big has brands scattered all over.

Actual swear-to-God-they're-real branding marks, in various shapes and figures of all sorts, like the sort you see on cows or horses in movies, except they're all over his shoulders and arms and back, scattered all the way down to his fish half, though noticeably fewer there.

Brands.

Yes, as in applied-with-fire brands, which – they’re underwater, how did they even, is that even possible

God, Barry wants to examine them so bad and this time it isn’t even slightly about his (apparently) out-of-control libido. This is strictly science: he wants to get up close and personal with them, study them, run his hands over them...

Okay, maybe the libido is a bit involved.

But not that much! Even putting aside the scientific question of how you got fire to work underwater, those brands are a sociologist’s dream: they’re a bunch of different symbols, some of which seem to repeat, and that suggest they’re not just weird-shaped burns. Not accidental. Deliberate, possibly. They might even have meaning – possibly even a form of language

Brands, holy crap.

Does that indicate Big's kind are sentient? Did Big do it to himself? Or does it mean he's been captured by humans before? If so, which ones – Barry doesn’t recognize the symbols at all, but that doesn’t mean anything; he’s American and woefully monolingual – and why hasn’t he heard about them before? And most importantly, what do the symbols mean?

Barry wants to know everything.

Honestly, just being able to study Big would be awesome enough, but nope, when it rains, it pours – or maybe more accurately, when the ocean starts coming in, it all comes in at once, because Barry is so ridiculously lucky that he’s encountered not just one unknown human-shark hybrid specimen, but two.

And here’s what’s particularly exciting to Barry’s scientist brain: Big looks similar, but (and here’s the key) not too similar to Small.

Small is –

Small is fucking beautiful.

Like, he’s ridiculously beautiful. He's nowhere near what Barry might call dainty or anything, but he's got a human torso like a Grecian statute's dream, long and streamlined, and his fingers are long and webbed and incredibly sharp, coming to claw-like points at the end. He's got no brands the way that Big does, but he's got scars, raised up white flesh that Barry can see through the limited light he's got left in his bathysphere, standing out of his dark grey flesh, all of it slick and fine-textured like a particularly smooth shark or even dolphin, and the scars fall into similar (but not identical) strange-but-repeating patterns over his shoulders, back, and torso.

He’s a bit more human in terms of his arms – he lacks the sharp elbow-spikes that Big has – but as if to compensate, he has an additional second fin on his back, lower down closer to the curve that would make up his hips if he were human.

He's also got a lot of teeth.

A lot.

Small is definitely not part of a herbivore species, let's put it that way.

Neither is Big, for that matter – they’re both sharks, duh – but there’s something about the multi-layered teeth that Small has going on that’s a bit more frightening than the glimpses he’s caught of Big’s sharp-toothed but possibly-also-containing-molars set.

So, yeah. Two different specimens – similar, but different.

Maybe they’re part of a dimorphic species, with one of them as the female, and it’s the gender differentiation that explains the physical differences? It's perfectly plausible; Barry's innate instinct to say they're both male just because they have top halves shaped like human men is totally unjustified.

And yet.

Those brands, those scars – Barry's a marine biologist, yeah, has been ever since he fell in love with the ocean all those years ago after his mom got hurt in a home invasion and his parents decided that they desperately needed to not be in Central for a few months, ending up renting out a house on the coast and letting Barry spend all his time by the sea. But he's taken a class or two in sociology since then and he's always had a fondness for language, and he swears to God that the differences in the symbols speak of different cultures, not different genders. The marks are subtly different, even where they are clearly intended to be analogues – a mark on the left shoulder seems almost-but-not-quite identical – and the method of inflicting them is totally different.

Again, this could be explained by gender differentiation, but for some reason Barry honestly doesn't think so.

Sadly, he has no way to know for certain.

They're clearly together, though, or at least Barry thinks they are from the way they sometimes twine tails, slipping over and above each other in a way that suggests sheer pleasure in each other's company, if Barry applies human standards to the gestures, or, looking at it from a more biologist perspective, possibly they’re engaged in some sort of information exchange – by touch, or maybe pheromones?

Still, Barry would bet his bottom dollar that they’re a mated pair.

Maybe they are male and female.

Though that's a rash and stupid assumption, Barry lectures himself. Same-sex relationships have been observed in numerous animal species outside of humans, and he refuses to go down in history (assuming his notes survive) as That Dude With The Heteronormative Assumptions Fucking With His Observation Skills Even Though It's The Modern Day Already.

No, sirree. Not Barry Allen.

Oh, what he wouldn’t give for a better observation space. The window of his baythosphere is not conductive to even short-term observation of a species of this size. He came down here to study fish and geological formations near the ocean floor, damnit. Maybe some crabs, some sea cucumbers, a few clams…

Not these.

(Of course, in the event that he gets back to the surface, you bet your ass he’s changing the subject of his dissertation, because this is just so unbelievably awesome.)

Well, male or female – assuming, of course, that they fall into those categories and not some strange variant like the seahorse, or one of the hermaphroditic species, or that species that is only female, or the one that changes gender as they age…huh, maybe one of them is a juvenile and the other an adult? Could the differences between them be explained as different life stages, or maybe a result of different diets?

Eh, probably not diets; the differences are way too radical to be explained that way, or at least it would be so far as science currently knows. Of course, science clearly doesn’t encompass these creatures because damnit Barry would have heard about it if anyone had found them already, surely –

Anyway, regardless of what makes them different, they're definitely working together in some sort of cooperative fashion. Big has wrapped the cable that Barry uses to dock to the main ship around his bicep and is tugging Barry along with the greatest of ease, barely slowed down by it.

He is slowed down by Small, who doesn't seem to swim faster than a slow, deliberate prowl.

That might not be the scientific way to put, but damn.

That is 100% no way, no how, no argument, definitely a prowl.

The little rolls Small does with his hips (or, again, the hip-analogue, since Barry doesn't know their anatomy) is, uh, something worth watching.

Goddamnit, Barry has no idea what’s gone wrong with his libido today. Down, boy.

On a more scientific note, Small’s spine realigns with his movements, suggesting that it's not firm bone the way human spines are. Cartilage, maybe?

Small's shark half's got features and coloring more like a Greenland shark than a tiger shark, but not quite right in the way that Big isn’t exactly quite like a tiger shark. Small's human half is particularly fascinating, though. Like Barry mentioned, his fingers end in sharp claw-like points, but what’s interesting is that they’re more brightly colored than the rest of him (bright colors – could that indicate the presence of poison sacs the way it does for tree frogs, despite the dull-colored webbing between the fingers? Would warning coloration even matter in the deep depths of the ocean where almost no light reached? If not, what was the point of the coloration? Was it vestigial? If so, vestigial from what?)

Also, while Small’s face is, as already mentioned, ridiculously beautiful – magazine covers would pay money, Barry's just saying, it’s that type of beautiful – what's really interesting is his eyes. They’re human sized, or just about, just like Big’s, but unlike Big, Small’s eyes are an unfocused cloudy white, like a blind man’s.

In fact, as they get nearer to the surface, Small's swimming – while still perfect and sleek and somehow subtly threatening – becomes more cautious, and he relies on Big more, reaching out more often as if to confirm with a touch that Big's still there.

Yes, Barry's ascribing them behavior as if they have sentience, but that's the thing – they're a brand new species! Maybe they are sentient! Who knows?!

No one does! Because they haven’t been discovered yet!

Barry has the best job ever.

Well, assuming he's not about to get eaten or something, anyway.

Or run out of oxygen. Kinda also a concern.

At least the two of them seem to be heading up towards the surface, and thanks to Small’s caution, they’re even doing it slowly enough that Barry's not likely to get the bends. With any luck, the two sharks – weresharks? No.

Mersharks!

Wait. That makes literally no sense. 'Mer' just means 'ocean'. “Ocean-sharks” is dumb and pointless and not descriptive of what’s going on here at all. 'Were' at least means 'man' in Anglo-Saxon or whatever.

But 'wereshark' just sounds so...tacky.

On the other hand, if you ignore the etymology, popular culture would probably render the phrase immediately understandable to most people: “mer” to suggest “mermaid” and “shark” to clarify that they are definitely not the sweet-smiling Disney-esque mermaids or seductive long-haired sirens of traditional legends.

Mersharks it is, then. Everyone will get what he means. Hopefully.

It's not like that would be their scientific name.

Holy crap, forget known species, do these guys even have a known phylum?! How would science even start to go about categorizing them? Is this discovery going to upturn all of taxonomy as humankind currently knows it?!

Barry scribbles that one down on the notepad he’s using to supplement his typing under the theory that maybe the electronics will die by there’s a chance he can shove the notepad into a plastic bag and throw it out for the currents to hopefully take to land.

He even adds exclamation marks. Who knows how far up the taxonomic chain they fall? At least it seems clear that they're still probably in the kingdom Animalia, not like, Plantae or something. Not with those teeth.

Who even knows, though? Sure, they could be a super weird variant of human (somehow?), or they could be a radically different creature and all the similarities are just convergent evolution (like crabs!) or they could be so different in every respect that science will have to come up with something brand new just to explain them.

The possibilities are endless.

So. Goddamn. Cool.

Barry's typing up all of his observations and writing a hard copy back-up and his hard drive and notebook are being shoved into his black box the second he thinks he's going to die or get flooded. This research has to make it back, even if Barry doesn't. Even if he suffocates or drowns or gets eaten or –

Huh, actually, now that he thinks about it, Barry wonders where they're going, the mersharks. Big certainly seems to be aiming somewhere in specific, and Small seems content to follow him, though sometimes he goes off another direction and Big has to direct him back the right way.

Maybe they're migrating?

But…why would deep undersea creatures migrate? Especially up to the surface? Are they going to the surface? Sure, they’re going upwards, but maybe just to another level? No, the upward pace is too steady – it’s definitely going to get to the surface eventually.

And if they do migrate to the surface, why hasn't anyone reported them yet?!

It turns out Barry doesn’t have to wait long for an answer as to where they’re going.

The answer is –

Some sort of cave?

Barry checks his instruments.

He’s somewhere in the mid-Pacific around the equator, and the instruments claim he’s still under sea level, technically, except for the fact that these caves seem to have some sort of bubble-like lava-esque quality and there’s definitely a water surface that they’re breaching. Maybe they’re in some sort of underground caverns under some of the islands you sometimes hear about out here, islands that never made it above the surface – that wouldn’t explain why there’s a surface under the sea level, unless some sort of weird pressure thing is going on –

Goddamn it, Barry’s a marine biologist specializing in deep sea exploration. This is not his field.

On the other hand, speaking from a purely human-interested-in-survival perspective: who cares where they are? There’s air! Glorious air!

Small seems confused by the whole 'air' concept, frowning at the surface level and prodding at it with a sharp talon. Big is encouraging him to go up through the breach, demonstrating by going up himself – pulling himself onto a rocky offshoot in the cave with his arms, then diving back in and repeating the demonstration.

Maybe their differences are age related? That doesn’t seem to correlate with the way they’ve been acting around each other, though.

Should Barry try to exit his bathysphere? He’s not too far beneath the surface.

Just at the moment that Barry thinks that, Small attempts to put his head above the surface, and then immediately shoots back down under it, hissing in displeasure. Easily the fastest he’s moved the whole time Barry’s been observing him.

He looks like a displeased cat.

…yeah, maybe Barry’ll stay under a bit longer.

To observe, you know.

Big –

Is Big laughing?

Holy crap, that’s totally laughing! Body language similar to humans, slight bend in the torso, jaws gaping, shoulders shaking – Barry hits the audio button fruitlessly. When the mersharks damaged his radio, he lost access to most external audio, so he can’t hear if the sound resembles human laughter.

Man. Laughter. Real laughter.

They must be some form of sentient creature.

Big is now touching his throat – main gill set – and then his chest, then repeating the action on Small.

Small looks deeply unconvinced.

Like, deeply skeptical. Barry can feel that ‘the fuck you on??’ vibe that Small is emitting from here.

(He’d say that also showed sentience, but to be fair, like, Iris and Eddie recently adopted a pet cat that has a similar expression a lot of the time so really that’s no guarantee.)

Eventually, Small does seem to get with the program and stick his head above the surface and –

Holy crap. Small’s chest area – narrow, fluid, gelatinous, yet strangely lovely – actually expands. There are lungs in there, lungs he’s just not been using so far – actually, that actually makes a lot of sense, there are plenty of deep-sea creatures with inflatable lungs that they use for floating purposes, and assuming a mershark is from far enough down (the coloration seems right for it) that would explain the presence of vestigial lungs, except now he’s near the surface and actually using the vestigial organ for the first time...

Barry’s having a minor science-gasm.

Okay, a major science-gasm.

This is so cool.

Barry can’t even begin to convey how cool this is.

Lungs!

Even as he watches, though, Small pulls himself out of the water, slow and steady – no hesitation now that the decision's been made, just the calm, patient sureness that's marked his actions until now.

Once he's out, he starts running his hands over the rocks, through the air, everything. He's definitely not seeing out of what Barry would recognize as his human 'eyes', which is a definitely contrast to Big, who's similarly pulled himself out of the water and seems like he's watching Small with undisguised fondness. Big clearly seems to have sight, or some sense that serves similarly – the way his head moves to follow the motion of Small's hands definitely suggests some visual method of tracking.

Maybe Small was injured?

Big seems to 'say' something, his mouth moving – curse Barry's broken radio! – and Small considers it for a few moments, then smiles.

Bares his teeth?

Big bares his teeth back and then suddenly they're both turning to look at –

At Barry.

Well, at the bathysphere.

Oh, crap, they've remembered they brought a snack.

Barry hastily shoves his laptop into the black box as the two mersharks push back off the rocks and glide menacingly towards Barry's craft.

They clamber aboard – he can hear them – and the top of the craft starts making a worrisome cracking sound.

If they want in, they're going to get in. That much is clear.

Well.

If that’s the case, then there’s no reason the very expensive piece of equipment Barry's in needs to get injured (well, further injured) in the process.

Barry scrambles up and starts opening the top from the inside.

The cracking sounds stop, almost like the mersharks have figured out what he's doing.

Oh, man, if Barry confirms that they're sentient, he won't just be a legend in marine biology circles. He'll be a hero to the entire scientific community.

The first non-human sentient species.

First contact.

Man, Barry is getting serious Star Trek vibes...

Should he start with "live long and prosper" or something?

Though given what he saw of those teeth, he might not be living and prospering for very long himself...

Still. If they're going to eat him, at least his notes are probably safe and, well, dying via being consumed by a brand new species you just discovered is undoubtedly a marine biologist's preferred way to go.

Barry pops open the top of his bathysphere.

The two mersharks peer down at him.

Barry stares up at them.

Small makes a clicking sound, deep in his throat.

Big makes a similar clicking sound, even deeper, sounding almost amused.

Barry wonders if that's how they communicate.

"Uh," Barry says. "Hi?"

Wow.

Barry is officially the world’s worst person for first contact.

Big reaches down a hand for Barry, wrapping it around Barry's wrist – the skin of the palm of his hand lacks the rough sandpaper-like texture of most sharks, though Barry suspects grabbing onto his back or sides would result in a very different sensation – and he gently tugs upwards, clicking at Small as he does.

Barry climbs up in response, more because he misses fresh air and wants to get a closer look at the mersharks than because of Big's gentle tugging, but Big's grip is firm and Barry has no doubt that he could lift Barry out of the bathysphere by the wrist if he really wanted to.

Small clicks again, and makes a rumbling sound almost like a purr.

Barry can't help but smile at him, utterly enchanted.

"Hi," he says again.

Big hums. "Hi," he rumbles back.

"Holy crap, you talk?!" Barry yelps involuntarily.

Yep. World’s worst first contact person, confirmed.

At least he didn’t accidentally proposition a Vulcan.

That’s fictional, Barry. This is real.

And he just –

Barry can’t even believe himself sometimes.

Big makes more clicking sounds, sounding incredibly amused. And then, after some consideration, he says, "You talk."

Even through his embarrassment (he’s blushing like a tomato, he just knows it) Barry can't stop smiling because stupidity and errors aside, this is still the most awesome experience in the world. "No, I mean – I meant – you can vocalize. Like humans. Apparently, anyway," he says with pleasure. And then, because he has to ask, "Are you mimicking me, like a parrot, or is it organic speech? Like, sentient speech?"

"Parrot?" Big asks, frowning.

Small clicks furiously for a moment.

Big's face clears. "Not parrot."

"Well certainly you're not a parrot, I mean, look at you, you're magnificent, both of you, you're –" Barry suddenly falters. "Wait. I didn't use the word 'not'."

"Yes," Big says, sounding amused. "Know that."

Barry starts hyperventilating.

First sentient species contact! First sentient species contact! This is not a drill! Barry’s just discovered the first non-human sentient species!

"This is so awesome," he croaks. "Please know that I think that. Just – uh – just give me a minute. Please."

He puts his head between his hands and starts taking some serious deep breaths.

There's a nudge on his shoulder.

It's Small, frowning at little at him. Possibly concern in those blind eyes.

Barry smiles shakily at him. "It's okay?" he offers.

Doesn't seem to help.

After a moment's thought, Barry reaches over and very lightly wraps his hand around Small's wrist, giving it a small squeeze the way Big has been doing when Small goes the wrong way, sort of a reassuring type gesture. "I'm okay," he assures Small.

Small looks pleased and shoots off some clicking.

"Mimic," Big says.

"What's that?" Barry asks, releasing Small’s hand, but Big isn't talking to him.

He clicks at Small, then demonstrates inhaling purposefully and, as he's exhaling, says, "Sound."

Barry's eyes go wide. "You're teaching him how to speak?"

Small shakes the wrist Barry is holding pointedly, looking a little offended. Not unlike the way Iris’ cat does, actually.

Big smiles, big and toothsome. "Not to speak," he (?) says. "To sound."

"He's never been up to the surface before, has he?" Barry asks, then quickly revises to, "Have you, I mean," directed straight at Small because he doesn't want to be rude.

But Big is already shaking his head, confirming Barry’s question. He points at Small. "Deep-dweller." He gestures at himself. "Migratory."

Holy fuck, they know complex words. In English.

This is the best day ever.

When Barry invariably wakes up to discover this has all been a wonderful dream, he’s going to be so disappointed.

Though admittedly, dreams usually don’t come with the uncomfortable situation of sitting on a rock jabbing him in awkward places...

"Just to be clear, you mean that he stays in the deep while you come to the surface sometimes?" Barry asks quickly to distract himself.

"Yes,” Big agrees. He points again to Small. “Pole-dweller. Not migratory.” Then at himself. “Mid-dweller. Migratory.”

"So cool. But how do you speak English?"

Small stirs, then, purposefully inhaling and then, somewhat garbled, says his first word. "Radio."

Barry is so proud of him for making that sound right that it takes him a second to understand – and yet another to comprehend – what Small actually just said.

"You can hear our radio transmissions and taught yourselves English from those?!"

"Yes," Small says, looking pleased with his new skill.

"Wow," Barry says. It's kind of pathetic, for first contact, but it's what he's got. "Just – wow. You guys are amazing."

Both mersharks tilt their heads to the sides and shrug their shoulders, a strange gesture that Barry is only able to interpret as preening because of the sheer overwhelming satisfaction on their faces as they do it.

Small clicks something to Big, who clicks back approvingly.

"Do you have names?" Barry asks, unsure of what they’re saying. "Mine's Barry. Uh, Barry Allen. Just Barry's fine, that's my first name, I don't know if you guys do last names..."

"Species does not use names," Small says, which – what? How?

"Nickname?" Big offers.

"Uh, sure! Nicknames are fine. Do you want me to give you nicknames, or do you have some already?"

"Mick," Big says.

"...what?"

"Mick," Big clarifies, pointing at himself. "Designation nickname."

"Wait, your nickname is Mick?” Barry asks, utterly bemused. “How did you get named Mick of all things?"

It’s so...normal.

"Orca," Mick grumbles.

Small's jaw gapes in silent laughter. Nothing aloud, which makes sense given that he's a 'deep-dweller'. Or was it ‘pole-dweller’? Or both?

"And you?"

"Leonard," Small says. “Whale gave it. Friendly.”

Mick. Leonard.

What ordinary names.

Barry has to admit, while he wasn't really expecting anything, really, "Leonard" and "Mick" were definitely not what he was expecting.

All those science fiction and fantasy books with weird names lied to him.

"Well, it's great to meet you, Leonard and Mick," Barry says, smiling broadly.

They both bare their teeth in return.

Barry is abruptly reminded that they have a lot more of those than he does.

"Uh," he says, "just to check – please excuse me if this is rude – but you're not planning on eating me, are you?"

"No," Leonard says, reaching out for Barry's hand and wrapping it around his wrist the way Barry had earlier, before he'd released it. "Not for eating.” He bares his teeth again. “Mine.”

"Uh, okay?" Barry says, because he's not sure what to say, but it makes them both beam so it must be right.

"Ours," Mick corrects, then eyes Barry expectantly.

"Okay," Barry says, more confidently this time.

"Good," Leonard says. "Now: move to the rock."

It takes a little bit of doing, but all three of them go over to the shoreline. They’re definitely some sort of underwater cave with a giant air bubble that Barry doesn't even know is possible, but it has to be because there's definitely cave above him.

The process gets him a bit splashed, but that's fine.

When they get there, Leonard reaches out and puts his hands on Barry's shoulders.

"Barry," he says.

"Yeah? Oh, man, I have so many questions for you guys -"

Leonard moves his hands up to Barry's face. "Barry."

"Uh,” Barry says, holding very still. “What's going on?"

Leonard ignores him, continuing to run his fingers very delicately over Barry's face and head.

"Mick?"

"In order to see Barry," Mick explains, gesturing at Leonard, then at his eyes. "Does not see regularly."

"Oh. He's blind? is that normal, or an accident, or..?"

"Normal for pole-dwellers."

"Got it," Barry says. "You guys, uh, don't use pronouns much, do you? I suppose if you don't have names...why don't you have names?"

"Very few," Mick says. "Recognize all others. No need for names."

Barry can't even conceive of what that must be like. They must all look very different, or else they must be very few in number indeed.

It's absolutely fascinating.

Barry shifts a little, trying to get more comfortable as he thinks of his next question, but Mick looks alarmed.

"Don't move," he instructs. "Leonard, watch the poison claws. The effect on humans is unclear."

Leonard nods, still focusing on running his hands over Barry, now down his cheeks to his neck.

He's very intense about it.

He's very attractive about it.

Barry really hopes that this isn't going to be a full body examination.

Also –

"Poison claws?"

"Pole-dwellers have claws; mid-dwellers don’t," Mick says, displaying his own blunt, rounded fingertips the same color as the rest of his skin – very different from the bright colored highlights of Leonard's claws.

"Right, right – is the difference in the markings because of that, too? His are scars –"

"Scratches," Mick agrees.

"And yours are...brands?"

"Yes."

"Okay, it's probably really obvious but – how?! Do you do it when you visit the surface?"

"No," Mick says, amused. "In the pit. Deep, deep, below even the deep-dwellers, in the middle center between the poles."

"How do you get the fire, then?"

"No fire," Mick says, though he seems regretful about that. "Use the Vents."

"The – wait, the geothermic vents from the earth's magma?! You use it to heat brands? That's so awesome. I know I keep saying it, but it is. I don't – I mean, we didn't have any idea you exist, that anything like you exists, much less so far down –"

"What is down?" Leonard asks.

"Pullsward," Mick says before Barry can exclaim again, because how do you even begin to explain the concept of down? Mick sounds vaguely long-suffering about it, too, like they’ve had this discussion before.

"Pullsward?" Barry asks.

"Pullsward towards the deep," Mick says, pointing down. "Snowsward away from the pull." He points up.

"The pull – oh! Gravity! Okay. That makes sense," Barry says, and thinks about it. "And that means snow – I guess that’d be the marine snow, falling from the upper levels?"

"Yes," Leonard says absently, and then pinches at Barry's shirt. "Purpose of layers?”

“Keeps me warm,” Barry says with a bit of a laugh. “Well, normally, not so much when it’s wet –”

“Should remove garments."

Barry freezes. He couldn't mean – that would be really awkward at this exact moment for, uh, reasons. Reasons involving two gorgeous mersharks, one of which wants to run his hands all over Barry. "Um..."

"Now," Leonard says, sounding very firm about it. "Want to see you."

Barry's doomed.

Now.”

“Fine,” Barry says. He's just going to have to willpower his way through this. Alternatively, claim that it's totally normal for human men. “But then I get a few hours with my measuring tape with both of you!”

“Deal,” Leonard says, and smiles.

Barry gulps and tries to think of something – anything – that might help get rid of his…reason to hesitate.

Being eaten alive. His parents naked. Gross dead things. Never getting his notes out there. His entire thesis committee frowning disapprovingly at him. His entire thesis committee – including Professor Wells – frowning disapprovingly at him, naked.

Okay, yeah.

Problem solved.

Leonard’s hand drifted down to settle on Barry’s hip.

...not solved.

Barry fixes his eyes on the cliff wall above Mick’s head and thinks of science.

“Why emitting more energy now?” Leonard asks.

“Blush,” Mick says, and laughs.

Unlike Leonard, his laugh isn’t silent. It’s big and bellowing and extremely attractive.

Barry is totally doomed.

He’s going to ruin the first ever encounter between their species with his stupid libido.

…well, that certainly did the trick.

(He hopes.)


"I still can't get the radio to work," Barry moans.

"Thought were using the electricity from the bathysphere to power the laptop?" Leonard asks from where he's lazily lounging in the water. He prefers to move as little as possible, whenever possible – an artifact from his life in the deep, where any unnecessary movement meant lost heat. As it was, he'd started seriously overheating once he was near the surface until he'd apparently discovered a form of venting that permitted to 'air out' more, resulting in a slightly expanded frame for his ribs and a bit of flare to his gills.

He's explained it as well as he could to Barry, who took copious notes. Plus pictures. And measurements with Barry’s trusty measuring tape. Mick and Leonard were both very good sports about it, even opening their jaws (a somewhat disturbing amount; they’ve got very flexible jaws) so that Barry could snap pictures of their sharp rows of teeth.

They’d even all gone swimming together so that he could measure how they moved in the water.

So cool.

Barry's never going to get over this, and it's been two days already.

"My friends are probably assuming I'm dead," Barry tells Leonard, who blinks at him. "Uh, reached thermodynamic equilibrium. No more life."

As far as Barry can tell, Leonard's species is very casually brilliant – having guided themselves through the waters using magnetism and gravity as their sole guides, they've developed a fairly extensive basic understanding of certain fundamental principles regarding natural forces and use it to explain things that humans usually simplify.

Of course, this applies only to some of the natural forces.

For instance, Leonard still thinks that the Sun-core, as he calls it, is little more than a smaller version of the Earth's core because both emit heat. Barry's attempts at explaining the solar system were met with a certain lack of understanding that was probably reasonable to expect in a species that lived by a "when I see it with my own two (blind) eyes" philosophy and which had never seen the night sky.

Oddly enough, though, every once in a while Leonard throws out a fact about the galaxy that is, as far as Barry knows, dead on right with modern day scientific discoveries about how the universe works...

That being said, he does keep making comparisons to waves and currents and pieces of snow when he does it, though, so it isn't always entirely clear to Barry what he means.

"Friends?" Mick asks from where he's doing something to the fish he'd caught earlier. Barry had been a bit wary about eating it raw at first – he didn't want to get sick – but Mick had wanted to show Len all the different varieties of what could be done with both fish and fire anyway, so it was okay.

He still insisted on Barry trying one particular sushi-esque recipe, assuring him it was a family recipe, guaranteed human-safe, and, well, it was delicious.

Barry still has no idea what exactly was in it, but it inspired a certain longing for more, and both he and Leonard gulped down their portions with glee.

Mick beamed at them the entire time.

"Yes, friends," Barry tells Mick. "Family-of-choice, I think you call them."

Leonard frowns. "Mates?"

"No! Cisco's like a brother to me, man. And Julian's...probably that weirdo cousin that you see every Thanksgiving and want to punch in the face, but, y'know, whatever. And there's Iris – my best friend –"

"Triad?"

"No, Leonard, not everyone is dating. Uh, mates. Mating. Not everyone is mating everyone else. There's a lot of humans, you know. I told you."

Leonard sniffs. "Clearly, humans need more predators."

"Don't get any ideas," Barry warns him, just like he has every other time Leonard has expressed that thought. "You have a sister, don't you? What would she do if she thought you were dead?"

Leonard blinks at him.

"...right, you don't see her more than once every few years, and even then by coincidence," Barry sighs. "You probably didn't even tell her you were coming to the surface. The idea of missing someone who isn’t your mate is probably a foreign concept to you. Mick, you have family, right?"

"Meet every migration," Mick confirms. "Want to punch often, like Julian."

Barry can't help but laugh. He's started to get used to their strange way of speaking, where they drop the pronouns except when they are trying to emphasize the importance of something ("mine" and "yours" being particular favorites). He thinks it might be a fault of translation, though; when they click at each other in their natural language, they're notably more fluent. Barry bets that they think they're using pronouns just fine, and that humans (at least, English-speaking humans) are just drama queens that insist on emphasizing who is doing what all the time for no reason.

Which…is probably fair, Barry’s got to admit.

“Listen, Leonard, you understand the concept of mates, right?” Barry says.

He already knows the answer is ‘yes’. Mick and Leonard are mates. That much has been very clear. Mersharks apparently do not believe in the concept of shame. Or privacy. They were quite happy to have Barry watching, actually.

Also, the pole-dweller mating dance is…seriously hot.

Give Barry a break, okay?! It’s unbelievably attractive. It’s not even awkward, given how humanoid they both look. And yes, he knows it’s not properly scientific, but damnit these are sentient humanoids of the sort that Barry maybe-kinda-sorta always had a bit of a thing for ever since he saw the Little Mermaid as a kid and drew some fairly disturbing fanart for. He’s entitled to stare.

And possibly record.

For science!

…yeah, even he’s not buying that one.

(Still, it was worth every last bit of embarrassed blushing and the fact that he’s never going to be able to explain this to anyone ever. Every last bit. It was that hot.)

“Yes,” Leonard drawls. For someone who just learned how to vocalize in a way that humans can understand, he’s gotten very good at infusing his voice with all levels of sarcasm and irony.

“Friends are like mates, but, uh, without the mating part.”

“Like at the start,” Mick tells Leonard. “Companions.”

Leonard inclines his head regally, conceding the point.

(Barry’s still not sure if nodding and shaking heads are natural mershark traits or something they picked up from humans somehow.)

Anyway,” Barry says, dragging his mind back to the subject at hand. "I need to find a way to reach them and tell them I'm okay."

"Can see next migration," Mick offers.

"When paths cross again," Len agrees.

Barry rolls his eyes. "I keep telling you, that's not how humans work! We form intense social bonds, both romantic and platonic, and we need to check in fairly regularly to keep them up. Or we worry. Especially when the person disappears under mysterious circumstances! I could go without seeing my friends for a week or two –"

Childhood summer camp experiences suggest that teary phone calls may need to be involved, but he could.

"– but not when I know they're worried about me."

The mersharks don't entirely get it, Barry can see that.

"Leonard, you'd be upset if Mick disappeared and you thought something had, I don't know, eaten him, wouldn't you?"

"Would hunt the creature that did it down and avenge."

"...right. But what if he hadn't been eaten, and he'd just gone hunting or something? You'd be upset that he didn't let you know?"

Leonard blinks very slowly. "Would know if mate were dead."

Barry sighs.

"Take this one as human-specific, maybe?" he offers. "I'm moderately sure you guys have an equivalent; I'm probably just explaining it badly."

They nod.

"Come eat," Mick suggests. "And tell more of how humans upkeep social bonds."

"I've already told you about that – we hang out, we talk, we –"

"Romantic bonds," Leonard clarifies.

"Ah," Barry says, feeling his face flush. Mostly because he's thinking of the mating dance again. "Right. Um. It's pretty individualized –"

"Tell what you would like," Mick says. He used a 'you'; that means emphasis on the subject.

"Fine, fine," Barry says, cramming down idle daydreams of dating a mershark à la Disney movie. Or at least something by Guillermo del Toro. "But then you have to tell me more about mershark courting methods."

Okay, maybe not cramming it that far down. For shame, Barry; you're a scientist.

That just means you need to record this closely.

For science.

"Will tell you as much as want," Mick says, smiling at Barry before reaching out to lightly touch Leonard on the arm, a gentle touch filled with affection.

Barry's a bit jealous.

"How'd you two meet, anyway?" he asks.

"Went to the midplace between the poles," Leonard says. "Found Mick."

"Kidnapped," Mick adds, looking fondly at Leonard.

"He kidnapped you? Is that normal? Er, I mean, traditional?"

"No. But wanted very, very much."

Mick nods in agreement.

"Well, seems like it worked out," Barry says. "Uh. FYI: Humans don't do that. Well, anymore. Nowadays we'd call the cops if someone did that and be worried sick the whole time." He sighs. "Which is why I need to get home."

"Why?"

"Because I want to see my friends and family!"

"You want," Leonard says, deliberately using the emphasis again. "Not they want. That's different."

"Can work with that," Mick agrees. "But not yet."

"No, not yet," Leonard agrees.

"Wait – are you guys agreeing to take me home?" Barry asks, brightening. That's definitely what it sounds like. He was hoping for, like, access to a crappy radio at best, but the mersharks are so considerate; it's awesome.

And really, he should've anticipated that they wouldn't care about the concerns of theoretical humans they'd never met, but still want to make sure Barry, who they have met and seem to like, is happy.

"Yes, but not yet," Leonard says. "First Mick."

"First Mick what?"

"Migration," Mick explains.

"Mig– oh," Barry's eyes go wide. "Oh. Wait. Are you here for–"

Barry looks around the cavern with new eyes. It's very large. Very, very large, with additional entrances and exits that suggest an even larger structure. Far too large for just two mersharks, one of which doesn't even regularly go to the surface.

"You're here for the migration! We're going to meet your family!"

Multiple mersharks!

"Yes," Mick agrees. "First time being mated. Introduce to my triad-mothers."

Barry blinks, distracted from the thoughts of dozens of Micks, all big and burly and hot, by a new phrase. "Triad-mothers?"

"Mersharks," Leonard says – he picked up the phrase quickly, saying that enjoying the way it sounded – with a shrug. He does that quite often with cultural differences that he finds unimportant.

"But what does it mean?"

"A relationship triad of three females," Mick says. "One of which did the bearing."

Barry blinks. "So, a lesbian threesome? Uh, sorry, ménage-a-trois?"

They blink at him.

"Never mind, I think I get it. That's a usual arrangement?"

"For migrators," Mick says. "Pole-dwellers bear alone."

He smirks at Leonard when he says that, causing Leonard to do his equivalent of eye-rolling; an inside joke of some sort.

"Pole-dwellers meet briefly for pup purposes," Leonard explains. "Or bear without meeting, sometimes; if there is no one around." He frowns. "Meeting-born pups are preferred. Dangerous to have too many pups born alone."

"Sexual versus asexual reproduction, got it," Barry says, nodding. "Parthenogenesis."

Leonard and Mick glance at each other in the way that suggests that Barry is speaking nonsense again, but that he's very cute while doing so.

Unfortunately for Barry, he's pretty sure it's the 'cats on the internet' type of cute, not, well, the type of cute he'd prefer.

“Tell me about your family, Mick –”

“No.”

“No?”

“Tell us about human romantic bonds first,” Mick says. “Information on family later.”

“Barry-specific romantic bonds are fine,” Len adds.

Barry flushes.

“Uh. Okay. So – let’s discuss ‘dating’ – again, I can’t speak for everyone, but my personal favorite type of date is –”

The mersharks smile with wide, sharp teeth.

Barry wonders why they’re so interested.


It's another day and a half before the first of the Great Migration, as Barry has dubbed it – Mick is a bit unclear why the only migration his species does needs to be called anything at all, but Barry kind of likes the idea of a name – begins to arrive.

By that point, it's not that Barry has forgotten about it so much as, well, Mick and Leonard are off mating again and invited him to watch (he thinks he was invited to watch, there was definitely some sort of invitation there and his libido immediately ran away from him) but he decided he needed to stretch his legs-slash-take a very cold shower instead.

He mostly ends up going somewhere private so he can get himself off in peace. Goddamn libido, interfering with science.

(It'd be more scientific to get an inside view of that mating ritual, you know.)

No it would not. Shut up.

(But they're so pretty...)

Shut up. Be objective. Be a scientist.

Barry is having this very fruitful conversation with himself when a hand snakes out of the water and grabs him by the ankle, pulling him in even as he yelps in surprise.

"I told you not to do that!" he exclaims. "Humans are more sensitive to shock as a result of temperature changes –"

He cuts off, staring, as he realizes the mershark in front of him is most definitely not either Mick nor Leonard.

It's older, for one thing, if the lines cutting its face into a craggy rock mean the same things as for humans. It's the same colors as Mick, but a little bigger.

And, unless Barry is mistaken about the curve of that jaw, it's female.

There are no over-developed mammaries, Barry is compelled to note. That much he’d like to make clear.

Wait, they’re a sentient species – does that mean they have gender identities? Is he being too hasty in assume that simply because his brain pings ‘female’ for this mershark the way it pings ‘male’ for Mick and Leonard that – no, wait, Mick definitely used the word 'female' at one point, but is that a real meaning or a translation issue -

The new mershark smiles.

There are many, many teeth.

Barry’s train of thought is instantly derailed.

"Oh shit," Barry says, abruptly realizing that Mick and Leonard's generous pro-science, pro-human approach might not exactly be the prevailing one. "Uh – hi? I'm a friend of –"

Mersharks don't have names, Barry suddenly recalls. Just nicknames.

Nicknames that might not make sense to anyone else.

"Mick!" Barry shouts. "Leonard!"

The mershark laughs, deep and guttural, and begins hauling Barry in.

"Help! Someone!"

Barry tries to kick at the mershark, but she bats his leg away easily and continues to pull him closer, her smile still wide and her eyes hungry.

"Heeeeeeelp!"

The mershark abruptly lets go.

Probably because Mick has just barreled into her side in what can best be described as a flying (swimming?) head-on tackle.

Next thing Barry knows, he's being hauled up backwards to the beach.

He starts to panic for a minute, then feels the gentle brush of claws against his neck – the back of the claws, of course, to avoid any injury – the way Leonard has taken to doing recently, and Barry relaxes immediately, glancing back to confirm it is, in fact, Leonard.

It is, thank god.

"Tell," Leonard says, nodding at the fighting mersharks.

"Tell you what?" Barry asks. "They're fighting."

He feels really bad. This might be one of Mick's family, they haven't seen each other in a migration, and the first thing Barry does is start a fight between them.

"Yes," Leonard says. "Think it's silly, too. What a waste of energy. But thinks it's important – fighting for a mate. To show off, understand?"

Barry takes a second to parse that. "Oh!" he exclaims. "It's a mating display for Mick's type of mershark? Showing off his prowess for his chosen mate and/or mates?"

"Yes," Leonard says. "Very important. But up here, it is hard to perceive details. Can see it – describe it."

"Uh, sure," Barry says, happy to be permitted to observe and, even better, be a part of this process. Another mating ritual – and one that’s distinct between the mid-dweller and pole-dweller varieties of mersharks! “Okay, so assuming you want a play-by-play, Mick just headbutted the other mershark in the gut, knocking her back. She just did a twist and lashed out at him with her tail. He dodges – ooh, he just did a backflip over her tail, go, Mick! – now a punch right to the kisser – uppercut – ugh, she got him with an elbow slice – no, looks like he backed off in time; now he’s lashing out with his tail – she ducks, comes up close – now they’re grappling – no, wait.” Barry frowns. “I’m pretty sure that’s a hug.”

“Cousin,” Mick says happily.

It’s definitely a hug.

Wait.

“Your cousin tried to eat me?!”

"No," Mick says.

"A little," Mick's cousin says.

Oh, look. Death glares are the same regardless of species. Though Mick's version is also accompanied by puffing himself up and flashing his elbow spikes.

"Just a test bite or two!" the cousin exclaims, glancing at Barry with a smirk.

"No test bites," Mick growls.

"Barely a nibble –"

"Humans do not handle limb loss easily," Leonard says sternly. "No test bites. Or else I will fight."

Oooh, an "I". Leonard's emphasizing himself in the sentence – either a sign of his being serious, or an implicit threat that he could kick the cousin's ass, despite being notably smaller.

Does the term 'kick your ass' really apply when your lower half is more streamlined fishperson?

The cousin clicks something rapidly to Mick, staring at Leonard, sounding more impressed than intimidated.

"Yes," Mick says, puffing up in pride and putting a hand on his heart. "Pole-dweller – mine." He nods at Barry. "Human – pursuit, mine."

Barry pauses.

Wait. Could he mean – was it possible he meant – is it possible – that he means that Barry

"Like crabs," Len adds.

...wait, what?

"Crab?" Barry asked.

"From the mud flats," Len explained. Mick is nodding. "Difficult to catch, very tricky. Or better: like kraken."

"Kraken is very impressive," Mick agreed, looking at Barry with a smile.

Barry smiles back, although he's a little disappointed, and also mad at himself for being disappointed. This is clearly just another cultural misunderstanding: they're clearly just complimenting him with comparisons to things they value highly, like some sort of metaphor. He's pretty sure he's heard of similar things in, like, Norse myth or something - although that was with insults - so it's not like there's no precedent.

It was only Barry's imagination (and overactive libidio) that made him think that they were maybe-kinda-sorta propositioning him. Or even better, pursuing him with an eye to making him part of their triad.

But no, it’s just him willfully misreading things again.

Besides, they're different species. Like reasonable and normal specimens of their species, they're curious about him, not interested in him. He's the only one with the xenophilia issue derailing his scientific work.

Not that he'd have said no if they’d really meant it. The scientific value alone -

Ugh, now Barry's thinking about publishing his sexy daydreams, which - no thanks. Not even for his beloved science.

Clearly he'll just have to stick to daydreaming. And to stop letting himself pretend that they're hitting on him! It's clearly interfering with his objective scientific analysis.

The cousin splashes Mick with her tail, but the gesture looks approving. She says something rapid in her language, Mick responding in the same.

"Speaking in English for benefit," Leonard murmurs. "Earlier."

"I guessed as much," Barry says, a little amused. "She kept smirking at me when she talked about the test bites, so it was pretty obvious that it was for my benefit. What's she saying now, though?"

"Complimenting on strange tastes," Leonard says, rolling his eyes. He likes that gesture – he says it conveys maximum meaning for minimum cost outlay. "And is explaining how met."

"I don't think you're that strange a taste," Barry volunteers loyally. "And for what it's worth, both you and Mick could definitely kick her tailfin."

"Why would..?"

"Defeat her in battle," Barry clarifies.

"Of course," Leonard says, his self-confidence implacable. He smiles. "Tell Mick. Will be very pleased. Is right; good feeling."

Barry makes a mental note to tell Mick that he, at least, was impressed. Especially if playfighting is some sort of showing-off ritual among Mick's kind; Barry doesn't want him to feel bad just because Leonard is too apex predator to really be impressed when someone is obviously kicking ass to show off for him.

It's an interesting cultural difference, actually. Presumably Leonard's pole-dwellers don't fight because they see each other rarely, and because it would be a waste of energy – while Mick's migratory mid-dwellers probably only fight when they gather up on the surface, like walruses during mating season...

Leonard slides closer to Barry, reaching out a hand and placing his palm gently on Barry's hip.

Barry swears he can feel the coolness of Leonard's skin even through his wetsuit. It feels – intimate.

Barry's pretty sure he's had make-out sessions less intimate.

"Stay with me," Leonard orders, emphasizing himself. "Will care for and protect you from others."

Barry is touched. Leonard is using pronouns for him.

"I will," he promises, but then he looks around as the splashes grow louder – more and more mersharks breaching the surface or crawling onto the rocks. "Can we explore, though?"

Leonard, who hates unnecessary movement, nods and slips silently into the water next to Barry.

Sadly, this process involves removing his hand from Barry's hip.

Oh, the sacrifices Barry makes for science...

They start moving along the shore, Leonard with his usual prowl and Barry clunkily wading through the surf at his side, head twisting around to look at everything around him.

So. Many. Mersharks!

He digs out his waterproof tablet and starts taking photographs.

"Who are?" one particularly gargantuan mershark demands, another female. This one has gorgeously clear tiger-shark lines.

Damn, Barry forgot to ask Leonard or Mick about the gender thing. Later.

"My name's Barry," Barry says. "I'm, uh, human. In case that wasn't obvious."

Leonard drawls something in clicks.

At first Barry thinks he's translating, unnecessarily, but when the mershark demands something else in clicks, he realizes that the question was addressed to them both.

Mick breaches the water next to them and pulls himself onto the beach with his strong arms, so that he's on Barry's other side. He looks proud.

Leonard hisses something and slips deeper into the water.

The female mershark follows suit.

They're glaring at each other.

"Are they going to fight?" Barry asks Mick, who nods happily. "I thought Leonard's type didn't fight to show off..?"

"Do not," Mick agrees. "But do not take challenges lightly, either."

"Your fight was awesome," Barry tells him, remembering his mental note. "Very impressive. I thought you were really cool, very powerful, very skillful."

Mick beams.

Leonard resurfaces a moment later, looking smug. The female mershark also resurfaces, looking...unconscious.

Wow.

That was quick.

And Leonard is not exactly what one would call a quick mover.

Mick clearly wasn't kidding about the whole 'not taking challenges lightly' thing.

Two other female mersharks surface next to the one that challenged Leonard, poking at her side and clicking at her until she groggily wakes up again.

Then they direct their clicking at Mick.

He clicks back rapidly, gesturing at Leonard, and then at Barry. Then he turns to Barry and says, quite proudly, "Triad-mothers."

"Wait," Barry squeaks. "These are your mothers?!"

"Yes," Mick says.

"Leonard just assaulted your mother?!"

"Won a challenge against a great opponent," Mick says proudly. "It is a great honor."

"Well...I mean…if it's a great honor...listen, if you ever meet my mother, don’t do that, okay?"

Mick grins. “Promise not to.”

One of the other triad-mothers – oh, Barry wishes they had names! – swims up closer to Barry. She clicks rapidly at him.

"Uh, sorry," he says awkwardly as she looks him up and down in a very evaluating way. If he didn't know better, he'd say she was checking him out. "I don't – I'm not really a linguist. I barely passed Spanish."

Damnit, in all the movies the protagonist learns the language in a montage. Barry can't montage!

She clicks again.

Mick says something back.

She looks approving, then – of all ridiculous things – actually shoots him a thumbs up before returning to the other mothers.

Clearly, she’s the nice one.

As opposed to the middle one, who's more combative.

And the last one is the most contemplative.

...Barry's going to mentally nickname them Mrs. Who, Mrs. Whatsit, and Mrs. Which.

That, of course, is when the conversation starts in earnest.

Conversation in the mershark language, that is. Rapid-fire clicks in multiple directions, Mick waving his hands to emphasize something, that sort of thing.

Barry takes comfort in the fact that even Leonard seems somewhat taken aback by all the talking and movement and –

Wait, he had a question.

He pokes at Leonard, who looks at him. "How do you determine gender?" Barry hisses. "Among mersharks?"

Leonard looks confused.

"You're male, right? And Mick's triad-mothers are female, right?"

Leonard nods.

"How do you determine that? Is it via some sort of reproductive system – the females bear the children?"

"Any who wish to can bear a child," Leonard says.

"...wait, really? Oh, right, I remember now; you were saying earlier about parthenogenesis, which wouldn’t make sense unless you were hermaphroditic and capable of giving birth on your own...is that true of Mick’s type of mershark, too?"

Leonard nods.

"Okay, cool, that makes sense. But then how do you, well, know? I was just guessing based on how the faces looked, and, you know, someone might look female but be male and vice versa and I don't want to mess up."

Leonard considers this.

"Worrying too much," he concludes.

"Leonard!"

"If are male, have a signal indicating it," Leonard says. "Same for females. Not really important. If a mistake is made, it will be corrected – or not. Not important aspect."

"Your species is so cool," Barry tells him. "And also wow is there going to be culture shock if/when you guys ever meet humans."

"Will meet humans," Leonard agrees. "After the migration is finished."

Barry analyzes that for a second, hoping that he's correctly reading the omitted pronoun as 'we'. "You will?" he asks hopefully. "I mean, you're not just going to, I don't know, drop me off somewhere and I'll never see you again?"

Leonard turns to face Barry, his blind eyes studying Barry contemplatively as if he just said something much more interesting than he did.

"No," Leonard says, very slowly and a few endless moments of thought. Then he puts his hand on Barry's shoulder, causing Barry shiver inappropriately again. "Mine."

Barry musters up a weak smile, trying to ignore his insane and thoroughly inappropriate libido. "You know, if you do plan to meet other humans, you should know that that term has, uh, certain connotations –"

"Quiet," Leonard says. "Watch Mick. Will talk later."

Barry shuts up and watches Mick, which is easy enough to do – over the last few days, he's gotten to know Mick well enough that he's instantly recognizable even among a whole slew of his own kind. So he can observe Mick travelling amongst his family, getting into what are now clearly identifiable as show-fights, examining fish and other seafood collected by other mersharks (presumably for dinner), and generally interacting with the several hundred mersharks that have shown up for this migration.

It's fun.

And besides, scientific observation is what Barry should be doing. He's a scientist! This is a once in a lifetime opportunity!

He should not be letting himself get distracted with implausible crushes.

Leonard keeps a hand on Barry the whole time, even when Barry breaks out the camera and the notes and the measuring tape on the vainer members of Mick's family.

They don't all look like tiger sharks, which is pretty damn cool. There's a pretty diverse coloring set going on, though Barry hasn't been able to figure out if there's any noticeable difference between male mersharks, female mersharks, and ones that identify as neither.

He can always tell, weirdly enough, just at a glance. Barry's never been great at figuring out anything about humans just by looking at them, but for some reason, he can look at a mershark and immediately knows that the one he's measuring, for instance, identifies as neither male nor female.

Maybe there really is some sort of signal they give off about it. Pheromones, maybe? But such a strange usage of them...

"Does this migration include all of the mid-dweller mersharks there are?" Barry asks Leonard, who shrugs.

"No," the mershark whose backfin Barry is currently measuring says. "Our kin-group. Several others also exist, but not here."

"Really?"

"Too many," Leonard comments with a toothy smile that suggests that he would be happy to volunteer his services to assist with a population reduction.

"Yes," the mershark says to Barry, ignoring Leonard. "Many more mid-dwellers than pole-dwellers."

"How big would you estimate your population to be, in total?" Barry asks. "How many kin-groups? Are they all this size?"

He just get shrugs from both mersharks.

"You don't care about your population generally?"

"No," they both say.

"But if there's not enough food –"

"Apex predator," Leonard reminds Barry, smiling even wider to show off his rows and rows of teeth. "There will be food."

"Overpopulation –"

"Unlikely," the mershark points out, which, fair.

"Underpopulation, then - though I guess you can do parthenogenesis so it's less important–"

The mershark laughs. "Hands will be full with this one," he tells Leonard, who smirks. "Enjoy."

"Will do," Leonard says, even as the other mershark flips tail and dives back into deeper water.

"What does that mean?" Barry complains. "And why is everyone congratulating me? You and Mick, I get that, you're just recently mated, right? But why me?"

"Will explain," Leonard says. "Later tonight. Did not realize confusion: will be more clear as to intentions."

For some reason, the way Leonard says that makes Barry shiver again.

It also makes it increasingly hard to focus on his scientific observations, or at least it does until the mersharks proceed to drill a hole into one of the little island until there's a loud hiss of smoke and heat and holy crap did they just make a miniature volcano?

And are using it to make food?!

"Pulling up core life," Leonard mutters with some disapproval. "Waste! Better to eat it directly."

Leonard, Barry has learned, has some strange views about heat.

But he still follows Barry when Barry goes to investigate the cooking, making sure one of his hands is on him at all times like he's afraid Barry will get lost.

The mini-volcanos are half firework, half cooking tool, Barry learns, and once it is created a whole bunch of mersharks (including Mick) get busy making a whole bunch of food very rapidly.

And then there is a feast.

What a feast.

What food.

Leonard even removes his hand from Barry so as to better stuff his mouth full, not that Barry (also shoveling food in) has any room to talk.

Mick looks extremely proud.

Barry initially thinks that that's the end of it, and that he'll get the explanation Leonard promised, but no – apparently there are performances after the feast, which is probably really awesome and cool, but which Barry doesn't get. At all.

In fairness, he also doesn't get most human theater either, so maybe it's just him.

He's yawning by the middle of it, even though he desperately tries not to – so much cool scientific observations possible! He needs to keep going! Where's his adrenaline gone? – but Mick doesn't seem offended, leading both Barry and Len to a little dip in the incline by the cliff, just a little above the water line, that's clearly been decorated with all sorts of soft moss and seaweed and such.

It feels like falling into a feather bed after a week of sleeping in his bathysphere.

Barry's out like a light within minutes.

And when he wakes up – only a few hours later, he thinks, or at least the sound of performances is still on-going – he finds –

"Um," he says. He's got Mick draped around his back, letting Barry lean his back against his strong chest, and Barry himself seems to have wrapped an arm around Leonard, who's snuggled in equally close from the front.

"Awake now," Leonard reports, unnecessarily in Barry's view. "Give the box."

Mick shifts a little, stretching to get something without pulling away, and then puts a box into Barry's hands.

Barry's first thought upon feeling the plastic finish is the crazy idea that mersharks somehow developed manufacturing capability, but no – it's a human-made box, wrapped in plastic to show it's still unopened (and undoubtedly helping with the waterproofing) and it's –

"Chocolate?" Barry asks, surprised. "But you didn't know what chocolate even was a few days ago!"

"Explained," Mick says. "Cousin obtained the box when asked."

That seems like rather a lot of effort to go to.

"Worth it," Leonard murmurs. "Need to resolve a certain – misapprehension."

"Oh?"

"The chocolate is for Barry," Mick says, emphasizing Barry's name.

"Uh, thanks, I guess –"

"Barry indicated that chocolate was used in human courting rituals. Correct?"

"Huh? Oh, yeah –"

"Chocolate is for Barry," Mick says again, his voice at a low rumble.

They can't mean what Barry keeps thinking they mean.

"Invitation is for Barry," Leonard agrees.

...can they?

"But – uh – okay, listen. You two are mates, right?"

They nod.

"Then why would you be giving me a romantic courtship gesture if –?"

"Proposing a triad," Leonard says patiently. "Barry, Mick, Leonard. Have been inviting to join courting dance for days, but it seems like offer was misunderstood."

Holy crap, they really are! This is a proposition! To mate! With him!

Holy crap!

"I – uh – I mean – I’m honored – I – it would be unprofessional of me –"

Mick leans forward and nuzzles Barry's neck. Barry loses his train of thought for a moment, but rallies.

"Is it just because I'm the first human you've seen –"

"No," Leonard says. "Just want you."

"Won't force you," Mick says. "But want you. Do you want us?"

Barry's entire body feels like it's going into somewhere between gibbering shut down and 'yes take me now' lust.

"Well?" Leonard asks, as calm and intent on Barry as always.

"I mean – what does it entail?"

They both give him pointed looks, and Barry blushes. "I mean, is it short term, long term..? I don't want to get anything wrong – I mean, that is, if I agree. Because that's an if. Obviously."

God, he's hopeless.

Leonard smiles and runs a slinky hand up Barry's side. Slinkily. Which is unfair because a slinky Len does things to Barry.

As does the smoldering look Mick is giving him.

"Details can always be renegotiated," Mick says comfortingly. "Can start together, figure out details later."

"Yes," Leonard says. "But if agree, then until indicate otherwise – you are mine."

...yeah, okay, Barry’s good with that.

Barry's gonna break every scientist rule in the goddamn book, but he's going to achieve the ultimate dream of sci-fi/fantasy fans everywhere, so it, like, breaks even or something.

Right?

"Okay," he says. And, "Can I kiss you?"

Mick purrs – there's no other word for it – and reels him in.

Heh, reel.

Leonard catches Barry by the shoulders a second before his lips meet Mick's, pulling him back until he's flush against Leonard's deceptively cool body. "What is so funny?" he purrs in Barry's ear.

Barry gulps.

Not in a bad way, though to be fair he'd thought he'd managed to hide his amusement quite well.

"Well?" Leonard asks, his hands ghosting down Barry's arms.

Barry is abruptly struck with the sense-memory of him doing that before, when he'd been examining every inch of Barry with his fingers - supposedly to get a better 'image' of him, the liar - asking all sorts of innocent questions like why Barry was blushing – getting hot for him – or, as Leonard calls it, spilling out his life energy - wow, on second thought, that sounds super kinky -

"Answer the question," Mick suggests, leaning forward to lick a line along Barry's collarbone. "Won't drop it otherwise."

"Oh, I –” Words. What are words? Words are clearly not important, there are extremely attractive mersharks intent on banging you. “– uh –”

“Answer,” Leonard insists.

“You know you're not making it easy for me to think right now -"

"Sure are up for the challenge," Leonard laughs in his ear.

"It was just a bad pun about Mick reeling me in for a kiss - reeling, like when you're fishing - is this really important right now?!"

"No," Mick says, and finally kisses him, long and slow and dirty.

Barry tries to kiss back as fiercely as he can, hoping to speed it up, but Leonard catches him still again, one arm across Barry's belly and the other under his chin.

"Slow," he demands. His eyes are intent, avid, fierce in a way that the normal reserved mershark rarely shows; it makes Barry shiver with anticipation.

Mick breaks free and laughs.

"Bossy all the time, I see," Barry says, twisting to roll his eyes at Leonard, his tone warring between fond amusement - Leonard being bossy is zero surprise - and his entirely reasonable desire to get on with the sex part of these events now-now-now.

"Need to watch the teeth," Mick explains.

Oh.

Yeah, that makes sense. He is kissing a shark.

"No," Leonard says impatiently. "Going slow is necessary -" and here he smirks "- for proper observation."

“You can’t observe things, you’re blind,” Barry says. "Also, you're going to hold the science against me forever, aren’t you?”

"Yes," Leonard says, then leans forward and licking along Barry's other collarbone, a mirror image of what Mick had done earlier – except Leonard doesn’t stop, going up his neck.

Apparently Leonard's tongue is a lot longer than it appears on first glance.

Barry should really record the full length of it at some -

Mick slides his hands under Barry's shirt.

Right. Priorities.

Sex, not science.

(At fucking last, Barry's libido says, throwing up its metaphorical hands. Literally fucking!)

Barry pulls away from Leonard to pull off his shirt and what's left of his wetsuit, since he'd had Leonard cut it in two days ago. He wants to be naked, to feel the unusual fine-grain texture of their skin against his own.

Mick and Leonard eagerly assist him in removing his clothing.

They're not very good assistants - they keep stopping to run their hands over newly exposed skin, and maybe leaning down for a kiss or a lick or even pressing their sharp teeth against the flesh so it bears an imprint of their jaws - but somehow Barry doesn't really mind.

"Dance?" Leonard asks from where he’s pressing kisses onto Barry’s palm.

"Not this time," Mick decides. "Don't want to overwhelm."

"I won't be overwhelmed," Barry protests.

Though, thinking of that undulating dance that Leonard does, all sleek and hypnotic movements designed to show him off to the best advantage...

Barry swallows, and his cock jumps a little in immediately interest.

“Definitely overwhelmed,” Leonard agrees, sounding amused.

He pulls Barry towards him, turning him around until Barry’s facing him, while Mick moves forward as well. It’s a slick maneuver that results in Barry being pressed between the two of them, sitting a little back on the part of Mick’s tail that would be Mick’s lap if he were human.

He can’t think of anywhere he’d rather be. Mick is warm against his back, big and solid and with strong arms boxing him in, and Leonard is cool and slippery and moving against his front, and Barry cannot even believe that this is his life.

Leonard opens his mouth with all its layers of teeth and, making sure that Barry is watching, leans forward and lightly presses them into Barry’s shoulder, causing a not-quite-pain that makes all of Barry’s nerves jangle in something not too far from pleasure.

Barry whimpers.

“Likes to be watched,” Mick murmurs in Barry’s ear, nodding at Leonard as if Barry hadn’t figured that out, but before Barry can reply, Mick’s hand slips around to wrap around Barry’s cock.

“Yes, that,” Barry says inanely, but in his defense, he’s been best friends with his right hand these last few days – ever since he found the mersharks – and he’s finally getting some outside stimulation.

Mick laughs and starts moving his hand – less a solid stroke and more a torturously slow exploratory touch. “Need to make extensive observations here,” he says, amused.

“Very extensive,” Leonard agrees.

“You guys need to stop making fun of my science – holy crap yes.”

That last one was when Leonard leaned forward and to lick a stripe right up Barry’s cock, then using his ridiculous extendible tongue to wrap around the part of Barry’s cock above Mick’s hand.

Barry’s hips jerk up, but Mick catches his hip, forcing him down.

“Likes that,” Leonard observes a few seconds later.

“Very much, yes, I like that very much, please get back to do it, give me more –”

Somehow, in Barry’s fantasies, he took a little longer to get to the begging stage.

Reality is so much better.

They both laugh.

Mick focuses on holding Barry still, after that, letting Leonard take his damn sweet time exploring all the most important parts of Barry’s body with his tongue and fingers and extremely sharp nails with actual poison in them, which shouldn’t be such a turn-on but it really is. Barry just whines and writhes on Mick’s lap the whole time as Mick presses kisses to the side of his neck and cheek, his hands keeping Barry steady so that he doesn’t accidentally hurt himself against Leonard’s sharp everything.

And all the while, Barry can feel something growing hard against his ass.

Barry had tried, without much success, to ask questions about the basics of mershark reproduction – beyond the fact that they were hermaphroditic and capable of parthenogenesis and that they kept their genitalia inside an internal slit, only to emerge for mating purposes – but his own prudery had gotten in the way. It’s one thing to study how fish and dolphins mate, and a very different thing to ask someone how their dick (if they have one) works.

Sure, he’d caught glimpses when Leonard and Mick would mate in his vicinity (which he now realizes was meant to be an offer to join), but he had made himself not look too long, thinking it would be rude and an invasion of privacy.

Clearly an error in judgment.

“Hold up,” Barry manages to get out in between whimpers, his voice unusually high-pitched, reluctantly pushing Leonard away to turn to look at Mick. “Hold up, lemme see, I want to –”

Oh.

Uh.

Wow.

“There’s two,” Barry says blankly.

Which is dumb because there was no reason to assume that mersharks would have a more humanoid physiology rather than, well, a more shark-like one but, uh, yeah, wow, huh, two.

Sharks have two claspers – though only one is used for mating at a time, he’s pretty sure – because they’re located next to the two pelvic fins, which are doubled, but other than the duplication, Mick’s claspers are very, uh, humanoid, which is good.

Very good.

He’s got a great cock. Cocks, whatever. They’re long and slick, with a bit of a head, and definitely very –

Large.

Barry’s totally not a size queen (he’s not, whatever scurrilous gossip Iris might be spreading) but even he can appreciate something so well-built. Mick’s not proportional – thank god, Barry would literally die given that Mick is like ten feet long – but if you just looked at his top half and guessed, you wouldn’t be that far off.

“Would you like to do some observation?” Mick asks, stressing the pronoun and smirking, leaning back with his hands folded behind his head.

Uh, yes please.

Barry would very much like to do some in-depth observation here.

“But no measuring tape,” Leonard adds wryly.

Barry snorts even as he scrambles around to take a closer look. “No, I don’t think we need that this time,” he says. “But another time. I promise to make it good for you.”

He’s thinking of maybe trying for a blowjob, but Mick preempts him, rumbling “Already good,” and pulling Barry flush against him so that they can grind together, the feeling of it only heightened by the slickness already coating Mick’s cocks.

Barry moans, rocking forward.

Leonard’s hands come and wrap around Barry’s thighs as he continues pressing his teeth into various parts of Barry’s hips and sides and ass, little love-nips just like a shark but careful not to press his teeth in too deep.

It’s good.

It’s very good.

Barry and Mick find a rhythm together, thrusting and grunting and moaning, and it’s so good – Barry can feel himself sliding against Mick, can feel his cock against his, can feel his own next to the two, between the two, and it’s utterly alien but absolutely wonderful.

“Good,” Leonard murmurs in Barry’s ear, his voice thick with lust. “Very good.”

God, yes.

Still, that’s a good reminder; Leonard might like to watch, and touch, but surely he’d like to be a more thorough part of the proceedings…

Barry turns and tries to reach out a hand for where Leonard’s cocks would be, assuming it’s the same place as Mick, but his hand slides along Leonard’s tail without any luck.

It takes a second for Barry’s brain to emerge enough from his haze of lust to realize that nothing’s emerged yet.

“Is very cold,” Mick says before Barry has the opportunity to start worrying about whether Leonard really is into this or not. “Takes time to warm up.” He grins with all his teeth – not as many as Leonard, but more than enough. “We can help warm up.”

“I’m open to ideas,” Barry says, leaning forward to kiss Mick again.

Mick kisses him back, then pushes him away. “Get on belly,” he says, his eyes bright.

Barry goes with hands and knees, but he figures that’s close enough. Unlike the mersharks, who are used to mating while floating in water, Barry figures he has a better understanding of what Mick’s looking to do.

From the sound Mick makes, he has zero objections to Barry’s chosen position.

Barry grins.

Looks like the mersharks aren’t the only ones who can be seductive.

“C’mon,” he says, reaching back to help stretch himself open for them. “Fuck me.”

Hey, Barry never said his version of seduction was subtle.

“Like that phrase,” Leonard murmurs, moving his hands over Barry.

“Yes,” Mick says, moving forward to position himself. “Want to hear often.”

He starts pushing in, slow and inexorable the way Leonard usually is – for all of Mick’s boisterousness, he has just as much self-control as Leonard in his own way.

Which is good, because Mick is – big.

Luckily, the slick his body produces works extremely well as lubricant, and it doesn’t take long before he’s sliding in deep, thick and wonderful inside of Barry, and Barry’s moaning like crazy and pushing himself back to try to get more.

Sure, maybe the feeling’s not quite the same as a human, but honestly, that’s a plus.

Barry can feel Mick’s second cock sliding through his legs, too. It’s like he’s getting both penetrated and fucked between the thighs at the same time.

He likes it.

He likes it a lot.

Though, still –

“Glad you only use one,” Barry pants in between moans and grunts and groans that shake his whole body every time Mick rolls the equivalent of his hips, a full-body gesture that lets him thrust himself all the way in before pulling out.

Mick laughs in his ear. “This time.”

Holy crap.

Does that mean it’s actually possible to –

Yeah, they’re going to have to try that. Eventually. After Barry practices a bit with some toys and, like, a truckload of lube.

“My turn,” Leonard suddenly says, and Barry knows he means it because he said ‘my’.

Honestly, this whole sometimes-pronoun business is actually quite helpful in terms of emphasis…

“Let him finish me first,” Barry begs.

Mick laughs again. “Same time,” he says, and pulls Barry back against him.

Barry’s not entirely sure what he means until Leonard slithers confidently into place underneath him.

Leonard’s cocks have still not emerged.

So what does –

Leonard arches his back up so that Barry’s cock skates right across his small, slippery slit.

Oh.

Yes.

Yes please.

“Why don’t help warm up?” Mick purrs.

Barry can definitely do that.

He reaches out with one hand to grab Leonard by the hip, pulling him forward until they’re flush, until Barry’s cock is right at the edge of the slit, until he’s pushing in –

God, it’s like nothing he’s ever felt before.

He can feel Leonard all around him, the tightness and the pressure, but he’s not body-warmth-hot the way Barry’s previous partners were – he’s not cold, of course, he’s still somewhat warm, but the feeling is completely different.

The feeling is amazing.

Barry maybe loses his mind a bit and starts thrusting madly, which gets Mick to start moving again, too, in a smooth rhythm that’s a perfect counterpoint to Barry’s own wild thrust, and gets Leonard to laugh.

“Fast,” he observes. He sounds approving. “Good.”

Barry’s glad Leonard likes it, because he’s not sure he can stop.

It feels so good, him inside of Leonard, Mick inside of him, thrusting together or not but everything feels good, so good, and god, Barry’s not going to last like this, he’s not going to last another minute –

Mick grunts behind him, stilling, and suddenly Barry can feel him shifting inside, and holy fuck that’s a spur locking into place as Mick comes and spills inside of him and holy crap, he just fucked a mershark, he’s fucking two mersharks right now

Barry’s not sure if what he shouts when he comes is Mick’s name, or Leonard’s, or some smushed-up amalgamation of them both.

Probably the last.

“Good,” Mick says with a groan, not pulling out. Barry’s not sure he can; he’s probably still coming now that the spur is locked in place. “Very good.”

“Yeah,” Barry says shakily. “Very good.”

He pushes back a little; Mick, getting the hint, draws them both back away from Leonard so that Barry can pull himself out.

Leonard’s not done yet, after all.

Leonard watches with amusement that shifts into surprise, then curiosity, and finally pleasure when Barry replaces his cock with his mouth, licking the slit that’s warmer than the rest of Leonard’s flesh, a hidden way into the heat, the life-energy, within.

Just because he came doesn’t mean that Leonard has, after all, and Barry does so very much like to please his lovers.

Leonard likes it when Barry goes fast, Barry finds, likes the pressure and stimulation when Barry tries new things to see what Leonard likes best, and he’s got an amazing stamina that means he takes forever to even show signs that he’s being affected by what Barry’s doing – but Barry’s young and excitable and he’s up to the challenge.

Interestingly, though, it turns out going down on Leonard is just the last bit of warming up that Leonard needs for his own cocks to slide out, slow at first, but steady, not quite as big as Mick but long and shapely.

Luckily for Leonard, Barry likes blowing people just as much as he likes eating them out.

(With mersharks, there’s clearly no need to force yourself to pick between the two.)

“Enough,” Leonard says after a good while.

Barry obediently pulls away, albeit reluctantly. “But you haven’t come yet,” he argues.

“Enough time has passed,” Leonard says.

“Yes,” Mick agrees, gently lifting Barry up so that his cock could slip out – the spur had gone down while Barry was busy, and Barry’s thighs in the water are slick with Mick’s come. “Your turn.”

Wait.

“My turn,” Leonard agrees, and smiles, all those rows of teeth bared.

Barry gulps, but makes sure not to object.

After all, he wouldn’t want them to get the wrong idea about stopping.

It’s a very good thing that Barry’s libido has been going as crazy as it has been, because he’s going to need every ounce of it to make it through tonight.

And possibly some very interesting nights after that…


"We're almost there," Barry says gleefully. He's perched in his bathysphere while Leonard and Mick drag it along forward towards the beach where he'd agreed to meet his friends.

One of Mick's cousins had offered him a cell phone as a post-mating gift with a (in Barry's opinion) totally unnecessary compliment about being noisy.

Apparently it's a sign of vitality or something.

Anyway, he'd gotten a working cellphone with dying battery, but he'd run around the cave until he'd found a place that had the barest scraps of reception and ended up being able to get a few seconds of connection before it died entirely.

It was a good thing he'd disciplined himself to just start with the name of the beach, a date and a time, or else the only message Cisco would've received was a "WHEEEEEEE!!"

Barry's still kind of regretful he didn't start with that.

And not just because of the scientific discovery he's about to surprise his friends with, either.

Sure, he's still a little anxious that Leonard and Mick will ditch him once they find the world of other humans, but Mick reassured him that Leonard had only ever seen one of his type of mershark before settling on him and he hadn't changed his mind yet.

Which was something of an understatement, given that Barry is pretty sure that Leonard's increasing enjoyment of Mick's beat-downs had less to do with appreciating the fighting and more to do with his desire to scratch the eyes out of a handful of Mick's more annoying cousins.

But either way, he's floating along on his bathysphere, heading straight for the coast with the private beach that he and his friends frequent the most, with his two mershark boyfriends dragging him along in their wake as they glide beneath the water without even a hint of fin breaking the surface, and if he squints he can just see the whole group is there waiting for him: Cisco and Caitlin and Julian and Iris and even their new intern Ralph. No sign of Professor Wells, but his wheelchair doesn't react well to sand; he's probably waiting further inland.

No sign of Barry's parents or Uncle Joe, either, which Barry sincerely hopes meant that they haven't been informed of his disappearance but sadly more likely means that they hadn't been able to find a flight to the coastline on such short notice.

He starts waving from a distance, but they don't actually notice him until he's bobbing along pretty close to the shore. "Guys!" he shouts, waving.

"Oh my God, Barry!" Iris shrieks, and dashes towards him.

Barry beams and tumbles his way out of the bathysphere to give her a hug.

"I was worried about you, you dick!" Cisco shouts, but he's there with the hugs a second later.

"I'm okay, I'm okay –"

"How did you make it back up to the surface?" Caitlin asks. "The bathysphere's engines aren't that good – do you have the bends?"

"No, I don't have the bends –"

"You called from a foreign number and got out like one word, Bar, you trying to give me a heart attack –"

"Your parents are going to kill you," Iris tells Barry. "Assuming I don't do it first."

"This had better not be staged," Julian says, because he's an asshole.

"It wasn't freaking staged – how would I even stage something like that –"

"But how did you get back to the surface?" Ralph says loudly enough to half-deafen everyone.

Barry beams. "Oh, you know," he says. "Only by making the biggest marine biology discovery in our lifetimes."

"That's what you said when you discovered a new type of sea cucumber waste," Julian says, unimpressed.

"It – kinda was, Barry," Caitlin says apologetically.

"I thought it was pretty cool," Cisco mutters loyally.

"I'm sure this is more interesting than that," Iris says briskly. "What did you discover, Barry?"

Barry gestures at the water behind him without turning. "These guys."

Then there's a few moments of awkward silence as nothing happens.

Oh, they had better not be backing out of their promise to appear at the appropriately dramatic moment because Barry's gonna be so mad – and possibly worried about his sanity –

"Oh my god!" Iris shrieks.

Barry turns and grins as Mick heaves himself up to the sand. Leonard is not far behind him, though the way he keeps rubbing the sand between his fingers suggests that his curiosity was the reason for the sluggish response.

"Are those – people in costumes?" Ralph squeaks.

"Nope," Barry says happily.

"What in the world –" Caitlin starts, gaping.

"Holy crap," Cisco says.

"What are they?" Iris demands.

"I call them mersharks," Barry says.

"That's an awful name," Julian says, more on automatic bitchiness than out of real dislike.

Mick looks up, though, with a contemplative look. "I like it," he declares, emphasizing the 'I' with a pointed look at Barry like a 'see I can use pronouns if I have to' sort of thing.

"They speak!" Cisco shrieks.

"They've gotta be costumes," Ralph says.

"No," Mick says, and bares his teeth at him. "Not costumes."

And then everyone's asking questions all at once and whether they can touch them and if they're male and female and –

"What is going on here?" Professor Wells' voice cuts through the din. "I thought I told you to bring Barry inland."

He's come all the way down to the sandline in his wheelchair.

The entire group just parts – they were standing in between Wells and the mersharks, so he hasn’t seen them yet from his vantage point – and gesture towards the mersharks in wordless unison.

And then Barry gets to see something he's never seen before: Professor Harrison Wells dumbfounded by something.

And then Leonard clears his throat to speak for the first time.

He lifts a hand and points one of sharp claw-like fingers right at Professor Wells.

"Gonna eat it," he announces, and next thing Barry knows he's pulling himself along the sand at his usual sedate pace and wait did he just say –

"No!" Barry yells, running forward to intercept him. "Leonard, don't eat him!"

Maybe introducing Leonard and Mick to human life isn’t going to go as straightforwardly as Barry thought…