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Low Tide

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Golden sand caved in beneath his feet, the gentle shushes of the ocean offering a unique type of peace. It was a calm afternoon, air warmed by the gradual approach of Summer, a fresh sea-breeze cutting through the humid heat. Levi loved visiting the beach. It lifted his worries and alleviated his stress after a particularly painful week at the office, a rare moment of tranquility.


Levi kicked up grains of sand as he walked, loose ground squishing between his toes as his lungs filled with salted air. The beach was secluded. No one else cared to drive half an hour from the city straight after work, which was exactly why he did.


It was when Levi reached the end of the sand that he heard a peculiar noise. A quiet smacking, repetitive with the occasion click, originating from the rocky section of the beach. Eyebrows creasing, Levi turned to look around behind him. There was no one in sight. He thought it might’ve been children playing, but the lack of supervising adults was enough to convince him otherwise.


Levi spun on his heel to head back to his car, uninterested in whatever obscene act was going on behind those rocks. A secluded beach attracted people for all sorts of reasons. He only managed to take a few steps before a faint whistling brought him to a sudden stop. It was weird, high-pitched and squeaky like an unoiled hinge, the decidedly distressed tone giving him an odd sensation of dread.


Levi turned back to the rocks with a grim expression, unable to ignore what he now thought was an animal crying for help. The tide had gone out recently, ocean sitting low some distance down the beach, far out of reach for whatever was making that dreadful noise. He only hoped it was small enough for him to carry.


Cautious, he slowly approached the collection of rocks, their surfaces turning a light grey as they dried beneath the afternoon sun. Levi couldn’t help feeling anxious. There would be little he could do if it turned out to be a large animal, and the sound it was making was awfully similar to that of a dolphin. Levi put a hand on one of the rocks as he went past it, the pitchy whistle gradually increasing in volume, until he finally rounded the last obstruction.


“Holy shit,” Levi whispered, wide eyes glued to the creature writhing around in the shallow sand.


It definitely wasn’t a dolphin.

 

 

Levi was reluctant to name it, his mind struggling to comprehend what he was currently looking at. There was a long tail, muscular and covered in shimmering green scales, connecting to the tan skin of a human torso. It was face down and squirming weakly. A tangle of damp chestnut hair clung to the sides of its head, littered with specks of sand, two large fin-like ears protruding from either side.


The creature went deathly still of a sudden. Levi considered poking it with his foot, but before he could follow through it started thrashing about wildly, tail flailing as it sent sand scattering through the air.


It eventually rolled onto its back, exhausted, revealing a flat chest and muscled abdomen. A man… a merman. Levi felt obligated to pinch himself. He flinched as the merman’s eyes flew open, revealing the most stunning shade of turquoise he’d ever seen.


They watched him intently, wide and fearful, until the merman whined and rolled back onto his stomach with a dull thud. He made a futile attempt to pull himself along with his arms, while his muscular tail raised in the air before being forced back down, creating the smacking noise Levi heard earlier. The delicate flukes at the end of it swished from side-to-side as they failed to find friction, ultimately digging itself a small grave in the sand.   


Levi watched him struggle as he considered the situation. For now, he decided to ignore the fact that creatures like this weren’t supposed exist and focus on finding a way to help. The merman wasn’t facing towards to sea. Instead, it seemed like he was trying to wiggle his way up the beach, which was odd considering they were aquatic. Was the sun disorientating him? Levi glanced at the water behind him, sitting at its lowest point and separated by about a hundred metres of scorching sand, then looked back at where the merman was trying to go. There were plenty of large rocks, the bases of them covered in limp algae and wiry moss.


“Why do you want to go up there?” Levi asked, speaking to himself more than anything, and was caught off guard when the merman stopped moving and turned to stare back at him.


Messy brown hair was plastered over his face, blinking rapidly to keep the stray sand out of his eyes. He made the same whistling noise, eyebrows furrowing as his tail gave the ground a demanding slap.


Levi had no idea what the merman was trying to say, but it seemed like he was hoping for some sort of assistance. Carefully, Levi stepped closer and bent down, putting a hand on either side of his waist. There was no negative reaction. The merman simply resumed his movement, almost knocking Levi over with the force of his writhing tail. Taking it as his cue, Levi dug his heels into the sand and helped push him up the beach.


He was heavier than his slender form suggested, which Levi assumed was due to the sheer amount of muscle that was packed into that ornate tail. The merman’s arms did most of the work in an impressive display of upper body strength, but still needed some help moving the dead weight that dragged along behind him.


Once they’d managed to move a few metres, Levi spotted a large rockpool nearby. The merman’s venture suddenly made sense. He must’ve got trapped on the beach and was trying to take shelter until the tide came back in. Levi strained as he helped drag him the rest of the way, breathing heavily by the time they reached their destination. The merman let out enthusiastic whistles and clicks, clawed hands grabbing at the rocks as he tried to crawl over them. Levi made one last effort to circle his arms around the thickest part of the tail, groaning as he hoisted it up and over the barrier.


The merman tumbled into the rockpool with a violent splash, joyfully rolling around in the water before he propped himself up against the side. His head tilted, inspecting the pool with a pout on his face, apparently disappointed by the depth of it.


Levi stood beside the rocks, watching tan hands paddle about in the water. The merman looked a lot prettier now that all the sand was washed off, hair no longer plastered to his face and allowing Levi to get a proper look at it. He could see why these creatures were renowned for their captivating beauty. “Do you have a name?”


The merman whistled in his throat, giving Levi a questioning look as he continued wading.


Levi kept forgetting that he couldn’t speak back, or at least that’s the impression he got. The idea of naming him like he was a pet was off-putting… but not having something to call him was quite an inconvenience. After considering it for a moment, Levi decided to refer to the merman as Eren. It was from a book he’d read recently. Fitting, he thought. Levi quite liked the name and he’d never met anyone that went by it. “Eren,” Levi tested, curious of how the merman would react.


The newly assigned Eren stopped playing in the water to stare up at Levi, turquoise eyes shiny and fond, smiling as he warbled a short tune.


Levi was sure the name didn’t mean anything to him. Perhaps Eren had liked the gentle tone he’d used.


Levi had no idea what he should do now. The situation felt completely surreal, as if he would wake up from this bizarre dream any second now. Sighing, he turned to glance back at where they’d come from. They were surrounded by smooth rocks, almost enclosed within them, the ocean rolling in the distance while the rest of the beach was hidden from view. Looked back to Eren, Levi was a bit unsettled by how the merman was quietly staring at him. He took a step back, running a hair through his hair. “Uh… Goodluck, I guess.”


Eren tilted his head, tail flicking out of the water as he watched Levi move further away. Catching on, Eren clambered across in the pool until his hands were resting on the edge closest to the ocean and peeked over it. Eren clicked quietly, a nervous chatter, forlorn eyes staring out to sea before they turned back to Levi, pleading.


Although Levi had never been very good at picking up on the emotions of others, this creature was surprisingly easy to read. Eren was frightened. The thought of being left all alone was making him uneasy, worried about being forever trapped and isolated in that tiny little rockpool. Levi swallowed, the merman’s sad clicks and whines tugging at his heart and filling him with a sudden sense of responsibility. What if someone else found Eren? Levi would like to think they’d kind to him, but he knew from experience that the world wasn’t such a nice place. Grey eyes shifted to Eren’s swishing tail. Would he even be able to get out of there on his own?


Levi frowned. Now that he was thinking about, he would prefer to make sure Eren got back to the ocean safely. His mind would be haunted by unpleasant possibilities if he didn’t. And why not? Levi liked the beach, and spending time with a merman was far more interesting than going home to an empty apartment. Not to mention how breath-takingly beautiful Eren was. It would be a pleasure to sit here and watch him until the tide came in.


Levi went back over to the edge of the rockpool. Trying to sound calm and reassuring, he crouched down to look into glistening green eyes. “Don’t worry. I’ll stay with you.”


Eren inspected Levi’s face now that it was close by, idly tapping his small claws against the rock he was leaning on. He got the message after a while, trilling happily as reached out to grab Levi’s hand and pulled it towards him, placing the palm flat against his bare chest.


Clueless, Levi simply let it happen. He couldn’t deny that he enjoyed touching the merman’s golden skin. It was soft and surprisingly warm, the repetitive thump of Eren’s heart laying just beneath his fingertips. Considering the intimacy of the gesture, Levi assumed Eren was trying to thank him in some way. Or at least he did, until a tug on his arm threatened to pull him into the water. “No, I don’t thi…” Levi trailed off at another pull on his arm, biting his cheek as Eren’s hopeful eyes were shadowed by fluttering lashes.


Are mermen supposed to be so friendly?


As Eren managed to pull him half way over the edge, Levi’s eyes searched the rock-pool for anything dangerous. There were a few nasty crustaceans that lived around here. Thankfully, the only forms of life in the pool were darkly coloured algae, billowing like ribbons in the water, and perhaps a few gross but otherwise harmless snails. Levi stood up, granting the merman’s wish by carefully stepping over the rocks, cringing as the material of his pants became saturated. It didn’t matter, he had spare clothes and a towel in his car. The water barely reached Levi’s knees in the deepest part, which wasn’t so bad.


Eren enjoyed having company in the rock-pool, made apparent by his cheerful whistles and bobbing head. Quieting down, he watched Levi pluck a few pieces of dead algae from the water and toss them out onto the sand. With an innocent smile, Eren submerged the flukes of his tail before flicking it upwards, hurling a bucket load of water into the air.


Levi lifted his arm to shield his face from the downpour. It wasn’t very effective, his shirt and hair becoming soaked. He glared down at the merman with unimpressed eyes, while Eren simply clicked and tapped the water with his tail, not at all sorry for his behaviour.


Seeing as he was already soaked through, Levi begrudgingly sat down, rippling water now reaching his waist. It wasn’t cold, heated by sunshine throughout the day. Relaxing almost. Eren made another sound of approval and flopped down onto his back, spreading his arms out to make a T shape in the pool, the restricted space making his tail flukes crumple by the rocks.


This was a very strange day. Levi just wanted to walk on the beach, and now he was splashing around in a paddling pool with a stranded merman. As thinking about it only served to bewilder him, Levi tried to forget about how insane this entire situation was and enjoy it while he could.

 

 

Eren gurgled in the water, the discoloured gills on either side of his neck flapping open and closed as he tried to float on his back, strands of chocolate brown hair rising to float in a halo around his head.


With the merman splayed out like that, Levi couldn’t stop himself from staring at his exposed chest and abdomen. Eren was toned but not overly muscular, lean, the sploshing water running long the dips and curves of his sun-kissed body. Levi felt shameful checking-out someone that wasn’t even the same species as himself, but Eren’s upper-half was barely distinguishable from that of a human, his aquatic origins only given away by some relatively minor details.


Levi’s eyes shifted to the muscular yet slender emerald tail. There was no telling what was going on down there other than the rows of tiny iridescent scales and a few pairs of miniature fins. He didn’t know much about fish biology, but it was certainly very pretty. Levi particularly liked the way it faded into Eren’s skin, the speckled scales gradually becoming sparser until they stopped completely, although there were a few smaller ones dotted around his torso. Some were a bit bluer than the rest, which was interesting.


Catching his gaze, Eren whistled lowly as he paddled towards Levi, using his dexterous hands to grab the submerged rocks and pull himself along.


Levi tensed a bit as Eren approached, finding his turquoise gaze somewhat predatory. What did merfolk eat? Fish, right? Seaweed? Anything but humans?


Eren came close and trilled playfully, perhaps picking up Levi’s concerns, finned ears flicking back and forth as his torso rose up.


“Hey,” Levi greeted as Eren came to rest next to him. He propping himself up against the rock as drops of liquid rolled down his face, continuing to stare with fascinated eyes.


Levi idly swished his hand under the water. It seemed like Eren wanted something from him, but trying to figure out what would likely be a tiresome and futile endeavour. Instead, he gave Eren a small smile, then received a response in the form of a melodic warble. It was high but not grating, the chiming sound actually quite pleasant to Levi’s ears.


Eren gave a clipped chirp before he slid to the side, his whole body flopping into the pool with a giant splash. On his back again, Eren gently paddled with his hands until he was floating across Levi’s lap, then proceeded to flick some more water in his face.


It Levi wasn’t so distracted, he might’ve thought that Eren was trying to drown him. The merman stared up at him with wide doe-eyes, whistling softly as he snaked a hand around Levi’s wrist and brought it his chest again.


“What?” Levi tapped his fingertips against the merman’s wet skin, considering. Eren hovered in his lap, using his tail to wiggle back into place whenever he started to float away. Did he want to be petted? Levi raised an eyebrow, finding the idea ridiculous. Although... he had no clue what Eren would like. Levi’s mind was changed when his hand was placed at the bottom of Eren’s abdomen, his fingers absently running over the mosaic of smooth emerald scales.