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Sirenuse

Chapter Text

The Isle of Capri overlooked the Tyrrhenian Sea, where there was a cluster of islands. The Amalfi Coast held stunning cathedrals, beautiful gardens, and lovely villas, and beyond the coast was the Sirenuse archipelago. The Italian islands were simpler, more peaceful, than the hustle and bustle of the active tourism on the coast. The area was commonly busy year-round, with boats coming in and out of the Marina Piccola, but all those traveling to and from the harbor knew to stay away from the rocky outcropping known as Vetera.

It was an unspoken rule of sailing through the Tyrrhenian Sea. Some followed the rule simply because it's what other sailors did, and the habit became their own. Commercial boats were provided clear directions for navigation, strictly avoiding that area. Others, though, avoided the area because of the history. Whether they knew it to be true, or if they simply didn't want to take the risk, they set their sails to waters away from Vetera and its inhabitants: sirens.

Though there were numerous tourist attractions, from the villas or Belverde of Tragara on the Isle of Capri to the Santa Maria Assunta Cathedral out on the province Salerno's Positano, Jooheon and Changkyun chose to visit this part of Italy specifically for the sirens that everyone else were so adamantly working to avoid. Both boys were aware that their quest was against the norm, but Jooheon had been studying sirens for a majority of his life, including their origins, mythology, and local legends. He had wanted to visit their most historically prominent location of activity for ages, hoping to search local libraries for primary resources, visit museums, and see if he could witness one first-hand, if not at least see their home territory.

Changkyun thought he was insane.

Yet here he was, unpacking his belongings in Italy, because Jooheon had invited him on what truly was the trip of a lifetime, and he wasn't about to let his Ride or Die Best Friend risk his life on a goddamn siren hunt without him. Maybe they'd encounter one, and maybe they wouldn't, but Changkyun preferred being there to experience it alongside his best bud. Besides, he had heard that the limoncello liquor was incredible, so that was an added benefit.

He'd honestly imagined their adventure to Vetera along the lines of:

Jooheon, are those actually sirens over there?

Oh my god, they're really real. Here, Changkyun! Hold my limoncello!

And then they'd die.

It didn't quite have the aura of “hold my beer,” but they were still some pretty phenomenal last words.

Changkyun pulled out his swim trunks and tossed them to Jooheon, who was packing their shared day bag. They’d arrived late the night before and slept in so they’d be energized and ready to sail to the outcropping of rocks. Jooheon had been looking forward to this trip for months now, and he didn’t want to wait any longer than necessary. Changkyun watched as his friend haphazardly stuffed their belongings into a duffle bag, stifling his laughter at Jooheon’s careless intensity.

It would be a lie to say that Changkyun hadn’t been looking forward to this trip,too. He was definitely excited--just not as much as Jooheon (if that was even possible), nor was it for entirely the same reasons. He wasn’t particularly convinced sirens existed, though he thought seeing one would be cool. He was mostly ready to just sit back and relax, sitting in a boat, just chilling under the sun with his best pal. He was there to support Jooheon through the trip of his dreams, while enjoying himself through the trip.

As the packing process was nearly finished, Changkyun grew more eager to get out on the water. Jooheon zipped their duffle bag and threw it over his shoulder definitively, and turned to face Changkyun. He was wearing the most purely thrilled expression Changkyun had ever seen on Jooheon’s face--a true shit-eating grin. There was even more happiness in his expression than the time Jooheon won a lifetime supply of honey buns from their high school’s after-prom, and he was pretty pumped about those honey buns.

“Are you ready to see some mermaids?” Changkyun teased. He knew very well that Jooheon felt strongly about sirens being distinctly different from mermaids. He knew Jooheon was right, too, but it was still funny.

“They’re not mermaids. They’re sirens. But I refuse to let your ignorance ruin this for me, so shut up, follow me, strap your ass into a boat, and row.”

Jooheon said it with a smile and a lighthearted tone, but there was a serious look in Jooheon’s eyes. He didn’t joke around when it came to sirens. Changkyun still had to joke back, though.

“I don’t think boats have straps, but to clarify, would I only strap my ass, or do you want me to strap other parts, too? Might be hard to separate that.”

“Do you want me to strap them in for you?” Jooheon deadpanned. Without waiting for an answer, he turned towards the door, indicating he was done with the conversation. To Changkyun, it felt like he’d won.

“Sorry you’re upset,” he cooed after his friend, “but I bet the mermaids will sing you a song to make you feel better~”

Jooheon spun around to face him, eyes wide.

“We almost forgot our ear protection!” he exclaimed. Jooheon rushed back to their suitcases and began rummaging around. “That could have been fatal.”

They’d purchased special headphones to block out sound, specifically for this trip. They were typically used by hunters, but they blocked out sound incredibly effectively, which was crucial.

The song of sirens was deadly. Those who heard their song were lured closer to the sirens. It was said that the perceptions of those who heard it were altered, making the siren appear to be absolutely beautiful, and their song captivating. Once the siren’s song was heard, the listener came closer, as if under a spell, approaching the siren’s territory. According to myths, sirens kill those who hear their song, pulling the human underwater and drowning them, in turn lengthening the life of the siren. That was, for obvious reasons, not a risk Changkyun and Jooheon were willing to take.

Jooheon zipped the protective gear into the bag and gave an affirmative nod.

“We should be good now,” Jooheon stated as he headed out the door. “You remember the plan, right?”

Changkyun couldn’t help but roll his eyes. They’d been over it dozens of times now.

“Yes, I know the plan,” he huffed, “unless something about it’s changed in the last 24 hours.”

Jooheon shot him an unamused look. “Sorry I asked,” he grumbled. “I just can’t tell whether or not you’re actually listening.”

“Step one:,” Changkyun recited, “Get in boat. Step two: Row, row, row your boat.” Jooheon sighed exasperatedly as Changkyun sang that step, but he continued on, ignoring it. “Step three: Put on headphones when the islands are close. Step four: Disappointment or death.”

“If you follow step three, step four shouldn’t be death.”

“Ah, but you still might be disappointed.”

“Shut it,” Jooheon snapped. “Let me get my hopes up.”

Changkyun wanted to point out how foolish it was to hope for anything without guarantee it was even possible, but Jooheon had heard it all before. Besides, they’d just reached the counter for boat rental on the main floor of their hotel.

Jooheon pulled out his cheat sheet of Italian phrases and asked for a boat in broken Italian, which Changkyun assumed was severely accented. A look at the confused face of the staff member confirmed his assumption, but they got their boat after Jooheon finally surrendered his cheat sheet to the staff when the message wasn’t clear after three tries.

As they ventured into the waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea, Changkyun realized two things: first, they’d forgotten the limoncello liquor and, second, he was more anxious about the possibility of a siren encounter than he’d thought.

They got closer to Vetara, and Changkyun’s eyes darted to every bit of the land he could see, searching for any sign of the mythical creatures of Jooheon’s obsessions. His eyes flicked to a movement beside one of the rocks, then blinked. There was no way it was a siren. He squinted, examining the water, and saw a fish jump from the water.

Ah, that makes much more sense , Changkyun thought to himself. Fish actually exist, dumbass. Don’t let your mind trick you into seeing what isn’t there.

“You ready?” Jooheon asked from the front of the boat. He had grabbed their headphones from the bag when Changkyun was coming back to reality, and he was passing Changkyun his pair.

He grinned up to Jooheon and reached to take them. “Ready,” he confirmed.

Jooheon smiled back at him as he settled his own headphones over his ears before facing the front of the boat again.

Changkyun stared at the pair of ear protection in his hands, thumbing at the loose faux-leather plastic, considering if they were really necessary. He wasn’t going to convince himself of the existence of something he knew couldn’t be real. It was a myth.

He set his headphones on the floor of the boat and scrambled to reach his oars and help Jooheon, who was attempting, pretty unsuccessfully, to paddle their boat across the sea. He gripped the wooden handles and began rowing, matching Jooheon’s pace again.

Changkyun worriedly looked to where his ear protection was sliding on the dark wooden floor of their boat, second-guessing himself again, wondering if he should grab them. But he shook his head at himself and continued rowing. The water between them and the outcropping of rocks steadily decreased and, as it did, Changkyun rowed with more confidence. There were no signs of sirens. There was only fish. Many fish, actually. It was a dense area with more and more fish swimming towards, then past them as they neared Vetara.

The amount of fish only seemed to multiply the closer Jooheon and Changkyun got to the rocks, and they were all swimming in the same direction: away from the land and past their boat. Changkyun had never seen anything like it. Large schools of groupers and sea bass pushed past them. Changkyun leaned over the boat's edge, peering into the water, and recognized bluefin tuna also swimming in what he assumed was a seasonal migration.

The two boys were careful as they rowed, Jooheon equally aware of the mass amounts of marine life. Their boat rounded the corner of the jutting rocks and Changkyun looked into the water again. He startled, immediately sitting upright in the boat, unsure if what he’d seen was a reality. He forcefully rubbed his eyes, shaking his head. There was absolutely no way…

I just saw a face.

Changkyun steadied his breathing and lessened the pressure on his eyes. He knew his anxious mind was playing tricks on him, showing him what he, in a way, wanted to see. Then something happened that was impossible to account as a creation of his imagination.

He heard someone singing.

Chapter Text

The hunt was always the best part. Kihyun felt a rush of anticipation whenever foolish voyagers approached the rocky outcropping of his home. The expression his prey had the first time they saw him--the awe combined with an appropriate dose of fear--was humourous to him. Even after thousands of years, he still had to fight off a smirk when he saw that expression.

Kihyun had a certain pattern to his attacks, known by the others of his kind, that was both a declaration of his target and a stylistic choice for entertainment purposes.

When Kihyun saw approaching boats, he liked to swim with a technique he'd perfected that altered the currents and redirected the routes of the fish in the area. It required specific tail movements, as well as subtle sound waves through the water, but he could change the direction of the fish, making them rush towards his incoming prey.

It was a bit of a mental trick. The slight change in water pressure and the increased fish population in the area acted to slow his prey, but it was also meant to confuse and distract them. Then, he joined the fish, approaching the boat so he could reveal himself.

He had to get the timing just right to peer through the opening the fish created, allowing his prey to see him, only for an instant. His own expression was a menacing one, while that of the incoming sailor was confusion or horror.

Then, Kihyun retreated under the boat. He remained there for a number of minutes as the water and fish density calmed again, careful to stay hidden. Waiting was one of the more annoying parts of Kihyun's hunting process, but it was an essential element to his enjoyment in the end. While he hid, his prey likely experienced an array of emotions: confusion, interest, fear, and--Kihyun's favorite--hope.

He enjoyed the idea of making his prey question what they had seen. What they believed. But hope meant that his prey had the illusion that they might make it out alive. That maybe they hadn't seen what they thought they did, or that they could turn around and sail quickly enough to escape. They were wrong. And the feeling Kihyun got when he stripped that hope away was incomparable to anything else.

There was always a look of recognition when he emerged again, a flash of understanding and regret in his victims' eyes. Realization that they wouldn't make it out alive. Kihyun loved instilling that kind of fear. And then completely erasing it through his song.

When the water stilled, Kihyun knew the hope had set in and he'd be able to make his next attack and watch the hope drain away. Sometimes he'd purposely bump the boat, just barely, then appear on the other side, waiting for his prey to turn his way. Other times, he'd swim to the back of the boat, emerge from the water, and begin softly singing.

The effects of his song weren't immediate, so he reveled in the usual slow turn of his victim's head, and the flash of terror in their eyes as they realized their fate to come. Sometimes their jaws dropped, or their eyebrows furrowed. They might mumble something, probably a curse or message to their loved ones. If Kihyun was lucky, they'd cry a single tear. It was all pathetic.

He'd continue singing, and watch as the expression of pure fear transitioned to serenity, pleasure, and even lust, his song taking effect. Kihyun would slowly get closer to the boat as he sang, building the anticipation of contact. Sirens were incapable of touching their prey until they either touched the siren themselves, or they entered the water. As his prey waited for him to approach their boat, the thrill in their eyes grew. And as their anticipation increased, so too did Kihyun's.

When Kihyun finally received a touch from his victim, pleasure and satisfaction ran through his body, and he could see it in his prey's face too. It was an almost orgasmic moment they shared together before Kihyun pulled his victim underwater to drown. A euphoric experience.

On this summer day, he was lucky enough to spot the incoming row boat before the other sirens and he claimed the two passengers for himself. He had been sunbathing on a rock, but when he saw them, he quickly slid into the water, declared them as his prey, and began his hunt.

He began pulsing his tail and hummed lightly into the surrounding water, controlling the fish around him to form a massive school, slowing the approach of the boat. When he sensed the time was right, he swam up to the small canoe and peered through the dense fish population to assess the situation. He noted that the front sailor wore something over his ears, likely some form of protection, cancelling his ability to hear. Irksome.

This had been an increasing occurrence, much to the annoyance of Kihyun and the other sirens. Last week, Minhyuk lost a boat of five, all wearing these sorts of protective devices. More and more humans were learning about the ways to avoid the lure of the sirens’ songs.

Sirens had to sing to humans who passed through their territory. Not only did it increase the life of the siren when a human was successfully lured in and dragged to their death in the deep waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea, but if a siren did not sing and a human passed through the area alive, the siren died immediately.

Some sirens began avoiding incoming sailors completely, fearful that they would die if they were unsuccessful in attracting passersby. Kihyun and his friend Minhyuk, however, knew that they would not die. If the human was unable to hear the song, the rule didn't apply. So, they knew it to be worth the attempt to lengthen their lives by singing to them anyway, in hopes that one human might not have the protection, or that it would fall off or be taken off out of curiosity.

For Kihyun, it made the hunt more of a challenge. And Kihyun liked a challenge.

Looking up at the pair of young men from the water below, Kihyun realized the potential outcomes. Because one of the boys had ear protection, the other likely did, too. It just wasn't being used. Kihyun would have to sing to lure the sailor in the back of the boat and he'd have to work quickly, fighting the time before his prey's companion noticed and covered his ears.

His target was confirmed, so he positioned himself to reveal his face through the crowds of fish. A brief moment passed before Kihyun was noticed, but the young man's eyes finally connected with Kihyun's. They immediately became wide with concern and disbelief.

Satisfied, Kihyun retreated to beneath the boat. He assessed the situation, planning his next move. His prey's face revealed that he thought he was losing his mind, that what he was seeing couldn't possibly be true. That was the most convenient outcome Kihyun could have hoped for. It meant he might not put his headphones on. But he'd have to work quickly before that changed, or his victim's companion noticed and covered his ears.

He decided he couldn't wait for the fish to clear out. Time was precious.

Kihyun swam alongside the fish past the back of the boat and emerged from the water, pulsing his tail to keep his head and chest above the water as he started to sing.

His voice was sweet and crisp as he began his song. He watched as his prey's body tensed, hearing him. Kihyun began to crescendo slightly, careful not to be too loud, so as not to catch the attention of the other sailor. He knew that, as the song began to take effect, his prey's perception of his appearance would alter. He would find Kihyun to be beautiful, and be lured by the song and by his looks.

Kihyun tilted his chin up as he sang and moved just slightly side to side, allowing the scattered purple and teal scales on his cheeks, chest, and arms to shimmer in the sunlight. He knew how to attract even the most stubborn of sailors.

The boy in the boat began to turn and Kihyun could hear the small hitch in his breath upon seeing his figure. Kihyun couldn't help but smile. He knew the feeling wasn't real, but he craved feeling wanted. And this was as close as he could ever get.

Then something odd happened. Kihyun noticed as the boy in the back had a twinge of confusion. That never happened at this point. This was usually when the stability in his prey's eyes changed to desire and Kihyun could slowly approach the boat. It was one of the parts he looked forward to most.

But this time, the young man before him rubbed his eyes, then blinked rapidly. Kihyun transitioned to sing in a slightly higher octave, which caused most sailors to climb into the water, but the boy scratched at his scalp, messying his black hair.

Confused yet determined, Kihyun began to approach the boat slowly. A small grin formed on his prey's face, and Kihyun smiled, too. He'd gotten through.

But the young man turned and caught the attention of his comrade. It was all over for Kihyun. He'd never been unsuccessful in a hunt, and now his confidence would mean the end of his life.

As his prey's peer turned to face him, Kihyun grew desperate and swam closer to the boat, just barely out of reach, hoping that the proximity would be too hard to resist, and that the young man might try to reach him and fall into the water.

Kihyun watched as the blonde friend began frantically searching the inside of their boat, likely for the other set of ear protection. The siren thought his attempts to be futile now, but the boy shook his head, black hair ruffling in the light breeze.

“It's okay!” he yelled, so as to be heard through the headphones. “Jooheon, stop! It's okay! I'm not being lured in. I don't even want to get in.”

The blonde looked as shocked as Kihyun felt.

“Are you sure?” the Jooheon boy yelled back, though his comrade could hear him just fine without any ear covering.

The boy nodded vehemently back at him and Kihyun stopped singing to listen.

“I'm positive! Keep yours on just in case. But I'm fine! I don't feel anything!” He now turned to Kihyun, aware that his song had ended. “You can't lure me in, can you?” His voice was softer now, wary to be speaking with a siren.

Kihyun frowned, unsure if he was willing to engage. He'd just lost his prey.

“You're a siren, right? Do you have a name?”

Kihyun cocked his head to the side. He couldn't seriously be trying to have a conversation with a siren who'd just tried to lure him in to his death.

“My name is Changkyun,” the young man continued. “This is my friend Jooheon. Big fan.”

Kihyun looked to the blonde Jooheon boy, who looked on in awe, tentatively waving.

“Oh my god, are you pouting? You're upset your song didn't work and now you're pouting.”

That was enough.

“I am not pouting,” Kihyun protested. “I am simply-”

“And now you're whining!” Changkyun said, and he was way too amused.

Kihyun had had enough. He rushed up to the boat, knocking it backwards in the water and rocking it. He narrowed his eyes and gnashed his sharp teeth together as he snarled, “You have no idea how lucky you are, Changkyun. You sailed into my waters and heard my song. I'd drown you in an instant! And I'd revel in it. You're lucky to be alive.”

Kihyun watched as fear flickered in Changkyun's eyes for an instant, then how he was struggling to fight back a smile. Annoyed, Kihyun harshly pushed the boat away once more and disappeared into the water.

He shook his head in frustration, retreating to his usual rock, hidden behind a cove of the island. He pushed himself out of the water to find Minhyuk already there, waiting to hear about his hunt.

“So, how'd it go?” Minhyuk asked.

Minhyuk was a siren that, for some reason, still wanted to be Kihyun's friend after Kihyun had repeatedly tried shoving him away. He was tolerable at the best of times, and now was clearly not the best of times.

“Leave me alone, Minhyuk.”

“Was it a boat of men with headphones?” the other siren asked, his deep red, burgundy, and gold scales sparkling as he tilted his head with concern.

“No, Minhyuk,” Kihyun groaned.

“Then what happened?” he persisted.

Kihyun rolled his eyes. He knew that Minhyuk would pester him until he told him, stubborn as any other siren. So, the sooner Kihyun told him, the sooner he'd be able to get rid of him.

“One had headphones, yes, but the other didn't. He heard my song and nothing happened. He didn't lean over his boat or try to get closer or touch me. Nothing. And he was amused by it. So I swam away.”

Minhyuk blinked and shook his head, his dark red hair shining in the sun.

“Kihyun, that's amazing.”

“Yeah, truly incredible,” Kihyun groaned, more annoyed that Minhyuk was teasing him.

“No, Kihyun. A human heard your song and continued sailing.”

“Thanks for the recap, Minhyuk. Can you leave now and stop rubbing it in?”

“Kihyun. A human heard your song. And continued sailing. But you're alive.”

Chapter Text

Jooheon sighed, slumping into his chair. The library had all kinds of primary sources: retellings of sailors encountering sirens and escaping, pictures taken of sirens sunbathing on the rocks of Vetera, and even an audio recording of the siren song.

All morning, he'd been knees deep in what the library had to offer, sneaking a few pictures for later viewing. This was the opportunity of a lifetime, and he was definitely enjoying himself, but...

Why was Changkyun the one that could hear the song and live? What makes him so special? He's lucky he's even alive, that idiot.

He shook his head (for what, the sixteenth time ?), reminding himself that being mad about the situation wouldn't change anything, nor would it give him any answers.

Of all the resources available to him, none of them were from people who heard the siren song directly. They'd worn headphones, as Jooheon had, and recorded it. He beat himself up a bit for not having thought of that but, again, that wouldn't change anything.

He knew he had to be missing something right in front of him. There had to be something -- a small detail right before his eyes. Something...

“Why don't we just go back?” Changkyun whispered into his ear, sneaking up on him.

Jooheon's body jolted so strongly at the surprise that he knocked his knee into the table and almost ripped a page.

“What the hell, Changkyun? Don't scare me like that!”

His friend's face was much too innocent to be real. “I was just trying to be quiet and respectful in the library,” he said softly.

Jooheon huffed and began gently folding the newspaper he'd been hunched over.

“You seem tense,” Changkyun said, moving in to help him close the books sprawled out on the table.

“I am tense. I've been finding a lot of great information, but nothing to explain what happened. I just don't get it.”

“Ah, and that brings me to my previous point,” Changkyun said with a crooked grin. “We could go back and ask directly.”

“Are you insane!?” Jooheon squeaked, earning him hushes from the nearby patrons.

Changkyun gave an apologetic wave, and the two silently put all of the books and newspapers back. Once outside, Jooheon opened his mouth to continue, but Changkyun had apparently been prepared with his rebuttal.

“Jooheon, listen to me.” His tone was firm. “I already know what you're going to say. 'It's too dangerous. We're lucky we came back alive the first time.’ Right?”

“Obviously!”

“Okay, so hear me out. The song had no effect on me then, so it shouldn't this time either. We can go back and ask the purple siren if he...it? they?”

“I think he,” Jooheon interjected.

“We know nothing of the social construct of siren genders,” Changkyun gasped.

“Just go on with it,” Jooheon groaned.

“Right. We'll go back and ask if the purple siren knows anything about why it didn't work.”

“And what if he doesn't appear and a different siren comes in his place?”

“My plan is to call out for the purple siren,” Changkyun said, annunciating the ‘P’ and 'S’ to make his avoidance of pronouns evident. “If a different siren comes, we'll ask that one for answers and I'll have my headphones as backup.”

Jooheon rolled over the suggestion in his head. If they called out to the purple siren, there was no guarantee they'd get a response, or that it would be the right siren. They had no way of knowing how many there were. But if a different siren came and its song had an effect on Changkyun, Jooheon felt confident that he'd be able to cover his ears and restrain him until it wore off. As long as Changkyun didn't touch the siren, he couldn't be dragged into the water.

That was if the legends were true, which wasn't exactly the case so far. But this might be the only way to find out why. There was something within Jooheon telling him this was a bad idea, but his sense of curiosity was too strong.

“Okay,” he agreed. “Let's do it.”

And so, when they returned to their hotel room, they packed a bag of snacks and drinks, a little sunscreen, and their headphones. Jooheon had been practicing asking for a boat, so he left his cheat sheet behind. He was successful enough when they reached the rental desk that he didn't have to repeat himself.

As they began rowing, a thought came to him.

“Changkyun, what if all the sirens here have purple and blue scales? What if they all look the same?”

“I'll be able to identify my siren,” he said with confidence.

Jooheon turned around in the canoe to face him. “ Your siren?”

Changkyun had a light blush as he stammered out, “No! I mean-I just meant-” He sighed. “I just think I'll be able to recognize the one that talked to me. Our faces got pretty close when he snapped.”

“Aha! You said 'he’.”

“Oh, shit, I slipped! We'll have to make sure to ask the siren's pronouns.”

“The siren can't hear what pronouns you're using right now,” Jooheon chuckled, turning forward to continue rowing. “I think it's a he, though.”

“It doesn't matter if we're heard or not; it's all about principle. And I'd rather ask to be sure. It's a respect thing.”

“Because you were so respectful last time.”

“It's a work in progress,” Changkyun replied casually. “Hey, we're getting close. You should cover your ears.”

He was right, but it was annoying. Jooheon reached for his ear protection and put it on, but he wished he could keep it off and hear everything.

“Make sure I can see your face when you talk so I can read your lips. I want to know what's happening.”

Changkyun gave him a big grin and a thumbs up, then yelled so loud that Jooheon could hear him clearly.

“Hey, sirens! I wanna talk to you! Can I see the purple siren, please?!”

Jooheon was a mix of mortified and entertained. Pretty typical experience when you're friends with Changkyun.

“Very casual,” he said chuckling.

“I don't know how strong their hearing is,” Changkyun shrugged. “I figured I should project.” He turned back to the outcropping of rocks and shouted, “Excuse me? Sirens? Can I please talk to you? My name is Changkyun. I came here yesterday and saw the purple siren.”

“He had some blue,” Jooheon supplied quietly.

Changkyun pointed at Jooheon with approval. “With some blue!” he yelled.

“Maybe we need to get a little closer,” Jooheon suggested.

Changkyun nodded and picked up his oars. They began rowing and, finally, they spotted something moving towards them that was definitely bigger than a fish. But when it surfaced, it wasn't the purple siren. This one was red.

It was a truly stunning creature, and this time, Jooheon was more prepared to take it all in. The siren had hair that was a deep red, a burgundy color. There were a few strands that shimmered gold. There were some scales going up past its torso, shining on its arms and cheeks. The scales varied in deep reds, with occasional golden scales peaking through. The siren's eyes were piercing, but had a gentleness, no, a curiosity to them.

“I'm not purple, but I hope I'll do.”

Jooheon felt a tap on his leg; Changkyun was getting his attention so he could lip read as he spoke.

“Thank you for coming,” he began. “Can I ask you some questions?”

Jooheon felt a slight tilt as the siren leaned on their boat. He quickly nudged Changkyun and nodded towards the siren, telling him to be careful not to touch it.

“Don’t worry, I won't drown you,” the siren said with a smug look. “I'll answer depending on what your questions are.”

“Wonderful. Thank you. First, what are your pronouns? And the pronouns of the purple siren?”

The siren raised an eyebrow. “That's your first set of questions?”

Changkyun nodded vehemently.

“I'm Minhyuk and the purple siren is Kihyun. You can call both of us 'he’.”

Jooheon gave his friend a pointed look, which he was sure Changkyun saw but seemed to ignore.

“Okay, cool. Are you two friends?”

“You could say that.”

Jooheon assumed that most sirens just kind of mutually existed, but he figured it made sense if some did or didn't get along. He wondered what Minhyuk meant by what he said, though.

“Is he still alive?”

“Unfortunately,” Minhyuk said with a smirk. Jooheon decided they were definitely friends, but that they were hard on each other. This siren seemed to be the cocky, teasing type.

“Do you know why his song didn't work on me? Why is he still alive? Why am I still alive?”

Jooheon felt like a bobble head, looking back and forth between the two of them, not wanting to miss anything. He should have brought something to record the conversation.

“I guess you're just special .” There was that sly grin again. Jooheon smiled to himself, amused by the siren's consistent sass in response to Changkyun's questioning.

The boat rocked, bumped by something. Jooheon was careful to hold onto the boat without touching the siren. He didn't want to give Minhyuk the ability to touch him.

There was another bump behind them and Jooheon spun in his seat, finding the siren Kihyun poking his head above the water.

“We don't know why it happened and we'd appreciate it if you didn't shout to make your presence known. This could be a huge problem.”

Jooheon turned so he could read the lips of either Changkyun or Minhyuk, unsure who would speak next.

“Sorry,” Changkyun said. “We're just confused.”

“This has never happened to us before,” Minhyuk began, “and we're not sure it would be well-received, so we haven't exactly been advertising it.”

“But do you have any ideas why it happened?” Changkyun asked.

“Maybe.” Kihyun seemed stubborn, scowling at the group.

“Can you guys please get in one area?” Jooheon was exasperated. “I'm trying to lip read, and I feel like an owl.”

“You could always take those silly things off,” said the red siren, leaning nearer towards him, mischievously swirling his pointed finger near Jooheon's headphones.

Jooheon gave the siren his best You've Got To Be Kidding look, making Minhyuk laugh, but reposition to the other side of their boat to join Kihyun. So he was right. Minhyuk was playful, but still meant well. Even if he wanted to drown Jooheon and take his soul or whatever. But he guessed that was as good as it could get when it came to sirens.

“So. What's your idea?” Changkyun rushed back to the point. “Why are we still alive?”

“It really could be that you're special.” Minhyuk said, appearing amused. “Maybe it was just a fluke. Some weird genetic thing or just luck. We don't know.”

Kihyun rolled his eyes and continued. “We've never heard of anything like this happening before, and we don't know how the elder sirens will respond if they find out. We may be able to trust Hoseok, but we'd have to approach him at a time when we can speak privately.”

“What's the hierarchy of sirens like? How many of you are in this area?” Jooheon asked. He had the opportunity to personally speak with not just one, but two sirens. He wasn't going to waste his opportunity.

“Is this twenty questions?” Kihyun groaned.

“Maybe.” Jooheon replied. “Can I ask twenty questions?”

“I think you've already exhausted half that.” Kihyun stated.

“Oh, come on, Kihyun,” Minhyuk urged him. “They're just excited to be talking to two infamous sirens. And we don't really get to talk to humans, either. Don't be such a sea urchin.”

From the corner of his eye, Jooheon noticed the smile on his friend's face when he looked at the purple siren give a conceded sigh. His siren.

“Alright, humans ,” Kihyun began. The assertion that he was something different and special was kind of comical. “There’s about four dozen of us, and our hierarchy is age based. We all continue to age, but if you've been here longer, you have more authority. We migrate to different areas, usually to find reproductive partners or to avoid innovative sailors, but Minhyuk and I have been here all our lives.”

“Hoseok is our elder, but a friend of ours,” Minhyuk explained. “He's in the Circle of Elders, which is a group of six sirens. But he's the youngest and more approachable. So we might be able to see if he knows anything about this, uh, unique circumstance.”

“How long do you live? You get more life when you drown people, right? Do you eat their souls?” Oh, Changkyun.

“We don't eat them.” Kihyun asserted. “The souls just transfer to us. We kill them, and the rest of their lives become ours.”

“So you live forever because you keep drowning people?” Changkyun asked.

“Obviously not,” Kihyun said, gesturing towards the two of them in the boat.

“What he means,” Minhyuk interrupted, “is that sailors are becoming smarter. They use headphones like you,” he said, pointing to Jooheon. “Or they tie each other to parts of their boats so they can't touch us. Which is much more dangerous for us. If they hear our song and are tempted, but don't let us touch them, then we can't drown them.”

“And if we can't drown them, we don't just miss out on their remaining lifespan,” Kihyun explained. “We die immediately.”

“On top of that, the hunting of sirens has been increasing,” Minhyuk continued, “and the extra life we gain with our own hunts doesn't mean we're safe from attacks.”

“So your population has been going down,” Jooheon concluded, “and will continue to do so as sailors become smarter and more creative.”

Both sirens nodded.

“How can we help?” Changkyun asked, apparently suddenly feeling the hero.

“I'm not sure you can.” Kihyun sighed. “We need to remain where we can maintain life through the souls of drowned passersby.”

“Do you know how much life you have left?” Changkyun asked, urgently. He seemed pretty serious about the protection of these sirens and Jooheon wasn't sure why, but he wasn't going to question it yet.

“Generally. We don't know the exact amount of years we have,” Minhyuk explained. "The Circle of Elders knows, but they don't tell us. We just have an idea based on the ages of the humans we drown. Time kind of drags on, so it's easy to lose track, but we have a general idea.”

“I think that's enough information, Minhyuk,” Kihyun growled, but he was clearly looking at Changkyun. “We should go.”

Kihyun turned to swim away, but Changkyun called out, “Wait!” making the siren freeze.

“What if we want to come back? How do we talk to you?”

Kihyun looked over his shoulder. “Don't come back.”

Kihyun disappeared into the water, but Minhyuk stayed behind and spoke softly. “I know he seems annoyed. But I think he liked talking to you.” He gave a slight nod towards Changkyun. “Kihyun is usually pretty grumpy and doesn't talk to anyone. So that was a long conversation for him. If you come back, I think he'd want to see you. Just, I don't know, play a flute or whistle or something. I'll let him know it's you.”

Both Changkyun and Jooheon looked on, bewildered, not sure what to say.

“See you later, pretty boy,” the red siren said, shooting a wink to Jooheon before he dove into the water towards the rocks.

The two friends sat in silence for a while until Jooheon felt safe enough to take off his headphones. He watched as Changkyun dug for something in their bag. His hand emerged and threw the object he'd retrieved into Jooheon's lap. Oreos.

“Well, that went pretty well. We're still alive!”

“Two for two,” Jooheon nodded, ripping open the blue wrapper.

“Want to go for three?” Changkyun asked, pulling out his own pack of Oreos and tearing it open. “I want to know what this Hoseok siren has to say.”

Jooheon was way too committed at this point to let his nerves get in the way. He pulled out an Oreo and held it before him. “I'm in. To sirens.”

Changkyun raised his own cookie, tapping it to Jooheon's with a nod. “Cheers.”

 

Chapter Text

It wasn’t that Kihyun was lazy. But he had a tendency to pursue only what he determined to be interesting or worthwhile. Which is why Minhyuk chose to take matters into his own hands.

He could tell that Kihyun was confused and angry; granted, it wasn’t that hard to tell when Kihyun sulked in a corner of rocks that was a lot more obvious than he likely realized. But Minhyuk suspected that Kihyun’s fear of retaliation from the Circle of Elders was more intense than his curiosity as to why he survived his interaction with the human Changkyun. So to him, pushing it wasn’t worthwhile.

Minhyuk felt otherwise.

So, he chose to investigate the Changkyun situation on his own.

Hoseok and Minhyuk had a history of hunting together, and Minhyuk considered him to be a good friend. After the excellent hunts they shared together, Minhyuk hoped Hoseok saw him the same way.

After Hoseok was invited to join the Circle of Elders, the two hadn’t seen each other much. Hoseok was asked into the Circle after an elder siren chose to migrate, making Hoseok the next oldest siren in their territory. Minhyuk worried if Hoseok’s appointment would change their friendship, but figured it was worth a shot. Hoseok was not only the strongest connection Minhyuk had to the circle, but he was also the safest bet. While fierce in his hunting, Hoseok was gentle in nature.

Still, Minhyuk didn’t want Hoseok to assume that it was his connection to the Circle of Elders that inspired Minhyuk to approach him. Therefore, he hoped to catch the elder siren at a time when he wasn’t coming to or from a meeting with the Circle. He figured the best time would be when Hoseok was relaxing on an especially flat rock where he was known to sunbathe. If he was relaxing his body, he might relax his speech as well.

Minhyuk waited, eyeing the rock until Hoseok approached it and hoisted himself onto the flat surface. He watched as the elder siren got comfortable, light blue and silver scales sparkling as he changed positions, settling in. He was careful not to let himself be seen; he wanted this run-in to look as coincidental as possible.

After Hoseok seemed to have found a comfortable spot and lay there for a while, Minhyuk decided to act. He swam slowly and casually towards the rock, then spoke softly so that he wouldn’t startle his old friend.

“Hoseok,” he chimed, “it’s been a while. Mind if I join you?”

“Hey, Minhyuk,” he replied with a grin. “Sure.” Hoseok repositioned again, making room for Minhyuk on the rock.

Minhyuk joined him and began discussing his most recent hunt. He didn’t want to jump right into his questions and make Hoseok feel used. He was a valuable source, and Minhyuk wanted to be careful in his approach so that he could ask him future questions if the opportunity, or the need, arose.

“Do you have any good stories, Hoseok?” he asked innocently, turning the conversation over to the light blue siren.

“Oh, definitely,” Hoseok began. “About a week ago, there was a bigger boat. It was a wave boat carrying two jet skis and I managed to get both of the skiers without singing a single word. I knocked them off into the water, so they were mine,” he grinned, flashing his pointed teeth.

“The humans on the boat had no idea,” Hoseok continued. “Eventually, they looked back, probably thinking the other two had fallen off their skis. They turned off the motor, but I’d already started singing before the sound of the motor cut. They’d been lured, but I easily flipped over the boat. My count with the bunch was five. I drug the last three down together.”

“Impressive!” Hoseok was one of the few sirens who could flip a boat. Sirens were strong, but boats with passengers were heavy. For Hoseok, it was nothing.

Minhyuk continued speaking casually with the elder siren, genuinely enjoying the opportunity to catch up. They talked about the changing ratios of fish in the area, and about the increases of litter making way into their territory of the sea. Hoseok mentioned the most recent full moon, with a light pink hue.

As the conversation shifted once more, Minhyuk went for it.

“Say, Hoseok? Has there ever been a human that’s heard a siren song and lived?”

Hoseok’s face turned grave. “You know that’s happened before,” he said soberly. “You’ve heard of Yoongi’s Evaporation.”

Yoongi was a skilled hunter, a siren with light mint green scales that offered a camouflaging effect in the water. He developed techniques that tricked his prey, and tricked them well. He grew cocky; nothing was too challenging for the seasoned siren. But his hubris was his hamartia, and when he chose to approach a boat where the passengers tied themselves to posts, they couldn't be lured. And then he faced the fate that every siren fought to avoid. He vanished into thin air. Poof. Gone.

Discussing it was a serious and sensitive matter.

“I have,” Minhyuk replied tenderly. “But has it ever happened where the siren lived?”

The blue-scaled siren blinked slowly at his question, mulling it over. Finally, he replied, “No pure human could live through hearing a song without the siren being effected.”

Hoseok then pushed himself off the rock and into the water.

“It’s been a pleasure catching up with you, Minhyuk." He smiled sweetly before disappearing into the water.

Minhyuk hoped he hadn't crossed a line, though his better judgement told him he had.

He chose to remain on the rock, thinking about what Hoseok had said. Kihyun and Changkyun had done the impossible. Changkyun had heard Kihyun's song and sailed away safely. Kihyun was still alive after two interactions with this curious human. Was his friend, Jooheon, the same way? They likely came from the same area, so maybe it was a regional variation. Or maybe it was just a fluke, but then, why Changkyun? Minhyuk had more questions than answers.

He knew Changkyun would come back eventually. The boy was curious and eager. Foolish, too, but that really just reinforced Minhyuk's suspicions that he'd return.

Minhyuk felt that there was more to uncover. Either something Hoseok was hiding, or something he didn't know. He might be able to pry something from JaeHwan, another elder. But to approach another member of the Circle of Elders so soon after speaking with Hoseok? Well, it would be much too obvious. He'd need to come up with a new plan.

First, he needed Kihyun to have more interactions with Changkyun.

Suddenly, Minhyuk realized that he, too, had survived an encounter with Changkyun. He’d spoken to the boy and didn’t Evaporate. Kihyun wasn’t the only one, which confirmed that it wasn’t Kihyun who was special. It was the human, Changkyun.

There was still question as to whether Jooheon was also a special human, but Minhyuk didn’t think Changkyun would allow him to test that. Unless Changkyun was distracted. With Kihyun.

The dark haired boy did seem to have more interest in Kihyun than in Minhyuk, which meant he’d probably prefer to speak with Kihyun.

To get the answers he craved, Minhyuk would need to ensure that Kihyun would actually respond to Changkyun. And then, he’d need to figure out how to separate the boy from Jooheon. After that, all Minhyuk would need to do is sing.

Chapter Text

Finding a whistle in this random villa in Italy was much harder than Changkyun had anticipated. Turns out they’re not exactly hot items. But, eventually, they found a local sporting goods store and were able to buy one there.

Whistle found, Changkyun was ready to head back to the water. Jooheon not so much.

“There’s so many museums that probably have siren artifacts around here, and there’s more libraries I want to check. I want to take advantage of the primary resources while I’m here.”

To a extent, Changkyun understood that Jooheon wanted to get the most of his trip and check out everything, but what’s more of a primary resource than the sirens themselves? Still, the two agreed to split up for the day, allowing Jooheon to visit the museums and Changkyun to speak with the sirens.

At this point, the boat rental staff recognized Changkyun and he successfully earned access to a canoe without needing to speak a single word of Italian. He secured the whistle around his neck by string and pulled the boat into the water, a more difficult feat without Jooheon’s assistance, but still manageable.

Once he neared Vetera, Changkyun settled his oar in the canoe and contemplated how hard to blow the whistle. He remembered how frustrated Minhyuk and Kihyun had been about the potential of others sirens hearing and discovering their meeting and this unique phenomenon. Changkyun didn’t want to put the group of them at risk of receiving punishment from Elder sirens, which seemed pretty fucking terrifying, so he gave a light blow into the whistle and waited.

After a minute: nothing.

He tried again, a little harder this time.

Finally, a red fin flicked into the air from behind a rock, as if Minhyuk were waving at Changkyun with his tail. It took a moment longer, but Changkyun assumed Minhyuk was convincing Kihyun to join him.

When the two sirens emerged from the water, their expressions didn’t match the excitement Changkyun felt within his chest. Kihyun looked annoyed, which was to be expected. He didn’t seem particularly fond of the idea of interacting with humans. Changkyun, however, assumed this was mostly an act because Kihyun still chose to come speak with him this time and last.

Minhyuk, though, wore a look of confusion. Annoyance, too. Changkyun watched the way Minhyuk’s dark eyes darted around, squinting as he scanned the boat.

“Hello again,” Kihyun sighed. “I suppose you’ve come for another interview?”

“Sort of,” Changkyun shrugged. “I wanted to see if you’ve learned why we’re alive. What makes us special.”

“We don’t know much,” Minhyuk huffed, “but it’s you that’s special.” Kihyun rolled his eyes. Changkyun wondered if sirens were always this moody.

“How do you know?” Changkyun found it hard to believe there was anything special about himself. It was more likely that he was just lucky.

“It’s not Kihyun, because I’m alive too,” Minhyuk replied sourly. “Jooheon might be affected by the same thing as you, since you’re from the same place. Where is he, by the way? I thought he’d be here with you.”

“He’s checking out some museums,” Changkyun answered. “But couldn’t it be just as likely that you’re both special?”

“Doubtful,” Kihyun spoke up. “This is the first instance where this has happened, and it’s with you . You heard my song and weren’t impacted. My song always works. You’re defective.”

Changkyun was pretty sure he was supposed to feel offended, but he couldn’t help but laugh.

“I don’t think it’s me that’s defective,” he retorted. “Maybe your song stopped working. Has it worked on anyone after I’ve come through?”

Minhyuk’s face sparked with interest again as he turned to the purple siren. “ Has it? ” he asked. His grin was curious; his teeth were sharp as razors.

“No, but no one’s been stupid enough to come through here since this idiot,” Kihyun retorted. “Not anyone that hasn’t been claimed, anyway.”

“We should do a Pursuit and test it.” Minhyuk turned to Changkyun to explain. “Usually we wait for prey to come to us, but we sometimes hunt people outside these waters. It’s rare that we do it, since it puts us at risk being so exposed, but there have been times Elders recommend it when our lifespans are in danger.”

Changkyun had always thought it horrible the way sirens lure their prey and drown them without their prey having the capability to fight back or resist. Hearing Minhyuk speak of the necessity of Pursuits made Changkyun realize that the sirens just wanted to live . Maybe the effects of the siren song made it more ethical since the sirens’ prey wasn’t afraid. Did that make it okay, though, if the human’s mind was altered?

“You listening?”

Nope.

“Sort of,” Changkyun confessed. “Just thinking.”

“Great,” Kihyun said with a pointed laugh, “glad you’ve got that under control. We were also thinking, if you would’ve been listening.”

“Okay, damn. Sorry,” Changkyun said in mock offence. “It was my idea to check your song,” he retorted, nodding at Kihyun, “and it’s my friend who’s gathering more information.”

“I’m sorry,” Minhyuk interrupted, eyes narrowing, “ who was it that risked exposure and punishment by speaking to an Elder siren?”

“We’re all trying to figure it out,” Kihyun snapped. “I’ll conduct a Pursuit to test my song. Come back with more information and I’ll tell you how it goes in exchange.”

“Hold on,” Changkyun protested. “No offense to you putting yourself at risk, Minhyuk, but you didn’t really get any information. I’ve at least thought of ways to test what we know.”

“Okay, so?” Minhyuk asked, raising an eyebrow.

“So I want to see the Pursuit.” He was firm in his tone. He wanted to know more, and he wanted immediate results. Kihyun looked annoyed, but he seemed to contemplate it.

Minhyuk looked on in disgust. “You can’t seriously be considering this, Ki.”

“I am,” Kihyun replied. “Maybe we can get something from it.”

“I can try to help,” Changkyun chimed in. “I could lure them to you.”

Kihyun’s eyes darkened and narrowed at this. “I don’t need any help from a human. Watch.” And he dove into the water.

Minhyuk just laughed. “This’ll be a fun hunt. Better keep up with him.” Minhyuk slowly lowered himself into the water, heading back towards the rocks of Vetera.

Changkyun began rowing rapidly to follow the purple siren who was quickly swimming towards the beach of Marina Grande. After a moment, he felt his boat surge forward, and it wasn’t because of his rowing. He looked around him and saw Minhyuk’s red and gold tailfin flicker in and out of the water. He was propelling Changkyun through the water.

Incredible. Awed by the power of a simple tail movement by Minhyuk, Changkyun realized he was in for a treat.

He continued rowing, pushed forward by the force of Minhyuk’s tail, until he was out of the red siren’s reach. Kihyun had stopped, allowing him to catch up.

“Alright, Changkyun,” he almost growled, “when we get closer to the beach, I’ll signal for you to stop. Just wait and don’t mess this up for me.”

Changkyun nodded in compliance, not sure what to say.

Kihyun lowered his head back into the water and continued swimming, more slowly this time. The siren created a distance of 50 meters, but Changkyun was able to keep up with this pace.

Eventually, Changkyun saw a splash of water come from what he knew to be Kihyun. Taking it as his signal, he stopped rowing, pulled the oar into his boat, and began to wait.

He knew what to expect to an extent. He figured Kihyun would somehow bring his prey to him and that he’d sing. He knew the person or group would likely be lured into the water and that they’d likely die. But this he wasn’t prepared for.

The water beneath Changkyun began rippling. Schools of fish grew larger, swimming towards him before dispersing. He looked ahead to where Kihyun had disappeared, waiting. The water looked dark and Changkyun realized it was dense with fish like it had been when he and Jooheon first approached Vetera.

In the distance, Changkyun saw a boat steadily moving closer. He heard confused shouting from the passengers. They were afraid. Changkyun squinted and realized that the passengers weren’t rowing. Kihyun was propelling them forward.

The speed of the boat increased and Changkyun watched as the two passengers attempted paddling backwards to stop the boat. One of the oars was pulled into the water, whether by the motion of the large schools of fish or by Kihyun himself, Changkyun wasn’t sure. The one who lost her oar peered into the water, likely searching to retrieve it.

Her scream pierced through the air.

She launched her body across the boat to grab for her partner’s oar, shrieking. Changkyun watched as the two struggled to grasp the oar and push against the pressure of the fish and the tides. It was pointless, though. The boat continued to surge forward.

When they neared Changkyun’s canoe, they began to shout for him. They were speaking rushed Italian, desperation obvious in their voices. Changkyun couldn’t understand their words, but he knew they were begging.

Suddenly, everything became still. The water stopped and the fish cleared. Their faces were lit with overwhelming relief. They could now row steadily with their remaining oar, and they were moving as quickly as they could to reach Changkyun. He couldn’t bring himself to row towards them, too.

He closed his eyes and took a breath. He couldn’t interfere. He wasn’t sure he wanted to.

When he opened his eyes, he saw their boat suddenly jolt backwards. What is going on?

Their boat began to spin tightly around itself, faster and faster. Kihyun was creating a whirlpool and their boat was the center. They were spinning like a top.

The water formed a spiral with Changkyun on the outer edge and he, too, began to drift in a circle. He heard the man’s voice through the whips of air forced against Changkyun’s face.

“Help!” he shouted.

Changkyun looked and the two were holding each other tightly, forming a small ball as they huddled together in the center of the canoe.

“Help!” the man shouted again.

And then another voice broke through. Kihyun’s.

 

When morning comes, you disappear every time.

I pray every day that this isn’t a dream.

That when we fall asleep again, that you’ll come into my arms.

I know it’s a dream but I can’t come out of it.

Even if it’s an illusion, you’re beautiful.

Even it it’s your shadow, I want you.

 

Changkyun watched as the horror on their faces transformed to tranquility, fear wiped from their expressions in a wave. The sudden switch was unsettling.

The two separated from one another and began searching for the source of the voice. Kihyun surfaced on one side of the canoe, chin tilted elegantly, torso moving as he kept his upper body above water, scales shimmering in the sun. The man dove into the water after him. Kihyun smiled with menacing glee.

The purple siren dove forward and grabbed onto the man, pulling him deeper into the water. Changkyun tried to look into the sea, but lost them as Kihyun swam further down, dragging the man into the depths of the water.

Everything became silent: the water had stopped, the fish had calmed, the shouting had ended.

The only thing left was the woman, circling her finger in the water as she peacefully hummed Kihyun’s tune.

She finished the melody and began again, longingly looking into the water as she drew patterns into the light waves.

And then, a scaled hand reached up from the water, gripping her wrist tightly. Changkyun watched as she was pulled overboard and into the water. She vanished into the dark sea as one of her partner’s shoes floated to the surface.

Kihyun’s song had worked.

Chapter Text

Kihyun felt..different. 

A successful hunt usually left him feeling overwhelmingly satisfied. Recharged.

But right then, after his Pursuit, he felt empty, disappointed, and afraid. And he hated it.

This was the first time a human had witnessed the true nature of the hunt of a siren, with no hypnosis from his song. Kihyun wasn’t sure, but he had assumed the song varied for Changkyun’s perception of his appearance, too. 

His song lured humans, yes, giving them an intense desire to be in the water, with Kihyun. But it also altered the way he looked to them. Kihyun was ugly. More than that: he was terrifyingly disgusting. 

He knew his skin pulled tightly on his face, and that his eyes were beady and teeth sharp as razors. He knew his scales were ragged and awkwardly placed, and that he smelled worse than a rotting swordfish. Some of his fingernails were long and sharp, others were chipped and ragged.

But his song changed all of that. He’d heard comments from many humans, speaking of his beauty: his shimmering scales and toned body, his perfect hair and sparkling eyes. His song made him fit every ideal beauty standard.

Changkyun, though, saw him as he truly was. Kihyun was almost certain of it.

And now, having witnessed this Pursuit, Changkyun had seen Kihyun’s worst form.

Why is he still here? Kihyun thought to himself.

He swam back to Changkyun’s pathetic little canoe and grabbed onto the boat, slowly pulling it behind him. Changkyun sat in silence for a while.

That’s probably best.

“I’m not upset,” he said softly.

Kihyun stopped swimming and looked back at Changkyun, eyebrow raised.

“I’m not upset,” Changkyun repeated. “I can tell you think I’m scared or think you’re some kind of monster, but that’s not what I’m feeling at all. That was actually incredible to watch.”

“What? What do you mean?” Kihyun was truly confused. Why would Changkyun think it “incredible” to watch a monster like Kihyun drown two of his own kind?

“I think it’s amazing the amount of work you put into your ‘hunts’, or whatever. That was insane! I can’t imagine how much precision of your muscles that must’ve taken, and how long something like that took to perfect.”

“Changkyun,” Kihyun began, slowly, “I killed those people.”

“How much of a choice do you have? If you don’t kill people, you’ll die!”

“I’ve been alive for hundreds of years!” Kihyun shouted. “I’m just selfish. How many people have to die for me to continue living? This is a choice I’ve made, Changkyun!” Kihyun was unhinged, spiraling into his regular self-loathing.

“Everyone’s afraid to die, Kihyun. That’s part of what it means to be alive.” Changkyun spoke softly, and his tone alone had a soothing effect. “You’re just doing what you need to do. The nature of being a siren requires you to kill, but the remorse you’re feeling now shows that it’s not all that you are, or have the potential to be.”

Kihyun contemplated this, doubtfully. Am I really more than that? Can I separate myself from that part of my nature?

“Look, Kihyun,” Changkyun said, interrupting his thoughts, “I can get an idea of where your mind is going. Everyone does shitty things. That’s what humans do. Or, uh, sirens. People? Beings?”

“Go on,” Kihyun sighed, but he felt a small smile tugging at the corners of his lips. Changkyun’s pep talk was starting to work.

“Okay, beings,” Changkyun nodded. “But you’re creative and dedicated like crazy to craft that out. You’re obviously resourceful. You’re daring and exciting. You’ve got a kickass singing voice, and I can say that with full honesty, since I don’t get hypnotized or whatever. Plus, you’re beautiful, which is all more than I can say about myself.”

“Okay,” Kihyun cut in with exasperation, “now I know you’re fucking with me. You really had me for a minute, there. Ha ha, you’re hilarious.” He turned and began swimming again, pulling Changkyun and his boat along with him. But he looked over his shoulder, keeping an eye on this strange and interesting human.

Changkyun looked legitimately confused. “What are you talking about?”

“There’s no way you think I’m beautiful. I’ve seen my reflection.”

“I really do think so, though. Cross my heart.” 

Kihyun wasn’t sure what that idiom meant (humans had some weird sayings), but Changkyun seemed to say it with earnest.

“I think you’re beautiful,” he continued, “and I want to learn more about you, and about your world. I-” Changkyun hesitated. “I feel some kind of connection with you, and I can’t stop thinking about you. I’ve had these dreams? You’re you, but you look different and you’re on land and have legs, and we go places together, and I don’t know what it means , but I want to just be around you and find out.”

The human before him closed his eyes and rubbed his temples for a moment, as Kihyun processed what he’d said. Kihyun had been having dreams about Changkyun, too, of the two of them swimming through the sea together. In his dreams, though, Changkyun was a siren. What did this mean ? He wanted to find out, too.

“Okay,” Kihyun agreed suddenly.

Changkyun’s head perked up. “Okay?”

“Okay,” Kihyun nodded. “Come back tomorrow and wear something you can get wet. I want to show you something.”

“Really?” he squeaked.

Kihyun grinned and nodded. “Really. Now go home, get some rest, and I’ll see you in the morning. Just blow your whistle two short times and I’ll come out. Try to come right after sunrise, if you can.”

He gave Changkyun a solid push in the right direction, and the human waved him goodbye. Kihyun waved back, grin still on his face as he waited for Changkyun to row himself beyond the horizon.

He thinks I’m beautiful..

--

When Kihyun returned to Vetara, Minhyuk was there awaiting his arrival. He gave the purple siren his best stoic face. Nothing to see here.

“So, does your song work, or are you defective like the little brat suspected?” The red siren leaned against a rock in piqued interest.

“My song works just fine, you soggy lump of seaweed. You never should’ve doubted me.” Oh, he was hiding his little crush on the human just fine.

“So it is him,” Minhyuk drummed his fingers on the rock in thought. “We’ve gotta figure out what’s so unique about him. Is he coming back?”

Kihyun made the snap-decision to be somewhat truthful, here. Minhyuk didn’t have to know what they were doing, and he could play it off as research.

“He’s coming back tomorrow, actually” Kihyun confirmed. “I told him to come. I’ll observe him closely and look for anything weird.”

“Excellent, Ki! Way to reel him in,” Minhyuk said with a nod and a slap to Kihyun’s back. “You’re totally cut out for this mischievous sleuthing. I’ve taught you so well!” Minhyuk wiped a fake tear and Kihyun just shook his head.

“Whatever, Minhyuk. I’ll see you later.” Kihyun casually pushed himself off into the water, clearly heading to his resting place. He didn’t want to give anything away, but he wasn’t sure he was on the same page as Minhyuk. He was curious, sure, but Minhyuk had a sort of sinister energy behind what he’d been saying. 

Maybe he would’ve been scheming like Minhyuk before, but these past few days interacting with Changkyun and Jooheon changed something about Kihyun’s perceptions of humans, and he wanted to interact with these two guys--Changkyun, especially--for the sake of actually interacting with them. Not to kill them or to obsess over some weird fluke of nature.

Something about him was changing. 

Chapter Text

“I might join you later,” Jooheon called. “I’m just not sure how long my interview will take.”

“That’s fine!” Changkyun smiled back. “Come out if you can.”

Jooheon grinned and nodded, and Changkyun continued down to rent a boat once more.

Jooheon had found some sort of local historian with a specialty in siren artifacts and legends, and he’d agreed to speak with him. Jooheon was ecstatic, and Changkyun was excited for him, but he had his own “research” to conduct today. He wasn’t sure what to expect, but he was fascinated by everything he’d seen from Kihyun so far and, this time, the purple siren had something he specifically wanted to show him. Changkyun could hardly sleep.

And, so, he was in his diving suit, rowing a canoe towards Vetara right after sunrise, just as Kihyun had asked. When he approached the outcropping of rocks and gave his whistle two short blows, the purple siren quickly emerged, and he was smiling. Changkyun couldn’t help but flash a smile back.

“Morning,” Kihyun almost sang. “You’re in for a treat, but first,” he lifted a handful of ropes and seaweed, “we need to secure your boat.”

Changkyun gave him a confused look, but played along, allowing Kihyun to pull his boat to a hidden cove in the rocks. With a bit of a push, the boat’s edge was raised onto the side of a jut of rocks, and Kihyun began wrapping the rope around a natural handle of rock. His fingers deftly secured the rope-seaweed combo, and Kihyun gave it a solid tug. Satisfied, Kihyun moved to the front of Changkyun’s boat to connect the two.

“Um,” Changkyun said softly, clearing his throat, “what are we doing?”

Kihyun looked up at him, smiling again. “I want to show you something. It’s a secret.”

Changkyun nodded, considering this. He wasn’t particularly fond of secrets. They made him anxious. He preferred knowing.

“Okay, it’s secure,” Kihyun declared. “Take my hand.”

The purple siren below him was looking at Changkyun with an expression of nervous anticipation, waiting for Changkyun to take his extended hand. Changkyun, though, knew. He knew that this would give Kihyun the opportunity to drown him. To take his life as his own. 

Sirens can’t touch humans unless the human willingly touches the siren or the water first , he remembered. Did he trust Kihyun, a siren who originally tried to lure him to his death, who had since and previously killed multiple undeserving sailors? 

“Trust me,” Kihyun asked, eyes shining with hope.

And he did.

Changkyun reached out, taking Kihyun’s hand, and smiled. He scooted to the edge, and climbed out of the boat and into the Tyrrhenian Sea. The water sent a chill up his spine, but it was tolerable.

“Ready?” Kihyun raised an eyebrow at him.

“Ready,” he replied with a nod.

“Take a deep breath and hold on tight,” Kihyun commanded, and soon Changkyun was being pulled to the bottom of the sea.

As expected, the water got darker as they got deeper, and Changkyun felt the pressure of the water increase around him. The salty water burned his eyes, and he had to fight to keep them open. He knew that Kihyun had wanted to show him something, but he had no idea what and his confusion grew as he was pulled deeper and deeper. And he could only hold his breath for so long...

Death. He’s going to show me death and what it looks like to die. I’m gonna fucking die.

Changkyun gave Kihyun’s hand a tight squeeze to signal, “Hey, look at me! I can’t breathe!” but Kihyun just squeezed his hand back and kept swimming, looking ahead.

Changkyun was feeling lightheaded; he couldn’t keep his eyes open. Kihyun was just dragging him along at this point.

And then, Kihyun let him go.

Changkyun forced open his eyes, terrified and bewildered. He squinted, trying to search for Kihyun through the murky water. The siren was his only hope; he’d drown before he reached the surface on his own. Everything was dark, and Changkyun could feel the pressure of the deeper water around him. He began to panic and flailed his arms and legs, propelling himself upwards.

He was desperate for air, and he was alone. 

He felt scales brush his leg and he knew it was Kihyun. He looked at the siren, eyes wide and pleading for help. But Kihyun didn’t look concerned at all, and was holding something in both his hands.

What’s he holding? Changkyun was still incredibly confused, and beginning to feel faint from the absence of oxygen. Is this what he wanted to show me? Changkyun continued to push himself upwards with whatever energy he had left. 

“Changkyun, stop!” Kihyun swam up to reach him, then shoved what he was holding into Changkyun’s face.

I’m gonna suffocate! Changkyun screamed in silence.

“No, you’re not,” Kihyun replied. “You’re going to be alright, trust me.”

Changkyun began to hyperventilate, until he realized... I’m breathing. I’m breathing!?

“What the hell is going on?” he shouted through the water.

Kihyun winced as he replied. “You don’t have to yell, I can hear you fine and the sounds you make will be amplified through the water. Let me explain.”

“Please do, because I almost drowned and I’m confused as fuck,” Changkyun begged, still frantic.

“You can breathe now, and you’ll be able to keep breathing. Feel around you,” Kihyun suggested, patting around his own head to show Changkyun what to do.

Changkyun mirrored Kihyun’s actions and felt a globe around his head.

“It’s a bubble,” Kihyun confirmed. “I combined the gas of this volcanic vent,” Kihyun gestured to an area of gushing water Changkyun had been too panicked to notice, “with my own breath. I’m, uh, not really sure how it works other than Siren Magic, but I create a filter system. The chemicals you need will cycle within the bubble and the rest will filter out. It won’t go away until you resurface, and it’ll make it so we can communicate underwater.”

“That’s amazing! I can breathe and hear you and I’m not dead and I didn’t drown and I feel fine!” Changkyun couldn’t help but ramble or shout; this was truly incredible. “How did you figure out you had this ability?”

“I heard a rumor from another siren,” Kihyun replied shortly, averting his eyes. He was definitely hiding something.

Changkyun decided not to press it, though. Kihyun had already been sharing a lot. “Okay, well, I’m ready to see what you have to show me,” he said with a grin, happy to have caught his breath.

Kihyun beamed, displaying his pointed teeth. Changkyun had never seen him fully smile. He felt his own grin widen in return.

“You’ll love it,” Kihyun declared. “It’s a bit of a journey, but it’s beautiful, and it’s a fun ride.”

“Ride? What do you mean?”

“Oh! We’re going to ride a whale.”

“What?!”

Kihyun turned and projected a call into the great beyond. “We’re gonna need a fin whale,” Kihyun grinned over his shoulder, then turned back to call again.

To Changkyun, it sounded like he was trying to speak to an ape because, apparently, the song of a fin whale consists of short, repeated “ooh” sounds. Changkyun tried to imitate the sound, but Kihyun just laughed at his failed attempt.

The whale that appeared was enormous, and absolutely magnificent. Changkyun had never seen a whale in real life, let alone right in front of him, and this thing was huge. It could, without a doubt, swallow him whole, Changkyun was sure of it.

“Isn’t she beautiful,” Kihyun said more than asked as he swam closer to her. Changkyun watched as Kihyun pressed his forehead against the whale’s nose, greeting her. The siren began singing again, and the whale sang back. 

They’re really communicating.

Changkyun was awestruck.

“This is Aksha,” Kihyun stated, turning to face Changkyun. “She’s agreed to take us to our destination.” He reached out his hand once more, asking Changkyun to join him. “I’ll show you where to hold.”

Changkyun swam forward so he could take Kihyun’s outstretched hand. They secured themselves to Aksha and Kihyun gave what seemed to be a call to begin the journey.

And, holy shit , they were moving! It took a second for Aksha to work up her momentum, but then they were going fast. Changkyun guessed they had to be going at least 40 kilometers an hour.

Changkyun was beside himself. He was literally being pulled through the Mediterranean by a fin whale; surrounded by groupers, swordfish, bluefin tuna, and more; heading to an unknown underwater destination with a stunning siren he thought he might lo-

"Are those dolphins?!" Changkyun shouted into his bubble so loud it reverberated around him, tickling his cheeks. He started laughing, giddy with childlike glee. "I'm riding a whale and swimming with dolphins! This is a fifth-grade girl's dream! This is my dream!"

Kihyun chuckled in reply. "You're awake, I promise." The siren made a clicking sound, and the dolphins began to dance and do flips, putting on a show for them. Changkyun felt overjoyed. He was in complete awe of the underwater world around him.

After a fantastic show of dolphin tricks, getting accidentally whacked in the shoulder by an incoming sea bass, and rushing through the deep waters on the back of a fin whale, Kihyun and Changkyun arrived to their destination. Kihyun reached for Changkyun’s hand once more, telling him to let go of Aksha. They hurtled forward, and Kihyun wrapped Changkyun into a hug as he used his tail to bring them to a stop.

Have you ever been flung forward into the Mediterranean Sea by a whale and whisked into the darkness by a strong and immensely capable mythical creature with a magical singing voice? Because Changkyun could now check that off his list.

He couldn’t help but giggle thinking about that image, and Kihyun joined him in laughing, just happy to be with Changkyun in this space.

“Well,” Kihyun grinned, “how was that?”

“Aksha is incredible,” Changkyun proclaimed while Kihyun nodded in agreement. “The ride was absolutely beautiful, too.”

“Right? Aksha has been a friend of mine for a few years now. And the view never gets old. I don’t understand why sirens would migrate away from here, especially with what I’m about to show you.”

Changkyun followed behind Kihyun, who swam on to show the way. He wasn’t sure what else could possibly be cooler than what he had already seen, but he was excited to find out. 

Soon, their destination came into view. There was a line of statues, a stone floor with elaborate designs, and artifacts everywhere. “Welcome,” Kihyun declared, “to Baia.”

Jooheon would have loved this, Changkyun thought to himself. “Tell me everything.”

Kihyun began waving him along, showing off the various sculptures, some fully in-tact, others cracked and deterioration, all fascinating. “Baia is a sunken Roman city,” Kihyun explained. 

“Before it sunk, it was a popular resort with hot springs and spas. All of the wealthy people would come and some even had vacation villas. Eventually, the city was attacked and cleared out. Volcanic vents made it sink, and now it’s an underwater tourist spot.”

It was breath-taking. Changkyun felt an odd sense of nostalgia for a city he’d never seen in its origin, thinking about the place that once was, now abandoned and unreachable. Baia, Changkyun decided, suffered the fate of Pompeii without anyone to witness it, sinking alone into the sea without citizens to care. Two volcanoes destroying two cities, one abandoned. There was something unsettling about its beauty.

The decaying statues and structures were a stark contrast to the life around them. The water was a deep blue with sunlight shining through. There were schools of fish passing by. A city frozen and surrounded by creatures that would never know what it once was.

“I love it,” Changkyun declared. He pulled Kihyun closer to him and gave him a hug. A proper one. “Thank you for bringing me here.”

The two of them explored every corner of the sunken city of Baia, careful not to damage any of the statues. And, while Changkyun knew that Jooheon would have been amazed to see these ancient remains, he was glad that the moment could be shared with Kihyun alone. If it weren’t for the pesky air bubble keeping him alive, Changkyun might have even kissed him.