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Bouillabaisse

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1776 - South-Ouest of France

The sun filtered through the water, small particles shining in the deep while they floated away. Mike looked at the setting sun, view familiar, but still as beautiful even after all these years. He swished his tail, floating in the water. This close to the shore, he was the only merman for miles around. He was also quite close to the surface, where the light was still reaching. But the light was dimming in the late afternoon, and he was waiting.
He had waited like that for the past month. Sheer hope and dedication making him come again and again, despite what the others told him. A fish brushed past him, but he ignored it. More came along, swirling around his tail, biting softly at his fins, playfully unaware that a quick swipe from his arm could be the end for them.
But Mike wasn't interested in these mere fishes. No, he waited for something more fulfilling, something more delicate, something with taste! Around a month before, he had been separated from the group while they were out fishing. Was it because the currents were too strong? Because the storm was close and he had panicked? No, it was simply due to boredom. He was bored of the same boring fish he had been tasting for all his aquatic life. He had enough of bland fish, of small shellfish, of algae. He wanted more. But it was hard getting new tastes around here, and he wasn't willing to emigrate to other waters just to see if the sea was bluer. So instead he had strayed away from the group, getting closer and closer to the shore, thinking he should see the setting sun reflecting on the city.
It had been a stormy afternoon, one of those were the setting sky was an ominous shade of orange reflecting on gray cloud. It had started raining but he hadn’t minded. He was used to being wet. When the wind picked up, it gave him a bit of trouble, but he thought it was worth it, seeing the orange rays hit the red roofs of the houses on land. And it had become even more worth it when a ship arriving to the port started to sink. Mike thought he ought to go help some men drown, but really, it was getting boring. So instead he watched the wooden ship sink further in the deep, watched the men struggle and then, that's when he smelled it.
There was something in the water. Something he had never smelled before. Something calling him. Slowly, still not sure where was what enticed him, he made his way through the corpses and the wooden bits. In the middle of the chaos, there was several wooden crates that were sinking slowly. It must have been the merchandises, and he was quite sure the smell was coming from there. Tearing apart the crate, he uncovered their treasure. Countless of small row of round… food? Yeah, he guessed it was food in these, the way the smell made his stomach roll. Small round food was stacked in the crate, emitting a smell so strong he smelled it in the water. He lifted one, letting the rest of the crate sink. Slowly approaching his find to his eyes, he observed it. It was a little rough and not completely hard, a little soft. Staying a few second to wonder what that could have been, he quickly decided that whatever It was would probably not kill him. He bit into it.
And there, it was when everything changed. He knew he couldn’t go back to the way it was before. It was like nothing he had tasted before, nothing like the bland fish he ate days after days. No, this, this was something else differently. Something making him see colors he never thought he'd imagine, making him shudder from head to fin. He had finished the round food quickly and, looking around for the crate, was disappointed when he saw that it had sunk deep in water. He had swum to it to retrieve the precious content, but alas, it had been too soggy and the delicious food turned into something foul.
So he had decided to come the next day, and the next, hoping for a ship wreck, something to bring him life again. Others had laughed at him, thinking he was wasting his time on useless human goods. But Mike knew better. But to no avail, he hadn't been lucky. One ship had sunk a few weeks back, sadly it did not contain any of this delicious food.
And so today Mike stood as motionless as he could in the moving water, waiting, hoping for a miracle. But no luck either. Every ship got safely to port.

Today, Mike had decided on another strategy. He still didn't know exactly what, but he wanted change. And so, he had swum late in the morning, still near the shore, but not in the same direction of the port. Instead he followed the warm current, willing them to take him to his good fortune. If he couldn't get what he wanted by himself, surely the sea would bring him to it. Drifting closer and closer to the shore, he finally emerged to see where he was headed. He chose some rocks and hid behind them, observing the shore. It was a lone beach in a cove, the cliff encasing it. There was a small trail between the slope leading to the beach. Mike though it was deserted when he spotted one man sitting alone. He was a tall blond, and his blue eyes gazed at the sea, unaware of the creature watching him. Mike shook his head, ready to dive again when he smelled it. The Food, stronger than before under the sea. Mike squinted, trying to discern what the man was eating. There, on a cloth, there was the round white food again. He sniffed, trying to get more of it. It wasn't the same smell as before, but it was pretty similar, and he was sure it was the same kind of food. Now, would he risk his safety, his people safety for, maybe, a chance to taste that food again?
Yes, totally. But he still had to be careful, not entirely trusting the human. You could never know how they would react after all.
Swimming slowly, still close to the rocks, Mike made his way closer to the shore. He made sure to keep his eyes on the human and then stopped when the human noticed him.
They both stayed still, observing the other. Then Mike moved slowly, getting even closer. He saw the human tense, but he didn't move otherwise. Mike stopped, observing, and despite his best attempt, his eyes kept shifting to the delicious food. He drew closer, closer until there was no more rocks and he didn't risk getting there with no security. He fixed the human, shifting his gaze to the food, and then up again, trying to convey what he wanted. He didn't even think about singing to enchant the human.
And soon enough the human got the message. Slowly, very deliberately, eyes fixed on Mike, he reached for the round food. Despite his best attempt, Mike flinched back, hiding behind a rock. The human quickly stopped, aware of the scared creature.
Mike kept back, glancing shyly. Still watching, the human reached the food and hold it out for Mike.
Now, Mike thought the human might just be a little dense, as there was no way he was going to go on the shore. He stared at him until the human finally rose. Still clutching the rock, Mike watched him get closer, the water now reaching his calfs. They were close, but still far enough that Mike could dive away if needed be.

"You want this?" asked the human, gesturing the food. Mike followed it with his eyes, not willing to look away.
The human chuckled and threw the food into the air in Mike's direction. Jumping to catch it, Mike reached out, caught it, and dived under the surface. He swam as fast as he could while devouring the food, thinking he knew where he would go back next time.

And sure enough, the next day Mike went to the lonely beach again. The human was there, and when he spotted Mike, he rose, food in hand and repeated the same actions as the day before. Mike swam straight after getting his food. And so on for weeks.

One day, when the human had thrown away the round food, Mike didn't swim back immediately. He stayed observing, food clutched in his hands. The human raised his eyebrow and smiled.

"Erwin," he said pointing to himself, "Erwin" he repeated again. "You?"

"Mike," Mike's voice carried over the water, his voice smooth and toneless.

"Erwin," the human, Erwin, pointed to himself again.

"I got that the first time, thanks," replied Mike before diving under the water.
He left the human speechless on the chore.

A few days later, Mike had bought Erwin a gift. The two of them had talked, or more like Erwin had talked and Mike had listened, keeping his "cheese" (the word was still new to him) close to him. He had thought that it was nice from Erwin to feed him every day, and the man did deserve some kind of reward.
So Mike had bought him a gift. It was a perfectly round pearl, he had found years before. He never knew what to make of it, and it seemed like a good occasion to give it away. So after catching the cheese, he stayed, as he usually did these days, and threw the small pearl at Erwin.
The human caught it, take by surprise, movement clumsy, and closed his fist around it.

"It's for you," said Mike, already backing away. Erwin eyebrow shot up, surprise clear on his face as he opened his hand.

"That's… Mike… Thanks! I don't know what to say." He blinked rapidly at the small pearl. Mike shook his head turning his back to go away.
"You know, you should try eating it while it's dry, it's probably better than wet," distaste displayed on his face, Erwin smiled weakly.

"Hum… I might try that once," Mike turned away once more and disappeared in the water.

In the next days, he noticed that Erwin wore a silver chain with a small pearl attached to it. It made him smile, and he started bringing more and more gifts from the sea to the human.

Once, he bought the best gift he had ever thought of. Erwin was often bringing him food, right? Then Mike should return the favor. He had searched for a long time, searching for the best, biggest one, and when he had found it had set directly to their beach. He was there first for once and had come as close as he could to the shore, sitting under the water, his torso above it.
Soon enough, Erwin came, carting his bag with his human food inside it.

"I brought you a gift," Mike immediately said.

"Oh? What is it this time?" Erwin settled his belonging on the sand, trying not to get his food dirty.
Meanwhile, Mike reached under the water and bought up the giant sea cucumber he had bought.

"Here," he held it out for Erwin to see, "It's a delicacy, it's rare for us mermaids to eat it, and we only have it on special occasion. You bought me so much food, I thought I had to return the favor"
Erwin eyes had widened when he saw the big slimy slug, probably thinking of its delicious flesh.
Still holding it, Mike stared at Erwin.
"Take it."

"Mike, that's…"

"You don't know what this is?" Mike cocked his head, trying to see what was holding the man back.

“No! I mean… I know what this is. Do you really eat that?" he was perplexed, still looking horrified.

"You mean you don't?"

"No! We do not! That's… No offense Mike, but I'm almost sure these things could kill us," he looked sorry.
Sea cucumber still in hands, Mike didn't know what to do. What an idiot, bringing something that could kill his human.

"Oh…" He let his hands down, letting the sea cucumber float away. "I'm sorry, I- I didn't know"

"It's okay, it's the thought that counts right? Plus, you already bought be a lot of gifts."
Mike nodded, looking down. He was not happy with his carelessness, and spent the rest of the meal sulking, barely responding to Erwin's questions. Even the cheese couldn't get him to lighten up today.
At the end of the meal he was still sulking, playing with small seashells in the sands, his tails swishing in the water.

"Come on Mike, don't sulk. I'm not angry, reallys it's all right" Erwin entered the water, crouching next to Mike to look at him in the eyes.
Suddenly Mike had the best idea, a gift he was sure no one could surpass, something that Erwin would remember forever.
Looking up, he quickly grabbed Erwin by his shirt, the human flailing as he was pulled toward Mike. Their chests hit, and Mike tilted his head up so his lips could catch Erwin's. Erwin let out a small surprised sound, one of his hand came to rest on his shoulder, supporting him as the other came crashing in the sand next to Mike's hip. Mike pushed a little more, his tongue licking Erwin's lips. He hadn't thought Erwin would respond, but soon enough, his lips moved against his, slowly, tasting the water.
Opening his mouth a little, Mike invited Erwin’s tongue in his mouth. He tasted sour, and it made Mike think of that red drink he often had with his lunch: wine. But it also made him think/reminisce of the first time he had tasted cheese, of that feeling of fulfilment, of need, of something entirely new he had yet to explore. And yet, it was familiar, like he had always belonged here, in Erwin's arms.
The kiss ended too soon to Mike's liking, and they stayed there for some time, staring at each other, the sun warming their skin, the water washing over them.
And then Mike pushed Erwin away, turned, dived back in the water, away, far away, his heart pounding in his chest.

There was more than food waiting for him on this isolated beach, and he couldn't wait to taste more of it.