Chapter 1: Hanzo
The mark was supposed to be an easy one. Laughably so. Just some charming fellow with a penchant for luring people to a nearly deserted isle where they disappeared soon after. Hanzo had simply thought it the work of a rather proficient serial killer, rather beneath his pay grade if he was honest. But the money was good for an easy target, so Hanzo took the job, let the man “lure” him too to this rather scenic if deserted place. Hanzo’s plan was to kill him when they were alone and collect the reward.
He didn’t factor in the sudden discovery of the cult.
Or the fact they had means to seal his dragons.
The added notion of being sacrificed to some sea god they worship is just plain crazy at this point.
Yet here he is, groggy and chained to the rock like some maiden in legends from bygone eras as the tide rolls in higher and higher. The fury washes over him before the next salty wave does. He berates himself as he tries to free himself of the chains, but the cult has left him with nothing. They even took his prosthetics, without which he cannot find purchase on the sand below to stand tall enough to get at the anchor of the chain.
He plots the demise of each and every member of the cult as he fights the chains and the water steadily rises to his chest. It gets up to his neck and Hanzo’s fury has melted into ice-cold dread. At this point he feels like being devoured by a so-called sea god would be mercy over drowning like this. The waves are battering him against the rocks as they sway with the winds, a storm brewing in the distance.
Hanzo watches the lightning dance across the clouds and tries to summon his dragon spirits, met with not even the sight of them cresting from his tattoo but the underlying feeling of weak static crawling beneath his skin.
With his last deep breath before the tide rises fully over him, he curses at the sky.
The waves are worse beneath the surface than above, the salt stings his eyes and the water is dark with the storm. It is all Hanzo can do to continue to struggle against his bonds as the waves continue to press him against the rock.
His hair had come loose from his ribbon a long while ago, the gold silk lost to the sea. Hanzo’s lungs are screaming for air, and try as he might to last just a bit longer to stave off the inevitable his body’s instinct overrides his will and he reflexively gasps.
Seawater floods his lungs and the panic crests. It burns and he’s sinking. Everything is growing darker still. In his final moments, his face is cupped, caressed, and gentle lips are pressed to his.
How appropriate that death comes to him like a lover.
But the kiss lingers and so do the hands, and when Hanzo and death part he is nothing like Hanzo imagined. His death is handsome, half human but with scales along a vibrant tail shining red and gold in the flashes of lightning striking the sea. Dark, knowing eyes study Hanzo and those lips that had kissed him so tenderly part in a lopsided grin over razor sharp fangs.
Hanzo is enamoured, doesn’t dare take his eyes off of this handsome creature’s even as he’s being circled, that strong tail navigating the battering waves like nothing. Shielding Hanzo from another bash against the rocks as the creature studies the chains. Clawed hands grasp the links and tear them like they were no more than paper.
The creature then sinks back to Hanzo’s level, keeps the inky locks of Hanzo’s hair away from his face as he trails knifelike claws across those sharp cheekbones. He chitters something in a language Hanzo has no hope of understanding, reaches into a bag woven of seaweed and shells and pulls from the depths a pearl like none Hanzo has seen before.
The creature presses the pearl to Hanzo’s lips, rests it on his tongue when his lips part and chases the action with yet another kiss. Hanzo lets the creature devour his lips and mouth with that kiss after he swallows the pearl, his entire being thrumming with energy not unlike summoning his guardian dragons.
It envelopes him in warmth, and his body feels heavy with sleep, the creature cradles him close and steers them both from the rocks to a bed of seaweed deeper down. Hanzo finds rest there, the creature curled protectively around his form.
When he wakes with the sunlight streaming down from above he is more than he was before. A tail covered in resplendent sapphire scales like his dragons, flecked with gold like the one who freed him is in place of his legs. When he looks for the other creature, he feels him before he sees him, a set of hands carefully carding through his hair to pull the long strands from his face.
Hanzo catches the tail end of his ribbon as it drifts across his nose as the stranger ties his hair back. When it is in place, he turns to his stranger, finding that same lopsided grin as his claws slip through the ends of Hanzo’s hair. Hanzo turns to him fully to chase his lips for a kiss. When they part his stranger cups Hanzo’s face and presses his forehead to Hanzo’s, lets Hanzo card his claws through his chestnut coloured beard and hair.
“Welcome home, Darlin’.”
Chapter 2: Jesse
Peeps in Bluandorange's stream chat suggested a chapter from Jesse's POV soooo here we go
He’s had many names in his millennia and many titles.
This century he decides to go by Jesse. It’s simple. He likes it. It's a name that for once he’s chosen for himself. The land dwellers in the past have happened upon him from time to time, and give him many titles and status he does not particularly care for. He knows where his power lies, and that’s enough.
Free food is something he will not pass up though, and the groups of land walkers that form to worship him provide more than enough. He never fully understood what they gain from sacrificing him their own. Must just be a land thing. This latest group is rather adamant about it.
So when another of their transports comes to the island Jesse knows it's time for another meal. This time is different though. He felt the power as soon as it stepped on the shore of his island. Something old and ancient, perhaps just as ancient as him. Something that roiled like the storm, trapped in the form of a mortal man.
He’d watched him travel further inland from the water after the transport had docked, unnoticed. The way he moved, Jesse knew he was a hunter too. He wonders how he’ll fare against the ones who reside on the island, and finds himself desiring a face to face meeting.
His following inland grant this wish, and he ponders if the land dwellers somehow knew how much the powerful one had interested him. He’d watched them chain him to the rock from his favourite sandbar he uses to sun himself. The powerful one was limp with whatever they give to their sacrifices, but Jesse knows it's a matter of time before the rising tide rouses him. It seems Jesse’s following has sealed his power.
Which presents many a problem in itself, he realizes, while he himself can walk land for a limited time the land dwellers don’t do so well in the sea. He’s not sure what the extent of this land dweller’s power is, but he cannot save himself in this state. With haste, Jesse slips from his sandbar and glides through the water towards his grotto and the underwater caves under his island.
The tide has risen when Jesse returns with the solution to the powerful one’s predicament. While it allows Jesse to reach the powerful one, it also does not bode well for him. He’s off like a shot, making his way to the rock, dipping briefly to snatch up a shimmer of gold he knows belongs to the powerful one where it caught on a rock. Its tucked into his pouch for safe keeping.
Above the waves, the sky has darkened and thunder rolls and Jesse takes it as a sign that the powerful one is in trouble. The suspicions are confirmed when the rock comes into sight and finds him struggling. Jesse watches as the powerful one tries to draw breath and panics.
Jesse swims up just as the powerful one is fading, cupping his face in his hands and leaning in to kiss him, mindful of his teeth on such soft lips. It's a short solution, the kiss, but it lets the powerful one draw breath under the waves.
He pulls away and finds the powerful one awake once more staring at him. Jesse offers him a lopsided grin. Jesse finds himself sinking into his eyes but he has other things he must take care of.
He circles the powerful one as he studies the chains, keeping him from bashing against the rock. The chains binding the powerful one are nothing more than seaweed against Jesse’s strength and he floats back down and parts his hair— so much softer than his own— away from his face. Jesse wonders if the powerful one feels as drawn to him as Jesse is to him.
“You’re so beautiful.” Jesse murmurs and watches the powerful one look at him in confusion. Jesse chitters softer to reassure him, “It’ll all be alright now, you’re safe.”
He’ll be able to understand him soon enough if this works.
Jesse reaches into his seaweed pouch and pulls a pearl from its depths. Jesse made it once, long ago, and nearly forgot about it. A witch had taught him how, should he feel the need to fully experience life on land for millennia or two.
He just hopes the opposite effect will happen to a land dweller. Jesse gives it a little extra power just in case as he presses it to the powerful one’s lips. He chases it with a deeper kiss for good luck, nearly chittering in joy when the powerful one returns it.
He feels that well of power he sensed within the powerful one surge to meet the pearl’s spell. Jesse leads him from the rock to a bed of seaweed closer to his grotto. Jesse settles him on the soft sand to wait out the rest of the transformation, curling his long body around him.
And when it does take hold, Jesse is nearly speechless at the sight of the resplendent sapphire scales of the powerful one as he slumbers. Jesse only remembers the gold that belonged to the powerful one while watching the sunlight catch the gold sheen to those blue scales.
Jesse’s retying the gold into the powerful one’s hair when he finally stirs. An end of the gold drifts across the powerful one’s nose and he catches it, turning to Jesse. Jesse offers him another grin, which widens in surprise and joy when the powerful one turns to him for a kiss. When they part Jesse allows the powerful one to trail his claws through his beard and hair and practically thrums with happiness.
“Welcome home, Darlin’.”
Chapter 3: Waking
Uh so now this is some sort of proper fic now huh. I was debating leaving Drink Sweet Salt as is and make this part the next story in the series but tbh I don't need to like... flood the McHan tag...
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“I’m not dead, am I?”
Jesse rolls over on the sun-warmed sandbar and regards his companion. The powerful one— Hanzo, had not spoken much before this other than to tell him his name or ask a few sparse questions of Jesse.
Who are you? Where am I?
What am I?
“Not at all,” Jesse answers, shuffles himself off his end of the sandbar to swim to Hanzo’s side and wiggles up next to him, “Told ya, I saved you. Did you spend the last few sunrises thinkin’ you were wakin’ up dead?”
Hanzo is staring off into the distance, towards the shore and the remnants of the chains on the rock the cult had chained him to, “Yes.”
Jesse supposes it makes sense. The land walkers’ heads sometimes change things to protect themselves from things incomprehensible to them. Sometimes people who had seen Jesse outside of his followings wrote him off like he was something normal like a manatee. Something like what happened to Hanzo might have made such a thing occur. Jesse nudges him with his shoulder in hopes to reassure him.
It only seems to set off Hanzo’s ire, because he turns and snaps at him with his newfound sharp teeth. Jesse backs off and stares him down uncertainly.
“So this is something you did?” Hanzo drags himself over the sandbar towards Jesse and Jesse backs off warily, “You made me into this?”
“Yeah! You were drownin’?” Jesse retorts snaps his own teeth at Hanzo, showing he will not be intimidated in his own waters on his own damn sandbar, thank ya kindly. “Didja just want me ta eat ya? Leave ya? Couldn’t just let you die!”
“Why not?!” Hanzo chitters furiously, “What made me different?! Why weren’t any of the others worthy?” He sneers at Jesse, baring his teeth, waiting for an answer.
“Felt drawn to ya.” Jesse replies, settling down on the sandbar more comfortably though still watching Hanzo warily, “You were— still are, powerful. Wanted… jus’ wanted ya.”
Hanzo scoffs in disbelief and glares at Jesse, “Wanted me? You do not even know me!”
“I want to.” Jesse says softly, repeats it when Hanzo scoffs again, “I do.
“I’m starting to believe the only thing you want is someone to ease your loneliness.” Hanzo throws back.
Jesse can’t deny that. He tries to retort, to tell Hanzo he’s wrong but it's true. The kiss had been to save Hanzo, let him draw breath, but it might have been rather self-indulgent. Saving Hanzo had been incredibly selfish, and every moment with him Jesse had coveted to himself after. The— at the time grateful— kiss Hanzo had given him when he woke and teaching him the basics of living under the waves.
The cult knows of him but does not know him, but there had been a chance to have someone who could possibly, one as powerful if not more powerful than he.
He’d been selfish and had cost Hanzo more than Jesse might have factored in that snap decision.
Jesse can’t even voice this realization because Hanzo is already moving without another word from the sandbar, diving under the waves and splashing the cold sea water at Jesse with his tail.
Leaving Jesse alone on the sandbar with his thoughts.
I accept all yelling because I know what I've done.
Chapter 4: Apology
Hanzo doesn’t see Jesse for days. Though to be fair, he’s also actively avoiding the other creature. Merman? Hanzo never did get a straight answer about what Jesse was and at this point, he could care less about him.
Hanzo’s too busy still figuring out how to exist in this state he finds himself. Movement through water is strange and he’s not quite used to changing direction yet. In the first few days of his fugue state, Jesse had led him around, gave him pointers on swimming and hunting, let Hanzo share his catch when the fish slipped through Hanzo’s claws.
Hanzo had just thought it all a strange sort of life after death. He didn’t think this was his life now. Everything that had lead to this feels like a strange blur. He has to visit the broken chains on the rock to double check.
Even in his slow wanderings in the waters around the island, he does not see Jesse. Not one red scale or the flicker of the gold in his tail catching the light. Hanzo doesn’t even know why his thoughts keep drifting to him.
“Felt drawn to ya.”
Jesse’s words come to mind and Hanzo scoffs, swimming determinedly towards a grouping of three stones he’s made to be his home. There’s a bed of seaweed in the middle to rest in during the night. Jesse had told Hanzo of grottos, and basic instructions to make one, though they had shared Jesse’s for the first few days.
Hanzo misses the security of the grotto, admittedly, though he will be damned if he goes back out seeking Jesse.
It’s easy for him to settle down in the seaweed, let it help conceal his bright blue scales. He’s not sure if there are predators in these waters capable of making him their dinner, and he’s not eager to find out. The thought of dinner has his own stomach rumbling, his hunt unsuccessful while he’s still unused to the movement of his tail.
He resigns himself to another night in this hell and tries to settle in for sleep.
When morning comes Hanzo is woken by movement in the water close by. Nothing big, but from what he can tell, many small things struggling. He’s picked up on that much while living under the waves. Hanzo moves through his seaweed bed and peers out, blinking in confusion at a woven net weighted down by rocks containing a good handful of weakly swimming fish.
There’s only one creature with a mind to do this and the thought nearly makes Hanzo overturn the net and let the handouts free. It’s his stomach that ultimately stops him, growling at the thought of finally getting food. It's easy enough to lift one side of the net and nab a fish, and while Hanzo still is apprehensive about eating it live, his instinct to survive overrides his disgust and before he knows it he’s eaten at least three of them. He lets the fish bones sink to the seafloor for the bottom feeders.
He licks his fangs and claws his way up the stones surrounding his seaweed bed, glancing around the depths for red scales or flashes of gold. Finding no sign of Jesse, Hanzo pushes himself off the stone and wriggles a little to figure out the movement of his tail. It is still an incredibly awkward feeling, moving one appendage to drive yourself forward instead of two.
He’s trying not to turn himself in circles when he spots a shimmer in the sand below. Curious, he makes his way slowly down. Half buried in the sand is his sake gourd. Hanzo snatches it up out of the sand and clings to it, immediately scanning the area for any more of his things.
His guitar case he used to conceal his bow is down here too, farther along the seafloor. Hanzo drags himself along the sand, a much faster mode of transport while he’s still getting used to the movement of his tail. He flips open the guitar case immediately, hopes that his bow is not being damaged by the saltwater. The case is blessedly empty, but also stirs another type of fury in Hanzo all the same.
Those cultist freaks better not have tossed it down here too. Or worse, be using it themselves.
Hanzo chitters furiously and throws his sake gourd in the guitar case and slams it shut again. The entire motion is not as satisfying as he would have hoped underwater. He grabs the guitar case by its handle and is almost about to turn around before he spots something else odd in the distance.
One of his extra hair scarves is caught in the rocks closer to shore. Hanzo makes his way towards it with the guitar case in tow. He snatches the blue silk from where it’s caught and puts it inside the guitar case too. When he lifts his head he looks right past tufts of seaweed growing between the rocks into an opening inside them.
It’s a shelter that’s better hidden than the seaweed bed between the three rocks Hanzo’s been using.
Hanzo makes his way inside the opening, dragging his guitar case with him. Six feet in, the space opens up and Hanzo has room to surface inside the cave. It takes a bit for his eyes, so used to the low light in the deeper areas of the the seafloor to adjust.
The cave roof has holes to let in sunlight, which warms the shallow waters further in and splashes wiggles of light all over the walls. There’s a natural rock shelf in here too, and Hanzo’s eyes land on a pile of fabric and an assortment of items. The rest of his belongings. Behind the pile, his bow and quiver.
Hanzo’s scrambling onto the rock shelf as fast as he can, tossing the guitar case onto it best he can without splashing the fabric and items. There’s one thing he needs to make sure is still here, that no one has taken it.
He finds it wrapped in his gi underneath his civilian clothes. Hanzo nearly sobs when he finds his mother’s tortoise shell hair comb. An antique passed down through generations of his mother’s family. The only thing he could carry with him when he fled the clan in memory of her.
He wraps the heirloom back up for safe keeping, looking more around the space. He will have to make this place his grotto, if all of his things are here.
All of his things are here.
Hanzo finally looks closer around the space, and spots etchings on the walls in the shallows. When he investigates, he finds a map of the island and surrounding waters etched into the stone. Helpfully labelled with the best hunting grounds closest to this cave and the underwater tunnels running through the island. Hanzo’s new grotto is marked as you are here.
Hanzo looks from the map back to the pile of his things. He hadn’t noticed before in his haste to make sure all of his things were accounted for, but right next to his bow and quiver is another etching roughly scratched into the stone. Two words only.
Maybe scratching out the I’m Sorry left by Jesse was a tad petty.
Yes, the gesture was nice. Hanzo felt a little better knowing his things were accounted for and properly in his hands. Ultimately though, it does not change the situation Hanzo is in.
To the best of his ability, Hanzo is currently rigging together a form of power supply to charge his phone. Genji needs to know where he is. Hanzo had promised his brother he would check in after his last job. His phone had died sometime when it wasn’t in his possession.
He just hopes Jesse hadn’t swum his belongings here. There were openings in the roof of the grotto, yes, but from what Hanzo had studied of the shoreline area it’s located in, it’s rough, uneven and rocky. Too tall for a Merman climb onto and even if they could it looked to be absolute hell for a Merman to drag himself through.
Hanzo’s not entirely sure how Jesse got his things back at all, come to think of it.
He pushes thoughts of Jesse from his mind and shuffles himself best he can to claw another opening into the roof. Staying out of the water for too long makes him uncomfortably dry, so frequently Hanzo has to take a break from his work to lay in the shallows of his grotto.
Hanzo only leaves the grotto to eat, having gone and retrieved the woven net full of fish Jesse had left him. Sometime during the day, Jesse seems to come by and refill it with fish for Hanzo, though Hanzo never seems to catch him in the act. Hanzo’s a little too preoccupied at the moment anyway to try to.
Hours pass before Hanzo’s dug another hole in the roof in his grotto. It's narrow, coming through into his grotto at an angle. Wide enough to slip his portable solar panel through, a necessity he’d purchased while on the run from the clan. He just hopes it is still in working condition, despite it being a little roughed up from his last job.
Hanzo has to go find a long piece of driftwood and dry it best he can to push the solar panel the rest of the way through the hole. He lets it gather sunlight while he works on carving out a shelf inside his grotto. The scratched up I’m Sorry ends up being the perfect height to make a shelf so the cord to the panel isn’t too taught. Hanzo carves it out of the rock entirely.
Hanzo expected his claws to be ruined long ago by this whole endeavour. It only makes them sharper.
After a few long days of hard work, it’s time for the moment of truth.
Hanzo finds his phone among his things and plugs it into the solar panel. And waits. And waits. When his phone doesn’t even begin to charge after twenty minutes Hanzo roars in frustration and comes very close to tearing the solar panel back down and tossing it into the pool of water behind him.
He presses his forehead against the rock and huffs. He knew he should have replaced the solar panel before taking the bounty on the cult member. Easy job. He’ll never underestimate or think anything beneath his skill again.
He pulls back and his eyes fall to the head of the dragon at his wrist. His tattoo had still remained intact through the transformation into this being. He trails his claw along the ink of the dragon’s maw in thought.
There’s one other thing he can try.
He’s done this in other emergencies before, only rarely and only if he absolutely needed to. The dragons aren’t meant to be channelled without a weapon, and he’s definitely not pointing his bow at his phone.
Hanzo just hopes his dragons are still here.
He picks up his phone and calls to his dragons. It takes a worrying few moments, but soon Hanzo feels the familiar presence of his dragons. Static surges through his body and that’s all Hanzo lets the dragons manifest as, since he has to be careful or he’ll fry his phone entirely.
He doesn’t expect it to feel so easy this time. Seamless. Completely in control of the dragons and their storm.
In his hands, his phone lights up with a full charge. Hanzo chitters in triumph and sets about unlocking it. There are messages from Genji, text after text and call after call trying to reach Hanzo. Hanzo opens their messages and hesitates.
How the ever loving fuck is he going to explain this.
Hanzo decides it can wait for a few moments longer and types out a few messages to Genji apologizing for his inability to answer his phone. Thankfully the messages manage to send. And be received, because Genji is immediately texting Hanzo back.
Genji: Hanzo what the fuck?! Do you know how many days its been? You said this was an easy job! Where even are you? Do you need me to come to get you? I’ll come to get you if you need me to. I’m serious. Just say the word.
Hanzo: There was… an incident. But I am fine now.
Genji: Yeah. Letting you know right now saying “incident” and being super vague isn’t going to work. What happened?
Hanzo hesitates and looks down to his tail before he types out his message.
Hanzo: I’m not entirely sure you would even believe me if I told you.
Genji: Try me.
Hanzo gnaws at his own lip as he ponders on how to even begin. After much mental deliberation, Hanzo backs out of the messaging app and switches to the camera and goes about trying to take a picture of himself in the low light that will help explain his predicament.
His claw hovers over the send button as he finished typing a message under the picture to send with it. The faster he tells his brother about his new state the better. The alternative is avoiding Genji for the rest of his life and they’ve only just begun to be brothers again.
Hanzo owes Genji the truth, and with that determined drive, he hits send. It takes ages for Genji to reply, something Hanzo agonizes over, hunched in his grotto clinging to his phone like a lifeline. His fin keeps smacking the surface of the water in his anxiety and only makes him antsier.
Finally his phone dings with a message from Genji.
Genji: What. The. Fuck. Hanzo… what… just. What.
Hanzo grimaces and settles down in his grotto as comfortably as he can and begins telling Genji everything.
Hanzo: Would you believe I ran into a cult and met their god?
"IM JUST LAUGHING
at the image of this deep sea lookin mermaid
WITH A SMARTPHONE!!"
- My Best Friend Olivia, after reading this chapter over for me.
The Phone Charging was inspired by the Hanzo the Phone Charger comic by 7Clubs on Twitter, because the mental image of a merman Hanzo doing it was hilarious.
Chapter 6: An Endeavour
Jesse hopes Hanzo accepts his gifts.
Jesse goes inland for Hanzo, swims through his underwater tunnels to get to the innermost areas of the island. There he knows of a cave system that the cult uses to hide things that belonged to the previous sacrifices.
Hanzo’s stuff is hidden away with the rest. Jesse has to lift and drag himself out of the water and dry enough so his tail melds into legs so he can walk the cave tunnels. It is uncomfortable and rather itchy to walk the land, so Jesse makes the trip as quick as possible to return to the sea.
Jesse knows Hanzo’s pile is indeed his when he finds it because it is newer than the rest. Some of Hanzo’s things are probably not waterproof, land dweller objects often aren’t, so Jesse leaves them in the cave until he thinks of a way to get them back to Hanzo. He does slowly carry the items into an area in the cave system where he can hide them so the cult doesn’t pick through the objects in the meantime.
He returns to the sea content he’s hidden them well enough and plans his next move in helping Hanzo. He knows Hanzo has been using a cluster of rocks as his shelter, while an alright sleeping area for a time, it is by no means a proper grotto.
So Jesse makes him one out of an underwater cave close to shore. Jesse had been planning on converting it into another tunnel eventually when he got bored and needed a project. Its position also means that he can possibly dig or find a way to get Hanzo’s things inside without damaging them while swimming through the water.
It is perfect.
That project takes him some time, especially to make it large enough inside for Hanzo to rest comfortably. Jesse even carves a map out in the shallows of Hanzo’s new grotto to help him get used to the area. Later uses another tunnel to get back up on land and dig out some skylights for the grotto, and a way to get Hanzo’s stuff inside.
The shoreline on this side of the isle is rocky and Jesse’s land feet end up being rather bruised and bloodied as he carries Hanzo’s things to the new grotto and lowers them in. Jesse covers up the hole he made to do so with the largest, flattest rock he could find and pats the cracks full of mud to close it.
His last project inside the grotto is to carve an apology next to Hanzo’s weaponry. Jesse then grabs some of the other items that look like they can get wet with salt water without damaging them. Jesse doubts Hanzo would let him simply show him his new grotto so Jesse makes a trail.
He then fixes up one of his extra nets for Hanzo to use. Catches some fish for him too while he was at it. Hanzo’s not the best at traversing and hunting under the waves yet, Jesse’s seen him enough from afar while working on Hanzo’s grotto to tell.
Hanzo’s state is Jesse’s fault, after all, and he needs to help take care of Hanzo now. He’s Jesse’s responsibility.
Jesse takes the repaired net, fills it with fish and places it at the beginning of the trail and waits. Thankfully, and to Jesse’s joy, Hanzo follows it and moves into the new grotto shortly after.
There is no real way to tell if Hanzo is satisfied with the state of the grotto though, as he doesn’t reappear from it often over the next few days. When Hanzo does leave it, it is with a stubbornly determined look on his face. Jesse continues to steer clear of him except to help refill the net with fish since Hanzo is not hunting when he goes out.
Any other situation like this, Jesse’s whole endeavour with the grotto and hunting for Hanzo would be considered an invitation to court.
He shoves that thought deep down. Jesse would be lucky if Hanzo even wanted to be friends. Reside in the same area, even. He’ll continue to give Hanzo his space and help provide fish until Hanzo is ready to talk with him. Or if Hanzo calms enough for Jesse to approach him, whichever occurs first.
Jesse’s in the middle of hunting for more fish for himself and Hanzo when he feels the surge of power coming from Hanzo’s grotto. His surprise nearly makes him drop the net he’s currently using and let loose the fish. Just as quick as it happened it is over, and Jesse makes his way back to the area cautiously to deposit the fish.
The few fish he left earlier are no longer alive inside the net when Jesse swims up. Hanzo doesn’t kill them when Jesse leaves them usually, that much he knows of the former land dweller’s habits. The immediate area around the mouth of Hanzo’s grotto feels strangely charged. It sends an uncomfortable shiver all the way through Jesse to the tip of his tail fin. Powerful indeed.
Jesse replaces some of the dead fish with his recent catch, nibbles on a few of them out of curiosity while he does so. Perhaps this is a form of the land dwellers’ “cooking”? The fish do taste a little stranger than just eating them raw.
Content that he’s provided enough food for Hanzo for the remainder of today and possibly tomorrow, Jesse closes off the net and makes his way to his own grotto on the other side of the island.
He hopes Hanzo will speak with him soon.
Jesse’s tired of being lonely.
Genji, to Hanzo’s chagrin, had brought up a very good point in their text conversations.
If Jesse did this to Hanzo, then who is to say he can’t undo it? So as much has Hanzo does not wish to right now, still stewing in his ire as he is, he will have to locate and speak with the other creature. Which, after some thought, the solution to do so comes to Hanzo easily.
So he sits in the entrance of his grotto and watches the fish net Jesse left for him. Hanzo knows Jesse will come to fill it, it is only a matter of time. He might be snacking on a few of the fish as he waits, just to make doubly sure Jesse comes by today.
Hanzo picks his teeth with his claws to rid his fangs of fishbone, another fish pinned under his other hand. He flexes his claws and calls his dragons, the fish shuddering under his claws wildly before stilling. After he’d called them to charge his phone the other day, he’d discovered some of the fish fried to death in the net. It’s not the best way to prepare fish, but it is the closest thing to cooking he has.
Genji teased him when he told him earlier before Hanzo set out to wait. Called Hanzo an electric eel and probably just as grumpy. Hanzo sent his brother many an angry emoji in response. When this whole mess is fixed he will have to get him back for the comment. Maybe Hanzo will also buy himself a cake when he’s far away from here to celebrate too.
A whole cake for himself that he daydreams about waiting for Jesse to pass by on his fish delivery rounds.
Hanzo does not have much longer to wait, a shadow passes overhead and a flicker of red dives for the fish trap. Hanzo pulls himself from his grotto just in time to catch Jesse putting more fish in the net. His presence is not unnoticed, because Jesse glances up at him a little warily before placing the last rock down to hold the net in place.
“Howdy,” Jesse says shyly after a moment passes.
“Greetings.” Hanzo returns, stiffly polite even as his tail fin flicks irritatedly from side to side, “You and I need to talk.”
Jesse, who looks seconds from bolting, gives Hanzo a wary once over. Hanzo makes no move towards him, which relaxes Jesse a little. The other creature settles into the sand a few feet from the net but remains a respectable distance from Hanzo himself.
“Reckon so.” Jesse agrees.
When he says nothing else after and they both stay silent for a minute or two Hanzo sighs heavily.
“You need to fix this.” Hanzo says plainly, motioning to his tail, “This is not my natural state of being, I’m having a difficult time living down here, and would very much appreciate being able to return to my life as it was.”
He hoped Genji would be proud of the restraint and speech he helped Hanzo practice this morning. Heck, Hanzo’s a little proud of himself too for the patience he’s exercising right now.
It goes right down the proverbial drain with the next words to leave Jesse’s mouth.
Hanzo’s tail stops flicking, “You can’t?”
Jesse shakes his head slowly, “It— It ain’t somethin’ I cooked up. Ancient magic, older than me by who knows only how long. It was s’posed to be a gift, for me, from an ol’ friend. I don’t know where she could even be right now. Ocean’s big.” Jesse runs his claws through his own hair, turns a cautious gaze to Hanzo, “I’m real sorry.”
Hanzo feels a cold dread rise in him, if it is colder than it felt when he was actually drowning, he can’t tell, “So… So I am stuck like this.”
“‘Fraid so.” Jesse says softly.
Long moments pass as Hanzo processes. Jesse keeps looking at him and looking away but mostly keeps his gaze downturned. Eventually, the other creature stirs and the movement, in turn, brings Hanzo out of the haze that settled over him.
“Think I’m gonna go.” Jesse says as he backs off slowly, “Give ya your space. You got some things ta think about.”
Hanzo feels the anger replace the dread, red hot and roiling. Like a storm, a hurricane. He flexes his claws and pushes himself from the seabed and blocks Jesse’s path.
“You cannot leave! You need to fix this!” He hisses, advances on Jesse when the other creature backs off from him.
“I told ya I can’t!” Jesse puts his hands up, to calm or in preparation to defend himself, Hanzo’s too in his anger to care, “I can’t. I’m real sorry, but there is nothin’ I can do to fix this.”
“Can’t or won’t!?” Hanzo roars.
Jesse says nothing and only backs off as far as he’s able, looking around for an escape route. He too is using the seabed to push himself from Hanzo. Hanzo chases after him. The dragons are roiling in agony too, cresting from his skin, barely contained. They can’t go home either if Hanzo can’t. Their heartbreak is shared.
Jesse must see an opening because he tries to flick himself around to turn and flee. Hanzo swipes wildly to catch him before he can escape.
The dragons and Hanzo both find purchase in red scales.
The screech of agony and pain make them let go. Ice shoots down Hanzo’s spine and the rage melts into horror as he takes his hand back. Jesse writhes and sinks to the seafloor, fresh scars of lightning marring the left side of his tail. The fin Hanzo caught is nearly shredded, from his claws or the dragons, he can’t tell.
“Jes—“ Hanzo calls as he moves to the injured creature’s side.
Hands immediately bat his away with a pained hiss, “Don’t touch me.”
Hanzo pulls away, watches Jesse lift himself off the seafloor, tail and fins still minutely twitching from the shock of Hanzo and the dragons’ power. Jesse glances back warily at Hanzo when he rights himself before he begins to turn from him and drag himself away.
“I didn’t mean to do that.” Hanzo voices quietly.
He hears Jesse scoff as he drags himself away, leaving Hanzo alone with his sorrows and regrets.
They got some things to work out, huh?
Chapter 8: Peace Offering
Food seems like the olive branch to go for.
After all, Jesse had come by with food for Hanzo when they weren’t on speaking terms. Hanzo is not that great at hunting yet, but he needs to learn. Jesse’s stopped coming by with fish to fill the net in front of Hanzo’s grotto anyway. Hanzo’s not seen a flicker of those red scales since the incident.
He hopes it is out of avoidance, and that Jesse isn’t dea—
Hanzo stops that thought before it can take root. It’ll only serve to panic him and make him unfocused in his task. Which is hunting, for himself and for Jesse. He spent a long time studying the map Jesse carved into his grotto, looking over the areas Jesse designated as the best hunting areas.
He’d also poured over it looking for a hint of where Jesse’s grotto could be. Hanzo had stayed there right after his transformation when he still thought this all a strange afterlife. He remembers very little of its location, and wishes in hindsight he made note of more landmarks than just the fact of it being close to the sandbar Jesse frequents to sun. It is a start at least.
Eventually minutely confident he can accomplish both of his goals, he sets out with his now empty net to gather food. The hunting grounds prove to be teaming with life, deeper down in the ocean about a mile and a half out from the island. It would be much faster travel if Hanzo had better control of his tail, but he makes the journey best he can.
Hanzo’s finds schools of fish meandering around, but he’s in no condition to chase his prey. His fingers twitch of their own accord, longing to draw an arrow. It would be so much simpler, but Hanzo has no desire to bring Stormbow into the depths for fear of ruining the weapon. He’ll need to devise another plan to catch his dinner.
There are reefs with many nooks and crannies that Hanzo can hide inside. Lying in wait is always an option, but the fish move erratically among the crevices and overtop the reef, it could be a while until they move past him. He could tie rocks to the net and drop it from above and hope the fish will simply be caught by it.
Hanzo really wishes he got more hunting lessons from Jesse before he realized the reality of his current state.
But, there is one thing Hanzo can do that Jesse can’t. As much as he desires not to use them, his dragons and their power could prove useful here. Hanzo settles inside one of the bigger crevices in the reef, and once content he’s safe from anything that may wish to make him a snack, he closes his eyes and calls to his dragons.
The twin spirits soon appear in a shimmer, swimming around Hanzo questioningly. Hanzo addresses them both in low Japanese, motioning to the schools of fish and the net he has waiting. They swim another slow circle around Hanzo before they both are off like a shot, each returning with a stunned fish in their jaws to deposit in the net.
Hanzo feels a little silly it has taken him this long to think of this solution to hunting, but it has been pointed out before, especially by Genji, that he tends to think in circles and wallow. Especially when he’s got access to alcohol.
He’d already run out of sake the first night alone in his grotto though.
He chases the thoughts of the logistics of acquiring more sake in his current state from his mind and continues to watch his dragons hunt. They shoot through the schools of fish like very direct bolts of lightning, catching their intended target in their jaws and coming back to Hanzo to deposit their quarry. The fish that remain stunned from the dragons’ first pass are easily gathered in the second.
Soon Hanzo’s net is near bursting with fish.
Before he dismisses them, he gives them one more task while he makes his way back to the waters closer to the island. The dragons are off just like that again, their goal to find Jesse. They are much faster than Hanzo, and will likely know his location by the time Hanzo has returned to the area of his own grotto.
He might need to meditate before he goes to find Jesse, and perhaps before even that, talk of things with Genji. Genji has been trying to contact him since the incident with Jesse occurred, and Hanzo has not really felt like speaking with him until now. Maybe Genji will have some advice to help him not fuck up so tremendously again.
Hanzo stews in his thoughts all the way back to his grotto, where he settles down to contact Genji and meditate, all the while awaiting word from his dragons.
Chapter 9: Truce
The dragons return mid-meditation.
Hanzo knows they are close when the phone connection is cut out by static, Genji’s voice becoming warbled and unintelligible. Hanzo reaches to pick up his phone and his brother’s voice becomes clear once more as soon as Hanzo touches the device.
“They’re back, I take it?” Genji asks from the other end, also broken out of his mediation, “Always thought it was super weird to be able to sense them through the phone.”
“Ancient magic and technology just mingle in the strangest ways.” Hanzo muses, turning his head towards the entrance of the grotto.
Two ethereal dragon heads pop up out of the water like saltwater crocodiles, blinking slowly up at Hanzo as they wait to fulfil their master’s request. Hanzo takes one more deep breath, and it must be audible enough to be heard on the phone because Genji comments.
“It’ll be alright Anija, just keep calm, and remember to let him listen to you but also to listen to him. You both clearly need to air some things.” Genji advises, keeping a cheerful tone, “You didn’t let the apology fish escape, right?”
Hanzo has to laugh, “No, the fish are still here. Thank you, Genji.”
“I expect an update on your fish drama as soon as this talk is over as repayment.” Genji teases, “I feel for you brother, I do. But your situation is a little entertaining.”
“Goodbye, Genji.” Hanzo huffs as he hangs up.
Hanzo sets his phone down on the shelf he carved out and rubs his hands down his face. He doubts there could be anyway he would be fully prepared for this talk, so after another deep breath, he slips from the rock shelf into the water.
“Take me to him.” He orders his twin dragons.
They blink and disappear back under the water and Hanzo follows. He grips the net full of fish as he swims after his twin spirits. They lead him to the other side of the island, a little ways past the sandbar and to a rockier area of the seafloor.
The cliffside on this side of the island must have decayed and fallen into the water long ago. Its a perfect place for a creature like Jesse to make his home. The rocks form many crevices to hide among, and the closer the dragons take Hanzo to this formation of stone, the more he remembers the area.
Jesse’s grotto is not far at all, and Hanzo takes another deep breath to calm his sudden nerves. He dismisses the dragons and continues on his own. Hanzo knows where he’s going now.
Just underneath and past the largest chunk of rock is a bed of seaweed closer to the foundation of the cliffside that remains above the waves. Its dark under the stone enough as it is, a perfect place to hide the entrance to a grotto. Hanzo hesitates at the natural stone archway and contemplates a greeting.
One would think Hanzo would be used to situations like this now.
“Jesse?” He calls eventually, deciding it would be rude to enter without permission, “I-I brought you some fish.”
Nothing stirs for the longest time, and Hanzo waits, fin stirring up the sand as his anxiety mounts. Maybe he should just go in, make sure the other creature is okay. Hanzo works on setting down the net so the fish can’t escape while he decides if that is a course of action he desires to take.
In the middle of doing so, Hanzo feels eyes on him and glances up into the darkness past the fallen stone. Jesse stares back at him, wary and confused, and he makes no move to come out of the cave. They stare at each other for a long time.
“I brought you some fish,” Hanzo repeats his earlier words lamely, lost for the rest of the words he had planned but needing to fill the silence.
“I see that,” Jesse replies, guarded. “Why?”
Hanzo flinches at the harsh tone, but it’s a tone he’s earned, “Because I have come to apologize.”
Jesse narrows his eyes at him, looking from Hanzo to the fish and back, “Why?”
“Because I harmed you?!” Hanzo replies incredulously, “I don’t know how it normally works for creatures like you, but when humans hurt someone on accident we try to apologize or make it up to them?”
“Yer not human anymore,” Jesse replies icily, “because of me.”
“I’m well aware.” Hanzo snaps back, tail flicking in agitation.
His tone makes Jesse start to pull back into the darkness and Hanzo sighs heavily, rubbing at his temple. Hanzo takes deep breaths and looks back up to Jesse. The other creature’s not retreated fully into the darkness, lingering in the very shadows of his grotto’s entrance way.
“What I am trying to say,” Hanzo says, fighting to keep his voice calm and even, “Is that I may still hold anger towards you for my state, but it does not excuse what I have done to you in my fury. For that, I am sorry.”
Hanzo motions to the fish caught in the net, “I have brought you food since I have likely ruined your ability to hunt for a few days, if not weeks. I know not how long healing the wound will take, if it will heal, so I will provide for you if need be.” Hanzo turns to Jesse and waits for him to say anything, if he ever will.
Jesse seems at a loss for words at first, but he does eventually find them, “You of all merfolk shouldn’t need to provide for the one who ruined your life.”
“This agreement can come to an end as soon as you are healed,” Hanzo replies simply.
Jesse is about to say something in reply at that but Hanzo lifts a hand to silence him.
“Let me finish.” Hanzo interrupts, continuing when Jesse nods in understanding, “That being said, you and I are now more or less neighbours. There are things I need to know to survive down here that you know. We may not get along, I am unsure if we will ever be able to, but you and I may need to spend some time together helping me learn.”
Jesse blinks and stares at Hanzo for a long while, “Alright, you're the boss. These waters are practically yours now anyway.”
“I don’t understand your meaning.” Hanzo furrows his brow, “Speak plain!”
“We merfolk, at least ones like me, got a very simple rule when it comes ta livin’.” Jesse pulls himself out of the entrance only a little, blinking his dark eyes in the sunlight filtering down from the surface above, “When somethin’ bigger, meaner and more powerful has its sights on your waters, it don’t matter how long you been there, you leave."
“That’s preposterous.” Hanzo scoffs.
“It’s survival.” Jesse fires back, “You’re bigger than me, meaner than me an’ way more powerful. I’ve felt the power that hangs ‘round you, felt it when you grabbed me. That means the waters, the island, they’re yours.”
“I don’t want them.” Hanzo sends Jesse a hard look, “I will not take ownership of your territory.”
“Then what do you want from me?” Jesse raises his voice as he runs a hand through his hair in exasperation, “I provided for you to try to make amends, help ya get used to life down here. I can’t fix this like you want me to, an’ the place I lo— lived in longest you don’t want either! I got nothin’ else to give you.”
“I don’t want to be given anything!” Hanzo balls his own fists in his lap, digging his claws into his palms, “If I am stuck like this, fine. If there is nothing that can be done, I will adapt, as I have done throughout my entire life. What I truly need now is guidance on how to do so, how to live down here. I need you to teach me.”
Jesse watches him for a long time, sighs and pinches the bridge of his nose. The gesture is so human Hanzo almost forgets he’s face to face with a creature straight from myth.
“Alright, fine,” Jesse says after a bit, turning his gaze to Hanzo. He hesitantly reaches a hand out to Hanzo, “Truce?”
Hanzo takes it and shakes it with a nod.
Chapter 10: Teamwork
In truth, Jesse had been certain that Hanzo would have been thrilled to be rid of him.
So when Hanzo showed up at his grotto with fish, that had been surprising. Even more surprising was his willingness to let Jesse share the territory with him. By all accounts, the island and the waters should be Hanzo’s. It wouldn’t be the first time Jesse would have had to leave a home behind.
Hanzo’s allowed him to stay though, and Jesse won’t let such a gift pass by. He’s still cautious around the other mer, especially after the incident with his fin. If Hanzo’s noticed his apprehension, he’s not said a word about it to Jesse.
Hanzo’s at least trying to fix Jesse’s fin issue the best he can. Though Jesse still thinks the other mer shouldn’t be so repentant about it. Jesse wronged Hanzo first and if Hanzo lashed out at him because of what Jesse had cost him, that’s just the way it is.
Otherwise, Jesse doesn’t know if the attention should be getting on his nerves or he should be relishing in it if he’s being honest. On one hand, if he wanted to be treated like a guppy, he’d go back out into the world and find his parents. On the other, it’s kinda nice to be tended to.
Hanzo comes by and brings him fish though he’s still not a strong swimmer. How he’s getting the fish Jesse’s not so sure. He can still sense when Hanzo uses his power and knows at the very least it is connected to how Hanzo comes back with a net full of fish.
Then Hanzo will sit in front of the grotto and ask for tips on swimming or other questions while Jesse feasts on his fish deliveries. Hanzo often has to repeat his questions though, Jesse was always one track minded when it came to food. Like now.
He’s in the middle of tearing through a particularly meaty fish when Hanzo clears his throat meaningfully. Jesse stops in his feeding frenzy and glances over. Content he has Jesse’s attention, Hanzo speaks again.
“I was asking,” Hanzo repeats, likely purposely slow so the question takes longer, and therefore longer for Jesse to be allowed back at his fish dinner, “You have not moved from your grotto once. Is your injury preventing you from swimming entirely?”
Jesse swallows down the chunk of fish and considers how carefully he should word this answer, “Wound’s still raw. You wouldn’t wanna swim with it either. Just hurts like nothin’ else.”
“I suppose you wouldn’t want to swim with that, no,” Hanzo murmurs to himself, frowning. He looks back up to Jesse, “Is there anything that can help with the healing process? Medicines you have down here, salves?”
“Lemme think,” Jesse says as he sinks his fangs back into the fish to nibble a bit before tearing off another chunk and swallowing it whole, “I do got a garden somewhere around here that grows a plant or two that might help. Can’t really reach it like this, though.”
“You can’t, but I can,” Hanzo replies, flicking his tail fin. Jesse thinks its kinda cute when he does that, “You can tell me where it is, and I can retrieve the plants you need.”
Jesse feels a possessive shudder go down his spine at the thought of another mer in his carefully cultivated garden. That’s not going to do at all.
“Not happening.” Jesse answers, “If you go there, you are takin’ me with you.”
“Very well.” Hanzo replies after a moment of thought, “I suppose it's for the best, you could give me better direction that way. Though, just how am I to take you with me? I’m not the best swimmer even on a good day.”
“I’ll give ya more pointers on the way there.” Jesse finishes off the fish he’s eating and makes sure the net with the rest of them is secure, “You’ll just haveta pull me along somehow.”
“Alright.” Hanzo doesn’t sound entirely convinced, but he moves closer to Jesse, “Do you wish to go now?”
“Don’t got nothin’ else planned for the day.” Jesse disappears into his grotto to grab his pouch. Then, for the first time in days, Jesse fully crawls from his grotto space, wincing when he instinctually swishes his tail as if to swim, “We better go, actually. Don’t know if I can stand bein’ stuck in there another day.”
Hanzo doesn’t respond, but Hanzo is also staring at what remains of Jesse’s shredded fin. Jesse forgot he’s not seen the wound since the incident. Lightning-like white discolourations streak from the scars left from Hanzo’s claws on his scales.
“Coulda been worse.” Jesse mentions, dragging himself closer to Hanzo, “If ya got my tail fin it coulda left me dead in the water. This one’s just for turnin’.” He wiggles that left fin and regrets it, barely containing a hiss of pain.
Hanzo merely says nothing and seems hesitant now to touch Jesse at all. Jesse huffs and moves to Hanzo’s side. He looks Hanzo over and moves best he can to Hanzo’s back, the other mer watching him move out of the corner of his eye.
“Think you could carry me on your back?” Jesse asks.
“If it would be the easiest,” Hanzo replies, and after a brief consideration, shuffles a little and lowers himself so Jesse can get closer.
Jesse wraps his arms around Hanzo’s torso. He brushes his fingers against the strange colouration on Hanzo’s left arm and shudders when he feels a strange tingle result from the contact. It’s a more muted feeling that what Jesse felt when Hanzo had grabbed him.
“Ready?” Hanzo asks once Jesse has settled.
“Yep.” Jesse shuffles a little so he can rest his head on Hanzo’s shoulder, “Lets go. I can give ya pointers on swimmin’ in between directions.”
Hanzo moves in the direction Jesse points, following the curve of the island’s cliffside coast. Minutely changing course when Jesse tells him to. Jesse also gently corrects Hanzo’s gait as he swims, verbally giving him pointers on how to best sway his tail to cut through the water and propel himself forward.
Jesse remembers vaguely, long ago, his mother doing the same. Though she would place her hands on his tail to correct the movement. Doing so to teach Hanzo would be way too forward, not when they are little more than strangers.
Hanzo’s improving a little bit already at least, even without the hands-on guidance a Merfolk parent could have provided. Jesse wonders how long it will take for Hanzo to move like a natural denizen of the sea. Like he belonged here all along.
He shakes his head of the daydream to direct Hanzo to decline in the seafloor a little farther out from the island after they’ve been following the cliffside for about two-hundred yards. Jesse motions to a reef cluster and tells Hanzo to find the largest rock in the centre of it.
Underneath it, in the crevices of the reef, is the entrance to Jesse’s hidden garden. Hanzo and Jesse have to part from each other in order for them both to enter the dug out chamber. Hanzo first and Jesse second in order for Jesse to be helped through the entryway.
Hanzo’s looking around in awe at the collection of various aquatic plants within, some glowing bioluminescent some not, and Jesse can’t help the swell of pride he feels. He drags himself through the garden, careful not to disturb the plants he’s gathered and let grow over time. The plants he needs to help heal his fin are carefully gathered, and he returns to Hanzo’s side.
“Brought plants here that I found from all over,” Jesse explains, “Some of them are downright handy. Some magical.” he holds a bioluminescent ribbon of seaweed out to Hanzo, “Stole this feller from a sea witch, way deep down in some big ol’ trench.”
“Was that wise?” Hanzo questions after staring for a long while at the strange seaweed.
Jesse shrugs, “She never caught me. She don’t leave those deep waters either. Doubt she’ll ever find me.”
Jesse tucks the seaweed into his pouch with the rest of the plants he gathered. He moves towards Hanzo and past him, gives a little happy chitter as he motions for him to follow. Once they both claw their way out of the garden grotto, Jesse grabs onto Hanzo and tells him to head back to his grotto.
When they come back to Jesse’s grotto, Jesse makes his way off of Hanzo’s back and makes his way inside. Hanzo hangs back awkwardly for a moment, and only comes inside when Jesse invites him. Hanzo’s seen parts of his grotto before anyway, the main room a cavern lit by strange crystals planted into the walls.
Jesse leads Hanzo even further in, into a more elevated side chamber with an array of land-dweller, of human objects, situated on a rock shelf half submerged. Jesse hefts himself onto it best he can with Hanzo’s help, trying not to brush his damaged fin against anything. Hanzo hangs back and watches, eyes above the water and his hair spread like ink around him save for the streak of his golden ribbon.
Jesse rummages through a heavily water damaged and barnacle-encrusted cabinet, pulling from its depths a crude mortar and pestle. He retrieves the plants from his pouch and sets to work, and in the meantime, Hanzo looks around the chamber. Hanzo has a few sparse questions, mostly where Jesse found the land-dweller “furniture” he piled on the rock shelf.
Jesse tells him about pillaging various wrecks of the land-dweller transports. Whatever he liked or found interesting or was of use, he brought here. If the object was pretty, he took that elsewhere for safer keeping.
When Hanzo comments that he would be interested in seeing all Jesse has collected, Jesse admits that one day he might show him, but its a private thing most merfolk keep to themselves. What he doesn’t tell Hanzo is the reason for that is that such collections are only ever presented to a potential mate.
Another day, perhaps Jesse will tell him.
Eventually, all the plant matter Jesse collected is a fine paste in the mortar. Hanzo takes the opportunity to dip a little in the water to get enough momentum to hop onto the rock shelf himself. He settles closer to Jesse and watches Jesse do a final few grinds with the pestle.
“You just pile this goop on where the wound is.” Jesse explains, showing Hanzo the faintly glowing paste, “Then ya just settle down for a nap an’ let it work. It ain’t waterproof though, so I’m gonna be stuck in here for a little bit while it works.”
Hanzo nods “I can continue to hunt for you if it takes longer than anticipated.” he looks to Jesse as Jesse tries to awkwardly settle down in a comfortable position in order to apply the paste, raising an eyebrow at the display, “Do you require assistance applying the paste?”
“Uh.” Jesse stills as the words sink in, “I mean, I could use the help it’s just—“
“If you would rather I not touch you I understand.” Hanzo voices quietly.
“Hey, I wouldn’t mind you touchin’ me at all,” Jesse says quickly, blinking when Hanzo’s brow furrows and the other mer gives him an odd look, those strong cheekbones colouring a faint pink even as he frowns severely, “What I meant to say is that I would welcome your help with this, but you gotta understand, touchin’ another mer’s tail—“
Jesse thinks of a better way to phrase this but comes up short, “Its real i-intimate. Lot of important bits for us on our tail, right?” He wiggles his right fin pointedly, “If you damage the wrong thing,” He points to his tail fin “as I told ya before, we’re pretty much good as dead. Only close family and our—our mates are allowed to touch, basically. It… it takes a lotta trust.”
“I see,” Hanzo replies.
A silence forms in the cavern, a very awkward one. Jesse attempts to settle down in a position comfortable enough to lay in for a long period of time to distract himself. Hanzo seems particularly interested in glaring at a particular cluster of barnacles clinging to the corner of the rotten curio cabinet.
Jesse finds a comfortable position to lay, keeping his injured side and fin above the water. However, the positioning of the injury is a little awkward for him to reach. He nibbles his lip with his fangs and looks towards Hanzo.
“I think I will need your help, actually.” Jesse voices quietly as he holds out the mortar full of paste to Hanzo.
Hanzo perks a little in surprise, but takes the offered mortar, “I will be careful.”
Jesse settles in more comfortably, twitches a little when Hanzo begins to apply the paste. Its got a strange cooling effect on the wound and feels slightly tingly. Hanzo’s quick and effective, but also seems to be trying to remain as gentle as possible. Nothing is said between them, though the silence feels much less awkward.
Jesse’s nearly dozing when Hanzo speaks.
Hanzo’s hand has paused where he’s applying the paste over the white lightning scars marring Jesse’s side. Claws placed lightly over where he’d grasped Jesse when he’d injured him before. Jesse lifts his head just enough to meet Hanzo’s gaze.
He meets Jesse’s eyes for only a moment longer before his gaze falls back to the wound and he continues applying the paste. Just when Jesse thinks this strange shared moment is passed, Hanzo speaks again.
“Thank you for trusting me.”
Jesse slowly dips his head in a nod of understanding, before he settles back down for a snooze. He feels when Hanzo removes his hands from applying the paste to the injury and shuffles past to place the mortar into the cabinet. Hanzo seems to pause at Jesse’s side again for a time before he slips into the deep water to go hunt. Jesse opens his eyes to catch the last flicker of his tail disappearing into the water.
Things just keep getting more and more interesting.
Chapter 11: Introducing Genji
“It sounds like you two have been getting along much better.”
Hanzo’s back inside his own grotto, weaving together another fishing net. He’s got Genji on speakerphone while he completes this task. Jesse had given him basic instruction, and a demonstration, on how to make the nets by himself in case his borrowed one needs repair.
How Jesse manages to do this without his claws tearing through the seaweed, Hanzo has no idea. He grunts in frustration when he accidentally rips through at least ten minutes of hard work and Genji’s laugh is audible through the phone. Hanzo huffs and sets about undoing the weave he just did.
“Ripped through another part of the net again, huh?” Genji inquires, voice sympathetic once the laughter dies down, “I’m sure you’re going to get the hang of it! You said you were getting better at swimming at least.”
“Yes. Jesse has been giving me pointers and lessons now that he’s healed enough to swim.” Hanzo picks through strands of seaweed his dragons retrieved for him and finds pieces long enough to weave into the net, “He says once I’m comfortable enough, he’d love to race me around the island.”
“Sounds like fun!” Genji replies, and Hanzo can hear the smile in his voice, “I hope you kick his ass, er, tail.”
Hanzo snorts, “I will try.”
They exchange more pleasantries, Genji continuing to inquire about how Hanzo is settling into life under the waves, in turn Hanzo asks about where else Genji has travelled with his Omnic mentor. They haven’t talked this much in years. Hanzo finds himself wistful. If only they had spoken more when they were younger.
His thoughts are interrupted when the pool of water inside his grotto ripples and Hanzo turns to find Jesse peaking up at him shyly from the entryway. When Hanzo waves Jesse’s face breaks into a large fanged grin, and he pulls a huge half-alive sturgeon from the water to present to Hanzo. The large fish struggles weakly against Jesse’s claws stuck deep in its belly and Hanzo just blinks and slowly nods in acknowledgement towards Jesse’s accomplishment.
“Apologies. I missed what you said, I was distracted,” Hanzo replies when Genji’s voice filters back into his ears and he turns back towards his phone, “Jesse just showed up with food.”
“Did he?!” Genji perks immediately, “Can you introduce me?”
Hanzo is interrupted by Jesse tossing the sturgeon onto the rock shelf and climbing onto it himself, pressing closer curiously at the sound of Genji’s voice. Jesse seems to figure out where Genji’s voice is coming from and reaches his still fish gut covered hands towards Hanzo’s phone. Hanzo smacks Jesse’s hands away.
“You need to wash and dry your hands first!” Hanzo hisses, motioning to the pool of water pointedly.
“Alright, alright, sheesh.” Jesse goes and does as Hanzo instructed, “Coulda just told me it was the kinda land-dweller thing that don’t mix well with water.”
“Wow.” Genji remarks, “Were you two just,” he pauses and thinks before continuing, “talking? Yelling? A lot just happened and I do not understand if that was speech.”
“I may have raised my voice, yes.” Hanzo explains, watching carefully as Jesse dries his hands on a beach towel he let Hanzo have that he stole from somewhere, “But he was about to touch my phone with hands covered in fish guts.”
“I see.” And Hanzo can imagine Genji doing the patented Shimada Nose Crinkle of Disgust, “Good thing you stopped him. Though I will say, Anija, I didn’t know you were fluent in fish.”
“I’m what?” Hanzo snaps his head back to the phone.
“At least I think it was fish speech?” Genji continues to muse, “Ask Jesse if they have a name for that language. If it can be considered language because to me it sounded like someone tossed a squirrel and a dolphin into a blender. On the highest setting. Lots of screeching involved.”
Hanzo huffs but he does turn to Jesse, “Do Merfolk have a proper language?”
Jesse looks at Hanzo mid-reach for the phone and shrugs. “Not one in particular? Depends on what waters you were raised or where ya choose to reside in. I will say that Deep Sea Speech is the weirdest shit you will ever hear, swear it could drive a feller mad.”
Hanzo himself picks up the phone and ignores Jesse’s petulant chitter, turning up the volume so he can hear Genji over the noise, “Jesse says they don’t have a language in particular, but there are many variants of their speech patterns depending on where they live.”
“Interesting.” Genji laughs softly, “I bet he’s just as confused listening to us converse in Japanese. Does he speak any human languages?”
“I don’t think so? At least, when we met he didn’t seem to.” Hanzo turns to Jesse, “Do you speak any human language?”
“Uh.” Jesse looks to Hanzo and cocks his head to the side, seems to concentrate on something for a long time. Then, in rough, clearly very unused English, “H-how-dy?”
“Oh my god. He sounds like a cowboy. That’s kinda cute.” Genji laughs a little, “It sounds like he’s not used to speaking it though. Though I suppose he didn’t have anyone to converse with aside from the cultists before you. You should see if he wants to learn Japanese.”
“I will ask him another day.” Hanzo clutches the phone as Jesse leans over him and peers at it curiously, chastises him when he tries to take it from Hanzo, “I need to teach him manners first.”
“Is he trying to take your phone?” Genji guesses after Jesse manages to reach and poke the phone with his claws, probably making a very audible clicking noise on Genji’s end, “You might get him to stop if you show him some of the stuff it can do instead of playing keep-away with him.” Hanzo stops holding the phone far from Jesse and considers even as Genji continues, “Is this a ploy for me to get a picture of you and your fish friend? Yes, yes it is.”
Hanzo flicks over to his camera app again, and holds the phone out a bit and tries to get Jesse into frame. Jesse seems more interested in what’s on the phone than trying to be still for a picture. Hanzo smacks him with his tail fin lightly to get him to behave long enough for Hanzo to take a picture.
Hanzo explains what he just did to Jesse as he texts the picture to Genji. Jesse of course, is utterly fascinated.
“Your friend is one handsome fish, Anija.” Genji teases.
“Good thing he cannot understand you or you’ll give him an ego,” Hanzo replies, only half paying attention as he’s teaching Jesse how to do bunny ears behind someone’s head.
He snaps that picture and sends it to Genji as well.
The conversation continues between Hanzo convincing Jesse to pose for selfies with him and sending them off for Genji to comment on. If his brother has questions for Jesse, Hanzo translates them and vice versa.
Eventually, Genji has to hang up, but he does so with a cheery good-bye and makes Hanzo promise to send him more pictures of him and Jesse. Hanzo gives a content sigh and places the phone back onto the shelf. Jesse looks after it a little longingly, but Hanzo tugs him away.
“We can play with the phone later.” Hanzo promises, “We should at least eat that fish you caught for us.”
“Oh! Right." Jesse looks back to the fish and drags it over to them both, “You want the head or me?”
“Its all yours,” Hanzo replies, deadpan, and Jesse immediately rips the fish in half and takes the portion with the head for himself.
Hanzo grabs his portion of the fish and calls the dragons forth to fry it. It’s still not cooking, but it’s still better than eating it raw. Jesse wrinkles his nose every time Hanzo does this. They eat in companionable silence for a while, until Jesse breaks it.
“Didn’t know you had a brother.” Jesse looks up to Hanzo, grinning wide, “He’s nice!”
“He’s a pain in the ass sometimes, as are all little brothers.” Hanzo replies, tearing off bits and pieces of fish and nibbling at them as he speaks, “But,” he pauses as he chews, “But he is my brother, and I am glad he is in my life, despite everything.”
Jesse seems to pick up on the fact that Hanzo doesn’t desire to say anything more, and chitters softly in response. He nibbles on his portion of the fish before he speaks again.
“I don’t know if I got siblings,” Jesse admits, “I left my Ma’s grotto pretty early. That was years ago though. Don’t know if she’s still kickin’ around.”
“Do you miss her?”
Jesse blinks and he stops tearing into the fish to think for a moment, “To be honest, I hardly knew her. We ain’t—” Jesse hums in thought, “Sometimes merfolk parents ain’t as involved with their guppies as the land-dwellers seem to be. We grow fast, we gotta be able to care for ourselves real early on. We get taught to swim, to hunt, an’ to make our homes an’ that’s that.”
“I suppose life is really different down here, incredibly different than what I am used to on the surface,” Hanzo muses aloud, “There is still much I don’t know.”
“I’m here ta teach you,” Jesse says, sending Hanzo a bright smile.
“And I appreciate your efforts greatly,” Hanzo replies before continuing quietly, “and your patience.”
Jesse seems to preen at that, before he suddenly perks, “You know a lot about land-dweller objects, yeah? Like your little glass rectangle.” Jesse points past Hanzo to his phone on the shelf.
“I would suppose so.” Hanzo raises an eyebrow, “Why?”
“Can I take ya to my wooden grotto tomorrow?” Jesse is practically thrumming with excitement, “I got lots o’ land-dweller stuff in there an’ so many questions.”
Hanzo would be lying if he said he wasn’t intrigued. Especially since Jesse seems to be rather long-lived as far as Hanzo can tell. Jesse might have many an interesting artefact in his so-called wooden grotto.
“Very well,” Hanzo agrees. “you can take me there tomorrow. We’ll make a day of it?”
Jesse grins wide and chitters in excitement. Hanzo can’t help but crack a small smile of his own at Jesse’s enthusiasm. It will be an interesting day, at the very least.
Chapter 12: The Wooden Grotto
The next day, both Hanzo and Jesse set out for the wooden grotto. Jesse leads Hanzo through various winding tunnels underneath the island, and at a point Hanzo needs to summon his dragons just for a light source in the dark waters. While they travel, Jesse speaks more about the wooden grotto, and how he uses it to winter in when the seasons turn colder.
Jesse also shyly offers for Hanzo to stay with him during the season too if he wishes. Hanzo agrees readily. He has no intention of spending the winter alone if Jesse will be holed up in some hideaway. Especially Hanzo’s first winter as a merman. Especially when the waters around the island are cold enough as it is, and Hanzo can’t imagine how much colder they will be getting without as much exposure to the sun.
Winter is a ways off still, so Hanzo pushes it from his mind, and works on keeping up with Jesse through the tunnel. He’s lost track of just how far they’ve travelled under the island, though it is hard to tell. Everything looks the same. Jesse assures Hanzo that he’ll be able to navigate them just as well as he can with practice.
Jesse also tells Hanzo with barely concealed excitement that they’re incredibly close to the wooden grotto, and disappears up a shaft in the tunnel. Hanzo follows suit with his dragons in tow. He dismisses them when low light begins to filter into the tunnel, Hanzo now relying on Jesse’s silhouette up ahead to lead him.
Soon enough the tunnel widens into a pool, and both mermen surface. Jesse has a wide grin on his face, likely waiting for Hanzo’s reaction. Hanzo has to remove his hair from his face first, his silk hair scarf tucked away in his grotto safely for today.
The wooden grotto, as Jesse called it, is not quite what Hanzo was expecting.
He’s expecting a grotto dug deeper underground, much closer to the forested area of the isle, possibly with the roots of the trees exposed to make a good hiding spot for a mer or two. Or to hide various trinkets one had collected over the years.
Hanzo was not expecting to surface into a basement. He swims a circle in the pool entryway, gazing around the dim surroundings. Jesse had apparently tunnelled right through the foundation of this building and into its basement, how long ago Hanzo can only begin to guess. A good distance away from the pool, many objects are piled around.
Stacks and stacks of furniture and junk lit with a single lightbulb hanging from the ceiling with a pull cord. There’s enough of a clearing in one corner of the room for a creature as big as Jesse to sit in front of an old box television, with positively ancient VHS tapes and even a VCR of all things attached to it and scattered haphazardly around it. Everything is covered in years and years of dust, save for that corner.
Jesse himself clambers up to sit at the edge of the pool, patiently awaiting for Hanzo to comment. He seems to fidget the more Hanzo takes his time to take in everything.
“Do you not like it?” Jesse inquires after a period of silence.
“I do. I’m just trying to figure out something. How does a merman own a house?” Hanzo replies, half teasing half genuine in his question.
He pulls himself up to sit at Jesse’s side at the pool’s edge. He takes another glance around, spotting a stairwell leading up, it would just take a bit of elbow grease to clear a better path to it that doesn’t involve climbing over a sofa and some other things Jesse has clearly bullied out of the way of that one clear corner.
“What’s a house?” Jesse asks instead before he thinks on it and brightens as he seems to piece something together, “Oh, that’s what the land-dwellers call the wooden grottos they live in!”
The statement is so full of wonder and joy that Hanzo can’t help but laugh, “Yes. Houses are our grottos.”
“Guess that’s why the feller that usedta live here was so shocked ta see me! I came in uninvited!” Jesse snorts, “Then he left an’ I’ve been usin’ it ever since.” He blinks and scratches his chin thoughtfully, “That’s also when the land-dwellers on the island really started ta pay attention to me an’ leave me stuff.”
“I suppose they took your tunnelling into someone’s house a sign you were displeased at their inattentions?” Hanzo muses.
“Suppose so.” It is Jesse’s turn to snort in amusement, “Hey, at least it netted me a house!”
“I wish it were actually that easy.” Hanzo jokes to himself as he pulls his tail from the water of the pool, turning and settling at the edge of it, “You said you wanted to ask me about some of the objects in here?”
“Yeah!” Jesse perks at the reminder of the reason for their visit, hefting himself out of the pool, “Just gimme a second ta—“ Jesse grunts as he pulls himself along the floor, grabbing a bright red square of fabric with a geometric pattern in orange hung up on an overturned bar stool.
The action sends the bar stool tumbling down too, and Jesse huffs as it lands on other furniture, “I’ll fix that. I just gotta get my land legs, so hold tight. Then I’ll find somethin’ ta help you get dry. Then I can show ya everythin’! Especially my movin’ picture box! I got lots of question’s ‘bout that one.”
Hanzo stopped paying attention when Jesse mentioned land legs.
“You can walk on land?” Hanzo utters, blinking up at Jesse owlishly, “C-can I?”
“I can, and you should be able to, yeah.” Jesse’s patting his tail down with the red fabric as he speaks, and he looks up to Hanzo, “You never tried goin’ on land?”
Hanzo just shakes his head in bewilderment, “I— Well.” He pauses and tries to collect his thoughts, “I believed I was more or less stuck in this form. You never told me I could until now.”
“Well, ya can.” Jesse gives Hanzo a reassuring nod, “Fair warnin’, I don’t know how it will be for you, because you were a land-dweller, but it is very uncomfortable ta walk land. An’ we do gotta get back in the water after a while. I’ve personally never left the water long enough to figure out how much time we get, but I recommend goin’ back as soon as you start feelin’ too dry.”
Hanzo nods, crinkling his nose at the memories of how it felt to feel too dry in this form while he was attempting to get his solar panel working in his grotto. He’ll take Jesse’s warning to heart.
Sometime during their conversation, Jesse’s tail had melded into legs, and he’s since wrapped the red fabric around himself. Hanzo scootches into the room as far as he comfortably can while Jesse hunts around for something to help Hanzo dry faster. Hanzo can’t help the sudden well of apprehension that fills him as Jesse searches, and he subconsciously looks to his tail.
Will his legs be whole again when his tail dries?
He’s not thought about his prosthesis since he noticed the cult had taken them from him when they chained him to the rock. Nor did he see them among his returned material items when Jesse brought them back to him. Anxiety and panic well up within him, and before he knows it he’s sliding back into the pool.
He doesn’t know what he’s going to do if his legs are still amputated. Hanzo shudders at the thought of the cult dismantling his prosthetic legs for parts. Jesse couldn’t have known of their importance, it could also just be a matter of him having left them where he found the rest of his things, right?
“Hanzo?” Jesse’s voice cuts through the many intrusive thoughts running rampant and Hanzo regards him warily, “You doin’ alright?”
“I—“ Hanzo falls to come up with an excuse for his sudden mood shift and sinks more into the water up to his eyes.
“…If you don’t wanna be dry you don’t gotta be.” Jesse comes up and sits by the water, fiddling with a blanket he’s dug out of somewhere, “I can just bring stuff to the tunnel entry to show ya.”
“It is more than me not wanting to be dry.” Hanzo finally admits, lifting his head enough out of the water, “I— Do you remember the day we met?”
Jesse’s eyes seem to soften and his mouth quirks into a little lopsided smile, “Hard ta forget seein’ you for the first time.”
Hanzo fights the urge to blush, but he knows he’s failing. Still, he presses on, “You remember my legs then yes? O-or rather my—” He passes and places his hands onto the edge of the pool, digging his claws into the foundation of the house, rending gouges into the concrete, “—lack of them.”
“Yeah, I— Oh.” recognition flickers in Jesse’s eyes, gaze becoming sympathetic as he pieces what Hanzo is trying to tell him together, “I’m real sorry, Hanzo."
Hanzo just nods numbly for a moment, but then he looks to Jesse imploringly, “That pearl, the one you gave me that turned me into this, could it have—“
“It just gives ya a body suited ta reside in an environment that you normally wouldn’t be able ta.” Jesse replies, voice gentle, “It can’t heal what’s been lost in the form it changed ya from, Han. It’s not that kinda power. An’ before ya ask, I don’t got that kinda power either. I ain’t a healer.”
“I see.” Hanzo murmurs quietly, gripping the edge of the pool tighter.
Jesse fidgets more with the blanket he’s holding before he flings it off to the side. The red fabric joins it and then Jesse’s slipping back into the water next to Hanzo. He rests his head on the edge of the pool, giving Hanzo a gentle nudge, brushing his tail fin against Hanzo’s to comfort him.
“Can I help ya somehow?” Jesse asks after a long while of silence, “I had seen ya before when you first got onto the island. You were walkin’ around then.” he pauses, before a darker expression settles on his face, and he bares his fangs a little bit, “The land-dwellers on the island, they didn’t hurt you, did they?”
It startles Hanzo a bit, that expression, “No! No, they didn’t.” Well. Being drugged and sacrificed to a “sea god” aside. “My legs are an old injury.”
Jesse relaxes, nods, “But can I help ya at all? I could always carry ya around. I'm strong ‘nough to.”
“Jes—“ Hanzo is this close to declining aid before a thought occurs to him, “Wait. The cult.” He looks to Jesse seriously, “What do they do with the objects they take from their sacrifices?”
“Stash ‘em or find a use for ‘em, far as I can tell, why?”
“Do they or have they stash items separately depending on what they are?” Hanzo asks urgently, and when Jesse nods after a brief think the wave of relief that flows through Hanzo is very visible, “Then there could be a chance that they might still have my prosthetics.”
“Could be, yeah.” Jesse confirms though he’s clearly very confused as to what a prosthetic is, “We might need to go actually uh, talk with them an’ see where they put your prosthetics.”
“You can do that, right? They should listen to you.” Hanzo sends Jesse a pleading look, “I need my prosthetics back, Jesse.”
“One problem.” Jesse holds up a finger, “I can’t communicate that well with ‘em. They mostly just do a lot of assumin’ when it comes ta me an’ what they think I want.”
“Oh.” Hanzo’s face falls.
“But!” Jesse uses the one finger he’s held up to point at Hanzo, “But you, you speak their language.”
“In complete honesty, I would much rather bite their faces off myself, never mind summoning my dragons, than speak or interact with them ever again.” Hanzo replies, frowning severely, “They chained me to a rock, Jesse. Forgive me if I am still rather sore about that.”
“They did,” Jesse replies, a slow grin forming on his face, “An’ you lived. You lived, an’ now you’re often with me.” Jesse finishes, giving Hanzo a meaningful look.
Hanzo blinks as the information sinks in before a slow, razor-sharp smile starts to spread on his face as well. Jesse gives him a wink, and hefts himself up out of the water again, pulling the red fabric close to place over his tail. Jesse then grabs the blanket and holds it open towards Hanzo invitingly, sending Hanzo a sharp smile.
“Lets go getcha back on your feet."
Chapter 13: Return
The house Jesse more or less stole is not that far from the main settlement on the island. Both of them make a sight walking through the main street of the small town. Jesse is in nothing but that red fabric wrapped around his waist, walking on two legs yet still so very clearly not human.
He’s carrying Hanzo in his arms, wrapped in the blanket Jesse used to help him dry enough for the trip. They’d dampened the blanket with seawater a little afterwards, just to help Hanzo keep from feeling too dry. Now that he’s actually in a mostly-human form again though, Hanzo’s not entirely too bothered by not being in the water. The damp blanket is nothing more than a precaution. Jesse might need it more than he will if they linger in town too long.
Hanzo’s thankful for the modesty the blanket provides at the very least, even if the cultists have already seen him in the buff. When they drugged him, undressed him, chained him to that damn rock—
Hanzo hisses at the memories and Jesse chuckles lowly in response, adjusting his hold on his blanket-burrito’d friend. Hanzo in turn huffs and shuffles a little to peer around at their surroundings. There’s no one around currently, not that Hanzo can see, but Jesse tells him the cult gathers in the biggest “stone grotto” at the end of town.
The cult happens to consist of the entire town— a fact Hanzo had realized too late— so it only makes sense they conduct their cult-y business in a building large enough to house all the members of the community. Hanzo would expect some form of creepy, twisted church if he hadn’t already spent time among these people.
The town hall looks rather respectable on the outside if you didn’t know what sort of meetings the town held in there. Jesse carries Hanzo up the few steps to the double doors. Muffled voices drift through the closed doors and Jesse looks to Hanzo.
“Ready?” He leans in conspiratorially to Hanzo, grinning that fanged grin, “I know I am.”
“I am absolutely ready.” Hanzo grins in turn, nodding to the doors, “Do me a favour and kick those in? I would but I lack the ability to.”
“Dramatic entrance, comin’ up!” Jesse crows a little too joyously.
Jesse adjusts Hanzo in his arms once more and kicks down the doors. The voices fall silent and over a dozen heads turn towards the pair of them in shock. Then that shock slowly melts into awe at the sight of Jesse.
It turns into a mix of fear and awe at the sight of Hanzo.
Good. Hanzo can’t help but preen. They should fear him after all they have done. His dragons grow restless, calling for blood for the slight these people have done to their master and to them.
Hanzo’s got a better idea, though he does summon his dragons to his side. Jesse almost startles, unused to seeing both of them in their full glory. The twin spirits snap and snarl, and the cultists visibly back away from them. Hanzo merely lifts a clawed hand to smooth a hand down ethereal scales to soothe them.
“You have some things that belong to me.” He says simply, eyes aglow with the power of his dragons, “I would like them returned.”
What a sight he must make, bathed in the light of his dragons, their power coursing through him. Held close by the cultist’s so-called god and with his hair still damp from saltwater and dripping it through the building. So clearly more than human himself now, even without his dragons.
With them at his call, so clearly more powerful than Jesse.
It doesn’t take long for the cult to figure that out. They scramble to give him their attention, some begging forgiveness, grovelling before him. Jesse gives a quiet chuckle.
“Oh, they know they did you wrong,” Jesse is grinning at the display before them both, “They’re gonna do whatever you ask, so I’d ask ‘em. I’m gettin’ dry anyway, I would appreciate gettin’ this done as soon as possible. Even though you’re a sight to behold an’ this is pretty funny.”
“Very well.” Hanzo sighs, before he turns to the cultists and snaps at them, “Stop that at once!”
The townspeople stop and stare at him owlishly. Hanzo motions to his legs.
“The prosthesis you took from me. I need them. If they are not returned to me, you will not like the consequences.” Hanzo motions to his dragons who bare their fangs, “I would be quick about it. My friends here are not too pleased about that little stunt you pulled. They do not take kindly to being sealed.”
To drive the point the dragons roar, enraged at the reminder, shaking the building down to its very foundations. The cultist’s scramble in response, some just away, some barking fear-fuelled orders to the others to find Hanzo’s stolen lower legs.
Soon enough, they are produced and placed in front of him and Jesse. Hanzo gives them a cursory glance over, and finding them in no state of disrepair, flicks his attention back to the cultists still lingering.
“Excellent, though know I will have more demands in time. Your speed to return my prosthetics has pleased me. You’ve prevented my wrath, for now.” Hanzo replies calmly, dismissing his dragons.
The spirits disperse with one more snap and snarl of their jaws, and the cultists flinch and recoil.
“Now,” Hanzo continues, losing his calm tone and hissing at the remaining cultists present, baring his own fangs, “Get out of my sight.”
All remaining cultists leave the building. Only when they are alone does Hanzo instruct Jesse to set him down on one of the abandoned seats in the meeting hall and ask him to retrieve his legs. Hanzo looks them over more closely now that he has the time before he puts them back on for the first time in weeks.
“Well, that’s over with.” Hanzo stands and takes a few testing steps, turning a small circle to face Jesse once he’s content nothing is amiss, “We should consider some of the other things to ask of them, now that you have an actual translator.”
“Wouldn’t hurt,” Jesse replies with a grin, “You’re lovin’ this, ain’t ya?”
“Absolutely.” Hanzo walks back to Jesse’s side, clutching the damp blanket around himself, “It’s not every day you ascend to godhood and gain a cult following. Though, I will have to tell them that the sacrifices will have to stop. That’s not going to do at all.”
“Fair ‘nough.” Jesse shrugs, not bothered, “Land-dwellers taste weird anyway.”
“That better be a joke,” Hanzo says, glaring at Jesse as he passes by and exits the building.
“It is.” Jesse trots out of the building after him, stepping into stride with him, “S’pose it’s not really a joke when I did eat land-dwellers, huh.”
“It’s in incredibly poor taste, yes. Why did you, anyway?” Hanzo asks, walking back down the main road to head toward the house Jesse took for himself, “You seem to be an accomplished hunter, what need did you have to for provided food?”
“The huntin’ grounds ain’t so plentiful sometimes. Especially the early days when I wasn’t the only predator in these waters.” Jesse admits, “An’ when somethin’ is handed to ya on a silver platter…” Jesse shrugs, “In the end, I was just survivin’.”
“I suppose that’s fair,” Hanzo replies, crinkling his nose in distaste. A thought occurs to him and Hanzo stops and turns to Jesse, “Will my continued presence here be an issue for our shared resources then?”
Jesse just blinks, before he slowly shakes his head, “No. We’re not really competin’ for anything. I’m not fightin’ you over the huntin’ grounds like I was havin’ to before.”
“Fighting? Were there other merfolk here before you?”
“Yeah.” Jesse scratches his claws through his beard, “Scared them off or killed ‘em. Whatever worked to win me this island an’ territory.”
“I see.” Hanzo continues walking, glares at the cultists that stare at them both too long as they make their way, smirking when they shrink from him, “That must have been tough, to constantly fight over territory and food like that. Are merfolk always so terribly territorial?”
“Some.” Jesse responds, getting quieter.
Hanzo wants to drop the topic, but he’s curious, “If you fought so hard for this territory, why are you allowing me to remain here?”
That question takes Jesse by surprise and he makes a soft chitter in response, “I can’t make you leave when it’s my fault you’re like this.” He looks over at Hanzo and seems to consider something before he continues, “An— an’ you were right, on the sandbar that day, when you got mad at me the first time.”
Jesse turns fully to Hanzo, and for the first time, he sees a deep, ancient sadness in those dark eyes, “I was lonely, an’ selfish. An’ you’ve been sufferin’ for my decision based on my desire to just— just have someone that could actually understand me.” he looks from Hanzo, ashamed, “Honestly, if you wanted ta leave, now that you got your legs back, I won’t stop ya.”
Hanzo looks from Jesse, looks to the town around them, and then out to the sea. After a moment he turns to Jesse, “Perhaps after the winter passes, and I have adapted more to my body as it now is, we will see how things are then. To see if I am capable of moving on, that is.”
Jesse says nothing and just nods in response. Hanzo swears he catches Jesse take a longing glance at Hanzo out of the corner of his eye when they continue their journey back to the house.
The return to the house is completed in silence.
Chapter 14: Strangers
Hanzo takes it upon himself to tidy the house in preparation for winter. The distraction is welcome, as Jesse has sunk into himself since they confronted the cult. The few times they speak, it is usually for Hanzo to ask what Jesse wants to be done with the furniture in the basement when he brings Hanzo food.
Jesse tells him he’s not too particular about what happens to the furniture just as long as all the objects remain somewhere in the house. Hanzo abides by his wishes as he cleans the furniture of the dust and grime accumulated over the years. When the basement is clean, Hanzo moves to the upstairs.
He can last much longer out of the water than Jesse can, that much he has determined about the transformation into his human form during his cleaning frenzy. He’s also moved all of his most precious items from his grotto into the house, having asked Jesse where it was in relation to the house.
Jesse etched him another map on the wood wall of the basement of the island. Hanzo can see the map much clearer in this light, and can’t help but comment.
“You dug all of these tunnels and grottos? How many are there actually?”
Jesse looks to the map and to Hanzo, pausing to think, “Uh, after I dug yours? About… Seve— No!” He hurriedly backtracks, “Sixteen.”
Hanzo’s not got the time to comment on Jesse’s quick correction of himself before the mer quickly points out where his grotto is and then disappears into the tunnel. Hanzo could only stare after the ripples Jesse leaves in his wake in surprise.
Hanzo located his grotto easily after that. Once he retrieves them, he places his things in one of the bedrooms on the second floor of the house.
Most of the furniture seems to have been left in the house, but any personal belongings from the previous tenant Jesse scared away has been taken. Hanzo works on getting all the fabrics clean of dust, taking them out onto the balcony of the second floor and beating the dust out.
It's when he’s doing this one day that he spots a vessel off on the horizon. He knows that there are boats that come to the island, and he hopes the cult listened when he told them off for doing sacrifices. The more Hanzo looks though, from what little he can see, it does not look like a ferry at all.
Something uneasy settles in his chest, and he keeps watch on the boat. It’s not approaching the island from the direction the docks are located, which is strange if it intends to dock here. Hanzo wonders if it is a fishing boat, the waters around here are teaming with fish, and it would make the most sense.
He keeps a wary eye on it, just in case, glancing at it whenever he is outside and has a high enough vantage point to peer out between the trees to spot it. Over time, the ship has come rather close to the island, and Hanzo realizes that the townspeople would not be able to see it from their small settlement.
Whoever this is, they do not want to be seen by the islanders.
Hanzo’s fingers itch for his bow, or a weapon of any sort, as his paranoia rears its head. Unable to shake off his unease, Hanzo disappears back inside the house making sure the curtains are drawn and the doors are locked before making his way to the basement level. His dragons share his apprehension, appearing to him once they are inside, pressing against him in comfort.
Down in the basement, he spots the red fabric he keeps folded near the tunnel entrance for Jesse, and the reminder makes him usher his dragons towards the tunnel.
“Find Jesse and bring him back here,” Hanzo orders the twin dragons.
Obeying their master’s command, both dragons leave Hanzo’s side and dive deep down into the tunnel. Hanzo watches their bright blue forms as long as he can until they are out of sight. Restless, and deciding it would be best for him to soak after all that work, Hanzo removes his prosthetics and the sweatpants he was wearing to do his chores in before he scoots himself into the pool.
His legs meld into his tail once more as soon as he submerges, and he dives a little deeper down to settle on the bottom of the tunnel to wait. It feels like his dragons are taking ages to locate Jesse, and growing even more restless, Hanzo begins to claw his way through the tunnel back towards open water. His unease urges him on, half swimming, half dragging himself through the dark.
Only one of his dragons returns to him when he reaches the other side. The spirit swims around Hanzo’s shoulders, settling on his left and looking out in the direction Hanzo saw the ship with a snarl.
“Is your twin with Jesse?” Hanzo asks the spirit as he starts to swim towards the ship.
The dragon merely chitters and lifts off of Hanzo’s shoulder and heads in the ship’s direction. It is all the answer Hanzo needs, and he follows closely after the dragon. When Hanzo gets closer to the ship, he hazards a peek at it above the waves.
It is definitely not the ferry, or any fishing vessel Hanzo has seen. No legal vessel looks that way. Hanzo sinks up to his eyes and watches the ship. His keen eyes picking up movement on the deck, the crew seemingly excited about something.
Hanzo’s unease rises up tenfold. Jesse would know to avoid ships like this, right? But then again, the merman has no reason to fear humans, as far as Hanzo knows. Hanzo looks to his dragon and finds it staring intently at the ship, hackles raised.
If Jesse is on that boat, he could be in danger.
Just as he’s about to sink back beneath the waves, the deck of the ship explodes into a flurry of activity. Hanzo watches one of the crew members keel over the side, clutching at a slash of red at his throat. Hanzo flies into action himself, closing the distance between himself and the ship as fast as he can.
“Go to Jesse,” Hanzo orders his dragon.
The spirit is off like a bolt of lightning, much faster than Hanzo. The closer Hanzo gets to the ship, the more the sound of the struggle on deck can be heard. There’s cursing and crashing and yelling, and underneath it all shrill angry screeches and chitters that can only be Jesse.
Hanzo quickens his pace.
He’s stopped at the side of the ship, unsure just how he’s going to climb up. He looks up the wall of steel, and down to his claws. Jesse had snapped thick chain with ease, digging his claws into steel should be just as easy. It is being able to pull up the weight of his tail he’s mostly worried about.
Hanzo startles when another body topples over the side of the ship, throat also slashed, no doubt Jesse’s work. The event gives him enough pause to realize he’s overthinking.
Why climb up when he can bring the ship down.
Hanzo dives under the waves, keeping tabs on where the propeller is in relation to him. The last thing he needs is to be sucked into it, but at the moment the metal blades are still, the ship’s anchor caught on the reef below. Hanzo swims quickly long the bottom, before he figures he found as good a spot as any.
He digs his claws into the steel of the hull and works on rending it apart. Hanzo only hopes Jesse can hold out until he can get to him. Content with the hole he made in the hull, Hanzo moves along and creates another closer to the front of the ship. Hoping that more holes will bring the vessel down faster.
Hanzo moves from the bottom to the side of the ship again, rending the side of the ship, hoping it will possibly cause the boat to start to roll and unbalance those attacking Jesse. He chitters in triumph when the sea starts to rush into the vessel. Hanzo has to swim away from the rush of it before he ends up inside the ship himself.
Like he had hoped, the ship is noticeably sinking, beginning to roll to the side.
Overhead on deck, there’s audible cursing and howls of pain, from multiple sources, and answering screeches from Jesse. No doubt Hanzo’s own dragons are wreaking havoc as well.
However, just when things are looking up, that’s naturally when things begin to go wrong. Jesse’s screeching cut off all of a sudden, along with howls of victory and whoops.
“Got him netted, finally! What a bastard of a fish.”
“Keep that gag in his mouth and those claws bound, you don’t want those anywhere near you!”
“The buyer is going to have their fun with this one…”
“Shit. Shit shit shit. Boss! Ship’s sinking!”
“Fucker killed Smith and Miller! Fuck the buyer, s’long as most of the scales ain’t damaged, that’s where the money is. This one’s fin’s damaged. He’s not worth bringing back alive.” Hanzo overhears, ice immediately running through his veins, “I think it's time to put this one down, take what scales we can an’ let him loose as chum. God, if I ain’t going to make him suffer first. At least his scales will pay for a new ship.”
Hanzo digs his claws into the steel and tries to make his way up what part of the ship remains above water to get to Jesse’s side, calling back his dragons. They writhe, furious and desiring blood, under Hanzo’s skin as he scrambles up the side of the ship. Hanzo just needs to reach Jesse, he just needs to—
There’s a click, and then the crack of a gunshot.
Chapter 15: Rescue
“Bet that smarts, huh?”
There’s a land-dweller with a cruel smile leaning over Jesse, though his vision is swimming with pain and his ears are ringing, both effects making it difficult to suss out anything about them. The sun glints off the barrel of the thing he just pressed to Jesse’s upper arm, the thing that made a sound like a crack of thunder, followed by pain.
His arm burns, and he can feel the wetness of his blood seeping from the wound. Jesse hisses past the fabric in his mouth, held tight there by another land-dweller. They’ve wrapped him in one of their nets after Jesse fought off and killed others who had tried.
If he makes it out of this, Jesse’s not approaching another of the land-dweller ships for the rest of his existence. His only crime was curiosity. These land-dwellers don’t seem to care at all for what he is, not like Jesse’s cult of worshippers.
“You killed good men.” The land-dweller with the thunder stick says, leaning down into Jesse’s space, “But creatures like you don’t care, do you?”
Jesse bares his fangs passed the fabric in his mouth, trying to close his mouth enough to rip through it. It’s useless, the land-dwellers have him bound and wounded.
“Two men dead, so two shots are only fair, right?” the cruel smile widens on the land-dweller’s face, and he presses the thunder stick to Jesse’s arm right next to the other wound.
Another crack of thunder sounds and Jesse writhes and tries to screech in pain, but he is silenced by the fabric in his mouth. The thunder stick is moved suddenly and the second crack of thunder sounds and Jesse's world starts to darken as the pain intensifies.
“Whoops, seems I’m a little trigger happy.” The land-dweller nudges Jesse’s limp, injured arm, “Don’t think that’s usable anymore. Not that you’re going to need it.”
Jesse tries to weakly hiss as the land-dweller presses the thunder stick to Jesse’s head, smearing Jesse’s own blood there. For the first time in decades, Jesse feels ice cold fear settle in his chest.
Jesse had felt Hanzo’s little friends around him before, but they’re not at his side anymore. Hanzo’s close. Jesse hopes he leaves, he hopes Hanzo finds somewhere safe. These land-dwellers are too dangerous.
He feels them then. Feels Hanzo’s power, feels it swell. Then suddenly there is a roar in Jesse’s ears and everything is awash in blue, and the land-dwellers are shrieking and screaming.
Then Hanzo is there, cupping Jesse’s face.
He leans into Hanzo’s hands, delirious with pain, but grinning as soon as that fabric is torn from his mouth. Hanzo’s eyes are aglow with his power, his touch tingles against Jesse’s skin.
“You’re so beautiful,” Jesse comments, much like once before.
Hanzo says nothing in reply, only sets about tearing Jesse from the net, the ropes snapping easily as he rips through them. Then he’s pulling his gold from his hair and tying it around Jesse’s arm above the wound. Jesse hisses as it’s drawn and tied tight.
Hanzo drags Jesse to the side of the ship. Jesse can only weakly cling to Hanzo as they topple over the side. They do not fall far, the ship is sinking, and the port side is nearly dipping beneath the water. Hanzo pulls Jesse back towards the island.
Jesse needs to get somewhere safe to heal, and Hanzo seems to realize that.
“Tell me where to go,” Hanzo asks, swimming as fast as he can with the weakening Jesse in his arms, “Jesse!”
There’s only one space among the caves and tunnels that Jesse knows would be the safest for a mortally wounded mer. But it is one place Jesse does not want Hanzo to see, didn’t think he would ever show him. A place that is more special and hidden even beyond his treasure grotto.
But it is closest to the garden, which contains plants that would help save Jesse’s life. As much as it is an invasion of privacy, Jesse does not want to die.
“There’s a seventeenth grotto.” Jesse whispers as he clings to Hanzo, “Well hidden. Close to w-where the garden is.”
Hanzo nods and picks up speed. Behind them, the ship shudders and fully sinks beneath the waves. Hanzo’s twin dragons, now much smaller than the beings that had attacked the ship’s crew, come in and flank them as they swim.
Jesse focuses on Hanzo, trying to keep himself from falling unconscious. It is getting harder and harder to stay awake. Jesse doesn’t even want to look at the state of his injured arm. He can’t even feel it at this point.
Hanzo at one point shakes him more awake, long enough for Jesse to point him in the right direction once they are in the same area as the garden. Jesse tells Hanzo, through gritted teeth, about an entrance buried near a red boulder close to the cliffside. Hanzo carries him there, telling his dragons to go to the garden and pluck the aquatic plants Jesse explains to them.
Hanzo sets Jesse down when they reach the boulder, and Jesse immediately reaches for him, weakly chittering and screeching his distress. Don’t leave me. Hanzo drifts back to him for a second and cups his face.
“I am not far,” Hanzo reassures him before he parts from Jesse just enough to search for the entrance.
Jesse drifts in and out while Hanzo digs out the entrance once he thinks he’s found where it might be. Before long, Jesse feels Hanzo pick him up once more, and he’s cradled close to Hanzo and they are disappearing through the opening. Jesse’s world is darkening at the edges, and he lolls against Hanzo.
“We’re almost there,” Hanzo’s voice has a desperate edge to it, something that surprises Jesse, “Stay with me just a little longer, Jesse.”
The stone walls of the tunnel pass in a blur before Hanzo is surfacing inside the cave. Sunlight streams down through a few small holes in the roof above them, illuminating a subterranean beach. There is a handmade wall of stone separating the entrance from the rest of the cave, and Hanzo has to lift Jesse over it and climb over himself.
Hanzo sets Jesse down on the sandy bottom of this place, cupping his face and curling protectively around him. Jesse manages to focus on Hanzo’s face, his dark hair floating around them both. It’s gotten so long. In his daze, Jesse runs his claws through the ink-like strands.
Hanzo’s not paying any mind to him, staring at the remnants of Jesse’s arm. That’s the last thing Jesse wants to look at right now, not with a view like this in front of him. He knows from Hanzo’s movements that Hanzo’s prodding his claws at his lower arm, but he can’t feel it.
Jesse murmurs that he can’t, and that frown deepens with worry.
“I might—“ Hanzo casts a worried look to him, “I might have to remove it completely before it gets infected.”
Jesse nods slowly. He trusts Hanzo’s judgment, Hanzo’s bent on helping him survive this as much as Jesse wants to survive this.
Jesse hopes he survives this. He casts a glance towards his injured arm, not at the wound itself but the blood sluggishly seeping from the wound, staining the water red. That’s a lot of blood. Jesse starts to feel colder and sleepier than before. A nap might be good right now, come to think of it.
Safe in the nursery grotto he built so long ago.
A pang of pain in his injured arm startles him enough that he blinks back awake, hissing his discomfort. His good hand weakly clutches at Hanzo’s shoulder as the other mer works on removing Jesse’s injured arm. The quick movements of Hanzo’s claws stir the water until the red clouds Jesse’s vision and he squeezes his eyes shut. Soon that pain stops and Hanzo is hissing apologies, clutching Jesse close and petting his claws through his hair.
“I need to cauterize this somehow before you lose more blood,” Hanzo murmurs, and he seems to finally glance around the cavern, up towards the beach portion of it, “I need fire, and something metal—“
Jesse reaches his good hand over and cups the wound. It’s been a long time since he’s called his power, aside from pouring some into that pearl to help Hanzo’s transformation. He just hopes he’s strong enough to call it forth. Hanzo seems to be watching him closely as Jesse’s power slowly starts to build.
It starts out as a gentle warmth but builds until it is a searing heat. Jesse grits his teeth as his wound starts to burn closed. Hanzo must have recognized the feeling of it because before Jesse has to squeeze his eyes shut to grit through even more pain today there had been recognition in those pretty dark eyes.
Eventually, Jesse’s hand falls from the wound, the heat of his power leaving as it drops. He’s so tired, chittering softly as he drifts into the gentle embrace of sleep. The last thing he’s aware of before sleep takes him is Hanzo curling around him protectively once more.
Chapter 16: Guardian
Hanzo watches over Jesse as he recovers. The last twenty-four hours were some of the tensest hours of Hanzo’s life, trying best he can to keep Jesse safe and alive. His dragons had retrieved the plants from Jesse’s garden for him, and the mortar and pestle from Jesse’s grotto soon after that.
Hanzo could have gotten the mortar and pestle himself, but the thought of leaving Jesse alone right now is too much. He’d made the medicine Jesse had before after he dragged Jesse’s sleeping form farther up on the beach in the cavern. After he covered the sealed wound with the paste he sat and watched and waited.
Over time, Hanzo sends his dragons out often as he can, having them scout for more poaching vessels. The ones who had attacked Jesse are now long gone, their ship sunk and the crew sustenance for Hanzo’s dragons.
When Hanzo feels that the danger of poachers has passed, he sends his dragons out to catch him food. There are small fish in this closed off pool, but they are so tiny Hanzo doesn’t desire to even bother catching them to eat. Besides, if there are fish in here, even after Jesse hid this grotto away, then they must be in here to serve a purpose.
Which is not too hard to figure out after a few long hours inside. The sand of the hidden beach is warmed by what sunlight streams in, and the light glints off a few bits of plastic toys Hanzo spots half buried in the sand. The plastic ones are human toys, likely washed off of beaches. When Hanzo shuffles up the sand more there are other toys laid out, all of which are carved from driftwood. Little figures of sea life and mermaids, even some of humans and their sea transports.
Hanzo especially likes the carved submarine. It has a little compartment just big enough to open with his claws to place rocks inside so it sinks below the water. An adorable toy for a baby mer.
Hanzo casts a glance over to the still sleeping Jesse. He must have made these all long ago, Hanzo figures, and then buried the entrance to hide this place away. Hanzo wonders if Jesse had a mate, at one point in time. Hanzo doesn’t expect the little furl of jealousy that buds in his chest at that thought.
He’s being irrational, and that’s the last thing Jesse needs right now. Hanzo of all people has no right to claim Jesse for himself at all. There’s a little voice that makes itself known to Hanzo, sounding a little suspiciously like Genji, that tells him he’s been needlessly unkind at times.
The voice is right.
Hanzo shuffles back to Jesse’s side, laying next to his uninjured side and moving up close to him. He orders his dragons to go hunt for Jesse when they return with Hanzo’s meal for the day, in preparation for Jesse’s waking. Hanzo remains a sentinel at Jesse’s side until he does.
Jesse does stir eventually, close to dawn, and wakes Hanzo when he jolts upright violently. Jesse’s hissing and chittering, drawing into himself while baring his fangs and Hanzo sits up and places a hand on his shoulder. Jesse startles at first, and Hanzo catches Jesse’s claws when they come swiping at him, the movement clumsy and weak enough to stop with ease.
“You’re okay,” Hanzo clutches Jesse’s hand, twines their fingers together and gives Jesse a reassuring squeeze, “You’re safe.”
“T-the land-dwellers… their t-transport,” Jesse’s head whips around to take in the space around them.
“Dead and the ship sunk,” Hanzo continues, voice low and soothing, “They cannot harm you anymore. You know this.”
Jesse just slowly calms, breathing deep, and he eventually slowly relaxes. Hanzo does not retrieve his hand from Jesse’s and sits with him in the shallows in the low light of the dawn. Eventually, he calls his dragons again, motioning for them to retrieve one of the fish they have brought for Jesse last night.
They float up after doing so, fish flopping in each of their mouths. Hanzo takes one and holds it out for Jesse. He lifts his head to look at the offered fish, and then to his and Hanzo’s joined hands. Right. Hanzo removes his hand from Jesse’s to let him take the fish.
“Nightmare?” Hanzo asks softly, making a noise of sympathy when Jesse nods, “I understand.”
“Thought I was as good as dead.” Jesse admits quietly, “Then you came in like— like an actual god I guess. Bright an’ resplendent an’ just full o’ fire.”
“I wasn’t going to allow them to cause you further harm,” Hanzo says simply.
“Thanks,” Jesse says softly, looking up at Hanzo as he nibbles on the fish, “For comin’ for me. If ya hadn’t I woulda been—“
“I think it's best if you rest, and do not dwell on what has passed,” Hanzo interrupts, plucking the other fish from the jaws of his dragons, handing it to Jesse once the first fish has been devoured, “You will get nowhere thinking of something that did not happen.”
Jesse just nods and continues to nibble at the fish in silence. Hanzo takes the opportunity the lull in conversation presents and commands his dragons to go hunt for more fish. Jesse’s body will need to replenish what it has lost, and Hanzo himself could use some food. The twin spirits disappear out of the hidden grotto, leaving Hanzo and Jesse alone with their thoughts.
“This place is beautiful,” Hanzo voices eventually, motioning to the hidden beach, “I understand why you kept it hidden.”
Jesse seems to tense slightly at that, giving Hanzo a wary once over, “Not hidden anymore, is it?”
There’s a bitterness in Jesse’s voice that surprises Hanzo, and he looks from Jesse to the beach littered with the man-made and carved toys. Remembers how Jesse had almost let the real number of his grottos slip, in a moment that seems ages ago. Hanzo’s intruding on something private, that was only for Jesse. He thinks he knows why.
“This is a nursery, of sorts,” Hanzo states, glancing back to Jesse.
Jesse’s tail flicks, the anxiety plain on his face that Hanzo has pieced the purpose of this place together. It is confirmation enough, but Jesse’s refusal to confirm only further proves Hanzo’s guess.
“I would not see any children you have harmed, Jesse.” Hanzo reaches and places a hand on Jesse’s shoulder in hopes to convey his sincerity, “Your secret is safe with me, I promise you.”
Jesse stares Hanzo down, but little by little, the mistrust fades from his eyes, “Okay. I believe you.” He looks to the remnant of his arm and scoffs, “I don’t think I’ll be havin’ any anyways, buried that dream when I buried the entrance. An’ no mer would mate a mer who would have a hard time providin’ for them an’ any guppies.” Jesse wiggles the stump of his arm as if to prove his point.
“You’re resourceful,” Hanzo finds himself quick to defend Jesse from himself, “and powerful. You will learn to live with what has been done to you, and you will be stronger for it.”
Jesse lifts his head and sends him a glare, perhaps a little offended a former land-dweller is speaking as if he knows how all facets of survival work beneath the waves, “You seem so sure—“
“I am because I know what this is like.” Hanzo flicks his tail fin in agitation, but takes a deep breath to calm himself, but cannot quite lose his harsh tone, “Or do you forget what I have lost, what I lose every time I choose to walk on land.”
Jesse’s mouth snaps shut with an audible clack of his teeth, and he casts his gaze downward, ashamed. Hanzo takes another moment to calm himself further. Jesse does not need his anger, he needs his understanding.
“You’re scared,” Hanzo continues, voice much softer, “scared that things will not be the same, that you will struggle. I would be lying to you if I said there was no struggle ahead of you, but you are also selling yourself short if you do not see yourself capable of rising to the challenge.”
Jesse has slowly lifted his gaze back to Hanzo, and the surprise he sees there makes Hanzo’s stomach sink a little. He must have truly been unkind if some kind words have this effect. Hanzo makes a note to rectify this.
“You call me powerful, but fail to see the same talent in yourself, or use it,” Hanzo presses on, taking Jesse’s one hand in both of his, “I felt it. I felt it before too when I changed into this form. That warmth, when the pearl took hold, that part of it was your power, was it not?”
Jesse nods slowly and Hanzo continues, “And you used it to close your wound. If you applied to your hunting routine, like I have my dragons, I am certain you can figure this out.”
Jesse just continues to stare at Hanzo, unblinking and looking slightly confused. Hanzo runs his claws through his hair self consciously under that look.
“I know I have not been the kindest to you,” Hanzo admits aloud, “I have always been known to stew in anger and let my temper get away from me. I had said we needed to move past things we cannot change, and yet I remain to hold a grudge against you.”
“Don’t blame you.” Jesse finally speaks, “I ruined your life, an’ you can’t go back.”
“In truth, aside from my brother, I have no life to return to,” Hanzo turns to Jesse, “I am hunted on land, by what remains of my family and what enemies I have made. Down here,“ he motions towards the entrance and the waters of the island beyond, “aside from the incident with the cult itself and the poachers, I have been the safest I have been in ten years.”
Jesse blinks owlishly at Hanzo in surprise which spurs more words to tumble out of his mouth, “No one could possibly know to seek me here. The only one I know of that knows I remain here is Genji. Honestly, despite the hiccups with well, learning to control all of this,” Hanzo pulls his tail up out of the water, “and learning what living down here entails, it is not that bad.”
He’s ranting now, a little bit, but he can’t seem to stop, “I suppose what I am trying to say, is that I am sorry I have treated you like a nuisance. I have treated you like a nuisance and an enemy when you have shown nothing but patience and regret and have actively worked to aid me. You’ve shared your grottos and the wonders within, and I have acted like I own it all! Even when I had claimed I did not want to take this territory from you. I have stepped all over you and your feelings, and I am sorry.”
Hanzo finally silences himself and waits for Jesse to say anything, anything at all. Part of him hopes for Jesse to finally lose that patience and let Hanzo have it, honestly. It would be no less than what he deserved, acting like a petulant brat.
But Jesse surprises him even now.
“That is the most I have heard ya speak,” Jesse says, with a little bit of amusement in his eyes and a small smile, “For a second I was worried if it were actually you sittin’ here with me.”
The joke makes Hanzo scoff, “As hard as it is to believe, yes, it is me.”
“O’course, there ain’t no other mer as ornery as you for miles,” Jesse chuckles a little before giving a little hum, “I forgive ya.”
“I—“ Hanzo barely stamps down his instinct to protest, “Thank you.” he sends Jesse a small, relieved smile, “I hope to be a better neighbour than I have. Possibly by starting with leaving this grotto and helping you bury the entrance again. I do not wish to encroach on a place special to you any longer than I have.”
“I would appreciate that a lot, thank ya,” Jesse gives him a grateful nod, “I might also ask ya to help me with a few things, if you don’t mind, at least until I get used to-“ he stops and wiggles his stump arm and motions to it with his other hand.
Hanzo gives him a nod, “I will aid you to the best of my ability.”
Hanzo’s dragons return to him at that moment, with a few fish in their jaws. Both merfolk take the opportunity to eat in silence. Hanzo calls his dragons back to him and uses their power to fry the fish before he eats. Jesse seems to watch him do this, and Hanzo feels Jesse’s power slowly build next to him.
The fish in Jesse’s hand crackles and the air is filled with the scent of burning fish. Hanzo informs him that he needs to watch the fish closely lest he burns it or turns it into charcoal. This is followed by an explanation of what charcoal is and what it is used for, with an increasingly intrigued Jesse listening with rapt attention.
He doesn’t end up burning the fish, but Jesse does complain about it tasting a little weird, to which Hanzo can’t help but laugh. Hanzo promises that if the invitation to share Jesse’s “wooden grotto” for the winter still stands, he will show Jesse some interesting ways to prepare fish, raw or otherwise. Jesse confirms that the invitation does, and he would love to see how land-dwellers eat fish.
Jesse seems in better spirits, and Hanzo is thankful for that. Before long they move from the nursery grotto entirely, and once outside, begin to cover the entrance up once more.
“You know, you’re not so bad when you’re bein’ all sweet?” Jesse teases gently as they work, “Ya got real sweetly mouthy when I started gettin’ down on myself, you’ll give a mer the wrong idea, Hanzo.”
Hanzo rolls his eyes, and playfully smacks Jesse’s tail with his own, “Keep working, you overgrown cod.”
Jesse bursts into giggles at that and Hanzo can’t help but grin. Soon enough the nursery is hidden away once more. Jesse seems to be giving it a little bit of a sad longing look, and Hanzo takes the opportunity to swim to his side and nudge him into coming along.
Jesse gives him a nod and swims at Hanzo’s side as they leave the area. They’ve got a lot of work to do.
Chapter 17: Dance
Together, Hanzo and Jesse continue to prep the wooden grotto to house two mers over the winter months. Cleaning the remainder of the house is easier with the both of them, though Hanzo has to keep Jesse from getting distracted with random objects around the house.
He does this by promising Jesse he will explain their function at the end of their cleaning frenzy if Jesse wishes. Jesse leaves the objects be for now and focuses on helping Hanzo clean. Hanzo can’t completely hold Jesse at fault though, as there are things leftover in the house that he too can’t help but find intriguing.
One such item is an old record player he finds tucked away in one of the closets. It is not that hard to set up either, so Hanzo finds a corner for it in the living room and places a record on it just for some background noise. He can already hear Genji teasing him about his continued anachronistic ways when he tells him about it later.
The music is at least helping the cleaning feel less like a chore. Hanzo finds himself swaying along to the song as he goes about the final touches to make the living room, well, look lived in. Jesse eventually pops his head from the basement curiously when he’s come back up from soaking in the tunnel entrance. Hanzo scolds him for trailing seawater through the house, but the mer is too curious about Hanzo’s new find to care.
Hanzo supposes they can stop for the day, they’ve been cleaning for hours already. The house is coming along nicely, and soon enough it will be perfectly habitable again, at least if you happened to be a mer. There’s no getting around the large hole leading to an underwater tunnel in the basement, not that Hanzo wants to be rid of it.
Hanzo finds himself snorting at the thought of a real estate agent trying to frame the tunnel like a key feature of the house. No wonder the previous owner just up and left. His snort has Jesse peering over at him curiously from where he’s inspecting the record player, and Hanzo waves at him dismissively.
“Land-dweller joke, you wouldn’t get it.” Hanzo pauses and glances at his to-do list, which involves going to bother the cult for the deed to the house, “Well, perhaps at least not yet.”
Jesse just gives a hum and turns his attention to the record player as Hanzo rinses out his cleaning cloth. The record suddenly scratching has him turning to look at Jesse, the mer blinking back at him, hand placed on top of the record. At Hanzo’s stare, he slowly lifts his hand back up, fiddles with the machine for a solid thirty seconds before the record resumes.
Jesse sends him a smile full of razor fangs and the odd image of a mer hunched close to a record player has Hanzo snorting again.
“You shouldn't be touching everything,” Hanzo says, waving a finger at Jesse, “you could break something.”
“But everythin’ is so interestin’.” Jesse stands and after a few seconds of contemplation starts to help Hanzo round up his cleaning supplies, “Land-dwellers make such interestin’ things, an’ do interestin’ things! Like the wiggles you were jus’ doin’ while you were cleanin’!”
“Wiggles?” Hanzo has to think for a second, “You mean dancing? Though at best I was swaying along to the music, which would hardly be considered dancing.”
“Can you though?” Jesse implores.
“Can I what? Dance?” Hanzo pauses in the middle of crossing the threshold of the living room into the kitchen to dump out the cleaning water, “In theory, I suppose I could. I’m not exactly professionally trained in many dances though.”
“But you could dance if ya wanted?” Jesse looks the mer equivalent of a child let loose in a candy store, “Do you know enough to show me?”
Hanzo considers as he moves to drain his bucket of the dirty water. He’s not that strong of a dancer, really, but finds it hard to turn Jesse down. Not when the mer looks so ecstatic for the chance to learn. He sighs and turns back to Jesse once he’s tucked the bucket under the sink.
“I could do you one, better, I could teach you.” Hanzo comes to a stop in front of Jesse and considers him, “I’m not that great at waltzing, but it is a dance done with a partner.”
“Just lemme know what I gotta do, an’ I’ll do it.” Jesse’s excitement only mounts despite Hanzo’s admitted dance related shortcomings.
“Alright.” Hanzo steps into Jesse’s space and takes his hand in his, placing his other hand on Jesse’s waist.
He’s glad Jesse has taken to wearing pants on land after hours of Hanzo convincing him to, or this would be much more awkward. Hanzo informs Jesse of the basics, waiting for the record to move onto the next song, which is slower in pace before he starts to move to the music. The start of the lesson is terribly clumsy between the two of them, Hanzo not entirely sure what he’s doing and Jesse even much less so.
Hanzo finds himself rarely thankful that his feet are prosthetic, doubtful that they could withstand such abuse if they were still flesh and bone. Jesse’s at least apologetic about stepping on Hanzo’s feet all the time, chittering softly every time he does so. Soon though, they seem to find their rhythm as the record plays another song, and then another.
Hanzo asks Jesse if he would like to be twirled, and they make the attempt. Jesse’s got a few good inches of height on Hanzo, so he’s got to duck a little to spin under Hanzo’s arm, but they manage it. The entire time Jesse’s been grinning from ear to ear, clearly enjoying himself. Hanzo would be lying if he said he wasn’t doing the same.
A deep rattling sound not unlike a purr starts to sound in Jesse’s chest as they continue to dance together, and Hanzo can’t help but give a questioning hm. Jesse just looks sheepish, like he’s been caught doing something he shouldn’t.
“Means I’m—“ Jesse searches for the words, a furrow of concentration on his brow, “Means I’m content, y’know? Or it means I feel safe, comfortable, happy. I appreciate you teachin’ me this, Han.”
“It is my pleasure.” Hanzo replies, surprised by the nickname, but it’s not unwelcome, “It is only fair, you taught me to swim. Might as well repay you with lessons in kind. Though, didn’t expect you to want to learn to dance.”
“Me neither.” Jesse’s grin gets impossibly wider, and this close Hanzo realizes that he’s got dimples. “I’m havin’ fun though!"
“Me as well,” Hanzo takes too long to reply, distracted by the discovery of Jesse’s dimples, “I mean that I am having fun. I am having fun dancing with you.” Hanzo fights the urge to immediately slap himself for running his mouth.
“That makes me happy too.” Jesse’s smile goes softer, and so do his dark eyes.
Hanzo can merely nod, not trusting his words while lost in that gaze. He offers to twirl Jesse again, the mer chittering in joy when Hanzo manages to twirl him a little faster than the first time they attempted the move.
They fall back into step together, continuing to dance even long after the record player falls silent. Hanzo can’t remember a time he’s also felt this content, even with all that had lead him here. His hand falls from Jesse’s and he presses closer to him, resting his head on Jesse’s shoulder, continuing to sway with him.
Jesse just softly chitters and tightens his hold on Hanzo with his one arm, resting his cheek on top of Hanzo’s head. The rumbling in Jesse’s chest only seems to intensify as they sway together.
“We’ll have a lotta time over the winter,” Jesse asks eventually, voice tentative, “could we do this again?”
“Of course.” Hanzo finds himself answering readily.
“A-an’ after?” Jesse adds almost too quietly.
There's a hesitance to his question that has Hanzo pausing, and he pulls away to look up at Jesse. He’s staring at Hanzo again, very intently, gaze almost pleading. Hanzo doesn’t have to think too hard to know why not after their last exchange about what Hanzo would possibly do after winter came to an end.
Jesse doesn’t want Hanzo to leave, it’s written plain on his face.
Hanzo looks around the house, at this space he’s etching out for himself finally. A space all his own shared with a creature from myth. After running for so long, Hanzo finds that he doesn’t want to leave this place either.
“And after.” Hanzo looks back up to Jesse, “If you would be so kind as to continue to share these waters with me.”
“O’ course!” Jesse agrees readily.
That same smile lights up Jesse’s face, causing the dimples to reappear. Hanzo finds himself returning it with a small smile of his own. Jesse eventually does pull away from him, murmuring about how he’s going to go practice his hunting and catch them some dinner.
Hanzo nods and waves him off, watching Jesse disappear down into the basement. He waits for the telltale splash of Jesse returning to the water before he sighs and places his face in his hands. He slowly rubs his hands down his face, clasping them together in front of his mouth. Both of his dragons appear in that moment, draping themselves across his shoulders. He reaches and idly scratches one beneath their chin.
"When did this happen?" Hanzo wonders aloud.
Neither dragon answers him, only watch him with knowing, glittering eyes.
Chapter 18: Phantom Pain
Between cleaning the wooden grotto, Hanzo is helping Jesse get used to his injury. Having only one arm makes a lot of things harder, especially as a mer. Jesse can’t hunt as efficiently as before, and while Hanzo’s little friends make it a lot easier, Jesse’s always been self-sufficient and that’s not going to end even with strange land-dweller magic.
Hanzo’s at least found and rigged something together to help Jesse gather fish. A sort of containment object Hanzo called an “Ice Cream pail”. It is easy enough to put fish inside it when Jesse catches them, though the more fish he catches the quicker he has to be putting them inside the pail. Some do escape occasionally, but it is easier than using his net with only one hand.
Anything else that he absolutely required both hands for he’s still trying to figure out. Hanzo’s helping even with that though. The hand Jesse’s left with is very clumsy, it was never his dominant hand, but Hanzo’s been helping him “train” his hand so to speak. Getting him used to all the basic movements his other hand was so used to doing.
He also helps Jesse deal with the strange, painful feeling that his injury sometimes gets. Sometimes it is enough to stir him from his sleep, like tonight, and he clutches the remains of his arm and gives a pained chitter. He tries to rub it like Hanzo’s shown him, but he can’t seem to chase the feeling away.
Reluctantly, Jesse inches from his grotto. He doesn’t like to leave the safety of his home at night, so used to other creatures bigger than him hunting at night. It is a leftover paranoia from his travels before he settled the island’s waters that he hasn’t quite shaken even now.
Deeming the immediate area relatively safe, Jesse heads for the wooden grotto. Hanzo began to stay there once he started his cleaning project. Jesse’s fine with that since Hanzo is obviously more comfortable living in such a place over a grotto like Jesse’s.
Hanzo’s been in much better spirits since he apologized to Jesse in the nursery grotto too, and Jesse’s glad they’re becoming better friends. Jesse’s learnt much more about land-dweller things, at least mostly about the objects in the wooden grotto, even if Hanzo says they are terribly outdated. He says he’d love to see how Jesse reacts to more recent land-dweller “technology”, and might see to acquiring something newer to show Jesse somehow.
Something warm settles in Jesse’s chest at the thought of seeing Hanzo again, even if he’s dropping in at night for a rather unfortunate reason. Jesse makes his way a little faster, gripping his amputated arm and hissing in discomfort from time to time. Not soon enough is he making the last leg of the journey through the tunnels into the wooden grotto.
Hanzo’s widened the little grotto just off of the entrance into the wooden grotto for them both to have a larger space to sleep at night, though until winter hits Jesse prefers his own grotto. The light from the wooden grotto’s single “lightbulb”, as Hanzo had called it, filters in from above. It is just enough light to catch the sheen of Hanzo’s scales where he’s sprawled out, tail half into the tunnel way.
Jesse’s careful not to brush or tug Hanzo’s fins or tail accidentally, curling into a corner of the tunnel and giving a questioning chitter into the darkness. When Hanzo doesn’t stir immediately Jesse inches closer and calls for him louder, and then again until Hanzo stirs.
The tail left out in the tunnel flicks before it disappears into the darkness and Hanzo’s front emerges, expression unamused and tired. His face softens a little when Jesse grips at his arm again and gives a soft little chitter in apology. Hanzo sighs softly and approaches, waving Jesse’s hand off the injury and placing his own over it.
Hanzo’s hands start working the muscle and Jesse wants to cry in relief. Doing so would be a waste of his precious tears though, so Jesse just closes his eyes tight and lets Hanzo work. After a while of Hanzo’s gentle massage, the pain subsides finally.
“Thank you.” Jesse sighs, opening his eyes once more, “I didn’t mean to wake ya, it was just—“
“Too much?” Hanzo asks, glancing up at Jesse, taking his hands away, “I understand. The pain must have been great to have woken you.”
“Yeah. Felt like,” Jesse ponders how to put it to words, “felt like the burnin’ again. Y’know, when I used my own power to close it. Only it was in the part o’ my arm that don’t exist anymore.”
Hanzo merely nods, “Humans call it phantom pain. I think you can understand why.”
Jesse chitters softly, nodding to himself. He subconsciously rubs at his arm again, unsure of what to do now. Jesse steals a glance down the tunnel again. He could head back to his grotto tonight.
“I am not going to chase you out of here if that’s what you’re worried about.” Hanzo voices as he settles back into his sleeping area, seemingly able to read Jesse's thoughts, “You swam all the way here, you must be tired, and there is no point in heading back out when we have to work on the house in the morning.”
“I wouldn’t wanna impose—“
Hanzo sends Jesse a look and Jesse stops speaking. There is a moment of silence as Hanzo seems to wait for Jesse to do something. When Jesse doesn’t move, Hanzo shuffles further into the darkness and motions for Jesse to follow. Jesse just stares blankly at him.
“You need to rest,” Hanzo instructs from inside the alcove, “we can share for the night. We’ll be sharing during the winter anyway.”
Jesse wants to point out that in the winter they won’t have a choice. On top of that, its unheard of for merfolk to share a grotto unless one is gravely injured or they are intending to mate or are already mates. Jesse’s shared a grotto with Hanzo in the past, yes, but Hanzo was also new to being a mer and needed to be shown how to live like one.
Jesse wonders if Hanzo will ever do anything properly by merfolk standards. He gets himself caught on the thought that if Hanzo did, he wouldn’t be Hanzo and do things in his strange Hanzo way. Jesse would be more than okay with things remaining as is. Though if another mer were to approach, Jesse might have to teach Hanzo proper etiquette if he needs to greet a friendly mer. Or how to court one, for that matter.
The thought of him having to teach Hanzo the dos and don’ts of mer courtship, so Hanzo may court another mer, makes an uncomfortably curl of jealousy arise in Jesse’s chest. He forces it down. He of all merfolk has no claim to Hanzo.
A clearing throat breaks Jesse out of his thoughts. Hanzo’s watching him expectantly still. Jesse really doesn’t want to make the swim back, not in the dark, and Hanzo’s right that it would make more sense simply to stay here for tonight. Mind made up, Jesse swims into the alcove space.
Hanzo’s pressed himself as far into the space as possible for them both to have enough room. Even then, as Jesse settles down he’s hyper-aware of Hanzo next to him. The feeling persists for some time until Jesse finally relaxes when Hanzo’s tail fin brushes idly by his. Jesse’s being foolish, he knows, and he will have to get used to sharing the space with Hanzo come winter.
So Jesse hunkers down a little more in the alcove without encroaching too much into Hanzo’s space. Jesse shuffles uncomfortably for a few moments, still trying to get used to sleeping in a position that doesn’t require the use of his missing arm. He must be moving too much because Hanzo places a hand on his arm to keep him still.
“Do you need anything?” Hanzo asks softly.
Jesse answers in a whisper even though Hanzo is also still clearly awake, “Usedta use my, uh, the arm I’m missin’ to rest my head on at night. Was most comfy sleepin' like that, y’know?”
Hanzo hums in thought, “I might be able to help you. Wait here.”
Hanzo shifts and slides over Jesse and out into the tunnel and disappears up into the wooden grotto above. Jesse’s alone in the dark for who knows how long before Hanzo returns, a strange oblong fat lump of fabric in his hands. He hands it to Jesse.
“A pillow,” Hanzo explains, “to rest your head on. They are not really meant to be underwater but I doubt you care.”
“Yeah, I don’t care none. Thank ya.” Jesse shuffles and flops the pillow under his head.
The pillow is soft, and Jesse nuzzles into it a little. Hanzo gives a little hum of satisfaction and settles down to sleep. Jesse gives a soft little chitter and finally finds himself comfortable enough to truly relax. Focusing on Hanzo’s steady breathing helps too.
Soon Jesse is lulled to sleep, curled up safe in the alcove with Hanzo. It’s the best sleep Jesse’s had in ages.
Chapter 19: Promises
The leaves are losing their green when the house is finally fully habitable again by Hanzo’s standards. It’s taken a lot of elbow grease, his and Jesse’s combined, but the above-ground portion of the house is ready. Jesse’s set about preparing a pocket down in the tunnel to begin to hide fish away for the winter. Just so they do not have to go out hunting too often in the colder winter sea.
Hanzo's kept Genji updated through the entire endeavour. Jesse’s made attempts at communicating with Genji too, with the clumsy Japanese phrases he’s picked up from listening to Hanzo speak with his brother. Often interrupting the brothers with questions about the language. Genji never minds being interrupted and thinks Jesse’s interest is adorable.
Hanzo admits Jesse’s interest and enthusiasm to learn is cute, just never aloud. Genji would tease him endlessly for saying so anyway. He seems to be convinced there is something going on between Jesse and Hanzo. Which Hanzo denies adamantly, like a liar.
The last thing he needs to do is confide in Genji about his growing feelings for Jesse. He’s not entirely sure how he’s going to handle them, let alone have to deal with a little brother’s teasing. These types of things were never Hanzo’s strongest suit, having spent so much time without the time or leisure to pursue romance. Or the interest, if he’s being honest.
Jesse’s just… Jesse.
The mer has already endeared himself to Hanzo far faster than most, even despite everything that has passed between them. Hanzo leans heavily on the edge of the kitchen sink and sighs, conflicted. One one hand, Genji might have advice on this sort of thing, but Hanzo has to ask himself if he’s willing to put up with the teasing that will no doubt occur.
His phone rings and he nearly jumps. Of course, there is only one person who actually has this number. Hanzo crosses the room to answer it, swiping it off the table.
“Good—“ Genji has to pause to calculate timezones briefly, “afternoon, Hanzo! I hope this is not a bad time.”
“Not at all, I welcome the call. The house is more or less clean and habitable finally, so your timing works out well.” Hanzo can’t help the pride from flooding his tone.
“That's great news!” he can hear the smile in Genji’s voice, “I was actually going to call you and ask you something in relation to the house.”
That piques Hanzo’s interest. “Oh? Well then, ask.”
“I was wondering, since you technically have a house now, albeit an apparently stolen one—“ Genji can’t help but tease.
“Excuse me,” Hanzo fires back playfully, “I went and acquired the deed from the cultist archives. It is technically mine.” And Jesse’s.
“House ownership technicalities aside,” Genji continues, though his tone shifts into something more reserved and reproachful. It makes Hanzo stand straighter, “I was wondering, we have never really truly spent much time together, with—with y’know your “work” and the clan. And me being in Nepal.”
“No, we have not.” Hanzo agrees.
“So I was thinking,” Genji hesitates a little, “Could I—We haven’t had a real family get together for New Years in a long time, not since father died and…” Genji pauses and almost quietly moves on, “We’re, you and I are just repairing things between us, and we’ve been doing really good! Perhaps—perhaps I can come and spend the holidays with you and Jesse?”
Hanzo clutches his phone tight and finds himself with a lump in his throat. His brother, here, for New Years. Hanzo looks around the house. There’s furniture in the rooms, but otherwise, it is so… empty. He’d need to get it ready for Genji to come, he’d need to make it—
Hanzo’s brain nearly short circuits on the thought.
Hanzo needs to make the house a proper home. Hanzo’s not had a proper home in years.
“Hanzo?” Genji’s voice filters in through to Hanzo’s brain finally, sounding small, “I did not mean to ask this of you so soon. If you are not ready to see me again I underst—“
“I would love to have you here.” Hanzo interrupts, voice scratchy and eyes starting to water. He wipes at them with his free hand, and finds himself glad Genji did not initiate a video call, “I just, I just got caught up in how much I have to prepare for your arrival now.”
“I didn’t mean to cause you extra work.” Genji’s sounding reproachful again, and that won’t do.
“It is nothing, I have a lot of free time lately.” Hanzo allows himself a watery chuckle, “I just need to go bother the cult for groceries delivered to the house and bedding to make up a guest room— You still like green, right?”
“I do, but if you make the entire room up in green I am turning you into sushi.” Genji playfully threatens, “And please tell the cult to not turn me into sushi.”
“I will make sure to do so.” Hanzo promises, thinking over things he will need for Genji’s arrival, “Do you require anything to help with the trip? Money to pay for it? No, no, I will pay for it. It will be my gift.”
“If you insist, Anija.” Genji laughs softly, but he sounds touched all the same, “I just hope I am not imposing too much. Or that the trip does not cost you too much. I don’t want you to spend too much on me.”
“It will be fine. I have an emergency fund, which I really doubt I need now that I have a cult following and a taste for fish.”
Hanzo doesn’t want to mention to Genji that the emergency fund is technically money their mother put away for them. Hidden for them just in case they needed to flee Hanamura if enemies came calling. Oh, if only she’d known what would become of her sons. Hanzo thinks she’d approve of him using it to be able to host his brother over the holidays.
“If you have requests, send them in now,” Hanzo says instead, “Just know if you want more strawberry shortcake that I will be getting one for myself and one for you and Jesse to share unless you speak up.”
“You’re still a cake hoarding gremlin I see,” Genji scolds, “Not even going to share a cake with your Jesse?”
“He’s not my Jesse,” Hanzo says haughtily, much too quickly, and realizes too late he’s walked into Genji’s trap.
“Your tone makes it sound like you want him to be!” Genji crows, jumping right on the chance to tease, “Oh! I bet you two would make an adorable mer couple! Do you think if you both slept near each other you’d get all tangled up like noodles in the night? You always tossed and turned when you slept in the past! Would I have to help both of you unravel if I’m there?”
Hanzo listens to Genji’s continued teasing with a thin grimace of a smile. Jesse pops up from the basement and gives a questioning chitter, holding up his pail of fish he went hunting for their lunch. Hanzo motions for him to head back down, mouths to Jesse that he will join him shortly.
Jesse nods and gives him a fanged smile that Hanzo returns. He’ll tell Jesse about Genji coming for the holidays over lunch. Hanzo just has to endure the rest of the teasing to be able to ask Genji about his day before he heads down.
Hanzo can’t remember the last time he’s felt so light.
Chapter 20: Unexpected
There’s a lot of things that must be done to prepare for Genji’s arrival for the holidays. A lot of which involves Hanzo making journeys into town to inform the cult of his brother’s visit and what he will need to ensure his brother’s comfort, followed by the resulting trips to collect the items he’s requested. As Jesse had said, the cult is full of people who are definitely pushovers, falling over themselves to please “The One Born of Thunder”.
It’s a little flattering, as is the title, Hanzo supposes. At the very least, Jesse gets a kick out of hearing how Hanzo intimidates the cult into getting him the things he needs.
Hanzo’s on one of these trips back from town, walking back to the house with arms laden with sheets and bedding to make up a proper guest room when he hears a sound just off the path. Years of being hunted makes him immediately wary, slowing his pace and peering into the foliage. The sound repeats and Hanzo steps off the path and through the brush, prematurely knocking the changing leaves off the branches as he passes through.
He has to set down the basket of supplies down to actually shift through some of the underbrush, parting the lower branches of a rather large bush slowly and carefully. Huge eyes stare up at Hanzo when he parts the foliage far enough, a startled hiss leaving the small, soot-sprite-puffball of a kitten Hanzo’s stumbled upon.
Hanzo stares at the kitten, and the kitten stares back. It seems a little too young to be without its mother yet, an impossibly tiny and thin thing. Likely just a little over a month old. Hanzo considers it a moment longer before he scoops the kitten up, cooing when it starts to fuss and tries to claw him.
Hanzo merely presses his fingertip to the little pink paw beans as he adjusts his hold on the kitten, “I have claws too, little one.”
He has to balance the basket of the bedding supplies on his hip as he continues his way to the house, the tiny kitten cradled to his chest with his free hand. Once inside, Hanzo sets about making a little home for the kitten inside a wicker basket and finding it something to eat.
He’s thankful he’s bothered the cult for actual food in preparation for Genji’s visit, though he was planning on practicing making dishes and not feeding a stray kitten. In the end, though, Hanzo merely dips down into the basement and borrows a fish out of the winter stores.
Soon enough the kitty is nibbling tiny slices of fish off of a saucer. It seems to have warmed up to Hanzo at the very least, if begrudgingly. It starts to mewl after its finished eating, calling long squeaky cries up at him. Hanzo only coos at it and bends to offer his hand to it, lets the kitten approach him this time.
Jesse finds Hanzo cooing and baby talking the kitten when he comes back up from the basement. The kitten has braved Hanzo’s presence, waddling its tiny way around Hanzo’s lap and exploring what Hanzo will allow. It notices Jesse before Hanzo does, looking up at the mer with wide eyes and shrinking into Hanzo when he approaches.
“You brought back a snack?” Jesse asks, tilting his head and studying the small creature.
“No, I brought nothing back for you to snack on, I—“ Hanzo pauses and he snaps his head up to glare at Jesse, realizing he meant the kitten, “This isn’t a snack! This is a cat.”
“Cat.” Jesse repeats, blinking his dark eyes at Hanzo, chittering in thought, “Cat.” Jesse continues to chitter and repeat the word, like he’s testing it, and once pleased he looks back up to Hanzo, “So I can't eat the cat?”
“Absolutely not!” Hanzo pulls the kitten closer and places a hand gently on the kitten’s head over its ears, “They are not for eating! They are pets!” At Jesse’s continued confusion Hanzo elaborates, “Companions. Humans like to keep animal companions. Often the partnership is beneficial, A cat could keep mice out of our home.”
Jesse looks more confused as to what a mouse is, but he points to the leftover fish the kitten didn’t touch, “But it’s eatin’ our food?” he seems to come to a realization, “Unless you’re waitin’ until it’s bigger an’ then ya ea—“
“We are not eating the cat!” Hanzo repeats, hissing at Jesse, making the other mer flinch back and chitter in surprise, “Apologies, I didn’t mean to snap at you, but you can’t eat this cat. This is our cat.”
“Our cat.” Jesse looks to the tiny kitten, “Fair ‘nough, I guess. There ain’t enough meat on them bones ta eat anyway.” he seems to study how Hanzo handles the cat for a moment before he offers his hand for the kitten to sniff at, “I’ve seen bigger krill than you, lil’ shrimp."
Hanzo gives a thoughtful little hum, “I haven’t named them yet, but I think Shrimp would be a cute name.”
“They get names too?”
Jesse looks so earnestly confused that Hanzo can’t help but chuckle. Jesse just chitters and turns his head and pouts, embarrassed. Hanzo just holds up the kitten to Jesse.
“Why don’t you tell Shrimp what—“ Hanzo lifts the kitten for a second, “her name is? You named her, it's only fair you tell her!”
Jesse’s looking more endearingly confused by the second, but he plays along with Hanzo, “Your name is Shrimp. Lil’ Shrimp. Tiny little thing.”
Hanzo shows him where she likes to be scratched and Jesse follows suit, startling a bit when Shrimp starts to purr. Soon enough the mer is smiling wide and Hanzo lets him hold onto the kitten. Jesse’s cuddles Shrimp to his chest and chitters down at her, laughs when she makes a chirp back up at him.
Hanzo’s giving Jesse a smug look that he takes a good long while to notice, pouting in embarrassment again when he does. It is an adorable expression on Jesse, and Hanzo can’t help but mutter under his breath how cute it is. Both he and Jesse play with the kitten a few moments longer before the tiny creature is tuckered right out, and they place Shrimp in her wicker basket to nap.
“I can see why ya don’t eat ‘em now,” Jesse admits sheepishly.
“Glad you warmed up to her,” Hanzo stands and heads into the kitchen, begins to rummage through the fridge and pull out ingredients, “How about I show you how to make some actual land-dweller food you can try. I need all the practise I can get before Genji visits, and it would be beneficial to have a taste-tester.”
Jesse brightens at that and walks to Hanzo’s side, chittering softly in interest. He hovers as Hanzo cooks along to an instructional video on his phone, and whenever Hanzo needs the food tasted he lets Jesse do so. The mer is absolutely enthralled by it all, and Hanzo can’t help but smile a little.
Hanzo has to teach Jesse what plates and utensils are for when supper is ready, and both of them sit at the table to eat. The food is not the best, but it is passable, and Hanzo has a feeling he will get better in the kitchen with time. Jesse, of course, finds the dinner strange tasting despite the quality, but not too bad and rather interesting.
Hanzo snaps a candid photo of Jesse feeding a little piece of chicken to Shrimp when she wakes and comes to bother them for food. Jesse’s come to recognize the sound of the camera app and chitters a little in annoyance Hanzo’s way, pouting again. Hanzo only gives a little hum and shows Jesse the picture before sending it Genji’s way.
The response is immediate, Genji sending a torrent of sparkling heart and cat emojis with a fish thrown in every so often. Hanzo also shows that to Jesse before Genji’s next message pings on the screen.
Genji: Looks like you’re making quite the home for you and Jesse, Anija. The kitten is an adorable addition. I look forward to meeting both Jesse and the little kitty properly when I arrive!
Hanzo: I will make sure to introduce you to them both properly. And don’t worry, the cult is not going to try to feed you to Jesse.
He can’t help but snort at his own joke, giving a little dismissive wave when Jesse raises his head and chitters questioningly. Jesse turns his attention back to Shrimp and Hanzo turns his back to his phone. He considers what Genji said, and his thoughts before their last call.
This is his home now, isn’t it?
Hanzo watches Jesse tickle Shrimp’s belly, sees his grin widen when she tries to play fight his hand. Home. This is his home, and soon his brother will be here, at his home, to visit for the holidays.
It’s an unexpected turn of events, all of this and everything, but it is not unwelcome. Hanzo smiles to himself, can’t help but laugh at the incredibly odd circumstance his life has come to. Jesse raises his head to look at him again, having picked up Shrimp again and cradled her close.
“I am just,” Hanzo pauses to find the words, “I am happy, and excited for Genji to arrive. To have my brother over for the holidays— we haven’t been able to do so for a long time. I have a home to host him, I haven’t had one of those either in years.”
Jesse, for his part, nods even if he likely doesn’t quite understand fully what Hanzo means and how much it means, “I noticed, that ya seemed happier at least, ya smile a lot more.” Almost quietly he adds, “You have a real nice smile.”
“Thank you.” Hanzo’s smile widens, eyes crinkling at the corners, eyes watering again which is becoming an occurrence lately, “It was hard to be before but— I am happy.”
There’s still going to be rough days, no doubt, there always is. It won’t be like before though, not like when Hanzo was on the run, always hiding, never staying in one place. Even when his brother reappeared into his life, never allowing himself to see Genji because it might endanger him if the remnants of the clan found them.
But now, now Hanzo can see him. Genji can come to visit for the holidays. Hanzo can introduce Jesse to his brother, and Genji can meet this living myth in the flesh. And Hanzo can now introduce his brother to a kitten named Shrimp of all things.
It is absolutely and completely absurd but wonderful and Hanzo can’t help but laugh louder. He doesn’t realize he’s also weeping until Jesse wraps his arm around him and gives him a nuzzle and softly chitters. Hanzo lets his arms fold around Jesse and hold him close.
“I’m okay.” for once Hanzo feels like he’s telling the truth, “I’m okay. I’m just—“
“Happy?” Jesse asks softly, his face nestled in Hanzo’s shoulder.
Hanzo lets his eyes fall closed, a small smile on his face.
“Yes. I am happy.”
Chapter 21: Easy
Jesse is doing his best to prepare the tunnel below the wooden grotto for the winter while Hanzo is preoccupied with preparing the above ground portion for his brother’s arrival. Jesse doesn’t mind too much that most of the work has been passed onto him, he’s got more experience making these preparations anyway. Not having to worry about teaching Hanzo what all needs to happen before the winter sets in on top of all of it is making things much easier.
Besides, Hanzo’s promised to stay, so next year Jesse will be able to teach a much more comfortable Hanzo more about preparing for the winter. Hanzo’s made many strides since he first became a mer, but there is still much he needs to learn. When Jesse figures he himself has a better hold on hunting while one-armed, he will take Hanzo hunting in the spring.
It’s not that he doesn’t like Hanzo’s little dragon friends—the injury to Jesse’s left fin aside— but he thinks Hanzo would like actually going out to hunt instead of waiting for his little friends to return. If Jesse wants to use the future hunting trips as a means to spend even more time with Hanzo, well, that’s just his prerogative. Jesse’s grown quite attached to him. Even after a long, hard day of hunting for the winter stores and that day’s meal, coming back to the wooden grotto, to Hanzo, is wonderful.
Its almost like coming home to an actual mate. Almost.
Jesse doesn’t quite know how to ask Hanzo to court, or how such attentions would be received, given their history. He does know that Hanzo is in much better spirits as of late, even if his happiness comes with teary eyes. Hanzo’s tears at least don’t seem to have the same properties as Jesse’s, likely because of the imperfections in the magic of the pearl Jesse’s coming to notice more and more, which he’s keeping an eye on.
It's thankfully nothing that would put Hanzo in danger, just things that have bled over between Hanzo’s different forms. Like how he still can’t see in the dark quite as well as Jesse or any other mer could. All in all, they make Hanzo Hanzo, and Jesse plans to stick by Hanzo’s side, fully fledged mer or not. Mate or not.
Though would be lying if he claimed he hadn’t caught himself thinking of Hanzo as his potential mate. The way things are between them, it is hard not to. They have literally done nothing and yet kind of everything right out of proper mer courtship etiquette, albeit all kinds of backwards.
Jesse’s had built Hanzo a grotto, and he had accepted it, and even if he’s moved into the wooden grotto that doesn’t erase what was essentially the first step in courtship. They’ve both provided food for each other too, even if the circumstances weren’t in the favour of courtship either. Heck, Hanzo’s seen the nursery Jesse prepped for his future offspring. That’s a good few steps into the tail end of courtship, when the couple are preparing to actually mate and have children.
Doesn’t mean Jesse can’t day dream about it though. Often.
He tries not to day dream about it too much in Hanzo’s presence. It would be rude, for one, but also Hanzo’s got so many interesting things to tell Jesse about life on the surface and he needs to pay attention to that. Jesse still can’t quite wrap his head around the concept of owning pets, but he has to admit he has grown attached to little Shrimp in the short time he has known her. He brings her back little fish from his hunting trips, ones too small to even be considered a snack to a mer.
She’s nibbling on one right now at Jesse’s feet while Hanzo cooks up another one of the land-dweller meals. Hanzo insists on practicing so he can cook for his brother when he arrives. His determination is adorable, following along to one of his “videos”. Jesse had been attempting to watch too before Hanzo chased him back to the kitchen table and scolded him for hovering.
Jesse's content to watch him work. Sometimes when Hanzo’s cooked the recipe before, he puts on music instead. Hanzo gets lost in his task when he does and ends up doing the little dancing wiggles along to the song. It makes Jesse happy to see Hanzo happy like this. Jesse hopes Hanzo stays happy.
He wants to be one of the reasons Hanzo stays happy.
Happiness is such a good look on Hanzo. Jesse finds himself smiling softly, listening to Hanzo speak about what to expect when Genji comes to visit. Jesse interjects every so often to ask questions, like if it would be alright for him to watch the first sunrise of the new year with the brothers.
“Of course you can.” Hanzo answers, stirring the pot as he speaks, “It would be rude to exclude you.”
“Ya jus’ said it was a family thing, I didn’t wanna impose if it were only for family.” Jesse admits, a little embarrassed, “We Merfolk don’t have anything like your “New Years” under the waves.”
Hanzo places the lid on the pot and turns down the heat to let the food simmer. He moves to sit across the table from Jesse, leaning down to run his hand along Shrimp’s back as she eats. She’s making little Mnahmahmnah noises as she dines on her fish, and Hanzo’s shoulders shake briefly with laughter. Hanzo turns his attention back to Jesse.
“Do Merfolk have any sort of celebrations at all?” Hanzo inquires, genuine in his interest.
Both he and Jesse have gotten to a point where there is much more of a give and take of cultural information, as opposed to just Jesse’s constant and enthusiastic interest in land-dwellers. It pleases Jesse to no end that Hanzo’s interest has grown. It will make teaching him things about Mers much easier.
Jesse hums and thinks, “Nothin’ yearly like your holidays. We keep track o’ the seasons sure, but otherwise our biggest events are dictated by our own lives so ta speak. Namin’ Ceremony for guppies finally grown,” Jesse tries to refrain from any longing sneaking into his voice, “Courtin’ and Matin’. Pretty much all there is. We mostly keep focus on survivin’.”
“Naming Ceremony?” Hanzo’s interest is piqued, “Do your young not have names until then?”
“Nah, they don’t.” Jesse shrugs, “Ya gotta understand that lotta bad things can happen to our little ones. They ain’t capable of defendin’ themselves until they’re at least couple years old, and they ain’t strong swimmers those first couple years. Even a current can be dangerous for ‘em, sweep them away from their parent and carry them off who knows where. An’ that’s only the dangers related ta swimmin’, lotta sea creatures love to eat our eggs. S’why buildin’ a nursery is so important.”
“But when a guppy is finally grown,” Jesse moves quickly forward before Hanzo can mention the nursery Jesse has, “It’s a big deal, they made it that far, they get their name. I hope ya don’t mind if that’s all I give ya, it’s a pretty private ceremony. For families, y’know?”
Hanzo nods, thoughtful, and he gives Jesse a playful little smile, “Can I at least ask if your parent was fond of the name Jesse?”
“No harm in that, yeah,” Jesse snorts, “Jesse ain’t the name I got from my Namin’, it's just one I heard an' I liked. Less of a mouthful, that’s for sure.”
“Less of a mouthful? May I ask what is your actual name?” Hanzo asks, “I understand if it something you don’t desire to share.”
“Nah, I’ll share. Ain’t a name I used in a long while, an’ there is no harm in ya knownin’ it.” Jesse lets his mind wander, back centuries and to his own beginning, “Little bit o’ a story ta go with it too, if ya wanna hear?”
“I would, yes.”
Jesse smiles, “My Momma, when I was the smallest lil’ fish fry she used ta cradle me close an’ tell me this story, always with such awe an’ a lil heartbreak. I was the only guppy o’ hers ta hatch, y’see. She made her nursery near a mountain under the waves. This was way back, an’ she thought it was safe. She had no way o’ knowin’ it was one of them fire mountains.”
He can see from Hanzo’s face he’s connected the dots already, but Jesse continues, “One day as she was out huntin’ for herself, the mountain woke, an’ her nursery an’ her grotto were buried in the molten rock. She hadta wait until the rock cooled to even survey the damage. When she made it through it was an agonizin’ sight ta behold for her, the sheer heat had damaged my sibling’s eggs an’ she initially had thought all o’ us didn’t make it.”
“But,” Jesse smiles to himself, “there was still one lil’ guppy wigglin’ away in his shell. She took me an’ swam far away, made herself a new grotto an’ she guarded me with her life until I hatched. I was her little treasure, the only guppy ta survive. She adored me.” His smile falters, “Until my powers came to light.”
Hanzo’s eyebrows furrow in worry as Jesse presses on, “Don’t really blame her, fire took her other children from ‘er. Probably seemed like a cruel, sick joke that her only survivin’ spawn inherited the fire. She was distant, but she still raised me. I was never close ta her after that. I turned my focus elsewhere, wanted more than anything to see everythin’ the world hadta offer.”
“Namin’ Ceremony eventually came. My Momma still went through the whole thing with me, though she was distant as ever.” Jesse sighs, “Gave me the name Heir of the Fire Mountain. I knew how she felt about that mountain. That was really the only time knowin’ that hurt me. Left her soon after.”
“I am sorry.” Hanzo voices softly after Jesse pauses for a long time, “I didn’t know my asking would bring back painful memories.”
“It still stings a little when I think too much on it.” Jesse shrugs, “But it’s in the distant past now.” He grins, “Gave myself a much better name even before I came ta like my current one. One Who Burns to Wander jus’ sounds so much better, right?”
“It does.” Hanzo gives Jesse a small smile.
He seems to think for a moment before he reaches to offer his hand to Jesse. It takes a moment for Jesse to understand what Hanzo wants before he reaches to take Hanzo’s hand. There’s still the little tingle of Hanzo’s power buzzing just beneath his skin, but Jesse knows Hanzo would never harm him again. Hanzo gives his hand a comforting squeeze.
“Thank you for sharing, it can’t have been easy to do so.” Hanzo voices softly.
Jesse’s voice gets caught in his throat briefly, words trapped on his tongue.
Everything comes easy with you.
“Thank ya,” Jesse says instead, “I appreciate you listenin’ to this ol’ fish’s tales.”
“Winter will be long even after Genji visits, I hope you have more to share.” Hanzo replies with a smile, “I look forwards to hearing more.”
“I will make sure ta think of all the good ones.” Jesse smiles back, pointedly ignores the fact that neither of them have pulled their hands away, “Though I gotta be honest, b’fore the conversation flowed into my story I kinda wanted ta know more about the land-dweller holidays. It sounds like there is so many.”
“There are, and depending where you are from they are celebrated much differently. Some countries have holidays specific to them.” Hanzo thinks for a moment, “Since it’s coming up and you already know a little bit, the winter holidays would likely be the best place to start.”
Jesse listens with unbridled interest as Hanzo explains the winter holidays, putting the thoughts of his past behind him to focus on the now. When Hanzo moves back to finish preparing dinner, having moved onto spring and now caught on rambling about a special flowering tree he misses dearly from his home and a related festival, Jesse finds his thoughts moving to the future.
Jesse lets himself follow that little, hopeful thread of thought, and ponders what he and Hanzo might name their own guppies. Would they inherit Jesse’s fire or Hanzo’s storm? Both maybe? Hanzo’s said his little friends are a familial inheritance, so it is a guarantee that the guppies would have them too.
Jesse must have gone too deep into his thoughts because Hanzo has to resort to tapping him lightly on the head with his knuckles to bring him back out.
“Are you awake in there?” Hanzo says teasingly, though there is a little bit of underlying worry in his gaze, “Supper is ready.”
“Oh! Sorry, got thinkin’.” Jesse apologizes, flushing a little, “I’ll help set the table.”
“Must have been a lot of thinking,” Hanzo moves to bring the pot to the centre of the table, dishing out the stew when Jesse places the bowls, “I could not get your attention for a while there. After the conversation we just had, it worried me a little.” He seems a little bashful as he admits that, “I hope you are truly alright.”
“I’m okay.” Jesse reassures him, touched that Hanzo is so concerned, “It’s nothin’ bad. Just got caught on wishful thinkin’. Nothin’ more than that, jus’ a wish.”
“I don’t put much stock in wishes, to be honest.” Hanzo admits, “Nothing will ever come true unless you work at it or try.” he lifts his head after he places the lid back on the pot to keep the rest of the stew warm, “It is a process but, even I have found even seemingly impossible things can be earned, in time.”
“You’ve been talkin’ ta your brother again.”
Hanzo laughs softly, smiling wide, “Yes. I’ve had many good talks with Genji lately.”
That laugh is doing dangerous things to Jesse’s heart, and he doesn’t know if it is his longing or the way Hanzo continues to smile a little even as the moment has passed that does him in. Jesse can’t take this anymore, and the words bubble out before he can even think to stop himself.
“Hanzo, will you let me court ya?”
Hanzo snaps his head to look up at Jesse, wide eyed and surprised. The silence stretches on, and Jesse wants badly to take the words back and go hide in his grotto for the rest of the night then face rejection. He makes to leave but Hanzo grasps at his hand desperately and holds Jesse there.
Both of their hands are trembling, and once it registers Jesse flips his hand to grip Hanzo’s in his more solidly. Hanzo’s other hand comes up and rests on top of their joined hands. Neither say anything for a long while, until Hanzo speaks.
“Courtship, what is it exactly to you?” he asks softly.
“W-when mers find someone they want to be their mate they court them.” Jesse explains quietly. “Give ‘em gifts of our treasures, make them grottos. Provide for ‘em to show ‘em you’ll be the best mate for ‘em an’ you can take care of any guppies you have.”
Hanzo is quiet as he processes, before managing to look Jesse in the eyes, “And mates?”
“Mates are for life.” Jesse squeezes Hanzo’s hand, “S’why we go through such trouble tryin’ to make sure our desired ones don’t swim off an’ find a better mate.” He has to laugh, though it comes out nervous, “To any outside observer, at least to a mer, we’d already be courtin’ because of all we been through an’ done for each other.”
Hanzo huffs a little amused laugh at that too, but quiets once more, looking at Jesse, equal parts both vulnerable and serious at once, “And you desire this with me?”
“I wanna be with you,” Jesse regards Hanzo just as seriously, throwing his nerves aside, “there ain’t any other way for me ta say this a-as seriously as I mean it, as a mer, then asking you to give me the right to court you. It means everything, an’ I can only hope it means everythin’ to you too.” Jesse stops and considers and continues, “A-and even if it don’t, I wanna still be your friend. I like you an’ your company an’ I’ll take every moment we have even if we only ever are just friends in the end.”
Hanzo seems to take his time, mulling over Jesse’s words or continuing to process, Jesse can’t be sure. All he knows is that Hanzo’s not taken his hands back from Jesse’s. Eventually, Hanzo gives Jesse’s hand another gentle squeeze.
“I would very much like to.” Hanzo says softly, smiling a little shyly, “Allow you to court me, that is.”
For a moment Jesse thinks he’s heard wrong, that his hopeful longing twisted reality itself and let him hear the words he wanted. But when Hanzo only continues to give him a that little hopeful smile Jesse can’t help but sink into relief, pulling his hand from Hanzo’s only to gather him close as he can. Hanzo’s arms come up around Jesse and hold just as tight, and Jesse can’t help but nuzzle at the silver hairs at Hanzo’s temple.
They stay like that a few moments before Hanzo has to gently push the insistently nuzzling Jesse away, “Our dinner is getting cold, Jesse.”
“Right!” Jesse can’t help the giddy laugh, “You worked so hard on it, we should eat it.”
They pull their chairs closer as they resume dinner, and Jesse has a hard time keeping the smile off his face or leaning over to affectionately take one of Hanzo’s hands or nuzzle at his temple again. Showing him affection the way courting mers do. It’s worth Hanzo’s gently scolding reminders that if he wants to actually eat his food he has to let go of Hanzo’s hand to pick up his spoon. Jesse does so a little grudgingly.
The rest of the night goes like every other night has in the wooden grotto. Together they finish up their chores before returning to the tunnel grotto below the basement. It is the same but so different, nothing has changed at all between them but everything has. Jesse feels so light on it all.
The evening gets even better when they return to the alcove to sleep. Hanzo’s since widened it after Jesse began to stay the night here with him, turning it into a proper grotto of its own off of the tunnel into the wooden grotto. Jesse expects to just curl up with the pillow Hanzo provided, but the other mer has a different plan, pulling Jesse to him wordlessly as he lays down.
Jesse doesn’t get to ask what Hanzo is after when he’s pulled even closer, head coming to rest on Hanzo’s chest and the other mer curling his long tail around Jesse’s instinctually. Jesse can’t help but start to trill and chitter his appreciation for the cuddles until Hanzo hushes him, though he feels Hanzo’s smile at his temple.
Jesse’s never fallen asleep so fast, curled up with Hanzo. Jesse drifts off with a smile, clinging to Hanzo as he dreams.
Chapter 22: Perfectly Imperfect
Hanzo wakes as he has for the last two weeks, wrapped around Jesse in the tunnel grotto and cradling the other mer close. It is hard to tell the time of day down here without a clock or being able to see the sunlight of the coming morning, but the urge to remain here and sleep in with his… boyfriend? Intended?— with Jesse is still tempting.
Jesse has not yet stirred so Hanzo gives into the temptation readily, coiling his tail a little tighter around Jesse’s and adjusting his hold on him. He rests his head on top of Jesse’s and idly and so very lightly traces patterns on Jesse’s back with his claws, mapping out where patches of ruby scales start and stop. They are mostly located near Jesse’s spine, and are much smaller and smoother than the scales covering Jesse’s tail.
Hanzo ponders if he can count them if they ever find themselves cuddled in a position where he more easily can.
Eventually Jesse stirs under Hanzo’s attentions, sleepily chittering and moving his head up with eyes still closed to seek Hanzo’s face. Hanzo leans down and accepts the affectionate nuzzle, returning it with a nuzzle of his own. It is apparently how courting mers show affection to their intended mates, as Jesse had explained it when Hanzo asked during a break from working on the guest room for Genji.
“Good morning.” Hanzo murmurs, hand coming up to cup Jesse’s jaw and rub a thumb along his cheek, “I apologize if I woke you. It was not my intention.”
“Woulda woke eventually.” Jesse replies with an unbothered hum, leaning into Hanzo’s touch, a slow content smile crossing his features, “I find that I look forwards to wakin’ up to ya anyhow.”
Hanzo huffs, but it is a playful sound, “Charmer.”
“Gotta woo ya right.” Jesse finally opens his eyes, gaze meeting Hanzo’s, “Make sure no mer can come in an’ lure you away with their superior charms.”
“As if I would let them.” Hanzo smiles himself, leaning conspiratorially close to Jesse so that their noses touch, curling his tail around Jesse’s a smidge possessively even when they are so tangled up in each other already, “I think they would find me too unwilling to part from you.”
“Good.” Jesse grins a wide and fanged smile, a soft happy chitter following not long after.
Hanzo finds himself staring at Jesse’s lips and the way the right side of his mouth quirks up more than the left when he speaks. He can’t help but lightly trail a claw along Jesse’s bottom lip. Jesse makes a soft, questioning noise.
“Do mers not kiss their intended mates?” Hanzo asks the question that’s been on his mind that he’s not been able to until this quiet moment, not with both him and Jesse busy finishing up the final touches on the house before winter, “Is it something only a fully mated pair do?”
“Hm?” Jesse blinks a little more awake at the question, “Oh, that mouth thing? Uh, it’s not really a mer thing, ta be honest, not outside of grantin’ breath to those who normally ain’t able to breathe underwater like a mer can.”
“Oh.” Hanzo thinks for a moment, pursing his own lips. Eventually he raises an eyebrow and gives Jesse a pointed look, unable to resist teasing just a little, “And yet when we met you kissed me twice. Were you concerned your kiss hadn’t worked?”
Jesse looks confused for all of five seconds before he catches on, flushing a little, “Uh. Well,” he looks bashful, “It was for luck. You were in a bad way an’ I weren’t so sure the pearl was actually gonna work on ya. Plus, in the movin’ pictures the land-dwellers always seem ta give them for luck an’ stuff.”
“Normally good luck kisses aren’t so deep,” Hanzo continues to tease, delighting in Jesse flushing deeper and trying to squirm out of Hanzo’s hold on him, “Did you kiss me again because you enjoyed it?”
“Half luck an’ half… yeah.” Jesse admits, stopping his squirming and looking a little reproachful.
“You know that you can have more kisses, right?” Hanzo gives Jesse another gentle nuzzle to reassure him, “Humans kiss each other a lot.”
“Ya do?” Jesse is forever endearing in his interest and confusion, “The movin’ pictures usually got the courtin’ humans givin’ each other only a few kisses sometimes.”
Hanzo can’t help but snort a little, stroking Jesse’s jaw to placate the now pouting mer. He looks a little put out that Hanzo finds something so amusing and he hasn’t clued Jesse in. Hanzo pulls Jesse’s face a little closer to gently smooch the tip of his nose.
“Your moving pictures are just stories.” Hanzo explains, “We call them movies. Usually the two lead actors only kiss during key moments for dramatics. You know, when they finally confess their attraction or are entering harrowing situations. We land-dwellers have found many ways to tell stories, and movies are just one of those ways. Romance is a very popular genre.”
“But my point is,” Hanzo continues with a small smile, “that you can have more kisses. We are courting, are we not~?”
Jesse grins, all sharp teeth but expression so damningly sweet and eager, “Yeah! We’re courtin’!”
Jesse seems to wiggle a little eagerly and nuzzles Hanzo excitedly. Hanzo can’t help but softly laugh before cupping Jesse’s jaw to hold him still enough to softly give him a gentle kiss. Jesse seems to finally still enough return the kiss, though his lips keep quirking up into a smile all throughout. Hanzo baps him playfully.
“Stop smiling.” Hanzo murmurs, though he’s having a hard time chasing his own smile from his face, “It’s hard to properly kiss when smiling.”
“Sorry,” Jesse chitters softly, but he’s not at all apologetic and he’s still smiling, “hard not ta.”
“I know.” Hanzo sneaks in one more kiss, “You’re so cute, and it is so very tempting to stay here and laze with you all day, but there is still things we need to do. I imagine our tiny little Shrimp is awaiting her breakfast.”
“Probl’y, but ya gotta let me go first, Starfish~” Jesse flicks his tail fin pointedly, the majority of his tail still wrapped within the coils of Hanzo’s own, “So unless you’re really wantin’ ta just snuggle all day—“
Hanzo grumbles and slowly unwraps his tail from around Jesse, though he does steal another kiss before they part. Jesse smiles into that one too. Jesse goes to retrieve a fish for Shrimp from their winter stores as Hanzo swims up and into the wooden grotto.
For the first time in a while, Jesse joins Hanzo for the morning chores in the house. Hanzo takes it to mean that their grotto below is as prepped as it can be for the winter, and Jesse confirms as much when asked. Jesse lists all that he’s done to do so as he walks over to Shrimp’s food bowl and places the fish inside. Immediately there is a chorus of shrill meows as a tiny fluff ball appears within seconds, the bowl skidding across the floor as she dives for her food.
Hanzo managed to catch the event on camera, and sends the video to Genji. She does this every morning, and he’d promised his brother that he would catch it at least once for him. Though it is not long until Genji will be able to witness it in person. His phone pings with a message from Genji saying that as a present he will have to bring Shrimp a proper food mat.
Hanzo smiles as Shrimp’s normal enthusiastic eating noises begin in earnest and Jesse coos to her. Even for not fully understanding the concept of pets, Jesse very quickly picked up on baby talking small animals. Hanzo will fervently deny, at least in front of his brother, that Jesse picked it up from him.
Hanzo sets his phone down and turns to prepare breakfast. Eventually Jesse moves from watching over Shrimp to Hanzo, pressing up against his back and wrapping his arm around him. Hanzo leans back into the hold as he cooks, relishing in the closeness.
Never would he have thought this would be his life fifteen years ago, while still under the thumb of the clan. Hell, even three years ago he would likely think this future, his future, some mad fever dream. Some days it certainly feels like it. A fever dream full of cults and merfolk and kittens named Shrimp. Hanzo smiles privately to himself, tilts his head to allow Jesse to lean into him enough for yet another affectionate nuzzle.
It’s a mad, wonderful, perfect fever dream, and Hanzo is in no rush to wake.
The sheer insanity of the whirlwind that was the past few months has lead Hanzo to Jesse after all, and Shrimp to them. A small and strange perfectly imperfect family. It makes joy and protectiveness swell within Hanzo’s chest in equal measure. Nothing will ever try rip his family apart again, not if he has anything to say about it. Nothing will ever happen to Jesse, Genji, or little Shrimp.
He has to pause in cooking to reach up and seek Jesse’s hand, twining their fingers tight together. He’s still not very clear about some mer things, but he’s gathering that there might possibly be guppies somehow in his and Jesse’s future. Hanzo’s not sure when he’ll ask Jesse for clarification, just knows that if there will be children in the future, they will be completely and utterly adored and cherished.
A little seed of guilt settles in Hanzo’s chest seconds after though, realizing he’s been so preoccupied with Genji’s visit still that he’s failed to ask Jesse what is expected in courtship for mers. They’ve not spent time together to do any sort of proper courtship anything aside from cuddle and nuzzle and kiss. They’ve both mostly kept to their respective tasks in preparation for the winter months ahead.
Hanzo can’t help the sigh that leaves him, and finds Jesse immediately is pulling him closer still. Jesse begins gently nuzzling the greys at Hanzo’s temple as he’s fond of doing.
“What’s wrong?” Jesse murmurs, “Am I hoverin’ too much again?”
“No.” Hanzo grasps Jesse’s hand tighter to him, uses his free hand to turn the stove off and take the pan off the heat before he turns to Jesse, “I feel I must apologize though, I’ve been so tunnel-visioned on Genji’s arrival—“
“I already know your vision is bad in the tunnels.”
It takes a second for Hanzo to realize Jesse’s making a joke, and he can’t help but groan and turn to bury his face in Jesse’s chest. He does feel a little bit better though, his thoughts derailed by the terrible joke. Jesse’s way too pleased with himself.
“That was awful, and you should be ashamed.” Hanzo voices, voice muffled from his face being smushed against Jesse’s chest. He can’t resist nuzzling into Jesse’s pecs, before resting his head over Jesse’s heart, listening to the steady thump of it. Hanzo’s trying and failing to hide his amused smile, “Making fun of your intended like that. How could you!”
“Ya swam right into it, couldn’t resist.” Jesse nuzzles the top of Hanzo’s head, makes a soft chitter and rubs his hand comfortingly up and down Hanzo’s back.
Hanzo files it away in his head to ask if such motions of comfort are a mer thing too or yet another human action Jesse has come to mimic. Hanzo has to regrettably and gently ask Jesse to stop soon when his claws get stuck in the fabric of his shirt and it tears a little. Hanzo will have to dig out his sewing kit to fix the rip, from wherever he hid his things lest the cult become interested in how their gods live and come snooping.
Breakfast is also getting cold, and Hanzo serves both him and Jesse before it becomes a gross temperature. Like they have been for the past two weeks, they sit close at the table to eat. Jesse’s getting the hang of utensils, and Hanzo one day plans to show him how to use chopsticks. The moment from earlier is all but chased from his mind, until Jesse speaks of it.
“Ya don’t gotta apologize for nothin’ Darlin’,” Jesse leans over and gives Hanzo another affectionate nuzzle, “I been busy too. Winter prep don’t leave much time for wooin’ the loveliest mer I’ve had the pleasure of courtin’.” Hanzo blushes and Jesse grins, giving Hanzo a nudge with his shoulders, “Hell, I ain’t given ya a gift from my treasure grotto because I can’t even think of anythin’ that would be pretty ‘nough ta give ya! You outshine all my pretty little trinkets.”
“You are such a sap.” Hanzo replies in embarrassment, “Humans have a phrase for those like you. Hopeless romantics.”
“Don’t seem so hopeless ta me when you turn such a pretty colour at all my words,” Jesse cups Hanzo’s face, rubs his thumb over a bright pink cheek, “You’re turnin’ the same colour as those flowers you love! Not hopeless at all when you’re returnin’ my affections either, hm?”
“Fine, but you remain an incorrigible sap. Incorrigible. Sap.” Hanzo prods Jesse’s chest gently to emphasize each word, mindful of his own claws.
He only blushes deeper when Jesse catches his hand and brings it up to his mouth to kiss each knuckle. That, Hanzo is undoubtedly certain the mer got from his moving pictures. He rolls his eyes and tugs Jesse to him to give him a proper kiss. The strange rumbling purr noise Hanzo’s only heard Jesse make once while they were dancing starts up out of nowhere and Hanzo breaks their kiss to laugh.
“You may be an incorrigible sap, but you are cute.” Hanzo admits with exaggerated exasperated fondness.
“Does it add to how cute I am~?” Jesse purrs with a wide grin, smug because he already knows the answer.
“Yes, it does,” Hanzo sighs dramatically, idly rubbing a hand up Jesse’s chest and tilting his head innocently, “You’re a menace to my heart. Whatever am I to do?”
“Keep me all ta yourself,” Jesse suggests gleefully, eyes shining.
Hanzo fully intends to.
He’s also forgotten what had made him upset earlier, too busy drowning in the sheer affection Jesse gives so freely. Its a tidal wave of warmth and ease and adoration, so powerful and sweeping it doesn’t feel like drowning at all, more like the exhilaration and terror of a free fall. It’s dangerous, and before this all, back inside his old life, Hanzo would have seen the gargantuan wave of this feeling coming and fled for higher ground so it wouldn’t, couldn’t sweep him away.
So much easier to flee then face the wave and ride it, because before it was not something he could challenge or have. This exhilaration was something he did not deserve. But that life is far from him now, and while it still echoes, he is in a much better place to meet what comes. Hanzo can meet the waves he never challenged or sought.
It feels dangerously close to love, and if it is, Hanzo never wants it to recede.
“When we have time, you will have to teach me how to court you,” Hanzo says softly, pressing his forehead to Jesse’s, “I want to do right by you. I want to learn how to do this properly for you.”
“I will, I promise.” Jesse smiles warmly, “But ya gotta promise ta teach me some human courtship too. I’m real touched that ya wanna learn the way o’ mer courtship an’ I’m excited to teach ya, but this ain’t just about me. I wanna see what courtin’ is like for you too, this is our courtship. We did it all kinda backwards in the first place anyhow, so I kinda look forwards to doin’ things more our way, y’know?”
“Our way.” Hanzo can’t help but give Jesse a gentle kiss, “I like how that sounds.”
Perfectly imperfectly theirs.
Chapter 23: Indulgence
There's merm sexy times ahead, proceed with caution if you do not enjoy fish dicks.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Now that both of them can put their focus into the house, Genji’s guest room— and then some— doesn’t take too much longer to complete. Hell, Hanzo got some of the old plumbing sorted with Jesse’s help. Even if the most the mer did was ask questions about the tools he was handing over and things Hanzo himself could answer without finding the answers on the internet. It was, at the end, a good learning and bonding experience.
This means that there’s still a lot of time left before Genji’s arrival though. A lot of free time.
Hanzo stares at the calendar he bullied the cult for, biting at the lid of the marker and counting down the days until Genji visits. He was never great at filling his idle time, and being on the run for a decade certainly never helped matters either. He’s not entirely sure what he’s going to do with the weeks ahead.
It doesn’t help that Jesse’s absconded to his treasure grotto, and he’s been there for quite some time now. He’s still searching for something “worthy” of Hanzo’s “incredible beauty and intelligence”, insisting he must gift this treasure of treasures to Hanzo for their courtship. Hanzo can’t help but smile around the lid of the marker he’s chewing. Jesse’s so… cute.
He places the marker back on the counter before he can accidentally bite through it like last time. Jesse had gone from concerned to howling with laughter in seconds flat when he realized the red ink was not blood. Hanzo made him help wash the ink off of the counter afterwards, and give Hanzo apology kisses for laughing at him.
Hanzo can’t help the longing sigh, closing his eyes and listening for the splash of Jesse coming— well, home. Hanzo’s gotten used to having the other mer in his arms and within arm’s reach, and never realized just how empty the house is without him.
There’s a loud meow at Hanzo’s feet that reminds him the house is not quite empty and that it is lunchtime for a certain pudgy little girl. Hanzo fishes her this morning’s fish leftovers out of the fridge and sets her food bowl down to her level. As always, Shrimp dives for her food and loudly begins to eat. He leaves her to her meal and heads down into the basement.
Hanzo has to shed his clothing before he enters the underwater tunnel. He hangs his clothes up next to the red fabric Jesse uses to dry off and the sweatpants the mer has taken to wearing around the house. Hanzo will have to wash them again soon, and maybe see to getting Jesse more clothing.
Though, now that Hanzo thinks about it, Jesse’s not too shy about being in states of undress. He walked around in nothing but that red fabric wrapped around his waist until Hanzo told him to wear pants. Ever since Jesse’s been mimicking Hanzo and trying to wear actual clothes. It’s a little endearing, but it also makes Hanzo wonder that if left to his own devices, would Jesse just be wandering around stark naked?
His cheeks heat up at the realization that of course Jesse would. Mers don’t wear anything, they don’t have or see the need to do so. It is strange to realize, that all this time by human standards, mers are usually completely naked. No wonder Jesse had to be forced to wear pants.
Though it begs the question, how or why did Jesse pick up on covering himself in the first place with the red fabric he’s so attached to? His movies maybe? Hanzo will have to ask once Jesse comes back from his treasure grotto. Until then Hanzo can at least take a cat nap in the tunnel grotto.
Before he steps away from where he laid out his clothing though, he pauses. He should really wash them, especially now that he got the plumbing all set and an extra drying rack in preparation for Genji’s visit. Hanzo gathers his clothing back up, along with Jesse’s sweatpants. Laundry first, then nap.
When all this errant clothing is gathered, Hanzo tosses them into the washing machine he demanded the cult provide. Hanzo’s been slacking on the laundry a bit lately, realizing this only when returning to the room that he’s using to house his things. Hanzo finds himself lacking in anything else to wear after a quick search through the chest of drawers. When you’re half fish half of the time, this kinda chore must escape you sometimes, he supposes.
It is at least more stuff he gets to “ask” the cult into acquiring for both him and Jesse. The thought brings a baleful little smile to Hanzo’s face. Clothing will just have to replace new furnishings as the number one spot on his list of demands. Winter is almost upon them too, and they both will need appropriate clothing for the colder weather.
Hanzo adds getting the cult to get them clothing to his to-do list before he finally makes his way back down into the basement. Removing his prosthetics no longer brings panic, knowing that they are safely hidden away while he is in his other form. Hanzo tucks them away from the water before he scoots himself to the tunnel entry.
Hanzo dives in and his legs meld into his long, vibrantly blue tail and he can’t help the sigh of relief that leaves his lips. While he can reside much longer than Jesse can out of the water, it doesn’t mean that it is pleasant for him. After a good chunk of hours pass, his legs start to itch terribly.
Hanzo lets himself lazily float down to the bottom of the tunnel, curling up for his nap. Unfortunately, his mind was never pleasant company during idle time. Little thoughts plague him, worries about Jesse, about Genji. Especially about Genji. Hanzo sits up, curling his tail around himself and stares grumpily into the darkness of the tunnel, willing Jesse to appear.
He considers sending his dragons out to collect Jesse and bring him back but decides against it. Jesse expressed how important sifting through his treasures for a gift was, and Hanzo has no desire to let his impatience or boredom get in the way of something that means so much.
Thinking of Jesse and their courtship is at least is a distraction from more unpleasant worries or thoughts. Hanzo rests his head on his own tail, idly tracing patterns in the stone of the tunnel way. He needs to think of things to show Jesse, things that humans do to court, and while he has a few ideas they are minor, silly things he wished for while in the clan. Little, minor spots of intimacy allowed to most, but not to Hanzo. Not to the heir.
Even if Jesse is a mer, and while they cannot truly do things like go to the movies or have dinner at a restaurant, they can still watch movies and make dinner together. Things normal couples do, and it seems so small and very meaningless in the grand picture, yet it’s something Hanzo’s never known he’s desired so strongly until now. Something real and not a business transaction between well off families.
Hanzo closes his eyes and smiles, tail fin flicking idly as he thinks of all he wishes to experience with his intended. Jesse asked if they could dance together again, and Hanzo certainly plans to follow up on that. There are so many things, innumerable things, Hanzo has a hard time thinking of them all. Hanzo just wants nothing more than to show Jesse these things, and to be with Jesse while doing them.
Hanzo just… wants.
Hanzo rolls and flops onto his back on the tunnel floor, mind wandering further, delving into the fantasies he used to think of when he was young. Back before he exchanged his own happiness for duty, for the perceived betterment of the clan. To be able to hold and dote on someone of his own choosing, to love him, it is something Hanzo never thought he would be allowed.
And now he gets to partake in all the so-called sordid affairs and passions that the elders made him believe were unbefitting the heir of the Shimada.
Well, fuck the elders, his inheritance is in shambles and will remain in ruin for all he cares. He’s liege lord to an entirely different empire now, with a handsome mer at his side. A handsome, sweet and loving mer Hanzo plans to utterly worship like the god the cult believes him to be.
A thought occurs to Hanzo and he blinks in the low light of the tunnel, frowning slightly, brows furrowed as he watches the shimmers of the light cast from the basement above dance across the walls. He doesn’t actually know how Mers— it’s just not something he and Jesse have discussed. Perhaps a conversation they should have soon, considering how appealing having much more… passionate moments of intimacy with Jesse is.
Hanzo hazards a glance down the tunnel as another thought arises. A discussion with Jesse will indeed need to happen to understand how they will navigate such moments together, but Hanzo himself has yet to explore what this alternate form of his has to offer in that regard.
There is no harm in learning more about oneself, after all.
Hanzo flicks his tail and darts back up into the wooden grotto. He would rather have good lighting for this, he admits, incredibly curious as to how much being in this form changes his anatomy. He hauls himself up into the basement, sprawling out on the floor as comfortably as he can on his back, trying to avoid crushing the line of spiny frills along the back of his tail in the process.
After brief deliberation, he tugs the red fabric of Jesse’s down from its place and uses it to lay back against best he can. With the leverage it adds, he can watch himself a little better. The thought is more than appealing, Hanzo admits, and a pleasant shudder flows through his entire form, causing his tail fin still within the water to flick and splash salt spray along the back wall.
Nothing important is over there, so Hanzo makes no move to change his position. Instead, he focuses on himself, almost shyly reaching to feel where his skin melds into scales. He’s not touched much of his mer form until now, aside from brief instances when he was learning how to move all of it in tandem. He’s never realized how damn long his tail actually is, not until it’s been stretched out before him right now.
Hanzo must have a good couple of feet of length on Jesse’s tail. No wonder he can curl around him so easily. Hanzo’s breath hitches as the thought and his intent in this moment meld, and he ponders if and when he and Jesse do have sex, will the other mer allow himself to be pinned so thoroughly in Hanzo’s coils? It makes an unbidden noise of sheer want build in Hanzo’s throat, and he hisses it out.
His hands finally dip lower than the seam of where skin and scale meld, searching for something. Hanzo knows he’s found it when it sends another eager shudder through his form, his fingertips brushing oh so lightly at his front where the scales are much softer. He chases the sensation of it, rubbing over the area until it splits open under his insistent attentions.
Hanzo’s fingertip dips inside somewhere slick and warm only minutely, but the sound he makes is far from minute itself. He’s almost too shy all of a sudden to continue, but his curiosity fuels him further. Hanzo brings up his hand and looks at his claws in dismay, frowning at them.
He knows for a fact filing them down does not work, nor will stone dull them. Hanzo considers them for a moment more, before he figures there is something he’s yet to try. Even if it seems a little far fetched for a mer to have this abilit—
Hanzo flexes his claws mid-thought, and startles when they retract. A slow, fanged grin spreads across Hanzo’s face as he plays with this new aspect of this form he’s discovered. He has his suspicions as to why a mer would need such an ability, but that can be confirmed by Jesse later.
Hanzo has another matter to attend to; Himself.
His now claw-less fingers play with the seam of his— well, it could only be a cloaca, couldn’t it?— and Hanzo jolts when he manages to press another finger in and sink them both in deeper. There’s a shiny, slick and viscous fluid building as Hanzo plays with himself, finger fucking himself with fervour, tail fin thrashing through the water. His hand is slick with the fluid and every time his fingers plunge inside himself it is displaced, running down his sides in rivulets slowly, following the pattern of his dragon-like scales.
The floor underneath Hanzo is no doubt going to need to be cleaned, soaked with saltwater from Hanzo’s pleasured thrashing and his own fluids. The more he plays with his cloaca, the more it blossoms open. Hanzo startles and cries out in surprise when something thick and slimy slides out and curls around his wrist.
Hanzo shyly takes what he supposes is his cock in his free hand, slowing down the frantic movements of his own fingers to explore this part of him. It’s just as thick as his cock in his human form is, though shaped much different. Tapered near the end and much more flexible. Prehensile too, with either a mind of its own or just a need to be buried somewhere warm, seemingly leaning itself into Hanzo’s touch.
Would it seek the warmth of Jesse’s touch too? Is Jesse’s cock similar in shape? What would Jesse even think, if he should come upon Hanzo like this, writhing and wanton and flooding the basement floor with sea water and slick?
The thought sends another shiver of pleasure down Hanzo’s spine, and he nudges a third finger in alongside the first two. Even with his cock everted, there’s still room. Hanzo lets his head fall back to thud against the wooden floor as he moans, his hair plastered to his forehead by a mix of saltwater and sweat. He presses his fingers in deeper, shuddering at the clench of the sensitive walls and the way his cock undulates in his hand. Everything at once is entirely overwhelming and yet not enough. He’s so close, so close on the precipice he—
Hanzo’s tail fin brushes something solid in the tunnel entry, and he lolls his head to the side to see what it is. His hazy gaze meets Jesse’s, those dark eyes Hanzo adores peeking up just above the water and watching him. There’s not a shameful or embarrassed bone to be found in Hanzo’s body, just a molten wave of heat knowing that Jesse’s watching him. He greets Jesse with a moan of his name, watches the other mer’s eyes widen.
His tail fin is already trying to curl around Jesse, to urge him closer. The other mer doesn’t need more convincing, disappearing beneath the water briefly only to surge back up to hop onto the lip of the tunnel easily. Hanzo’s frantic touching of himself has slowed, and while frustrating to have been so close, this, having Jesse present is better. So Much better.
Hanzo purrs and chitters and preens under his intended’s attention. The lower part of his tail has already curled around Jesse’s by the time the other mer has come to lay side by side with Hanzo. Though Jesse’s laying stomach down, uncaring of the mess Hanzo’s made beneath him.
“Makin’ sure everything… works?” Jesse asks, and the confusion in his voice catches Hanzo off guard.
“I—“ Hanzo furrows his brow, blushing, “I am exploring,” his tail curls around Jesse’s a little more, which does not go unnoticed by the other mer, who also flushes, “and I was thinking of you~”
“Thinkin’ o’ me?” Jesse murmurs, reaching to trail his fingers lightly along Hanzo’s jaw, who leans into the touch, “I-I think this might be another difference between us, Starfish. Why are you doin’ this?”
Hanzo nuzzles against Jesse’s palm, gives it a soft kiss, “I was curious about my form. So I decided to touch myself, and I couldn’t help but think of my handsome mate-to-be. Do mers not…?”
“No,” Jesse seems a little bashful and chitters softly, leans over and nuzzles into Hanzo’s temple. He seems a little like he’s afraid he’s offended Hanzo somehow, “we don’t really touch ourselves like this. Our, uh, bits are too important to just have out unless we’re intendin’ to have guppies.”
“I suppose it would be a shame to have something so delightfully sensitive bitten off,” Hanzo hums, “Though I will point out, there is no danger present here, is there?”
“No, there ain’t.” Jesse agrees, perking up in pride, “This is one o’ the safest grottos I’ve ever had.”
“So, if that is the case,” Hanzo sends a smile Jesse’s way, running a hand over his still everted cock, “do you want to touch~?”
If a mer could short circuit, Hanzo’s pretty sure that’s what Jesse’s doing at the moment. He can’t help but laugh warmly, shuffling as close to Jesse as he can to nuzzle him and press a gentle kiss to his lips.
“You’re so cute.” Hanzo murmurs into another kiss, “You don’t have to if you do not wan—“
“I wanna.” Jesse blurts, looking shocked at his own eagerness, “I-I mean, you looked like you were feelin’ so good, an’ I interrupted ya. It’s only fair I help you feel good again, right? Like your mate should.”
“So attentive, my dear.” Hanzo kisses Jesse again, unable to hide his smile, letting the kiss linger longer this time before he pulls back enough to whisper, “I would love for you to touch me.”
Jesse presses even closer, seems to consider what would be most comfortable for him with his missing arm, to which Hanzo offers his open arms as a solution. Jesse doesn’t seem to care about the mess Hanzo’s made of himself, cuddling in as close as possible face to face. Hanzo sees Jesse flick his hand to retract his claws, and saves his question for later still.
Hard to think when your intended has his hand on your cock, anyway. It is already so much better than his own hand, and Hanzo moans into kisses that Jesse lavishes him with. He’s already so sensitive from his earlier teasing and edging, his body feels like a live wire under Jesse’s attention.
Hanzo can’t help writhe against Jesse, one hand finding its way to twine into his hair and tug him into more demanding and greedy kisses. The other sneaks between them both to dip inside himself below his cock. Jesse seems to have other ideas, letting out a warning hiss that makes Hanzo shiver before Jesse tugs his hand away from his dripping opening.
Jesse places Hanzo’s hand back onto his waist, locking eyes with Hanzo, and the order is clear. No touching yourself. Hanzo is incredibly fine with that, and dives in for more kisses, uncaring if Jesse’s fangs catch on his lips or tongue. Jesse’s fingers slip into where Hanzo’s been moments prior, and Hanzo gasps into Jesse’s mouth.
He’ll abide by Jesse’s rule, but Jesse never said anything about Hanzo touching him. Hanzo slips his hand from Jesse’s waist to his front, finding the already slick opening of Jesse’s cloaca. He parts from Jesse long enough to search his eyes, finding them dark with desire. Jesse even rolls his entire body against Hanzo’s to encourage his touches, smirking a little when the movement also stimulates Hanzo’s cock trapped between them and he bites back a moan.
Hanzo gently strokes over Jesse’s opening until he can slip his fingers inside. His tail shifts as it curls more around Jesse’s, holding the other mer tight to him. Hanzo groans as Jesse’s fingers press in deeper, his own hand in Jesse’s hair tugging to pull him closer to kiss him deeper.
Everything is too much and yet not enough again. Jesse’s grunting little moans of pleasure into Hanzo’s mouth as Hanzo’s fingers prod and stroke his sensitive walls. Jesse’s cock itself finally everts and Hanzo pulls back to look it over, stroking over the thick length of it. Hanzo rubs his nose against Jesse’s affectionately, chittering softly and pressing a chaste kiss to his lips.
“I want to try something, my dear, if you would be willing,” Hanzo murmurs between kisses and soft gasps.
“More than willin’, Starfish,” Jesse purrs.
Hanzo nips at Jesse’s jaw gently, gently urging Jesse’s hand off of his cock, and lifting his hand off of Jesse’s. But not before he presses even closer to Jesse, groaning softly when his cock twines around Jesse’s. He accepts the greedy kiss Jesse immediately presses to his lips. Jesse doesn’t seem to know where to place his hand, but finally settles on wrapping his arm around his waist. Hanzo clings back just as fiercely.
They move together best that they can, foreheads pressed together as they gasp and writhe. It helps that their cocks are twined tight around each other, stroking and squeezing of their own accord. It’s slick and tight and perfect, and Hanzo has to muffle his increasingly louder moans into Jesse’s shoulder.
“C’mon, Darlin’, Starfish,” Jesse croons lowly as he nuzzles Hanzo’s temple, his hand slipping from Hanzo’s waist back around to his front, dipping back into his entrance, “You’re close, I can hear it, lemme take you there.”
Hanzo tips his head back again, neck bared to be lavished in kisses and gentle bites by Jesse, who jumps on the chance. Jesse’s fingers are stroking Hanzo’s insides as his cock twists and twines around Hanzo’s, and it’s nearly maddening. Jesse doesn’t seem to stop babbling either, sweet nothings and praise pouring from his lips.
“So damn gorgeous, my Sea Star, Starfish, my Darlin’,” Jesse coos his sweet words against Hanzo’s skin, “So lovely, saw you an’ I swear I never saw anythin’ so beautiful. Lost in pleasure, wanna see how lovelier you get.”
Hanzo moans loud at Jesse’s words and bucks best he can against Jesse’s touch. Jesse drags his fangs along Hanzo’s neck, drives his fingers in deeper and the coil that’s been building in Hanzo’s body snaps and all he knows for the next few moments is sheer pleasure. He comes back to Jesse nuzzling and kissing him, and Hanzo’s hand clumsily moves to Jesse’s entrance to help bring him off. Jesse’s groan when he comes is swallowed by Hanzo’s passionate kisses.
They lay together and catch their breath and lazily kiss and nuzzle. Jesse’s claws draw idle patterns on Hanzo’s side, and Hanzo’s can’t seem to keep in one place, running over Jesse as if to draw his own contentment onto Jesse’s form. Both basking in the afterglow. They will have to move from this spot eventually and clean up the mess they have both undoubtedly made of the floor, but there is no rush.
“I take it land-dwe— humans do this kinda thing often?” Jesse asks after a bit, “Touch themselves? Or… mate without having kids? O-or do you… is this why there is so many humans?”
The ugliest snort leaves Hanzo’s nose before his laugh bounces off the walls, and he shakes in Jesse’s arms. Jesse looks half pleased to have made his mate-to-be laugh so hard, and still half confused. Hanzo has barely stopped laughing as he presses a kiss to Jesse’s lip.
“Believe it or not, we created ways to have sex without it resulting in children. Besides, only those with the proper equipment to conceive can do so. Which, I am beginning to figure, is not so for mers.”
“Yeah, you’re right, any mer can carry their eggs until they can survive on their own.” Jesse gives Hanzo a soft kiss, “But I’m guessin’ humans just like havin’ sex?”
“A lot of us do, sex feels good, touching ourselves feels good.” Hanzo rubs a thumb along Jesse’s jaw gently, “It’s a bonding activity for some as well, some like it because sex is just fun. Some don’t care for sex at all.”
“Humans sound complicated.”
“You’ve no idea.”
Hanzo stretches lazily in Jesse’s arm, and presses closer to snuggle, wrapping his arms around him. Jesse nuzzles and peppers him with kisses, always so doting and affectionate. He does rouse Hanzo when he starts to doze.
“We should clean up, Sea Star,” Jesse murmers, nuzzling Hanzo’s temple, “Then we’ll cuddle as much as you wanna, alright? Then you an’ I gotta talk ‘bout somethin’ important.”
“Important?” Hanzo lifts his head to give Jesse a concerned look.
Jesse soothes his hand along Hanzo’s back, trailing lightly over where the spiny frills of his tail begins and sending a pleasant shiver down Hanzo’s spine again. Hanzo relaxes under the tender touch.
“Nothin’ you needta worry about, I just wanna talk ‘bout my treasure grotto with you, but it can wait. I wanna cuddle up with you first and have a nice nap. After we clean.”
Hanzo grumbles and reluctantly moves from Jesse, frowning at the extent of the mess he and Jesse have made. Becoming sheepish when he notices how soaked with saltwater everything near the tunnel entrance is.
“Next time you wanna touch yourself, move your tail little farther up outta the tunnel, huh?” Jesse teases affectionately.
Hanzo moves his tail fin back into the pool of water and lightly splashes Jesse for teasing. Jesse’s laugh is worth all the extra water to mop up.
I haven't written smut in forever I hope it is alright
Chapter 24: Treasured
Jesse lets Hanzo nap far longer than he intends. When Hanzo looks so content as he sleeps in Jesse’s embrace, it is hard to wake him. Jesse only lightly dozes, more often than not staring at Hanzo in his moments of wakefulness. Tracing his claws through Hanzo’s hair, pondering on just how he's going to manage to decorate it all with shells and pearls when they become mates when he’s only got one hand.
He’ll figure it out. Hanzo’s more than worth any extra effort. Jesse makes a note that next time he ventures out before winter hits full force he’ll need to start to gather what pearls and shells he can find. Sighing longingly when he realizes that even if he’ll have a hard time decorating Hanzo’s hair, their guppies won’t when they grow enough.
Jesse absolutely thrums with joy at the thought of Hanzo surrounded by their children as they play with their Papa’s hair. His deep rumbles of contentment is what finally wakes Hanzo.
“What time is it?” Hanzo blinks up at Jesse in the low light of the tunnel way, yawning and then pressing close to Jesse for their usual nuzzle greeting and a kiss.
Jesse accepts the nuzzle and kiss happily, unable to stop his pleased hum when Hanzo presses a second kiss to his lips. When they part Jesse rubs a thumb along Hanzo’s jaw and urges him close to press his forehead to Hanzo’s. He hates to break their soft moments like this, always dangerously tempted to just stay here and dote on Hanzo. But they have things to do.
“Early evenin’,” Jesse answers, “I let ya nap a little too long.”
“No wonder I’m starving.” Hanzo uncoils his tail from Jesse’s and stretches, pouting all the while from having to remove his hold on Jesse, “We should start on making dinner. The cult managed to scrounge up the ingredients to one of my favourite dishes, and I was hoping we could make it together. I hope that’s alright, I know you wanted to talk about your treasure grotto, but we can speak about it as we cook?”
“Can’t talk ‘bout what I wanted to without us goin’ there.” Jesse sends Hanzo a reassuring smile when the other mer starts to look guilty for napping, “It’s alright, Darlin’. My treasures are best viewed in the day, around noon. Does your little glass rectangle say it’s gonna be sunny tomorrow? I gotta show you when its gonna look perfect, right?”
“I can check when we go upstairs.” Hanzo seems to remember just what occurred upstairs before his nap and gives a little considering hum as he gives Jesse an appreciative glance over.
“After dinner,” Jesse bats Hanzo’s tail with his own playfully.
“Careful, I will hold you to that,” Hanzo promises, a glint in his eye accompanied by a sultry little smile, “I was always weak for dessert.”
“What’s a dessert?” Jesse asks, perking at the chance to learn even more not just about human things, but Hanzo too, “Another human thing? The look you’re givin’ me makes me think it’s another sex thing.”
Hanzo’s eyes widen before he snorts again and presses his face against Jesse’s chest. Jesse only pats his back in confusion, slowly coming to understand when Hanzo’s shoulders start shaking as he tries to hold in his laughter.
“I’m way off, ain’t I?” Jesse asks after Hanzo’s laughter has died down.
“Yes, but I did not help you make any other connection.” Hanzo pulls back and gives Jesse a warm smile, “A dessert is a sweet treat humans eat after dinner. I was making a joke that if you were offering to have a little fun after we ate, you were one such sweet treat.”
Jesse smiles wide and gives Hanzo an affectionate nuzzle, “I’ll be your sweet treat anytime you want, Starfish.”
Hanzo chuckles warmly, and leans in to give Jesse a soft kiss before pulling back to lowly murmur, “A dangerous thing to promise me, my dear.”
Jesse’s not entirely sure what he’s looking forward to anymore. Showing Hanzo his treasure grotto, learning to cook tonight’s dinner or what may come after dinner. He’s eager to get to it all.
Dinner is at least first, and after Hanzo confirms that it will be sunny tomorrow for a visit to Jesse’s treasure grotto he hands Jesse an apron and helps him put it on.
Cooking ends up being a little harder than Hanzo makes it look. There’s a lot of measurements and timing things, it is a little much for Jesse to wrap his head around at first. He likes it though, and Hanzo smiles so gently at him when Jesse tells him so. Soon enough though, they’ve managed to make a passable dish together.
Hanzo calls it yakisoba, tells Jesse about other dishes from his home that he misses as they eat together. They all sound so good, and when Hanzo mentions that some dishes involve different fish and seafood prepared various ways, Jesse makes a mental note to hunt those fish specifically next time he goes out so Hanzo can prepare more meals from his home.
Anything to make his intended sound less homesick.
Jesse picks at the soba noodles, heart sinking. Hanzo’s stuck away from his home because of him. Hanzo said people were hunting him, and that he was safest here before. That he’s happier, but Jesse’s suddenly afraid that Hanzo can’t truly be happy with him if he can’t go back home. Jesse makes a soft, sad chitter before he can prevent himself from doing so.
“Jesse? What’s wrong?” Hanzo reaches over and takes Jesse’s hand in his, snapping the mer out of his thoughts, worried brown eyes searching his.
“Can you really be happy here?” Jesse asks after a moment, “So far from home? You sound like you love it a lot, an’ miss it more.”
Hanzo studies him for a bit, and that gaze makes Jesse feel the most vulnerable he’s ever remembered feeling. But the intense look Hanzo is giving him lets up, and Hanzo pulls Jesse even closer, the old chairs squeaking across the floor as the pair of them are pulled closer together as a result. Hanzo pulls Jesse into a slow, tender kiss.
“I can’t go back,” Hanzo squeezes Jesse’s hand when he makes a soft, guilty chitter, “and not because of what you did for me, I was exiled long before we met. I’m hunted, I told you this. I can’t go home because it is the most dangerous place for me to be.” Hanzo rubs his thumb over Jesse’s hand and Jesse leans in and tries to give Hanzo the most comforting nuzzle he can muster, “Do I miss it? Of course I do. I will never not miss it.”
Jesse pulls his hand from Hanzo’s to wrap his arm around him when Hanzo’s voice wavers, “But I also love what we have made here. I love the grotto, the home we have together. It is not the life I ever envisioned for myself but it is no lie that this is the most living I have done for over a decade, Jesse. I was merely surviving.”
Jesse can relate. He kisses away the few tears that spill from Hanzo’s eyes, drinks the sweet salt of Hanzo’s sorrow and joy. Offering all the comforts he can to his intended, silently vowing to do so for the rest of his life should Hanzo choose him.
“I’m glad I gave ya the home you needed.” Jesse voices, trailing his hand up to cup Hanzo’s jaw, “It will always be yours, no matter what, an’ I’ll make sure it an’ you are protected. You’ll never lose another home again, not on my life.”
“Okay.” The word is only a breath, and Hanzo falls into Jesse’s embrace, clinging like his life depends on it, holding the mer tight to him in strong arms, “Just promise me t-that it will continue to be our home. It is not—” Hanzo sharply inhales, like this is a secret he isn’t quite sure he can share, “It is not a home without you.”
Jesse’s heart wants to burst right out of his chest. Mate, it sings, your mate, yours, love of your life, your heart and very soul. Your missing piece. Instead, Jesse clings tighter to Hanzo and rumbles the loudest purr of contentment he’s made yet, making Hanzo laugh at the vibrations he can no doubt feel coming from Jesse’s chest.
Hanzo dips lower to nuzzle right into the rumbles, and Jesse feels the wide smile against his skin. He leans down best he can to kiss the top of Hanzo’s head and nuzzle into his hair. Jesse lets them both stay there for a moment longer, before he gently rights Hanzo, smiling softly down at his intended. Hoping Hanzo can see how much affection Jesse holds in his heart for him in his gaze before he nods over to their unfinished dinner.
“Our hard work is gettin’ cold, Starfish,” Jesse can’t help but steal a kiss, “We should finish it up, yeah?”
“Yes, we should.” Hanzo rubs at his eyes and moves from Jesse’s hold, but keeps their chairs close and simply tugs his bowl towards himself.
It’s a little awkward to eat in such close quarters, but neither of them cares. After cleaning the dishes, Hanzo tugs Jesse towards what he’s been told is a couch, where his intended perches himself in Jesse’s lap. They don’t end up going any farther than slow, greedy touches and passionate kisses for the rest of the night, but Jesse finds being able to hold Hanzo that close and delight in his kiss makes him thrum with contentment and bliss all the same.
When it is time to bed down for the night, Jesse lays awake next to Hanzo long after his intended falls asleep. He runs his claws through Hanzo’s long ink-black hair and once again dreams of seeing it woven with pearls and shells and trinkets until he too drifts off to sleep. In the morning he does much of the same until Hanzo wakes, and Jesse greets him with their routine nuzzle and kiss.
Breakfast passes by, Jesse is proud to have helped make such a delicious meal while also positively thrumming with anticipation as the sun rises higher in the sky. Soon he’s leading Hanzo down to the basement, through the tunnels and out into the open sea that expands around the island. They swim hand in hand, to an area Hanzo’s not seen of the island’s waters before, way on the other side from where Jesse’s grotto, the nursery and the garden are located.
There’s a smaller, rockier island of sorts that rises above the waves here, just a hundred yards from the island proper. Jesse takes Hanzo there, leads him to the entrance hidden within crags at its base and they both make their way inside.
The sun is high enough, Jesse’s timing perfect, and he can’t help but beam as they both surface into a cavern glittering with Jesse’s treasures. The sun casts light through holes in the roof if this place and everything is awash in a gorgeous golden glow, the light reflecting off of piles and piles of polished gold and gems and jewels and strange artifacts set in the sand of this secret place.
Jesse watches Hanzo take it all in with a sense of pride. The other mer looks speechless, and Jesse takes his hand and urges him to follow him up into the shallows. Hanzo follows, and sits with Jesse, eventually turning a wide-eyed gaze to him. His reaction only makes Jesse smile wider.
“I was expecting a few pretty trinkets and old coins,” Hanzo admits, almost sheepish in his confession, “But you’ve taken great care for these treasures it seems, and there’s so many.”
“O’course! I hadta present this to my intended mate one day!” Jesse laughs, giddy and full of joy and thrumming with excitement, leaning to nuzzle Hanzo’s temple as he softly adds, “I hadta present this to you. Needed ta make sure it was as gorgeous as you.”
Hanzo flushes but gives Jesse an affectionate kiss to his cheek, “Thank you. It’s beautiful.”
Jesse grins, takes Hanzo’s hand in his, feeling like he’s going to shake right out of his scales he’s so excited, “It’s yours.”
Hanzo’s eyes go wide, “What?!”
“Not one piece was pretty ‘nough to gift you, so I’m giftin’ it all to you!” Jesse grins, tail fin flicking side to side in the shallow water in his joy, “You can do with it as you wanna. You’ve told me lots ‘bout human stuff, an’ you also said once that humans do this money thing to do this buying thing and,” Jesse waves to his treasure, “Far as I know these little coins are money, right?”
“Jesse, I can’t possibly use your treasure to—“
“First off, it’s yours.” Jesse interrupts, smiling gently. Of course Hanzo is so sweet as to not want Jesse to part with his treasures, but still, “Second, all that this stuff is doin’ is just sitting here, the purpose of it all for this moment, when I present it all to the one Merfolk I wanna spend the rest of my days swimmin’ with.”
Jesse cups Hanzo’s face and smiles at the emotion swimming in those dark eyes, “It is all yours. Make it all into pretty trinkets to adorn yourself with, trade it off for your human comforts if you wanna. It’s not mine to care ‘bout anymore, an’ it’s not gonna make me any happier than seeing you use it to ensure your own happiness will. Use it to spoil your brother if that’s what will make you happy.” A thought occurs and Jesse beams wider, “Use it to make our wooden grotto more of a home.”
“Jesse,” Hanzo’s voice is rough with emotion, and he throws his arms around him, sending them both toppling into the shallows, “Thank you.”
Jesse grins wide and curls his arm around his intended. His mate, he’s sure of it. Jesse affectionately nuzzles Hanzo’s temple and presses a kiss there before he presses one to Hanzo’s lips. Jesse pulls back to find Hanzo smiling just as wide, tucks an errant strand of black hair he plans to weave sea stars made of pearl through behind Hanzo’s ear. Jesse treasures that smile above all things, wants more than anything to be a reason it graces Hanzo's face. Jesse hopes that smile will always reach Hanzo's eyes to make them sparkle so.
Instead of all these things running through his head, Jesse tells Hanzo with all the love in his heart, “You’re so very welcome, Starfish.”
Mildred has lived on the island for her entire sixty-three years. The Red Scaled One had come to them during her grandmother’s youth, and they have all done they could to please him so he may guard their island. They believe that it was his doing that protected their island when the rest of the world was seized by war. So they gave him more sacrifices and continued on as they have always.
Nothing had changed for years. Not until they brought the other here. How could they have known just what he was? They knew about the spirits he carried, they had sealed them so they would not harm the Red Scaled One when they sacrificed him. Then the storm had rolled in that night and they hadn’t seen the Red Scaled One for weeks.
And those weeks later where he came into the town hall, walking the land as he sometimes chooses to and carrying him. The One Born of Thunder.
And now they have two protectors. Mildred’s lips thin into a line. The extra protection is a blessing, the others had sighted a strange ship off of their shore before the autumn had set in, but by the time they had taken a boat out to see what had happened the strange ship had sunk. There had been claw marks in the metal, but the crew was nowhere to be found. Evidence of their poaching activities all throughout it though.
Their protectors are likely the cause. Again, a blessing. But.
Mildred wishes for the simplicity of before, back when it was only the Red Scaled One residing in these waters. The additional protection of The One Born of Thunder is beneficial in many ways, of course, it is just—
He’s so demanding. Terrifying.
Get me this, get me that, if you don’t I’ll set my dragons upon you. Everyone is running scared every which way to get him all he seeks. He stopped the yearly sacrifices, instead demanding they get all he requires. While Mildred admits that it will at least help get the eventual repercussions off of all of their backs, it has been rough financially for them all. As the town’s Treasurer, if this continues they’ll—
Mildred’s thoughts are interrupted by the door to her office swinging open, the wide-eyed visage of her assistance Thomas appearing. With such terror on his face, it can only mean one thing. Mildred sighs and steels herself.
The One Born of Thunder appears seconds later, sunglasses perched on his proud nose and a wide smile on his face, showing off his sharp teeth. He’s got a box in his hands, that he’s tapping his claws on the bottom of.
“Greetings.” The One born of Thunder gives Mildred a nod and sets down the box on Mildred’s desk pointedly.
It thuds and there is quite the clatter of clinks from inside. Mildred raises her eyebrows and sends a wary look to The One Born of Thunder. He just smiles wider, reaches into the breast pocket of the fall coat they acquired for him last week and pulls out a neatly folded piece of paper. He unfolds it and slides it towards Mildred.
“A list of what I require next.” There’s another paper produced and slid towards Mildred, “And these are the measurements of myself and my beloved. Make sure you get material that breathes for his shirts. His gills are sensitive. Also, I would prefer if this was completed as soon as possible, it’s getting cold, and I would love to walk the autumn paths with my beloved.”
Mildred bristles, which Thomas notices and shrinks behind the door jamb into the hallway. He still peaks into the room, morbidly curious no doubt. The One Born of Thunder notices her ire growing and grins, reaching over to the box and plucks the lid off of it. Mildred’s ire fades into shock at the old coins inside. The box is absolutely piled with them. In the centre is a diamond the size of Mildred’s fist.
“I believe this all will suffice to pay for it all, and you can keep the rest,” The One Born of Thunder pulls yet another paper from his pocket, “I drew up this financial plan, however, just in case, with some suggestions for some businesses that may bolster the economy for the future of this island. And suggestions for stocks to invest in to make sure the money is spent wisely.”
He hands that one directly to Mildred and pulls his sunglasses down to look at her intently as she unfolds the paper. Her eyes land on bakery listed as the top priority and she sends him a wary look. He gives her a wide grin and slides his sunglasses back up.
“Now, if you excuse me, I have a very handsome boyfriend to attend to.” He turns and strides out of Mildred’s office.
Thomas squeaks as he passes him by, and he hugs the wall as he slides into Mildred’s office. He finally spots the contents of the box, makes a strange strangled gasp noise in his throat and promptly faints. Mildred sighs and buzzes for the front desk so Thomas can get some first aid and rubs her temples.
She really should retire early.
This Bonus Chapter is dedicated to the Target Practice Discord. Your speculations of the ways Hanzo messes with the cult are so entertaining. Love y'all <3
Chapter 26: Arrival
Hanzo spends the weeks leading up to Genji’s visit counting down the days until his brother arrives. He also spends the time fretting over every single thing in the interim, cleaning obsessively and making sure everything is in place. He laments at one point how he’s got no decorations around to make it feel more homey, and he has to explain to Jesse what decorations are. Jesse disappears for an hour and returns from his brief swim around with a large conch shell that he plops on the centre of the dining table with a smile.
Hanzo can’t help but be touched and gives Jesse a soft kiss as thanks. Jesse takes it as an invitation to bring more shells into the house. Shells, and a huge chunk of a crystal formation that he also proudly sets onto the kitchen counter. Jesse also brings in pearls and tinier shells, which he’s been keeping inside one of the dresser drawers in Hanzo’s— And Jesse’s, he supposes— designated room. Hanzo’s at least collected them and placed them in separate jars for the sake of organization, not entirely sure what Jesse’s doing with them yet.
It keeps slipping his mind to ask, with Genji’s arrival looming. Hanzo’s gone through a mix of trepidation and excitement in the last week. One part incredibly eager to show his brother the home he’s made for himself, the other incredibly anxious to be sharing a space, considering their history.
This is—will be, good for them both, in the end. Hanzo genuinely wants Genji here, and doubting if this was a good step in their reconciliation is not going to get him anywhere. Jesse, while he may not know the exact reason for his and Genji’s tenuous relationship, is eager to meet Genji in person which is helping Hanzo’s nerves. Treating Genji’s visit more like a chance to introduce him to Jesse in person and introduce Jesse as Hanzo’s potential spouse at least keeps his mind off of needing everything to be perfect.
He just hopes Genji doesn’t bring up anything embarrassing or try to give Jesse a shovel talk. Hanzo’s not entirely sure if a mer would understand the concept or the meaning behind a shovel talk. They seem to move on pretty quickly from their familial groups, and their matings seem to be an event just between the couple. Nothing like hosting and inviting family to a wedding at all, and therefore no chance for a conversation consisting of half-threats.
Hanzo has to shove that thought and all related aside, lest he start panicking over the thought of Jesse taking a conversation like that the wrong way should one occur. He does send Genji a text to request that he refrain from shovel talking with Jesse. Genji sends him a picture of sashimi in response with the caption “pretty sure this is the merfolk variant of such a conversation anyway”.
Jesse comes back from the deep with more pearls and shells and finds Hanzo sitting at their table with his face buried in his arms sighing from the joke. He has to set his gathered treasures down to gently pat the top of Hanzo’s head. Hanzo just sighs louder and lifts himself to turn to Jesse and bury his face against his stomach. Jesse starts to gently scratch his claws through Hanzo’s hair and he makes an entirely different sigh, lifting his head enough to rest his chin on Jesse’s belly so he can look up at him.
“This isn't a mistake?”
Jesse tilts his head and hums in thought, tangles his fingers through Hanzo’s hair as he runs them through it, “I don’t think it is. You seem to miss him lots, an’ talk to him lots. Why should him visitin’ be any different?”
“I don’t know.” Hanzo answers truthfully, “We…” he thinks on how to word this so Jesse understands, “There was a time where we never got along, and I hurt him. Terribly. To the point where I thought he was…”
“Dead?” Jesse finishes, and Hanzo nods, hiding his face against Jesse’s belly again, afraid of seeing judgement there.
Jesse only continues to gently card his fingers through Hanzo’s hair, even as he shudders and has to suppress a sob. Jesse eventually gently pulls Hanzo from the chair entirely and curls around him in a proper hug. Hanzo latches onto him, and relishes in Jesse’s gentle nuzzles and the soft kisses he presses to his cheeks. Jesse gently sways in place with Hanzo until he calms down, and for that he’s thankful. He gives Jesse a soft kiss in thanks.
Hanzo wipes at his eyes, “I do not know how you can know what I did to my brother and not—“
“Darlin’, I ate people.” Jesse interrupts, “I don’t think I have any grounds ta judge you. ‘Sides, he lived, didn’t he?”
“Yes, this is true.”
Jesse’s hand finds Hanzo’s face, cups his cheek tenderly, and Hanzo leans into the touch, “It’s gonna be okay, darlin’. You’ve been lookin’ forward to this for months. Don’t let yer fears get in the way of the visit. I’m gonna be right here though if you do get ta gettin’ too much in your head.”
“Thank you…” Hanzo hesitates for a second, “…My Love.”
Hanzo swears he feels his back pop in the absolutely crushing hug Jesse gives him. The mer is absolutely rumbling up a storm, nuzzling Hanzo incessantly. Hanzo can’t help but laugh softly and nuzzle Jesse back in turn. He didn’t realize Jesse had lifted him until he carefully sets Hanzo back down so his feet touch the kitchen tile.
“Sorry.” Jesse apologizes sheepishly, “I liked how you said that an’ I got excited.”
“I can call you “My Love” from now on if you wish,” Hanzo replies with a soft smile.
“I don’t know if my little heart can take it.” Jesse places his hand against his chest, “Feels like it’s gonna burst outta my chest, Starfish. Such sweet words are a right menace comin’ from you. Yer gonna make this ol’ fish swoon right ta the bottom of the sea.”
“I’d keep you company.” Hanzo places a hand under Jesse’s jaw and leads him into a kiss.
“What fine company it is.” Jesse purrs dreamily when they part.
Hanzo denies how quickly Jesse using that tone makes him flush. He hides his face in Jesse’s shoulder and rests there for a moment. Jesse is content to hold him.
“Will you come with me tomorrow to greet Genji?” Hanzo asks when they eventually part, “It will be cold, and you will have to wear lots of clothes to keep warm.”
Jesse scrunches his nose, “I’ll do it for you, but I’m gonna hate every moment of it.”
“I’ll make you whatever you want for supper afterward.” Hanzo promises, gently scruffs his fingers through Jesse’s beard, “I know you dislike covering your gills.”
Jesse subconsciously rubs over the gills on his ribs, pouting all the while, “It makes ‘em itchy.”
“I know, my Love,” Hanzo leans up and kisses Jesse’s cheek, “but Genji will be so excited to see you in person.”
“Finally get ta meet your brother!” Jesse grins, gives Hanzo an affectionate nuzzle, “I’ll do my best to talk with him, I’ve been practicin’ what you taught me!”
“I’ve no doubt he will want to talk your ear off, I will do my best to translate what you already don’t understand.” Hanzo gives Jesse one last kiss, before he turns to start preparing dinner, “He will have many things to ask, and I am sure you will have some for him.”
Jesse chitters happily in his excitement, moves to help Hanzo pulls out ingredients. Together they make dinner, chatting about everything and nothing. They eat and then clean their dishes, Hanzo washing and drying and Jesse putting away. When its time to bed down, both enter the tunnel together, and Hanzo can’t help the shiver that runs through him. The winter sea is cold, and while he’s got no doubt that it is much colder outside of their tunnel way and the grotto under the house, it is still too cold for his liking. Jesse notices and pulls Hanzo closer to him, leading him down to their sleeping alcove. Hanzo curls around Jesse immediately, and Jesse nuzzles him affectionately.
“Cold, Starfish?” Jesse asks softly.
“A little bit, yes.” Hanzo presses closer, curls his tail around Jesse tighter, “You are used this more than I, I think. I will get used to the temperature, in time.”
Jesse hums, considers something for a moment, “Hold on, wanna try somethin’. Tell me if ya get too hot.”
Hanzo’s about to ask what he means when Jesse seems to warm in Hanzo’s hold. It is a blissful change in temperature, and Hanzo immediately snuggles closer. Jesse chuckles softly, wraps his arm around Hanzo.
“Much.” Hanzo sighs happily and cuddles closer.
“Been practicin’,” Jesse replies, “gettin’ used to usin’ my powers. Haven’t really had a reason to explore what all I could do with ‘em. Glad it’s helpin’ you, Darlin’."
Hanzo gives a content hum, and even his dragons are enjoying the warmth. It feels so soothing. Hanzo himself can’t help but make a soft chitter himself. He falls asleep much easier than he has before.
Hanzo wakes the next morning to gentle nuzzles from Jesse. The morning passes by in a flash, and soon Hanzo is helping Jesse bundle up for the colder weather outside. It becomes very apparent very quickly that Jesse hasn’t actually interacted with snow. Jesse keeps looking around at everything, especially the snow underfoot. If they did not need to be on time, Hanzo would initiate a snowball fight. The snow is sticky enough, perhaps on the way back…
Hand in hand, they both head into town towards the ferry dock. It feels like ages since Hanzo himself stepped onto this dock, and got caught up in this whole mess. Jesse gives Hanzo’s hand a squeeze as they wait for the ferry to finish docking. Genji’s not on deck from what Hanzo can tell, likely making sure all his things are accounted for. Hanzo starts rocking on his heels nervously. Jesse starts to mimic his rocking, and Hanzo can’t help but laugh softly.
Soon enough, the ferry’s lone passenger steps out onto the dock and heads their way. Hanzo moves to meet his brother in the middle, Jesse trailing behind. Genji’s got his faceplate and helm off, what remains of his hair sticking up every which way, streaked with greys like Hanzo’s is. Tousled from his own nervous motions or the wind, Hanzo can’t tell. Soon enough the brothers are face to face, in person, for the first time since they reunited in Hanamura. Everything Hanzo planned to say flies right out of his head.
Genji beats him to words anyway, grins at Hanzo and reaches over and prods at his brother playfully, “You look so old, Anija. Is Jesse not letting you get enough beauty slee—”
Hanzo cuts him off by wrapping his arms around his little brother and holding him tight. Genji stills for but a moment, before he huffs softly and clings back, before loosening his hold and giving Hanzo a gentle pat on the back.
“It is good to see you,” Hanzo says when he finds his voice, “I hope the travel went well.”
“Got some strange looks for wanting to visit this place.” Genji shrugs and then smiles, eyes shining with amusement, “Your fan club absolutely tanked this island’s reviews.”
“I’m aware. We’re working on it,” Hanzo says ominously in English, loud enough for the few cult members who work the docks to hear him.
They look up in alarm at being noticed by him and make to look extra busy tending to the ferry after its trip. Genji practically cackles.
“Oh, brother, dear brother,” Genji says dramatically while he wipes at his eyes, “What have you done to these poor people?”
“Nothing they have not earned, I assure you.” Hanzo reaches down to help Genji collect his bags, hefting them with ease.
Even Jesse offers to help carry one of the bags, and that’s of course when Genji finally pounces on him.
“The Jesse!” Genji crows happily as the group starts to make their way back to the house, “I must thank you for looking after my brother, though I will be the judge on if spending time as a fish has made him even saltier.”
Jesse only tilts his head in confusion, chittering softly as he tries to process Genji’s rapid-fire Japanese, only managing a clumsy “Thank you” in response.
Genji turns back to Hanzo, absolutely delighted, “You’ve been teaching him!”
“Some phrases, yes.” Hanzo can’t help but be proud of Jesse at this moment, “He still has much to learn, but in time he will be able to speak with us fluently, I feel. He’s a quick study. So far he understands it better than speaking it, but the same goes for his English. Jesse’s not had much chance for conversations until now, it seems.”
“All things improve with practice,” Genji agrees, smiling wide at Jesse before he turns back to Hanzo and adds, “and time.”
“And time.” Hanzo agrees, returning Genji’s smile with a small one of his own, and tries not to let his voice get lost with his emotions, “It… It is good to have you here, Genji.”
Genji grins wider. “I am glad to be here.”
They all continue to chat on the way back to the house. Hanzo has to translate between Genji and Jesse sometimes when they interact, but watching and listening to them do so warms his heart. At this moment, at the side of his brother and his lover, Hanzo doesn’t remember what he was so worried about.
Chapter 27: Genji
Hanzo’s home is quaint.
It must be well over a hundred years old by now, filled with little to nothing but the basics, minimal decorations in the form of trinkets from the sea and things Hanzo has provided for Genji’s comfort. All the appliances are practically ancient in the kitchen. In this day and age, positively anachronistic, just like Hanzo himself in ways.
Genji thinks the home suits his brother well. He also thinks the same of Jesse.
The merman will have many questions, naturally. There are not many humans around here who look like Genji does, with all his state of the art cybernetics. When Hanzo stubbornly insists on taking all of Genji’s luggage up to the room he’s made up for him, it leaves Genji alone with Jesse. Genji can feel the stares Jesse’s sending his way, but it is nothing new to him. Genji doesn’t find offence in it, knowing Jesse’s interest lacks the distrust most others carry about omnics and those who look a lot like them.
Hanzo’s already informed Genji that this island seemed to have been largely ignored when the world fell into chaos, and Jesse would have no idea what an omnic even is. Or a what a green cyborg ninja dude is, as Genji had cheerfully added. Hanzo hadn’t appreciated the joke.
His brother, as always, tends to dwell in the past after all.
Though there is ample evidence all around Genji right now, that maybe his brother has finally begun moving forward. It fills him with the hope that maybe they can finally regain what they lost, all those years ago. It’s been a while since they’ve had one of their ramen eating contest, and Genji looks forward to finally being able to defeat Hanzo. A little bit of healthy competition never hurt anyone.
That can come later, though. Right now there is a merman chittering questioningly at him. Genji gives Jesse a little wave to show that he’s finally listening and not in his head anymore.
“I would ask how you met my brother, and all that normal family being introduced to the boyfriend thing,” Genji teases lightly, “But I know the story already. You seem to have some questions for me, though. Many of them.”
Jesse chitters and nods eagerly. As Hanzo said, his comprehension of Japanese is pretty good. Speaking it? Not so much, at least not yet. Jesse clumsily trips over the harder phrases as he tries to reply, and after a few moments gives up and chitters sadly. His—what Genji can only assume are ear fins— droop in his frustration.
Genji reaches over and pats the mer on the shoulder comfortingly, “It’s alright. You’ll get it in time. Perhaps, for now, we can use English until Hanzo’s taught you more Japanese.”
Jesse makes another strange vocalization that Genji assumes is an affirmation, followed by Jesse himself reaching over and patting Genji on the shoulder. The mer looks quite pleased with himself. Genji can’t help but give an amused chuckle. For a “god” that a cult worships, Jesse’s very sincere.
He can see why Hanzo was drawn to Jesse in the end.
Jesse eagerly ushers Genji to sit at the kitchen table, before the mer busies himself looking through the cupboards. Jesse pulls out three teacups and fills the kettle, motioning to it empathically and chittering excitedly. It takes Jesse a moment to remember that Genji cannot speak his language.
“Tea?” Jesse asks again.
Genji wants to point out that Jesse’s already beginning to make him tea anyway, but decides he will not poke fun at the mer’s eagerness. Clearly, Hanzo’s been teaching Jesse how to be a good host to guests, so Genji will leave the critique of Jesse’s hosting abilities to Hanzo.
“I would enjoy a cup, yes. Thank you,” Genji replies instead.
Jesse serves Genji his tea before he asks his first question.
“Why are you…” Jesse seems to think, likely unsure of what he means to refer to. Genji can guess.
“Why am I a cyborg?” Genji’s lips quirk up in a bit of a pained smile, “Hanzo.”
Better to get the hard question done with first and as simply as possible. Genji’s not here to cause more strife with his brother, which is the opposite of what he desires to accomplish with this visit. Jesse seems to chitter quietly and consider Genji’s answer and seems to sense that it is better left at that. Genji relaxes a little.
“Cyborg.” Jesse repeats quietly to himself instead, testing the foreign word, “Cyborg.”
His conversations with Hanzo make Jesse seem so human that even face to face Genji forgets that Jesse is not. Hanzo finally returns at this point, with a little fluff ball in his arms. If Hanzo heard Jesse’s question or the word the mer is repeating, he does not show it, instead depositing a very wide-eyed young cat onto Genji’s lap.
“I had to chase her down. She is not used to new people coming to the house,” Hanzo says as he gives Shrimp a pat along her back, “but I did promise you I would introduce you.”
“You did promise me.” Genji falls back into an air of ease, lifting Shrimp up under her forearms, “I have heard much about you, Little Shrimp. If you were one of the orange kitties I would have called you Tempura.”
Hanzo mutters something under his breath as he moves to help Jesse with the rest of the tea and snacks. Too bad for him, Genji’s got much better hearing than his brother seems to think. Genji holds Shrimp firmly in an arm and points at Hanzo.
“I heard that.” Genji’s grin feels like it is going to crack his face, “I heard that!”
“You heard nothing.” Hanzo keeps his back to his brother pointedly, but Jesse’s looking between the two in confusion.
“What didja say?” Jesse asks, moves into Hanzo’s space to demand to be let in on the joke.
“Leaving your boyfriend out of the loop is very rude, Hanzo.” Genji gives Shrimp chin scratches so she’s more amiable to staying in his lap as he teases his brother, “Very rude!”
Jesse’s giving Hanzo what Genji assumes is a very close mer equivalent of puppy-dog eyes, and between that and Genji’s own goading, Hanzo’s resolve crumbles.
“I said, she’d be called Tempurra,” Hanzo deadpans.
Genji makes the ugliest snort which turns into a full-on cackle when Hanzo has to turn to Jesse and explain that the noise Shrimp makes when she’s happy is called a purr. Genji nearly crushes Shrimp with his body when he doubles over and starts wheezing when Jesse happily proclaims that that means that he purrs too!
“Good thing I didn’t eat you.” Jesse adds happily, looking at Shrimp, “We got a lot in common.”
Genji’s stomach hurts from laughing so much. When he finally calms and rights himself, Hanzo is sitting across from him with his own tea, and he seems much lighter too. Like he’s finally shrugged off the weight of his burdens, if only for a moment. Hanzo’s even smiling slightly into his tea. Genji’s last memory of that smile was before their father died and before the full weight of the clan crushed Hanzo beneath it. It is a bittersweet thought.
Jesse’s been a positive force in Hanzo’s life, though, that much Genji knows for certain. He will have to thank him when they get a private moment. Genji has much he wants to thank the mer for. Providing Hanzo a means of leaving the half-life he lead, even if it was a very hidden blessing at first, and now helping provide the brothers with a neutral ground to rebuild the relationship they had lost.
Genji just wants him and Hanzo to be a family again. It will be hard. Nothing worthwhile ever is easy.
But here, in an old house in a hidden corner of the world where myth is fact and cats are named Shrimp, Genji thinks he can find it again. He sends Hanzo a hopeful smile as he sips his own tea and answers the never-ending questions from a very inquisitive mer.
They talk long into the night before the excitement of the day tires them all, and they bid each other a good night. Genji takes to the roof before he himself settles in for the night, meditates on the day’s events and when he finishes with that, he watches the stars.
At one point, Hanzo comes up and joins him, restless despite his exhaustion. Genji nods to acknowledge his presence. The brothers say nothing for an hour and continue to watch the stars together. Eventually, the silence is broken, not by Genji but by Hanzo.
“I still do not know why you offer forgiveness so easily.” He voices lowly, eyes downcast, “Or how you can. I do not know why you are not angry.”
Hanzo lifts his head and Genji meets his gaze evenly.
“I am still angry. I do not know if I will ever truly let that anger go.” Genji says softly, “But more strongly, I feel hope. And what I hope is that I can have my brother back.”
Hanzo takes a shaky breath and nods. Genji gives a small smile in return. It is going to be a hard road, but they’ve got a good start, Genji feels.
Chapter 28: Courtship Customs of the Human Variety
Genji folds right into the routine around the house. Though there is not as much extensive cleaning to be done as before, he insists on helping clean up, despite being a guest. Hanzo stopped trying to convince him otherwise the second day. Jesse doesn’t mind the extra help at all. Lil’ Shrimp seems to have taken to Genji’s presence much faster than she has to other people. It’s likely that that is because Genji’s around her much more than most have been. That, or what Hanzo has pointed out is a bag of cat treats Genji has brought as a gift for Shrimp.
Jesse tried one when neither brother was looking. It was… alright. Not the worst thing Jesse has ever eaten. Shrimp saw, of course, since she heard the bag. Jesse snuck her another treat even though Hanzo said he shouldn’t spoil her.
Jesse’s pretty sure Hanzo knows though, about both the treat and the fact he ate one. His future mate is very observant, after all. The thought makes him smile, caught in a daydream again.
Genji nudges his leg to bring him back out.
Jesse chitters an apology, backtracking when he remembers Genji cannot speak his language, “Sorry. Got daydreamin’.”
“Must have been a good daydream.” Genji grins as he pulls another block from the Jenga tower. They’d found the game during the initial big clean of the house, and Genji had pulled it out to play with Jesse while Hanzo prepares dinner, “Tell me, what does a mer daydream about?”
Jesse can’t help to glance over at where Hanzo’s in the kitchen preparing dinner. Genji gives a soft little chuckle, clearly noticing where Jesse’s gaze has landed. Jesse just chitters softly, smiles just as soft, and uses his claws to nudge another block out of the Jenga tower in the center of the coffee table.
“Just, uh, thinkin’ bout how excited I am to be Hanzo’s mate one day,” Jesse admits, places the block on top of the neat little pile at the apex of the tower, “I’m a lucky mer.”
Genji grins, nudging another block out and places it on top of the tower, “I am happy for you both! You and Hanzo make a handsome couple.”
“Thank you.” Jesse smiles warmly, “I wanna make him happy.”
“You do. It’s very obvious.” Genji grins, “I’ve never seen Hanzo so besotted by someone.” The grin turns teasing, and Genji turns to call to his brother in the kitchen, “Hey Hanzo, I never asked, when is the wedding?”
“Wedding? What’s a wedding?” Jesse asks as he removes a block of the Jenga tower too quickly, the blocks crashing down the exact same time a loud clatter sounds from the kitchen.
“Oh, do mers not have such things as weddings?” Genji turns back to Jesse, a mischievous glint in his eyes, “Tsk, this won’t do! I can’t believe Hanzo has not told you.” Genji turns dramatically to look at Hanzo who’s come crashing into the living room, “For shame brother, trying to deny me the right to be your best man! For shame!”
“I didn’t think Jesse and I had a need for such… frivolities.” Hanzo looks between Genji and Jesse, his eyes not lingering long on Jesse at all while he focuses his glare on his brother, “It is not like I have many friends to invite, and I figured Jesse and I’s… union would not need such a ceremony.”
Genji’s reply is interrupted by Jesse, “Han, Starfish, do humans really have a ceremony for matin’? An’ you didn’t tell me?”
Hanzo blinks, falters at Jesse’s hurt tone, “I didn’t think you and I needed to have something like that. Just what you intend for us will be enough.”
“This ain’t jus’ about me!” Jesse stands and moves to Hanzo’s side, takes his hand in his, “This is ‘bout you an’ me! I wanna do things your way too!” Jesse pauses, leans in and presses his forehead to Hanzo’s, chittering gently, “This is our matin’, Sea Star, we only get to do this once. If you want a big wedding ceremony thingie, we’ll have one.”
Jesse leans into the hand Hanzo places on his cheek, “I didn’t mean to upset you, Jess. We could have a wedding, yes.”
“Aw. How cute,” Genji smiles mischievously at the pair, “though, Hanzo, you’re forgetting the ring.”
“Ring?” Jesse looks to Genji, missing entirely Hanzo’s glare sent Genji’s way, “What’s a ring? Like the glass rectangle noise?”
“Before humans get married, they give the one they want to marry a promise ring. It’s a round circle of metal humans wear on their fingers. When a human gives another human a ring and asks them to marry them, it is called being engaged,” Genji adds helpfully, “It’s the step before marriage. When people marry, they wear wedding rings!”
“Gen—“ Hanzo starts warningly.
“I think I have rings in the treasure grotto!” Jesse looks to Hanzo, grinning from ear to ear, “I can get us rings!”
“Jesse…” Hanzo says softly before he seems to think better of something. Hanzo sighs and leans into Jesse’s space, “I… I would like that. For us to wear rings, and perhaps to have a wedding, later.”
Jesse grins wide, all sharp teeth and warmth. Jesse wraps his arm around Hanzo and pulls him into a kiss. Hanzo wraps his arms around Jesse in turn and cuddles him close. Jesse pulls away and nuzzles Hanzo affectionately. Genji aw’s loudly and obnoxiously.
“Dinner is almost ready,” Hanzo says when he pulls back, “Come, let us eat.”
All three of them sit down to eat. Jesse’s distracted through the meal, thinking of the rings he has in his treasure grotto and trying to think of any that would suit Hanzo. Or fit Hanzo’s thick fingers, come to think of it. His mind drifts to memories of things those fingers have done to him during their more amorous evenings and he pointedly steers his mind elsewhere.
The rest of the evening passes by quickly. Hanzo and Jesse bed down for the night in the tunnel grotto, but all Jesse can continue to think of is getting Hanzo a ring. He lifts up eventually, long after Hanzo has slipped into sleep, kisses Hanzo’s temple and gives him an affectionate nuzzle before he slips from Hanzo’s hold and heads out into the tunnels and into open water.
Jesse’s internal fire at least keeps the winter chill of the ocean at bay. He knows where a good chunk of the rings are in the treasure grotto already since he went through it for a gift earlier, and Hanzo hadn’t taken much of the gold for selling. It’s not long before he’s heading back to the wooden grotto with a baggie full of rings.
Jesse curls back up against Hanzo immediately, who grumpily clings to him and grumbles in his sleep about being cold. Jesse stokes his inner fire just to appease and warm his very clingy mate-to-be. Hanzo curls around Jesse tight in his sleep, smiling a bit as Jesse’s content rumbles start up deep in his chest. Jesse drifts off with a smile of his own on his face.
In the morning, at the breakfast table, Jesse spills all the rings out onto the table. The clatter of them all is deafening in the otherwise silent kitchen. Genji pauses with a cup of tea halfway up to his mouth before he snorts. Hanzo is silent before he just gives Jesse a very fond, but exasperated smile.
Genji offers to cook while Jesse tries to fit rings onto Hanzo’s ring finger. The brothers do switch places, and Hanzo does let Jesse try to find a ring that will fit him. Eventually, Jesse finds a simple gold band that does, sliding it onto Hanzo’s finger. Excited, Jesse grabs Hanzo’s hand and rubs his thumb over the ring.
“I wanna have a wedding with you!” Jesse says excitedly, “Can we have a marriage? I wanna do everything with you. Can we do a wedding, Starfish?”
“The question goes “Will you marry me?”, Jess.” Hanzo says softly, still equal parts fond and exasperated.
“Yeah, I will! So will you?” Jesse barrels on ahead, excited, “Marry me?”
Hanzo covers his mouth to stifle a warm laugh, “Of course I will marry you.”
Jesse chitters happily and pulls Hanzo into his embrace, nuzzles him so affectionately and happily it makes Hanzo chuckle. Hanzo’s arms curl around Jesse and he presses a kiss to Jesse’s cheek. The rings cling as Hanzo lifts a hand to sort through them. Jesse lifts his head, confused for a moment before Hanzo gives him a warm smile.
“Only fair you get one too, right?” Hanzo gives Jesse an affectionate peck on the cheek.
Before long Hanzo’s found another ring that will fit Jesse and slides it onto his finger. Jesse chitters excitedly and even louder and grasps Hanzo’s hand in his own. Genji sets breakfast down between the two lovebirds with a wide grin of his own.
“I fully expect to be invited to the wedding, be your best man and help you plan, Hanzo.” Genji waggles his finger at Hanzo warningly, “I will not let you live it down if you snub me and deny me of any of those roles.”
“I suppose I will have to invite you then.” Hanzo rolls his eyes dramatically, but he’s wearing a pleased smile.
Jesse grins all the while, admiring the rings on his and Hanzo’s fingers. Human courtship is strange, but so far very interesting. He’s looking forward to finding out more.
Chapter 29: Celebration
Genji bids everyone goodnight after that very eventful day passes by, saying something about getting up even earlier than normal to contact his master Zenyatta in Nepal. Hanzo bids his brother a good night and laughs softly to himself when Shrimp follows Genji up the stairs to the second floor. The little cat has grown attached to Genji, mostly because he will absolutely not stop spoiling her. It makes Hanzo smile.
He himself is finishing off the last of the day’s chores, cleaning up the dishes from the baking they had done for dessert to celebrate their rather out of the blue engagement. Jesse’s helping clean everything, just as he had done with the baking process in the first place. They’d tried their hands at pie today, apple specifically, and Jesse took a liking to both the process and the dessert itself. Hanzo makes a note to find more recipes, simpler recipes to cook with Jesse to help the mer get used to baking. And to help Hanzo himself get used to baking.
Part of Hanzo misses having chefs to prepare desserts for him, but the other is thankful he gets to learn all this with Jesse at his side. It’s been a great bonding experience for them both, and Hanzo is certain that’s also part of why Jesse has taken to cooking and baking too.
Hanzo sends a smile Jesse’s way as he pulls the now rinsed pie plate from the sink and hands it off to dry, setting it on the counter for Jesse. Jesse more or less pounces on it with the drying cloth, has to pause to flip it over and then dries the other side. He holds it up for Hanzo’s perusal, and at Hanzo’s nod promptly turns to put it away. While Jesse does so, Hanzo dries his own hands, turns his head towards the stairs where Genji disappeared up to the second floor. There’s no sound of him moving around up there, so he must truly be settled in for the night.
“Jesse,” Hanzo calls, voice saccharine sweet, and at his name the mer lifts his head out of the cupboard to look to Hanzo with a soft smile. Hanzo motions for him to come closer, engagement ring glinting in the light of the kitchen, “come here, Love.”
As soon as Jesse is in arms reach Hanzo pulls the mer into a passionate kiss. Jesse was not expecting the kiss, clearly, as the mer pauses before he wraps his arm around Hanzo’s waist and pulls him closer. They do eventually have to let Hanzo breathe, and Hanzo licks his lips when they part to chase the taste of apple pie and Jesse. The mer himself is just grinning with a warm, dreamy smile and nuzzles Hanzo happily.
“Naughty mer,” Hanzo chastises playfully, pressing his forehead to Jesse’s as he sways with him in the kitchen, “proposing to me out of the blue like that. And you say I’m the menace.”
“You are though,” Jesse purrs, grinning wide with his sharp teeth, “especially kissin’ me like that. My heart is gonna fly right outta my chest, Starfish.”
“I hope you get it under control,” Hanzo smooches the tip of Jesse’s nose, “because there are more kisses like that in your very near future.” Hanzo hums, lets his eyes drift down Jesse’s form, pulls a hand up to rub Jesse’s chest affectionately, “And more. I’ve been waiting for a moment to ourselves all day to celebrate our engagement, but nothing I have planned for you is appropriate for polite company.”
Jesse flushes immediately and chitters softly, leans in and nips affectionately and trails his fangs along Hanzo’s jaw. Which is what Jesse has informed him is a motion mers make to their chosen partners as an invitation to mate in the most carnal of senses. Hanzo shivers at the insinuation and the feeling of those teeth so close to his throat.
But for now, Hanzo reluctantly pulls from Jesse, hushing the mer when he makes a sad chitter at his intended leaving his hold. Hanzo steps aside and ushers Jesse past towards the stairs to the basement.
“You’ve been out of the water so long, you go on ahead and get settled in the tunnel, Love.” Hanzo gives Jesse an affectionate kiss that he ends with a little nip of his own to Jesse’s lips. He gives Jesse a playful shove when they part, “I’ll finish up here and meet you there. Try not to start without me, hm?”
Jesse nods and stumbles over himself as he tries to walk backwards to the top of the stairs. Hanzo can’t help but chuckle at Jesse trying to keep an eye on him through the banister even as the mer descends the staircase down. Hanzo turns to his final few tasks, finishing them as quickly as possible before he too makes his way down to the basement.
Jesse’s nowhere to be seen, the only hint of him being his discarded clothing. Hanzo collects them and puts them in the laundry hamper he’s set down here before he starts to pull off his own clothing. There’s a slight movement in the water behind him and the feeling of eyes on his back.
Hanzo smirks, undresses even slower, teasing Jesse as he slowly sheds each garment. When finally naked, Hanzo turns to the tunnel entrance, but there’s nothing but ripples at the surface. Hanzo saunters over to where he keeps his prosthetics overnight, takes them off a little quicker than he shed his clothes.
He scoots himself over to the edge of the tunnel entry, pulling his ribbon from his hair and tossing it over the nearest piece of furniture. A smirk comes to Hanzo’s face when he feels the water lap at the stumps of his legs, disturbed by Jesse’s resurfacing. Hanzo wraps his arms around Jesse when the mer rises enough to grab Hanzo and drag him down into the depths, Hanzo’s delighted laugh loud in the basement until he fully disappears beneath the water’s surface.
Once Hanzo’s tail is back he immediately curls it around Jesse’s tail, lips already moving against Jesse’s. They both leisurely float down to the bottom of the tunnel way, where they remain for a while, simply kissing and trying to curl even tighter around each other. It’s Jesse that pulls away and motions to their grotto space, and they both reluctantly let go of each other just long enough to move into their grotto.
Hanzo settles down comfortably and opens his arms for Jesse, who cuddles right up to him. Hanzo immediately goes right back to kissing Jesse, cradles his head in one hand and lightly runs his claws up and down Jesse’s back. Before long Hanzo flexes his hands so his claws retract and that hand that was on Jesse’s back moves to Jesse’s front. Hanzo’s knuckles start to rub over the soft scales surrounding Jesse’s cloaca, and Jesse huffs little moans against Hanzo’s mouth, his tail twitching in Hanzo’s hold.
Before long Hanzo can slip a finger in, and he gently prods inside until he brushes the spot that Jesse really seems to love. Jesse almost jolts in Hanzo’s hold every time he finds it and brushes it, those soft moans turning into whimpers and soft pleas of Hanzo’s name and all the pet names Jesse keeps just for him. Instead of letting up, Hanzo just doubles down, watching the pleasure contort Jesse’s face.
Hanzo leans in and nips gently along Jesse’s jaw as he slips in another finger, curling his tail tighter so Jesse doesn’t thrash too much as both fingers target that spot. Jesse’s own hand doesn’t seem to know where to touch until it curls into Hanzo’s hair to hold Hanzo in place as he nips and kisses at Jesse’s neck. Hanzo continues fingering Jesse even after Jesse’s cock slips out of his cloaca, and for now, Hanzo ignores it in favour of coaxing Jesse to orgasm with his fingers alone.
Mers don’t seem to have a refractory period like humans do, a fact Hanzo discovered recently. And has taken advantage of frequently, especially when it comes to Jesse’s pleasure. He just adores how needy Jesse becomes, how genuine the mer is in his pleasure and his adoration of Hanzo. He can’t help but steal more kisses between Jesse’s moans, swallowing down the sounds he’s making.
“You’re exquisite,” Hanzo murmurs as they part, nuzzling Jesse affectionately, “You’ve no idea how happy it makes me that I get to call you mine.”
Jesse returns the nuzzles, hissing out a moan when Hanzo crooks his fingers just right, “Han… Starfish…”
“I know you’re close,” Hanzo coos softly before he gives Jesse’s ear fin a delicate little nip, “Come on then, let go, I have you.”
Hanzo doesn’t have to tell Jesse twice. Jesse tenses in his hold briefly before going lax, panting and nuzzling up even closer to Hanzo. He pulls Jesse close and peppers his face with kisses, fingers still teasing pleasure from Jesse until those pleasured shivers turn into ones of overstimulation and Jesse makes a little whine. Hanzo lets up and showers Jesse in more kisses, waiting until those little twitches slow again before he slips his fingers right back inside his beloved.
Jesse immediately whimpers and seeks more kisses, moving his hand to Hanzo’s front to reciprocate. Hanzo bats his hand away and gives Jesse a rough little nip to chastise him before he continues as he was. He brings Jesse to orgasm again, and only after that does Hanzo allow Jesse to tease open his own cloaca.
Jesse’s more devious with his fingers, which is why Hanzo loves this game so much. Jesse will avoid that spot, taking his time to take Hanzo apart with light strokes of his fingers before he focuses on it. If Hanzo wasn’t curled so much around Jesse, he’d be writhing too much and kicking up the sediment on the grotto floor with his tail in frustration. Once Hanzo even hints that he’s close to coming, Jesse targets that spot with rough and mean jabs of his fingers.
Before long his own coil of pleasure snaps, and he feels Jesse begin to move his fingers away as the wave of bliss washes over him. Hanzo grabs at Jesse’s wrist to keep those fingers right where he wants them. Jesse gets the hint.
It continues like this for a while, until both of them are too boneless with satisfaction to continue, curled tight together in their grotto space. Jesse’s tucked his face right into Hanzo’s shoulder, purring and rumbling contently as Hanzo strokes his claws through his hair.
“Hm?” Hanzo opens his eyes, having been halfway to dozing off before he felt Jesse mumble something against his skin, “What was that, Love?”
“What do humans call their mates?” Jesse asks again, “Do you have names for your partners?”
Hanzo smiles gently, nuzzles Jesse and sighs contently, “Right now, because we’re only engaged, you’re my fiancé. When we marry, you will be my husband. What do mers call their mates?”
Jesse blushes, pleased by Hanzo’s answer, “Nothing like a, uh, a title like humans seem to have. We mostly give our mates nicknames of a sort, somethin' only we call ‘em.”
“Oh?” Hanzo lifts his head a little, looking at Jesse, “What will you call me?”
Jesse’s face grows warmer, “Right now…. I've taken to callin’ you Starfish. Or Sea star. Can’t decide which I like best. Or if I will find somethin’ else I like better.”
“Oh.” Hanzo melts at the realization, pulls Jesse into a soft kiss that he can’t help smiling into, “I had figured those were a sort of pet name, like how I call you Love. I didn’t realize…”
“Was too embarrassed to tell ya,” Jesse admits sheepishly, “I’m kinda— I heard this phrase in the movin’ pictures and I think it works here— “jumpin’ the gun”? I been alone a long while and I…” Jesse moves his gaze from Hanzo, ashamed or vulnerable, it is hard to tell in the low light, “…I got excited ta even be given the time o’ day by you, so when we started courtin’ I just wanted to call ya all the sweet things I could. Even the mate names. I figured the “Love” you called me was kinda a similar thing. S’why I got so excited when you called me that. Didn’t think much of it until now…”
“Jess, my love.” Hanzo lifts Jesse’s face so he’s looking at him again, “I like them a lot. In fact, I love your mate names for me.”
Jesse chitters softly, a small pleased noise, before he nuzzles happily into Hanzo again. Hanzo gives Jesse a soft kiss, and then another. He resumes running his claws through Jesse’s hair, laughs quietly when Jesse’s rumbling purrs start up again.
“Jess?” Hanzo whispers right before Jesse drifts off to sleep.
“Yeh?” Jesse hums softly.
“Want to know what humans say to their partners when they care deeply for them?”
“What do they say?” Jesse whispers as he shifts and looks up at Hanzo, always and forever interested in human courtship customs.
It continues to be endlessly endearing. Hanzo helps Jesse keep his hair from floating into his eyes, trailing his claws lightly over Jesse’s ear fin. Then Hanzo smiles and leans in to whisper into Jesse’s ear.
“I love you.”