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Above the Horizon

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It had been a mildly hot October afternoon when he’d first noticed it. And honestly, if it had been only that day, perhaps the boy would have forgotten the moment altogether. His mind had wandered far from the team around him, his near-bleeding ears only able to filter out the sound of their rather foul-mouthed cox through sheer years of practice. His eyes had found themselves on the horizon against the murky bank of the river, his weary mind lost in idle thought.

 

Between lack of sleep and midterms, he really should have considered that energy shot before practice had started, after all. 

 

The teen was only pulled back to reality when he noticed a foreign flick on the idle surface a good distance away- a broad glint of white reflecting for just an instant off the murky water. It rustled the brush around it; its translucent shimmer was a stark contrast to the tangle of roots and weeds above the shallow surface. The boy's breath caught in his throat as it flickered above once more, entranced by its foreign beauty.

 

"HEY!!! DEKU, PICK UP THE SLACK!"



The teen’s back shot up straight, his mind pummeling back to his team. He panicked as he found two crimson eyes boring into his face. Stumbling, he teetered as he tried hopelessly to regain his grip on his oar. But he only succeeded in smacking his cox upside the head, sending them both toppling into the river.



Maybe he would have forgotten that moment if it had only happened once, if he hadn’t sent the kid overboard two more times that week. Maybe he would have if his cox- and half the team, probably- hadn’t been planning his funeral by the time Friday came. And, perhaps he would have let the memory fade if he hadn't noticed that same translucent fin, ever closer and ever more beautiful each day of practice. 

 

But he did. And that’s how it all began.

 


 

“Izuku, sweetie! Dinner’s ready!”

 

The boy blinked back at his computer screen, rubbing away the dull ache in his eyes as he pushed his shoulders back against his chair. He’d pulled up nearly every link he’d saved from last semester’s ecology class, thumbed through every page of both weathered textbooks and a few of his mother's old manuals that were leaned up against his keyboard. But still, nothing. Maybe Kacchan was right; maybe the lack of sleep from midterms was finally driving him to insanity. 

 

“Izuku?” 

 

The teen jolted in his seat, his eyes peeking out from between his fingers to catch his mother wiping off her hands into her tattered apron at the foot of his doorway. He cleared his throat, stretching his limbs and pushing himself away from his desk as he gave her an apologetic smile.



“Right! I’m coming.”

 

His mother continued to watch him for a moment, a hint of worry in her eyes that Izuku knew rather well, before returning to the kitchen. Yeah, he was probably just overworking himself.

 

The nostalgic smell of his mother’s katsudon still wasn’t enough to fully pull his mind out of its sleep deprived haze, and the boy could feel his mother watching him as he struggled to pull a slice of meat between his chopsticks for a good few seconds. His half-lidded eyes remained glued to his food, scared that if they met hers, it would give her way to question him. 

 

“Izuku.”

 

Crap.



“Izuku, sweetie…”



Mission abort.


The boy reluctantly raised his head to catch sight of his mother’s gaze. She gave a pout and he quickly returned a lopsided grin, trying hopelessly to convince her that he was fine. She wasn’t going to have anything of it.



“Coach Aizawa called this afternoon.” 

 

Izuku stiffened, his chopsticks slipping off his pork and causing it to plop back into the bowl below. He quickly snatched his napkin, trying to clean up the splatter left behind. He could hear his mother sigh, undoubtedly shaking her head.



“He says you’ve been distracted this week.”



He gulped, knowing exactly where this lecture was headed. Rising to his feet to throw away his napkin, he kept his eyes to the floor.



“Yeah, just probably tired from midterms this week. I promise I’ll catch up on sleep this weekend.”



“He mentioned that you knocked Bakugou into the water. Three times.”

 

The teen could feel his cheeks starting to warm up as he trudged back to his spot at the table.



“Yeah. Um, I kinda owe him a few favors for that.”


His mother bit the inside of her cheek, her eye still on him. “Izuku, sweetie, I know you. I’ve seen you during midterms before. What’s going on?”

 

“It’s...it’s really silly. I’m probably just seeing things from the sleep deprivation.”

 

“Izuku.”

 

Finally catching a piece of katsudon in his mouth, the boy swallowed, giving his mother a sheepish look. His eyes fell on the cracked, faded emblem on her shirt- U.A. Aquatic Rehabilitation Facility. If anyone knew anything about ecology, it was her, probably. Which is why he knew he’d sound even crazier admitting it to her. The silence between them stretched on for a long moment before Izuku relented to his mother at last. His shoulders deflated, the blush on his cheeks spreading.

 

“I...I saw something in the water this week. A few times, actually.”

 

His mother blinked, caught off guard for just a moment. “Oh?”

 

Izuku placed his chopsticks on top of his bowl, wringing his hands nervously beneath the table.

 

“Like I said, probably just the sleep deprivation.”



His mother was not so easily deterred by her son, however, and continued the conversation regardless as she rose to her feet.


“What did you see?” She urged him on, picking up their dishes from the table and making her way to the sink.

 

“A...a fin?” The boy explained, trying to recall what exactly he’d been staring at all week. “B-but it doesn’t look like any of the fish I’ve seen around the river. It was kind of see-through- and bright white. And, well, huge. It’s always been really far off, but it looks like it has to be big, two feet wide, at least-”

 

The water faucet suddenly stopped, the room filling with silence. Izuku’s gaze immediately snapped back to his mother, jumping to his feet as he rushed to check on her.



“M-mom? Don’t worry! A-again, I probably just haven’t been sleeping enou-”

 

He bit on his tongue as he watched his mother quickly snatch the calendar off the wall beside her, flipping through a few of the pages and muttering unintelligible words beneath her breath. Her eyes narrowed in on the page, counting days and she returned back to the present date- October 3rd.



“...It...it wouldn’t be impossible, but-”

 

“Mom?”  The boy repeated, reaching out for her arm. The woman snapped out of her thoughts, her eyes finally meeting her son’s once more. She cleared her throat, giving him a weak smile. 

 

“It...it sounds like something from the ocean probably migrated upstream. It’s rare, but I’ve seen it happen once befo-”

 

“The ocean?!” Izuku gawked at his mother in disbelief. The outlet was over fifty miles from town. There was no way any fish or whale could have possibly swam that far up stream, not without being noticed or starving themselves. Not to mention that water this far in was fresh. How could something from the ocean possible survive-

 

“Izuku,” his mother gently reached up to ruffle his hair with a tender grin. He was thinking aloud again.



“I’ll call my colleagues tomorrow morning, and we’ll do a search on Monday. In the meantime, please try to get some sleep, at least for your old mother’s sake.”

 

She bopped a finger to his nose, rising on her toes slightly to kiss his cheek. She turned back to the sink, rehanging the calendar on the wall and returning to the dishes. The boy huffed as he watched her, his tangled bangs fluttering off his forehead for a brief moment. Well, at least he wasn’t going mad. Hopefully.

 


 

Okay, maybe he really was.

 

Izuku groaned, pulling his pillow to his head as he opened an eye, staring at his alarm clock.  

 

1:17 a.m.

 

The boy groaned, throwing his forearm over his head as he rolled onto his back. Maybe he wasn’t seeing things, but the image was still haunting him. Why couldn’t he stop thinking about it? This fish had nothing to do with his life. It was just a big fish. In the water. That was it. Nothing too concerning to him about that.

 

Nothing at all.


But yet...why had his mother been so worried? Why did he feel so drawn to it…? Defeated, the boy dragged himself up to the corner of his bed, tossing his pillow back against the bed frame.


Fine. If he could just go down to the lake and find whatever this thing was, he could finally get it out of his head and sleep. Probably. Just maybe. 

 


 

Izuku hit the flashlight twice against his palm, causing it to flicker back on. Giving a sigh of relief, the boy adjusted himself, pulling the strap of his backpack back up upon his shoulder and continuing to find his way through the murky shoreline of the river. It was nearly pitch black, save the faint light of the few stars that poked through the canopy of the trees above and the halo of his increasingly unreliable flashlight. All he could hear was the croaking of frogs and the squishing muck of the dirt beneath his sneakers. This was a bad idea, an extraordinarily bad one, he knew that much. But still, that image of the radiant fin, gliding ever so gracefully against the murky edge of the river, was enough to let his curiosity overtake his rationality. 

 

The boy jumped as he suddenly heard a loud splash. The waves left behind a trail of large ripples, crashing up against his ankles. He whipped around, narrowing his eyes, only to find nothing above the surface but lily pads in the dim light. Whatever made that sound, it was close. He rolled up the hem of his pants, inhaling and holding a deep breath as he slowly waded into the water.

 

This was his worst idea ever. He knew better than to submerge himself with his condition. Yet here he was, throwing out all rationality once again that night for a stinking fish.

 

Izuku shivered, immediately feeling the tingling of his legs as they were enveloped by the water. He could just feel the slime on them forming, imagine them already morphing into that pale teal color that would more than likely turn deep forest green by the time he got out. Water had always had some sort of effect on his legs, like some sort of reaction or an allergy. As weird as it felt, it’d never hurt. They just tingled, the slime causing his thighs to stick together if he stayed in more than ten minutes or so. But they gave people enough concerned stares- especially that of his poor mother. Even in crew, he ended up wearing leggings near the water to keep the uncomfortable stares away, just in case. 

 

Two minutes of wandering aimlessly into the river and Izuku felt a fluttering tickle like icy silk against his shin. The boy yelped, stumbling back against the water. But the object, whatever it was, continued to ripple against his leg. Unable to refind his balance, the boy tumbled backward, losing his grip on his flashlight. He gasped, preparing to dive under the surface as he screwed his eyes shut. Yet instead, his behind fell onto something scaly and firm- like falling onto a giant serpent.

 

Panicking, the boy flailed his arms, trying to find his way back to the shore against the darkness. Crap, he couldn’t see anything. He could feel the snakelike body closing in around him in his terror, two oddly firm but fleshy arms pulling themselves around his chest.

 

This was it. This was how he was going to die.

 

The last thing he could remember was sudden warmth, the hazy red and yellow glow surrounding the outline of another boy like a halo, radiant eyes piercing into his. 

 

The next thing Izuku recalled was opening his eyes to darkness, his back against the muddy shore. He groaned, groggily pulling himself into a seated position, his hands trailing across his gooey calves. Wellat least he was alive.

 

The teen signed, burying his forehead into his arm. His flashlight was probably busted on the river bed, and he had no clue where his backpack had even flown off to during the struggle. His legs were clumped together and secreting like crazy; he doubted he could stand if he even tried at the moment. He would probably have to wait until daylight before he could even attempt to find his way back home. In the meantime, all he could do was pray that whatever the creature that had been after him was, it wasn’t still hungry.

 

“...awake…” 

 

The foreign voice caught the teen off guard, and his heart nearly jumped into his throat. There was someone else out here. The adrenaline pricked at Izuku’s skin as he looked around wildly in the dark, trying to make out any other form. He heard a small series of splashes, followed by a dull thud. Izuku reached over tentatively, feeling at the object that had been tossed at his side. It was...his backpack.

 

“You...okay?”

 

The voice was low, yet it felt ominously close now. But it sounded hesitant, as if it were trying to guess its own words correctly.

 

“Y-yes?” Izuku managed back with a squeak, still trying to find the source of the voice. There was a moment of silence before he suddenly felt a very human hand running down the length of his lower left leg. The teen gasped in shock. Unable to separate his legs, he sent both of his feet flying up at once, hitting the person squarely in what felt like a shoulder. They made a short grunt, but otherwise did not seem to protest. Another brief moment of quiet passed between them, only broken by Izuku’s gasps, before the stranger attempted to speak once more.

 

“Your...tails…”

 

The teen blinked against the darkness, baffled by the stranger’s words. “M-my what?

 

“Tails…” They repeated.

 

A finger briefly poked at Izuku’s right shin, then his left, this time careful not to linger any longer than needed to get their point across. The boy blinked, taking a moment to try to figure out what on earth they were getting at before finally putting it together.

 

“Y-you mean...my legs?” He asked back in confusion, trying to wrap his head around such a peculiar misnomer.

 

“...those…”  the person confirmed, its voice having moved close to the teen’s left side.

 

“O-oh,” Izuku replied, his shoulders deflating a little as he reached over, pulling away some of the slime from his knee. 

 

“I know it’s kind of gross, sorry.”

 

“....not well?” The person asked inquisitively.

 

“What? O-oh...no, no I’m fine. It’s this disease I have. They get like that every time I’m in the water.”

 

The person beside him only made a small noise in reply, but Izuku could still sense their presence beside him. He averted his eyes in the darkness, instead focusing his attention on rubbing away at the layer of goo on his skin. Another several moments passed before the faintest glint of daylight hit, yet the teen could still hear the person’s quiet breathing beside him. Perhaps if he stayed like this long enough, they would leave him alone. 

 

As the daylight of sunrise began to settle in, and Izuku finished pushing away the last bits of slime, he stretched out his legs and toes with a long breath, his lower extremities thankful to finally have their freedom once more. But just as quickly, the tip of his toe brushed against a moist, cold, silky sensation that was all too familiar. He jolted back with a yelp, his eyes flashing to where his foot had been.

 

And it was then he saw it; a long, glistening and translucent tail, reflecting against the pale morning light and white as the clouds above. It had to have been around two feet long, and it was wrapped around another fin of crimson red in equal length. Breathless, the boy trailed up the form of the figure, finding a long, scaled tail of brilliant red and snow white on each side, fading out around a human navel and transforming into the torso of a teenage boy- barely older looking than himself, if that. The creature lie asleep, his hair of a similar pattern to his tail and features soft, save but a hard but long-healed scar that ran around his left eye. But it was as Izuku’s eyes fell back to his lithe torso that his heart broke; upon his right side was torn a deep gash, running from his shoulder to his hip. 

 

Izuku lightly pressed a hand against the back of his mouth. He was hurt- badly. But they were a mile and a half from home, and his phone was good as dead when he managed to pull it out of his bag. The wound was not fresh, yet it looked harsh and anything but healed. It was horribly infected, enough so that it worried the boy to leaved the creature out here alone. He tentatively looked back at the horizon. The sun had yet to peak out from below; it must have been around six a.m. If he were careful and diligent, perhaps he could get the creature to his mother without anyone noticing.

 

A faint rustle snapped the boy out of his nervous muttering, and he glanced back down to find the creature awakened, staring up at him blankly. Izuku’s heart caught in his stomach, his cheeks setting themselves ablaze as a stunning and intense mismatched pair of turquoise and earl grey eyes met his. His mind flashing back to those last fleeting moments of their struggle, the boy stumbled over his words as the creature silently watched him. He cleared his throat, fixing his bangs as he tried to compose himself.

 

“You...you’re hurt.” He pointed at the wound on his torso. The creature’s eyes flickered down for a moment at it before meeting with the boy’s once more. He didn’t seem to speak his language very well, but still just enough, and the look in his eyes seemed to understand his gesture. Izuku took a deep breath, rummaging his brain for the simplest way to explain the situation. 

 

“I can help...let help you.” 

 

The creature stared at him for another long moment before slowly nodding his head. Did that mean “yes” in his language as well? Izuku silently hoped so, for both of their sakes. 

 

Wobbling slightly, the teen slowly rose to his feet, stretching the numbness out of them and sliding his damp backpack over his back. He gave a short huff, looking down at the confused creature before him.

 

“I’m...I’m gonna need to carry you. I hope you're okay with that.”

 

The blank, unmoving expression in his face was enough to tell Izuku that he hadn’t really understood what he meant. The boy took a nervous breath, biting his lower lip and hesitating for a moment as he looked at the length of his body. He finally reached down, tentatively attempting to scoop the creature up.

 

As expected, he did not take well to the gesture, his tail flipping about violently and smacking Izuku squarely in the face as he let out a string of spirited noises the teen could only imagine were of less than kind intent. Losing his grip on the creature, he fell back to the shore with a thud. The creature weakly pulled himself up, Izuku noticing his arm shaking slightly from the pain of his wound. The dual haired boy flashed him a rather dirty look. Izuku sighed with a peeved pout. He flatly pointed to his tail, then to the hill opposite the water. The creature’s eyes followed his hand, and his mismatched eyes widened slightly, finally making sense of his gestures. He sheepishly averted his gaze, making a few unintelligible syllables with his voice as the tension left his shoulders. After a moment, he composed himself, reluctantly offering his arms to the boy as his face hid itself. Izuku, thankful that he was trying to cooperate, couldn’t help but chuckle as he scooped the creature back into his grip.

“Oh come on, it’s not that embarrassing.”

 

The creature whipped at him with his tail once again, but this time much more lightly, only giving his arm a hefty tap. Well, he seemed to get the gist of that comment. The teen rolled his eyes with a faint grin, holding the creature to him as they slowly made their way up the hill.

 


 

Izuku gasped, collapsing on the bathroom floor. He’d always rather liked living on the river with the nice view and all. But now of all times, he’d never been quite so thankful for it. He leaned against the toilet, his weary arms falling limply between his legs as he watched the creature in the tub beside him. His hair was gently tossled by the early morning wind from the window behind them that they had snuck through. Yet, the other boy seemed much more preoccupied by the faucet before him. His mouth lay a gap as he watched the water flow from it, his tail flicking at the steady stream in curiosity while it slowly filled the tub around him. It relieved Izuku to see him not in any immediate danger; the wound was harsh to say the least, but thankfully not enough so that he was completely unable to move. 

 

“Izuku, honey! Breakfast is on the table. I’m gonna take a shower, so go ahead and eat, okay?”

 

Izuku froze as he glanced nervously between the door and the tub. Crap. He still hadn’t gotten a chance to tell her about- 

 

The boy scrambled to his feet, rushing to the door to lock it. But, it was too late. It flew open, smacking him in the nose. His mother barely made it a step into the room before letting out a scream, jumping back against the wall. She looked in floored shock between her son and the creature. She was screaming all the while as Izuku cradled his nose, trying to rest his free hand on her shoulder to calm her.

 

Mom! Mom it’s okay! I can explain!”

 

“Izuku?! IZUKU WHY IS THERE A MERMAN IN OUR HOUSE?!!!’

 

“Mom! He’s the thing on the river I was telling you about!! He’s hurt and he needed help!”

 

A loud splash rang out behind them, and Izuku glanced back at the tub. The merman’s eyes and torso were pinned flatly against the shower wall behind him, his eyes wide and tail flipping wildly in the rapidly overflowing tub below. His right shoulder was twitching slightly, and Izuku could tell it was hurting him. Panicking, he tried to pull back from his mother, attempting to calm him down. The panic woman's eyes darted between her son and the creature, her hand checking her son's reddened nose.

 

“It’s okay! She’s good! She’s going to help you-”

 

“IZUKU MIDORIYA.” 

 

The boy bit down on his tongue and winced, the merman’s tail suddenly going still. He sheepishly faced his mother as her hand pulled away. He prepared himself for the impending lecture. Her foot tapped heavily against the ground, her arms crossed and brow raised higher than he’d ever seen it.

 

“Mom, I would have called you to come. But...my phone died in the water and-”

 

“Your phone what-

 

“Mom, he’s hurt-” The boy boldly interjected, his eyes meeting his mother’s. “Please. I know I shouldn’t have snuck out. But I was worried, and...he needs us.”

 

The woman groaned, rubbing a hand over her temple. 

 

“If the marine center finds out we’ve taken a merperson out of the environment without permission, Izuku-”

 

“I know.”

 

“Even our facility isn’t technically licensed to work with their class of species outside of retrieval and-”

 

“Mom, please.”

 

The woman sighed, relenting as she glanced back up at her son and to the merman, still petrified against their shower wall. Izuku felt a tinge of guilt twist in his chest. He knew he was risking his mother's job bringing him here, and this wasn't exactly her specialty in her line of work. But he couldn't just wait until Monday for the boy to be rescued. His time in the river had clearly done enough damage, he wasn't willing to see what another two days would do to him. 

 

“Alright. But sometimes I don’t know what to do with you.”

 

“Thank you,” Izuku breathed a sigh of relief, leaning back against the sink. His mother paused for a moment, glancing down at the leaves clinging to his sticky, pale green legs. She let out an exasperated huff, looking back at her son. The teen bit down on his lower lip, adverting his gaze to the wall. 

 

“It was fine. No one saw, except for him.”

 

“That’s not what I’m worried about, Izuku, sweetie,” his mother returned. The boy timidly glanced back, pulling his arm into his side. His mother shook her head, giving her son's hand a gentle, reassuring squeeze before turning to the merman behind them. Izuku soundlessly watched her cautiously approach the boy, her movements slow and arms wide to show no harm. When the creature has finally stopped splashing his tail and began to calm, Izuku spoke again. 

 

“What are you gonna need?”

 

His mother took a few seconds to respond, waiting until the merman had let down his guard enough to slip back into the tub so she could turn off the faucet. “The first aid kit from downstairs, alcohol, and peroxide."

 

The boy nodded his head, and after retrieving them for his mother, let the two of them be upon her request.

 


 

9:07 am [deku]: hey

9:08 am [ochaco]: wow look who’s up late today? :O

9:08 am [deku]: haha ikr

9:09 am [ochacho]: ...u didn’t sleep again, did you?

9:10 am [deku]: >_<

9:10 am [ochaco]: DEKU

9:11 am [deku]: i wasn’t tired!

9:11 am [ochaco]: AGAIN????

9:12 am [deku]: i’ll take i nap i promise!!!

9:15 am [ochaco]: brb making the sleeptime tea :) get ready to pass out in t-minus 15 minutes

9:16 am [deku]: wait now isn’t a great time!!

9:17 am [ochaco]: nO YOU NEED TO SLEEP

9:18 am [ochaco]: omw

9:18 am [deku]: OCHACO PLS

 

Izuku groaned, throwing his phone across the bed as he buried his face into his pillow and let out a grunt of frustration. Truth be told, he probably could have passed out then and there if he wanted, but it was no use getting to his childhood friend once she'd made up her mind on something. Especially when she was convinced that the something was for his well-being. 

 

The teen dragged himself out of the house, curling himself into a chair on the porch as he waited for her to arrive. His vision blurred in and out, his mind half conscious when he finally saw a familiar bob of brunette bobbing along down the road. He let out a yawn, waving to her with a weary smile. She waved back, parking her bike against the usual pillar by the porch and skipped up the stairs, a small, wrapped box in hand. Izuku couldn’t help but smile softly, noticing a few wet stains here and there on the cloth. 

 

“Wow, that might be a new personal record.”

 

“Nah, my best time was seven months ago, by twenty-one seconds,” the girl chuckled and the boy playfully rolled his eyes, accepting the warm package from her. 

 

“Sorry, I’d let you in, but my mom’s dealing with a…”

 

He could here a faint yell from the other side of the house and he winced, giving Ochaco an apologetic smile.

 

“...work situation right now.”

 

The girl pause for a moment, inquisitively looking at the upstairs window before she waved her hand. “It’s fine. After all, I’m just here so you can sleep, anywa-”

 

Another shrill scream emulated from the upstairs bathroom and Izuku nervously rang his hand against the back of his neck. His friend flashed him a concerned look.

 

"Deku, is that someone screaming?"

 

"No-"

 

This time, another string of sounds rang out from above, more colorfully pronounced than the last.

 

"-maybe."

 

Ochaco gave him an astonished and acutely inquisitive look. 

 

The teen groaned, burying his face in his palm. If he told anyone about this, his mother might just have a heart attack on the spot. 

 

"It's...a long story."

 

The girl, keenly watching the stress etched on her friend's face. She reached forward, patting him on the shoulder. She didn't respond, but the boy could feel her gaze upon him, knowing his explanation had been little to quell her worry. 

 

"My mom is helping a family friend with a wound upstairs. I promise they're fine." 

 

 

“O-oh. I didn't know your mom was good with human injuries, too."

 

“She had a lot of practice with me growing up," the boy chuckled nervously, wearily leaning back against the door. The girl balanced impatiently on the balls of her feet, wringing her hands together as she watched him. She was still concerned. Izuku sighed, pushing against the door and reluctantly offering her inside as he ran a hand through his bangs. His mom would be upstairs for a little while longer most likely, and Ochaco had bought the story well enough. Besides, it didn't look like she had any intent on leaving until she finally was convinced he'd sleep.  

 

He waited for her to remove her shoes before carefully accompanying her to the kitchen table. His hands fumbled as he tried to set up the tea set, his mind torn between the occasional yells of the merman above and sleep deprivation. Ochaco quickly chimed in to help, helping pouring his cup for him- to which he bashfully thanked her. She gave a small nod, leaning in beside him as he took a long sip.

 

“I know I shouldn't be here long, I just wanna make you you get some rest for once in your life," she reassured with an apologetic look, glancing up at the stairs. "Just promise you won't fall asleep on the table this time, okay?"

 

Deku couldn't help but give a wry smile, chuckling under his breath as the steam from the hot liquid tickled his lip. 

 

“And don't stay here long enough for my mom to come down, okay? She loves you to death. But trust me, she's had a long morning."

 

“I just want you to take care of yourself, Deku," she reassured, leaning over to tuck a loose curl behind his ear, though he doubted it did little to improve its disheveled state.

 

"I wil-ill," he reassured, his voice stifled by a yawn. The concern in her eyes lightened ever so slightly, seeing the exhaustion starting to overtake him.

 

"You swear to me this time?" She persisted, giving him one last look as she pulled herself back up.

 

The boy gave a gentle smile and a weak nod, stumbling slightly as he made his way over to the living room couch. With that, the girl, much to his relief, finally left him in peace. 

 


 

The teen could only find an few hours of rest before the anxiety over took him over once more. The screams from above had finally ceased, and Izuku hoped in earnest that his mother had finished up stitching the merman's wound. As he groggily pulled himself into the kitchen, he found a note on the refrigerator:

 

"Izuku, 

Gone out to run some errands and pick up some

data at the UA Facility. PLEASE don't pick up any more

sea creatures while I'm gone.

Love, 

Mom"

 

Stuffing the note into his pocket, the boy tentatively glanced up at the flight of stairs down the hall. It was all still sinking in for him; there was a merman in their house. A living, breathing, merperson. It wasn't as if the existence of such creatures were unknown. If anything, it was quite the opposite. They were rare to the human eye, so much so that they had almost become legends in their own right. A few hundred years back, they had been a prized commodity, an exotic gift of sorts to nobility. There were even stories of a prince taking on one as a spouse, though any such rumors had no evidence behind them. Naturally, such relations had caused their colonies to move much further and deeper out to sea over time, protecting themselves from the greed and cruelty of humanity. It was illegal to even harbor a merperson nowadays without a legal permit; even his mother's rehabilitation facility only held the right to transport merpeople and mythical creatures out to the larger facilities by the ocean. After all, the idea of a mermaid traveling this far west was, to his knowledge, unprecedented. What need would they ever have for such a licence?

 

The weathered stairs creaked beneath Izuku's feet as he ascended. He paused for a moment, gently pressing his ear to the door of the bathroom. Silence. The boy took a deep breath, composing himself as he turned the knob.

 

On the other side lay the young man he'd saved, curled up and fast asleep in the dried tub. His wound had been stitched up rather neatly and his face lay peacefully against a towel his mother had placed for him. Izuku carefully crossed the room on his toes, careful not to disturb the creature. He gently knelt down beside the edge of the bathtub, curiously watching the young man. He'd never seen a merperson in real life before; no pictures in class had ever really captured how ethereal they truly were. Even his scales were something like out of a fairy tale; the left flickered like embers, a faint heat rising into the air as a chilly haze radiated from his right.

 

The boy sighed, leaning his cheek into his arm as he watched him. How were they going to do this? It's not like they could just leave the creature here in a freshwater tub until he could return home. There was his father's old shed on the river shore in the backyard. For as long as Izuku remembered, the floor had always been flooded several feet deep, enough that the merman could find more comfort there than in the house. And his mother had never really been too keen on fixing it up from the inside. But still...

 

He must have been muttering louder than he had realized, for the next time he glanced up, two weary, mismatched eyes were upon him. The teen shot up, immediately, backing away from the tub and wringing his hand over his arm sheepishly. 

 

“Oh, h-hey. Um, awake already?"

 

The creature gave a small nod.

 

“Awake."

 

Izuku looked down, his eyes narrowing as he noticed the young merman's arms quivering just slightly. Was he cold? The creature turned slightly, pulling the left side of his tail up to his chest, confirming his theory. The teen gave a soft chuckle, pulling away and rummaging though the cabinet to find another towel.

 

"Here, I can help with that." 

 

"...help?"

 

"Yeah, just- stay still."

 

The merman watched him inquisitively as he leaned over, letting the boy drape a long towel over his shoulders. Izuku tried to stay preoccupied, attempting not to notice how the chill of his cheek radiated onto his own. But as he pulled away, his knuckle brushed against a rather strangely textured gland between the merman's ear and jaw. The gesture caused the other boy to suddenly jerk around wildly. Izuku immediately jumped back, but not before getting another tail-smack to the face. The green haired boy held his cheek and sputtered out a string of apologies, leaning back into the toilet. The merman flashed him another dirty look. His face had turned scarlet red, the blush spreading down to his neck as he cradled the glance protectively.

 

"Do not. Touch."

 

"S-sorry! It won't happened again!' Izuku blurted, his hands flying into the air. The merman cautiously watched him for another moment before sinking back into the tub, his fingers still cupped over the edge of his jaw. Izuku cleared his throat, averting his gaze as he tried to clear the awkward air between them. He could still feel the other teen sulking across from him, his torso low in the bathtub, arms crossed and lips pursed. When Izuku finally worked up the bravery to look back at him, it took a hand to his mouth to stop a chuckle from escaping his lips. It was admittedly adorable. The creature gave a momentary sideways glance, his blush only brightening in the split second their eyes met. The teen lowered his arm, giving the merman a sincere smile.

 

"No touch. I promise," Izuku insisted. The other teen glanced back at him one more time, watching him wearily before finally giving a short nod, unfurling his arm from his torso. 

 

"Okay."

 

Feeling more at ease, the teen slipped back down off the toilet, plopping down cross-legged on the bathtub mat, his eyes at level with heterochromatic. 

 

"So...do you have a name?"

 

"Have...name?" The merman gave him a confused look. Izuku cleared his throat, putting his hand to himself to elaborate. 

 

"Midoriya."

 

He then outstretched his arm, pointing back at the creature with a tilt of his head. The merman's eyes lit up with understanding, and he pulled himself up in the tub, pointing his own hand to the center of his chest.

 

"Sh-"

 

He suddenly bit down on his lip, hesitating for a moment before continuing.

 

"Todoroki."

 

"To-dor-o-ki?" Izuku repeated back to him, trying to catch the pronunciation on his tongue. The merman's lips upturned faintly and he gave another nod. He pointed back to the green-haired teen in front of him.

 

"Mi-dor-i-ya?"

 

"You got it!" Izuku beamed, clapping his hands together. The faint grin on the merman's lips grew just a little wider. Izuku's hands fell back into his lap as his eyes met the boy's once more. The room fell silent as a thousand more questions ran through his head. How did Todoroki make it this far inland? How did he get hurt? How did he know a bit of his language? Why had he traveled so far from home? He bit on his cheek, knowing that he hadn't any way of fully expressing those words to the merman. He only snapped out of his gaze when he felt a strange whirlwind of cold and warm breath against his neck. His body stiffened, caught off guard.

 

"Um, everything okay there?"

 

The merman seemed to be examining him closely, though for what, Izuku had no clue. His hands ghosted over his neck, though he noticed that the merman was exceedingly careful not to make actual contact with him.

 

"Al-pha...?" 

 

Just as the words slipped from his lips, the bathroom door creaked behind them. The green haired teen heard a slam of a bag on the counter, followed by a gasp from his mother. She immediately snatched the hand towel from the sink and gave the merman a soft whap across the face with it.

 

"Oh, no! Don't you look at my son like that!"

 

The creature immediately slunk back into the tub away from Izuku, giving the woman a culpable look. She wagged her finger at him, hand firmly on her hip.

 

"No."

 

The merman gave a meek nod, pulling himself as far away as he could from the two of them and adverting his eyes. He pointed a shy finger back at her son, his voice muffled beneath his arm.

 

"...did...it...first."

 

"Wait what?"  Izuku gawked, having not the slightest clue what either of them were on about.

 

"Don't give me that, Mr.!" Inko scolded, tossing the towel back onto the sink. The merman gave another small nod, surrendering the battle. Izuku's mother sighed, pulling the loose hairs back from over her forehead as her attention turn to her confused son. 

 

 "Izuku, sweetie, you friend Ochaco called to check on you. Why don't you go catch up with her, and I'll finish up in here.” She took note to glare back at the merman, still hiding himself as she drew out the last few words. 

 

"It's okay, Mom. I can take care of-"

 

"Go."

 

Izuku gulped, not one to mess with his mother when that rare, but downright ominous, look showed up in her eye. He gave a curt nod, glancing one last time at the sulking merman in the corner before skittering out of the room. 

 


 

The phone barely rang once before the girl picked up, and she made haste to talk. 


"Deku?! How'd the nap go?"

 

The boy sat huddled, knees to his chest as his body remained at the wills of his ever-rotating desk chair. He gave a soft smile, tucking his phone between his ear and his shoulder as he pulled his laptop into his lap and opened the screen.

 

"Pretty well, actually. That tea of yours is really something else."

 

"Secret family recipe," she replied with a proud giggle. "So...is your mom's friend doing any better?"

 

Izuku paused for a moment as he stared back at his computer, the words 'merperson anatomy' typed out into the search box on his screen. He pressed enter. "Yeah...yeah she got him all patched up. And she seems a little less stressed, too. Marginally."

 

"So, like, what happened?" 

 

Deku's eyes narrowed as his mouse hovered over the second link- 'The Three Subgenders of Merfolk.’

 

"Huh? Oh, uh, boating accident or something?"

 

"A boating accident?"

 

"I'm not sure exactly, I didn't really ask too much into it."

 

"Uh-huh," Ochaco replied, a tinge of doubt in her voice. "Izuku, what are you doing right now?"

 

"Oh. I'm...I'm just looking something up."

 

"Looking what up?"

 

"Merfolk anatom-"

 

Izuku immediately bit his tongue, his face set ablaze at the three diagrams before him.

 

"Wait, what?" the girl's voice screeched into this ear, causing the boy to pull the phone away from his ear for a few seconds. 

 

"Look, in- um- in my defense. I've looked up weird...er..." The boy's body jolted as he scrolled in on the pictures, having to slam his computer screen shut.

 

"...anatomy? Really?Ochaco flatly scolded him.

 

"What?! No, not that kind of anatomy!"

 

"Sure."

 

"I'm, look, um-"

 

Deku stared down as his closed laptop before leaning back in his chair, throwing an arm over his eyes. His mother was going to freak if she found out. But he desperately needed advice right now. And Ochaco was probably the most trustworthy friend he had by a long shot. 



"- um, can you come over late tonight? I need an adult."

 

"Um, Deku, I'm not an adult."

 

"I need a semi-adult."

 

"Oh my gosh," Ochaco sighed. "Fine, fine, what time?"

 

"2 a.m."

 

"TWO A-"

 

"Please, my mom cannot know you're here. But I need to show you something." 

 

Chapter Text

For a retired man, Yagi Toshinori was admittedly a rather busy person. On Mondays, he’d do voice interviews, Tuesdays and Wednesdays he’d be in his studio, recording voice work. Thursdays were saved for appointments with his doctor- checking his vitals, assuring that the rate of his disease was in decline- or at least, stagnant for the time being. Fridays were dedicated to responding to fan letters and rehearsing lines for the next week. But the weekends- now, those were the days Toshinori looked forward to most. Those were the days when he could slip away from the beach house that had confined him nearly every other day the past three years. Those were the days when he could take his old little fishing boat off into the seas, traveling where and when he pleased across the horizon. He could enjoy the crisp salty air on his pale face, his sunken eyes bathing in the warm sunlight. Those were the days he was truly free.

 

Life hadn't always been like that for the actor; he was once the crowned king of cinema. Nearly every room in his home was stacked with dust-coated trophies from film after film, closets filled with kind letters from fans he'd read ten times over, but couldn't bring himself to throw away. Once he had been known as All-Might: Merking of the High Seas, and for many years, of all his roles, it had been his most beloved and well-known. But nothing was ever built to last forever. Nowadays, the man found himself confined to doing voice work from his home for advertisements and animated shows. It broke his heart to let his fans see how his illness had taken him- to him, it was not worth the risk.  Yet, there were a few who had come to know him in his weathered state, and they had stayed close to him through it all. The first was his old director of the Merking films, Gran Torino (or as he knew him, Sorahiko). He was perhaps even more diligent than even Toshinori's own doctor was in concerns to his well-being, calling him nearly every night. Secondly, was the Midoriya family. The son had hunted him down in the middle of the store for an autograph some years ago, back in his prime when he'd been in town visiting Sorahiko. The boy had ended up saving him in the parking lot, pushing him out of the way of a moving car with a broken leg as a result. Since that day, he had become close to both him and his mother, both having been confidants for him- perhaps family, even- in recent years. But lastly was another friend, the reason why Toshinori looked forward to these fishing trips at the end of every week.

 

The first time he'd notice him, it had been about four years ago, before the illness had set it. He was on a fishing trip in his new boat, taking a few days off after the press premiere of his latest Merking film at the insistence of Sorahiko. Toshinori had never really been one for solitude, though, and he had found himself half asleep on deck, his hands loosely wrapped around his fishing pole when he felt a hard tug. It startled him, knocking over his chair as he quickly snatched the pole back before the ocean could claim it. He reeled in the line, pulling up as hard as he could. He was no experienced fisherman, but this thing must have been a beast.  Yet, what splashed out over the railing onto the deck, the man had been anything but prepared to see. One would think, for an actor that had spent the last near two decades the starring lead in the most lucrative mermaid film series of all time, he wouldn't have been so utterly floored to see a merperson flopping around on the ground before him. But here he was, gawking in utter disbelief. He'd never seen such a creature in person before; were they all this small? The actor tentatively took a step forward as he watched the poor creature wretch out in fear and in pain, a fishing hook lodged into the side of his tail. When the creature failed to calm himself, Toshinori mustered all the bravery he could find before lurching forward, yanking out the hook in one swift movement. The creature finally stilled, fearful, mismatched eyes meeting the man's own. His face was small and round; he must have been a child, no older than twelve at most.

 

The boy's chest heaved heavily, watching the man's every move. Unsure of what to do, the man stepped back, only able to look at the boy in awe. Finding his moment to escape, the merboy hoisted himself up by his arms, throwing himself back over the deck. 

 

Toshinori assumed that it would be the last he would ever see of the child. After all, one was lucky enough to even see a glimpse of a merperson once in their lifetime. And so, he was most surprised to find a familiar bob of red and white floating behind his boat the following day on the trip back home. He never came to the surface, but he always stayed a few feet away, watching him from the depths below. His form only disappeared when the view of the shore came into site.

 

Perhaps it was curiosity that led the man to the ocean again that following week, and the week after that. But each time was the same; the boy would always follow his boat wherever it went, each time following it a little closer to the land. As the trips became a weekly occurrence, the boy's bravery grew. He would begin to poke his head above the water, cooing and making unintelligible noises back to Toshinori, as if trying to talk to him. The man would begin to bring him any sort of seafood he could find, tossing a piece overboard for the boy each trip. Over time, he learned what to bring and what not to; the child hated salmon with a burning passion (he'd thrown it back on the deck as soon as the actor had given it to him), but he adored crab and tilapia. But it was always Toshinori's lunch he seemed interested in the most.  

 

Yet, as the illness began to take Toshinori, he found his energy not what it used to be, confined mostly to the chair on the deck on those weeks he could find the strength to come out. It had been a rather cold night when it happened, his withering form shivering beneath a blanket on the deck. He awoke to a loud splash, opening his eyes to find the merboy flopping on the floor once more. Panicking, the man tried to rise to his feet, but only succeeded in sinking back into his seat. But when he looked back into the merboy's eyes, they were no longer filled with fear; they glistened with empathy and kindness toward him. The boy hoisted his body up, crawling up to the actor. Toshinori watched in awe as the scales of his left side began to glow like embers. The boy wrapped his body around the chair, his left side close as heat radiated up toward the man. Toshinori's eyes softened, weakly reaching over to pat the child on the head.



"Thank you, my boy."


After that, there was hardly a trip when the merchild wouldn't find himself on deck. He began bringing shells and trinkets from the watery depths for the man, and in turn, Toshinori began to teach him his language. He was quick and eager to learn; anything that Toshinori brought up about the human world would cause the boy's eyes to light up with innocent fascination.  He loved looking at pictures of land and people, learning how they moved and lived; he hated that awful poster of Toshinori in a CGI tail. (The actor still thought he looked fantastic, regardless.) The man had only seen such a passionate look in one other boy, and a nostalgic smile crept across his face as he watched the teen.

 

"Fam-i-ly?" The merman asked inquisitively, watching the actor as he paused on a picture in the album he'd been showing him, lost in thought. 

 

Toshinori chuckled softly, shaking his head. "No, just friends. Close friends." Though, deep down, he knew that wasn't completely true. 

 

"I see," the teen softly replied, his eyes settling on the wide-eyed boy in the picture. Toshinori grinned, watching the teenager out of the corner of his eye.

 

"He's like you, you know."

 

The merman blinked, glancing up at the man.

 

"Passionate, stubborn, dedicated. Though much more talkative. But he sure does have a habit for getting himself into trouble, much like someone else I know.”

 

The teen cocked his head to the side, trying to understand his words. Toshinori chuckled. "I think the two of you would get along."

 

They spent the rest of the afternoon going through the rest of his album before the man pulled out the usual well-worn language book, flipping to the earmarked page and teaching the teen a couple new words. He had always been a quick learner; he was sure that in a few months time, he'd be nearly fluent in oral language, with his dedication. It was only when the light started to dim that he had realized how much time had passed. The man looked up, watching the sun lowering on the horizon. 

 

"It's almost sunset. You should return to your family, Shouto."

 

"Home," the merman muttered softly, his eyes tearing away in dejection. Toshinori's heart twisted. It was like this every week for the boy, but he couldn't let him stay. They both knew that.

 

With a little effort, he stood back up, accompanying the boy to the edge of the boat. He rested a hand on the merman's shoulder, giving him a promise through his gaze.

 

"I'll see you again next week. Don't get yourself in too much trouble, okay?"

 

The creature remained silent but gave a small nod to the man, longing in his eyes. The merman waited a little while, as if hoping his answer would change. But just like every week, Toshinori could only shake his head, and back into the watery depths he went. He gave a wave that the boy could not see from behind, only turning away when his reflection had faded beneath the waves. 

 

Yet, when Toshinori came upon the ocean that next weekend, only solitude and the sound of seagulls in the distance greeted him. As they did for the following week, and the week after.

 

For next week never came. 

 


 

The boy pulled his tail closer against his chest, hoping the swirl of cold and heat could distract himself from the pain that radiated through his entire body. He was exhausted from limb to limb; and he knew it would only be a mere few hours before his father would pull himself back into the training hall once again, after the meeting was over. Such was the life of being the crown prince of the Central Kingdom. The perfect life his father had built for him. Gone were the days when that title had been gifted to his elder brother, gone were the days when his mother had been there to comfort him, chanting her magic as the cool of her tail fins helped ease the sores and pains away. But he could not sleep, could not even rest, despite the pain.

 

"Hey."

 

The teen jolted slightly at the familiar sound, the wave of his tail shoving a few pieces of seaweed from his bed. He pulled himself up with as much of his strength as he could muster, finding his betrothed at the foot of his cavern.

 

"Yaoyorozu..." he groggily whispered as she floated her way across the room. The concern in her eyes dissipated for a moment as she gave him a gentle smile, extending a hand and helping him up into a proper position.

 

"I've told you," she whispered, helping him steady himself. "Call me Momo."

 

A blush spread across the merman's cheeks, and he averted his gaze, speaking through gritted teeth.



"We're not married yet, Yaoyorozu."

 

"I'm asking as a friend, Shouto. For old time's sake."

 

The boy eyed her from his peripheral vision with a dirty look, to which she rolled his eyes. She was always like this, always trying to go back to the good old days when they were children, before his life had changed and his brother had run away. The days when they could live care free. But those times had long since passed between them. 

 

"Are you well enough for a swim?" She asked quietly, her voice almost a pleading whisper. 

  

Shouto hesitated. Every part of him ached and cramped. But there was only so often he could escape the castle nowadays, even to see the friendly fisherman on the surface. He finally relented and gave her a short nod. He followed her lead out of the cavern into the corridors of the palace. The Queen of the Southern Kingdom had come that week to make final arrangements with her daughter for their children's wedding. As such, the royal guards had been focused on fortifying the throne chamber while the meeting commenced. Thankfully, it meant that the two teenagers were able to escape the castle, weaving their way through the coral pillars with ease without fear of being caught. 

 

The sound of his childhood friend's giggling made it impossible for him to fend off a faint smile upon his lips as they finally made it out of the palace courtyard, floating into a back alley of the surrounding city. He quickly hid it though as she turned to face him, nodding her head towards the alley and beckoning him to follow. The two moved slowly between the tall mounds of colorless coral, swimming a fair distance before Shouto worked up the bravery to speak, if in hushed whispers. 

 

"What has you in such a good mood Mo....Yaoyorozu?" He whispered, his tongue faltering on the last word. They weren't children anymore.

 

The girl paused, her long crimson and ebony tail twirling as she turned to face her friend. There was joy in her eyes, despite his solemn attitude.

 

"It finally happened, Shouto. I'm going to be free."

 

The boy blinked in confusion. The girl gave another soft laugh as she took his hands into her own. He quickly pulled them away, but it did little to deter her excitement. 

 

"Kyoka and I are bonded, Shouto."

 

The merman gaped in shock. "Momo, you didn't."

 

She watched her childhood friend, taken back by his reaction.

 

"She was banished to the Northern Wilds, Momo. You'll be arrested for-"

 

"-for bonding with a mermaid marked by human contact?"

 

"Yes. You know that."

 

The mermaid chuckled, shaking her head. 



"I do know the punishment, Shouto. And it doesn't matter what our kingdoms think; she only contacted humans because they rescued her. She would have died if they hadn't healed her."

 

"I know. And I'm not judging either of you for that. It's just..." Should bit on his lip and glanced up at the distance surface above. "I've seen my father's wrath- what he did to other merpeople who fraternized with humanity. I had to watch what he did to the Human Sleeper with my own to eyes. I just-" His eyes meandered back to Momo. "I want you to be safe."

 

"I know you do," the mermaid replied softly, pressing her hand to her chest. "Shouto, that's why I want you to come with me, to the Northlands. We can escape all of this. We don't have to be-"

 

"Momo, I can't," the boy replied firmly. His mind flashed back to the fisherman's loving- almost fatherly- smile, the warmth of the sun of the floor of the boat and the pictures of all those smiling human faces he'd shown him. There was still so much of the human world left that he wanted to see, that he wanted to learn. The Northlands were too far from the land, farther than any one mermaid could swim alone. If he ran now...he would never see the upper world again. His shoulders deflated and he let out a shiver, bubbles escaping his lips. He shut his eyes, shaking his head. "I just...I can't."

 

"Shouto..." He could feel her soft hand on his shoulder, but he dared not open his eyes.

 

"Do you want to be a king, Shouto? You're an omega. Your body isn't meant to take the physical strain your dad is training you for."

 

"I know that. I want to run away. I just...not there. Not like Touya did."

 

"It's really not that bad, Shouto. It might be deep down, but the people there are-"

 

"I'm sorry," the merman returned, pulling away. His friend reluctantly held her arm out for a moment before pulling it back into her chest.

 

"Shouto, is this about the surface world again?"

 

The words hit the young man like a boulder to the chest, his blood beginning to boil. "That's none of you busine-"

 

"It is if you get caught, Shouto! You lecture me about running off with a mermaid that came into contact with humans by accident. And you're going out of your way to see them! I'd been imprisoned and banished for my crimes. You'd..."

 

"It's been four years, Yaoyorozu," Shouto pointedly shot back, his eyes narrowing defensively. "If he hasn't caught me yet, he won't."

 

"Are you really that desperate to see their world? Are you really so willing to die?" 

 

"I won't let him control me. And I won't give up everything just running away from him to the Northlands."

 

"Shouto, please," Momo begged, her voice quivering.

 

"I can't," the merman returned, his voice hard and cold. He averted his gaze, unable to look at his childhood friend any longer. 

 

"I...I see." She gave a heavy gulp and a shaky sigh, giving up the fight.

 

"W-well just know. We'll always be there if you change your mind, okay?"

 

"Be safe, Yaoyorozu."

 

The girl swam forward, giving her old friend one last embrace before letting go.

 

"You too, Shouto."

 

When the young man finally gained the strength to look up once more, it was all too late; she was gone. 

 


 

 

It was at precisely two a.m. when Izuku heard the familiar rat-tat-tat on his window, and he flew out of bed so quickly that his comforter ended up knocking over his desk chair. The boy winced, waiting idly in silence for a moment to ensure that it had not stirred his mother before he crept to the window. He carefully unlocked the latch and pulled up the sash, peaking his head outside. Beside him was Ochaco, hanging between the gutter and the window sill. The girl tried to smile and give a small wave but was cut short and stifled a yelp as she slipped a few inches down the gutter. Quick on his feet, Izuku leaned forward and caught her, pulling her inside. The two of them tumbled onto the floor, and again the boy frozen, listening for any sound. There was only one- a distant splash from the bathroom. 

 

Izuku let out a deep sigh of relief, sprawling his limbs across the floor. Ochaco leaned up against the wall beside him, pulling her messenger bag from her shoulder. With a huff, she glanced down at her friend, tucking a bang behind her ear as she composed herself.

 

"Okay, so. Why exactly did you get me to come over here at two a.m. in the morning? And also, why are we hiding stuff from your mom again?"

 

The thought 'because there's a merman that's illegally in my tub and also checking me out as a potential mate' was the first explanation that came into Izuku's head, thought he immediately banished it for the time being. He stretched, pulling himself back up and offering her a hand. 

 

"So, um, do you remember that thing I've been seeing in the river all week during crew practice?"

 

"Um, you mean the reason why Bakugou has been ranting to me every night? No, not at all."

 

The boy rubbed a hand over the back of his neck, giving her an apologetic look. "Yeah, sorry about that."

 

He cleared his throat, taking his laptop from his desk and tucking it under his arm as he beckoned her to follow. 

 

"So, um, the good news is that I'm not crazy after all."

 

The girl raised an inquisitive brow at him, removing her mud-ridden shoes and tucking them beneath the bed as he slowly creaked open the door.

 

"The bad news is that my mom might get arrested because of me if anyone finds out."

 

"Wait, what?"  The girl hissed, trying her best to keep her composure.

 

Izuku nervously bit the inside of his cheek, glancing down the hall.

 

"Just...follow me. And promise you won't freak out, okay?"

 

"Deku, what did you do?"

 

The boy took her hand, dragging her to the bathroom door. He gave it a tight squeeze, flashing his friend a pleading look. 

 

"Just promise, okay? You're the only other person I can trust about this."

 

The girl searched his gaze for a moment before finally relenting, a quiet sigh escaping her lips. 


"Okay."

 

The boy took a deep breath, clasping her hand as he turned the knob. He paused for a moment, the thought dawning upon him as he glanced back at her. 

 

"Just stay here until I say it's safe, okay?"

 

He pulled open the bathroom door, which gave an unforgivably loud and drawn out squeak. He heard a soft splash and was immediately met with a familiar pair of heterochromatic eyes. A large bandage had been wrapped around the merman's torso, keeping the water from penetrating his healing wound. He blinked, watching the boy enter before his eyes shifted to the doorway. Todoroki could already sense Ochaco standing behind it. To be honest with himself, Izuku figured he'd probably known she was there since she'd come through the window.  He opened his laptop, setting it on the toilet seat as he gave the merman a small wave.

 

"H-hey there, Todoroki. You don't sleep much, do you?"

 

The merman's eyes were still plastered on the door and the teen sighed. Well, there was no point in holding it off any longer. 



"Okay, Ochaco. It's safe to come in."

 

The girl entered the room cautiously. Her jaw fell. Her hand slipped on the door knob as it closed behind her, and she took in the sight in front of her. Ochaco looked back between Todoroki and Izuku speechlessly, unable to find the words to say. The merman watched her curiously, but with caution, sinking deeper into the tub; only his long tail and eyes stuck out above the porcelain edge.  

 

"Deku? What the heck."

 

Izuku groaned, drawing his hands over his face.

 

"I know. I found him in the river last night and he was hurt and I panicked." 

 

The girl rubbed into her temples, her hand tucked beneath her armpit. "You've got to be kidding."

 

"Look, I know this is insane but-"

 

"How you you guys going to be able to take care of a freaking merman?!" The girl hissed back, her hand gesturing back at the creature.

 

"That's what we're trying to figure out!" Izuku returned defensively, fighting to keep his voice low.

 

Ochaco groaned, her hand dragging down her cheeks as she stared back at the merman, who was still peering at her from the edge of the tub. 

 

"Well, I guess two a.m. is a good a time as any," she mumbled, flashing her friend a flat expression. She took another long pause to finish digesting the situation before giving a hefty huff, pulling herself back into a more optimistic demeanor. "Okay, so. What is the game plan?”

 

The tension in Izuku’s shoulders lightened, and he leaned back against the wall behind him.

 

"Remember that old shack in our backyard?"

 

"Yeah, I miiiight of ran into it on the way here."

 

"Wait wha-"

 

"I forgot a flashlight. Everything’s fine. Continue."

 

"Um, okay. Yeah, so. Like, it's really flooded. So I was thinking we could keep him in there until he's w-"

 

"-ell enough to swim home!" Ochaco slammed her fist in her hand, her eyes lighting up. "Okay, yeah! We'd just need to sneak him out when everyone's asleep once his wound starts healing."

 

"Yeah, that's what I was thinking!" Izuku beamed back, nodding his head. He put a finger to his chin, glancing down at the laptop on the toilet. 

 

"But that's only half the problem. The thing is, I need to figure out how to take care of him. I tried looking up merperson anatomy and diet earlier but it um-" The boy coughed. "It got rather complicated." 

 

"Wait, doesn't you mom work at the rehab facility? Why don't you ask her?"

 

The teen sighed, sliding down onto the floor as he opened his laptop. "That's the thing. Mermaids are only native to ocean habitats. She seemed to know a bit but...she probably doesn't know much more than the basics because of it. And um..." Izuku could feel his cheeks lighting up as he unlocked his computer. "There might have been an anatomy situation earlier and she freaked out a bit."

 

"Huh?"

 

"It's...let me show you."

 

Ochaco pulled herself down beside him, her shoulder leaning against his as she peaked over to look at his screen. Izuku pulled up the link he'd been reading through earlier, tilting his computer so she could get a better view. 

 

"So I was doing some research earlier, and it looks like their gender classification is way different than ours." He pointed to the screen, scrolling through each diagram as he explained. "So the population is- strictly biologically speaking- about fifty percent male and fifty percent female. Estimated, at least."

 

"Okay."

 

"But it gets a bit more complicated than that. There's these subgenders called alpha, beta, and omega. Females can be both alpha and omega- each making up about twenty five percent of the population. They can both reproduce, but only with males. Omega females have a sensory gland between their jaw and ear, while alphas have one in their lower back."

 

"So," Ochaco asked, peaking back at the merman behind them. "What about the guys?"

 

Izuku took a heavy breath, scrolling farther down the page as he continued to read. "Based on limited data, alpha males are hypothesized to make up ten percent of the populace, and are distinguished by their unique...anatomy while mating. They are also characteristic for their dominate and possessive behavior. Research on beta males has concluded that they take up a little over thirty nine percent of the estimated population; this subspecies is reported to have the closest behavior and anatomy to that of a typical human male. And then...there's omegas."

 

Izuku jolted as water sprinkled across the back of his laptop. As he quickly rubbed moisture off with the hem of his shirt, another few droplets fell onto his head. The boy looked up to find the merman hoisting himself high above the edge of the bathtub, leaning over as far as he could to get a look at the screen. Ochaco giggled, playfully poking her friend’s shoulder.



"I think you got his attention."

 

If his cheeks weren't already bright red, Izuku was positive they were ablaze by now. He held the laptop to the side, giving Todoroki a nervous look. 



"H-hey! Please be careful, I can't afford another one of these."

 

The merman only blinked back at him and Izuku groaned, his shoulders deflating.

 

"Why don't you just turn the screen so he can see it, too?" Ochaco suggested, pulling on the sleeve of his shirt and bringing him back against the tub. Izuku shivered, feeling a mixture of warm and cold air against the back of his neck. Of course, of all things, he would be interested in this. 

 

"Okay, so anyways," he paused for a minute, making sure that nothing else was being dripped on before continuing. "Omega males are considered the rarest of all the subspecies in the merpopulace. Only three unique encounters have been recorded, and the subspecies is believed to take up less than one percent of the population. Research on anatomy has shown that they are the most unique of their kind; while outwardly presenting as male, this subspecies has the ability to both serve as a male or female recipient in reproduction, and is reported to have a sensory gland of similar size, purpose, and location as omega females. While studies have been limited, observed interactions have shown a sense of prestige towards these specimens. It appears that these creatures are highly regarded in their own society for their rarity and transitional reproductive capabilities."

 

Izuku sighed, closing his eyes as he pushed his laptop away. He leaned his head back against the edge of the bathtub, only to find Todoroki still peering above, his nose inches from his. The teen's heart leapt into this throat and he let out a yelp, sitting back up and accidentally knocking the merman in the nose. The merman returned the sound, clutching his nose and receding to the other side of his tub. Izuku groaned in defeat, burying his hands into his forehead as his fingers pulled at his bangs. 

 

Ochaco stifled a laugh as she observed the two of them. She watched as Todoroki looked away from them, his own cheeks slightly red as his gland exposed itself beneath his jaw.

 

"So he's rare?"

 

Izuku nodded, still sheepishly hiding beneath the veil of his hands. "Yeah. I accidentally touched it when I was trying to give him a towel earlier, and he slapped me in the face with his tail."

 

The girl bite down a laugh, and Izuku flashed her an unamused look between his fingers.

 

"Well, at least it seems like he forgave you for it," she chimed, patting him on the back.

 

"Yeah, I know...he started checking my neck out afterward..." he grumbled, combing his bangs back over his scalp through his fingers.  He hesitated, deciding it was best if he left the little 'alpha' bit of the story out.

 

Ochaco gasped, giving her friend a giddy look. His eyes widened as he realized what she was asking behind that look, and Izuku could feel his face heating up all over. He hid his cheeks behind his forearm, despite knowing the attempt was futile. He could feel the faint tickle of an icy, silky fin against his shoulder. He did his best to ignore it. 

 

"I'm only teasing you," the girl reassured, reaching over to gently pull the teen's hands from his beet red face. Izuku groaned, giving her a small pout, to which she returned a reassuring smile. Her eyes drifted to his laptop and she took it from the floor, pulling it into her lap as she attempted to change the subject. 

 

"Okay, so did you already look up what he needs to eat?"

 

Izuku nodded, his vision subconsciously drifting back to the teen behind him. "Yeah, mostly seafood. But they're omnivorous, and they can eat pretty much anything we can. Except dairy." 

 

"Roger that," Ochaco nodded, typing into the keyboard. "What about health needs? How long can they stay in fresh water? Can they stay in fresh water?"

 

"I...couldn't find anything on that," Izuku admitted, his heart picking up speed as his eyes met Todoroki's intense gaze. The merman relaxed slightly, pulling back towards him. Izuku instinctively gave a nervous, lopsided smile back. The other teen's eyes grew a little softer, his tail flicking in the water as he wordlessly watched him. 

 

"Okay, what about-" Ochaco gasped, a small splash of water hitting the back of her scalp. She flipped around, glaring at the two of them. Izuku immediately pull himself back from the tub as Todoroki gave an innocent, blank look. The girl rolled her eyes as the two of them, closing the laptop.

 

"So," she dragged her fingers through her hair, attempting to fix it as she rose to her feet. "I think our next plan should be preparing the shed for him. When's the next time your mom's out of town?"

 

"This Wednesday, I think? She has a conference by the coast." The boy pondered, giving the merman a small wave as they headed out of the bathroom. Todoroki watched them silently, Izuku pretending not to notice his ever-present eyes upon him as he closed the door.

 

Ochaco nodded, waiting to speak until they had safely returned to his bedroom. "Alright then, it looks like we have a plan."

 

 

 

Chapter Text

"Remember, feed him at least three times a day. He's still growing, so his appetite comes very quickly. And do not put him into that shed for at least another day, okay? I just removed the stitches, but he needs a little more time to heal. And-"

 

"Mom. We're going to be fine," Izuku reassured with a bemused smile, handing her raincoat over. "Just drive safe to the station, okay?" 

 

The woman took a drawn breath, eyeing her son one final time before giving him a tight hug. The teen let out a muffled groan, his arms aching slightly at the strength of her grasp. 

 

"Take care of yourself, sweetie. I'll be back next week."

 

"You too, Mom," Izuku returned, opening the door for her. He waved goodbye, only closing it once her car had backed out of the driveway. He leaned against the door with a heavy sigh, relief settling into his bones. He listened against the rain for a prolonged moment, waiting for the sound of her engine to fade off into the distance before bolting up the stairs, throwing open his bedroom door.

 

"Okay, we're clear!" 

 

Ochaco glanced up at him from his bed with a slightly embarrassed blush sprinkled across her cheeks, tucking her phone back into her pocket. The boy raised a curious brow at her but did not question any further as she slunk off the bed. She pulled her raincoat on, tucking her boots beneath her arm, waiting to slip into them until they'd reached the back door. Izuku pulled his own hood up as he led the way, and the two headed out toward the shed on the shore of the murky river bank.

 

For as long as Izuku could remember, it had sat dilapidated at the edge of their backyard. His mother never seemed to use it, yet she insisted there was no reason for it to be taken down, occasionally fixing up patches here and there whenever a particularly bad storm challenged its integrity. He had always assumed it had been out of nostalgia for his late father, though for what he'd ever actually used it for, he hadn't the slightest clue. 

 

A sly grin found its way upon the teen's face as he noticed a small dent in one of the storm pipes trailing to the ground. He glanced over at Ochaco as she looked away to feint innocence, though the bruise on her arm was still on full display. He cleared his throat, bringing her to the weathered wooden entrance opposite of the water. 

 

"Watch your step, the water gets deep pretty quickly," he warned, pulling the door out toward them.

 

Inside was just as he had remembered. It was a strange little shack. The flooding only truly started a third of the way into the room, and the water was encapsulated by a think line of muddy dirt around the edges of the space. It was almost like a natural pool; size aside, it would be perfect for Todoroki once they'd patched it up. The walls of the shack were lined with buckets on hooks and shelves, a rusted ladder leaning against the right wall. There was even a moldy, old mattress laying against the back corner of the room, a long forgotten wheelchair folded up beside it. Ochaco scrunched her nose when she saw the mattress, pulling out two pairs of gloves from her messenger bag as she knelt down on the ground.

 

"Okay first things first, we really need to get rid of that thing."

 

Izuku's stomach churned at the thought of having to touch the mattress. But he swallowed down the thoughts, doing his best to ignore the stench as he helped her carry the old thing to the driveway. The rain continued to pour down on them relentlessly, but the two did their best to keep up the conversation over the belligerent cries of thunder overhead. 

 

"So I talked to Bakugou. He said he might be able to help us with the salt situation."

 

"O-oh.The teen squeaked, nearly losing his grip on the mattress. He'd know the boy for most of his life, and if he'd come to recognize one thing, it was that talking to Bakugou rarely led down a good path. At least for him, anyways. 

 

"I told him it was for a science project we were working on."

 

"Ochaco," Izuku murmured, helping her toss the ruined mattress onto the pavement. "Bakugou had that class last semester. He's gonna know something is up."

 

"Well," the brunette huffed, pushing her wet bangs away from her eyes. "He still works at that bakery downtown, so he's our best bet getting out hands on that much salt. Three point five percent you said, right?"

 

"Yeah," Izuku replied begrudgingly, his sneaker skidding against a puddle as they made their way back to the shack. "Did...did he agree to it?"

 

"Tentatively, but yes," Ochaco sighed, drawing the door in behind them. "I owe him a few favors, but he said it should be in by tonight."

 

"Okay," Izuku worriedly mumbled, hanging his coat up by the door. It wasn’t exactly like the kid to do anyone a favor, or let alone him of all people. Thankfully, by some miracle unbeknownst to his understanding, his childhood friend seemed to have a rather cathartic effect on the blonde. Yet still, the whole situation made the freckled teen’s stomach sit uneasily. It was risky letting anyone else into the house- probably too risky. The girl watched him as he subconsciously mumbled to himself. Catching the hesitancy in his voice, she grabbed his arm, giving it a gentle squeeze.

 

"I won't let him find out. I promise."

 

The boy glanced back up at her, meekly nodding his head. Ochaco couldn't help but let out a small chuckle, her hand tracing over the length of his forehead as she pulled back the wet tangle of bangs plastered upon it. 

 

"It's gonna be alright, Deku. You've got your mom and you've got me. We're gonna help you through this."

 

"That's what I'm worried about. I don't want to drag you guys down if something goes wrong."

 

"Hey, don't regret asking for help, okay? That's what friends are for." The brunette leaned in, giving him a loose hug. She glanced up at the rusted tin roof, listening to the rain hammer down upon it from above.

 

"I'm gonna take it that crew is canceled this afternoon?”

 

"But theater practice isn't," he reminded her with a faint, thankful smile. 

 

"Trying to get me out already?" Ochaco chuckled, nudging his shoulder as she reached for a broom in the far corner of the shack. 

 

"Never," the boy smiled, nudging her back with his foot as she trotted by. "I just don't want to be the reason you're late again."

 

The girl gave a nonchalant toss of her hand before returning to her work. "It's mostly the core cast rehearsing today, so I highly doubt I'll be missed."

 

Izuku rolled his eyes, letting her have her way. "Okay, what ever you say."

 

He bent over the water, investigating it as his finger cautiously traced the surface. It was rather dreary looking; if he'd had to have guessed, it had been at least a good decade it had been sitting there- at the very least. 

 

"How are we gonna drain this thing?" She asked, leaning the broom handle over her shoulder. She glanced back at her friend, who was busy kicking off his converse by the wall and adjusting his gloves. 

 

"Mom mentioned something about a pipe that leads out to the river from in here. It's probably clogged, so if I can just get down to it-“

 

"Deku," Ochaco shot back, grabbing his arm as he shrugged of his raincoat, letting it fall to the ground. "You are not going down there."

 

"It'll just take a second, I promise," the boy reassured.

 

"Deku!" The girl tried to stop him, but it was too late. The freckled teen pulled away from her grasp and dove under the murky water without another moment's notice. When he opened his eyes, he found the world beneath surprisingly clear- though it left a faint sting dragging down his skin. It only took a moment for him to locate the pipe in the back of the pool, and he glided his way over with ease. He could still hear Ochaco's muffled voice scolding him from the world above- getting ever louder- but he took no heed in it, instead focusing on the task at hand. It only took a few moments and a few strong tugs on the underbrush before he felt the sudden rush of water flowing by him. The boy treaded back to the surface, having only moderate trouble despite his legs starting to cling together beneath his sweatpants. He gasped as he pulled himself back up to the edge of the ground.

Ochaco rushed up to him, tackling the teen and sending them both toppling to the ground. He could feel her shoulders violently shaking and he stilled, hearing her sobs against his ear. 

"Ochaco..?"

 

The girl pulled herself off of him, rubbing her nose against her forearm as she narrowed her bloodshot eyes, a mixture of fury and relief swirling inside them.

 

"You...you had me terrified you b-big dummy!" 

 

"Ochaco..." Izuku repeated softly, watching her in confusion. He drew his palm up softly as he leaned forward to wipe a tear from her cheek. "I was only down there a few seconds." 

 

"A few seconds?! Try five minutes!!!" She gasped back at him. "I was this close to calling the police! I kept calling, I used the light on my phone- I couldn't find you. You had me scared to death...I-I thought you'd died!"

 

Izuku blinked, trying to process her words...five minutes? There was no way he could have been down there that long. He felt perfectly fine. He was...fine...

 

The boy's eyes widened as the horror dawned upon him, and his gaze snatched down to his body. The slime had already begun oozing out of his pants, and his legs were firmly adhered to one another. His heart dropped into his stomach as the blood rushed from his face. There was no way he could get back up like this. 

 

"Deku! Deku, are you listening?" 

 

The teen's mind crashed back to reality, his eyes frantically darting back to his friend. She caught the fear in them instantly, and any frustration left within her immediately dissipated. "Deku, what's wrong?"

 

The young man gritted his teeth, adverting his vision from her. He didn't want her to see the state his lower body was in, but he knew there was no way to hide it. Not now. 

 

"M-my legs are just a little tired. That's all."

 

The girl worriedly glanced down at his body, noticing the slime secreting from it for the first time. She shakily extended a hand toward his leg, but Izuku reflexively pulled his knees to his chest, protectively wrapping his arms around them.

 

"I'm fine- really! Please. Don't worry."

 

"Is...is that from the water? Deku, we need to get you to a hospital-"

 

"I'm fine!" The teen immediately blurted out. "I swear-"

 

"Deku-"

 

"It's just a disease I have, okay?" His voice cracked, his eyes falling to the floor as he hugged his legs a little tighter. "I've had it since I was a kid...it’s always been this way.”

 

"Oh," there girl returned, her voice barely above a faint whisper.

 

Izuku sighed, slowly raising his head until evergreen eyes met hazel. 

 

"They...they get like that when I'm in the water for too long. They stick together and..." His hand absentmindedly pulled at the hem of his sweatpants. He bit his lower lip, watching the concern in his friend's eyes. He released a shaky breath, pulling up on the fabric just enough to reveal a sea-green ankle above his Merking socks. Her eyes followed his, noticing the distorted color his skin had become.

 

"Deku...I...I'm sorry."

 

The boy shook his head, his bangs falling like a veil over his eyes. "It usually takes longer than this to happen, but lately it's been getting worse. I-I thought I was only down there for a moment, but...I was wrong, I guess. I did’t mean to scare you- I’m sorry, Ochaco.”

  

"...does it hurt?"

 

The boy wordlessly shook his head, pulling idly at the goo on his calves.

 

"That's good, at least."

 

"Yeah." 

 

"Is...is there anything I can do?"

 

Izuku smiled softly at his friend's gesture, his eyes peaking out from beneath his matted curls. Out of everyone that had ever seen his illness, no one had taken it quite so kindly as she was now. "It'll wear off in a few hours. I'll be alright."

 

"Can I at least help you inside?"

 

Izuku gave her a surprised glance. "I...yeah. That would be nice."

 


 

 

The rest of the afternoon was rather uneventful, other than the overhead storm that seemed hellbent on persisting. Izuku found himself leaned up against the bathroom tub, reading through his geography homework. Ochaco lay against the opposite wall, wrapped in a Merking comforter from his bedroom and fast asleep on the floor. She had insisted on staying until his legs had fully healed and Bakugou had stopped by- to make sure there wasn't another accident. While Izuku hadn’t outwardly admitted it due to guilt, her company secretly meant everything to him. So for now, he kept his eyes preoccupied on his studies while also keeping watch on the merman behind them. He was but a few pages in when he felt a familiar whirlwind of temperatures against the back of his ear. He glanced over, catching Todoroki gaze down at the pictures of the book with intense fascination. Tentatively, the merman outstretched a finger. He paused for a second, checking Izuku's expression before continuing, a damp fingertip gracing down the image of a vast canyon upon the page. The freckled boy quietly watched him, seeing the silent longing in his eyes.

 

"You're...not afraid of us, are you?"

 

Todoroki paused, shifting his sights to the boy beside him. He shook his head, the faintest outline of a smile painting itself upon his lips. He understood.

 

"No. Not afraid." The merman's breath hitched as he pointed down to Izuku’s gloppy knees. "Want."

 

 The freckled young man stared back at the teenager, his revelation catching him by surprise. "You...want to be a human?"

 

The mermaid opened his eyes, gleaming with the desire of wanderlust and with it...something else- something intense, yet just as sincere. 

 

"Yes."

 

The young man's heart twisted, a tinge of guilt panging his chest as he stared back at Todoroki. His entire life, he'd lived being taught that the merpeople feared humanity, that they wanted nothing to do with them. But here was this boy, resting in the bathtub beside him, taking everything he'd known about his people and throwing it away in an instant. His breath hitched as he felt a warm tuft of hair lean into the crook of his neck. Yet Todoroki's eyes were still glued to the book before him, his mind off somewhere distant. The ache in his chest just as quickly dissipated into a warm, earnest empathy. Izuku couldn't do much, but he could at least show him what he had before him.

 

"There...there are other places, too!" He flipped to another page, stopping at the image of a tropical rain forest. The merman's eyes widened with excitement, looking at the tall trees and birds with wonder. His reaction was the same every page he turned to. Whether it be the North American plains, the Himalayas, Mount Fuji, the light in Todoroki's eyes only grew brighter, only simmering when Izuku closed the book when there was nothing left to show. 

 

The green haired boy stretched his arms, shaking the sleepiness out of them when the merman spoke once more.

 

"Teach?"

 

Izuku glanced back at Todoroki, caught off-guard. His yearning eyes gazed deeply back into the human's, as if pleading with him.

 

"Want understand. Want words."

 

"O-oh," Izuku replied softly. His mind suddenly flashed to all of his childhood books hid mother had kept tucked away in the attic. He wiggled his legs, though to little avail; they were still clinging to one another. His attention returned to the merman beside him, and he gave him a soft grin, accompanied by an embarrassed chuckle beneath it.

 

"Yeah, I can. Probably later, though.” He wiggled his knees again, getting his point across.

 

But the excitement in the dual hair teen's eyes returned regardless, and Izuku couldn't help but let another small chortle escape from his lips. If he taught him, maybe then he could learn what had brought Todoroki here.

 

And how to get him home. 

 


 

 

A loud banging on the door from the floor below was enough to awaken Ochaco in an instant, her hair still sticking to her cheek as she jolted up from the floor. Izuku glanced up from the notebook he'd been scribbling in, jumping slightly as a small splash of water hit him from behind. The girl wearily rubbed her eyes with a yawn as the boys watched her, quickly recovering from the persistent sound of knocking below them. 

 

"It's probably just Bakugou...I'll get it."

 

"Thanks, Ochaco." Izuku gave a faint grin and nodded, checking over the edge of his notebook at his legs. They'd finally begun to separate; only his calves were still stuck together now.

 

The girl stretched, giving her friend a haphazard thumbs up as she headed out the door and down the stairs. She rolled her eyes as she yanked open the door, unphased as Bakugou nearly sent a fist at her nose in its sudden absence. The blonde’s face went blank for a second, but he just as quickly slipped back into his typically grump demeanor. He shoved his fists into his pockets, averting his crimson eyes from her. 

 

"Took you long enough, Uraraka."

 

Ochaco sighed with a lazy nod, giving another longer stretch.

 

"Sorry, I was upstairs helping Deku."

 

The teenager flashed an aggressively inquisitive look back at her, his scowl growing deeper as the name left her lips.

 

"Remind me why I have to drop all this shit over at his place?"

 

“Because I asked you?” Ochaco returned with an innocent smile, feeling Bakugou’s grumpiness only simmer in retaliation.

 

”I really appreciate it, Bakugou. I'll buy you dinner downtown twice next week, 'kay?”

 

”Please,” the teen grumpily mumbled. “Nothing down there tastes worth shit. I’ll just cook us dinner myself.”

 

The blush on Ochaco's cheeks deepened, blinking back at the blonde as he stalked back to his truck, his shoulders rigid and raised.

 

What was that?"

 

”I said help me with these sacks, Pink Cheeks!” Bakugou quickly shot back, switching the subject as he tossed her a bag from across the dimly lit yard. The girl snapped back to reality at the last moment, stumbling slightly as she craned over to catch it. She clutched the bag to her chest, giving a gentle smile once he'd turned his back to her.

 

”Okay, but I’m still paying you back.”

 

Bakugou's shoulders shifted once more at the remark, but his face remained with the same distasteful expression as ever. He was doing his best to hide it, but the brunette could easily call out his bluff. Not quickly enough, though- as he retorted the moment she'd opened her mouth again. 

 

”Just drop it. Let’s just focus on getting this stuff unloaded so I can get out of this idiot’s yard.”

 

The girl rolled her eyes to herself, trailing off the stairs as she joined him. With Deku unable to move, they had a lot of heavy lifting left to do, so it would probably be best to save her breath. For now. 

 


 

 

"Okay, I think that's the last of it!" Ochaco proclaimed with a heavy breath, dusting her hands off over her shorts and leaning against the shed. Glancing behind her, Bakugou's fuse had seemed to have significantly shortened- even more than before, if humanly possible. The boy's scowl was apparent, even in the dark of the woody, humid night, his fingers impatiently tapping at the inside of his arm. His narrow eyes glared back at the back of the house in front of them.

 

"I hope that damn lazy idiot is enjoying his nap," he grumbled beneath his breath, pushing his shoulders against the wall and lifting himself back up.

 

Ochaco gave an uneasy sigh, glancing worriedly back up at the bathroom window. But soon enough, she could feel the blonde's contemplative gaze boring into her and she jolted, nervously pulling the forefront of her vision back to him.

 

"Look, I don't know what in the hell you two are planning. But leave my out of you hair-brained scheme, got it?"

 

"It's not hair-brained!" The girl impulsively threw back, following him back across the yard. Bakugou stopped in his tracks, a crimson eye glancing back at her beneath his disheveled hair. Ochaco's stomach lurched, her body halting as she bit her tongue, realizing what had escaped it. 

 

"I-I told you! It-it's just for science class! I swear!"

 

"Yeah..." The teen grumbled, stuffing his calloused hands back into the pockets of his sagging pants. Of course he wouldn't buy it; he was too keen for her shallowly veiled excuse.

 

Ochaco winced, keeping her mouth shut as her hands nervously fiddled with one another. She silently followed him back to his truck, not trusting herself to say another word. Bakugou only glanced back at her as he opened the door, giving the girl a weary look.

 

"Just don't be stupid and get you dumb asses arrested. I'm not driving down to the police station to bail you damn idiots out."

 

Ochaco meekly looked up at him, her fingers pressing together as she nodded. "We won't."

 

The teen deliberated before getting into his car and driving off, taking one last moment prolonging his stare to get his message across before leaving. The brunette watched his truck as it turned down the hill, silently scolding herself as she shamefully buried her hands into her fists. 

 

She needed to watch her tongue. For Deku's sake- and for the merman's.  

 


 

By late Friday night, the shed was ready. It had been a slight hassle getting the merman from the upstairs bathroom to the backyard. Carrying a one hundred and fifty pound sea creature down a flight of stairs and fumbling through dark was already enough of a challenge, but it didn't help that nearly every other appliance in the kitchen and living room he'd taken intense fascination in. Luckily, Todoroki didn't seem to fight so much anymore at the notion of being held, his own toned arms wrapped around Izuku's shoulders for support. But every time his eye caught something foreign to him- whether it be the low rumble of the fridge or the movement of the television screen, his tail would flip up in shock, causing the human teen a few more smacks to the face than he would have preferred. 

 

The merman thankfully took much better to the shed. He dove into the water almost as immediately as he'd seen it, and he seemed grateful to be away from the tub and fresh water, given the content look in his eyes.

 

And so, it became his new home. 

 

The next two months ended up rather uneventful (at least, as uneventful as secretly harboring and rehabilitating a mythical creature could be.) Much to his relief, Bakugou never seemed to question Izuku about the specifics of that night, nor did he even bother acknowledging it. As the days grew colder and nights longer, crew practice concluded for the semester, and everything fell back to a new normal. Ochaco seemed to have some sort of dreamy spark in her eye as the year drew to a close. But otherwise, she remained her usual, quirky self. Meanwhile, his mother slowly grew accustomed to having a merman in her home, her nerves slowly dissipating as the time passed. With the cold of winter setting in, she had advised that they wait until early spring to release Todoroki; sending anyone that far into the river at this time of the year would be cruel, let alone alone a teenage boy. 

 

With absence of crew after school and the passing of finals, Izuku found more time to spend with the merman. He had set up a heater and the television in the shed- the later of which took a few good days of practice to convince the merman that the people on the screen weren't really there- all while making sure to keep Todoroki warm and preoccupied when he and his mother were away. The teen proved to be remarkably intelligent as the time passed. He had flown through nearly all of the childhood books Izuku's mother had kept in the span of a couple weeks, and he quickly moved on to more complex material (It was probably for the best he learned so quickly; his mother hadn't been very happy to come home one afternoon to find his childhood keepsakes wrinkled and sopping wet in the back of the shed.) Todoroki had even begun attempts at reading on his own accord, recognizing a word on the page here and there as Izuku studied with him. He was blown away at how truly smart the merman was; in just the span of a few months, he'd begun to be able to hold rather solid conversations with him.

 

And with that, the questions that had been burning in the back of his mind could finally be asked. Though, just as often, he found them leading to only more. 

 

It was December 24th. The freckled teen's mother had kicked him out of the kitchen hours ago, focused on keeping the holiday dinner she'd been bent over from imminent disaster like the past two years. In her defense, it was a larger meal than she was used to making; Mr. Toshinori had been given permission by his doctor to travel and would be joining them for the holiday week- much to his delight. The thought of getting to see the man after so many months filled the boy with excitement, though it created just as much of a worry for his mother over the whole merman situation- reigniting her anxiety over the matter. For now, Izuku found himself yet again in the shed- as he found himself more hours than not these days. He was only half paying attention to the television as Todoroki rested beside him, his arms propping his torso up onto the shore of the pool as his long tail danced around in the water, its scales shimmering against the dim light of the screen. His shoulders were draped in one of Izuku's old Merking blankets. He'd been hording it since Izuku had offered it to him about a month back. Even with the mermaidic designs plastered over it, Todoroki seemed oddly attached to it- enough so that Izuku had been yet to steal it back from him, even after half a dozen attempts and twice as many tail-smacks to the face. 

 

The wedding of the celebrities Shinji Nishiya and Yu Takeyama's wedding was currently being broadcast on the screen. It rather bored Izuku, whom had found himself idly taking notes in a notebook he'd started. He'd begun marking down all of Todoroki's habits for reference. There were so many facts he'd learned from watching and talking to him; even many of the articles he'd read on the anatomy and diet of his species had proven inaccurate. The merman beside him seemed but more interested in the show, however, and the green haired boy glanced over at the teen. He caught an oddly solemn look in his eyes as he watched on.

 

"Everything alright, there?"

 

The mermaid's shoulders stiffened, though his eyes remained on the screen, His cheek fell into his forearm as he took in a drawn out breath.

 

"Yes."

 

Izuku gave the boy an inquisitive quirk of his brow, closing his notebook. The merman seemed to catch it out of the corner of his eye and his lips tightened, the end of his tail sinking fully into the water below. After a drawn out pause, he finally responded.

 

"Human marriages are strange."

 

Izuku chuckled, nodding his head as he glanced back at the screen and leaned back on his hands behind him. "Yeah, I guess you could say that."

 

"I don't understand," Todoroki continued, his eyes narrowing at the screen. "Did they not say that he was married before? Why is he bonding again?"

 

The human teen blinked at the merman curiously, not quite grasping the meaning of his words. "Well, they got divorced."

 

He rubbed the back of his neck, trying to figure a better way of explaining the concept to him when the merman replied with a blank stare. "They decided not to be married anymore."

 

Todoroki pulled himself up, giving Izuku a horrified look. The boy gave him a nervous glance, second-guessing his judgement on attempting to explain. "Is...is it not like that for you guys?"

 

Todoroki gradually let himself fall deeper into the water, his chest sinking below the icy surface as his left side caused a pleasantly warm steam to radiate atop of it. 

 

"No, it's not. We...we have marriages also. But they cannot be broken. Bonding cannot be broken."

 

"Bonding?" Izuku returned curiously.

 

The merman's eyes slipped off toward the water below, his body leaning against the muddy wall of the pool beneath the surface. His hand slowly rose up to cradle the gland between his jaw and ear, his eyes off somewhere distant.

 

"Yes." 

 

Izuku's heart missed a beat as the puzzle pieces started to connect. 

 

"I...oh."

 

Todoroki's eyes still did not look up to him, but he continued to talk. 

 

"Once we are marked, we are for life. Our marriages are ceremony of that."

 

The question began to pass Izuku's curious lips before he had time to think. "Have you been mark-"

 

The merman spun around to face him, and Izuku immediately slapped a hand to his mouth, mortified as the freezing water splashed over him. Todoroki gave him a bewildered look, and the freckled teen pulled his knees to his chest, glancing away sheepishly. A heavy veil of silence wrapped itself around the two of them, and Izuku whispered an apology beneath his breath.  After a long while, Todoroki found his voice once more.

 

"I was supposed to be. But I am not."

 

Izuku slowly worked up the courage to look up at the merman once more, embarrassment continuing to eat away at his nerves. The merman still held his gland protectively, but he seemed a little more open, watching the boy through a hazy expression he could not quite grasp.

 

"I...I'm sorry for your loss," Izuku whispered. Todoroki took a breath, his eyelids closing.

 

"Do not be...she ran away. I did, as well."

 

Izuku's stomach dropped. He'd what?! His hand fell to the floor, staring at Todoroki dumbfounded. He...he wasn't lost. He'd never been. The freckled teen gulped, trying to compose himself as a million thoughts ran through his head. They couldn't keep him here forever. But they couldn't just return him back to the ocean. Not now. What were they supposed to do? What would his mom say? Did Todoroki actually even want to stay here? He could feel his chest heaving, his fingers tangling themselves in his mangled locks.

 

"I...I thought you were lost," he finally manged, his frantic eyes glancing back at the merman before him.

 

A hint of remorse struck Todoroki's mismatched eyes and he lowered his head. 

 

"No. I was trying to escape."

 

"I can't...this can't....crap," Izuku fumbled out, his breathes deep, yet the air in his lungs all too shallow. He still hadn't told him about their plan to release him. He'd always just assumed it was what Todoroki would have wanted, what he needed. He was a fool to have never thought otherwise, to have treated him like a clueless animal this entire time. He was a person- same as him. And he'd deserved better. Izuku's stomach grew uneasy, the thoughts fleeing through his mind faster than he could grasp onto him. A splash rang out through the room, and suddenly, they all stilled at once as he felt a cool hand beside his knee. His fingers fell away from his scalp as he raised his head just slightly. Crap, he must have been muttering again. Todoroki was watching him earnestly through half lidded eyes, a faint but warm smile in his gaze. 

 

"Midoriya, it is okay. I am grateful for all you and your mother have done for me. But I understand if I cannot stay here."

 

Izuku's breath hitched, the strain in his eyes dissipating. He held his arm to his side, biting down hard on his lip as another set of questions raged through him. This time, he willingly let them slip on his tongue. "Where will you go? Why did you run here? How are you going to survive?"

 

"I will be okay," Todoroki reassured, pulling his body up to the surface to sit beside the human teen. The young man glanced over to him, a light warmth finding its way to his cheeks despite the nip of the winter air. 

 

"I want you to stay." The words hit Izuku's mind only after they flew away from his lips. He'd never...he'd never thought of it before. He'd never really thought of what their relationship was, or how he felt towards Todoroki. Had they become friends? Could he even call it that? "It's just...having you here- we can't. Humans...aren't allowed to keep mermaids. It's considered a crime and...I don't want my mom or you to get hurt because of it."

 

Todoroki laid back, falling to the dirt floor and gazing up at the rusted tin roof above them. "So...your world has rules because of the old ages too?" 

 

Izuku nodded. "Yeah. I guess some things aren't so different, after all."

 

"No."

 

Izuku glanced down at the merman as he continued.

 

"Your world is much more beautiful. Much more kind than mine."

 

The freckled teen shook his head, falling back to rest beside him as the rubber tips of his sneakers graced over the edge of the pool. "Not always."

 

Todoroki's head turned, his eyes soft as he watched the boy beside him breathe. "But you are."

 

Izuku's shoulders seized, his cheeks burning a little brighter at his poignant reply. A light smirk crossed Todoroki's lips as he gazed back at the ceiling.

 

"You saved me when I was a stranger. You took me in and carried me, even while you were hurt. I am grateful for you, Midoriya."

 

The freckled boy gave a chuckle, trying to chase the strangely bundled nerves out of his system before his brain had the chance to sort them out. "You know, I never thought I'd be friends with a merman."

 

Chapter Text

It was decided then, a silent promise that night, that those words would remain a secret between the two boys. Todoroki knew that he could not stay and had come to accept his fate once Spring would blossom; Midoriya was not so complacent, however- even if he knew the inevitability of the truth. So for now, the two new friends could only focus the present. If Todoroki could not stay- only if, Izuku pleaded to an unknown god above- then he could at least show and give him as much of his world as he was able to offer in the time being. He himself still had so many unanswered questions. Why had he been forced into marriage? How had he been wounded? What did he want to know of the human world most; what had captivated him about his world? What was the nature of the bonding that he spoke of and the marking on his neck?

 

Well, as for those last questions, Izuku was much more hesitant on. He'd inferred by now it was probably something intimate- to a degree not probably in his place to ask unprompted. 

  

They had decided that his mother need not know about the truth of Todoroki's travels. She had already been through enough trying to rehabilitate him; it would be cruel to put her heart to guilt to discover the nature in which he had come. Izuku knew it still would not change the inevitability of what would happen. Thus, he remained silent, only thinking to himself of any way Todoroki could stay. 

 

But those thoughts and questions would have to wait until the after the holiday had passed. Mr. Toshinori was only miles away now, and he knew visiting the 'abandoned' shed too frequently would rise suspicion. No matter how much he trusted the man, he couldn't risk another person knowing. Not for his mother's sake.

 

And not for Todoroki's.

 


  

It was rather strange, really. Shouto couldn’t recall the last time he’d been so unabashedly open with a stranger- let alone a friend, at that. He’d probably have been more embarrassed by it if the green haired human had seemed to mind in the slightest. To be honest, his presence alone did enough to make the merman throw out near all rational judgement every time he entered the room. Every day, he ventured a little closer to the young man; every day, the desire in him only came closer to a boiling point. There were no walls to be held here in the human world- there need not be any. For he was safe in the kind boy and his mother's home, free from the persecution of his father and the expectations of his people. 

 

He did his best to think little of how his heart throbbed in yearning each time the freckled human gave a nervous laugh, his long, lanky fingers grazing through his alluringly dark and gradient wave of hair. He did his best not to pay attention to the aching of his gland every time he became lost in those large, kind seaweed green eyes, when they lit up with excitement or embarrassment alike. It was just his body, really. That's all it must have been. After all, nearly all merpeople bonded in their sixteenth year, so it was only natural that his body would react so violently and desperately with his seventeenth year fast approaching. That was all there was to it. That was the only reason Midoriya's soft laugh and freckled cheeks lingered in his mind from morning to dusk, the only reason why he'd latched onto him so.  

 

And so, he did his best to thwart those emotions and thoughts. But as the time went on, an underlying fear clung to the back of his mind, which had begun to wonder if it was all in vain.

 

Just as suddenly as the boy's visits became more frequent, they stopped almost entirely. He'd known it was to keep them all safe while their guest was about to arrive. But still, the loneliness latched on to his heart, gripping ever tighter as the time past. And then did those thoughts he had given his all to banish grow ever stronger. When the glow of the moving illusion box made his eyes ache in the late hours, he looked away and pulled himself out of the pool, dragging his body to the disheveled stack of books- if he had remembered the term correctly- in the back of the room.  It was an uncanny flash of red and green shapes that caught the corner of his eye in the dim, artificial light. On the cover was a rather happy looking mermaid; her tail was long- an elegant sea foam green. She wore painted violet seashells upon her chest and donned long, crimson hair- deep as Shouto's left side. She was caught in a dance upon the hard front page. But it was not her appearance that drew him in. (Though the merman had to admit, she looked much more pleasing that the hyper realistic abomination of the fishman's form he'd seen on papers for years. This interpretation was softer, less unsettling; it was simple, a tinge of warmth flowing down the boy's spine as he nostalgically thought back to the cavern paintings he and his siblings would sneak away to make in their youth.)

 

No, it was the fascination in her gaze that called out to the boy, leering him in. He knew that dream in her eyes, wet with curious excitement as she held out some foreign object to a strangely shaped blue and yellow fish beside her. 

 

Shouto curled himself up against the splintered wall as he tentatively opened the page. And immediately, the real world fell away. The dry sensation of his scales on the crisp surface air didn't even phase him. The book was full of mostly paintings with a few words that he couldn't quite understand. But those didn't matter in the slightest; he could still make out the story plain as day. He could see the rapture in the mermaid's eyes, talking to a strange white bird and dancing around her cave of human artifacts. He could see the longing in her eyes as a hand reached out to the water’s surface far above; the love in her eyes as she brought a dying human man back to land. It was all too familiar as she stroked his cheek as he awoke, and he let out a wistful breath as he thought back to his own fateful night on the river shore.

 

But the comforting feeling did not last. The next pages were filled with sorrow and rage. Her father discovered her secret and destroyed all she had known and loved. And as Shouto turned to the next page, he found a drawing of her in tears, alone and draped on a dark boulder. He could take it no longer. The boy tossed the book against the wall, his shoulders shaking as he realized how warm and wet both of his eyes had become. He rubbed at them with his forearm, drawing his tail up to his chest and burying his head against it.  

 

He'd never thought the human world would know the depths of his pain so unabashedly and transparently. 

 

"...Todoroki?"

 

The merman's breath hitched, his chest tightening as his body froze up. Damn it. He refused to dare look up at the entrance as the sound of human feet on the muddy earth pattered closer. He hoised himself up and threw himself back off into the water before Midoriya could catch him. Maybe if he just stayed down there, the boy would let him reflect in peace. Shouto remained at the bottom of the pool, sulking for a long while. He keenly listened as he heard a few faint rustles on the surface. When there had been several minutes of silence, he cautiously brought himself up, only poking the top of his head and his mismatched eyes above the surface. Naturally, there was the freckled human. sitting cross-legged and patiently from the other end of the pool. He watched the merman quietly and carefully, his thumb tucked between the pages of the book he'd hurled. He didn't make a sound when their eyes met, only giving a small wave of his rough hand, illuminated by the light of the moving picture box. Shouto watched him for another long moment, waiting to see if he still might leave to let him wallow in his solitude.

 

He didn't. 

 

Eventually, the boy glanced down at the book, thumbing to the crumbled page he'd last looked at. He chewed on his bottom lip before glancing back at the merman, an apologetic look in his eyes. 

 

"She has a happy ending," he reassured. "Well, um, in this version anyway. But this is best version, anyway. Well, I mean in my opinion. I know it's not the original, but-"

 

The human's eyes darted to the ground, fingertips tangling themselves in his locks as he rambled on. Shouto's heart skipped a beat; he couldn't possibly keep ruminating in his hopeless situation when the boy gave such adorable company. Especially when he'd been promised a happy ending. A small squeak left Midoriya's lips as his eyes flicked back to Shouto's and they met. The merman gave him a short look and plopped back beneath the surface. It was continued with a louder yelp when Shouto reemerged. His hands knocked against the calloused skin of Midoriya's leg joints as he hoisted himself high above the pool. Their noses almost bumped together as they met eye to eye. He could have sworn he'd felt a warmth radiating from his cheeks. But it was too fleeting to tell; the green haired teen immediately jumped back into the glowing box behind them. He quickly readjusted it, rubbing the back of his head as he sputtered out a flurry of apologies. Most of the words escaped Shouto's ear, though. His eyelids fell, enamored by the outlined shaped of his jaw in the dim light. Finally, he found the words to respond, cutting off the teen from his incessant rambling.

 

"You said she was...happy in the end?"

 

Midoriya paused for a moment, his mind readjusting as he was yanked out of his thoughts. He blinked slowly, nodding his head.

 

"Y-yeah. She marries the man she loves and becomes huma-" The young man bit his tongue, his eyes going wide in a panic as he quickly changed his words. "She got to live with him."

 

The merman inquisitively cocked his head, intuitive towards the slip of his tongue.

 

"What did she become?"

 

The freckled teen adverted his eyes, stepping away from the pool and tucking the book away beneath his chest garments. There was a guilty reservation in his eyes; he was hiding something.

 

"Who she wanted to be."

 

The subtly solemn tone in his hushed voice did little to convince Shouto. He glared back intently at the boy. His eyes pierced right through him, bent on making him talk. But he didn't. He only continued to look away, pointing a halfhearted finger toward the plate on the ground beside him. 

 

"A-anyway, I brought you dinner. I-I should probably go back to the house before Mom starts worrying. But I'll be back in the morning, okay?" His arms clutched around his chest, where the outline of the book beneath his garments was pressed.

 

"It's getting late. But I promise that I'll tell you the story when everything goes back to normal."

 

He tilted his chin upward, giving Shouto a disingenuous smile behind closed eyes. Frustration bubbled hotly in Shouto's veins, and he dove back beneath the surface of the water, letting him leave. He'd always been so honest before. Did he not trust him?

 

Had something changed?

 


 

Izuku did his best to slink back upstairs undetected by his mother as she cooked dessert, but the attempt was futile. Mr. Toshinori and his mother, who'd been currently having a chat over tea on the kotatsu, caught him barely two steps into the kitchen. The blonde haired man was the first to speak as he set his teacup on the table, giving a cheerful wave. Izuku felt a mixed wave of conflicting emotions crash down on his chest as he leaned up against the back door like a cornered dog. Crap, he hadn't even heard his car come in. 

 

"Midoriya, my boy!" The man's cheerful demeanor was quick to fade however, as he could see the the boy's seclusive stance against the door. He shifted in his spot, exchanging a worried glance with Inko. "Is everything alright there?"

 

The boy's shoulders jolted. He tilted his head further down and gritted his teeth. He hid his bloodshot eyes beneath his tangled bangs as he clung closer to the storybook beneath his jacket. He could feel the edge of it slipping out, and he protectively wrapped his body around it. Of all the times for him to feel like this, why did it have to be now? Why was he like this? 

 

"H-hi, Mr. Toshinori. It's good to see you," Izuku meekly returned, his eyes wearily peaking between his hair for a brief moment while he did his best to return a weak smile. The actor's naturally straight lips only tightened as he noticed the transparently pained look upon his face. He stood up to comfort the boy, but Inko caught him by the hem of his over-sized shirt as he passed.

 

"Izuku, sweetie. Is the cat in the shed alright?" 

 

"Y-yeah..." Izuku returned, his voice barely above a shaky whisper. He hated the lie they'd agreed on, but he knew neither of them really had a choice in the matter. So all he could do was begrudgingly accept it. The boy uncomfortably shifted between the balls of his feet as he stared down at the ground. Any other day, he'd have run straight into Mr. Toshinori's arms, crying like an infant getting to see his old friend and idol once again after so long. But the guilt tore relentlessly at Izuku from the inside. His eyes leaked in resentment at himself now, the betrayed look of Todoroki's eyes branded into his mind. Yet, despite as tired as he was, the young man didn't quite have the strength to hide from Mr. Toshinori when he'd missed him so.

 

"He's just...in a mood. I think I ticked him off," he haphazardly offered, finally forcing himself off the door to make his way to the table.

 

Inko let out another long breath, glancing back at Toshinori. The older man blinked between the two of them at the revelation.

 

"You adopted a cat?" He gave a small chuckle, staring down into his half-emptied teacup. "I guess it really has been too long since I visited, hasn't it?"

 

A more genuine smile couldn’t help but paint itself upon Izuku’s lips as he knelt down across from the man.

 

“That just means we have even more to catch up on,” he reassured, trying his best to put on a brave front as he rolled up the the book and slipped it into his pocket. Inko let go of Toshinori’s sleeve go as he sat back down, a soft grin on his lips.

 

”I suppose you’re right.”

 

The rest of their time in the kitchen went well as the three exchanged stories that had passed since their last visit together. They were just enough to lighten Izuku’s spirits, to keep his mind distracted for the night. Or at least, the time present. 

 


 

It was when the boy had drifted off to sleep accidentally, after Yagi helped Inko carry her son to his bedroom, that the mood of the evening changed. The retired actor found himself back in the kitchen, helping Inko clean the dishes when she finally interrogated him.

 

”So, what made you come down here?”

 

The sudden question nearly made the man lose his grip on his cup as it slipped through the towel. He cleared his throat, recomposing himself while he felt the green haired woman’s gaze firm upon him.

 

”I beg your pardon?”

 

The woman let out a gentle sigh, her eyes softening slightly as she turned back to her work. 

 

“I apologize. I don’t mean to come off so blunt. It’s just...Izuku and I have been begging you to come down to spend the holidays with us for six years years now. It was a pleasant surprise to us both when you finally accepted this time.”

 

A pained breath escaped the man’s dry lips and he set down the cup. His skeletal hands clutched tightly to the sink as he stared down at his vague reflection in the porcelain, his brow lines furrowing. 

 

“I know, I’m sorry. I wanted to visit sooner. But there was...someone I had to take care of.”

 

”Oh?” The woman replied curiously, wiping her hands on the stove handle’s towel. 

 

Yagi hesitated. He’d been holding inside the worry and the loss for so long, it had been nearly crushing him. But Inko- she was the one, the only one, he could trust. Perhaps she would understand, more than anyone else. She must have seen the deliberation in his eyes, and upon hearing her clear her throat, he looked up to find the woman beckoning him into the living room nearby.

Inko plopped down on the worn couch, hand patting down on the patched cushion beside her as she gave the man a reassuring smile. The tension in Yagi’s crumpled shoulders was slightly lessened, and he sat down beside her.

 

”What happened, Yagi?”

 

The man’s gaze drifted off to the living room carpet, the lessened weight still attempting to pull heavy in his weak chest.

 

"I...I trust you, Inko. You and Izuku both," he started quietly, his elbows on his knees as he watched his fingers lace themselves together. He knew there would be little she- nor anyone- could do to help. But perhaps she at least would know what had happened more than himself. Maybe it would give his mind some solace at long last. He felt a warm, gentle hand on his shoulder. His voice fell faint, barely above a whisper that she beside him could barely make out while his hands wrung together.

 

"About four years ago- I think it's been now. I...I found a merchild. Caught him, actually."

 

The gentle hand on Yagi's shoulder grew rigid, and he glanced up to find Inko's face a ghastly white. He let out a shaking breath, pressing his thumbs to the bridge of his nose. She was taking it about as well as he had expected, unfortunately.

 

"Y-yagi, y-ou..."

 

Still, he continued.

 

"Every week after that, I'd find him swimming after my boat. He...he was just a kid. He was a good kid. So curious...and kind...God, he reminded me so much of Izuku. I couldn't just turn my back to him."

 

The former actor's voice cracked, sending a haunting echo of silence throughout the room, save for the ticking clock in the kitchen behind. The man rubbed a hand down the thin lines of his worn face, trying to compose himself, to stay strong.

 

"I didn't- couldn't come down on the weekends to visit because I was worried for him. I'd take Sorahiko's boat out on the water each week to visit him- to check on him. I never really knew what was going on. But from what I could tell, whatever his home life was...it wasn't great. He was always so curious, so innocent. I wanted him to be happy, to have a place to get away to. He wanted to know...everything about us. I tried teaching him a little, but. He...he just disappeared one week. Four and a half months ago now...if I can even remember right. God, the time has gone so fast."

 

The silence in the room remained for a long while after he'd finished, both adults trying to come to terms with the situation. It was Inko who first found her voice. Yagi caught her out of the corner of his eye, her expression off somewhere distant as she daintily folded her hands together.

 

"You want to know what happened to him," she stated plainly.

 

"Yeah," Yagi returned, leaning back his weight into the couch behind him. "You know more about their people than any of those marine biologists do back at Portside. And to be honest, you're the only person I can trust not getting me arrested."

 

Inko gave a quiet chuckle, laced with a foreign hint a bitterness beneath it. "If I'd had known that, I would have known what they'd done to Hisashi, too."

 

The actor clenched his fists, mentally scolding himself for dragging the memory out of the poor woman. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have ask-"

 

"It's alright," Inko interjected, her voice feinting strength despite the faint tremor Yagi noticed beneath it. "I...I might not know what happened to either of them. But...I do know how their society feels about us. Yagi, I-"

 

The woman hesitated, the shakiness of her voice crescendoing as her fist dragged up the hem of her apron.

 

"If they found out that you'd been interacting with him. He...it..."

 

"What do you mean? Inko?"

 

The man looked up at the green haired woman pleadingly as she merely shook her head, holding back tears.

 

"I'm sorry, Y-yagi."

 

"Shit."  The man returned, gritting his teeth as he looked away.  If he had just let the kid back into the water that day, if he'd just ignored him. Maybe he would have just gone away. Maybe he would have been safe.

 

"Damn it. I fed him our food. I even taught him some of our words. I...I never should have. I'm...."

 

The woman's eyes suddenly shot wide open, her breath halting as the color drained from her face once more.

 

"Y-you. You did what?"

 

The man guiltily looked down at the carpet, shutting his eyes. "He...he wanted to learn how to speak our language. He was smart enough to pick up a few of our words. I...I tried to start teaching him."

 

A faint flurry of expletives left the characteristically mild-matured woman's mouth, her hands wringing through her hair. 

 

"Inko."

 

The woman paused as a creak emulated from the stairs behind them. Both of them turned around; there was nothing there, save the faint sound of rustling footsteps clapping on the floorboards above. She drew in a sharp breath, and she gave the actor a bewildered glance. She looked away, her hand grasping to the side of the couch as she pulled herself to her feet.

 

"I...Yagi. I can't do this anymore. I'm sorry. I...my heart can't handle it, and I don't want to talk about this anymore." Her voice fell to a cautious whisper, so that only he could hear. "I've already lost Hisashi, and I'm already struggling enough to keep Izuku from finding out. I can't help you. I'm sorry."

 

The man gaped back at her, following the woman as she returned to the kitchen.

 

"Inko, you still haven't told him?!"

 

The woman ignored the man, returning to the dishes and pulling her full attention to scrubbing away every last crumb stuck to them. Yagi huffed, continuing regardless.

 

"Izuku needs to know the truth, Inko. He's going to find out even-"

 

The woman slammed the plate down on the counter, causing cracks to splinter from its center.

 

"What for? So the authorities can take him away from me? So he can be ‘released’ into the wild or experimented on like some lab animal while I'm left helpless to him behind iron bars?" She hissed back at the man, still refusing to look up. She quietly cursed to herself as she disgarded the ruined plate, keeping her back to him. "I'm not putting my baby through that. I refuse." 

 

"Inko-"

 

"This conversation is over, Yagi. I think it's time you went to bed, as well."

 

Yagi dejectedly stepped away, realizing how far he'd stepped out of bounds. 

 

"If you need help with anything, I'll be in the living room."

 

"We'll be fine."

 


 

Izuku could feel his heart pounding in his head, beating away a mile a minute as he stared at the ceiling above. He hadn't been able to catch the entire conversation, but he'd caught enough- perhaps far too much, even. He hadn't meant to, really. He'd only meant to sneak to the backyard to "check on the cat", not walk in on a conversation. What had his mother meant by 'what they had done with his father?' She'd so rarely ever spoken of him, never so much as had a family picture hung on the wall. All he'd known was that he'd passed before Izuku was old enough to remember him. Who he was, his side of the family, it was all a blank...

 

But it wasn't just that. When Mr. Toshinori had brought up teaching the merchild words, he'd seen the look in her eyes. He knew it well, because the exact same notion had crossed his own mind. Of course his mother wouldn't tell him, though. But the thought still plagued the boy, and he was not his mother. What if...

 

When he crept down the stairs again, this time he made sure that his mom was sound asleep down the hall. At this point, he'd accepted that he was probably the worst son ever for telling not one, but two people about the secret merman they'd been harboring. But Izuku couldn't help himself. Even if his gut feeling was wrong, that by some miracle there was another young merman out there with a relentless love for humanity and semi-knowledge of their language, he owed it to Mr. Toshinori to do this. After all, if he had trusted their mother to tell her of his existence in the first place, he doubted the man would turn himself on them so easily. 

 

The light of the kitchen flickered on before Izuku even made it into the living room. His stomach practically leapt into his throat as he froze in mid-step, a pair of intense bright blue eyes boring into his skull. Izuku gulped, pulling in on himself.

 

"Hi, Mr. Toshinori."

 

The man looked just about as sleepless as he was, a cup of stale coffee in one hand and his phone in the other. He gave a wise grin at the boy, leaning back against the counter.

 

"Isn't it a little past your bedtime, young Midoriya?"

 

Izuku rolled his eyes, a smile of his own creeping up on his lips as the tension left his body.

 

"Isn't it for you, too?"

 

"I'm an adult. I don't have a bedtime," the man jested in return, glancing down at his phone before slipping it into his pocket. He took a long sip of his coffee, his demeanor changing slightly as he glanced out the window behind the sink.

 

"Going to check on the cat again?"

 

"Y-yeah," Izuku replied, nervously fumbling his hands together. "I was wondering. Um, would you like to join me? I...I want you to meet him. I know you're not a big cat person, but I think you'd like him."

 

Toshinori raised an arched brow line at the boy, catching the off tone in his voice. But still, he accepted, following the freckled teen to the back door.

 

"Sure, as long as your mother wouldn't mind."

 

"Why would she? It's just a cat," the tone in his voice betraying him as Izuku replied, holding the door open for them both. 

 

"That you're keeping the poor thing in a shack outside? In the middle of winter?" Yagi interrogated as Izuku pulled his phone out, arm shaking in the chilly night air. He turned on the flashlight, glancing nervously back at the man.

 

"W-we have a radiator in there."

 

"But it's not for a cat." 

 

"No," Izuku mumbled, shoving his free hand into the pocket of his sweatpants, checking for the book. It was still there.

 

The man chuckled, giving the boy a reassuring pat on the back. "I'm sure whatever animal you two are rehabilitating in there, it appreciates your help. You’ve always been a kind kid to every animal you’ve rescused- no matter what it was.”

 

The boy glanced down sheepishly as his half-tied laces. He could not quite concur with that fact as the image of the hurt in Todoroki's eyes flashed in his mind once more. He shook his head, setting the thought away once more. He could focus on that later. Right now, he needed to worry about this- while Mr. Toshinori was still here and his mother was still asleep.

 

He leaned up against the door of the dilapidated shed, giving the man a pleading look. 

 

"I...I heard part of your conversation with Mom earlier-"

 

The man sighed, his feet drawing to a halt behind him as he wrung a hand over the back of his neck. "We heard you. I'm sorry about that, kiddo."

 

"It..it's alright. I...I don't know if I can help. B-but, it's worth a shot."

 

The man gave him a inquisitive look as Izuku took in a long breath, creaking open the door. The static of the television was still on, and the radiator sent out a welcoming wave of warmth through the doorway. The boy's shoulder's deflated, however, as he saw the plate of food at the edge of the pool untouched and the surface of the water barren. His lips twisted into a petulant shape and he gave a short huff. He closed the door behind them, glancing back at Toshinori for a moment as he kicked off his converse. 

 

"Ah, so there is a radiator in here. Good," the man remarked, his hands falling into his pockets as he observed the room around him. "Glad to see you and your mom finally found a good use for this place. Must be some heck of a critter you’ve saved this time.”

 

"Stay here for a second. I think he's still upset at me."

 

Izuku leaned over the edge of the water, shining the light of his phone upon it as he squinted his eyes. He could just barely make out the outline of Todoroki's form, curled up in a ball on his right side at the bottom of the pool. The boy rolled his eyes, sticking his tongue against the inside of his cheek. He knew merman was faking it; he always slept on his back. He stared down into the water flatly. 

 

"Look, I know you're still mad, but can you come up for a second? There's something really important I need to show you."

 

The mermaid's half-curled fingers twitched. But otherwise, no response. So he was going to be petty tonight? Fan-frickin'-tastic. 

 

Izuku couldn't exactly blame Todoroki for being upset with him. But he was acting like an actual child at the moment, and it was starting to get under his skin. The boy fell back into the dirt. He huffed and leaned his head back towards the ceiling, trying to concoct a plan. The idea hit him rapidly, and his attention tore away to the Merking blanket still bundled up by the books in the back corner of the room. Well, he would probably die for attempting it yet again. But it would be a valiant death, at least. 

 

The boy cautiously checked the water one last time before stealthily creeping to the back of the shed. He gave a sly smirk, putting a finger to his lips as the retired actor gave him a befuddled look. Izuku took a tentative breath, bracing himself and biting down on his lower lip as he tentatively leaned down, reaching for the faded blanked. And like clockwork, he was almost instantaneously greeted by a great white SMACK to the face, sending him toppling back against the stack of books behind him. The freckled teen was quick to recover, however, and he reflexively pounced on the merman before he could resubmerge himself beneath the water, pinning him to the ground.

 

"Get off!" Todoroki snapped at him, his tail flailing about as he writhed beneath the weight of the human above. 

 

"Look, you can be mad at me all you want later, but I need you to see someone real quick, okay!?"

 

"I said OFF," Todoroki bellowed back, a cyan eye glaring furiously at Izuku from beneath his overgrown bangs. Izuku grunted, struggling to maintain control. He was sure that this would only dampen their relationship further than he'd already managed to that night. But he owed this to both Todoroki and Mr. Toshinori. 

 

Their struggled came to a halt, however, as the patter of footsteps flurried toward the two boys. Izuku looked up, giving Todoroki just enough time to triumphantly toss him off his back and pull himself up. But the merman frozen instinctively as his heterochromatic eyes suddenly met a familiar pair of ocean blue. 

 


 

“...Shouto?"

 

The fisherman's voice quivered as his sunken eyes stared back at the boy's, joy and relief overtaking them. The merman could only lie there on the ground frozen in shock, unable to fully comprehend the sight before him. When he'd run from home, he'd known there would be no turning back; no more weekends with the kind fishman on his boat, no more certainty for his future. But yet, here was that very man now- after all this time and so far away from where they had met- greeting him with the same kindness and love that he'd always known.

 

The man broke down into tears, suddenly dropping down to embrace the young man into his arms, clutching to him as tightly as his weakened muscles could muster. It was in that moment that situation hit Shouto all at once, the acceptance of the unbelievable reality before him. For the second time that evening, the teenager could feel his eyes stinging hot and heavy. He buried his forehead into the fisherman's shoulder, clinging back to him with a force even stronger. 

 

He was here. He was actually, really here.



Neither could find the strength to pull away for a long while, both too overcome with emotion to let the moment end. But when at last the time had stretched on long enough, the man tentatively did so, looking back at the boy with wonder and care as if he'd found his own lost son. 

 

"You're okay."

 

The merman nodded, faintly returning the smile. The man's expression faded, however, as his eyes caught on the sight of the long scar running down the length of his right side. Shouto wrapped his arms and tail protectively around himself, glancing down at the earth between them.

 

"Yes. I am sorry for scaring you. I...I ran away..."

 

The man's jaw fell a gap, staring at the boy in shock. 

 

"You...can speak. You can...ran away?!"

 

Shouto‘s jaw clenched, his shoulders pressed together. The man quickly took up on his discomfort toward the subject, and mercifully instead chose to focus on the former half of his revelation. He gave a soft smile, leaning over to give the young man a soft pat to the head- to which he did not protest.

 

"I always knew you were a smart one," he chuckled, slightly ruffling his hair as he pointed a thumb to the human boy watching on silently beside them. "I'm sure young Midoriya here was a great teacher. Though, hopefully not better than me," he playfully teased. 

 

The merman paused, remembering the boy beside him as the resentment flooded back into his veins. He gave a piercing look over at the green haired teen, who gulped as he was quick to advert his eyes. The fisherman watched the two of them keenly, finally picking up on the awkward atmosphere between them.

 

"Now, now. There's no need for that sort of attitude, you two."

 

"It's my fault..." Midoriya mumbled beneath his breath. Todoroki pretended to look away, though he still caught the dejected look in his eyes out of the corner of his peripheral vision. "That's why- um- I brought you this, too."

 

The boy rummaged around in the distended pocket of his lower garments, pulling out a familiar-looking, rolled up storybook and extending it toward his friend. Shouto deliberated for a moment before finally giving in, snatching the book away and into the safety of his arms before giving Izuku a flat look. 

 

"I'm sorry...I shouldn't have hid it from you. I just...I didn't want you to get hurt again," the boy admitted, his hands fumbling with the ends of his shoe laces. "I should have been honest with you."

 

The edge in Shouto's stare dulled to a meager frustration and he let out a sigh, glancing down at the bent cover of the book. He heard the familiar chuckle of the fisherman in front of them, and he sheepishly tucked it back against his chest as he caught the sight of the bemused grin on the man's face.

 

"Ah, so you do enjoy a good mermaid tale, after all!" The man beamed back.

 

The teen's cheeks glowed with embarrassment, and he quickly looked away in a panic, only for his eyes to fall on the incriminating Merking blanket draped around his tail. He was caught, red-handed. 

 

"Her painting is less scary-looking," he mumbled flatly beneath his breath.

 

The man let out a laugh, patting both boys over the head.

 

"Perhaps I could bring you the entire series next time! We could all watch it together!"

 

The dazzling look of excitement quickly reignited in the human teen's eyes, and Shouto was sure to keep his head adverted before his face betrayed him again to show yet another embarrassing revelation that night. Midoriya laughed, thankfully blistfully unaware. 

 

"That sounds great-!"

 

"Pass," Todoroki returned, not too keen on having to look upon the fisherman's deformed merman body for who knew how long.

 

The man gave out another laugh, his hand removed from his head.

 

"Perhaps we'll start with just the first movie, then."

 

And so, the rest of the night was spent with much talk, and little sleep. Shouto and the fisherman had much to catch up on, after all. He was keen not to mention how or why he'd run from home- and mercifully, the man never bothered to press on the subject, knowing well enough not to remind him of it. Midoriya, meanwhile, seemed fascinated with hearing the man recount the stories the two had collected over the years.

 


  

For such an man of such earnest emotion, Izuku was rather impressed at how well Mr. Toshinori could keep a secret when he truly put his heart into it. In all honesty, it seemed much harder for him to do so. There was so much frustration and so many questions he'd begun to pent up from his mother. Why couldn't she have just told him the truth when she had realized he was talking about Todoroki? Why did she let Mr. Toshinori know more about his father than him- his own son? And who even was his dad? Why wouldn't she tell him anything?

 

He tried to not let it show- honestlyIt was the holidays, after all. But unfortunately for Izuku, he'd never been exactly keen on hiding his emotions well, and no one knew that better than his mother. He'd been trying to distract himself on his laptop in his room, attempting to organize all the notes he'd manage to gather on Todoroki in the wee hours of the morning. It was almost odd; Izuku had never really had much of an interest in marine biology like his mother had growing up. It had only been the water and a childhood fascination with mermaids that had taken to him as a young child. He'd compromised with the former; the condition with his legs put him at a unique disadvantage no matter how naturally he'd taken to swimming as a kid. So, he and his mother had settled on leggings and the crew team; if she could not keep him out of it completely, then she could at least keep him safe, she had reasoned.  But for his love of mermaids- that had taken a deeper turn recently. It wasn't just Todoroki he was interested in. His people, their culture, how they were both biologically and socially so similar to humanity, and yet so different. It attracted his curiosity, how little, and yet how much, humanity knew of them from their isolation. They knew so much about their structural composition and diet from observations from rescue and rehabilitation efforts, yet so many of these facts were proving to be misguided the more he talked to the merman.

 

Izuku tapped the eraser tip of his pencil as he stared at his screen, so lost in thought he hadn't even noticed his mother in the doorway.

 

"Izuku, sweetie. I said breakfast is ready."

 

The boy paused, giving his mother a blank, fleeting look before returning to his work. A tinge of annoyance trickled down his spin and his lips tightened. He focused his sights on the document.

 

"I'm not really hungry. But thanks, Mom."

 

The woman flashed her son a disapproving look, pulling herself into his cluttered room. 

 

"Izuku Midoriya, are you getting snitty with me?"

 

"No," the boy shortly replied, not daring to look up at her. He could here her huff, crossing her arms as she stared down at her son.

 

"Izuku."

 

"Mom, please. Not right now," the teen mumbled, leaning back against his chair as his eyes drifted to the bed.

 

"You're upset at me," his mother returned factually. Izuku twisted his mouth, giving a dejected sigh. He hesitantly looked up at her with a muddled look, torn between guilt and frustration. The woman sighed.

 

"Can you at least talk to me about it?"

 

The boy shifted uncomfortably in his seat, closing his computer. He couldn't bring himself to it; all he wanted to say was 'why can't you talk to me about it.' So instead, he could only bite his tongue, quietly shaking his head. His mother's eyes fell to the floor in defeat once it became apparent that her son had no plans in speaking with her. She paused in the doorway, glancing back at him one last time.

 

"I'll wrap your breakfast and put in the fridge. Just promise me you'll eat it once you're hungry, okay?"

 

"Yeah."

 


 

Inko leaned against the kitchen counter, face buried in the palms of her small hands. Upon hearing the woman give a rather audible huff, Yagi looked up from his newspaper. 

 

"He's not coming?"

 

"No," the woman groaned, dragging a hand over her scalp. "I don't know what's been up with him the past couple of days. He hasn't been acting like himself."

 

"Not since he overheard our conversation?" The man proposed, stretching as he slipped the newspaper onto the counter. The woman's eyes fell away, a culpable expression overtaking her features as she held her arm to her side. 

 

"I'm just thankful he didn't hear more of it, honestly," she quietly returned.

 

"True. But he still knows you're not being honest with him."

 

The woman remained silent, refusing to look back at the man. He sighed, his hands falling into his pockets as his eyes wandering outside to look at the dilapidated shed. He continued to speak.

 

"Look, I know it's not really in my place to speak about your family. But you and Izuku have always been so close, so trusting of each other. I'd hate to see something like this tear the two of you apart. He might still be young, but he's growing up, Inko. He's not a kid anymore."

 

"I know that," the woman retorted, pulling herself off of the counter. "But there are just certain risks I can't take."

 

The man shook his head, giving up the fight. "Then at least give him time, then. He has a strong head on his shoulders, and I'm sure he'll come talk to you when he's ready."

 

Chapter Text

"So, let me get this correctly. Humans are able to create multiple paintings, bind them together, and flip through them quickly so it looks like they're moving."

 

"Yep!"

 

"And then, on top of that, they can capture their voices, save them, and make them run alongside the paintings at the same time?"

 

"I think you’ve got the gist of it!" The brunette girl giggled. She leaned over, patting the teen on the shoulder.  "It's what we call the magic of animation."

 

Todoroki gave her an inquisitive look as he pressed his hands together. "But it's not magic, though?"

 

"Nope, just a lot of hard work."

 

"Okay, I think I get it."

 

Izuku smiled to himself as he heard his two friends chatting behind him. He fiddled with his mother's DVD player, trying to connect it to the old television in the shed. The red plug should have to connected to the red outlet in the back on the t.v., but then again, nothing about turn-of-the-millennia technology ever seemed to be easy. Finally, after a few more seconds of frustrated haggling, the color on the television flashed, showing the movie's title screen. Ochaco grinned, clapping at the welcomed sight.

 

"I think you got it!"

 

"I did?" Izuku pulled himself up a little too quickly, accidently bumping his head against the screen. He groaned, rubbing the back of his head as he composed himself. He'd off-centered the screen. But otherwise, everything finally seemed to be in place. He stretched, giving a content huff as he dusted off his hands. He glanced behind him; they'd already lost Todoroki, who'd been immediately enamored by the moving image. "Okay, I'm gonna go get the popcorn and we'll start this thing up."

 

"Okay, hurry back!" Ochaco called after the teen as he sprinted out of the shed. 

 

It was only a couple days into the new year, but everything was slowly but surely returning to a relative normal. Mr. Toshinori had unfortunately returned to the coast at the insistence of his doctor, but not without the promise that he’d keep in better touch with both of the boys- a promise that he’d kept nightly with a phone call, so far. Meanwhile, things with his mother had settled at a rocky standstill for the time being. Izuku still couldn’t quite bring himself to confront her, nor could she him. Thankfully, she’d been called out for another work seminar for the week, giving them both the time alone they’d (frankly) desperately needed. As for the teenager, it meant finally having quality time at home with Ochaco and Todoroki again. He’d been promising Todoroki for over a week now that he’d show him the entire story of the book he’d found. But for that, he wanted to do it properly.

 

The boy came back into the shed, pushing open the door as his encumbered arms struggled to keep hold of all three bowls of popcorn. Ochaco was quick to her feet, dashing over to help the boy and catching one of them just as it was about to spill over. Izuku gave a sheepish ‘thank you’, recomposing himself. He grabbed the remote and plopped down next to the merman. He looked down curiously at the foreign concoction set before him, poking a tentative finger in it.

 

Izuku took a rather generous handful and shoved it in his mouth for show, reassuring the Todoroki.

 

“It’s good, I promise.”

 

The merman bit down on his lip, narrowing his eyes and silently pondering for a moment longer before finally taking the risk. He picked up a singular popped kernel, biting down on it. Izuku couldn’t help but give a bemused snicker beneath his breath, finding his curiosity rather endearing. The merman scrunched his nose, fervently shaking his head and tossing the rest of the kernel back into the bowl.

 

“This is...not great,” he detested, trying to swallow the rest of the buttery taste out of his mouth. “Too dry.”

 

“I guess we’ll cross popcorn off the list, then,” Izuku sighed. Todoroki glanced away guiltily, his cheeks slightly reddening as he muttered a quaint apology beneath his breath.

 

Izuku nudged his shoulder, offering a smile. “You’re fine! I mean, everyone has foods they don’t like. I mean, I hate okra.”

 

“Okra?” The merman blinked inquisitively, raising his head back at the boy as Ochaco discretely leaned over behind him, claiming the bowl for himself.

 

“It’s a dry land vegetable-“

 

“Fruit,” Ochaco chimed in through a stuffed mouth of popcorn.

 

-abomination that our school loves to shove into almost every meal. It’s the worst.

 

The merman returned with a nostalgic smile, leaning in on the side of his arm. “Our chef used to serve salmon every other night. My father loved it. The taste still haunts me.”

 

Izuku chuckled. “I’ll mark that one down as well.”

 

“I’d appreciate that,” Todoroki replied with a coy grin. The freckled teen could feel a growing warmth in his cheeks as he accidentally lost himself in those heterochromatic eyes that hadn’t seemed to yet look away, or even faulter for that matter. The brunette cleared her throat behind the two boys, snapping their attention back to reality.

 

“So, the movie?”

 

“Oh, right!”

 

The merman jolted, eyes widening slightly. The teen cleared his throat, pulling away as the warmth turned to an embarrassed fire across the length of his face. He fumbled with the remote, struggling for a moment with it as his mind raced to find composure. He could just barely catch a sly little grin from his childhood friend out of the corner of his eye, and his unraveled mind only continued to flounder beneath it. Eventually though, he was finally able to get the film to start, at the relief of his unsteady heart.

 

The film was a much-welcomed distraction. Izuku knew it quite well; he’d watched it a dozen times over back in his early childhood. It hadn’t always been his mother’s favorite to put on for her toddler, but the excited plea in his eyes had always won her over. There had been many an afternoon in the earliest of the boy’s memories where he’d be pulled into her cozy lap, watching Ariel sing in awe as his mother held him softly in her arms. The film had been his favorite in those early years, before he’d seen his first Merking film. He knew every word, every note and background detail to memory; there was little left that could pull him in now. And yet, he did find himself enchanted- this time not by the mermaid on the screen, but the merman beside him. In the darkness of the shed with only the television as a shifting light, he could excitedly watch and anticipate Todoroki’s reaction to every moment, only silently hoping that he’d take to the film the same way he had in those early days.

 

He did- and so much more.

 

It was when the mermaid began to sing that well-known tune in her cave, those first few notes when the light in Todoroki’s eyes truly came alive. Izuku had caught fleeting glimpses of it here and there, but never in such an extended moment such as this. There was an honest yearning that danced in them, a light burning bright and flickering back between iridescent grey and vibrant cyan. He could feel the empathy in them, the understanding and swell of emotion that followed every frame.

 

But with that passion, came sorrow. Izuku knew the moment was coming. He’d prepared that from how he’d reacted to the book alone, Todoroki would not take well to her father destroying her grotto. The merman’s eyes grew ever more fragile, his shoulders tensing ridged as if they were stone. It was as the mermaid fell, crying alone in the ruins of her sanctuary that he turned his head away, breaths shallow as he gritted his teeth. Izuku instinctively reached for the remote in a panic. But yet, he froze as he felt the grace of a warm hand gently catch the top of his, stopping him from doing so. His eyes flickered up, catching the fragile mismatched eyes just inches from his own, silently pleading as if to say, ‘I’m alright.’ The freckled teen let out a shaky breath, instead taking the merman’s hand and squeezing it tightly in reassurance as his arm receded. And oddly enough, his hand never pulled away as his sights returned to the screen.

 

It was as Ariel’s legs emerged from the water that the merman gave a chuckle, his thumb rubbing over the back of Izuku’s hand as he shook his head.

 

“Is this the part you were hiding from me?”

 

Izuku bit the inside of his cheek sheepishly, averting his eyes to the opposite corner of the room. This time it was Todoroki giving his hand a soft squeeze in reassurance.

 

“I could have told you that wasn’t possible myself, you know.”

 

“O-oh,” Izuku mumbled. “W-well. I just. I know your tail is kinda like magic. S-so I wasn’t sure if you guys had that kind of thing.”

 

“My tail?”

 

Todoroki’s grip on the teen’s hand lessened slightly as he glanced down contemplatively at his lower half, submerged beneath the pool. Izuku watched him curiously.

 

“I…I never thought of it that way. I guess it is…different.” There was something hidden in his eyes, a hesitancy in his voice.

 

“Oh…I…sorry. I didn’t mean to assume-“

 

“You’re fine.”

 

The television paused and the boys were once again brought away from each other. Ochaco had somehow managed to slip past them to grab the remote, and she was currently giving a slightly uncomfortable stare at the both of them.

 

“Um, if you guys need me to leave-“

 

“Wait, what?” Izuku’s hand immediately tore away from Todoroki’s, trying to keep his heart from aching as he caught the teen’s disappointed look out of his peripheral vision. The girl’s eyes widened slightly; a light blush dusted on her pink cheeks as she realized how oblivious her friend truly was.

 

“I’m not-” Izuku’s eyes darted back to the merman beside him, who’d already begun slinking into the water below. “We’re not- I…what?”

 

Ochaco stifled a laugh with the back of her hand. “There’s no need to be embarrassed about it, you know. I just don’t want to interrupt you two.”

 

“It…it’s not like that!” Izuku hastily interjected, the blood surging to his head as his heart raced in a panic.

 

“Stay.”

 

His thoughts immediately stilled as the calm voice beside him rung out. Todoroki had submerged himself to his shoulders beneath the water, but his attention was now turned to the girl beside them. Ochaco blinked, caught off guard.

 

“I enjoy being around you both,” Todoroki reassured. “I’ve missed this.” 

 

Izuku blinked, befuddled by the mixed signals the teen was giving. What exactly had just happened between the two of them anyways? Maybe he and Ochaco were both just reading the situation wrong.

 

The girl gave a soft smile down at the merman. “I’ve…I’ve missed you too, Todoroki.”

 

It was when then when the thought crossed Izuku’s mind. How caged the merman had truly been all this time. He’d seemed content having just himself and Mr. Toshinori around, but Izuku had never thought to ask him of Ochaco. He was probably used to socializing more and probably wanted to make friends as much as any other person did. It made the freckled teen’s heart ache, to think that he was trapped in this gilded cage. If he could just find a way to let him free, to let him see the rest of the world like Ariel had. Maybe…if they could bandage his tail and make it look like an injury, if they could put him in that old wheelchair in the back of the back of the shed…

 

“Deku, no.”

 

Izuku bit down on his tongue- hard- as Ochaco interjected his subconscious mumbling. The boy pulled his finger from his chin, looking up at the two staring back at him.

 

“It is alright, Midoriya,” the merman tried to assure as he pulled himself from the water. His voice was as leveled as ever, but Izuku could still sense an ingenuine distance beneath it, and he frowned.

 

Ochaco sighed, fiddling with the remote as she continued. “People would ask questions about his legs and where he was from. They’d wonder why he wasn’t at school.”

 

“Then we could say he’s a family friend.”

 

“Then they would ask your mother about it.”

 

Izuku’s heart sank, remembering her. She still didn’t even know that Ochaco knew of Todoroki’s existence, let along Mr. Toshinori. But still, there had to be a way.

 

“People don’t know mermaids can speak our language. We’re so far out from the ocean, Ochaco. They’d be insane to think that-“

 

“Deku, it’s suspicious. There’s way too many risks involved,” the girl’s voice cracked as she spoke, and Izuku could see the beginnings of tears forming in the corners of her eyes. This was hurting her as much as him. His stilled, however, as Todoroki interjected once more.

 

“It is alright, Och- Uraraka. You’re right. You and Midoriya have done so much for me. I’ve put you both at risk, and still you are here, by my side. I am thankful for that.”

 

The girl stiffed, weakly nodding her head.

 

“I would like to watch the rest of this movie, though,” the merman pointedly continued, his eyes turning back at the paused screen. He was trying to divert the conversation, for the sake of both his friends.

 

“R-right,” Ochaco returned, turning the movie back on.

 

It took several minutes for the awkward air between the three of them to subside. The guilt and frustration at the entire situation pulled heavy on Izuku’s chest, and he found himself unable to focus on much of anything. It wasn’t fair. Todoroki deserved better than this. And it was his fault that Ochaco was hurting; he’d brought her into this mess after all. No matter how many times she tried to reassure him that it was alright, Izuku knew that much. He was sure this time to keep his jaw clenched until the end of the film, determined not to let his tongue slip yet again as his thoughts hopelessly flew about in his mind.

 

It was as the movie ended, as Ariel and her prince kissed on their wedding boat, that Izuku was finally brought out of his contemplation at the sound of the brunette’s voice.

 

“You alright there, Todoroki?”

 

The green haired teen’s eyes snapped over to the merman beside him, a rather shocked and pale look caught upon his face.

 

“They were…kissing?”

 

Izuku blinked, nodding his head.

 

“Yeah, it was their wedding,” he tried to explain, as he remembered that they hadn’t exactly watched the last wedding they’d seen on television to its end, too distracted by idle conversation with one another.

 

“But…why? Do humans mate in front of others?”

 

Ochaco wheezed, coughing on the last straggles of popcorn she’d been munching upon. Izuku’s eyes widened, his body still and mind completely dumbfounded. What.

 

The merman glanced between the two teenagers, his confused gaze searching for an answer. The girl was the first to compose herself enough to speak through a hoarse voice and watery eyes.

 

“No. No…we don’t.”

 

Izuku pulled himself out of his daze, taking over the conversation so she could recover. “Kissing isn’t really…um…a mating-exclusive thing for us.”

 

“I see,” Todoroki replied, though the befuddled look in his gaze remained. Izuku rubbed the back of his neck, his mind searching for the best way to describe it.

 

“For us…it’s kind of…different? You don’t have to kiss with just a…well, mate. You kiss someone when you care about them deeply. When you want them to know how you feel. I mean, it’s best not to kiss them too much in public- people kinda get weirded out by that. But it’s not like this forbidden thing-”

 

“Showing you care?” Todoroki repeated, a spark igniting in his eyes behind the confusion. That passion once again did strange and wonderful things to Izuku’s rabbit heart as his cheeks lit ablaze, his eyes darting around the room and words struggling to stay coherent as he tried to elaborate.

 

“Y-yeah!” Izuku nodded his head. “Like say you like someone. And you’re pretty sure they like you? So you, um, you kiss them to let them know? Though, you probably should do it after ask-“

 

Everything that took place in the second or so after that was a blur. The next thing Izuku knew, his arms were being pulled in by a set of hands- one warm, one cold. A swirl of icy hot breath enraptured his senses before the next thing he knew, Todoroki’s lips were upon his.

 

And with that, his heart stopped.

 

His body stilled, his mind frozen, no longer able to compute. The touch of his lips was soft, yet firm all at once, as ambivalent in temperature as the rest of his body. It was at the squeak that escaped Ochaco’s lips that the spell was finally broken; Todoroki pulled away as quickly as he’d come, and Izuku’s senses returned to him- if barely. He was still shell shocked, struggling to find the words to say or how to even react.

 

He…he must have explained that extraordinarily wrong. That was the only explanation. The only way. That was it. That was all there was to it.

 

He finally found the strength to move, and evergreen eyes met heterochromatic, scared and pleading and unsure- just as the feeling in his chest.

 

No, that wasn’t it at all.

 

Ochaco, once again, was the first to recover, though her eyes were giddy with excitement and cheeks blushed with embarrassment for moments that were not meant for her eyes. “I think he meant that it’s a gesture for lovers. People who are thinking about being mates, but…aren’t really sure yet.”

 

The look in Todoroki’s eyes dulled as he slipped back into the pool. He looked mortified.

 

“Oh. My…my apologies.”

 

The dejection cut like a knife through Izuku’s heart and he pulled his knees to his chest, adverting his eyes. “It’s fine. You didn’t know.”

 

It was only a little while later, as Izuku led Ochaco out of the shack that he could have sworn he’d heard a quiet voice say:

 

“I did.”

 


 

 

Izuku knew he was falling. He’d known it from the moment he’d stopped fighting the temptation to lose himself in Todoroki’s eyes. He’d known it- deep down- the moment he’d held his hand. But he couldn’t let these feeling continue. He couldn’t return that affection. Part of him feared the worst; Todoroki himself had said that merpeople mated for life. He didn’t want to dwell on the implications of that, of how deeply the merman’s affections ran, if they did so at all. Izuku could only hope that the young man was simply enamored by the customs of human society, only curious to try it for himself.

 

But yet, in his heart, that hope felt all but true.

 

Again, he reminded himself, chided himself. He couldn’t fall for Todoroki. It was only a couple of months until he would have to be released back into the river. If the merman’s affections truly did exist, Izuku couldn’t return them. For if he did, it might damage Todoroki.

 

Permanently.

 


 

 

Shouto had accepted the inevitable. He was in love. He’d found his mate- the one person he wanted to give the rest of his life to. He’d known it, deep down at least, for almost as long as he’d known Midoriya. He’d felt the connection, they way his mind lost coherence and how his reserved manners were thrown away in his mere presence. He changed him; he made him braver, curious, excited, happy. For any other merman, this was a good sign; he’d found his mate at the perfect age, and that mate returned his affections.

 

But the human world was not the one of his people.

 

They mated, married, and bore children so much later in life than his own. Many broke off bonds as quickly as they were made to kindle new ones, and treated mating as a fleeting pleasure rating than a deep and irrevocable exchange of affection. The young merman was not blind; he could see the way the freckled human returned his gazes, how he held his hand and lit up when they idly talked. He could feel a connection, too. He was sure of it.

 

But Shouto knew that no relationship between them could ever last, the day of his departure only months away. With human culture so foreign to his own, the depths of Midoriya’s affections were unknown to him. He would surely move on, surely find a human mate one day long after they’d said their farewells.

 

Yet, all he yearned for- all he craved- was to be marked by the young man. Even if he was never to see him again, he would always be Midoriya’s. Even if the human could never be his in return.

 

 


 

 

The human was much more hesitant after that day. He did not come as close, and their eyes barely met as they talked. It was a blow to his hopes, the wall between them. It was not the rejection that cut so deep, but the dejection; he could feel Midoriya holding back, feel him hiding his thoughts away. He sat a little further away when they read together, payed a little more attention to the television. His smiles were rarer to find, and less vibrant when they did appear.

 

It was in moments such as this that the solitude did get to the merman. He didn’t know what to do, what to say. He dared not mention his decision and hopes to be bonded, in fear he might drive him off completely- if he had not already. That alone was enough to make him second guess his judgement. But worse yet was his inability to tell what it was that pushed the boy away. Was he preparing for the inevitable, just as he himself was? Or had he gone too far in kissing him, not wishing for any sort of commitment? It was a rare moment when Shouto missed his younger days, back when he could confide in his sister for guidance, or his mother for reassurance.

 

Here, he felt alone.

 

Yet his prayers were finally met on the eve of his seventeenth year. It was an especially cold night, and he found himself alone in the shed and out of the water. His scales itched incessantly at the dryness of the air as he lay bundled in his Merking blanket against the radiator, doing his best to keep warm. Midoriya had left his phone on the pile of books in the corner of the room for the evening. He’d taught him just enough of how to use it to call the house phone if he needed anything while he was away- if he needed another blanket, or any food. He pulled it into his lap, keeping it close- just in case.

 

He’d drifted off somewhere between the planes of sleep and consciousness when he’d felt it vibrate in his lap. The young man jolted awake, wearily rubbing his eyes as his blurred vision came into focus. He recognized the name on screen; he was still learning to read their language, but he’d seen that word enough times to know who it was calling. His hand hovered over the phone, hesitating for a moment. He knew he shouldn’t answer. But yet, the loneliness overtook him, and so he did.

 

“Hello?”

 

A familiar voice returned in the receiver, understandably befuddled.

 

“I- oh- hey, Todoroki. It’s Ochaco.”

 

“Hi.”

 

“I, um, is Deku there with you?”

 

“No, he’s in the house. He left the phone with me.”

 

“I-oh. Got it. I was, um, just calling to check on you guys. There’s a snowstorm coming. You’re both okay, right?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

A moment of silence passed between the two of them. Shouto wasn’t sure if she was still there, but nonetheless, he worked up the bravery to talk once more.

 

“Uraraka, can we talk?”

 

A small chuckle tickled his ear from the phone. “Well, I mean we are already talking. But…of course, Todoroki.”

 

The merman shifted his body against the radiator, trying to think of where to even begin. Uraraka knew Midoriya unlike anyone else. And while he did know her as well as him, Todoroki still trusted her, nonetheless.

 

“That night when we were watching the movie…I made a mistake.”

 

There was another pause on the phone, so long that the boy had begun to fear the girl had hung up on him. But finally, she responded.

 

“Well, that depends. Did you mean it- when you kissed him?”

 

“I…” Shouto took a shaky breath, closing his eyes as he forced the truth from his mouth. “Yeah.”

 

“Then you didn’t.”

 

The answer wasn’t enough for the merman though, and he could feel his heart racing.

 

“Things have been different since then. He won’t look at me. He keeps his distance. I think I scared him.”

 

Uraraka sighed. “You didn’t, I promise. He cares a lot about you too, you know. Like way too much even. It’s cute,” she continued with a chuckle. “Just talk to him. I know things are…different when it comes to your people and our people. But if you care about him- and you are friends- then you two should talk about what’s going on. I know it’s gonna be weird and hard, but if I know Deku, it’s that he’s probably not talking because he’s just as confused. He needs to square up to talk to you too, honestly.”

 

For the first time in days, Shouto could feel a genuinely warm smile creeping its way upon his lips. There was something about her kindness that radiated a warmth unlike any his body could. It made him feel safe; he could see why Midoriya and her were so close.

 

“Thank you, Uraraka.”

 

“Anytime. And stay warm, okay?”

 

It wasn’t a moment after the call had ended that Shouto knew what he needed to do; his fingers were already dialing the one number he did know.

 

 


 

 

Izuku had rushed to the shed as quickly as his feet could move. He’d nearly tripped on the comforter he’d draped around him three times, his footing unsteady and his nerves high. Todoroki had said that it was urgent, but in typical fashion, he hadn’t done much to elaborate on anything else.

The boy nearly tumbled into the shed as he burst into the room. He shined the flashlight in his hand around the shed, his eyes darting about as he tried to find the merman. They eventually fell on him, huddled up in his blanket against the radiator as he stared back at him with dilated pupils. Izuku lowered his flashlight not to blind him as he closed the door, trying to compose his disheveled appearance. He cleared his throat, running a hand through his tangled locks as he made his way over to the merman, stopping at a safe distance.

 

“You called?”

 

Todoroki nodded, eyes shifting to the floor as he remained in contemplative silence for a brief moment.

 

“I talked to Uraraka. She wanted to check on us.”

 

“Oh.”

 

Izuku kicked off the snow from his boots as he plopped down at the other end of the radiator. He couldn’t help but feel slightly embarrassed at his overreaction.

 

“I…I wanted to talk to you, too,” the merman quietly continued.

 

“Oh. Okay,” the freckled teen gulped, giving a fleeting glance at the other teen in the dim light. In the brief moment he dared to look, his eyes were off somewhere distant, the tone in his voice carrying a serious weight to it. Izuku’s stomach churned, unsure but nervous of where this was headed. There merman was slow to continue. But he did so, nonetheless.

 

“What are your feelings toward me?”

 

The question hit the green haired teen like a boulder square in the chest. Ah. There it was. The nerves tingled down his limbs, his chest hollow.

 

“I care about you. A lot,” he vaguely returned, silently praying that it would be enough to sate the boy’s curiosity. But even Izuku knew better at this point; he didn’t have to look up to know that it wasn’t- the silence was enough.

 

The teen sighed, resting his head against the radiator as he stared up at the ceiling. The days of him hiding the truth to himself were finally over. It was time- he owed Todoroki that much. As a friend, if nothing else.

 

“I like you. Like…like you like you. Every time your eyes light up, I forget what I’m even thinking about and seeing you happy makes me happier than I’ve ever felt before. I can’t get you out of my head, even when I’m at school or away. You’re always there- and honestly, you have been- ever since the day I saw your tail on the river.”

 

Izuku look a long breath, his heart racing as he closed his eyes. He wouldn’t let the nerves get the best of him this time, and he swallowed down his fear.

 

“I know you like me, too. I know you don’t know a lot about humanity. But you’re smart, and you know what you were doing that night.”

 

“Forgive me,” Todoroki quietly replied. Izuku could hear his body shifting in the darkness, but he wasn’t quite ready or brave enough to open his eyes, to see the look on his face.

 

“Please. Don’t say that. You shouldn’t be. I just…we can’t…there’s no way…”

 

Damn. What was he even trying to say? Why was this so hard?

 

He jolted as he felt a cold palm on his knee. He hesitantly opened his eyes. And there was Todoroki, his eyes soft and docile, staring intently back at him.

 

Izuku was torn. Again, he could feel the way his alluring gaze twisted his heart, but the truth cut that warmth away like a knife, and his eyes stung at the knowledge of the bitter truth.

 

“I love you, Midoriya.”

 

The freckled teen’s heart stilled as the words rang out like a whisper into the cold winter night’s air. Damn it. Damn it, damn it…

 

It was true. He did feel that way.

 

Before he had any chance to stop them, the tears streamed hot down his cheeks as his shoulders violently shook. Todoroki’s hand fell away as he buried his head into his knees, curling in on himself. What was he supposed to say to that? How was he supposed to react to that? Izuku wasn’t as sure about anything as Todoroki was, and he was afraid. He was scared of hurting him, scared of not understanding how he felt, scared of losing him.

 

“You don’t have to love me, too.”

 

Izuku’s head shot up as he stared back at the teen before him. The look in his eyes was bittersweet yet sincere; it was as if he’d already accepted the truth that Izuku couldn’t- that he refused to. He sniffed, rubbing at his swollen eyelids.

 

“But that’s it! I don’t know if I do o-or if I don’t. I don’t know anything.”

 

Todoroki’s hand reached out, hovering over Izuku’s own. His eyes pleadingly gazed into Izuku’s and he immediately understood. This time, he was being more hesitant, more cautious. He was asking permission.

 

The freckled teen weakly nodded his head with a shaky breath, letting him take his hand into his. He knew this was a bad idea; he couldn’t promise the boy a thing. But yet, here he was, instinctively letting him in before his brain had time to stop himself.

 

His hand was freezing cold in the still atmosphere. Izuku shivered but refused to pull away. Everything in his mind was screaming at him to stop this, to be rational- just this once. But his body had a will of its own. The merman’s eyes drifted to his quivering hand, and he shifted it away into the palm of his right hand. The embers on his tail brightened as he pulled himself in close to the green haired teen, the warmth of his tail hugging tight around his legs. For the first time that evening, any cold of the winter’s evening dissipated from Izuku’s body- all that was left was warmth and a spoken desire fueled behind it.

 

The merman’s breath tickled the human’s nose, and the two boys’ eyes met, just inches from one another. Todoroki found his voice once more, in a soft whisper so fragile that even intertwined, Izuku could just barely hear.

 

“May I? Just for tonight, Midoriya-”

 

Izuku’s heart was pounding in his ears as he pressed his forehead against his, his fingers intertwining with the back of his neck. His eyes stayed steady on Todoroki’s; there was no place else they would dare venture as his lips parted.

 

“Izuku.”

 

“Izuku…” The merman repeated in a soft and sultry tone, his intense gaze drowning in fire as his warm hand brought the human’s to the gland behind his jaw. Izuku’s breath hitched. It throbbed at his touch; it was the one source of heat on his right side, and it radiated perhaps even hotter than his left.

 

“Shouto…” he offered back to the boy in a whispered whimper. His eyes were clouded, lids hooded in a intent gaze the likes of which Izuku had never seen before. It filled his body with a hunger- a new and foreign craving that ravaged him like nothing before.

 

“Shouto,” He returned with an unsteady breath. The merman gave a content grin. And with that, the hunger overtook them both.

 

Their lips were on each other’s in an instant, firm, desperate, hot and cold, searching and curious. Izuku’s thumb softly grazed over the length of the young man’s gland and he made a muffled mewl, his back arching as he pressed his chest into his.

 

For how long they remained in their blissful heat, neither could tell. But when they finally broke away, their breathes were labored and spent, eyes weary but content. They stared on at one another for a long moment longer before Izuku finally pulled his hand away from his unclaimed gland.

 

As he leaned back against the radiator, he couldn’t help but give a bemused grin at the state of Shouto’s hair. It had been airborne for long enough it had completely dried, and their moment together had left in a rather disheveled state. Izuku was sure he looked little better, but thankfully, his locks had been a natural mess since the day he’d been born. The merman gave the boy an unamused took, playfully flapping the end of his tail over his freckled face as a warning. The teen could only roll his eyes back as him, unable to contain a snicker. It only resulted in another slap of his tail- but it was so light, one could hardly call it that.

 

He pulled himself into the merman’s side, his legs curling around the warmth of his tail. Maybe some other night, he could come to chide himself, come to regrets this. But for right now, he was happy- they both were, and that was all that mattered.

 

Izuku hadn’t realized he’d drifted off to sleep against the merman’s shoulder until the faint sound of his alarm stirred him. The boy groggily leaned over, turning it off as he caught a glimpse at the time, remembering why he’d set it to begin with. He smiled up at the merman against him, he himself just awaking.

 

“Hey, Shouto?”

 

The merman blinked, giving him a curious look through wearily content eyes.

 

“Happy birthday.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Shouto’s eyes watched the trails Izuku’s calloused fingers made along the folded paper, following the length of the uneven blue line running down the course of the illustration; the human teen had spread the map out on the dirt floor so they both could see it. Shouto lied on the dry land alongside him; he’d learned by now in his months living with Izuku that paper and water did not mix (nor did much of human technology, for that matter.) Thus, he was sure to keep a good distance from the pool, his tail swathed in damp towels to keep the dryness from taking hold. Plus, the water had given off a strange, turbulent aura since he’d awoken that morning- even in the confines of the shed. The pressure in the air wasn’t much better, and the slight ache in his bones made him the smallest bit nervous. But still, being on land meant he could be closer to Izuku. And for that, he couldn’t complain.

 

Izuku’s eyes were all the while focused in that mannerism he found both charming and irresistible; the way he furrowed his brow when he started to ponder made the merman’s heart skip a beat each time without fail.

 

The freckled teen had been like this for a good, long while now; the first cherry blossoms had begun to sprout. And according to him, it meant their time was short; Spring would soon be in full effect upon them. It was such a shame to the merman that something so seemingly delicate, young, and pure could be the harbinger of such an end. He’d been enamored by them the moment he’d first caught a swatch stuck to the bottom of Izuku’s feet; their light scent was even more heavenly. The freckled teen had been kind enough to show him pictures of their tree in bloom from his phone. But still, his heart yearned to see them with his own eyes.

 

With the month or so they had left in each other’s presence, the two had begun to strategize- to begrudgingly accept their reality and work with it the best they could. Shouto couldn’t hide in the river forever; sooner or later, his glistening form would stick out to another stranger as it had Izuku. As the river traveled inland, so it became shallower until it was barely a creek. But to the boy beside him’s genius, he’d realized that it just might yet work to Shouto’s advantage. As he ran the pad of his index finger down the map, he explained the outline of his plan.

 

“Okay, so. The river continues inland Northwest for another thirty-five miles before it ends here. If you’re able to make it that far- I mean, hopefully, since you made it here- you’d be closer to the West Coast than the East. Like twenty miles, max. So, if you make it to the creek there and someone finds you-”

 

“They’d release me into the Western sea?”

 

The green haired teen nodded, his finger curling around his chin. “Yeah, hypothetically. It would be easier to transport you there. Hopefully. You did say there were other mermaidic establishments on that side too, right?”

 

Shouto nodded his head. The plan wasn’t ideal- far from it. But it was better than facing his father, to suffer his wrath for being “tainted” by humanity- his little “masterpiece,” all but ruined. 

 

“Yeah. There are ones in every ocean, I believe. The only problem is, we haven’t had contact with them in decades, maybe even a century. Given that they aren’t well-known by humans from your research, their stance towards humanity is probably…ambivalent, at best. If their settlement is even still there…”

 

He could feel a familiar pair of evergreen eyes gazing back at him, and Shouto looked over at Izuku, catching the concerned expression etched upon his features. Truthfully, he wasn’t exactly at peace with this plan, either. But it was all they had. The human’s eyes quickly darted back to the map; the merman could already sense the reservation in them he knew all too well.

 

“What is it?”

 

Izuku’s shoulders tensed slightly- just enough for Shouto to notice. The boy sighed, running his fingers through his tangled curls. He’d been finally getting better at speaking his mind to Shouto when he caught him, much to his relief. The boy pulled his back up straight, crossing his legs as he finally returned his sights to the merman.

 

“Can…can I ask you something?”

 

Shouto offered a silently curious nod. Izuku nervously ran a hand over the nape of his neck. The merman instinctually leaned forward, taking his free hand into his own. He offered a faint upturn of his thin lips, trying his best to reassure him. The human let out another shaky breath, the nerves in his eyes dying down.

 

“I…I’ve kinda been avoiding asking you this for a while because I didn’t want to intrude. But…what happened that night, when you ran away? Is facing your family really worse than trying to find this random civilization?”

 

Shouto’s hand gripped to Izuku’s a little tighter as his eyelids narrowed, his voice flat and short.

 

“Yes.”

 

The freckled boy averted his eyes, chewing on his lower lip. He was second guessing his words; Shouto mentally chided himself for being so blunt. His father had a way of bringing out the worst of him- a part of him that was all too much like the very man. Shouto took a long breath, composing himself before elaborating- and before Izuku shied from the subject completely.

 

“I…I haven’t told you much about my past, about who I was. I’m sorry about that, Izuku. Part of me just wanted to forget it all. To pretend it didn’t even exist. I…I was weak.”

 

He could almost feel the fire in the human’s eyes eyes as he returned his gaze, passion ignited within them.

 

“You’re not weak, Shouto. You survived; you’re here.”

 

This time, it was the merman who tucked his gaze away in remorse.

 

“To my people, I am.”

 

Izuku blinked, his hand going limp within his as he stared back inquisitively.

 

“Your people?”

 

The merman tensed as he forced himself to continue.

 

“Yes. I’m…I mean, my family…we come from the largest kingdom in the Eastern seas. And my father…he’s their king.”

 

“Oh.”

 

Shouto glanced up. Izuku’s face had turned deathly pale, his eyes hauntingly wide. He couldn’t blame him for the reaction, honestly. In truth, he’d expected as much. When the boy offered no other words, but his undivided attention still, Shouto pressed himself once again to continue.

 

“A while ago, you asked me if my tail was magic. At the time I told you that it wasn’t- only different. Truth be told, it was a half-lie, half-truth. My family is…special.”

 

Shouto faltered. Izuku regained his composure and squeezed his palm, a gentle look in his gaze as their eyes met. The merman’s cheeks heated up ever so slightly, and he quickly looked off in another pointless direction. The freckled teen chuckled, gently reaching out to catch his cheek with the pads of his fingers, drawing his face back to his. Shouto huffed, causing his bangs to flutter up off his face.

 

“It’s…a long story.”

 

“You know I love stories.”

 

“And I know you probably have work to do.”

 

Izuku rolled his eyes, returning his gaze with bemused confidence. “I think you underestimate the power of an all-nighter.”

 

“And I think I remember your mom getting onto you about that-”

 

Izuku paused for a brief moment in thought before suddenly leaning forward, placing a fleeting peck on Shouto’s lips. Alas, it was all too successful, causing the merman’s narrow eyes to flash wider and his trail of thought to disperse. Izuku squeezed his hand once more, an amorous look overtaking his features.

 

“You know I’m not gonna give up until you tell me. Unless you really are uncomfortable with telling me.”

 

“Okay, okay,” Shouto huffed, flashing him a flat look- one that they both knew to be no more than for melodramatic show, evident by Izuku’s suppressed laugh. “It’s complicated so…my apologizes.”

 

The merman repositioned his body as Izuku happily took it upon himself to wedge his body in his embrace. He stared up at the teen as he pressed his back against his chest, waiting patiently as Shouto began.

 

“There used to be four kingdoms in the Eastern Seas- the Northlands, the Eastern Reef, the Southlands, and the Western Domain. They were formed thousands of years ago by four clans. They were each special in their own right; they each possessed some ability- a sort of gift- unlike the rest of our species. My father was born into the nobility of the Western Domain, the Straights of Fire. Since the beginning, they were ruled by the Todoroki dynasty- their tails, all burning red like the sun of the forbidden sky above. But…that power- that right- it wasn’t enough for him.”

 

Todoroki pulled his arms back between him and Izuku, instinctively wrapping them around himself as he continued.

 

“He wanted it all- to rule it all. On the day he was crowned king, he renamed himself- Endeavor, the Uniter of the High Seas. He marched his armies into the Eastern Reef and took my mother as his bride. He claimed the reef for the Western Domain and renamed it all as the Central Kingdom. But still…he wanted more. He wanted it all- an empire.

 

“I’m…the youngest of my siblings. There are four of us- my sister, and two brothers. My oldest brother and sister, Touya and Fuyumi, were alphas, and Natsuo was a beta. Touya was destined to become king by birthright, to succeed my father and help him take the other two kingdoms. But then…”

 

Shouto closed his eyes, giving a shaky breath. He could feel his blood racing through his veins, his eyes sting. But all at once, he felt the warmth of a loving and familiar hand give his right shoulder a gentle squeeze. It gave him strength- just enough to press on.

 

“I was born. The first four years, of the little I can remember, were as normal as my life could have been. My mother taught me out to talk and swim on my own, and Natsuo and Fuyumi would sneak me out into the old caverns and teach me how to paint the walls in the reds and blues of coral. But one day, my neck started to throb. My mother and the midwife had known it was coming- I was born to both create births as I was to have them. But they had never told my father. But…when my gland emerged, it was over. To him, I was a miracle. I was a prize, a rarity.”

 

The merman gave a bitter laugh.

 

“It was strange, really. I was just like an Alpha female- like Fuyumi- at birth, able to give and to take as a mate. Yet, in their abundance, they were treated as anything like I was, their non-omega organs forced from them at birth. But yet, here I was, that rarity- so little different than them, but somehow ‘special’, nontheless. So, my father concocted a new plan. To have an omega- in the direct line of the royal family no less- was like a glimmering jewel, a status of prestige and power ready and waiting to display. So, I was to be the new heir to the throne. Not acting, of course. Only for show. Touya was to be the acting king, still- all but in title. Of course, an omega couldn’t truly run a kingdom by himself- not according to our people, at least. Touya, well, he didn’t take too kindly to that. There was an accident and…he ran away to the Northlands.

 

“My father… he was furious. He nearly tore the castle to ruins before sending an army after him. He was not so kind to the Northlands as he was the Eastern Reef; he devastated it. The ones who survived became prisoners of the kingdom, and the ruins that were left became a vast new prison my father could throw anyone who even gave him an unpleased eye inside. Over the years they became…a wasteland. A prison for the guilty, yet the hidden caves beneath an escape from the condemnation of our society above. A place of liberation, and yet suppression. How ironic, really.

 

“So, my dear old dad had no choice. He broke my body over and over, trying to train me to be the alpha and omega he wanted, all at once. For nine years, it was hell. Fuyumi and Natsuo tried to step in, but he could’ve cared less. Even if my sister was an alpha and second in line by birth, my father would have rather perished than let a female succeed him. And a beta male…that was a sign of weakness. No, they would remain my advisors when the time came, and that was final.

 

“The Southern Kingdom- the Southlands- they were terrified. They knew my father would come for them next. They were the last standing in the Eastern Seas outside of the Central Kingdom’s domain, after all.  For years, our kingdoms had been ‘close,’ so to speak. My father had been visiting them with me for years, probably trying to bargain with them. But after what he did to the Northlands, they became desperate. So, they proposed an offer. When I was at the age of seven, the Queen offered their only heir, an alpha princess, to unite the kingdoms peacefully when we both came of age. My father happily accepted, of course.”

 

He could feel the tears hot and heavy on his cheeks, his jaw clenching as he tried in vain to hold it back. He remembered those childhood memories with Yaoyorozu- no, Momo. How they were so easily torn to bits by his father, how their friendship had been so easy to warp and break under his father’s command. Izuku quickly pulled him into his arms, cradling his head to his chest.

 

“Shouto…I’m…I’m sorry.”

 

He was weak, too weak. He sobbed, his hand clutching as the heavy fabric of his shirt as it all spilled out. He’d come this far. If he didn’t have the strength now to tell Izuku what happened that night, he doubted he’d ever be able to. And so, he continued- one last time.

 


 

The palace hadn’t been so thoroughly ravaged since the night Touya had disappeared. Broken pillars in the dining hall glowed like embers, and the king’s shouts could be heard bellowing even from the depths of the palace cellar, where the three remaining heirs to the throne had taken refuge for the evening.

 

With the heir to the Yaoyorozu throne eloped, there was no peaceful resort left in their father’s relentless conquest; there would be war. It had not yet been officially proclaimed, but every one of the three of them knew the inevitable now- they’d heard the notion escape his fiery tongue. But it would not be a quick death for the last standing of the three other domains; unlike the Northlands and the Eastern Reef, the Queen of the Southlands had nearly a decade to prepare her armies, to fortify her defenses in the event of her daughter’s tragic premature passing, if it ever were to be.

 

It would be a long war, with countless lives lost, endless blood spilled in vein on every side. Part of Shouto hated himself for what he’d done. He’d let the only peaceful end to their people slip away in oblivion, he’d left them all to a lifetime of suffering and pain.

 

He’d been naïve. All he had reasoned of was a childhood friend foolishly running from her duties. He hadn’t thought of how his father would react, what the greater consequences beyond them would have been. He could have stopped her that night; he could have ended this. He could have lied- convinced her to say that her darkened mark was his doing in the throes of their “passion.” She may have never forgiven him for it, and perhaps he himself would have become a monster for taking away her freedom, but it would have been better than this bitter end. They were royalty; their lives had never been their own, but those of their people. They were what swayed the fate of the countless; in their naivete, they’d forgotten that inevitable truth. They had never been given the right of freedom.

 

He was no ruler; he was a murderer. Just like his damn father.

 

The young man lied against the back wall of the room, numb and motionless. He heard his sister’s sobs as her shoulders shook violently, while their brother hopelessly tried to calm her so that their father couldn’t hear. But it was no use.

 

“Fuyumi!” He hissed, shaking her body as he held her tight. “Fuyumi, please, he’ll find us here.”

 

The mermaid bit down hard on her tongue. But it still wasn’t enough to stop her. Desperately, Natsuo hastily cupped a hand to her mouth as another loud bang echoed from the halls above.

 

Shouto watched on in silence, his body without the will or strength to move. His muscles still ached dully from his last training session with his father the day before. He was thoroughly spent. And right now, he was feeling far too ashamed of himself to dare intervene in their lament.

 

He knew they were both being paranoid- if only slightly. Their father would have no reason by which to end them. But still, the young merfolk cowered in his wrath, seeking shelter from the terror of him finding them in the heat of his fury. Perhaps he was less fearful of it, only because he’d come to witness it firsthand as his ‘masterpiece’ countless times over the years.

 

“Fuyumi…” Natsuo gently tugged at his elder sister before at last pulling away. A long moment of silence passed, and even looking away, Shouto sensed their eyes on him. He couldn’t find the words to reply with, though. He could feel nothing- nothing but shame.

 

Slowly but surely, the echoing of crumbling and crackling in the distance above dissipated into the depths of the evening. Their father had finally worn away his anger; tomorrow, surely, he would return to his composed, calculating self. Shouto would resume his training, and the preparations for battle would surely begin in the Grand Hall.

 

Fuyumi was again the first to break, letting the sobs from the depths of her chest flow more freely now. “I can’t…I can’t do this anymore…”

 

A fierceness overtook Natsuo’s eyes. “Fuyumi, no! We can’t do it. Not yet. If he catches us-”

 

“If we don’t, thousands will die! Is that what you want, Natsuo?!”

 

“Keep your voice down!”

 

No. As second in line to the Kingdom’s throne it is my duty to our people. And you will not silence me for it- do you hear?!”

 

Shouto watched his elder siblings quarrel, torn between the guilt and confusion. What were they going on about?

 

Natsuo caught the look in his little brother’s eye, sighing and pinching the bridge of his nose. “We’re going to die if we get caught. Are you prepared for that?

 

“He’s tired, and he’s weak. It’s our only chance.”

 

Shouto’s eyes widened, his floating form going ridged as he realized the weight of their words. There was no way they’d plan it. There’s no way they’d dare.


His eyes met his sister’s. Immediately she saw his expression; he understood.

 

“Shouto, we have to overthrow him. Tonight, before he declares war.”

 

The teen’s stomach lurched into his throat at the very thought. No, no, no, no.

 

“I’m not going to hurt him. I won’t be like him,” he shot back, his eyes narrowing at her. She was right; with him gone, they could save thousands upon thousands- maybe even more. Maybe he wouldn’t have been the bringer of their deaths just yet. But still, he would be a murderer. And that very notion made the blood of his left side run cold.

 

He wouldn’t be like him. He wouldn’t turn into the tyrant he’d been attempting to train him to be.

 

Not with his dying breath.

 

“Shouto, please…” The young woman begged, clasping her shaking hands desperately over his. “We could finally free mother! Pardon the Human Sleeper and the tainted in an instant! They would all be free.”

 

“I…I know…” Shouto replied in a broken whisper, unable to face her eye to eye. Her grip on him tightened, the tone in her voice more acute.

 

“And if we don’t. It…it will mean war, Shouto. You were the closest to the heir of the Southlands. You would be questioned- blamed, even. If the Queen accepts the declaration of war, she’ll go after you first, Shouto. She knows it would be the biggest blow to our father.”

 

The young merman’s breath hitched. She was right. To have an omega male in the noble class- let alone to have one as the crowned prince, no less, was to have a target painted on his back. His status had been no secret to their people since the day he’d first presented; he was their crown jewel. He death would be the perfect retaliation to that.

 

Still, he could not speak. He couldn’t be like him…he couldn’t be…

 

“Then he needs to run.”

 

Natsuo’s voice boomed out from the silence like a sharpened slab, his words heavy but clear. It was clear now, as his eye met his brother’s, that he’d accepted his fate. Despite his reservations, he’d clearly realized that his sister was right; to the both of them, it had to be done. “If we don’t succeed, he’ll be the first causality- I’m sure of it. There’s no way the Queen would just up and leave to look for her daughter, to let her guard down like that. There are spies here- in this very castle, even. The servants have been disheveled for days around us- like they know something we don’t, like they can’t even trust themselves. And even if Shouto isn’t killed, father will surely have him guarded day and night- never out of sight. There’s a chance he’d never leave this palace again.”

 

The words shot through Shouto, leaving his chest aching and hollow. To never leave again. The memories of the fisherman came swirling back into his head. The merman’s breaths shallowed, struggling to find oxygen. To never see the clouds again. Or the weathered fisherman and his horrible salmon sandwiches- and his kind, doting smile. To never get to look at that photo album again, to never see smiling faces like those in the picture of the boy and his mother. To never learn another human word, to never see the sun or the moon. To never dance above the horizon.

 

To not have that one freedom was to not be alive at all. But still. He could not kill. He would not kill.

 

“I’ll do it. I’ll leave.”

 

The words escaped his lips before he had the time to think them through. They were returned with deafening silence, but the answer was still there. He’d rather run away than suffer that fate.

 

And so, it was agreed upon.

 


 

 

It was just before dawn when the trio made their move. Natsuo and Fuyumi slipped down the halls in silence, their long tails slow and careful with every turn. Shouto had nothing to prepare, no sentiments left to retrieve down here. He hadn’t the will or strength to face his mother in almost a decade; what was there for him to tell her now?

 

While his siblings were more cautious than him, he had faith- and with it, hope. Their father was thoroughly spent from his tirade. They would surely overtake him with ease. And though they would do what he could not, he couldn’t hold that choice against his brother and sister. For them, it was for their people, for their future.

 

What little did they not realize as he slipped into the coral gardens of the palace behind was that their embraces in the cellar would be their last; he had assured them that he would escape to the Northlands, that they (or the wrath of their father) would find him there when all was said and done. That when the time came, he would come home, and they would be together once more. But it was a lie, little more than a false truth to keep his sister from crying again.

No, for he would be going far above where they would dwell. He would finally venture above the horizon, to see the fisherman once more. To lay witness to the oddities and mystical, curious world that was home to humanity.

 

He would be free.

 

For the first few hours, his escape out of the city was of relative ease- peaceful, even. The guards were strangely absent from their usual posts, and most people were still nestled away in their caverns and burrows in the early morning. It was only as he made it out of civilization that he dared to begin to venture upward, the rising sun shimmering bright on the blue waves closer and closer above.

 

And that was when he heard it.

 

It was almost instantaneous; he felt the searing pain of the harpoon nearly as soon as he had heard it. It barely missed his core as it grazed up the right side of his torso. He let out a sharp cry, pockets of air escaping from his lips as he curled in on himself in agony. His vision focused in and out as he struggled to look up, expecting to find agents of the Southlands, ready and waiting for him.

 

But instead, off in the distance were the all too familiar shimmer of the grey scales of the palace guards. They had followed him.  The young man’s heart raced, his survival instincts kicking in as adrenaline shot into his veins. With all his strength, his tail gave a heavy wave against the current. Shouto fought back the pain as he swam as quickly as his body could muster. He could hear the men behind him, but he never dared look back; for all he knew, a second’s waste could be a life’s end.

 

For hours and hours he swam, until his body was numb, and he could hardly find the strength to breathe. The sounds of the guards behind him had dissipated long ago, but he was never foolish enough to look behind. The swim to the shore he’d followed the fisherman on so many times felt endless now; the water never shallowed. Boats a hundred times larger than the fisherman’s sailed above, surrounded by large beams and structures that moved back and forth lethargically and ominously over the water’s edge.

 

But still, Shouto continued to swim through day and night, never looking back.   

 

When he finally awoke, his tail was too weak to move. He’d nearly exerted himself to death, and how long he’d been unconscious, he didn’t know. The wound on his right side stung, but he paid little mind to it, trying to bear his surroundings as he pulled himself from the murky floor. The water surrounding him was shallower, but emptier all the same. There was no seaweed on the floor- only stones and dark sand, and the water tasted hollow and bland as he breathed, the taste of salt far gone. It was serene, almost- if not lonely.

 

The further he swam, the stranger the water became. It grew hazier, filled with creatures smaller and foreign to any of the ones he’d ever seen in the kingdom. Strange, round plants floated on the surface. He tried to eat a few, out of desperation. The taste was horrific. But at the very least, it hadn’t made him sick.

 

Over the days, he began to venture closer to the surface as the ground grew ever closer. Strange, straight plants stuck out at the shore of the murky water. They were surrounded by rock-hard flora. They were rough like coral, but tall and brown, their green, fluttering scales reaching up to the heavens above and dancing along in the wind. Strange creatures nipped at his skin and made it itch in the nights when he poked his head above the surface, so he learned to avoid doing so when the moon was high. Though more often than not, he found his curiosity getting the better of him, and he wound up doing it, anyway.

 

Eventually, though, he found his stamina draining; he could still swim, but the movements made the aging gnash in his torso ache, his bones creaking and muscles tensing. He wasn’t sure how much longer he’d survive like this, but he didn’t care. With what little time he had, he wanted to explore- to see what of the world he could. He tried not to acknowledge the fear that he’d somehow lost himself far away from the fisherman, to a place he would never again reach him. He tried not to think about the ache of his heart when the thought attempted to hit. Instead, he did his best to indulge his continual curiosities, swimming when and where he could to keep it from his mind- even in his failing strength.

 

He’d become so used to the solitude that he was almost thrown into cardiac arrest when he’d heard a voice yelling off in the distance above. An archaic boat glided over the water, powered by maybe a dozen humans or so, pulling it along with just as many long poles.  The merman immediately panicked, flipping his tail over the edge of the water as he dove back under. His eyes narrowed, though, as he caught sight of two humans flopping ceremoniously beneath the surface, one after another.

 

After than afternoon, he found curiosity once again getting the better of him. There was no point in trying to swim onward anymore; his body was much too weak for that now. So instead, he found himself following just a little closer to the boat each day. Despite the screams of the one obnoxious human, the boat almost called to him, beckoning him closer. It was almost like a ritual; every day, one of the humans would hit the loud-mouthed boy square in the face, and they would always end up falling back into the water. It was admittedly amusing, even if Shouto found himself too shy to let himself be seen by them.

 

He found himself sleeping in the tall plants close to the shore nowadays, trying to conserve his energy the best he could. Most nights, it had been peaceful, save the high-pitched chime and low-pitched croak of the strange land creatures surrounding him. The was until one, fateful night.

 

The sound of two knocks had been what had first awakened him. He’d initially thought nothing of it and attempted to drift back off to sleep. That was, until he’d heard an uncharacteristically loud splash into the water, dangerously nearby. The merman let the scales of his left side heat themselves, illuminating the darkness as he cautiously swam closer. It was then, as he peaked his eyes just above the surface that he recognized the squirming figure in the pale moonlight.

 

The boy from the fisherman’s picture.

 


 

 

Shouto could have almost sworn he’d caught the infancy of tears in Izuku’s eyes as he laughed, rubbing at them with his forearm.

 

“Of all the pictures for him to show you, that was the once you remembered?”

 

“I’m glad I did, though,” the merman chuckled, glancing up at the teen cradling him in his arms. “I have to say, you look a lot less…scared in person.”

 

Izuku chuckled embarrassedly, running a hand through his bangs. “I’ve never been great with getting my picture taken. You should see all my yearbooks. I’m a wreck- in every one!”

 

The two boys chuckled, finding solace in each other’s presence. Remembering those day hadn’t been pleasant for Shouto to relive. But recalling the night they’d met had been enough to bring a smile to his face, despite it all.

 

It might have been selfish, to find such bliss after running from his family and his kingdom. But for the first time in his life, the hollowness in his spirit was filled. Every day, he was content and at peace. He had never been meant to rule, never been meant to spend his life beneath the surface. He needed no royalty or riches or power. It was here, in this little run-down old shed, he’d found his peace- his reason to live. 

 

He felt the soft brush of Izuku’s lips on the crown of his head. He caught a mischievous idea as it fleeted through his mind, and he quickly looked up, catching his lips on his own. The human’s breath hitched, eyes opening for just a moment as he was caught off-guard. But he happily took the welcome surprise, leaning deeper into the kiss. Shouto hummed contently, letting his weight fall into the teen as his head cocked to the side.

 

He could already feel his gland pulsing, his blood running a little hotter on both sides of his body. Izuku probably could, too, because not a moment after he’d noticed it for himself, his hand was already upon the bright pink spot. He caressed it gently as their lips wandered, never too rough or careless. It was almost too kind, even. The primal urge in the merman wanted him to press harder, to bite it, to claim him for his own. But even as the pleasure fought to unravel him, there were boundaries, limits he would not dare surpass. Izuku liked him. And that was enough. It was all he needed.

 

For it had to be.

 

But, both of them had been naïve- careless, even. Moments like these were a risk, one that they’d obliviously become too reckless indulging in as of late. They were so entwined with one another that they’d both failed to hear the door of the shed creak open. It was only as the plate crashed into the muddy earth behind them that they were aware of her presence.

 

But by then, it had been too late.

 


 

 

“I…Izuku…”

 

Izuku’s heart stopped, and he immediately tore himself from Shouto, struggling with how entangled their limbs had become in the moment. But it was futile; the second his eyes met his mother’s he gave up the charade.  He watched helplessly as they ricocheted through a series of emotions in an instant- shock, horror, heartbreak, and finally, anger. Izuku clenched his jaw and looked away.

 

He was still too frustrated with her with everything she’d been hiding. If she tried to cross him now, he wasn’t sure if he could hold his emotions back any longer.

 

He felt her arm on his in an instant. He tore it away, but just as quickly was it back on him, dragging the boy forcibly to his feet.

 

“We’re going inside. Now.”

 

“NO,” the teenager snapped, pulling himself away once again. He stood squarely in front of Shouto, shielding him from the scene above.

 

“Whatever you have to say, Mom, you can say it right here. If you even have anything to say.”

 

The woman furiously gapped at her son.  “Pardon me, young man?”

 

Izuku crossed his arms, standing his ground as he stared down at her. It was moments like this that he’d realized how much he’d grown. That was right; he wasn’t a little kid anymore- and it was time she stopped treating him like one. He remained silent, keeping his sights on her. The woman was stunned; he’d never stood up to her like this before. He’d never had any reason to, until now. But he was worn out, tired of this. Tired of the secrets and the lies. And he wasn’t going to budge.

 

She finally relented, straightening her back as she narrowed her gaze up at her son. Her eyes grew a little colder, a little more resolute.

 

“I’m…I’m disappointed in you, Izuku. Playing with this poor merman’s heart. It’s not fair to him.”

 

The boy could feel his blood coming to a boiling point at the false accusation, the words toppling out of his mouth before her could stop them.

 

You know what’s not fair? This! Everything about this!” He tossed a furious hand to his chest as he screwed his eyes shut. “You think I’m playing with him!? You don’t know what he means to me, what this means to us!”

 

“So, you were just going to hide it from me?!”

 

“What else was I supposed to do, Mom?! Tell you?! You won’t tell me about where dad is and why he left! You won’t even tell me what he looks like! You won’t even tell me what’s wrong with my legs! You hid everything from me and I’m SICK of it! How could I trust you? Why?! Why can’t you just-“

 

“Because I’m trying to protect you!” Her voice screamed out into the vacant air of the shed, bouncing of the planked walls. Izuku snapped back to his senses, stepping back in shock as he helplessly watched his mother sobbing before him. It was her turn to yell as she rubbed hopelessly at her eyes, the tears streaming out.

 

“Because I’m scared, Izuku! I don’t want to lose you! I don’t want you to make the same mistakes I did. Do you hear me?!”

 

“M-mom, what are you-“

 

“I can’t tell you, Izuku. Baby, please, I’m sorry. I just. I want…I need you to have a normal life. I know it’s not fair. But please. I need to you trust me, okay? If you never want to again after this, I understand. But just this once. I’m begging you.”

 

Her eyes shifted as she weakly pulled away her arm with a sniffle. They fell on the head of the merman poking his head out nervously from behind Izuku’s leg. Any sense of kindness in them died instantly, replaced with a bitter resolution.

 

“I never should had let him stay here.”

 

“What?!” Izuku gaped at her words, his body shaking uncontrollably as they shattered his heart. But before either mother or child had the moment to compose themselves, a loud splash rang out against the silence. The boy swung around, finding Shouto gone, only a few scattered towels from the spot he’d laid upon and ripples in the water beside them remained. He instinctively stepped towards the water after the teen, only to feel his mother throw her arms around him, pulling him back desperately.

 

“Izuku Midoriya, don’t you DARE go into that water!”

 

“STOP!” The boy pleaded, tears forming in his own eyes.

 

“Shouto! Shouto, it’s not true. Please. Talk to me!”

 

He was only greeted though with silence as he stilled in his mother’s arms, eyes darting desperately across the pool for his friend. But it was no use; he wasn’t coming back the surface, and the damage was done.

 

Another jolt of anger surged through the teen’s veins as he tore himself from his mother’s grasp, breaking down into tears as he burst out of the shed. He heard her call after him worriedly, heard the distant thunder rumbling from the sky, the gusts of wind nipping at his skin. But he didn’t care.

 

He needed to be anywhere but here.

 


 

 

His mind was incoherent mess, but his legs had instinctively known what was best; he’d manage to run all the way to his childhood friend’s house without even realizing it. He rubbed as his swollen eyes, panting as he rang the doorbell, trying to compose himself, if only a little.

 

But naturally, nothing seemed to be going well for him that day. For when the door swung open, it was not those usual warm and loving hazel eyes that greeted him on the other side- or even those of her parents. But rather, it was a narrow pair of piecing crimson eyes, boring straight into the fabric of his very soul.

 

“What the hell are you doing here, you damn nerd?”

 

Izuku crumpled, shielding his eyes beneath his bangs as he protectively wrapped his arms around himself. Kacchan. Of all people why did it have to be him? Why now?

 

The blonde seemed nearly ready to slam the door back in on his face when a much more welcoming figure intervened, gently nudging the kid out of the way as she sandwiched herself between them.

 

“Deku? Is everything okay?”

 

The boy rubbed his nose, still not quite able to work up the courage to look up at her. The girl sighed, gently and wordlessly wrapping a supportive arm around him and guiding him through the doorway, all while ignoring the bewildered look of the aggressive teen beside them.

 

“Come on. I’ll put on some teas and we’ll take about it, okay?”

 

He managed a weak nod as she guided him into the kitchen. Guilt- yet another emotion to pile onto the ever-growing heap ravaging his mind at the moment. If he had been even a fraction in his right mind- or had an ounce of self-preservation left- he would have left immediately. Kacchan finding his presence at her house without any sort of fanfare on either of their parts was a rather large, if peculiar, development; as a friend, he should have turned on his heel immediately and let them be. But he was weak, a hopeless wreck; he could barely function at this point, if he could even call it that.

 

The next thing he knew, Izuku was already seated in one of the worn but cozy kitchen chairs, Ochaco pouring water into the old kettle with its rusted handle that her family had owned for as long as they’d known each other. He could feel a familiar pair of eyes still glaring into his core from across the table. He was just now beginning to come to his senses; he didn’t dare look back at them to rip apart the sprouts of bravery returning to him.

 

“I’m…I’m sorry…” He finally managed as Ochaco draped a patched-up quilt over his shoulders, sitting down and pulling up her chair nearby him. “If this is a bad time-“

 

What was he saying? Of course he knew this was a bad time to come over.

 

“Stop that,” Ochaco scolded. He finally found the will to glance up for the first time, catching the concerned expression etched into her features. It made him feel even worse, honestly. The girl knew the look in his eyes immediately, gently tapping his heel with her foot in gentle reprimand.

 

Kacchan muttered something sour beneath his breath, and she immediately stood, slamming her hands down on the table. “You, too! If you’re going to have that attitude, then you can just go home!”

 

Shocked, Izuku watched the two of them, catching the equivalently off-guard look in the blonde’s eyes as he gawked back at her.

 

“Yeah, says the one who invited me over!”

 

“On the premise you’d be a good guest!” She huffed, turning her back to him and stalking her way back over to the whistling pot. “You’re on the same team for god’s sake, I’d think you’d care a little more. Especially since he used to be your best friend.”

 

“Exactly! Used to! Like ten years ago, you idiot!” The teen shot back with a snarl, crossing his arms and leaning back in his seat as he returned his glare to Izuku. A nervous squeak involuntarily escaped the back of the freckled teen’s throat, much to him embarrassment. Kacchan’s eyes only narrowed further at it. He shamefully looked away, back at his untied laces below. It did little to suppress the blonde’s frustration, and after a moment, he continued.

 

“Well, if you had the gall to barge in here uninvited, you might as well have the decency to explain why the hell you’re here,” he grumbled. Izuku’s eyes crept back to his former friend and teammate, surprised. Was he actually trying to be civil with him? Bakugou’s glare had dulled slightly, now focused solely on the empty teacup in front of him, arms still ridged and crossed. If he hadn’t known better, Izuku almost would have guessed he was embarrassed by it. His crimson eyes flickered back up, impatiently meeting Izuku’s as Ochaco came over to pour the tea. Izuku jolted in his seat, clutching his knees as he sat up straight and gulped, composing himself as he found his voice. His sights set back on Oacho as she returned to her seat, knowing she would understand the situation more than him.

 

“Sho- Todoroki and I had a bit of a falling out,” he finally offered with a long breath. He nearly caught the fleeting glimpse at the arch of her brow at his slipped nomenclature before she returned with a tired, worried looked.

 

“Again?”

 

“Yeah,” Izuku quietly returned, wincing slightly at the heat as he drew the thinly cracked pewter cup into his hands. “It…my mom…”

 

He shifted uncomfortably in his seat. Even if he had known she’d had her sneaking suspicions at the nature of their relationship, he still hadn’t told her about the recent developments between himself and Shouto. And explaining it to her in front of Kacchan right now was infinitely harder- especially given the fact that the nature of their relationship wasn’t fully figured out, apparently. He cleared his throat. The only way he was going to get this over with was if he ripped it off like a Band-Aid. So, he might as well.

 

“My mom found out about me and Todoroki. Dating, I mean.”

 

“You’re what?!” Ochaco shouted, nearly losing her grip on her cup. She caught it just in the nick of time, setting it back safely on the table before returning to gawk at Izuku. The freckled teen flung his hands about nervously, his entire face ablaze as his tongue hopelessly fumbled about while he attempted to defend himself.

 

“It’s- okay. Okay, yeah it’s technically not dating. But- um- we’ve liked kissed a lot, so- Wait, crap. I shouldn’t have said that. Dang it, dang it!”

 

“Izuku, tell me you didn’t mark-“

Izuku’s heart leapt into his throat. He dashed forward, staring at her in a panic as he cupped a hand over her mouth. Her eyes shot wide open, and the two of them simultaneously glanced over at Kacchan, as if she’d just then remembered that he was even there. The befuddled boy blinked back, caught off-guard by the chaos ensuing three feet in front of him.

 

“No,” Izuku whispered back. “I didn’t do that-“

 

The blonde covered his own mouth, as if trying to hold back from gagging. He did his best to compose himself before exchanging an especially unamused glare with the two of them. “Thanks. Because I really needed the mental image of you banging some guy against a wall to sleep to tonight.”

 

“What?!” Izuku shrieked, jumping back from Ochaco as his flustered state only grew worse in the deepest depths of utter mortification. “No, that’s not what I meant!”

 

“Save it,” Bakugou groaned, tossing his hand at the both of them. “Look, you two idiots clearly have some catching up to do that I’d rather not get involved in. I’m gonna go watch the weather channel if you need me.”

 

He stood up abruptly from the table. He made it about four feet or so before turning back around, grabbing his teacup with a pointed glare at Ochaco, and then headed out. Izuku waited until he could hear the television playing from the living room before letting out a relieved sigh, slumping back into his seat. Ochaco nervously tucked a loose brunette lock behind her ear, glancing back at her childhood friend. Izuku bite down on his lower lip before continuing.

 

“It…it was his idea. But, I agreed to it. We aren’t going to do that Ochaco, I promise. I won’t take that from him. We both just decided that we needed to be honest…and enjoy the little time we have left together.”

 

“Good,” the girl sighed, glancing out the window as the sound of the wind outside picked up slightly, rattling the windowsill. Izuku could see by the way her lips were twisted that she still wasn’t completely supportive of the idea of their temporary relationship. But once again, she’d taken to it much better than his mother had, which in of itself, he was thankful enough for.

 

“So, your mom caught you guys?”

 

“Yeah,” Izuku returned quietly, staring back solemnly at his reflection in his teacup. “I…I finally blew up at her over everything. In front of him- like an idiot.”

 

The sound of wood scratching across tile echoed across the kitchen, and Izuku could feel the warmth of his friend’s knee as it bumped against his. His throat began to ball up and he screwed shut his eyes, trying to fight back another set of tears.

 

“She…she said she couldn’t tell me anything, that she’s protecting me. That she wished she’d never let him stay. It…it really hurt him, Ochaco. I should have held my tongue. I…I shouldn’t have fought her in front of him.”

 

“Deku.” The girl gently pulled her sobbing friend into her arms, giving him all the time he needed to let it out. When at last his cries had started to subside, she spoke again.

 

“It’s your mother’s choice to hide your dad and your condition from you, okay? Not yours. And at the end of the day, you might have brought Todoroki in, but it was her choice to help heal him, to let you move him into the shed. And it was her who said that in front of him. Not you. I know you’re upset for him, but please- stop blaming yourself for that, okay?”

 

Izuku weakly nodded, even if he could only halfheartedly agree. Deep down he still felt guilty for dragging Ochaco and his mother into this, no matter how his friend had asked him not to time and time again. He was trying not to, for her sake, but it was no use.

 

The two of them were brought out of their conversation as a loud alarm blared from both of their phones; Kacchan’s rung out a second later from the living room. Izuku froze, his blood running cold as death as his eyes read the message on his screen.

 

[SEVERE WEATHER WARNING]

[TYPHOON ALERT]

 

“What?! Th-that shouldn’t be right. I-I mean, it’s supposed to hit forty miles up the coast, right?”

 

He glanced up at Ochaco. Her eyes grew wide, face pale as she latched onto his arm and jolted to her feet, running quickly into the living room beside him. The blonde glanced back at them as they watched in horror at the news reporter, struggling to keep her footing on the turbulent beach: the typhoon had moved- and the eyewall was headed right for them. The worst of the storm was coming.

 

Izuku’s nerves pricked at his skin as his mind ran a mile a minute, his heart racing beyond control as his hands dragged through his hair. Oh, God. Shouto. Even if there hadn’t just been a huge fight, there was no way his mother would have been strong enough to carry him into the house to safety. He needed to get home now- before it was too late.

 

“Deku.”

 

Shit. He was thinking out loud again. No, it didn’t matter. His legs moved all on their own, bolting to the front door without thought, without rationality. But the other boy in the room was just barely quicker than him, throwing his body over the front door.

 

Hell, no. Don’t you even think about it, dumbass!”

 

“Not now, Kacchan!” Izuku snapped back, trying to push him away. He didn’t care about him, or about keeping himself safe right now. Shouto and his mom were in danger; that was all that mattered.

 

“Damn it, you idiot!” The blonde bellowed, grabbing the kid by his shoulders as he furiously tried to shake some sense into him. “Look, I don’t give a damn about what you do with your life or how you live it. But I’ll be damned if I let ANYONE go out there and get themselves killed, got it?!”

 

“Kacchan, let me go!” Izuku yelled, still trying to push past him. It wasn’t like Kacchan should have cared; he hadn’t seemed to since the time they were six; why was he suddenly putting up this damn hero act now, of all times?!

 

“Bakugou, please,” Ochaco, pleaded, reaching for the blonde’s hand. “His mom and boyfriend are in danger. He needs to go.”

 

“Damn it, Uraraka!” He shot back, refusing to relent. “They’ll be fine as long as they stay inside!”

 

“Just trust me!” She shot back. The blonde paused, her eyes relentlessly boring into him in rebuttal. She shoved heself past him, reaching for her rainboots beside the door.  “Look, if you want to stay here, that’s fine. But I’m going with Deku!”

The blonde gritted his teeth, hiding his eyes beneath his bangs. “Damn it all to hell,” he growled, his shoulders violently shaking in frustration as he stepped to the side. But before Izuku could grab the doorknob, he roughly caught his wrist in his hand, giving him an acute look.

 

“Get in the fucking truck, you dumbasses.”

 


 

 

Kacchan’s pickup truck wasn’t exactly built for a trio; Izuku found himself crammed against the rattling passenger door, doing his best to share the seat with Ochaco. If he’d been in a better state of mind, he’d have probably been much more nerve-wracked in such close quarters with his former friend and coax or taken aback by his reckless driving in winds that were picking up speed by the minute. Right now, though, he took little heed in it. Izuku curled in on himself, sick to his stomach as his thoughts rattled his mind.

 

His mom was going to be safe; Shouto was going to be safe.

 

Everyone was going to be okay.

 

With the short distance and the blonde’s disregard for any sort of speed limit, the drive was barely even a couple of minutes in length. But it was still enough to let the freckled teen’s nerves get the best of him, jumping out of the car before it had even come to a full stop in the driveway. Izuku stumbled, nearly knocked back by the force of the wind and barely able to hear Ochaco and Kacchan’s shouting over it. How had it already gotten this bad?!

 

He fought back, sprinting across the yard; cherry blossoms, their color dulled with the dying light of the dark grey sky above, tossed around every which way. The cherry tree and the bushes shook in the gusts of wind, smaller branches helplessly snapping to its sheer force. Izuku pulled back the door with a slight struggle, waiting for his classmates to safely come in behind him before slamming it shut.

 

Inside, the creaking of the house’s foundation overtook the sound of the wind and debris of the oncoming storm, its orchestration accompanied by the sound of the radio and television coming from the living room. The boy barely had time to catch his surroundings before a familiar, warm pair of soft arms flung themselves around him. His mother let out an audible sob, clinging to her son tightly.

 

“Izuku, baby! You’re alright! I’ve been trying to text you, but the service has been out. I was scared to death!”

 

Izuku took out a long breath he hadn’t even realized he’d been holding. His gaze softened as he gave his mother a gentle squeeze and pulled away. At least she was safe…

 

It was only a second’s reprieve, however, as the guilt showed plain as day on her face.

 

“Izuku…sweetie. I’m…I’m so sorry…”

 

“It’s okay, Mom,” he tried to reassure as he squeezed her shoulders, attempting to keep a level head despite the fear clawing at his stomach. “We can talk about this later, I promise. Where is he?”

 

“I…I tried to get him to come out…” His mother’s voice was a frail as glass as she tried to explain. “He refused to come out; I couldn’t do it. Forgive me, baby.”

 

Izuku pulled away, his sights set on the backdoor. It was as he feared, but there wasn’t any time to dwell on that. Not now. His mother tried to reach for his hand as he ran for the door, but he narrowly missed it. She gave him a pleading look, but he could only apologize silently as he glanced back at her.

 

The exchange was silent, but both mother and child understood it well.

 

She didn’t want him to leave, it was too dangerous for him to risk going back out there.

 

Shouto’s life depended on them; he couldn’t let him die out there.

 

Her son loved him; he wasn’t a helpless child anymore. She couldn’t stop him; she had to let him go. She understood that now.

 

She turned away as her son shut the door behind him, shocked to find his current and former childhood friends standing worriedly in the place he had been. His mother commented something about how tall Kacchan had grown; the blonde muttered something about his truck being too big for the driveway and letting him go back outside. It was all Izuku could catch before their voices died out to the howling wind.

 

The scene in the front yard paled to what lie before him; the shed in its dilapidation had already started to come undone in the outer bands of the storm, planks flying about. What little composure Izuku had struggled to hold inside immediately vanished, his feet moving again without thought. He ran as quickly as he could through the wreck, practically tearing the door away as he flew into the remaining structure of the shed. He scanned the turbulent pool quickly; a glimmer of embers illuminated the bottom faintly against the darkness. Without thought, Izuku kicked off his shoes as he ran towards the edge, jumping headlong into the water.

 

His eyes met mismatched ones in an instant; they were scared and relieved all at once. The merman immediately came for him, his vision briefly flickering to Izuku’s exposed calves before grabbing him and bringing them both just above the surface. Izuku gasped for air, returning the embrace.

 

“Shouto, we need to get you inside. Now.”

 

“What’s happening?”

 

“A storm. And it’s really bad.”

 

The merman stared back at him, his eyes swirling with confusion and fear. That was right; living so far down from the surface, he probably wasn’t used to any of this. Izuku feigned a smile. He gently wrapped his hand around the back of his head, pulling his forehead against his, keeping his eyes locked on and distracting him as another board cracked and tore itself from the room.

 

“It’s going to be okay. Trust me.”

 

The merman gave a quiet nod, wrapping his arms protectively around his waist as the boy held him, treading to the edge of the pool. He was shaking fervently; Izuku helped him in his weakened state, hoisting him above the water onto the earth above.

 

But as Shouto reached his hand out to him, a deafening crack echoed from the roof’s boards above.

 

And it all went black.

 

Chapter Text

Katsuki Bakugou was a reasonable young man. At least, he came to think so. But days like today were the exception to that, apparently. That wretched look on that stupid Deku’s face always made his skin crawl. At least he had the decency to speak his mind; the fucking idiot was always playing innocent, pretending to be a good person while he was always looking down on him. Bakugou didn’t need any handouts, anyone to “save the day.” He could manage just fine by himself. It was already enough of a hassle having to deal with his baby-doll eyes in crew for over half the year, so he did his best to avoid him otherwise when he could.

 

So, if one were to have told him when he’d woken up that he was about to let that damn idiot crash his date, get him to drive back to his house in the midst of a storm, and then proceed to bunker down there while trying to console his absolutely wrecked mother, he would have laughed in their face. But alas, truth always seemed stranger than fiction. For here he was in that damn nerd’s dim basement, trying to bundle up the poor, inconsolable mess of a woman before him. The eyewall of the storm was in full force above them now; it must have been hours since her dumbass of a son had gone outside to play hero to that mysterious fuckboy of his, and the damn idiot had the audacity to never come back.

 

His mother was bawling, convinced that the worst had happened. Uraraka was doing her best to claim that he was probably just staying in with the kid and would be inside once the worst of it passed. But her words made his veins boil; he could see the cracks in her façade, the smallest hints of fear laden in her eyes. She couldn’t even believe her own lie, damn it. How pathetic.

 

Bakugou was tasked with probably the most tiresome duty of them all- keeping both of them at bay. Both Ms. Midoriya and Uraraka had made a few attempts to go after Deku, but he refused to see to it. He’d said it once, and he’d say it a thousand times more- he wasn’t letting anyone get themselves killed today (no matter how much they annoyed him.) He’d let the damn nerd slip through the cracks, run out the back door while his mother was in the way. But he sure as hell wasn’t letting it happen again to either of them. Damn if he hated it, but the kid was admittedly smart, though he’d rather be six feet under than admit it. If he hadn’t come back, he surely had some plan to take cover. He always had some sort of shitty scheme up his sleeve.

 

Always.

 

The blonde could feel the fear creeping into his own mind, and it made him sick to his stomach. No, damn it! No, not now. All he could do was keep these two idiots from being just as reckless. That’s what he needed to do. And he was sure if that dumbass had gotten himself hurt, he’d knock the daylights out of him for it.

 


 

 

He wasn’t sure how long he’d been out. Minutes? Perhaps hours, even. But when his mind and eyes began to clear, he awoke to a bright blue afternoon sky, the horrid darkness fading off far away into the horizon. His entire body was sore, aching from head to toe. The boy looked down at his torso, finding it littered in shallow scrapes and bruises.

 

And that was when the memory hit him, all at once.

 

The roof, falling in on them both, knocking them to the ground. Everything fading in and out as he cried out the boy’s name to no response in the darkness- before it all finally went black.

 

Wait. Izuku.

 

Shouto’s heart leapt into his throat as he turned around suddenly, recognizing the dismal scene around him. The shed that he’d called home for all those months had been reduced to mere rubble, its remains scattered across the mix of sand, dirt, and torn wefts of grass around him. The pillars of its framework stood few and far between; it was utterly destroyed. But, worst of all was the pool. The waves of the river had found their way up to it in the vacancy of the walls, eroding the ground and reclaiming it as its own.

 

Panicking, Shouto threw himself beneath the surface. It was murky, yet eerily calm, filled with planks and the broken remnants of the television and radiator. But every corner he dug through leading to the river, every rotted wood pole he pulled up, Izuku was nowhere to be found. The riverbed- as far as he could see- was covered in debris. But in none of it lay the boy he loved.

 

Shouto cried out his name below the waves, only to once again be greeted by silence. His breaths shallowed, his heart racing in fear. Maybe…maybe he went back inside. That was all. Right. No. No, he never would have left him here alone like this.

 

But…he must have.

 

Shouto was shot out of his panic by a familiar voice, broken by the same fear in his own. He rose his head above the water, brunette eyes meeting heterochromatic as both gazes pleaded with a hopeless question they already knew the answer to. 

 

Through her tears, the girl still sprinted towards him, her legs carelessly knocking into the floating debris and sending fresh waves high above the surface. Shouto instinctively was drawn to follow, swimming until the space between them was met. She crashed into the boy, holding him tightly as she silently sobbed against him. Shouto’s mind was hollow, blank and numb as he could only wordlessly bury his forehead into her thin shoulder.  His body did not faulter- or even react- to the vaguely familiar voice of a bewildered young man, hitching and blurting profanity at the sight of him. It didn’t matter.

 

Uraraka was the one to finally pull away, drawing him back by the shoulders as the broken spark in her eyes scanned the merman’s vacant gaze.

 

“…are you okay?”

 

Shouto couldn’t muster the strength to look back at her for more than a moment, his vision dropping down to the length of his bruised body below.

 

“Yeah.”

 

The girl let out a shuttered sigh, clinging tightly to him once more. He let her hold onto to him as he limply remained in her arms; he couldn’t find the will to speak further, or even cry. He didn’t understand; there was no way this was real- any of it.

 

Ms. Midoriya’s voice was quiet, frail as she approached them to the edge of the water, her eyes glassy wide with horror.

 

“H…he…”

 

Shouto finally found the faintest resolve left at the pain in her voice. It was enough for him to move, just slightly, finally returning Uraraka’s tight embrace as he buried his face back into the crook of her shoulder. This was all his fault. He never should have run away, never let Izuku taken him in. He would have still been here, still been safe. But all too quickly, he was thrown out of his remorse as the girl tore herself from him, shrieking into the mockingly quiet air around them.

 

“Bakugou, no!”

 

She dashed as the blonde-haired boy, whom the merman was just now coming to vaguely recognize. But it was all too late; he blocked her easily with his arm as he spoke pointedly into the receiver of his phone. Ms. Midoriya looking frantically between them all. Her voice shook hopelessly, still unable to find the words to say as her mind struggled to understand everything happening around her.

 

The blonde lowered his phone, briskly grabbing the girl by her arm as she lunged at him.

 

“Damn it, Uraraka! Calm down! That stupid i-” He paused, his eyes flickering to the distraught woman meandering over the shore, her eyes frantically scanning the distance. “Deku is missing right now. We need help.”

 

The girl dejectedly pulled away, tucking her arms against her chest. Shouto knew why she was hesitant, well aware of her reason to be fearful. Her childhood best friend was gone, perhaps for good, even. Yet still, here she was, trying to protect him. Him- who had been the reason he was missing. Him- who’d caused them all so much pain.

 

She gulped, her eyes meeting the merman’s.

 

“We need to get him inside. Now.”

 


 

 It was probably out of survival instinct, if nothing else. Ms. Midoriya’s sanity was barely hanging by a thread, outside on the shore with the authorities as they had begun the search on the river for her son. Bakugou, as much as he liked to believe he was in control, was understandably baffled as he was furious, bombarding Ochaco with question after question about the merman he’d helped haul back into the basement- where they were presently hiding. And Todoroki…he’d been silent through the entire ordeal, his eyes vacant and lifeless- detached from it all. There was no time for Ochaco to mourn Izuku’s loss at the moment, or hardly even think of it, for that matter. For all their sakes, it was now her turn to remain strong, to keep a level head and keep everyone safe.

 

“Uraraka, damn it! What the hell is going on?!”

 

Her fists balled up against the dirt floor of the basement as her shoulders grew ridged. He had every right to be confused and furious at them. She’d dragged Bakugou down into all of this, all without his consent. Sure, he’d been the one to drive them here, but he’d had no way of knowing. No answer for anything they’d been hiding- until now.

 

“Keep your voice down, they’ll hear us!” She whispered back, her eyes hiding shamefully beneath her bangs. His voice compliantly fell to a hissed whisper, but his questions persisted, nonetheless. He jabbed a pointed finger at the merman, laid up against the wall beside them.

 

“Is this why the two of you have been acting so damn weird this whole time?!”

 

Ochaco nodded, her head slowly rising as her eyes met his. They remained like so for a moment; Bakugou, staring expectantly at her, Ochaco, hesitant to continue. She trusted him, mostly. But this entire situation was enough to push anyone to their limit- even him. Still, though, his poignant gaze never faltered, naturally enough for him. There was no point in hesitating any longer; they were stuck here, and he’d seen the truth. There was nothing that hiding it from him could do to protect the merman and the Midoriyas now.  

 

“Yes. Do…do you remember that week? Last October, when Izuku kept accidentally knocking you off the boat?”

 

She paused. Bakugou offered no response, waiting for her to carry on. It was a harsh silence, enough to draw her sights away to the safety of the floor as she fiddled with her hands.

 

“It…it was him. His fin in the water. Deku…he…he found him. And he was hurt badly. So, he brought him here to save him, to help him recover until he was well enough to swim again. He needed help, so…I did.”

 

The blonde’s eyes narrowed at her, rooted in disgust. She could feel the anger seething from his glare, even before looking up at him. “So, he roped you into this mess?”

 

Throwing a hand to her chest, she boldly stared back at the boy. “No, he didn’t rope me into anything. I helped all this time because I wanted to. And I came back here today because I wanted to.”

 

She glanced over at the merman, her voice softening. Her heart ached, watching how fully the guilt and loss had taken him, his body limp and probably lifeless to the unsuspecting eye.

 

“Because he’s my friend, too.”

 

The merman jolted, his head raising just high enough that his dilated pupils met her gaze. As her vision dwelled upon him, her mind suddenly came alight as it fell to his tail. She stood abruptly, running a frenzied hand through her hair. The memory struck her suddenly. She stared pacing the room as the two teenagers watched her in confusion, her fingers combing through her hair as she thought out loud.

 

“Wait. That day! When Deku and I were cleaning out the old shed, he jumped in the water. He…he didn’t come up- for five minutes straight! And he was- he was okay!”

 

The merman shifted against the wall, his gaze widening. Bakugou’s own followed them, still utterly lost.

 

“Uraraka, what the hell are you-”

 

The girl paused, turning on her heal to look back at him.

 

“There’s a chance he could still be alive. I know it’s crazy. But-” She could feel herself shaking. No, she was supposed to be the rational one here. She shouldn’t have been thinking about this right now. But yet…what if there was a possibility, as small as it could have been?

 

“Are you insane?! It’s been hours. If the damn nerd’s alive, he’s probably washed up somewhere.”

 

“Either way we need to look for him!”

 

“What, and get ourselves arrested for hiding a mythical creature? Damn it, Uraraka! Just running into this mess isn’t going to help!”

 

The girl laughed bitterly, glaring back at the blonde. “Like that’s ever stopped you before.”

 

She knew exactly what she was doing; a spark immediately lit in the teen’s eyes at the jab. He was competitive, perhaps the sheerest competitive entity she’d ever witnessed. It wasn’t like him to back down from a challenge, no matter how dumb or senseless it was; he always made it a reality. And yeah, this was inconceivably dumb- they were just a couple of oblivious teens. How were they supposed to find him? The needed to lay low for now- she knew that. She knew better. But she needed to know Deku was okay. Somehow, someway. So much for being the stable one.

 

Bakugou rose to his feet, ready to refute it when another voice rang through the air.

 

“His legs.”

 

The two fell quiet as the merman spoke, his voice barely above a whisper. His eyes- they were alive with a revelation unbeknownst to the young woman. It was something bright, as if a glimmer of hope had come fleeting through his spirit as he continued.

 

“Every time he would come out of the water, they’d change color. The longer he was submerged, the more they’d turn, the harder they’d stick together. The night he saved me, the night in the shed. Every time. He-”

 

Todoroki paused, his eyes growing wider than Ochaco had ever seen them as his hands dug into the dirt below.

 

“What is it?”

 

“He’s alive.”

 

Bakugou groaned, leaning his head back against the wall. “Crap, not you, too.”

 

The merman kept his vision steadily on her, as if the boy weren’t even there. “Uraraka, listen to me. I think…no it is possible. Izuku isn’t fully human.”

 

“Todoroki, what are you-” She sputtered, trying to wrap her head around such an outlandish idea.

 

The life in the merman’s body had fully returned. He held tightly onto a nearby beam as he did his best to pull himself up while he leaned against it. Ochaco rushed to his side, helping hold him steady. Her eyes searched him, fighting to make sense of what he was saying.

 

“Todoroki, calm down! I know you’re scared too, but we have to keep calm about this.”

 

His eyes met hers, flaming with an unrelenting ferocity, the determination in them irrefutable. “I need to get up to the river.”

 

“What?!” She gawked at him. It was clear as day; he knew something about Izuku- something she couldn’t quite grasp. But still, he wasn’t being rational; he wasn’t thinking clearly. Sure, she and Bakugou could go outside searching without a second glance. But if anyone even saw a glimpse of him-

 

“Uraraka, if they find him right now, he could be in huge danger. Please, let me do this. Izuku saved my life twice. And I owe this much to him now.”

 

“Yeah, like you’re going to just flop your way over to the lake undetected?” Bakugou sneered, giving the kid an aggressive look as he crossed his arms.

 

“Listen, I don’t know who you are, or what kind of history you have with that idiot. But I did not sign up for this crap, you got it? It’s both you and that damn nerd’s fault we’re in this damn shitty mess to begin with.”

 

Ochaco lost her grip on the merman as he suddenly lunged at the blonde, causing them both to crash back into the ground. He squarely hit him in the face with his fist, eyes dangerously narrowed.

 

“This has nothing to do with you, so stay out of it!”

 

Bakugou growled, shoving the merman off him with excessive force, his back slamming into the beam behind him. Todoroki winced, taking a second to recover before trying to come at the kid again. But the brunette was quick, shoving herself between the two before the situation could escalate any further.

 

ENOUGH! Both of you!”

 

“Why are you even here if you don’t care?!” Todoroki yelled over her, barely complying with her arm restraining him.

 

“Because he was my friend, too, damn it! You don’t think I’m upset, too?! I watched him go out there and I did nothing! I just stayed in this fucking house like a damn coward!” Bakugou screamed back, screwing his eyes shut. “Damn it, damn it! He was supposed to be okay! I drove him here, damn it!”

 

Ochaco, cupped a hand over his mouth, empathetically watching him. It wasn’t like Bakugou to admit he cared, but they couldn’t afford to be heard. They all needed to take a breath and calm down. He tensed as he saw the kind look in her eyes, tossing her hand away as he lowered his voice.

 

“Don’t give me that look,” he mumbled, his eyes falling away. Ochaco sighed, glancing back at the merman behind him. He still looked rather upset, but he at least seemed to be calming a bit. She didn’t understand what he’d meant by Deku not being fully human, or him being so sure he was alive, yet in danger. But right now, she knew it could be their only chance.

 

They both wanted to find him right now, their own safety be damned. And she understood that urgency, that desperation to save him all too well.

 

On her first day of second grade, Izuku had been the first one to sit with her at the lunch table. He’d been the first one to encourage her to try out for the fall school play their first year of middle school, and the first one to leave a note on her picture after the show. He’d cheered her on during every performance. He’d helped her through math class when she’d been struggling, and his smile on her living room carpet kept her feeling safe on those nights when her parents had been struggling to find a way to make ends meet for the month. Maybe…maybe he’d never realized it, but he’d saved her, too- more times than she could even count. And if there was a chance- just an inkling, even- that she could save her friend now, no matter the cost, she’d be ready to sacrifice it all in a heartbeat. He’d been by her side from day one, and she’d be by his side until the end.

 

She closed her eyes, the tension she hadn’t even realized she’d been holding releasing from her body as she took a deep breath, finding her resolve.

 

“Todoroki, if you go out there, there’s a chance they’ll catch you. And if they do-”

 

“They’ll send me back to the ocean, I know. It’s okay, Uraraka. I’m not afraid of that anymore.”

 

She felt his hand lightly grace over hers, and she opened her eyes. His expression was gentle. She could see the fear behind the faint smile he was feigning. But with it, the determination in his eyes remained unwavering. The girl nodded her head, giving him a nervous, yet nonetheless resolute, smile in return.

 

“Then I’ll help you get there.”

 

“Wait, Uraraka. Are you sure you-”

 

“No! There’s no way in hell I’m letting you two-”

 

“Bakugou, you can’t stop me,” she replied softly, offering the blonde a tender look. He’d always been rough around the edges, as scared of failure as he was proud of himself. Be beneath it all, he had a good heart; it was the reason he was here with them, even now. No matter what he claimed. And that determination- the sincerity of everything he did- that was what had always drawn her to him. Before he could refute, she leaned forward. Her soft lips gently fluttered over his chapped ones. The moment was brief, barely a second. But it was enough to cause the blonde to go stiff, his eyes and mind blank as he tried to understand what had happened.

 

It was their moment to escape. Ochaco swept Todoroki into her arms without a moment’s delay, climbing up the railing before Bakugou could come to his senses. It was a bittersweet sentiment, really. She’d wanted to do this for so long, but she only wished that she could have done it when it were only a gesture of affection, with no other reasoning attached. But it was a choice she could come to dwell on and pay for later; for now, she needed to move swiftly, with the brief time they’d been given.

 

The merman was heavy; her arms shook under his weight. It was times like this that she remembered that despite how frail he looked, crew truly had made Deku so strong to hold him so effortlessly. She cracked open the back door, just enough so that she and Todoroki could assess the scene without being noticed. There were about three officers with Ms. Midoriya; she was struggling to hold back tears as she appeared to be attempting to give a description of her son, one of the officers scribbling into his notepad. There were two boats already in the river; at least one of them was search and rescue, she was sure of it.

 

“What’s your plan?” Todoroki whispered. A loud bang emulated below from the room behind them, and they exchanged worried glances.

 

“I’m going to run. As soon as you get you the water, just start swimming. Don’t stop, no matter what happens to me, okay?”

 

The merman’s breath hitched for a moment, realizing the weight of her words.

 

Promise me, Todoroki.”

 

The merman nodded his head. It was true; whether or not Deku was found, they would surely both lose their freedom for what they were about to do. But if they were successful, they would all be alive. And that comfort was enough for them both. Another bang rang out from the floorboards, much louder than the last. He was coming.

 

“Alright. We’re going.”

 

The brunette took one final breath. And with that, she flew through the doorway.

 

The next few moments were a blur in the chaos. There were shouts of surprise, of concern, of warning. But despite the weight of the boy in her arms, her legs carried on fast as they could, scraping in the debris, the shoreline quickly approaching until it swallowed her calves. Just as a firm set of hands caught onto her, she tossed the merman away, sending him flying into the water beyond. In the brief moment their eyes met, she gave him a reassuring smile as she was tugged away, trying to ignore the warm sting in her eyes.

“Go.”

 


 

Everything was wrong. No matter where he went, all Shouto seemed to do was cause others pain. From his mother, to Momo. From his people, to Izuku and his mother, to Uraraka and Bakugou. In his selfish desire to see the human world, he’d always tossed everyone else into danger. But that dream no longer mattered- not anymore. He would give his freedom- just as Uraraka had- to save Izuku if it was the last thing he could do. For once- just this once- he wanted to do the right thing, no matter the consequence.

 

Luckily for him, the human boats moved much more slowly in the debris, their engines fighting against it. With the scar on his chest finally healed, he could move at a speed he hadn’t felt in many months as he eyes searched frantically over the riverbed.

 

It was just a hunch, if he were to be honest with himself. The Human Sleeper had been caught when he’d barely entered his third year. The memory was vague, but whispers of the guards and servants in passing gossip over the years had helped him make sense of those hazy recollections. The merman been caught just off the coast at the edge of their kingdom. It took the guards a fortnight to get him to confess to his crimes. In the five years he’d been gone, he’d eloped with a human woman, bearing a son. The identities of those two he would not surrender, nor did the guards care; the human world was nothing of theirs to mettle with. But still, he was publicly shamed and dragged through the streets for two days before his father locked him in the deepest dungeons beneath their palace, never to see light again. Not even was he moved when the Northlands were taken by their kingdom.

 

His son would have been at oldest perhaps eighteen, youngest at about thirteen. He could have been anywhere in this country, or even elsewhere by now. But still- Shouto could only pray that Izuku had somehow been that fabled child. The pieces fit as well as they did not. His mother’s reluctance to speak of his father, the all-too-convenient shed and how she’d known so much about Shouto the moment she’d seen him. Izuku’s legs, his ability to survive underwater for so long. But all the same, the chances of another merman traveling this far inland, to this same town, seemed almost astronomical.

 

For nearly an hour, his eyes scanned the riverbed, finding nothing but scattered wood that petered out into the murky pathway. He kept low to the ground, refusing to light his tail to help his vision in his search in fear of being caught prematurely. But as all hope seemed fading in the dimming evening light, he caught it at last in his peripheral vision, off in the distance to his right. It was a shining reflective glitter, too pure and clean to be natural to the swampy world around it. Shouto’s breath hitched as he cautiously approached it, recognizing its form. It was a merperson’s tail, its fins a long, translucent green with glitters of black that reflected the dimming light of the sunset in its fading beauty. The black scales gradually transformed to a gorgeous evergreen, lining the long tail that followed above, reflecting Shouto’s weary expression back at him. An abrupt ring of white scales cut diagonally through its length, wrapping around where they petered off at the navel leading to the skin of the being’s lower torso. What rested unconscious above it all made Shouto’s blood run colder than ice. Izuku’s curls tossed themselves at the will of the water’s current, his eyes closed and face emotionless as a stream of blood floated from his scalp toward the surface above. Torn garments that had once been his shorts rose toward the surface of river, as the remnants of a single shoe lay off in the distance from them.

 

It was really, truly him.

 

Instinct took over, and Shouto flung himself toward the kid, holding his limp body in his arms. He pressed his ear against the center of his chest. He let out a shuttered breath, the bubbles floating over the water. It was faint, but a heartbeat was still there.

 

He needed to get Izuku to the surface. He might have survived this long here, but he was still half human; if his lack of consciousness was because of prolonged lack of dry air, or his head injury, Shouto could not tell. But he knew that the pressure of the water present so long on his body when he’d not been used to it would not be safe. And so, holding the boy tightly to him, he swam.

 

He carried on for another few minutes, until he was fairly certain that the boats behind him were out of sight. It took all of his fading strength in the darkness to pull them both to the shore. He could merely raise them until only their tails were submerged before his strength finally gave out. He let out a shuttering sigh in relief as he recomposed himself, pulling in just far enough away that he could tear apart a large swath of the boy’s shirt. He tightly wound it around the wound. It was hard to see well in the pale moonlight, but it didn’t seem too deep, and his skull seemed safe, thank goodness.

 

A swirl of emotions overcame him as he weakly combed Izuku’s wet bangs through his fingers, pulling them away from his face. He was like him. But still, it scared Shouto, hurt him to know that truth. To imagine the fear and confusion in Izuku’s eyes to see what he’d become when he’d finally awoken. But at least Shouto could offer him part of the truth he’d been so desperate to know. That was, at least, the little he did know. Though, he feared it would be of little consolation to him. As he held the boy in his arms, he could feel him shivering as the cold of the early Spring night set in. Disregarding caution for worry, Shouto carefully lit his left side as he held him closer, his tail wrapping around Izuku’s beneath the water. He didn’t know what to do; could his legs even return, now that he had fully transformed? How long would it take? Even if he had the strength to carry him fully onto land, he didn’t know how any sort of transformation would affect him when he was hurt like this. Shouto was too weak to even sit up now; the storm and lengthy panic had taken its toll on him, too. So for now, all he could do was wait for it to return.

 

But sadly, his concern and compassion in that moment would be their undoing. Even beneath the waves, his glowing tale in the darkness was like a beacon to the boats searching for them both. He was barely conscious as the men and women gently tried to speak to them, carefully carried them onto stretchers and far away. He tried to fight, tried to struggle, but the fatigue was too far set in.

 

They were trapped.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

When the consciousness finally began to take hold, everything around Izuku felt…off. The world was thick and heavy, yet it was as if he were floating through it all, his body caught in some sort of strange and idle fog. As he breathed out, his eyes fluttered open. The teen felt a flurry of bubbles tickle his nose- and that’s when it dawned upon him.

 

A surge of adrenaline shot through the freckled boy’s veins as the panic overtook him. He was submerged in water. It was vacant, clear as day- so much unlike the murky water of the river back home. He was surrounded by nothing but pale blue and emptiness, and it tasted bitter and salty against his tongue. 

 

How? Why wasn’t he drowning? Why was he breathing? Was he even alive?

 

The boy’s hands meandered down his abdomen, letting out another burst of bubbles as he felt his skin- warm, soft, alive, grooved, and scaly.

 

He paused. Something else was wrong.

 

His heart stopped as his calloused fingers ran over the length of a set of rough, grooved skin- right above where his hips should have been. As his hands trailed just a little further downward, they met an array of surfaces- elegantly smooth, yet hard and rough at their edges. Just like a serpent. The freckled teen’s head slowly turned downward, and a scream escaped his lips, muffled by the water surrounding him.

 

His legs were long gone, the flesh replaced by a long, scaled tail in its place. Izuku watched as the bubbles escaped from his hips and his mouth while his ragged breathes drew in and out, trying to understand the nightmare before him.

 

That was all this was, right? A nightmare.

 

A glowing glint of crimson caught his eye off somewhere in the distance, and his head shot up. He froze, recognizing the form immediately. Shouto.

 

He screamed out his name in the weighted depths. Somehow, despite if feeling muted to him, the other teen had already heard his voice, clear as day. Mismatched eyes meeting emerald. The two immediately swam toward one another without hesitation. But just as they were about to collide, Shouto stopped, a single hand in the air as he watched Izuku remorsefully. Confused, Izuku tried to continue onward, but his head slammed against an invisible barrier. He winced, rubbing over the dull ache of a bandaged wound he hadn’t even realized had been there.

 

Glass.

 

Reopening his eyes, his gaze met Shouto’s once more. His eyes were filled with longing, sorrow, and regret in the agonizing silence between them. Izuku’s breath shuttered, his heart twisting painfully to see such a wretched expression carved so deeply into his delicate features. The merman leaned forward, his left side glowing a little brighter and forehead pressed up against the wall as if his touch were still trying to reach out to Izuku, despite the distance. Izuku could only do the same, his forehead leaning against the glass across from him as his eyes stayed steadily on his, only an inch or two apart. He could feel it, as faint as it was- the slightest warmth emulating against the glass. Despite the overwhelming surge of fear and confusion battering his mind, he gave a shaky breath and a faint but reassuring smile back to him.

 

Shouto let out a drawn breath of his own, the tension in his shoulders releasing just slightly as he closed his eyes. Their hands met each other’s over the length of the glass, and Izuku could feel the warmth in his left, and the cold in his right.

 

He didn’t know how, but this was real. It was all real.

 

 


 

 

“Shit, shit…SHIT.”

 

Bakugou struggled to find air as he huffed, his fist plastered into the mirror on the bathroom cabinet. Everything was wrong. Everything was so, so wrong.

 

Once again, he’d failed.

 

By the time he’d managed to come to his god-forsaken senses and made it to the backyard, it had been all too late. The authorities had already restrained Uraraka and had begun to question Deku’s broken-hearted mother, and the damn merman was long gone.

 

No matter how he fought with the police, tried to claim her innocence when he had been brought in for questioning, it had been no use. Both the women had been taken in for illegal possession of a mythical creature, and not a single idiot in the entire police department wanted to listen to him.

 

Even the merman had managed to screw things up; the last he’d heard, two merfolk had been discovered and transported to the Yuuei Oceanic Rehabilitation Facility back on the coast. A whooping fifty fucking miles away. And to top it all off, that damn nerd was still missing.

 

It had all been taken from him- his former childhood friend, his crush. Even his pickup truck was unsalvageable in the aftermath of the storm. It didn’t make sense; it wasn’t fair.

 

He could hear his mother yelling for him down the hall, but all he could do was grit his teeth, trying to bear out the pain in his bloody fist. From what he could make out, it sounded like they had a visitor, but he couldn’t have given a damn if he tried. He wasn’t exactly in the prime mood to hear her nag if she saw him like this. Luckily, he’d at least had half a mind to lock the door before coming in. So, he had time to clean himself up before his unwanted visitor would see him.

 

His mother twisted her lips, giving a simultaneously concerned and frustrated look at his messily and haphazardly bandaged hand as he descended the stairs. The boy begrudgingly followed her to the family room, where his father and an unfortunately familiar face were waiting for him on the couches.

 

Great. Coach Aizawa.

 

The man looked as disheveled and sleep deprived as ever, and that damn ragged scarf around his neck was probably doing little to keep him warm in the chilly early Spring weather, no matter how long it was. It appeared that he’d been waiting for quite a while now; the teacup in his hands was nearly empty. His eyes met the kid’s briefly. But the blonde scoffed, shoving his hands into his sagging sweatpants and looking away.

 

What the hell was he even doing here?

 

His father gave a nervous smile, doing his best to mediate. “Katsuki, your coach came over to visit you!”

 

“Yeah, I can see that,” the boy grumbled beneath his breath. He was swiftly met with a whack to the side of his head by his mother.

 

“Treat your father and your coach with some respect, will you?”

 

Yeah, yeah,” he mumbled, glancing back up at her with a miffed look as he shoved up a hand, pushing hers out of the way. He stalked over to the couch, unceremoniously plopping down across from Mr. Aizawa. The man was silent for a good, long moment, waiting for his parents to retreat into the other room before finally speaking.

 

“Bakugou, you need to be sleeping more.”

 

The teen gritted his teeth, averting his eyes once again. He could feel his coach’s damn stare on him, regardless. The man sighed, placing his cup down on the coffee table between them before continuing.

 

“Look, I know you’re not really one for sentiment, and neither am I.”

 

“Your point?”

 

“I know these past few days have been rough on you. I want you to take the next week off from practice.”

 

“What?” Bakugou growled, flashing the man a bewildered look. Mr. Aizawa sighed, his gaze meandering to the window after pausing for a moment to silently investigate his bandaged hand. Fan-fucking-tastic. He was probably judging him for that, too. He took his wounded palm, shoving it between the couch and his back as he swallowed down a wince of pain. That way, his coach wouldn’t feel obligated to glance at it a second time.

 

“You have tenacity. And you’re a great coax because of it. But…you’re also my student. And your wellbeing is just as important to me as it is the team.”

 

“I thought you said you weren’t one for sentiment,” the blonde grumbled, crossing his good arm over his chest and sinking deeper into the couch as he glared back at him. Shit. That only made the damn pain worse.

 

“I’m not,” the man replied as he closed his eyes, shaking his head softly. Yeah, his coach was totally judging him for it, he was sure of it now. “But believe it or not, it’s my job to look after you and your teammates. Look, I’m not doing this because I don’t think you can’t handle the pressure. I know you, Bakugou. You’ve lost two classmates that are close to you. And you need time to process that.”

 

“I don’t need anything,” the boy mumbled, finally relenting as he pulled his arm out from behind him. Naturally, the blood was starting to seep through the bandage already.

 

The man sighed once more, keenly adverting his gaze from the wound and stretching as he stood up.  “Just don’t show up around the docks until next week, understood?”

 

Bakugou returned his remark with mere silence, waiting until his coach had relented and left. The teen groaning, sprawling out on the couch as he stared down wordlessly at his bandaged palm resting beside him.

 

He didn’t need sympathy, damn it.

 

He didn’t deserve it.

 

 


 

 

Out on the eastern coast, the events of the past day had left the Yuuei Oceanic Rehabilitation Facility busier than it had been in decades. The two rescues that had been brought in the night before had sent every scientist and intern alike in the building into a state of shock and awe. It had been one of the lead emergency specialists, Doctor Selkie, that was tasked with inspecting the two young men. To find the duo so far inland was an oddity by which the likes he’d never seen, let alone heard of. There had been talks by some of the rescuers during the hand-off that there may have been an element of human intervention at play, but that sort of legal information typically pertained little to his line of work. It was his duty to research the specimens, getting them back into shape to be released into their rightful habitat as soon as possible.

 

He’d been so caught up in tending to the two’s wounds, receiving government reports on their expected release dates, and writing up temperature instructions for their tanks, that he’d almost missed the blinking light on his phone upon his desk, the voicemail waiting for him.

Ah, that was right. One of his closest assistants had been asking him for months now if his little brother could be granted access to the ICU facility. From what he’d gathered, the kid was still in high school, but had high hopes of working in the marine rehabilitation field, much like his elder brother. He’d already been grated approval by the company, but there hadn’t been much discussion between them on a date.

 

Perhaps tomorrow would be the perfect day to let him in.

 

 


 

 

“I’m really glad you were able to come with me today, Tenya. The subjects we recovered yesterday are just waking up.” Tensei smiled over to his little brother, who had just finished pulling on his lab coat as he followed him hastily down the long, white hall. 

 

“I only wish I could have been their when they arrived. I heard that it was quite an event.”

 

“Me, too,” Tensei sighed, holding his clipboard to his chest as he held open the double doors for his brother. “I mean, even I wasn’t called in to be there.”

 

“Even though you’re one of the leading scientists? That’s crazy!”

 

The young man chuckled, shaking his head. “I’m just an assistant, Tenya. But be sure to be on your best behavior, okay? I know you want to intern here once you enter university. So, remember- first impressions are everything. Use this special permission you’ve been given today to your advantage. Be inquisitive- but be polite.”

 

“Of course, brother.”

 

Tenya did his best to compose himself as they entered Yuuei’s ICU wing. It was grand, nothing like the kitschy tourist viewing area he was so used to. Countless large tanks were filled with water just feet below them. There were catwalks across the entire ceiling of the room, elevators at the ends, and a plethora of labs surrounding the outer tanks. It was massive- larger than any single room the teen had ever seen before. There were scientists scattered throughout, taking tests and making observations on their various subjects. Most were typical large aquatic creatures- an octopus, a few whales- pretty much the same thing he was used to seeing in the aquarium. But the largest congregation of scientists seemed to be towards the back-right edge of the room. No coincidence, he was sure, to where his elder brother was leading him now.

 

“Doctor Selkie, good afternoon.”

 

A bulky, grey haired scientist turned from the crowd and waved to the young men, beckoning them over.

 

“Tensei! And this must be your little brother! Perfect, you’re both in time! Come over at get a look at this!”

 

The two pushed their way through the small crowd of scientists to the front of the walkway. They looked down, their eyes guided by his hand to where two of the large tanks met. Just mere feet below them were two mermen, pressed up against the glass across from one another. Such a rare, incredible spectacle.

 

“Tensei, it’s remarkable! Do you see that one- there, to the left!”

 

Tenya watched as his brother’s mouth fell open. The young man leaned over the metal railing, eyes alight as he tried to get a better look.

 

“Is…is his tale glowing? I’ve…I’ve never seen anything like it before!”

 

“Exactly- it’s unprecedented! And even more- look at his classification!” The doctor shoved his own clipboard over Tensei’s, excitedly pointing to the readings.

 

“Is that- no way- a male omega?!” The young man adjusted his glasses, hardly able to contain his own excitement. “This is remarkable! This would be only the third one we’ve found since the foundation of Yuuei! And the fourth in recorded history!”

 

Tenya’s eyes darted back to the merman in awe as the two men rambled on. To witness something so rare, so monumental! It…it was…

 

The teen squinted, adjusting his glasses as he was able to catch a closer look at both of the creatures. The omega and the bandaged one looked almost in pain, huddled up against glass beside one another.

 

“Hold on…”

 

The two men paused as Tenya glanced over at them curiously.

 

“Are…are they mates? Why aren’t they in the same tank together? Isn’t that dangerous?”

 

Dr. Selkie paused, glancing down at the merfolk below them. “An astute question. Their behavior dictates so. However, further examination on Omega #0003 from myself and my associates this morning indicates that he is unmarked- although his biology seems to suggest he is at the proper mating age.”

 

“What about the other one?” The boy returned. Tensei rested a broad hand over his shoulder.

 

“Tenya, don’t you remember? Neither alpha nor beta male merfolk contain physical marking glands.”

 

“Furthermore, he is a beta. It would be hardly likely he’d claim an omega,” Selkie explained

 

“But why?”

 

“From the other couples we’ve rehabilitated and studied over the years, omegas usually take on alpha partners as a sign of submission. Betas will typically mate with alpha females or alpha males,” the doctor continued.

 

“But, isn’t your research on male omegas inconclusive? Perhaps it’s different in these cases.”

 

“That is a possibility,” Tensei interjected. He then turned his attention to the beta on the right, pointing the eraser edge of his pencil towards it. “However, unless we’re certain they’re mates or biologically related, we can’t risk putting them together. See that bandage on his head right there? Luckily, the wound isn’t too deep, but it could still contaminate the water.”

 

“Tensei is correct. Other than a few shallow lacerations and moderate fatigue, Omega #0003 seemed rather healthy after my inspections last night. We’ve been ordered that he be released tomorrow. The other one will need to wait a few days, until his wounds have closed up.”

 

“Seriously? Why not release them together?” Tenya asked. He could feel an itch of resentment pulling at the back of his mind. Mated or not, the two seemed deeply connected. Wouldn’t it be cruel to separate them like that?

 

The doctor sighed. “You’re a thoughtful, inquisitive young lad, Mr. Iida. A mind like your is one I’d appreciate as an intern in my lab. But sadly, the National Merfolk Protection Act wouldn’t allow it unless they were designated mates or family- of which my test results show neither.”

“That’s right,” Tenya quietly returned, lowering his head as his grip on the railing tightened. “It states that licensed facilities are only allowed to keep merfolk that require medical aid and must be returned within forty-eight hours of their recovery.”

 

“That’s correct,” the doctor nodded. He turned on his heel, beckoning both brothers to follow him back to his laboratory. “We were able to take a few scale samples that we’ll be able to analyze in the coming weeks. But it’s a shame, really. I would have loved to study such unique specimens a little longer.”

 

Tenya’s stomach churned as he gave the mermen one last glance before following after his brother and the doctor. Specimens. To him, they looked far too human to call them something so distant.

 

 


 

 

For how long he and Shouto stayed against the glass, Izuku couldn’t tell. It could have been minutes, hours even, but it still wasn’t long enough. He was scared to venture out, to figure out exactly where he was. It was like he could hear distant, muffled murmurs from the world far above him. But he could barely even comprehend what had happened to his body, and he still felt so weak. After a long while, he heard a familiar voice call out to him, clearer than all the rest.

 

“Izuku.”

 

His eyes shot open, and they met the merman’s across from him. It was clear and muffled all at once as it tried to reach him through the thick water and glass.

 

“Izuku, can you hear me?”

 

The boy weakly nodded, refusing to pull his body from the glass, to leave Shouto’s warmth. There were so many questions he wanted to ask right now, so much that needed to be explained. But of them all, the one to come out wasn’t of them.

 

“Are…are you okay?”

 

The merman stared back at him, baffled by the question.

 

In the end, it was all that mattered at the moment. As Izuku’s senses were returning, his mind was as well. He had no answers for what had happened to him. But for where they were, he was just now beginning to realize. And if that realization was correct- he dared not looked above to find out, he was still so tired and fearful to confirm his own suspicions- Shouto was in a much more dire situation than himself.

 

“Are you?” Izuku continued, watching him longingly as he tried to keep his sole focus on the boy. The taller merman took a shaky breath, nodding his head.

 

“Yeah. Yeah, I am. How…how are you feeling?”

 

“I mean, other than terrified, confused, and sore? Lonely, I guess.”

 

Izuku could have sworn he caught a fleeting smirk on Shouto’s lips at his sarcasm. It wasn’t much, but in such a hopeless situation, it was just enough to ease his nerves, if only a little.

 

“I know the feeling,” he returned after a moment, a cool hand caressing the length of the glass between them. Izuku couldn’t help but give a small smile, pressing his cheek lightly against it. He closed his eyes, taking a tentative breath before finally asking his first question in earnest.

 

“Did you know?”

 

There was a brief pause of deliberation, but Shouto replied. “No. Not until you went missing. I didn’t start to put it together until right before I found you.”

 

“You found me?”

 

“Yeah. You were swept up by the storm into the river.”

 

“Oh…what about you?”

 

“I….no. I don’t know how, but I wasn’t.”

 

A long silence stretched on between them. He wasn’t? Then how was he here- with him now? Wait. He had said something about him missing, hadn’t he? Had…had Shouto really gone out of his way to try to save him? The nerves in Izuku’s stomach began to bundle up as more and more questions started to tumble through his mind.

 

“What…what about my mom? And Ochaco, and Kacchan? Are they safe?”

 

“I…I don’t know.”

 

Izuku’s mind tried to swallow the words, but the fear caused his body to freeze up. He could feel the warmth of Shouto’s body intensifying, as if he were trying to comfort him as he explained.

 

“Uraraka was caught by the authorities after sending me back into the water to find you. I don’t know what happened to your mother or the other one.”

 

Izuku’s heart sank into the pit of his stomach. Before he could begin to mourn, though, he felt a heavy fist rattle the glass on the other side. His eyes opened to find Shouto’s face in an excruciating expression, agonized in self-loathing and remorse.

 

“This is all my fault! Izuku, I’m so…so sorry. If I hadn’t been selfish, if I’d thought about everyone else. If I’d just faced my father with my siblings…or convinced Momo to stay. You wouldn’t be here. You’d be safe. Your family and friends, they would all be safe right now.”

 

Izuku’s eyes fluttered open. They were hot against the saltwater. It was true. They’d both been reckless idiots. Izuku, thinking he could have saved Shouto that night without being caught. And Shouto, dreaming that he could be free someday. The freckled teen hated himself for what he’d put his mother and friends through in spite of it all. But yet, despite everything that had gone wrong- every mistake they’d made- there was still one thing he could not come to regret.

 

“I met you.”

 

Shouto’s breath hitched, taking his words in. “W-what?”

 

Izuku looked back lovingly to the boy floating before him, his entire being suddenly filled with warmth, overcome with a strange sort of contentment.

 

“I messed up too, you know. And I’m probably going to spend the rest of my life making up for it. But if there’s one thing I don’t regret in all of this mess, it’s that I met you.”

 

“How?!”  Shouto cried, shaking his head furiously, struggling to understand. “I tore your family apart! Your best friend’s been arrested, and now you’re going to get dumped with me in the middle of my father’s kingdom! How can you say that- even look at me like that?! I’ve done nothing but ruin your life.”

 

Izuku smiled softly, rubbing his thumb over where Shouto’s forehead would have been.

 

“Because I love you, Shouto.”

 

The merman stilled all at once, his eyes growing wide at those few, simple words. Izuku felt strong in that instant, perhaps stronger that he’d ever felt. It was a consuming strength that embraced him, made him feel that at least in this one moment, everything would be alright.

 

“Look, everything went wrong. I know that. And we can sit here all day, fighting over who’s to blame for it. But in the end, that doesn’t change how I feel. And no matter what happens to us, where we go from here- I will always love you.

 

“Damn,” Shouto rubbed over his eyes, though Izuku couldn’t quite understand why. It’s not like either of them could even seen his tears down here. Beneath his forearm, the merman shuddered, a smile crossing over his features.

 

“I really wish I could kiss you right now. And…yeah. I love you, too, you know.”

 

Izuku couldn’t help but beam back at him coyly.  “I know.”

 

He felt a vibrating thump below and looked down for a moment. Shouto had slammed his tail against the tank, as if he were trying to playfully tail-smack him one last time.  And the freckled teen couldn’t help it. He burst out laughing, harder and more happily than he knew he even could as he rubbed at his own eyes. He could hear Shouto’s voice joining in with him in that moment.

 

Yeah, for one moment- just that moment- they were going to be okay.

 

 


 

 

“Thank you for coming with me this early, Tensei. I promise you’ll be paid for the overtime.”

 

“It’s not a problem, sir. I’m glad to help,” the young man replied, pulling his gloves over his long fingers and fastening his mask as he followed after his boss.

 

“How is your little brother doing? I know he was excited to be here- and it was a delight to have him. But he seemed a bit…disheartened when he left yesterday afternoon.”

 

Tensei sighed, flicking on the lights to the tank control room.

 

“Please don’t take any offense by it, sir. I assure you, he wants to work here- more than anything. He’s just always…had a way with getting too attached to rescues.”

 

The doctor chuckled softly, scanning over the panels as he searched for the right one, Tensei following closely behind.

 

“Of course not. I understand how he feels, truly. In our line of work, it’s hard not letting the subjects get to you, isn’t it?”

 

“I suppose so, sir.”

 

“I mean, for example. The merfolk are so much like us. They have their own language, relationships with one another. Even some of the cognitive tests I’ve done over the years have shown they’re just as intelligent as you and I. And to make matters worse, there are so many merfolk out there who seem down right against being released. It’s a shame that the Protection Act is so restrictive. If only we were given more time with the creatures- to converse with them and learn their language. I truly think we could come to find better methods of handling and caring for them than this. But…that is exactly why we must emotionally distance ourselves from our subjects. We cannot let out emotions get in the way of the strict guidelines the government has given us. Otherwise, we’d lose our licenses entirely, and so many merfolk would succumb to their injuries as a result. Of course, I know you already have learned this truth quite well, Tensei. And I’m sure your brother will learn it, too, in time.”

 

The assistant sighed, looking out at the observation window of the ICU facility as the doctor found the correct panel and activated it.

 

“I’m glad he isn’t here this morning. This is always the hardest part.”

 

“It is for me, too, Tensei. And I’ve been at this facility for thirty years.”

 

A voice suddenly rang out from the radio attached to the Tensei’s coat. “Assistant Iida, this is Assistant Sirius from the Oki Mariner Crew. Water levels have successfully begun to retreat in Tank #R1A. Levels are currently measuring at ninety-five percent. Do you copy?”

 

Tensei caught sight of the squad in the distance through the window. He turned back to the doctor. The two nodded to one another before swiftly leaving the control room.

 

“Roger. Doctor Selkie and I are on the way. Do you have the nets and tranquilizers ready?”

 

“10-4, sir. Both subjects in tanks #R1A and #R1B appear to be resting currently. With any lucky, the injections will hopefully not need to be utilized.”

 

“That’s wonderful news, Sirius. Thank you.”

 

Both the doctor and the assistant walked across the halls and catwalks of the wing at a brisk pace. They needed to act quickly if they were to retrieve Omega #0003 without having to administer the tranquilizers. The doctor was right; it was important to stay emotionally distant in this line of work. And ninety-nine percent of the time, Tensei was rather successful at doing so. But the release procedure always seemed to be the exception to that rule. Neither of them particularly enjoyed watching the merfolk’s reactions when they were taken back to the ocean. And to make matters even more difficult, his little brother’s observations had been astute. Even if they were not mates or relatives, the specimens of #R1A and #R1B had yet to separate from one another.  It would be a mess if one of them were to awake during the separation; it would be a downright disaster if both were to do so.

 

The assistant struggled to catch his breath as he finally caught up to the rest of the squad. The gates of the railing had already been released, and the stairs down to the bottom of the tank were ready to be deployed once water levels reached the correct percentage. Two assistants stood by Sirius who were waiting for them- one with the tranquilizers ready, the other with the netting.

 

“What’s the current status?” The doctor asked quietly. He gave her an innocent smile, most unbefitting to a man as physically imposing as himself. Tensei did his best not to remark upon it; he always did this when tensions were high to ease the mood, even if it rarely worked.

 

Sirius looked up from her tablet at the doctor, giving his off-putting expression an unamused glance.

 

“The noise redactors are only operating at sixty-five, percent, sir. I believe we will be needing to request funding for a new set shortly. Water levels are at thirty-one percent.”

 

“And Omega #0003 and Beta #b0715?”

 

She nodded over to the tanks. “Still asleep, sir.”

 

“Wonderful.” The doctor returned, trying once more to give another cheeky grin. The woman shuttered, closing her device.

 

At first, all seemed according to plan. At fifteen percent, the doctor and the two free-handed assistants began to lower the stairway to the tank floor. They’d just managed to finish setting it up, the duo with the injector and net following the three down when the water’s surface hit the omega’s body.

 

And that’s where it all began to go wrong.

 

The merman awoke immediately as the sensation hit him. He shot up, terror in his eyes as he saw the group of scientists coming for him. His body slammed back against the empty glass, right against where the beta was curled up sleeping.

 

The doctor did not take a moment to deliberate, turn to his assistants. “Mick! The tranquilizer.”

 

“Yes, sir!”

 

The blonde haired assistant charged past them, quickly holding the merman down by his tail and elbows as he struggled to inject the tranquilizer. The beta suddenly stirred from his rest, his eyes wide in horror as his muffled voice yelled something from behind the glass. The omega let out a final cry as the assistant was successfully able to administer the needle into his left forearm, in a strange sound that Tensei could have almost sworn had sounded like a pleading “stop!”. 

 

The beta let out a terrifyingly shrill screech, loud enough to crack both tanks’ glass. Shit. Tensei had remembered the doctor warning him about this in the briefing earlier. There had been tales of centuries past, where merfolk could use their voices to lure in unsuspecting seamen, and then rise them into shrill cries to break their ears and body. As for the singing portion of the wise tale, Tensei had never really had much faith in it. But for the screeching, it was a story he’d heard a thousand times over at lunch with coworkers. It mostly happened when mates or a parent and child were separated from one another for emergency operations, like a last resort of defense. But even brief exposure to the frequency could cause permanent hearing loss, and it was one of the prominent reasons why they were forced to wear these masks during retrieval and release.

 

To the young man’s shock, the screaming relented. He looked up, his vision briefly meeting the wide eyes of the beta beneath his visor. The creature looked utterly stunned, as if he’d been caught off-guard by his own voice.

 

“Iida, keep focused!” Sirius tried to warn as she helped open the net. But it was all too late. The beta had come back to his senses. He slammed the length of his body against the wide crack in the glass, causing the entire tank to vibrate.

 

“I…zuku…”

 

The omega’s strange call was slurred as the serum began to take effect. The quintet seized the opportunity, quickly dragging him away from the edge of the tank and carefully restraining him beneath the net.

 

Again, the beta punched the crack with relentless ferocity. His hand broke through the second layer of the glass. He let out of a shrill cry as the shards shot through his right hand. Despite the evident agony in his face, he flopped into the emptied tank, throwing his entire body toward the omega.

 

“Shouto!”

 

He reached out for the merman, only managing to retrieve a single scale from his netted tail before the assistants were able to pull him away. The water from the other tank was rapidly beginning to spill over; they needed to retreat to the catwalks- quickly.

 

“Mick, the second injection!” Selkie shouted as the rest of the team began ascending the stairs with the omega. As the assistant struggled to pin the beta down against the oncoming waves of the rising water, it happened.

 

The merman began to yell. To speak.

 

“STOP! Please! Don’t take him away! He ran away from the ocean for a reason! They’ll kill him if he goes home! Please…” his cries soften as the injection made its way into his veins. “Please…”

 

The group stood speechless on the catwalks as Mick carried the beta up after them, to safety away from the turbulent waves and swirling shards of glass. Tensei stared in awe as the assistant gently laid the creature down and leaned against the railing to catch his breath.

 

“He…he spoke…”  He glanced back at Sirius and Selkie, hoping they’d have some sort of answer. But they appeared just as stunned as him. “He…he said something. About it being dangerous to send the omega back.”

 

The doctor lowered his head solemnly, helping pull the merman onto a prepared stretcher nearby. “I know, Tensei. I heard him, too.”

 

“Maybe we should wait to release-”

 

“We can’t, Iida,” Sirius interjected, empathetically looking back at him as she gave his arm a gentle tug. “We have three hours left. We’ll lose our licenses if we don’t comply, you know that. Wait until the other one wakes up. We’ll have more time with him, especially with those new injuries. We can find out more then.”

 

The assistant screwed his eyes shut, his fists balling up and shoulders shaking as he unwillingly followed the rest of the group. It wasn’t just him.

 

They all knew that this was wrong.

 

 


 

 

Izuku let out another shrill scream, holding tightly with his good palm to the assistant beside him’s hand. Another set of scales fell loose from his tail, clattering onto the floor. They’d been at this for hours now. Through his hazy vision and the agony, he could see an indent forming down the center of his tail, as if his legs were trying to retake their shape beneath. The blue haired woman beside him continued to offer gentle words of support, softly pulling back his sweat-ridden bangs from his eyes to keep them from irritating.

 

He’d woken up like this. They couldn’t administer another tranquilizer yet to numb the pain; it was too soon after the first. They’d offered to give him another water tank, to help his tail recover, but he’d adamantly refused. He couldn’t speak very much like this; he could hardly even breathe. But he needed some way to prove to them that he was human. To get them to believe him.

 

“W…where i…i…is h-he?” The boy managed before letting out a cry, peeling over in pain as another large swath of scales fell from his underside.

 

The young woman could only give him a remorseful look, her eyes falling away. “We couldn’t keep him any longer. I’m sorry, kiddo.”

 

A rather bulkily built doctor entered the operation room, turning to them as he carefully closed the door behind him.

 

“How is he holding up, Sirius?”

 

She shook her head, continuing to hold the boy’s hand as she glanced back at the man. “Not much better, sir. He’s asking for the omega.”

 

The doctor sighed as he approached the table. Izuku winced as he tried to wiggle his body away from him, but only succeeded in accelerating the pain as even more scales were pulled loose from his body.

 

“Sir, what we did back there…”

 

“We were wrong, I know.” The doctor lowered his head in shame, watching the trail of scales around the operating table. “We were trying to protect our own hides for the sake of the law. This facility was built to save lives, not endanger them. And look what’s happened because of us…”

 

“I’ve…I’ve never seen anything like this before, sir.”

 

“Neither have I. I’ve had a hundred rescues in the dry air for hours in this room alone, and I’ve never seen a body like this.”

 

“We should really consider putting him in another tank-”

 

“NO!”  Izuku screamed, his hoarse voice cracking from overexertion. “I’m…I-I’m not…I’m….human.”

 

“Breathe,” the woman tried to remind him, gently but steadily leaning him back down on the table. Izuku winced as his vision began to go in and out once more.

 

He had to do something. Anything. For Shouto.

 

The doctor sighed, watching the merman solemnly. He wasn’t positive of what was going to happen. But one thing was for sure.

 

This was going to be a PR nightmare.

 

 


 

 

 

“Hey kid, lunch is almost ready!”

 

“Coming in a minute!”

 

The nineteen year old young man’s hand drifted down from the railing of the old boat, glancing back at the thinly-built man across the portside. He’d spent the last half hour or so preparing lunch on the deck for them. The young man usually helped his surrogate father cook on their weekend boating trips, even if his health had been finally improving as of late. But it was a special anniversary for him, and the man had insisted taking all the time he needed for himself; he could wrangle some fish on a portable grill just fine, really.

 

The young man’s evergreen curls tousled in the mid-October wind as he looked out over the waves crashing down on the endless sea. According to Mr. Toshinori, this had been the very spot he’d met the merman all those years ago, when he had been but a child. The two of them had been coming here for almost two years now, waiting every weekend at this very spot. He’d never returned, of course. But over time, it had become less of a place of mourning, and rather one for reminiscing of a simpler time. Back when the freckled young man had been just a human boy, and his mother was still around.  

 

But still, after all this time, Izuku had never given up hope. He looked down to his deformed right hand, healed after shattering through that glass tank so long ago. The pain was barely even a distant memory now, only the scars were left to show of it. He raised it up, a single scale he’d been holding to tightly popping out between the curl of his index and pointer finger. He watched the reflection of the sun through its pretty little heart-like shape. The light danced off its translucent right snow white and left fiery crimson sections, the glitter shining brilliantly from inside. He gave a wistful sigh, closing his eyes and taking in the salty air.

 

He frowned as he felt the mist of the sea tickle his bare shins beneath his cargo shorts and looked down. They were already turning a pale, light green. They’d been hypersensitive like this ever since his first full transformation; he couldn’t even bathe them with a damp washcloth these days without them turning color. He sighed, pulling himself back toward the deck and gently slipping the scale into his pocket. His stomach growled, and he trotted back to Mr. Toshinori.

 

Someday he would find Shouto Todoroki again, whether is was below the sea.

 

Or above the horizon.

Chapter Text

“Iida, catch!”

 

The blue haired young man managed to look up from his tablet just in the nick of time; he panicked as he caught sight of the stylus flying at him at breakneck speed. He fumbled about, his desk chair creaking as he leaned back, catching it just before it landed squarely on the bridge of his nose. He looked over to the freckled young man who was grinning sheepishly at the desk across from him, rubbing the back of his neck.

 

“Sorry, I guess my aim is still a little off.”

 

“Midoriya! This is a library; you should be more careful!” The taller man scolded, wagging a pointed hand back at him as he readjusted his spectacles. His green haired friend merely shook his head with a grin, returning his attention to his work. Tenya rolled his eyes and gave up the valiant attempt, realizing his own voice was probably breaking the delicately balanced and studious atmosphere around them. He drew his stylus properly into his hand, going back to his homework.

 

In all honestly, as rude and brash as they were acting in such a distinguished haven for study, he was secretly thankful that the half-human treated him so kindly- going so far as to call him a “good friend” on the frequent occasion. He’d been there that day, watching like a mindless spectator at a zoo as the kid was locked away in that tank like a feral animal. And yet, the freckled student never once called him out for it, never blamed him. Ever since the news of Midoriya’s existence had broken public a year and a half ago, it was if the entire world had been turned on its head. The existence of a merfolk-human hybrid on public record was unprecedented; the whole case was brought to the national court and included the fanfare of international news coverage. His mother had been sentenced to five years in prison on two accounts of unlicensed possession of merfolk and one for interspecies relations. Midoriya’s friend had been given a much lighter sentence- three months in juvenile detention for failure to report knowledge of unethical possession of a mythical creature. Midoriya himself had been let off the hook- largely due to his hybrid status. The media had mostly left his friend out of it, while painting his mother as the villain and the freckled young man before him as an unknowing victim. He’d moved out to the seaside city soon after the revelation- in part due to an agreement that Yuuei may (ethically, at his permission) study him in exchange that he could work with the facility, in part due to the location of his foster father- though, there had always been a part of Tenya that had secretly wondered if there had been a third, ulterior motive at play. The young man had been swiftly accepted into Yuuei University upon high school graduation, studying alongside Tenya in marine biology. It gave both of them ample time in each other’s presence, the two interning at the Oceanic Facility in their first year.

 

Tenya felt more empowered than ever to pursue a career at the facility. Ever since that fateful day, having watched Midoriya and the other merman caged up so senselessly, he’d vowed to himself to never see another situation like it again. Midoriya had been pushing for reform on the National Merfolk Protection Act ever since his first day at the university, and Tenya was more than happy to follow in his steps. It had meant a plethora of sleepless nights for the both of them (the rehabilitation facility had been easy to win over, the national government, not so much), but they both knew that the payoff would be worth the struggle- no matter how long it took.

 

“Hey, Iida?” Midoriya spoke again, his voice much more conscientious this time.

 

“Hmm?” The young man responded, raising a brow as he continued to read from his tablet.

 

“What are your plans for tonight?” The blue haired student’s gaze peeked above the edge of his desk, catching a curious pair of green eyes peering enquiringly back at him.

 

“Studying for our ecology test tomorrow, as you should be,” he incisively reminded the young man before returning to his screen.

 

“Well, yeah. That was my plan, too. But I was wondering if you maybe wanted to finish studying at the rehab center tonight?”

 

Tenya swiped his finger across the screen, turning to the next page of his textbook as he replied.

 

“Don’t forget, Midoriya. Some of us are only allowed inside the facility on Mondays and Wednesdays. And even if you do have more…leniency…due to your unique situation, some of us won’t be let off the hook if we go in after-hours.”

 

The freckled young man shifted anxiously in his seat. “I mean, technically they’re open twenty-four seven.”

 

“And technically that’s expressly for designated medical staff only.”

 

He could sense Midoriya pouting back at him. But he was wise to keep his eyes on his tablet, refusing to risk looking back up at him and dare relenting. Tenya sighed, lowering his voice as he flipped to yet another page.

 

“I know you want to teach the rescues as much of our language as possible before they’re released, Midoriya. I admire you for it- and I agree to that sentiment. But remember, they are patients, and they also need time to rest. There is the one long-term patient Alpha #b1016. We should have plenty of time continuing to teach him our language, given the permanent damage on his tail. So, there’s no need for you to risk getting in trouble trying to overexert yourself and the patients.”

 

“But what if that isn’t enough?” Midoriya whispered back apprehensively. “We’ve been getting in so many rescues lately, Iida. I overheard the doctor tell president Nezu it’s unprecedented. There’s something really bad going on out there. And the sooner we can get the government on our side, the sooner we can start actually helping these refugees.”

 

The blue haired man finally conceded his gaze, granting his friend a serious look. “I’m worried, too, frankly. I just don’t want to see you get in trouble. It could make things more difficult in the end.”

 

Midoriya huffed, crossing his arms as he leaned back in his seat.

 

“You’re probably right,” he mumbled, his eyes narrowing and drifting off to the unvacuumed carpet floor below. Though, the blue hair man could have sworn he’d caught a hushed ‘they always let me in, anyways’ beneath his breath.

 

Tenya pursed his lips. He knew that defiant look all too well; if he didn’t find some way to intervene or distract him, Midoriya was sure to sneak back into the facility with or without him tonight. Despite how forgiving they had been to the young man, sooner or later, his blatant disregard for the rules would cause his fortune to run thin. Tenya tapped his stylus to his chin, contemplating a way to sway him.

 

“How about…we revise the lesson plans for Alpha #b1016 tonight? I’m sure that if we reworked them a bit, we could more than double the speed at which he’s learning now. If you were able to teach Omega #0003 our oral language in two and a half months, surely-”

 

The young man bit down on his tongue instantly as Midoriya abruptly glanced back at him, his shoulders tensing as he gave him an unsettlingly severe look. Right, he should have known better by now than to absentmindedly bring him up. The green haired student wrapped his arms around himself, the look in his eyes dulling and drifting into a sullen stare towards the floor.

 

“Kirishima,” he started pointedly, correcting Tenya’s nomenclature before continuing. “Kirishima is a great guy. But he doesn’t have the same level of inherent intellect that he did- does- when it comes to linguistic skill. And on top of that, he already had some knowledge before I found him. So, no matter what we do, with the limited time the facility is giving us, it will take at least four more months to teach him enough to hold a somewhat coherent conversation. I’ve done my best to learn some of their language on my own as well, but no one other than the facility will take my word on any of my translations.”

 

“I see.” Tenya sighed, locking his tablet and slipping it away into his neatly compartmentalized backpack, right behind his ecology notebook. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t try.

 

“I suppose you’re right,” Midoriya huffed. He gave a long stretch of his arms, his eyes widening slightly as he leaned back a bit too far, causing the chair to teeter. After regaining his composure and packing up his own, regrettably disorganized belongings, he joined Tenya, putting on a more characteristically cheerful front.

 

“Anyways, we should probably go fetch some dinner at my place before we do anything else.”

 

Tenya nodded, looking down at his friend as he gave a faint smile. “I think that’s a good plan.”

 

 




As the two made their way up to the steps of the large seaside mansion, Izuku gave a loud yawn, stretching his arms above his head. Perhaps he’d been working himself more than he’d realized as of late; he seemed to be faltering to fatigue fairly easily these days. The bullet train from the university to Mr. Toshinori’s manor wasn’t exactly a hop and a skip away from school like his childhood home had been, either. And the expansive garden out front sometimes felt like a trek getting through in of itself. The actor had been considering downsizing into a smaller place for years now. It was just him and the freckled young man that took up regular residence there; he hadn’t really felt the need for such an unnecessarily large and empty abode, even if he’d had the money to pay it off years ago.

 

Izuku himself wouldn’t have minded living some place smaller and cozier, but he knew the mansion brought back a lot of memories for the actor, so it didn’t bother him too much. Plus, with a built-in gym and recording studio, it had been a wonderful place for him to work and recover when he’d been at his weakest a couple of years back.

 

The curly haired young man practically leaned his entire body against the expansive front door, his hand pushing on the intricately fish-shaped handle as he turned the key. Ugh, he was gonna need an energy shot once they got inside.

 

“Are you alright there, Midoriya?” Iida asked worriedly, adjusting his glasses as he helped hold open the door for his shorter friend.

 

“Y-yeah. I’m good. Probably just need some caffeine-”

 

“My boy!” A familiar voice, filled with welcoming mirth, boomed over the ceiling and against the expanse of the walls in the entrance way. Izuku shot up, closing the door behind them once they both came inside. Mr. Toshinori was running toward them, a beaming grin on his worn, skeletal features. While his weight had yet to recover, the man had seemed to be holding within him more boundless energy each day. It was a welcome change, something positive in the midst of all the chaos the past two years.

 

The tall and lanky man scooped his foster son up, nearly squeezing the ever-loving life out of him as he tilted back, pulling him off the ground. Looks like his strength was finally starting to come back, too.

 

“There you are! We’ve been expecting you!”

 

“We?” Izuku sputtered back interestedly, trying to rub the soreness out of his arms after the man carefully placed him back on the ground. The actor’s sunken, dark eyes grew wide, and he gave an embarrassed chuckle, smiling as he hunched over and rubbed the back of his neck.

 

“Sorry, kid. We were gonna surprise you when she came in this afternoon, but I forgot you had plans to study with young Iida today for your exam.”

 

Izuku’s eyes widened, his body shaking as his backpack slipped from his shoulder and clunked onto the marble flooring. “She?”

 

The next thing he knew, a loud flurry of frenzied footsteps echoed down the hall, rapidly crescendoing. The young man barely had a second to recognize the blurred figure approaching him before her entire body was throw over his, sending them both flying back into a pillar behind. A weft of brunette hair from her short bob flew into his sputtering mouth as they both felt the impact of their fall. Her laughter rang out and bounced through the hall, and Izuku was quick to join her as she pulled away. Wide emerald eyes met warm, friendly brown as she stared back in delight.

 

Ochaco.

 

The two paused a moment to compose themselves, Izuku running a hand through his tangled bangs, pulling them back over the crown of his head as his childhood friend fixed up her own hair. When their laughter had petered out, she gave a long, wistful sigh, tucking her legs below her as she sat across from her old friend.

 

“You…you’re here?!” Izuku managed, still trying to catch his breath as his mind was attempting to wrap itself around the girl before him.

 

“Yeah, I know, right? My ticket was rescheduled- twice!” she huffed, reaching over and dragging his overstuffed backpack towards them and setting it straight against the pillar. “I was starting to think I was never gonna get here!”

 

“But, you’re here!” The young man proclaimed, continually in disbelieve as he gestured over the length of her body before him.

 

“Yeah. Yeah, I guess I finally am!” She beamed giddily. Izuku gave a winded laugh, shaking his head.

 

“B-but what about your job at the sushi bar?”

 

“Put in my notice two weeks ago!” She chirped, tucking a loose lock of hair behind her ear.

 

“I. Wait- what?!”

 

“They were hardly scheduling me three days a week. I’ve been planning on leave for a while now, to be honest. I was going to try to get another job first. But I finally won my parents over on coming up to see you, so they thought it would be best I took my vacation first. Plus, it means I can try to help my dad out more with the construction company. My parents have been wanting me to get a job for myself that I enjoy. But honestly, I just want to do anything to help them out at this point.”

 

The young woman stared down at her worn, pink socks as she pulled out her feet from beneath her, absentmindedly fiddling with one of the hems. Izuku’s expression fell, a tinge of guilt seeping into his veins. That was right. Ever since graduation, it had been hard for her finding a stable job due to her criminal record. To make matters worse, she’d been trying to apply to both Yuuei University and the local community college for a long while. But she’d been turned down every time- for the exact same reason.

 

“Ochaco, I-”

 

Iida abruptly cleared his throat as he hooked his messenger bag over the gilded coat hanger by the door. He adjusted his tie before glancing down at her, giving a curious smile.

 

“By any chance, are you Ochaco Uraraka?”

 

The girl blinked as she was drawn out of her sullen stupor. She looked up at the young man, giving a tentative nod. “I, um, yes?”

 

Iida suddenly leaned forward, giving a deep bow as he raised his voice, ricocheting off the pillars around them. “It is a pleasure to finally meet you! Young Midoriya has told me many times about your valor rescuing both him and tending to the young merman. I am honored to be in the presence of someone so brave and selfless as yourself.”

 

Ochaco’s face went blank as she stuttered, caught off-guard by the young man’s proclamation. Izuku chuckled sheepishly as he tried not to focus on his classmate’s comment on the merman, watching his friends. Iida had a way of being a bit overzealous when it came to introductions. But honestly, it was what Ochaco truly deserved to hear after being wrongfully turned away for so long.

 

The girl returned a nervous smile to the blue haired student, her hands tightening over her kneecaps. “I’m not really that brave. Or selfless, really. If anything, I was probably too reckless. I just wanted to help a friend-”

 

“Nonsense!” Iida refuted, politely offering a hand to help her to her feet. “This world is full of people who would turn their backs on what is right to what is legal. Sadly, I myself was one of those people at the time. But you- you weren’t! You stood up for what was right, no matter the cost. And that is perhaps one of the most honorable acts a person can achieve.”

 

“I- oh- thanks.” The pink blush on Ochaco’s cheeks was reddening as her weight uncomfortably shifted between the balls of her feet. Even if she needed to hear it, she clearly wasn’t used to such lauding. Mr. Toshinori, picking up on her behavior, interjected, pointing a thumb down the hall.

 

“You know, dinner’s almost ready, if you kids are hungry. It would probably be more comfortable catching up while sitting at the table, don’t you think?”

 

Iida turned on his heel, giving the actor a curt bow. “Of course, sir! I am most grateful for your gracious hospitality.”

 

 


 

 

Mr. Toshinori had set up dinner over the wicker table on back patio, open to the evening air and bestowing a serene view of his old boat tethered to the dock and the endless ocean below against the sunset. It was a lot less imposing than the adorned cheery wood table in the hollow dining room. More often than not, the man and his surrogate son found themselves eating out here rather than inside because of it; it was a little more cramped than usual with four of them sharing the small table, but it was also a welcome change to be crowded around by so many people Izuku held dear. He couldn’t have honestly even remembered the last time he’d eaten like this.

 

The three young adults had been off excitedly chattering with one another as Mr. Toshinori slipped away to clean up the table and fetch dessert. Iida and Ochaco seemed to get along remarkably well; as it turned out, his uncle was a huge patron of traditional kabuki theater, and he was elated to hear about the young woman’s own interests in her theatrical hobbies. Izuku couldn’t help but lean against his arm, elbow on the table as he smiled quietly to himself. He’d been so tied up in his classes, his internship at the rehabilitation facility, and lobbying for reformation on the National Merfolk Protection Act, that he’d almost completely forgotten what it was like to kick back and relax- to simply enjoy these small moments alongside his friends.

 

The patio fell silent as Mr. Toshinori sudden burst through the paneled door, posing in a dramatic fashion as he balanced four porcelain bowls between his arms.

 

“Dessert is here!”

 

He enthusiastically laid them out on the table in front of the young adults.

 

“I hope your taste buds and stomachs are ready for this delight! I went plus ultra making them this afternoon!”

 

The ends of Ochaco’s short bob fluffed up as she gasped, looked down at the contents of her bowl excitedly.

 

“Is that…mochi ice cream?!”

 

Mr. Toshinori gave a booming laugh, taking his place back at the head of the table. “I hope you don’t mind.”

 

“Are you kidding- this is my favorite! Thank you! Thank you so much!” The girl beamed, giving a quick bow and digging right into her dessert without a moment’s hesitation. Izuku laughed happily as Mr. Toshinori breathed a sigh of relief, and quickly followed suit with Iida. As the quartet settled back in, the actor struck up conversation once more.

 

“Now that you’re both here, young Uraraka and Midoriya, there’s been something I’ve been meaning to discuss with you.” He glanced over at the blue haired man beside him. “Young Iida, I hope it isn’t a bother striking a serious conversation in front of you.”

 

The young man swallowed, dabbing the side of his mouth with a napkin and shaking his head. “Not at all, sir.”

 

Izuku set down his bowl, glancing back at his foster father inquiringly. “Is everything alright?”

 

“Of course,” the blonde man reassured, offering a thumbs-up to him before turning his attention to his brunette friend, currently busy stuffing her face as if she hadn’t eaten ten minutes earlier. “The truth is, I’ve been thinking about this for quite a while and have been meaning to find the time to ask. As you’ve probably noticed, this mansion is big- far too large for just young Midoriya and myself. I have nearly a half a dozen bedrooms that have never been slept in, and it’s such a shame that they’ve sat idle and unused for so long.”

 

Ochaco paused, wiping her chin as she stared back at her host, her eyes meeting his sunken, pale blue gaze.

 

“I do my best not to pry, but I’ve stumbled across many of your calls with young Midoriya in the living room. I know that you’ve been struggling to find your footing these past few years, which is why I’d like to offer my home to you as well. If you’re comfortable with it, of course.”

 

The brunette’s jaw fell open as her bowl clattered to the table. She jumped, gasping as she hastily tried to clean up the mess.

 

“Sir, I don’t know what to say. It’s so kind of you. But I don’t know if I could afford to stay here; things have been really tight back home. Plus, my dad’s construction company could use all the help in can get right now, and-”

 

Mr. Toshinori gave a soft smile and a wave of his hand. “You wouldn’t need to worry about paying me to stay here, there’s no need for it. But if you do feel it necessary, take that money you would have been able to afford to use and send it back to your family. The city is huge, so I’m sure it would be much easier finding a job out here than back home. Plus, with young Midoriya in negations with President Nezu about your enrollment in Yuuei University, I’d imagine you’d probably want to have a close commute to the school, so housing fees wouldn’t be an issue.”

 

“I’m sorry, he what-” Ochaco nearly chocked, her eyes darting towards her childhood friend beside her. Izuku flashed the actor a flat look as the blonde gulped, quickly realizing the situation a moment too late.

 

“I apologize. I thought he’d discussed it with you already.”

 

“No, he hasn’t.” She returned. Izuku’s cheeks grew hot as he could feel her gaze glued upon him. He sighed, his shoulders slinking downward as he closed his eyes and his hands balled up on his thighs beneath the table. Well, there was no point in hiding the surprise any longer.

 

“I wanted to wait to tell you until things were a bit more certain, I’m sorry. But the truth is, I’ve been talking to President Nezu about your enrollment issues with the school. Iida, myself, and some of the marine biology professors over at the Oceanic Facility were recently able to get him on board to help us lobby for reform to the Nation Merfolk Protection Act. So, I came into his office last week to present a case for your situation. He said it would be tricky because he’d have to bypass some of the typical admission restrictions pertaining your record to let you in. But he’s going to try to get back to me later this week to see if there was anything he could do for you.”

 

Ochaco sniffed, the table rattling slightly as she set down her napkin. Izuku’s head shot up, watching her friend rubbing at her tear ducts with the heel of her palm, doing her best not to cry.

 

“Izuku, y-you. Y-you both…I-I-

 

“It’s still not official yet. But even if it doesn’t work out, Mr. Toshinori still had an idea!”

 

“That’s right!” The man interjected, clapping his hands together. “Young Midoriya told me you’re an aspiring thespian of sorts. I have more free time now that the doctor’s appointments have died down, so I’d be more than happy to workshop with you and teach you what I know.” He ran his hand over the back of his thin neck. “I’m know I’m more accustomed to onscreen and voice work than stage, but I’m sure we could work something out. If you and your parents are both alright with all of this, of course.”

 

The young woman’s chair toppled across the patio floor as she tore from her seat, throwing her arms around Izuku and the man. “Th-thank you. Both of you.”

 

 


 

   

Ochaco was busy on the phone along with Mr. Toshinori, talking with her parents about the logistics of her actually moving to the Bay Area. They were ambivalent about the idea, understandably. They had rightfully pinned a portion of the blame on Izuku and his mother for her arrest back in high school. And while they hadn’t directly imposed on their friendship, the air between them and the freckled young man had always been…awkward at best since then. Even more, they hadn’t exactly been acquainted with Mr. Toshinori like Izuku had been before moving in. Iida had decided to head out, needing to get some rest before the test tomorrow and not wanting to impose on them any longer. Izuku had given up hope of sneaking back to the Oceanic Facility that night; he wanted to stay present in the house unless it absolutely necessary he leave, just in case Ochaco needed him for anything.

 

He’d been half paying attention to his notes on Kirishima’s revised lesson plans over his laptop, which Iida had been generous enough to forward to him. He leaned up against the post of his bed as his weary, hazy vision struggled to stay focused. Suddenly, his phone buzzed. Izuku at first thought nothing of it, the jolt sending just enough adrenaline through his sleep deprived brain to wake him back up and return to writing. It couldn’t have been Ochaco or Mr. Toshinori, anyways- they were still busy downstairs. But then another message alert came. And another.

 

Frustrated, Izuku finally gave in. He slammed his laptop shut and shoved it off his lap. He pulled his bland red comforter off of his legs, reaching over for his phone on the nightstand and unplugging it. His entire room was rather boring and undecorated; he’d left most of his Merking merch back at his old home out of embarrassment, packing it all away in a storage locker until his mom would come out of prison in three and a half years. The only thing he’d kept with him was his old Merking comforter. The designs on it were faded from prolonged exposure to saltwater two years back. It was painful to look at most nights, so he kept it tucked away under his bed- save for the few nights when the loneliness truly got to him.

 

His eyes popped open as he unlocked his phone screen, seeing the long list of messages waiting for him.

 

9:18 pm [doctor selkie]: Good evening, Mr. Midoriya! I recommend you check the news, ASAP! And message me back afterwards- there’s something I need to discuss with you. =UvU= -Dr. Selkie

9:19 pm [tenya iida]: MIDORIYA GO WATCH THE NEWS

9:21 pm [sirius]: Hey, kiddo. It’s Sirius from the lab. Dr. Selkie told me to remind you to go watch the news as soon as possible. And check the rest of your messages.

9:21 pm [coach aizawa]: Evening, kid. It’s your old coach, Aizawa. Saw this on the news tonight and thought you might find it interesting:

9:22 pm [coach aizawa]: [link attached]

 

Izuku sat up straight, leaning in on his phone screen. What on earth was happening? He swallowed down his nervousness as he pressed the link his old crew coach had sent him. It was from the national news network. What?! But as anxious as the young man was, nothing could have prepared him for what came next. As he read the headline, his heart leapt right out of his chest.

 

[INTERNATIONAL REPORT]

BREAKING NEWS: AMERICAN NATIONAL MERFOLK PROTECTION ACT AMENDED; NEW BREED OF MERFOLK PUBLICALLY REVEALED

 

October 16th, 2021 BREAKING NEWS Today, the American government has officially announced major amendments to its American National Merfolk Protection Act of 1812, granting more lenient restrictions on relations between local merfolk and human populations. The announcement comes after the public confirmation of a newly recognized breed of merfolk in the Great Lakes of the Northern Midwest portion of the country. Referring to themselves as “freshwater sirens”, representatives of the species were present today at the nation’s capital to sign the amendment and publicly speak on the matter. [Editorial Note:  Siren representatives spoke in English, with a merfolk translator present for their local population.] Among these speakers was 19-year-old Tsuyu Asui, of both Japanese American and freshwater siren descent.

 

Izuku panicked, tossing the phone across his bed before he could read any more. His heart was beating with such ferocity he could feel his pulse in his wrists and neck, his hands tangling through his messy locks as he struggled to remember how to breathe.

 

There were other merfolk out there; there had been an amendment to a Merfolk Relations law.

 

The room felt as if it were spinning around him as he reached back for his phone, his head heavy and vision blurry as he hurriedly tried to call Doctor Selkie. But his uneasy thumb slipped, landing on Sirius’s number instead. It would have to do. The assistant picked up after the first ring. Her voice was a bit difficult to make out above the noise surrounding her; it sounded as if there were a television playing in the background, the excited chatter of multiple scientists almost drowning her out.

 

“Midoriya, is that you?”

 

“Yeah,” the young man replied breathlessly, trying hopelessly to suppress his nerves.

 

“Did you get our messages?” She shouted back into the receiver, the other voices fading as she left the room.

 

“Yeah! I just read an article about it online- is it true?!”

 

“Yes! Sorry about all the noise, we have the report playing on repeat in the breakroom. And I swear to god, all of the scientists are in there right now. So much for trying to get a cup of coffee before the commute home.”

 

“It’s fine,” Izuku returned, steadying his breaths. He rattled his brain, trying to think of where to even begin. He remembered the article mentioning something about a human-siren hybrid, and his nerves immediately perked back up. “I read something about a merfolk-human girl being there? Is that true? How is she?”

 

“Woah, slow down there, kiddo! I can hardly keep up!” The woman laughed. “Yeah, I watched her speech. I think she’s a shifter. Like you.

 

“WHAT?!” Izuku yelped into the phone. He heard Sirius let out a groan, and he immediately returned with a long string of apologies for his volume control, fiddling nervously with his comforter. She brushed it off, reassuring him until he managed to find some semblance of composure once more.

 

“If…if this is all true, this could be huge for us, Sirius! This could finally be the push we need to convince our government to reform the Protection Act!”

 

“That’s what everyone here is saying!” Sirius replied excitedly. “If we could get that damn act amended, we’d finally be able to begin negotiations with the merfolk, to take in the long-term refugees that need our help.”

 

The freckled young man let out a noise somewhere between a joyous laugh and relieved gasp as he fell back into his plush mattress, taking it all in. “Is there someway we could get a hold of that girl and her family? I don’t know if they’d be willing to help us. But it’s worth a shot, right?”

 

Sirius’s voice fell a little softer. “That’s just the thing, Midoriya. After the conference went live, we got a message from her. She wants to speak to you.”

 

 


 

 

“Prince Todoroki, the Queen requests your presence.”

 

The young man stirred from his slumber, rubbing the weariness out of his eyes as he glanced back at the guard waiting for him at the foot of his chamber.

 

“I’ll be on my way shortly,” he curtly replied, avoiding eye contact with him the best he could. He gave a tight stretch of his upper limbs, trying to shake the soreness out of them. The slab of rock he’d been given as a bed wasn’t exactly as comfortable as the spongy coral nest he’d grown up in, but the merman would have been the last to complain over it.

 

Nearly two years ago, he’d been dumped back into the cold, young Spring ocean at the foot of his father’s kingdom all alone, just miles away from the nearest outpost where he would have surely been caught and taken in- never to see the sun again. He’d had two choices in that moment. He could have waited for Izuku, hoping and praying that he would soon be released in the very same spot as him. He’d waited for two days. But by the end of it, it was clear by several evasions of the kingdom’s guards that he wouldn’t last even a day longer if he stayed. And then, his demise would have all been for naught. So, he gave into the second choice; he swam around the outskirts of the entire Western Domain, until he found himself at the border of the Southlands. It meant that he’d abandoned the boy who’d loved him, that he’d turned his back on him and left him to fend for himself. The ache in his heart and soul told him that he’d truly become a monster in the end, deserving of nothing good or kind for it in his eyes.  But for too long he’d run away from his people, for too long he’d selfishly pursued his own petty desires. Izuku could still use his voice to speak out to them, to tell them all the truth he hadn’t had time to. He was strong, and he could still save himself. Perhaps, he silently prayed, it had been the reason that he had never returned after him. As the prince swam for days on end toward the border, he’d known he’d made the right choice; bodies of battles past littered fields of dying coral and were dumped into the deepest pits and caverns, shrouded by darkness. His siblings had failed, and his father had brought war to the Southlands.

 

His plan was barely even a faint prayer, a roll of the dice that required a lightning strike’s luck to ever hope to work. But he wouldn’t return to his father, he wouldn’t lend his aid to his vanity and lust for power ever again. Yet, if he could make it to the Queen of the Southern Kingdom alive, offer her anything and everything he’d learned of his father in all of these years, perhaps his undeserving life would finally come of some use to someone before its bitter end.

 

He’d surrendered at the fortified gates of the border without any deliberation. Half of him had expected the men to cut him down right there, to bring his head on a platter to the Queen as a gift. But somehow, in their mercy, they never did, dragging him back, hungry and sleepless, chained and subdued, through the gates of her palace, right into her Great Hall.

 

It was on that day, the day he was sure would be his befitting end, that the Queen showed her true colors unto him. She was unlike anything his father was- kind, elegant, forgiving. She sat there on her throne for hours upon hours, letting Shouto proclaim his intentions for turning himself in, recollecting everything he’d learned of his father, and even his escape to the human world in the past six months. And when it was all said and done, when his voice was hoarse and worn, with no other words of use left to offer her, she did not dispose of him as she could have easily done. Instead, she offered him sanctuary in her servants’ quarters in exchange for what she claimed to be his “bravery.” For many months, he was always guarded, always watched- understandably so. But time and time again, when he was not cleaning the floors of the place or burning his delicate hands on complicated recipes in the kitchen, she called upon him. It was a few short months ago when she finally revealed to him her second offer; the ultimate betrayal to his people, to aid her as a sworn knight and confidant in the battle against his father and to save her kingdom. It was with a heavy heart, as he remembered the unknown fate of his siblings and his mother, that he accepted. He was not to venture out onto the battlefield like the other soldiers; his betrayal was still too dangerous to be revealed beyond the palace gates. But rather, he was called to her Grand Library on many sleepless nights such as this, beckoned to her side to look over battle plans, discuss troops and strategize ways to fight back against his father’s seemingly endless armies. It had been a losing battle these past two years; nearly each day the enemy took another mile, another innocent town for their thankless Central Kingdom. But with Shouto’s aid, the losses had considerably slowed- at least for a time. And the Queen was thankful for it.

 

She looked up from the whale-hide scrawlings upon her desk as the young man entered the chamber. The tension in her shoulders lessened, and she took a long breath at the sight of him before returning to her work, beckoning him over with the wave of her hand. He complied.

 

“You know, it’s times like this I almost lament that you never became my son-in-law. You would have made a remarkable addition to my official court.”

 

“I apologize, m’lady,” the prince quietly returned, his attention falling to the plans she had messily laid out before them in her desperation. “It is my fault I did not stop your daughter from eloping. I am the one to blame.”

 

“You are wrong there, my child,” the woman returned, her long, ebony and ivory tail floating over the edge of the stone table as her finger drew down the pages, never looking up from her work. “The fault is mine, thinking I could have saved my kingdom in such a way. In trying to help my people, I became the very thing I swore to protect them against, trading away my own daughter’s freedom without her consent in my late husband’s absence, may the Gods watch over his soul. I was a fool to think that an arranged marriage would solve the conflict between our peoples. No, with the ferocity your father’s men have come at us, it makes me wonder if he’d secretly planned this all along, away from you and your siblings- if the wedding had been merely a diversion. I should have faced him when he attacked the Eastern Reef and the Northlands like a woman; instead, I did so like a coward. And now, my people continue to suffer for it.”

 

The young merman beside her remained silent at her left side, keeping his eyes solely on the plans stretched out before him. He had nothing to reply with; how could he? To say that either way, countless lives would have been taken? They could have debated back and forth, day and night about who was truly to blame for the war, but it still would not change all the men and women’s lives being lost as they spoke now, huddled away in the safety of the palace. They were losing reinforcements so quickly, and their troops were already stretched so thinly. They had the Central Kingdom’s capital city on them to the north, and the Western Domain and Eastern Reef battering their troops to the east and the west. The east by far contained the fewest causalities; it was clear their opponents there were fighting not out of will, but forced obligation. Yet, they still couldn’t lower their defenses much on its border; the moment his tyrant of a father discovered it, he would send his troops in full force to break through the weak link and finally take the capital for himself. The two looked through map after map, report after report. But little of use came to light. The were surrounded by their enemy. If there was another heavy loss in the West or North tonight, it could very well mean the end was nigh. She must have been thinking it, the same as him; the evacuations would need to begin in earnest soon.

 

“M’lady. M’lord.” 

 

The two sovereigns glanced up from their fruitless work to find the thankful sight of the Queen’s personal butler. On his tray he’d brought two round capsules for the each of them. It was a strong drink, one to ease their nerves and loosen their minds when they wound themselves up so tightly. The prince had come to find himself relying on the delicacy perhaps more often than he should have as of late, but there seemed to be little else able to calm his nerves in the recent days, in this hopeless situation.

 

The Queen smiled to her butler as he gave her a bow, thanking him and passing one of the drinks to the prince.

 

“I’m afraid I’m not very thirsty as of late, but please, Prince Todoroki. Feel free to indulge yourself in my stead.”

 

“Thank you, your honor,” he replied, poking a tube of coral into his capsule and taking a long whisk. He could feel the familiar, sweet and tangy sap clinging to him as it went down, his nerves already beginning to unravel.

 

The butler paused before slipping out into the hallway, glancing back at his queen.

 

“My lady, the guards have informed me that there is a family requesting your presence at the palace gates. Shall we let them into the Great Hall?”

 

“No, there is too much to be done here. Please, send them my apologies.”

 

“Wait,” the prince interjected, glancing back at her highness. “Forgive my interruption, my lady. But wouldn’t it be wise to present yourself amongst your people at such a crucial time as this? To create a barrier between them now would be to create a sense of unease and distrust between them.”

 

The Queen sighed, rubbing at her temples. “Very well. Let them in.”

 

“As you wish, your elegance,” the butler returned before heading out of the library.

 

The prince set his drink down. As much as he was tempted to finish it, he knew his mind needed to remain clear and sharp for her sake.

 

“I apologize if I spoke poorly, your highness.”

 

“No, no. You are right. I can’t let my own fears separate me from the needs of my people. They need to believe that there is hope, even if you and I struggle to find it.”

 

He quietly followed the Queen out of the Great Library, swimming at her side down towards the Great Hall. It wasn’t quite as large or grand as his father’s, but it was still quite impressive, regardless. Two guards nodded to them as they passed, pushing open the great slabs of white marble stone to reveal the back of the room to them. But as the Queen took her place on her opal throne, Prince Shouto Todoroki swimming tall at her right side, nothing could have prepared them for what approached.

 

A herald burst through the front doors of the hall, his eyes red and body shaking as he gave a curt bow.

 

“Y-your highness! I present to you crowned princess of the Southern Kingdom- and her mated- Momo Yaoyorozu and Kyouka Jirou.”

 

His quivering form could hardly contain itself as it swept to the side. Behind him swam in the familiar, tall form of a young woman, tail of ebony and crimson and hair dark as the deepest cavern depths, long and tied tall. She held her shoulders high, fearlessness carved into the framework of her features as she approached the throne. Behind her swam a smaller mermaid, holding two bundles of wrapped whale hide in each of her arms, her slightly shorter tail of pink and deep purple, but nonetheless elegant as she trailed closely behind. Her eyes were also filled with determination, though Shouto could detect the faintest sense of fear behind them, especially as they landed dead on the shape of his own tail, recognizing its form. For a brief moment, Momo’s expression faltered, as her eyes met Shouto’s in utter shock. But she quickly recomposed herself, looking back at the Queen as she fell to the floor.

 

“Your highness, hailed Queen of the Southlands, we ask that you offer us humble traitors asylum from the savagery of the Central Kingdom and their three provinces- in exchange for the knowledge we have learned on their people.”

 

Shouto pulled himself out of his shock just enough to glance over at the Queen. He could just make out a soft grin forming on her lips from the angle he was positioned at, her eyes hidden beneath her long, flowing onyx hair. She tsked, standing from her throne and shaking her head.

 

“I’m afraid your request for asylum won’t be necessary, young woman. For you see, my sworn knight beside me already came to the heel of my fins nearly a year and a half ago with that same offer. And I highly doubt that there’s more you can tell me than the crowned prince of the Central Kingdom himself.”

 

Momo’s body tensed as it remained kneeled silently at her tail fins. Behind her, Jirou gritted her teeth, remorsefully looking away as she held the bundles tightly to her chest.

 

“However,” the Queen continued, her eyes still upon the mermaid before her. “Let me offer this alternate proposal to you, my outcast: I shall grant you- and your family- asylum for as long as you desire and this city stands, if you might call me Mother once more.”

 

Momo shot up, her eyes wide in shock. She gapped back at her mother, her shoulders quivering as her composure rapidly began to unravel. The Queen’s smile grew, gaze loving, soft, and pure as she opened her arms to her daughter. The mermaid took no hesitation in returning the embrace with all of her might, bawling into her shoulder. The prince could just barely catch an uncertain look in the sovereign’s eyes when her daughter could no longer see them. He averted his gaze, offering them a small semblance of privacy. Sooner or later, she would have to be told of how swiftly the city might fall. But for now, he could only grant mother and daughter the peace they so profoundly deserved.

 

“Mom! Mother, I’m…thank you. I’m…I’m so, so sorry. For everything.”

 

“You need not be,” her mother returned in a whisper so soft that the prince could barely catch it. “I put you into a situation that you never asked for- never deserved. I should have never carried the weight of my own mistakes on your shoulders. I’m just happy that you were able to find love, dear. True love.”

 

The princess laughed, rubbing at her eyes as she shook her head. “Thank you, mother. Truly.”

 

As the young woman composed herself, she turned her attention back to the merman beside her, taking a long look at his body. Shouto did the same; they’d both grown truly into full adults since the last time they had met; it wasn’t just clear in their actions, but in the defined and matured shape of their bodies, as well.

 

“And you!” She finally managed, Shouto blinking as she unexpectedly threw a finger in his direction. “The last I heard of you, your siblings had tried to overthrow the king of the Central Kingdom, and you ran off the human world! What the hell are you doing here?!”

 

Shouto winced for a short moment, trying not to think about the potential fate of Fuyumi and Natsuo. But it wasn’t long before his expression succumbed to falling into a joyous smile at the young woman before him.

 

“It’s quite a long story. But, let’s just say that the human world presently has strict rules against them interacting with us, too. After I was thrown back into the water, let’s just say I didn’t exactly feel like helping out my dear old father more than I already had.”

 

Momo let out a chuckle in disbelief, running a hand through her ebony hair. “Shouto, you rascal, you!”

 

She leaned forward to embrace him but paused just before doing so, as if just remembering how distant they had been in their last encounter. The prince would have nothing of it, though, and he quickly held her tight to him, smiling brightly.

 

“It’s been too long, Momo.”

 

The mermaid laughed, sniffing and hugging him in return at sound of her given name. She failed to hold back her tears that dissipated into the ocean water. After a long while, the two finally parted. Her expression fell, however, as it turned to the edge of the right side of his jaw. She wordlessly tilted it to the side, revealing his gland- pink, bright, and unmarked.

 

“Shouto…” she quietly spoke, releasing his face as she offered him a remorseful look. He glanced away, cradling the spot shamefully.

 

“It’s nothing, really.”

 

“I’m sure we can get it taken care of, if you’d like!” She tried to reassure him, pulling his hand away and taking it into her own. “You’re a crowned prince, an omega, and the personal knight of the Queen of the Southlands herself! I’m sure there are dozens of alpha handmaids and handmen in the castle alone who would be willing to have you as their mate!”

 

Suddenly, a faint image of a boy long forgotten came into his mind- eyes wide, freckles dotting his features, and hair deeper green than seaweed- his face pressed against glass, just out of reach yet so desperate to touch him, to be alongside him. To not be alone. Shouto pulled into himself, swimming back a few feet away from her as a sharp pain radiated from his gland and into the depths of his heart. He winced, trying to bear it and not create a scene.  But the memory hurt too much.

 

The Queen interjected, reaching for her daughter’s hand. “I’m afraid, dear, he’s already mentally bonded.”

 

“I…” the girl’s eyes searched him for a moment before falling away, understanding. “Oh. I’m so sorry, Shouto.”

 

The merman pulled through his pain, glancing back at the Queen in confusion. “Mentally bonded?”

 

The sovereign sighed, glancing back between her daughter and her mate, still waiting patiently a fair distance off, before turning her attention to the prince. “I suppose there’s no point in hiding it from you any longer, now that you are out of your father’s reach.”

 

Shouto blinked in confusion, listening carefully as he rubbed out the pain in his jaw and neck.

 

“I suppose you could say our kingdom is…different than yours and the others. I’m sure your father and others have tried to erase the history. But it still exists, nonetheless.”

 

“The history? I’m not sure I quite understand, your highness.”

 

“Back before the four kingdoms, when the shape of the land continents was still changing and we were more connected to other kin across the seas, when the humans were just emerging and evolving away from our people out onto the land, growing dual tales by which to traverse the dry world with, our culture was very different. We were migratory clans and nomads. More powers were shared and existed between merfolk.  Our subgenders mattered little, and alpha females need not be ‘changed’, so to speak, at birth. Back in those days, bonding was a longer, deeper process than it is now. At the age of sixteen or so, merfolk would begin to scout out mates, form partnerships. But these partnerships did not last, always. For before any two souls could physically mate, they must have been mentally mated- a partnership of mind, of compassion, understanding, and unconditional love. Only then- when that was absolute- would glands be marked. Sometimes it would take years for it to occur- with some couples in their thirties, or fifties, even. There were of course those pairs- such as two betas- where marks simply didn’t exist- just as an alpha male and beta would be today. But back then, mental bonding was more than enough for any pair. From what I’ve heard in knowledge of human culture, back when we were hunted in centuries past, they shared this same trait from the time our species parted. There were arranged marriages, yes. But many others sought out couples, courting one another until they as well mentally bond. For some, it never happened, but for other, they did so for life.

 

“In the olden days, even the process of mating itself wasn’t as paramount as it is considered today. There were some merfolk in legends long lost to the other kingdoms that became great warriors and found true happiness, even without finding a mate. It was a freer world back then. It only began to change once the four kingdoms were born, and this regrettable, wretched hierarchy was established. Indeed, it is hierarchy I am at fault for taking place in, just as any sovereign whom has sat upon their thrown in the four kingdoms is.”

 

“Why…why are you telling me all of this?” The prince asked, taken aback by her story. Perhaps he had been ‘mentally marked’, such as in this fable she told. But he saw little reason for her to have hidden it from him- or his father, for that matter.

 

“Because,” the Queen continued, glancing back between her daughter and her mate, as one of the bundles in her arms began to cry. “Our people have not forgotten the old ways as easily as the other three kingdoms. We do not speak of it publicly, but there are those of us who still believe in a mental bonding first and foremost. And secondly…”

 

She approached Jirou, a gentle, loving look in her eyes. “May I look upon the faces of my grandchildren?”

 

The mermaid let out a shaky breath and smiled, nodding her head as she offered both infants to the Queen, who took them carefully into her arms. The prince watched in stunned awe as she cradled them, singing softly until the child’s cries had died down. She thanked their mother, returning them to her and finally looking back upon her knight once more.

 

“We turn a blind eye to anyone who wishes to let their alpha daughters remain as they were at birth. For who- other than a monster- would ever wish such a cruel act upon their own child?”

 

Shouto’s jaw fell as he stared back at her, and then to Momo. A warm glow embraced his childhood friend’s cheeks as she glanced way, a soft smile upon her lips. “Since the day our parents arranged us to be married, I was scared that you’d find out some way or another. Or that your father would. But…then I met Jirou, and when we realized we’d mentally bonded, I realized that it didn’t really matter anymore.”

 

“Oh,” the prince replied softly, glancing away. To think that she’d been hiding this secret, all this time. That she’d been forced to watch him be lauded and praised for the same reason she’d been driven to hide; it broke his heart. He gritted his teeth, his hands shaking as they balled into fists.

 

“I swear, one day, Momo. One day we will take down my father’s wretched kingdom and his despicable laws. And you and everyone here won’t have to live in fear ever again.”

 

“And so your people won’t, as well,” his old friend added with a gentle smile, squeezing his arm. The merman looked back at her, a fire growing in his eyes.

 

“You’re right. For everyone.

 

 


 

 

It was late that night, once the little ones were fast asleep and only the Queen and her reunited daughter were awake along with the guards, that they spoke in hushed whispers within the walls of the Great Library. The Queen had been eerily posted at her desk, rubbing her temples as she read over the battle report the herald had offered her moments ago. Her daughter approached her tentatively, resting a hand to her thin shoulder as she spoke.

 

“Mother, I am grateful for your forgiveness. But there is urgent news I must tell you.”

 

The Queen looked up from her seat at her grand desk, inquisitively watching her daughter as her face tried to disguise its grim look. She continued.

 

“There is news I came to warn you of, even if you didn’t grant us sanctuary. You are aware of where I ran off to, yes? To the undercity in the dark canyons beneath the prisons of the Northlands?”

 

“Yes. Go on, love.”

 

“Have you heard of the planned uprising? By the rogue prince of the Northlands, Dabi?”

 

“I have, sadly. But I have doubts any rebellion would succeed under the unfortunate might of the Central Kingdom, especially by an self-proclaimed ruler, an outcast without royal lineage or blood with no power to claim as his own.”

 

“That’s just it, though, Mother. I’ve seen him face-to-face. His scales and hair are black as night. Yet his scales- they do not glitter or shimmer. They have been dyed black in potent ink; they’re unnatural.”

 

“How do you know? It is so dark down there, after all-”

 

“Because once, in a fit of rage when he learned of my true name, I saw them glow. Like bright blue embers, Mother. Like that horrid king’s.”

 

The woman’s eyes grew large as she set down her scale quill.

 

“And what’s more, as we fled the Northlands, Kyouka heard a rumor from the prisoners above. The sole and true heir to the Northlands is alive. And the humans have him captive.”

 

The Queen abruptly rose from her seat, her face pale as death.

 

“Go awaken the Prince, Momo. We must begin planning- immediately.”

 

 

 



Chapter Text

“Okay, you got all of that?”

 

Izuku nodded, his phone cradled between his ear and shoulder as he finished writing down the username Sirius had given him.

 

“Yeah, I think so. Did she leave anything else?”

 

“Nope, just her Skype information and a note that she wanted to talk to you.”

 

“Okay,” Izuku breathed, setting his notepad down on the desk as he absentmindedly launched the seat of his desk chair to the left, causing it to turn in its routine circular fashion. “So, um, do you think now would be a good time to contact her?”

 

“Well,” the woman paused for a moment, calculating the math in her head before continuing. “It’s about 10 p.m. here. So I believe it would be around 8 a.m. there? Kind of early, but I guess if the press meeting was at 5:30 in the morning, she might still be awake- if not, taking a nap. Seriously, who the heck does a press conference at 5:30 in the morning?!”

 

Izuku chuckled into the receiver, catching his hand on the desk to deter himself from turning further. “Sirius, don’t some of your weekend shifts start at 5 a.m.?

 

“That’s different!” The woman defended, huffing back at him. “Anyways, I should probably get packed and going for the night. Need to get some sleep before tomorrow. But keep us updated on what happens. Okay, kiddo?”

 

“You got it,” Izuku reassured before pulling his phone away and hanging up. He dragged his knees into his chest, craning his head back as he stared up at the ceiling fan, its blades resting idle above him. He still couldn’t believe this was happening- all of it. He closed his eyes, exhaling deeply to compose himself before diving in. He sat back up, pulling his chair closer to the edge of the desk as he opened his laptop and activated the messaging app. Once he tapped her username into the screen with the eraser edge of his pencil, he paused for a moment, trying to think of what to actually say. He must have gone through a half a dozen options in his brain, mumbling them all aloud before he finally settled on one and took the plunge. He wasn’t well-versed when it came to writing in English, but with his old language textbook and the internet ready at his side, he gave his best attempt at coherency.

 

10:07 pm [deku.bunbun] Good evening! My name Midoriya Izuku. I saw an article about your speech tonight, and I was amazed at your family’s story! I received a message from my professors at the Yuuei Oceanic Rehabilitation Facility in Japan. They said you were looking to contact me and gave me this Skype address, so I figured I would just drop in to say “hi” and make sure I am messaging the right person. Anyways, it is nice to meet you.

 

After sending it, Izuku read back through his message as he waited anxiously for a reply. He immediately groaned, lamenting his first mistake. Crap. He’d forgotten about the whole time zone thing.

 

10:08 pm [deku.bunbun] *good morning

 

He leaned back on his chair again in silent prayer that his message had somehow not come across as a completely wreck, when suddenly a ‘ding’ rang out from his computer’s speakers. The boy shot up, eyes eagerly reading the new message that had popped up before him.

 

10:10 pm [froppy.tsu] Hey, Izuku. Nice to meet you! Glad my message went through. Also, nice username. :)

 

Izuku exhaled a relieved breath. Thankfully, she seemed to be a fairly casual person.

 

10:11 pm [deku.bunnbunn] Thank you, my friend made it for me when I was not looking >_>’ Also, I usually am called Midoriya, if that is okay! :) What do you prefer to be named?

 

10:12 pm [froppy.tsu] Sorry! I always forget that how informal we are over here. >_<’ You can call me Tsu, though. ^_^ By any chance would you be up for a video call right now?

 

10:11 pm [deku.bunnbunn] Yes! :)

 

Truth be told, Izuku was a rather anxious individual when it came to calling those he wasn’t particularly acquainted with. However, he was enthusiastic enough over the chance to converse with the girl that he couldn’t help but accept. He took a deep breath, trying his best to desperately tame his curls and have at least some semblance of appearing collected before she proceeded to start the call. As he accepted it, the face of a young woman popped up on the screen. She looked surprisingly young for her age- her face round, eyes pure black and perhaps even wider than his own, if possible. Amusingly enough, her straight, long hair (currently tied up into a large bow over the back of her head) was of a similar color to his own, if a few shades darker. Overall, her presence gave off a much more amphibian-like vibe than he’d been anticipating. It was to be expected in retrospect, he supposed. After all, half of her lineage did hail from a freshwater ecosystem. He cleared his throat, trying to stay focus as he gave a short bow.

 

“Hello!”

 

She returned the greeting, offering an equally cheery wave and greeting. He rubbed nervously at the back of his neck, bestowing her a sheepish smile.

 

“Just so you are aware. my English is not very well, so I give apologies in advance.” He was positive he’d messed that one up.

 

She cocked her head to the side before her tongue suddenly switched, the words coming out of her mouth returning with a much more relieving familiarity.

 

“That’s fine! We can talk in Japanese, if you want. I know both. Well, orally, at least. My dad’s still teaching me the writing part.”

 

Izuku grinned, letting his guard down as relief washed over him. “Hey, it works for this conversation!”

 

“Yeah, I guess it does!” She beamed back with a froglike smile. She paused for a moment, eyeing him keenly before thoughtfully pressing her fingers together.

 

“Hey, so Midoriya. I have a weird question for you.”

 

“Shoot, Asui.”

 

“Tsu.”

 

“Right, sorry. Tsu.” Izuku returned, clearing his throat. It was going to take some time to get used to that.

 

“So, like…do you have legs right now?”

 

Izuku blinked blankly for a moment, caught off guard by the question. He supposed it made sense. She was a shifter just like him, and she probably had just as many questions about how his body worked as he did about hers. He smirked, tossing one leg up into the air and holding it high for her to see.

 

“You betcha!”

 

Just as quickly, though, his sudden shift in weight caused his chair to teeter. Izuku gripped onto his desk a moment too late, causing his chair- and along with it, himself- to go toppling over onto the carpet with a surprised yelp and unceremonious thud. Tsuyu burst out laughing, only able to contain herself once he’d fix his chair and sat down again. Izuku tried to play it off casually, ignoring the forming bruise on his elbow as he nonchalantly returned the question.

 

“Do you?”

 

The girl- much more sensibly- tilted down her computer screen, showing her lap covered in a baggy pair of sweatpants and concealing two, very human legs- their ankles just visible at the edge of the screen. She repositioned her camera with a grin.

 

“Yep!”

 

Izuku returned the look. “Well, I guess we have that in common!”

 

“Okay, then! Your turn,” the girl offered, tossing the ball into his court. The young man pondered for a moment before coming up with his own question.

 

“Okay, so what about shifting?”

 

“What’d you mean?”

 

“Do your legs turn into a tail when you jump into the water, too? And if they do, does it hurt to change back?”

 

“Yeah, they do! It usually takes a good five minutes or so. And the pain? No, not really. I’ve been training my body for a long time. So, I’m pretty well adjusted to it now, I guess.”

 

Five minutes?!” Izuku gawked in disbelief. “After a year and a half, mine take a solid two hours- at least! And you can actually train the pain away?!”

 

“With the right diet and exercise, yeah. Well, for me, at least. And I guess that would make sense,” Tsuyu pondered, tapping her chin. “You’ve only known about your shifting abilities for a year and a half, so it would figure you’d have less control over them.”

 

The young man paused. The way the Asui spoke, it was as if it were all as natural to her as breathing. It made him wonder.

 

“Wait…how long have you known?”

 

“About my abilities?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“My entire life, I guess.”

 

Izuku fell silent, the words hitting him hard. No wonder it was so simple for her. They were both shifters, it was true; both half-human, half-merfolk. But if sounded as if their lives couldn’t have been more different. The girl must have noticed his sullen expression- or he’d been subconsciously mumbling to himself, per usual- for when he looked back up, her features had become crestfallen. She held her arm to her side, offering him a repentant look.

 

“To be honest, there’s another reason I’ve been wanting to call you, Midoriya,” she croaked softly, her eyes falling away and posture sinking a little further than it had already been. “I wanted to get to know you- and I still do! But…I also wanted to apologize.”

 

“Apologize?” The young man reiterated, blinking back at her. They’d been barely talking for five minutes; what on earth could have she possibly even been sorry for? He noticed as she reflexively pulled her legs into her chest, her kneecaps showing just above the edge of the screen.

 

“The truth is…I’ve been wanting to contact you for a year and a half now- ever since I saw your court case in the news. I was so excited to find out that another shifter was out there- someone else like me and my kid siblings. That we weren’t alone. But…then I saw how sad and scared you looked in the all those pictures. That story they told, how your mom was a serial merfolk kidnapper, and how you were a naïve victim…when I saw the pictures of you and her, it all felt wrong. It…it was a lie, wasn’t it?”

 

It took Izuku a long moment to gather the strength to respond. Other than Mr. Toshinori, Coach Aizawa, and Ochaco, everyone had been treating him as just that- a victim to a cunning villain. Even the Yuuei Oceanic Rehabilitation Facility, as kind as they were, let him slip past their rules and visit so frequently out of a sense of guilt and pity. He may have taken advantage of it now and then for the sake of his own agenda. But it still stung, nonetheless. It was the first time a stranger had truly recognized his situation as something else, and he had been blindsided by her reaction. He thought back of the story his mother had finally told him in the last moments they shared together in the waiting room of the courthouse- tears in her eyes. He took a deep breath. He silently wondered how she would feel now, to know that the was someone out there just like him. To know that someone wanted to hear her truth. He only wished her could visit her sooner to tell it all.

 

“Yeah. My mom, she…she saved my dad on the riverbank of my childhood home. She’d been a young adult at the time, just leased the house and gotten her job at the local U.A. Aquatic Rehabilitation Facility when it happened. He’d been trying to hunt for food for the oncoming winter, but his sense of direction was the worst, apparently, and he swam way too far inland and had gotten himself hurt in a motor accident. At the time, the facility didn’t even have a license for merfolk transportation to Yuuei, it was so new. So, she’d been just trying to patch him up in her backyard, trying to get him back into proper shape to swim back home. But…he never really wanted to, and before they knew it…they were friends, and he was starting to talk back to her. And then…they fell in love. The next thing my mom knew, I was on the way. She tried to build a shed for my dad to stay in on the warm nights, so she could remain closer to him, too. She even had a little wheelchair to carry him back and forth from the house. So many times, she offered my dad the chance to leave, but he never wanted to go back, even though he knew it wouldn’t ever be safe to leave the house or the shed again. It was only when a neighbor had recognized him from the window of our living room that my mom had forgotten to close that day, and the authorities were called, that he suddenly left us. He fled before they could catch them both and arrest her. The neighbors were reprimanded for the ‘false alarm’, and my mom and I were safe. I was just a toddler at the time, I can’t even remember it- or him. And my dad, he…he never returned after that night.”

 

Despite the solemn end of his story, a warm smile had found its way to Asui’s froggish features. “You know, it’s funny. My parents…they met in a similar way.  My dad, he’d accidentally injured my mom with his boat on a Fourth of July trip with some friends. He took her inside, bandaged her up…and it was love at first sight. His friends, they’ve always been a good bunch. They tried to keep them both safe. But eventually, my parents were caught just before I was born. But…they were able to defend themselves.”

 

“How?” Izuku asked curiously, leaning a little closer into his desk. His mind flashed back to the fear in his mother’s eyes during the sentencing, how relentless the judge and the prosecution had been. Five years in prison, five years’ probation. And the loss of her rehabilitation license for life.

 

“Us freshwater sirens…we’re so different than oceanic merfolk. If you’ve ever seen the Great Lakes on a map, I bet you’ve noticed they’re not exactly as big as the Pacific Ocean.”

 

Alright, she did have a point there.

 

“My mom’s ancestry lived in small, nomadic groups because of it. They’d travel North or South, depending on the season. They tried to stay as far away from humans as possible over the years, but the geography wasn’t exactly to their advantage in that regard. I think the local people on the coast always had some idea that we existed, but the government would always pay them off after every reported occurrence, not wanting to cause a bigger national outcry. But living so close to the humans, the sirens ended up subconsciously starting to pick up on English words and phrases and understanding what certain things meant. So, when they tried to come at my father, my mom was able to defend him, to explain that the situation was of her own will and accord. In the end, the government paid his side of the family and friends to keep silent. But…they started watching us. They let my mother and father remain together in exchange for observing me- and later, my siblings- as we grew up, all while pretending to be “normal” human kids. It’s never been too obstructive, just some blood tests here and there, a cognitive test every few months. They weren’t exactly fun. But hey, it meant I often got to leave school early because of it, so it wasn’t the worst. But, over time, the sirens and my dad’s friends began to fight for us. They wanted me and my siblings to have a normal life, so that my mom could go to all my scouting ceremonies and my siblings’ talent shows. So that we wouldn’t have to hide anymore. And soon, talks of reform began. It took nineteen years for it to happen, but it finally did. And here I am.”

 

“I…I see,” Izuku returned quietly. Visions of that morning flashed, when that merman he’d once called something deeper than friend was snatched away from him. How he’d tried to speak out, tried to talk to the Oki crew as Izuku awoke across from him. But it had been all too late. Asui’s mother had been lucky in that regard, perhaps more than she’d ever know. He let out a shutter, fingers tearing though his hair as he curled in on himself, trying to push the excruciating memory away. Just forget about him right now. Please.

 

But it only made the pain worse.

 

“I…I’m sorry, Midoriya. I wanted to contact you sooner- I even asked my family when we watched you on the news. But our lawyers interjected. They begged us not to, telling us to wait until our own legal situation had been resolved. So, I kept up with any news articles I could find, trying to keep track of you until I finally could reach out. I know it was kinda creepy in retrospect. But I wanted to help you. I felt like it wasn’t fair. Why did my family get to live in peace, but yours didn’t? It made me so angry.”

 

“I’m glad you found me,” Izuku returned, offering her a faint but reassuring smile. Keeping his focus on her helped to distract him. “And you don’t need to feel bad over anything. It wasn’t your mess. And honestly? I’m really kind of excited you want to help. I’ve…I’ve felt so isolated from everyone for so long. I have friends and the facility, sure. But it’s not the same, you know? To not know the fear of getting stuck in a bad rain shower. Or not having to ignore the looks from strangers like you’re some kind of exotic animal.”

 

“Or the tests, or trying to figure out your place in the world. Wondering who you really are? Or the mess you have to clean up after the rain showers?” Tsuyu asked, an empathetic grin of her own creeping up over her features as one of her knees slipped from her grasp.

 

“Yeah.” The warmth of relief washed over Izuku. Ochaco, Mr. Toshinori, and his mother had all known what it was like to receive odd looks in their various dispositions. But it had always been different. No less severe, but still nothing quite like the confliction in his own mind. But finally. Finally, he’d met someone tonight that understood every bit of that sentiment.

 

Asui tilted her head to the side, dawning a more optimistic front as her smile grew braver and she changed the subject. “You know, you look a lot less scared than you do in photos.”

 

Izuku chuckled, a hand running down the length of his neck. “Yeah, I get that a lot.”

 

“Hey, Midoriya? Can I ask another question?”

 

“Go for it.”

 

“Do you think the Yuuei Rehab Facility would let me come to work with you guys?”

 

 


 

 

“He is your brother. What do you suppose we do, Prince Todoroki?”

 

The young man gave a heavy breath, arms crossed and eyes set on the rocky floor of the Great Library as his body leaned against a shadowed pillar. To think that his brother had managed to gain control of the remnants of the Northlands, when his presence there had caused their very ruin. That somehow, despite it, he’d swayed their people, bent them to his will in the absence of their true rulers. The thought was daunting- dangerous, even. The situation was just as grim as it was hopeful; if his brother were truly ready to raise a rebellion before the end of this wretched war came to pass, it could work in their favor. His father would undoubtedly take it as a personal family matter, becoming distracted by the whole ordeal- especially without the knowledge that Shouto was conspiring against him within the gates of the Southern Kingdom. It might just be the push they needed to save the Southlands, to drive the Central Kingdom’s reinforcements out of their occupied cities along the border. But there was no telling when his eldest brother would decide to make his move, or if the South’s defenses could even hold out that long. He’d yet to get a sufficient glance at the new report on the Queen’s desk. But with the way she’d been discretely shielding it from her daughter since he’d been called into the room, he feared that nothing good had come of it.

 

“We pray to the Gods,” he finally offered, looking back from to the shadows to the Queen, bathed in bioluminescent light at her desk from across the hall.

 

“Perhaps, if there were some way we could send spies through the Central Kingdom to the Northlands, to negotiate with him. Perhaps we could form an alliance of sorts against-”

 

“I highly doubt it,” Momo interjected, leaning up against the desk. Her mother defensively rolled up the edge of the report a little further. “Kyouka and I were forced to flee the Northlands when he discovered my true identity. It seemed as though he was belligerent to the notion of any royal being present in his new domain- save himself.”

 

“Furthermore,” Shouto continued as he pulled himself up, approaching the other sovereigns. “I am positive that my brother holds a vendetta against me, as well. Afterall, it was my replacement as the crowned prince that caused his defection in the first place. To him, I am to blame alongside my father for what he has become- whether he is proud or despises it. I’m sure that his knowledge of my presence here would only stir further chaos. So, our only bet is to wait and pray that he attacks my father before the Central Kingdom finds itself at our gates.”

 

“I see,” the Queen coldly replied, her features weary as she finally unrolled and scanned over her battle plans, laying them out clearly across the table. “My herald came for me not an hour ago, before you arrived and while Momo was putting the children to sleep. There was another heavy loss on the Western front this evening. I fear that we may not last a few weeks more if there is nothing to distract your father’s attention from us.”

 

There it was. Shouto narrowed his eyes as he floated across the desk toward the Queen. There was reservation; despite her confession, there was still more she hadn’t revealed to them- a situation even more dire than the one she was presenting. He reached for the plans. But just as quickly, she rolled them up once more before he had the chance to pull them over.

 

“Then what do we do?” Momo interjected, her voice quivering as she tried to compress the look of distress carved into her delicate features. The Queen merely rose herself tall, pressing her arms behind her back. She swam about the room until she arrived at the whale hide portrait hanging over the back wall. It was elaborate as it was massive; countless strokes of crushed coral were pressed into its ancient and preserved surface, depicting the long and storied history of her people.

 

“Prince Todoroki, I fear it is time to enact our final plan.”

 

The young man’s face paled, the gravity of her words sinking into the pit of his stomach. “Your majesty, they are so abrasive to the handling of our kind. To ask them for their assistance, when they trust themselves with us so little as to never amend their own, ancient rules. It would be a fool’s errand.”

 

The Queen took a long breath, a flutter of bubbles escaping her lips and hips as she lowered her head beneath the shadow of the tapestry, her back still to her daughter and sworn knight.

 

“Then perhaps I may be known as the fool. But we cannot hold out on a prayer, that someone else may save us with a rebellion. Not when the last of my people’s kind are at stake. I would rather our final effort be trying in vain for the sake of the innocent than to merely wait for death inside the gates of this palace. That is to say,” She finally turned to look the prince, grim resolution having settled deep into her drained eyes.

 

“-for you and the rest of my family. You were not given the chance before, Prince Shouto Todoroki. But you are a sworn knight and a true, wiser man now. You will not have been captured off guard this time. You know what you must do- what must be said. We can no longer fight this war alone. And if the land walkers cannot aid us there, at least they can offer refuge to the survivors of our people.”

 

“Wait, Mother. You cannot be serious- asking for the aid of the humans?! They would never-

 

“We must try, my dearest. Your friend has a unique gift unlike the rest of us; he knows their language. He can communicate with them in ways the rest of us could not for centuries. He has allies there. And his bonded-”

 

Shouto gritted his teeth, his bangs falling over his eyes as the damned memory he’d been trying to chase out all evening came back once more to haunt him. “I’m not so sure they would be so willing to offer aid of any kind to me a second time, your highness. Those allies of which you speak of suffered at the hands of their own people by my expense, and I abandoned the boy when I chose to come here. I’m not sure where any of them are now, I’m afraid.”

 

“Then speak to strangers, anyone that will listen, my knight.” She swam before him, taking his hands into her own, her eyes reddened, yet gentle. “You must not give up this fight until your dying breath, Prince Todoroki. As my sworn knight, I command these final tasks of you: first, the protection of my daughter and the rest of her family. Secondly, to reach humanity, and beg them for whatever aid they can offer us. And finally, if you cannot find common ground with humanity, seek out the true heir to the Northlands, and stand with him on the day he comes to regain control of his homeland- so that he might be a worthy ally when the time arrives to take back the Southern Kingdom.”

 

“I…yes, m’lady,” the prince submitted to her, kneeling on his tail at her fins upon the stoned floor.

 

As she watched the young man, the Queen’s voice fell softer, dripping with empathy. “I know this will be a painful task for you, my knight. To ask you to confront your own brother, to even slay him with your own hand is a heavy burden.”

 

“It would not be the first time I have been asked to end the life of my own kin. I assure you, my Queen.” Shouto’s head slowly rose to the regal woman above him, his eyes burning in a resolute fire. “I will do what must be done, my lady. I swear to your greatness, in time Touya Todoroki will be taken from his unrightful throne with my aid. But he will not be murdered- not by my hand.”

 

“As you wish. All I ask of you is that you see the true heir in his rightful place and to return with my daughter to reclaim this land when the time presents itself.”

 

“Wait, Mother. What of you?”

 

The Queen pulled her attention from the young man, turning to her daughter as she bestowed upon her a tight embrace. “It is time for me to face the Central Kingdom as a true woman of the Southlands. I will stand with our people in these final days, ready to defend them alongside our army. I shall remain beside my soldiers on the battlefield when the enemy finds themselves at the gates of our capital city. And I will remain there until the king himself grants me reunion with your father in the Seas of the Beyond.”

 

“Mom…” the mermaid held to her tightly, weeping into her shoulder. They had only reunited that evening, yet the Queen was already asking for her to depart, to forgive her for leaving her before her journey into the next life. It was hard even for the prince to watch, despite having been through the severance of his own loved ones time and time again- his mother, his siblings, the boy. He winced.

 

No, forget about him. You’ll never find him again. Let him go.

 

“I cannot force you to leave, Momo. As your Queen, I have granted you sanctuary here, for as long as you so desire and this palace stands. But as your mother, I can only pray that your desires perish and that you find home in the dry lands of humanity. The coming days of our kingdom are grim. And with tonight’s loss, I fear I must begin orchestrating the evacuations of the capital city immediately once the two of you are dismissed. But in your survival, you will grant our people hope that they will fight on another day, that they will have a true Queen to guide them back to victory, back to their true homeland. And should you choose to leave, I will tell them of your return and your ventures in truth, so that they may open up their arms to you upon your awaited return.”

 

The young woman pushed herself away, sniffing with a shaky breath and resolve in her eyes. “I will make things right, Mother. I will take the throne and live the rest of my life for my people, as I was destined to.”

 

“That’s my girl,” the Queen whispered, tucking one of her daughter’s bangs back behind her ear. “You have grown to be a true woman.”

 

 


 

 

“Are you serious?!” Ochaco gaped as her knees fell onto the plush mattress of her new room. Izuku had nearly finished hanging the last of the brunette’s shirts with her inside the closet- save a single shirt he’d absentmindedly forgotten was in his hands. He swiveled around, beaming from ear to ear. It had been a day since the news had broken and he’d talked to Asui for the first time. He’d nearly toppled over an entire couch in the living room as he met up with Mr. Toshinori and Ochaco that night. He’d spooked the daylights out of them as he tore open his laptop from his arms and showed them the report. It was a miracle he’d never even dreamed to pray for, a reality and a bright beacon of hope at long last- and the looks in their eyes as they watch the entire broadcast along with him grew just as bright.

 

Completely! She seriously wants to come to work with us at the Yuuei Oceanic Rehabilitation Facility! She actually wants to help!”

 

“Deku, that’s…I don’t even know what to say,” the girl sighed happily, settling into a calm contentment on the bed as her arms clung to one of the bedposts, watching him excitedly prance around with her black tank top flapping along in the air.

 

“Neither did the facility when I told them this morning! Izuku laughed, twirling around until the mattress caught him by the back of his legs and he fell back on the bed gleefully beside her.

 

“I can’t believe this is all actually happening…” He sighed, staring up at the chandelier above. “If we can get this law passed, you and my mom will be exonerated. You’ll finally be free.”

 

As he glanced up at the brunette, he caught a portion of her smile fade, her expression off somewhere distant on the floor.

 

“That’s wonderful, Deku. But…I highly doubt it will be that simple. Even if the rules between merfolk and humans were relaxed, we’d still need proof that our actions were done of…of his free will.”

 

She faltered, evidently nervous to bring up the merman to her closest friend. But it was inevitable, and in his mind he saw that agonizing vision of intense heterochromatic eyes. Izuku’s muscles grew tense as he pulled himself up, his mood having dampened. Just change the subject, he pleaded with his mind. Don’t think about him now, try to forget until the day you can search for him freely.

 

“It’s a first step towards it, though,” he finally offered with a drawn breath, his hands sandwiching themselves between his thighs after gently folding her tank top and resting it on a nearby pillow. The young woman glanced back at him, giving a curt nod.

 

“You’re right. It is.”

 

Izuku bit the inside of his cheek as he watched her, trying to think of a way to change the subject. Maybe…

 

“Have you talked to Kacchan lately?”

 

No, that most definitely wasn’t a good topic. Think of something else. His mind paused, though, as he saw her face flush red, her shoulders going ridged. Crap. Curse his muttering mouth.

 

“You’d know more than I would,” her voice fell flat, any warmth from it stripped dry and dripping with resentment. Izuku cleared his throat.

 

“Right. Sorry. Maybe we should go get some lunch with Iida?”

 

To the freckled young man’s relief, she seemed more positively receptive towards the idea, if still a little guarded as she forced a smile in his direction.

 

“Sounds good to me.”

 

 


 

 

 

“Man, I can’t believe I really gotta do this,” the blonde behind Izuku mumbled as he followed him down the extensive, white hall. “Ugh, if that test just hadn’t been so hard-”

 

“Consider yourself lucky, Kaminari,” Iida scolded as he waved a hand frivolously in the air between his other two classmates. “Some of us are only granted access here twice a week. You’ve been granted five days- for almost failing a class, no less! You should be thankful our professor is so generous!”

 

“Yeah, if by generous you mean having to give up every freakin’ weekday afternoon until the end of the semester volunteering here!” The blonde protested, his shoulders slumping unceremoniously. “And having to teach a merman our language? Man, even I barely passed my language classes back in high school. Sometimes I even wonder how I got into university, honestly.”

 

“It’s really not that bad here, Kaminari. I promise! And you really are selling yourself short. With my physical tests and working with the other merfolk here, I haven’t really had much time to teach him- and neither has Iida. You agreeing to do this is going to save so many people’s lives in the end- not just your grades. You’re doing an amazing thing- seriously.” Izuku tried to reassure him, opening the door to the rehabilitation wing. The boy took a heavy breath, his mood lightening slightly at Izuku’s words and as he received his first glimpse over the catwalks of the Rehabilitation wing.

 

The tanks were much shallower than in ICU wing. But both sections had evolved tremendously from what they had been a year and a half prior. The tanks in both now contained doors and short tunnels connecting them that the scientists could open or close at will. It was to ensure a more socially heathy environment between the resident merfolk (typically the only reason for shutting the doors was when behavioral or territorial issues between specific individuals came into play, or if a certain merperson’s state would spread illness between the others.) The tanks were no longer as hollow and empty as before. Each one was padded with sand on its floor, mixed in with natural coral and seaweed to make the rehabilitees feel just a little more at home in their foreign surroundings. The doors had been at the suggestion of the Oki Mariner Crew directly after the incident a year and a half prior. The decorations, on the other hand, had been at the request of Izuku upon entering the university, to which most everyone took surprisingly well to.

 

The freckled young man caught the familiar form of a bulky, grey-haired doctor at the other end of the room and offered a courteous bow.

 

“Doctor Selkie, Kaminari is here!”

 

“Perfect Timing! Bring him on over, Alpha #b1016 just finished lunch!”

 

Izuku flashed the man a flat look as he approached with his classmates. No matter how hard he tried to sway them, the scientists of the facility seemed hellbent of referring to the merfolk by their designated codes. They’d insisted it was for classification purposes. But to him, it felt downright disrespectful. Despite his foreboding appearance, the doctor completely crumpled under the weight to the short intern’s stare. He gave a hasty ‘Kirishima is awake!’ before stepping to the side to put away the fish bucket and introduce the new student to him. Kaminari glanced at Izuku with a confused look, Iida with an all too knowing one. Izuku ignored them both. The entire Oki crew still held the heavy weight of remorse on their shoulders for what they had done, and the young man knew it well. And yeah, he’d taken advantage of it more than he should have. The intent was never out of spite, but rather a determination to see things change for the better.

 

Kaminari squatted and leaned out towards the edge of the unrailed walkway, squinting over the water’s surface. “I don’t see anyone in here-”

 

The young man suddenly let out a sharp yelp, stumbling back into Izuku’s arms as a figure suddenly emerged from the water. His body flew high into the air, twirling as his crimson scales glittered in the artificial light. For a fraction of a second, the deep scars of the left side of his tail showed themselves to his audience, along with his long, red tail fins- riddled with holes large and small that almost appeared seared around the edges- before diving back down below. Neither the students nor the doctor were spared from the splash, all drenched in the aftermath. As Izuku combed his bangs back over his head, he let go of the blonde and checked on him. His eyes were alight in awe and amazement, his mouth half open in disbelief.

 

“That…that’s a merman?”

 

Izuku couldn’t help but laugh as he sat down next to him, trying to keep his legs apart as the goo started seeping reflexively through his capris. “That was my first reaction, too, honestly. Aren’t they incredible?”

 

“Wait,” Kaminari returned, his eyes catching on the state of the young man’s legs for a moment before flickering back to his face. “Aren’t you half-merman? Does your body look like that too when you transform?”

 

“Kind of,” Izuku explained as he gratefully accepted a towel from the doctor and began to clean off his shins. “My tail is green, black, and white, so it isn’t as flashy in the light. Plus, my fins are a bit shorter, since I’m a beta.”

 

“A beta?” Kaminari blinked curiously, unaware of the merman’s head that was spying on him- just over the surface of the water and out of his peripheral vision.

 

“Yeah. Basically, I’m like a normal guy, I guess? Nothing too special about me. The alphas are the natural born leaders. So typically, their fins and omega fins are much longer to naturally attract attention.”

 

“Huh,” Kaminari replied, trying to follow. He glanced back at the doctor as the merman continued to inch forward. Izuku had to stifle a laugh with his damp forearm, Kirishima pressing a finger to his lips with a twinkle in his eyes. He was in quite the good mood today.

 

“Is there anything else I should know?” The blonde asked.

 

“Well,” the doctor hummed as he flipped through the pages on his clipboard. “Alphas tend to be more territorial and dominant than the rest of their special. We also picked up on an anomaly in his genetic makeup that we’ve only caught one other time on record. Not sure what it means, but his behavior doesn’t seem to be affected, which is good. He’s also a bit of a playful one to those he knows well, so I’d keep your eye out for-”

 

Kaminari let out another yelp as the merman’s tail shoved another wave of water over the surface of the water, landing squarely over him. This time, Izuku had been prepared, jumping back to safety along with Iida.

 

“What gives?!”

 

The blonde swung around in frustration, dusty crimson eyes meeting electric yellow. Kirishima was baring a sharp toothed, shit eating grin on his lips from ear to ear. Kaminari went quiet, a light dusting of color on his cheeks as he met the merman eye to eye. Any frustration laden in his expression was immediately replaced with innate curiosity.

 

“Well, they seem to be hitting it off well,” Iida whispered as he leaned toward his friend.

 

“That’s what I was hoping for,” Izuku whispered back, giving the doctor a wave and leaving the rest of the preparations for Kaminari in his hands as he headed off with his fellow classmate.

 

“Is that why you suggested to our professor to revise his remedial assignment?”

 

“Honestly, there was an element of needing to teach Kirishima our language quicker. But, yeah. To be honest, after getting to know them both, I felt like their personalities would mesh together well. And I figured that would be more entertaining for Kaminari than mopping floors and retaking tests. And besides, if they get along well, it will be that much more of an incentive for them both to try their best.”

 

A sly grin spread across the freckled student’s features as his friend raised an astute eyebrow down at him.

 

“Very clever, Midoriya.”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Shouto did his best to remain still as the servant bathed his hair and scales in murky ink. The stain made his scalp and tail itch something terrible, and he had to clutch against grooves in the cellar’s wall and bite his tongue to keep his voice from fervently protesting. Momo and Jirou seemed to be holding up similarly, though their natural ebony hair gave them a slight upper hand.

 

The entire situation was reeking of something foul and more dire; once Momo had accepted the Queen’s plea to flee with him, her mother had pushed them in earnest to wake up the rest of her family and make hasted preparations for their eminent departure. Had the Queen not claimed herself that the city had a few more weeks to stand? Why not give her daughter and family just one night’s rest in the comfort of her childhood dwelling before their inevitable departure?

 

The prince was no fool. Had the princess arrived at the gates just a day later, he would have still been here tonight, drenched in this repulsively wrenched ink alone. Silently, Shouto knew the truth, the reason for the sovereign’s urgency. He only prayed that his old friend had not figured it out for herself; she must have come from the East, must have not seen the battle ragging. Otherwise, she would have surely protested it more pugnaciously by now.

 

The handmaidens pulled away one by one as they finished their work- first Jirou, then Momo, and lastly, Shouto. They offered to them a silent bow before parting behind, allowing the Queen to swim before the trio. She handed her grandchildren off- one to their birth mother, the other to her daughter. Their navy hides had been drenched in the same vile ink as their mothers, but they did not cry. They were silent- fast asleep and innocent to the foreboding world around them. The Queen must have given them a concoction to ease them through the night, until they were far enough away that their cries would not be heard to by unwanted ears.

 

“I see the handmaidens have done a beyond sufficient job in disguising you,” she offered the three, nodding to her servants in approval. “Now, listen closely to what I am about to say.”

 

She pointed to a slab door upon the floor of the cellar, disguised by the similarly textured rockwork surrounding it. The three maidens pulled it away upon her command, revealing the dark chasm beneath.

 

“The ink that has been placed upon you is not permanent- nor is the potion given to my grandchildren. It can only withstand the water for ten hours, and the potion, twenty. The passage below you will take you just outside the gates of the capital city. Use the remainder of the time given to escape outside the borders of the Western Domain and the Southern Kingdom where you will not be seen. Then, continue to the human shores in the West. Prince Todoroki, Momo: do not use your abilities to light the path. Do not light your tail or conjure a lantern; this will cause the ink to deteriorate faster. The walls are narrow and only lead in one direction; feel your way through them, and you will find your way. Do you understand?”

 

The merfolk nodded wordlessly to the Queen. Shouto’s gaze drifted off to his childhood friend. Her features beheld an overwhelmed expression by the weight of a situation she couldn’t fully grasp, and her glassy eyes were drowning with inquiry. But she remained silent nonetheless as the three were escorted to the chasm. First descended Jirou.

 

Next came the prince.

 

Shouto turned a final time to the Queen, giving her a deep bow just above the floor of ridged stone, as he was careful not to scrape his tail against it.

 

“My Queen, it has been the greatest honor in my undeserving life to have swam by your side this last year and a half. I assure you; I will find the means to restore the kingdoms as they should be, so that no innocent shall lose their life to senseless strife again. I will pass on the tales of your benevolence, so that generations to come may know the stories of your kindness and the beliefs you have passed on to us from eras long past. That one day, they will come to light again.”

 

The young man froze in awe, taken by surprise as the regal woman before him before him suddenly fell, kneeling into a deep bow at the heel of his darkened fins.

 

“And you shall have my word, crowned Prince Shouto Todoroki of the Western Domain and the Eastern Reef. Upon the hour when your father comes to my gate to complete his unworthy empire, I will tell him the tale of your adventures and bravery. I will share with him his success in raising a most dutiful and wise son, when he attempted with all of his might to create a failure.”

 

Shouto found himself rather ambivalent with her claims. But yet, he could not stop a thin, wry grin from tracing over his lips as the image of his Father’s disgraced expression enraptured his thoughts. “I’d like that very much, my lady.”

 

He could sense Momo hesitating in silence beside him as her mother raised herself back up. She looked as though she wished to embrace her, to hold her hand just one last time. And though she could not, her mother offered her one last tender look.

 

“Go now, my daughter. Wherever the seas take you, remember: I am proud of you, and I will always love you no matter what becomes of the both of us.”

 

“Thank you, Mother,” the princess shuttered, closing her eyes. The prince could just catch the Queen’s resilient façade finally break away, a single tear rolling down her cheek as she turned away. And with that, he and Momo descended into the dark chasm below.

 

 


 

 

The passageway took perhaps two hours to navigate. It was a fastidious challenge for the merfolk to keep themselves clear from the walls, taking great heed to prevent their trailing tails from scratching over the sharp edges of the tunnel in the encompassing darkness. In the winding abyss, they only had the touch of their hands beside them to guide the way.

 

They did not speak once through the first leg of the journey; so deep down under a thick layer of the stony ocean floor, the merfolk were unlikely to be heard or reached by anyone dwelling in the world above. Here they could remain until the expiration of their final days, unbeknownst to the rest of the world. The thought of such solitude was hollow, a silent creature that gnawed gluttonously on each of their primal fears. But the trio did not dare to make a sound, keeping their inner terrors unto themselves in the silence. It was only after an unendingly long while that Jirou whispered among them, as her hand brushed over a craggy surface in front of her.

 

“We’re here.”

 

She fumbled in the darkness for Momo until she found her wife, passing on their second daughter. The smallest of the three, the female omega had navigated through the tight chasm with relative ease; it was the paramount reason for which she had led them thus far. She swam above, using the weight of her body to pull up a grown-over slab of rock. It revealed the dim light of the watery world above. She helped the prince and princess come along after her. The three took a brief moment to adjust to the presence of light- faint as it may have been- and to gather an understanding of their surroundings.

 

The prince felt a wave of déjà vu pass through him. It was a mostly barren ocean floor; scarcely covered in mollusks and seaweed, living and dead, as far as the eye could see. He could have sworn the Southlands’ guards had hauled him through this very land when he’d first surrendered himself to them. But the young man had been so sleep-deprived and starved at the time, the memory had barely been more than a blur. Something just barely intangible as it mocked him outside his reach.

 

The ink on their tails had mercifully held up remarkably upon their investigation. Once they had gathered themselves together, Jirou spoke quietly to Shouto.

 

“Of all of us, you are the one who has successfully ventured to the human world and back. I suggest you lead us, Prince Todoroki.”

 

“What of you?” He inquired. “Were you not once taking in by the humans?”

 

“Yes, but I don’t remember most of it. I was pretty banged up after the shark attack, and the humans had me sedated when I was returned.”

 

“I see…” The young man replied. He’d been rather uneasy with taking the lead from this point regardless of if he’d been meant to. But it seemed as though it was unavoidable. He straightened his posture, looking back at the two women before him. That was right. The Queen had bestowed her last orders unto him. This was his responsibility; just a token of his debt to pay for the crimes of his adolescence. And so, he conceded. “Very well, then. I suggest that we swim high towards the surface. In my childhood, I found that the Central Kingdom’s guards were most wary of patrolling there. I was only found once in the hundreds of times I ventured above; I am certain that this was due to their trailing of me from the palace itself. I believe that if we want to make it to the human world as swiftly and safely as possible, this will be our best option.”

 

The flickering looks upon the women’s faces were uncertain. Their apprehension was natural; they’d been taught all their lives to fear and avoid humanity at any cost to protect themselves from their supposed cruelty. One of them had even been punished by the hands his own father’s court because of it. To be asked to suddenly to seek their species out, nonetheless trust them, was easier said than done for the other two, when the mentality had been ingrained into the fabric of their psyche. Momo held their sleeping children closer, but otherwise, the two hesitantly agreed to follow as they floated above. It was still nighttime, thankfully. The pale moonlight and faint shimmer of the stars above barely gave their bodies a retreating shadow upon the shrinking world below.

 

It was halfway to the surface when a foreign source of light caught the edge of the prince’s vision. He swirled around, the left side of his being growing colder than death itself at the daunting sight far below. There lined an organized army, thousands of armor-cladded men marching in formation toward the distant glitter of the gilded gates to the Southern Kingdom’s capital city. At the helm of it all was a singular body of radiating embers, taller and more oppressive in its presence than all the rest. The cold of Shouto’s veins rapidly began to boil, his heartbeat quickening.

 

So, his fears were true.

 

A muffled cry rang out from behind, and the young merman turned back to find Jirou restraining Momo with all her might. The princess’s eyes were deep red, her quivering form still visible so close to him in the pale moon light. The prince swam forward, grabbing her by the hand as he sternly watched her.

 

“Momo, we have to keep moving,” he whispered firmly, his eyes set steadily upon her.

 

Her head finally shook free of her lover’s restraint, her gaze dangerously narrow and firing with accusation. “You knew. You and my mother- you both knew.”

 

Shouto could not blame her just anger. The Queen had good intentions in hoping to keep her returned daughter’s mind as at peace as it could be in this dire situation. But still, Momo was the crowned princess, heir to her people. And the severity of their final hours had been kept from her as if she were a child. The knight’s mismatched eyes drifted away in shame, his hand falling from hers. “The way your mother was acting tonight. I figured it out. I…I should have spoken out sooner. I apologize.”

 

“Why? Why did you hide it?! My people…everyone…they need us!” She lurched forward toward the ocean floor, but the other two were quick to hold her back. They all went ridged as the bundled form in the nook of Momo’s left arm shifted. Only Jirou dared to speak, taking the children from her once the tiny body had settled once more.

 

“Look at how many of them there are, Momo. If we die here, your people will have nothing left to help them. The Queen gave us- our family- a second chance to make this right. We would be careless to throw that away.”

 

“And you expect me to turn a blind eye as the rest of my people die?!”

 

Her irrationality prickled the prince’s nerves. How could she be so reckless, so careless at such a fragile time as this? His tongue slipped in contempt before he could muster the control to bite down upon it. “I recall that fact didn’t seem to stop you the past two years- until you were chased out,” Shouto hissed.

 

“Oh, isn’t that rich of you. The only reason you ever came back was because the humans kicked you out of their world. And I bet you just happened to figure that dealing with my mother would be easier than you father. Didn’t you?”

 

A pure vision of a brimming smile and wide, innocent emerald eyes swam hazily into the prince’s mind, and the emotion overtook him. The heat in his veins boiled over as the young man gritted his teeth, lurching forward. Jirou immediately sandwiched herself between the two heirs, the second child in her embrace stirring.

 

Knock it off! Fighting like this is only going to get us killed along with the children. We can’t let them see us here!”

 

The two merfolk paused, backing a distance away from each other with their heads turned downward in shame. What perhaps stung most severely was that even if their words hand been heated, they still rang with truth. Their childish fantasies were to blame for the heralding of the end below. It was difficult to make out in the dim evening light, but Shouto could see patches of ink rubbed away in the heat of their quarrel upon all their tails. Jirou was right; for now, they needed to cease this childishness.

 

“Shouto. I’m sorry, I didn’t-”

 

“No, you had every right. I am the one who must apologize. I had no right to speak of it,” he quietly returned, taking one last fleeting glance at the army below before trekking to the surface once more.

 

 


 

 

“It seems as though the requirements for entering the Yuuei Oceanic Facility has become rather lax these days,” Iida muttered discontentedly, burying himself in on his laptop. Izuku rolled over from his cubical, nudging his shoulder.

 

“Come on, you know it hasn’t,” he tried to reassure, giving his friend a perky smile. The young man’s frown only deepened, eyes narrowing in on his work from behind his bifocals.

 

“I can understand and excuse the acceptance of Miss Asui. I recognize how employing two shifters at the facility could be deemed highly beneficial. But Kaminari- really?”

 

“He’s not an official intern, Iida- you know that. He’s just here on extra credit.”

 

The disgruntled young man mumbled something inaudible beneath his breath. Izuku sighed, sulking as he surrendered and retreated to his own desk. He understood his friend’s frustration, truly. To have worked practically his entire life to become a part of this facility, only to watch two others to get in on their biological status alone- and yet another for downright nearly failing a class must have been infuriating, to say the least. But the freckled intern couldn’t feel too guilty over it, either. Things had begun to change at Yuuei in the past year and a half. They were bargaining for reform that until a few weeks ago, the likes of which had never been seen. They needed allies on their side, even if it meant inducting them through rather unconventional means.

 

His attention drifted back to his work, chin resting in his half-asleep, deformed hand as he scanned over the reports for the influx of new rescues that week. There were so many this time, far more than the typical influx they’d become accustomed to as of late. Iida’s irritability was like due to fatigue, as it was for the rest of them. Even on their non-designated days, interns and scientists alike had been forced to sacrifice their spare moments at home- and often their sleep- to prepare all the correct documentation for the inducted patients. Suddenly, Izuku’s attention was pulled away from his computer, his phone loudly vibrating over the vinyl desk. He panicked, catching the device in his hands and looking around nervously before discretely unlocking it.

 

It was a missed call from Asui. She must have finally arrived.

 

The young man pushed back on his desk, sending his chair flying out of the cubicle as he hopped to his feet and haphazardly shrugged his lab coat over his shoulders. Iida glanced up at him with an irritable look over the ruckus. Izuku offered him a silently apologetic smile before dashing down the office hall. For now, the paperwork would have to wait.

 

It took a couple of minutes to navigate his way to the receptionist’s lobby. But sure enough, the moment he arrived through the back doors, there was a familiar face waiting for him. She was seated in the back of the waiting room, eyes set on the boisterous world outside wide window beside her and her hands stiffly wrapped over his knees, stuck so firmly together they almost appeared fused. Her eyes snapped away, finally noticing the young man as he came closer. He offered her a swift bow and lopsided smile, still adjusting the cuffs of his coat into a half-decent appearance.

 

“It’s nice to finally meet you in person, Asu- Tsu.”

 

The young woman’s posture loosened a bit as she recognized him beneath his oversized lab coat. Her hands fell away from her knees to reveal a clipboard with an untouched form upon her lap. She tucked it under her arm and stood, hesitating a moment before giving an awkward, uncertain bow in return. She seemed much less confident now than on the night they’d met through their video call; the intern had remembered her briefly mentioning that she’d never ventured outside of the American Midwest before. He could only imagine how out of her element she felt must have felt at present. He cleared his throat, causally dropping his futile attempts at formality. Still, it truly was strange how even more similar they appeared in person; she must’ve been shorter by only a couple of inches, as most.

 

“Doctor Selkie’s in the middle of an emergency operation at the moment, so he instructed me to give you a tour of the area if you came in the meantime. I mean, if you’re up to it. I know the trip was probably pretty long, so if you’d rather head back to-”

 

“I’d like that,” she interjected as she nervously pressed the clipboard to her chest. The young woman shifted her weight between the balls of her feet as she continued, flashing a nervous look at the receptionist. “I’m not sure if I’ll be allowed in yet, though. I haven’t filled out the information form. And, um- I can’t really make out most of it.”

 

“Oh!” Izuku responded, his eyes lighting up as his hand gestured in an offer to take it from her. She tentatively agreed, looking down sheepishly. “That’s fine! You’re with me, so it’s not as urgent that you fill it out first thing. Plus, if you’d like, I can get Dr. Selkie to print out some copies in English either after the operation is finished or tomorrow.”

 

The girl let out a hefty sigh of relief, her shoulders returning to their naturally sagged posture. “Thanks, Midoriya.”

 

And so, their tour commenced. Izuku began in the wing of the public Aquarium, where the guests could view some of their permanent rescues in a rather fancy (if the slightest bit kitschy) setup- from dolphins, to sea turtles, to even seals, and a few sharks. They next walked through the tank control room, internship and processing offices, and an unoccupied operation room- the last being a rather quick endeavor, as the room was one far too familiar for the intern, in honesty. They proceeded through the catwalks of the ICU and Rehabilitation facilities. The intensive care unit had been a fairly short venture, as well. There were several different mariner teams bringing in a plethora of even more rescues at the moment- ones Izuku was sure he, Iida, and the rest of the Oki crew would be up late cataloging over the next few days. They ended their tour in the Rehabilitation wing, where Izuku found Kaminari excitedly chatting away with Kirishima in the back corner of the room. The two had taken to each other remarkably well- even better than the intern had hoped over the past few weeks. It was hard to make out much of their conversation from where he and Asui stood at present, but he could just barely make out a few intelligible words as they escaped from the merman.

 

“Hey, Kaminari!”

 

Izuku waved over causally the student, who glanced back as he set down the book he’d been sharing with Kirishima. He hopped to his feet, waving back enthusiastically at the two of them. Izuku ushered Asui over, who nervously followed along. He subconsciously smiled to himself as he could have sworn he caught her give a diffident bow out of the corner of his eye.

 

“Hey, Midoriya! What’s kickin’?”

 

“Just showing our newest intern around the facility!” He returned. The blonde’s eyes lit up, hands clapping together as he turned his attention to the young woman beside him.

 

“Oh! You must be Tsuyu Asui! The Oki team told me about you! You’re a shifter like Midoriya, right?”

 

“Pretty much,” the froggish girl returned shyly, cocking her head to the side.

 

“Dude, that’s so cool!” The student beamed back, eyeing her excitedly. She blinked, taken aback by his overtly extroverted demeanor. It seemed to soften her up a bit, the tension in the air around her beginning to dissipate.

 

“So, are you an intern here, too?”

 

“Not exactly,” the young man chuckled embarrassedly, fumbling as he shifted his weight between his legs and tucked his hands into his thin pockets. “May or may not have failed my last few ecology tests- depending on who you ask. So, I’ve been here teaching this guy our language for extra credit.”

 

The blonde just as quickly perked back up, grinning widely as he gestured his head back to the redhead leaning cautiously against the edge of the tank behind them.

 

“Right!” Izuku remembered, smiling over at Asui. “I almost forgot to ask! Would you like to meet Kirishima?”

 

“Kiri-who?” Asui returned as the young man took her wrist, excitedly guiding her over with Kaminari to the tank. The merman slunk away as they approached, his flat, red hair spiking up like a lionfish beneath the water. Streaks of jet black rippled through his locks as he clung against the glass, watching the young woman carefully. Kaminari raised a hand in front of them, ushering the two to stay put.

 

“Hold on, I’ve got this.”

 

He squatted over the edge of the tank, cupping a hand over his mouth as he called out to the merman.

 

“It’s okay. She’s a friend, just like me and Midoriya. She’d not gonna hurt you, I promise.”

 

Not going to hurt you? Izuku blinked quietly as the merman tentatively sauntered back to the surface. He’d known Kirishima had always been a bit…shy around a few of the scientists when first meeting them, but nothing of that sort had even been mentioned before. Most certainly not when he’d met Kaminari. It was like day and night.

 

The merman tentatively poked his head over the surface once more. Kaminari kicked off his sneakers, sitting over the edge of the walkway and submerging his calves beneath the water. He gave a supportive smile, patting the spot on the concrete beside him. The merman’s eyes cautiously flickered between him and the spot for a moment before he rose up, taking a set beside him. He wobbled slightly in the strange position, laughing along with the blonde as he caught onto his arm for support.

 

Asui’s eyes lit up and she trotted over to join them, claiming the spot on the other side of Kaminari once she’d removed her own socks and shoes and placed them against the wall. Kirishima was still the slightest bit uneasy at first as he watched her keenly. But his expression softened as the girl offered him a warm smile in return. Izuku watched in awe as the form of her lower legs transformed almost instantaneously as they crashed beneath the water’s surface without a split second of hesitation.

 

The color of her calves turned from pale to a murky green, fusing together within seconds as a translucent film wrapped around them. From the soles of her feet unfolded two round, green fins like lily pads. They were much thicker than any fin Izuku had ever seen before. They were at no point transparent in the slightest and looked closer to the consistency of hide rather than the silk-like composition he was so accustomed to. Scales began to pop out from beneath her skin, one by one in a ripple effect. They were dull and thicker than Izuku’s, with no shine or glitter to them. Instead, each one’s coloring was like marble, deep evergreen and sage mixing over one another. The young man had only realized that he’d at some point knelt down beside her to investigate when she spoke so closely to him.

 

“What about you, Midoriya? Wanna join us?” She croaked happily. The freckled intern glanced over to the other two young men sitting beside her, who just as equally seemed stunned and speechless at her remarkably seamless transformation. Izuku laughed apprehensively, rubbing the back of his neck.

 

“I think I’m good here. I have some homework to do later after we unpack, so I really don’t think going through the pain of detransforming tonight would be a great idea.”

 

“That’s right. You mentioned that during our first chat, didn’t you?” Asui recalled, tapping a finger to her chin. Her eyes suddenly grew more focused as she reached over to just slightly pull up Izuku’s lab coat, observing his bare shins beneath his shorts. The young man’s face heated, and he covered it in embarrassment as Kaminari and Kirishima watched, trying hopelessly and failing not to snicker in juvenile amusement.

 

“Relax, I’m not gonna touch or look at anything else,” she mumbled before dropping the edge of the coat back into place. Izuku breathed a sigh of relief. He still would have preferred a warning, but she’d been respectful in observing his lower legs, at least. Not to mention, she seemed to be taking it more maturely than some people at the moment. He glowered back at the other boys, who glanced away as their giggles were still petering out. The girl tapped her jaw once more, deep in thought as she visually scanned over the rest of his concealed form.

 

“It’s a little hard to tell from here, but it looks like you’re in fairly healthy shape. So, that’s probably not the problem. If I had to guess, it might just be a lack of experience. Though, even that shouldn’t cause a big pain issue- just a time and control one. I wonder…” Her eyes grew slightly larger as she tapped her fist into the palm of her hand. “Diet! That has to be it!”

 

“Diet?” Izuku blinked back in confusion, wrapping his coat over his knees to protect them from the moisture as he sat down just behind the edge of the concrete beside her.

 

Asui blinked back. “Yeah! Wait…have you not adjusted your diet to make up for the scale production?”

 

Izuku merely stared back, completely lost. The look only seemed to confirm the young woman’s suspicions as she nodded firmly.

 

“No wonder your detransformations have been so painful! Do you ever get really tired after them, too? Do your scales fall out?”

 

“For the full transformations? Yeah, every time,” Izuku returned.

 

“It all makes sense! Though I have to admit, Midoriya. For someone who’s half-merman and interning to rehabilitate merfolk, you seem to know very little about your own species,” she casually remarked. “Well, half-species.”

 

Izuku’s cheeks puffed up, pouting defensively as he crossed him arms. “You’re, like, the only other half-merperson I’ve ever met. How was I supposed to know I needed to change my diet?”

 

“Because it’s just like when sirens and merfolk give birth.”

 

“Like preg-eg-nancy!” The redhead beside Kaminari beamed, his tail absentmindedly flipping above the water.

 

“Nice, you said it right!” Kaminari supportively returned, high fiving the merman as Izuku briefly hid behind Asui to shield himself from the splash. The freckled intern’s eyes lit up, suddenly putting everything all together as he jumped to his feet excitedly.

 

“That’s right! When merfolk are expecting, their scales usually grow up to just below their chest in order to protect their unborn child during gestation!”

 

“Exactly!” Asui returned. “Usually, it happens between the sixth and seventh week into the pregnancy, so sometimes they don’t realize it until after they’ve started to grow. But to prepare for the loss- and production, if caught early enough- the merfolk usually change their diet in the weeks after conception and just before the birth. That way, in the hours afterwards, the scales will retract into their body, instead of painfully falling out.”

 

Izuku’s fingers ran through his scalp. Why had he never thought of it that way? It was so simple!  “I saw a birth with the rest of the Oki crew about six months back. I can’t believe I never thought about my transformations like that before. It’s the same concept!”

 

“It is!” Asui nodded. “For merfolk, their bodies will simply store the scales until they are ready to reproduce again. For us, our legs will hold them until we go back into the water. Watch!”

 

The froggish woman pivoted her body, her formed lower tail rising from the water. She placed it back on the pavement, and the three young men watched in wonder as her scales almost immediately began to slip back into the squishy film beneath, retreating one by one in the same pattern they’d emerged.

 

“And that doesn’t hurt?” Izuku asked inquisitively.

 

The young woman shook her head as her fins began to fold back up beneath her feet, smiling up at him in reassurance. “It tingles a bit. But otherwise, it feels completely normal.”

 

“Wow…” The freckled intern gapped, watching her legs already begin to take shape. He momentarily rushed over to the supply cupboard nearby as he recalled a thought, pulling out a towel and tossing it to her. The girl happily caught it.

 

“That’s pretty insane,” Kaminari whispered. He pointed at her tail, glancing back to the merman beside him. “Can you do that?”

 

Kirishima silently shook his head, watching with just as much zeal.

 

After about five minutes or so, once her legs were back to their regular, fleshy, human shape, the girl effortlessly leapt up to her feet as if nothing had even happened, waltzing over to the wall to fetch her shoes. Izuku followed her, a thousand questions running through his mind.

 

“How to I reduce the transformation time? How long did it take for you to control it like this? What should I eat to decrease the pain?”

 

“Well,” Asui started as she slipped a frog-faced sock over her left foot. “You need a heavy intake of protein, iron, zinc, and magnesium to give your body the means to grow your fins and scales, as well as retain them. I know mine look a bit different, but from the bits and pieces of research I’ve found online, I think the genetic makeup of our scales are fairly similar. I’ll help you out with the details of it later one we get unpacked tonight.”

 

“Tha-“

 

Izuku jolted as he felt a familiar buzz in his coat pocket. He reached down, pulling his cellphone out. One missed message from Ochaco Uraraka.

 

Wait. Was it already that late in the afternoon?! The panic must have been evident on his face.

 

“What’s wrong, Midoriya?” The girl in front of him croaked as she hopped back onto her feet. He gave an apologetic, lopsided smile as he slipped his phone away once more.

 

“Sorry about that. One of my old friends- one of your new housemates, actually- has an interview in a few minutes, and I promised her I’d be there for it. I’m really, sorry. I hadn’t realized we’d been at this for so long already.”

 

“Then what are you waiting for, man?” Kaminari asked, stretching as he rose up behind her. “I can introduce Asui to the doctor and show her how to get to back your place once we’re done.”

 

The young girl seemed to have deemed the blonde agreeable in her book, because the expression on her face appeared to take the idea well enough.

 

Izuku’s mouth twisted to the side, dancing on the balls of his feet nervously as he was still a bit hesitant. “You promise you won’t get lost this time?”

 

“Eighty-five percent positive. Plus, I can call Iida again if we do,” he assured, throwing peace sign and wink his way. Izuku couldn’t help but break into a smile, thankful for his classmate’s help.

 

“I’m sure Iida will appreciate that,” he chuckled. “Are you comfortable with that, Asui?”

 

“I need to get better acquainted with the area, anyways. So, I don’t really mind,” she assured. Izuku breathed a relieved sigh, thanking them both before turning on his heel to go. In the short time Asui had been there, she already seemed to be warming up to everyone.

 

That was a good sign.

 

 


 

 

The brunette had been nervously pacing the room when she caught the familiar site of her childhood friend clumsily pummel through the door of the waiting room. He’d been in quite the rush, evident by the disheveled coat on his back that he’d forgotten to leave in the laboratory, only left clinging to one shoulder. Relieved he’d made it in time, the girl couldn’t help but stifle a laugh at his appearance.

 

“What is it?” Izuku blinked, befuddled for a moment before looking down in horror to recognize his misplaced garment. He started frantically looking around the room as he shoved it off, searching for a place to hang it. The receptionist sighed, rolling her eyes and pointing to the coat hanger across from her before returning to her deskwork. The freckled young man sheepishly apologized, hanging it up and trying to straighten out the kinks in his outfit before whispering to Ochaco.

 

“I’m not late, am I?”

 

“Nope! She just said I could go in whenever we’re ready.”

 

“Okay, good,” Izuku sighed, realizing how winded he was from the sprint across campus. He straightened his back, giving her hand a tight squeeze. “You ready for this?”

 

“Ready as I’ll ever be.”

 

 


 

 

The two friends sat awkwardly in their seats across from the university president’s desk. Ochaco had been initially caught off guard by his unassuming presence. He was a rather short man, white haired with a faint scar running down one eye. Overall, he had a very gentle and kind air to him- almost welcoming, even- one that she’d least expected from the president of such a prestigious institution. The man cleared his throat after he’d finished reviewing her application on his computer screen, turning towards her as he folded his pawlike hands together. The brunette’s heart skipped a beat as their eyes met, anxiously propping her back up a little straighter.

 

“Well, it looks to me here that your application meets and surpasses all of our admission requirements at Yuuei University. Your entrance exam scores are superb, your extracurricular activities and grades show you have dedication to your interests while also being able to keep your studies as a top priority. And even more, your essay was very persuasive, I must admit. Honestly, I believe the only thing holding you back from being accepted with honors is that one criminal incident in March of 2020,” he stated, tapping the back of his stubby index finger over his screen.

 

The girl’s shoulders lost their fervor, their posture faltering. Of course. That was always the caveat. Yet, after a brief pause, the president pressed on.

 

“However, I’ve also noticed that your record before and after the incident is completely clear. That being said, I wouldn’t be opposed to overlooking this one incident in your file, on one condition.”

 

Ochaco’s head shot up, her heart picking up pace as she watched him.

 

“I assure you, whatever you say will not leave the privacy of this room between the three of us. But I would like to hear your personal recollection of this incident so that I may be of sound mind if I so decide to bypass your record.”

 

Ochaco froze for a few seconds, her mind blank. Was he…was he seriously considering letting her in? Her brain struggled to wrap itself around the mere concept when she suddenly felt a disfigured hand reach out and cup hers over her lap. She glanced up, finding Izuku looking back at her supportively. Her gaze softened slightly. That was right. Izuku had been requested to come to the meeting, having been the one that had been so insistent on her case file being reviewed- even if it was up to her now to convince President Nezu to grant admission. But still, it would mean she’d have to bring him up. And she knew how painful it would be for her childhood friend to endure.

 

“It’s okay. You can tell him everything,” he quietly reassured, his thumb grazing over the back of her hand. She nodded her head and conceded, taking a deep breath as she closed her eyes and steadied her nerves.

 

And then, she began.

 

She told the president of how Izuku had found the merboy wounded and dying on the river shore of their hometown. She recalled how he’d asked of her help, and she gladly did so not to hurt the boy, but to help him recover. She explained how they had waited until Spring came to release him, so that the cold wouldn’t overtake his body. She told about how they’d nearly rebuild the entire shed from the inside, trying to give the merboy as comfortable a home as they could in the meantime. And when the president questioned her, asked her why they had not turned the merboy in to the authorities, she answered truthfully: to save his life. She explained that the three of them- Deku, herself, and his mother- had never any intention of disregarding the law and wanted to release him, rightfully when the season permitted them to. Deku interjected, defending that the entire situation had been his doing. He’d brought the merboy into his home without the knowledge of his mother or his friend. The two women were simply doing the best they could, he explained; they would have been reprimanded if they were discovered, so they were simply trying to care for the merman the best that they could under the circumstances.

 

When it was all said and done, the president turned his chair back to the computer, reviewing her file once more. “So, let us review the situation. You were unknowingly pulled into a situation that you would have been unethically punished for due to the strict requirements of the National Merfolk Protection Act. And it is because of these rules that you and Mr. Midoriya were positioned between saving a life and following the law. Is that correct, Miss Uraraka?”

 

“Y-yes, sir.”

 

The man nodded.

 

“It’s reasons like this that I have willingly agreed to the Oceanic Rehabilitation Facility’s reform campaign. To think that a law put in place to protect the innocent would come to reprimand such a kindhearted and well-intentioned youth is downright shameful.”

 

The man’s finger clicked on his keyboard, and he suddenly glanced back at the brunette with a look of surprise.

 

“Oh, dear! I suppose this is the problem with holding our records digitally these days. It would seem that your criminal file has been inexplicably corrupted- no, vanished, even! As if it never even existed.” He folded his hands together, feigning an innocent, bright smile. “I suppose we could have you resubmit the entire application, but that would be such a hassle, don’t you think? And it certainly would be a shame if you were inconvenienced to have wait to apply again until the following semester on our accord. Such a mistake on our end would surely be most unprofessional.”

 

Ochaco’s body stilled, her heart beating through her ears. Forget about bypassing any school requirements- had he just deleted the criminal record on her application right in front of her? The shortly statured president stood, stretching as his head poked just above his desk. He headed for the door to his office, but paused just before reaching up for the handle, glancing back at the two young adults behind him.

 

“I’m afraid I must be going home for the evening. But before I do: Welcome to Yuuei, Miss Ochaco Uraraka. We will be looking forward to seeing you in class at the beginning of the Spring Semester.”

 

And with that, he closed the door.

 

Ochaco couldn’t help herself, the tears were streaming down hot and heavy as she crashed into her friend seated next to her, laughing and crying all at once. It was over. It was finally over. A year of rejection letters, of being turned away. And somehow, by some miracle, she and Deku had managed to convince the President of Yuuei himself to let her in.

 

“Thank you, Deku! Thank you, thank you, thank you- for everything!!!” She sobbed into the side of her friend’s arm, clinging onto him for dear life. He’d made it all possible; he was the reason she was sitting here in this room of her future alma mater now.

 

The boy laughed along with her. And when she finally pulled away, she’d realized his eyes had been no drier than hers. He shook his head in disbelief, running a hand over his forehead as he beamed back at her with pride. “I’m…you don’t need to thank me, Ochaco. You’re my best friend. And honestly, after being the one who put you in this situation, it’s the least I could d-”

 

“Stop that!” Ochaco laughed, playfully whapping the side of his arm after helping her friend to his feet. “I thought I told you to stop blaming yourself for everything that happened to me, silly! I’ll say it again, and I’ll say it as many times as I’ve got to. I chose to help, and I have no regrets for it, okay?”

 

“Okay. No more regrets.”

 

Deku took a deep breath before his eyes met hers. And for the very first time, she could finally see it in them; he was being honest, one hundred percent transparent with her.

 

No more regrets.

 

 


 

 

The rest of the trip home had been slightly more worrisome, however. After the adrenaline-induced excitement in their veins had died down, she’d noticed it first on the bullet train home. As the freckled young man clung tight to the handrail above, she could make out the deep bags under his eyes and the almost distant, forlorn look in his eyes in the late afternoon sunlight. Even if he had yet to outwardly express it- or acknowledge it, even- Ochaco knew the reason. Besides overworking himself yet again, most likely- intentionally or not, it was that same old bad habit he’d yet to shake from his younger days- Deku had done his best the past year and a half to distance himself from the memories of the incident. Losing his mother and childhood home was already rough enough- being given only one five-minute call a week and a single hour-long visitation every month must have been downright hellish alone. But she was fairly certain that even if the two had never mated, he and Todoroki had left a permanent impression of sorts upon one another. As time had marched on, she’d silently realized how truly and unconditionally the two had fallen in love with one another. Sure perhaps, they had been young, teenagers no less at the time. But that did not nullify the truth of their emotions. Deku had coped with the matter silently, trying to forget the merboy completely for the time being to help lessen the pain. She’d never fully agreed with the method, believing that avoiding the issue would only worsen his suffering as time continued onward. He’d admitted to her over the phone once (drunkenly- a bit she was sure to scold him over later), that he still dreamed of searching for the merman until his dying breath- fighting relentlessly for the day that he finally had the means and right to do so. It was indeed a small portion of the reason he’d been fighting for reform to the Act, though not at all the entirety of the cause. But deep down, no matter how determined he was, he’d also (even more drunkenly) admitted his fears.

 

The fear that there was no Todoroki left for him to save.

 

Izuku looked drop-dead exhausted by the time they arrived home. Ochaco slipped her own house key out of her pocket and insisted on unlocking the door herself before he had the chance to collapse and ram his face into it. She quickly met their newest housemate Deku had talked so enthusiastically about- along with another one of his classmates and Iida (the former of which had apparently gotten lost on the way there, much to the latter’s unamusement). The foreign girl was sweet, if very open, and the two hit it off quite well. However, even the others had begun to notice how worn her childhood friend looked. He’d insisted on trying to help the new girl unpack her belongings along with them. But after having dropped her suitcase- twice- they finally teamed up and convinced the poor wreck of a young man to get some sleep.

 

 


 

 

Izuku tossed and turned in his bed. He was exhausted, too weak to even carry a ten-pound suitcase. He’d barely even manage to finish his homework half-coherently. The others had gone so far as to bar him from helping out, setting a chair over the doorknob to make sure he didn’t get any ideas other than sleeping for once in his life.

 

But it was no use.

 

He had known going into the meeting it would be inevitable; he’d tried so relentlessly over the last year and a half not to think about Shouto, to forget all the small, tender moments between them. But after having to recollect so much to the president of Yuuei, they’d all come flooding back like a tidal wave to his rabbit heart, and then proceeded to tackle him mercilessly one right after the other. The way Shouto had watched the world so curiously through the pages of his geography textbook, the way his entrancingly brilliant cyan and earl grey eyes sparkled when they were excited about a random household appliance or enamored when he made a dull joke, the way he always stole his Merking blanket like it was his until the two had devolved into playing tug-of-war over it like a couple of children. How soft his thin lips were against his; how the cold and warmth of his body ravaged his senses so tenderly all at once. How sweet and good and wonderful he was deep down, risking everything to find Izuku after the storm, staying beside him and warming him for hours on end against the lifeless cold of the glass as he processed the newly found tail upon his body.

 

It was too much.

 

As painful as it was, Izuku and his mother had always known they would see each other again. In under three and a half years, she would be home, and they could talk to each other and hug one another and be there for each other. But with Shouto…there was never that certainty, only a desperate hope that flickered dimly in and out, slowly moving down a wick until it would one day extinguish entirely. There was no way to know he was okay, to count the days and hours until they could meet again. Iida’s elder brother had pulled the freckled young man aside one day; he’d told him the truth the rest of the Oki crew had been too guilt-ridden to. They’d released Shouto where they let go of most their rescues, right outside of where they had believed to be one of the closest hubs of mermaidic activity in recent years.

 

The border to the Western Domain.

 

Izuku could feel his stomach going raw, trying desperately not to imagine the guards taking his weakened body and hauling it for miles. Trying to not think of how they must have coldly dragged him to foot of his father’s throne. Trying not to picture what the king had done to him as punishment by his own hand. Pleading with himself not to remember the tales from rescues in the rehab facility of what they had done to his father- the famed “Human Sleeper,” they’d cruelly named him.

 

Finally, Izuku couldn’t take it anymore, and he threw the sheets off of him. He dug underneath his bed, pulling out the old, faded Merking comforter from below. He draped it over his shoulders and felt for the small scale ever present in his back pocket as he crept his way through the window, past the backyard and the beach, and onto the dock. He finally collapsed at the end of the pier, his head leaning weakly against Mr. Toshinori’s bobbing boat as he watched the sky continue to darken over the endless ocean. He cocooned his entire body- save his face- beneath the blanket, shielding it from the spray of the salty ocean mist that met his lips. As his vision at long last fluttered in and out of consciousness, his deformed hand silently brushed over a small scale he’d taken into his palm. And his mind wandered, back to the day when he’d first noticed a fin gracing on the river’s surface.

 

 


 

 

It had been just before dawn when both young Uraraka and the new girl, Asui- if he’d recalled correctly- had burst into his bedroom, scaring the man right out of bed and half to death. Apparently, young Midoriya had climbed out of his bedroom window and was nowhere to be found. The two continued to run around frantically as the man stretched away the weariness in his bones, oblivious to the situation at hand. He solemnly looked out to the window of his room, his eyes noticing a very distant shadow at the edge of the pier, against a sky that was just beginning to lighten.

 

They hadn’t lived with him as long. Naturally, they’d panicked, not realizing where to look.

 

The man carried himself out to the dock with a mug of coffee in his skeletal hands, still barefoot and cladded in pajamas. He plopped himself down next to the bundle of a comforter beside him, his bare toes grazing over the edge of the ocean waves below. He closed his eyes and took a long sip of his coffee, enjoying the early morning breeze heralding in the sunrise yet to come. He glanced down as he felt a slight shift in the lump of a bedsheet beside him, and he gave a tender, fatherly smile.

 

“You finally awake, kid?”

 

Young Midoriya let out a muffed yawn, and the comforter fell back to reveal the rest of his groggy head. His eyes were out somewhere distant on the horizon, and the actor’s followed them out to sea.

 

“I didn’t worry you again, did I?” The kid mumbled guiltily against the thickness of the fabric, his voice barely even audible. Yagi could only chuckle, shaking his head as he took another sip from his mug.

 

“No, I figured you were here,” he reassured. A long moment of silence stretched on between surrogate father and son in the rising dawn. The sky faded to indigo, baby blue, yellow, and finally pink before the edges of the sun at last peaked out to greet the world for the day. Finally, the freckled young man beside him spoke again.

 

“Do you miss him, too, sometimes?”

 

Yagi returned with a long, contemplative breath as he took in the warm embrace of the birthing sun. He looked down at his reflection in his cup, the memories of days long past staring back at him.

 

“Always.”

 

“How…how do you cope with it? How do you get over it?” The boy’s weight shifted, and he could feel his pleading, desperate eyes upon him. His hand drew down the length of his cup as he struggled to explain it to him.

 

“That’s the thing, I guess. I never really do get over the memories, really. They’re always going to be there, no matter if I pretend they exist or not. But to cope with them- that’s something I have been able to do, at least a little. I’d always suspected his homelife had been difficult, but after everything you told me of his life back home- everything he went through, everything I tossed him back into week after week.” He paused, swallowing a shaky breath. Breathe; remember, and remain calm. The boy was still pressed stiff as a board against his shoulder, still quietly listening, yearning for the answer, after all. And so, he pushed onward.

 

“…after all of that, I realized I could do one of two things. I could either sit here, angry at myself for all eternity and blame myself for not stopping all the things I couldn’t have known about or controlled. Or I could sleep, knowing that in the end, at least I was able to give him just a little bit of happiness in those years. Something positive to hold onto when the darkness came.”

 

Izuku shuttered. The man glanced over, watching silently as the young man cried into his bundled knees.

 

“I-if I hadn’t fought with my mom in front of him. I-if I hadn’t left them b-before the storm, I-”

 

“If you hadn’t shown him what unconditional love was, he never would have felt it, Izuku.”

 

The young man’s breath hitched, his eyes opening wide. Yagi turned back to his coffee, a smile on his thin lips.

 

“Kid, you spend so much time regretting what you can’t control that you forget all the good you’ve brought to everyone around you. You have an amazing heart, and I know that’s why you worry- why you regret. But fussing over the past and things that have already happened won’t change what’s passed. But, taking those memories and working with the present and future- just like you have with the reform you’ve been fighting for- that’s what can be. And, you know, it’s alright to remember those old times- not just on anniversaries. It’s okay to cry over it, too. I still do, sometimes.”

 

The boy sniffed, rubbing his nosed over his blanket as his bloodshot eyes looked up at the man beside him.

 

“You do?”

 

The man gave a gentle nod, smiling down at him softly.

 

Of course I do. Sometimes letting it out is all you can do. I mean, maybe not all the time. But it can help- a lot.” He chuckled, shaking his head as he gave a lighthearted jest. “Honestly, you’ve cried so much over other things through the years, I was starting to get worried when I didn’t see you crying over this.”

 

As he downed the rest of his mug, he could hear a quiet snicker as he caught the boy rolling his eyes out of the corner of his vision. He felt the kid’s weight shift once more as he leaned up against him. His whisper was faint, just barely audible in the early morning wind.

 

“Thank you, Mr. Toshinori.”

 

The man leaned back against his surrogate son, watching as the sun before them grew just a little brighter- bit by bit.

 

“Anytime, kid.”

Chapter Text

Izuku leaned up against the lamppost as he slowed upon the bridge’s sidewalk. He squatted over his knees, trying to catch his breath as he could just make out the faint pearl white clouds of air escaping his lips in the early morning December air. The young man been working for nearly a month and a half with the new régime Asui had recommended to him; he’d been attempting to keep his physique up to speed with morning jogs as his body gradually grew more accustomed to the intake. The results of his hard work had finally begun to show; his muscles were slightly more defined than they used to be- even back during his crew days- and the pain of his detransformations, as excruciating as they still were, no longer were so intolerable that he needed to rely on sedation to get through them.

 

The freckled young man looked out to the ocean over the freezing guard rails, the cold sting of the metal seeping through the front of his jacket as he witnessed the hazy winter view over the bay below him.

 

Attempting to balance exercise with oncoming second term finals, the weekend trips with Mr. Toshinori, the absolute chaos over at the O.R.F., and maybe- just maybe- a bit of sleep here and there had been a rather wild juggling act as of late. But the young man had found that a run in the crisp dawn air helped awaken his mind, letting him plan his daily attack with slightly more clarity than leaning over a bowl of rice on the crowded patio table. The cold nip of the ocean breeze wasn’t awful, either. It kept his body awake and alert- something only a bare minimum of three energy shots were able to accomplish these days.

 

“Hey! Slow down there, Midoriya!”

 

The young man came out of his daydreaming and pushed himself off the railing. He swung back haphazardly and glanced over to his friends, who were finally catching up from behind. Asui looked fairly composed- probably pacing herself slower than usual to be polite; the same could not be said for the poor, red-faced brunette trudging on resignedly after her. She nearly collapsed at her childhood friend’s feet as she gasped for air, and he rushed forward to catch her just in the nick of time.

 

“I…I don’t know…how you do this…every morning…” she managed. Izuku chuckled, inspecting her features visible beneath her oversized, pink scarf.

 

“You doing alright there?” He asked, tucking his arm under the young woman’s as he helped her steady her balance.

 

“Y-yeah. Just…give me a moment….” She returned, the trails of air from behind her scarf puffing out rapidly as she struggled to compose herself.

 

“I guess it is rather cold today for a jog,” Asui remarked as she helped stable her friend. Once she seemed firm on her feet, the shifter leaned back against the concrete of the bridge as if the ice cold hadn’t fazed her in the slightest.

 

Ochaco shot back a bewildered glance, dumbfounded.

 

Rather cold?!” She huffed in disbelief.

 

“I’ve lived my entire life in Northern Minnesota- not the Bay Area- so I guess I forget that not everyone’s used to this kind of weather,” she replied, her elbow nonchalantly leaning over the edge of the railing as she tapped her chin with a froggy mitten. Ochaco rolled her eyes, having none of her poppycock. Izuku snickered, finding a fair bit of amusement out of their benign jesting.

 

“Well, we’re almost at the bus stop, anyways,” he reassured, patting the young woman’s back.

 

The brunette whined, throwing her head back melodramatically. “I don’t thi…ink I can make it. Go on…without me.”

 

Izuku and Asui exchanged expressions- a wolfish, mischievous glint in his eye and a gleefully anticipatory one in hers. “Well,” Izuku sighed dramatically, “I guess it’s the only way.”

 

The green haired young man casually dipped down, suddenly scooping up his friend into his arms and tossing her over his shoulders. The young woman squealed in surprise, her limps flying wildly in every which direction as he couldn’t help but laugh beneath her flailing form.

 

Deku! What are you-?!”

 

Even the froggish girl beside them couldn’t resist stifling a giggle as he adjusted Ochaco into a more comfortable position, sitting her on top of his shoulders. The brunette huffed, her rosy cheek puffing as she crossed her arms over the crown of his fluffy scalp. “Sometimes I still forget how strong you actually are.”

 

“Hey, it works for me!” The young man gleamed, continuing his trek down the sidewalk along with Asui. “Plus, it gives me an even better workout!”

 

“Yeah, yeah. Showoff,” she grumbled, resting her bundled chin over her arms. Izuku couldn’t help but smile soundlessly to himself, hearing the silent ‘thank you’ behind her complaint.

 

 


 

 

The trio arrived at Yuuei’s main dining hall just before the height of the morning rush. Typically, Asui and Ochaco wouldn’t have been able to get inside the building until their campus IDs were activated the following month. But fortunately for them, Izuku had been more than happy to generously share his meal plan with them, claiming he had a plethora of meals left at his disposal before the end of the semester- one of the many benefits of living off campus.

 

Mr. Toshinori was currently out on a trip with his old director, which meant the three had the kitchen to themselves for the week. (Or rather, for a day before a teapot was inexplicably burst into flames, and they’d found themselves hungry on the way to the bus stop.) And so, it was here that they presently found themselves.

 

“Just meet me back at the cash register when you’re ready,” Izuku reminded them. Asui’s attention was already long gone as she gasped at the signage for the hot-meal special. “Is that…American Continental Breakfast?!”

 

She was up and away within an instant as Izuku followed Ochaco over to the more traditional display. As he reached for a helping of seared fish, a smile crossed his friend’s rosy features as she pulled out a tray behind him.

 

“Tsu seems really happy here. I’m glad,” she started softly, moving down the assembly line to take a bowl of rice. Izuku nodded, his own features warming as he thought back.

 

“Me, too. It was a huge adjustment just moving here after living my entire life on the river. I can only imagine how the change hit her,” he sighed wistfully.

 

“Same. Honestly, I’m really happy that we all ended up living together. It’s nice having another girl around for once, you know?” The brunette recollected with a light grin. After grabbing a set of chopsticks, she abruptly paused, the cheery edge in her eye dulling.

 

“Hey, Deku?”

 

“What’s up?”

 

She leaned in toward his ear as they moved away from the procession, lowering her voice so that only he could catch it. “Have you guys made any progress with the amendment?”

 

The boy stilled, staring down at his breakfast in his arms as his brows furrowed. He shook his head, letting out a long breath.

 

“Chief Lieutenant Kenji Tsuragamae of the National Ecological Department finally reached out to Yuuei last week. He’s agreed to take in an audience with President Nezu, the department, Asu- Tsu, and I,” the freckled young man quietly returned, his grip on his tray constricting.

 

“Deku, that’s wonderful!” Ochaco smiled hopefully, leaning her own tray over her hip as she gave his shoulder a light squeeze. He couldn’t feel as optimistic, however. She faltered as her hand drew away, catching the worrisome look in his eye.

 

“At the end of March.”

 

The brunette’s expression fell. “Oh…”

 

“Yeah…” Izuku sighed. There was no point in acting all gloomy over nothing that had come to pass yet, he reminded himself as he straightened his back. The young man looked up at the ceiling, taking a short breath. Stay positive. He smiled encouragingly back at her, nodding his head back to the register line where Asui was already waiting for them.

 

“But, hey! It just means we have a solid amount time to prepare our arguments and provide our evidence!”

 

Ochaco staged a grin as she nodded supportively, though the young man could still sense the concern in her stance. As the group returned to the line and he paid for their food, Izuku couldn’t help but ruminate silently to himself, cupping a deformed hand over his mouth to catch tongue from muttering. What he’d said to Ochaco was true; the extra four months gave them the time they required to finish teaching Kirishima their language and hopefully record his recollections on the situation. Perhaps with it, he could convince the rest of the facility to instruct other rehabilitees with more steadfast resolve, as well.

 

But still, the thought among many others- bothered Izuku. Despite the unprecedented influx of rescues being discovered with non-human linked injuries (let alone the alarming spike in the past month), the Chief Lieutenant still hadn’t taken their case as a priority. He silently feared that his stance would be a precipitous challenge to alter, solemnly recalling the man’s blunt accusations in the courtroom against his mother. It was clear that he maintained a sturdy resolution to keeping the Act in place as he saw just, despite the American amendment in place and the crisis at hand; it would take far more than a mountain of evidence to sway him. But could they even wait that long? The facility was already overcrowded; President Nezu had benevolently found a way to sacrifice the funding from the sports department to buy up another warehouse a few miles down the road, and Asui had been in touch with the marine biologists back in Wisconsin about flying over to help aid support. But how long could they last like this? What was going on out there?

 

“Earth to Deku, you there?”

 

The young man snapped out of his daze, glancing over at his brunette friend seated beside him. He grinned awkwardly, scratching the back of his head.

 

“Sorry, guess I’m still waking up.”

 

The girl scanned his eyes, reading the hesitancy in them and frowning. She was worried, just as him, and she wasn’t buying any flimsy excuses when she had a vague idea of what was trampling his mind. Still, he gave her a pleading look, and she reluctantly desisted, returning to her own breakfast. He hoped to talk to her and Asui about the situation later in earnest. But not here, surrounded by so many people.

 

“Are you sure that much butter is safe?” Ochaco asked inquisitively, her attention diverting to the other green-haired shifter across from her. The young woman gave an extensive grin as she finished slathering the strange, fluffy bread on her plate.

 

“Totally! It’s the only way to eat a biscuit!” she chirped back, her legs swinging widely beneath the table. She broke off a small portion, offering the brunette a piece. “Here, try it!”

 

Ochaco apprehensively waved her hands with the shake of her head. “It’s okay, really! I’m not really a big fan of-”

 

Asui cheerily tilted her head to the side. “You’ll never know unless you try it.”

 

Ochaco sighed, a bemused smirk on her lips as she rolled her eyes and finally relented. She plopped the biscuit in her mouth. And suddenly, her eyes shot open wide.

 

“Oh my gosh! This is actually…really good!” She gaped, cupping a hand over her lips to stop the stray crumbs from falling over the table. Izuku curiously peered at her, her reaction peeking his interests.

 

“No way, seriously? Can I try?”

 

“Sure thing, Midoriya!” Asui chimed in, handing him a piece. The bread was soft and light, dry and moist all at once as the flavors sang to his taste buds like a symphony in his mouth. The young man swallowed and beamed back at her approvingly. It was no katsudon, but he understood how she could be nostalgic over it, nonetheless.

 

“Yeah, this isn’t half bad!”

 

“I mean, it’s not as amazing as the ones my dad cooks back home. But I think it gets the idea across,” the young woman boasted, plopping the rest into her own mouth. Yet, as she swallowed, she unexpectedly stilled, her eyes narrowing in on something behind them. The freckled young man watched her inquisitively, setting his coffee cup down over his tray.

 

“What’s up, Tsu?”

 

She croaked, her eyes sharpening as if they stared off defensively against a foreign enemy. “You do realize there’s some blonde guy watching you two, right?”

 

Izuku witnessed out of the corner of his eye as the color in Ochaco’s face drained away, her chopsticks slipping from her hand and clattering into her empty bowl. Oh no. He hunched over the table, his arm shielding over his head futilely. He could feel it now- that familiar, unmistakable glare from hell that could burn like a pinpoint right through both of their soul with its crimson intensity. They were royally screwed.

 

Asui leaned in on the table towards them, cupping a hand over her mouth as her eyes refused to break contact with the student behind them. “I take it you guys know him.”

 

“It’s…it’s a long story-” Izuku squeaked out, neither he nor the brunette next to him daring to look up, lest they wished to die prematurely.

 

“Hey, frog-face! You got a problem or something?!”

 

The freckled young man felt Ochaco go stiff as a board against his shoulder. Sure enough, they knew that voice all too well.

 

The long-haired shifter slammed her hands down on the table, rising to her feet. “I was just about to ask you the same thing, you intrusive jerk!”

 

“Tsu, don’t,” Ochaco finally managed, her voice wavering barely above a whisper. “He has every right to be-”

 

WHAT did you just say, you little punk?!” The blonde blurted back. Izuku finally mustered to courage to glance back. There stood Kacchan in all of his heated glory, one foot already on top of the table behind them with that inimitable, unrelenting fury sweltering in his eyes. Crap, he really was gonna kill them.

 

Suddenly, like a knight in shining black leather, another familiar blonde caught the scene through the corner of his eye as he passed, sliding in just in time to save the day. He balanced his tray on his hip as he threw a nonchalant arm over the seething your man, a bright and convincingly oblivious grin painted from ear to ear.

 

“Bakugou, there you are! Me n’ Sero have been looking all over for you!” he chatted away casually. The black haired, lanky student beside him blinked, a puzzled look plainly written over his face.

 

“We have?”

 

“Of course we have!” Kaminari returned, momentarily breaking his façade to give his friend a weary, imploring look.

 

“Get your grubby arm off of me,” the exasperated blonde beneath him spat back, shoving the cheery kid away. Kaminari quickly took the moment to wink at the trio ahead, ushering them to make their escape.

 

“Oh, come on, dude! You’ve got the top grades in our sports management class. We could really use some advice before heading into the final exam this morning.”

 

“Here’s some advice: why don’t you read the textbook for once, you damn idiots,” he grumbled flatly.

 

Izuku and Ochaco took no time in quickly clearing up the table and b-lining it for the exit. Asui was still bent on glaring back at him, but they quickly hooked the short girl by her elbows and dragged her away along with them to safety. The three didn’t stop until they were a few blocks away, their labored breaths creating small clouds of condensed air in the space beneath them.

 

“What was that about?” Asui finally inquired, glancing between the two of them. Ochaco exhaled, plopping down on a park bench behind her as she caught her breath.

 

“Like Deku said, it’s a long story,” she started, remorsefully looking away while she pulled her scarf up over her chapped lips. The froggish woman watched the two old friends, a tentative look in her curious eyes, unsure if she should persist. Ochaco quickly conceded, though, continuing on.

 

“When the incident happened two years ago, we got him involved. We…there was a storm…and Deku needed to get home and…”

 

Her voice trailed off. Deku’s eyes softened as he sat down beside her, resting a gentle glove over her knee. That day had been traumatic for all of them, and it was painful to bring up- even for someone as boundlessly optimistic as her. He sighed, closing his eyes for a moment before glancing back at Asui.

 

“It was the day I got swept up in the typhoon and the facility…found me. Kacchan tried to watch over my mom and Ochaco, but-”

 

“We still got ourselves arrested. I don’t think he ever really forgave us for it.” She gave a bittersweet chuckle, Izuku’s hand falling away as she reflexively pulled her knees in towards her chest. “He made me promise early on, when he knew something was up, that me and Deku wouldn’t get in trouble. I broke that promise. And I think I broke his heart, too…”

 

“Oh…I’m…I’m sorry,” Asui quietly responded, a long stretch of silence extending out between them against the howling of the early winter wind. Finally, after a long while, Ochaco collected herself, hopping to her feet and taking her by the hand. Izuku could still see the glassy look in her eyes. But in typical Ochaco fashion, she didn’t seem very keen on dwelling over her regrets for too long.

 

“Anyways, Deku probably needs to get ready for finals, so we should probably head out.”

 

The young man forced a dim smile as he waved back at them, gathering up his belongings before turning away. “I’ll see you guys later, okay?”

 

Ochaco gave a soft grin, nodding her head.

 

“Good luck.”

 

 


 

 

It was when they’d just gotten off at the bus stop that Tsuyu finally found the strength- or perhaps, submitted to her curiosity- to speak. She’d been wondering silently, wanting to enquire since the first time she’d spoken to Midoriya. For she’d known since the beginning that there was a piece to the story missing. In nearly every conversation on the topic they’d had, it was almost entirely omitted, scarcely ever mentioned- and never by name. Even the Oki Mariner Crew at the facility tended to be skittish around the subject, only bringing it up when imperative. But Tsuyu had known he’d existed. She’d heard the reports, watched the court case live. She was well aware of the subject they were so hesitant to speak of- the second merman Midoriya’s mother had taken in. The one that had been discovered alongside Midoriya in his siren form and released back into the ocean in his lonesome.

 

She took a nervous gulp and stuffed her bundled hands into her oversized pockets, attempting to stabilize her nerves as she finally dared to ask the question on her mind.

 

“Hey, Ochaco?”

 

“Hm?” The brunette lifted her head, skipping off of the bus and landing onto the sidewalk behind her.

 

“What was he like? The other merman, I mean.”

 

The girl halted mid-step, her arms going stiff at her sides. Tsuyu bit the inside of her mouth as she glimpsed down toward the cracked pavement below, her own footsteps dragging to a stop.

 

“I…I hope I’m not stepping out of bounds. It’s just that Midoriya, the facility, Mr. Toshinori- everyone seems to avoid talking about him.”

 

The brunette let out an unsteady breath, forcing down her nerves as she nodded her head. “It’s…it’s rough. It’s painful. To me and Mr. Toshinori, he was a close friend. And to Deku he…he was something more than that. And the Oki Crew? I wasn’t there that day, when they had to return him to the ocean. But from what I’ve overheard, it was a pretty heartbreaking sight. I think they still feel pretty awful about it.”

 

Tsuyu frowned, her shoulder bumping against Ochaco’s as the two began to walk together along the curb once more. She tried to come up with something optimistic to say, something to ease the air of the dampened atmosphere she’d created between them.

 

“Well, at least when this amendment passes, maybe we can go out and find him again.”

 

“It’s…it’s a bit more complicated than that,” the girl attempted to explain, her sneakers skidding over the pavement. “The truth is, we don’t even know if he’s alive. Todoroki, he-” she paused, taking a brittle breath against the wind as it picked up. “He wasn’t like your mom- or Deku’s dad, even. He actively sought out the human world. He was here because he ran away.”

 

Tsuyu paused, her gut hollowing. “Ran away?”

 

And with that, the brunette tentatively told her the tale- of how the young merchild had fallen in love with the human world at a young age. How Mr. Toshinori had discovered and taken him in on the weekends like a surrogate child. How he had run away from his father’s merciless empire, finding himself wounded just outside of their childhood hometown on the river. And how the merfolk of the Pacific looked upon human interaction of any kind as an intolerable offense, punishable by a lifetime’s imprisonment.

 

It made Tsuyu feel sicker and more perturbed as the young woman continued. Indeed, the shifter had come to recognize the frequency of the bizarre interactions with the scientists and oceanic merfolk at the facility. To them, any person they recovered beyond sixteen years of age and not physically bonded as an anomaly. The day the Oki Crew had discovered she’d been a female alpha with all organs intact had devolved into complete chaos, all the scientists bombarding her with questions and theories. Perhaps the freshwater sirens and oceanic merfolk had evolved with dissimilar reproductive anatomy over the millennia, they’d hypothesized. She’d been gawked at like an alien when she had enquired about mentally bonded couples, and she’d returned to them a similar expression when they questioned why she hadn’t been biologically drawn to a mate at nineteen years of age. The vague outline of the Pacific’s society had an atmosphere that was nearly barbaric, and it made her stomach churn. In all honestly, she hadn’t even the strength to tell everyone back home about it yet, it seemed so utterly wrong.

 

“You mentioned something,” the green haired girl finally returned as she pressed her mittens together. “You said something about Midoriya being closer than friends with the merman.”

 

“Yeah,” the brunette replied, an uneasy hand running beneath the length her bob. “It…they weren’t bonded. But, it was kind of like a human boyfriend type of relationship? Though honestly, I think it might have been even deeper than that…”

 

The way her voice trailed off, Tsuyu was certain of it; even if the oceanic folk’s culture had eradicated the intended ways of bonding, it was still there, in the fabric of their DNA. It would explain the pain in Midoriya’s eyes every time a mere word was uttered in regards to the merboy, the way he shut down entirely.

 

But the young woman opened her mouth no further. Perhaps there were some things that were better off left unsaid.

 

 


 

 

It had been a few months they’d been wandering like this now. The children were just beginning to outgrow their hides, their first scales popping out from beneath their tail skins as they wobbled while their stubby fins tried to figure out how to swim on their own. It had been exhaustive endeavor for their mothers, having to hunt for food so close to the surface as their first teeth grew in. Unlike their growing children, they barely rested these days; sleeping down on the ocean floor was too great of a risk to do so habitually. If the Central Empire discovered them, they would be captured upon sight. If they were found by the refugees that swam far below, they would surely be turned on for the responsibility of the crisis resting heavy upon their shoulders. To make matters worse, the speed at which they’d been able to flee was slowed to almost a crawl, having to care continuously for the young ones.

 

But as weary as the mermaids were, it paled in comparison to the toll it had taken on the former prince that had led them this far. When they’d hunted for food, he’d been the last to eat, if at all. When they could no longer swim and were forced in those rare times to rest, he’d been the one to stay awake and guard them. His lithe but muscular form had been worn down over months of neglect, the bags under his eyes pitch black as ink. He barely spoke, his patience worn thin with a wordless, heavy gaze when the children held them up yet again, time after time.

 

Kyouka knew why the young man had discarded himself so. It had become no secret over the time they had traveled together that his opinion of himself was, at best, low. Even more so, he had done his best to sacrifice his own wellbeing so that they and the children could remain healthy and safe- even at the expense of starving himself so frequently. But even she knew that there was only so much abuse a body could withstand before it eventually unraveled. And as the ocean continued to grow colder and crueler, the water hadn’t yet grown shallow enough to give them imminent hope.

 

They were running out of time.

 

It was finally, on a cold, young Winter’s day, when the neglect overcame him. The young man could no longer swim, falling limp before them with a ravaging fever. And then, it was as the omega’s bonded cried, holding her childhood friend’s dying body to her chest that she watched her let out a shrill cry that ruptured the waves above them. Kyouka could take it no more. She swam forward, embracing her lips with her own to mask her echoing call from alerting those below of their presence. When she finally parted, Momo stared back at her, eyes hopelessly pleading in silence between them. The omega took an instable breath, gathering her resolve.

 

“Momo, stay here. Watch Senritsu and Jiyu, okay?” She asked softly, her thumb caressing over her lover’s cheek. The other woman looked on in shock, trying to grasp at her wife’s words.

 

“Kyouka, what are you-?”

 

“Look at me,” her fingers gently kept the princess’s face toward hers as her eyes defiantly fell to the quivering, unconscious young man in her arms. “Momo, he’s not going to last another day like this; we can’t keep at this pace. The way the ground beneath us is approaching, we must be six or seven miles or so from the human shores now. Please. Stay here with him and the children. Watch them until I can find some-”

 

“Kyouka, no,” the alpha asserted, her eyes growing stern and wary. “If they find you, they’ll take you back and separate us. We can’t risk-”

 

“It’s our only chance, love. If I stay far enough away, I can lead them to us.”

 

“But if you fail…”

 

“Then we will meet again when they find you and the children,” she returned solemnly as she gently tucked a floating ebony lock of hair behind her ear. “Please, Momo. Let me at least try to save him.”

 

The young woman watched her fading friend as she gave a quivering breath, the weight of the situation pressing in on her. She finally accepted, looking back at her love with a faithful gaze.

 

“I trust you.”

 

The mermaid came forward, pressing a gentle kiss to her forehead and embracing their children one last time before speeding off. The ailing merman shifted in his friend’s arms, a whimper of pain escaping his ragged breath as the princess watched her lover fade away.

 

“Hurry, Kyouka.”

 

 


 

 

“Nice aim!”

 

Asui removed her helmet, tossing it on the training room floor as she ran over to Izuku, offering him an enthusiastic high five. The young man chucked in disbelief, glancing back at the target his voice had shattered. Against the window of the observation deck above stood the Iida brothers, their helmets still firmly in place as they offered him a congratulatory thumbs up.

 

The young intern beamed up at them and the fellow shifter before him, still taking it all in.

 

“Honestly, I never thought I’d figure out how to use my voice like that again- let alone above the surface.”

 

Asui fixed her hair as she tucked her helmet beneath her arm, grinning proudly back at him. “You’re a fast learner, Midoriya, I’ve got to admit.”

 

It was true that until Asui’s appearance at the facility, the Siren’s Call was believed to be nothing more than an involuntary act of self-defense by the scientists. There had been tales of centuries past, when merfolk had used it deliberately at will. But until recently, it had been believed to be nothing but a tall tale. Admittedly, upon the news, the facility had been rightfully skeptical about letting the young woman teach him to use it at will, given the damage he’d caused when he’d initially discovered it. But she had argued that teaching him to maintain the cry at will would help prevent another accident from occurring while additionally granting the scientists an environment in which to safely research its mechanics. And so, they conceded.

 

When the duo had packed up their belongings and stowed away their protective gear, they made their way out to the elevator, meeting the Oki crew whom had been monitoring them from above.

 

“It’s…it’s incredible!” The spectacled assistant remarked, reading through the results on his notepad. “Your voice hit a sustained level of over two hundred decibels- with fluctuations well beyond that!”

 

Izuku chuckled sheepishly, holding his arm against his side as the group made their way back to the laboratory. “Glad you guys installed the sound and bulletproof glass, then.”

 

“Me, too!” He chuckled, leaning over to ruffle the kid’s messy locks. “This is amazing, though. Seriously.”

 

The young man had been chatting away so excitedly that he hadn’t noticed Sirius beside him wrapped up in her own tablet, and he accidentally brushed shoulders with her. The blue haired woman teetered, finally noticing her surroundings as she clutched her device close to her chest.

 

The younger Iida brother blinked curiously while his elder sibling apologized. He observed her, adjusting his glasses over the bridge of his nose.

 

“Is everything alright there, Sirius?”

 

“Huh?” The girl stifled a cough as she adjusted herself, glancing back down as her screen. “Yeah, sorry. Just got some interesting notes forwarded over from the Doctor. Actually- Asui. You might be interested in these once I’m done sorting them.”

 

The froggish young woman tilted her head, tapping a finger to her chin as she watched her inquiringly. Once the assistant had finished with her immediate work, she tucked her tablet beneath her arm, finally elaborating to the rest of the group that had been watching her so keenly.

 

“It appears that you both might have been right, Asui and Midoriya. The reports on the newest subjects-”

 

The freckled intern pursed his lips at her. She chewed down on the inside of her cheek, glancing away from him to the rest of the group.

 

“-rescues have come in. It seems that Midoriya and Asui’s hypothesis are indeed correct. Three of the alpha females have anatomy identical to the freshwater sirens.”

 

The glint in the female shifter’s eyes grew grim as she wrapped her arms around herself. “So, it’s true then.”

 

Izuku’s heart fell; he’d remembered clearly the story that he…Shouto…had told him so long ago. But still, a part of him had pleaded silently that he’d somehow misheard it, somehow taken it wrong.

 

The younger Iida brother watched the weary looks upon his fellow interns’ faces, and he took a breath, attempting to change the subject. “Brother, by any chance do you have the latest report on Kirishima?”

 

The question perked Izuku’s interests as he shoulders straightened slightly, glancing up at his tall friend.

 

“Certainly!” The assistant agreed, scurrying through the notes on his clipboard and offering them to him. Izuku leaned over as his friend tilted the board for him to see.

 

“It…it says he’s almost at a complete conversational level!” Izuku gawked as he read the results, subconsciously stealing the paperwork into his own hands.

 

“I guess it’s a good idea that the company offered Kaminari a special intern position for next semester, after all,” Iida knowingly commented as he glanced down at his freckled classmate. Izuku could sense a trace of irritation in his voice. But with it came an overarching semblance of joy, nonetheless.

 

“I guess we’ll need to give him a visit after the holiday.”

 

“Oh! That reminds me!” Sirius suddenly perked up, smiling over at the interns beside her. “We’re having a Christmas Eve party in the office tomorrow night. Doctor Selkie asked me to extend an invitation to you guys. Though honestly, I was going to, regardless.”

 

“Thank you, Sirius. We appreciate the invitation. But Tenya and I already have plans with our family tomorrow,” the assistant apologetically returned with a smile. She nodded, glancing over at the others.

 

“Midoriya, Asui. What about you two?”

 

“Actually, we’re going on a boating trip with Mr. Toshinori and a friend. Sorry.”

 

“In this weather?” The assistant blinked back.

 

“We have some weird traditions,” Izuku smiled awkwardly as he rang his hand over the nape of his neck. The older Iida brother leaned an elbow over Sirius’s shoulder, winking down at her.

 

“Be sure to drink all the eggnog you can for us, okay?”

 

The young woman rolled her eyes, though she couldn’t stop a wry grin and faint blush from finding their way upon her delicate features. “You know I will.”

 

 


 

 

“Izuku sweetie, that’s wonderful.”

 

“I’m really excited for you to meet her, Mom. I think you’re really going to like her.”

 

“I can’t wait.”

 

The young man watched as his mother sniffed, her thin hand drawing beneath her nose. He reached out, pressing his hand against the cold, lifeless glass as he gave her an affectionate smile. Despite her tears, she couldn’t help but do the same.

 

“I promise you, Mom. I’m gonna keep doing everything I can to get you ou-”

 

He paused as a faint echo rustled from beside his mother, the guard briefly glancing up from her paperwork at the two of them. The woman took a drawn breath, giving her son an astute look.

 

“Izuku, sweetie. I’m here because of what I did. Don’t you go blaming yourself for what I caused- please. I was the one who wasn’t honest with you. You know that, baby.”

 

“I know,” the boy quietly returned, his gaze falling down to his kneecaps. Regardless, though. Seeing his mother so thin and tired behind the glass wall between them, always being watched like she was some feral animal- it beat heavy over his fragile heart. It wasn’t right; it wasn’t fair. She didn’t deserve to be punished like this, to have every last piece of her dignity stripped away until her pride was barren.

 

But still, there were some things under such strenuous surveillance that could never be spoken between them. So many words left unsaid, truths left to be uttered and revealed. For his mother’s sake, they had to be. So, until that day- that dream when both mother and son could speak freely the aches in their hearts once more- they kept those thoughts tucked away inside ever-growing catalogs within the back of their minds.

 

“Is there anything I can bring you for the next visit? A money transfer? Some socks?” Izuku meekly asked, trying to keep the subject as mundane as it could be under the guard’s increasingly attentive ear.

 

“No, baby. Your letters are more than enough. But, I suppose- well, only if you find the time when you write them-”

 

“What is it?” The boy returned, rising from his seat just slightly as he leaned in a little closer to her.

 

“Do you still have those old Christmas tree stickers?”

 

A nostalgic smile spread itself over his lips, and he gave a short chuckle. “Yeah! I think they’re in storage. I’ll try to find them once I can get down there next week and stick a few on the next letter for you, okay?”

 

“I’d love that,” his mother returned softly, watching her son through watery eyes and an unsteady smile as her hand met his over the other side of the glass. “You and Mr. Toshinori and Ochaco have a good Christmas for me. Will you, sweetie?”

 

“I promise, Mom.”

 

When the alarm rang, signaling the end of the young man’s designated time, both mother and child said their short farewells before departing. Izuku wordlessly gathered his belongings, not quite strong enough to glance up at the guard or the receptionist that held the door for him as he ventured his way back to the outside world.

 

‘Just a barely over three years, three months now,’ he tried to remind himself as he sniffed back the tears.

 

‘They could do this. They were almost halfway there now,’ he repeated silently as the rays of the sun’s freedom found its way to his silhouette once more.

 

Izuku’s thumb hovered over his dim screen as he waited for the bus at the edge of the sidewalk, his eyes squinting in the bright light as they attempted to find Mr. Toshinori’s contact. Going back to the storage locker was never his favorite pastime. But if it meant bringing another smile to his mother’s gentle face, he’d do it a thousand times over without a second thought.

 

 


 

 

“Uno!” Uraraka triumphantly sang out, gleefully flicking her last card upon the wicker table in unabashed victory. Her two opponents groaned in their shameful defeat, tossing their cards back to the central deck.

 

Yagi couldn’t help but chuckle to himself, overhearing the kids as he flipped a tilapia fillet over on the grill. Despite the harsh winter wind, the bunch seemed to be happier and more carefree than they had been in quite a while- young Midoriya, in particular. There was something magical about taking to the ocean with good family and spirits- something that the rest of the isolated world couldn’t quite give. It was times like these when he thought back to when Sorahiko had forced him onto the little old boat for the first time, and he was silently thankful for all the small moments that had come over the years because of it.

 

It was pleasant having more company around- both on the boat and at home. Yagi admitted, he’d never exactly planned on his mansion becoming a Yuuei dorm of sorts, but he couldn’t complain. He hadn’t seen his surrogate son brimming with such joy in over two years. In honesty, he himself had found comfort in this newfound family of sorts. They’d accepted him, never judged or pitied his state, despite the way his condition had ravaged his physical form over the years. Perhaps the kid was right; maybe it really was time to reintroduce himself to the world- to smile and say, “I am here!” once more.

 

In an instant, the man was pulled out of his idle thought. As he placed the last fillet on the platter, his eyes caught a strange glimmer of a creature’s fin on the water’s surface, just a few feet off from the edge of his boat.

 

It appeared again.

 

And again.

 

And that was when it dawned upon the actor.

 

Recognizing the inimitable sight, he dropped the platter down on the counter, dashing over to the railing on the portside deck. His knuckles whitened beneath his gloves as he clutched onto the rails, his eyes searching the water below.

 

The ruckus of the clatter had drawn young Midoriya’s attention from his game. He set his cards down and scurried over to the man, setting a concerned hand over his shoulder.

 

“Is everything okay?”

 

The man nodded his head, trying to force a swallow down his dry throat. “I think…I think I saw a mermaid.”

 

“What?” Izuku gawked, immediately joining him at the edge of the barrier. “How did she…where? Even rescues- they don’t usually show up this close to the beach. Are you sure?”

 

“Positive,” the man replied, his lips tightening as he watched the young man’s feet dangle over the lower railing beside him. He mentally chided himself; this was supposed to be a day to let the kid relax, not heighten his nerves. But despite it, the sight was unmistakable.

 

As the young women joined them at the barrier, trying to gauge the situation, the mermaid showed herself again, her entire form flipping high above the surface. She landed with a splash, soaking the deck over with the freezing ocean waves. The looks given by young Asui and Midoriya seemed the least enthusiastic of the bunch as they exchanged worried glances down at their feet. But this time, the mermaid’s retreat was brief. Almost immediately, she resurfaced, her voice echoing in frantic sounds and clicks that were reminiscently familiar to the man. Out of the corner of his eye, he watched his surrogate son suddenly pause from wiping the secretion away from his thighs, his face going pale as death.

 

Asui eyed him worriedly as she attempted to help clean up their mess.

 

“What’s wrong, Midoriya? Can you tell what she’s saying?”

 

The boy anxiously looked back at the merwoman urgently calling out to them, his eyes growing wider with each passing moment. “It’s…she…she says her friend is dying. She…I think she’s asking for our help!”

 

Without another beat, the boy flipped back to the group. “Guys. Asui, Ochaco. I'm gonna go down to speak with her. Can you call the facility?”

 

Wait. Deku,” Uraraka interjected, latching onto the young man’s shoulder and holding him firm as his hands had already found their way to the hem of his pants.

 

“What about the Act? What if they-”

 

“We’re with the facility now. We’re going to be alright,” Asui reassured, gently pulling her friend’s arm away so that the young man could prepare himself. “Listen, I’m gonna go with Midoriya. If there are at least two of them, he’s gonna need help. Call the facility and get them our coordinates. If we act immediately, we’ll be alright.”

 

Despite her wariness, Uraraka’s eyes narrowed as she valiantly accepted the task at hand, and the brunette firmly nodded her head. She dashed inside, heading straight for the emergency phone by the control panel. Yagi politely looked away as Asui removed her lower garments and outer jacket for the pending transformation. The man turned his sights back to the frantic merwoman treading above the water as she watched on at the scene the distance.

 

“I’ll follow you both with the boat while Young Uraraka keeps the facility updated with the coordinates,” he offered as he cupped a hand over his brow and constricted his vision toward the stranger.

 

“Understood,” Asui returned.

 

 


 

 

When only his Merking t-shirt remained upon his shivering back, Izuku dove into the water after the mermaid, Asui close behind him. The sudden temperature drop sent his body into a sudden state of shock, his joints locking up; his body took a moment to recuperate before his mermaidic blood grew accustomed to its foreign surroundings. The sensation was still far from pleasant, but the nipping chill was the least of their worries at present.

 

The two swam towards the merwoman, keeping their legs firm together as their tails began to take form. Her face resubmerged itself as she eyed the strangers cautiously. Down here, the young man could finally make out a clearer view of her form. She looked to be roughly the same age as them. Her tail was short, of equivalent length to Izuku’s and shorter than Asui’s- an omega female, perhaps; a dark maroon gland beneath the edge of her jaw confirmed his suspicions. Her scales glimmered in the dreary winter light of hues in bright pink and brilliant purple, her short ebony hair rocking along with the water’s current. Yet, there was something amiss; despite her radiance, she seemed thin, slightly underweight for her age and natural shape of her figure. Her eyes were sunken, telling of weariness and overexertion. How far had she come to look for help? And, why them- humans of all people?

 

The woman let out a flurry of profanities as she watched their legs morph behind them. Izuku outstretch his arms, trying to calm her as best he could.

 

“It is okay, we are here to help.”

 

“What- what are you?! You can understand me?” She finally managed through sputtered movements of her tongue, her gaze tossing back and forth between the two creatures approaching.

 

Izuku gently nodded, keeping a safe distance from her to establish a line of trust between them. “Mostly, yeah. I am still learning.”

 

She tucked her arms in against her chest as she responded with silence, still wary, nonetheless. Izuku pressed on as Asui watched their body language from a short distance off, all while keeping her body close to the surface so the boat above could follow.

 

“You said your friend is hurt, correct?”

 

The mermaid nodded, carefully eyeing the length of his body as his long, grayish fins began to unfold themselves upon the sides of his tail. “He’s…he’s dying.”

 

Desperation- that was the reason she had risked calling out to them. Izuku bit the inside of his cheek, uncertain. He needed to mention it to her; he silently prayed that it wouldn’t be enough to frighten her off.

 

“We come from a sanctuary on the shore. They take care of merfolk who are hurt; they help them recover.”

 

“I know. I was taken there, once,” the mermaid responded lowly, her tail gently flipping against the current to reveal a small scar over the bottom of its back side. The freckled young man’s heart fell. She was one of the many that had been tossed back out to sea, just like Shouto. But before he had time to dwell on the revelation, she continued.

 

“Please, take us there. I beg of you.” Her voice cracked as it shook, her eyes shifting back to his.

 

Izuku put on a comforting smile to ease her, granting a resolute nod. “He is going to be okay. Show us to him.”

 

The merwoman let out a fluttered breath, the bubbles escaping to the surface as her delicate hand cupped just above the valley of her chest . “Thank you. Please…follow me this way.”

 

It took perhaps an hour or so for them to find their way, Mr. Toshinori’s boat continuing to trail close behind. The young woman was difficult to keep track of; the speed and grace with which she bent her body against the current was far beyond Izuku’s limited skill. Even Asui above seemed to be giving it her all. As their journey pressed on towards its end, Izuku could just make out the sound of a helicopter above; the facility must have gotten their message and caught up to them.

 

After a long while, the freckled shifter spoke, still struggling to keep pace with the merwoman ahead of them.

 

“Why us? Why not bring him to your fellow merfolk?”

 

“Because,” her voice fell low, a dark edge cutting into its tone. “If any of them saw us, we’d be killed.”

 

Izuku offered a worried glance to Asui above him. The girl still couldn’t make out most of what had been said, but upon translation, her face grew deeply wary, as well. But now was not the time to question motives and moralities. There was a life on the line, and that was their only priority.

 

They finally slowed as the distant shadow of three- perhaps four- figures came into view. The first two were remarkably small- infants, likely- clinging to the shape of a much larger figure. It appeared to be hunched over something still in its grasp.

 

“Momo!” The merwoman cried out, swimming with haste as she left the shifters behind to reunite with her group. Izuku’s eyes struggled to make out their shapes as they drew closer to the scene. Yet, slowly but surely, against the murkiness they came into view. The two infants clung tightly to their returned mother’s back, so young that their slippery tails only bore a few scales upon them. Their other mother- he had presumed by the mark upon the small of her back- was a tall and regal alpha woman, hair of long, silk-like ebony and tale of crimson and black. It was as he came closer, the alpha’s back to them still, that Izuku could just make out the colors of the limp body’s protruding tail; upon its right were scales of iridescent white, its left those of fiery crimson. Its scales, even in the dreary light, danced against the reflection from the shaded sun above. Those colors. He knew them all too well.

 

And with that, his heart stopped.

 

Chapter Text

“Kyouka, why are there others here?” The regal merwoman hissed into her lover’s ear, her gaze narrowing protectively over her shoulder as it focused upon the strangers trailing behind them.

 

“They’re…it’s complicated. Momo, listen to me. They’re with the humans; they’re going to help us.” She pointed to the boat’s shadow above. The alpha begrudgingly turned to face the foreigners, cautiously shielding her arms over her dying friend. The one above; her tail was strange, fins of a form and consistency she’d never seen the likes of. A Forsaken of the Northlands, perhaps. The look on her face as she witnessed the ailing man in her embrace was as solemn as it was befuddled. She seemed innocent enough; the same could not be said for the beta beneath her. That disturbed look in his eyes, the bloodless hue that had taken hold of his paled skin. He recognized him.

 

 


 

 

In an instant, Izuku’s face ran colder than the waves against the winter air above. His heartbeat froze, his joints locking up as the realization hit him all at once in its merciless fury. That truth only proceeded to cut into his defenseless heart more cruelly as the second merwoman turned to face him, the length of the figure in her arms revealed unto him. There, still in her arms, lay the body of the friend he’d once known well- the boy he’d loved. His form had elongated with age. But it was thin and worn, his eyelids and features sunken and black with exhaustion, his muscles thin and weak.

 

The shifter could make out Asui calling his name, hear the merwomen feuding with one another. But it was all a thick haze against the wall of his unraveling mind; he understood none of it. Before the young man had yet to recollect his surrounds, the next thing he knew, he was swimming against the current, his eyes and skin blistering against the cold of the saltwater.

 

The taller mermaid gasped, protectively shielding her body over the merman’s form before he could meet it.

 

“Get away from him,” she warned harshly, eyeing the stranger from over her lithe shoulder.

 

“I am not going to hurt him! Please. Please, I need to see him!” Izuku begged desperately, trying to come forward. But the woman would have nothing of it, only clutching to him tighter. A blazing heat overtook his veins, his body quivering beyond his control. Shouto was dying. He needed to get to him; he needed to save him before it was too late.

 

“I said GET AWAY!” She yelled, slamming Izuku’s torso bluntly with her tail fin. He was pushed back a slight distance against the current, hissing as he cradled his chest. But despite the pain, he would not be deterred. All rationality had been thrown to the wind above; all that mattered now was Shouto’s life. It was all he cared about. All he could see.

 

When the woman’s ebony and scarlet tail prevented his passage, her attempts were futile; his desperation outweighed any other emotion still present within him. The young man screwed his eyes shut as he screamed from the depths of his lungs, sending echoes through the waves that knocking her back a fair few meters away. Fortunate to his training with Asui above, its course had become much more controlled with time, sparing the children and their omega mother in the blast. Izuku had but a second to react, a single moment when the mermaid’s arms lost their grip in the aftershock of his voice.

 

And Izuku took it.

 

Again, he could hear Asui yell out to him. But it didn’t matter. He swam forth with all his might, wrapping Shouto’s limp arms into his own. He coiled the length of his figure over him defensively as he sensed the alpha returned for him with fervor, relentless to tear Shouto away. He could feel the raising temperature in Shouto’s body, how the fever ravaged both his right and left sides. He could hear a faint heartbeat against his ear as it pressed into his chest, feel his ragged, uneven breaths as the bubbles of oxygen rattled his locks and tickled his side. He let out a hoarse whisper, closing his eyes with a silent prayer.

 

“Shouto. You’re going to make it. You’re gonna be okay. It’s okay.”

 

He knew he was being irrational in that moment; acting like this wouldn’t help him. It wouldn’t save his life. But he needed to know. He needed to feel him, to see that this was no illusion or trick of the mind. That it was really, truly him.

 

And once he knew that, then he could act.

 

As the freckled merman let out a sob, the tension eased from his core. His mind was regaining clarity, his ears at last able to make out the sounds around him, despite his tears. He mustered up the strength to lift his head, his eyes meeting the ebony of the furious mermaid still tearing at his bleeding shoulder blades. He gave a wobbling, feeble smile upon a quivering breath.

 

“I-I am sorry. I never believed I…I would get the chance to see Shouto again,” he weakly managed before another sob found itself at his throat. The woman stilled, the anger and desperation lightening in her eyes as she searched his.

“That. That name. How do you know him?” The woman’s eyes narrowed, intent upon the shifter. With reason fighting to find refuge in his mind once more, he empathized with her reasons to be so untrusting of him. The way he’d reacted would have set off any sort of stranger, let alone ones that were in pursuit by their own people. She appeared to be a close friend of Shouto’s; most likely just trying her best to protect him- the same as him.

 

“He is an old friend,” he returned quietly, his eyes flickering to the world above. “I am sorry for attacking. I-I can explain everything. But follow us to the surface, first.”

 

The alpha opened her mouth to protest, but the merwoman beside her squeezed her hand, giving him a beseeching look. His actions had undoubtedly shaken the trust he’d built with her; hopefully down the line, that could be mended. But for now, time was not on their side.

 

It seemed that despite his doing, she as well had weighted that fact in her mind. The shifter watched silently as she still pleaded with her lover, convincing her to follow them.

 

“Midoriya.”

 

Izuku turned, maintaining Shouto’s limp form close to him as he glanced back toward his friend. Her large eyes watched him apprehensively, her arm gripping to her chest. A wave of guilt surged against his core at the weight of his actions, and he shamefully bit upon his cheek.



“I’ll explain everything once we get them all to safety,” he could only manage, forcing a weak smile over his lips. The girl nodded solemnly. She held to his arm as he gestured the rest of the merfolk to follow her, the alpha staying close by Shouto’s tail with her gaze piercing back at the beta.

 

Together, they made their way to the surface.

 

 


 

 

“There they are!”

 

The doctor shouted from the open window of the helicopter above, pointing down toward Asui’s head as it emerged on the surface. Yagi let out a relieved breath when he caught sight of her familiar face, his deathly grip upon the rails of the boat lessening. The group had been at bay for a solid five minutes at present without emerging from the water. It had left everyone- himself, Uraraka beside him, and the small group of Yuuei staff above- holding their bated breaths. But at long last, it appeared that everyone was safe; they’d found the wounded merman.

 

Asui called out over the roar of the chopper above. “We’ve got them! There’s five- three adults and two infants!”

 

Roger!” The doctor shouted back her. He released of the ladder hooked to the helicopter as it clattered down toward the water with a splash. “Bring up the injured one first!”

 

“Okay!”

 

The girl treaded to the side, and Yagi’s body grew rigid again as young Midoriya rose from the water. In his arms was the limp form of a young man, the lights of the helicopter above reflecting off his disheveled locks of white and crimson.

 

“It’s him…” The brunette beside him uttered, a silent tear trickling down her cheek as she watched on in disbelief. Yagi gritted his teeth, shoulders bracing as he witnessed one of the assistants grab onto Shouto’s withered form as it unfolded, helping carry it up the ladder.

 

He felt the young woman’s warm hand tickle the back of his thin fingers. He accepted the gesture, holding it tight as her hand clutched around them. She smiled, wiping her nose with the forearm of her jacket.

 

“Mister Toshinori. It’s…it’s him.”

 

The man let out a shuttered breath, braving a smile to offer her some semblance of comfort.

 

When all five of the merfolk had been brought onto the helicopter, it quickly set off. The young woman and the actor aided the two shifters as they pulled themselves back onboard. They hastily carried them inside as the clouds in the sky above thickened. They wrapped their tails and shoulders in blankets, offering cups of tea to keep them warm until their bodies had returned to their human state. As Ochaco scurried to start the boat, the actor knelt in front of his surrogate son, a hand over his bundled shoulder.  His eyes were half-opened, face drawn sullen and etched with an expression encompassed in morose fear. His forlorn gaze broke away and returned to the man, weary, desperate, and anxious. He gave boy’s shoulder a gentle squeeze, offering him a fatherly smile and embrace.

 

“The doctor asked for you both to return to the facility as soon as possible. Would it be alright if I joined you?”

 

The freckled young man let out a sob as he wordlessly nodded against his weathered shoulder, clutching to him tightly beneath the blankets. For the longest time, they remained like so, neither able to find the words to express. Asui averted her gaze to the windowsill, granting them privacy as she clutched her pewter cup. It would’ve been a miracle to have found the merman almost any other way. But seeing the young man so worn, so close to the brink of death. Even in their relief, not one of them could rejoice in that. All they could do now was hope and pray.

 

 


 

 

After the boat had been docked, it took Izuku a few minutes (and a fair amount of pain killers) to shake off the effects of his transformation. When his legs were just firm enough to stand, they made haste to the bullet train. The freckled young man contacted the Oki team on the commute to the facility, clutching his phone to his ear as his did his best to keep the idle thoughts from overtaking him.

 

“Sirius, are you there?”

 

The woman huffed against the receiver, evidently in a hurry. “Yeah, we just got them in. Tenya and Mick are inspecting the family; Doctor Selkie is beginning the operation on Ome-”

 

Independently, she paused without his reprimand, clearing her throat and correcting herself. “Forgive me- your friend.”

 

The boy clutched firmly to the railing above, his hand’s grip over his phone constricting.

 

“Sirius, listen to me. Whatever you do, do not put any of them in the ICU tanks. One of the females mentioned something about being hunted by the other merfolk. I don’t know the whole situation, but they could be in danger if we put them in with the others.”

 

Shit,” the assistant sighed as he could hear her frantically typing away. “Okay. It looks like we only have two isolation tanks available right now. It’ll be a tight fit, but we can put the family in one of them, and your friend in the other, once he’s stabilized.”

 

“Okay, good.”

 

“Midoriya, they’re calling me in to help with the operation now. Once you get here, ask for Mick or Tenya, and they’ll come bring you to the operation room, okay?”

 

“Got it.”

 

With that, the phone call ended. Izuku stared up at the celling wordlessly as he felt his childhood friend wrap her arms around him, attempting to comfort him while the sound of rain pelted the roof above. He closed his eyes as he steadied his breaths, fighting to keep his nerves at bay until the train had arrived at their stop.

 

 


 

 

“We’ll be out here until we hear from you, okay? If you need anything, come get us. Take as long as you need, young Midoriya,” Mr. Toshinori calmly reassured as he watched Ochaco offer her friend one last embrace. A blonde-haired assistant entered swiftly through the back doors of the waiting room, his eyes scanning across the room until they rested on the group. He hustled over, giving a hurried wave and bow.

 

“Asui, Midoriya! Good, you’re both here. Asui, Assistant Iida could use some help with the family we brought to Sector B. Midoriya, if you follow me, the doctor just finished with the operation on Omega #0003 in Sector A.”

 

And with that, they left Mr. Toshinori and Ochaco in the waiting room.

 

Once Asui had parted ways with the group, the assistant quickly flipped through his paperwork. He reviewed the situation outside of the operation room while the intern slipped on his coat, gloves, and surgical mask.

 

“Okay, it looks like the main procedure’s just finished. The initial report says he’s severely emaciated. Once he’s stabilized or we’re able to get a report from the other rescues, we’ll have a better grasp of the situation. But it appears he was intensely overworked, possibly swimming without food or rest for a long period of time- though we’re unable to gauge exactly how long. His body’s immune system is fighting off a bacterial infection, so we’ve given him a shot for that.”

 

“Is he going to be okay?” Izuku impulsively interjected before biting down on his tongue in self-reprimand.

 

“I…” The assistant sighed, looking up from the paperwork. “It’s hard to tell at this point whether it will have any long-lasting side effects on his health. But, for now, he is stabilizing. Yes.”

 

Izuku let out a long sigh, collapsing against the wall behind him as he rubbed over his sore temples. He was going to live. The assistant cleared his throat, catching the time from his smartwatch as he tucked his clipboard beneath his arm.

 

“I’ve got to run back to Sector B. The doctor is taking post-operative samples back to the lab at the moment. But Sirius is in there with him now, if you’d like to be with him.”

 

Izuku wordlessly nodded as he let the man run off. He closed his eyes, forehead and gloved hand pressed loosely against the door. His nerves were at odds with his composure, now more than ever. It was going to be okay. He was going to be okay.

 

After a drawn reprieve, the young man at last mustered up the courage to enter the room, and he pushed the door open. As the assistant warned, Sirius was there, seated next to the operation table and typing away as she watched over the unconscious merman. In addition to the procedures Mick had listed off, there was a new, small, stitched up incision in his lower torso, right above his gills. He was laid out on the table, his tail tucked into a thickly insulated hydration regulation bag. His left arm was hooked up to an IV; against the rhythmic beeping on the heart monitor, he could see his chest moving silently up at down. His breathing had returned to a normal pattern, no longer as erratic and shallow as it had been before.

 

Sirius looked up from her paperwork and gave the freckled young man a gentle smile, patting the open seat set up beside her on the merman’s right side. Izuku stumbled over the soles of his sneakers as he made his way over. His breath hitched as he could faintly feel the cold of the merman’s right side as he sat beside him. His eyes scanned his face and chest, able to make it out their details more pronouncedly in the light of the operating room. Shouto’s features, while still worn, already looked a little less sunken than before, the slightest hint of rosy color having returned to his cheeks. Even in his present state, Izuku noticed how his jaw had grown just a little sharper, the framework of his shoulders just a little wider since the last time they’d met. His eyes settled as the fell upon the sight of his gland, tucked below his jaw. It was just as he remembered- still pink, puffy, and bright after all this time. His heart sank, the realization taking hold. So, he’d never found a mate, after all.

 

The look in the intern’s eyes must have been evident, because Sirius abruptly spoke against the silence. “You know, there’s probably a reason for it,” she whispered knowingly as she watched him. “Asui and I, we had a rather interesting conversation a while back. She asked me about this thing called ‘mental bonding.’ You ever heard of it?”

 

Izuku silently shook his head, his deformed hand hovering down the length of Shouto’s arm to his motionless, chilled hand. How he wished he could hold it, that Shouto could somehow reach out and feel his warmth. To know that he wasn’t alone. That he was safe now.

 

The young woman grinned to herself, turning her attention to where the intern’s gloved hand floated longingly above the merman’s. She leaned over, taking it gently and setting it inside of his. The boy’s eyes widened as he witnessed the gesture.

 

“Anyways, it was nothing like any ritual I’d ever heard of. Apparently, the freshwater sirens mentally bond with one another before mating. Kind of like falling in love, I guess. Romantic, if you ask me.” Her smile grew, her features a little warmer. “At the time, I thought the entire idea was preposterous. I mean, it matched nothing in our records. I don’t know if the oceanics still practice such a thing- I’ve certainly never seen it. But, thinking back on it now, maybe it’s still there, hidden deep within them when they don’t even realize it.”

 

Izuku’s head tilted downward as he gritted his teeth. His bangs cast shadows over the concave shape of his eyes as his hand tightened around Shouto’s. “I…I never meant to. I didn’t want to ruin everything for him. I knew we could never…We knew we couldn’t. This…this was never supposed to happen.”

 

The woman glanced away as her hands absentmindedly straightened the hem of her lab coat. “Don’t tell Doctor Selkie I mentioned this. But, when we were preparing for the operation on the way here, we had a brief conversation. Neither of us want to make the same mistakes we made in the past- our jobs be damned if we have to.”

 

Izuku looked over toward the assistant. “Sirius, what are you-”

 

“No matter what it takes, if we have to forge documents about his condition, even. The entire team has already decided it. This rescue…this kid. He never wanted to go back into the ocean. And it’s because of us he’s like this now. Midoriya, I swear to you. Whatever it takes, we will make him a permanent resident here, if he lets us. So he never has to live in pain like this again. And maybe one day, when all this mess is over and that damned act is finally overturned. Maybe then, he can live with you. And who knows? Maybe he’ll finally get to see the rest of the world, as well.”

 

“Sirius.” Despite his most valiant efforts, Izuku couldn’t stop the tears from coming down as he rubbed over his heavy eyelids. Maybe it was all just a naïve hope; perhaps they were delusional. But the idea of Shouto being able to live free someday? That was a dream that was too bright either of them to resist.

 

 


 

 

Ochaco jolted, wincing as she struggled to pull her adhered cheek off of the chilly window beside her. She yawned, wearily rubbing her tousled bangs from beneath her brows as her consciousness returned. Slowly but surely, she took in the world around her. It was just past dusk; at some point, Mr. Toshinori had drifted off to sleep, as well. He was currently curled up on a small couch a few seats down in the facility’s waiting room, his oversized jacket draped over one shoulder. The young woman leaned back into her seat as she pulled herself up, finally glancing down at the text notification that had stirred her in the first place.

 

8:17 pm [bakugou.katsuki]: so you got into Yuuei?

 

The girl stared down wordlessly at her phone screen for a drawn moment, the words in front of her taking time to sink in. The two of them hadn’t spoken once since graduation; she could only wonder what was he doing taking the time to strike up conversation on Christmas Eve. Her thumb hovered over the screen as she contemplated how to even respond.

 

8:20 pm [uraraka.ochaco]: Yeah

 

8:20 pm [uraraka.ochaco]: starting next semester

 

Both messages were sent to read immediately. He must have been on the other end, waiting for an answer. She sunk lower into the cushion of her chair, reflexively nibbling on her lower lip. She watched the typing icon appear and disappear on loop for a few moments before a reply finally made its way to her.

 

8:22 pm [bakugou.katsuki]: damn time they finally let you in. school was stupid not to

 

The brunette desperately tried to wipe away the smile that had snuck its way onto her lips when she’d let her guard down, to ignore the heat rising up on her cheeks. So. He still cared, after all.

 

8:23 pm [uraraka.ochaco]: they had a reason to

 

It was left on read, no hint of a reply coming. The girl let out a sigh as her grin faded. Not wanting to chase him away, she tried steering the conversation in another direction.

 

8:27 pm [uraraka.ochaco]: how’s sports management and culinary arts going?

 

8:29 pm [bakugou.katsuki]: k i guess. damn classmates are annoying, tho

 

8:30 pm [uraraka.ochaco]: more annoying than high school? :)

 

8:30 pm [bakugou.katsuki]: no

 

The young woman couldn’t help but snicker into the back of her hand. At the end of the day, Bakugou was still Bakugou. As her laughter died down, a more serious thought crossed her mind. She hesitated for a moment, staring back at the screen. Was it too soon?

 

No, it couldn’t have been. He’d been the one to reach out to her, after all.

 

8:33 pm [uraraka.ochaco]: hey Bakugou. Do you wanna talk sometime?

 

8:45 pm [bakugou.katsuki]: what the hell kind of question is that

 

Her stomach churned, second guessing her decision.

 

8:46 pm [bakugou.katsuki]: ofc I do

 

8:46 pm [bakugou.katsuki]: why tf do u think I messaged you

 

8:47 pm [bakugou.katsuki]: …do u

 

Ochaco let out a bated breath, the held tension in her shoulders releasing. Thank god. A moment of unabrasiveness from the blonde was a rarity in of itself; if she were honest with herself, she didn’t think he’d ever grant her such a luxury after the incident again.

 

8:47 pm [uraraka.ochaco]: yeah :)

 

8:48 pm [uraraka.ochaco]: when and where

 

8:48 pm [bakugou.katsuki]: now

 

8:49 pm [uraraka.ochaco]: …bakugou it’s christmas eve

 

8:49 pm [bakugou.katsuki]: shit

 

8:49 pm [bakugou.katsuki]: nvm

 

The girl frowned to herself, realizing why he’d slipped up.

 

8:50 pm [uraraka.ochaco]: bakugou are you not celebrating? :(

 

8:50 pm [bakugou.katsuki]: don’t :( me

 

The young woman rolled her eyes. There was that signature abrasiveness she knew so well.

 

8:51 pm [bakugou.katsuki]: …no. family is back home

 

8:51 pm [bakugou.katsuki]: holidays are a dumb way to waste time and money anyways

 

Ochaco bit the inside of her cheek again, a tinge of guilt twitching in her heart. She stared up at the door in the back of the waiting room. This was a terrible idea. But if Bakugou actually was willing to talk right now, this might be her only chance.

 

Yet, did she even want it?

 

The way the smile had betrayed her heart told her yes. But her mind was not so convinced. That day, he’d acted as if she were a petulant child, failing to respect her decisions and holding her back. It had never ceased to bother her; she didn’t want to return to that.

 

But maybe they didn’t have to. They deserved to at least have the chance to speak their minds one last time, to tie up loose ends.

 

8:54 pm [uraraka.ochaco]: we can talk. But I can’t leave where I am rn, sorry :(

 

8:55 pm [bakugou.katsuki]: u cool with me coming to you

 

8:55 pm [uraraka.ochaco]: yeah if u keep it down

 

8:55 pm [bakugou.katsuki]: >:(

 

8:56 pm [uraraka.ochaco]: [location sent]

 

8:56 pm [bakugou.katsuki]: FUCK seRIOUSLY

 

8:57 pm [bakugou katsuki]: WHY TF ARE U BY THE ORF

 

8:57 pm [uraraka.ochaco]: it’s a long story

 

8:57 pm [bakugou.katsuki]: i stg if he’s with u rn

 

8:57 pm [uraraka.ochaco]: >_> he’s inside working. We can meet outside ok

 

8:58 pm [bakugou.katsuki]: fine.

 

 


 

 

“You could have started with that, you know,” the merwoman mumbled, flashing the possible human, possible merman in front of her a flat look. He grimaced sheepishly, readjusting himself in his seat.

 

The doctor had brought the alpha over from Sector B a few minutes ago into the operation room to speak with the freckled young man; luckily, she’d been cooperative, willing to converse with him while the others rested. The Oki team had kept honest to their intent. They’d not forced the young merman to part with his reunited friend once again. But regardless, there was still much work that needed to be done, and Izuku was still the only person in the facility that had dedicated enough time to learning the merfolk’s language to speak it conversationally.

 

“I am sorry about that, Yaoyorozu- was it? I should not have attacked; I let my emotions get the better of me.”

 

“Yeah, I remember,” the woman plainly retorted, folding her arms. “And yes. That’s it.”

 

The young man averted his gaze, the embarrassment clinging persistently to him. He could still catch her form out of the corner of his eye, and his attention returned when her sights drifted upon where his hand met Shouto’s.

 

“So, you’re one of the allies that he and my mother spoke of?”

 

Izuku grew stiff at her words. Allies? That was a rather proper way of putting it. She flashed an expectant glance in his direction, and he forced a nod in return.

 

“Yes.”

 

The girl eyed his nervous mannerisms under her scrutinous stare for a long moment. When she’d had enough, her eyes fell back to their hands a second time before something suddenly sparked within them- a look of comprehension. Her sharp expression dulled, and she took a gentle breath.

 

“So. Tell me this, Izuku Midoriya. Have you ever heard of a merman known as the ‘Human Sleeper?’”

 

The blood in Izuku’s veins pricked as the question socked him upside the head, coming straight out of left field. Even if he could remember nothing of his birth father, the disrespect imbedded within the name still rubbed him the wrong way. Yaoyorozu granted him a remorseful look, immediately receiving her answer.

 

“Forgive me, that’s the only name I was ever given of him.”

 

“It is Hisashi. He was my father,” he returned bluntly.

 

“I see,” she softly replied, tucking a loose lock of dried hair behind the back of her ear. “So, you are the son of Hisashi. Honestly, I’m impressed Shouto managed to find you. Though, not surprised. He’s always had a penchant for trouble.”

 

Izuku couldn’t help but snicker, a few fond memories coming to mind. The woman’s smile grew alongside his.

 

“I know that look. You knew him well.”

 

He nodded, recognizing the similar one mirroring over her features.

 

“Yes. I found him injured by my home two years ago. My mother and I took him in for several months and tried to help him recover. He was always very…curious.”

 

Yaoyorozu nodded, the dots starting to connect inside her mind. “What of the other mermaid that was with you? Is she your sister? Can she not talk?”

 

Izuku shook his head. “No, she is a friend. She is from a civilization far east of yours. But she had parents like mine.”

 

She nodded in understanding. The boy watched her, twisting his mouth to the side.

 

“What is it?”

 

“Yaoyorozu. You called him ‘Shouto’ as well. May I ask how you know him?”

 

The cheerful look in her eyes drifted away, shame returning in its place. Her head fell, her hands tightening over one another in her lap.

 

“How much do you know of Shouto’s past?”

 

“He told me much of it- and his family.”

 

“I see,” she whispered back solemnly. “He told you of the four kingdoms? And his betrothed?”

 

“Yes. He and her both ran away.”

 

Her shoulders grew stiff, her tail wrapping itself around the leg of her chair.

 

“I was the princess he was betrothed to. It is true- I ran away, like him, from the duties of our people. We are both the reason for the loss of so many lives. The blame for so much despair.”

 

Izuku frowned, his jaw clenching. Did she and Shouto truly think so little of themselves?

 

“You are wrong. It is his father that brought so much pain to everyone. Not you. You are victims, just as everyone else.”

 

Her stiffened shoulders suddenly shook, a tear falling over the back of her hand. “No, we are to blame. We weren’t born into the world of humans. Our lives are not our own; they never were. If I- if we- had understood that, had not chased after selfish childhood fantasies, so many people could have been saved.”

 

Izuku went numb, his hand falling limp away from Shouto’s. Is that how she felt? How he felt? His eyes wandered back to the merman’s still body, falling silently. He’d known that Shouto had felt guilt for his actions in the past; he remembered how he’d cried out his remorse against the glass in front of him. But it had been two years since then. Could the guilt have eaten at him for so long?

 

The question slipped through his tongue before he’d even thought it through.

 

“How did you both end up like this?”

 

The young woman across from him stilled, her breath hitching. It took her a moment to digest his inquiry. But with time, she responded. She offered him what she knew: she’d run back home from the Northlands alongside her family to in fear of being found out, and she discovered the merman in her mother’s palace, a sworn knight to the Queen. He had carried the burden of a war against his father in secret. They’d been forced to escape as the battle was to be lost, asked to wander the ocean to its shore and find humanity, to plead for its aid. She spoke of how Shouto had relentlessly led him until it wore him ragged, leaving him in his current, sickly state.

 

Izuku pulled his arm back from the merman’s body, tucking it between the warmth of his legs. Suddenly, the world ‘allies’ made a lot more sense. He wouldn’t know the extent of it until he awoke, but the guilt of their actions had weighed heavy on them both. He and Shouto had changed because of it; they were no longer the same kids they used to be. And Shouto…he was part of a different world than him, the weight of countless lives bearing down upon him with every passing moment.

 

Would he recognize him as they once were when he awoke, even?

 

No. He couldn’t think like that. He had to have faith in him. He- all of them- had gone through so much. Izuku couldn’t be so selfish. They needed help right now; they needed hope.

 

“So, you wish for our aid?” He offered quietly, his vision set upon his knees.

 

“Yes.”

 

“You came at a good time, then. There is a meeting three months from now, to discuss our laws restricting the human aid and relations to merfolk. If you would be willing to learn our language in that time, your help would mean so much to us. Because, if we are able to overturn the law and receive your people’s consent, we could let the rescues here stay as long as they desired. We could truly be of aid- as you wish.”

 

His gaze rose to meet her, her narrow, ebony eyes widened.

 

“I know it is farther away than you may have hoped. But for now, other than asylum, it is all we can offer. I am sorry.”

 

The young woman shook her head, her forearm shielding her weeping eyes from his view.

 

“No, it is more than we expected. Thank you.” She took an instable breath. “It’s pathetic, really. My mother, Kyouka, Shouto. They’ve all risked their lives to save me. And here I’ve been, a coward doing nothing in return. I’m supposed to be a leader to my people. And I’ve run from them twice now. I’m a disgrace to their legacy- but I can’t ruminate over that any longer.”

 

Her breaths steadied as her arm fell away, revealing a narrowed gaze brimming with determination back unto him.

 

“I accept your terms, Izuku Midoriya. I want to learn everything I can about your language, your people. I wish to help you and your kind overturn this ‘act’ of yours, so that I may finally try to be the person my people need.”

 

Izuku smiled softly as he let her cry it out. He glanced over to Sirius, who had been supervising the meeting across from them.

 

“She wants to help us.”

 

 


 

 

Ochaco danced nervously over the balls of her feet in the dim light of the illuminated entranceway, her arms swinging widely against her sides. For fifteen minutes or so, she was only kept company by the distant sound of idle waves and the din of passing cars on the street up ahead. But at long last, a familiar silhouette crossed her vision, the features of his form disappearing and reappearing in succession as he stalked through the pockets of light upon the sidewalk.

 

He was unkempt, perhaps more so than usual; his hands were drawn into the waistband of his sagging pajama bottoms, and his oversized t-shirt was haphazardly tucked in beneath them. So, he had texted her on impulse. Not that she could belittle that decision. If anything, it was taking all of her will power to force down an amused chuckle before their eyes met one another. She had been the one to suggest meeting at such an inconvenient location, after all.

 

She’d forgotten how abysmal she was when it came to hiding her emotions from him; his brow immediately quirked as he approached, catching the look in her eyes. The brunette sheepishly blushed, coughing into the back of her hand as she momentarily glanced away to pull herself back together.

 

“So, you got me out here,” he grumbled as she glanced back up, his own eyes flickering away to the curb as the corner of his lips twitched.

 

“You wanted to talk,” she softly returned, her cheerfulness slipping away as she cradled her hand.

 

“Yeah.”

 

A long pause stretched on between them before the young woman finally worked up the bravery to speak her mind. She took a cautious breath as she closed her eyes, forcing the words to come out.

 

“I don’t blame you if you’re still upset for everything, Bakugou. Though, I doubt an apology would do much at this point.”

 

“I didn’t come here from some pathetic apology,” the young man retorted shortly. Even in the absence of her vision, Ochaco could feel his impertinent gaze seething over her. The blonde carried on before a reply could form on her tongue.

 

“I came here for an explanation.”

 

An explanation? Hadn’t it been obvious to them both in the gravity of the situation back then? Guilt aside, she had at least expected that much of him.

 

“You…you still don’t get it, do you?” Her voice fell to a dark edge, her sight rising to meet his. His thin eyes narrowed even more steeply, catching the sharpness in her gaze.

 

“If you’re gonna go on a rant about how you were trying to be some noble ‘hero’ and protect that damn idiot, you can shove it. I don’t agree with a thing about that shit, but I’m not here to make that call for you. That’s not what I’m here about.”

 

“Not going to ‘make that call’ for me?” Ochaco arched her brow, leaning on her hip as she watched him curiously. “Back then, you were adamantly trying to do that.”

 

Bakugou’s lips pursed, his hands digging themselves deeper into his waistband. “That was different, damn it. No one’s life is on the line for your choice in shitty friends.”

 

She did best to keep levelheaded, despite his flippant attitude towards their childhood friend. “Regardless, you treated me like a child. You’re not my parent, Babkugou.”

 

“I was trying to be rational! And did you ever stop to consider that playing with my fucking emotions to your own ends was a cruel joke?”

 

Ochaco paused, her breath catching. That’s truly how he saw it- that he never meant anything to her at all? It was no wonder he’d been so furious with her all this time.

 

“Bakugou,” she softly uttered, her voice falling. “That…I never…”

 

“Then why?” The young man’s voice rose, cracking as he leaned forward. “Why the hell would you pull something like that, Uraraka- of all fucking people?! Damn it, I was so scared! I was a fucking coward. I couldn’t help him, and I couldn’t help you. I felt so helpless! Why would you just-”

 

“Bakugou, I loved you.”

 

The woman gasped, slapping a hand over her mouth a moment too late as everything fell to silence between them. It had slipped out without thought. She could feel her shoulders quaking as she stared back at him wide-eyed, his own face drawn to a shell-shocked blank. He watched her silently, a rare look of hesitancy in them. She needed to pull herself together, for Pete’s sake.

 

Breathe.

 

Just breathe.

 

The blonde gritted his teeth and looked away, shaking his head. “You couldn’t have just said that at the time, could’ve you?”

 

The young woman shivered as she pulled her hand down, her voice but a fragile whisper. “You…you’re right. I did use our feelings as a way to escape, because I was scared you wouldn’t trust my decision alone. I…I’ve never forgiven myself for that, either, honestly. Because the worst part of it was that I meant it, Bakugou. I cared about you so much. I just…I wanted you have faith in me.”

 

Fuck. We were both idiots back then, weren’t we?”

 

“W-what?”

 

He gave a bitter chuckle, his thin eyes peeking up at her from behind his mangled bangs. “Shit, it’s no fucking wonder we broke to pieces. What the hell kind of relationship works if there’s no trust on either side?”

 

Ochaco watched him keenly, his expression unreadable in the dim light. “Yeah, I guess you’re righ-”

 

A sudden bang rang out from the windowpane tucked behind the bushes across from them. The two jolted out of their contemplation, their attention striking back to the noise. Even in the faint light, they could easily make out the deformed hand and wide eyes staring back at them. Bakugou groaned, tossing his head up as his shoulders slumped.

 

“Fan- fucking- tastic. Looks like the cavalry is here.”

 

“I take it you’re not up to staying and making up with anyone else tonight, huh?” Ochaco chuckled, her expression lightening as she glanced over at Bakugou.

 

“Like hell in this lifetime,” he grumbled, turning his back to the glass. “Text me later, ‘kay? This isn’t over.”

 

“I will,” she promised, giving him a sincere smile as their shoulders brushed. It was difficult to make out, but she could just barely catch the upturn of his lips before he walked away.

 

Once the blonde disappeared behind the corner of the building, the brunette was quick to her feet, hastily stumbling inside to return to her friend. Deku ran across the room, meeting her at the other side of the door. His eyes were swirling in confusion with a dash of excitement as he balanced himself on his feet, looking her over. Ochaco cleared her throat as her pink cheeks reddened with embarrassment, her fingers idly playing with her hair.

 

“Sorry about that…Is everything okay?”

 

“Yeah, he’s still down. But he’s stabilizing.” The young man replied, still keenly observing his friend. “Just coming to give you guys an update. I know it’s been a while. Sorry.”

 

“I’m the one who should be apologizing right now, silly,” Ochaco playfully chided, bumping her fist against his shoulder. “I’m glad he’s improving.”

 

Deku pulled his arm against his side as his cheeriness faltered for a moment, his gaze drifting over to Mr. Toshinori’s sleeping form across the room.

 

“Yeah.” He closed his eyes, taking a steadying breath before returning his attention to her.

 

“I’m glad you guys are doing better, too,” he replied, lightening the mood as he swiftly changed the topic.

 

Ochaco could feel her cheeks continue to heat up as she bit down on her lip coyly, dancing between the balls of her feet. “It’s a work in progress.”

 

 


 

 

Everything faded in and out, hazing between white, yellow, and purple. The last thing the young man had remembered was pain- a sharp, searing agony penetrating from his core.

 

And then, nothing.

 

The ache in his body was duller now, nothing like before. He could still feel the world around him as he awoke; he must not have yet crossed into the Seas of the Beyond. But his surroundings were foreign and dry, covered in squares of lined white material, the likes of which he did not recognize.

 

His chapped lips parted, taking on the crisp air around him. It was a sensation by which he’d not felt the likes of in years; he’d almost forgotten it completely until that instant. Had they somehow made it to the human shore? Had they been found?

 

“You’re awake. Thank goodness.”

 

The tongue he heard speak was foreign to the one he’d been accustomed to hearing for so long. But he could understand the words plainly, nonetheless. As the haze of his vision began to clear, he made out the silhouette of a woman kneeling beside him. His eyes drifted downward, observing the form of her underside.

 

She was human.

 

The woman chuckled at his drawn expression. She placed a hand over his head, briefly. “Your fever seems to have gone down quite a bit. There seems to be an ambivalence of temperature between your right and left sides. Midoriya said that was natural for you. Plus, your report from 2019 reads similar. So, it looks like it should be nothing to worry over- which is good.”

 

It took Shouto a moment to recognize that name; it had been so many months since he’d last heard it spoken. But the realization hit him all at once, his body bursting with sudden energy as he panicked, rising up from the hard bed on which he laid.

 

Izuku Midoriya.

 

The woman panicked, putting down the strange device she’d been holding as she attempted to steady him back onto the table.

 

“Easy there! Breathe slowly, your body is still recovering.”

 

It was easier said than done; his heart was racing a mile a minute, his shallow breaths running ragged. How did she know that name? Where was he?

 

His vision narrowed in on her, and the vague memory hit him. He recollected a blue haired woman among many other figures, holding him down on the ground as a painfully familiar voice screamed out for him. 

 

“You…”

 

The woman’s breath hitched as their eyes met, but she still fought on to keep him at bay.

 

“Great. You remember me, don’t you?”

 

The merman clenched his jaw, his eyes growing dark. “I remember.”

 

The human bit down on her lower lip in remorse and embarrassment, keeping her forearm over the length of his chest. “Figures. I’m not surprised honestly, after what we put you both through. We all owe you a lifetime’s worth of apologies for that.”

 

A fire ignited through his weak body, bringing it back to life. The memory that for two years he’d done his best to banish was seared into his mind clear as day. What they had done to him. What they had done to Izuku.

 

“Where is he? What did you do to him?!” He bellowed. His tail was encapsulated in some sort of wrapping. But he flipped it about wildly, trying desperately to break free.

 

“Calm down! Your friend is safe, I promise! He’s an intern here- he works for us!”

 

“You kidnapped him?!” The young man roared, his left side burning bright with rage. The woman hissed out in pain, spurting a foreign profanity as she drew her arm away.

 

She quickly fumbled to grasp the black box hooked upon her long white garment, calling into it frantically.

 

“Mick! It’s Sirius. Bring Midoriya back in here.”

 

The black box called back to her. “Sirius! What’s going on, are you alright?”

 

“I’m- I’m fine. Omega #0003 has woken up. He’s asking for the kid, and he’s turning hostile. I need him in here 10-18! Do you copy?”

 

“Roger!”

 

The woman quickly rushed back to the merman, who was slamming his body against the restraints on his lower body. Her eyes flickered to the rapidly beeping box beside him.

 

“Please! I know you’re upset, but try to stay calm. You’re going to hurt yourself if you continue to move like this! He’s coming right now, I promise.”

 

“Yeah, after everything you damn people pulled?!” The young man retorted, glaring up at her wrathfully.

 

“I get it, you’re mad! But you have to trust me,” she begged as she shoved on a pair of insolated arm garments and continued to hold him down once more. “Please, I know you can understand me. Don’t make me put you back under again.”

 

Shouto growled back at her, his chest heaving under her weight.

 

“Where’s Momo? Jirou? Their family?!”

 

“The merfamily? They’re recovering in the other room. They’re safe. Please.”

 

 


 

 

Izuku’s feet outran the process of his thoughts down the linoleum hallway, his heart beating a mile a minute as Mick struggled to keep up behind him. But his joints froze up suddenly as he could hear the yelling a few doors down, his heart stilling.

 

That voice. He knew that voice.

 

Again, he stumbled over his half-tied sneakers as his body instinctively carried on, his breaths ragged and desperate.

 

It was him.

 

He didn’t know what lay behind that door on the other side. He didn’t know how Shouto would react- if he would even be happy to see him anymore. But he had to do this. He needed to see those heterochromatic eyes one last time, to know he was awake and alive. To know he was going to be all right.

 

 


 

 

The door slammed all the way back to the wall adjacent to it with a thunderous bang. The merman froze underneath the woman’s clutches on the table, his cry cutting off into silence. Suddenly, she stepped away, giving a guilty yet thankful look to the unknown force to their right. Shouto took the reprieve to his advantage. His vision was wavering from the overexertion, but he pulled himself up nonetheless, staring down at his covered tail as he tried to capture his breath over the silence.

 

And then, it broke.

 

“S-shouto?”

 

The voice was quiet, barely above a whisper as it cracked upon the slip of his name. With his remaining energy, Shouto’s head shot up. Mismatched cyan and earl grey met deep, brilliant evergreen, the unmistakable hue of a dry forest he’d not seen in many a moon. Wide eyes attached to a freckled face beneath frazzled green hair stared open back at him.  

 

It was the boy he’d once known so long ago; it was Izuku.

 

He was taller, a little more sturdily built than the teenager of his memories. His shoulders had broadened, the features of his face still soft, but the edge of his jaw more pronounced and defined. 

 

He’d grown up, too.

 

He was silent, waiting in the doorway as another assistant Shouto could almost recall caught up to him. Neither young man could look away, find the courage to break the silence between them. It was only when the adrenaline in the merman’s veins ran out, causing him to collapse in fatigue, did the green hair young man rush over, catching his head in his hand just before it clattered back against the table. He stared back up at the freckled face above him. The half-human laughed coyly as his eyes grew glossy, a wobbling smile finding its way onto his lips.

 

“You’re gonna be okay,” he reassured shakily with a shuttered chuckle, trying to swallow down the tears forming in his ducts. Shouto wordlessly stared back up at him, his expression growing soft as he felt the familiar warmth of a rough, calloused hand against the back of his head. He tried to reach up, wanting to wipe the wetness beneath his eyes away, to hold him once more. But his fingers only made it to his shoulder before the fatigue took hold. The freckled young man was once again quick, though, catching it in his misshapen palm before it slipped away.

 

Shouto’s expression grew grim as his eyes caught on the deformed shape of his hand, a plethora of scars littering the surface.

 

“Your…hand…” he managed through heavy breaths, his eyes unable to look away from it.

 

Izuku pulled his other hand up, setting the merman’s head back gently on the table so that he could tilt his chin up and their gazes could meet once more.

 

“It’s fine,” he reassured, his smile growing a little brighter as their gazes locked on each other.

 

“I…Izuku…” he managed, watching him as the guilt set deep within the merman’s features. He could barely talk like this; he was so frail. But he had to fight the weariness, to apologize for abandoning him that day and for never returning. He so desperately needed to apologize for what he’d done to him, his mother, his friends- wherever they may be. He’d caused him perpetual pain since the day they’d first met on the riverbank. Yet, despite it all, for some reason, the young man was still standing by his side, trying to comfort him with a smile after all these years.

 

“Shouto,” the freckled young man returned, a tear fluttering down against the merman’s scared cheek. His breath hitched and his cheeks embarrassedly lit up, pulling his calloused hand away from his chin as he attempted to wipe it away.

 

Shouto couldn’t help but smile. Izuku paused as he caught the smallest upturn of his lips against the bottom of his hand, his large eyes widening slightly. Shouto had forgotten the way his fumbling and innocent, kindhearted aura had drawn him in like the waves pulled along by the moon. How alluring and utterly, fantastically helpless he was to it.

 

Suddenly, in the midst of his tears, Izuku laughed, his head falling and pressing against the warmth of the merman’s left shoulder. They could both feel it; even in this position, in his dire health, Shouto couldn’t help but continue to smile brightly against the comfort of his voice.

 

They were both- finally, at long last- home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

A faint noise escaped from the back of Shouto’s throat as the fisherman’s hand found its way onto the crown of his head, ruffling up his dried locks.

 

“Two years ago, I was given the Christmas gift of finding out you were alive. I didn’t expect that to happen twice, kid,” the man commented with a smile. “Though, if you don’t mind, I’d rather it not happen a third time.”

 

The merman childishly puffed out his flustered cheeks, looking up at the man from beneath his outstretched arm. It only caused the blonde to laugh more vibrantly, tangling up his hair even further. Slowly but surely, though, his optimistic demeanor slowly overtook the young man, nonetheless.

 

“It’s good to see both of you,” Shouto finally offered in a bashfully quiet voice, turning his head slightly downward in the futile hope they wouldn’t catch the childlike grin winning its way onto his thin lips.  

 

After everything he’d witnessed the past few years, Shouto hardly considered himself any sort of child- though, to the fishman’s oblivious bemusement, he was still treating him like one. It wouldn’t have been so embarrassing- really- if his long-lost female friend beside them wasn’t currently attempting to stifle a snicker into the back of her hand. As she pulled her arm away, a high pitched noise radiated from the back of her throat while she watched him with both excitement and longing, rocking on the heels of her human feet.

 

Okay, fine.

 

This time Shouto let himself crack in front of them, letting his smile show as he rolled his eyes at her.

 

“You can do it.”

 

Without a beat’s hesitation, she flung herself at him, pulling Mr. Toshinori into the fray as she swept them both up into her tight embrace. Shouto’s breath hitched, trying to bear out the dull ache radiating from his low torso with increasing intensity for her sake, letting her take in the moment. And sure, okay- maybe this entire evening was making his chest and heart feel lighter than they had in a very long time. Maybe he was reveling in it, too.

 

Afterall, to know all three of them were safe, after living in fear of their fate for so long- that was a miracle in of itself.

 

Shouto couldn’t help but smile to himself as his gaze drew over to Izuku’s sleeping form out of the corner of his eye, huddled over on his side on a makeshift bed between two chairs. The young man had done his best to stay awake through the night as the merman’s strength slowly returned. But eventually, the fatigue had caught up with him.

 

Not that he could complain too much. Watching him sleep so peacefully was a gift in its own right.

 

When the brunette before him finally let go, he could feel the bones in his weathered shoulders audibly creak as he let himself sink back into the slightly more comfortable cot they’d offered him. He smiled tenderly back up at his two old friends, letting everything sink in as the words slipped out.

 

“You’re both alright.”

 

Their gazes grew calm but ever warmer, confirming his inquiry. There would be a time when detailed need be expressed- why Uraraka and Izuku were here and not on the river, why Izuku was working for these men. And there would be a time soon enough when he would need to become detached and distant once more, to prepare for his looming responsibilities. But for now- on the day of this human festivity- they were all safe and happy.

 

And that was more than enough.

 

 


 

 

Ochaco nervously fiddled with her notebook in her lap, trying to ease her nerves as she sat cross-legged on the backstage floor. Despite arriving at campus an hour early, she’d still managed to get lost half a dozen time on the way to the auditorium and stumbled once into the wrong classroom on the way inside. Not that finding the back of the stage should have been hard, really. But by some miracle, she’d made it to her destination with ten minutes to spare, nonetheless.

 

Theater 101: Beginners’ Costuming and Design. Her first class of her first semester, at long last.

 

The students that had arrived at present weren’t all that many- maybe seven or eight, in total. Like her, they didn’t stand out too much, really- most seeming like strangers to one another, just as her.

 

That was, except, for the blonde-haired young man propped up rigid as a board on the bench beside her, face white as death. In his defense, she’d also done a double take when entering the room upon noticing him there. He was a Culinary Arts and Sports Management major, after all. Even if this class had been offered as an elective to other majors, she could hardly see how it would benefit him in any way.

 

Unless-

 

The front stage curtain swung back as a tall, lanky, and rather handsome man of thirty something years revealed himself to the class with sudden flourish. His long neck was swathed in a blue scarf, his jean jacket tied up around his waist and black shirt rolled back to reveal his surprisingly toned forearms. His blonde hair was impeccably groomed, combed and gelled into a side-sweep that covered his brows and rested just above his eyelids.

 

Ochaco did her best to contain herself. She had read her syllabus over a dozen times before class, just to make sure she wasn’t seeing things. And even now, until this very moment, she’d been skeptical. But there was no doubt about it now. This was Tsunagu Hakamata; stage name: Best Jeanist. He was the number one costume designer in the country, having done designs for all four types of theater- noh, kyogen, kabuki, and bunraku. And his greatest achievement: creating the famous Merking outfit for renowned actor Yagi Toshinori himself. A living legend to anyone in the local theater community.

 

Contradictory to his appearance, the designer’s entrance was rather quiet, only making a sound when he’d settled himself at the front of the room before them.

 

“Six, seven, eight. Perfect, looks like you all made it to class in one piece. My name is Tsunagu Hakamata, though I ask you to refer to me as Professor Hakamata for the duration of this course. Welcome to Theater 101: Beginners’ Costuming and Design. I am aware that not everyone here is a Theater major, as this class is considered an extracurricular class for other majors by Yuuei University. But let me assure you- if you think this is going to be a walk in the park, you can just walk out now. There’s more to stage and film design than inflated egos and prancing about the stage. And this semester, I’m here to show you how intensive, but rewarding, this world can be.”

 

The rest of the class was standard, if short, given the first day. The designer went over the syllabus with the students, answering any questions and giving them some homework on the history on costume design to research before next class. It was all in all rather uneventful, until it was time to pack up and leave.

 

Ochaco couldn’t help but continue to silently wonder to herself why Bakugou was even here. He wasn’t too persistent in keeping up with her; he wouldn’t have selected this class to follow her around, especially unannounced. Her hand slipped on her notebook in idle thought as she absentmindedly watched him, causing it to clunk on the side of her patched-up messenger bag and rattle onto the floor. The young man’s attention fell on her and she blushed, clearing her throat as she scrambled to pick it up.

 

“You got another class after this?” He grumbled, waiting uncharacteristically patiently for her as he slung his backpack over a lazy shoulder.

 

“No, not until three,” she returned, fighting to keep her nerves at bay as she straightened herself out. She paused as their eyes met, catching the off look in his. He looked utterly mortified, his cheeks a shade redder than usual.

 

Oh.

 

She put on a cheerful front, playing it off casually for both their sakes. “The dining hall, then?”

 

As the young man opened his mouth for an inevitable retort, they were quickly interjected by another young man, sauntering toward them with a cocky demeanor from across the room.

 

“I’ve got to say, Bakugou. I knew you were desperate, but I never thought you’d sink this low.”

 

The bashful look on his face was immediately wiped away, his crimson eyes seething as he swiveled over in the student’s direction. The other young man tsked, cockily resting a hand in the pocket of his neatly ironed jeans as his half-lidded violet eyes watched him smugly.

 

“So, you just had to come check the theater department for yourself. Not that I’m surprised, really,” he sighed, leaning out his hands as he gave a nonchalant shrug. “Of course you’d be pissed. President Nezu didn’t take any money from our department to fund his little pet project over in the Science department, now did he?”

 

The brunette glance back worriedly at her old friend, feeling the heat radiating off his body. Had he actually joined this class just to stick it to this guy? Well, with how pompous he was acting, not that she could fully blame him-

 

“What are you gonna do? Make a scene about it? In front of- oof!“

 

The student grunted as Professor Hakamata walked by, whapping the back of his head with the rolled-up syllabus in his hand and offering both young men an acute look.

 

“May I remind you both that there is no toleration for speaking ill of any of the other departments on or off the stage. If you have something to say- either of you-” He added as he observed Bakugou’s furious gaze intently. “-you can do it outside.”

 

“Like hell I do,” the blonde scoffed, giving the kid one last warning look before turning and stalking out of the room. Ochaco gave the professor an apologetic bow before stumbling out of the stage area behind Bakugou.

 

It was halfway to the dining hall before she finally worked up the nerve to ask him about it. Things between the two of them were rather awkward at best, even if the situation had improved marginally over the holiday. The brunette watched the soles of her converse shoes trudge along over the cracks in the sidewalk, still not brave enough to face him eye-to-eye just yet.

 

“What was that about?”

 

Bakugou’s pace slowed down a bit as she could sense him glance over at her, though he was kind enough not to call her out directly for her cowardice.

 

“Damn asshole thinks the Sports department has some sort of superiority complex. He can shove it and go to hell, for all I care.”

 

“Actually, I think it’s just you who has one,” Ochaco let slip behind a snort, unable to control herself.

 

“Yeah, and what of it?! Not my fault that asshole was second in our calculus class last semester,” he barked back defensively. Ochaco couldn’t help but raise her head up with a giddy smile, knowing he was all bark and no bite when he got like this, anyways.

 

“I wonder if you’ll get top grades in costuming, too,” she sang playfully, chuckling back at him.

 

“Damn right I will! They’ll be so far above his, that dumbass will want to crawl in a hole for the rest of eternity!”

 

Ochaco laughed, following him along the sidewalk as he stomped the rest of the way to lunch. However amusing, his unrelenting passion was something she’d always admired. Even if it was directed over something so silly.

 

 


 

 

The days flew by into late January in the blink of an eye. Shouto had already made remarkable progress in his recovery, taking to his tank in the isolated lab quite well. The sunken features in his face had long since dispersed, and his muscles and weight seemed already long on their way to recovery. All in all, it was a miracle he’d done so well, given the state he’d arrived in.

 

But, still. Ever since the day after Christmas, he’d been…off.

 

Izuku had mentally prepared himself that it might be the case, ever since his conversation with Yaoyorozu the afternoon they’d come in. But still, it stung something horrible. The merman had become impatient when it was revealed that their case would have to wait until late March. When Izuku had tried to catch up with him, he’d been distant about anything and everything that had happened to him. When the merman had asked what had happened to his mother- as well as discovered what had been done to Ochaco- he retreated almost entirely to silence. He always watched Izuku when he assumed the freckled young man’s attention was elsewhere (it never truly was), always staring at him with mismatched irises and a forlorn stare. It was clear that the guilt was still eating away at him relentlessly. But any attempts Izuku had made at remedying it- or at least trying to have a candid conversation with him about it- had been met with silence.

 

Izuku found himself taking more time to teach Yaoyorozu, Jirou, and Kirishima their language. It was a nice distraction, if a temporary one, not to have to think about how much his heart ached in the divide between him and Shouto. Thanks to the positioning of isolation room, the doctor had allowed the intern to set up a television for the merfamily, so that they could study when he and the Iida brothers were elsewhere. In that regard, things were going swimmingly. Yaoyorozu had proved herself to be just as remarkably intelligent as Shouto; she learned quickly, and with an earnest resolve. Anything she caught onto before her lover, she would swiftly teach her. At this rate, they might both be nearly fluent by the time the chief lieutenant came.

 

Kirishima, though- he was another story. True to the reports, he conversed with Kaminari remarkably well. But unfortunately, his openness towards his past was nearly as sealed off as Shouto’s had been.

 

“I know very little about what’s been going on down there, I’m sorry,” the redhead gave the freckled intern a guilty look- almost too remorseful, even- as he sunk a little lower against the edge of the tank. Izuku keenly noticed the troubled look in Karminari’s eyes beside him, as if he knew a little more to it, as well.

 

“I haven’t exactly lived in the kingdoms since I was a kid. I wish I could help you more, man,” the merman continued, unable to meet either of them eye-to-eye.

 

He was hiding something- evidently. Izuku tapped his pencil down on his clipboard containing the merman’s file, his mouth twisting to the side. He couldn’t make the merman speak if it was against his will; it would have been unethical. But still, there were so many questions he had left unanswered- and one in particular that had been bothering him the last few months.

 

“It’s alright,” he sighed, crossing his legs as he glanced back down at his paperwork. “But, is it okay if I ask you one more question? I promise this will be the final one, okay?”

 

“I guess,” the merman returned, his arm hooking on the concrete shore as he leaned his head against it. “I still really don’t know how I can help you guys, though. Other than telling that chief act dude that I want to be here-”

 

Izuku looked back up, his eyes looking acutely into Kirishima’s, ushering him to silence.

 

“You have a special ability.”

 

The redheaded alpha blinked, cocking his head to the side as he gave the intern a befuddled look. “I what?”

 

“I’ve seen it before- when you met Asui. You can turn your hair and body pitch black, and your figure becomes jagged and rocklike- like camouflage. Its unlike the other merfolk here.”

 

The merman lifted his head up, his eyes widening and face growing a shade paler. Izuku was onto something. Kirishima hadn’t diverted the question just yet; this was his chance to press the topic while he still let him. He needed to keep it abrupt and to the point.

 

“Powers are a sign of royalty in Pacific merfolk culture. So I’ve been told.”

 

The merman grew completely still, his eyes dead set upon him. “How…how do you know that?”

 

Izuku froze, his heart beating faster. Crap. No, he needed to redirect the question.

 

“You didn’t deny it.”

 

The merman’s body began to shake, his jaw clenching as he tore his gaze away. His voice faltered, falling barely beyond a whisper.

 

“I’m not royalty. Not anymore.”

 

Izuku’s eyelids fell guiltily as he tucked his pencil away on his clipboard, observing how despondent Kirishima had become. He’d gone too far. The young man turned the paperwork downward on his lap, remorsefully letting his gaze wander away.

 

“I…I went too far. I’m sorry.”

 

“I-it’s fine, man. You didn’t know,” he returned solemnly, his crimson eyes down on the concrete between them.

 

“I’ll take it from here,” Kaminari reassured, resting a hand over Izuku’s shoulder with a forced, faint smile. Izuku could only silently nod, his eyes briefly flickering down to the heavy scars and holes littering his tail below.

 

Singed, now he realized- as if met by fire.

 

He could only wonder.

 

 


 

 

It wasn’t that Shouto was trying to hurt Izuku even more that he’d already done these past few years. But he knew he needed to be realistic, to prepare them both for the inevitable. Maybe, deep down, he craved to feel the joy and relief of being with him the night they’d reunited. Maybe he secretly wanted to feel like a naïve child the moment he’d seen Uraraka and the fisherman again. But desire and need were two different entities, and the former was one he hadn’t the luxury to hold onto.

 

Eventually, the prince would have to venture back out into the sea, to make true to his promise to the fallen Queen. He needed to focus now on regaining his strength as quickly as he could, so he could face the human’s chief lieutenant properly with his cause in two months’ time. He forced himself to shake off the nightmares every night, to ignore how he tossed and turned writhing in pain, his gland burning and heart aching as the mere thought of the shifter when he wasn’t there nearby. It was hellish, but he’d survive. He’d felt worse physical pain multiple times now, anyways.

 

His mind couldn’t allow his heart and body to reciprocate their past childhood feelings for one another. It would be a distraction when it came time for him to leave once more. Besides, he desperately attempted to reassure himself, Izuku is still half-human. He’ll find another one day who can truly be there for him. Someone good. Someone healthy for him. Someone he deserves.

 

But no matter how he attempted to lie to himself, Shouto was weak, pathetic, and useless. Every time he’d watch Izuku come in to take his vitals, he gritted his teeth, unable to let their eyes meet and be forced to bear witness to how sad the young man truly was. His blunt nails dug into the side of his arm as he silently screamed to pull himself together in those times he fell to self-deprecation for cutting Izuku off, never letting him start the conversation he so desperately wanted them to have.

 

You aren’t good for him, he endlessly repeated to himself. Look at his hand, what happened to him, his mother, and his best friend because of you. If you let yourself slip, you’ll just break his heart when you have to leave again.

 

It was a late January afternoon when the young merman finally reached his limit. He was laying at the bottom of his tank, pretending to sleep as Izuku and Sirius- if he had gathered the blue haired woman’s name correctly- were recording data in the lab above. The tank was shallow enough that he could hear them clear as day- despite the ruckus of the thunderstorm pelting the large building from above. He was aware that Izuku knew better, and that he wasn’t tricking him in the slightest; his abrupt body language and short speech were irritable, at best. Besides, Shouto naturally slept on his back, not his side- they both knew that.

 

The green haired intern jolted as the thunder rattled the framework of the roof above, gulping as his eyes tore away from his work to briefly glance up at it.

 

“Seems like it’s getting pretty bad out there,” Sirius remarked, pausing to check on him after she finished recording her information from the previous test. “Odd time of year for one this intense, though.”

 

“I guess,” Izuku mumbled curtly, pressing down on his writing instrument hard enough that Shouto could hear it snap with a short crack. Sirius gave the young man a concerned look, leaning over to confiscate his documents from him.

 

“I’m gonna run over to the office to get these processed. Why don’t you start on lunch? We can finish up the last of these tests later.”

 

“Yeah,” the freckled young man shortly returned. He stayed at the control panel until she’d left, eyes narrowing in on the recording image of Shouto ‘sleeping’ at the bottom of his tank. Finally, he mumbled something inaudible to himself before trudging over to the minifridge to fetch his meal. He slammed the door with enough fervor that the noise made Shouto wince. He couldn’t recall ticking him off this much back in the day; he’d really pushed it this time.

 

The young man dragged his messenger bag to the edge of the tank, whipping out a notebook- perhaps homework like he used to work on in the old days beside the tub- and plopping down to chow down on his food. For a solid minute or two, only his eating and the scribble of his pencil were audible against the bubbling of the tank’s filter and belligerent sky above.

 

But finally, Izuku cracked.

 

“You know,” his voice started crossly, echoing off the large white walls throughout the room to thunderous silence. “It’s funny how the tables have turned- really.”

 

Shouto bit down guiltily on his lip as he could feel the shifter’s gaze intently boring into him through the distance of the water. Still, he kept up the futile charade- if not for Izuku, for himself.

 

His chopsticks slammed into his food with a squish and tap of the bento box below. “Back when we were kids, you’d get mad when I hid things from you. And then you’d lay down like this, pretending not to hear me.”

 

Shouto’s shoulders tightened as he drew his tail in closer against his chest. Stay strong, damn it. Don’t let your heart win. Don’t hurt him again.

 

Izuku’s voice tragically fell a little softer, wobbling a bit and severing the merman’s heartstrings as he continued on.

 

“I mean, I understand why, now. Even if it was just a silly story, it still must have hurt. You probably wanted to just know why. Why I wasn’t honest with you, where you’d gone wrong, right?”

 

Still, silence. The bento box rattled on the floor, and Izuku sniffed. Shit.

 

“I-I talked to Yaoyorozu the night you guys came in. I know why you’re here, Shouto. I know you feel guilty as hell about everything. And I know you have to go back out there. I j-just want to talk. Even if you’ve decided not to feel the way we used to, you were one of my best friends. D-didn’t that mean something to you?”

 

It did. It meant everything.

 

“I get it. You’re trying to protect me, just like I was trying to protect you back then. But it was stupid then, and it’s useless now. I don’t know what I-I’m even saying- of course it meant something to you, or you wouldn’t have said anything to me when we found you. But I’ve spent the last two years scared to death you died and that I’d never see you again. I felt useless. I’ve been fighting to help all these merfolk here, and yet, I could never help you. I j-just wanted to talk to you one last time. I know we’re not kids anymore. But is it wrong that I still miss you?”

 

Shouto had been lying to himself all this time; he’d already broken his heart. The merman’s eyes opened, succumbing to his own heart’s ache.

 

Oblivious, Izuku let out a bittersweet laugh in recollection, rubbing the back of his disfigured palm beneath his nose.

 

“I meant it then, and I mean it now. No matter how little I can help in the end, I want to do everything I can to be there for you. Because I love you, Shouto. I will always love-”

 

Shouto’s yearning overpowered the last bit of rationality left in his mind, and he flung his body towards the surface. He emerged high above the water, his hands gripping to the edges of the ground beside the tank. His wrists leaned against Izuku’s knees as he pulled himself up, his entire torso rising above the surface as he watched the young man weeping in front of him helplessly.

 

Damn it, no. All those years ago, Izuku had been afraid of marking him and ruining Shouto’s life. But in the end, it was he who had done so to such a sweet and innocent boy. Izuku had been suffering all this time.

 

Izuku’s breath hitched as he felt the ambivalence in temperature of Shouto’s wrists against his skin. He paused for a second before bravely glancing up, wide, bloodshot emerald eyes meeting yearning, thin heterochromatic. Shouto’s lips trembled, his voice caught in his throat. He needed to apologize to him- for everything. But eye-to-eye, all the words he longed to say were trapped inside, unable to come out.

 

But, perhaps, words need not be spoken between them in that brief moment. Izuku’s eyes felt soft in light of understanding his remorse. His deformed hand shook as it extended out, falling on the scarred skin upon the merman’s left cheek. As if immediately realizing his actions, however, the freckled young man’s face reddened. He attentively pulled his hand away with a short gasp and averted his eyes, as if he’d crossed some forbidden, imaginary line.

 

And with that, Shouto’s heart crumbled.

 

He leaned forward, to attempt to catch the palm of his hand, to bring it back. But he’d misjudged the amount of weight shifted onto his other arm holding him up. He lost his balance, causing them both to topple onto the ground behind them. Izuku let out a muted noise from the back of his throat at the impact of the concrete against his skull.  Shouto, panicking, slipped a hand beneath to cradle it, eyeing him worriedly from above as the length of his body pressed against his.

 

“Are you okay?”

 

“Y-yeah,” Izuku managed, staring wide-eyed in shock at the merman above him. They both paused as they realized the predicament of their current position, both tentative in fear that it were somehow inappropriate towards the other.

 

Finally, the shifter was the one to pull away, dragging his body out from under the merman and crawling back over to his lunch. Shouto’s heart fell in dejection, leaning against a handguard poll on the concrete and pulling himself up into a seated position as he silently watched the young man. His eyes drifted down to his legs that were already a slimy, seaweed green. Had the moisture of his tail caused that much damage, already?

 

Izuku looked up from his bento box, catching the merman’s despondent gaze on his lower extremities. “It’s fine, they get like that a lot lately, but the transformation’s been getting easier to handle.”

 

“You…you’ve learned how to control it?” Shouto asked in surprise, his reserved gaze only able to flicker onto Izuku’s for a moment. The young man swallowed, nodding his head.

 

“It’s a work in progress, and sometimes some of the scales still fall out. But it’s getting there.”

 

“I…I see…” Shouto returned quietly, pulling an arm to his side. It was still his fault he’d discovered this form to begin with. Out of his peripheral vision, he caught Izuku frowning back at him, and he bit his cheek and glanced away.

 

“Stop that,” the young man chided flatly, keeping his sights on him regardless of the merman’s sheepishness. Shouto sucked in on his lips wordlessly. He wanted to feel guiltless, really. But after all was said and done, how could he?

 

Izuku sighed, setting his bento box down and scooting just a hair closer to the merman beside him with his persistent gaze.

 

“Well, if you blame yourself for everything that happened to me and my mom, then by default, I have no choice but to blame myself for everything that’s happened to you.”

 

Don’t-” Shouto’s voice cracked as his gaze immediately flipped up to meet the shifter’s, desperate to dissuade him.

 

“Then, stop,” Izuku repeated, his sights falling away to his knees as his hand absentmindedly picked at the goo there. Surprisingly, an abrupt, small smile found itself upturned on his lips. “I guess Mr. Toshinori was right- we are too alike in some ways. He’s been telling me to stop feeling guilty over the past forever.”

 

Shouto’s gaze softened as he watched the young man, the concern in his mind dying down just a little. “It’s easier said than done.”

 

“Tell me about it,” the shifter chuckled, shaking his head. “I’m pretty bad at it, too, honestly.”

 

It was then that a smile of his own treacherously disobeyed his rationale and found its way onto his thin lips. Izuku caught it out of the corner of his eyes in an instant, his face growing brighter at the sight. The merman’s fingers clutched to the edge of the concrete as the hue of his cheeks grew into a soft, but blatant red. Yet, he didn’t dare hide it from the young man beside him.

 

“I don’t regret giving my heart away back then,” He finally admitted, his gaze drifting down nostalgically to his tail that danced gracefully along the water’s surface below. “I only regret bringing you down with me.”

 

Suddenly, Izuku let out a voluminous laugh that ricocheted high off the walls above. Stunned, Shouto looked up, catching the young man grinning brightly as a hand wiped over the length of his face.

 

“That’s my line, darn it!”

 

A static feeling fluttered through the merman’s chest and down through his limbs, enrapturing him in a glowing warmth at the sight of Izuku before him.

 

Was there a way that this could truly be alright? A way that the right decision could be to let his heart be free, when they both knew this could not last?

 

Izuku’s hand fell away, and his eyes fell half-lidded, warm and bright and yearning as they peered into Shouto’s opened, vulnerable soul before him. “I don’t regret giving my heart away, either.”

 

That was the tipping point.

 

Shouto swung forward, his lips pressed against Izuku’s in an instant. Their bodies, hearts, souls- all collided all at once as Izuku let out a squeak from the back of his throat that died down to a content moan. His deformed hand took not a moment’s delay to meander its way up to that sweet spot on his gland as the two young men descended into a tangle of limbs back onto the concrete; this time Shouto held to the back of his head firmly, keeping him close and cradling it from the fall.

 

“I love you, I love you, I love you.”

 

The words escaped from Shouto’s tongue like a prayer, a ritual within those rare moments when their lips would depart, his own trailing across the freckled maps of Izuku’s face and down to his neck. Everything was fire; the way Izuku’s thumb caressed his gland, igniting the deepest recesses of his desire, rapidly letting control slip right through his fingers. He could feel a hardness growing beneath the front flap of his tail. A primal urge screaming; a want– no- a need.

 

BANG.

 

The two young men paused in the throes of their passion as suddenly, everything went to pitch black, a crackling sound echoing off far above. The sudden darkness caught Shouto off-guard and he clung tightly to Izuku, shielding him from the impending danger. The freckled young man laughed, peeling the merman off of him as his left side lit itself, creating a dim light for both of them to see with.

 

“It’s okay!” Izuku reassured as he playfully pecked his nose. “The power probably just went out.”

 

“The power?” Shouto asked curiously, ignoring Izuku’s attempt to get him off and clinging to him once more. Even if the shifter didn’t seem to believe there was danger afoot, Shouto didn’t exactly want to let go, either. Otherwise, his rationality might kick in and remind him about what an extraordinarily atrocious idea it was to be making out with the young man he was mentally bonded with and irreversibly attracted to. Izuku let out a giggle at his clinginess- to which he pouted, rolling his eyes.

 

“Yeah, it’s the same thing that connected the television and the radiator back at the shed. That’s what keeps the light and equipment on in this building, too. Though, I’m surprised the generator didn’t kick in.”

 

Izuku’s attention was abruptly pulled away by the sound of the little black box calling out to him by his backpack. Izuku struggled to reach for it under the merman’s weight, but finally managed to catch it between his fingers after a couple of attempts.

 

“Midoriya, it’s Doctor Selkie! Sirius told me that you’re in the isolation chamber with Todoroki. Are you two alright?”

 

“Roger!” Izuku returned, glancing down at the merman wrapped around him with a bemused smirk. “He’s a little shaken, but he’s just fine.”

 

“Good! Sorry about that, kiddo. It looks like we got a lightening strike right over the main generator. We’re going to try to set up the backup generator, but it’s going to take about twenty minutes or so. Hang tight, okay?”

 

“Will do,” the intern reassured before setting the black box back down. Shouto eyed Izuku curiously, not sure exactly what they were getting at- other than the fact they’d be stuck like this in the darkness for at least another twenty minutes. The freckled young man smiled down at the merman reassuringly, his hand gently gracing down the back of his head as he petted it.

 

“You okay there?”

 

“Yeah,” Shouto returned, contently leaning his head against his shoulder.

 

“Talk about a change in attitude,” Izuku snickered, leaning back and loosely wrapping his arm around his waist.

 

“You don’t know how difficult it’s been to suppress this for the last month,” Shouto mumbled against the light fabric of his t-shirt, burying his shamefully transparent expression away from him. “I could barely sleep, you know.”

 

“That makes two of us, then,” Izuku returned, tilting his chin up to reveal his face to him against the dim light of his tail. Shouto quickly let it fade, trying to hide his mortification with no avail. The shifter’s laughter died down, his voice becoming softer and more serious in the darkness.

 

“Shouto, I-” He started before gulping the rest of the thought down into silence. The merman lit his tail once more, this time curious to read his expression. It had grown more contemplative, losing that mischievous edge. Shouto sighed, releasing his embrace on the young man as he lifted his torso over his, watching him from above. Izuku was so pure and fragile in this state, the earnestness of his soul radiating against the darkness, the glint of his eyes dancing in the light of his tail and curls spread out like a halo framing his gorgeous, rosy, freckled cheeks.

 

This time, the words that had died earlier in his throat came effortlessly.

 

“I apologize- truly, Izuku. There’s so much I need to tell you, about my people, about what’s happened to me. I thought I could shield you from it- all the pain and death my world is surrounded by. But I was a fool, to think that I could ever control you like that. I’m…I’m sorry. All I want is for you to be safe- to be happy. I never wanted you to have to see the things I’ve seen.”

 

Izuku’s deformed hand quietly extended to the merman’s right shoulder before hovering down the length of the old scar lining his side. His eyes followed the path until his fingertips fell away above his gills, meeting Shouto’s intense gaze above him once more.

 

“And I just want to be there for you. No matter what it takes, Shouto, I want to be by your side forever. Wherever you go- the ocean, the world. No matter what happens, I want to be there with you, to help you every step of the way. I’m not afraid of any of it.”

 

His emerald eyes suddenly averted themselves coyly for a split second as he bit down lightly on his lower lip.

 

“If you’ll have me.”

 

Shouto’s heart skipped a bit. Was…was he asking for that? They hadn’t seen each other in nearly two years, and hadn’t even been on solid terms until ten minutes prior. Was he truly so sure?

 

“I-Izuku…”

 

The young man drew his gaze back to the merman. It was no longer shy, but intense- an unwavering resolve reflecting bright within them.

 

“For…for two years you’ve had my heart, Shouto. I’ll say it now, and again and again until I can convince you fully. I love you- now and forever.”

 

That soft, sincere smile, the truth shining so delicately in his eyes. Just as he had that day, against the glass. Izuku meant it- every word of it.

 

Now and forever.

 

It was too much for the young merman to bear. He fell forward, his head burying itself in his shoulder. Shouto thought back to that cold, distant day of his childhood, as he swam numb and blank at his father’s side in the throne room, hearing him announce his betrothal to Momo for the entire court to hear. How then- in that moment- he’d accepted that he’d never know what true love was. His mind flickered back to the night in the shed- dark and intimate, just like this, when he’d first said those very words to Izuku- ‘I love you.’

 

But this was different now. Neither of them were scared, unsure of their feelings or what to do. They knew their truth, and in this moment, they wore it with pride.

 

Until the end, they would be together.

 

Shouto forced himself back up, his eyes amorously watching the boy he loved beneath him, the warmth of his right hand cradling his soft, tender cheek.

 

“I love you so much, Izuku. More than I can ever express.”

 

And then, in the faintest whisper that he could barely catch, on Izuku’s tongue slipped the language Shouto had learned down in the ocean below in his earliest days.

 

“I love you, too.”

 

Even the freckled young man beneath him couldn’t contain his tears as he sniffed, wiping his nose and laughing as they fell. Shouto beamed, letting their mouths crash together with reckless abandon. For there was nothing left to hide, nothing left to separate them but they themselves. Now and forever.

 

Their bodies danced in time with one another, carelessly rolling across the dry floor as they continually took the lead from one another. One moment, the merman had his lover pinned to the floor, leaving ravenous, dark marks of his passion down the length of his neck; the next, the shifter had him straddled, sucking teasingly just below his gland as Shouto’s tail charged absentmindedly into the leg of a table. Izuku’s shirt was gone in an instant, flying off to somewhere within the watery depths behind them. There was not a place their lips did not eagerly venture, free to wander without restraint after waiting so long for this moment to come.

 

Shouto only halted when they both paused to breathe, their chests heaving heavily in time with one another as he watched the sweat drip off of Izuku’s brow. Their eyes were both lidded, lazy yet intense, fueled by primal desire and an unsated need to seal their fates. The shifter’s hand had guided the merman’s to the hem of his shorts, coyly biting down on his lip as his lustful gaze waited on him expectantly. Shouto couldn’t help but blush at his naivety, breaking the mood as the nervous question slipped from his lips. He turned his head to the side, shielding his scarlet, virgin face from his lover.

 

“Is it true, then?”

 

Izuku was pulled out of his daze momentarily, lifting his chest off of the merman’s as he blinked at him curiously.

 

“Is what true?”

 

Shouto threw a hand over his mouth in mortification.

 

“With humans- do you not have a flap?”

 

“A flap?”

 

Crap, he really was going to have to explain this thoroughly, wasn’t he?

 

“Does…it all just hang out, then?”

 

Izuku froze midbreath, his face growing redder than perhaps even Shouto’s. “O-oh.”

 

The merman could feel even his right side heating up, mentally screaming at himself for completely killing the mood in such a spectacular fashion. It wasn’t like he wasn’t about to find out, anyway.

 

Izuku suddenly lost control, falling and cackling into his chest. “That. Yeah, y-yeah it’s true.”

 

Shouto pursed his lips as he let his hand fall, still chiding himself. Izuku leaned forward, placing a quick peck over his lips to cheer him up.

 

“I haven’t really done anything like this before, either. So, I’m just as confused, honestly.”

 

Okay, that helped a little bit, admittedly.

 

“This is going to be a wreck, isn’t it,” he bemusedly returned, cracking a smile back at the mess of a young man laughing away on top of him.

 

“Oh, completely,” Izuku admitted giddily as Shouto sat up, holding them both up by a single arm as he teasingly reprimanded the young man for giggling at him so incessantly, leaving another mark against his collar bone. (Not that it could stop either of them from grinning like a couple of idiotic rascals, though.)

 

It wasn’t long before the rest of Izuku’s garments had vanished, either- proving that yes, in fact, the merman’s theory had been correct. It also wasn’t long before he lost his own composure, his flap drawing back and revealing both of his parts below in their entirety. It was the shifter this time that was reduced to babbling embarrassment, the reality of their predicament hitting them both upside the head once more. Though, after a fair amount of confused laughter on both ends, Izuku withdrew himself from his lover, becoming a little more reserved as he nervously looked away.

 

Shouto paused, propping himself up by his elbows as he worriedly watched the young man. He extended his right hand, chilling his freckled cheek to help cool his temperature.

 

“What is it?”

 

“How are we gonna do this- seriously?”

 

Oh. Yeah, he did have a point there. He bit down on his lower lip in contemplation.

 

“Well, I’m an omega. You’re a beta, so it would be probably right if you took the lead.”

 

The shyness in Izuku’s eyes suddenly dissipated as an idea ignited within them. He suddenly threw himself against the floor, Shouto watching in surprise as he yanked him on top of his bare body with rather remarkable strength.

 

“In that case, you take the lead.”

 

“W-what?” Shouto stared down at the young man in shock.

 

Izuku’s expression grew dangerously roguish as his legs wrapped around the merman. His thighs press over the sides of his tail as he trapped Shouto in his clutches and wiggled his eyebrows playfully, his right ankle hooking over his left foot.

 

You should take the lead.”

 

Shouto gulped, hopelessly at the will of that mischievous expression of his. After the initial shock of such a forbidden idea being uttered (though, Todoroki reminded himself, their entire relationship alone was about as forbidden as it could have been to his people), a sly look overtook the young merman’s excited features as he experimentally rocked his hips forward. Izuku took immediately to it, slapping a hand to his mouth as a high-pitched gasp fluttered from his lips. Even in this precarious position, that flustered look did terrible, terrible things to Shouto’s heart. His greedy eyes fell soft as they took in the heavenly sight of the boy beneath him, entranced by his spell.

 

Izuku eventually mustered enough composure to help guide the young merman, taking his fingers into his hand and guiding them down the slippery length of his thigh. He helped him open himself- one, two, then a third finger- each time making sinful gasps that made the merman closer and closure to losing himself prematurely.

 

And then, it was done.

 

He entered slowly, watching the young man beneath him cautiously to assure his comfort. Through a shaky breath and wobbling smile, he reassured him with a raspy ‘I’m good’ escaping his slightly kiss-swollen lips. Shouto began to move slowly, his thrusts at first gentle and careful. But as Izuku’s moans became cries of satisfaction that grew ever louder, the ends of his nails digging deep into the merman’s shoulder blades, they both lost whatever composure they had left. His tail grew brighter and brighter as the pressure within them both grew, illuminating Izuku’s beauty with every thrust, every breath, every motion.

 

Shouto came first, Izuku only a second later, before he collapsed over him. They panted as they both struggled to catch their breath, their glistening skin sticking to one another in their post-coital glow. In his weak, contented state, the shifter pulled himself close to his lover, his arm limply draped over his breast as he whispered into his ear.

 

“There’s still…one more thing…”

 

The merman enquiringly titled his head towards the freckled young man huffing beside him. He offered him a sated look as his scarred hand reached out, his knuckle gracing over the length of his gland as it sent another wave of nerves down the merman’s body. His eyes fell half-lidded in understanding.

 

“…you may.”

 

Izuku pressed up against his weary body, his eyes glazed over in a lustful, amorous gaze as he leaned forward, placing his mouth against his gland. He bit down- hard, rough, determined. Shouto’s eyes flew wide open, an electric shudder jolting down his body. It was a pleasure that rivaled- no, surpassed- the one they just had shared together as it ravaged every inch of his body, the sensation enrapturing him with the truth. Izuku caressed the merman’s cheek, humming as he watched- and Shouto felt- the color of his gland change at long last.

 

Now and forever, their souls were bonded as one.

 

 


 

 

Izuku knew that the moment Sirius or the doctor saw the deep, maroon coloring on Shouto’s mark, he was in for a world of trouble. Not anything excessively serious, of course; they couldn’t punish him too severely- he was half-merman, after all. Biologically speaking, he had the right to be with any human as much as he did any merfolk. But that being known, he still was most likely not going to hear the end of this one for a very long time.

 

So, one would think, as he laid there in post-coital bliss with his newly bonded, that he would have accepted his fate when the lights inevitably turned back on. But his heart fell through his stomach when they naturally did so without warning, his birthday suit on full display over the monitors upon the control panel above.

 

Now he was officially dead.

 

The young man let out a short scream in horror, leaping to his feet in an instant. It stirred the poor merman beside him, groaning as he rubbed his head and wearily glanced over to the screens where Izuku’s gaze was fixed. He stifled a snort with his hand and looked back at his lover, his entire face and neck deep scarlet as he futilely tried to hide his nether regions with his hands.

 

“This isn’t funny- they’re gonna kill us!” He protested in a flustered huff, though it only made Shouto’s laughter harder to control.

 

“We better get you dressed, quickly, then,” he pointedly returned- extending a finger towards where his shirt was floating plainly on the surface of the water, the rest of his clothing scattered haphazardly around the lab.

 

 “Oh, come on!”

 

Izuku groaned, throwing his head back and giving an exasperated whine in lament. Whatever was a step worse than death, he utterly and completely was in that category, now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

The pursuit to rule the world. It was all Enji Todoroki had ever known from birth. From his earliest days, he had followed relentlessly after it, never giving up the chase- no matter the cost. It was all he dreamed of- all he’d ever loved and cared for. But perhaps, it seemed, never looking back on that very cost would be his undoing in the end.

 

The streets were silent when he passed through with his men; the people huddled away in their abodes, in fear of being charged with crimes that they themselves did not know of. It was the same everywhere- from the Eastern Reef, to the desolated province of Southlands. Only in the Western Domain and Capital City of the Central Empire was he met without such cowardice and instead with praise, though he could still sense the whispers crawling on his back every time he turned away- even if he himself could not hear them.

 

Victory had been a hollow one, at the end. It was tasteless, lonesome as he sat tall and mighty at the head of the long whalebone table in his great dining hall. Faces of solemn family eating in silence had been replaced with the two-sided smiles and banter of war generals and heroes- all secretly plotting his demise in wicked thoughts and young hours. There were cheers now- yes, in his halls and in the Capital City, surely. But they would not last. The day he’d meet his end would be the day that his life’s construction would fall to anarchy, no heir left to inherit his throne. His eldest, Touya- the first heir. He’d defected to the deepest depths of the Northlands, never to be seen again, no matter how he’d searched in those early years. The youngest- Shouto, the true heir. He’d disappeared over two years prior now to the human world. In recent centuries, those despicable humans had typically rejected their kind after meddling with them, throwing merfolk back into the ocean yonder; in his prized son’s prolonged absence, he’d undoubtedly met his end there. His loss would eternally remain a stain of shame upon his father’s pride. And then, there were the middle children- Fuyumi and Natsuo. The high treason for their actions was broad and apparent by the deformed mark upon his sculpted chest. They’d been locked in the dungeons far below the palace with their mother, the Queen of the Southlands, and beneath them, the other, never to see the light of day again.

 

What Endeavor, High Emperor of the Central Empire had never expected, however, was that he’d be alive to witness it all fall apart before his own eyes.

 

The personification of his undoing came as quietly as he did suddenly. There were no armies at the city’s gates, nothing amiss until it had been all too late. His lieutenant that accompanied him- they had been the one to blame for their victory, wearing the skin of his men as they brought the self-exiled young man to the foot of his throne without detection. It was only once the parasites had infiltrated their host within the palace walls did they commence in the feast of their slaughter inside the gilded halls; the great rugs of whales’ hide, ebony marble, and coral pillars were all stained in the tainted hue of scarlet red as the smell of iron crackling and broiling in flame hung in the air. Their timing was impeccable- too impeccable for strangers, even- cornering the King, his remaining servants, and his men within the great stone doors of his throne room.

 

But it was no use; the man had known it the moment he heard that unmistakable crackle in the distance, the smell of impossible smoldering in the watery depths against his nose. The insolent boy had returned for his vengeance at last.

 

When the long-forgotten prince brought himself through the entrance of the throne room by force with his accomplice, he came with the herald of blue flame- sparing no one but his father. Still, the man sat tall on his throne, refusing to bow in pride- even when there were no witnesses left to bear it.

 

The prince’s scarred, pitch black tail did not dance in the blue flickering light, beholding no reflection. He reunited with his father with a detached smile, his shoulders hunched lazily and head refusing to bow as he met him before the foot of his tarnished throne.

 

“Touya,” the sovereign could only manage shortly, his blood boiling with rage in the wake of his defiance.

 

“Long time, no see, Endeavor,” the young merman casually grinned, the scarred skin on his cheeks cracking as it took form.

 

“Are you happy now, then? To finally take the kingdom you always wanted?” The King returned through a clenched jaw, his knuckles growing white around the handles of his seat as he looked upon his offspring’s wrenched form.

 

“Oh- this?”  The dark prince scoffed, his tail casually flipping away the charred remains of his former childhood servant. He tsked, shaking his head as he glanced back at the dishonored man before him. “Oh, I think you’re sorely mistaken, your highness. Honestly, I have no interest in such novelties. The one you refer to me by- Touya. That child died long ago by your hand.”

 

The King’s breath hitched as he suddenly noticed disguise of the accomplice’s male form absent beside his son. He let out a short gasp as he felt the sharp edge of a mermaid’s bone blade against his throat, a sickly sweet and giddy female voice against his ear that he did not recognize.

 

“I wonder what your blood will taste like. Hopefully it’s half as wonderful Southern Queen’s was-”

 

So that was how they had come; through the caverns beneath the dungeons. How many more were waiting down there? The woman giggled childishly as she drew a single drop of blood from the sovereign’s skin before pulling away, letting him live- for the moment. When the King turned his head to meet hers, however, it was not that of a stranger’s that met him, but the face of the fallen Queen to the South herself. The sovereign’s nerves set ablaze, his heartbeat quickening underneath his unreadable exterior.

 

This merwoman- she was no mere illusionist. She was a Forsaken of the Northlands. What despicable, wretched, and undeniably powerful allies his son had found in his absence. All to spite his father with, undoubtedly. Still, the King held his back tall, narrowing his eyes upon his son as he struggled to keep his composure. The casual smile on the young merman’s face had grown to be something wicked as it tore against his stitches upon his ruined cheeks; he was enjoying this drawn out charade all too dearly.

 

“You see, while you were busy sacrificing your pawns on the battlefield, I was taking my own time, selecting my game pieces and building the stage. It turns out, the Forsaken of the Northlands, they haven’t exactly taken well to millennia of hiding in the dark. So cruelly punished by people like you, just for being born with abilities like the royals. I guess you could say, they’ve grown quite bitter.”

 

“So, it that’s what you desire, then? For the Forsaken to take the Empire?”

 

“No, no. After all, the existence of the four kingdoms and this wretched empire of yours? That’s brought them nothing but despair- just like me. All we want-”

 

The king let out a shuttered breath as he felt the merbone slice into his flank, his vision hazing as the agony radiated through his core. Damn it.

 

“-is to watch it all burn.”

 

 


 

 

“Remember. Drink what you need, but don’t kill him just yet. The Queen’s already comatose from blood loss; don’t create another accident, got it? We need him for a little longer, to give the kingdoms a false sense of security and observe our environment before with dismantle it.”

 

“Yeah, yeah. Play the King for a while, then pretend the Queen of the South staged a coup and fake a revolution. Everything falls to anarchy. I got it. And I’m not your dog, you know,” the disheveled blonde huffed, the façade of the Queen sloshing away to the murky water as she puffed her rosy cheeks out at the dark prince.

 

“No, but like it or not, we are a team,” he reminded her, arching a brow. He glanced back to observe the trail of blood she’d been leaving behind amid dragging the King’s body down to the dungeons. How disgusting.

 

“I hope you plan on cleaning that up later. Our friends down below won’t exactly enjoy their new home in such a filthy mess.”

 

Oh,” she huffed, giving Dabi a flat look, “The rich boy is one to talk, isn’t he? Like you cleaned up those charred bodies upstairs. Such a shame, too. If you hadn’t ruined them, I bet they would have been delicious…”

 

The prince couldn’t help but gag repulsively at the thought of decay. Only fate would leave him to be forced to cooperate with such a repulsive little psycho.  “They’ll smolder to ash soon enough, along with the bloodstains you left behind.”

 

“Oh, and who’s gonna sweep up that mess?” She grumbled, offering him a weary look.

 

Dabi could only roll his eyes at her immaturity, shaking his head.

 

“Just focus on getting him locked up, alright?”

 

“And what about your family-”

 

His eyes grew dangerously narrow, giving the mermaid a warning look as she grumbled beneath her breath back at him.

 

I’ll deal with them.”

 

 


 

 

All Izuku Midoriya wanted to do right now was just die, honestly. To be able to lay down, close his eyes, and have a peaceful passing. But naturally, Sirius was hellbent on making him suffer thoroughly, if it meant getting revenge for the images now permanently scarred like a tattoo on her brain.

 

Izuku knew his time was short; it would have only been so long before Sirius or the doctor would rerun the footage, checking to see what had survived the power outage and if the equipment was still running properly. He’d been hoping to have escaped the facility and been well on his way home by the time that it inevitably happened. But, in their naivety, he and Shouto had been so focused on getting him dressed and actually finding all of his clothes scattered about that they’d completely overlooked the mess they’d left behind on the floor.

 

That alone would have been enough to set the poor assistant off. But the mess, coupled with the dark marks around Izuku’s neck and the changed gland behind the merman’s jawline, and tripled when she quickly did find the footage in a panic thereafter, had left her in a completely unraveled state.

 

Now, she was dead set on making sure his friends had to go through the same travesty she’d been forced to bear witness to. Because if she was forced to suffer, she sure as hell wasn’t going to do it alone.

 

Shouto had it easy. He could just continue to lay down at the bottom of his tank and pretend he was sleeping on his side again- the lucky jerk. Meanwhile, Izuku was huddled against the wall by the control panel, burying his face against his hands in the depths of mortification, trying to ignore the soreness of his ass all while Tenya Iida let him have it, swinging his hand wildly about in a frenzy.

 

“Out of ALL the selfish, irresponsible, immature, and vile breaches to this facility’s code of conduct, this is absolutely UNBELIEVABLE, Midoriya! I am APPALLED by your flagrant disrespect for this priceless building and this precious equipment. While the rest of us were putting in all of our effort to help the facility recover, the thought that you would engage in such…inappropriate activities at such a crucial time as this is deplorable! Did you ever CONSIDER the ramifications and long-term effects your decisions will-”

 

“Sirius, you called?”

 

Asui croaked, peaking her head inside the lab. The assistant waved to her, beckoning the girl inside. Izuku grimaced. Okay, now she was just being downright cruel.

“Hey, Asui, wanna see the most cursed thing ever?”

 

“No, she doesn’t!” Izuku whimpered to no avail. He curled into a ball and flopped unceremoniously onto his side against the concrete flooring as the female shifter stepped over him, eyeing the young man curiously.

 

“Hey, Midoiya. You okay there?”

 

“Oh, he’s peachy,” the blue haired woman replied with an alarmedly aggressive cheerfulness. In an instant, the disgraced intern heard his friend cry out in horror at the image as Sirius brought it up yet again with a single click of her keyboard.

 

At this rate, she wouldn’t stop until Izuku vanished from embarrassment completely.

 

“Sirius, what the heck,” Asui finally spurted out, shielding her eyes until the woman kindly turned off the replay footage, bring the live feed back online.  

 

“If I have to suffer over this, you’re all coming down with me!” She retorted in exasperation, her eyes burning right through the freckled young man across from her. She’d clearly lost it at this point, in the midst of her unhinged rampage. Izuku forced his hands away, giving the woman a pleading look. Thankfully, Iida finally interjected, perhaps the sole light of rationality left in the room among them.

 

“Pardon me, Sirius. But for respect to our coworkers, I think it would be only right if the footage were deleted, don’t you agree? If anyone outside the facility were to get a hold of it, it could mean us serious harm.”

 

The woman grumbled, still glaring at Izuku as she leaned in on her hip. “Easy for you to say! You didn’t walk into the mess on the floor that I did!”

 

There was a certain admittance to her voice, however, hinting that she- to some extent, at the very least- agreed with the intern’s concerns.

 

Meanwhile, Izuku’s gaze fell flat as he caught sight of the screen recording Shouto at the bottom of the tank. It was barely visible beneath his arm curled around his face, but the slightest upturn of his lips was still there on display. The freckled shifter frowned, ignoring the soreness of his lower body as he forced himself to his feet.

 

“Are you serious right now?! You traitor!” He whined, watching in frustration as that damn little smile only grew.

 

“Whatcha going to do now, Midoriya? Throw off your pants and go after him?” Tsuyu quipped with an amused grin, evidentially already recovering. Izuku’s face turned scarlet red, his body practically shaking in humiliation as he balled his fists and stuttered back at her.

 

“N-no!” He tried to defend, Sirius’s gleeful snicker beside her only making the blush spread down his neck. “You guys are the absolute worst!”

 

Exasperated by his lover’s abandonment, the young man stalked over to the edge of the tank. He snatched up a sponge on the railing, tossing it over the water toward the merman. It only managed to land with a small plop before slowly floating around on the surface, as if to mock his lament.

 

“Get up here, you stinking meanie,” he shot down at Shouto, narrowing his eyes over his form against the sand and coral several meters below. The merman finally responded; a few seconds later, Izuku was met with a playful tail slap to the face. Having enough of it, he huffed, finally losing his composure.

 

“THAT’S IT!”

 

He jumped into the water headfirst, tackling the merman below onto the sand. They both friskily wrestled against the floor, specks of sand flying up and floating around in every which direction.  Iida grimaced as he watched them from the screen, grabbing the mic on the control panel and yelling over it.

 

Midoriya, get out of there! Your transformation is going to be even more painful if you don’t-”

 

“No offense, Iida. But I don’t think he’s listening to you right now,” Asui beside him amusedly snorted, watching the two boys roll around in a tangled ball of limbs.

 

Eventually, Sirius did find the mercy within herself to delete the scandalous portion of the footage before the rest of her team or the doctor discovered it- if only to keep damage control on the situation. In time, Shouto dragged Izuku back out of the water once his tail began to form in earnest, beaching himself beside the young man on the dry concrete to keep him company. Better late than never, at least.

 

When Asui and Iida had excused themselves back to their actual responsibilities, Sirius’s tone grew more serious, keenly watching the two bonded men from across the lab. She offered Izuku a glass of water and some pain killers as he laid huddled on Shouto’s lap, bearing through the discomfort.

 

“Seriously, Midoriya. Even if the footage is gone now, the doctor’s going to figure out what happened.”

 

“I figured that much,” the boy quietly responded, hugging to the omega’s chest a little tighter as a dull wave of pain shot down his half-formed tail. Shouto was visibly alarmed by it, it having been his first time witnessing the detransformation firsthand. He held to the young man defensively as his eyes watched on, unblinking in anxiety. Izuku tangled his fingers in his lover’s damp locks, running down the length of them as he tried to console him and assure the merman that he really was faring alright.

 

The blue haired assistant huffed, shaking her head. “Sometimes I don’t know what to do with you, kiddo. Have either of you considered how you’re going to handle being separated tonight?”

 

Oh.

 

Izuku’s heart sunk as his gaze rested on the dark mark beneath Shouto’s jaw. Crap. He hadn’t even thought about that. He recalled the few times when he’d been present to witness other teams separating bonded pairs from one another for emergency operations, how the merfolk wretched in pain and released their siren cries in desperation. But, where they couldn’t understand, Shouto and him could. They both could converse with the scientists; they wouldn’t be so confused as to why they weren’t with one another. On top of that, Izuku still had classes, an internship, a home to go to, and a mother to visit. They both knew that, right? But what if he did leave, and in turn abandoned Shouto to suffer through pain in his lonesome-

 

“Izuku.”

 

The freckled young man paused at the soft whisper of his name, smacking a hand over his mouth when he realized he’d been subconsciously letting his tongue wander yet again.

 

The merman frowned, gently prying his callused fingers away from his mouth.

 

“I’ll be okay. Don’t worry.”

 

Deep green eyes met heterochromatic, the two speaking in silent words to one another.

 

‘We don’t know the consequences. We’ve never done this before.’

 

‘I understand. But I know you’re safe. We’ll be okay.’

 

“I can’t keep you trapped here forever,” Shouto uttered affectionately, his hand gripping tight to the young man’s fingers as his gaze drifted away. Izuku could read his mien well; he was faltering to remorse again. He leaned forward, cupping the back of the merman’s head as he pressed their foreheads against one another. Their eyes met straight upon one another, lukewarm breath swirling as it tangled with cold and warmth all at once.

 

“If you need me- at all- just call, okay? I’ll figure something out over the next few days.”

 

A faint, coy smile painted itself upon Shouto’s lips- a private one, for Izuku alone.

 

“Okay.”

 

 


 

 

Sitting was hard enough of a challenge as it was; no one had ever told Izuku he’d be so downright sore after his first time. His neck bundled up and hidden in a light blazer to avoid the inevitable stares, he was forced to excuse himself to the bedroom early into dinner as two pairs of oblivious eyes watched him concernedly. Asui sipped on her water calmly, feigning ignorance as he left. 

 

Eventually, the young man would be more than happy to tell his surrogate father and childhood friend the truth- that he and Shouto had made amends, at the very least. But he’d already been exposed enough for the day as it was. And frankly, he just wanted some peace and quiet.

 

But in that endeavor, he quickly realized how disillusioned he and his lover both were.

 

Sleeping was downright impossible. The nightmares were horrific, grotesque, and preying on his worst terrors of losing Shouto. Izuku would have barely drifted off to sleep for a minute before they came overtake him yet again. Every time it sent him awake, screaming and crying in despair. He’d had bad dreams before, but nothing so persistent and damning as this.

 

Was this the side effect that came with bonding? The pain that separated merfolk had to endure? But he was still half human, wasn’t he? Why was this happening to him? He knew Shouto was safe and sound, guarded in the facility from the world outside. Yet, why was he so irrationally terrified; why couldn’t he calm down?

 

 And Shouto…oh god, Shouto. Was he alright? Was he suffering like this, too?

 

The young man tried to reach for his phone on his nightstand. Damn it, he’d known better. And despite it, he’d abandoned the boy he loved more dearly than his own life. He’d foolishly left him behind, forcing him to suffer in that lab all alone. But as the shifter struggled to catch his cellphone by the tips of his fingers, another pitiless vision snatched the young man’s attention. The pain was too great, and it caused him to slink into a quivering ball against the satin pillows behind him.

 

Ochaco was the first to reach Izuku. She pulled her bawling friend into her arms, cradling him on the bed as he sobbed uncontrollably. Mr. Toshinori knelt before them, trying to speak to the young man as Asui silently watch from the doorway.  Her eyes only met his for an instant, in the brief second he had the strength to look up. But in that moment, she knew.

 

“We need to get him back to the facility,” the froggish young woman urgently pressed, approaching the group with caution.

 

“Right now?!” Ochaco look back at her flabbergasted, rocking the inconsolable boy in her arms. “It’s so late, though.”

 

“You guys…” she paused, hesitant to give Izuku’s actions away to them. He forced himself to look up again, glassy eyes silently begging her not to reveal everything to them then and there. He didn’t want them to find out like this, in such a pathetic state. She gave the smallest nod that only he could notice, assuring him.

 

“You guys have to trust me. Please.”

 

“Is it a merfolk thing?” Mr. Toshinori asked keenly, a skeletal hand rubbing over the young man’s shoulder.

 

“Yeah,” she somberly returned. The froggish shifter bent down, digging beneath Izuku’s bed until she found it- the old, faded Merking blanket. She dragged it out, looking at him levelly.

 

“This was his at one point, wasn’t it?”

 

The freckled young man could only manage a weak nod as he gasped for air through his tears. Asui extended the comforter toward him, and he grappled onto it in an instant, tearing from Ochaco’s arms to wrap his body over it. His hand slipped into the pocket of his sweatpants, fingers searching frantically for the small scale to comfort him. A sharp edge brushed across the tip of his index finger.

 

It was still there.

 

The female shifter offered her friend a tender smile, patting his knee. “It will help in the meantime.”

 

 


 

 

“Oh, thank god.”

 

Sirius was waiting for the group in the lobby, immediately rushing towards them the moment her eyes laid sight on Izuku. The heels of her shoes rapidly clicked over the linoleum flooring as she approached them, the worry etched over every inch of her face. She eyed Izuku up and down and took a deep breath, calming herself as relief washed over her.

 

“You’re faring much better than him, thankfully.”

 

Izuku’s heart stopped, the terror constraining his lungs. He was in pain. No. No, no, no, no-

 

The young man clutched to the comforter draped around him. With all his might, he mindlessly attempted to burst for the door to the lab, but Ochaco and Mr. Toshinori were quick to hold him back.  Sirius gave an exasperated sigh, shaking her head. She sucked against the inside of her cheek for a moment before glancing up at the others.

 

“I’ll ask you all to follow me this way, please. It will be easier not to separate him from you both right now.”

 

Ochaco and Mr. Toshinori exchanged concerned glances, but they nonetheless followed her down the hall into the rest of the building.

 

Izuku gritted his teeth, his knuckles whitening as his grip remained on the edges of the comforter. Damn it, he’d wished he’d opened his mouth up sooner now. This was the last way he’d hoped for them to find out. And naturally, Sirius was not so kind as Asui had been once Ochaco began to question her.

 

“Pardon me, m’am. But what’s wrong with Deku? Is he gonna be okay?”

 

“Separating merfolk on the first night after they’ve bonded is generally considered very unwise,” the assistant flatly responded as she walked briskly ahead, her eyes fixated on the double doorway. Izuku’s heart sank; he could feel his friend’s embrace go rigid, her owlish stare down upon him.

 

“The bond is still at the stage where it’s processing through their bodies as each other’s DNA is accepted by their hosts. They’ll both be fine once they’re together again. Though I’d highly advise not separating them for the rest of the night.”

 

The group paused as they entered the double doorways of the isolation corridor, Shouto’s screams echoing down the hall in a harrowing instant. Sirius had been correct. It was just as the freckled young man had feared; he was in anguish. Izuku could bear it no longer.

 

He tore away from everyone, his breath shallow as he flew down the hallway and accidentally bumped into the assistant along his path. He practically slammed his body against the door, toppling on his knees over the floor as he fell inside. He finally caught sight of him.

 

Shouto had been removed from his tank, on the operation table as the doctor and assistant Iida fought desperately to contain his writhing form to take his vitals with no avail, his tail flying wildly about as it contorted in pain.

 

“Shouto!”

 

The word escaped Izuku’s mouth on impulse in a distressed scream, shaking as he huddled in on his knees, tears streaming down his eyes. He collapsed over himself, and the merman immediately fell silent, pausing as he turned his head against the metal surface to see his bonded.

 

“I…Izuku…” He whimpered helplessly, his thin eyes red and lids swollen. He looked horrific.

 

“Let him go,” the doctor instructed to his assistant. The man did so, raising his arms as he compliantly stepped away.

 

In an instant, the merman was off the table, hurling his body against Izuku’s. The two young men clutched against one another for dear life, sobbing into each other’s arms as they felt the other- safe, warm, alive.

 

They stayed like so for a while, the room in silence as everyone else witnessed the scene. Izuku could feel Shouto’s heartbeat against his chest, his ambivalently temperatured breathe in the nape of his neck. He was okay.

 

He was okay.

 

Shouto was the first to speak. He did not dare pull away even an inch, his lips tickling Izuku’s shoulder beneath his jacket as he whispered softly.

 

“I-I’m so sorry Izuku- forgive me. I thought I was stronger than this.” His embrace grew even tighter, and his jaw clenched. “I was a fool; I’m so damn weak.”

 

Izuku spoke back into his dual-colored hairline, smiling delicately through his tears.

 

“You’re f-fine. I broke down, too. I…I knew the nightmares weren’t real. But, I was terrified.

 

He sniffed, dragging his head up just enough to look down at the young merman cradled in his arms.

 

“We really are a mess right now, aren’t we?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

 


 

 

Mr. Toshinori let out a drawn breath, his hand falling down the length of his long face. Perhaps out of compassion, he’d kept levelheaded so far. He’d been preoccupied with the doctor for a while, weighing out the logistics of the situation and letting Ochaco take the field when it came to bombarding the young men down on the floor.

 

“Seriously?!”

 

Ochaco huffed, her round cheeks puffing out as she squatted down above the floor beside them. She was thankfully not as flabbergasted as the others had been- in part due to her eyes and memory having been spared. But she was still miffed, nonetheless. If for her own, unique reasons.

 

“You made up and didn’t even tell me?!”

 

She grumbled, crossing her legs as her behind plopped down on the concrete. Izuku drew away from the merman just enough to face his friend, chuckling sheepishly as his hand scratched over the back of his head. Shouto clung onto the warmth of his arm, still too shaken to let him go quite yet.

 

“Sorry. It just happened this afternoon. Actually, a lot happened.”

 

“Uh-huh.” She mumbled, her hazel eyes falling on the maroon mark upon Shouto’s neck. Izuku could feel the young merman’s weight shift against him, and his gaze broke away toward him. The merman bit on his lower lip, a tinge of guilt weighing heavy in his narrow vision that fell to the flooring between the trio.

 

“I apologize, Uraraka. I…I should have kept in better contact this past month. You were my friend, too.”

 

“Were?!” The brunette squawked, her arms falling limply to her sides in dejection. Shouto took in a strident breath, his eyes wide as he glanced up at her from his misplacement of words.

 

“No, that’s not what I-”

 

“Well, it felt like it!” She spat back. “Do you know how worried Deku and I both were for you?!”

 

“Yes,” he solemnly returned, his line of sight slinking away once more. Izuku watched as Ochaco sighed and observed him, the frustrated edge in her posture falling away as a faint smirk unfolded on her lips.

 

“I’m glad you’re alright. I’ve missed you.”

 

Izuku couldn’t help but smile at them in turn, Shouto still firmly against his arm. The merman meekly looked back at the young woman, returning the expression.

“I’ve missed you too.”

 

Ochaco stayed with them for a long while- long enough that the soreness in Izuku’s underside was starting to become a persistent bother, and his arm had long since fallen asleep in the merman’s grasp. He didn’t mind it too much. Seeing them both light up and chatter away like this put his mind and heart alike at ease, his thoughts wandering back to those afternoons in the shed and the bathroom so long ago. Eventually, the freckled boy’s gaze found its way back to Mr. Toshinori, who had been watching them from behind.

 

He gave a smile, approaching the group after Izuku had returned with a nod.

 

“You kids holding up alright?”

 

Ochaco and Shouto paused mid-conversation, turning back as they abruptly noticed the man behind them. The merman adverted his eyes timidly, his had subconsciously cupping over his gland.

 

“Yeah.”

 

The actor squatted down, a small noise escaping the back of Shouto’s throat as he patted his head.

 

“You’re looking better, already, kid.”

 

Izuku could just catch the dimmest blush over his pale cheeks, the young merman trying to stash away his embarrassment. It was adorable, admittedly. Mr. Toshinori must have thought so, as well, because he let out a bright chuckle as he removed his hand.

 

“Well, keep getting stronger, alright? I’ve got a lot of adjustments to make to the house before you move in at the end of March.”

 

The merman immediately paled, staring up at the man in shock of his implication. “I…I appreciate it. But we still don’t know how the meeting with the lieutenant will end. And, I haven’t truly discussed this with you all, yet. But I eventually must go back to-”

 

“Well, it will be waiting for you when you’re ready.”

 

Shouto’s jaw shut, his voice falling silent as the kind, fond look in the actor’s eyes shined with his promise. He let the young merman ponder over it as his attention turned back to his surrogate son alongside him, offering a cheeky grin.

 

“You really do have a gift for getting yourself into trouble, don’t you, kid? Never a dull day with you around,” he teased, offering him a bemused wink. Izuku chuckled embarrassedly, wordlessly agreeing with the sentiment.

 

“I really am sorry about all the trouble I’ve caused tonight- for everyone. I meant to tell you guys. I just…I wanted it to be under happier circumstances.”

 

“Well, you both look pretty happy to me right now,” Mr. Toshinori returned hopefully, offering them both one last tender smile before rising to his feet and giving a thumbs up. “We’ll get everything here sorted out, some way or another.”

 

Eventually, the plan was set- at least for the time being. It appeared that Izuku and Shouto had only gone into states of arrest once they’d fallen asleep. It was a hopeful sign; during the day, they could at least function on their own, so long as they remained awake. For now, Izuku would sleep in the lab with Shouto, until they were under better control. It needed to remain like this, though, for at least two months’ time, until the day of their meeting with the chief lieutenant came.

 

The doctor was stern, unsurprisingly. Nevertheless, he did not scold or speak much of the situation either young man had gotten themselves into. It appeared that he’d deemed the chaos of the evening was enough at present. Two cots had been mushed together by the edge of the tank before the others departed for the evening. They offered Izuku a place to rest where he wouldn’t be force to struggle with the aftereffects of transforming in the morning. The weren’t exactly the most comfortable mattresses on the planet, but he couldn’t exactly complain, given the amount of trouble he’d caused already. Sirius had been the last to leave, sternly pointing towards the screen, her eyes, and- at last- the boys before heading out.

 

Even in the darkness at three a.m., neither of them could find the will to fall back to sleep. It must have been uncomfortable for Shouto, keeping his tail in the dry air for such an extended period. But he utterly refused to leave Izuku again, huddling against him on the cots with the light glow of his tail and the monitors across the room illuminating the silhouette of his graceful form. It hadn’t been long into their solitude before he finally recognized the blanket Izuku had been swaddled in. And with that, their ancient war began anew.

 

The worn comforter had been sewn for a single child; it barely concealed the entirely of Izuku’s form as it was. So there was no point in trying to convince the merman to let them share it, especially when he seemed dead set on play tug-of-war with the poor blanket, instead. But Izuku wasn’t exactly keen of giving it up, either, having used it as a comfort mechanism for so long.

 

The two ended up in a tangled ball yet again over their struggle. Shouto pinned Izuku to the mattress, the blanket draped over his lithe shoulders as he stared down upon his lover triumphantly. But the freckled young man took his cockiness to his own advantage, roguishly wiggling his eyebrows at him as his knee spiritedly brushed over the merman’s hidden flap. He gasped in surprise, Izuku laughing at his offset expression. Shouto topped down over him, one of his hands accidentally slipping into the young man’s pocket of his sweatpants as he tried to cushion his fall. However, the two fell silent as the merman’s middle finger brushed over the edge of a sharp object. Izuku’s eyes grew wide, his breath hitching as he witnessed his bonded pulled out the small scale. His narrow, mismatched eyes quietly observed it, and his thumb gracing over its edge as he held it between his middle and index fingers. Izuku turned his head away in embarrassment, though he quickly felt Shouto’s eyes upon him.

 

“When did you…?”

 

“It was the day they took you away. I tried to reach out for you, but it was all I could grasp onto. I know I probably shouldn’t have kept it…it’s weird, isn’t it? But it…it was all I had left…”

 

His voice grew unsteady, and the rest of his words petered out in his throat. A moment of stillness passed between them before Izuku felt the chill of Shouto’s fingertips ever so gently pulling his head back to face his lover’s. The soft, delicate look in his heterochromatic gaze pierced through Izuku’s heart as it skipped a beat. The merman took his deformed hand into both of his, handing the scale back and tucking it away as he wrapped the shifter’s fingers around it. He leaned forward, offering Izuku a gentle kiss.

 

“I wish I could have done the same,” he finally offered in an amorous whisper. He laid down beside the boy, the corner of the blanket tickling Izuku’s ankles. He could feel a warmth, oddly welcome, in his cheeks as he watched him, offering a coy smile.

 

“The next time I transform, I’ll save one for you.”

 

“I’d like that very much.”

 

Another several minutes of quiet stretched on between them. But there was too much pressing on Izuku’s mind, even in these early hours, for him to possibly sleep. The way Shouto’s chest moved steadily up and down had tricked him. But in time, through closed eyes, his head turned on the side and his breath fluttered against Izuku’s nose as he spoke.

 

“Are you awake?”

 

Izuku opened his eyelids, squirming slightly at the sensation.

 

“Yeah. You?”

 

“I’m talking to you, aren’t I?”

 

Izuku let out a gentle snort, playfully elbowing the merman’s arm. He popped a cyan eye open and stared back at him, unable to hide the amused smile on his lips. It quickly faded, however, as he noticed the grave expression that had swiftly overtaken the freckled young man’s features. He leaned closer, brushing back the curly bangs obscuring his eyes from him.

 

“What is it?”

 

Izuku bit down on his lower lip, contemplating wordlessly for a moment before looking up at his bonded before him. Right. No more secrets between them.

 

“Do you want to talk about it, maybe?”

 

Shouto watched him enquiringly, the tips of his frigid fingers drifting down the back of his ear.

 

“I mean, about everything that’s happen the last few years- to both of us.”

 

“Oh.”

 

The merman’s hand trickled over Izuku’s shoulder, rolling onto his side to face the boy fully.

 

“You’ve been thinking about it, too?” Izuku asked.

 

“Yeah.”

 

And so, in the rare privacy of the early morning they shared, the two young men finally opened themselves and their pasts to one another. Izuku explained it all; why he’d chosen to work with the facility, living with Mr. Toshinori, Ochaco, and the other shifter that Shouto had briefly met that evening. He talked about meeting her, watching Shouto’s eyes come alive with hope- the likes of which he’d yet seen- when he explained her story and the situation in America to him. He passed on the apology he’d promised his mother he’d give to him if they should ever meet again. And he told Shouto of how he’d been working with the other merfolk to learn their language and improve the situation in the facility for them the best that he could.

 

Shouto was just as notably transparent with him, as well. Izuku listened in amazed disbelief as he recounted his journey around the kingdoms before turning himself in to the Southlands and presenting himself to their Queen. He was blown away by his sheer bravery- how over time, he’d won the Queen’s trust, and helped her fight back against his father’s armies. He quietly listened to the harrowing tale of those final days of the war- how on the night of her reunion with her long-lost daughter, they’d been forced to flee by order of the Queen, and her last orders unto Shouto. He continued, recounting the months they’d spent wandering just above the surface, trying to reach the human world for help.

 

But, there was something peculiar in his recollection of the Queen’s final wishes, a curiosity that Izuku could not shake as he wrapped a finger over his chin in contemplation. He must have been muttering aloud again, for Shouto unexpectedly paused, blinking back at his lover worriedly.

 

“Izuku, is everything alright?”

 

The shifter bit down on his tongue as his conscious collided with reality, glancing up at the merman. He furrowed his brows, attempting to put it all together into words.

 

“You mentioned something…about finding the heir to the Northlands, right?”

 

Shouto nodded. “Yes. The Queen had received a rumor that he’d somehow made it here to the human world. She’d tasked us with retrieving him in the event that an agreement with humanity could not be reached; she’d hoped we’d escort him to retake his homeland.”

 

“About that. You mentioned something else to me once. About only the royal family having abilities, right? That’s why both you, Yaoyorozu, and the children have that anomaly in your DNA readings.”

 

Shouto watched the young man through tapering eyes as he propped himself up by his elbow.

 

“Technically, yes.”

 

The freckled shifter blinked, glancing up at the merman. “Technically?”

 

“A few times as a child, I was told tales of the Forsaken. They were said to be mystical beings with powers such as us, hidden away in the watery depths of the far North. But honestly, I think they were just tall tales- scary stories told to children before bed so they wouldn’t misbehave. After all, when my father devastated the Northlands, they never found or spoke of anything of the sort.”

 

He glanced back at his bonded beside him, dragging himself out of his nostalgia. “My apologies, I went off track.”

 

“No! No, you’re fine,” Izuku reassured, tucking himself in a little closer to the merman. He still enjoyed listening to Shouto’s childhood, no matter how relevant it was in the present. “Shouto, can I ask you something else?”

 

“Of course.”

 

“There…there’s a merman we’ve been keeping in the rehabilitation wing for a year or so, now. His DNA- it has an anomaly, just like yours. He has a power that causes his body to grow jagged and his hair and tail turn black as night. Like camouflage. Is there a chance that he could be…?”

 

Izuku watched as the merman’s eyes fully open, his jaw slightly ajar. That in of itself was the very answer he’d been searching for. But still, the young man continued to elaborate; it would be best to tell him all of what little he’d learned.

 

“It’s not just that. He had these strange scars down the length of his tail, and large holes in his fins. Like he’s been burned or something. Honestly, they’re so bad that I’m not sure he’ll ever be able to be released back into the ocean. Not without some sort of prosthetic.”

 

Shouto’s breath caught in his throat.

 

“He said something about ‘no longer being royalty.’ It…it seemed like a rather sore topic for him. I think I shook him up pretty badly because of it. But maybe, if you were to talk to him…”

 

“His name.”

 

Izuku paused. There merman’s eyes were incisive- pleading, even.  “Did he give you his name?”

 

“Yeah. Eijirou Kirishima.”

 

Shouto let out a winded exhale, collapsing back on the cot as he held a palm to his forehead. “So, it was really true. Is there any way I could speak to him?”

 

“Yeah, I suppose. I’ll talk to Sirius in the morning about it.” Izuku glanced back at the monitor screen, catching the time out of the corner of his eye. “Well, later morning.”

 

The young man glanced away, tucking himself back in as the dejection in Kirishima’s eyes returned to his memory. Perhaps speaking to Shouto would finally sway him. But the resolve in the prince beside him was not so eager and present in the alpha. To ask him to return to the ocean?

 

The answer he would most likely give them made Izuku’s stomach churn uneasily.

 

 


 

 

The mermaid watched in solemn silence as the princess shook in horror, witnessing the wilted form of the Queen bleeding out, wefts of rusty crimson floating into the water above. Her breaths shuttered, eyes bloodshot as she noticed her younger brother’s hand over her shoulder. It had happened so quickly, it was understandable that none of them had been granted the time to process it all. Not until the monstrous woman had departed for a while with the hooded leader beside her.

 

Regrettably, she’d come back alone.

 

The pink skinned Forsaken had been left to guard the family until her leaders’ return, the rest of their numbers waiting in the caverns far below. Her heart twisted, her mouth clasped shut by her hand as she pleaded with herself to stay put together. But this was wrong; the way her heartstrings contorted and her mind raged, she knew that much. It was just as wrong as the day she watched the merman smolder away her King and Queen, wrong as the night she’d watched her young, newly orphaned friend cry out, cornered and terrified in the ashen palace halls as the foreign prince had the gall to brutalize a small, innocent child. She hadn’t regretted helping the boy escape the moment the dark prince’s back had turned; she only despised herself for not running away with him. Thankfully, Dabi had been careless, assuming him good as dead. A few had spread rumors of his escape- some even claiming him to be as far away as the human world. But it was all dismissed and laughed at by their people.

 

They all believed that the royals were scum- cruel, power hungry tyrants- save the sole kindness and empathy of the abandoned prince they’d taken to so blindly. He understood them; he wouldn’t force them to be locked away from the light like the King and Queen had. No, to them, he considered himself an equal. But the mermaid knew the truth: they were all blindsided in their desperation for freedom. She could see it now, in the terrified eyes of the family quivering in fear behind her. The only monsters amongst the royals were the King of this wretched empire tossed in the cell across from them, and the dark prince her people were so disillusioned with far above. For what monster would hurt or lock their own kin away so cruelly?

 

“What’s the matter, Ashido? Something on your mind?”

 

The merwoman stepped out of her daze as the disheveled mermaid beside her danced giddily, eyeing her excitedly as she wiped away the splatter of blood on her chin with her forearm. Ashido looked away, wincing as she nonchalantly licked it off her arm with her pointed tongue. But her attention was all too quickly brought back as the blonde latched onto her shoulder, tugging on it as she bobbed in the water eagerly.

 

“Oh, come on! You can tell me! It can be a little secret between us girls- isn’t that exciting?!”

 

Out of the corner of the alpha’s eye, she caught the sight of the Eastern Reef’s Queen observing her- far more calmly than her children. The look in her eyes was strangely empathetic, as if she could read Ashido like a whale hide scroll. Could she see it too, then?

 

Somehow, some way, she needed to find the means by which to free them. Even if it was in exchange for her own life.

 

 


 

 

The dark prince swam down the crusted corridors, laden in seaweed and barnacles grown in the wake their misuse over the years as the blue embers of his tail lit the way. He tried not to dwell over how he could somehow still hear Toga rambling on so far above him. If the pitch of her voice wasn’t already annoying enough, it carried fantastically. But at the very least, the tone of it gave him reassurance that she’d followed his orders for the time being, Ashido was most likely keeping her at bay; she hadn’t laid a fin on his mother or siblings yet.

 

It was soon after that he finally found what he’d been searching for- the deepest cell in the dungeon, tucked away from the cavern system below. He let out a relieved sigh as he caught sight of him- the frail man in his late thirties or early forties, trembling in a huddle in back corner of his small cage.

 

Good. The King had kept him alive, after all.

 

Dabi had to hand it to his father- he truly had a twisted sort of empathy to him, hadn’t he? For all the power-lust pent up inside him, the man had quite the remarkable aversion toward dirtying his own hands. He’d typically left the blood and extinguished souls of his adversaries to his generals and soldiers, preferring to lock up his problems when they fell on his hands. Though, the dark prince pondered as he watched the battered man’s form shivering before him, perhaps that made the King the cruelest of them all.  How long had he been kept here? Sixteen, maybe seventeen years now?

 

A crackle echoed through the cavern as he burned away the bars of his cell. The condemned man gasped, his wide, black eyes briefly flickering up from the shielding of his arms.

 

“Please! Don’t come any closer- I beg of you!”

 

Dabi paused, calmly raising his hands up, the flames dying away to embers with which to light the room by as he offered the merman an empathetic look.

 

“I mean no harm- I promise.”

 

The man’s wide, sunken eyes darted around the room in a frenzy at the dying flames, recognizing his status in an instant.

 

“W-what do you people want f-from me!? If you want to end me, j-just do it!”

 

The dark prince silently knelt on his tail before the prisoner, shaking his head. The man whimpered, covering his head once more as his fingers tore through a bob of curly, black hair.

 

“Hisashi, was it?”

 

The man suddenly stilled as the prince uttered his long-stolen name, caught off-guard by such sympathy in his tone.

 

“That’s the name my father tried to take from you, before calling you ‘The Human Sleeper,’ right? Don’t worry, I don’t intend on referring to you with something so tasteless. To strip an innocent man of his own name, to treat you so despicably. It’s reasons like this I had to overthrow him. To see good people such as you suffer, it makes me sick, Hisashi.”

 

The man- slowly and tentatively- lowered his emaciated arms, watching the prince carefully. “Y-you deposed him?”

 

Dabi’s skin cracked as he gave him a tender grin. “Yes. He’ll never hurt you again- I promise. You are free, my friend.”

 

The prisoner’s eyes shook and reddened, pockets of air fluttering into the water from his lips and hips in disbelief at the words he’d never dreamt of hearing.

 

“You have a wife back on the surface- and a son, right?”

 

The man nodded desperately, his body suddenly uncurled to the merman before him.

 

“Yes! Please. Please- I need to see them. I don’t know how many years it’s been. Are they safe? I need to know they’re alright!”

 

“Calm down, calm down,” Dabi reassured, waving his hands at the man. “I won’t stop you if you’d like to swim to them now.”

 

The man bawled, unable to contain his joy. “Thank you, thank you! I can never thank you enough for this gift, my prince. If there’s anything-

 

“But, I must warn you-”

 

The freed merman stilled as he caught the grim expression upon the merman’s face.

 

“I have only just overthrown my father. The rest of the kingdom doesn’t even know we’re here, yet. I’d be happy to let you go free, my friend- and I’ll do so, at your command. But please be careful. If the people see you, you may be treated as an enemy. To make matters worse, it would be tragic to see you die from exhaustion on the trip back to find your family; my father has neglected you so horribly all this time.”

 

The merman’s eyes fell away in wordlessly in dejection.

 

“But, let me offer you this: take refuge in the palace. Let your body recover in our softest sponge and coral beds, and grow strong once more. Whatever you desire, only tell me, and I will be happy to offer it to you. My family has done so much against yours, it’s the least I can give. And don’t worry- you will always be welcome to leave, whenever you are ready. But, if you do stay by my side, and help me convince the kingdoms to our side, then I have another proposal. Imagine a world where you could freely travel with your wife and son. A place where you can bring him here- he could learn and live both on the land and the sea. Wherever his heart and your heart desired. You would never- ever- have to hide in fear or shame again.  That is the world I am trying to build.”

 

Hisashi watched the prince in disbelief. “You…you would let us do that? But my son, he’s half human. You’d accept that?”

 

Dabi nodded, outstretching his arms as he revealed the length of his blemished body to the man.

 

“You aren’t the only person my father has scarred and left to rot. The Forsaken, you, and me- for too long we’ve all been treated like disgraces for simply existing. And I’m fed up. I’m building a place where no one has to live in shame for who they are. We can all be free, and swim wherever we please.”

 

He leaned forward, offering a scarred hand to the redeemed merman before him.

 

“Hisashi, will you help me create that world? So that you- and your family- can at last live free?”

 

The thin man wiped his eyes as he finally composed himself, pushing his tail against the floor and rising tall to meet the dark prince. He extended his arm, shaking the younger merman’s hand with an unwavering glint in his worn eyes.

 

“I will do whatever you need of me, your highness. For the sake of Izuku and Inko, your wish is my command.”

 

Dabi smiled, widely enough that his skin beneath the stitches on his cheeks began to crack, blood wafting and diluting into the water.

 

“Perfect.”