Part I: Beginnings
the first time johnny found the secluded corner at the far end of the shore where a big boulder separates the main beach from the small, hidden space just big enough for two people to lay on was when he had just turned twelve, upset and in tears, promising the world and himself that he would never, ever let his father make him cry again.
it wasn’t the first time but he was determined to make it the last. he had stared into the water and the rolls of waves that crashed at his feet and repeated a mantra in his head that the next time his father, or anyone, leaves him, he would not cry. no, he would not let it pain him.
he was a pretty strong boy, he'd thought. he was tall for his age and just a little bigger than his friends and no one had ever dared to give him a hard time in school. so he told himself he shouldn't cry. he should never cry. he was strong and big and he cannot cry.
but when his mother was taken from him, johnny cried anyway.
johnny loves the water. most times he lets himself relate to it, to the calm waves and then the storm, much like the emotions brewing inside of him; tamed, boxed away, suppressed so deep sometimes he forgets they were real. the water helps. it calms him, reminds him that he isn't alone, that even the ocean carries so much weight, so many thoughts, that it shakes up the water so badly it could ruin cities.
sometimes johnny would swim for hours, so long his fingers turn pruny and numb and even though he would get out of the waters shivering, he would be at peace. it is quite unexplainable if he tries to put it into words so he doesn't, lets it be. the water always helps.
sometimes, just sometimes, johnny wants to be lost in it.
it calls to him, really; like he'd made a friend with the sea and sometimes he thinks he can dive in and be able to breathe. he'd tried it, some normal summer days when he isn't out with friends. he'd tried to hold his breath but he always, always comes back up for air. he decided after a couple of tries that they may be friends, but the sea and the ocean and the lake are not his home. it does, however, feel like one.
it would always feel like home.
johnny isn't always in his thoughts and when he isn't at his favorite spot on the sand, he is with his friends. while growing up without his parents had been a challenge, he is eternally grateful for the friends that had made it all easier. there is doyoung, who he'd met in high school within the same group of people he'd hung out with back then. doyoung is younger by a year and he has been best friends with jaehyun since they were much younger. naturally, the two became johnny's best friends.
there is also yuta, who had been the new student that joined in the middle of their second semester of senior year, having moved from japan and just slightly outcast for simply being new and not fluent with their language. johnny shared the same class with him and had been the one to bring him into the group. yuta had blended in easily and the boys loved him.
taeil was the first to leave, being a year older and by the time johnny got into college, taeil had moved out of the country. soul searching, he'd called it. every year he comes home for a month and tells johnny, doyoung, jaehyun and yuta about the places he'd been to, places from all around the world. he'd bring them odd souvenirs, like the creepy figurine he gifted jaehyun or the wind chime johnny got the first time taeil came back to korea after he graduated. he still has it hung above his bed, tinkling the prettiest sounds when the wind blows. it kind of reminds him of the waters and johnny wonders if that was why taeil bought it for him.
truthfully, johnny wants to be like taeil. he wants to see the world and swim the different lakes and seas just so he could feel the difference of the atmosphere, so he could remember the waters that lapped up at his feet whenever he lays on his back in that little cave back home. he knows nothing would be as good but still, johnny wants to see.
"there's no way that you haven't met one girl that you must have at least had a crush on in your travels, hyung," jaehyun is saying, stripping himself off his clothes and shoes much like the rest are doing, his expression something johnny is familiar with. there's no changing jaehyun's mind when he's set on something.
taeil is home for the summer and like an annual event, the five of them gather at the very spot that they claimed as their own from when they were much, much younger. oddly enough, nobody really goes there besides them but johnny is okay with that. there stands a large tree johnny doesn't know the name of and it had always been there for as long as he'd known the little area. beside them, the waters of the lake are almost so clear they could see what swims underneath.
most of the time, they would swim. sometimes they get drunk and fall asleep under the tree, sometimes jaehyun cries and they would make themselves a cocoon to wrap him in. they were family. they would always be family. and that is why taeil always comes home.
"or a boy," yuta contributes, a cheeky smile on his lips as he kicks off his pants, left only in his shorts just before he jumps into the water with a laugh. johnny thinks if anyone deserves to see the world like taeil, it would be yuta.
taeil merely scoffs and he doesn't bother removing his shirt, just his pair of jeans, as he joins yuta into the lake. "you guys know i would tell you about a girl or a boy if there was one. there simply isn't. i'm pretty content just going around and learning."
"okay but doyoung has something to tell you, though," johnny finally speaks up, quick to flee from the younger male when he bends down to grab a handful of tiny stones to throw at johnny, clearly annoyed. johnny laughs, dipping himself into the water as he speaks again. "doyoung is in love !"
"johnny suh, i swear to all that is holy, you will not survive my wrath!" doyoung cries out but his cheeks and the tips of his ears are pink and johnny knows he's at least half right.
it's been all he does for the last couple of weeks. teasing doyoung is fun but only because he gets irritated so quickly. yuta joins him most of the time and jaehyun's silent giggles only meant that he agrees. he just doesn't contribute because doyoung looks to him for some form of defense. jaehyun isn't laughing now, though, but there's a faint smile curled at his lips.
"do tell, i've missed out on so much," taeil finally says after he stops laughing, offering mercy to the poor, blushing boy. "who is this boy?"
"it's nobody," doyoung lies, sitting by the edge of the lake with his feet dipped into the water. he was never the biggest fan of swimming. johnny wonders what that feels like. "i'm not in love with anyone."
doyoung is a terrible liar. johnny could see right through him. in fact, anyone of them could so most of the time, doyoung doesn't bother lying. now, though, the lie is blatant and so unbelievable judging by the way he doesn't meet their eyes and instead focuses on the water. doyoung's never been in love before.
"his name is jungwoo," yuta says with a snicker, swimming a safe distance from doyoung to spare himself from quite a possibly hard smack. "some kid from his class he's been talking to for awhile. funny little dude so we like him."
taeil is amused, looking from yuta to doyoung with a raised brow. "is he new? i didn't hear this name last year."
doyoung opens his mouth to speak but johnny's already tuning them out, smiling still but not really in the mood to listen to the younger talk about jungwoo, though only because he's heard it a million times. yuta says johnny's just jealous because he's never had a girlfriend before. and it isn't that he couldn't, johnny knows he could. he just hasn't really been interested.
their sexualities aren't a big issue within the group and the comfort they share makes it easy to be open. doyoung came out as gay way back in high school, prompting jaehyun to come out as bisexual soon after. taeil, johnny and yuta aren't labeled and the other two boys don't question it. it's easy, really. being with the boys is easy. and johnny's just a little afraid of change.
the straying of his thoughts lead him to float over to jaehyun, who seems to have drifted away from the conversation as well. he wears an unreadable expression, almost as if he isn't present in the moment and johnny doesn't want to disrupt his peace but he does worry about the younger sometimes.
"penny for your thoughts?" he asks, playful as he nudges at the boy's arm.
somewhere in the back, doyoung is yelling at yuta. jaehyun offers a smile when he looks over at their group of friends but he still looks solemn as he speaks. "just thinking. about a lot. but mostly just why and how jungwoo got so lucky."
it should come as a surprise but johnny finds that it isn't exactly surprising. they'd joked back then that doyoung and jaehyun would end up together from how close the two have always been. he just didn't know for certain that jaehyun had real feelings for the older boy. this only confirms it.
"listen," johnny starts, a cheeky smile on his lips. "jungwoo got lucky, sure. but whoever's not loved by you surely isn't lucky. i know i'm not."
jaehyun smiles at that, deep dimples and all, and johnny knows it's working. the younger splashes water at him, the two of them laughing. "stop flirting with me!"
"i'm not flirting!" johnny counters, shielding himself from the water jaehyun's splashing at him, laughing. "i'm not capable of flirting, you should know that."
"that's not true," jaehyun says but there's a smile on his face and johnny thinks he had at least helped a little bit. "you flirt all the time. no one's been interesting enough to you yet for you to make a move."
johnny makes a face at that, glancing over to where yuta is floating on the water and doyoung and taeil are talking quietly. he smiles, turning back to look at jaehyun, whose pretty smile still lingers on his mouth. in another life, johnny thinks they might even kiss. but not in this one. "maybe someday."
it's not that johnny likes jaehyun that way, even though there's no harm for that to be possible and at certain points in their friendship, he did think he might have had at least a tiny little crush on the youngest of the group. he had only realized it was simply just him appreciating the younger's presence and beauty when they hung out on jaehyun's rooftop, all those years ago, looking up at the stars and he'd almost made a grave mistake by confessing to jaehyun. it took him the two seconds pause before he spilled his guts for him to realize that it just didn't feel right.
still, it doesn't stop him from flirting with the boy from time to time. jaehyun finds it funny.
"and maybe someday," jaehyun continues then, a sigh spilling past his lips just before he hops onto johnny's back, straddling his shoulders so johnny had to carry him. "someday, i'll find someone who looks at me and think i'm the one ."
with that, jaehyun dunks him into the water and johnny could barely hear the outburst of laughter coming from yuta, doyoung and taeil. he gasps once he comes up the surface, grinning but going after jaehyun who's already struggling to get away.
being with the boys is this; laughing and playing and talking about everything and nothing. it's easy. and johnny doesn't want it to change.
taeil left a little sooner than they would like, three weeks after he'd come home. it upset doyoung because he had always looked forward to time with taeil a little more than the rest so after they sent off taeil at the airport, they don't see doyoung for a couple of days. jaehyun busies himself with reading up for his classes even though it's summer and yuta found himself a part time job at a local diner, doing mainly night shifts.
that leaves johnny on his own but he doesn't mind it. he's in his last year of college, same as yuta, and he'd been lucky that they got accepted into the same university. they weren't so lucky with the rooming system, however, so johnny had been rooming with a senior who graduated in his second year and then a freshman whose side of the room is cleaner, compared to johnny's. he is a good kid, though, that kun. they get along pretty well, which led to johnny's failure to appeal for jaehyun to be able to room with him instead the following year. the younger didn't mind it.
the only one who didn't get into the same university was doyoung so when summer is over, he would be leaving for his dorm room about three hours ride from here. it was a bummer at first but they got over it pretty quickly, especially since johnny drives and would sometimes bring yuta and jaehyun to see doyoung. they do come back home every summer, after all.
johnny graduates next year, though, and that’s another change he would have to face.
he sighs, staring into the horizon as tiny waves roll at his feet. he finds himself at his favorite, secret spot whenever he’s alone and he’d been coming here every day since taeil left. he is, like most times, free of thoughts. he doesn’t think of the past or the future, not even the present. he simply watches the water and listens to the waves. it’s his happy place and while he doesn’t mind sharing it with his friends, johnny’s glad he gets this space all to himself, where the only thing that would bother him is the little crabs that get washed ashore and started trying to snip at his toe as if marking its territory. he’s not even sure that’s normal behavior.
today is a good day, however. he hasn’t seen a single crab trying to get him to leave. the sun would set soon, illuminating the sky with a tinge of orange as it gradually grew darker. he has no plans on leaving soon, especially considering the fact that he would be going home to an empty house. the waves are calm, gently creeping up to shore but soon leaving again. he’s far off from where most people are so he doesn’t hear them from where he sits and maybe that is the reason why he hears it so clearly.
the splash of water is too prominent for it to be a playful fish leaping out like johnny often sees so he raises his head to see if there was anyone coming too close. the area is sparse and he’s alone. he frowns, getting up onto his knees for a better look. for a moment, it’s silent safe for the soft crashing of the waves and then he hears it again and this time he catches sight of something coming up the surface of the water and back into it, splashing on its way down. it’s too dark for him to have seen what exactly it was but not too dark for him to know that it was not a small creature.
johnny panics a little bit, wondering what kind of big fishes would be this close to shore and thinks about what he would have to do if it does get washed ashore and he’s supposed to help it back inside. he wonders if it’s a shark. he’d never seen a shark this close. still, he keeps an eye on the water, squinting so he could see better and he swears there was a glint of something shiny, gone too soon. then there is silence, long enough for johnny to know that whatever it was, it’s gone.
he sighs then, sitting back and telling himself that it must have been a fish or something belonging to the sea. another ten minutes go by and he gets up to leave, grabbing his slippers and phone and standing onto his feet to start the dreadful walk back home. johnny’s tall, taller than most, and it’s always been a feature that he likes. he’d like to think that being tall helps him now too, when his eyes caught a glimpse of someone in the water. no, not something, certainly not a fish, but someone .
johnny blinks. he squints harder just to make sure. it isn’t a rare sighting, of course not. people swim and some might even get far out here but what is odd to him isn’t the fact that someone is swimming at this time of night, it’s the fact that the person seems to be staring right at him. johnny looks around to see if there is anyone else around, to see if the person in the water is looking at someone else that isn’t him. but he’s alone and when he looks over once again, the person is gone. what replaces their head was a glimmer of a tail, so quick, so fast it happened in a blur. a quick splash later and it was gone. johnny is alone again.
he’s quick on his feet, going into the water as if he could catch another sighting but whoever it was is long gone and johnny swears on his life that he had seen a human head looking at him and then a fish tail that disappears into the black water. his mind refuses to believe what he saw but johnny isn’t drunk or seeing things. he’s pretty sure he had seen something .
instead of fear, however, johnny feels a smile stretch at his lips.
in total, there are five tabs opened on his browser and each one of them has something to do with mermaids. the thing about the internet is that, most of the stories he reads are total bullshit and the most annoying thing he’s had to come across was the repetitive pictures of ariel , the little mermaid from disney. he knows, like, he knows that mermaids aren’t real. he’s not crazy and he should be glad that none of these stories of sightings make any sense but somehow disappointment sits heavy on his chest.
he’s not crazy but he also wasn’t drinking. he knows what he’d seen.
some of the reported sightings he found on the internet spoke of sailors at sea, hearing women with tails singing the most beautiful songs with the most beautiful voices. none of them had been men with fishtails, so that makes his assumption that much harder to believe. he is pretty certain that it had been a boy, if the short hair he’d seen was anything to go by. still, he tries not to put it into a specific gender.
he makes notes, scribbling anything he finds on the internet onto his notebook, descriptions and traits and the things it's rumored to do. for that whole week, johnny goes back to the little cave, hoping to get another glance but every night he goes home disappointed.
a week after the incident, however, yuta calls to meet up with the group and johnny gives up. he closes the tabs in his browser and tosses his notebook into his drawer, abandons his crazy searches and decides he must have been imagining things. there is no need for it to become an obsession and he simply needs to let it all go.
“i am deeply offended that all of you decided to let me bury myself in my books for two weeks straight,” jaehyun scoffs, downing an entire glass of peach tea that he’d sipped down to half even before their food had arrived.
doyoung had picked the burger joint since yuta had been adamant about letting them hang out at the one he works in, saying something about being tired of the people there. johnny understands so he doesn’t push, even though he kind of wants to see what kind of colleagues yuta has. he feels a little bad that he hadn’t checked up on any of them for the past week but he blames that on the fact that he had been busy researching mythical creatures that most certainly do not exist.
“i need a drink,” yuta says, ignoring jaehyun. “like, a hard one because fuck, this has been a week, dude. it’s like i need a hardcore party but i’m too exhausted to go to one, you know? i’m fucking old and i need a proper fucking job.”
jaehyun and doyoung are silent, meaning they would stay silent unless johnny says something. he’s not in a position to say no, seeing as he’s the oldest of them all when taeil isn’t around. pursing his lips, johnny claps yuta on the back and squeezes his shoulder. “you know we’re here for you, right?”
yuta nods but his eyes hold a faraway look that worries even johnny. doyoung and jaehyun share a look but before johnny could say anything else, yuta is calling a waiter over, asking for another glass of beer because that’s really all they could have here. as he drinks, the other three are quiet and johnny watches as jaehyun picks up a fry and pops it into his mouth. he knows they wish taeil was here because doyoung and jaehyun never knows what to say and johnny is terrible at this. he knows to tease and to crack a joke, never what to say to a friend who is struggling.
after a moment of silence and occasional updates about how things have been for each of them, they fall into a comfortable quietness once again as doyoung finishes his meal and jaehyun pushes his plate away, unfinished. yuta doesn’t eat and on his third glass of beer and johnny wishes he’d driven his car to meet them and not opted to walk since the diner is so close to home. after the last swig of his drink, johnny sees yuta's eyes swell with tears and he could almost hear doyoung’s and jaehyun’s panic.
“i think i’ll just head home,” yuta says finally, furiously wiping at his eyes with the sleeves of his shirt. he isn’t lightweight so it doesn’t surprise johnny that yuta is still pretty sober. they don’t say anything as he gets up, sways a little, before he leaves. jaehyun gets up then, signalling silently to doyoung and johnny that he would see to it that yuta gets home safe. their houses are the closest after all.
see, this is what johnny isn’t a fan of. not the fact that his friends are more emotional and open about their emotions, but that he doesn’t ever know what to do to make them feel better. each time he fails to, even though he knows it’s not his fault, johnny feels like a failure. like right now, grim with the reminder that he is basically useless, even doyoung could feel the tension. doyoung, however, is better at this than he is.
“hyung, go ahead and get some sleep, yeah? dinner’s on me tonight. plus, i really need to hit the store to get some stuff for the kitchen. mom’s been naggy about us not doing chores,” he snickers and johnny appreciates it, but still he slips a fifty into doyoung’s hand.
the walk home feels awfully long.
johnny had sent a couple texts to yuta to remind him that his phone is always by him if he ever needs to talk followed by a few links to videos of dogs he knows yuta smiles at whenever he’s upset. it makes him feel a little better when yuta sends him a voice note instead of a typed reply, telling him thank you and sorry for ruining the night. johnny tells him that the night wasn’t ruined and that it was okay.
he walks along the road by the beach, enjoying the breeze and the faint sounds of the waves rolling onto shore. he wishes he could swim but it’s growing late and he doesn’t want to end up expecting a mythical creature to show up. god, he thinks he’d gone a little overboard with his researches. he wants to laugh but if he does, he might look the part. with a shake of his head and a sigh, johnny stops for a second and stares out at the sea. it’s dark and he couldn’t see anything except for a couple of people laying on the sand and for a second, he stays rooted in place and enjoys the cool breeze.
then he hears it; the faintest, smoothest hum. he strains his ears to listen better, frowning because it calls to him, almost like it was sung for only johnny to hear. there are no cars passing so the humming grows louder, clearer. it echoes, faint but clear, multiple voices that blend in together to make one song. he doesn’t quite know how to explain it, how it sounds like he was in a cave or a closed enclosure for the voices to echo. beautiful but eerie at the same time. it calls so johnny follows.
he doesn’t feel the sand under his feet when he steps into it. he doesn’t feel anything, only follows. the song grows louder, the melody sinking deep into his skin, into his memory, calling him in and johnny follows. his body doesn’t feel like his own. it’s cold against his skin and he knows there’s water lapping at his calves, his knees, soaking his jeans. the song plays at the back of his head, plays along the waters of the sea, dances on his skin. johnny’s body isn’t his own, his face isn’t his own, his hands don’t feel like his own. but johnny follows. he keeps following because it calls him.
he follows until there is nothing but blackness.
he wakes up to more singing. there are words this time, to a song he doesn’t quite recognize but it isn’t the humming he had heard before. it still echoes, haunting but suppressed, almost as if it doesn’t want to be heard. it all comes back to him in a wave and johnny sits up a little too fast, head spinning. he hisses as he cups the back of his head, feeling as though he’d fallen and hit something. his hair is damp, his clothes are damp and he looks around to see that he’s in the cave, the place so familiar to him that he recognizes it as soon as he sees the waves that wet the shore.
it takes him some time to collect himself and remember. he remembers hearing the call, he remembers walking into the water but nothing else after. his shoes are placed further into the cave as if to save it from getting washed away and inside it, he sees his phone. his natural reaction is to reach for it, trying to unlock the device and realizing that it’s dead before he cusses under his breath.
“you look for me,” a voice says, startling johnny so much that he jumps back, dropping his phone. he turns to find a boy half shielded behind the boulder, on the side where no one goes, not even johnny. he holds a mob of light hair, damp like his, glinting in the sun. it’s white and then blue and then purple. johnny thinks he might still be dreaming. the boy is smiling and from the way johnny could see the skin of his shoulders, he assumes he must be a local trying to get a nice swim.
it wasn’t a question, really, more like a statement, an observation. johnny frowns up at him because fuck, his skull is throbbing and he doesn’t even know why he isn’t home. “i’m sorry? do i know you?”
“no, you don’t know me. but you look for me,” the stranger points out, confusing johnny even more. he speaks with an accent, like he’d just learned the language, and his voice echoes, floats, like he’s singing. he tilts his head a little, like a puppy, mouth formed into a pout when johnny stays silent. “why do you look for me?”
johnny squeezes his eyes shut, long and hard, and he half expects the boy to disappear when he opens his eyes again. the water splashes and johnny opens his eyes, panicking when he couldn’t find the stranger at the spot he was perched at earlier. he scrambles up onto his feet, searching, cursing the fact that even his height couldn’t give him the privilege of being able to see beyond the boulder where the stranger was. he dares himself to step into the water, deeper in so he could see around the big boulder and he doesn’t get to until he is waist deep. nothing there but water.
but then a head breaks through the clear surface and johnny nearly falls back in surprise. what the fuck? what the actual fuck? he waits until he could see clearly and immediately recognizes the boy, the same stranger he was talking to earlier. he swims closer, a smile on his face and johnny dares himself to stay put and not flee. he’s close enough that johnny could see that his eyes are bright, quite literally so. it sparkles in shades of dark purple and blue, only obvious from the way the sun reflects upon the pair.
it’s only when he notices the slight tinge of pink on the stranger’s cheeks that he realizes how close they are so his instinct is to pull away but that seems to amuse the boy. he laughs and it sounds like a song and johnny is entranced. when he speaks again, he sounds almost shy. “name? do you have it?”
“johnny,” he finds himself saying without giving it a thought. “yours?”
“johnny,” the boy repeats but somehow it sounds better on his tongue and johnny wonders if his name sounded as good when his friends say it. the stranger hums, floating away and then dipping underwater. johnny expects him to reappear but what he sees shocks him to his core.
there’s no way. there’s literally no way that he had seen a tail instead of a pair of legs. he’s twenty-five years old, not five. imaginary things aren’t called imaginary friends when he’s at the age he is now. this time he does fall back into the water, struggling for a minute to find his bearings and just when he’s certain he’s going to pass out, he feels arms hooking under his own and pulls him up, up towards the shore. the tide is growing from the sounds of the waves crashing all around him. he’s soaking from head to toe and still he scrambles away and cowers against the wall of the shallow cave.
he rubs a hand over his face to wipe off the drips of water that shield his vision and when he could finally see clearly, johnny sees him . or it, he’s not too certain. the boy, stranger, mythical creature with a tail for a pair of feet, sits not too far from him, his tail positioned in a way that they’re almost folded beside him. he watches johnny with curious eyes, wet hair pushed back but for the first time, he’s silent. johnny takes it all in, studies his features and his body, all the way down to his tail. god, he has a fucking tail.
all the freakiness of the situation aside, however, johnny thinks he’s quite beautiful. his hair looks soft, platinum mostly, but glinting blues and dark purples when under the light. he’s awfully pale and his lashes are dark and thick, brushing against his cheeks whenever he blinks. his smile, while it's weird to see it smile, is sweet, holding a kind of innocence johnny has never seen on anyone. just below his navel, his skin fades into scales, the colors blending well together that it looks natural. his scales glisten, changing into dark purples under the light and blues when he shifts. it sways, like a cat’s, slow and gentle, swiping at the waters that wash ashore. johnny has never seen anything like it.
“i don’t have a name,” the boy says, his voice holding a kind of power that bleeds confidence but still a little wary, maybe scared of driving johnny away. “but my sisters call me taeyong. yong is dragon and i love dragons. sea dragons, not the ones that breathe fire. they’re mean.”
johnny stares, dumbfounded. dragons? sea dragons? is the boy, taeyong , saying that they exist too? when he stays silent, taeyong gets comfortable, even leaning forward and shifting so he's laying on his belly, held up by his elbows, a mischievous glint in his eyes. he eyes johnny and for a moment, the silence stretches. it stretches until taeyong flicks the tips of his tail, sending sprinkles of water right onto johnny, whose initial reaction is to flinch.
taeyong laughs then. he laughs like it was the funniest thing and johnny grows just a little angry. "what do you want from me?"
"why are you scared of me?" taeyong returns the question, getting up into his previous position, curious once again. "you saw me and you came again to look for me. why are you afraid?"
johnny hangs his head, laughter bubbling at his chest and he's laughing as he looks up at the boy. he's gone crazy. that or he's still asleep and dreaming because there is no way that he's here and talking to a fucking mermaid. he must be losing his goddamn mind.
taeyong smiles, noticing that johnny is laughing, his lips stretching into an outright beam and he tilts his head like he did before, waiting.
"i'm dreaming, aren't i?" johnny asks and he watches as taeyong's smile falters. "i must have passed out or something from last night and i'm dreaming of a mermaid who talks of dragons!"
" siren ," taeyong hisses, visibly offended at being referred to as a mermaid and while he still looks pretty, johnny knows by the look of his darkened eyes that he should not push it. "do i look like a maiden to you, johnny? you'd not see another day if you'd said it to my sisters."
oh, now he's being threatened. by a mermaid — or siren, whatever that he prefers to be called. johnny holds his tongue and closes his eyes, prays hard and true that he would wake up any minute now. it just isn't possible for all the bad things to happen to him at the same time. he's stranded, possibly saved from drowning, which explains why he had woken up with his clothes damp. his phone is dead and he's stuck here with a creature that may or may not want to eat him, if anything he'd read online is anything to go by.
taeyong seems to have heard something when he perks up, as if listening, before he's moving, disappearing into the water and for a moment, johnny wonders if that was it. he gets up as well and pockets his phone, carrying his shoes with a free hand. if he isn't dreaming then he could pretend that it had all been a wild, nonsensical nightmare and he's just about to step out of the shallow cave when he spots taeyong's head once again. he pauses for some reason and watches as the siren lifts a hand in a wave.
he turns to leave, he needs to. he needs to clear his head and think straight again. he knows there's no way that he could talk to his friends about it so that is not an option. just — fuck . fuck everything. johnny doesn't even know what the fuck is going on and his head is throbbing and just what the fuck ?
he whirls around quickly, finding taeyong at the boulder that separates the public and the little cave. he's smiling but his words are hopeful. "no one should know. it's not safe. for you, for me."
johnny stares at him for a long time but it was taeyong that turns and jumps into the water, his tail following a second after, just a brief sight before it disappears.
"i met the cutest fucking boy," is the first thing jaehyun says as the three pile into johnny's place. "like, cute cute . he has the biggest smile known to mankind."
being the only one who lives on his own in his old family home, johnny is used to having jaehyun, yuta and doyoung come over to hang out and stay the night. his aunt used to live here when his mother passed, having been a welcoming, kind legal guardian to him until he was of age. she lives with her son now, though, saying something about his mother putting his name under the house and insisting to go even though johnny said she could stay. it's empty except for summer and winter, when johnny has a break from college and comes home.
hearing jaehyun's excitement about meeting a boy brings him back to the day he'd spoken to taeyong. it still feels unreal, like a dream, and he hasn't gone back to his little cave ever since. he doesn't know the exact reason why himself but somehow he thinks if he happens to be caught in a conversation with the siren one more time, it would make it all too real.
"what do you mean 'met a boy'? have you been going out without us, jung jaehyun?" doyoung teases and johnny and yuta laugh, knowing how jaehyun despises going places without at least one of the boys with him.
jaehyun rolls his eyes. "i do go out of the house, you know? to get snacks because reading up on my classes make me stress eat."
"why are you reading so much, jae? it's summer. you're a freshman. next summer won't be as free for you." yuta reminds him and johnny has to agree, nodding his head as they make themselves comfortable on his couch.
see, the thing with jaehyun is that he's smart smart. he could be slacking a little and still score so well. the slacking, of course, had gotten him a mark that didn't please him and he hadn't let himself go off his study routine ever since.
"i'll manage," jaehyun mutters, quickly switching the topic back to the boy he met. "he was so cute. i mean, the way we met is a little embarrassing but god , i don't even care?"
"how'd you meet?" johnny asks, amused.
jaehyun's cheeks tinge with a faint pink and his dimples are prominent, his smile sweet. "i couldn't reach the upper shelf…"
johnny, yuta and doyoung explode in laughter and in turn successfully wipes off the smile on jaehyun's face. there's no real bite to it, of course. it's just funny. jaehyun isn't even that short so if johnny knows him at all, he might have purposely made it seem as though he couldn't reach it. jaehyun is bold and flirty and he gets what he wants and it honestly isn't news to johnny. well, except maybe doyoung. he'd been the only one jaehyun wanted and did not get.
"that's bullshit, jae. come on, come up with something else other than that. let me guess; the fool actually fell for it?" yuta snorts, looking irritated.
"whatever, it got his attention and i got his number and he's got mine. it's a win-win situation," jaehyun huffs, tearing open a packet of snack they'd brought along.
johnny goes into the kitchen then, a smile still playing at his lips as he grabs the cans of beer he has stocked up in his fridge for whenever the boys are around. he's not a fan of it himself, simply because he doesn't like the part where his head pounds when he wakes up and he doesn't get to do anything else because of it.
he's about to head back out front when he hears it, the faintest sound, almost like it's playing in his head. he pauses midstep, ears straining, fingers growing numb from the cold cans. then he hears it again and he whips his head around to look out the window in his kitchen, looking to see if there was someone pulling some kind of trick on him.
impossible, seeing as no one knows about the sirens he'd seen and the song that had called him into the sea the night before. but then there it is again, the same melodic voices blending together, a calling.
"johnny?" jaehyun calls out, bringing johnny back to the present and he clears his throat, trying his hardest to tune out the constant song playing in his head.
yuta looks at him with concern when he returns to the couch and sits himself down next to jaehyun. "alright?"
"yeah, i'm cool. just thought i heard something outside," johnny waves it off with a soft laugh.
luckily for him, the boys don't press the issue and jaehyun goes on about the boy he met, some yukhei from hong kong, whilst doyoung turns on the tv and picks a random movie for them to watch. he still hears it, like a memory replaying itself without his control, soft but strong voices stringing a hum at the back of his head. he tries to shake it off but fails. in the end, he grabs a beer and lets the alcohol sing in his system, anything but those voices.
he avoids the beach, even though his skin burns from the heat of the summer and screams at him to get a nice swim, reminds him that swimming makes him happy and at peace. he avoids the lake, the sea, afraid of the song that calls him, afraid he loses control over himself once again. he might have woken up safe the last time but johnny doesn't want to find out if he would still be safe if he lets it happen again.
the song is a constant now. it's in his sleep and his wake and he wants so badly to tell someone but he doesn't want to scare any of the boys. or worst, have them think he's losing it. it has been exactly two weeks since he had met taeyong and he hasn't gone back to see if the siren waits for him, if the siren was even real to begin with. but if he wasn't, what exactly is johnny hearing in his head?
it got to the point that it frustrates him, keeping him up at night. he dives back into his research, wishing that real life works like in the movies, where they'd find all the answers just by typing in the word that's been haunting them. all johnny gets is more pictures of ariel and reported sightings with no physical proof.
he thinks deeper, two and a half weeks after taeyong , at three in the morning and sitting in front of his laptop and notebook, the song a faint hum in his head. he thinks about the myths that talked about how these songs lure men into their traps, victims of their killings. if that was true, how is he still alive? if they were real and he had just gotten lucky, how many more men had died, had fallen victim to their songs?
and, the most pressing question of them all, why had taeyong spared him?
johnny sighs, blinking away the fatigue in his eyes and resting his head on his desk. he taps the back of his pen against the wooden surface in a nervous tick, leg bouncing rapidly as he thinks. it just doesn't make sense. everything has stopped making sense and johnny wants to scream. he considers, for just a second, leaving home and spending the rest of his summer in his dorm. maybe if he was far away, the voices would stop singing in his head.
leaning back against his chair, he places the pen aside and goes to type in his google search. 'has men who have heard the siren call survived?' reading it over sounds ridiculous but johnny presses enter anyway.
a list of searches pull up on the page but all they provided him with are the wikipedia page of what a siren is, excerpts from fictional books, some even veering towards religious matters. it only further proves that they aren't real beings. he wants to pretend that he had, in fact, been dreaming. taeyong could simply just be an illusion his brain came up with after that whole week looking up mermaids.
but even after he shuts down his laptop and clears out his desk, piling the notes up neatly, even after he washes up and gets ready for bed and laid on his mattress, staring up at the ceiling, johnny couldn't stop thinking about it. he lets the voices sing, louder and louder. they feel a little weaker, somehow, and johnny's glad he doesn't feel like he's slipping away from complete control. his conscience is clear.
it's almost five a.m. when he swings his legs off his bed and grabs his phone, padding down the steps and then out the door. the summer heat makes summer nights warmer so he doesn't feel the biting chill that usually pokes at his skin. if it was any other night in a different season, he would have had to grab a jacket to shield him from the cold. now, though, he's wearing his sleep pants and a thin one direction t-shirt yuta got him a few years ago as a joke.
he follows the singing voice, the song growing louder the closer he gets to the sea. he figures if the internet couldn't give him any answer, then someone else would. someone who is clearly the only person who would have the answers, even though he'd avoided ever seeing him again.
the heat, however, isn't strong enough to drown out the chilly breeze that the sea gives off and johnny shivers as soon as his feet touch the sand. he carries his slippers in his hand as he makes his way to the little cave. the tide is low, obvious from the gentle roll of waves that comes ashore. it's dark save for the moonlight and the lights coming off of faraway ships, too tiny for his eyes to see clearly. he doesn't find taeyong or anyone and there's a sense of defeat that hangs heavy on his shoulders.
he sits there, in his little cave, accompanied by only the sounds of the water. he doesn't realize the songs had stopped until just then, but he appreciates it. he wonders how is it that no one has ever found this little spot when it's so easy to find because in all of the ten years since he'd stumbled upon it, not once had johnny found anyone else in it. he thinks, for the first time in all the times he'd come here to let loose.
still, it is easy to let his racing thoughts dissipate, slowly trickling out of him and setting him free. he thinks listening to the waters help so he closes his eyes and lets himself rest. maybe he could even nap to make up for all the hours of sleep he'd lost.
he ignores the sprinkles of water that got onto his face, assuming that the waves had gotten a little stronger. except he couldn't hear the change in the current as he should if the waters are moving at a stronger pace and he opens his eyes to see.
"fuck!" johnny scrambles back in a natural response to finding taeyong there, on his belly like the other day, his lower half in the water. anger rises in his throat but he takes it and simply speaks to the creature. "you have to stop scaring me like that!"
taeyong laughs, dipping a little deeper into the water before he scoots up and shifts into a sitting position. "i haven't seen you for so long, johnny. you look for me?"
"it's only been two weeks," johnny murmurs. he lets himself relax and remembers that he'd come here at this ungodly hour to find taeyong for answers. he figures if taeyong wanted to eat him, he would have already been dead.
the siren hums, fingers toying with the sand beneath him. "time is slow in the water," he says, sounding almost sad. "it's faster up here. i like it, but i can't play when the sun is up. not every human is as kind as you."
it strikes johnny then that taeyong is as afraid of his kind as he is of taeyong's. it should have crossed his mind a lot sooner because it's obvious but somehow he didn't think of it until now. they're silent for a little while. johnny watches as taeyong turns gracefully, smoothly, like he is water himself. he lays on his back, his tail swiping left and right, the movement so soft and gentle. johnny takes this time to properly look at the siren, drinking in the features he'd missed out the first time he'd seen the creature.
he notices now that there is nothing human about taeyong. sure, he has the same features; eyes, nose, a mouth. his ears a little pointed at the tips, nose sharp and mouth full. in the middle of his forehead, there are purple markings, like a tattoo shaped like the head of king triton's trident pointed upwards ( he wasn't kidding about the little mermaid constantly coming up in his searches ) except instead of the ends being connected to each other, they're three different individual markings, narrowing at the ends but not meeting.
it's magnificent, johnny thinks. his eyes go lower and even though it's not the first time he's seen a male body, his cheeks still heat up at the sight of taeyong's nipples, two dusty pink pebbles decorating his chest and he notes the purpling veins that line along his ribs, along his arms. there are intricate patterns around some of his fingers, purple like the one on his forehead. he feels inappropriate so johnny quickly lets his gaze drift further down, not realizing that it didn't make it any better. he's too mesmerized to care, though, drinking in the view of taeyong's soft stomach, toned but not too prominent, down to his v-line that disappears where the scales begin.
his tail is something else entirely. under the moonlight, the dark purples he had seen before looked black, though they still glisten, slick with water. his pelvic fins are the same color as his scales, just a little thinner. his caudal fin is wide, wider than his hips. johnny knows the shape is called lunate only because he had paid close attention during his biology classes. its bony spines are highlighted in black lines and the skin joining them together are the dark purples of his scales. when he lifts them slightly, water drips from the thin layer, so thin it's translucent and johnny could see the blues that blend with the purples. they look like feathers instead of fins. he's truly beautiful.
"are you done drawing me in your head, johnny?" taeyong asks, snapping johnny back into focus and he clears his throat, cheeks burning from getting caught staring. taeyong is smiling at him and his movement is slow, alluring, inviting as he rolls onto his belly. johnny's eyes caught the presence of his dorsal fin in the purple and blue hues that are his colors. his eyes are hooded but in a way that makes him so, so beautiful. johnny feels the burning heat in his belly.
flustered, johnny looks away and ignores the way taeyong giggles, his tail splashing the water playfully. "you keep saying i look for you," johnny speaks up finally, looking back at the siren. "but i'm only here because i followed your call. so why did you call me?"
taeyong seems surprised, sitting up and scooting a little closer. "do you hear the songs?"
"yes. is that you?"
"do the voices stop? when you're here, do you hear them?"
johnny frowns and shakes his head. taeyong clearly knows something but johnny fears that if he pushes, the siren would flee. "i've been hearing them since the time you spoke to me. they're in my sleep and, like, faint when i'm awake. what is that? is it not you calling for me?"
"no, johnny," taeyong says. there's fear in his eyes but he's quick to mask it with a smile. "i don't call for you. i wait. if you see me, that's because i want you to."
"then what are they?" johnny questions, pushing aside the fact that he hadn't found taeyong, that it was taeyong who'd found him.
for a second, taeyong is silent. he looks away, far into the horizon and then johnny sees the slightly pointy ends of his ears perk up, listening. he watches as taeyong reaches around his neck and unclasps the string he wears as a necklace, one johnny didn't even realize he was wearing, holding a crystal clear teardrop pearl. he takes johnny's hand and places it onto his palm. it feels heavy but johnny doesn't look at it just yet, eyes on taeyong.
"wear this," taeyong explains. "you won't hear them as long as it's on you. and," he pauses, scooting even closer as he opens up the pearl pendant and johnny nearly jumps away if not for the firm grip taeyong has around his wrist. it's a clear, glass pearl containing swirls of purples and blues. how taeyong had opened it is a wonder but now above the opened pendant danced a water globe, shimmering and in it the same swirling colors sing, a different kind of hum. "if you look for me again, do this. i'll hear you. i'll come."
johnny's gaze flicks between the pearl in his hand and taeyong's pretty face. his mind is running a hundred miles an hour, so many questions to ask but feeling as though he's running out of time. he nods, however, and taeyong smiles before he closes johnny's hand around the pendant. taeyong turns around then but not before he flashes johnny another blinding smile.
"i hope to see you again, johnny," he says and with that, taeyong leaps into the water. he does it with an impossible grace, leaving johnny silent, dumbstruck.
this time, he goes home and he doesn't think it was a dream.
taeyong wasn't lying about the necklace. johnny had been wary at first but he'd slipped it over his head and almost immediately, the voices had stopped, like someone pressing the pause button and stopped playing a song. he doesn't take it off even in the shower now. he sleeps, finally, undisturbed and dreamless. some mornings he wakes up smiling.
the boys asked about the necklace, surprised because johnny rarely wears accessories but they'd bought his story of having found it washed up ashore. jaehyun didn't seem to believe it but he didn't ask. they don't seem to notice the swirling colors but johnny is starting to think he's the only one who could see them.
he doesn't let himself wonder about the songs that used to bother him because if anything, johnny is just glad that it had stopped. instead, johnny finds himself wanting to see taeyong again. try as he might, he fails to find reasons not to. the only thing keeping him from doing so is his friends, who had somehow roped him into going to a party he doesn't even want to go to.
"i just don't want to go alone, okay? i'm nervous but at the same time i don't want to not show up and miss a chance to spend some time with him," jaehyun mumbles, almost too low for anyone to hear but johnny merely scoffs, nudging the younger's shoulder with his own teasingly.
yuta has a red cup in his hand, sipping at the beer before he hums. "i'm not complaining but like, why aren't you guys dating already?"
doyoung scoffs, "jaehyun likes challenges, doesn't he? of course he'd want someone who already has a boyfriend. are we surprised though?"
"yukhei's not single?" johnny fakes a gasp, dramatic and sarcastic. "why am i not surprised?"
"you guys can fuck off," jaehyun rolls his eyes, nibbling at a marshmallow he'd stolen off the plate. "it's not like he's happy with the dude. and he's not cheating. i'm just saying when they do break up, i'm going to be right here."
sometimes it concerns johnny what kind of person jaehyun had become but he doesn't want to be a parent and it's not like jaehyun's having an affair with someone in a relationship. he's a good kid, generally. besides, it's too early for johnny to tell him not to hope too much for someone's failed relationship, so he lets it go. at least for now.
"is his boyfriend not here at the party then?" yuta asks and for someone who was always unbothered, he looks almost sad. he had always been the least judgmental amongst them but johnny guesses that's mostly because he doesn't care enough to let anything bother him, which is why it had worried them when he was going through it. and it worries him now to see the younger acting different.
jaehyun shrugs, "i don't care. just wanna see yukhei. maybe talk a little bit. we don't flirt, just hang out."
"sounds kind of sad to me," doyoung whistles.
that seems to have genuinely ticked jaehyun off because then he's getting off his seat to lash out at doyoung. "you're an asshole, do you know that? you spend hours and hours gushing about jungwoo and did i complain? you don't care about my feelings so you can fuck off, doyoung."
doyoung looks taken aback, offended. "what the fuck are you talking about, jae?"
"you know what i'm talking about," jaehyun bites back, his eyes glassy and johnny knows he's about to cry. "we made all those promises about staying together but the moment you found a new fuck boy, you forget everything we've ever talked about. you talked smack about how i'd be good for anyone and got me hopeful about you returning my feelings but then you go off sucking someone else's face and as soon as i started actually liking someone you're gonna give me shit for it?"
yuta is looking between jaehyun and doyoung, stunned to silence and leaning back against his seat, jaw clenched. around them the party goes on, people dance and laugh and talk. johnny doesn't know what to say but he finds himself thinking of the swirling purples and blues, willing himself to calm down so he could be the level headed one amongst them.
doyoung remains seated, nose flaring and fists clenching. "at least i'm not lusting after someone taken like some kind of slut."
johnny's head snaps up to look at doyoung because even he knows that's low but doyoung only realized how hard he'd hit when yuta's glare reaches him.
"what the fuck, doyoung?" yuta mutters just loud enough for them to hear him.
when johnny looks up to look at jaehyun, the tears roll down his cheeks and the youngest of them wipes at them furiously, choking out a quiet ' fuck you ' before he storms off. johnny sighs then, running his fingers through his hair and then a palm down his face.
"i'll go make sure he's safe," johnny says, and then to doyoung, he adds. "you know what you need to do. just give him some time before you do it. it's not worth it to fall out over this, man."
doyoung nods but johnny doesn't wait for him to say anything. he tails after jaehyun, through bodies of party guests and greeting people he recognized with a smile and a little wave. it's only when he passes through the door that he realizes he knows everyone. it's summer, after all, and everyone is back in town. a million other places to go yet each one of them chooses to come back. that's how much home means to all of them.
jaehyun didn't go far. johnny spots him by the swings of the playground just next to the house holding the party, sitting by himself as his shoulders shook and johnny knows he's crying. he approaches gently, silent even as he takes a seat on the next swing. he thinks about what to say, about how he wishes he's good at this, but while yuta could manage on his own, johnny knows jaehyun needs a shoulder to lean on.
there's a song that plays and for a second, johnny thinks it comes from the party but realizes shortly after that it's the familiar singing he's heard before, so faint and far away. it isn't the overwhelming one that calls but the calming hum that he heard when taeyong opened the glass pearl pendant. he looks down at the necklace then, finding the colors brightened, swirling and dancing.
"hey," johnny breaks the silence, grabbing jaehyun's attention. "look here, jae."
jaehyun looks up, sniffling, his eyes red-rimmed. johnny holds up the pearl and it's bright even in the dark. johnny doesn't even know how the string holds the pearl that's shaped like a teardrop but it had belonged to taeyong and nothing taeyong makes sense. jaehyun seems to see the colors too this time and as surprising as that was, johnny's glad because there's a smile on his lips as he eyes it.
"don't tell the others because they won't believe it," johnny says, watching the way the colors dance around each other. at some point, he thinks he sees the shape of taeyong's tail and a smile quirks up at the corner of his mouth. "it helps calm me down sometimes, especially when i can't sleep."
the younger boy looks mesmerized and johnny knows how exactly that would feel. "that's so pretty, hyung. how does it do that? was that a tail?"
johnny's smile widens, shrugging a shoulder. "i don't even know. it just does. and yeah, i think it was. did you not see them before?"
"not very clearly. doyoung and yuta can't see them, though. they told me it's odd of you to be wearing some plain pearl jewelry like that." jaehyun says, his voice soft and he sighs as he keeps his gaze on the pearl. johnny chooses to ignore the little comment.
they stay silent for a while with johnny holding the pearl pendant up on his palm and the two of them staring at the dancing colors. johnny finds himself wondering what it's like for taeyong, if he's swimming happily under the sea or if he's waiting for johnny to show up again. he waits, he'd said before. he doesn't call but he waits and johnny is suddenly overcome with an urgent need to go and see him again.
jaehyun is the first to move, leaning back and finally looking away from the pendant. he smiles at johnny and gets off the swing he'd been sitting on, prompting the older to do the same. johnny lets go of the pearl, letting it rest against his chest and then jaehyun is hugging him, arms winding around his waist and the side of his face pressing against johnny's firm chest.
he holds the younger boy for some time, holds him close within his arms and gives him the warmth he seems to need. in that moment, he's reminded of all the 'almost's he had in the past with jaehyun, the almost confession and the almost kiss. sometimes he still mistakes his care for the younger for romantic feelings and it scares him to make mistakes so he doesn't ever make a move. if he ever feels certain, johnny thinks he might, even if jaehyun doesn't feel the same.
when he closes his eyes, however, he sees taeyong in his arms instead.
"thank you, hyung," jaehyun is saying as he pulls away, smiling up at johnny. he leans up and presses a kiss onto the older's cheek, a hand patting johnny’s chest. "i feel so much better. you know, if you’d actually liked me, i think i might have liked you back.”
johnny fakes a frown then, raising a hand as if to cup it over where his heart is. “are you saying you don’t like me?”
jaehyun laughs, a soft little giggle as he shoves at his shoulder. “shut up. you know what i mean.”
“yeah, yeah. i know. want me to walk you home or nah?”
“nah. i'll probably go steal yuta away from doyoung.” jaehyun nods and johnny mirrors the act, smiling still.
he watches as jaehyun smiles at him one more time before he turns to head back into the party but just before the younger got too far, johnny calls out for him. “don’t get your heart broken if it’s not worth it, jae.”
jaehyun’s smile when he looks back at johnny is soft, grateful even. he nods and johnny knows he’d gotten his message across. he doesn’t have to worry about jaehyun for now and if his heart breaks, johnny knows he won’t be the only one who will help jaehyun pick up his pieces. he doesn’t go back to the party and instead finds himself making his way to the beach, to his tiny little cave. there, he waits and doesn’t use the pearl to call for taeyong. if taeyong is waiting, then he would see him.
five minutes become ten and then taeyong’s head pokes through the surface of the water, smiling.
he sees taeyong every night through the second month of summer. taeyong is always there, waiting, smiling, singing. on nights johnny has no plans with his friends, he goes to see taeyong earlier and later whenever he meets the boys to spend time together. no matter how late though, johnny doesn’t ever leave taeyong hanging. he finds he quite like spending time with the siren and there hasn’t been any reason why he shouldn’t. taeyong clearly just wants to be friends instead of making a meal out of him.
“you can swim well, right?” taeyong asked one summer night as they laid next to each other, further out from the cave so they could look up at the stars. the tide was low enough that the waves didn’t crash too close except for the occasional rolls that wet his hair and entire back. he had wondered what it would look like if he was to find them like this, a man stargazing next to a mermaid, and thought it would look like a scene out of some disney fairytale.
johnny hummed, kept his gaze on the night sky and ignored the burning feel of taeyong’s eyes on the side of his face. “yeah, i can swim. i love swimming. why?”
he looked over at the siren then, struck once again by how truly ethereal he looked. taeyong wore a cheeky smile as he rolled onto his belly. behind him, his fin lifted, swaying like a cat’s tail. “do you trust me?”
does he trust taeyong ? he wondered and there was a crippling eeriness that crawled along his skin when he realized that he does. maybe this is the way taeyong likes it; instilling trust into his victims and then feeding on them once he’s bored. johnny would miss his friends if his time ends here. still, with no hesitation, he nodded his head. “yeah, i do. are you, like, trying to eat me?”
taeyong had laughed then, a light sprinkle of sound, shaking his head. “no, johnny. i just want to show you something. but you have to be unafraid.”
johnny had looked up into taeyong’s pretty eyes and spoke without a second thought. “i’d never be afraid as long as i’m with you.”
so there is that and that leads him here, now, in this moment, the day after. taeyong had asked him to come earlier, before the sun sets, in his diving suit but told him he doesn’t need anything else. he’s grateful no one would find it odd that he’s dressed in his wetsuit because most tourists come here for a good dive anyway. he wonders if any of them had witnessed a stray mermaid, if taeyong is constantly traveling from wherever he came from up to the surface to see johnny. he concludes, however, that they hadn't because then surely there would be news of a sighting.
unlike every other time that they had met, this time taeyong is already waiting, swimming around the little area close to the cave as if anxious, nervous. he masks it with a smile as soon as he sees johnny approach.
"okay," johnny huffs as he sits down on the sand to level with taeyong's height once the sirens swims ashore. "since you didn't say anything else about what we're doing today, i am going to assume we're swimming. and that's nice and all but i think you're forgetting that i literally can't breathe under water and i don't have all the right diving gears. i will die."
taeyong looks a little nervous and it makes johnny a lot nervous but he keeps his gaze on the siren, expecting a response. taeyong’s tail isn’t swaying like it usually is but johnny continues to wait for an answer. finally, taeyong exhales. “you won’t die, johnny. it’ll be safe with me. but i need you to promise that you won’t be angry at what i’m about to do.”
johnny considers this but quickly nods, “okay, i promise.”
the siren huffs out, as if telling himself to suck it up and do it and then he’s leaning in and before johnny knows it, he could feel taeyong’s mouth on his own. johnny wants to call it a kiss, as surprising and unexpected as it is, but it doesn’t exactly feel like a kiss. his eyes close as a natural response and he could feel the softness of taeyong’s lips, wet from the water but sweet, like he’d just been drinking some sugary drink. his mouth moves against johnny’s, confident like he’s done this many times and while there’s a pool of heat that coils in johnny’s belly, he also feels just a little light, freeing, like the time he’d tried to smoke a joint for the first time. taeyong’s song sings.
like any other normal person being kissed by quite possibly the most beautiful boy to exist, johnny kisses him back. he finds himself leaning forward, deepening the kiss, his own pair of lips sucking gently at the siren’s upper tier and when he gets bold, johnny licks into his mouth. there’s a gasp that leaves taeyong but he doesn’t pull back, instead allowing his own sweet tongue to curl around johnny’s.
when they part because johnny is human and he does need to breathe, taeyong’s cheeks are pink. his eyes are bright, sparkling, irises glazing blue before they return to their deep purples. he has a hand on johnny’s chest, tattooed fingers curling around his wetsuit and for a moment johnny wonders if they would kiss again. but then taeyong laughs, a sweet little giggle, lips reaching his ears.
“did you just kiss me, johnny suh?”
johnny blinks, “you kissed me first…”
the siren’s eyes widen and then he’s laughing again, leaning to press a soft little peck onto johnny’s cheek. “i was simply transferring some of my magic into your system, so you could breathe underwater. you kissed me .” he explains and johnny feels his cheeks burn. a moment later, taeyong’s thin brow quirks up, “did you like it?”
johnny clears his throat and gets back onto his feet, refusing to let taeyong see just how red his cheeks must be. fuck, what the fuck? in his defense, everyone else would have thought it was a kiss too. who the fuck does magic transfers anyway? sadly, though, no one else could relate to him. he licks at his lips, groans inwardly when he tastes traces of what taeyong had tasted like. “where are we going?”
“to see,” taeyong hums, moving, slithering into the water and johnny takes that as his cue to follow.
waist deep inside the cold water, johnny looks around to see where taeyong had disappeared to. he isn’t ready to just start breathing when going under, doubting the fact that it had worked at all and thinking he might actually die if he tries it. taeyong reappears again on the other side of the boulder, where it is just water for miles, and he waves for johnny to join him. johnny dives in then and finds that the other side is deeper than he would have thought. for it to be that deep the moment johnny jumps into the water is a surprise, considering the fact that he was able to step on land just a second ago.
the first difference he notices is that he could see clearly, unlike all the many times he had to wear a pair of goggles to know where he was going, as if the blue water had been see-through the entire time. he sees a smiling taeyong, swimming freely around him, happy to be down under where he belongs. johnny feels a smile stretch at his own lips, still holding his breath as he looks around him. in a way, the endless nothingness is terrifying, just miles and miles of clear, blue water. but then taeyong hovers in front of him and he doesn’t even look like he’s underwater, just existing.
“breathe, johnny,” taeyong says and his voice is different. god, his voice sounds different . if he had sounded melodic above water, he sounds like music under it, as if he’s singing instead of speaking.
johnny shakes his head, wary but he speaks out of instinct, surprising himself. “what if i die?”
taeyong laughs and then laughs again at the way johnny’s eyes widen in surprise after finding out he could talk underwater. he nods at johnny in encouragement and johnny closes his eyes and inhales through his nose. he expects for it to hurt when water rushes into his lungs but a moment passed and when johnny’s eyes opened, he sees a school of small fishes swim pass him. he breathes, painless, and instead of the muffled way water suppresses his hearing, he hears the water move, hears the phantom sound of faraway whales, the cackling of dolphins. he hears and feels the water, like he is water himself.
to call the experience beautiful would be an understatement. johnny is in a state of endless awe as he swirls around to take in his surrounding. he could see, he could hear, he could breathe . he had always wanted to be able to breathe underwater. for the first time in the years that he had learned how to swim, johnny feels like he belongs. he could see corals of different shapes and sizes and fishes of differing colors swimming all around him, his attention brought back to taeyong only once he hears the same, melodic giggle coming from the male. when he focuses on him, johnny could see a flower tucked behind taeyong’s ear, its petals swaying with the water, blue, like his irises had been after they kissed.
“don’t touch anything,” taeyong warns him kindly. there’s an echo to his voice, nothing prominent. “there are things you aren’t immune to and even my magic can’t save you from these poisons, johnny suh.”
johnny nods. he thinks he likes his name better when it’s taeyong who says it. the siren smiles again and turns to lead the way. he swims slower so johnny could keep up and maybe it’s because johnny had never seen taeyong in the water before but he thinks the siren looks even better in his natural habitat. they swim in silence at first, taeyong occasionally pointing at things johnny had missed at first glance. it simply isn’t all that much; he had seen more during his time scuba diving during his trip to indonesia, but still, just the simple fact that he didn’t have to carry an oxygen tank and put on goggles do great wonders.
he wishes he has fins, if only to swim freely like taeyong is, on his back and using his tail to keep him moving. taeyong is laughing and smiling, twirling around like he was dancing, the happiest johnny has ever seen him, and he couldn’t help but feel the joy that radiates off the siren’s skin.
at some point, taeyong pulls him to a stop and gestures behind him. when johnny turns, his mouth gapes, struck by an unexplainable awe as he watches sea turtles swim towards them. the area is filled with marine life, colorful corals and fishes dancing around the stones. when he finally looks up from admiring the fishes varying in sizes, he finds taeyong playing with a huge manta ray, one almost as big as johnny himself. taeyong laughs and swims around the big fish, as if they were communicating and johnny watches from where he floats, somehow not sinking into the bottomless pit.
taeyong sings, wordless strings of his voice carried along the current of the sea, the sound echoing around them, haunting and beautiful. his gentle hands stroke along the ray’s skin, calming it, in a way. as he continues to sing, johnny drinks in the sight of the other sea creatures swim around taeyong, as if they too enjoy the sound of his voice. then again, they must have had the privilege to listen to this more times that johnny ever had. for just a second, he wishes he could live here instead.
he doesn’t want to say it but johnny feels like he’s in the little mermaid .
taeyong returns to him with a beam, leaving the others to go back to what they were doing as he pulls johnny with him, onward and further and further away from shore. he swims up and johnny follows, higher and higher until they break off the surface and johnny breathes in the polluted warm air. there’s a ship not too far from them, so big its shadow looms over them and johnny couldn’t hear anything but the loud engine and a faint music playing from somewhere on the ship. he doesn’t realize he’d swum so far out he couldn’t see the shore anymore, just the sea and that single ship.
“i listen to them growing up,” taeyong is saying, eyes on the ship. “that is how i learn to speak your tongue. my sisters don’t like it when i swim too high up. they say it’s dangerous, the closer i am to where your kind can see me. but i’m small and i’m fast,” he adds, proud. “i hide well.”
“they never see you?” johnny asks.
taeyong shakes his head, swims around johnny. “i’m only seen if i want to be seen.”
johnny feels a surge of confidence as he smirks, a brow raised. “so you want to be seen by me?”
before taeyong dips back into the water, johnny is pretty sure he could see the pinks that color his cheeks and it makes him laugh, amused. he dives back in to find taeyong swimming backwards, as if teasing him, a wide smile spread across his face. johnny doesn’t notice it until taeyong’s back hit it by accident, the siren spinning around quickly and jumping back in surprise. panicked, johnny swims as fast as he could towards taeyong but slows down as soon as taeyong holds a hand up.
he frowns then, finally noticing that it was a shark that’s staring right at the siren. a whole fucking shark. johnny wonders if he would pollute the ocean if he pisses in his pants right now. taeyong, unlike johnny, is calm. he reaches forward slowly, a hand offered to caress instead of harm. taeyong sings a different song, not the light one he did with the turtles and the manta ray, but one so soothing even johnny feels his fear dissipate. taeyong is magic and johnny is simply lucky.
“he wonders who you are,” taeyong says when johnny swims a little closer, soft like a whisper. his fingers stroke along the shark’s back, gentle. “he has never seen you so he’s a little afraid. do you want to touch him?”
johnny splutters, choking when he accidentally swallows water. he wills himself to calm down, looking at taeyong for more encouragement but it only took taeyong smiling for it to be enough to push johnny to reach out as well. he's shaking, scared the animal would change its mind at the very last second and snap his arm off but taeyong is watching and johnny feels the need to be tough, brave.
his fingers touch the smooth surface, just briefly, and then the shark decides it didn't like it, swimming away and startling both johnny and taeyong at the same time. taeyong giggles and then he kisses johnny on his cheek, so happy, so carefree before he nudges johnny to follow once again.
"come on, johnny. your time is almost up. it's time for you to go home."
when they reach the small cave, the sun is just beginning to set, which leads to johnny wondering how long exactly that he'd been gone. when he checks his phone, only an hour had passed and he chuckles, settling down on the sand while taeyong scoots into a sitting position, his beautiful tail tucked beside him.
"can you believe it's only been an hour?" johnny asks, running his fingers through his wet hair to keep them slicked back, sighing softly. "it felt like hours."
taeyong smiles just a little wider. "i told you time is slower in the water. it's not as fun when you're alone."
johnny softens then and he doesn't know what's gotten into him but he blames it on the rush of adrenaline that is still running through his veins when he reaches up and brushes back taeyong's blue strands of hair. "we can swim together again. if you want. you don't swim with your sisters?"
cheeks dusted pink, taeyong shakes his head. "they don't like the water this high up. we used to swim together when i was little, when they taught me about the ocean. but they warned me of the bad water closer to the surface and how it's so much brighter when the sun is up. when humans can see clearly, it's easier for them to find you. they always told me not to be found."
"are you in trouble then? because i found you?"
taeyong laughs, shaking his head. "you still don't understand, johnny suh. i found you . and i can't get in trouble if they don't know it."
"i like that," johnny finds himself saying.
taeyong tilts his head, curious. "like what?"
"when you call my full name instead of just johnny. i like it. i like today. i had a lot of fun, taeyong. thank you. i wish i could show you my world in return," he says and then adds as a joke. "you don't happen to have magic that could give you legs, do you?"
for a moment, as johnny laughs it off, it looks like taeyong gives it a thought but the only response johnny gets is another smile, another laugh. johnny thinks his heart is racing. he's happy. taeyong flicks water at him using his tail and johnny splashes back, harder, causing the siren to gasp and they play like that for a while until taeyong speaks up.
"you should go home, johnny. your fatigue will catch up to you sooner than later. you did swim against the currents. and touched a shark. all without an oxygen tank and those feetsies thing the humans called flippers," taeyong chuckles, eyes dreamy. "name me another human who could say the same."
for the first time in a long time, johnny feels special, almost as if he'd reached a milestone and someone is patting him on his back. he smiles down at taeyong and nods his head before he gets onto his feet. he thanks the siren once more and stays until taeyong dives back into the water before he heads back home.
once he is home, however, showered and dried up, johnny falls onto his bed and sleeps for two whole days, dreaming of sharks and turtles and taeyong, taeyong, taeyong . he dreams of taeyong, the warmth he feels inside when they spend time together and the sweet, softness of taeyong's mouth on his own.
he knew that exposing himself to the mortal was not his brightest idea but taeyong simply could not help it. he figured at some point that he was meant to find johnny, one way or another. he had watched johnny for so long that the moment the human noticed his presence, taeyong couldn't resist the urge to show himself. when he did, there were no regrets, not until johnny planted the idea of how fun it would be if only taeyong had feet, not until he realized that the reason he loves swimming so close to the surface had always been because he was supposed to find johnny
the first name that had crossed his mind was jongin. kind as he is, the other sirens and merfolks, all of the creatures under the sea known to mankind, know that one pays a high price to deal with the kind of magic jongin is capable of. the wizard doesn't live in the sea but taeyong knows he has a home near the darkest part of the ocean, where he practices magic only meant to be used by the lives that breathe in the water.
magic that taeyong would need.
his sisters' voices are loud in his head, some of them in real time, their communication through telepathy and singing calls, and some of them are memories of them warning him not to tamper with magic he cannot afford to pay for. hyuna's voice is loudest, being the oldest, her power a constant reminder as to why none of them should ever go against her. when he had asked why they sing their songs that would call upon a victim, she had merely smiled and told him they needed to survive. it had scared taeyong, so much that he had given the pearl pendant his grandmother made for him to johnny for protection. he dares not imagine the outcome of hyuna or taeyeon or chungha ever finding johnny.
when he left johnny in his hideout cave after their little adventure deep under the water, taeyong tunes out his sisters' voices and heads straight to jongin's.
the first voice that finds him is baekhyun's, an older cousin of his and the only other male siren in his generation but also the closest thing in his family that he could truly be himself with. the only reason baekhyun had been able to find him is because he had never blocked the older out of his head. he trusts baekhyun with his life and he knows the older siren isn't going to snitch and tell his sisters of his plan.
you are not serious about what you are thinking, are you, yong? baekhyun is asking and taeyong senses his presence near. he must be following.
it's odd to use his own language that is not the one that johnny speaks but he shakes johnny off his thoughts and whispers low in his head for baekhyun to hear. i just want to be happy, baekkie.
taeyong slows down when he notices a shadow approaching but he is not afraid, having sensed the older siren so close he could smell his concern. baekhyun appears alongside him, his speed matching taeyong's as they swim, around the palace they should return to and off, deeper into the sea.
"are you not happy with us, then?" baekhyun asks, once they're far away from the castle enough to not have to worry about bumping into guards on duty.
still, taeyong looks around him to make sure. the cecaelia male guards are hard to shake off, even though taeyong still managed to slip away from them every single time ever since king atherton of the octofolks, the ruler of sealyra kingdom, spared his warriors to protect the kingdom of melliora, his home. certain that they're clear, taeyong finds baekhyun's gaze.
"i am happy," he tells the older. "but i am happier up there. besides, it's only temporary. kaerius of the old tales mentioned in the glass orb of all knowledge that it lasted only three human days. i will return right after."
baekhyun visibly blanched. " kaerius ? kaerius is a myth, nyvorlas . you and i both know the orb is only a spheroid with tampered knowledge our ancestors want us to believe. and even if it was true, you know exactly what happened to kaerius when he returned."
taeyong does. of course he does. he'd grown up learning all there is to know about his kind, the humans, the ocean, the many different seas and lives that exist within them. it isn't the horror of what kaerius had been through that makes his skin hot with anger but baekhyun's use of his birth name.
most of the sirens aren't born with names unless they are special. like his sister hyuna, whose real name is nesaea , after one of the water nymphs and named for the fact that she was born with bright, white irises and black intricate lines framing her eyes, decorating her forehead. her tail is the strongest, colored the darkest black that matches her long hair. she is firstborn, the pride and joy of melliora .
in his generation, after hyuna came baekhyun, who was named nereus , after the old man of the sea of the same name, who was father of the water nymphs, the many nereids and one nerites . baekhyun is blue, from his hair to the colors of his nails and the tips of his fin. taeyong figures baekhyun, being older, has it harder from the pressures of mating and producing the next generation.
then there was taeyong, who was named because he is male, because of the deep purple markings on his forehead and the similar intricate lines that mark his fingers, because his colors are purples and blues and not merely the murky green his other sisters besides taeyeon and chungha have. he was named after the elven prince nyvorlas , who had found his pregnant mother captured in nets and risked his life to save hers. for awhile, there had been rumors that he was her secret lover but the taeyong's king father had made sure the stories were banned from being spoken of.
and he's angry because every life in the sea knows not to call a merfolk or a siren by its birth name, unless to provoke or called by a parent or anyone of a higher authority. taeyong sees red but he decides against calling baekhyun by name and instead swims away.
" taeyong ," baekhyun presses, following him further down, deeper into the waters. "please, listen. i'm sorry. i don't want you to do this because i know hyuna would not hesitate to execute you, no matter how dear you are to her. she is the crown princess, taeyong. your mother have passed and your father will step down. the decision would be hers."
taeyong pauses and then stops, right by the edge of the darkened cave he knows jongin resides. he turns to face baekhyun and he smiles, taking the older's hand in both of his to squeeze. "don't worry for me, baekhyun. i will find a way and even if i fail, it would have been worth it. the gods have written this for me, for my path. i am meant to be with him."
baekhyun's eyes glisten with tears but he says no more and only nods his head, because of course he understood why taeyong has to make such decisions. before he leaves, baekhyun turns to take one last look at the younger. "i will keep the shine of your crown, taeyong. none shall ever wear it."
taeyong's smile widens. he would miss the silvery band. "thank you, baekhyun. we'll meet again."
the older nods and then swims away, fast as if he doesn't want to see taeyong enter the cave. there is no fear as taeyong turns and faces the dark, hollow opening, only excitement and he swims into it happily.
Part II: The beginning of an end
johnny doesn't see taeyong for an entire week after their swim. he goes to find the siren every day of the week, sometimes even staying after the sun sets and until the tide is high, covering the cave completely. he doesn't quite know how to explain the emotions that are brewing in his chest.
ever since the little escapade and the kiss, johnny couldn't stop thinking about taeyong. he gets smiley whenever he's reminded of the smile the siren had worn after the kiss and at night he stares up at his ceiling and thinks about the songs taeyong sang to the animals they met. it helps him sleep too.
he considered using the pearl pendant to call for taeyong but he had felt weird and decided against it. there must be a reason taeyong hadn't shown up and johnny realizes he has no idea what kind of other things taeyong does in the sea. he figures the siren could be with his sisters, since he'd mentioned them.
johnny also considers the fact that he might have been ghosted by a fucking mermaid. it stings.
mermaid problem aside, johnny realized when he met up with doyoung and yuta two days after his hibernation that jaehyun has yet to cool down from his outburst. doyoung's calls had been ignored and jaehyun has been going out with yuta instead. when johnny had asked if he wanted to hang out, jaehyun had told him he would, if doyoung wasn't there.
in conclusion, johnny considers going back to sleep and maybe wake up when summer is over.
it didn't work.
it's the last saturday of july when he finds himself walking along the beach, feeling the soft sand between his toes and occasionally the waves crashing at his feet. his cave is filled with water from the high tide so he couldn't hide in there if he wanted to. he holds up the pearl sitting against his chest to look at the colors, dull and still, not bright and dancing like they were before. johnny worries something could have happened to taeyong but he tries to shake the thought off. there's no need to make himself anxious.
he's stopped mid-step when he feels a sizzling hotness on his chest, hissing as he quickly pries the pendant off his skin. in his confusion, johnny hears taeyong's song and unlike the ones he'd heard in their travel, this one calls for him. he frowns, looking up to see if he could find the siren anywhere close but there's an empty beach, just the sand and the sea and the trees.
odd, where is everyone else? he hadn't noticed he was alone until now. in the far distance, johnny spots movements, half shielded by the boulder that protects the cave and taeyong's siren call grows louder.
he breaks into a run then, panic rising up his throat like bile and his skin crawls with fear and worry. in his head, taeyong's voice is desperate, louder and clearer the closer johnny gets to the figure he'd seen. the night is settling soon, illuminating earth with blue, no longer the orange of the setting sun. johnny has a hard time making out the shape that is sprawled on the sand.
"holy shit," he mutters underneath his breath once he could make out a naked man covered in wet sand laying on the ground, slight movements of his hands indicating that he's conscious. he picks up his pace but slows as soon as he registers the sight before him.
there, on the soft sand, lays a very naked, very human taeyong. johnny's instinct to protect kicks in before he could think through it and he falls onto his knees next to the other boy. taeyong groans, coughing up water but when his eyes blink open and he finds johnny cradling him on his lap, taeyong smiles.
"taeyong, what the fuck?" johnny asks, brushing sand off taeyong's pretty face. he finds normal human ears and his purple markings gone from his forehead. what the actual fuck just happened?
taeyong moans then, shivering and he tries to say something but johnny could only make out the words 'came' and 'play' before taeyong is out cold.
johnny considers his life a pretty simple, chilling adventure. he was always punctual for school, never missed a class except for when he was bedridden from a high fever. he went to school with friends he absolutely loves, friends who are more like brothers than just friends.
he went to college and dreamt of being a swimmer until he realized he doesn't like swimming laps and isn't competitive enough to make a career out of it. so he started thinking of becoming a teacher instead. he panics sometimes thinking about the future but a lot of people his age don't know what they want to do yet and that thought helps him calm down.
johnny is a simple man, living a simple life, so no one would really have thought that he'd meet a beautiful, beautiful sea boy with a tail for feet, who now has a pair of actual human legs and is sleeping in his bed.
he sighs, staring into the blackness of his morning coffee and wondering just what to do about the situation. his friends would ask. what would he tell them? he's clearly partly at fault because he had mentioned taking taeyong around to experience his world so he couldn't exactly hide taeyong in his room.
the sound of something falling from upstairs has johnny moving, climbing up the stairs and into his room to find taeyong in just his ( johnny's ) hoodie, standing on his two very real feet and looking at the notebook johnny used for his mermaid researches with his head slightly tilted, curious. on the floor, johnny's books from the pile he'd placed on the nightstand are scattered, clearly knocked over when taeyong got up.
"hey, you," johnny says softly, not wanting to scare the other boy but taeyong still jumps from the sound, tumbling back onto johnny's bed when he loses balance.
taeyong huffs but he seems to recover quickly, holding up johnny's notebook. "were you trying to draw me, johnny suh? that does not look like me."
johnny's cheeks feel hot, like getting caught doodling his crush's name. he clears his throat as he makes his way over and sits on the bed next to taeyong, looking at his notes as well. "i'm not an artist, okay? i was just, you know, doodling. this was when i first saw you, before we spoke for the first time?"
the other boy nods, eyes scanning the words that johnny had scribbled onto the pages. "you must teach me to read someday. what did you doodle?"
johnny laughs, shaking his head. "these are words. they're called writing. doodling is when you make up shapes like this one. like drawing but not really."
"hm," taeyong hums but he's seemingly uninterested in the notebook as he places it back on the desk and stretches out his legs, toes wriggling. "these are funny little things. i don't understand the need for them. toes, right?"
"yeah, they're toes," johnny nods, reminded of the more pressing matters that is why exactly is taeyong here on land instead of in the water. "how do you have legs, taeyong? what did you do?"
"you ask too many questions," taeyong scoffs, getting off the bed to walk over to where johnny had placed a pair of pants and a shirt, ones he'd quickly bought when he left the house for a few minutes while taeyong was out cold. taeyong looks over at him questioningly, lifting the shirt. "for me?"
what johnny failed to remember is that taeyong is shameless and he had grown up with a tail instead of feet and what is supposedly between his thighs. he clears his throat when taeyong slips off his hoodie, naked and carefree, even though he does lift his gaze to look at johnny. the glint in his eyes, however, says otherwise and johnny has an inkling that taeyong knows exactly what he's doing.
the jeans are the perfect size, johnny realizes after taeyong pulls the pair up to his hips. he struggles with the shirt so johnny decides to help him, first letting it hang around his neck so he could help zip up his jeans. he helps him with the shirt, guiding each arm through the respective holes before he does the same with the cardigan. taeyong continues to smile up at him as he fixes the siren's hair, using just his fingers to put the strands in place.
for someone who had spent his entire life in water, taeyong's hair doesn't have the same roughness to it like johnny's get when he gets out of a swim. they're soft between his fingers and johnny only pulls away when he realizes that he's tangled his fingers in taeyong's soft purple locks a little too long.
he clears his throat then, averting the situation. "okay, so. since i'll be taking you to see some of the places here," taeyong nods excitedly, his smile widening in that adorable way that johnny loves. "we need to come up with something to tell my friends because they will ask and i can't exactly tell them how we actually met."
taeyong nods again, seeming unsurprised. "okay, so we'll tell them we're mated!"
" mated?! " johnny chokes.
the siren has the decency to roll his eyes, turning to look at his reflection in the mirror. "together, or whatever you humans call it on land. courting?"
johnny's pretty sure his cheeks are bright red. "no offense but why can't we just tell them we're just friends?"
for a second, there's a flash of hurt that reflects in taeyong's gaze but his response is quick enough to mask it. "mm, we could. but then you'd have to explain to them why you look at me the way you look at me. and i just think that's a long story.
stunned to silence, johnny doesn't stop taeyong from smiling at him and walking out the door of his room as if he knows the way around in johnny's house. the fact that his neck is flushed and his face feels hot only means that deep down he knows taeyong is right. he's clearly not very subtle about his very confusing feelings and there's no doubt that his friends would notice and try to pry it out of him.
he had never lied to them but he thinks he'd rather have them think so than expose taeyong for what he truly is. besides, if it means he and taeyong could get even closer, is johnny really going to complain?
yeah, no. he's not that stupid.
taeyong's first miraculous work is bringing jaehyun and doyoung together after their argument, if getting jaehyun to show up where doyoung is present is any kind of progress. they'd decided after taeyong's breakfast that they should inform johnny's friends that taeyong is in town and to also mention that they have been sort of dating for a while now through the internet. johnny thinks his friends would buy it.
"i am honestly so ashamed that johnny hasn't mentioned you at all ," doyoung is saying to taeyong with a shake of his head before he shoots johnny a glare. "all this time and you didn't even say his name, dude. what is up with that?"
johnny stammers but taeyong comes to rescue. "it's not his fault, really. i told him we should keep a low profile until we're really, really sure. and now we are so i am here!" taeyong beams, embracing his character well and fluently as he hooks a hand over johnny's arm.
"still, if i was johnny, i'd have at least told my mates how pretty my boy is," yuta says and to his side, jaehyun's jaw clenches. yuta's words unreasonably makes johnny see green and luckily he's actually allowed to show it so he kicks his friend in the shin. yuta hisses. " what?! he's so fucking pretty, how'd you not even at least give us a hint that you're seeing someone?"
while johnny thinks he might pass out soon from having to lie to his friends, taeyong seems to be enjoying the attention. his ears are pink and cheeks raised from his grinning and fuck , johnny knows taeyong is pretty so fuck yuta for using that tone on him. johnny had known taeyong is pretty for much longer than any of them.
"your hair," jaehyun speaks up for the first time since he'd arrived, his presence prompted by the fact that johnny apparently has a boyfriend who traveled all the way from daegu. his expression is unreadable, however, something akin to curiosity in his gaze. "it's the same color as johnny's necklace."
"oh, right," taeyong's hand naturally comes up to run his fingers through his soft, soft hair. johnny has a sudden urge to do the same and then he remembers he could do it without making it look weird so johnny reaches over and cards his fingers through the soft strands. taeyong's cheeks burn pink but he masks it by adding, "he wouldn't stop talking about the necklace so i colored my hair to match it for fun."
it's like taeyong is a natural at this being human thing but then johnny figures that he must have had to lie a lot to his sisters so he could swim far off his home. somehow, for some reason, johnny thinks taeyong wouldn't lie to him, even if he isn't completely forthcoming about everything that he knows. jaehyun hums though he doesn't look like he bought the story.
"but anyway," doyoung interrupts, looking excited. "we'd be happy to tag along and show you around the area. we all grew up here so there is honestly a bunch of places you could see."
taeyong's smile turn into a full beam and he nods, happy and excited in all the ways that one shouldn't be about exploring a tiny little town in an island not so big as compared to his own home, which happens to be an entire ocean.
johnny, on the other hand, thinks he's in love.
within a single day, johnny has had to drive to at least five different places in town. he supposes his definition of 'tiny' isn't as tiny as he'd thought and he wonders just how doyoung had known of all the places he hadn't even heard of before. there's a little nagging thought in his head telling him that maybe his friends do have secret places like he does with his cave. then he wonders if they have their own taeyong.
like taeyong is his. huh. johnny likes the feeling.
they went to the most basic tourist destination first and taeyong found about a dozen little trinkets he wanted to bring home, one of which was a keychain of a tiny mermaid figure that he smiled at fondly, whispering a quiet 'looks like my sister chungha' for only johnny to hear. the mermaid had a tail the color of rose red and johnny wondered if that's how chungha looks like.
he bought them for taeyong even though he'd given the siren a wad of cash to make it look like the money is his own, something about being a good boyfriend and giving taeyong a good memory of the trip. taeyong squealed at the cold of the ice cream they bought together, and it's adorable because johnny knows it was his first time but could be odd for people who have no idea, who think ice cream is just ice cream.
luckily, yuta, doyoung and jaehyun only laughed and showered taeyong with praises. it made johnny warm to know that they like taeyong and that taeyong likes them too. it's almost like they could have this forever.
they went to the lake after and jaehyun facetimed taeil and told him about taeyong, who was definitely in awe of the technology used. he talked to taeil about the north pacific ocean after taeil explained to him where exactly hawaii is, animated in the way he explained the kind of marine life taeil could see if he goes for a dive. when taeil had to go, johnny had to remind taeyong to keep his shorts on before he jumped into the water for a swim. taeyong thrived, at home.
after a couple more places, taeyong's energy finally depleted and he whined about wanting to sleep. johnny sent doyoung home but jaehyun insisted to be dropped off at yuta's. the two had seemed a little closer after the little fight happened between doyoung and jaehyun. after that, johnny finally drove home.
he'd half expected taeyong to be asleep once he got out of the shower but instead he finds the siren sitting on his bed and staring out the window, a smile on his lips. he'd worn only one of johnny's biggest shirts, covering up to the middle of his thighs but johnny refuses to think about whether he has anything underneath.
"what are you thinking about?" johnny asks, crawling into bed to sit next to taeyong, whose smile widens.
taeyong shrugs and, to johnny's surprise, scoots closer to latch himself against him, arms winding around johnny's midriff. "i had a good time today. but i'm really tired now, johnny. is that normal?"
"yeah, of course," johnny assures him, lifting a hand to run his fingers through silky stands. "we did a lot of things today so that's perfectly normal. we should sleep, yeah? we can do more tomorrow."
that seems to perk taeyong up and he nods, shifting to lay on his back and not giving johnny the chance to leave when he pulls him down as well. he figures a second later that he doesn't really want to leave anyway, so johnny holds taeyong close against him. the siren smells like ocean freshness and johnny finds himself kissing into his hair, inhaling him in.
for a few minutes of the silence, taeyong's breathing slows down and johnny thinks he might have fallen asleep but then he feels taeyong's fingers on his belly, circling invisible patterns onto the surface.
taeyong lifts his head then and smiles at johnny. he shifts again, this time pressing a hand onto johnny's chest and resting his chin on his knuckles. "do you like me?"
johnny blinks, twice before he laughs softly. "yeah, i like you. of course i do."
"no, like," taeyong blushes, lifting his head again to absently pat at johnny's chest. "like, like me. like you would- what's the word? date? date me. like that. like yuta likes jaehyun."
what?! "you mean like jaehyun likes doyoung?"
taeyong frowns, shaking his head. "jaehyun is the pretty one, no?" johnny nods and taeyong mirrors him. "and yuta who was from japan? i remember names well."
what the fuck? johnny frowns, confused, but then he notices the way taeyong's face falls and guilt washes over him for having ignored his question. he clears his throat, sitting up and prompting taeyong to do the same. for a second or two, they were silent.
"listen, tae," johnny starts and he does so after thinking quite thoroughly. to deny it would be lying to himself because clearly, if taeyong was human and he'd met him in the most normal human way, johnny thinks he would have asked him out a long time ago. "i think you already know the answer to that. you pointed it out this morning about why we have to fake a relationship, remember? and if it was easier, i'll have you know that i'd have brought you on so many dates. but i don't even know how long you'd be here, and i'm just-"
"you're afraid?" taeyong supplies after staying quiet while johnny tried to explain. there's kindness in his eyes, as there always has been. taeyong is fearless and brave and strong in so many ways that johnny isn't. johnny, who is afraid of change, of the future, of voicing out what he truly means, what he truly wants.
he nods, because he knows taeyong is free of judgment. he nods because taeyong has been the only person he had been entirely honest with, even if it was the smallest thing about him forgetting to wash his pile of clothes and taeyong had laughed and instead wondered aloud how one washes his clothes. so he nods, because he knows he can be true with taeyong.
"three weeks," taeyong says and johnny understood without him having to explain it. "the magic should only last three days but they don't know that i have my own magic and i didn't want to have to spend just three days with you. it wouldn't be enough."
johnny looks down at taeyong's clasped hands and feels the weight of having to watch taeyong return to sea already settling on his chest. he's silent after taeyong's words sink in and he thinks about what kind of magic taeyong must have used for such a miraculous event. he thinks about how much energy it must have caused him, for it to last three weeks.
he feels taeyong's soft hand cup at his cheek, thumb brushing over the swell of his cheekbone and taeyong's gaze is soft as he speaks. "i might not be able to see you again once i return. there's always a price to pay for every good thing you make true. this is my good thing and i know that i would have to pay for it."
it doesn't make sense but johnny feels a surge of anger that rises up his throat, burning in a way he had never been angry before. he gets off the bed then, creating a gap between them. "why did you do that? are you saying if you hadn't done whatever you did that i would have been able to continue seeing you? don't you think i would have preferred that than not getting to see you at all?"
taeyong looks taken aback but he moves off the bed and tries to reach for johnny. his mouth parts to speak but johnny's not done, shaking his head with a little humorless laugh as he continues. "and you have the decency to ask if i like you. what did you think we could do about that, taeyong? what happens after i tell you that i'm in love with you and you go back and never come up again? what the fuck was all that?"
there, johnny thinks. he guesses anger makes him the most honest he could be with himself. it's out in the open and hanging in the air, thick with his anger and the impending pain he could already feel. it's unfair. it's truly unfair and he's angry because he doesn't think there's any way for him to change anything.
"i just want to spend time with you in the most normal way, johnny," taeyong says finally, his voice breaking. "i want to be human like you so it didn't have to be complicated. i want to go places you go to and know the people you know. i want to be able to stand and look you in the eyes when you're on your feet and be as close to you as i possibly can and i can't do all that when i don't have these ."
johnny's gaze flits to taeyong's feet, where the siren is pointing at. still, in that heated moment, taeyong managed to wriggle his toes and johnny finds it just so incredibly endearing. he stays silent, however, to let taeyong finish what he wants to say.
"did you know that merfolks don't ever find love?" taeyong asks, stepping closer with his gaze fixated on the pearl pendant he'd given johnny. he reaches out to touch it and johnny hears it sing. "my parents didn't marry for love. they married because they had to. my sister will be queen soon and she will marry our cousin. our own family , johnny. and it may sound bad but that is our way of life. we marry to produce. we cannot ever stop reproducing. do you think i would do this for a mere mortal that isn't you?"
taeyong shakes his head, stopping him from interrupting. "in the time we've spent together by the sea, i knew we were meant to meet. you're the reason i love swimming so close to the surface, so i could break through it and find you. it doesn't feel like it now but it is a curse. to love someone who doesn't belong in the sea. for you to love someone who doesn't belong on land. it's a curse but it makes sense. why do you love to swim, johnny? why did you try to hold your breath to see if you could breathe underwater?"
johnny blinks, surprised. he had never mentioned about all the times he'd tried holding his breath, to see how long he could stay beneath the surface. how had taeyong known that? then again, taeyong knows a lot.
"and i know that it's a lost cause," taeyong adds, blushing just a little. "but i want this. i want to know how it feels. i want to be able to lay next to you and see why all those people i watched from afar looked so happy whenever i see them just laying on the sand. i want what they have."
maybe, johnny thinks as he looks into taeyong's big and pretty purple eyes and drinks in the sight of him so close, so within his reach, maybe it doesn't matter that they're from completely different worlds. maybe the only thing that matters is that they have this, this moment, now. and they have it together.
without wasting another second of the time that they do have, johnny raises a hand and lets it hold the side of taeyong's face, his skin soft and smooth under his palm and it's almost like his hand was made to fit into the curves that taeyong possesses. maybe taeyong was right after all. maybe everything that taeyong had said were truths.
maybe they were really made for each other.
he smiles down at the siren, their height difference rather prominent that taeyong has to tip his head back by a slight for their eyes to meet. johnny kisses his forehead, right where his mark would have been. he kisses taeyong's nose, laughs when it scrunches up. he kisses him on his mouth and unlike the day taeyong had breathed magic into his lungs, this one feels more magical, endless, like a sealing of two souls who had finally admitted their feelings.
johnny kisses taeyong softly at first, a brush of lips and innocent tugs of their pinkened tiers. johnny kisses taeyong more firmly after, introducing his tongue that carefully sweeps along the backs of taeyong's teeth. johnny kisses taeyong with need, when they fall into a synchronized rhythm, licking into the siren's mouth and tasting him on his tongue.
when he pulls back finally, blinking and trying to gauge taeyong's reaction, the siren seems to be in a daze, eyes glazed over with a thin layer of blue. a beat goes by and johnny smiles at him just before he stumbles back slightly from the force of taeyong jumping on him for another kiss. he laughs in between, returning the liplock with just as much fervor, only this time he backs taeyong up to his bed.
they get lost in the kiss within a matter of seconds and johnny doesn't know when he'd pushed taeyong onto his mattress or when he'd slipped between taeyong's thighs and kept kissing him. they kiss until their mouths are swollen, slickened with spit and at the sound of the little gasp taeyong lets out when johnny's teeth grazed his jaw, johnny takes it as encouragement, using it to build the confidence he has to mouth along the column of taeyong's slender neck.
he sucks a red mark on the spot where taeyong's shoulder meets his neck, kisses over it to soothe the sting. they part with hooded gazes so johnny could remove the shirt taeyong is wearing. he tosses the shirt aside, quickly forgotten and he sees the same look on taeyong's features much like the one he'd worn many weeks ago, the first time johnny had felt the sizzling heat of arousal within his belly after he'd blatantly checked out the siren. like that day, johnny feels it build again, hot and coiling, burning his skin.
taeyong doesn't wear anything underneath, his cock standing at half mast, twitching against the flat of his belly and liquid arousal beading at the slit. johnny inhales sharply, the view alone enough to steal his breath away. he smiles, watching taeyong lean back on each of his elbows and johnny takes this as his cue to lean down and kiss along his chest. he kisses at each of his rosy buds, soft and gentle, before he mouths down the middle of the male's torso.
"johnny…" taeyong moans and johnny watches as the siren lets his head fall back upon the pillow, smiles when he lifts his hips just as johnny's mouth presses onto the soft skin of his inner thigh.
he runs the pad of his thumb over taeyong's knee, spreading his thighs apart and keeping his gaze locked to taeyong's to keep him calm. "relax for me?"
taeyong nods, allowing johnny to move him into whatever position required but johnny sees the dark pink that colors his cheeks. he's visibly nervous so johnny makes sure he's gentle and slow, going at a pace to match taeyong's comfort. he shifts onto his belly between the male's legs and without waiting another second, begins littering the expanse of the boy's inner thigh with soft, open mouthed kisses.
it's enough to bring another series of moans from between taeyong's lips, the gentle way johnny's mouth brushes against his skin has him spreading his legs wider, inviting, almost pleading. "please…"
granted with better access, johnny uses the opportunity to lick multiple languid strokes of his tongue over taeyong's rim. the latter gasps at it, quick and sharp, his legs threatening to close but johnny keeps them apart as he continues to lap up at the sensitive ring of muscle, helping taeyong relax. when taeyong's moans grow louder, johnny grows braver.
he keeps at it for a little while, deep strokes of his tongue that teases the hole enough to let taeyong loosen up just a little, his tense, nervous muscles unwinding as his moans fill up the entire room. at some point, johnny spits onto his palm and watches as taeyong keens, the sweetest sound, when he curls his fingers around the male's cock, stroking it in a pace to match the way his tongue pushes into his cunt.
it's when taeyong begins arching his back off the mattress and his thighs start to quiver that johnny lets up, causing the latter to whine in protest. he taps at taeyong's thigh to get him to open his eyes and it's a different kind of emotion that he feels when their gazes locked. taeyong is beautiful and even that is an understatement. johnny aches to remove his own clothes if only to free his erection but he waits and decides to prepare taeyong well before anything else.
leaning down, his bigger body looming over taeyong's much smaller stature, johnny kisses him again, licks into his mouth to coax another moan out of him and it didn't take long before taeyong is bucking his hips upwards, desperate and needy. he nearly looks as though he would actually smack johnny when the latter pulls away again and johnny laughs at it. fond, always fond. he kisses taeyong's nose in apology.
taeyong watches, eyes blown wide with need but gaze gentle, as johnny retrieves the bottle of lube he stashed in the drawer of his nightstand. a single look at the almost full bottle is indication enough that johnny hadn't had much fun in his alone time. then again, he remembers that he did spend a lot of his time with taeyong in his little cave and he thinks that's the most fun he's ever had this entire summer.
the siren must know what it is because he doesn't question it, simply watches johnny's face as he pours an amount of it onto his fingers. when their eyes meet, taeyong smiles shyly and johnny returns it with another kiss. as he distracts taeyong with the kiss, his lubed fingers circle at his rim and he pushes a digit into the latter, eliciting a high-pitched gasp from the male. instead of pulling out, johnny begins pumping inside him, letting the sound of his moans fill his ears.
"oh, gods," taeyong gasps again, this time clenching around johnny's thick finger and trembling in a way that tells him he'd found his prostate. johnny presses into it, rubs gentle circles over the spongey area and taeyong keens, loud and shameless.
johnny lets up a little, enough to get taeyong to calm down just slightly, before he pushes a second finger into him. taeyong's cock twitches, leaks with precum, and he moans again, hips rolling to meet each pump of johnny's fingers. he changes up the constant thrusts to spreading his digits apart, stretching the male out as much as he could for fear of hurting him later, knowing his own size. taeyong is sensitive, however, and by the time johnny pushes in a third digit, taeyong is thrashing against the mattress, shaking his head and sobbing as he tries to get away.
"stop, stop, stop. oh my gods. just- take me. fuck me. fuck me right now, johnny suh. do it or i swear to god-" he doesn't get to finish his sentence due to the sob that escapes him and johnny wonders where he'd learned such words but it doesn't matter. he'd called johnny the way johnny likes it and it's all that it took to have the taller male move, slipping his fingers out of the other to pull his hoodie over his head and making quick work of kicking his sweatpants off of his legs in record time.
taeyong gasps, prompting johnny to look up only to find the siren staring at his full erection standing tall and proud against his abdomen. johnny, while he's usually blushing around taeyong, finds it rather amusing and he grows more aroused at the fact that taeyong finds him well endowed.
"wait," taeyong says then, making johnny pause. he quirks a brow up at the smaller male, asking a silent question but taeyong merely sits up and bends down just enough to kiss the tip of johnny's cock, making it twitch with interest and johnny moans.
taeyong's mouth is small but it works wonders. johnny watches as he spits onto his shaft and begins stroking it with his hand though it doesn't take long for him to take the head of johnny's thick girth into his mouth.
"shit, baby," johnny hisses at a particular suckle that taeyong makes, his hand finding a lock of the smaller's hair to grip at as he accidentally snaps his hips, cock slipping deep into taeyong's throat and causing him to gag. "shit, sorry. fuck."
the other boy pulls back with glassy eyes but merely giggles, shaking his head as if to say it's okay. he kisses at the tip once more before he leans up to kiss johnny. the taller moans at the taste of himself on taeyong's tongue and he thinks maybe taeyong could suck him off longer the next time but tonight he doesn't think he could last all that long anyway.
taeyong pulls him down with him, johnny's tongue licking into his mouth until taeyong whines and bucks up his hips. "please, johnny. i need you."
"i got you, baby," johnny whispers, kissing along taeyong's jaw and down his throat, all whilst he guides his length to taeyong's cunt, where he presses the tip at experimentally, slowly. taeyong whimpers but he urges johnny for more and johnny is only a man with needs and one who is so very hard.
at the first breach of the head of his cock into taeyong, the latter keens and he grips at johnny's shoulder, whining for more, more, more . so johnny gives him more. he pushes into the boy, hissing at the slippery wetness from the amount of lube he'd used earlier to stretch taeyong out. with every inch pushed into him, taeyong moans until johnny is fully sheathed inside of him, where he then stills save for the harsh grip he has on each of johnny's hips, as if torn between wanting johnny to pull out or push deeper in.
"move," taeyong chokes out, pleading and desperate. "please move. make love to me, johnny."
johnny's never made love to anyone before. sure, he'd slept with some girls and some boys occasionally, a simple and fun night with no repeats. almost everyone in college sleeps around at some point but he'd never been with anyone he actually had feelings for. he'd never been with anyone like taeyong.
he decides, however, a second later as he finally moves, that he doesn't think this would feel as amazing with anyone that isn't taeyong. he keeps the siren distracted with a kiss, languidly licking into his mouth as his hips roll down, cock pushing and pulling against the velvety, tight heat that is taeyong. he moans into the kiss, pulls away so he could rest his forehead upon taeyong's as he picks up a steady rhythm, thrusting into the smaller's pliant body.
"okay, baby?" he asks with a smile and taeyong nods eagerly, his own lips curling into a smile just before he gasps sharply, a clear indication that johnny had found his prostate once again. "god, you feel so good, taeyong. you're so good for me."
taeyong seems to reel at the praises, keening as his moans grow louder and then he whispers the very words that snap at johnny's patience and need to be gentle. "harder, johnny. please. fuck me ."
without being told twice, johnny picks up his pace. he straightens up and guides taeyong's legs around his waist for a better angle and with each hand gripping firmly at the smaller's hips, johnny fucks into him.
the siren cries out at the first harsh, deep thrust, his body thrashing in an attempt to pull away but kept in place by johnny's firm grip. he knows from taeyong's reaction that he had fucked right into his sweet spot and so johnny keeps at it, hips thrusting forward at an increasing pace, each one sending his cock plunging deep into taeyong's pretty little boy cunt.
"johnny… oh my gods, that's so good. again, right there. please, please, please." taeyong is sobbing, tears making his eyes glassy and spilling down his temples as his body is shunted upwards against the headboard from johnny's hard and fast thrusts.
it's incredible, it truly is. sex is enjoyable to a certain extent, johnny had always thought, and he knows this is their first time but he could already see a repeat of it in the coming days and weeks. and then maybe forever. johnny just has to find a way to keep taeyong here.
the room is filled with the sweet sounds of taeyong's moans, johnny's lower ones and the wet, squelching noises that came from the way he pounds into the siren's hot and tight heat, slickened with lube and his precum. taeyong is loud but johnny loves it, gets off to knowing he could bring such noises from the boy.
"you're so fucking tight, taeyong," he moans, gaze dropping onto where the male is stretched taut around his massive girth, swallowing him inside each time he pushes into his body. arousal coils tight within johnny's core and he feels himself veering close towards an orgasm and naturally but absently, he warns the other. "fuck, i'm close. baby, i'm gonna cum. i'm so fucking close."
taeyong's moans turn into whimpers and johnny watches as the smaller male meets his gaze, as if considering, but then he's spreading his legs wider, head lifted to watch johnny pound into him. "inside," taeyong says. "cum inside me. please. fill me up."
that does it for johnny, whose moans grow a notch louder as he chases after his orgasm and cumming within a dozen or so thrusts. his moans are a little higher in pitch as his cock throbs and milks thick spurts of his release into the smaller's body. his climax seems to have triggered taeyong's because then the siren is gasping, his thighs quaking and johnny aids in stroking at his neglected cock until he, too, spills all over johnny's big hand, pooling at his belly.
they stay that way for a little while, johnny caressing taeyong's soft thighs as the latter tries to collect his breathing, eyes closed and chest heaving. he whimpers when johnny pulls out gently, slowly so as to not hurt or startle him before kisses him on his forehead and goes to retrieve wet cloths to clean taeyong with. by the time johnny had put everything away and cleaned up, taeyong is snoring softly in his bed, looking small and beautiful and everything that makes johnny happy.
he turns off the light and slips into bed next to taeyong, the movement stirring the boy awake for just a little, enough for him to snuggle up against johnny's chest. he kisses into taeyong's hair, kisses at the crown of his head. under the very low light, taeyong's hair looks white, missing the purple tint and the slight blues johnny usually sees.
johnny is just bordering at the edge of sleep when he hears taeyong's whisper to his cheek.
"i love you, johnny."
he smiles and even though he's close to falling asleep, he knows taeyong is smiling too. "i love you too, taeyong."
through the following week, johnny learns two very important things he feels should have been obvious to him but clearly not obvious enough for him to notice if taeyong hadn't pointed it out. one being yuta having secretly developed a crush on jaehyun and his feelings returned and two; taeyong is very, very, very horny.
the latter shouldn't really surprise johnny, seeing as taeyong is a siren and all the myths he'd read had said something about their high sexual drive or something like feeding off someone's lust. taeyong doesn't explain it and johnny doesn't complain. it's a win-win and they both just end up incredibly sated.
for the entire week after their first time, johnny's had to decline his friends' offers to go out so he could spend the time with taeyong. they eat, they fuck, they sleep. johnny's starting to think he'd won the lottery.
they talked a lot too, johnny realized. he told taeyong about his mother and his aunt and how he misses them from time to time. he told him about how his father walked out on them on his twelfth birthday and that's what made him wander out and found the cave. taeyong didn't tell him much about his family, however, just that he has many of them and still feels alone. johnny held his hand and told him he would never be alone again. taeyong's smile was blinding.
they had to go out at some point, however, so when an old classmate from high school, jeonghan, invites them over for a campfire-party thing at the beach, johnny takes it as a good opportunity for taeyong to enjoy something very human. the siren is all too happy to go, no complaints whatsoever.
jeonghan had shared the same class as johnny and yuta back in the day. he had always been life of the party, soft on the exterior but tough on the inside, dating a fellow classmate johnny wasn't so close to, a pretty good kid named seungcheol. jeonghan's parties had always been the most enjoyable. no fights because jeonghan doesn't tolerate it and their friends respect that. if anything, it's the perfect place to bring taeyong.
now as the music blasts and johnny could feel the heat of the fire burning even in this distance, he watches taeyong dance with some of the people he recognized from his old school. he doesn't know how to dance dance but taeyong is a fast learner and before long he's dancing and laughing with the girls and the boys that bothered to get off their asses.
"damn, johnny. you lucked out." yuta says, breaking johnny's focus away from taeyong. there's a smile on his face and johnny mirrors it, the both of them once again looking over where taeyong is having fun.
"yeah," johnny agrees, lifting the red cup of fruit punch he'd poured for himself to his lips and taking a sip. "it's kinda weird if i think about it. you guys know i've literally never been in a relationship before. and then, it just- happens. there he is."
yuta hums. he looks a little distracted, like there's something he wants to say and johnny recalls what taeyong had told him about yuta and jaehyun, something he'd said in passing when they were watching tv and the characters in the film had a moment. taeyong's exact words had been 'aw, they look just like yuta and jaehyun. or at least how they would look if they'd come clean about how they feel.'
that, of course, had made johnny pause the film and make taeyong explain . he thought he knew his best friends and this entire time, he'd believed jaehyun still has at least a little bit of feelings for doyoung, not yuta. taeyong had been giggly, saying something about how he knows these things by heart and how his gut could just pinpoint two people who are meant to be.
johnny guessed it's some kind of siren power.
he nudges at yuta's knee with his own, deciding that one of the many factors to the boy's behavior could be that he's afraid to be open, for some reason. so as the oldest now that taeil isn't around, johnny feels somewhat responsible. "you lucked out too, you know?"
yuta looks confused. "what do you mean?"
"little bird told me you and jaehyun been kinda hitting it off lately. care to explain?" johnny teases.
if it wasn't for the dark of the night and the light reflecting off the fire, johnny's pretty sure yuta is blushing. "remember the party doyoung and jaehyun fought at?" yuta says, smiling a little. "we started hanging out properly after that night. i dunno, i guess it just sorta happened."
johnny watches as yuta's shoulders sag and he could only guess why, so he says; "listen, man, fuck it, alright? life is short. if you like someone, you like 'em. if they don't like you back, well. it's not the end of the world now, is it?"
"no, i know," yuta says quickly, clearing his throat and johnny follows his gaze, off to where taeyong is laughing over something jaehyun is telling him. they smile fondly before yuta adds. "it's just that- we've been friends for so long. and we talked about it and we're both afraid of the same thing. even if i pull through and pick up my balls and do it , who's to say he'd want the same thing?"
johnny considers this, nodding his head as he lets his gaze stray to taeyong once again. under the dark light, taeyong looks ethereal. there's a glow to his skin and a shine to his smile, like the moon is happy it gets to see taeyong directly, without the water to keep him hidden. he watches as taeyong speaks to jaehyun, sparkle in his eyes and understanding in jaehyun's. and somehow, in some odd way, johnny thinks jaehyun would want the same thing.
"he would," he says finally, squeezing yuta's knee. "talk to him, when you decide to pick those balls up and do it. but don't wait too long."
yuta smiles, grateful, and then he sighs and playfully adds, "wish it's like you and taeyong. you guys are probably gonna move in together someday and all that sappy shit. and there's no worry of ruining friendships. one less thing to worry about."
oh, yuta, johnny thinks through his smile and gritted teeth. if only it was that easy.
he starts looking for ways to get taeyong to stay, a loophole to the magic he'd used so it could be permanent, anything so he doesn't have to ever lose taeyong. the siren didn't explain what he'd meant when he said johnny won't be able to see him again but johnny guesses it couldn't be anything good.
it's just- the closer they get to taeyong's final week on land, the more anxious johnny becomes because it's starting to feel so, so real and it actually really fucking hurts. it hurts to think about continuing life after taeyong without taeyong in it. it hurts to think about sitting in his little cave and not be able to see taeyong swim to shore and greet him with his little tail flick.
but like he's thought through so many times before — johnny lived a simple life. he didn't believe in a lot of things but that his mother is somewhere nice and peaceful, where she's happy and safe. he didn't believe in astrology or ghosts or fucking mermaids. so it clearly doesn't help that he has no idea where to even begin looking for help. it feels like they're doomed and meant to part and it feels stupid and unreal and he didn't think love could be so tragic.
"lovesickness used to be a real disease in the middle ages," taeyong tells him one night, as they lay on the sand and watch the clear sky expose the stars. taeyong had bought himself a denim jacket to match his ripped jeans and he looks amazing, as he always does.
johnny doesn't believe in lovesickness because it doesn't make sense for someone to get sick because of love and it certainly wasn't why his mother died but he listens anyway. instead of looking up and appreciating the stars, johnny appreciates taeyong's face. he has his head turned slightly so he could keep his eyes on the smaller's side profile, watching him talk with a fond smile on his lips. "do you think it's real now?"
taeyong smiles, shrugging his shoulders. "i think it depends. if the love is true, then it could be. do you want to hear a story, johnny?"
yes, johnny thinks, i want to hear all the stories you want to tell me . he doesn't say them, however, and instead nods his head and shifts onto his side to fully face the siren. taeyong mirrors him and they giggle as they lay facing each other. the night is cool but johnny feels only warmth.
"my mother used to read me stories of ancient greek times when i was little," taeyong starts, busying his hand by tucking strands of johnny's hair behind his ear as he continues. "she liked to talk about the gods and the goddesses and old love stories that happened during the time. doyoung told me they're called greek myths when i pointed out the painting of aphrodite the other day. it's funny how humans are quick to call us a myth if the idea of our existence make them quiver.
taeyong's nose scrunches up the way johnny realizes he does often when he disapproves. it's endearing johnny chuckles as he takes taeyong's hand to kiss his knuckles. "you're a myth because you're too good to be true. even now i don't think you're real."
pink colors the siren's cheeks as he giggles, squeezing johnny's larger hand. "i'm real," he says, guiding johnny's hand to his chest where he could feel the faint thump, thump, thump of his heart. "this is real and it's yours."
johnny's own chest flares with warmth. please , he prays to nothing and no one in particular, pained by the loss of his mother and his missing father and the impending doom that is taeyong's inevitable disappearance. not taeyong, anyone but taeyong.
"anyways," taeyong continues, frowning and pouting his lips in thought that makes him look so, so endearing, so small and precious. "mother used to tell me about orpheus of thrace . he was the son of the muse calliope and apollo, the god of the sun and many things, including music and poetry. this one's the love story of orpheus and his wife eurydice . she was a beautiful oak nymph and he was a legendary musician and poet. can you imagine how beautiful that could have been? it's truly sad."
the last statement peaks johnny's interest, brows furrowing as he prompts taeyong to continue. "what happened to them?"
taeyong hums, pursing his lips as if genuinely saddened by what he already knows and is about to tell johnny. "there are so many versions of the story, really. but mother had lived for a very long time and she told me she had met eurydice in person and that they'd even talked."
it takes johnny a little while to do the math, realizing how long ago the stories of the greek myths had happened and he wonders how old taeyong truly is. he'd mentioned before back when they were just talking that they're the same age but johnny can't help wondering. as if taeyong could read his mind, he laughs and says, "don't worry, baby. i am twenty-five. i'd never lie to you. i am the youngest of my fifty siblings, though. you'd be surprised to know how old my firstborn sister is."
a second ticks by and johnny's smile widens, "imagine if you'd been way older. kinda like dating an older man. which is kinda sexy. only because it's you, though."
taeyong laughs at that, loud and unabashed, the sound like music to johnny's ears. "you're weird. you are a weird human being, johnny suh. i will take that compliment, though. thank you for your generosity."
the taller male chuckles at the sarcasm that drips from taeyong's voice before he clears his throat and prompts the other to continue. "okay, no more distractions."
"well, i believe mother's version of the story the most because she had lived during the time and father swore it was the truest version," taeyong lets out a fond chuckle, as if speaking of his parents makes him a little sad. " orpheus and eurydice were in love and they were married for a short time but they were happy. eurydice liked to dance with the other nymphs, mother said. they used to dance and sing along the river banks and mother and her sisters would join them sometimes. she was river-born before she married father and moved into the palace in the ocean.
"being a beautiful woman, eurydice attracted a lot of suitors but she'd married orpheus ," taeyong continues, "there was a particular shepherd, aristaeus , who was entranced by her beauty and made advances towards her and in her attempt to flee from him, she accidentally stepped on a poisonous snake that bit her and died instantly. i can only imagine the sorrow that orpheus had to go through. he sang and played songs of his sadness that moved even the gods."
johnny listens intently, understanding the sorrow and there's a heavy weight that settles on his chest, afraid he would have to find out just how orpheus had felt.
even taeyong looks forlorn, his eyes sad and he rolls onto his back, looking up at the sky. johnny shifts, moves a little closer and he guides taeyong into his arms so the siren could rest his head on his chest, snuggled up to him on the sand.
" orpheus was determined to get eurydice back," taeyong resumes, his hand slipping under johnny's shirt to splay his warm hand over his belly. "he tricked his way into the underworld by playing his music, protected by the gods, where he met hades , the god of the dead and king of the underworld, with his wife persephone . initially hades wasn't moved but persephone was, so she managed to convince hades to let orpheus bring eurydice back home."
"that sounds like a good ending," johnny intercepts.
taeyong's head lifts and he has the smile that makes him look wise beyond his age. "i'm not finished. hades agreed but on one condition; orpheus was not allowed to look back on his way back up to the human dimension but guess what? he did. and he lost eurydice forever."
johnny's heart sinks into his stomach. he didn't realize he was expecting something good to come out of the story taeyong chose to tell him but listening to the ending has his heart cracking just a tiny bit. he must look sad because then taeyong is smiling at him, shifting up so he could lean down and bring johnny into a soft, gentle kiss, a hand on the side of his face.
"if it makes you feel any better," taeyong says when they part. "people said orpheus was lying about seeing hades or even getting into the underworld at all. said he'd gone delusional after losing his wife. the world heard his mourning songs, begging for his life to be taken too so he could be with her again."
silence blanket them after, in a way that is comfortable, of johnny staring at taeyong's pretty, pink lips and taeyong brushing johnny's hair back. johnny opens his mouth to speak but finds that he doesn't really know what to say so instead he leans up and rests his weight onto an elbow, gently gripping at the siren's jaw as he leans to press another kiss onto his mouth. it's deeper, more passionate, saying words johnny couldn't say aloud and he could already feel taeyong melt into the kiss, into him.
"stay with me," johnny says after, a blurt of a whisper muttered against the smaller's mouth. "don't go. stay."
taeyong looks down then and johnny presses his lips to his forehead, pleading. the siren's smaller hand is gripping at the front of johnny's shirt gently and when he looks up, there are tears in his eyes but they don't fall. "i want to. i really, really want to. but unless we find permanent magic then i don't think i can, johnny."
"i'll find a way," johnny blurts out without a second thought or any idea how to pull through. "i will. i'll save you, taeyong. i'll make you happy."
the siren smiles, teary and doubtful. but he smiles and that's all johnny needed to keep looking.
johnny is running out of time and with just a few more days to spare before taeyong would ultimately lose his legs for his tail again, he grows more and more anxious. he certainly does not need anymore news being bombed onto him out of nowhere but that, it seems, to be exactly what is heading towards him.
to start off his monday on taeyong's final week, johnny received a call from taeil's mom with news that taeil had gotten into an accident in hawaii, where he's currently exploring, but assures johnny that he's okay and that after he's discharged, taeil would be coming home. he worries, but he's glad that taeil is okay.
the second heart-wrenching news came from doyoung, who apparently had been crying when he called yuta and sobbed about jungwoo breaking things off with him. johnny had offered to be there for doyoung but yuta had insisted he go instead.
lastly, the third and most surprising information johnny finds came from taeyong himself. for some reason, johnny thinks if they were a normal couple and he's made to name one thing about taeyong that frustrates him to his core, it's that taeyong has an infuriating tendency to drop big bombs like these out of nowhere.
first it has been that yuta and jaehyun were harboring feelings that johnny had no idea about and now he's pretty sure taeyong is spewing nonsense.
"what do you mean jaehyun probably knows what you are? taeyong?? do you think you'll stop dropping this kind of thing on me without preparing me first??" johnny is saying, exasperated as he paces the floor of the kitchen.
taeyong puffs out his cheeks, looking small as he toys with the pen in his hand. "probably not," he says but curls in when johnny glares at him before he gets off his seat and huffs. "don't be mad at me when you're the clueless one! jaehyun told me last night that he could see the colors in that necklace i gave you. he's not supposed to unless he's you . so it's either you're, like, in love with him or that he has some merfolk blood in his system."
what the fuck? what the fucking fuck? johnny stares at taeyong, long and hard until the siren falters and looks like he's about to cry, which makes johnny feel guilty as he softens, mind reeling. "i'm not in love with him," johnny assures the other. "it's just- jaehyun is a siren?"
"no," taeyong is quick to say, confusing johnny even more. "he's not a siren. you've known him all your life, haven't you? have you ever seen him with a tail? he's not but the necklace- johnny, the necklace was made by my grandmother. she was a water nymph who got married to a siren, like me. she had powerful magic and made that pearl specifically for mother's last child. that's me. no mortal would be able to see the siren's colors unless they are merfolk or someone the siren has a deep connection with."
johnny tries to process this, sitting down on the nearest chair as his poor brain tries to make sense of it all. of all the things taeyong had told him, however, johnny could only pick up the fact that he had been able to see those colors the first time taeyong had placed the pearl in his palm. he smiles, causing taeyong to frown in confusion.
"if i'm not mistaken," johnny says, teasing. "you gave me your necklace the second time i saw you. are you saying you've been crushing on me for awhile?"
taeyong stares at johnny like he's grown a horn between his eyes. "that's your second time seeing me. it wasn't mine. i've been in love with you since the moment i set my eyes on you, johnny suh. i'm not human. i don't have crushes. i have love."
that leaves johnny momentarily speechless. it makes sense that there's no such thing as crushes in taeyong's world. one is either in love or not at all. they both stare at each other before johnny reaches out to curl his fingers around taeyong's wrist and pulls him onto his lap, where he then presses a kiss to the siren's cheek, his neck, his shoulder. "lovesickness is a real disease for us then, isn't it?"
taeyong's head turns so their eyes could meet. his smile is fond as he nods his head. "i believe that too."
they share a little smile, warmth in knowing their love for each other is equally returned but then johnny's reminded of the more pressing matters at hand and how maybe, just maybe, there's a way to save taeyong after all.
"about jaehyun. i think the three of us need to talk."
"i knew it!" jaehyun exclaims, dimples prominent on both of his cheeks as he grins at johnny and taeyong, as if taeyong coming clear about being otherworldly is equivalent to him coming out as gay.
they're seated at a cafe the day after because jaehyun had been busy last night and couldn't meet them. it's early, barely ten in the morning but it doesn't surprise johnny that jaehyun seems fresh; the boy had always been an early riser, energetic in some ways johnny, yuta, doyoung and taeil couldn't be.
now seated opposite jaehyun and next to taeyong at the cafe, johnny blinks at him. taeyong is grinning and then jaehyun full on beams at taeyong, crescent eyes and all. he looks between the two of them and it's never occurred to him just how similar they look until now, smiling at each other and giving off the same energy. while they don't look anything alike appearance wise, johnny can easily admit that jaehyun has always been pretty in the way that taeyong is beautiful.
he doesn't want to believe it, has no reason to because life isn't so filled with coincidences and because people can be pretty like jaehyun and not have to be half siren like taeyong is assuming. except, of course, there is taeyong and then there is jaehyun, both boys smiling at johnny with the same kind of fragility, the same soft edges, crinkles in their eyes and a kind of aura johnny didn't know he could sense. it's weird and almost impossible to explain but it just makes sense. it makes perfect sense.
"the question is," taeyong breaks the silence. "how?"
jaehyun's smile falters in the way that it does whenever he isn't particularly keen about sharing something that he knows and johnny knows this because they've been friends for so fucking long. in a way, he's a little bit amazed and a little bit offended that jaehyun had kept something so big from all of them. then again, he didn't think it's something he can disclose easily. if johnny hadn't met taeyong, he probably wouldn't have believed any of it.
looking at jaehyun now, johnny knows they're not going to get any answers if he doesn't press. johnny tries the only way he knows how. "jaehyunnie, please. it'll really help us. even if you don't want to get involved, anything that you know might help."
"wait, what do you mean?" jaehyun asks, brows furrowed and looking genuinely confused.
taeyong purses his lips, looking over at johnny as if looking for some type of signal to continue. johnny takes his hand, nodding and taeyong takes that as a cue to explain. "i've used magic for this chance to- well, to spend time with johnny here. on land. i don't know how much you know about your heritage but we're looking for anything at all to figure out how to make it possible for me to stay here and not go back."
jaehyun considers this, his gaze flitting between johnny and taeyong and he's never looked so confused. "what- what happens when you go back?"
"he won't be able to come up again, jae," johnny speaks up this time, resigned and so, so scared. taeyong hadn't told him what exactly would happen but johnny knows better than to assume taeyong would simply just have to stay within his castle. he knows his fate is much worse. "i won't be able to see him again."
the explanation, however, seems to be enough for jaehyun's confusion to turn into something like realization, leaning back in his seat and johnny could almost hear his thoughts racing. as much as johnny wonders how jaehyun could possibly be related to a siren, he doesn't really want to pressure the younger into spilling the secrets he'd kept so well.
it's not until a little while later that jaehyun finally speaks, planting hope into both johnny's and taeyong's worrying hearts. "i don't know how exactly but… i think i might know someone who does."
"i don't know a lot about my family," jaehyun is saying as johnny drives them to his house, his voice soft and taeyong had insisted the younger take the passenger side of the car and chose to sit in the back.
jaehyun sighs, as if he's truly exhausted. "eomma doesn't like it, really. she told me stories growing up, enough for me to have a basic understanding about her side of the family."
from the backseat, taeyong leans forward. "what about sigils and pendants and colors? how did you know what i am?"
"eomma taught me those too. it's important that i recognize them, she said. so i don't accidentally get in trouble should i stumble upon one," jaehyun explains, looking proud as he glances at the necklace on johnny's chest. "i've never seen anything like yours in the books, though. i only knew because of the colors."
"it was made for me," taeyong says, fondness in his gaze and his hand feels warm and electrifying against johnny's skin when he reaches out to touch the pendant. "i don't really know what for but it's protected johnny from the other merfolks. or at least from having to hear their songs."
jaehyun hums, thinking. "i hope we get to find some answers. i wish i knew what to do but i grew up with little knowledge. mom doesn't want me to be involved in any of it. she was glad i was born purely mortal."
"you still have strong merfolk blood in you, jaehyun," taeyong says. "i can feel it. the energy radiating off your skin. whichever merfolk that is in your family, they were a strong one."
johnny glances over to see the two sharing a smile. if he didn't know better, johnny thinks he might be jealous. but he does know better and somehow he could understand the kind of bond taeyong and jaehyun already have, even if they weren't blood related. it makes him somewhat soft, like his best friend accepting his boyfriend into the group, if his life was still that simple.
they stay silent for a little while but approaching the neighborhood that they'd have to pass through to get to jaehyun's house, jaehyun speaks up again. "could we stop at yuta's? just a minute. i have something i need to give him."
taeyong hums in the back and from a single glance over the rearview mirror, johnny could see a satisfied smile on his lips, as if he'd gotten through to jaehyun enough to get the boy to talk to yuta. johnny shakes his head because somehow he thinks he falls in love with taeyong all over again.
yuta must have heard his car pulling up because as soon as he stops, the younger is already opening his front door, looking a little confused as to why johnny had come over so early in the day. he rolls his window down to wave at the boy and yuta smiles, waiting.
to jaehyun, johnny adds. "you guys aren't gonna make out or anything right? because like, we're running short on time."
jaehyun's cheeks turn pink but taeyong smacks johnny right on his arm, causing him to hiss. taeyong is glaring at him, not the kind that makes him look dangerous but rather adorable and he speaks once jaehyun is out of the car. "let them take their time. we don't want to obstruct true love, johnny suh."
johnny is, after all, just a boy in love and it doesn't matter that anything taeyong says aren't what he believes. taeyong does soften and he kisses the arm that he hits before pressing one onto johnny's cheek, gesturing for him to look at the two standing on yuta's doorway. johnny looks over, finding jaehyun smiling and yuta mirroring the smile. they exchange a few words he couldn't hear but then jaehyun is turning, deep dimples in his cheeks, looking exceptionally happy.
once he's in the car, he doesn't say anything and johnny and taeyong don't ask. they waved yuta goodbye and then johnny drives them off, to where he hopes they would find the answers to save his heart.
jaehyun lives in a big house, a little further off from the rest of them, amongst the houses that came in pairs and decorated the skirts of town. they always dreaded going to jaehyun's back in high school, mostly for the fact that they'd have to cycle up hill and so far from school, unlike taeil's place that took only five minutes, or johnny's, whose house is mostly empty save for his aunt. even then she had been kind and usually left them alone.
they have met jaehyun's parents, of course, whether at christmas or the rare times that all five of them hung out in jaehyun's room. his mother is a housewife and father a rather successful businessman, or at least that's what johnny knows. lately, though, johnny feels like he doesn't know anything anymore.
upon pulling up into the driveway to jaehyun's mansion, johnny sees his mother already waiting so he assumes the younger male must have told her beforehand. he's a little anxious, heart racing against his chest and taeyong doesn't look any better. it's not that jaehyun's mom, mrs jung or seri, as she'd insisted they call her, looks anything like a mom should look, let alone strict or unkind. johnny's only nervous because he's expecting answers but knows expectations come with disappointments.
jung seri, like her son, is beautiful. they had always thought so about jaehyun's mother and it makes sense because jaehyun is a handsome, charming boy. she has the same soft edges that he does, a little aged now but looking young enough to throw other women her age into a fit of envy. she has a dimple on her right cheek, and long, flowing black hair that falls across her back.
she holds out her arms when the three boys got off the car and like a child, jaehyun pads over and engulfs her within his arms. taeyong is smiling and he doesn't wait for johnny to move before he steps away, approaching the older woman in confident strides. johnny follows behind him, bowing in respectful greeting and seri smiles and bows back in return, almost distractedly, because her gaze lands on taeyong and her expression changes.
"are you the one jaehyun speaks of?" seri asks though johnny has a feeling she already knows. taeyong nods and her smile widens. "you're from melliora. the only prince."
taeyong's eyes widen, his irises turning lighter purples. "yes, that's me. i'm nyvorlas of melliora . how did you know?"
" nyvorlas? " johnny repeats, beyond confused and maybe a little upset for not knowing this sooner.
it's seri that explains instead of taeyong. "sirens don't use their birth names, john. please don't be angry that he didn't tell you, especially someone of his position."
johnny hides the pain he feels pretty well, he thinks, even though he couldn't help sparing taeyong a look, the siren looking both guilty and somewhat scared. more than angry, johnny is a little sad. he had always thought taeyong to be true and honest but he'd said he didn't have a name, a blatant lie right in johnny's face.
he doesn't say another word, however, instead following seri and jaehyun into the house with taeyong tailing behind him.
they're made to sit in the living space as the helper brings them cups of tea to drink. seri disappears into her room and returns with a ring, holding a similar stone that is plain and unlike the one johnny wears. taeyong and jaehyun seem to be able to see the colors, however, because then taeyong is standing up to take a closer look, expression in complete awe mixed with a shadow of realization.
"white…" taeyong whispers, eyeing the ring before he looks up at seri. "you were of the marmara sea? but how…? i don't understand."
even jaehyun looks a little lost, sharing a look with johnny before they both look over at seri to see what she had to say. she smiles, hands closing around taeyong's that is holding the ring. "i fell in love, child . anything is possible when you're in love."
taeyong's head turns and johnny meets his gaze. there's something in his eyes that johnny could feel in his heart and all of the anger and disappointment he had felt just earlier seemed to dissipate. there's hope that lingers in the question between them, something so prominent he could almost taste it in the air, so real that he thinks if he reaches out, he could have it within his grasp. perhaps taeyong could stay, after all.
"i didn't know you were a siren, ma," jaehyun breaks the silence. he doesn't look angry, though, just amazed. his smile is still present, like finding out his mother was not human isn't a surprise.
the events that unfolded within the next few seconds happen in a blur of panic and fear. seri opens her mouth to speak but what johnny hears is taeyong's gasp. when he looks over at the siren, johnny thinks he had never seen taeyong look so pale, his face twisted into an agonized expression and johnny stumbles over when taeyong's knees seem to buckle and he collapses, his fall broken when johnny catches him.
"taeyong? babe, are you okay?" johnny asks, his heart pounding against his chest and mind racing, panic settling in as jaehyun and seri crouched over them.
taeyong is panting, sweat beading across his forehead and johnny is quickly losing him, his eyelids hooded as he drifts in and out of unconsciousness. "i can't- can't feel my legs, johnny. i can't breathe."
"he's transitioning," seri says, worry in her eyes as she uses two of her fingers to feel the pulse on taeyong's neck. "when is he due to return?"
"next week," johnny blurts out. he's in disarray, thoughts running in all the different directions and so, so confused and scared and angry that everything is happening this way. "we were supposed to have at least another week. what's going on?"
seri is moving then, explaining as she does. "we have to bring him to the sea," she says, slipping on her ring and signaling for jaehyun to follow. "quick, john. taeyong doesn't have much time. the longer he stays on land, the easier it could kill him."
johnny moves. he doesn't think or question seri; he simply moves. he carries taeyong in his arms and brings them as fast his legs could take them to the car, where he gently places taeyong in the back seat and presses a kiss to his temple. when he turns, seri is approaching him, her face weary.
"jaehyun and i will be there as soon as we can. if possible, keep him awake and breathing, even after he's fully transitioned. don't let him swim away."
johnny nods and he doesn't wait another second before he hops into the car and drives off into the direction of the beach, where he had found the cave, where he'd met taeyong and then later found him on the sand.
his vision blurs as tears pooled in his eyes and he wipes at the ones that roll down his cheeks. the last time johnny had cried was when his mother had passed because it had hurt too much then.
it seems to hurt so much more now.
johnny doesn't spend much time thinking about the future. it makes him scared and anxious, the thought that he doesn't have it all figured out. taeil is out to see the world and yuta wants to be a doctor so he does his best for all the certificates he would need to be one. doyoung, on one hand, has always dreamt of becoming a lawyer and that had been why he goes to university all the way in seoul.
jaehyun wants to be a model but johnny thinks he already is one.
up until he had met taeyong, johnny had no idea how his future would look like, what he'd become or how he would have spent the rest of his life. now, however, as he sits on the wet sand and taeyong half sprawled over his lap, johnny thinks he knows what he wants.
he just doesn't know if he could have it.
he'd carried taeyong all the way over to his little cave, ignoring everyone and anyone that might have seen him. with the siren half dipped into the water, johnny had quickly helped him out of his clothes, jeans first before the hoodie he'd stolen off johnny's closet.
"hey, stay with me," johnny says, trying to keep taeyong awake for long enough until seri would join them. he brushes taeyong's hair off his forehead, dampened from sweat and the splashes that came from the waves. "stay with me, tae."
taeyong's eyes are tired, half closed but he tries to look up at johnny, a faint smile on his lips. "don't be scared, johnny suh. you have to be unafraid, remember?"
johnny's nodding his head even without fully registering what taeyong is telling him. he fights back the tears that threaten to fall, leaning down to press a kiss onto the siren's forehead. taeyong's screams as his legs are merged into one, single tail would haunt johnny forever. when he looks over where his legs had been, johnny witnesses the gruesome sight of the two limbs combining into one, his feet transforming into fin and soon he sees the familiar shape and colors of taeyong's tail. the markings on his fingers and forehead are back, ears pointed at the ends. johnny wonders how much worse it must have been when he was transitioning into human and he feels somewhat guilty that taeyong had chosen to do so. the siren doesn't look any better, however, weak and frail and fragile, at the brink of unconsciousness.
"don't leave me, baby," johnny whispers, pleading as he continues to run his fingers through the latter's hair.
he doesn't realize the change in atmosphere until he hears the voices, the same song that lured him into the water all those weeks ago. it makes him look up to see that the sky is dark, like it would start raining soon. and then he sees it in a far distance, coming towards him at a rather fast speed and with just a single look, johnny knows it couldn't be anything good. still, he stays rooted in place, holding taeyong.
first he spots a head, rising up and breaking through the surface of the water. then he sees a pair of white eyes, pupils in black slits, hair as black as night. she hisses at him and while she is beautiful, there is an intangible aura of danger that she exerts while she glares at him. she rises up high, the water seemingly under her control and he could see the beginnings of her black tail. she carries a long spear with a sharp, pointed end and right when he thinks she would strike at him, johnny hears her speak and she sounds nothing like taeyong.
"return nyvorlas to us," she says simply, her voice echoing in the most eerie way and when johnny doesn't budge, she flicks her wrist enough to point the pointed end of her spear towards taeyong, effectively wrenching him from johnny's hold. to johnny, she continues, her face pained in a way, "you have taken our brother from us. do not expect to see him again. you'll hear the songs of our loss and live the remainder of your lifetime knowing you're the only one to blame."
she hisses, like an animal more than a human and with taeyong in her grasp, the siren jumps back into the water and disappears. in his haste and panic, johnny follows. he swims and swims but he couldn't see, couldn't breathe. taeyong is gone. he's gone and johnny will never see him again.
as he swims back to shore, heavy with the weight of the water on his clothes and his head spinning, tears pouring in streaks down his cheeks, johnny has only himself to blame.
by the time seri and jaehyun came, it was too late. they find johnny just outside of his cave, next to the boulder, because the little opening had been completely covered in the high tide. he's aware of his surroundings but he feels a little numb, at least physically. inside, his heart hurts, pained from the loss in ways that he cannot possibly explain.
jaehyun drops onto his knees and cradles johnny's head to his chest, hugs him close without saying a word and johnny appreciates it. he doesn't think anything they would have to say would help.
whilst jaehyun holds johnny in the safe of his arms, johnny notices seri stepping closer to the water. he couldn't see her face but he knows from just the way she stands that she's thinking. they stay that way for a little longer before they hear it, the mournful song sung by a single voice. the sadness and sorrow it carries sit heavy on his chest and johnny finds himself unable to breathe, fearing the worst.
he frees himself from jaehyun's hold and stands up, walking over towards where the waves crash against land. his eyes search the vast expanse even though he knows he wouldn't find anything. the song grows louder, clearer, so heavily mournful that his heart aches. taeyong's face flashes whenever he blinks.
on his chest, where the pearl pendant sits, it burns his skin but instead of taking it off, johnny closes his fist around it, lets it burn his palm.
"is he-" he starts but seri shakes her head.
"no, he lives," she says, her eyes searching as well and there are unshed tears in them. "that is his song. he's lonely. he's scared. he's hoping, praying."
johnny shakes his head again, unable and refusing to hear any more of what seri had to say. god, his heart aches. it's so heavy he could hardly breathe. his head is spinning and his hands feel so, so numb. the song fades into an echo and johnny swears he had heard taeyong's familiar voice call his name. but there was nothing. taeyong is gone and he needs to find a way to bring him home.
clenching his jaw, he turns towards seri, knowing she is the only one who could help. "seri, please. whatever it is you did, please . i need to know. i need to save him. his place is with me, no matter our differences. he says the fates wrote our paths and this is mine so please. i beg you, seri."
"johnny-" jaehyun calls but seri stops her son with a kind smile. she turns to look at johnny, a hand raised to cup his cheek the way his mother used to do when he was little and his heart hurts a little bit more.
seri's own eyes are dampened with tears but she nods as she makes her promise. "we will do everything in our power, john. i will help you, even if i have to return to the sea myself."
"eomma," jaehyun protests, concern making his shoulders tense. "please… we'll do something, anything, as long as you don't have to go back."
johnny would tell jaehyun not to worry, if it was any other day and any other person he was trying to rescue. but it's taeyong and if seri had been able to live on land this entire time, he knows he could find a way for taeyong to do the same.
taeyong has felt many things in his lifetime. he is young but time in the water goes slow and with a lot of time to spare, taeyong learns. he learns in every way he could learn, about everything there is to learn. he is unafraid, not of the humans or the rogue octofolks who are known to strike and kill or the sharks and whales and every dangerous thing there is in the sea. he learns of the songs the sirens sing, from this kingdom to the next and all the other seas where merfolks reside.
taeyong has knowledge and he is unafraid.
and then there was johnny, who was kind and had accepted him easily. johnny who has a nice laugh, not too loud like most human men taeyong had heard before. he is gentle and soft, tall and strong and he loves his friends, loves his late mother, loves taeyong.
no one has ever loved taeyong so deeply, so selflessly.
he was unafraid and then there was johnny and for the first time in his life, taeyong fears.
he had never felt so helpless. he was weak and in pain when hyuna had come up to the surface and spoken to johnny herself. he'd wanted to hold on to johnny, his johnny, his human but transitioning back into his natural form had taken so much of his energy. it was why it had taken him so long to recover from having a tail to actual human legs with the help of jongin's magic, enough to make his presence known and have johnny find him on the sand.
then again, even if he was at his full power, hyuna was a million times stronger, thousands of years older. taeyong's abilities would never be a match to hers.
the journey to the palace was a blur as he drifted in and out of sleep and when he had finally properly focused, it was when a cecaelia guard was shoving him into a cage he knew was located at the west wing of the palace.
he'd strayed and swum here in secret from time to time, watching, learning. all the merfolks that had committed some kind of crime are placed in cages like this, metal bars that send an electric shock to their skin if they touch it. taeyong shudders and he stays in the center, grateful that he's small enough to not be touching the four walls of electrical bars.
taeyong has never cried before, not even when his mother passed three years ago, an unfortunate queen who had gotten into an accident with a group of drunken cecaelias and died a gruesome death. taeyong never found out why she was out unguarded but a part of him wants to believe that she loved to see the world above as much as he does.
now, though, as he wraps his own arms around his body and sings his song of sorrow, of loss and pain, taeyong couldn't help but cry anyway. it hurts as each tear that leaves him burns his cheeks, leaving searing trails until they dropped off his skin and became floating pearls he wished no one would find. he hisses for each tear that falls until he couldn't keep singing.
for a long, long time, taeyong sings and cries. he doesn't stop until he hears the electric bars open and looks up to see hyuna, taeyeon and chungha staring down at him. he guesses it's time and his heart breaks once more over the fact that he wouldn't get to see johnny again.
when taeyong was barely fifteen, taeyeon was the one who showed him the glass orb of knowledge, though it wasn't the first time he'd seen it. mother was kind and gentle and she'd wanted him to be just as kind so she had made sure to show him the globe any chance she got and usually when father is away for a hunt.
taeyeon is special too, like hyuna and taeyong, baekhyun and chungha. she has flowers in her long, blonde hair that flow down right to her waist but they float all around her when she swims. her colors are soft; pale pink scales and even paler, translucent fin. she has always been more gentle than hyuna and chungha, only a few decades older than taeyong.
chungha is fierce and her colors are reds, from her hair to her eyes to every scale on her body. she is the most competitive siren taeyong has ever known and every time there was an opening for her to challenge hyuna, chungha never backs down. at some point when he was younger, taeyong had wondered if she would become a usurper. he hadn't wanted that to happen.
amongst the many sisters he has, hyuna, taeyeon and chungha cradled him the most, telling him stories of the other sisters that their importance are not level with theirs, that they are simply nameless sirens lucky enough to be born to a king father and a queen mother.
they were wrong, though. taeyong isn't unkind and whilst he had nodded to what his sisters told him, he still took the time to swim with the others. they would sing and laugh and play with dolphins and turtles and everyone that cared enough to join. they had liked him and they were not at all the envious sirens that hyuna, taeyeon and chungha had tried to make him believe.
still, even through his rebellious behavior and stubborn ways, taeyong had hoped the three would still love and spare him with mercy. yet now he sits in the center of the royal court, caged again whilst all his sisters hovered around him. he couldn't find baekhyun anywhere. his father stays in his corner, guarded by two cecaelia guards taeyong knows are always by his sides, head held high and gaze refusing to shift for fear he would meet taeyong's. this is supposed to be family, he thinks, yet it doesn't feel like he even belongs.
hyuna sits in the court throne, where father used to in his ruling days. taeyong guesses he had allowed her to take his place and prepare her for her duties as queen. on each of her sides, taeyeon and chungha keep their eyes on him. one kind, one disappointed.
there is nothing in hyuna's white eyes.
"you do know the purpose of your trial, do you not?" hyuna questions, in their tongue and nothing like the human language she had used when she spoke to johnny. " nyvorlas , do you know your crime?"
taeyong drops his gaze to his hands, watches the way the purple intricate lines on his fingers seem to sway. he nods, "i know why i'm here. but i refuse to see it as a crime. what is criminal about chasing happiness?"
chungha's red eyes flashed and she straightens up, clearly angry. "to go against your nature is a crime, nyvorlas ! you've ventured far beyond the sea."
" asherah !" hyuna hisses, baring fangs towards chungha, who visibly holds herself back from denying the crown princess in front of such a large audience. taeyong wants to scoff. chungha has never liked being called by her birth name, not even by the royals.
as chungha backs down, hyuna speaks again. "i will speak and i will question our brother." she gets off the throne to swim towards him, circling the cage with her spear, dark like her hair and made specifically for her like taeyong's pendant is for him.
taeyong keeps his gaze down, refusing to look directly at hyuna. not because he is afraid of her but he was already in deep trouble and to gaze directly into a queen's eyes would be equal to challenging her, even if hyuna is not yet crowned.
"you did it for a mortal," hyuna finally speaks again, this time hovering in the space right before his cage. "shall i put an end to his pathetic little life? perhaps that would be punishment enough for you."
"don't touch him!" taeyong hisses, baring his own pair of canines and without thinking twice, he grips at the bars of his cage, flinching back as soon as they electrocute his fingers. it gives him time to calm down, time to think rationally. he tries again softly, hoping there's mercy still in hyuna's heart. "please, nesaea . i beg you. kill me. like they did kaerius . that is a just punishment. please don't touch him."
hyuna doesn't speak as she turns her back on him and taeyong begins calling for her, begging, so, so afraid. when she does turn again, he could almost see sadness in her eyes as she speaks. "i had great love for you, my dear nyvorlas . but you've not only disappointed me but our entire kingdom. this crime would travel across the seas and reach the other merfolk kingdoms. you've brought shame upon melliora ."
taeyong is crying again and he doesn't care about his burning tears as he watches hyuna leave with taeyeon and chungha in tow. he cries as the guards carried his cage away, back in the west wing, a prince now amongst the filthiest criminals.
all because he wanted to be happy.
Part III: Endings
johnny couldn't sleep no matter how much he tried. seri had driven him and jaehyun back to the mansion and insisted that he get some rest while she made a few calls. if she had any direction at all about where to go from here, she didn't show it. it made him restless.
he tries to sleep after a quick shower to wash himself off the sea water but he ends up in bed with his eyes closed and the image of taeyong behind his lids. he hears him, the song he sings that is heavy with his pain. johnny listens to him but the harder he tries to focus, the louder the other siren song starts to play. it's almost as if they try to drown out taeyong's song.
it's hard to think of what would happen within the next hour, let alone what would happen tomorrow. would seri have found at least something for him to do to save taeyong? he wants to believe she would. she was one of them and she had chosen her fate, she had chosen jaehyun even before knowing she would have him. johnny just wants taeyong to be here.
if she could stay on land for this long, johnny can't see why taeyong couldn't.
thinking about taeyong hurts his head so he tries closing his eyes and hiding his face into jaehyun's pillow, in jaehyun's bed, dressed in jaehyun's spare clothes. he wants to go back to the three weeks he had with taeyong because he had been so happy.
he doesn't realize he'd fallen asleep until he hears the knocking on his door, blinking rapidly and groaning when his body aches from the position he'd slept in. the door opens anyway and johnny lifts his head to see jaehyun peeking in. he's dressed in a different pair of clothes and johnny wonders just how long he'd slept.
"how long was i out?" he asks.
jaehyun steps into his own room, a soft smile on his lips. "not long enough. it's barely nine but i know you didn't sleep until very late. ma needs you downstairs, though. we have guests."
that was enough to get johnny to sit up, though he regrets it as soon as his head starts to pound. he winces, getting off the bed anyway because all he could think of was that seri had found help. before he could go, however, jaehyun stops him.
"john hyung," he says and his voice is soft, almost afraid. "ma won't let me come with you guys so i can't keep her safe. will you please just… look out for her? if you can? i'm so worried. i can't lose her."
johnny softens and he nods, partly guilty that he had gotten jaehyun and seri involved. "don't worry, jae. i promise. we'll all come home safe."
jaehyun nods as well, his smile a little weary but johnny knows there is trust between them. "thank you. i'm going to be meeting doyoung and yuta later. i think i'm going to tell them… i think they deserve to know."
there's a pause as johnny thinks it through. doyoung and yuta have been family for as long as he could remember and he doesn't even know how to begin telling taeil. would it separate them? would the rest of them think johnny and jaehyun had lost their minds? in any other occasions, johnny thinks he would stress about it but his head is already pounding and another second he loses is a risk he takes to lose taeyong.
"you gonna be okay doing that on your own?" he asks instead and when jaehyun nods again, johnny pulls him into a tight embrace. "thank you, jae. wish me luck, yeah? i gotta get him back."
jaehyun tightens his arms around johnny, squeezing gently. "the goddess will be with you, hyung."
and it's odd to hear jaehyun say such a thing because in all of the years they had known each other, johnny can't recall jaehyun ever believing in anything, let alone a goddess to pray to. maybe if he gets out of this alive, jaehyun could tell him more about it. when they pull away, johnny smiles down at jaehyun with a little pat over his arm before he walks out of the room, making his way down the stairs and towards the living space where he knows seri would be waiting.
there, he finds seri seated on one of her fancy couch, facing him. in front of her sits a man, who turns to look at johnny when seri pauses mid sentence to smile up at him. johnny returns the smile but only faintly so, sitting on the space next to seri as he keeps an eye on the male. he is young, younger than johnny and he's dressed like any boy his age would dress, so johnny frowns a little bit in confusion, staring questioningly.
"johnny, this is mark," seri says, introducing them to each. mark smiles at johnny with a curt nod but he doesn't waste any time in proper introductions.
"i can help you," mark says, looking serious as he explains. "our time frame is limited and i'm breaching a kingdom's territory with my presence but i understand this- this need, the urgency. i know nyvorlas only did what he did because he's loyal to his pursuit for happiness."
johnny can't help but wonder who mark is as he explains but the urgency in his voice is enough to have johnny back in focus, no time to ask questions.
"you will need to come with us, john." seri says.
mark nods, agreeing. "you will need to strike a bargain with the ruling merfolk. offer a deal or make a promise, anything that would persuade them to let go of taeyong. even then, i can't guarantee that they would be merciful. there are risks when facing life that you are not a part of, johnny."
"i'd do anything," johnny says as taeyong's song starts playing in the back of his head, faint and weak.
mark seems to be able to hear it because he perks up and as soon as he is on his feet, johnny stands as well. "he's mourning," mark says. "he must think you're gone, which could only mean that the royal court had somehow threatened your life. we must hurry."
"we have thirty minutes," seri says as they began moving, both her and mark rushing out of the house with johnny tailing behind them. once they were in the car that johnny assumes belong to mark, seri adds, "that is how long you can breathe underwater. and the palace is deep down, johnny. you might not make it back out. do you know what you're risking?"
johnny's answer is quick and holds no hesitation as mark drives them towards the beach. "it's taeyong, seri. i'll do whatever it takes."
unlike the time taeyong had kissed breath into him that gifted him with an hour's worth of being able to breathe underwater, this time both seri and mark had him close his eyes as they chanted a mantra in a language he doesn't understand. he's anxious as they do, heart racing wild in his chest and taeyong's song grows louder with each second that passed.
"why do i only have thirty minutes, seri?" he asks as they approached the waters and mark is slightly far off, stripping off all his clothes. "i've done this before. with taeyong. i had an hour, at least."
seri smiles at him, "taeyong is born special, johnny. and i know we are too but each of us have different abilities. mark was king of this very ocean but even he doesn't possess the kind of powers taeyong does. each of us is different. thirty minutes is all we can give."
mark was king? johnny is struck silent but he quickly thanks seri for her help. his attention snaps over to mark when he hears his scream, a telltale sign of the start of his transition, like taeyong had been through last night just moments before he was taken away.
after mark, it was seri's turn. the screams would haunt him, johnny knows, but he inhales deeply and goes into the water as soon as they said to follow them. there isn't time to waste and the louder taeyong's voice gets, the more anxious johnny is.
it's only when in the water that he notices seri's color. her hair remains black but her scales are white. instead of marks on her hands like taeyong's, a kind of serpent accessory wrap around both her forearms. on top of her head sits a crown, thin but glimmering in the water. mark is of golden scales, ears longer and more pointed than taeyong's were. his dark hair had turned yellow and everything about him screams royalty.
"close your eyes, johnny," seri is saying and her voice has turned more melodic than it originally is. "trust me, hm? we'll be there in no time."
johnny doesn't want to close his eyes. he wants to see where he's going, wants to see if they'd make it in time, but he does trust seri and he doesn't want to make this even more complicated than it already is. so he nods his head and lets seri hold onto his hand.
the journey feels long, especially since he has his eyes closed and it's cold and dreadful, nothing like what it had felt before when he was exploring the waters with taeyong. they move fast, he could feel it. at some point, it gets darker even behind his closed lids and johnny assumes they are going through tunnels or deeper, into the bottom of the sea.
he opens his eyes when the song stops the same time they stop moving. first he sees blue, his vision blurry from having his eyes closed for at least about ten minutes. that's twenty minutes left, he thinks, worries.
when he finally focuses, johnny could see the palace, standing tall in its place, massive like all the castles he'd seen on tv. it's turrets are made of gold, the keep being the farthest from the gatekeep and tall, grand towers surround it.
at the gate, two armored half octopuses stood guard and johnny feels sick in his stomach over the fact that such sightings don't make him flinch. their human male torsos are lean and muscular and from waist below, instead of a tail, they have tentacles that keep them afloat. their hairs are long and white, eyes pulled at the corners, like a cat's, and in one hand, each of them grips on a silver spear.
they speak in a strange tongue, addressing mark and then seri, their voices eerie and high-pitched, like a screech and their faces hold stern expressions. johnny doesn't realize there were more people behind him until someone swims up next to mark and whispers in his ear. it's only then that johnny glances back, nearly jumping at the sight of at least another ten merfolks, all dressed in armor similar to those guarding the castle but of a different color. their tails are silver.
"stay quiet," seri whispers to him. "the guards are called cecaelia. they are protectors of melliora , this kingdom. no one gets past them without getting captured. that is why stealing taeyong away was never an option. we'll have to convince them to let us through."
johnny listens and suppresses his need to ask more questions. he has enough self-esteem to admit that he's afraid. anything could happen and he'd lose either his own life or taeyong. and for someone who has lived his entire life in human normalcy up until at least two months ago, this is beyond just terrifying.
one of the cecaelia guards hisses at the merfolk who had spoken to mark and the two shift their spears to aim at each other, causing johnny to gasp in complete shock and fear. mark moves but everything else stops when the gate opens and a siren swims through.
a single look at the male siren is enough to tell them that he's royalty. his color is a deep blue, from the markings on his arms to the scales of his tail. his hair is of a lighter shade of blue and on his head sits a silver crown, a sapphire gem in the middle. he is unsmiling though johnny could see kindness around his eyes. the guards stood back in place upon noticing his presence and everywhere around him is silent as they waited for the sirens to speak.
the blue haired male looks over at mark and for a moment, johnny watches as his eyes widen, as if recognizing something within the golden siren. johnny wishes he understood the languages they speak.
" kaerius ?" the blue siren questions and as soon as mark so much as nod his head, the prince is dipping his head in a bow before he catches sight of johnny, floating behind seri. when he speaks to johnny, he uses the human tongue. "you are here for taeyong."
it isn't a question but johnny nods anyway.
the siren nods and to the guards, he hisses in what johnny now realizes is just the way they communicate. then, the blue siren gestures for them to follow and soon johnny is guided by seri to swim through the gates. he keeps his silence as he entered, letting his eyes drink in the view of the palace from within.
merfolks flock to attention as the group of them swim by, mainly female ones with the same murky green tails but differing hair colors. the song johnny used to hear before taeyong had given him the pendant starts to play, as if they're singing it as they watch him swim across the courtyard, towards the keep.
a few more cecaelias guard the keep but they don't question the blue siren as they let them pass through. there, they are led through corridors and finally into a room even bigger than the courtyard, one that johnny immediately recognizes as the court hall, if watching game of thrones had helped at all.
at the throne, the same black-tailed female siren who had taken taeyong away sits with a hand gripping her spear and unseeing eyes that felt as though she looks right inside of him. her long, wide caudal fin sways, somehow intimidating. johnny shivers. he only has ten minutes before his breathing would go back to normal.
"you dare come here after my warning," the siren queen says, in the human tongue like she did the night before. "you think you can defy me, mortal? have you come to steal our nyvorlas again?"
johnny's lips part to speak but mark beats him to it, a hand held up to stop johnny. "we're here to make a deal, nesaea . we did not come to disrespect you."
"and yet you bring a mortal in my presence, with every intention to go against everything i have said!" the queen hisses, getting off her throne to swim over to mark. she circles around him, as if trying to catch his scent and see if she would recognize him. after a second or two, she floats back, as if finally seeing the rest of him that isn't just his face. "it cannot be…"
mark dips his head, seemingly unwilling to be recognized so publicly but the queen's surprise has brought forth attention from the merfolks that were by her sides, two more female sirens that swim forward to take a look. one red, another pink.
chungha . taeyong had mentioned her once when he had made johnny buy the red-tailed mermaid keychain he said reminded him of his sister. johnny feels his throat constrict; even when taeyong was somewhere else entirely, enjoying his sliver of happiness, he had thought of his family.
but here they are now, so ready to punish him.
the red one, chungha, frowns as she shakes her head. she says something in the foreign language that johnny wishes he understands. seri, having noticed the frustration in johnny's stature, leans in to explain.
"mark was king kaerius of the old tales," she says in a whisper while johnny keeps his eyes on the queen and her two sisters. they return to the throne but the pink-tailed siren keeps her eyes on mark. seri continues in a soft voice. "they have heard only tales of him and believed he had died for using magic to become one of you. the ancient ones didn't want a repeat of his story."
johnny watches as the siren queen gestures for all the other court members to leave and almost all of them swim out of the court hall as requested, leaving only mark's company, the three siren sisters, the blue prince and two cecaelia guards. johnny swallows. he doesn't have much time left and he has yet to see taeyong.
"have you come to reclaim your position, kaerius ?" the siren queen asks, taking her seat on the throne as if to prove that she is the ruling merfolk now, no matter what mark's title has been. "you've disappeared for too long. even if you do want the throne, there would be a duel."
mark is smirking, no bone in his body afraid of what the queen is implying. "as fun as i think that may be, your grace, i'm afraid it is not of my interest. like i've mentioned; we've come to make a deal."
"to free nyvorlas ?" the queen scoffs. "what rights have you? he is our brother. he belongs here."
for the first time since he'd left jaehyun's house, johnny speaks. "anything you want at all. we'll give it. i will. i'll see to it."
seri grips at johnny's arm and mark shoots a glare at him, a clear sign that he shouldn't have spoken but johnny doesn't back down. he has the queen's attention now but instead of saying anything, the royal siren merely signals with a nod of her chin and then the door to her right opens. johnny looks to see just what she'd brought in for them.
his heart sinks into the pit of his stomach as soon as he sees the guards push in an average sized metal cage. inside it, johnny sees taeyong. as soon as taeyong finds him, the siren moves and grips at the metal bars and johnny sees with his own eyes how taeyong flinches back, as if the metals electrocuted him.
"johnny!" taeyong cries out and johnny moves on instinct, but mark's guard is faster and stronger and before he could reach taeyong, johnny's being held back by strong hands. the blue-haired siren prince seems to be taken aback and he swims over to the queen while maintaining a respectful distance away.
"my queen," he speaks and johnny hears him speak in the common human tongue. "surely there's no need to treat him as such? he won't flee. i give you my word."
the queen seems to falter, just a tad bit but johnny couldn't focus on her, not when taeyong is right there and he can't do anything to pull him into safety.
taeyong is sobbing, and even from this distance, johnny could see tear streaks on his cheeks, literal ones that seem to have scarred his skin. he looks exactly like the boy johnny fell in love with yet at the same time someone else entirely. his eyes are red-rimmed, hair disheveled and his scales are no longer the shining dark purples and blues they used to be. all this change within the span of one night.
time is slow in the water , taeyong had told him once. in a way, his heart breaks for the pain taeyong must have had to go through in the slowed time but he finds comfort in knowing that thirty minutes in the water do not equate to thirty minutes on land. he has time.
"you shouldn't have come, johnny," taeyong says, keeping away from the metal bars that caged him.
johnny's gaze only breaks away from taeyong when he hears the siren queen speak. she sounds kinder, somehow, softer. "you must know that i do not find pleasure in hurting my only brother. i love him just as much as the rest of his sisters do. but a crime is a crime and his is punishable by death. i must be a just queen. i cannot fail my people."
"it is only a crime if he had exposed our kind to the humans that would bring us harm," mark speaks up. he holds a voice of authority, despite the age he looks. it only dawns on johnny then that he could be very old, if kaerius of the old tales is any indication. mark purses his lips, sighing. "he has only told his lover."
the queen seems to consider this. johnny's gaze flickers back towards taeyong, whose eyes are wide as he stares at mark and johnny guesses he has figured out who mark truly is. knowing taeyong — who, to johnny, knows everything — johnny figures he must have known a lot about the former king.
even with the knowledge that time is slower and he probably has about twenty minutes to spare, johnny doesn't want to risk it so he speaks again. "i swear there won't be anyone coming to harm you," johnny says, clearing his throat. "i'll assure you taeyong won't risk being seen by anyone. we won't speak of this to anyone. just, please. let him come home with me."
there is silence. johnny fears for the worst but then mark speaks up again. "i haven't been this deep in the waters since i left. if taeyong promises to do the same, i don't think there will be any trouble."
"i think the same, queen nesaea ," seri finally says, this time directly at the siren queen. "i left a century ago. i haven't returned since."
johnny watches as the pink and red sirens flock to her sides, speaking in hushed whispers using their language so he doesn't try to decipher. instead he finds taeyong's gaze and he managed a little smile, hoping it's enough to assure the other that they would be okay. taeyong returns it, just a little twitch of his lips. it's unnerving to see taeyong without a smile. for as long as they have known each other, johnny had always been blessed with it. it almost feels empty now.
finally, after what feels like forever, the queen finally settles back. chungha seems unhappy but the pink-tailed siren looks content.
"i will free nyvorlas ," the queen says, sending johnny's heart jumping with triumph and relief. he doesn't show, however. "on the condition that he never returns, not even when he misses family, misses the water, misses his friends . he will not touch the sea for as long as i live as queen for he cannot have both and he has chosen land. i will know if he ever breaks his promise and the next time i won't be so merciful.
"the stories will tell of his death," the queen continues. "to merfolks all around the earth, nyvorlas no longer lives. it will stay that way. should there be changes, i will personally see to it that his death is made true."
without waiting for a response, the queen nods her head, another gesture to signal her command and the guards proceed to free taeyong from his cage. as soon as the bars lifted, taeyong is swimming fast into johnny's arms, sobbing against his chest as johnny holds him tight with no intention of letting go.
he has never felt so relieved, so fortunate.
"you make a great queen, nesaea ," mark says, genuine in his words. "i can only wish to be half as great as you. may the goddess grant you a good husband and many children to continue our family line."
"and you shall reign for as long as you wish," seri adds with a little bow.
mark gestures for them to move with a final dip of his head to show respect and then he's filing out of the court hall with his guards, some of them staying behind to court seri, taeyong and johnny out. seri lingers next to johnny but after a second of hesitation, taeyong moves away from within his arms.
johnny watches as the siren swims over to his sisters. it would be the last time he would see them in his lifetime so it doesn't surprise johnny to see him still approaching them despite their treatment. they speak the language that johnny couldn't understand but in the end, the queen, chungha and the pink-tailed siren engulf him within their arms, with a song more mournful than that of taeyong's.
it's heavy in his heart as they release taeyong from their embrace and johnny holds out his hand for the siren to take except the closer he gets the harder it is to breathe and he doesn't realize his time is up until he accidentally breathes in water. he chokes and splutters, water going into his nose and his mouth and fuck , it hurts. he could barely hear taeyong calling his name, his face lined with worry, his weakened arms trying to pull johnny along with him.
the last thing johnny sees before everything turns black is that taeyong's crying, his tears burning down the streaks that are already marking his skin.
when he comes to again, everything is chaos.
he wakes up with a cough, sputtering water from his lungs as pain consumes his entire body. his eyes refocus to see jaehyun hovering above him, mouth wet as if he'd just given him cpr but johnny doesn't get to thank him as his fist close around the front of jaehyun's shirt as soon as he remembers the events that unfolded, panic rising like bile in his throat.
there are screams around them. johnny is drenched from head to toe and he allows jaehyun to help him up. once on his feet, he follows the sound of the screams to find doyoung and yuta staring at the mess that is seri and mark shedding their scales for human legs. it's gruesome, the muscles in their tails rippling and separating, blood seeping through as skin tears.
he would have been just as scarred if this was his first time seeing a mermaid.
taeyong is beside them, shaken up but not transitioning just yet. johnny figures he needs magic to do that. he rushes over to taeyong's left and the siren immediately wraps his arms around johnny's waist, sobbing yet again. johnny kisses into his hair, trying not to cry himself. "it's okay, baby. i got you."
it's jaehyun that moves, seeming to know what to do as he helps his mother into clothes and then mark as well. to yuta and doyoung, jaehyun instructs. "can you two help johnny get taeyong to my place? he needs water and he can't stay in this one. i have a pool."
the two boys nod and start to move although they're a little hesitant but johnny can't blame them. johnny himself is exhausted. the last time he had been underwater for so long, he had slept for two days straight. he doubts he'd be able to carry taeyong no matter how much he wishes to.
"i'll carry him," yuta offers, looking to johnny as if for permission and johnny nods his thanks before he helps guide taeyong into yuta's arms.
when they finally managed to steady the siren, doyoung is already pulling the car to a stop, having driven it through the sand. while they help yuta put taeyong into the backseat, johnny turns to look for mark, seri and jaehyun.
"seri, mark, jae, thank you. so much." he says, genuinely grateful for their help because he truly doesn't know how things would have gone without them.
seri's kind eyes meet his and she brushes back his hair and johnny misses his mother so, so bad. "go now, child. we will meet you back at the house. taeyong will need a more powerful magic."
johnny nods, once at her and then at mark before he hops into the car with taeyong. inside, he cradles taeyong's head to his belly while doyoung drives them back to jaehyun's house and hopes that they don't get caught with a speeding ticket because doyoung doesn't have a goddamn driver's license.
taeyong takes shallow breaths, being out of water in his natural state making it hard for him to breathe and johnny takes the chance to card his fingers through his hair, kisses his forehead and tells him it'll be okay.
the worst part is over. johnny can breathe properly.
mark says they need to wait a few days for taeyong to recover from his emotional fatigue that had ultimately depleted his physical strength for anyone to do any kind of magic to him. johnny has heard seri and mark whispering between themselves about getting help from someone whose name they didn't mention. johnny hopes they aren't getting into more trouble.
as exhausted as he is, he hasn't been able to sleep. he feels he won't be able to until taeyong is in his arms again, so they can spend another week just staying in bed together. it sounds so ideal that johnny prays this be done as soon as possible because he's so, so tired.
taeyong is placed in jaehyun's pool and he has been quiet ever since they returned from the sea. it's been two days and in between that, taeil had returned home and they had told him about taeyong. somehow it didn't surprise johnny when taeil simply went ' you don't have gills? what did i see in hawaii?'
"those are merfolks from the kingdom of alaea ." taeyong had laughed and proceeded to explain. "they're a little different. they have gills and those things between their fingers. i'm actually surprised you're still alive. they're really good hunters."
taeil's eyes had widened abnormally without losing his smile. "trust me, i'm almost not alive. i had to tell my parents i got into an accident but really those things hit me hard enough on the head to make it seem anything i tell anyone would mean me losing brain cells."
it was a nice little laugh but that was the last time johnny heard taeyong speak. now, he sits by the pool in a row with his group of friends, their legs dipped in the water while taeyong latches onto the far side of the pool that overlooks the view of the sea far below. he has his back turned from johnny, a sag in his shoulders as he rests his chin onto his forearms, clearly admiring the view of his old home.
the five boys are silent for awhile, all of them watching taeyong, whose lower half sways in the water and occasionally his fin would poke out of the surface. johnny sighs and the four boys mirror him.
"i can't believe this is our life now," doyoung finally says, breaking the silence but keeping his voice low enough for just them to hear. "johnny's never dated before and the first person he cuffed is a fucking mermaid. you have a mermaid in your pool, jae. literally the pool we used to spend every day in during the summer when we were little."
johnny decides to ignore the little comment but jaehyun chuckles lowly and when he shifts, johnny turns to see that he's resting his head on yuta's shoulder, his arms wound around the older's waist. "trust me, this is nothing new to me. ma does this from time to time. and i'd swim with her sometimes."
taeil scoffs but in a way that has him sounding in disbelief. "my life just gets more and more interesting. you honestly don't think that hawaiian mermaid is the only thing i've seen, do you?"
"wah, what else have you seen?" yuta asks, sounding absolutely intrigued. "you got pictures? no pics, no proof."
taeil, doyoung, johnny and jaehyun stare at yuta like he's grown himself a mustache and then doyoung, who sits to yuta's right, smacks him on his arm. "we literally have a fucking mermaid in the pool, idiot."
yuta rolls his eyes and johnny laughs. he's sandwiched between taeil and jaehyun, feeling absolutely spent but unwilling to lose another moment with these people that he loves. there's a gnawing guilt inside him that tells him taeyong regrets choosing to be on land because in truth, he hadn't gotten the privilege to speak back at the castle, caged in his prison.
"what if he hates me?" johnny asks suddenly but by the way the laughter stops abruptly, he knows the boys are aware of what he meant. "what if i've taken away the one thing that mattered to him?"
it's jaehyun who strokes at his hair and taeil that pats at his shoulder but yuta who speaks. "that's not possible. he wouldn't have risked so much just to spend three weeks with you, john."
"yeah," doyoung agrees. "he probably just misses his family. and the home he's known all his life. just maybe give him some time."
johnny lets that sink in. for a little while, they fall into another comfortable silence before taeil says that they should probably leave and let johnny speak to taeyong. johnny thanks them for keeping him company and after, when they have all left, he waits another five minutes before getting up onto his feet to join taeyong.
"hey," he says softly, sitting on the edge next to where taeyong is resting his forearms before he slips into the water as well, both of them facing the sea. "what are you thinking about?"
taeyong smiles at him and shakes his head. "my mother," he says. "i wonder if she would have been upset with me."
like before and about every five minutes since they returned from the castle, guilt wraps around his heart. "i'm sorry, taeyong." johnny sighs, allowing his gaze to stray from taeyong's face to the moon that hangs high above the horizon of the sea. "i think i might have been selfish. making all those deals with your sister, getting you to be stuck here and banned from your own home. i'd understand if you're angry with me."
"johnny," taeyong stops him from continuing and he turns to face him so johnny does the same. the purple marks on his forehead is still present and his hair looks better, livelier with its purples and blues. there are still streaks of his tears on his cheeks, coming from his lower lashline all the way to his jaw. johnny had learned the night before that his tears burn, which explains the streaks. taeyong smiles and brings his hand up to cup johnny's cheek, marked fingers caressing over his jawline.
"you have nothing to be sorry for," taeyong continues. "i knew what i was doing when i did it. when she brought me home, i was ready to face the consequences of my decisions. but then she had threatened your life and i was so afraid. i have never been so afraid. and when i saw you there, at the court hall, i can't help but be more afraid of what might happen to you. i don't think i could bear it."
johnny's own hand lift to curl his fingers around taeyong's wrist. he kisses his palm and takes it to press over his chest. "nothing can take me away from you."
taeyong's smile is soft and pretty. "thank you for saving me. even if you hadn't, i'd never have regretted those times we spent together. i haven't been as happy in my entire life."
"and we can have that now," johnny assures him, pulling into his arms and holding him close. "we can have it. i can make you happy for the rest of your life."
there's a soft giggle and johnny couldn't help the grin that spreads at his lips because fuck , he had truly loved happy, carefree, fearless taeyong, though only because he never wants to see taeyong cry or be scared ever again. the siren beams up at him and johnny takes the opportunity to lean down and kiss him. he kisses him softly at first and then deepens it, basking in the joy of the moment, of finally being together again. taeyong clings to him, his nose brushing against johnny's affectionately.
"i love you, johnny suh. even though coming down to see my queen sister is a stupid thing to do."
"hey!" johnny laughs, pressing kisses onto the siren's cheek. "it was a brave thing to do. you were a damsel in distress and i'm the hero you needed."
taeyong glares up at him but the smile on his lips remained. "say that again and i will literally hit you."
"i love you too, taeyong," johnny softens, large hands cupping both taeyong's soft cheeks and leaning down to press a kiss onto his mouth. "i'm happy you're here."
taeyong's hands press against johnny's chest and his cheeks are pink as he smiles up at him. he leans up to press a kiss onto johnny's lips and they kiss again for a little while, mouths moving in sync and johnny feels so, so warm inside.
maybe everything would be okay after all.
"we need to perform a binding spell," the witch says as she places the last lit candle on the ground surrounding her. mark had been the one to call upon an old acquaintance, a witch named hwasa, who apparently had traveled all the way from seoul only because she owed mark a favor. "we'll have to bind his life to the pendant because that is part of his life form, that's what's keeping him immortal."
johnny curls his fingers around the pearl pendant and looks over to taeyong, who is once again latched onto the side of the pool and looking up at hwasa as she explains the procedure. jaehyun isn't allowed to be present, by order of his mother, so yuta and the rest had volunteered to keep jaehyun busy.
initially, johnny doesn't have to be present but he'd insisted so he knows what's to be done, what kind of price there is to pay for the magic used. hwasa had been wary at first but mark assured her that taeyong would cooperate better with johnny around.
"hand over the pendant," hwasa holds out her hand and johnny carefully pulls the necklace off over his head and places it onto her open palm. she places it in the center of the candles and chants a mantra in a language johnny recognizes as latin. upon whispering the chant, each candle begins lighting up.
she gestures towards taeyong then, "place him in front of me. place each candle on the four sides; front, back, left and right."
taeyong hops up onto the side of the pool so it's easier for johnny to carry him. he reaches up for the taller and they still managed to steal a smile as johnny carries him up, an arm beneath his tail and the other supporting his back. he's easier to lift when he's in his human form but johnny doesn't complain as he places taeyong down onto the floor in front of hwasa and the pearl pendant. he kisses the siren on the top of his head before stepping back, watching closely.
when hwasa speaks again, she is looking directly at taeyong. "there will be excruciating pain, both the binding of your soul to the pendant and the transition of your being into another." she explains before looking to seri, johnny and mark as she adds. "once his soul is bound to the pendant, he will start to age like any normal human being in time. that is the price to be paid. no more eternal youth, no more immortality. the binding will secure complete humanity but once the pendant is broken, taeyong will return to his form and there will be no undoing it.
"he will have to return to sea," hwasa continues. "which, i assume everyone here knows, might as well be a death sentence."
johnny looks to taeyong for his reaction but taeyong seems determined, confident as he nods his head. "thank you for doing this, hwasa," taeyong says. "i know the price. i'm willing to pay it."
hwasa nods. she closes her eyes then and when she opens them again, they were rolled so far back into her skull that only the whites could be seen. she chants, whispering magic words that changed the atmosphere around them. johnny finds he had been holding his breath so he inhales and grounds himself so he doesn't accidentally distract the spell in his natural instinct to protect taeyong.
the winds start to whirl, howling in the eerie way johnny never liked, especially when he was much too young and the winds had kept him up. even with such a strong wind, the candles remain lit up, the fires brighter the louder hwasa repeats the chant. it's cold, the air around him stabs at his skin and he shivers, unused to the icy temperature having spent the last few weeks in the heat of the summer.
johnny decides to focus on taeyong, whose eyes are squeezed shut, breathing heavy. the chant grows louder and then taeyong is screaming. it's haunting and terrifying; johnny could almost feel his pain. his first thought is to stop it but mark senses it and holds his hand up, a clear gesture for johnny to stay in place.
hwasa continues to recite the latin words to conjure her magic, screaming it up into the sky as her eyes remain only its whites and her hands tremble. taeyong is writhing in pain, screams filling up the entire area and drowning out the eerie howling of the winds.
as he watches it unfold, johnny wishes this would be the last of anything remotely inhuman he would have to witness. especially ones that would bring taeyong such pain.
lightning tears across the sky in a blinding light and the skies grumble in loud, nearly earth-shattering thunder. as if the gods aren't happy, no longer allowed to meddle with human paths. johnny wonders if they existed at all but if taeyong is real, then they could be.
the siren lets out one final scream before he collapses, panting breathlessly as he rolls onto his back. johnny makes a move but he's stopped once again.
"he is bound," hwasa says, looking almost as wrecked as taeyong, with a single blood streak that drips from her nose. she wipes it with the back of her hand. "only a few moments before he starts transitioning."
a few moments took a minute or two. johnny keeps his eyes on taeyong and wills himself to stay rooted as the siren's body jerks and his transition begins. he screams again with every tear of his skin, with every bone that separates and molds into a different shape, until there were feet instead of tail. he lays in his own pool of blood once it's over, breathing heavy and eyes falling shut and then he stops moving, unconscious.
the fires on the candles blow out and this time when johnny moves forward, no one stops him. he crouches down next to taeyong and wastes no time in gathering him into his arms, ignoring the blood that would stain his shirt. seri appears with a blanket to cover taeyong with and tells johnny to clean him up and put him in clothes, that he should be up by the morning at least.
just as he makes his way towards the house, hwasa calls after him. "i take it you'll be wearing the necklace again," she says and when johnny nods, she continues, walking over to loop the necklace over his head. "good. it's best that he doesn't have a hold of it. his emotions would be unstable for some time. he cannot have the pendant with him in case, you know, his emotions consume and he makes irrational decisions."
it doesn't take a genius to understand what hwasa means so johnny simply nods again. "thank you, for doing this. taeyong and i are indebted to you."
for the first time since she'd arrived, hwasa smiles. "even if i didn't, someone else would have. it's fate, johnny. it would happen one way or another."
johnny takes his time cleaning up taeyong. he fills the bathtub with warm water, adds jaehyun's soap into it until it bubbles up and carefully places taeyong into the tub. even then, taeyong remains unconscious.
the blood isn't completely dried up so it isn't hard to scrub off. he'd tossed his own shirt aside because he can't stand the smell, can't stand the copper color of it drying on his clothes, can't stand that it's taeyong's. he thinks about the time he'd just gotten home when summer just started and how he never would have thought it would end this way. it had only been three months yet it feels like it's been a lifetime ago.
he hadn't cried since his mother died a year after his father left. he'd been angry that families were saying it was lovesickness that took her away, that made her sick with longing, missing her husband so much she fell sick. but his mother had been strong and healthy, it was just her time to go. she didn't need the husband that abandoned his wife and child and that was how johnny made himself strong and promised he wouldn't cry.
but then he'd cried when she passed and then again a few days ago, when taeyong's time was up and he had to go back to sea. now that he'd started again, johnny feels like he couldn't stop.
as he scrubs off the blood on taeyong's hands, he sniffles, wiping his cheek with his arm as tears spill from his eyes. he doesn't even know why he's crying, doesn't know if he is happy or sad or both. after a moment, he pauses and hangs his head low between his shoulders, lets himself cry it out as he sits with his back against the side of the tub.
he doesn't know how much time passes before he feels wet fingers carding through his hair and he looks up to see taeyong smiling faintly at him. he has his left arm resting on the rim of the tub, cheek pressed against his forearm and his right hand strokes johnny's growing hair. the marks on his fingers are gone, as well as the one on his forehead. his cheeks are clear of his tear streaks and his ears are no longer pointed at the ends. johnny smiles at him, relieved to see him awake.
"why are you crying, johnny suh?" he asks, voice soft.
johnny thinks through this, taking the hand in his hair to hold between his bigger ones. "i'm just happy it's all over. and you're here, i'm here. everyone made it out safely."
taeyong's smile widens but he doesn't say anything for awhile. they stay that way for about another five minutes before taeyong groans. "will you take me to bed, please? i'm really tired."
johnny nods and he gets up onto his feet before helping taeyong up, guiding him out of the tub and drying him up with the spare towel. he wraps the smaller male with the towel and lifts him up again in his arms bridal style, suppressing a little chuckle when he notices the way taeyong's cheeks burn a soft pink.
seri had insisted they stay in the guest room that the mansion has so johnny hasn't gone home except to take a few of his clothes, seeing as he doesn't really fit jaehyun's extra pants. taeyong didn't have that many clothes at his place so he'd only taken a pair so he'd have something to wear when they head home. now, he helps taeyong put on one of his big hoodies, one that goes down to his mid thighs. he makes sure to dry the siren's hair before guiding him into bed.
once johnny had changed into something comfortable as well, he slips in under the covers next to taeyong, feeling extremely exhausted now that he's in bed and his body is on the verge of shutting down. taeyong hums and he shifts so that his head is resting against the headboard, guiding johnny against his side. johnny doesn't hesitate to bury his face into the crook of taeyong's neck, an arm around the smaller's waist.
"thank you," taeyong speaks up after a minute or two, his voice low and just a little shaky. his fingers toy with johnny's hair and the taller lets him, lets it soothe his nerves and calm his heart.
johnny sighs, tightening his arm around the other. "you don't have to thank me, taeyong."
"of course i do," taeyong is quick to protest. "every happiness i have felt for the past moon is because of you. and i know i have so many things to learn and you're going to have to be very patient with me, but-"
he pauses and when johnny lifts his head a little to look up at him, taeyong's smile is cheeky as he continues. "but i promise i'll give you all the reasons to fall in love with me, just as i did for you."
johnny wants to laugh so he does. taeyong frowns and it makes johnny laugh again before he speaks up. "why are you saying it like i'm not already in love with you? i swam across the ocean, literally, for you."
"more reasons, then," taeyong corrects himself, pulling johnny's head back to tuck it under his chin. "i'll give you more reasons to love me."
"i don't need reasons to love you, tae," johnny mumbles, eyes closed. "i don't even understand it now but i know i love you. i'd do anything for you."
taeyong hums and johnny feels his lips press into his hair, feels his hands caress skin. "i love you, johnny suh."
he smiles and he wants to say it again but he's so, so tired and he thinks he can finally sleep now.
"i have a surprise for you!" taeyong is screaming out from somewhere in front of him.
johnny has his eyes closed, a bandana wrapped around his head in a way to shield his vision, something about a graduation gift taeyong, jaehyun, doyoung and taeil had prepared for both johnny and yuta. yuta is excited, if the way he fidgets and vibrates next to him is any indication, and without even looking, johnny knows his friend is grinning the way he does when he gets excited or happy. it makes even johnny anticipate.
"nothing gross, alright? we're all men here." johnny jokes with a little laugh that earns himself a little pinch on his thigh. he knows that's taeyong. "ow! what was that for?!"
taeyong ignores him and then he's gone, away from johnny because he couldn't feel his warmth anywhere close. some of the boys are laughing; johnny could hear doyoung panicking, as he always does, jaehyun's soft voice adding his input, taeyong's kind leading tone that the boys have started to follow over the last couple of months when everyone had finally adjusted to changes and summer break was over.
taeil is quiet save for his soft laughter whenever doyoung starts to panic and then after awhile, the boys try to be as quiet as they can except they're really loud.
"okay, on three, jaehyun and taeyong will take off your blindfolds and this party can get started," doyoung says before counting. "one, two, three!"
when his blindfold is lifted, the light momentarily blinds johnny, having had his eyes closed for at least fifteen minutes while the boys panicked, probably messing something up already. he blinks a few times to see that they're at jaehyun's, the dining table decorated with balloons and flowers and plates after plates of food. it's a mess but the gesture makes johnny warm in his heart.
"oh my god, look at all this food!" yuta exclaims, getting off his seat with a grin on his face as he eyes at the plates of chicken and beef and seafood just waiting for him to devour.
jaehyun is grinning as he curls an arm around yuta's waist, leaning against him. "we thought a little private graduation celebration would be nice."
"you guys did so well!" doyoung chimes in, licking off something that have gotten onto his thumb. "even with all that mess in between last year. it's amazing."
johnny looks for taeyong when he notices that his boyfriend isn't around but then the male is walking out of the kitchen with another bowl of food, a smile on his face that widens when he meets johnny's gaze. he's wearing a beige colored fuzzy cardigan johnny had never seen him wear before and sure enough, he hadn't bothered to put on anything underneath, obvious from the way the cardigan barely covers his chest. he pairs it with a pair of black jeans and a black bucket hat that covers his hair.
taeyong might have been human for only a year but johnny thinks his fashion sense tops the rest of theirs.
"surprise, baby," taeyong says with a giggle, placing the bowl down on the table along with the other foods before he sits himself onto johnny's lap, arms winding around his neck whilst johnny wraps one of his own around the smaller's tiny waist. "i have a second surprise for you but you'll have to eat first."
"why are you wearing a hat?" johnny asks instead, raising a hand in an attempt to take it off taeyong's head but the other boy pulls away, getting off his lap.
taeyong clicks his tongue and goes to grab a plate to fill it up with the variety of food they have prepared. when he speaks, he'd clearly ignored johnny, using his firm but purely out of kindness and concern for the other boys' wellbeing as he hands over the plate to taeil, who takes it safely. "eat your food, taeil hyung. here. and you, doyoung. jae, yuta. stop kissing and eat!"
johnny sits back even as taeyong passes him the plate of food and kisses him on his cheek. he watches doyoung laugh and nearly choked on his own spit, watches taeil who has wisdom in his eyes but also youth on his face. he watches jaehyun laugh at something yuta and taeyong said, so bright and happy, a hand on yuta's knee because they're always touching.
he watches taeyong, the boy he had grown to love so much, the boy who loves him equally, the boy was not a boy to begin with. he likes to think of taeyong as a miracle, a dream he never thought he had and when they had met, that dream had come true.
hwasa was right that taeyong would be unstable. for the first few months since his permanent transition, taeyong would go from happy to sad to angry and his anger was hard to contain. he wasn't violent as one would expect him to be, but he battled some inner demon in his head that made even johnny wonder if things would be okay. when classes had started again, johnny traveled to and fro instead of going back to his dorm, at least until he was sure that taeyong was okay.
seri offered taeyong a room in her mansion and jaehyun's father and seri's husband had been kind and welcoming towards taeyong. it'd made things a little easier for johnny, especially since he was in his final year. sometimes mark would visit too and johnny had caught the former king and taeyong in a lively, comfortable conversation. he's happy taeyong has friends and he was pretty sure it had helped taeyong adjust, stabilize himself mentally and emotional.
somewhere into the new year, yuta and jaehyun had finally announced to the group that they had put a label on their relationship. it was no surprise to anyone but taeyong made them all celebrate anyway.
on a slightly sadder note, doyoung found out jungwoo started seeing someone else but to johnny's relief, his friend hadn't taken it too badly. still, the rest of them made sure to visit him from time to time, just so he doesn't entirely focus on studying to shield from everything else that he might be facing.
taeil, on one hand, hadn't flown anywhere else since his accident in hawaii. he signed a contract here in the country with the wildlife park and has since worked as some sort of a tour guide. he seems happy so that's all that really matters.
as for johnny, he still doesn't have it all figured out but he's less worried about it. taeyong and his friends are big supporters and most times taeyong would remind him that it's okay, that they'll figure it out together. it's still terrifying as fuck, but johnny's not so scared anymore.
"ah, i can't fit anything else anymore," doyoung says after a while, plate empty and the table isn't as full as when they had started. he pats at his belly. "i'm not eating for the rest of the week."
yuta scoffs. "why'd you eat like you're the one who graduated?"
doyoung rolls his eyes and mutters lowly under his breath, something about poking yuta's eyes out with a fork and it makes taeyong laugh.
"stop fighting and don't kill my boyfriend, please," jaehyun is saying, getting off his seat so he could stack up the empty bowls and plates. "doyoung, help me out with these."
"no," doyoung spits, playfully so. "i'm tired. ask taeyong."
taeil clicks his tongue. "taeyong already prepared all this so you gotta help clean, buddy. plus you know they got some couple stuff going on."
johnny's brow quirks up, looking at taeyong. "we do?"
"no, we do not," taeyong says but openly glares at taeil, who merely laughs. "but i do have something for you so i think we should let these boys handle this."
"fine by me," johnny shrugs, wiping his mouth with the napkin before shooting a playful smirk at the boys, mouthing a 'i'm so gonna get laid' quietly at them, to which doyoung makes a fake gagging noise.
taeyong ignores it, putting down the plate he was helping jaehyun stack up before curling his fingers around the johnny's wrist and pulling him out on the balcony. there, he turns to face johnny, a cheeky little smile playing at his lips. johnny knows him well enough by now to tell that he has something up his sleeve. still, johnny finds it incredibly endearing.
"first of all," taeyong finally speaks up after realizing that johnny isn't going to, holding a finger up as if asking the taller to wait. "i'm not sure how you'll like this but don't say anything unless it's good."
johnny parts his lips but decides to simply nod instead. his eyebrows raise, teasing, and taeyong's smile widens as he giggles whilst he pulls off the hat he'd been wearing, revealing ash brown strands of hair instead of the usual white with purple and blue streaks. johnny's mouth part in surprise but it made taeyong even more giggly, a little bouncy on his feet.
"ta-dah!" he sings, eyes sparkling. "i have thought this through for a long time. like, ever since jaehyun dyed his hair dark blue."
"he only did that last month," johnny deadpans.
taeyong rolls his eyes, waving it off. "whatever. time is a social construct. the point is i have thought about it and i think it's really, really pretty."
johnny laughs and he pulls the smaller male into his arms, raising one of his hands to card through taeyong's soft locks. "i think you're really, really pretty. you've always been pretty but this color really suits you. i like it."
"are you just saying that to be nice?"
"what? no way, pfft." johnny scoffs and when taeyong's eyes narrow, he laughs again. "baby, i promise. you look amazing in literally any hair color."
that seems to be enough to make taeyong smile again and this time his arms wind around johnny's midriff, squeezing gently. "you're so nice to me. i honestly do have an actual gift for you, though."
"and what's that?"
"this," taeyong mutters, pulling away just enough so he could slip a hand in his jeans pocket and takes out two tickets that he waves in front of johnny. "we're going on vacation!"
johnny's eyes widen and a smile breaks out on his face before he starts to cheer, the two of them squealing as he takes the tickets to see where they're headed. upon seeing it, however, johnny frowns. "we're going to florida? what are we gonna do in florida?"
"what do you mean what are we gonna do?" taeyong huffs, pinching johnny's side as he grabs the tickets back. they stare at each other for awhile and when johnny raises his brows again, taeyong sighs. " fine . we're going to see a mermaid show in florida. and then-"
taeyong pauses, letting his gaze drop to his feet as he pouts, his body swaying a little bit, reflecting a child asking his mom for another cookie. "and then we're going to go to disneyland. seri says it's amazing!"
"disneyland is not even in florida," johnny mutters.
"i know that!" taeyong huffs again. "we'll go to both places. maybe more places. it's called a vacation, johnny suh. i'm sure you know what that is."
"so, like," johnny clears his throat, teasing the other boy. "you're saying this is your vacation?"
pink burns at taeyong's cheeks but his smile grows a little wider, cheekier and he pokes playfully at johnny's chest. "maybe. but you're coming with me so that means it's your vacation too."
johnny laughs, finding all of this so endearing that he couldn't help himself. taeyong pouts but he merely hugs his smaller boyfriend's head to his chest, pressing a kiss onto the crown of his head. "you know i'd literally go anywhere with you, taeyong. everywhere you go, i go. and any place we end up in, it's our vacation. how does that sound?"
"sounds amazing," taeyong grins, hands raised to cup johnny's cheeks in each palm before he's leaning up and pressing a kiss onto the taller's mouth. "i love you, johnny. not even the most powerful being can change that."
johnny lived a simple life, he thinks as he smiles down at his boyfriend and pulls him in for another kiss, something deeper, slower, one that makes him forget about everything else in the world.
sure, it was simple but then there was taeyong and with taeyong, there were chaos and danger and fear. but with taeyong, there is also love. there is happiness and there is life. johnny looks at him now and couldn't imagine ever going back to his life before taeyong.
simple just wouldn't cut it.