"Androssi, teach me the landling language."
The siren turns to Aguero with a wrinkled nose and suspicious expression. "What? Why would you ask me for help? What's in it for me if I help you?"
Aguero resists the urge to throttle Androssi on the spot. "Just do it," he grumbles, tail tapping impatiently against the sea bed. He can't even use his 'prince card' to convince her when he's no longer a proper prince, and Androssi, being one of Jahad's sirens, is of a similar status. "You're the only one who knows."
"There's something you want from me, isn't there?" She leans closer, leering at him. "What are you hiding?"
"Blue Turtle wants to court a landling!" Rak roars, too happy.
Aguero bares sharp canines, the fins on his ears spread threateningly. And there goes the secret he was trying to keep. "Shut up, stupid gator!"
Shibisu swims over, plopping himself next to Aguero. "Khun, my love! What's this I'm hearing about courting a landling?" He wiggles his eyebrows. "You've got a guppy crush on one, hmm?"
Anaak scowls, crossing her arms. "It's not going to end well. Just give up, you'll both be better off that way."
Anaak may sound harsh, even rude, but it's her special way of caring. It reminds Aguero of his younger cousin Ran and how he labelled everybody 'bothersome' even when he thought they weren't.
Rak bellows out a laugh. "It's too late for Blue Turtle. He's already infatuated with that Black Turtle. And they're both male!"
Androssi grins and leans forward from her position on the sand, well aware of Aguero and his homosexuality. "So, Black Turtle," she clicks thoughtfully. "Is he cute? What color are his eyes?"
"Green," Rak grunts as he tries to snap a fish out of the water with his jaws.
"No they're not, gator, you know that. You're not even colorblind," Aguero snaps. "They're brown, but when the light is good they look like gold-"
The rest of his so-called friends are staring at him with expressions of glee. "You swam right into that one, my son," says Shibisu with a shake of his head.
Aguero groans, slapping his tail against the sand and flicking it into Shibisu's face. Shibisu yelps when an annoyed crab pinches his arm. "Okay, he's cute. So what?"
Androssi's grin widens. "You know what? If he's as cute as you say, I may help you, after all."
Aguero clicks out a few swears, an entire school of fish taking a big loop around to avoid his wrath. "Just remember I found him first. He's mine."
Shibisu attempts to placate him by patting his shoulder. "I'm so happy for you, my son. You're growing up!"
Aguero is not so impressed. "What son? You're barely older than I am." The shark prince screeches when the purple tang tries to ruffle his hair. They're underwater, the current playing with his long blue locks, but he still despises having people touch his neatly combed hair. Maria had introduced the art of combing hair to him - what was the thing she used to smooth out the tangles in his hair called? A dinglehopper? "You know what, Androssi? I'll teach myself the landling language. Don't bother."
Aguero kicks away from the seabed, ignoring the yelling of the other mers. He has a cave to find, one filled with crystallized landling artifacts, one he hasn't visited in years.
The cave looks exactly like he'd left it. He hasn't been there since Maria left, but he hopes he can move past her while treasuring the memories they had all the same. Little crabs and creatures have made unoccupied nooks and crannies their new home, but Aguero isn't here for them. He's here for the translation guide he and Maria had made from scratch - the Rosetta Stone connecting the mers to the landlings.
It's still as beautiful as it used to be. He isn't sure how exactly it had formed - well hidden from anybody who sought to find it, the only way in being a mer-sized crack in the wall outside that was covered with a seaweed carpet. It was too deep for the mers of the shallows, too close to the sun for most of the deep-sea mers. Best of all, time and weather had carved a hole into the wall, big enough for water to drain out and leave breathable air in its place, but still too small for a landling to crawl through and expose Aguero and Maria for what they were. The sun filters through the wall, bouncing off cleverly placed sea glass and painting rainbows all over the surprisingly large cavern walls. In the water, rocks glow and glitter, the taste of magic whispering through the waves. Aguero can't help but smile fondly upon remembering how he and Maria had squinted at crystallized landling pictures books, trying to learn their language despite having no knowledge prior. He remembers how they'd cut themselves on shards of rock trying to carve landling words onto the walls, their hands bleeding a mixture of blood and satisfaction.
Aguero sighs. He wonders how Maria is doing - is she happy, being human?
He picks up a strange, disk-like tool Maria had called a 'pan'. What did she say it was used for? Defense? He feels a disturbance in the water behind him and freezes instinctively, pan gripped tightly in his hands. Nobody should know about this cave unless they followed him deliberately. He whirls around and clocks the intruder over the head with the pan. His eyes widen when he sees golden eyes roll back, bubbles escaping out of a mouth.
Di- Did he just knock out his landling with a pan?
He can almost hear Rak's bellowing laugh, criticizing his Blue Turtle's inability to understand merfolk and landling courting rituals. Scratch that, Rak had probably fished the landling out of his boat and dragged him here.
Aguero heaves the landling onto a dry rock and waits.
He isn't sure how much time exactly it takes for the landling to wake up. Aguero slips under the waves upon feeling his tail begin to dry out, idly swimming about. He bares his teeth at a crab scuttling too close to his favorite gem, a pretty blue jewel he'd hidden away even from Maria, and it scuttles away from him when the shark prince slaps his tail at it. His ears perk up when he hears a muffled groan.
He peeks out from behind a rock, just enough for him to see the landling but not enough for the landling to see him. The landling makes a garbled noise that must be his own language, golden eyes glittering when he sees the beauty of the cave. Aguero ducks a little lower into the water, pink dusting his cheeks. His face feels so warm. What is this feeling? The landling makes a few more garbled noises, rubbing the top of his head and looking around. Aguero catches something that sounds like an exclamation - awe, maybe? He shuffles over the best he can when the brown-haired boy looks over to where he should be.
A little flick of his tail sends a school of fish darting over to the landling's feet, and the landling kicks out in surprise. He loses his balance, slipping into the water.
Aguero tucks himself further into the water, hands over the rapidly spreading smile. Are landlings supposed to be this clumsy and cute?
Oh starfishes, Shibisu was right when he said Aguero was a guppy crush.
Aguero screeches and grabs his shark-tooth dagger out of its holster by his hip when a finger pokes his bare stomach. He grabs the foreign hand, pushing it back. The hand's owner slams against the wall with a low grunt, upper body held up above the water by nothing more than momentum, kicking legs and Aguero's firm grip, knife poised to slit a throat and-
Wait, legs? Wide golden eyes stare at him, looking down at the knife and back to his own blue eyes. One of them squeezes shut when a droplet of salty water rolls into it, and the landling turns his head away in an attempt to rub it out with his shoulder. It doesn't quite work.
Aguero has his hand around his landling's wrist, effectively pinning him against a wall. The landling has a leg clamped around Aguero's waist for balance, the other one dangling by Aguero's tail.
This is not good.
Stupid Khun Eduan and his stupid way of raising children. Who makes ten-summer-old guppies fight fully grown Great Whites? Aguero was lucky he had survived his match, and he loved his shark-tooth prize dearly, but being born into the Khun shark-mer clan had given him plenty of trust issues he was still hesitant to get over. Aguero clicks out a swear, tossing his knife away and backing off so quickly he drops both himself and the landling into the water like angry crabs.
"Sorry!" He barks once the landling resurfaces. He doesn't know any other landling words, but an apology should be enough, right? It sounds slightly rude, but he's too embarrassed to try again.
"Issues none," the landling clicks slowly, brows furrowed. He glances at Aguero with hopeful eyes. "I right?"
It takes a while for Aguero to connect the dots. The landling is speaking his language - no, he's speaking dolphin, but it's heavily accented. Whatever, mer tongue sounds like dolphin anyway, just less chatty and with a written alphabet. "Almost," he clicks back. He has to keep his words simple enough for the landling to understand. "You speak like me?"
The landling bobs his head. He points at the translation wall. "Don't speak your sounds, but I recognize your words!"
Now Aguero is the one with widened eyes and raised eyebrows. He quickly fixes his expression - Poseidon forbid he gets wrinkles. How does the landling know the language of the mers? "You-" He shakes his head in disbelief. "No!"
But it explains why he's speaking our language more fluently than some young guppies do, his mind rationalizes, but where would he have seen them from? Only our people know the mer tongue.
"Yes!" The landling insists, clicking faster. "Mama called me this!" Aguero watches the landling spell out his name - B, A, M. He repeats it first in his original language, then again in the mer language with a little help from the shark prince. Aguero frowns. The name sounds familiar - a variation of something he used to know, perhaps? He can't remember.
"B-ah-m," he tries out, "Bam?"
Bam nods happily, beaming bright. The light bouncing off the sea-glass cannot possibly compare to the landling's smile - if anything, the blue of the water accentuates the blinding gold of his eyes. Something about him seems inherently trustworthy, innately kind. Aguero has never seen anything like him. He glow burns like the setting sun, blinding warmth whispering out of every breath.
Is this what Maria had yearned for before Aguero made her human?
"Your name?" Bam cocks his head, feet kicking in the water. The fish seem to adore him more than they do Aguero, flocking around his wiggling toes. "What?"
What's your name, Aguero's not-entirely-useless fish brain translates for him. "Khun Aguero Agnis," he clicks. "Koon," he adds in the landling tongue as a casual attempt. It sounds the same. He doesn't give his first name away - it's complicated enough in mer, he doesn't even want to think about the struggles of pronouncing it in landling.
"Khun," Bam repeats, "Khun!"
The smile on Bam's face is a spear staking through his heart, poison from a Ha family lionfish spine. His heart flaps in his chest like the tail of a beached whale. What is this feeling?
They continue chatting in a mixture of their two languages, using the most basic phrases possible. It's the most fun Aguero has had in a while, even if their conversation is full of stutters and mix-ups. He learns that Bam has another name he uses in the landling tongue, one that's almost as long as Aguero's and even harder to pronounce. He learns that the landling has always been drawn to water - his mother was the same, and he had been able to swim before he could walk. It's quite curious, honestly, especially how he can almost outlast Aguero in the water if the merman doesn't use his gills. Bam only loses because he laughs at Aguero's bug-eyed look after they stay underwater for what seems like a quarter-tide.
He learns that Bam will start visiting these waters more often: he studies the creatures of the sea, merfolk excluded, but he has always held fascination for the mysterious humanoid creatures he was told were nothing more than myth and legend. He tells Aguero he must go, but he'll return a moon later at the same time - what type of scholar would he be if he didn't get enough rest before diving back into his research? He promises not to share his findings after Aguero waves his knife around threateningly, unknown words replaced by confident actions.
He likes touching Aguero's ear fins a lot, much to the merman's scandalised horror. It's considered most intimate of touches among mers, but Bam doesn't know that. All he knows that Aguero's ears are the most expressive part of him, fins flared and wiggling when touched, the ear itself flushed a pretty coral pink.
Bam likes to touch, but oddly enough, Aguero doesn't feel violated like he should. Bam's touches feel like awe and respect, reflecting the amazement in his eyes. Aguero tries to return the favor, curious hands wandering up his feet, legs, thighs. Sinuous muscle jumps under calloused fingers. Bam swats his hands away when he reaches the junction between the landling's thighs, but when he tries to explain why it's not good to touch a male landling there he merely turns as red as a crab and gives up.
Aguero realizes with a flaring full-body blush that it's used for reproduction, and that he would have one too if he were to take on a landling form like his father does every full moon.
Bam laughs when Aguero dunks his head underwater in an abject refusal to look at the landling. What an embarrassment.
They part ways reluctantly, Aguero swimming Bam to his little boat. Bam gives him one last head pat before sailing off into the salty breeze, promising to bring Rak more fish next time.
Aguero slips out of his heart-eyed daze when Rak nudges his tail with his snout. "You spent tides in there, Blue Turtle," the gator complains in a rumbling growl, "did you finally mate?"
The shark prince splutters. "Oi! Gator! We just talked!"
Rak roars out a laugh. "'Just talked'? I can't believe you, Stupid Turtle, I brought the landling to you and you 'just talked'?"
"Gator, did you kidnap him?"
Rak dives with a flip of his tail. "Bah! I'm just trying to get you to stop looking so moony over him. Seriously, I'm going to have to call you Pink Turtle when you're with him."
Aguero pinches his nose, ear-fins flaring out in annoyance. "You have five seconds, gator."
"Five seconds for what?"
Aguero glares at him, blue eyes dark with murder-lust. "Five seconds before I hunt you down, skin you alive and sell your scales to the black market."