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In retrospect, it probably would have been a good idea for Harry to have just left his boots back at the fishing shack before he set out on his walk down the beach. If he’d gone barefoot he’d have his toes in the warm sand right about now, but as it is he just has sand sneaking into his boots and that’s somehow entirely different. He’s only just wandered out of earshot of the busy pier when he decides that it’s time to lose the footwear.

There’s a gathering of rocks down by the water a little ways ahead and Harry starts to make his way towards it, searching for one that’s relatively dry so he can sit down and divest himself of his shoes. He spots one and reaches down to start tugging at his laces as he walks, eager to be barefoot as quickly as possible. The plan backfires, however, when Harry -in all of his long-limbed clumsiness- loses his balance and suddenly finds that his face is rapidly approaching the sand.

Harry gasps, bracing himself for a faceplant in the rocks, but instead of stone it’s hot skin that Harry feels beneath his cheek as he lands with a thwap. It takes him a moment to figure out why that hurt a lot less than he was expecting, and another moment to lift his head and look at the person who broke his fall.

The first thing he sees is a pair of blue eyes so bright that they put the sea to shame, just as bright and sparkly as when the sunlight glitters atop the waves. It’s a man -a handsome man- perhaps Harry’s age, with tan skin and caramel-colored hair that flops down over his eyes a little. He must be sunbathing here, hidden from view by the grouping of rocks, because what broke Harry’s fall appears to be the warm, bare skin of this man’s soft stomach.

“I’m so sorry,” Harry says after a few startled blinks, sitting up at once to let the gorgeous stranger rise to his elbows “I didn’t mean to fall on you!”

“That’s okay,” the man answers with a wide smile, voice high and a little raspy. “I suppose I can share my sunning spot, if you’re so eager to drop in.”

“It is a pretty phenomenal little spot,” agrees Harry, noting how he can see little of the beach from down here, the rocks hide the space so well. “No one to bother you if you just want to lay out and enjoy the ocean br-”

It’s around then that Harry notices the fish tail where the stranger’s legs ought to be.

He does a double-take just for good measure, but no matter how many times Harry tries to blink the image away, it continues to appear as though the boy he’s stumbled across on the shore is only human from the waist up. His lower half is made up of shimmering blue-green scales and gossamer fins, laid out against the gritty gray of the rocks looking as out of place in the real world as diamonds in the dirt of the village square. As Harry stares, the tip of the tail wiggles a bit like a cheery wave, and Harry can’t help but gawk back up at the man’s face.

“Sorry,” he says slowly, “but are you a mermaid?”

“Of course not,” replies the stranger hotly, offense coloring his tone. “What are you on about?”

A little trickle of relief makes its way down Harry’s spine and he laughs nervously as he scrubs at his eyes with the back of one hand. “Sorry, I must be dehydrated or something. For a second there, I could have sworn you had a-”

“I’m a merman,” he’s haughtily interrupted as one delicate hand delivers a flick to his shoulder. “No tits, see? The nerve, calling me a mermaid!”

“Sorry,” Harry says dumbly, for what must be the thousandth time this conversation. “Merman, of course. You’re a- a merman.”

His strange new acquaintance nods sagely like this is as normal as can be, seemingly oblivious to the wide startlement of Harry’s eyes or the way his mouth won’t seem to stay shut. “Prince Louis, of the kingdom of Sirène. Pleased to meet you, Dimples.”

Louis reaches up to poke at the place where Harry’s cheek dents inwards, and Harry finds himself smiling instinctively in response so that they deepen beneath Louis’ touch. “Sirène? I’ve never heard of that.”

“Well you wouldn’t, would you? You’re a human,” answers Louis, very matter-of-fact. “You know surprisingly little about anything at all. You should address me as ‘Your Majesty,’ by the way. Even a human ought to know that.”

Harry reaches up to take the hand playing with his cheek and bring it to his lips, pressing a kiss to the merman’s knuckles. “My apologies, Your Majesty. I’m Harry Styles, and I’m pleased to meet you.”

“Of course you are,” Louis smiles, retrieving his hand to fold them both behind his head and lie back against the smooth rock once more, soaking up the final warm rays of the setting sun.

A moment of silence passes as Louis apparently forgets Harry is there and Harry attempts to believe what his eyes and ears and nerve endings are telling him -that merfolk are real and that one of them is tanning beside him. “Shouldn’t you be in the water?” he finally manages to say as a way to fill the silence.

“Probably,” answers the creature with a lazy scratch below his belly button. “Not meant to stay on dry land for this long.”

“What happens if you do?”

“That depends on whether you buy into folklore or not, I suppose.” Louis wiggles his eyebrows mischievously and opens one eye to peer up at Harry. “Logic says that nothing will happen except maybe dry skin and a sunburn. Legend, however, says that if you stay on shore past sundown, you lose your fins in exchange for human legs.”

“So you’re just going to lay out and see what happens?” Harry says incredulously. “What if you really do lose your fins?”

Louis shrugs, torso wiggling and stretching as he lets out a great yawn. “Legs always seemed like fun. Besides, I’m a bit of a rule breaker.”

That much I can believe, Harry thinks, eyes roaming up and down the length of Louis’ body in the dying sunlight. The man says he’s a prince but acts more like a devil, with all of his sly smiles and quick words. He doesn’t seem worried about the possibility of losing what makes him magical- but then again, when you’re the ruler of an underwater kingdom, perhaps magic becomes mundane.

So Harry removes his boots and his socks and sits quietly by to watch the sun creep lower, to watch Louis breathe slowly and steadily like he hasn’t a care in the world. The angle of the sunlight is changing and the rays start to bounce off of Louis’ scales and throw radiant light into Harry’s eyes, the brilliance nearly blinding him until Harry gasps and throws up a hand to block it out. Even with his eyes shut tight, Harry can see the light growing brighter and brighter, scales sparkling like fire, all the radiance of the fading sun glowing on Louis’ skin-

With one final burst of light thrown across Louis’ scales the sun sets, leaving Harry to lower his arm and attempt to blink the spots from his view. “Jesus, did you see that?” he breathes, furiously rubbing his eyes.

“Oh shit,” Louis mumbles. “Holy fucking shit.”

“I know, I’ve never seen the sun shine that bright,” returns Harry. “Blinded me, too.”

“No- Harry, my fins!”

The spots in Harry’s vision clear away at last and he looks down at Louis again, this time to a very different sight. Gone is the shimmering turquoise tail, replaced instead with muscled calves and thick thighs and all of the lovely things that go between thighs -none of which Louis seems inclined to cover for the sake of modesty. It’s Harry who blushes and shucks his shirt, draping it across Louis’ lap and diverting his eyes.

Louis is having none of that, tearing the shirt away at once and letting his eyes roam his new flesh. “Would you look at that! The stories were true,” he breathes in wonder. “Shit, I have legs.”

“You sure do,” Harry says, his voice more than a little strangled. “Very- very lovely ones, Your Majesty.”

The Prince flashes him a devilish smile before climbing unsteadily to his feet, swaying and nearly toppling until Harry scrambles up to throw a helpful arm around his waist. “This feels very odd, doesn’t it?” Louis muses, looking down at his toes and giving them a wiggle. “I feel so heavy! And the ground is really quite far away.”

“Not as far as it is for the rest of us,” Harry says quietly, noting with amusement that Louis is short enough that he can see right over the top of those caramel locks.

“Well not everyone needs legs so long they look like jellyfish tentacles!”

Before Harry even has a chance to retort, Louis has pinched his thigh and taken off like a rocket, racing towards the water on legs far wobblier than any baby deer Harry’s ever seen. Louis laughs with delight as his ankles are surrounded by cool ocean water, splashing forward until the waves are breaking around his knees-

-and promptly stumbles facefirst into the water.

Harry darts to where he disappeared beneath the surface of the water and hauls Louis out at once, holding the lad up as he splutters and spits up saltwater. “Guess I didn’t just lose my fins,” Louis comments, still limp in Harry’s grip. “Breathing under water is also a no-go.”

He looks rather like a toddler in the middle of bathtime, all sopping wet and sour-faced like this. The thought makes Harry smile as he takes Louis by the elbow and helps him back out of reach of the waves. “Perhaps you should wait to try swimming until after you’ve mastered walking,” he says kindly.

Louis just sticks his nose in the air and sniffs indifferently. “I don’t need any practice to swim,” he protests. “I’ve b-been-n s-swimming my whole lif-fe, you t-t-tit.” The retort is dampened greatly by the onset of chattering teeth, his whole body shivering as the water draws cool night air to his skin.

“Of course, Your Majesty,” Harry answers indulgently, fighting to suppress an eye roll. “Would you maybe like to go inside? Somewhere warmer?”

“Very well, take me to your home.” Louis crosses his arm across his chest in a gesture that’s probably meant to be demanding, but is really more pathetic than anything else given the way his body is quaking violently in the cold.

Harry blinks at him, at this creature who is still so strange even with a fully human body, and retrieves his shirt from the sand to offer it to Louis. “Here, put this on,” he says gently, “it’ll block most of the breeze. You can have my shoes, too. They’re kind of annoying when they have sand in them, but they’ll keep your feet warm, at least.”

For a minute Louis just stands there blinking at the shirt in his hands and the shoes in Harry’s, until finally he looks sheepishly up at the taller boy. “Erm, where I come from we don’t really wear shirts. Or shoes, since -you know, fins and all. How do I…?”

“Oh, right,” blushes Harry, setting the boots back down in the sand and taking the shirt from Louis gingerly. “Let me help you. If you just put your arm through here-”

It takes a few minutes for Harry to dress Louis, showing him how to push buttons through buttonholes and holding him steady as he steps into boots that Harry then ties for him. The shirt hangs down to mid-thigh on his smaller frame, which still leaves his legs exposed to the wind, but it’s better than nothing. Harry starts to lead them up the beach towards the lights of town, shivering himself in nothing but trousers that are soaked from cuff to knee.

“Is your house very far?” Louis questions as the town grows nearer, wrapping his arms around himself for warmth.

“No, I live right down by the water,” answers Harry. “I’m a fisherman, so I like to be close to the docks. That shack right over there is mine.”

‘Shack’ really is the best word to describe it, a tiny little building made from worn wood perched on some rocks a ways back off the sea. It’s homey enough, as Louis sees when they arrive and Harry opens the door. A little small, perhaps, but that only lets their body heat fill the space faster.

“Make yourself at home,” Harry offers as he starts a fire in the small pit towards the center of the room. It takes him a minute to get the flame going, but when he does he looks up to find Louis still standing there awkwardly. “I’m sure you don’t want to be in damp clothes anymore.”

Louis shrugs. “It doesn’t bother me, actually. It’s too dry outside of the ocean.”

“I see where you’re coming from,” Harry says diplomatically. “You’ll get ill if you leave wet clothes on and walk around in the cold, though.”

“Oh alright, then, don’t pout at me,” grumbles Louis. He holds one foot out to Harry, who smiles softly and kneels to untie first that boot and then the other. Once he’s free of both shoes, Louis tugs at the hem of the shirt and struggles it up and over his head. “Oh. You’re right, that is better,” he says in surprise.

“Hold on, I’ll get you some dry clothes.” Harry hopes that the dim light of the shack and the flickering firelight hides his blush as he turns his eyes away from Louis’ naked form once more.

“What for? It’s quite warm in here now, actually, I don’t think I need any.”

“Well you’ve still got to cover up your bits.” There’s no lighting in the world that could hide his blush now.

But Louis just blinks at him in confusion when he turns back around to offer up fresh clothes. “Bits? What bits?”

“The bits you use for sex,” Harry answers, face aflame. There’s no spark of understanding to be seen in Louis’ face, and something akin to dread blooms in Harry’s gut. “I mean, do you- do merfolk -how are little merbabies made?”

“Well you kind of... it’s complicated, actually. Not the way humans are made, I know that much,” Louis says vaguely, eyebrows raised in amusement. “Seems kind of inefficient the human way, but no matter. Now I might be wrong, but doesn’t it still take a man and a woman to make babies, even for humans?”

“Yeah, they -yeah. A man and a woman have sex and then -yeah.” Brilliant.

“Well then it shouldn’t be an issue,” Louis says simply, tossing the clothes Harry offered him on the little table and walking over to sit himself on the bed. “If we can’t make babies, why would we need to cover up?”

“Because sex isn’t just for making babies, it feels …good. People also do it for physical pleasure.” This is it, the thing that will end Harry; embarrassment from this moment alone is enough to do the trick.

“Even between a man and a man?”

“Or a woman and a woman. It just depends who you’re attracted to,” Harry mumbles. “You find someone that you’re attracted to that you want to have sex with and you do it. Doesn’t always have to be for reproduction.”

Louis seems to take a long minute to think that one over, still sat on the bed with his legs dangling over the side and his head cocked in contemplation. “Alright,” he says after a while. “Okay. Harry, let’s have sex.”

Harry’s jaw must hit the floor, it drops open so fast. “Ex-excuse me?”

“I think you’re very handsome, for a human,” Louis says calmly. “Do you think I’m attractive, too?”

There’s firelight flickering on his skin and dancing in his eyes, and Harry feels a tug low in his gut. “Very.”

“Excellent! Well we both find each other attractive, and I’d like to have sex with you. That’s how it works, right? That’s what you said? Come on, then, show me why it is humans have to go through all this trouble just to stop yourself from making babies.”

There’s a refusal right on the tip of Harry’s tongue, because Louis is just wide-eyed and innocent enough that it’s a little too easy to believe he wants it. But then Louis palms at his cock a little absently like he has an itch he doesn’t know how to scratch, and Harry feels his resolve crumble right away.

“It’s going to feel incredible,” he promises with a grin as he makes his way across the room to Louis. “I can make it feel incredible for you.”

“So do it then,” Louis answers simply, then tugs Harry down towards him and moulds their lips together in a kiss.

If Harry expected Louis to be as clumsy a kisser as he is a walker, he’s certainly proved wrong in the way Louis takes him by storm. His lips are gentle on Harry’s but not unsure, teasing with pressure before working Harry’s mouth open with his own and darting his tongue inside to have a taste.

“God, you’re a fantastic kisser,” Harry murmurs quickly, eager to return to the snog. He pushes gently at Louis’ shoulder until he lays back on the bed, then kneels over him on hands and knees.

A pleased little sigh escapes Louis as he sucks on Harry’s plump bottom lip. “Merfolk do have lips, you know. We do kiss.” From the feel of it Louis kisses a lot, but Harry doesn’t bother interrupting the movements of their lips to say so. He runs one hand down Louis’ stomach instead, hand warming on his slow descent until finally he wraps it around Louis’ half-hard cock. Louis’ mouth goes slack at once and the hand he’s worked into Harry’s hair tightens painfully. “Don’t have one of those, though, holy shit.”

Now it’s Harry who’s the smug one, pumping his hand slowly up and down Louis’ length and feeling it harden immediately. “No cock? Seriously, how do you make little merbabies?”

“Is now really the time for lessons, Harry?” Louis questions haughtily, voice cracking in the middle of the man’s name.

It only takes a couple of seconds of consideration for Harry to decide that no, this is definitely not the time for lessons. Not when Louis is curling around him with every stroke and panting into his ear, starting to squirm with arousal beneath Harry. Not when their mouths keep finding one another wetly and Louis bites Harry’s lip with a whimper.

Harry pulls back then, has to, because the air at the crook of Louis’ neck is intoxicating and he needs a few good gulps of oxygen to steady himself. It doesn’t help much though, because as Harry withdraws, Louis’ eyes flutter open and he looks so absolutely wrecked that Harry returns his mouth to Louis’ skin at once. He trails kisses down Louis’ throat and across his chest, grazing teeth across hardened nipples on his way to take the tip of Louis’ cock into his mouth.

Louis doesn’t appear to have anything clever to say about that. He’s got one hand at his mouth, biting a knuckle with eyes squeezed shut and breathing shallow while the other continues to grip Harry’s hair. His hips wiggle just the slightest bit but he doesn’t buck up, and Harry lets his free hand roam over Louis’ thighs, his stomach, the curve of his side. He’s got supple skin and muscles that tense and jump when Harry bobs down further onto his cock, breath that stutters as a whine turns into a moan and his back arches ever so slightly off of the bed.

“Feel good?” Harry asks when he pulls back, feeling a mess of spit and what tastes like precum slick on his bottom lip.

“Feels amazing,” Louis slurs in confirmation, rubbing the hand he extracts from Harry’s hair across his tummy. However merbabies are made, this all appears very new to Louis. Harry finds himself wondering if he’s ever had an orgasm before, if he’s ever learned to recognize that funny sort of ache growing in his navel.

The thought sends an answering little zing of pleasure through him and Harry shifts his hips and decides it’s time for a little more. He pushes himself up off the mattress and goes to his cabinet, returning to the bed with a bottle of oil. Louis gives the container a curious glance but doesn’t ask, just happily wraps his arms around Harry’s shoulders when he kneels above Louis to kiss him once more.

He doesn’t comment on the way Harry drips oil over some of his fingers either, or the way it leaves a slick trail when those travel down past his cock between his thighs to tease at his hole. He does give a quiet little gasp when Harry pushes a fingertip inside, but that only makes Harry want to kiss the noise away.

They take it slow, Harry easing his fingers inside one by one, gentle enough that Louis never so much as grimaces at the intrusion. Instead he catches on and pushes his hand down the front of Harry’s trousers to wrap around his cock and starts to pull him off just as Harry had done for him. His movements are clumsy, unpracticed, too dry until Harry kicks his trousers free and offers him some oil to slick his palm. From there he lets Harry’s noises guide him, experimenting with the movements of his hand until he feels Harry’s thighs start to quake on either side of him.

At last Harry removes his three fingers from Louis’ tight clutch, nudging his knees against the inside of Louis’. “Spread your legs,” he murmurs breathlessly, shivering when Louis does so at once and a whirlwind of butterflies erupts in his stomach. “Tell me if this hurts, okay?” he asks as he lines himself up at Louis’ entrance.

“I thought it was supposed to feel amazing, not hurt,” Louis teases, just a hint of apprehension in his voice.

“It will, if you relax,” Harry answers with a little laugh.

Louis stops breathing when Harry starts to push into him, perfectly still as Harry rocks forward until they’re flush together. Harry draws slowly back out and then in once more, this time punching the trapping of air from Louis’ lungs. He pants quietly as his thighs tighten around Harry, ankles crossing behind his back.

He’s almost painfully tight. “Relax,” Harry murmurs as he noses along Louis’ collarbone. “Relax,” he murmurs as he runs his fingers soothingly through sea-dampened hair. “Relax.”

Eventually Louis does, body unclenching enough to let Harry move a little freer, rocking his hips into Louis’ rhythmically until the motion starts to make Louis sigh in pleasure, one hand holding onto Harry’s arm and the other cupping his face, keeping Harry’s mouth close so that whenever he has the presence of mind to remember that he wants to never stop kissing Harry, the man is right there for him to press his lips to.

It isn’t long before Louis’ squirming becomes more pronounced, his back arching into Harry’s thrusts and nails digging into the man’s tan skin with focus. He groans when Harry brings a hand down to fist his cock rough and quick. “God, that’s-” Louis attempts to say, licking his lips when words fail. “That’s so -dear god that feels- Harry!”

“Yeah, come on, let it go,” Harry croons, fucking into him faster. “Let it go for me.”

Louis is about to huff in frustration because what does that even mean when suddenly the feeling of tension that has been growing in his lap since the first time Harry kissed him spikes, feeling like an explosion that makes his legs clench tight around Harry as his cock twitches in Harry’s hand. Something warm spreads across his stomach while his head is still spinning, and Harry is crowing in delight.

It’s intoxicating to Harry, feeling Louis’ orgasm run through every part of his body and coaxing him through the strange human euphoria he had yet to know. Harry barely has the self-control to hang on until Louis relaxes past the aftershocks before he pulls out and buries his face in Louis’ shoulder, biting down on the salty skin there as his hand flies up and down the length of his cock and he spills on Louis’ stomach with a moan that makes the man beneath him shiver.

There’s a lot of effort involved in making sure that when he collapses, Harry does so to the side of Louis instead of directly on top of the poor man. “Inefficient, maybe,” he pants quietly, “but worth the extra effort.”

“It makes sense now,” Louis chimes in, the smile in his voice apparent even with Harry’s eyes closed. “You have very nice bits… I see why you should cover them. They’re very distracting.” Harry barks out a laugh but it’s too loud for the moment, so he claps a hand over his mouth and lets it lie there for long moments as the two of them quietly breathe, the race of their hearts slowing together.

One of Louis’ slender hands comes up to tug Harry’s much larger one away from his mouth and over to his own so that he can press a kiss to Harry’s palm. “How am I going to get home, Harry?” he whispers sadly.

The question makes Harry’s heart drop. Home, of course. The place far from here where Prince Louis of Sirène belonged and he, Harry of the wharf, did not. “Maybe you have to stay out until sunset again,” he suggests, even though the idea pains him just a very little bit. “Or maybe it’s opposite, maybe you have to stay in the sea until sunrise.”

“Maybe,” Louis muses quietly as he examines the ceiling. “That would make sense, I guess. But either way, there’s no rush. I’m sure the kingdom will survive if I want to stay ashore awhile.”

Harry tries to ignore the way his chest feels a little looser. “Won’t they miss you?” he asks solemnly.

Louis just lolls his head to the side to look at him. “Won’t you miss me?”

It’s almost certainly meant as a joke but Harry kisses yes anyways, lips firm and soothing and hopeful against Louis’. “No rush, then,” he agrees quietly. “No rush at all.”