moon magic | jhs
✩ — pairing: hoseok x reader
✩ — genre: mermaid au, pirate au, magic au, fluff
✩ — words: 33.8k+ (a part of me died. this is a horcrux now)
✩ — rating: sfw
✩ — warnings: uh minor dismemberment (a hand, belonging to a bad guy), otherwise its kind of just soft and gooey and magical... lord help me
✩ — notes: very very very VERY VERY LATE birthday fic for miss @readyplayerhobi !!! i’m so sorry it’s so late tali !!! and so sorry it’s such a monster, this was meant to be around 20k max and here i am completely out of control and barely sane kjfnldkffljdb i hope its not too disappointing!! (also fair warning; i didnt get to completely finish skimming this so some typos may be present dnjhbg)
You've never paid much mind to the moon, but you quickly learn that even though you've never really thought of the her, she has always watched over you. What better to heal an grieving heart, than the luminous, rippling magic of the moon? And maybe a merman, or two. You know, for good measure.
— posted; 13.07.2019
In all honesty, you’ve never really paid much mind to the moon.
It is something that is ever-present— yet also something that can wax, illuminating the earth beneath its majesty, and wane, robbing the skies of the orb that bathes the landscape in a silver glow. To the normal civilian, the moon is likely a symbol of beauty and the unknown, or perhaps just something the odd commoner didn’t spare even a second thought. You don’t normally pay much mind to the moon, except to admire it. You don’t think you’ve ever held the silver sun in any sort of contempt, until now, that is. The moon is decidedly bright tonight, which under other circumstances might normally make you smile, but actually serves to be more of an inconvenience on this eve in particular than anything.
It’s awfully hard to slink through the night and assassinate someone when the moon eliminates the security and comfort that the usual deep shadows the night-time hours provide, after all.
You admit that as far as assassination attempts go, this one is pretty poorly timed. You’re not entirely to blame though—this wasn’t your first choice by far. You like to think you’re a bit more conniving than that. No, your carefully plotted and thought-out schemes were suddenly pushed way ahead of schedule only yesterday when, to your complete and utter alarm, the subject of those plots and schemes was reported to be only a town away down the coastline. You’re quick on your feet, and you knew immediately upon hearing it that this meant the despicable Pirate Lord you’ve been tracking for the better half of your adult life would be passing the town you’re residing in within the next day. You were right, as expected, and had proven yourself unable to resist the opportunity that had presented itself so easily and readily to you. You expected to spend many months more tracking the elusive pirate, but he’s gone and sailed right into your waiting arms! It’s as though the universe is giving you the go-ahead, and you can’t even think of resisting the temptation of this golden opportunity when the thing you’ve wanted most since you were a mere seventeen years old is so close, so near your greedy clutches.
So, you decided after minimal deliberation that come nightfall the next day, you were going to head out and embark on your long-awaited goal to kill the Pirate Lord Ezra. Hence, here you are, currently trying to sleuth through the night and fulfil a desire for revenge that has had years to simmer, bubble and brew into something ugly and all-consuming to its core. You aren’t proud of the way the anger and hate has clung so firmly to the root of your being all these years, but at this point… you don’t really have anything else to live for. If you weren’t living your life planning this act of vengeance, then what would you be doing?
The reason you spent years plotting and perfecting the best way to fulfil this burning need for revenge, was because the initial act that incurred your wrath cost you your family. You have no one, and if you don’t cling to this and let it bind your being together, then what is stopping you from crumbling to dust and floating to the abyss? You don’t want to ponder it and don’t often entertain the thought, because the answer…
The answer is nothing, and that is exactly why you are here—scaling the side of the large, looming ship that belonged to the pirate that had wronged you so.
Pirate Lord Ezra. He isn’t what one would call haphazard, or aimlessly bloodthirsty. He kills, pillages and steals, like any respectable pirate, but each and every act he performs is done so with the utmost care and cold, ruthless calculation. He isn’t the most intelligent being you’ve ever encountered, but he is conniving, and crafty, and more than capable of getting himself out of sticky situations no matter how dire. It was how he’d managed to live so long even as a wanted criminal, after all.
But, you suppose in his old age he has begun to grow… careless.
You met no resistance or obstacle earlier as you rowed to the location where he was reported to be—you’d taken the time to paint your small craft so that it matched the night and sea—and you meet no obstacle now, as you grip the thick, coarse ropes that sling over the top of the bulwarks and hang heavily down the sides of the ship. You have to admit, it is a beautiful ship—you almost feel sorry for the plans you have in store for it.
The weight of the daggers fastened to your sides ground you in a sense, the cool of their metal permeating through your worn pants to keep your thoughts rooted in the present moment. This is happening, you’re finally doing this, the moment you’ve waited so long for is finally here. You can hardly believe it, yet you’re already so far into the execution of your plans that you don’t have time to stop and process it.
Were you not wearing the leather gloves you’d slipped on earlier, your hands would probably be throbbing and grazed from the coarse, sea-salt ridden ropes by now. You never really realised just how massive these ships were until you got up close and personal with them, and now as you’re scaling up the side of one it seems endless in its looming height. Even so, it isn’t long before you near the top of the ship’s side, having long since passed the closed windows where canons peaked through in the midst of battle. The sea is calm and the gentle rocking of the ship is easy to get accustomed to—soon your body moves in harmony with rolling of the waves. You think perhaps you’re a little too good at this ‘sneaking onto a pirate ship in the middle of the night’ thing.
You freeze barely a metre from the top, the sound of rough voices and hoarse, deep chuckles stilling your blood in your veins. A few of the crewmen moving past, likely on their rounds. You take the moment to think things through—you were hoping that most of the crew would be asleep and you’d be able to slip on board with no problem, but now that you think about it… you might have been a bit naïve to think that there wouldn’t be many pirates skulking across the deck. Glancing down, you get an idea of how to proceed. To the side, at a slightly different level to the line of canon openings, is a set of windows at varying heights. You absolutely despise the man, but you had to give the Pirate Lord some credit—the ship was impressive in its absolute size and majesty.
Thinking quick, you decide the best way in from now would be to slip in through one of those windows. From what you can see, the one closest to you is somewhat ajar, no doubt to let the cool sea breeze in. Moving as fast as you can while still remaining unnoticed, you shift to the window and peak in. It seems to be a restroom of sorts, small in size and containing several buckets and a jug. In all honesty, this room is dusty and grimy and doesn’t seem like it’s received much attention in the past few, well… years. Considering that they’re pirates though, you’re not really all that surprised at the discovery of their lax hygiene habits.
After watching for a moment to be sure no one is wondering into the room anytime soon, you ease the window open, wary of any rusty hinges, before shifting your body and using muscles you didn’t even know you had to slip in through the opening. Your feet touch the floor with a soft thud and a creak, the wood clearly unused to having any weight on it. You remain stock still for a moment, doubting that that soft noise was enough to wake a bunch of drunken pirates, but still cautious nonetheless. When it becomes clear that you’re not about to be discovered any time soon, you ease your way with careful steps to the door of the room and embark on the second phase of your mission.
Find the Pirate Lord.
You’re not sure how many rooms you slip into and search in the quiet of night as you attempt to locate the heinous man so worthy of your despise, but you’re quick to find out that it’s a lot. This ship is even bigger than you anticipated on the inside, and built like a maze beneath the deck. You know from stories that the captain doesn’t sleep in the usual quarters above the deck, but haven’t been able to discern through rumours or otherwise where exactly it was that he did sleep.
Silent as the night, you slip through hall after hall, peering into each room you’re able. You meld to the walls and sink into the shadows whenever voices grow too near, and the one time a pirate stumbles drunkenly past you in the hall he doesn’t even see you—in fact, you’re pretty sure he’s walking with his eyes closed. Fortunate for you, but unfortunate for him if he ends up walking into something. He disappears around the corner a moment later and you barely have time to let out your breath before there’s a loud thunk and grunt of pain from that direction, followed by a long string of grumbled, slurred curses. Well, it seems he did run into something after all. You wait until you hear his footsteps fade completely before you move once more.
With each new room you search that yields no results, you grow a little more frustrated. It’s as though the Pirate Lord isn’t even here, on his own ship. Where could he be? You feel like you’ve mapped out every single room possible beneath the creaking wood of the deck. Somewhat on edge and increasingly frustrated, you have to consciously soften your steps from their instinctive stomp as you turn down another hall. You barely get three feet down before a sound crosses your ears that gives you pause. Was that… splashing?
Of course it seems ridiculous that you’d be confused about the sound of water when you’re on a pirate ship in the ocean, but at this point you’ve delved so deep into the bowels of the ship that you shouldn’t be able to hear anything like splashing or waves. Confused, you sneak closer to the origins of the sound—a single door at the end of the hall. Strangely enough, there aren’t any other doors on either side as you shift quietly down. Definitely strange, but not your biggest concern at the moment.
You’re scarcely a few feet from the door when the splashing sounds again, and this time it rings distinctly like water sloshing against the edge of a container, like a tub. You pause, fighting the embarrassed heat that tries to colour your cheeks. You don’t know whether to be more surprised that one of the pirates is likely bathing behind these doors or at the fact you’d managed to happen upon them while they were.
You’re ready to dismiss it and flee, return to your original objective, when another sound leaks through the cracks in the door and your heart skips a beat in surprise. A whimper, like someone is in pain. A fresh barrage of thoughts flood your mind suddenly as you stand in place, conflicted. What if it’s a prisoner? What if it is someone innocent behind those doors, hurt and maybe even dying? You know you won’t be able to live with yourself if you leave without checking, the guilt will eat you alive.
With a resigned sigh, you approach the door and place your hand over the rusty handle, attempting to turn it slowly. It creaks ever so slightly, but doesn’t move far. Locked. Grumbling softly to yourself and checking behind you to make sure no one snuck up on you in your momentary lapse of concentration, you pull out the little kit you made for such an occasion and get to work picking the lock with the tiny instruments.
You’re pretty good at what you do, and so it isn’t long before you hear the soft, tell-tale click that lets you know the door is now unlocked and free to open. You check the coast is clear behind you once more before placing your hand on the handle again and twisting softly. It creaks as it did last time, but there is no resistance as you manage to open the door successfully. You hear your heart beat loudly against your eardrum for a moment as the wood swings open and you step inside.
You don’t make it past two steps before you freeze in place, the breath whooshing out of your lungs and your eyes shooting wide.
The room is lit dimly by an oil lantern hanging from the ceiling, yet the soft glow it offers is more than enough for you to see the entirety of what the room holds.
Gold. Piles and piles of gold. Coins and trinkets, goblets, jewellery—there is so much gold that glimmers in the low light you almost don’t know how to process it. The room is full of it, the piles reaching the ceiling in some places. Other precious items litter the floor, buried in the mounds of coins and treasures. Some statues, jewel-encrusted boxes, the like. Briefly, you are reminded of a dragon’s hoard. This… you’ve stumbled into the treasure room of the great Pirate Lord Ezra.
And right smack bang in the middle of it is something you never thought you would ever see with your own two eyes.
A tub, as you suspected, full of water sits in the midst of the treasure. And inside the tub lays a man, head lolling in unconsciousness as his body sways with the water and the rocking of the ship, chained to the wall, the iron links thick and heavy where they wind around his wrists and forearms. His upper body is human where it enters the water, but where it leaves there is a long, glimmering tail in place of where there should be legs. A merman. You can hardly catch your breath, the shock almost enough to knock you off your feet. You came here to assassinate a pirate and instead stumbled upon his captive merman. This mission has gone so awry you don’t know if you can even recover it.
But as you take a moment to peer at the creature, registering his appearance, you realise the answer. You can’t return to your original goal in this venture. The merman before you is beautiful; his face and torso are an ideal sculptors can only dream of achieving in their creations, and his tail is completely and utterly mesmerising with the way the scales shift and glimmer different colours despite an inky undertone, not unlike an oil slick. Yet despite this, his cheeks are gaunt and skin pallid and sallow, littered with bruises and patches of rawness. He’s thin, and you can see deep maroon blood trickling from where the chains bite into his wrists and have rubbed them raw.
You don’t have words for the roiling combination of horror, shock, and complete and utter sadness that sinks deep within you at the realisation that what you’ve just discovered is real and you’re standing here, facing it. The poor creature, chained and left to perish as nothing more than a trophy.
This, the sight before you and the feelings now running rampant within you, is why you cannot turn away and resume your original goal.
A part of you is disappointed and upset that you won’t get to kill the man who killed your family like you intended, but right now you want nothing more than to free this creature. You’ll get another chance, you reassure yourself. Even if it takes another eleven years to track him down you’ll find him eventually, and you’ll be able to sleep better knowing you freed this merman along the way.
Once you’re firm in your resolve, you take the steps necessary to bridge the gap between you and the creature, gaze sweeping over his form. The end of his tail is exposed to the air, and you notice it appears incredibly dehydrated—the long, wispy fins that trail along the sides and flare from the bottom are pinched and shrivelled, twitching every so often. You wonder for a moment why he hasn’t splashed water over his tail to keep it hydrated but quickly realise that with the way his hands and arms are bound that he can’t, and the tub is too tiny to fit the long, draping expanse of his tail in.
You decide that first thing’s first, you need to get him in a better state than what he is currently. You reach into the water, cupping a generous amount in your hands, and begin to pour it over the parts of his tail and anatomy that aren’t currently submerged. The result is instantaneous—the wispy fins that had pinched and curled up unfurled the second they touched the water, his skin and scales appearing to soak up the fluid greedily. You distantly register the way his breath stutters, picking up slightly in an uneven manner, and figure that he’s probably going to wake soon. You continue wetting the rest of his form until you’re satisfied, at which point you turn back to face him.
And promptly nearly scream in fright because when you look to him, he is already looking at you.
Your fight or flight response doesn’t remain in gear, however, because the poor creature looks absolutely terrified as he watches you, eyes already glistening. You don’t know if mercreatures can cry and you don’t want to find out—you hurry to soothe him, feeling terrible that he’s experienced such horror that this is the first reaction he gives upon seeing you.
“Woah, hey I’m sorry! It’s okay! I’m not going to hurt you.” Your hands are up and you speak softly if a little quickly. You don’t need him to scream or anything and you don’t want to be loud enough yourself to catch anyone’s attention. “I’m not going to hurt you, I promise. I’m…”
You swallow, disarmed for a moment at the way his large, dark eyes are holding yours. “I’m going to help get you out of here.”
You’re unsure if he understands what you say, but something in his gaze shifts nonetheless. Acceptance, you realise, as some of the tension in his shoulders leaves and he sags back against the wall of the tub, visibly exhausted. You realise upon gazing at his face that you’ve wet everywhere else but there—his lips, shapely with a natural downturned pout, are cracked and dry, the skin of his face appearing rough and slightly raw near his hairline and under his jaw.
Nervous now that he’s awake while you’re doing this, you cup some more water in your hands. He watches the movement like a hawk, shifting slightly.
“Close your eyes, please,” you tell him softly, despite the fact the salty water probably won’t hurt his eyes as it does yours. He blinks at you, yet despite the oddity of your request he does so anyway.
You lift your hands and part them over his head, allowing the water to flow down his face and over the rest of his skull. The inky curls atop his scalp soak up the water greedily, twirling strands sticking to his forehead as the water plasters them to his skin. The second the cool fluid touches him he takes in a shaky, sharp inhale, lashes fluttering as droplets tickle them. You repeat the motion a few more times, cupping water in your hands separately and releasing it over the tender-looking areas over the sides of his face. You wet your hand and retrieve more water to brush over the raw patches near his hairline and under his jaw, and can’t help but gasp when the second they’re soaked in the fluid little scales shimmy to the surface, embedded in the skin. Another glance to the rest of his body reveals the same thing has happened in some areas on his human parts, the dark scales appearing in a patch at the outer corners of his eyes and making them appear dramatic and elongated. A glance to the floor where similar scales litter the wood near your feet and you realise they must have dried and shed, falling off when they weren’t kept wet.
You don’t realise you’re cupping his face in your palm still as you ponder until you feel soft lashes brush your thumb. You look up in surprise to catch him peering at you once more. Cheeks hot, you retract your hand and clear your throat nervously.
“Right,” you say, more for your benefit than his. “Now you look a little less like you’re dying, lets get you out of those chains, huh?”
He doesn’t say anything, but an eager glint slips into his deep brown eyes and he wriggles, shifting anxiously. You rise from where you were crouched, thighs and knees protesting greatly, and let out a slight pained grunt as you peer over at the chains.
They’re not wrapped that complicatedly, you realise, it’s just that they’re thick and heavy and there’s a few of them there. You reach forward, catching the end of one in your hand, and pull it out of a loop it was threaded through, the links brushing his arm as you do so. A hiss from below you startles you mid-motion—you glance down to see an expression of pain on the merman’s face, and return your eyes to his arm as realisation washes over you along with immediate guilt. Where the iron links brushed his skin there are now red welts, as thought it burned him upon contact. Oddly enough, the idea isn’t that foreign to you—iron is meant to ward off faeries in legends, isn’t it? You’re not surprised that another kind of ‘magical’ creature is repelled by it as well.
“Sorry,” you whisper, and you mean it. From then on you unwind the chains with the utmost care, making sure you don’t touch him with them more than necessary.
It takes a bit longer than you would like, but eventually you get his arms and wrists free of the wretched chains. The male is sagged against the side of the tub, his arms and wrists submerged in the water. You watch, fascinated, as the fluid seems to kickstart their healing—the open wounds begin to stitch back together and the red welts begin to lessen in their intensity. You allow him a few moments more to recover before you speak.
“I’m going to get you out,” you say to him, meeting his gaze as his eyes flutter open. “But we need to go now. The longer we’re here, the riskier it is and the harder it will be to get away. Are you ready?”
The male seems a little conflicted, somewhat at a loss, and you realise it’s probably because from the looks of it he’d been here long enough that he’d probably come to terms with dying here. Nonetheless, a resolved expression filters across his features and he nods in response. You offer him a smile.
“Alright. I’ll have to lift you and carry you, but first…”
If you’re going to be tracking the pirate for even more years to come after this, you’re going to need resources. You grab a big handful of gold coins and slip them into a small, secure pouch at your waist. That ought to do you for a while.
The merman seems somewhat amused as you turn back to him, and you have the presence of mind to be a little sheepish. “What? I’m going to find a better use for it than he will.”
The merman has the nerve to roll his eyes and you sputter for a moment before the creaking of the ceiling splits the air and the two of you freeze. A detached sort of panic sinks into your abdomen, a sense of renewed urgency filling your bones, and you turn to the merman once more. “Alright, time to go.”
Getting him out of the tub isn’t a struggle, but finding the optimal position to hold him in is. He’s not all that heavy in his current state but he is slippery, so you need to utilise his grip in combination with your own. He ends up with his arms looped around your neck in an abridged sort of piggy-back. He doesn’t have legs to put either side of your waist so it’s just his tail that ducks under one arm and winds around your waist like a coil. You had no idea that the limb had that kind of flexibility and now that you know you have no idea what to do with the information.
Surprisingly, navigating out of the hallway you’re in is easier than the time you had finding it (by accident, that is). Hall by hall, corner by corner, your hands are full both figuratively and literally with the merman and both making sure he’s not drying out too quickly and you’re not running into any unwelcome characters. You realise soon into your departure that the only way you will be able to free the merman properly is from the deck—trying to find a room with windows like the one you came in from will take too long and run a greater risk. No, better to run upstairs and leap overboard before they can think twice.
The heavens appear to be smiling upon you, as it doesn’t take long at all before you stumble across the main staircase that leads to the top of the deck. You freeze at the base, taking a moment to steel yourself. This night has taken a turn you didn’t expect in the least but now you just… you just have to go with it. Another shaky inhale, you become aware of the merman’s soft pants against your neck, the sound somewhat laboured. Right. You don’t have time to spare dillydallying, you don’t want the merman to arrive at death’s door for the second time in one night. You shift, making sure the dagger against your thigh is ready and accessible before you bite the bullet and dart up the stairs as quickly and quietly as possible.
It is eerily silent, and you should have been more suspicious but you couldn’t focus on anything but getting out of here. It proves to be a slight downfall for you.
The second you breach the deck, you’re made aware of the fact that you aren’t alone—pirates are scattered around, some drinking others performing typical seafaring tasks, and you have all of about two seconds before they see you and register your presence. The second you turn to dash to the side of the ship, you’re spotted.
“What? Oi! Who the hell are you?! Stop right there!”
Instantly, you’re in the open and a clear target. There are a few shocked shouts at the sight of what you’re carrying, but you tune it all out as you dart for the side, legs burning from the effort.
“Oi, that’s the captain’s treasure—STOP HER!”
You swing the merman around your body, setting him on the railing, and offer him an apologetic look as you bid him good bye. His eyes are wide and scared as you speak in a rush, “It was nice meeting you. Get as far away as you can, alright?”
You don’t wait for him to nod. You place your hands on his chest and hip and with a great heave you push him off the railing, over the side of the ship. His tail and fins whip in the air after him before disappearing from view. Barely a second later does the loud splash of his body entering the water greet you and you almost let out a sigh of relief—
Except there’s suddenly a loud, deafening BANG from behind you and the wood near your hand is splintering, shards flying into the air from the impact of the bullet. You jerk back instantly, remembering where you are just in time to dodge the swing aimed at you by a pirate with a nasty beard and a hanging gut. He lets out an angry growl and lunges for you again with the large, curved sword clenched in his meaty fist. Your eyes dart around, looking for a quick escape.
You spy a bottle to the side, a haphazard plan forming in your mind as you see a torch hanging not too far from your head. You have barely seconds to think this through and act as more pirate lurch forward and you dodge, leg kicking out and knocking the bottle to the deck. It smashes upon impact, rum spilling and soaking into the boards, and a sick sense of glee tickles your ribs as you rip your dagger from your thigh and leap up, just barely managing to dislodge the torch and send it tumbling down.
The pirates roar in rage and panic as the second the open flame touches the ground it sparks and flares, barely a split-second passing before larger flames begin to lick and devour the wood of the deck.
“You’re going to get it, girlie!”
You bite back a scream as another pirate lunges for you, tall and skinny but somewhat uncoordinated. The tip of his sword grazes your arm and at the sting you can’t help but yelp. You’re surrounded by furious pirates, all of which much more experienced and stronger than you. Cutthroats. You refuse to let this be how you die, not when you have unresolved business here.
You’re not good at combat, so when the pirates come at you one by one you dodge like hell. Your scrambling knocks several more bottles to the ground and fortuitously, they feed the ravenous flames that begin to spread along the deck and lick at the base of the main mast. Your little dagger is doing nothing to help you here, meant for stealth and assassination rather than hands on combat. Your eyes rake the scene for something, anything you can grab to defend yourself better.
There. To the other side of the deck, a barrel resting against the railings. You can see steel and fabric-wrapped handles peaking from within, and without thinking the second you see an opening you dart for it.
“Someone get the cap’n!”
“No need. Insolent girl.”
You’re intercepted right before the barrel as the sound of the baritone freezes your blood in your veins, terror curdling your insides. You can’t breathe for a moment but a moment is all that’s needed for a large hand to grab you by the collar and haul you into the air.
The deck of his ship is steadily going up in flames behind him, something that should overjoy you, yet it only serves to feed the absolute fear and horror crashing around in your abdomen. Pirate Lord Ezra, a hulking giant of a man, holds you in the air, a few feet from the ground, as easily as if he were holding a kitten by the scruff of its neck. The material of your collar cuts into your throat, breath becoming short and panicked as you’re suddenly faced with the man of your nightmares.
You’d come here to kill him, to slit his throat without mercy, but now, confronted with the furious snarl curling his lips and the promise of a gruesome death in his beady eyes—you’re suddenly forced to the realisation of how completely and utterly unprepared you are. Gold glints at you as he flashes his teeth, coarse beard threaded with beads and silver, as is the wild, inky mane that flares from his broad skull. His breath reeks of an indiscernible alcohol and the thick hand gripping your collar is covered in rings and jewels. His presence is overwhelming and you will always be enraged by his existence but right now, more than anything, you’re terrified.
The Pirate Lord absolutely bellows his laughter when you attempt to struggle, legs kicking. “Don’t try it, girlie. You’re not going anywhere. You think the punishment is going to be light for stealing from me, from my personal treasure room, and setting my ship on fire? How foolish of you.”
You try and calm your panicked breaths enough to just think, very aware that if you’re going to get away you have to do something in the next few seconds. The deck is beginning to disappear beneath smoke and flames, the fire about to spread too far to be stopped, and the grip on your collar tightens. Some of his crew scramble to put out the flames and the rest remain surrounding you. The only side not barred by leering pirates is your right, where the railing and the inky expanse of the ocean await you.
“You bastard,” you spit, seething despite your terror, and attempt to lash and kick him. The pirate seems a cross between enraged and humoured as he dodges with ease.
“Oh the heavens have blessed us today, ‘ave they? The ones with some fight‘re always the most fun to break,” the pirate leers, pulling you closer. You panic for a second before you remember the item in your hold and, at a loss for how else to escape this situation, decide to pull a hail Mary and just fucking go for it.
“Fuck you!” you curse him with all the venom you can muster, and then you whip your arm up. The dagger in your hold embeds itself in his forearm and with a roar his hand releases its grip, dropping you to the ground. You’re dazed for the split-second you hit the ground, but lurch to your feet immediately.
He roars and spits in rage; you hear the sound of the dagger clattering to the ground as you turn to the barrel. You can tell, can feel he’s going to reach for you with his good hand, and in a fit of adrenaline-fuelled terror you grasp the handle sticking out the most and pull it out in one smooth movement.
The next few things happen very quickly. The pirate curses at you as you turn on your heel, reaching for you as expected. His hand grows closer than you anticipate and you panic, your arm raising as you complete your turn then swinging down with all the strength you can muster. You watch, eyes wide, as the curved blade comes down in a perfect arc right where the base of the pirate’s hand melts into his forearm. The steel sinks into his wrist so easily you’re almost nauseated, the blade catching only barely on the bone before continuing through the flesh and severing it completely. There’s a half-beat of stillness in the air before his dismembered hand drops to the wooden deck with a heavy thud and then the pirate lord is releasing a deep, strangled scream of pain, voice abrasive and coarse against your eardrums. The crew surrounding you exclaim and shout in shock, and you realise that if you’re going to flee it’s got to be now or never. You throw the sword away, turning as you do so, and scramble onto the thick railing.
You rake in a big breath and then you’re leaping forward, bringing your arms together above you as you dive down to the inky depths. Moonlight chases your form as you break the surface, the water washing over you like liquid ice. When you resurface, gasping for air, it’s to a world aglow with silver moonlight and blazing flames. The fire spread much more than you anticipated, and you watch as various items are thrown overboard in the chaos atop the deck. You keep low, only your head bobbing just above water in case they’re looking for you. Your limbs begin to tire quickly from treading water though, and you ache to let them rest. You look around, but the small boat you’d taken here is nowhere to be found. As the ship turns in its path, sailing in a blaze away from where you are, you allow yourself to swim away while seeking something to cling onto.
Perhaps the heavens are smiling upon you, you think as you catch sight of a large crate and barrel floating none too far from where you are. There is a length of rope tied around the barrel that is floating along the surface of the water, and in a momentary stroke of genius you use it to fasten the two items together.
There you go. A makeshift raft and your only floatation device for the time being.
After hauling yourself out of the water and onto the two items as well as you can considering their unstable floating nature, you take a moment to look around more than you did before. A sense of horror begins to sink into your bones as you realise, belatedly that you don’t recognise where you are and you don’t see any land nearby. You feel like an idiot—they must have pulled the anchor and left while you were on board. You have no idea which direction they went from the coastline, and therefore no idea where to go from here—not that you’d be making much headway with only your legs and arms for propulsion. Well… at least you freed that merman.
You flop back against the makeshift raft, glaring at the sky and pretending the wetness dripping down your cheeks is seawater and not tears. The chattering of your teeth and harsh nip of the air against your soaked form is another thing you ignore. You have such a mixture of emotions inside you that you have no idea how to even begin to unpack. It’s an acidic cocktail that climbs your oesophagus, burning your nose and behind your eyes. You don’t regret freeing the merman at all, but as the knowledge that you’ve lost the trail of the pirate king again and won’t have another opportunity like tonight for god knows how long sinks in, you feel a pit of hopelessness and despair opening up inside you. And deep within the pit, anger begins to bubble—at yourself, and the pirate king, hell even the moon. What did you ever do to her? You feel like she’s mocking you from where she sits, perched full and plump amongst the stars. Well, at least she isn’t alone.
Wiping the wetness from your face, you pull your legs from the water and curl up on the crate, trying not to tip it in the process. It’s cold, soaked to the bone as you were, and you feel regret despite not knowing which part of the night spawned it. Floating alone on the ocean in the aftermath of your assassination attempt gone awry, you’re left to your thoughts with only the moon and the inky depths of the ocean for company.
x + x + x + x
One might think that chopping off the hand of your greatest nemesis would alleviate some of the rage you’ve held for them since childhood. One would be wrong, however. You don’t feel better at all.
You’ve been adrift for two days now. Objectively, not that long. But realistically, you’ve felt every second of it. You have enough loose clothing that you can cover your exposed skin from the sun, but you’re so hungry and so thirsty that you’re beginning to think maybe you should just let the elements claim you so you’re not suffering anymore. You’ve even considered drowning yourself, or praying to the heavens for a sea storm, a few times.
You’re being dramatic. You know this, and you’re annoyed at yourself. You can’t die, you won’t die—you refuse to accept death as an possibility in this scenario. Not when you still haven’t exacted the revenge you’ve been planning and plotting for so long. Instead of accepting your loss the other night, the day’s you’ve spent left to your own thoughts have done nothing but stoke the rage and regret inside you. You hate that man, and you wish you’d aimed for his throat that night instead of his stupid hand. You hadn’t killed him, hadn’t risked his life—you’d just managed to make him more of a pirate. Next time you see him, he’ll probably have a hook. If you see him, that is. The reason you’re so annoyed at yourself is because this feels like it was your one opportunity to carry out your plan and you fucked it up. Realistically, you probably won’t get another chance as perfect as that.
This kind of inner monologue was what plagues you in your waking hours. A part of you realises that it’s a defence mechanism, focusing on your anger so you don’t feel quite feel the hunger or the thirst as much. If you’re too busy thinking to be feeling how much your body is crying out for help, then perhaps it will increase your chances of survival. And you have to survive, because you have unfinished business here still.
As your second day melts into night, however, you realise that perhaps there’s another reason you’re feeding into the anger. Perhaps, an alarming part of you fears that you might not have a choice but to accept the direction your fate is currently headed. With each hour that ticks over and each pang of hunger and burn of thirst that torments your senses, you become a little more resigned to your fate.
x + x + x
It’s kind of miraculous you’ve been alive this long, in all honesty.
You can practically feel yourself melting into a delirium of sorts as the sun moves through the sky, warming you before the cool embrace of night. You think it’s been three days that you’ve been drifting. Again, not that long, but when you’re without drinkable water and have no method of getting any… well, let’s say you’re feeling it.
Your mouth and throat feel so dry and constricted that a part of you wonders if you’ll even be able to talk again, should you happen to survive this experience. You almost roll your eyes at yourself—why, on the brink of death, are you so dramatic? You don’t remember being like this, or maybe you have always been like this and are only noticing now because it’s the first time you’ve literally only had yourself for company for so long. Gods, you’re unbearable. Why had you attempted to kill the pirate lord when you could have just locked yourself in the room with him and tortured him that way.
The thought makes you let out a delirious little giggle, unfocused gaze directed to the stars. It’s your fourth night and you feel oddly at peace. At some point over the day the anger you felt bled away and now you’re just… existing. You’ve reached a point that you could probably call acceptance. Even now there’s a part of you that resists that notion, but it’s…. significantly quieter. Much easier to block out. In the absence of that particularly loud voice, you find your mind wandering. When the sunset bled into dusk you’d been thinking about whether anyone had ever counted how many stars there are in the sky. That was a few hours ago, and now you’re onto better, more evolved topics of mental conversation.
Like what would it look like, if the moon had oceans on it too?
It would probably have splotches of blue. Or, what if it was a different colour? Personally, you’re partial to purple. The idea of a purple-spotted moon makes you smile. Ah, if only.
Registering the familiar ache in your back that comes when you lay on it for too long, the odd angles and edges of your ‘raft’ most unkind to your squishy human body, you roll weakly onto your stomach with a sigh, resting your face on your forearm. Against your better judgement, you let your toes dip just barely into the water. The fact you’ve barely seen any sea life apart from a few fish this entire time alarms you more than it comforts you. You’d rather keep being safe than sorry, but it’s too taxing to hold your legs up constantly so you begrudgingly let them lower and hope its not your downfall.
You’re drifting off, dissociating a little as you stare at the moonlight glimmering along the water’s surface. The rocking of your crate and barrel structure is almost comforting at this point, a source of consistency and security. Your gaze is a little unfocused, and that is probably why it takes a while for you to register the sudden strange glimmer that the inky water before you adopts. You squint, staring a little harder. It’s like something is glowing, deep beneath the surface, luminescent greens and blues shining through the murky filter of the ocean to greet your eyes.
Great, now you’re hallucinating.
Except, it doesn’t stop and fade as you expect a hallucination would. Your apathy is replaced by a healthy dose of shock and alarm as the glowing object seems to grow closer, nearing the surface and brightening as it does. To your sudden horror, the closer it gets the more you are able to make out the shape, and it begins to resemble something big, moving quickly through the depths.
You don’t even have the energy to scramble back when whatever it is breaks the surface, merely pinching your eyes shut and hoping for a quick death if your time really has come. Tiny droplets sprinkle against your skin and apart from the soft sloshing of water, there is silence. Surprised and slightly unnerved, you peek your eyes open cautiously. The sight they take in you robs the breath from your lungs.
It's the merman.
You can barely take in your next breath from the shock and the way your heart stutters in your chest; you'd thought so before, but especially now in this moment, he is beautiful. His face is fuller, body healed and features less gaunt than when you last saw him. Inky hair curls across his forehead, droplets slipping in glimmering trails of moonlight down his face. Now that you're no longer at risk of being skinned alive by pirates, you can take your time and appreciate the pert slope of his nose, the strong set of his jaw and the high arch of his cheekbones. Raven, iridescent scales speckle his skin on the outskirts of his face and the outer edge of his eyes, which glimmer deep cocoa as they bore into your own. His shapely lips are held in a neutral line, parting slightly as he regards you.
It's easy to forget that the last time you saw him, you pushed him from the railing of a pirate ship.
There is something completely different about him from then, though. The glow that you'd glimpsed through the water earlier is in fact coming from a series of tattoo-like patterns that curl and sprawl over his skin, reacting to the moonlight and fading to obscurity in the shadows and valleys of his form.
For a moment, the two of you do nothing but sit and watch the other. His eyes sweep over you, taking in the tired and beaten nature of your crummy raft and limp body sprawled over it. It is ridiculous, considering you have spent the past however-many days refusing to accept death as your fate, but now you find your eyes stinging and your chin wobbling. How kind of the universe to provide you company in these moments that you realise suddenly really might be your last.
The merman is more than alarmed at the sudden reversal of your roles. He panics slightly, eyes widening and hands flying from the water, flinging droplets over your skin once more. His fingers twitch, hands moving towards your face before halting, hesitant.
You stare at him a moment longer, watching as his features shift ever so slightly with each thought that runs through his head. You're a little delirious, maybe, but also absolutely mesmerised. You can't stop marvelling, can't tear your gaze from his face-- gods, he's beautiful.
He opens his mouth, lips parting, and to your surprise you catch movement from the corner of your eyes-- gills, you realise quickly, that sit on either side of his neck underneath his jaw and flare before sealing closed as he attempts to take in oxygen. You watch his throat bob, as though he is trying to speak to you, but nothing comes out but a rasp and soft, wet, gurgle. He snaps his mouth shut, eyes sweeping over your sad body once more before a frown tugs his lips. He bobs lower in the water, the fluid lapping softly over glowing, marked shoulders.
This time, when he reaches forward with his hands, he no longer hesitates. His skin is surprisingly smooth, the pads of his fingers like silk as they brush over your cheekbones. They come away wetter than before and you realise belatedly that your eyes still sting and you are crying.
How embarrassing, you think distantly, yet you can't seem to stop.
He holds your gaze a moment longer, eyes darting over your face, before he leans back, putting a little bit of distance between you. He reaches out one hand, the other slipping into the water, and pats the top of your knuckles softly. In a way, it reminds you of the way pet owners tell their dogs to sit and stay. He lingers for another brief moment, and then before you can blink he suddenly drops back beneath the surface with a plop. The glow of his markings remain visible for only a moment before they, too, disappear from your sight.
It takes a second before alarm registers in you, and even longer for you to decipher the cause of the sudden gaping fissure of loss that splits your insides. You thought you were going to have company in the last moments of your life, you were relieved you weren’t going to die alone—but the merman just left as quickly as he came and you’ve never felt quite as gutted as you do now. You saved his life and for what? So he could leave you alone when you actually needed him? You realise distantly how irrational and overemotional you’re being, no doubt fuelled by delirium and all the other lovely things your days floating at sea have brought about, but you can’t help it. It’s a ridiculous thing to feel betrayed over—by a mythical creature you didn’t even know really existed until a few days ago, of all things—but still, it stings.
You don’t know how long you stare into the water miserably, but eventually your eyes begin to burn and, regrettably, you allow them to close. It’s not quite a proper sleep that you slip into, your body exhausted but still incredibly on edge, but something in between rest and waking. Hence, when the familiar sound of water rippling and parting as something breaks the surface greets your ears once more, you’re quick to rouse in alarm.
Eyes shooting open, your vision remains blurry for a moment before you blink it away and a gasp catches in your throat, your chest warming.
The merman came back.
He seems to realise that you thought he’d left for good, an apologetic expression filtering across his features. You sniffle, mouth and throat too dry to say anything, but your attention is drawn when he pulls his hands from the water. To your surprise, he is cupping something in his hold, a small treasure box of sorts that looks like it’s spent most of its life at the bottom of the ocean but would have gleamed gold in its prime. Perplexed and curious, you watch as he lifts the lid and retrieves something wrapped in green and an old, barnacle-decorated flask from within. Mindful of where your weight is distributed on the raft, he sets it next to you, waiting a moment to make sure it won’t fall. As soon as he sees it’s stable, he sets the wrapped item next to it, taking the flask into both hands.
With nimble fingers, he undoes the top and cleans around the neck and mouth of the bottle, revealing gleaming silver where the layers of sea grime have been wiped clear. He seems a little sheepish about its less than ideal state as you watch him, but is sure to wipe it as spotless as possible before he holds it out to you.
For a moment, you simply stare at it and wonder, does he know that you can’t drink seawater? Is it even water that is inside? Sniffling a bit, you shift just barely so you’re leaning on your elbow and sniff the mouth of the bottle where its offered to you. The indescribable but distinct, slightly-metallic smell of fresh water greets your nostrils and you blink in surprise, mouth falling open as you look to the merman in shock. He’s watching your reaction curiously, waiting patiently, and when he sees you’re not going to resist he carefully brings the container to your lips. You’re too shocked and excited at the prospect of finally having some water to ease the sticky desert in your mouth and throat to protest, allowing him to feed it to you with ease.
The second the water touches your tongue and slides down your throat like a liquid cure, you feel as though you could cry. You try and be as conservative with the water as possible, desperately trying not to let any escape your mouth as you gulp it down. All too soon though the flow of water comes to an end, the flask empty before you can completely sate your thirst. It almost makes you cry again, running out, but you focus on how grateful you are to have had any at all instead of moping further.
You sniffle, eyes stinging as an overwhelming wave of gratitude surges through you for the creature bobbing in the water before you.
“Thank you,” you manage to croak, throat and vocal chords aching slightly after days of remaining unused. You sniffle again, letting your face drop to your arm so you can wipe away the snot. “Thank you…”
When you manage to lift your head back up, the merman is smiling at you softly, a fond curve to his eyes. He screws the lid back on the flask, swapping it with the wrapped item he’d put down earlier. Feeling somewhat rejuvenated now you’re a little less dehydrated than you had been, you watch him a little more actively as he gingerly pinches the green material—which you realise now is seaweed—between his fingers and, with careful hands, unravels it from the item held within. Instantly, a salty, warm aroma wafts up to your nose and your mouth is salivating before it even registers in your head that you’re currently looking at food.
In his palms, cupped together to hold it better, is a neat line of fish that, upon closer inspection, appears to have been boiled. Curious as to how the merman had brought you cooked food but unwilling to look a gift horse in the mouth, you send him a wide-eyed look. “For… for me?”
When he nods, you almost cry again. God, days at sea and you turn into the biggest crybaby to ever exist.
He waits as you gratefully and eagerly begin eating what he brought for you, retrieving chunks of fish and feeding you carefully. The flavour is bland but in this scenario it’s definitely not a deal-breaker. You’re so thankful that something edible is even touching your tongue, you don’t care that its boiled, unseasoned fish in the least. In all honesty, after days of eating nothing you think this might be the best meal you’ve ever had.
When you’re done devouring the fish, the merman folds the seaweed and tucks it back into the treasure box with the flask, closing the lid. He smiles as you thank him again, and holds up a hand as though telling you to wait. He ducks back beneath the water, but this time you’re hopeful that he’ll return.
And he does, not long after he disappears. Definitely a quicker trip than last time, although you suppose that is to be expected since he was gathering food and freshwater for you to drink. You have no idea how or where he got it from, but you’re eternally thankful either way.
He smiles at you as soon as he resurfaces, water dripping down his face and plastering inky strands to his forehead before he shakes his head and they fling up, curling away from his scalp wildly. Once more, you're mesmerised by the way the moonlight makes him literally glow-- from his luminescent marks to the way the iridescent scales glittering across his skin catch the light. If you peer further into the inky depths, you can just barely catch sight of the oil-slick tail curling and winding to tread the water and keep him afloat, wispy finds trailing behind it and glowing in a similar manner to the marks across his skin.
Tenderly, the merman reaches to brush some of the salt-crusted hair from your forehead, offering a small smile. You've only just finished munching and feel much more energised as a result of some actual food and water entering your body, but the second his fingers drag across your skin like silk it is as though all the exhaustion your body held in the past few days comes crashing down on you at once. Your eyes droop, and you struggle to keep them open because he's still here and you want to look at him while you can. You don't know if this was it, if this was what he was doing to repay you and you wouldn't see him after this. If that was the case, you wanted to remember everything about the way he looks and makes you feel in this moment.
The merman's lips curl slightly at the edges, apparently endeared by your struggle to remain awake, and he lifts his hands partly from the water to place them flat against the crate before they search for a groove in the wood that allows his fingers to find a proper grip. His body tilts and you don't notice it at first, as exhausted as you are, but soon catch on that he's turning your raft. Once he seems appeased by the direction it's 'facing', he adjusts his grip and leans back slightly. It takes you another moment to realise that he's actually pulling you in a certain direction, propelling the two of you steadily with his tail beneath the surface. What a sight you must be to anything that passes, you think. A girl lying draped across a barrel and a crate, being pulled by a glowing mercreature.
You wish to stay up, to watch the merman a little more. A part of you wants to talk to him, but you're also very aware that he can't respond and so it isn't much of a pressing matter to you. Gradually, the sound of the ocean and the gentle knocking of the water against your craft as it's dragged through the waves is enough to lull you to sleep. For the first time in a few days you welcome it, allowing yourself to go easily. The last thing you see before your eyes close fully is the merman's beautiful features tugged into a fond smile, illuminated by a halo of moonlight and a crown of stars.
x x x x x x x
Each night after that, the merman returns to keep you company. He always brings the same small treasure chest and a flask of fresh water, but to your pleasant surprise also tries to change up the food that he wraps in seaweed. So far you've been treated to a few different kinds of fish, some crab and other seafood that you admittedly don't know the name of. Some of them tasted better than others, but no matter what he brings you're grateful. He's the only reason you haven't perished out here.
There is a routine that the two of you have fallen into. Every time he comes, he will feed you and then return the items to wherever he retrieved them from. When he pops back up he grasps your 'raft' and does the same as he did the first night, pulling you through the ocean towards a destination that you don't know and have no way of inquiring about. You've since outgrown your hesitance to talk, and now chatter away aimlessly at him whenever he seems willing to listen. Some days he surfaces in a better mood than others, but always by the end of his visit you manage to have him smiling again. You only ever see him once the sun has fallen past the horizon and the moon has risen in her wake, but you swear that every time he flashes a soft smile at you the sun peaks back out for a moment to bask you in her warmth.
Call it sad or pathetic, but you're starting to develop a bit of a crush on this creature.
How can you not? When he has done nothing but go out of his way to help you and ensure you survive, feeding you and guiding you and keeping you company in the hours where you would otherwise be most prone to going insane bit by bit? You make sure to thank him every day, after every kind act he does for you, and even though he can't communicate as you do above the water it's clear he is aware of your gratitude.
The routine holds true for a few nights, although you lost count at some point you know a fair few have passed. One night, however, the merman doesn't show at the usual time; he's made a habit of popping up in the hour after dusk settles and when time ticks over and it becomes several hours past the time he usually arrives, you grow a little concerned. Well, concerned and a little sad. A part of you worries if he has finally decided to stop coming, and another, smaller part wonders if this whole ordeal was just an elaborate hallucination that resulted from your parched, starved state before you 'met him'.
Thankfully, the merman shows up; he rises from the depths with his telltale glow just before you're about to doze off, drooping eyes shooting wide open at the sight of him. You almost ask him where he was before biting your tongue on the matter, realising he wouldn't be able to answer you anyway. Instead, you allow your eyes to sweep over him for any clues that might suggest why he took longer than usual today.
You've accepted the fact that your mercreature friend quite literally glows in the moonlight, but tonight he appears especially radiant. It takes you a moment to realise that it's because the entire time since he broke the surface, the grin hasn't left his face. You're not sure what has happened in his world that he's so pleased about, but his happiness is apparently contagious. It completely washes away your earlier mood and you find yourself smiling as you chat to him in between bites of seaweed and fish.
Contrary to what you expect, when he finishes feeding you tonight (something he insists on doing even though you've long since regained the strength needed to feed yourself) he doesn't immediately dart off beneath the waves to return the treasure box. Instead, he places the box on the raft with the materials inside, then dips his hands beneath the water to reach for his waist. When they return above the surface they're clutching a small, woven pouch in their grasp. The merman seems almost giddy as he opens it up, nimble fingers tugging the twisted string loose enough to fit his hand inside.
You feel your mouth drop at the items he withdraws, presenting them in his damp hand for you to gaze upon. In his palm are three pearls; one white like a drop of pure moonlight, one shimmering, iridescent black like his scales, and one that gleamed pretty and nacreous with a soft undertone that, oddly enough, resembles the colour of your eyes. You're unable to help the way you stare at them in awe for a moment, before looking up to catch his gaze on you. Your head tilts as you send him a questioning look, unsure exactly what he wants from you.
He smiles, endeared by your mannerisms. He places his pouch beside you, using his now free hand to place his fingers on his lips. He then points them to the pearls in his palm, before moving them slightly closer to you. Your cheeks heat as you catch onto what he is trying to tell you.
"You... want me to kiss them?" you attempt to clarify, blush intensifying when he nods. "Why?"
His smile simply grows and adopts a somewhat cheeky edge, eyes curving with glee. His markings cast a soft glow on the pearls in his palm, but it's less strong now that he is holding them closer to you and further from his body.
You're a little embarrassed and bashful, but you suppose what is the worst that can happen? With warm cheeks you allow your head to dip and your lips to brush the pearls, careful not to kiss his palm on accident. For some reason that feels as though it would be a little too intimate, and you're already trying not to combust as it is.
To your surprise, when you pull your head back up the merman is positively beaming at you, something neither you nor your heart are really ready for. He grabs the pouch, quickly depositing them back inside before plopping it back in the water and fastening it around his waist; the only reason you can see what he is doing is because of the moonlight making him glow. He pats your hand with his own, the action he usually does to reassure you that he'll be right back, and then he's grabbing the treasure box and ducking beneath the surface as usual.
It feels like it takes a little longer for him to return this time, but you have no way of knowing for sure. He breaks the surface, still grinning, and goes about gripping the raft and beginning to tug it along as he usually does. You're a little ashamed to say that somewhere along the way, in between your one-sided chatter and admiration of his beauty, you fall asleep earlier than you usually do. It's probably due to the fact he appeared later than normal, but you digress. If you stayed up even a little longer, you'd probably have a little more of an idea about the scene that greets you when you crack your eyes open the next morning.
You wake up to the feeling of sand.
Admittedly, it is an alarming thing to wake up to when you've gotten used to sleeping with the feeling of rough, unforgiving wood beneath you and the rocking lull of the ocean. In the few seconds after you rejoin the world of the living to the familiar feeling of the sun beating down on you, there is a sense of acceptance that settles within your being. Then you move and grains of sand move with you and you're darting into a sitting position with wide eyes, blinking rapidly so your vision clears and you can see where the hell you are.
It doesn't take you long to figure out you're on a beach.
You scramble to a stand, legs incredibly wobbly and so unsteady you almost tumble several times before you manage to right yourself properly. Subconsciously your eyes sweep the strip of sand for the items that kept you afloat all this time, and you're strangely relieved to see them not too far from the indent in the sand where you must have washed up. God, you must have been knocked the hell out to wash up on a beach and stay asleep through the whole thing.
It's right about now that it really sinks in-- you washed up, you're on land right now. The realisation has your legs wobbling from shock and tears of happiness stinging your eyes, elation filling your chest. God, you didn't think you'd ever see land again! The urge rises within you to drop and kiss the ground and it takes all of your willpower to fight it. As happy as you are to feel sand beneath your feet, you're not exactly keen to have it anywhere near your mouth.
The sun is especially potent today, almost harsh against your skin even though it can't be any later than mid morning. You're relieved to have the option of shade, finally, and whip around to face the treeline behind you giddily. From here you can catch glimpses of hills and a small mountain, the island nothing massive but definitely no small matter. You can't help but envision it ripe with fresh water and foods of all kinds, incredibly optimistic now that you're no longer stranded at sea.
It hits you about three steps towards the treeline that the reason you were able to get here at all is because of the merman. You feel a mixture of emotions swirling inside you at the sudden realisation, warmth blooming in your abdomen and climbing up your spine to bud and blossom behind your ribs. You owe that merman your life.
Despite knowing that you wouldn’t see him, you still can’t help but peer over your shoulder and let your eyes sweep across the horizon, searching for a small glimmer or even a bit of glow amongst the waves and the horizon. Nothing greets you, of course, but for some reason… for some reason you feel as though wherever he is, he isn’t all that far away. It soothes you, that feeling, and you turn to the treeline with renewed optimism and excitement.
Food other than fish and seafood, here you come!
x + x + x + x
The first night you spend on the island, the merman doesn’t come.
You don’t know why, but for some reason you’d just taken it for granted that come the setting of the sun and the rising of the moon, you’d see his cheery, glowing visage popping up amongst the waves as you usually do. In your scavenging of the forest near where you washed up, you manage to find a few fruits—some of which you recognise, thankfully—and you gather them in your shirt to bring back to the beach at nightfall, where you plop onto the sand and await the arrival of your fishy friend. You think that if you weren’t so exhausted you probably would have stayed up the whole night waiting for him. You crash, though, a few hours into the night, and it wouldn’t matter even if you try and push yourself and stay up. The merman doesn’t come.
On your second day occupying the island, you venture further inland and manage to find a cute little cave next to a crystalline lagoon of sorts, the bottom of which is so deep and blue you can’t even see where it ends. The cave on the other hand appears shallow from the outside, but has a considerable amount of room on the inside. You’re already planning to gather some wood and materials to block it off and make it a bit more habitable—after you clear out all the spiders and weird little lizards you see in there, though. You get some more fruit and food and begin a stockpile of sorts. When day bleeds into night and the moon’s rays kiss your skin once more, you head back to the beach and settle down, waiting once more. The merman doesn’t come.
The following days, the routine varies but always ends the same. When each day draws to a close, you finish what you’re doing and head to the beach where you washed up, settling down and waiting. With each day that passes and the merman doesn’t show, you begin to lose a little hope. Each time you fall asleep on the sand and wake to the warmth of the sun and an empty beach, the part of you that wonders if you’re just crazy and imagined the whole thing grows a little louder.
You miss him.
It doesn’t take you long to realise that in the short time you spent with him, you grew to like him, a lot. You also realise part of it is probably just that without him, your days at sea would have been incredibly lonely and no doubt would have driven you insane eventually. Perhaps you’ve grown a bit attached to him, but aside from that… you’ve grown to like him. Hell, he hasn’t ever uttered a word to you and he’s currently missing, but you miss the solace you found in his bright smile, his warm eyes and his… his glow, as stupid as that sounds.
It’s perhaps a week after you arrived on the island—something that you’re keeping track of with a little rock and tally in your cave— that the little routine you’ve settled into is disrupted. Contrary to how the rest of your days were spent, last night you curled up alongside the lagoon, the sand there a little softer than the beach, and admired the brightness of the stars against the deep ink of the sky—it was a fresh, waxing moon, and from that information you guess that you’ve been missing from civilisation for probably… around or a little more than three weeks. But the main point is that you fell asleep next to the lagoon instead of next to the ocean.
Which is why the sight you wake up to the next morning gives you such a heart attack.
These past few days you’ve woken up on your own, your body clock set to rouse you a few hours after sunrise. Today, however, it’s a persistent prodding that brings you from the clutches of sleep. Mumbling to yourself softly, you crack your eyes open and blink blearily; when your vision clears, it reveals a shockingly familiar face barely inches from your own. You scream.
The merman jerks back, eyes wide as you scramble away in fright, heart pounding against your chest and breathing uneven.
“What.” Your voice is sharp and strangled until you clear your throat and try again, managing to calm down a little. “What on… where did you go?!”
The merman seems amused that it’s the first time you see him in over a week, and that’s the first thing to come out of your mouth. You’re too shocked to see him the second you wake up—at daytime nonetheless!— to keep your tongue in check. You’re halfway to wondering how long he’s been there when you realise another important factor; you fell asleep next to the lagoon last night. Your eyes immediately dart down, and to your surprise you see that he’s leaning over the edge of the lagoon on his elbows, his body from hips-down immersed in the crystalline waters. You catch movement from the corner of your eye and when you direct your gaze to it, your jaw drops. His tail swirls behind him, long and graceful and so pretty with the fins trailing behind it like ribbons and glimmering, opalescent gossamer, and his scales gleam brilliantly in the sunlight. His markings aren’t activated, but the iridescent shimmer of his scales makes up for it you think. You sputter as he lays there watching you, amused. Just as you go to speak again, he opens his mouth and does the last thing you expect him to do.
“Miss me, did you?”
You balk, mouth dropping open at the deep and husky, velvety tone that brushes your ears; it appears to come from the merman, and it takes several long moments for the observation to settle in. When it does, you let out a belated noise of shock and scramble back over to the merman.
“What! Since when can you talk! Have you been able to talk this whole time?!” the words tumble out of your mouth so fast it’s a wonder he can keep up. He’s grinning at your current state of shock, incredibly amused and staring with a fond look in his gaze.
“No, I could not talk before,” he says, still speaking softly—it takes you a moment to realise it’s probably so he doesn’t strain this new voice. “My speech organs were not adapted to speaking above the water.”
“Wh—then why can you—how can you talk to me now?” you continue looking at him with wide eyes, still reeling from the barrage of shocking things you’ve been faced with this morning. The merman looks kind of dazed even as you fire more questions at him, chin resting in his palm as he stares at you somewhat dreamily. It has your cheeks warming and heart skipping a beat.
“I asked a sea witch for help,” he answers simply after a few moments, blinking once lazily before a slow, fond smile stretches his lips further. “She wasn’t very agreeable at first, I had to bribe her. Then, once she performed the spell, I had to wait a few days for it to take effect and for me to heal. That is why I was gone. I am sorry if I worried you, human.”
“You don’t have to apologise,” you say immediately, averting your eyes and scratching the back of your neck. “I’m… I’m sure you have a life, too. You know, one that doesn’t revolve around keeping some dumb human alive.”
The merman fights a smile at your words, a faux stern expression filtering across his features. “I wouldn’t spend my time keeping just any dumb human alive, you know. Only the ones I owe my life to.”
You can’t help the smile that slips onto your lips at that. “Sweet of you,” you note, head tilting as something occurs to you suddenly. “Wait—you had to bribe a sea witch? Is that why you brought those pearls?”
The merman shrugs, tail twisting and arching from the water for a moment. He slaps it back down and grins when you let out a gasp at the cool droplets of water that spray on you as a result. “Yes, and no. I bribed her with some precious things from my home, but the pearls I needed for the spell.”
You let out a noise to indicate that you understand, even though you don’t really. “Huh. Well, uh… I’m… I’m glad you came back. I was getting lonely. And thank you, you know… for keeping me alive and bringing me here, wherever here is.”
The merman sways slightly, leaning closer as he beams. Some of his raven locks fall across his forehead from the movement, just shy of his lashes that are still wet and clinging together. “It’s no problem, pretty pearl. The least I could do, really.”
Now that he can talk to you he seems to be filled with a new sort of zest and confidence, his hand leaving where it was rested against his bicep to reach and brush a lock of your hair that hangs loose by your face. You flush, and he hums. “And this isn’t just anywhere. It’s my home, the centre of my kingdom.”
You must appear as confused as you feel because he lets out a low chuckle, eyes pinching shut in mirth. You’re disarmed to note that he’s just as beautiful and radiant in the sunlight as he is beneath the glow of the moon, honey skin glowing gold and oil-slick scales shimmering through a rainbow of colours as they catch the light.
“Beneath the water, pretty pearl,” he enlightens you, a fond note entering his tone. “This island sits atop a massive network of underwater cave systems that span for miles. It’s the centrepiece, the capital city in the Kingdom of Sand. This island is part of the highest collection of caves, where the royal family live.”
He lets out an amused snicker, “You’re essentially living on the roof of the palace.”
Your mouth drops open, your mind doing a double-take at the load of information it has just received. Your eyes sweep over him as your thoughts attempt to order, taking in the string of pearls and shells around his throat you hadn’t noticed before, along with the silver metal slipped over his fingers. The only reason you see them now is because they glint in the light as he moves.
“The palace?” you squeak, thinking about how just yesterday you took a quick dip in one of the other deep lagoons on the island to clean yourself off a bit. “Oh no… will I be in trouble? Will you be in trouble? You’re in the water right now, are you allowed to be here?!”
The merman grins brightly, laughing loudly at your fluster and panic. “I don’t think someone would get in trouble for roaming their own home, pretty pearl.”
He only has to wait a moment for his words to sink in and an alarmed noise to tear from your throat. “Wh—you--?!”
The merman pushed off from the bank, bobbing in the middle of the lagoon; he bends his upper half in an attempt at a bow, one hand extending to the side as the tips of his hair brush the water. “Third prince of the Sand Kingdom and third in line for the throne, Jung Hoseok, at your service.”
When he returns from the position it’s to the sight of you gaping like a fish and he can’t help the loud laugh that tears from him once more.
Well. This is certainly something to think about.
x + x + x + x
It admittedly takes you a while to recover from the abrupt discovery that the merman you saved from a pirate’s ship, and who then went on to save you in return, is the prince of an underwater kingdom.
One of seven princes, actually.
That was another little tidbit that left you reeling when you heard it. After you woke up to the merman, Hoseok, poking you awake that day, you spent a long time afterwards talking. Making up for lost time, you suppose. He filled you in on a lot of things, like where he went and even how he prepared some of the food you ate, when you asked (they use underwater geysers to cook the meat). With an almost alarming amount of ease, you sink back into a comfortable routine with him—it doesn’t matter to you that he’s a prince, because he still acts the same as before and hence you still treat him the same. It probably should alarm you, you might get in trouble, but you’re too busy enjoying his return to care in all honesty.
Upon your arrival on the island, Hoseok’s visitation schedule flipped from night to day. Well, you say that because he makes sure to wake you somehow each morning—he is an obnoxiously early riser—but really, most of the time he ends up keeping you company into the night-time hours anyway. On the days he can, that is. You learn quickly that the only reason one of the oldest princes can spend so much time away from his kingdom and with you is because every time he visits he is, in actuality, shirking his duties.
You find this out thanks to a new character that pops up in one of the lagoons as you’re bickering with Hoseok about fish one day (perhaps a dumb argument to be having with a merman, but you digress). The male has stuck to you the whole morning thus far, ducking into the water and popping up in the next lagoon or water hole wherever you venture next. The lagoons and water holes are all connected by caves beneath, something he truly enjoys taking advantage of. You’re in a quaint little nook of the island near the base of the mountain, a little alcove with a water hole and tall palms draping over to offer generous shade. There are a few large rocks lining the edge of the water, and you use these to lay your primitive tools down on. Being stranded on an island has brought out your inner survivalist, it seems. You wish to say you’re thriving but you don’t think you can stretch it that far.
Hoseok is floating on his back, propelling himself in circles around the small body of water with lazy rolls of his tail, his fingers tapping against the water surface to disrupt the tension. He’s particularly stunning today, the sun bathing him in gold and making him glimmer in more ways than one. You don’t think you’ll ever stop being amazed at his beauty, really. You do find yourself growing tired of his sass, though. You should have known from that first eyeroll on the pirate ship that he had a lot of attitude and no intention of containing it.
“You can’t argue that boiled fish is better than smoked fish when you’ve only ever tried one of them,” you tell him as you attempt to crack into a coconut with a large, jagged rock you found. You’re making progress, but it’s slower than you’d like. “That’s biased.”
The merman snorts, closing his eyes and splashing some water over his face and chest to keep himself cool. “It’s not biased, it’s called being right.”
You have to take a moment so you don’t clutch the rock too tight, consciously loosening your grip. God, he’s annoying—you like him a little too much.
“Well, you’re wrong so you’re not very good at being right,” you shoot back, before a sudden thought occurs to you and you turn to him accusingly. “On the topic of fish, if you’re a prince and third in line for the throne then why did all the fish you brought me taste so bland? Don’t you have chefs?”
At this, Hoseok lets out an offended noise and splashes into an upright position. His voice is indignant as it pierces your ears, and when you look up his cheeks have warmed to a bright pink, his ears suffering a similar fate. “Excuse me? I made that myself, it was not bland.”
For a moment you feel a little guilty for calling his cooking bland, then it hits you that he cooked for you to keep you alive and you can feel your cheeks flush with heat barely a split second later. To distract from the embarrassment, you open your mouth to fire something back. You don’t get to say anything though, because another voice cuts through the space that is neither Hoseok’s nor yours.
“So this is where you’ve been zipping off to all secretive every day, hyung.”
Hoseok jerks in alarm, water splashing about as he whips around to face a figure that you just now notice has popped up to the edge of the water hole. It’s another merman, you gather from the shimmer of scales you glimpse beneath the surface of the water, with big brown eyes and a messy mop of dripping black hair. His wide eyes flick between your shocked self and Hoseok, who is only just recovering from the fright, and a small smile of mischief curls his lips.
“Jungkookie,” Hoseok’s voice sounds in a warning, but you can tell there’s no bite behind it. From the fond set of his eyes as he regards the other male and the affectionate twinge hidden deep in his tone, you hedge a bet that this must be one of his brothers. “Shouldn’t you know better than to sneak up on people—namely, on me? And what are you doing here?!”
“I followed you when you left this morning,” the male says without a shred of fear for any repercussions, voice smooth and clear as his gaze fixes on you. He wades over, close enough for you to catch the fiery glimmer of cherry scales embedded in his skin that gleam sunset in the light, curious eyes never leaving you as he continues to talk. “I wanted to pop up earlier but Taehyung needed my help with something, so I left then came back. This is where you’ve been coming, huh?”
He turns to Hoseok now, a teasing grin tugging his lips despite the somewhat nervous way his fingers come to play with the gold pearls around his neck. “The others are going to tease you if they find out you’ve been keeping a pretty human girl all to yourself.”
Hoseok flushes deeply, attempting to hide it behind a glare he directs to the other. “They won’t find out if you keep your mouth shut, Jungkookie.”
The merman giggles, the nature of the sound letting you know he most definitely isn’t going to keep his mouth shut, and turns back to you. “Of course, hyung. It’s nice to meet you, by the way. I’m Jungkook, seventh prince of the Sand Kingdom and the one stuck with picking up all the duties Hoseok-hyung has been shirking when he comes to visit you, at your service.”
You direct an amused look to Hoseok, the merman in question looking a little more than mortified. “I’m y/n. I found your brother on a pirate ship and pushed him overboard. It’s nice to meet you.”
At your words, the doe-eyed male lights up. He lurches forward, upper half propelling from the water enough that he’s able to snatch your hands in his grasp. You nearly get pulled in before he stabilises himself, but still end up bending slightly.
“That was you! You’re the one that saved him?” He seems to be in awe, looking upon you in open admiration. “Hoseok was missing for so long, we—we feared the worst. Then he suddenly came home all beat up and told us what happened. He was kind of grounded but he kept leaving without telling us where he was going and escaping the guards anyway.”
Hoseok huffs at this, preening slightly. You snort.
“Was he sneaking out to see you this whole time?” Jungkook asks, hands still cupping yours tightly. Even if you wanted to, you realise that you can’t even think of lying to him when he looks up at you with those big starry eyes like that.
“Uh, yeah,” you answer, kind of sheepish and slightly guilty for getting Hoseok in a little trouble. “I was kind of stranded at sea and he kept me alive by bringing me food and water and uh… bringing me here.”
The young merman looks up in awe for a moment, blinking as your words sink in, before he’s dropping your hands and lurching away with a gasp. He propels himself over to his brother and latches on in a flurry of cherry scales and chaotic splashes.
“Aww, Hoseok-hyung!” he coos, the older grimacing and attempting to peel him off. The familiarity of brotherly antics makes you grin uncontrollably, a warm feeling settling in your chest and tickling the bottom of your ribs. “That’s so kind of you! Who knew you were so soft? Wait until the others—”
“Jungkook if you spill a single word—” Hoseok’s protests are met by a splash and he sputters incredulously. You get the feeling Jungkook is a bit of an unstoppable force.
“—they’re going to be so impressed!” the younger male releases his brother, but only to zip back to you and clutch one of your hands again. “Will you meet them? They’ll want to meet you for sure!”
"Uhh," you drag the sound out, eyes flicking between the two for help. Hoseok appears somewhat panicked and in the spirit of winning in some way after the argument you were in, you decide on an answer. "...sure."
Jungkook positively beams at you, alarming you with the sight of bunny teeth and, right next to them, sharp incisors. You suddenly wonder if Hoseok has a mouth of sharper than usual teeth as well and you just haven't noticed or if it's a Jungkook-only thing.
"Excellent!" he shakes your hand in his grasp, almost tugging you into the water on accident from the slightest bit too much strength he has in the motion. "They're a bit busy with their duties so I'm not sure when, but definitely—"
"Jungkook," Hoseok's voice breaks the bright-eyed male from his thoughts, levelling him with a glare as he turns over his shoulder in question. "You have ten seconds to leave before I seal your mouth shut myself."
In all honesty, you doubt Hoseok would actually follow through with the motion but the promise in his voice makes you shiver for Jungkook— who, to your minimal surprise, seems to be largely unaffected by it. He does grin however, his eyes adopting a mischievous glint, and he releases your hand to wade away, body shifting into a prepared stance.
"You won't do it," he teases obnoxiously, and it's such a little brother thing to do that for a moment you're overtaken by a wave of fondness and sadness that mix together in a peculiar cocktail inside you.
“Would you like to stay and find out?” Hoseok’s brows shoot up, water sloshing as he straightens and advances slightly. “I’ll start counting now—one… two….”
Jungkook wriggles in the water, squinting like he is trying to suss out whether his brother is going to follow through or not.
“three… four… five… six…”
Jungkook has the biggest grin on his face, incredibly amused, and you catch the moment that Hoseok realises that his brother is calling his bluff. Annoyed, he changes tactics and lurches forward to dive for the cheeky merman who is testing his patience so.
Jungkook lets out an alarmed yelp that melts into a laugh before he is spinning and diving into the water, just barely managing to dodge Hoseok’s arms as they swipe through the air where he was. The older male spears his hands into the water in a half-hearted attempt to catch his tail but it seems the younger is too quick. You watch, barely restraining a laugh, as glimmering cherry and inky hair disappear into the deep blue depths of the lagoon. A moment passes and then it’s just you and Hoseok alone once more.
In the few seconds that filter past in the aftermath of the visit, you realise something suddenly that has you turning to Hoseok immediately for an answer. “Wait… if your anatomy isn’t suited to speech above water, and you had to bribe a sea witch, how was he…?”
Hoseok, significantly less agitated now his younger brother is gone and out of his hair, turns to face you, rolling onto his back in the process. The water embraces him tenderly as he does so, tail beginning to resume the lazy propulsions from earlier.
“Ah, Jungkook did the same thing as me—although, much earlier. He is how I knew what to do.” It’s an explanation, but you’re still a little curious and from the amused curve to the merman’s lips, it’s obvious. “He is the youngest and has always had the most freedom—of us, he is probably the most curious about humans too. He went to a sea witch long ago so that he could have a voice that worked above water and he could communicate with them.”
A fond smile slips over his features now. “But contrary to what you just saw, Jungkookie is a little shy… if I weren’t here, I doubt he would have revealed himself to you. He’s always been too shy to reveal himself to any humans and actually use the voice he got. The most he’s done is sing to pirates and make them fall overboard, I believe.”
You can’t help the laugh that escapes you at that, and it widens the smile on Hoseok’s face in turn. When you catch the fond way he regards you for a moment, your whole face heats in a blush.
“Well, at least he got to use it just then,” you muse. Hoseok lets out a laugh and agrees, taking a moment to dip himself into the water completely and refresh before resurfacing with a bright smile.
“By the way, where were we? I believe I was telling you how wrong you were?”
You roll your eyes so heavily you almost see stars and the merman erupts into laughter once more. Here you go again—is he really a better alternative to being alone on the island? You suppose you’ll find out.
x x x x x x
In due time, you actually get to meet all of Hoseok’s brothers. You thought you had a lot to deal with, when your siblings were still around, but you realise it was nothing compared to the chaos of six siblings—brothers, no less—all in a similar age range.
Next after Jungkook, you meet the other two youngest in the family. The twins who, while aren't identical in appearance, are definitely identical in their inclination to trouble and mischief and make sure you know it. You've heard the phrase double trouble thrown around every so often regarding twins in your town, but it wasn't until you encountered Jimin and Taehyung that you really understood the implications of it.
Your very first meeting with them, they choose to wake you up in Hoseok's stead with sprinkles of salty water and by prodding you with a soggy stick. Needless to say, rousing from sleep to the sight of two unfamiliar faces crowding close to yours, lower bodies immersed in the water of the lagoon you'd mistakenly fallen asleep next to again, gives you the absolute fright of your life. They let out melodious peals of laughter at the borderline screech you emit, one a low baritone and the other a complimentary airy, lilting tenor. Hoseok pops up with a menacing glare not long after and proceeds to smack the both of them for frightening the life out of you, but nonetheless their first impression is made and you're now all the wiser to the cheeky, playful antics of Hoseok's youngest siblings.
"But it's boring down there!" the merman with the low voice and dark brown hair that curls endearingly at the nape of his neck— Taehyung, you learn quickly— whines to his older brother. Hoseok has just told them to go away and annoy one of their other brothers, but to no success thus far. "Everyone else is busy doing their duties. I really thought Yoongi was going to kill me when I swam near him earlier."
Hoseok remains steadfast, arms crossed over his chest as he stares with narrowed eyes at the twins. Jimin, with his inky hair and pink-toned tail, is grinning unabashedly at him. Hoseok retorts, "You have duties too, you know. Do you want me to tell our parents you're shirking them again?"
At the panicked protests that follow, you presume Hoseok has found his leverage. Begrudgingly, the two mermen slink back into the water, but not without sparing you longing, curious gazes that tell you they’re most definitely going to be back to bother you soon. When they finally disappear beneath the surface, Hoseok lets out a huff and you have to laugh. When you question him as to how those two brothers managed to speak above water, he informs you somewhat sheepishly that all of his brothers went about getting the ability to speak since they learnt of you from Jungkook. You’re quite a popular topic of conversation beneath the water, it seems.
You don't even get a whole day to recover from that particular meeting when you run into another of his siblings. The rest of the morning you spent with Hoseok, him giving you tips on catching fish—which you found incredibly funny by the way. Eventually he had to dip back beneath the surface as well and you needed to gather some things from the island—you’re in the process of making a little hut-slash-some-walls for that ideal cave you found, and need more materials.
In your venturing, you stumble upon another little water hole you’ve not been to yet and immediately halt in your steps, eyes wide as you take in the sight before you. Yet another merman greets your eyes, with soft black hair gleaming like silk in the sun and his deep blue tail shimmering like a glittery extension of the water. He’s sprawled over a large rock lazily, soaking in the sun, and it takes you a moment upon glancing to his face to realise that he is asleep.
Well, was asleep. Not long after you look to his face one of his eyes cracks open and you let out an alarmed squeak at being caught staring and intruding upon whatever private moment he was having.
The merman huffs, letting out a great, deep breath and then a yawn before he rolls onto his stomach on the rock and rests his face in his palm, gaze on you.
“You’re Hoseok’s human, right?”
You fluster for a number of reasons at his words, but namely because you realise he must be one of Hoseok’s brothers if he’s talking to you, and because he’d called you Hoseok’s human. The butterflies that erupted in your stomach at that are something you’re not quite ready to delve into yet, so you push them to the backburner and decide to move forward and talk instead.
“If you mean the one he met on the pirate ship, then yes.”
The merman lets out a hum, gaze burning with curiosity as it sweeps over you. You come to a stop by the edge of the water hole and plop down, crossing your legs. The merman watches the movement, absolutely fascinated.
“Ah yes, you are the one.” He simply stares at you for a moment before continuing, “I’m Yoongi, second in line.”
You note already from this interaction that he is very to-the-point and can’t help but wonder at the stark contrast some of the brothers’ personalities are to one another. He lets his free hand drop to the surface of the water and his fingers to wriggle and make ripples. A cool breeze filters through the air and you can’t help but wonder if he gets cold like he is, with half of his body in the water and the rest exposed to the elements.
“y/n,” you return the sentiment, smiling. “Nice to meet you.”
So far you’ve enjoyed meeting all of Hoseok’s brothers— yes, even the twins from this morning— and Yoongi proves to be no exception. He’s very calm, easy to talk to, and as you find out he is also very upfront and blunt. He tells you not long into your meeting that he isn’t actually meant to be up here napping, but that he is avoiding one of the princely duties he has that he finds to be most laborious. He even goes so far as to tell you that you’ll probably meet another brother soon, because they usually get sent to retrieve him.
He’s not far from the truth, it seems, as the two of you can’t have been there more than ten minutes before another unfamiliar head is popping from the water, and then another barely a split second later.
“Yoongi,” the first merman that popped up says this flatly, looking unimpressed. “I swear, if you don’t stop running away from your dance lessons I’m going to chain you to the palace walls. If I have to suffer and dance, then so do you.”
Perplexed if not incredibly amused, you simply sit and watch the interaction for a bit. Yoongi groans, exaggerated and full-bodied, slipping from the rock and back into the water with a sulky splash.
“You’re such a buzz kill, Seokjin. I can’t believe they sent you after me.”
“Well, technically they sent both of us,” chimes the other merman that had popped up, the only one of the two that had actually noticed your presence. He seems a cross between curious and alarmed, but appears to be leaning more towards the former. As he observes how at-ease Yoongi is in your vicinity, he seems to connect the dots and realise who you are.
“They’re so persistent these days,” Yoongi grumbles, yawning and splashing his face with a cupped handful of water. “I can barely catch a break.”
“You do nothing but catch breaks,” the first merman, Seokjin as you gather, speaks again, seeming a cross between amused and annoyed. His brother, the one who had already noticed you, bumps him with his elbow after he’s done speaking and nods his head in your direction; it takes all you have not to laugh when the Seokjin’s mouth drops open the second he catches sight of you.
“Wh— Yoongi, you’re skipping your duties to consort with humans?!” he chokes on his words almost, they come out so rapidly. “What are you, Hoseok?”
At that, you let out a snort, and Yoongi looks like he’s trying desperately not to crack his smooth-faced façade and laugh. He gives his brother the moment that is needed for him to have the realisation that lingers on the horizon, imminent; none of you have to wait long before Seokjin spins around suddenly, whipping to face you and splashing water everywhere in the process.
“You’re Hoseok’s human!” he proclaims, pointing a finger your way. The sandy locks atop his head drip water onto his cheekbones, wet lashes fluttering in his incredulity. “I was wondering where you were hiding! I thought for sure we would have met you before now. Hoseok is better at keeping you to himself than I thought, it seems.”
You’re unsure what to say, but you’re a little flustered, your cheeks warming slightly. You settle for a simple introduction. “Ah, yeah… I’m y/n. It’s nice to meet you.”
At once, the sandy-haired merman (who you’ve gathered is quite the flamboyant character by this point) dips into a bow. You still don’t understand how they can do that when they’re bobbing like buoys in the water, but he does it with perfect form.
“Seokjin, crown prince, at your service.” His voice is significantly more honeyed than earlier, and you don’t doubt he’s playing it up a little bit for show. “It’s a pleasure to finally meet the human everyone has been raving about beneath the surface.”
You feel your cheeks heat even more at that comment, but don’t get too long to dwell on it before the third merman currently before you wades closer, offering you a kind, dimpled smile. His hair is a similar sandy colour to Seokjin’s, although in a different style that definitely works well to flatter his features.
“I’m Namjoon, fourth in line,” he introduces, offering a hand for you to shake. Surprised that he knew of the human custom, you shake it and grin at him. He continues after releasing your hand. “It really is nice to be able to put a face to the name.”
This time you really can’t fight the blush that colours your cheeks. “Gosh, is everyone really talking about me that much down there? How embarrassing…”
At this, Yoongi lets out a chuckle and Namjoon appears sheepish. Seokjin merely grins. “You’re a hot topic of conversation among the royal family, it seems. Lucky you!”
While part of you is strangely flattered, the rest of you feels anything but lucky. How are you supposed to know what kind of things they’re saying down there when you can’t even breathe underwater, let alone listen?
You decide you’ll just have to let it go—you can’t control what they’re saying, and can only hope its good things. After all, none of Hoseok’s brothers seemed to dislike you at all, as far as you’re aware.
Contrary to what Seokjin and Namjoon said they’d come to do—that being retrieve Yoongi and drag him back to whatever duty he was shirking—they end up staying above the surface with you a little longer. You’ve noticed they’re very curious, these mermen, and completely and utterly eager to know everything they can about the world above their own. They’re willing to pull every single detail they can from you, particularly about different types of foods and their tastes, in Seokjin’s case.
You end up talking well into the afternoon, until Hoseok eventually surfaces and sends them a grumpy look for hogging your time (“I looked everywhere for you!” he’d exclaimed the second he broke the surface). But really, you don’t mind how long you spent simply chatting with them. Hoseok, and his brothers, are somehow all the loveliest, kindest beings you’ve ever met. You don’t regret a single second you spend in their presence. Plus, being around them and bearing witness to their playful bickering and sibling antics is… nice. It makes you feel like you’re part of something, even as a spectator of sorts. It’s the closest you’ve felt to having a family in a long time.
It’s nice, and you can’t help but notice that the part of you that longs to stay and continue existing here, in this bubble of happiness and simplicity you’ve found yourself in, seems to grow larger and larger by the day.
x x x x x
You’ve made a lot of fond memories on this island, in the little time you’ve been here, but even as bright as your days have been and as peaceful as your nights spent bathing in moonlight, happiness would mean nothing without the lows to balance it out.
It is one such low that you find yourself in tonight.
You’re not quite sure where Hoseok is, or what really spun you into this peculiar mood in the first place, but you’re actually a little grateful that you have this moment to yourself.
It seems that tonight, as the moon gleams across the surface of the ocean and casts the sand in a cool blue glow, it is the time to fall into a brief moment of introspection. You’ve been nothing short of content lately, really, and that shouldn’t be something to give you pause. But the reason you’d ended up here, on this island with all these new friends, in the first place… was because your life prior was anything but full of content.
The only reason you’d pushed on, really, had been your drive for exacting revenge upon Ezra, the Pirate Lord who had cost you everything. It had been your sole reason for living, at times— the only reason you ate, slept, did what you needed to keep yourself in a state of survival. Objectively, it’s very pitiful—possibly the worst way you could have possibly handled the grief thrust upon you so suddenly. But when you’ve been relying on a reason such as that for so long, used it as a crutch and clutched to it as tightly as you have, what are you supposed to do when the cause you’ve shaped your life around begins to lose meaning to you?
That is kind of what you’re dealing with now.
The only reason you’d have to leave this island, would be to chase down the Pirate Lord and continue where you left off in exacting your revenge before the whole merman hitch in your plans. Your life, as it is in this moment, currently has nothing else to offer as motivation or drive. Your life outside of this island existed around tracking that pirate and counting down the days until you could pay him back for what he did to you. So if you left, what would you have to return to except a life that you could barely say you were really living?
You’re coming to realise and accept that, really, you don’t want to leave. Somehow, at some point, following the plans you’d spend years forming and killing Ezra began to mean less to you than staying here on this island with a bunch of royal mermen and yourself for company. That’s how it is now, you’re realising. The blazing inferno of rage and hatred inside of you that drove you for so long has begun to fade and you don’t quite know what to do with yourself in the absence of its scorching, all-encompassing heat and the light, airy contentment and happiness that has replaced it.
You’re not sure how long you spend ruminating on this, turning it over again and again and again in your head, but it is probably a few hours. You’re a little scared of this development, unsure and apprehensive. A part of you knows the right path to take, knows what you will have to let go off, but for now… You don’t think you’re ready quite yet to face it.
“Got a lot on your mind, pretty pearl?”
You jump almost a foot in the air, nearly slipping from the large rock you’re perched so precariously on. At the sound of Hoseok’s voice, you wonder how the hell you’re hearing it—before you remember a split second later that instead of the beach, you’d chosen to spend this night thinking on the strip of rocks that extends into the shallows of the ocean. The rock you’re sitting on is massive and in the water where it’s deep enough for Hoseok to swim, evidently. You wonder how he found you when usually you’re by one of the water holes further inland of the island.
When you turn to face him, it’s hard not to let all the air your lungs hold escape in a stunned whoosh. As always, the merman is beautiful, and beneath the moon’s rays his markings glow and he’s positively radiant.
His dark hair is still dripping from his time beneath the surface, curling cutely across his forehead. His scales glimmer in the moonlight and his eyes are large and hold something indecipherable in their depths as they regard you. He has draped his upper half over the rock beside you and is resting his chin on his hand as he stares your way. It makes your stomach flutter and dip.
“You could say that,” you say, still trying to calm your heart from the fright he gave you. Hoseok blinks up at you, waiting patiently in case you want to disclose more. You let out a sigh, figuring that you may as well.
“I was thinking… about the Pirate Lord, the one that held you hostage.”
You might have expected Hoseok’s features to contort into a look of distaste, and you do see the barest traces of a frown around his lips, but to your surprise his expression overall remains somewhat neutral. If anything, he seems curious as to where you’re going with this.
“That oaf?” the merman questions, eliciting the barest smile from you. “What did he do to have the privilege of occupying your thoughts?”
The soft smile on your lips turns to a grimace before you can stop it, and Hoseok seems to sense his folly. He retracts slightly, before moving forward and reaching to brush your hand. You welcome the touch, turning your palm up, and he wastes no time grasping your hand and intertwining your fingers, playing with your fingertips.
“When I was much younger, barely a teenager, my younger siblings and I accompanied my parents on a trip to an island about a day’s sail away.” A heavy, unsteady breath leaves you as you try to order your thoughts and keep yourself in check. It has been long enough since the incident that you no longer cry when thinking about it, usually, but still… you are feeling especially vulnerable tonight. “My parents had two different professions, but shared a common ground. My mother cooked for high-end restaurants and my father was a healer. They were going to the island for ingredients, since it was meant to have an abundance.”
You can almost feel Hoseok’s eyes sweeping over your features as you continue. “They didn’t want to leave us alone, and thought it would be a nice few days to spend together, so they took us along. It went well, for the most part. It was on the trip back that things went sour.”
Biting your lip, you sniffled slightly before pushing on. “The small ship we’d paid to ferry us had the misfortune of crossing the path of a pirate ship on the way back. It was Ezra’s ship, and when they boarded they were ruthless. They took everything, all the wealth and supplies…. He took everything, including my family.”
“The only reason I wasn’t killed that day,” you sniffle once more, eyes stinging. “Was because my mother pushed me overboard. She didn’t get to push my siblings after me before the pirates got them. And I… I watched as bodies fell into the water around me, and the pirates stripped that ship bare. I watched as they sailed away, leaving nothing but destruction and despair in their wake. I…”
“I somehow managed to get back onto the ship, because I knew I’d probably get eaten by sharks if I stayed in the water—or I’d drown. I was found a few days later by chance, but… I’ll never forgive that pirate for what he did. I can’t. That’s why I was on the ship that night,” you say, your voice choking only slightly in your throat as you turn to face Hoseok. “I went to kill him.”
To your surprise, Hoseok’s eyes are glistening as he stares at you, lips pressed together but chin wobbling slightly. “I’m sorry, y/n…”
His voice is huskier, rougher than usual in his upset as it greets your ears—you hurry and smack his hand gently, reprimanding. He jerks in surprise, eyes shooting wide. “It’s not your fault, silly boy. I’m glad I ended up finding you, and pushing you overboard. I was going to set the whole ship on fire, you know. I don’t think that would have fared well for you.”
Hoseok musters a laugh. “No, probably not,” he agrees.
You chuckle a little as well, allowing a small blanket of silence to fall between you for a moment. A part of you wants to continue, to spill the rest of your thoughts to the sweet merman currently tracing patterns over the back of your hand with his thumb, but you don’t even know how to begin processing them yourself. A lot of the mess in your mind and heart aren’t even thoughts yet, still in the rudimentary stages where they exist as nothing but pure feelings and energies, and have yet to be dissected by your rational mind. You think that tonight you’re a bit too tired to begin that process.
Distantly, you register the sound of shuffling beside you, indicating that Hoseok is shifting, and think nothing of it. That is, until his hand tightens around yours just moments before he hauls back and gives a firm tug to your arm that pulls you completely off balance.
“HOSEOK—!” you shriek, flying from the rock with how hard he yanked you. You tumble into the water, deep enough that you can’t touch, with only Hoseok’s grip on your hand tethering you to anything solid. Your entire form is immediately drenched in cool water, salt gracing your tastebuds and burning your nose a little.
When your head breaches the surface you direct your glare to the merman that seems entirely too happy with himself.
“What the hell, Hoseok?!” you cry, shaking your head slightly and blinking away the salty water. Your legs do their best to keep you above the water, and you let out an ‘eep!’ as something smooth and cool brushes your ankle, followed by something wispy. Hoseok’s tail, you realise belatedly.
Seeing that you’re struggling to tread water with one of your hands bound in his, the merman takes the liberty of pulling you closer to him; the sea is calm today, and only the gentlest rocking of waves lap against your skin as you draw closer. The second you’re within reach and his hand comes to clutch your waist, you grip his arm with your free hand.
The merman laughs at how you cling to him, freeing your hand so that he can slip both arms around your waist and entwine his hands at your lower back. You can feel your cheeks warm, face overwhelmingly hot, and your heart pattering against your chest overexcitedly.
“I’m about to cheer you up,” he says sweetly, confidently, with the brightest smile. You can’t stop the way any annoyance you feel instantly flees your body, form going slack in his grasp. He’s more than strong enough to hold you up, his powerful tail treading below you and pushing the two of you a little further out to sea, presumably so he has more room to move.
“I’m not that sad,” you argue weakly, unable to help the fond twitch of your own lips. Hoseok laughs, adjusting his hold on you and making your heartrate spike.
“No sadness is better than a little sadness!” he says, finally coming to a halt a little further out than the rocks. You know for sure you can’t touch here, and wonder what exactly he’s up to that requires pulling you into the water with him. “In my experience, something that always cheers me up is dancing. So…”
Your brows shoot up, an undertone of panic seeping into your voice, “Wait, you remember I can’t breathe underwater right?”
Hoseok rolls his eyes, drumming his fingers against your lower back and getting them caught in the floating material of your shirt. “Yes. Merfolk dance underwater but that doesn’t mean you have to, sweet pearl.”
You keep your suspicious gaze on him for a moment, but decide to go with it when he begins to clutch you closer and use his tail to spin the two of you around. The water sloshes and laps at you as you move through it, a giddy feeling entering your stomach.
“That’s good,” you smile, meeting his eyes and feeling yourself grow trapped in their glimmering depths. “I don’t feel like drowning tonight, you know?”
Hoseok lets out a tinkling laugh, head tilting back from the force of it. When he returns his gaze to yours, he doesn’t say anything. He simply smiles, and begins to spin the two of you faster.
Fluidly, with grace you’re not surprised that he possesses, Hoseok spins and twirls the two of you. When it seems you grow comfortable with the movement he’s set up, he begins to branch out and twirl you a little differently. He begins humming his own little tune and grips your waist to lift you into the air slightly—it pulls a flustered shriek from you and it takes all he has not to break his tune to laugh.
Spin you in, spin you out—every time he pulls you back to him he leans in and brushes his nose against yours, nuzzling against your cheek just barely. You can barely keep up with the overexcited beating of your heart, stomach a maelstrom of butterflies, and can’t contain the soft laughter that bubbles up from the depths of your being at his cute antics.
He said that he would cheer you up, and that’s exactly what he does—it has to be the early hours of the morning but you’re wide awake and all you can focus on is the warmth where his body meets yours and the gentle caress of his fins, his hands, his nose against your own. It feels like your heart is about to burst.
Dancing in the waves with him, it’s as though your heart has never before known pain, heartbreak, or grief. He lights the darkest parts of your world with his moonkissed glow and his beaming smile, and you never want it to end. Just for tonight, you allow yourself to bask in the realisation that has been haunting you so persistently lately, allow the magic of the moon and its light to wash over you.
You want to stay. And here in Hoseok’s arms, you can’t imagine feeling any other way.
x x x x x x
“I still stand by what I said—I think this cave is a little too risky for you to be adventuring in…”
Brow raised, you send Hoseok a probing look over your shoulder. It’s been almost a week since that night spent dancing beneath the moon, and Hoseok has hardly split from your side since.
“I’ve been in this cave before? We’ve both been in this cave before?” You pat one of the rocks jutting from the wall, as though to emphasise its sturdiness and reliability. “What makes you say this now? Every time I’ve come in to get those berries you’ve accompanied me and never said anything before.”
Hoseok shifts, tip of his tail lashing near the surface of the water and leaving ripples in its wake. He seems uncertain, yet somehow also determined. It’s an interesting combination and you wonder how it is that he has it.
“I don’t know,” he says, voice trailing off. “Something just feels… off, today.”
You tilt your head, surveying him for a moment. The merman appears a little conflicted, having this sensation within him but not knowing the cause. He continues to follow you deeper into the cave, however, eyes sweeping over the rocks and water as he bickers with a little less zest than usual. Luminescent algae are what illuminate your path, glowing from beneath the water and scattered in patches across the cave wall. The channel of water he’s swimming in alongside your narrow rock path isn’t consistent, and before long he’s popping in and out of small water pools to keep up. He disappears for a while, a long stretch of rock between the pool he was just in and the next one, and when he resurfaces he still seems a little on edge. You’re curious as to what has him so uneasy, but don’t want to give him the excuse to drag you out by humouring him. You want those berries, damn it!
You get far enough into the cave and close enough to the berries you’re eagerly searching for that you all but dismiss Hoseok’s worries completely from your mind. That is, until something happens that proves they were warranted. It’s no one’s fault, of course. It couldn’t have occurred if the cave wasn’t structurally compromised in the first place.
When you next step, your hand rests a little too hard on a rock that is a little too unstable in the structure. It comes loose, falling into the water with a pronounced plop, and both Hoseok and yourself are still in silence for a moment. Then there is a great, grinding creak and the wall the rock came from begins to crumble and tumble. One harsh sound of rock smacking into rock greets your ears before it duplicates, again and again in barely milliseconds so that you’re left with an abrasive cacophony against your ears. Hoseok just barely manages to snag your wrist in time to yank you into the water and out of the way.
Your vision is obscured by water and bubbles of air rushing to the surface, something you don’t get to do until a few moments later when Hoseok’s grip shifts and he hauls you up instead of holding you down, out of the way of rocks that pelt and sink into the water.
The second your head breaches the surface you’re gasping in air greedily, eyes clenched shut until you can finally crack them open without making them sting. Your vision is slightly blurry but after a few blinks it clears, revealing a panicked-looking Hoseok who is brushing his hands all over your face and body, checking for injuries. Heat graces your cheeks despite the poor timing and you smack his arm as you attempt to hastily tread water. You didn’t realise it just before, momentarily distracted by Hoseok as you so often found yourself to be, but that cave-in had, well, literally caved you in. You felt the slightest tendrils of panic begin to scratch at the bottom of your lungs as it sank in that all the air you’re breathing from is coming from the little pocket your head is in, the water at your shoulders and rock hovering barely a foot above your head.
“y/n,” Hoseok’s hands move to cup your cheeks, refocusing your attention on him. “y/n, are you alright? Did you get hurt anywhere?”
Somewhat flustered despite the situation at his care and concern, you can only manage to shake your head. Hoseok releases a great huff of relief at that, pulling closer and wrapping his arms around your waist while using his powerful tail to keep the two of you afloat. You shoot him a grateful look—you’re not a poor swimmer at all, but even you grow tired after treading water for some time.
“I knew I had a bad feeling for a reason,” he fusses, moving as though he’s pacing in the water, with you attached to him. It would be a funny sight, were this any other situation. “We need to get you out of here before it collapses any more. Alright, on the count of three—”
He stops suddenly, eyes staring into the wall as grim realisation washes over him. “No, no… that won’t work.”
You think you know where his thoughts have gone, but ask just in case. “What won’t work?”
Hoseok turns his gaze to you, looking incredibly conflicted and slightly remorseful.
“I was going to ask you to hold your breath, and then I would duck us under and take us out of this pocket but… the nearest water opening is too far—you won’t be able to hold your breath that long.”
You try not to let it show on your face, but it feels as though a pit of dread has opened up in your stomach at his words. Even with your stellar acting, he seems to sense your inner reaction. His fingers tighten in their hold on you, his teeth coming to sink into his bottom lip.
“- -- -- --” he says suddenly, the words unfamiliar to your ears but said with enough heat that you’re able to gather they’re probably curses, in whatever language makes up his mother tongue. “Gods, okay, what do I do, what do I do—”
His breath is coming shorter with each word and it doesn’t take much for you to realise he’s panicking.
“Hoseok,” you cut his frantic gibberish off and bring your hands to cup his cheeks, forcing him to face you. “Calm down, it’s okay. There’s a way out of this.”
The merman shoots you a look that seems to be a cross between exasperated and incredulous, before he decides to heed your advice and takes a deep breath, eyes fluttering closed. You brush your thumb over his cheekbone, watching as a stray droplet of water slides down from his hairline and over the sculpted planes of his face.
“Okay, there’s a way,” Hoseok breathes in through his nose and then out through his mouth. “I just have to…”
There is the briefest moment of silence, in which your own panic begins to return a little, before Hoseok is jumping in the water and taking you with him as his tail propels the two of you upwards. You yelp, head narrowly missing the rock barely a foot above your head, and Hoseok shoots you an apologetic look. It doesn’t last long, soon making way for relief.
He frees an arm to reach down into the water, and you’re sure the algae would be light enough for you to see what he is doing, but you don’t really want to look down into the bottomless water pit right now. Hoseok doesn’t leave you wondering for long, hand coming back up with something in his grasp.
His fist uncurls, revealing an oddly shaped violet pearl sitting in the centre of his palm. He brings it to his face, closing his eyes and taking a breath.
“Namjoon,” he says, “I need your help.”
Then, surprising you less than you might have expected, he brings the pearl to his lips before turning his hand upside down and dropping it into the water. You do look down this time, watching as it sinks quickly down, down, down—until it disappears deep into the inky blackness that even the glowing algae can’t penetrate with its light.
As soon as the pearl leaves his grasp, Hoseok is quick to return his arm to where it had been around your waist. His touch elicits an inappropriate round of butterflies, and in the interest of not making a fool of yourself in such close quarters, you do your best to ignore it.
“What will the pearl do?” you ask, voice mostly level aside from a tremble at the end. Hoseok notices it immediately and leans his head forward, brushing his nose with yours and offering a reassuring smile. You’re glad to see he’s stopped panicking for the time being.
“It will find Namjoon,” he informs you, voice a soft murmur as he allows his eyes to close and he presses your foreheads together. It makes your stomach dip and your heart leap. “And, hopefully, Namjoon will come to help us.”
“Why Namjoon?” you inquire, more than a little curious.
“Because he’s an apprentice to the sea witch.”
To your surprise, it’s not Hoseok’s voice that answers you, but that of the merman in question. You turn in shock, ripping your face away from Hoseok’s as heat blooms across your cheeks; you hadn’t even heard him surface. The dimpled male merely smiles cheekily at the two of you, before turning his gaze to the tiny pocket of air the three of you are now occupying.
“Well, how did this happen?” he asks, eyes flicking between the two of you as he waits for answers.
“The cave, well… caved us in.” Hoseok huffs, giving the rock above and around you the stink eye. He turns back to his brother. “I need your help because, well… we’re stuck and the next closest pocket of air or water hole… they’re too far away.”
He doesn’t need to spell out the fact that you’re just human, and can’t hold your breath that long, because Namjoon seems to grasp the issue at hand the second Hoseok informs him of the situation. His teeth sink into his lip as he falls into deep thought, eyes flicking between you, Hoseok, and then the rocks and cave remnants around you.
“You’re right,” he murmurs softly in response to Hoseok, so quiet you’d almost think he is mumbling to himself. He hums shortly, once, and then he’s looking up with something gleaming behind his eyes.
Just as Namjoon goes to speak and enlighten you on the solution he’s come up with, there is a dreadful creak and groan as the rocks shift above you, some dust sprinkling down to the water from where they press and grind against each other. A brief surge of fear bolts through you, your breath catching. You barely take note of it yourself, but Hoseok is so utterly attuned to you and your mannerisms that he catches it immediately. He alters his grip, hugging your closer and bringing a hand to brush along the nape of your neck, fingers playing and attempting to card through the tangled, wet locks there, with minimal success. The movement wrenches an instinctive shiver from you though, and you turn your gaze from the rocks to him, successfully distracted from your brief spell of worry.
Namjoon surveys the ceiling carefully for a moment, before he returns his eyes to the two of you and resumes where he’d been cut off. “I think I have an idea, but… I don’t know if it will work. I’ve never tried it before. Sunmi refused to tell me about it, and Hyolyn hasn’t really taught me much about it yet…”
There’s a little bit of a nervous undercurrent to his voice, but you’re not really in a position to be doubting him. If you can’t get out of this pocket, then, well…
You gulp. You have to get out of this pocket.
“Anything, Joon,” Hoseok says, a pleading note in his tone. “If you have an idea, I trust you.”
Namjoon stares at his brother for a moment, biting his lip as he thinks it through, before finally he nods. “Alright. I’ll be right back.”
And then he’s dipping back into the water and disappearing down, down, down into the depths of the hole you were currently afloat in. Well, you say afloat, but really it’s just Hoseok keeping the two of you with your heads above the surface. You have to credit his tail, the powerful limb treading water effortlessly below you. Every so often one of his wispy fins will brush your leg, and you can’t help but let out a short giggle. Every time, without fail, the noise brings a bright smile to Hoseok’s lips, and subsequent heat to your cheeks as you realise he has been watching you the whole time.
Trying to distract yourself from the possible undesirable outcome of the situation, you choose to voice the question that floated to the top of your mind when Namjoon was here.
“Who are Sunmi and Hyolyn?” you ask, tilting your head minutely. Unbeknownst to you, Hoseok has to bite his lip so he doesn’t coo in adoration.
“They’re sea witches,” he says, getting straight to the point. “Hyolyn isn’t affiliated with the court, she lives on the outer reaches of the kingdom and prefers her solitude. Sunmi studied under her, much like Namjoon is, and chose to pledge her services to the court. Namjoon was meant to become apprentice to only Sunmi, but he has ended up bouncing between both in his thirst for knowledge.”
You nod as he finishes telling you, soaking up the information. You hadn’t known before that Namjoon was a witch’s apprentice, and now that you do know… well, you don’t really know what to do with the information. With every little tidbit Hoseok tells you, you fall a little more in love with his world, and… its occupants, evidently. It’s as though you’ve stumbled into the prettiest of spiderwebs, and each new thing you learn has you wrapped more and more in sticky silk. You’re in so deep now, can you bare to depart this world that you’re coming to recognise as your own?
An alarming series of thoughts, you realise. You decide to leave unpacking them for another day.
The two of you talk softly to pass time, a nervous undercurrent growing more tangible in the air the longer Namjoon is away. It’s as Hoseok tells you about some of the other members of the court that there is a soft splash and Namjoon resurfaces next to you, water cascading down his face from the abruptness of the motion. He shakes his head, showering you and Hoseok in a generous amount of droplets, before grinning at the two of you.
“Okay, I have what I need.” He reaches down, pulling something from a satchel at his side. When his hand rises and parts the water surface, there is a flower sitting in the centre of his palm. It’s deep purple and marine, with thin, fluorescent patterns curling across the petals. It’s coated in a shimmering sheen that reflects blue as it shifts in the light. “We should hurry—Hyolyn warned that the caves won’t last much longer before they continue crumbling.”
His words elicit a funny sensation in your abdomen, a mixture between dread and anticipation with a sprinkling of inappropriate excitement.
“Do what?” Hoseok asks, eyeing the flower dubiously. “What is the Trench Bloom for?”
Namjoon, despite seeming as though he’d anticipated the question, still appears somewhat exasperated. “It’s easier if I show you.”
Somewhat confused but also much, much more curious, you focus on Namjoon as he faces you. “Okay, y/n. I am going to do something in a moment, but after that I need you to put this flower in your mouth, and then I need you to dip under the water. When you’re under there, move the flower to the back of your throat—you don’t have to swallow it but it’s okay if you do. What I’m trying to do will still work.”
When you nod, he mirrors the motion, giving you the flower to hold. He reaches down again, pulling a small sealed shell from the satchel around his waist. Once it is out of the water, he uses one of his nails to crack it open, revealing a small pile of dark powder sitting within its pearlescent walls—it takes a moment before the grains catch in the light and you realise it’s actually finely crushed pearls. Namjoon wets his thumb, getting Hoseok to face you towards him before he dabs his thumb in the powder and swipes it in three lines across either side of your neck, and then in a line down your sternum. He remains focused, but you can’t help but blush at the action—a sneaky glance to the side reveals a certain tick in Hoseok’s jaw as he observes what is happening, still confused but thankful for the help.
“Alright,” Namjoon mumbles, and once more you wonder whether its for your benefit or his own. “Okay, time for your part. You might see some white or blue light—don’t worry, it’s just moon magic.”
“Moon magic?” you can’t help but question, brows raising. “Isn’t it daytime still?”
Namjoon chuckles softly, closing the shell and placing it away. “The moon is one with the ocean and the tides, and just as we are one with the ocean we are connected to the moon. The magic that runs through our veins, is moon magic.”
“Oh,” you say in understanding, mind racing. It takes a little strength to refocus and bring your mind back to the present, where there are somehow certainly more pressing matters than magic. “That’s fair. Okay, I’ll… I’ll do that thing now.”
Namjoon nods encouragingly at you, and you feel Hoseok’s hands stroke reassuringly down your back. You shoot him a thankful smile, before returning your attention to the task at hand. Swallowing your pride, you open your mouth and deposit the small flower inside, brows raising as it instantly begins to dissolve on your tongue and a salty, sweet flavour melts across your tastebuds. You take in a breath through your nose, before you feel Hoseok’s grip loosen and you let yourself drop a few feet beneath the surface, water cold as it splashes and caresses your exposed skin.
As soon as you’re under, you do as you were instructed and move the flower to the back of your mouth—still with no idea as to what it’s actually going to do. You can’t think of any possible way that a flower is going to be the solution to your limited human capabilities, but then again… this is magic, you suppose.
Just as you manage to fight the urge to swallow, Hoseok and Namjoon join you beneath the surface. Hoseok hovers, tail lashing and fins flaring, the twitch of his fingers conveying a barely restrained urge to reach out for you. You don’t know when exactly the merman started being so outright protective and caring towards you, but even now as your lungs begin to weigh the slightest bit heavier in your chest, it makes your heart skip a beat.
Namjoon opens his mouth, speaking things that you can barely manage to catch a hint of through the water in your ears. He reaches forward, light hair floating in the water like a halo, and presses his hand firmly against your sternum where he’d painted a line with crushed pearl earlier. Hoseok’s teeth gnash together as he watches, taking note of the bubbles of air escaping you and growing anxious.
Before you even begin to doubt Namjoon and whatever his idea is, you start to feel it. It’s like a tingle, a live current beneath your skin. It runs up your spine and circles around the crown of your head, before coursing back down and stimulating the nerves in your arms, and legs, with a soft prickle. The current runs an exhilarating loop of your body before it changes course, growing centred around your throat, chest and shoulders. A large gasp escapes you as the sensation intensifies, the large bubble of air obscured by a glow that begins to make itself known around your body. Alright, you seemed fine with the knowledge of magic earlier but seeing it in action actually makes it sink in, and you’re a little alarmed.
The buzzing beneath your skin grows louder until you can hear it ringing, a low tone in your ears. Your chest burns and just when your arms flail and your lungs ache too much to bear, it all stops. It’s over, and relief courses through you. You let out the remaining air in your mouth in a huff, flower having already dissolved on your tongue, and greedily breathe in the oxygen you were deprived of now that the spell is done.
Wait a minute—breathe in?
Your eyes shoot open from where you hadn’t even realised they were closed, arms whipping through the water in shock as you realise that yes, you just took a breath underwater and didn’t drown, and yes you just did it again and you’re still not drowning!
Unable to stop the knee-jerk reaction, you let out a laugh, slapping a hand over your mouth as no bubbles escape and looking, wide-eyed, between the two mermen. Namjoon is grinning brightly, clearly ecstatic that the spell has worked, and Hoseok seems a cross between discombobulated, shocked, and cautiously excited.
“I can breathe!” you burst, expecting a muffled noise but receiving a crisp rendition of your voice instead. You slap a hand to your cheeks, eyes still wide. “I can talk?!”
Namjoon bursts into laughter, and you hear every note of it clear as day, as though you’re above the surface again. Hoseok’s concerned expression has now bled into one of excitement, and the second the shock wears off he’s darting forward. His fingers run all over you, toughing your face, cheeks, lips, throat, neck—all in wonderment.
“Y-you can breathe!” he bursts, in a similar fashion to the way you did just a minute prior. His fingers catch on something that feels odd at your throat, and your own fingers rise to investigate. They brush upon slits in the flesh, clean and without pain.
You shoot Hoseok a questioning look, and he nods. “Gills.”
You don’t know how to feel about that, but it has saved your life so you’ll take it.
“Oh my gosh,” you say, tone light in disbelief. “I’m breathing underwater? How long will I be able to…?”
Namjoon picks up on the question currently occupying your mind, and offers you a kind smile. His tail whips as he adjusts his position, long, thin fins trailing through the water like ribbon.
“The spell should last around three hours—so you can spend some time sightseeing before you have to return to the surface,” he informs you, dimples appearing in his cheeks. “Just make sure that you return when your lungs begin to burn again—that will mean the spell is about to end. Alright?”
You nod hastily, excitement beginning to bubble in your abdomen. You don’t even get to voice your thanks before Hoseok is grabbing you by the wrists and spinning you to face him, a smile brighter than the sun almost blinding you for a moment. God, he’s beautiful.
“y/n, sightseeing!” he bursts, unable to contain himself now that the danger of the situation is mostly behind you. He’s almost vibrating with excitement as he spins you with him, just narrowly avoiding the close rock walls of the pool. “I can show you everything I’ve told you about! And more! There’s so much I haven’t even had a chance to tell you yet!”
Namjoon laughs, reaching out to halt Hoseok before he makes you too dizzy—you might be able to breathe now but the spell didn’t alter your sense of equilibrium all that much. You really don’t want to find out how it would go down if you vomited underwater.
Thankfully, Hoseok quickly takes the hint and simply adjusts so he’s holding you around the waist, saving you the trouble of treading water. It’s thoughtful yet subtle, and so very Hoseok that your heart warms in your chest and feels as though it’s glowing as luminous as the algae lighting the cave. Still, even though he has stopped spinning you, Hoseok just can’t take the grin off his face.
“I have to return to my duties—you called me in the middle of a lesson—but show her the sights, hyung,” Namjoon smiles, light hair floating endearingly across his forehead. “Take her around—oh, you should show her the palace, too. I’m sure the others would love to see her as well.”
Hoseok huffs at the last part, but otherwise seems to completely agree with his brother’s sentiment. “I will.”
Namjoon nods, bidding you farewell with another smile before he’s turning in the water and shooting down into the depths of the pool, propelled with a single powerful stroke of his tail. You watch him disappear with wide eyes, in awe at his speed. You can’t imagine being able to move that fast on land, let alone in the water!
“Come on, y/n, let’s get out of here.” The bright tone of Hoseok’s voice returns your attention to the merman before you. When you look at him again, you’re momentarily taken aback—sure, he’s always stunning, but sometimes it really takes you out. Like now. Inky hair and oil-slick scales glimmering in the low glow of the algae, his eyes bright and wide as he stares at you with something indecipherable that makes your heart dip and race. “We have so many places to go before your time is up!”
His words are somewhat ominous, despite the fact you know what he means, and you can’t help but think he’s lucky that he’s so cute and you’re in love with him, or else he’d get a smack for frightening you.
Wait, back up. You’re what now?
You don’t even have time to dwell on the very abrupt and unwarranted thought that just blared its way through your mind like a foghorn, because Hoseok is looping your arms and entwining your fingers with his. Usually, Hoseok is cool to the touch, thanks to the fact his body runs at a lower temperature than yours, but now that you’re deep in water that is much cooler, his skin offers a pleasant warmth where it brushes your own. It’s addictive, and you have to fight to stop yourself from initiating more contact than you can get away with.
Beginning to chatter excitedly about where he’s going to take you, Hoseok turns in the water, and begins to pull you down. Your heart begins to race for a different reason, the further down you venture—with each moment that passes it gets darker, denser. The water feels thicker, heavier, but you’re still able to breathe and it’s salty on your tongue yet uncharacteristically refreshing and crisp against your throat. The darkness and confined walls of the tunnel are what have your pulse thudding a little louder in your ears, a fear of the unknown combining with the exhilarating anticipation of a new adventure to synthesise a titillating cocktail of sensations within you.
It does scare you a little, yes, but you trust Hoseok—and even if he were to lead you to certain doom at the end of this tunnel, you’d accept it with a smile because the whole way there he held your hand like it is the most precious thing he’ll ever touch.
God, you’re so whipped. How did you never notice this before?!
You spend enough time in the tunnel that you’re painfully aware of it. It isn’t long though, before, to your surprise, it begins to curve and bend, each one taking you in a new direction. Hoseok handles the turns with ease, pulling your body with his easily and fluidly. You round one last corner, zooming down another tunnel and suddenly there is light, glaring at you in the rapidly-approaching distance— Hoseok speeds up, pulling you effortlessly beside him, and soon you’re breaking out into an open space, the sudden brightness blinding you for a moment.
When your eyes adjust, a loud gasp leaves you. The sight before you, in a word, is magnificent. All your turning and winding in the tunnels has lead you here; to a massive, open space—the ceiling is littered with holes of various sizes, short tunnels that cast sunlight into the area from above, illuminating the floor and walls that blend from pale brown rock to soft sandstone, patterns refracted from the surface of the water dancing across in pools of light.
Scattered over the wall are the occasional crack and fissure, long wefts of kelp and pretty flowers you’d never seen before but are instantly in love with sprouting from inside and drifting with the minimal current. It’s breathtaking, the glimpses of blue sky and greenery above with the warm tones of the rock around you. Splotches of colour sit along the bottom corners of the room, different types of coral twining around each other like intricate blooms. Your admiration of your current surroundings is cut off when Hoseok suddenly jumps in front of you, recapturing your attention with a bright grin and excited lash of his tail.
“This isn’t the palace yet! This is just a little area above it, the tunnels lead to most of the waterholes on the island—I sometimes come here to think or dance. I think Yoongi used to come here to nap too before he discovered that above the surface is a better hiding spot.” Hoseok is babbling now, words coming out so fast you can feel his excitement and enthusiasm, and you don’t have the heart to tell him to slow down. His hands grasp yours, swinging them around like a child.
“There are so many things to show you, what should we see first? The palace? The gardens? The city centre?” Hoseok begins to pull you towards one of the bigger holes, the opening of a tunnel that seems to lead downwards and is lit from within. A gasp escapes him suddenly, and he shoots you a wide-eyed look. “Oh! I know! Hold on, I know where to take you!”
And all you can do is hold on, really, because in the next second he’s diving down the tunnel at breakneck speed and dragging you like a doll behind him. Admittedly, with a little more care than that phrase implies. But still, you’re quite taken aback. This whole time Hoseok has had such boundless energy, and you never knew? Being completely submerged in the water, his natural element, his home— it really makes him into another person. It sets him free.
It’s beautiful to witness.
Hoseok is sure to make the most of your limited time underwater, packing the few hours as full of experiences as he can. You do, as a human breathing underwater, garner a few odd looks here and there from the occasional merfolk you pass on your ventures, but it doesn’t dampen your mood in the slightest. And even if it did, you have a very distinct feeling Hoseok wouldn’t let that be the case for very long.
He’s almost glowing with happiness as he shows you the underwater city that is his home. First, he takes you to the very outskirts of the civilisation, showing you the large, impossibly deep fissure that stretches for miles and appears like a moat around half of the city. It’s stunning, the very bottom pitch black and broken only by the glimmer of bubbles as they make their way to the surface, released from geysers and cracks in the sea floor. When you see it, you immediately want to get closer, but Hoseok halts you with a cheerful warning—apparently the fissure is prone at any moment to releasing massive gusts of scorching water and steam, forming a makeshift wall around the kingdom edges. He informs you that it’s actually usually always alive, and that you’ve actually just managed to catch one of the times that the geysers cool down.
Right as he finishes informing you of that, the aforementioned trenches grumble and groan, and the wall of heated water and air he mentioned shoots up with magnificent force. Awe-inspiring as it is, you nearly scare half to death as a result, and your reaction is something Hoseok isn’t keen on letting go of anytime soon. He needs fodder for future arguments should he begin to lose, after all.
Not a minute of your time is wasted. Hoseok shows you the sights from the outer parts of the city, and makes his way inwards bit by bit. He shows you the markets district, where merfolk set up their stalls and trade goods for lost treasures and the like. Beautiful silken material is sold at a stall closest to the town centre, fabric rippling and flowing like tendrils of coloured ink in the water. Hoseok tells you what they’re made of, a long list of ingredient names that mean nothing to you and yet the bright smile on his face keeps you hooked on every word. You visit almost every stall there, the vendors cheering and greeting Hoseok enthusiastically the second they see him. He gifts you two things – a necklace with mother of pearl and obsidian beads, and a large blanket spun from the finest materials the kingdom has to offer, so you can ‘keep warm on land as the cooler months approach’—both of which he pays the vendors handsomely for with several golden and silver human trinkets from his pouch. You have no idea where they came from or whether he has been carrying them this whole time, but you’re not about to stop him. He’s generous, so kind, and he’s so loved. You can see it in the eyes of those you pass as they fall upon him, how they light up and smile. They love their prince, and when you mention this to Hoseok he laughs and tells you that, actually, it’s probably the youngest three princes that are most beloved by all.
You refuse to believe it.
He takes you deeper into the kingdom, stopping by parks and stone playgrounds and getting unwittingly side-tracked by all the spritely little merchildren who haven’t grown into their fins yet. They zip about, weaving in and out and all around the stones so speedily and with such utter joy you’re half a beat away from offering to join them as well. With Hoseok, they seem to have even more fun, if possible. He plays with them, gives them his all, but even then he is conscious of the time he has with you down here and he sadly bids them farewell before long. It kind of hurts to say goodbye (somehow the little underwater cherubs managed to worm their way into your heart in the less than ten minutes you were with them), but not a moment is spared dwelling on the feeling because Hoseok has already entwined your hands together and is leading you to the next destination.
It’s a vast field of underwater flora that he shows you next, and it’s just as breathtaking as everything else you’ve seen so far. High, looming arches of sandstone litter the area, vines with long, gossamer leaves and large-petaled flowers winding around them and floating, dancing with the current. Along the floor is a sea of vibrant anemone, all of them waving at you as you grow closer, tendrils entangling with their neighbours. There are other plants, more than you can name or take in, but it all adds together for probably some of the most beautiful scenery you’ve ever seen. It’s wild, left to nature, and so, so mesmerising. You can feel your heart ache at the beauty. Hoseok lets you linger here a little longer, admiring you when you’re not looking as you tickle some of the plants and giggle at their response.
The monuments, the landmarks, the palace—Hoseok shows you it all. By the time you arrive and see the palace properly, you don’t have much longer of the spell left to enjoy. Still, Hoseok tries to do as much as possible in the time you have left.
Miraculously yet almost unsurprisingly, you manage to run into Hoseok’s brothers one by one, and end up collecting them in your ‘tour group’ as you go along. Eventually, you have them all, and Hoseok decides it’s the perfect setting to spend the last of your time doing something fun. It becomes clear what that is when they lead you to a room with something you recognise in the corner, melding to the wall.
They decide to put on a show for you.
Being mermen, you shouldn’t be as surprised as you are that they’re all incredibly gifted with music, singing and instruments. Some of them play things you’ve never seen before in your life, Yoongi having found an organ somewhere over the years and dragged it home. He plays it with unexpected finesse, and sets the baseline for a melody you don’t think you’ll ever forget.
All of them can sing, but you note that Jimin, Jungkook, Seokjin and Taehyung throw themselves into it the most. Namjoon switches between instruments and harmonising, smiling brightly the whole time. Seokjin sings, belting notes and hitting dulcet tones you’re grateful to be able to hear as they are, and sometimes he tinkers with a metallic little instrument, a soft melody resulting from his nimble fingerwork. Hoseok dances, twirling, dipping and weaving with such grace that it’s all you can do not to become completely mesmerised and bewitched by this, his most earnest form. Before long, Jimin and Jungkook join him, the former dragging along Taehyung. The dance is odd from then on out, shifting between goofy and endearing and heart-wrenchingly hypnotic. You watch happily, sometimes joining in and sometimes retreating; throughout the whole time, Hoseok keeps his gaze on you, and tries to ignore the way his heart throbs as he realises just how perfectly you fit into his world, and just how much he doesn’t want to see it without you again.
By the time their show is over and you begin to feel the weight of your lungs in your chest once more, you’ve decidedly had the best day of your life, even if it did start with a near-death experience. Having shirked his duties to spend time with you, Hoseok can only escort you to the surface, and makes it known with a potent pout how upset he is that he can’t spend anymore time with you afterwards. A cheeky pinch of his cheeks brings the smile back, however, and his mood is somewhat lifted for the rest of the trip up.
The first lungful of air you take after breaching the surface is odd, almost alien, but quickly becomes familiar again when you pull yourself out of the lagoon and onto the sand by your home. A strange shift, but you don’t think you’ll ever forget what it was like to breathe underwater.
Hoseok appears torn, clearly wanting to stay but being obligated to go, and with a quick peck to your forehead (which he had to pull himself halfway out of the water to achieve, mind you) and a longing look, he bids you farewell and dips back beneath the surface.
You sit there for a while after, gazing at the water.
All the thoughts you procrastinated throughout the day come rushing back at once and you’re forced to confront them at last. As your feet sink familiarly into fine sand, the edge of the lagoon lapping at your toes, you’re stunned with the realisation that yes, in such a short time you’ve fallen in love with Hoseok’s world.
And as you climb to your feet and make your way back to your home a while later, it’s with the startling knowledge that even that pales in comparison to your affection for the merman himself.
x x x x x x
“Do you want her to stay, hyung?”
“I… I haven’t even…”
“You like her, don’t you, hyung?”
“We know, Hobi. We see it when you look at her. It’s easy to see what you want—but do you, yourself, know what that is?”
x x x x x x
If someone had told you before you climbed into your boat and rowed out to Pirate Lord Ezra’s ship to assassinate him, that this was what you had to expect in the months following that decision, you’d have sent them to the local doctor for fear they’d come down with something serious.
You don’t think you could have ever guessed your future would become so intricately intertwined with that of mythical beings hiding deep in the oceans. Months, you’ve spent here on this island that has become a home to you, and every day has been a new adventure, a new story to retell in time and a new memory to look back upon fondly. In the absence of the family you’ve grieved over for so long, you’ve managed to find another. Your parents and siblings are never forgotten—but you’ve opened your heart to let others in.
In your time on the island, you’ve begun to do something that you never would have imagined before.
You’ve begun to heal.
The wounds that festered inside you for years on end, the pits of grief and sores of hatred that oozed magma over your insides and set them alight—you can barely feel them anymore. Each day on the island, with Hoseok and his mischievous brothers, smoothed a balm over them, soothing the ache and making the weight over your chest a little more bearable.
Of course, you’re definitely not upset at the prospect; but you are a little scared. Anxious that despite how far you feel you’ve come, how much you’ve let go, the second you catch wind of the pirate again it will all be shot to hell. You’re terrified of relapsing and going straight back to square one. Because you hadn’t realised it completely before now, but at square one, you were miserable. You don’t ever want to go back to that.
You have a feeling, though, that as long as you’re around Hoseok, you won’t lose all the progress you’ve made. You’ve had a lot of time so far to come to terms with what Hoseok is to you, how you feel about him. When you first saw him, sick and dying on Ezra’s ship, you didn’t expect that eventually you’d fall in love with him. It feels like something an idiot would do, with the gap between your worlds being so large, but… Hoseok makes you happy. He brings you joy and makes you feel treasured, appreciated. You can’t bring yourself to try and stomp out the feelings, and even if you did try you wouldn’t be able to—they’ve had months to bud and bloom and now they’ve matured into something magnificent, something beautiful and irrevocably rooted in your very being.
You doubt you would have even been able to stop yourself from crushing on him in the first place, really. Hoseok is the sweetest summer bloom, with the brightest petals and the most luminous glow beneath the sun. And it was kind of inevitable that you were drawn to him. You’re just a wee little bumblebee, and in each other you find the perfect solution to needs and longings you hadn’t even realised before now. Almost all of Hoseok’s brothers have confessed to you at some point, that they’ve never seen their brother shine as brightly as he has since he met you.
It flustered you to hear that, but you can’t deny the giddy butterflies it set free in your tummy.
It’s as though there are always butterflies of some sort in your tummy, these days. Even as you sit here now, basking in the afternoon sun by your lagoon with Hoseok and Jungkook playing about in the water, shielded from the sun by the trees overhanging the sides, you feel them. It’s from the way every so often Hoseok will look over and check if you’re still watching, if you’re comfortable, if you need anything. Hoseok has a lot of caring little actions he does that never fail to make your heart skip.
It’s peaceful this afternoon, a soothing air washing over you. The breeze, the faint smell of the ocean it carries. You’re very content where you are. The peaceful energy isn’t reciprocated by the other two occupants of the space, though.
“y/n! Hoseok-hyung won’t let me throw him in the air!”
Jungkook’s brief wail is accompanied by a smack of his hands into the water, cold droplets flying and making you jump at the contrast as they hit your heated skin.
Hoseok sends his youngest brother a dubious look. “For good reason—you’re going to end up hurting me or yourself or both of us. I’m saving us both the trouble.”
“He’s being mean, y/n!” Jungkook bolts across the lagoon, sidling up to the rock you’re perched on with eyes already assuming their usual starry-eyed look. “y/n, we’re friends right? Tell him to let me throw him in the air. I want to see how high he will go!”
Hoseok, for some reason, seems slightly panicked. “y/n, don’t you dare think of siding with him—”
Well, you weren’t going to. But if he insists….
“I mean, I was gonna tell him no,” you say, smiling. “But since you don’t want me to—”
Unfortunately, you don’t get to finish teasing Hoseok like you want to. Your words are cut off by the sudden appearance of Jimin and Taehyung, their arrival bringing a generous splash of water that almost drenches you.
“y/n!” Jimin gasps, making a beeline for you with Taehyung hot on his tail. You don’t even get to breathe before they’re grabbing your hands, almost frantic. “y/n! There’s—there’s a—”
“There’s a ship! On the horizon!” Taehyung is unable to contain himself, the words bursting forth as his brother attempts to get across the same message. The words don’t even register as he continues, eyes wide and mouth running a mile a minute. “This is the first time a ship has come so close in almost fifty years, usually they’re turned away by the wards!”
You feel as though you’ve frozen in place. Jimin reclaims your attention as he continues where his brother leaves off, “They’re close enough that if you make enough commotion they’ll see you, y/n. They can take you home!”
A few beats pass in suspense before their words hit you all at once—there’s a ship?! The entire time you’ve been on this island, you haven’t seen hide nor hair of any other humans. It’s as though you’ve been existing in a pocket of the universe that is only for your eyes and those of the mercreatures you share it with. In all honesty, some days you forget completely that this world isn’t your own, that there’s another one waiting for you just across the ocean.
“There’s—there’s a ship?” you can’t help but request confirmation, eyes wide in shock. You’re taken aback by its presence, not because you thought that you would always be stranded here, but because it is like a bucket of icy water has been poured over you and you have been thrust into the sudden and stark realisation that being rescued from this island was something you probably should have been longing for this whole time.
But you hadn’t.
The two twins nod, still vibrating with the excitement and fuss of the whole situation. You want to look at the other two mermen in the lagoon, but can’t seem to make your head move. A pit threatens to open in your stomach at the thought of looking at Hoseok right now. Your mouth opens and closes for a moment, realisation hitting you that you should probably get up and look. It’s the normal thing to do. You force yourself to shift on the rock where you sit, preparing to stand.
“Which beach?” you barely manage to whisper. The twins point behind you, towards the beach you’d spent a lot of time on when you first arrived. The beach where Hoseok dragged you into the water and made you dance with him.
You nod, standing, and this time your gaze moves of its own accord—to Jungkook, who is looking at you with a surprising amount of distress, brows pinched and expression fallen. The youngest’s sadness makes your heart cinch, so you turn your gaze to Hoseok. A mistake.
The only word that comes to mind to describe how Hoseok looks, is gutted. It’s as though you’ve taken something he holds dear and crushed it to pieces right in front of him. He’s still as stone in the water, stunned and frozen as something indecipherable crosses his features.
“y/n…” Jungkook says suddenly, voice thick. When you look again, its as though he’s pleading with his eyes.
“I’ll… I’ll go have a look,” you say, turning and trying not to look at anyone as you do. Even so, you still manage to catch a glimpse of Hoseok’s face as you leave.
And the hurt in his eyes nearly breaks your stride.
You leave the lagoon, heading to the beach hastily. Your mind is a mess—why are you going? But why wouldn’t you go? There’s something deep within you, something you want more desperately than anything ever before, but you can’t figure out what it is. In your daze, you walk into a few bushes on your path and end up with a few scrapes. You don’t even feel it, too preoccupied with the plethora of confusion and distress in your mind.
A ship is here. You should be happy. You don’t belong here, the ship will take you home.
But… that doesn’t feel quite right.
Still, you continue walking the well-worn path you’ve made through the trees to the beach. Gazing upon the lush greenery you pass with a strange sensation building in your chest. As soon as you approach the edge of the forest, you’re able to see it. There, just on the horizon, is a ship. It doesn’t seem to be a pirate ship, appearing more like a cargo carrier. The perfect opportunity. If you want to go home, all you need to do is make a commotion, and catch their attention.
But… do you want to go home?
No, that’s not the right question, because out there doesn’t feel like your home anymore. Your home, is here. Do you want to leave it? Do you want to return to a world where your existence is shaped around tracking down and killing a man who has likely already forgotten you even exist? The old you might have, the one who had only found purpose in avenging the family she lost. But this you… she doesn’t want that.
You take a moment to delve into your thoughts, staring absently at the ship as you do so. You’re sure anyone normal would want to leave a ‘deserted island’ the first chance they got, but you… you want to stay. Why is that? Is it the peace you’ve found here? The way you’ve begun to heal? To experience life in a way you haven’t in years? Maybe. But it’s also something else. Your thoughts keep coming back to the realisation you had when you were underwater, with Hoseok.
Yes, you want to stay for all of those reasons, but most of all, you want to stay because you don’t want to go back to a world without Hoseok.
Love has really pulled a fast one on you with this, you think. You couldn’t have ever accounted for falling in love with the merman that saved your life and brought you to this island. But, it happened, and now… well, you’re in love with the merman that saved your life and brought you to this island.
And you want to stay here. With him.
You blink back into the present moment, eyes focusing from where they were resting on the ship in the distance. Without even realising, you’ve already come to a decision—perhaps a while ago, before today. You’re not going to flag down the ship, and you’re not going to try and leave. You want to stay here, with Hoseok, and his brothers, and his magical world, and that’s exactly what you’re going to do.
The future you want is here, and you’re not going to run away from it.
The affirmation brings a certain sense of peace to the anxious roiling of your stomach, nerves finally calming from where they were crackling under your skin. Basking in this new sense of… ease, you simply stand, and watch as the ship continues across the horizon. Bit by bit, minute by minute, it grows smaller and smaller until eventually dusk tickles the sky where it meets the sea and the ship is nowhere to be seen.
It’s gone, and you don’t feel a single ounce of regret.
All at once, you come back to the present moment and realise that you just kind of up and left everyone in suspense. You wonder, do they think you attempted to call to the ship? A part of you is saddened by the thought that maybe that was what they wanted, but then you remember the crestfallen look on Jungkook’s face, and Hoseok’s— oh.
You wonder if Hoseok realised you weren’t going to leave.
Briefly, there is a moment of insecurity that flashes through you—what if he wanted you to leave, too? What if he never entertained the idea of you staying? It takes a bit of effort, but you manage to dismiss those worries. No… the way Hoseok looked at you as you walked away—he looked like you’d reached into his chest and carved out his heart with your bare hands. You have a feeling that he didn’t want you to go. A part of you hopes, secretly, for something else, a little more, but… you don’t dare entertain such things just yet.
With the side of the island beginning to darken as the sun drops behind the great hills and peaks, late afternoon bleeding into dusk, you decide to go back. It doesn’t take long, feeling as though you merely blinked before you were back at the lagoon. A part of you expected all four mermen to be in the waters still, but to your surprise it is only three of the four that greet you. The twins brighten up at your appearance, Jungkook lurching up and gasping.
“y/n!” He swims over to the edge of the lagoon, where it is still deep enough for him and his tail to fit. “You didn’t go?”
You’re touched that he seems to be so relieved that you stayed, but you can’t help but notice the one particular absence that is glaring you in the face. “Yeah, I… I don’t want to leave. I’m happy here, you know?”
All three males seem delighted at the words you offer them, sharing a look that you don’t quite catch. You can’t help but ask the question pressing against your lips, stomach dropping anxiously. “Where… where’s Hoseok?”
At that, they share another look, this one a little more knowing. For once Jungkook is quiet, biting his lip, but the twins are more than happy to expose their brother.
“He thought you were going to leave,” Jimin admits seriously, looking at you for once without an ounce of mirth. “He didn’t say it, but he was really upset and swam away after you left. Do you want to see him?”
The question he tacks on has an oddly hopeful note, and you can’t help but smile softly. “Yes, if that’s okay. Do you know where he went?”
“To his favourite place,” Taehyung informs you, smiling brightly. “The one above ground, not the one below.”
At his words, you feel nothing but complete and utter confusion. His favourite place? You thought it was the underwater cavern where he went to think… Before you can open your mouth and ask for some clarification, the twins return to their usual cheeky selves and take a hold of each of Jungkook’s arms; the youngest is understandably alarmed.
“Go find him, tell him why you decided to stay,” Jimin instructs you, a knowing look in his eyes that makes you feel as though he sees right through any pretences you might have. “He’ll be happier than you can believe.”
With that, the twins let out a hasty farewell, and Jungkook looks between them in worry. Just as he goes to protest, the other two grip him firmly and with a strong flourish of their tails, they dive back into the lagoon—dragging Jungkook with them. The splash of water that results is massive, mostly due to Jungkook’s flailing, and if you weren’t currently trying to figure out where on earth Hoseok is, you might have laughed.
In the silence that follows their departure, broken only by the soft, peaceful sounds of nature around you, you fall into your own thoughts. Hoseok has shown you many places around the island and even underwater, but you don’t think you’ve ever heard him explicitly say that they’re his favourite. To be honest, he is the type of guy where everything is his favourite. So, understandably, you’re a little stumped. Your insides are torn between a sense of urgency and a conflicting sense of ease. You’re in a bit of an emotional limbo, but you can’t really do anything about it until you find Hoseok.
Where do you even begin to search…
You try thinking about it logically; if it’s his favourite place, then it must be somewhere that has meaning to him? You blink. Even now, you’re stumped. He’s never confessed anything like that either, and as much of an open book as he is, beneath that he is incredibly hard to read.
Those damn twins… couldn’t they have just told you where he is?!
With a sigh, you decide to think as you go. You may as well begin to look, before daylight runs out and you have to run and grab a glowing rock that Hoseok gifted you one day a while ago. You’ve been using it to illuminate your cave, but it will help if you need to illuminate where you’re walking in the trees.
A few places come to mind as you walk, but none of them really spark as you think of them, and none of them turn up fruitful. He isn’t by the citrus tree, or the large rock-man you made in his honour. It gets darker bit by bit as you go along, still no closer to finding the strangely elusive merman and growing a little frantic. You try some of the places that mean a lot to you, wondering if they might be something you share in common. They all turn out unsuccessful, barren of the handsome merman you’re attempting to track down, and you have to fight to prevent yourself from getting too bummed. He’s here somewhere, you just have to pinpoint the right place.
It’s very almost near dark by the time you think you’ve exhausted every possible option, having searched almost the entire portion of the island by now. The sun has long since disappeared, and now it is rays of moonlight that begin to drip to the earth between gaps in the foliage, shifting as the breeze rustles the leaves above. You pause at that observation, something niggling in the back of your mind. The moonlight… oh.
With a renewed sense of energy and determination, you turn on your heel and begin in the direction of the beach on the opposite side of the island to where you’d been earlier. It isn’t as clear as the other side, littered with more rocks and pools, boulders that extend into the water creating little alcoves and pockets of privacy. That side of the island also tends to gather more pretty shells and bits and pieces. You return with quite an armful every time you venture there.
You think you know where he might have gone.
You can’t remember when exactly, but it hadn’t been too long ago that you’d spent the night with Hoseok beneath the moon, gazing up at the stars and revelling in their beauty, as you so often did. What made this particular evening stand out, however, was that at the end of the night, right before the merman left and returned to his home, you gave him a gift.
A blush heats your cheeks as you remember; it wasn’t anything special, just a dumb little necklace made of shells and some pretty sea glass that you found. It had taken you almost a week to pull together in a way that made it sturdy and presentable. It really wasn’t much, very crude compared to some of the jewellery you’d seen adorning his golden skin. But when you pulled it from behind your back and gave it to him, Hoseok had looked at it like it was an item that fell directly from the heavens and into his hold.
He’d stared at it a few moments, allowing it to run over his fingers like he was playing with water, shells and glass tinkling against each other, until he finally snapped out of it and gave you a look that was so open and full of elation that in combination with his marks and pretty features, it really almost blinded you. With the necklace carefully clutched in his hand, he’d then proceeded to launch himself at you and drag you into a hug that had your face steaming from how long it went on (not that you were complaining).
You still don’t know why the necklace seemed to be such a precious item to him, but the hunch the memory gave you seems to be right as the second you step onto the sand in the little alcove where you gave it to him, you see the telltale glow of his markings soaking in the moonlight and the glimmer of his oil slick tail as the end flicks lazily in the water.
He’s beached himself a little, laying on his back with his arms spread out and the tide lapping at his hips where skin blends into iridescent scales. His eyes are on the inky expanse of the sky, reflecting the sea of stars that gaze down upon the two of you. For a moment, you simply stand and observe him. At first glance he is as mesmerising as ever, but upon closer inspection his hair is a little wilder than usual, salt-crusted waves curling without order and shifting in the breeze. The sand from his shoulders down is a little damper than the rest above him, and you wonder if he’s been here, laying in the same position uncaringly while the tide slowly recedes. Your next look reveals his red-rimmed eyes and your ears pick up soft, almost indiscernible sniffles and you realise that yes, he’s been laying in the same spot probably the entire afternoon.
For a moment, you’re completely stumped as to how to approach him. From what you know, he’s upset either because you left or because you tried to leave, or because you want to leave. None of those are true, but either way he’s not really expecting to see you come down the shore and sit next to him—he’s a little jumpy, and you don’t want to frighten him half to death. In a bid to find something that will spark an idea, you let your gaze wonder around you. Fortuitously, you see a small shrub with tiny white flowers in bunches a little to your left and have something to go with. As quietly as possible, you pick a few and begin to descend silently down the sand, separating the tiny buds from their stems so that you have a handful of many tiny flowers.
The only sound that filters into your ears is that of the waves crashing softly against the rocks and sand, and the soft rustle of the trees in the breeze—you hope it’s the same for Hoseok. You feel a little nervous for some reason, but the familiar scent of salt and sea in the air helps to mollify those nerves. The sand is soft against your bare feet, embracing them like a lost friend and keeping your presence secret for the moment.
By the time you arrive almost a foot from the raven-haired merman, he has closed his eyes and is simply laying, basking in the moonlight. There are trails down his cheeks, but you can’t tell how fresh they are even with the helpful glow of his moon marks.
Silently as you can, you ease into a sitting position on the sand by his shoulders. The soft material of the clothes Hoseok’s brothers gave you grows a little damp as you sink down, the tide only recently having kissed this portion of sand. He still hasn’t noticed you, and you take a slow breath before holding up your two hands with the flowers cupped inside, and letting them fall over his face.
They’re so tiny that the most they do is tickle him, but evidently, he seems to be very ticklish; his face twists and contorts, brows and eyes twitching at the sensations. It isn’t long before his eyes flutter open, searching for the source of the sensation. They flit about in alarm, before they finally fall on you and the merman freezes. Two beats pass and then he’s lurching up, small clumps of wet sand sticking to him before falling off, along with all the flowers that you sprinkled over him—save for a few that cling to some of his curls. There are grains stuck to the hair at the back of his head, and his arms are covered completely on the sides—it makes for a look that seems a little wild, but still… he looks good. It isn’t fair.
His incredible good looks aside, he’s looking at you like he saw a ghost. You simply sit for a moment, making sure he isn’t about to topple over before you speak.
“Taehyung told me you might be here,” you say, a soft smile on your lips. “Or, well—he said ‘your favourite place’ above ground. It took me a while.”
“What are you doing here?” Hoseok asks before he can process your words, disbelief colouring his tone. He lifts one of his hands as though to touch you, but it hesitates midway between your bodies. “Didn’t the ship go already? You missed it?”
Reaching out for the hand that is still hanging mid-air, you take the opportunity to intertwine your fingers and bring your clasped hands close to your chest. Hoseok’s eyes shoot wide at the motion, appearing very much still bewildered by the current situation. His cheeks are flushed slightly behind his marks, and you’re not sure whether its from lying out of the water all afternoon or something else.
“Why? You want me to leave?” you joke, unable to help your laugh at the merman’s immediate aghast expression. Before he can belt out a protest, you soothe him, “I’m kidding. The ship is gone. I didn’t flag it down.”
Hoseok looks at you, perplexed, his eyes flicking over every one of your features as though searching for something that will inform him of the meaning behind your words.
“Wh—I mean, I know we have never really talked about it but… why? You… You are technically stranded here. Don’t you want to leave?”
Your eyes sweep his face as he speaks, picking up the saddened turn of his brows and crease of his eyes. You swear you catch his chin wobbling slightly, but can’t be sure. Something rises within you, pressing against your chest in effort to burst free. Now. You’re going to tell him now.
“Hoseok… I want to stay.” You reach out, tenderly brushing some of the sand from his cheek with your thumb. “I want to stay on this island, and I want to stay with you.”
He’s frozen, staring at you with wide eyes, and you continue, giving a voice to the simple wants and desires that reside deep within you.
“I’m happy here, and you… you make me happy, so, so happy.” Deep breath in, deep breath out. “Hobi, you mean more to me than some stupid, ancient grudge, than a world that I turned my back on years ago. You’re what I treasure most and I don’t… I don’t want to let that go.”
In the moments that follow your sudden, somewhat premeditated confession, there is silence. One beat, two beats. You scan his face for any indication of his response, and you swear his eyes begin to mist. You don’t get to analyse it though, because in the next second the merman makes a choked noise and lurches forward, arms wrapping around you as the weight of his body sends the two of you crashing back against the sand. Having fallen at an odd angle, the two of you proceed to roll down into the surf.
You don’t notice though, because Hoseok has his lips pressed firmly to your own and it’s like your heart is about to burst clean out of your chest.
Only when the two of you splash into the water, does he release you—and even then you’re still tight in his hold as he peppers soft, featherlight kisses across everywhere he can reach on your face. Your forehead, eyelids, nose, cheek—nowhere is safe. You can’t help but squeal at the ticklish sensations, making him erupt into a sudden, deep laugh that fills your bones with happiness.
He sits up, bringing you with him, and pulls back with his arms around your waist. He’s grinning so wide his eyes are almost disappearing, his moon marks glowing brighter than ever,
“I love you too, precious pearl,” he confesses, with such vulnerability and sincerity that it actually makes you embarrassed, heat washing almost violently over your face and neck.
You can’t help but sputter, squirming on his lap and ignoring the water you’re sitting in, “I n-never said that!”
Hoseok leans in and brushes the tip of his elfish nose against your own. “But you meant it.”
He has you there. Blushing madly, you let out a huff and he coos. “Don’t get cocky, Mr. Fish, or I’ll take it back.”
Another laugh tumbles from his throat, eyes gleaming with mirth and mischief. “You can’t take it back. You technically proposed to me here, you know.”
At that, you balk, running through the events of the past few minutes and trying to figure out whether he is messing with you or not. “I—I did not!”
“You did,” he hums, pressing surprise kisses to the apples of your cheeks that make you squeak. “Not just now, but that other time we were here. That’s why this is my favourite place.”
At your lost look, he decides to have mercy and let you in with an amused smirk. “For merpeople, when there is someone that they want to spend the rest of their lives with, they go out and gather precious items and fashion them into a piece of jewellery. They then give it to them under the light of the moon, as a proposal and a sign of undying love and commitment.”
The merman blushes now, smiling sheepishly. “I knew you had no idea, and that you didn’t really mean it that way but… it made me happy.”
Learning this, your face feels as though it is on fire, and you wouldn’t be surprised if there was steam coming from your cheeks. Even more embarrassing, are the words coming out of your mouth next. “Oh… Well, I mean… I didn’t know, but… Now that I do, I’d do it again.”
Your words make Hoseok’s breath hitch, and he stares at you intensely for a moment before he lets out a sharp noise and suddenly you’re being attacked with another shower of kisses and affection.
“I’m holding you to that!” He exclaims, rolling the two of you back against the sand as he continues his onslaught between words. “That’s a promise!”
You’re torn between laughing and squealing, instead using your hands to still him so you can press a kiss of your own to his lips. This halts him for only a moment before he’s wriggling giddily and letting out a happy yell once more, wrapping you into a big bear hug.
“And now you can never, ever, ever leave!” he says, before amending in a smaller tone, “Please don’t leave.”
“I won’t,” you tell him, grinning. “Never, ever, ever.”
And under the light of the bodies in the sky, your words entwine into a promise made to last, sealed with the kiss of the sea and the glow of the merman beneath you.
x x x x x x
[four months later; full moon]
The crash of the waves and the soft rustle of the tree line behind you blend into a soothing white noise, lifting your heart high in euphoria. Salt brushes your tastebuds and nostrils, breeze playing with hair that you’ve taken the liberty of attempting to style a little, just for today. You’re standing waist-deep in water, clothing floating around you in a silky halo, vibrating with nerves and excitement, and Hoseok is before you, hands clasped in your own.
A beautiful vine you remember seeing grow along the sea floor in Hoseok’s kingdom beneath the waves is wrapped around both of your wrists, t3ravelling down his arm to climb your own. The flowers are soft against your skin, sweet-smelling and glowing slightly in the night. Hoseok sways your hands slightly, grinning in such a way you can feel every inch of his happiness, and you can’t help but smile back. Off to the side, deeper in the surf, are five of Hoseok’s brothers, identified by the way their markings light beneath the moon. The sixth, Namjoon, is beside you and Hoseok, resting in the middle. A small crab clings onto a choker around his neck, simply hanging in content.
Another crash of the waves, and Namjoon continues where he left off, speaking with a clear voice that seems to reach the heavens themselves. One of his hands is grasping where yours is entwined with Hoseok’s, and the skin there glows with warmth.
“And the moon, who has given her blessing for this union and happily bound your souls, has bestowed a gift upon the two children born beneath her rays. As she waxes, so shall her human child live beneath the sea with her companion. And as she wanes, so shall her merchild live on land with his companion.”
Hoseok is almost vibrating in place before you, hands clutching yours tightly. Namjoon smiles, exuding happiness for his brother.
“She has guided you across oceans and lands to be with each other, and now she allows you to remain so. Feel her love and magic wash over you and course through your veins. With her blessing, you may now meet, and seal this ceremony.”
Almost before Namjoon has even finished speaking, there is a slight burn along your arms and Hoseok is letting go of your hands to lurch towards you, holding you close as you both fall into the water once more. Your surprised, elated squeal is cut off as you are submerged, but he simply stops you with an eager kiss of your lips. Instantly, you melt against him, feeling your hair float and tickle your cheeks as you kiss him back, butterflies running amok inside you. As you rise back to the surface, now completely drenched, it’s to the sound of loud cheering and whooping from Hoseok’s family. Delighted and amused, you send them a bright grin that they happily return.
When you turn to him, he seems a little sheepish, somewhat embarrassed, but you quickly and successfully distract him with a quick kiss.
“Now you know for sure I’m not gonna leave, never, ever, ever,” you tease softly, enjoying the way he flushes instantly at the reference to his moment of weakness four months ago. “I love you, Hobi.”
“Love you too, precious pearl,” he returns, almost shyly, before he’s pressing his forehead against yours and his brothers are making teasing noises in the background.
Your heart leaps, soars, and it will never feel any more content as it does now. You’re in awe, reflecting for a moment where you’ve come from to be here now. You have many things to thank, you suppose, but most of all, you thank the moon. For it was her, and her magic, that brought you to Hoseok, and let you into his world.
It was the moon, and her magic, that brought you home.
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