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Title: Part of Your World
Chapter: Part 1 of 2 because of LJ post limits
Author: Boots
Rating: NC-17 overall, PG-13 for Part 1
Genre: Fantasy/fairy tale/postapocalyptic AU, romance
Warnings: Male/male sex, frottage
Pairing: Kai X Uruha/Uruha X Kai, some Aoi X Kazuki
Disclaimer: Boys belong to PS Company, I own the story only. Inspired by the movie The Little Mermaid, which is property of Disney, and the original story by Hans Christian Andersen
Summary: Years after a catastrophic deluge that covered nearly all of the Earth’s surface with water, more than half the human race has evolved into merfolk and are living in undersea kingdoms. The remaining people are living on what little dry land is left, scraping out a living as fishermen. The two worlds remain separate, until a not-so-little merfolk prince sees a beautiful young man on a boat, and wants to be part of his world.
Comments: Written for the uruai Summer Vacation Writing Challenge. My prompt (which, admittedly, I’ve interpreted rather freely) was as follows: Your theme is post apocalypse AU bandfic. Let yourself inspired by your prompt picture and imagine the boys in this world. How would this world work? How would the Gaze boys work inside it? How will this world find Kai and Uruha? The appearance of the Deepers toward the end of the fic, by the way, was inspired by SCREW’s Deep Six PV.

Nobody was entirely sure how the Great Deluge happened. Some said it was because the polar ice caps melted, the result of humans being far too careless with greenhouse gases. Others claimed that it just started raining over much of the world one day, and kept raining, and kept raining still – the end result of out-of-control weather patterns.

All that mattered was the end result – more than 90% of the world’s surface covered with water. This resulted in the surviving humans being jam-packed into tiny colonies on the remaining dry surfaces, fighting for space and resources. Diseases spread, people starved, the human race was in danger of dying out.

And as so often happens in cases like this, some higher force took over. Call it divine intervention, call it aliens loaning their power to humans, call it simply something buried deep in the brains of humanity knowing that change was necessary.

First, some humans started being born with a few aquatic features – webbed hands and feet, the ability to stay underwater for long periods of time. A couple of generations later, gills developed, and the legs became more tail-like. Several decades after that, the first underwater colonies were founded.

Nobody was quite sure when the first true merfolk were born, either, except suddenly there were people with tails instead of legs, who stayed underwater full-time. And then there were more of them, and more, and more still . . . until the underwater societies started believing that merfolk were the norm, that they had always been that way.

Except there were a few who kept the history, and remembered. And there were brave ones who sometimes made the journey to the surface to see the Drylanders in person, and find out for themselves that they weren’t a myth.

Because they were still up there, the small portion of the human race that hadn’t evolved – living on the remaining land, but getting their food from the sea, plying the water in their boats, sending lines and nets down to collect fish and sea plants.

Many merfolk didn’t really care about Drylanders – they were just there, like birds are just there to us. Some actively disliked them, the way they took food from merfolk and created hazards with their fishhooks and nets.

But there might, just might, be one mer creature who found those on dry land to be an endless source of fascination. And it is here that our story begins . . .


* * *

Kai swam through a school of fish, letting them lightly brush against his body as they passed. His dark green tail swished in the water, his dark brown hair floating around him, as he propelled himself toward his destination.

There were rumors of a wreck around here. This one was supposed to be a big one – yet another boat that went down in a storm. Another group of Wanderers – Drylanders who traveled from one land colony to another, satisfying their curiosity about what else might be out there.

Some of them succeeded in their quest. Many died trying. Weather patterns were not exactly predictable in this world.

He circled an outcropping of rocks, moving deeper and deeper, his eyes adjusting to the level of darkness at this sea level. Yes, there was something there, wedged between two boulders, listing to the side . . .

Kai felt his heart pounding as he approached it – like he always did when he got near anything having to do with the obsession that had consumed him almost as long as he could remember. He looked into the twisted contraption of steel and fiberglass, scanning the interior, searching for artifacts . . .

Paydirt. There were several pieces of metal floating in there, one of them looking a bit like a tiny trident with an extra spoke or two, another like a small bowl mounted on a stick. And pieces filed to a point, looking like they were meant to be sharp.

Kai swam into the wrecked boat, grabbing at the things, running his fingers over them. These were for eating, weren’t they? Yes, he’d seen the Drylanders in the fishing boats using things like this from time to time, though mostly they’d picked up their food with two sticks.

And over there, a rounded piece of porcelain with a handle . . . a cup. He grabbed at that as well. Yes, they had to put liquid in these in order to drink it. Amazing.

He swam out of the wreck, headed back toward the colony . . . but he wasn’t going home right away. Oh, no. He had to put these items away first, and then maybe study them awhile, and the other items that he . . .

“Kai!” a voice called behind him. “Hey, Kai! Where are you going in such a big, fat hurry?”

Kai turned around, hands still clutching his treasures. There was another merfolk around his own age, cloud of pink hair drifting around his head, dark green tail swishing in the water. His face bore a rather self-satisfied look, as if he’d come from seeing a lover.

“Nowhere you’d be interested in, Aoi,” Kai said. “And I could ask you the same thing.”

“Where I’m going? Not important. But I think you can figure out where I came from,” Aoi said, swimming up so he was next to Kai. “We’re not that far away from Deep Six, you know.”

Well, that confirmed Kai’s earlier suspicions. Aoi had been seeing Kazuki, who lived in Deep Six – one of the “common-folk” settlements in this colony – for some time now. Which would be fine, if Aoi wasn’t merfolk nobility. Heck, he was only a rank below Kai.

“You realize that your family is going to go insane if they find out about your love affair,” Kai said, calmly, picking up speed a bit. His destination wasn’t too far away. If he were with anyone but Aoi, he’d be changing his route right now, swimming to a different location. He didn’t want just anyone finding out about this.

“Eh, who cares about that?” Aoi said. “The whole ranks thing is stupid, anyway. We all live under the same ocean. We all eat the same fish. Who decided that some people are leaders, and others are followers? I think we should all just hang out together and . . . hey, where the hell are we going, anyway?”

They had come to a sea wall, with a hole in one bolder – a small cave. Kai swam into it, still carrying his burden. “I’ll be right out,” he said. “You stay there.”

“Why?” Aoi said. “What’s so special about this cave?” Telling Aoi “don’t come in here” and “stay over there” was, of course, just an open invitation for him to investigate whatever it was. So after Kai disappeared into the hole, he swam in after him.

In front of him, he saw stacks and stacks of strange objects. Silver things with prongs and bowls, round and flat things, a long pole with a string attached . . . None of them were like anything used in the mer world. Why the hell would Kai have all of this?

He watched him add his new acquisitions to the pile. “Kai,” he said, “what the fuck is all this?”

Kai just picked up the pronged piece of silver, running his fingers over it lightly, as if it was something precious. “They’re from Drylanders,” he said. “They’re things that they use in their everyday lives.”

“Drylanders?” Aoi said. “Why would you collect that?”

“Haven’t you ever thought about what it’s like in their world?” Kai said. “What it would be like, living up there? Getting around by walking on . . . you know, those things they have instead of tails. Legs, that’s it!”

Aoi gave him a strange look. “Kai, where the hell did you get ideas like that?”

“I go up there,” he said. “I watch them, in their boats. I listen to them talk. I try to figure out what their lives are like. They wrap themselves in cloth to cover their bodies, but they cut it and style it in different ways. They cut their hair, too. And sometimes, they have to heat up the places where they live. Their eyes don’t adjust to light, they have to bring light in. And . . .” He sighed. “Well, I sometimes wish I was born as one of them. That’s all.”

Aoi folded his arms, leaning against the rock. “You’re a fucking prince, Kai. You have everything a guy could need right here. You know how much the people in Deep Four, Five and Six would like to have your life? Besides . . . I like it down here. We have nice scenery. We have plenty to eat. We have hotties of both genders everywhere. What the hell else could you want?”

“More,” Kai said, looking at the fork again. “I want . . . more.” He wasn’t quite sure what it was. He wasn’t really certain what he’d find on land. He just knew he wanted to experience life as One Of Them – at least for awhile.

Aoi waved a hand and started to swim out of the cave. “Suit yourself,” he said. “I know what I want out of life.”

Kai waited until the other merfok was gone. He put the fork down, slowly. Then, he swam out of the cave entrance, and pointed himself up, moving his tail rapidly.

He was going to visit the surface. He had a need to.

* * *

Uruha awoke at dawn, like he usually did. He rolled over, pulling the blankets up, wanting just a few more minutes’ sleep.

Which was a bad idea, of course. The earliest boats got the best catches of the day, and he and his partners needed to get those catches.

He sat up, yawning, rubbing the back of his head. This little fisherman’s shack – the same one he’d grown up in – was a heck of a lot quieter in the months since his mother passed away.

She’d taken out the fishing boat that was now Uruha’s every single day as long as he could remember. He’d learned everything he knew about harvesting – because that’s what it really was, they brought in edible seaweed as well as fish – from her. She’d even insisted on taking the boat out after she’d gotten sick – despite Uruha’s protests.

He stumbled toward the water closet – they were lucky, they had one of the shacks that had a basic flush toilet and a small sink and bathtub. You took baths only when you had to, though. Fresh water was precious, and had to be rationed. (The toilet, you could flush as much as you wanted – that ran on seawater).

The knock came on his door just as he was turning the sink off. He towel-dried his face and exited the bathroom – bumping onto something that was on a shelf behind the toilet as he did so. Damn box – he knocked it over all the time.

“When I’m gone,” his mother had said to him on her deathbed, “open that box. There’s a letter for you inside – an important one.”

Uruha hadn’t opened it yet. He didn’t feel ready to. Maybe it was because opening it would be the final admission that she was gone.

He made his way to the front door and opened it. There were two men around his own age, the shorter of the two wearing sunglasses, the taller with a strip of cloth tied around his nose – a memento of a run-in with a very toothy, very bitey fish.

“You’re not fucking ready yet?” the short man said. “Come on, get a move on.”

“Good morning to you too, Ruki,” Uruha mumbled. He saw a shirt and a pair of pants draped over a chair, grabbed them and pulled them on. Socks, boots, done deal. “Okay, let’s go.”

“Planning on combing that hair?” Reita said, giving his lifelong best friend a small smirk.

“No, I thought I’d use it to scare other boats away.” Well, damn, he thought he had combed it. He went into the bathroom and looked in the mirror – okay, Reita had a point. He hadn’t exactly been awake the first time.

“We need to make sure we get a lot of seaweed today,” Ruki called. “We have a deal for it.”

“What kind?” This time, Uruha grabbed a hat and jammed it on his head before Reita could say anything else.

“Tailor,” Ruki said. “Mending services.”

Uruha nodded. Even though their land colony had a system of money, it wasn’t used all that often – barter was the usual currency. Harvesters brought back fish and seaweed, tradesmen and craftsmen accepted it in return for their wares. Doctors treated the sick in exchange for dinner.

“All right,” he said. “Let’s go.”

They exited the shack and began walking past a row of near-identical ones – squat, plain dwellings, some of them slightly larger. In front of one, a woman was boiling a huge kettle of water and throwing powders in it – the neighborhood washerwoman, one of the people who knew how to treat salt water to make it useable. Uruha gave her a wave as they passed.

The row of trade cottages was next, slightly bigger – the tailor they were doing business with today (which could come in handy for both nets and clothes), a couple of woodworkers, a metalworker. And finally, the most important part of the town – the docks.

“We’re going to follow you out,” Ruki said as he and Reita got in one boat, Uruha in the other. They all unfurled sails, turning them to the wind.

And now, came the tricky part – navigating through the hole in the sea wall. The entire town was surrounded by a high, white wall, designed to keep flood waters at bay – except for a breach just big enough for boats to get in and out. It was said that once you could get through it, you’d earned your stripes as a fisherman.

As he sailed out, Uruha found himself wondering if there was really any way to live other than the one he’d known all his life.

* * *

Kai broke the surface quietly, pausing for a moment to let his body get used to switching from gill breathing to mouth and nose breathing. It was always an odd sensation, air swirling around his mouth and nose, going down his throat.

Odd – and, in a strange way, delicious, even though it irritated his throat.

He’d gotten very good at lurking here. If he just sat there very quietly . . . if he did nothing to draw attention to himself . . . he could spy on the fishing boats without them knowing he was there.

The Drylanders were usually too concerned about the state of their lines and nets to pay attention to anything else. Well, anything else other than the conversations they were having with the boats next to them, or with other people in their own boats – the main source of Kai’s intel about land-dwellers.

He heard them talk about deals they were making with tradesmen, about the squabbles involving the town government, and about the music and drama performances given in the town square. He listened to talk of the wonderful things Drylanders did with fire – everything from boiling their water to heating their food.

Oh, he longed to experience fire firsthand. It was the polar opposite of water. It was as far away from the mer world as one could get.

He saw a boat pull up near him and drop its anchor, the fisherman aboard adjusting his nets. He raised his head a little, to get a good look at the face . . .

It was HIM. Kai’s favorite Drylander of them all. What a beautiful face, what an elegant demeanor . . . Every time that man was out here, Kai would get as near to him as he could get without detection, and just stare.

Uruha, that was his name. Kai knew that from hearing him talk to his two friends, who were usually out there with him.

When he thought about going up on land, about living as one of THEM, those fantasies were usually entangled with ones about having Uruha as part of his life. What would it be like to touch him, to kiss him, to . . .

And then, Kai felt a strange stirring in the sea – the kind of thing only merfolk could feel. There was a storm coming in, and fast. He felt the wind picking up, saw clouds starting to gather above them . . .

Some of the drylanders around them – including Uruha’s two friends – sensed the incoming danger, too, and pulled up their anchors, starting to head back toward the city. One of Uruha’s friends called to him . . . but it was swallowed up by the wind.

Now Kai started to worry. Was there a way he could alert Uruha to the incoming danger – without fully announcing his presence? Maybe he could go out there and rock the boat a little? Maybe he could . . .

But before he could do anything, a huge wind swooped in, and rain started lashing down. Uruha looked up – and there was a moment of panic on his face when he realized what was happening. He pulled his anchor and unfurled his sails . . .

And at that moment, a huge, freak wave began to form next to him. He jerked the sail, frantically, trying to move away . . .

It was too late. The wave grabbed his boat, violently tipped it, and sent Uruha tumbling into the ocean, knocking his head as he fell.

Kai sprung forward, diving under the surface of the water. Uruha had been knocked unconscious, and was just lying there like a rag doll. He wrapped his arm around the other man and brought him to the surface.

He had to get him to the city, to dry land. He didn’t care if he were seen – all the “humans shouldn’t see you” rules in the world didn’t matter when there was a life at stake. Kai began to swim as hard as he could, battling the winds and the tide as only a merfolk was capable of, keeping his eye toward the city.

Uruha lay still against him, but thank God he was still warm. If he wasn’t . . . if Kai had been unable to save him . . . he didn’t want to think about it.

The opening of the city was before him. Kai slipped in, bringing Uruha to the dock area. He noticed a boat that was tied up nearby and hauled the Drylander into it. He leaned over, listening to his breathing and his heart . . .

He seemed fine, thank God – other than what had happened when he’d been whacked in the head.

Kai just stayed there for a long moment, looking down at the other man – and it suddenly occurred to him what was happening. This was the Drylanders’ city. He was where he’d always wanted to be. And he was with Uruha. The other man was lying under him, looking so, so very beautiful . . .

His heart felt ready to burst. He knew he couldn’t stay. He knew merfolk couldn’t survive in the Drylanders’ world. He knew he wasn’t supposed to be seen – there were stories about horrible things that happened to merfolk who were captured by Drylanders.

But he was going to keep this moment going as long as he could. And before he knew it, he was leaning over and bringing his lips to Uruha’s for a kiss.

Uruha’s eyes fluttered for just a second, before closing again. And then, Kai plunged back into the water and swam away, as fast and as hard as he came in.

But there was one thing more he needed to do before he went back to his own world. And so, when Uruha finally came to, he saw that his mother’s boat had, somehow, been pushed just inside the gates of the city.

* * *

Kai just aimlessly drifted through the carved stone columns that pretty much made up his father’s palace. He noticed that a couple of the servants were giving him concerned looks, wondering if they should approach the master.

Being the son of the current Shogun of this sea district could be a flat-out pain sometimes. Aoi said other merfolk would want servants at their beck and call? Kai wondered how they’d like the total lack of privacy that went with it.

Which was half the reason he’d started exploring the sea, then the surface – to have room to breathe.

He hid in a cluster of rocks, leaning up against them and closing his eyes. Except every time he did, he saw Uruha. The beauty was on his mind, constantly. Just seeing him close-up would have been enough, but then, having experienced his kiss . . .

Okay, a one-way kiss. But their lips had still met.

“Kai.” A deep, all-too-familiar voice outside. “Kai, are you in there?”

His father. Well, that just made things worse, didn’t it? He slowly drifted out, sighing. “I’m here.”

The white-haired merfolk, who sported a barrel chest and beefy arms that made him look more like an athlete than a shogun, faced down his son with a disapproving glare. “Kai, my sources tell me you went up to the surface again. You know that’s dangerous.”

Sources . . . meaning, he’d sent servants to spy on him again. Great. Nothing like knowing you had the complete trust of your own parent. “It’s not dangerous,” he said. “I stayed out of sight like I always do.”

“And just how out of sight do you think you are?” his father said. “You can’t make yourself invisible. If one of those Drylanders sees you . . .”

Kai sighed. “Father, do you really believe all those stories about them? That they think they can become immortal by eating our flesh? They’re more like us than you realize.”

“That’s not the point,” his father snapped. “The point is you keep going up to their world, when you know it’s forbidden! I would expect that kind of behavior from a ruffian from Deep Six, not a prince!”

“And that’s another thing!” Kai said. “Why do you think the merfolk who live in Deep Six are ruffians? They’re like us, too! Why can’t you just try to understand them?”

“Understand? I understand that they’re vandals and thieves – they’ve made off with pieces of the palace before. I understand that Drylanders would cut one of us up to see how we work if they could. And I understand that you need to get your head back on your shoulders and start living the life of a young nobleman! Now, I want you to think about . . .”

Kai turned around and started to swim away. He’d had enough. More than enough. Young nobleman? If that meant prejudice against Drylanders, against other merfolk that just happened to be not as highborn as him, he wanted no part of it.

“Where are you going?” his father snapped.

Kai looked over his shoulder. “Off to think, like you said.”

“Kai, if I find out you went up there again, so help me, I’ll . . .”

Kai flipped his tail to propel himself away faster. He didn’t know where he was going. His cave was the most likely destination. He could sit there, and handle his artifacts from the surface, and remember Uruha again . . .

“Well done, my boy!” croaked a voice next to him.

Kai wheeled around and saw an ancient being, with a face like a craggy outcropping of rocks, a jaw jutting out violently, eyes sunken deep beneath sparse white hair. Strangely enough, the newcomer’s tail was still a bright emerald green color.

“Who are you?” Kai said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you before.”

“Oh, I’m here, and I’m there,” the old man said. “I hang around the palace when I’m bored. It’s entertaining watching your father being a blowhard. Needs to work on his delivery, though. He sounds like a bellowing whale sometimes.”

“You’d have to be very bored to hang out there,” Kai murmured.

“You think that’s the only place I hang out?” The old man flipped over, swimming on his back. Obviously, he was more agile than he looked. “I’ve been everywhere, my boy. All over this ocean. I’ve even been up there.” He pointed toward the surface.

Okay, now he had Kai’s interest. “Really? Up there? Did you swim into the city?”

“Swim? I lived there. Lived there a couple of times, in fact.” Now the elderly man was moving in barrel rolls, turning around and around like a top. “Yep, up on the shore. Quite an experience.”

Kai suddenly stopped short. Did he just hear what he thought he heard? This man lived . .. on the surface?

He reached out and put a hand on the man’s shoulder, trying to get him to hold still – only to have him slip away. “You lived UP THERE? With the Drylanders? HOW?”

The man laughed, a chortling wheeze. “Come with me, boy, and we’ll discuss it. Not something we can just talk about in public, is it?”

And the old codger took off like a shot, weaving though schools of fish, moving like a merfolk less than half his age. Kai swam after him, mumbling to himself, thinking he wasn’t going to catch up.

Gods of the sea, what was up with this guy? He was insane – wasn’t he? How could merfolk live up there? But then, why was he following him?

The aged man kept going, and going, until he reached a small sea cave, similar to the one where Kai had his treasures. He paused, and waited for the prince to enter.

“That’s it, come in, come in,” the man said. “We don’t have time to waste!”

“Do you have to be somewhere?” Kai said. This cave was very plain – well, unless one counted the clumps of slimy moss everywhere.

“I always have to be somewhere,” the old man said. “There’s always interesting things to do and see! Why, if I stayed in one spot, I’d explode! That’s the point of living, isn’t it? To do, to explore . . .”

Kai held up his hand. “Please – tell me about what you were talking about before.”

“Your father being a blowhard?” The old man leaned against a large rock.

“No! About going up to the surface . . . living there.”

“Oh, yeah, that,” the old man chuckled. “Yeah, did that a long time ago. Every time, it was a hell of a week.”

“Week?” Kai said.

“Well, sure. See, not a lot of folks know that we can go up there for a week. Best kept secret under the sea – ‘specially among the hoity-toity upper classes like your father. They think they’re real special – too special. They don’t want to admit that we used to be just like the Drylanders – and if we go up there, we turn back into ‘em.”

Kai nearly hit his head on the top of the cave in surprise. “We WHAT?”

“Sure, sure, merfolk came from Drylanders. See, thousands of years ago, there used to be a hell of a lot more dry land, so everyone had legs and lived on shore. Floods come, most of the earth gets covered by water, and most of the human race turns into people like us. But if we go back on land . . . bam. We take our original forms.”

“Legs?” Kai said. “You mean, our tails turn into legs?”

“Oh, yes,” the old man said. “Hurts like hell, but it’s worth it. You can walk around just like one of ‘em. Only lasts a few days – a week at most, like I said. You don’t go back into the water on time, you turn back into one of us on dry land, and you die. But hey, worth the risk, right?”

Kai gave the other man a look of sheer disbelief. Was it true? Was it really true?

“Who are you, anyway?” he said.

The old man chortled. “Call me The Elder. Or just Elder. I’m just a wandering soul.” He leaned over toward Kai. “And there’s a lot more of us who’ve been up there than you think. Mostly from the Deep colonies.”

“If I go up there,” Kai said, “if I get onto dry land . . .”

“You just wait for it to happen,” the Elder said.

Kai took off like a shot. He wasn’t going to think it over, wasn’t going to consider it. He knew what he had to do.

“Remember,” the Elder called after him, “seven days only! Any more than that, and you’re done for!”

Kai couldn’t pump his tail fast enough. He just had to calculate where the city was. He was moving through the water like a missile, and unstoppable force . . .

“Whoa!” Aoi called. “Where are you going in such a rush?”

Kai spun around, creating a small water whirlwind with his shift in momentum. “Aoi,” he said, “if my father comes looking for me, please tell him I’m staying with you for a few days.”

“Why would he come looking?” he said. “Where are you going?”

“Up there.” Kai pointed toward the surface. “I can live there. At least for a week. An old man told me how.”

“There? Whoa, Kai, calm down. It’s not possible for us to . .”

“It is, and I’m doing it!” Kai swam off. “I’ll be back in a week!”

“Wait a minute!” Aoi called. “Kai!”

But Kai was gone, moving back toward the surface. Aoi would understand. He was probably the only person who would.

The gates of the city were before him. He slid through effortlessly, and found himself in the boat dock area where he’d brought Uruha. Now, to find somewhere where he wouldn’t be seen . . .

Fortunately, the harbor was empty. All the fishermen were still out with their boats – which made things a lot easier.

There was a storage shed atop an outcropping of rocks. Perfect. He swam over to it. Placing his hands on the rocks, he began to haul his body up and out of the water, a condition he had never really experienced. It felt strange, the air on his tail . . .

He continued to haul himself with his hands, wincing as his tail scraped over the rocks. Almost fully behind the shed now . . .

And then, his whole body was seized with an excruciating pain, unlike anything he’d ever known before. The Elder wasn’t kidding. If anything, he’d soft-pedaled what was going to happen.

Kai fell back on the rock, gasping. It was like swallowing a sword that was tearing him apart from the inside. Was he dying? Was The Elder just crazy? He knew he was gambling with his life here – what if it didn’t pay off?

He found himself blacking out, the image of Uruha’s face filling his mind as he did so.

* * *

Uruha finished tying up his boat. He’d already handed his catch of the day off to Ruki and Reita, who’d gone off to make deals. He’d caught a fair amount of crabs today, which was good. That would pay for the team’s medical services for awhile. The doctor had a fondness for crab.

He couldn’t really get up enthusiasm for their good fortune, though. In fact, he’d been lucky to have seen the crabs in the trap, since he currently had a one-track mind.

It went back to when he’d ended up in someone else’s boat after falling out of his own – which, mercifully, had needed minimal repairs (which, nonetheless, cost the entire catch Ruki and Reita had made the next day). He remembered waking up with a splitting headache, and his two partners fussing over him. Apparently, someone had saved both him and his boat, but they didn’t know who.

But Uruha knew. Well, sort of. He’d seen him . . . kind of.

There was a split second, right before he came to consciousness, that his eyes had opened, then closed again – and in that brief time, he’d seen his rescuer leaning over him. The problem was, Uruha couldn’t recall his exact features – only that he was incredibly beautiful.

And then, their lips had met, soft and hot, but over before Uruha knew it . . . and he’d slipped all the way back into darkness again.

It was that kiss that haunted him. Did he imagine it? Was it all a hallucination from the bump on his head? Or were the man, and the kiss, real?

He knew that if it was, he had to find that man, somehow. To thank him, at the very least.

Uruha rubbed the top of his head. He still had an egg there. He’d been ordered into bed by the doctor for a day afterward, but he insisted on going out today. If he just sat at home, he’d do the team no good – and he’d just brood some more, wouldn’t he?

As he was starting to head from the dock to the path that led home, his eyes caught something unusual. Was that . . . a foot sticking out from behind the supply shed? A bare foot, at that?

He came closer to investigate. That was indeed a bare human foot, and it was attached to a very nice male leg. Which led up to . . .

Uruha gasped. There was a totally naked man lying there. He was his own age . . . and beautiful. Cupid’s bow lips, gorgeously sculpted chest and arms, and, oh, God, what a huge cock . . .

He looked like something out of a wet dream. He also looked vaguely familiar, for some strange reason. “Vaguely familiar” wasn’t something that happened very often in Uruha’s world – in a small, closely settled colony, just about everyone knew each other.

Uruha knew he couldn’t just stand there staring at this guy. Obviously, he had to do something – he was obviously in need, if not danger. Crime was very rare in their society, but occasionally, it did happen – maybe this person had been robbed. He pulled off his shirt, draping it over the part that most needed to be covered, and then gently shook the man’s shoulder.

“Hey . . . wake up. Are you okay?” No response, so he shook him again. “Open your eyes. Don’t worry, you’re safe now.”

He just hoped the newcomer wasn’t comatose – or worse.

* * *

Kai felt the touch on his arm and opened his eyes, slowly.

What happened? Where was he? All he remembered was pain, and more pain, and . . . well, obviously, he didn’t die. And he could breathe. And . . .

He raised his head a little. There was someone bending over him, obviously concerned. A man, young, about his age . . . He shook his head. Okay, he was hallucinating from whatever happened to him. It looked like Uruha.

“You’re awake,” the other said. “Come on, I’ll take you somewhere where you can rest. You can tell me what happened then.”

Kai sat up, slowly, propping himself on his elbows, blinking against the light. It was Uruha, all right. He’d been saved by the man he’d saved a couple of days ago. He couldn’t believe his luck.

He also couldn’t believe what he was seeing on his own lower half. He raised himself higher so he could get a better look. Legs. He had LEGS! And feet! The Elder wasn’t just a crazy old fool, after all!

“Don’t try to get up too fast,” Uruha said. “Here – give me your hands. Let me help you.”

Kai did, opening his mouth to speak – and nothing came out. He coughed, tried to clear his throat – to no avail. And it was then that he realized just how irritated his throat was. Of course – the transition from gill-breathing to full-time mouth breathing would have effects, wouldn’t it? Like irritating his throat enough to give him laryngitis.

It was as if he’d had to give up his voice in exchange for those legs.

“What’s wrong?” Uruha said. “You can’t talk?” Kai shook his head. “Are you sick?” Kai shrugged his shoulders. “I’ll have to have the doctor look at you. Come on . . .”

Those hands were offered to him again. Kai grabbed them. Oh, no, he had to get up now, didn’t he? He had no idea how those legs worked. Think it through, use logic . . . He planted his feet on the ground, starting to push upward. Yes, that was right, his body was starting to rise, and Uruha was helping him, guiding him upward . . .

What a strange feeling, being planted on the ground, rising through the air. He felt . . . elevated. Like he was floating above the ground. He reached his full height, looking around him . . .

And immediately felt dizzy. Those legs under him turned to rubber. He tried to keep his feet on the ground, but they were flailing all over the place, and he was stumbling around.

“Whoa, whoa!” Uruha grabbed Kai’s arm and wrapped it around his shoulder. “Here, let me help you.” He was holding Kai in place, stabilizing him . . .

And their bodies were close. Kai certainly couldn’t miss that little detail. Uruha felt good. He was so warm, and rough and smooth at the same time, and . . .

Dry. The texture was a novelty to Kai. It was strangely delicious.

“Come on,” Uruha said. “Walk forward.”

Walk . . . that meant putting one foot in front of the other, right? He pushed one leg in front of the other . . . no, he should lift the foot, right? He tried again – success. Now the other leg . . .

And he was walking, actually walking like a Drylander. Well, he was being supported by Uruha, and his legs were still wobbly. But he was moving forward. And suddenly, elation filled him.

He was doing the one thing he’d always dreamed of. He’d achieved what he thought was impossible. And he had the one Drylander who’d most caught his attention beside him to boot.

Losing his voice seemed a small price to pay. He’d give up a lot more to have this experience.

* * *

Uruha’s two partners paused outside his door. “Sure we should do this?” Reita said. “I mean, if he’s got a guy in there, it’s none of our business, right?”

“He wouldn’t have needed a doctor if the guy was capable of doing that!” Ruki snapped. “We’re just making sure everything’s okay, got it?”

They’d started hearing the talk right after leaving the doctor’s office – that Uruha had been spotted helping a man walk down the street who was wearing nothing but Uruha’s shirt around his hips. Only the fact that the man seemed to be visibly injured kept this from going from “curiosity” to “scandal.” And then, they’d seen the doctor go running past them, headed toward Uruha’s house.

Clearly, something strange was happening.

Ruki raised his hand and rapped on the door. Uruha opened it. “I was wondering when you two would show up,” he said.

“What the fuck is going on?” Ruki said. “Did you pull this guy out of the water?”

“I found him behind the boat shack,” Uruha said. “I don’t know anything about him – he can’t talk. He just nods yes or no. The doctor said he’s got laryngitis.” The exam had been rather odd, too – Kai had cringed from the instruments, like he’d never seen medical tools before. Uruha had to explain that the doctor was trying to help him.

“Sure that’s all that’s wrong with him?” Reita glanced over to the bed, where the newcomer was lying. Damn, but he was a gorgeous one. If Uruha really had found him lying naked, then he gave new meaning to “catch of the day.”

Uruha nodded. “The doctor said he seemed dehydrated, but that’s it. He thinks he’s a shipwreck survivor – might have floated around on a board for a few days.” That would explain the lack of a new boat in the harbor. (It would not, however, explain the lack of sunburn on Kai’s body).

“So . . . what are you going to do with him?” Ruki glanced over at the other man. He was sitting up in bed – he was dressed in a shirt and pants of Uruha’s now – and seemed to be observing them with interest. No, not just interest – it was almost as if he was studying him.

“Look after him until he feels ready to leave,” Uruha said. “Until he gets his voice back, at least.”

“How’s he going to leave if his boat was destroyed?” Ruki said. “Get a ride with one of the trade boats?”

Uruha nodded. “He had to have been a Wanderer,” he said. “I asked him if he was from around here, he said no. Same thing when I asked him if he was a trader.”

“What’s his name?” Reita said.

“He can’t talk, remember?” Ruki retorted.

“You should call him Yutaka,” Reita said. “He looks like a Yutaka.”

Kai shook his head. No, his name wasn’t Yutaka. He’d never even heard the name before – it wasn’t used in mer society. Then again, he wasn’t sure if the name “Kai” was used on the surface, either – which meant they’d guess and guess at his name all day and not arrive at it.

“See, that’s not his name,” Ruki said. “And you can’t make up names for people like they were dogs!”

“Well, what are we going to call him, then?” Reita said.

“We’ll just call him Wanderer,” Uruha said. “At least until he gets his voice back and can tell us. Unless . . .” He looked at Kai. “Can you write it?”

Kai frowned. While Japanese was spoken the same in the mer and surface worlds – just with a few differences in dialect – he wasn’t sure if the written form was the same. Merfolk had little use for writing, anyway – only the upper classes were taught to read, and that was mostly for inscriptions on old stone tablets that contained the rules of their kingdom.

And there was no way he knew how to use the human tool for writing – which he had several examples of in his collection. What was it called again? Pon? Pan? Pen, that was it.

“They might use different name kanji where he comes from,” Ruki noted. “We’ve seen that with Wanderers before. Look, just call him Wanderer for now. Give him lots of broth, that will probably help his voice.” He looke at Uruha. “You going to be able to go out with the boat tomorrow?”

Uruha nodded. “If he’s doing okay, I will.”

“We’re leaving you alone, then,” Ruki said. “Come get us if you need anything.”

The two of them left, and Uruha drew a deep breath, shutting the door behind him. “Those were my partners,” he said. “We have a fishing business together.” He moved over to the stove. “I’m going to make dinner for us. I had a stew I started eating yesterday, I’ll just add to it so there’s enough for both of us.” He opened a compartment in the floor – underground cold storage – and brought out a big, metal pot, setting it on the stove. “You can eat, right? You don’t feel sick to your stomach?”?

Kai shook his head no.

“Good,” Uruha said. “You’ll feel better after you do.” He reached in a bucket next to him – where he stored his personal catch of the day – and pulled out a fish, which he began to fillet. “I was in the same boat as you – so to speak – the other day. I almost drowned in a storm. Somebody saved me. I fell out of my boat and hit my head, and when I woke up? I was on dry land. Not too far from where I found you, in fact.”

He looked back at the other man as he scraped the fish into the pot. “I just wish I could find the guy so I could thank him,” he said. (Why did the Wanderer drop his head and look thoughtful just then? Did someone rescue him the same way on another occasion? Did he make a regular habit of being shipwrecked?)

Uruha turned a switch at the bottom of the stove, and a small flame leaped into life. “Do they have electricity where you come from?” he said. “We have some – that’s what the windmills at the top of the hill are for. We’re only allowed to use it at certain times of day, though. Most of the power gets used for the paper and metal plants.” And those were valuable – this island’s only tradable commodities. They’d gotten very good at recycling paper and metal – some of the materials they used were said to date back to the Time Before, when the world wasn’t almost completely covered with water.

Kai watched with interest as Uruha stirred the pot. The thing below it – that was fire? It was gorgeous. It was like a little piece of the sun, glowing, leaping, dancing . . . he knew that this whole trip to the surface was worth it now, worth the pain he’d gone through to get here.

He reached out a hand in front of him, waving it back and forth. No resistance. Nothing but air all around him, on every part of his body. It was nothing less than a miracle. He knew when he got back, he was going to have to find that old guy and thank him.

Kai wasn’t going to think about going back, though. Not at all. He was going to savor every single second of being here.

Uruha got out two bowls – yes, Kai had some of them in his collection, too – and began to ladel the stew into them. It was pretty much a boiled hodgepodge of a few kinds of fish, seaweed, and some other edible undersea plants – the staples of the human diet ever since the Deluge.

“All right,” Uruha said. “I’m going to help you to the table, and we can eat.” He walked over to Kai, holding his arms out. Kai grabbed onto them, and let himself be pulled to his feet.

It got easier every time he did it, this business of putting one foot in front of the other. It was starting to feel a bit more natural, less awkward. More, well, human.

Uruha settled him into the chair, and took the one across from him. “This is the first time someone else has been at this table since my mother died,” Uruha said. He pointed to a painting hung on the opposite wall, a small canvas bearing an image of a young woman who looked a lot like Uruha. “That’s her. She passed on about six months ago. She owned my boat before I did.”

Kai glanced over at the painting of the beautiful woman, and then looked down at his bowl. What was he supposed to do with this liquidy stuff? How did the Drylanders eat again? He knew he’d collected the utensils, watched them eating on the boats . . .

There was a pair of those sticks next to his bowl. Was that it? Was he supposed to pick up the solid bits with those sticks, and then drink the broth? He grabbed them in his hands . . . funny how his fingers moved much more rapidly without webbing between them.

Uruha was doing just that, capturing a piece of fish, then bringing it to his mouth, then going in the bowl for more. Kai looked at how he was holding them, one on top of the other . . .

He pushed them into the bowl, pulled them apart and slammed them together. That just made some of the hot liquid slosh out and onto him. He would have cursed if he’d had a voice.

Uruha seemed oblivious to his problem, and continued talking about his mother between bites. “Her doctor said she might have worked herself to death,” he said. “She supported both of us on her own. My father . . . well, I never knew him. My mother said he was there and gone before I was born. One of the Wanderers who passed through this island.” He looked over at Kai. “Like you, right? Maybe you’re from the same island my father was.”

Kai was still stabbing at the fish, pulling the sticks apart, slamming them together, and getting nowhere. What kind of a way to eat was this? How did the Drylanders do it so easily? Were they born knowing how to do this, the way merfolk were born knowing how to swim?

Finally, out of frustration, he tossed the sticks aside, picked up the bowl in both hands, tipped it forward and just started drinking, slurping the fish bits into his mouth as he did so. He was aware of Uruha’s puzzled eyes on him. Oh, heck, was this not done here? Too late – he was three-quarters of the way through the bowl.

When he finished it, he put it down, stew all over his face. Wait – food stuck to you here? Of course it did, there was no constant flow of water to wash it away. What was he supposed to do now?

He just sat there, frozen, until Uruha leaned over, reaching for the folded piece of cloth that was beside his plate. He handed it to Kai.

Kai watched as Uruha took a similar piece and wiped it across his face. So this is what you were supposed to do – clean yourself. He rubbed the cloth all over his face, even the parts without stew on them.

He was bound and determined to be one of them, no matter what it took. When he was done, he flashed Uruha a dimpled smile.

“I guess you’re from one of the places where they don’t have chopsticks,” Uruha said. “I have spoons somewhere – I’ll give you one tomorrow.” He leaned back in his seat. “Maybe when you get your voice back, you can tell me about where you’re from.”

Kai knew he couldn’t do that. Letting Drylanders know about the presence of merfolk was forbidden. And besides, he didn’t want to freak Uruha out.

“I’ll help you to the bathroom when you’re done,” Uruha said. “You can do your business, and then . . . I’ll make a bedroll for myself on the floor, we have guest bedding. You can stay on the bed.”

Bathroom? Do his business? He’d heard those words before from humans. They usually were associated with someone standing up in his boat, dropping his pants and letting fly a stream of liquid. Waste elimination. And they’d joke that they did it over the side because they didn’t have a toilet – whatever that was.

Fortunately, Uruha was kind enough to point that out to him when he walked him to the bathroom. “I don’t know if you have flush toilets where you come from, but there’s ours, right there. You do your business in it and then pull that chain over there. I’ll be outside, I’ll use it after you.”

Kai sighed after the other man left the room. So many complex things about being a Drylander. Waste elimination was easy for merfolk – it all just dropped from their bodies onto the ocean floor. Up here? They had to work at it.

Fine, he’d work at it. One more thing to master, and he’d master it. And somehow, he managed to do it, and hit his target, imitating the men he’d seen on the boats. He wasn’t prepared for the BOOM when he pulled that chain, though. He watched in amazement as water flowed into the bowl – a tiny, artificially-created maelstrom.

Drylanders were amazing creatures. An artificial whirlpool to get rid of waste? Who would have thought of that? He pulled the chain again, just to see it flush. Incredible!

There was a knock on the door. “Wanderer? Are you all right?” Then a pause. “Right – can’t talk. That’s easy to forget.”

Uruha stood outside the door, listening to the toilet flush a third time. What the hell was going on in there? He was an odd one, this Wanderer. Probably came from some of the way, way outer islands – the ones that people here merely gossiped about, since so few of them made the trip this far.

But he had to admit, there was something fascinating about him as well. Not just his beauty, and the dimples that appeared around his mouth when he smiled. It was the way he seemed to look at everything with childlike wonder – the way his eyes followed the dancing flames on his stove, how he ate his stew with gusto (even though he didn’t know how to handle the utensils), the way he listened intently to the story about his mother . . .

He found himself hoping this Wanderer would start talking sooner, rather than later, so he could find out more about him.

Finally, the door opened, and his guest was there, hanging onto the doorframe, flashing him that dimpled smile. “All right, if you’re done, I’ll help you back over there,” Uruha said. He wrapped an arm around him, and led him across the floor. “If you’re feeling better tomorrow, I’m going to go out in my boat – I may come back early, though.”

Kai nodded. Yes, Uruha could go out in his boat. He felt fine right now. In fact, he’d never felt better in his life.

A week, the Elder had said. Fine. He was going to make the most out of every minute of it.

This way to Part 2!

Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
alizamarie_chan
Aug. 14th, 2013 06:42 am (UTC)
Waaaaaaaaw AMAZING STORY!!!!!!
I`m in love ^^v
Thanks for sharing!!!!!
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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