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Where then shall we roam?

This fic has nothing to do with the plot of X/1999; I’m just gonna admit that right off. It was inspired by those brief scenes of young Kamui crying by the ocean and various promo art. Because of course my first complete story for what may be my oldest fandom is wildly AU, that’s just the way I roll.


Title: Where then shall we roam?
Fandom: X/1999
Pairings:[Spoiler (click to open)]Fuuma/Kamui
Ratings/Warnings: some angst, loneliness, nothing too terrible
Word Count: 9453 so far
Disclaimer: If I owned this manga, it would be happier
Summary: Sometimes the place in which you’re born isn’t the place where you belong.


Kamui Shirou has always loved the sea.

As far back as he can remember, he and his mother have spent their summers by the ocean in Shirahama. The boy grows up on the water, spending his time with sunshine, sand and the endless horizon in-between. He grows up swimming more than walking, running to the beach each morning and staying until evening when his mother calls him home.

Kamui has friends in those bright summers. Shirahama means laughter, games, and flashing smiles. It means people who are always glad to see him, people who greet him happily.

So each time the summer ends, it always breaks his heart to leave. The boy cries on the train back to Tokyo with his mother and he dreads the start of school with his whole being. Most of Kamui’s classmates tease him about not having a real father, as though it's somehow his fault that his mother never married. No one in Tokyo likes him; no one in Tokyo cares except his mother and while there is water near the city, it is simply not the same. Kamui spends each school year dreaming of Shirahama, waiting for the moment when he can go back to the south sea.

But then one year the visits stop. Instead of traveling to the beach, the boy and his mother take the train up to the mountains and she never tells him why. Mentioning Shirahama only makes his mother angry, her expression twisting strangely when he asks to mail a letter to the friends he left behind. She tells Kamui that he made them up, that those other children were just imaginary, and her tone is so furious that he never dares to ask again.

But he dreams of going back. The boy dreams of wind and water and the friends he knows he had. Although Kamui can't remember their names or the exact shape of their faces, he knows that they existed. He had friends once and he never feels as comfortable in the mountains as he does in those bright memories.

Yet this is his new summer. His mother lives her life as though Osaka never happened and her son learns to live with the endless ache of longing in his chest. He pretends that he's happy in the city and as he grows older, those cheerful days in Shirahama seem more and more like fantasy.

It's not as though his life is bad. In truth, it's simply lonely and often a bit dull. The teen wakes up and goes to school, studying enough to keep his grades up but rarely interested. He has acquaintances, people that he nods to in the hallways, but there's no one to call a friend. No one invites him to their houses for anything but test prep and no one ever gets invited to his apartment in return.

Kamui is all right with being ignored. It’s better for his classmates to see him as standoffish than to know that he’s a bastard. He chose to attend a third-rate high school in a different neighborhood just to keep that family secret and he'd rather not be forced to move again. No one needs to know that Kamui hasn't joined a club because he works retail in the evenings and the lack of guests saves him from explaining why his mother’s never home.

The teen has learned to be self-sufficient through sheer necessity and he doesn't have grand dreams; he can't afford those either. He’s too poor to bother thinking about university and it’s not like he’s skilled enough to play a sport professionally. Kamui is too short and scrawny for the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force; delicate an adjective that he's learned to despise. He couldn't be tall and strong and brawny, no. He's wiry and tiny and called pretty as a joke.

The best that Kamui allows himself to hope for is a decent-paying job, one that will let him support his mother the way she’s always done for him. He hopes for something by the ocean and he thinks a career in hospitality is probably his best shot. There are plenty of nice hotels in beach towns and foreign languages are the few classes where he normally excels.

During his final year of high school, the teen starts to research his options properly. He spends his free time planning and daydreaming about the future, doodling sketches of the shoreline in the margins of his notes. Now that he is almost free of Tokyo, Kamui’s longing for the ocean is coming back full force. He dreams about the sea and wakes up crying, the sound of crashing waves still ringing in his ears. It won’t be much longer. Soon he’ll be handing out his resume in every beach town on the train lines and someone is bound to give him a chance eventually.

Once he has a job, Kamui can tell his mother his decision, though even then he’ll probably wait until he’s ready to move out. Maybe by then she'll have forgotten her strange hatred of the ocean and if not, at least she won't have the right to stop him from leaving anymore. However, he would prefer to have her blessing so he’s been working on a running list of arguments with which he hopes to change her mind.

The teen never gets the chance to make his case at all.

Three days after he graduates, Kamui’s mother drops dead from a blood clot when she's out buying dinner and he can only stare in silent shock when a policeman comes by with the news. Despite their disagreements, the young man loved his mother and even when she was working so much that they could go weeks without talking, he always knew she loved him in return.

But now she’s simply gone and Kamui plans the funeral in a state of numb disbelief. He doesn't cry during the service or when his mother's coworkers pat him on the shoulder. The teen doesn't even weep when he's given the urn filled with her ashes; he just returns to their apartment, curls up in bed, and stares at the wall until he falls asleep.

The first emotion to break through his grey limbo is surprise. Kamui and his mother had always been poor and he's not expecting much when the bank reads out her will a few days later. But the house they used to stay at near the beach, the one in Shirahama, apparently his mother owned that place outright. She must have bought it years ago since the land is worth a fortune now, but Kamui barely hears her lawyer’s explanation as he stares down at the deed.

A decade since they'd been there – a decade of struggling with money and arguing about the ocean – and yet she never sold this property. Perhaps she meant to sell it once he graduated, using the money for his studies or to start another life. But the young man doesn’t think so. Kamui thinks she knew the ocean would always win out in the end.

That night he returns to their apartment and sobs until his chest hurts, finally grieving for the woman who had done so much for him.

He takes the rest of the week to pack up his belongings, shipping what he can and selling what he can’t until his life is squared away. Then Kamui boards the train at the main station, starting the journey from Tokyo to Shirahama without a single backward glance. There's nothing left to hold him in this city; nothing left to keep him from the water anymore.

---
---

Shirahama smells like the ocean. The salt-tinged air fills Kamui’s lungs when he steps off the train and every single breath feels like coming home. This is the last place that he remembers being truly happy and he wants to hold the feeling tight.

Kamui looks around with interest during the cab ride from the station, his heart pounding with a mix of anticipation and nostalgia in his chest. Although the city has changed in the last decade, grown larger and more crowded, the streets themselves are still familiar and he’s already grabbed his bag in preparation when the taxi stops.

The teen pays his fare before exiting the car and walking up the path his new home. The house seems smaller than in his memories. But he knows that weathered porch with a paper lantern hanging in the window and the door sticks just like it used to when he turns the key and shoves. There's a layer of grey dust laying over every surface but when he throws open the windows, a crisp breeze cuts through the staleness almost instantly.

Kamui should unpack. He should clean this place until it's actually livable. But as he turns from the window, the young man catches a glimpse of shining water in the corner of his eye. His heart lurches almost painfully and then he’s running out the door, barely pausing long enough to flip the lock again.

The ocean isn’t far away and Kamui is glad that there’s no one else around as he sprints straight down the path. He doesn’t slow down when he reaches the beach, nearly falling over as he scrambles to take off his shoes and socks before dashing toward the water. The teen digs his toes into the sand and laughs in sheer delight as the waves rush up to greet him, leaning down to catch the ocean in his hands.

Kamui has missed this, missed the water like some kind of phantom limb, and it takes almost an hour before he manages to drag himself away. By then his pants are wet from knees to hem and he knows his bangs are sticking up where he ran damp fingers through his hair. Indeed, the young man gets several odd looks as he strolls back to his house, carrying his socks in one hand and his shoes in the other, but he just grins and waves at the shocked strangers cheerfully.

---

Kamui gives himself four days to get settled before he starts his job search. He spends most of that time in his house or at the beach, scrubbing the dirt from the floorboards even as his daily visits to the ocean help ease the longing from his heart.

The teen still misses his mother and he can't shake the feeling that he’s forgotten something important from those summers long ago. But the water soothes his worries, the salt-stained breeze chasing away his melancholy and the crash of waves easing the tension from his skin.

He needs this stress-relief even more once he begins the job hunt. Kamui quickly discovers that few hotels are hiring and the ones that are want someone with a better education or more experience. He pounds the streets for several weeks but most places don’t even bother to accept his application and after the tenth outright rejection, the young man starts to wonder if he has a chance at all. Maybe he should expand his search outside of Shirahama. Kamui is no stranger to the trains after years in Tokyo and he doesn't mind commuting to keep the ocean close.

The teen goes to his last scheduled interview, but he’s not holding out much hope and indeed, even this tiny hostel is too good to hire him. The supervisor actually says that to his face and Kamui barely keeps his temper as he gathers up his things. He stalks from the office fuming, nearly snapping when the front desk manager interrupts him on his way out of the door.

“You want some advice, kid?” the man asks and it's not as though Kamui has a lot to lose.

“If you have some to offer,” he answers through gritted teeth.

“Don't take my colleague's words to heart. He's a snob about education but your problem is your timing not a lack of skill,” the manager explains. “Most places around here hire in advance for the tourist season and so they have all the workers that they need right now. However, if you give it a few months, we should have an opening. There are always a few people who drop out when the rush starts and if you're prepared to fill their shoes, you'll get the experience for next year that the high class joints demand.”

“Thank you, that's good to know,” Kamui tells him. Despite the man's familiar way of talking, he's already been more helpful than anyone else so far. Although, while that may be great for later, the teen can't stop himself from wondering, How does that help me now?

“I know that doesn't seem like much,” the man says with a chuckle, either psychic or just that good at reading his expression. “So if you're looking for employment in the mean-time, my cousin manages a 7-11 over on Sakamoto and he's in need of a cashier. The hours aren't fantastic but you'd have an ocean-front view and it's better than nothing. You'd only need to work there until later in the season and he's used to people quitting so he won’t take it personally.”

“Well, I'd hope to give him notice,” Kamui replies, still a little thrown by the other man's demeanor. People in Tokyo never offer this much help to total strangers. But the advice seems sound and while he wouldn't want to work in a convenience store forever, there's no harm in checking the place out. If nothing else, Kamui could use some lunch and Sakamoto is on the way back to his house.

“Thank you for the suggestion, Mister…?”

“Yuuto Kigai. And you're welcome. Perhaps I'll see you there sometime.”

Kamui gets the address from his odd benefactor and then walks toward Sakamoto, still not sure whether he’ll bother to apply. He’d hated working retail at his part-time job in high school – in his limited experience, customers were awful – but his mother didn't leave him much besides the house. Her funeral and the move depleted his meager savings and the young man still has to eat. So if Kamui has zero chance of being hired by a hotel for several months, it would be good to earn some money while he can.

The teen is still on the fence when he reaches the 7-11 and he figures that he might as well scope out the place before he decides for sure. However, as soon as he pushes the door open, the man behind the counter gives him a blinding grin.

“You must be Kamui Shirou,” he says, rushing forward to shake his hand. “It’s so great to meet you. My name is Sorata Arisugawa. Yuuto called to tell me about you and I could really use the help. Let me show you everything.”

The man wraps an arm around his shoulders – as oddly familiar as his cousin – and steers the teen around the store. His enthusiasm is overwhelming and Kamui can’t get a word in edgewise, his voice completely drowned out by the running monologue. Honestly, the forceful cheer is giving him a headache and as soon as the other man finally shuts up, he’s never coming back; there's no way Kamui wants to work for a guy this irritating. He would lose his freaking mind.

However, before he can make his escape, the man leads him behind the counter and all of his objections die. Apparently Kigai wasn't kidding about the view because can see the ocean through the window, bright and blue and close enough to touch. The sight of the water washes away his irritation instantly and if Kamui has to work some dead-end job for a few months to pay the bills, he could do much worse than spending hours with a gorgeous view like that.

So the teen finds himself agreeing to start tomorrow without really meaning to. Mr. “Call me Sorata” gives him an employee manual, half a dozen leftover bento boxes, an extra-small women's uniform – “That's the only outfit with a chance of fitting,” he's told unapologetically – and a cheerful “Sayonara” on his way out of the door. Kamui honestly feels a little stunned as it slides shut behind him and he has to wonder if he just made a big mistake.

However, the young man goes in the next morning like he promised and to his surprise, he discovers that he actually enjoys working for Mr. Arisugawa after all. The other man never gets less cheerful but the teen can bear it in small doses and their shifts don’t have much overlap. Honestly, after a few days, the relentless optimism is almost comforting because he knows his boss will always greet him with a smile no matter how his day has been.

Thankfully, most days are good and Kamui is content enough with the choices that he made. He works the early shift from 5am to 1pm and while the store is usually packed with commuters during rush hour, he rarely has to offer conversation. The regulars have their visits down to a routine, thirty seconds per transaction unless he's out of change. The young man does get the odd lost tourist looking for their hotel but he takes these as opportunities to practice other languages. Though he wouldn't say he's fluent, Kamui does all right with English, French, and Spanish, managing to get his point across without too much fumbling.

Truly awful customers are few and far between. He gets a few, cause retail, but less than he expected and staring at the water always helps. After any particularly frustrating encounters, he takes his break right on the shore and even on the good days, Kamui always finishes his shifts with a visit to the beach behind his house.

There's one particular rocky outcropping that the teen remembers from his childhood and it’s still his favorite place to sit. The stones stretch out into the ocean, sheltered from the wind by craggy rocks and hidden out of sight from any people on the beach. No one ever bothers Kamui there when the young man wants to think. Or rather, to not think, to spend time with the water and enjoy the solitude.

So it seems a normal Wednesday when Kamui goes to his outcrop after work and pulls two salmon rice balls from his pockets. He eats his lunch in peace while watching the birds soar and he’s just finished the last bite when someone calls his name.

“Kamui? Is that you?”

The voice is deep and masculine, vaguely familiar and close enough to touch. But when Kamui looks behind him, no one is standing there.

“Are you sure that's really him?”

“It's been a long time, brother,” a softer voice replies, this one high and feminine. “You cannot blame him for forgetting. Humans are good at that and I believe his mother helped.”

By now Kamui is starting to freak out. The young man looks around a little wildly, trying to find the source of this strange conversation. But he can’t see anyone and if he's hearing voices, then he's completely lost his mind. So Kamui stands up, intending to head home and pretend this never happened; he probably just has sunstroke and needs to go lie down. However, before the teen can leave, the male voice speaks again.

“I guess we need to remind him, sister. Come on, Kamui. Turn around.”

The tone is teasing, almost playful, and as much as he would like to, Kamui can’t resist. No one talks to him like that except in distant dreams. So he spins slowly on his heel, his eyes fixed on the rocks in fear of what he’ll see. But then damp fingers stroke across his cheek.

When his head snaps up in surprise, there’s a man behind him. The stranger is handsome, his features strong and even, and his arms nicely muscled where they’re gripping onto stone. He’s holding himself out of the water, draped across one of the taller rocks so he’s near Kamui’s height and his eyes flash an odd gold color when the young man meets his gaze. This stranger’s expression is open and friendly, the sun reflecting warmth and joy that makes no sense at all.

The man must have been swimming since his short, dark hair is dripping and Kamui follows one drop down to an expanse of naked chest before he snaps his eyes back up again. He can feel himself flushing, embarrassed and confused by this whole situation.

“What are you? What's going on?” the teen demands, taking a few steps backward. “How do you know my name?”

Whoever this guy is, he’s never come into the store; Kamui would have remembered someone this attractive. Which means he has to be some kind of stalker and the solitude the young man craved seems a lot more dangerous now.

“You really don't remember?” the other man asks plaintively and his expression almost makes the teen feel guilty for not knowing who he is. Kamui feels like he should know him, that's the weird part, this stranger’s name just waiting on the tip of his tongue. But he doesn't have friends in Shirahama. He barely has acquaintances unless he counts Mr. Arisugawa and a burst of anger pushes down the guilt.

“If this is a joke, it isn’t funny,” Kamui snarls. He takes another step back, preparing to turn and run when his foot slips on the stone.

He has one brief glimpse of the stranger’s gold eyes widening before the world tilts out from underneath him. The young man flails for balance, covering his head and hoping that he doesn’t hurt himself too badly when he lands.

Kamui is expecting pain but instead there's only warmth as strong arms wrap around him and when he dares to look, he finds himself cradled against the stranger's chest. There's so much naked skin beneath him – tan and sharply muscled – and the teen lets out a strangled groan as his fingers dart out to touch those broad shoulders helplessly. But then the stranger winces and Kamui pulls his hands back, mortified.

“I'm so sorry. Are you all right? Oh my god, you're bleeding,” he babbles. “Do you need a hospital?”

“I'm fine. It's just a scratch,” the other man reassures him but Kamui is well into panicking and he can't seem to stop.

“You're probably in shock. What if you're bleeding out? I should check for-”

He scrambles out of the stranger’s arms, planning to look him over for other injuries. But the teen is brought up short by the sight that meets his eyes. For where the man should have two legs, Kamui sees a long finned tail instead, its deep blue scales bleeding gold along the edges and shining iridescent in the sun.

“Oh my god, I'm hallucinating,” he mutters to himself. “I hit my head on the way down. Or maybe I've just gone crazy and you're not here at all. Mermaids aren't real. Mermaids aren't real. Mermaids aren't real….”

“You are not mad,” a soft voice says and when Kamui glances over, a beautiful young woman is staring back at him. Her long hair is streaming water, blond strands laced with shells and seaweed, and somehow Kamui knows her tail is turquoise without even looking down. She seems familiar too, just like her companion. He feels as though he knows them though he can't place when or where.

“I know it has been a decade but you must remember,” the mermaid tells him. She reaches out to touch young man’s forehead and her next words ring strangely in his ears. “Remember us, Kamui. Break the chains that bind your memories. My brother and I have missed you terribly.”

Kamui gasps, his legs giving out as he's suddenly overwhelmed by memory. He used to play right here when he was younger, used to run to the ocean as soon as his mother let him free. The boy believed in mers then – he believed in everything – and he spent hours playing with the stuff of fantasies.

These two taught him how to swim and how to dive, how to chase fish and open oysters, though Kamui always thought the latter were much too gross to eat. Every fall he'd leave his friends to return to Tokyo and every summer they were waiting when he came back to the ocean. Kamui used to talk about them constantly, used to tell his mother about their adventures every evening, and he doesn't know exactly when her laughter turned to fear. He doesn't know when she realized that his friends were not imaginary but he's certain that's the reason their summer visits stopped.

Because with memories of sun and laughter, of games and exploration, Kamui remembers the way his mother acted on their last trip home. She held onto his arm for the entire train ride, clutching him so tightly that he had faint bruises the next day. His mother took him to some woman’s house on the way to their apartment, a detour that they’d never made before. He still doesn't know what his mother told her or who the woman was, but she gave him the worst tea he'd ever tasted and when he woke up the next morning, he'd forgotten everything. He'd forgotten….

“Kotori? Fuuma? Is that really you?”

“I told you it was him,” the mermaid says, looking at her brother smugly. But the merman just snorts in answer before grinning at Kamui, his smile so bright that it takes the young man’s breath away.

“You remember now?” asks Fuuma – he's certain that it's Fuuma – and the teen can only nod.

“Have you waited all this time?” he asks quietly. “It's been so many years and I'm no one special; you should have forgotten me.”

“Of course not,” Kotori answers and her tone leaves no room for doubt. “You were our friend and I knew you would return to us. I have dreamed this day for years.”

“You dreamed it?”

“My sister is a sea witch,” Fuuma tells him. “Sometimes she sees the future in her sleep.”

“Oh,” Kamui replies. That sounds like superstition but since he's talking to real merfolk, he probably shouldn't dismiss the idea out of hand. “Do all your dreams come true?”

“Don't be silly. Sometimes I dream of normal things,” Kotori says with a tinkling laugh. “And sometimes I can change them. But I never tried to change my dreams of you.”

The young man shifts awkwardly where he’s kneeling on the rocks, struck speechless by her smile and sheer sincerity. His head is still spinning with recovered memories and he doesn’t know what to say to meet his old friends’ expectations. Kamui doesn’t want to disappointment them but he just can’t deal with this. He can’t sit here talking to mer siblings like it’s normal and so he scrambles to his feet.

“I'm sorry. It was good to meet you – re-meet you? – but I need to go,” the teen says, waving vaguely toward the shore. Then he starts backing away slowly, stammering more apologies with every step he takes.

“Will you return?” Fuuma calls after him and the mer looks so hopeful that Kamui finds himself pausing on the beach.

“Tomorrow?” he asks, the word just slipping out. But he can't regret the offer when both merfolk nod and smile brilliantly. Kamui knows he's blushing – they're just so damn attractive – and he stammers out, “This time tomorrow,” before fleeing from the scene.

Kamui is halfway up the path before he dares to look back and by then Fuuma and Kotori have both disappeared. He spends most of the evening trying to believe that he's not insane, telling himself that he probably just dreamed the whole encounter. Merfolk can’t be real and there's no way that some old woman actually wiped his memories. He just needs a hobby, one that keeps him far too busy for these crazy fantasies.

But Kamui wants it to be real. He wants to believe in magic and the friends that he once had. He wants there to be another world hidden beneath the waves.

The young man sleeps fitfully, not sure whether he's dreaming or reliving memories. He's distracted the next day at work and he's lucky that his boss is so easygoing; Mr. Arisugawa just offers him more training when he manages to screw up his fifth transaction before noon. The man even lets him leave a little early when he says he’s feeling ill and Kamui is too grateful to feel guilty for the lie.

The teen goes home to change and then rushes to the beach as usual. He's hoping that he'll see them, hoping it was real. But all he hears is waves as he climbs down to the water. All he sees is fish when he looks into the ocean and he sinks down on the rocks as crushing disappointment washes over him. Maybe his classmates were right and he’s just a bastard freak, so lonely he has to imagine friends to have any company.

Kamui wraps his arms around his legs and buries his face against his knees, not sure whether he wants to laugh or cry at his own foolishness. He loses track of time as he sits there wallowing and he's just starting to get chilly when he feels a soft touch on his arm,

The young man raises his head and his heart leaps when he sees two worried faces staring back at him. It’s Fuuma and Kotori. They’re here. Both of them have come back and they look the same as yesterday. They look like fucking merfolk and Kamui decides that he doesn’t care if this is possible. The only thing he cares about is that it's happening.

“Are you all right?” Kotori asks and Kamui nods emphatically.

“Don't worry; I'm fantastic,” the teen says. “Tell me about your day. Just tell me everything.”

---
---

Kamui continues to spend every free moment by the ocean, much as he did before. But now he's not alone. He suddenly has friends again, people who smile when they see him and listen when he talks. Fuuma and Kotori are as sweet as he remembers. The mers are adventurous and interesting, playful and oddly funny, and they seem to care about him though he doesn’t know quite why. Kamui can’t bring himself to ask them; he doesn’t want to lose this happiness. Because he is happy like he hasn’t been in years and he finds himself smiling even when they’re not around.

Indeed, the whole world seems brighter than it used to, his sorrows chased away by the thought of his companions and the way their faces light up when they see him on the shore.

For the first few weeks, that's where he stays. Shirahama is going through a cold snap and the water is too icy to do more than dip his feet in for a few minutes at a time. So the young man sits there on the rocks, trading stories with Fuuma and Kotori until the sun sinks down again. They talk about what they've done in the years since their last meeting and the more he hears about the merfolk’s lives, the more Kamui wishes that he could share that world with them. He wants to see the ocean like his friends do, explore the deepest waters and dance upon the tides.

Although their rekindled friendship has helped to ease his loneliness, it hasn’t stopped the longing in his heart. If anything, meeting Fuuma and Kotori again has only made the young man’s yearning stronger and leaving them each evening seems to get harder every time. Because he feels different with the mers. He feels like a real person instead of a pale shadow and he thinks that he could tell them anything.

It's tempting – so very tempting – to simply spill his heart out but Kamui's deepest secrets reek too much of desperation. Maybe in the future he’ll have the courage to tell the siblings just how much they matter to him. Maybe when he’s not afraid they'll disappear if he puts one foot wrong.

For now Kamui lives each moment thankful that he has it until it’s finally warm enough for him to brave the water. Then he throws on his swimsuit and joins his friends beneath the ocean the way that he’s been dying to.

The trio swims and talks for hours, dodging boats and fishes as they float upon the sea. Kamui loves it out here; he loves swimming until he's soaked with salt and his skin grows wrinkled, his heart spilling over with sun-drenched happiness. With the merfolk at his side, the teen need not fear drowning; Fuuma and Kotori are always there to support him when he needs to rest and Kamui has never felt safer than when he’s cradled in the ocean and their arms.

And yet, even though these moments fill him with delight, he finds they hurt as well. His heart aches to see the siblings in their natural element, cutting through the water with a skill that takes his breath away. The young man feels awkward in comparison, his legs kicking futilely as he struggles to keep up. His friends don't mind his flailing, not so far as he can tell, but that only makes it worse. Because whenever one of the mers grabs onto his hand with a quicksilver smile, there are things he can't deny. Like the fact that both his friends are too attractive for Kamui's peace of mind.

At first glance, Kotori seems delicate and fragile, her golden hair floating around her like a halo when she ducks beneath the sea. But there's strength in that slim body and wisdom in her eyes. Sometimes she looks at him as though she can see inside his mind and the thought would terrify him if she didn't always hug him afterward.

The teen leans into her touch, warm and comforting, though her diaphanous top is cool against his skin. Kamui isn't sure exactly what it's made of, too soft and transparent to be any fabric that he knows of, and when he'd asked Kotori, she'd let out a sharp trill that did not translate. However, whatever the shirt is made of, he's truly grateful for it. He would probably die of embarrassment if she swam around half-naked the way her brother does.

Fuuma alone is almost more than he can handle, all that naked skin a siren's call that he struggles to resist. Kamui doesn't want to tell his friends about this – his preferences are just one more thing that he's too used to hiding – but for all Kotori's beauty, there's no heat behind his gaze. Her hugs don't make him shiver the way that Fuuma's do.

Indeed, the young man’s first stunned attraction hasn't lessened. If anything, it’s gotten stronger as he’s discovered the person that his old friend grew up to be. Everything about Fuuma makes him ache with longing: the mer's kindness, his humor, his confidence and skill. He makes Kamui feel treasured even though they’re only friends and the teen feels a little guilty about his fantasies.

He doesn't want Fuuma to ever be uncomfortable around him – anything but that – and yet he burns to touch the merman anyway. Kamui wants to feel those shining scales beneath his hands, to stroke his fingers over Fuuma's back, and wrap both arms around his waist. Kamui wants to know if the merman's fins are as soft as they appear when fanned out in the water like dark satin streaked with gold. But most of all, Kamui wants to kiss him and every time they say goodbye, it gets harder not to ask.

---

“Shirou? Are you all right?”

The question pulls Kamui from his thoughts and he finds his manager looking at him worriedly. The young man’s daydreams have been particularly bad this morning; he's given three people the wrong change in the last hour and even Mr. Arisugawa might fire him for that. Honestly, he almost wants to quit so he can run back to the ocean but he knows he can't afford it so he pulls himself together as best he can.

“Sorry, sir. I'll be more focused in the future,” Kamui apologizes, giving him a formal bow. “Please don’t let me go.”

“Relax, will you? You make me feel like a grandpa when you talk like that,” his boss replies, waving off his concern. “Everyone has bad days and I'm hardly going to fire you unless you make a habit of it. Honestly, you're one of my best workers and I’d like to keep you on. However, my cousin gave me the impression that you had other plans for the future and he called last night to tell me that he has an opening.”

“Oh, right,” Kamui mumbles, taken by surprise. He’d pretty much forgotten his original ambition, too caught up in the ocean and his friends to think about another job. The teen probably should take Mr. Kigai's offer; it’s the first step toward a real career instead of passing time. And yet, if Kamui's being honest, he’d mostly wanted a hotel job to stay close to the ocean and working at this 7-11 is enough to pay his bills.

So the young man opens his mouth to say he'll stay forever, but the words catch in his throat. Kamui can't truly mean to spend his whole life caught in limbo, wasting away the years until the merfolk tire of him and he's left with naught but painful memories.

That's what his mother was afraid of, he realizes suddenly. That must be why she tried so hard to break the ocean's grip. Because Kamui will never be part of his friends' world, not really, and it's no kind of life with his heart split in two. And yet…. he thinks it might be worth it anyway.

Of course, Mr. Arisugawa is still waiting for an answer and the young man finally stammers, “Can I have some time to think?”

Kamui had been quiet much too long for courtesy but his boss just claps him on the shoulder and answers cheerfully, “Take all the time you need and remember, I'm always happy to listen if you find you want advice. Why don't you take the rest of the day off so you can weigh your options properly?”

“Thank you,” the teen mutters a little awkwardly. Kamui appreciates the offer but at the same time, he knows that he must seem real hopeless to get pity from the king of optimism. He wishes he could believe that things would just work out. But he doesn’t. Kamui needs to make a decision based on facts instead of dreaming and he’s still feeling unsettled a few hours later when he goes to meet his friends. Even when he slips into the water, part of his mind is far away.

“Kamui, are you all right?” Fuuma asks in an unconscious echo and the young man blushes when he realizes that he drifted off again.

“Don't worry. I'm okay.”

“Are you sure? You seem distracted and if you have other plans or errands, you know we'd understand. It's not as though we don't have our own responsibilities.”

His friends have spoken of this before, of the spells that Kotori casts to keep her people hidden and the hunts that Fuuma leads to keep that same clan fed. Despite the years they waited, there's more to their lives than Kamui and for a moment he truly wishes that he could say the same.

But then his friend continues, “We would miss you, but we'd manage,” his face the picture of dejection and the teen finds himself promising, “There's nowhere else I'd rather be.”

Kamui is rewarded with another glowing smile and he can't regret the reassurance. Fuuma and Kotori have him wrapped around their fingers and it's probably unhealthy, but the young man simply doesn't have the strength to pull away.

“I just wish that I could see your home,” he admits, leaning a little closer to the merman like a flower toward the sun. He's not sure where he found the courage for this sudden honesty, but the words slip from him helplessly. “You've told me so much about your world but I know I’ll never see it and I’m afraid I'll spend my whole life pining for that dream.”

“I know the feeling,” Fuuma tells him and those gold eyes seem strangely sad. Kamui almost thinks he’s not the only one who's pining, but no, that's foolishness. So the young man laughs it off as best he can.

“Like I said, I’ll be all right. I know it's impossible.”

“It doesn't have to be.”

Kamui jumps when Kotori pops out of the ocean right beside him. He overbalances and nearly topples back into the water until Fuuma grabs him around the waist, a touch that does nothing to calm his pounding heart.

“What do you mean?” he stammers.

“I could cast a spell if you are willing,” the mermaid tells him as she pulls herself onto the rocks. “My magic can shift your form, from human into mer, and you would have from dawn to dusk until you changed back again.”

“You can do that? Why didn't you say anything before?” the young man asks, thinking of all the months he's wasted.

“She didn't tell me either,” Fuuma tells him with a frown.

“I only dreamed it recently,” Kotori answers. Her smile is serene despite their questions and Kamui feels a spark of hope ignite inside his chest.

“So you’re sure this spell would work? You can truly change my form?”

“I would not have told you otherwise,” she replies. “I will need a few days to gather the components and make my preparations. But then you'll have the chance to swim with fins just like I've dreamed.”

“Please, yes, that would be amazing,” Kamui says fervently. “Can I do anything to help?”

“There is no need. The sea provides,” Kotori tells him gently, leaning in to kiss him on the cheek before she slips back into the water. “Three dawns from now when the moon first turns. The time will aid my magic and the stars will give us light.”

He does some quick mental calculations, “So that's… Sunday? That should work. I have the weekend off.”

Kamui still doesn’t entirely believe that this is possible. But he wants to. So he doesn't dare to question the mermaid any further just in case that breaks the dream.

“Come, brother,” Kotori calls from the ocean. “If we are to do this, I need you to catch a sail-fin before the red sun sets.”

“Looks like I'm being summoned,” Fuuma murmurs to Kamui, letting him go reluctantly. He hesitates briefly before kissing the young man's cheek just like his sister did. Then the merman flips back into the water, leaving Kamui staring thunderstruck after him. He knows he's blushing as he presses his fingers to his cheek but that doesn't stop the smile on his lips and he walks back home with a spring in his steps.

Indeed, Kamui floats through work the next day, his most annoying customers greeted cheerfully. Even Mrs. Sagamoto who never has the right change and always tries to get a discount can't bring his mood back down.

Mr. Arisugawa – “Seriously, kid, Sorata; I'm not even thirty yet.” – is glad to see him feeling better, though Kamui is thankful that he doesn't press for an answer about the job. The teen can't think about that, not with the hope of truly swimming buzzing beneath his skin. Kotori's spell will make the difference. If her magic works as promised then Kamui knows he's staying; he can’t guarantee another job would let him swim as much as this.

The young man wants to know everything about this ritual, but Kotori isn't waiting with her brother when he gets to the beach that afternoon. Indeed, Fuuma just laughs when Kamui tries to wheedle more information out of him.

“I am not a sea witch. I catch what she says to catch and then I stay out of her way,” the merman tells him, leaning in to be heard above the waves. “However, Kotori would not have promised if she couldn’t do it and I have never seen my sister's magic fail. I think you were born a changeling from the ocean; there is water in your heart and I am looking forward to seeing you in your proper form.”

“I hope you're right,” Kamui murmurs as his friend's words whisper across his skin.

“I am. You will be beautiful,” Fuuma says, reaching out to cup the young man’s cheek. His fingers are cool and Kamui leans into the touch, enjoying this private moment before the mer pulls him into the water. His friend has been more tactile lately, brushing the teen’s shoulders and wrapping those muscled arms around his waist. There's always reason for it – a rough wave, a chance to rest – but without Kotori's presence, it feels far more intimate.

Honestly, while he adores the mermaid, the teen is glad for this time alone with Fuuma. It feels like they're dancing closer every day, teasing touches and heated glances balancing on the edge of a confession. But even if his friend might share his feelings, Kamui isn’t ready to take that final step. He's just got too much lose.

Indeed, the young man's nerves wind tighter and tighter as the ritual date draws closer and when he walks to the beach on Saturday, he doesn't think he's ever been more nervous in his life. He's afraid the spell won't work and afraid it will, his stomach so full of butterflies that he couldn't eat his breakfast, and he hunches into his coat to fight the pre-dawn chill.

The mers are already waiting when Kamui reaches the ocean and as he gets closer, he realizes that Kotori is dressed more formally than he's ever seen before. Instead of her usual diaphanous top, the mermaid is wearing an intricate garment made from a thousand tiny seashells, different colors grouped together to form a crashing wave. More shells and strings of pearls are braided through her hair and an enormous shining jewel anchors a platinum circlet around her head.

She looks truly otherworldly and Kamui pauses for a second. But Kotori's smile is the same when she beckons the teen forward and Fuuma holds out a hand to help him move to the water's edge.

“Hello, Kamui,” Kotori says, her voice echoing with the sound of crashing waves. “The spell is nearly finished.”

She holds out a shell that's full of silver liquid, glowing faintly as though she's caught the moonlight in her hands. “A drop of blood for willingness is all that I still need.”

Kotori signals to her brother and Fuuma lifts a dagger from the sea. It has a strange serpentine blade and a carved bone handle, more like an art piece than a weapon, but the tip glints sharply in the coming light of dawn. Kamui gulps when his friends look at him expectantly; she never said he'd have to bleed.

But the young man doesn't hesitate for long. His desire for the ocean is stronger than his fear and his friends have worked so hard to give him this opportunity. So he reaches out to take the dagger, Fuuma's hopeful smile bolstering his courage as he wraps his fingers around the hilt.

“Just one drop?” Kamui asks, his voice only shaking slightly.

“Just one,” Kotori promises.

The teen takes a deep breath and then pricks his finger quickly before he can change his mind. The dagger is so sharp that he barely feels the wound but the sight of his own blood makes him a little queasy. Thankfully Fuuma is there to support him when his knees begin to shake. The merman takes the dagger and sets it aside before reaching out to grab Kamui's wrist. He holds the young man steady as Kotori lifts her shell beneath his hand.

She catches the first drop of blood and then Fuuma is wrapping a damp strip of cloth around Kamui's finger. The salt water stings a bit, but the teen barely notices, not when the mixture in the mermaid's shell is glowing brighter. The light seems to pulse in rhythm with his heartbeat as Kotori begins to chant in her own language. Every word rings with power and Kamui feels as though the whole world is holding its breath to see what happens next. Or perhaps that's simply him since the young man is beginning to feel lightheaded by the time she finishes.

A bright flash nearly blinds him as Kotori speaks the final word, a sharp trilling sound that echoes through his bones. Kamui blinks the spots out of his vision and for one split-second he thinks that nothing happened, a bitter wave of disappointment washing over him.

But then his hands grow warm and when he looks down, a shimmering blue glow is spreading across his fingertips.

“Quickly, into the water,” Fuuma tells him and Kamui is too excited to be self-conscious as he strips down to his skin. The light has almost covered his entire body when he slips into the sea, Fuuma's strong grip keeping his head above the surf. Kamui can feel the spell building and building until its power finally peaks. A surge of heat rushes through him and the teen shuts his eyes, sinking beneath the surface as the merman lets him go.

When Kamui opens his eyes, the ocean is all around him and yet he's breathing easily. The realization makes him cough and choke as his brain says he should be drowning, but he keeps inhaling until his body catches up.

Kamui can't believe that this is happening – that Kotori's magic worked – but he can't deny the truth before his eyes. When he finally looks down at his own body, he sees the tail that he's been dreaming of suddenly made real. It is sleek and muscular, scales shading gradually from blue to a deep purple at the fins. It should look unnatural. It should feel unnatural, but it doesn't.

The young man feels a sense of rightness, as though something deep inside him has snapped into place. Kamui knows now that this is the person he was always meant to be and he spends the next few minutes just examining his form.

There are more fins trailing down his forearms, these a lighter shade of purple, and they catch against the water when he moves his arms. He can feel the strength in his new body and he thinks he might be crying, his heart so full of happiness.

“Are you pleased?” a soft voice asks and Kamui moves to hug Kotori without thinking.

Thank you,” he murmurs. “Thank you so much.”

He squeezes her tightly one last time and then turns to look for Fuuma. His heart is in his throat again, joy and insecurity fighting in his chest.

I hope he doesn't hate it, Kamui thinks before the sight of the other merman just sweeps his thoughts away. Fuuma had been handsome enough above the water – moving awkwardly across the rocks or sitting by the sea. But here in his own element, he's truly beautiful.

Here in the ocean, Kamui sees every detail. The warm gold eyes and burnished scales, deep blue fins moving slowly in the currents as he keeps himself in place. Fuuma is strong and confident, considerate and gorgeous, and Kamui truly loves him. He loves his friend as deeply as he's always loved the ocean and he wishes that the merman felt the same.

The thought has barely crossed his mind, a fleeting desperate want, when every fin on his body suddenly fans out. He doesn't do it consciously; he's not even sure what happened, this new form reacting out of his control.

Notice me, notice me, notice me, the display seems to whisper through the water and he learns that merfolk can still blush when he meets Fuuma's gaze. But the other mer is looking back with delight and dawning hunger and Kamui can't look away.

“I told you that he liked you, brother,” Kotori chuckles. “You should have trusted me.”

“Quiet, sister,” Fuuma answers, his eyes still on Kamui. Then his fins dance through the water in an intricate display that make the new mer's body sing with understanding.

“I hoped you felt the same,” the other merman murmurs, swimming close enough that Kamui feels the vibration on his skin and he shivers when his friend reaches out to touch his cheek. “But I wasn't sure how humans show their interest. I couldn't be sure and I couldn't bear to lose you on the chance that I was wrong.”

“You wouldn't have,” Kamui chokes out and Fuuma's smile grows.

“No, I suppose not. You're too good a friend for that,” he says. “If I'm being honest, I was mostly just afraid. But like this…. You're so beautiful, Kamui. You always were. Please tell me that you mean it.”

“Yes,” he answers instantly before surging forward to kiss Fuuma. He's never kissed anyone before and his inexperience is obvious as their noses knock together. But the mer doesn't laugh. Fuuma just lets out a low moan and takes control of the kiss, tilting Kamui's head to a better angle and then leaning in again.

His lips are soft, gentle but demanding as he pulls the merman closer. One hand strokes down his back and the touch of skin on skin makes Kamui groan. Fuuma swallows the sound, reeling him in until they're pressed together chest to chest.

Kamui wraps his arms around the merman's neck and melts against him, not even trying to control the kiss again. Fuuma seems determined to map his mouth completely and his body burns hotter every time that their lips meet. The merman covers him with kisses, some slow, some quick, some hungry, cradling Kamui like a treasure the whole time.

He's so warm, so damn kind, and Kamui can't help flushing deeper at his quiet praises, grateful for the coolness of the water against his heated skin. He feels breathless, the gills on his neck flaring for extra oxygen.

Kamui gets a little bolder then, allowing his hands to wander over the merman's shoulders and lightly stroke his fins. He's wanted to do this for so long. Wanted to touch Fuuma with more than friendly gratitude. And now he can. Now he can explore and admire instead of trying not to stare and the merman gives a low rumble of approval when fingers stroke across his gills. Kamui would happily stay right here forever and he thinks that Fuuma feels the same. Indeed, both of them startle when Kotori clears her throat; to be honest, he'd forgotten she was there.

“Sorry, Kotori,” Fuuma says, sounding a little sheepish. The merman pulls back slightly so they’re no longer pressed together and Kamui can't stop the mewl of disappointment that rises from his throat. But his friend just twines their hands together, giving him an adoring smile before apologizing to his sister one more time.

“Don't be silly, I think it's rather cute,” the mermaid laughs. “But my spell will only last till sundown and I'd prefer you do this somewhere safe.”

“You have a point. I don't want interruptions,” her brother says and his tone makes Kamui flush again. He has a feeling he'll be doing that a lot but he doesn’t mind. Not with the pure unbridled happiness that's lighting up his heart right now.

“Why don't you show me a good place then?” Kamui says and he's rewarded with another blinding grin.

“Darling, I'm going to show you the whole world.”


Part 2