Actions

Work Header

How to Impress a Merman

Chapter Text

Chapter 1: Trevor

It was a strange day, unseasonably cool for August, the island encompassed by fog. Link had been cleaning out a beach house for renovation; it was his new vacation home on the island and had belonged to his dad, who lived on the mainland right next to the island. It would be nice to have his own place to stay when he visited over the holidays.

Needless to say, he was surprised to see a strange, very tall man, water dripping from his golden beard, near the tool shed when he stepped out of his car late on this damp evening.

The man shivered, hunched over in nothing but a damp, sandy towel. Link thought he must be nuts to approach a strange man hiding behind a beach shack, but something about the guy compelled him. He seemed lost and vulnerable, not dangerous.

“Hey, are you… lost? Can I help you find someplace?” Link asked, wondering if he should ask if the man needed some clothes. He wondered if there was a nude beach around… or if there was some other reason this man might have lost his swim shorts and everything else but a towel.

“I do seem to have lost my way,” the man's voice wavered, but somehow there was an air of nobility in it. He turned away from Link and coughed. “Where is Florida from here?”

“Uhhhhh, that way?” Link pointed south down the beach, “but it’s really far from here. Like over 500 miles far. Are you sure that’s where you’re supposed to be? Did you just wash up here or something?” He chuckled, trying to put the man at ease with what was hopefully just a joke.

“You could say that… I don’t know what happened. The storm must have thrown me way off course.”

“You mean the hurricane last week? Have you been lost since then?” Was that even possible? What had this man been doing all that while?

“I’ve been lost for a long time… Is this your place? What is the name of it?”

“This is my vacation home, yes. We’re in Myrtle Beach, if that’s what you mean. Listen, do you need to warm up? I can help you out a bit, let you borrow some clothes, get you something to eat, heck I’ll even call you a Lyft if you’ve got somewhere to go nearby…” He really wanted to do everything he could to help this man. He just felt it was the right thing to do.

“It is very cold here in Myrtle Beach. It is not like where I am from at all.” He started following Link, who had gently taken his elbow to guide him into the house.

“Oh, really? Where are you from?” Link asked eagerly. For some reason, he couldn’t wait to find out. This guy intrigued him.

“I was born in Atlant--” The guy suddenly stopped in his tracks, causing Link to bump into him.

“Atlanta? Yeah, it is a bit warmer there, I guess.” Not by much, though, Link thought. It might be a few degrees warmer on an average day, perhaps. But then, today was not an average day… Cool air had pushed the tropical storm out to sea, saving the Atlantic coast the damage of a full-blown hurricane, and leaving it a balmy and breezy 70 degrees instead of the usual 90-100 degree temperatures it tended to reach in summer in his home of the Carolinas.

“Oh, yes, Atlanta,” Rhett quickly lied to cover his tracks, “but I’ve been living much farther south than that. In the Caribbean. It is warm every day there. The water is a lot warmer, too.”

“Ha, I don’t doubt that,” Link laughed. He’d love to hear more about what it was like living in the Caribbean. Maybe he could have the guy stick around a little while… He seemed like he had an interesting story. Plus, he loved hearing his strange, accented voice.

They headed up the steps to the stilted beach house, Link noting the peeling white paint on the railings. Yet another project. Once inside, he turned to assess the man he’d brought in. He was tracking sand in, and as Link drew his gaze up from the floor, he saw more sand on the man’s knees, his towel, his broad chest, even in his beard. Then he realized he hadn’t asked the man’s name yet.

“Oh, let me introduce myself. I’m Link. What’s your name?” He held his hand out to shake.

The man grasped his hand tightly, but looked unsure for a moment. “Ahem. You can call me…” He looked around for a moment, wide-eyed, like he was wracking his brain. “Trevor.”

“Oookay, Trevor…” Link replied with a hint of suspicion. Had the guy forgotten his own name? “Nice to meet you. Why don’t you head down the hall to the right. You can shower if you like, and I’ll bring you some clothes.”

“I’d really like a bath, if that’s alright.”

“Of course. Feel free to use anything in there. There are clean towels in the cabinet next to the tub. I’ll make some sandwiches while you’re in there, so you can come out and eat whenever you’re ready.”

Link set about getting a shirt, shorts, and a pair of flip flops for the man. The man might need underwear, too, but that was a little bit awkward, sharing underwear, even if it was a nearly-new pair of boxers. Oh well, Link thought, and added them to the pile anyway. The guy could always put them aside if the thought bothered him. Link was always doing awkward stuff, anyway, so he might as well start early. “Early? It’s not like he’s staying…” Link thought. He was starting to think he really wouldn’t mind, though. There was something about this guy…

When Link knocked at the door to bring the clothes in, he heard some intense splashing and it sounded like several things were knocked off the shelves in the bath.

“Oh, sh-- just a second, I locked it!”

More sloshing. Must be those long legs, Link thought.

It took a lot longer than Link anticipated, but finally Trevor’s head peeked from behind the door, and he held his arm out for the clothes.

“Thanks a lot, man. I don’t know how much longer I could get away without wearing any clothes. I, uhh… lost mine. It’s a long story.” He closed the door and Link heard the lock click again.

“I’d love to hear your story over lunch!” Link half-shouted through the door, but was met with silence, which made him feel awkward again, so he headed to the kitchen to make those sandwiches he mentioned. Two roast beef and two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches… and he pulled out a bag of chips and a few other snacks, since the guy was probably really hungry.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

“Trevor” was wracking his brain for a story, since this Link seemed so keen on hearing it. He really liked Link. Link was unusually nice, for a human. Everyone else he had seen on the beach had avoided him, giving him weird looks. He knew it was weird that he was wandering around in a stolen beach towel and nothing else, at least in a place like this where nude beaches weren’t a thing.

Was it smarter to pretend he had just been on the beach and had his own clothes stolen, and lost his trunks while swimming? Or would Link believe he had been in a shipwreck and washed up on the beach? There weren’t any reported shipwrecks that he knew of in the area. But then, the dolphins hadn’t been very reliable reporters this far north. They always seemed a little lost, like him.

He had been trying to get to Florida, that much was true… but he knew his story fell apart when he would try to explain how he swam so far past it. Link certainly wouldn’t believe the “swam” part. He guessed he would just have to leave some parts of his story up to Link’s imagination, and get out of there as quick as he could figure out how to. The water was far too cold to get back in… nothing like the tropical waters he was used to.

He pulled on the clothes Link had given him, noticing how they were carefully folded, and how both the t-shirt and shorts were nicer than the ones Link himself had been wearing. How kind, to give away his nice things to a stranger.

He made his way back to the kitchen and sat down to eat the sandwiches, also tidily prepared. Trevor lifted up a corner to peek at the insides of the roast beef sandwich, seeing some lettuce and sauces atop what he knew to be meat of some kind of land animal.

“Sorry, I don’t have any tomatoes for the sandwiches. I don’t like them.” Link told Trevor.

“I don’t mind. They look nice,” he said as he picked one up and took a big bite. “Tastes nice, too. Thank you.”

Link smiled at the polite stranger, and Trevor almost melted at the sight of his wide grin. What a beautiful human he had encountered. He had met many of them, and it was rare to find one that looked this good and had a heart that matched.

“So please, tell me what you remember about how you got here,” Link gently prodded.

Trevor considered the tale he had prepared in the bath. “Well, I took my boat sailing off the coast of Georgia, and was headed to Florida…”

“You sail solo? That’s really brave. I’d love to learn to sail, but I think I’d rather do it with a friend,” Link was already entranced by Trevor’s story, giddy to learn more about someone with such an interesting life as a solo sailor.

“Yeah, but I capsized in the storm. I should have paid more attention to the weather signs… er, reports. I don’t remember what happened after that until I woke up naked a few miles from here. Then I had to wait out in the cold water until I saw someone leave their towel on an empty stretch of beach long enough for me to grab it. Embarrassing,” Trevor munched at his sandwich hungrily. He did this head-shake thing to stuff more into his mouth that made Link giggle, “and cold. I feel like I was out there for days.” No exaggeration. He had actually been swimming north to Florida, and it had taken him more like a few weeks than a few days. He had totally missed the tip of the continent, though. Damn dolphins.

“That’s a really long way for you to have been carried by the current, but I guess stranger things have happened.” There was a long, awkward pause. “Ahem… speaking of Stranger Things, have you seen the new season?”

“Ah, no, I do not watch much television. I spend most of my time outdoors,” Trevor was fairly used to answering this kind of question. He spent a lot of time around humans, and was proud of his conversational evasion techniques. However, he was really happy whenever he could say something honest to Link. He really DID spend most of his time outdoors. And he loved seeing that smile. He’d have to do that head-shake thing again.

 

“So, uhh… it’s been really nice getting to know you. I guess we should figure out arrangements for you to get back to where you need to be, now?” Link hesitated, knowing the man’s situation was precarious, without money or a phone, and he didn’t want to just dump him off somewhere to be homeless. Nor could he afford to put the guy up in a hotel for an extended period of time. Or at least, he didn’t want to do that, whether he could afford it or not. But he wasn’t sure if he didn’t want to out of his usual frugality or if it was because he really wanted the guy to stay…

“Ah, yeah, about that,” Trevor leaned forward and ran his fingers through the back of his hair. “I’ve really got nothing, and I don’t know of anyone to call. I used to have family in Georgia but… my grandma just passed and I had only been there to collect the items I inherited. They’re all gone, now, of course. Bottom of the Atlantic. Everyone else I know these days is back in the Caribbean.”

“Okay, well, we’ll figure something out! I feel really bad now, you’ve been through a whole lot. Is it weird for me to ask you to stay here tonight? I don’t know how I feel about putting you up in a hotel, and I definitely don’t want to leave you hanging. You seem like a nice guy. I don’t think you’ll murder me in my sleep, will you?”

“Haha, no, of course not! But a murderer would say that, too…” Trevor winked his murky green eye at Link. They were making each other laugh a lot, and it felt good. Natural, even.

“Okay, I’ll definitely put you up at least for the night. Then we can figure out where to go from there. You surely need your rest, so I’ll make sure both bedrooms are made up. I hadn’t actually been in, yet, so the place has been sitting here for a month, at least. Like I said, it was my dad’s, and this is the first time I’m visiting it as my own place.”

Link spent the next few hours washing and drying linens and making up the beds, and in between cycles, chatting and joking with Trevor. Link wanted him to relax, so he offered him beer and showed him around the little house. It had two bedrooms, each with their own bathroom. One of the bathrooms was open to the hall, and there was a spiral staircase to an open loft above with two more beds, so a sizeable family could stay on holiday. Down another spiral staircase there was a tiny room on the ground floor, which was completely filled by a massive hot tub, and a tiny third bathroom.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Trevor had only ever heard of hot tubs before and never seen one, so he was afraid his excitement at seeing it would be too obvious, but he managed to keep it in. When Link asked him if he wanted to try it out, he said he’d just fall asleep if he went in, so he’d better just go to bed. Link agreed that was a good idea, and spent a little time watching Netflix on his laptop in his own bed before he, too, nodded off to sleep.

Early the next morning, Trevor tiptoed down to the hot tub and turned it on, hoping the noise wouldn’t wake Link. There was no lock on the door, so he’d have to be quick to get out once Link woke up. He turned the jets off so it wouldn’t be noisy, but relaxed and let his tail out until he heard Link’s footsteps above. He just managed to slip out and into a towel as he heard Link coming down the stairs.

“Oh, you don’t have to get out! It’s fine, I’m glad you’re making use of it. I just don’t know, it might need maintenance or cleaning, I haven’t really thoroughly checked it out yet. Anyway, I’m going to make us some breakfast. I hope you like scrambled eggs and cereal, because that’s about all I can make.”

Trevor was relieved Link wasn’t mad at him for using the hot tub without permission. “Thanks. I like all food, so I’m sure whatever you make will be delicious.”

During breakfast, they discussed ways to get Trevor back on his feet, but they couldn’t come up with anything that didn’t involve Link spending money to get Trevor a cell phone so he could contact someone back home to help. “I would owe you big time.”

Link suddenly looked like he had an idea. “Maybe, to begin with, you could help me paint.”

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

Link cleaned up breakfast, then went out to the deck only to find Trevor facing the ocean with his head in his hands, looking distressed. He gently placed a hand on Trevor’s shoulder to get his attention, and the look on his face sent a pang through Link's heart.

“Is something wrong? You can tell me.... I like hearing what you’re thinking.”

“Well, it’s just… I feel like I have nowhere to go. To be honest, I didn’t plan on going home, and I didn’t really have any plans once I reached Florida. Just to rent a place near a beach, try to find some odd jobs… I’m not getting along with my family or anyone else back home, really. I broke up with my… significant other whom my parents did not approve of, so all my relationships are in shambles at the moment.” He sighed, looking forlorn.

“Oh, I feel ya. I went through that too, when I came out, but things are a lot better now,” Link patted Trevor on the shoulder.

“Wow, If I came out, that would be a whole new kettle of fish. I actually like all kinds of humans. That’s still kind of the problem, though. They didn’t approve of her for other reasons...” He seemed hesitant to elaborate.

“Thanks for trusting me with all that you have told me so far. Would you like to hear my story, too?”

Trevor’s expression turned to something more eager. “Absolutely!”

Link launched into the story of his first boyfriend in college, and how Link, too, identified as bi. Coming out to his mom, he was met with acceptance, but his dad had been another matter, with his ingrained homophobia. They were estranged for a while and Link had moved out to California with his now ex-boyfriend. They had gotten pretty serious and were thinking about marriage. He had visited home and told his parents this, and it turned out his dad had been doing some serious soul-searching and had a change of heart in the meantime.

Link was riding this wave of relief for a couple months when his boyfriend decided to call it quits, fearing he wasn’t ready for commitment since it had been his first real relationship. He had also said some hurtful things about Link being boring and lacking adventure in their relationship. Of course, this broke Link’s heart, but also lit a fire under him to put more energy into his hobbies, like surfing and mountain biking. He’d admit that he had always been one to put comfort before adventure, and maybe it was time to change that. He also decided to spend more time with his family and reconnect, but he had put down roots in California with his job as an engineer and could only take a week at a time to visit back in the Carolinas.

Trevor sat enraptured through the story, glad to hear how things had gotten better for Link, family-wise, but empathizing with the recent break-up.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Link had thanked him for trusting him, but Trevor was keeping so much hidden from him that he was starting to feel guilty. It was what broke his him and his girlfriend apart… the secrets and lies he had told to keep her from finding out what he really was. But this was just Link, a guy he had known for less than 24 hours. He shouldn’t feel guilty for not revealing everything about himself. Yet, somehow, he did…

“Link… there’s something I need to tell you. I-- well-- my real name’s not really Trevor!” He blurted, thinking how overdramatic he sounded when he was not really telling Link anything important.

“Haha, okay, what’s your real name then? Mine’s not really Link, that’s just my nickname. It’s actually Charles Lincoln Neal. The third. Ridiculous, right?”

“My name’s really Rhett. I don’t know why I lied and said Trevor, I actually hate that name. I guess I just wanted to start over with a new identity… but I feel like I can’t hide my past from you, ya know? I know this sounds strange coming from someone you just met, but there’s something about you that makes me want to tell you everything. You’re easy to open up to.” He smiled shyly as he said it.

“Yeah, I think I know exactly what you mean. You seem like a good buddy already. Like we’ve known each other for a long time, even though we’re just getting to know one another.”

Rhett was relieved Link didn’t think his outburst was too strange. “My last name’s McLaughlin, by the way. I’m from a long line of seafarers on my dad’s side. My mother… she’s from… the Caribbean. I guess I should be more specific. It’s an island chain south of Cuba.”

“Does it have a name?” Link seemed to realize Rhett was still dancing around the truth, and this was the most he had pried into his story so far.

“Well, it’s… complicated, there are lots of names for it, you know, lots of conquering nations renaming it all the time. But the locals call it…” Rhett wracked his brain for anything close to the truth that wouldn’t sound nuts. “Aquícola.”

“Doesn’t that mean underwater in Spanish?” Link answered casually, not seeming to find that suspicious at all.

“Yeah. Cool, huh? I guess it’s all those rising sea levels… half the place is underwater these days.” Nice one, Rhett, he thought. That seemed to go over smoothly for something he just threw out of his brain at the last second. Figuring he should quickly change the subject, he asked, “So you know Spanish?”

“Only a little. I took Spanish in high school. I was going to take French, but none of my friends were taking it,” Link smiled fondly. “The French teacher was pretty cute.”

They reminisced about school a little bit, and then decided to hop on over to a home improvement store for some paint and tools. The short ride in Link’s rental car was filled with more conversation and laughter. When they returned, they got to work, sanding down the railings and repainting them a nice, bright white. Just like Link’s smile, Rhett thought.

They soon were making each other giggle by flinging little bits of paint at one another and bantering about who was the better painter as they worked until the sun set.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

That evening, they figured out how to order Rhett a new credit card, and Rhett insisted on using Link’s phone to Paypal him back for spending the night…. And the subsequent nights they decided he would stay there until the card was sent. It would probably be no more than two. At first Link resisted, saying Rhett had paid him back by helping him paint.

“That was fun, though! It didn’t feel like work.” Rhett contended.

Link was already brainstorming ideas for Rhett to find work, either here in Myrtle or down in Florida, but more and more Rhett seemed hesitant to make Florida his home.

“What about California? Do you like living there? There are great beaches, right? Is the water warm?”

Link was enjoying this line of questioning as he saw Rhett perk up eagerly for his descriptions of the soft sandy beaches and big waves that he loved to surf. Well, paddleboard, really. But Rhett didn’t have to know that. He’d rather the guy thought of him as some accomplished surfer. Link had never really been a braggy guy but for some reason, he wanted to Rhett to have an impressive image of him.

“Do you have any work experience that you could make use of out there? It’s tough competition, between the tech industry and the showbiz industry.”

“Well, I… was something of a public figure back where I come from. My parents are big in politics, so I have some experience with that, and I was a musician of sorts. I can play a variety of string instruments.”

“Oh, can you play the guitar? My dad bought me one, as a sort of reconciliation gift, I suppose. Want to see it?” Link asked.

“Absolutely. I love the guitar.” Rhett followed him out to the car, where the guitar still sat in the trunk. Link pulled the case out and brought it inside.

“It’s beautiful! May I touch it?” Rhett asked, and when given the go-ahead, he ran his fingers gently down the black body of the guitar and fingered the strings, lifting carefully like it was a baby.

“Please play me something?” Link requested.

Rhett’s fingers slid gently along the strings and strummed with confidence, feeling out a melody that Link had never heard before.

“Did you write that yourself? I’ve never heard anything like it,” Link said when Rhett was done.

“Was writing it right then, brother,” Rhett replied.

Link was impressed. He didn’t know how to play yet, so the guitar had been a bit of an awkward gift, but he had been very moved by the gesture from his father and had accepted it gratefully. He planned on learning, to make the gift worthwhile, but also because he had a deep love for music. His father did know that much about him. He was always singing to his dad’s country albums as a teen.

“If it’s not too forward, would you mind teaching me a little bit, how to play?” Link asked Rhett, thinking he would be blessed to have such a talented teacher, even if it was just a single lesson. “I only know some basic chords and I’ve played about one song in entirety. I was lead singer in a little band years and years ago, and that’s my only experience.”

“You sing? I bet you have a beautiful voice. I would love to hear it,” Rhett surprised Link with his enthusiasm.

Link fiddled with the guitar for a while with Rhett’s instruction, guiding his fingers and surrounding him with his long arms. He was a very hands-on teacher, which Link was enjoying. By the end of the session, Link could play a new song. It was a folk-ish tune that Rhett thought would be easy, and when Rhett sang it for Link the second time as they played the guitar together, Link immediately began harmonizing.

“I was right. Beautiful. You have a good range and a good ear for harmony.” Rhett smiled.

Link beamed at the compliment. Rhett had found his love language, for Link always appreciated words of encouragement and affirmation. He was giddy that he had found a way to impress Rhett. Why did that make him feel so good?

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

Rhett, on the other hand, was torn. Here was this guy who was so kind and such a beautiful human to lend him so much help, and all he could do was lie to him, building more and more of a tangled web. His parents weren’t politicians, and he actually had no experience in such a thing, but how was he to explain that he was the prince of an underwater kingdom? Would this go on long enough for him to dig an even deeper hole of lies? He certainly hoped it would go on longer.

Were these feelings he had merely a rebound from his recent relationship? And could he ever be fully honest with anyone here on land? At this point, his only two options were utter loneliness as an excommunicated mer-fellow, or to find companionship in the humans he had so long loved and admired. He had taken every opportunity throughout his life to commune with the beautiful legged creatures, of which he was half.

Their two sets of legs were splattered with paint, so they went to their respective bathrooms to wash up. Rhett ran another bath, his dry skin drinking in the water and merging to form a glistening scale-covered tail once again. It was green and beautiful, but he had come to resent it and what it represented. However, he couldn’t go more than a day without seeing it again, or risk his legs burning painfully. Good thing humans liked bathing frequently, so it wouldn’t seem too strange, although he knew they generally preferred standing on their beautiful legs to shower. That wasn’t enough for him, though. He had to be immersed in warm water up to his waist, at least.

The first day, he had been excited to lounge secretly in the deep warm hot tub downstairs, but now he grew apprehensive that Link would ask him to join him in it if he stayed too long. How could he refuse such a delight? But it would completely out him as the fish he was. He had experienced the shame of being exposed inadvertently to a human once and was loath to feel it again.

Chapter Text

Link was dreaming of a long, golden body diving into the ocean, melding into the green-blue hue, when he awoke to a mighty crack of thunder. It was early the next morning, six o’clock, and there was just enough light to see by. He couldn’t sleep in thunderstorms. As a child, he had always been terrified of them and some of that fear still lingered. He made his way to the living room only to see Rhett coming out of his room in nothing but his boxer briefs. Link’s boxer briefs.

“Oh! Sorry,” Link said, shielding his face, but not before getting a glance of those endless legs in nothing but a scrap of tight fabric. Men in revealing shorts always made him feel funny, like he was seeing something he wasn’t supposed to see.

“Silly, you’ve seen me in nothing but a towel,” Rhett laughed. “I was awoken by the thunder. It sounded like something was hit nearby.”

“Yeah, I heard it, too. I have a love/hate relationship with thunderstorms. I was always scared of them growing up, but now they remind me of home… There are hardly any thunderstorms in L.A.”

“Ahh, speaking of L.A., when are you going back?” Rhett asked, eyebrows furrowed.

“After I visit my mother. The plan was to drive to see her in North Carolina tomorrow and spend the rest of the week with her and my Nana,” Link replied, smiling fondly at the mention of two of the most important people in his life.

“I guess I shall have to find new accommodations quickly then. I wouldn’t want to keep you from that.”

Link hated seeing the morose look on Rhett’s face and, if he was being honest with himself, he wanted to spend more time with Rhett. Who knew if they’d ever see each other again? Perhaps he should turn this into an opportunity.

“You could come with me? To my mother’s. Then we could both fly out of Raleigh-Durham airport. That is, if you intend to fly to Florida. I don’t know what your funds are like.” Link was hopeful Rhett was well off enough to fly, because taking a rental car to Florida sounded like an awful ordeal unless someone really liked driving. A bus? Even worse in Link’s opinion.

“Flying is not out of the question, but I’ve never flown before. It would be an adventure!” Rhett’s expression brightened.

And so it was decided. They would continue to work on the house for the remainder of the day and drive out the next morning.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Rhett pestered Link about what it was like to fly as they were working on fixing some door hinges and replacing old cabinets.

“Your knees will be scrunched up against the next seat. Tons of people crammed in there.”

“Sounds unpleasant, but what is it like to fly? What does it feel like? Do you feel the movement of the air, like ocean waves? Can you see the ocean from up there?”

“Sometimes there’s turbulence so bad it feels like you’re falling through space. I won’t see the ocean much on my trip, but you will! Sometimes there are incredible cloud formations. I like to sit by a window so I can rest my head and just sleep the whole way, though, so I don’t really see them.”

“I will stay awake. I want to see all of the clouds! And rivers and lakes, can you see them? And what do the people and cars look like from above? How high do you have to get before you can’t see them anymore?” He was like a child, giddy at the prospect of being with so many humans and seeing their cities and villages down below.

“You get too high to see them very quickly. Takeoff always makes my ears hurt, it happens so fast. I’ll give you some earplugs,” Link patiently explained.

“Sometimes when I dive really deep, it hurts my ears. Oh!” Rhett realized he had gotten too excited and could easily say too much. “I like to free dive sometimes,” he continued casually.

“Oh, that’s really cool! Can you tell me more about that?” Link perked up, no longer wrapped up in the negatives of flying. He was as eager to learn more about diving as Rhett was to know about flying.

Rhett carefully chose some stories about sea life he had seen, and tried to make it sound like he didn’t know that much about it. However, what he did tell Link seemed to impress him enough that Link suggested he should go into marine biology.

“Hmm… maybe. I haven’t planned to go back to school,” Rhett said, thinking of how his people didn’t really do degrees, and “school” was a term reserved for a group of fish, not an institution. Sure, they were taught, even about life on land, as thoroughly as anyone else, but there certainly was no paperwork to show for it! He would have to get a GED, which may be a requirement anyway if he was to get a job on land.

The money he had consisted of what he had earned selling things he found diving (which there was a lot of, and it was basically his life’s work) and busking on his guitar (which was now left behind in his family’s land-home), but mainly the inheritance passed down through his mother’s royal family, who had been rich with gold for centuries. Thankfully, they were not opposed to doing dealings on land, and as a result, much of it had been converted into savings in banks, and he had received his trust fund money long before being disowned. There would be no more inheritance coming now, though, so he really would need a real job of some sort.

Maybe then, he could be a real, proper human. Unfortunately, he still had a need for that warm salt water he had been born in.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

A blanket of warm humidity rolled in after the storm, reminding Link of past summers at home… it was now as it should be. They were soon sweating, clothes sticking to them, with no hope of evaporation to cool them.

“Now would be a perfect time to go swimming! Do you want to, Rhett?” Link asked, hopeful.

Rhett looked down at his feet, clenching and unclenching his hands. “Uh, no, I’m afraid not. Not feeling well,” he lied, wiping his brow overdramatically.

“Oh, no, you might have heat exhaustion or something! I’m sorry if I worked you too hard in this heat. Let me get you a cold drink and you lie down, okay?” Link rushed around, bringing Rhett a cold, wet cloth as well.

“You should probably take off your shirt,” Link said, blushing. Seeing the man shirtless just didn’t seem to get old. Am I crushing? Link thought to himself. It was rare for him to be like this, thinking about someone else’s body so much. He hadn’t since his break-up.

“This time you want it, huh?” Rhett smirked, then feigned a groan, remember he was supposed to be feeling ill.

Rhett complied, peeling off his (well, Link’s) damp tee slowly while Link drank in the shape of his hips, his soft belly, the ripple of muscles at his sides, the broad chest and finally that smooth underside of big biceps as the shirt came over his head. Yep, crushing, Link thought.

Link pulled out a big box fan from another room and pointed it in Rhett’s direction, then sat with him and cracked open his own drink can. “I’d say we could watch TV or something, but I think my dad canceled the cable out here. Netflix or something on my laptop, maybe?”

“I’d rather just talk some more,” Rhett said, smiling up at Link fondly. How could he look so fond when they only just met? The look alone was enough to make Link blush again.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

As they rested, the mail carrier came by, delivering Rhett’s credit card.

“Thank goodness! It’s here, Rhett,” Link called from the doorway. “Now I can take you into town and you can buy yourself a cell phone and some new clothes. Do you feel up to that, now?”

“Yeah, I’m feeling fine, now. Thanks, Link. You’re a wonderful nurse,” Rhett said with appreciation, even though the “nursing” wasn’t really necessary. He had still reveled in the attention. His nurse was quite a cutie, after all, especially when he went all pink and smiley.

The afternoon sun shone bright and hot through the shimmering air as they walked out to the car. Link had remembered to fill two large thermoses with water and Rhett was very grateful… his legs were already starting to itch, but drinking lots of water would keep it at bay, at least for a while.

The town was only a short drive away, over a bridge onto the mainland, where there was a mall with plenty of shops in which to compare cell phones and try on clothing. Rhett decided on several loud printed button-up shirts, one covered in sea birds, one in whales, one in an abstract floral pattern, a couple of pairs of chino shorts, and some slides. They stopped at a little boba stand before heading to another store to buy him basics like toiletries, underwear and a rolling bag to put it all in.

Rhett was fascinated with the boba, which he had never seen before, and insisted on sucking up every last tapioca bubble in his drink, and Link’s too.

“You can have mine. I don’t really like the bubbles anyway,” Link laughed. “I just like to drink the tea around the bubbles.”

Once they were done with all their shopping and had gotten back in the car, Link asked if Rhett would like to eat at a restaurant. It was something Rhett rarely got to do, so he jumped at the chance.

“Do you like ribs? There’s a great barbecue place here. I make it a point to know where all the best ones are.”

“I like the sound of ribs. Like these?” He reached over the cupholder and poked at Link’s side, tickling him a little. Link wiggled and giggled and Rhett could only think how cute he was.

“Yeah, like those!” Link responded by pinching Rhett back, and for a moment they were just tickling and laughing.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
They sat down in the restaurant, side-by-side so their long legs wouldn’t get entangled under the booth. It felt right that way. Soon they were stuffing their faces with the rich southern food (Rhett particularly doted on the beans), and Link had a little time to think while their mouths were both full.

Link was charmed by the way Rhett was amused by such innocent things. The boba, the minute details of the clothing he picked, everything about his phone (he ended up getting the flagship version because it was waterproof, of course), the airplane conversation from earlier…

“Wait,” he said after swallowing a mouthful of rib meat, “You said earlier that you’d never flown before. So how did you travel between the Caribbean and Georgia?”

Rhett suddenly shrank a little into his seat. “Umm, would you believe me if I said I sailed the whole way?” It sure was a lot more believable than swimming, at least.

“That’s really impressive. Now, I did see a documentary about a teenage girl who sailed around the world, so I guess it’s not unbelievable, but I still couldn’t imagine doing it. Kudos to you, man. But… what about your early life? You said you were born in Atlanta, but it sounds like you’ve lived primarily in the Caribbean for most of your life. You haven’t flown ever before?”

“Ah, well, I only lived there for a year. I would have been too young to remember flying, if we did,” Rhett lied smoothly. “I have been all around the Caribbean, the Gulf coast, from Brazil to Mexico, to Florida, everywhere in between. But no, I haven’t left those waters before.”

Link was satisfied with that answer, and he asked some more questions about what Rhett’s favorite places were along the coast. Having only been to Mexico once on a vacation, the whole area south of the border seemed to have an exotic mystique about it, to him. To think that to Rhett, it was mundane and this was the exotic place… Maybe that explained his fascination with all the little things. It was endearing, and becoming one of Link’s favorite things about him, he thought, as he listened to Rhett excitedly peruse the drink menu, asking him to describe each of the drinks.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

They headed back to the house, exhausted and with full bellies, and decided to call it an early night. They headed to their separate rooms, and Rhett spent some time on his new phone ordering plane tickets to Miami. He made sure to get the travel protection that said you could cancel… he still wasn’t sure Florida felt “right” to him.

Once an hour or so had passed and he thought for sure Link would be asleep, Rhett snuck down to the hot tub and lowered himself in with a huge sigh of relief. His body was so thirsty, and the warm water felt amazing on his scales. The only thing that would make it better was if it was saltwater. This was his one last chance to get to soak in this nice hot tub thingamajig. Only the thought of Link walking in on him kept him from relaxing completely.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

“Okay, Rhett, are you ready to get going?” Link called, knocking on Rhett’s door. Nothing. Huh. Link guessed he was still asleep, so he walked out into the living area, only to hear a frantic voice and lots of splashing coming from below.

“I’ll be right there!” Rhett yelled up the spiral staircase. He hurriedly dried his now well-hydrated legs and pulled on his shorts, running up the stairs shirtless, with water still dripping from his curly hair.

“Jeez, Rhett, did you sleep in the hot tub, or something? Could have asked me to join,” Link mumbled the last bit mainly to himself.

“Oh, sorry, I didn’t mean to… I just couldn’t sleep in the middle of the night, so I came down here to relax. I hope you don’t mind… I fell asleep.” He seemed very apologetic. “I’ll get ready quickly.” He ran into his room and started pulling on one of his new shirts.

“No big deal, it just surprised me. I don’t mean to rush you or anything… I’m just excited to see my family.”

Link realized he was watching Rhett dress, so he turned away and started busying himself bringing his bags to the door. He grinned slightly to himself this time when he thought about the sight of Rhett’s bare chest. He had a bit of a fixation growing, and maybe it was okay.

“Ready!” Rhett busted out of his room in his bird shirt, wheeling his luggage behind him.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

They were soon on the road, heading northwest to Harnett County, North Carolina, where Link had lived most of his life.

Rhett loved watching Link drive. It was something Rhett had only tried a few times, but Link’s hands were firm on the wheel and very much in control… He knew what he was doing. Rhett liked that. He liked seeing him in profile, too, his pointy nose and pouty lips and sturdy shoulders in his pink polo.

When he wasn’t watching Link, he enjoyed watching the scenery, too, and got excited each time they drove past a farm with a new type of animal. He had never seen cows before, though the horses and donkeys were a bit more familiar. He was practically bubbling with excitement.

Link turned on the radio and started singing along. Now, this had to be the best part of driving, Rhett thought. Link’s smooth voice filled the cab in harmony with the country singers. If Rhett knew the songs, he would join in. He tried to memorize some of them for later.

“I love your voice,” Rhett told Link.

“Yeah, you’ve said that…” Link grinned over at Rhett.

“Oh, should I stop saying it?”

“No, please, keep saying it.” Link winked. “I love compliments.”

“Oh, okay! You look really good in that shirt.”

“I have to wear polos at work,” Link blushed.

“It matches the color you turn when I say nice things to you,” Rhett explained.

This made Link giggle, the most beautiful sound.

“You’re really… different than other people. In a good way. I like how you appreciate the little things,” Link told him.

“Well, you’re not exactly little, and I appreciate you. You’ve done so much for me, and I want to repay you in some way.”

Link suddenly had a lot of thoughts of how Rhett could repay him, none of which were appropriate. But really, he didn’t feel like he was going out of his way at all.

“You don’t owe me anything. I enjoy your company. I guess I’ve been kind of lonely for a while. My ex had been my world. Seeing my folks helped a little, but it’s nice to have a friend. I’m grateful for our friendship, Rhett.” He really was. It was nice like this. He didn’t know why his mind kept taking him somewhere besides friendship… He knew a friend was what he needed most right now.

“Well… me too, Link.”

Link could only see him out of the corner of his eye as he concentrated on the road, but he could hear something in Rhett’s voice that sounded like a weight… like there was so much more he wanted to say that he couldn’t get out.

“What about your ex-girlfriend? Were you really close to her, too?” Link wasn’t sure he should take the subject there, but it was too late- his mouth got ahead of him, as it was wont to do.

“I thought we were. But I made some mistakes. I didn’t feel like I could be 100% honest with her.”

Link wanted to ask, about what? But he was afraid that would be prying too far. Instead, he asked, “Do you feel like you can be honest with me?”

“I want to be honest with you,” Rhett replied simply, again with weight behind it. Link wished he could get in Rhett’s head at that moment.

Link turned and smiled at Rhett for a moment, “Well, if there’s ever anything you want to tell me, I’m open to listen. No judging here.”

“Ever? So… can I call you after we go our separate ways?”

“Of course. If you didn’t, I’d be calling you.”

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

After their heart-to-heart, they stopped for gas and Rhett was getting hungry. He started loading up some snacks for the road, grabbing anything that looked good at the convenience store inside.

“Rhett, we’re going to stop for food as soon as we get into Harnett County. It’s only another 30 minutes.”

“Okay…” Rhett sheepishly put back half the items. He kept the Slim Jims, a bag of popcorn, and a drink, though.

He shared the popcorn with Link throughout the rest of the drive, their hands brushing occasionally as they reached for the bag at the same time, which was propped up on the center console. Link ate them one at a time, while Rhett shoveled handfuls into his mouth, watching Link in fascination. He was so fastidious.

Finally, they pulled up at a restaurant and got out to stretch their legs. Rhett looked up at the sign as they entered, and his stomach dropped. Mermaid Point. That was the name of the restaurant. Did this mean something? Did Link suspect…?

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

“Ooh, look at this, Rhett!” Link turned his menu over and showed Rhett. “It’s the legend of Mermaid Point! The place where mermaids used to be spotted was actually up river from here. Do you think we could find it?”

“Ahh, I don’t know, Link. Don’t you want to see your mother?”

“Of course, we can do this later tomorrow while she’s at work. She works at a dentist’s office, as an anes--ssthestist. I can never say that word, even though she’s done it my whole life,” Link laughed.

“Anessecist? Assanecest?” Rhett responded, and soon they were doubling over in laughter in their booth.

“Ahem, are you ready to order, or should I give you a few more minutes?” eventually the server, with a half-grin, inserted after politely waiting for them to calm down.

“Oh, we’re ready! Two orders of barbecue pulled pork,” Link answered eagerly. They had agreed they would try the barbecue any time the opportunity presented itself.

They were seated out on the patio, and the sun beat down hotly on them, but every now and then there was a cool breeze that came over the Cape Fear river. Looking down at the river, they could see hundreds of colorful inner tubes as people floated along the river in droves. Rhett couldn’t keep his eyes off the spectacle.

“Do you wanna try that, Rhett?” Link asked, munching on some cornbread.

“I wish I could…” Rhett hesitated, suddenly looking up at Link.

“But you can’t? Why not?” Link prodded, confused by the change in Rhett’s countenance.

“Link… there’s something I’d have to explain to you first. I can’t right now though.” Rhett looked pointedly at Link, and Link decided to drop it… for now. Was it as though they were a couple who needed to have “a serious talk”? Link half-laughed at himself at this thought.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The rest of the drive went by quickly, the sun still high when they arrived at Link’s mother’s house. When they came in, she embraced Link and then turned to Rhett.

“Well, you didn’t tell me you had a new boyfriend already! And a handsome one at that!”

Rhett and Link both blushed at this. “No, ma, he’s not my boyfriend. This is Rhett. We just met a few days ago. We just happened to be going in the same direction so I thought I’d bring him along.”

“Oh my goodness, I am so sorry! Except for the handsome part. I won’t take that back,” she laughed.

“It’s my fault, I should have given you a heads-up. Is it okay if he stays the night, too?” Link asked.

“Oh, of course! I guess I should make up the guest bedroom then!”

Why did Link feel a sense of disappointment from this conversation?

Chapter Text

Bees buzzed around Rhett and Link’s ankles and the smell of clover wafted through the air as they hiked through the brush. The trees screamed with cicadas above them. Mermaid Point was just a few yards away.

They had spent the morning visiting Link’s Nana, and now that the sun had passed its most blistering afternoon height, they had decided it was a good time to make this little side trip.

They cleared the tree line and saw the river stretch before them in three directions. To their left was the Haw River, to their right, the Deep River, and ahead was the expansive Cape Fear River where they joined and flowed out to the Atlantic.

“So this is it,” Link said as he scanned the horizon. There were little sandbars extending out into the river, and some rocks on which one could imagine a mermaid perching.

“This is amazing, Link!” Rhett exclaimed as he clapped Link on the shoulder and shook him a bit. He really liked the feel of the place. He could definitely see himself swimming up the Cape Fear just to come to this spot. He started to clamber down the bank and onto a sandbar.

Link trailed after him, breathing heavily after their long hike. Of the three reviews on Google Maps, one of them had been helpful explaining the difficulty of finding the trailhead and to prepare oneself for bugs, snakes and other wildlife. Another review with just one star read, “No mermaids.”

They settled themselves onto a large rock, just big enough for them to sit side-by-side, brushing thighs. Rhett surprised Link by reaching into his pocket and pulling out the Slim Jims he had bought the day before, and they snacked on those while sharing drinks from Link’s massive water bottle.

Link was always one to come prepared, so they had two backpacks scrounged from Link’s old bedroom closet. One had an emergency kit and plenty of protein bars, a Life Straw, sunscreen, bug spray, a flashlight, the works. The other was stuffed with a big, thick blanket. Link kept this stuff at his mom’s because when he visited home he would sometimes still go camping with his old college roomies.

There wasn’t really anything to do once they got out to the point other than to lay the blanket out on the sand, lounge on it, and talk some more, but they didn’t tire of talking. Time passed almost too quickly as they talked about some of their more exciting experiences in nature. Rhett told Link about the time he encountered a pod of hundreds of dolphins, conveniently leaving out what they said to him during the time he spent with them, and making it sound like he saw them from above, not below. He couldn’t wait for the time when he could tell Link the whole story.

“The sky is getting colorful,” Rhett pointed out after about half an hour of staring up at the clouds, enjoying each other’s company.

“Yeah, that means we should probably get going soon. Don’t want to be hacking through that jungle in the dark.”

“Haha, silly, that’s no jungle. I’ve been in worse. But you’re probably right, we should go.”

“I don’t want to leave,” Link whispered.

“Neither do I…”

“I wish we could do some night swimming. Used to do that all the time, wait until the stars come out, strip down, jump in the river. It’s the best, especially on a night like this. The fireflies will be out. You’ll see them sparkling under the trees. Pinpoints of light everywhere in the blackness.” Link waved his arms around to emphasize his point.

“I would give anything to go swimming right now,” Rhett said longingly, his legs itching from the heat.

“Why don’t we?” Link asked, sitting up on the blanket.

“Well… the same reason I mentioned yesterday. I’m not ready to talk about it yet.”

“Yet? When might you be ready…?” Link was perplexed, but very intrigued.

Rhett sat up, too, and put his hand over Link’s. “I want to be very close to the person I tell. But I’m afraid… that it will make them leave me.”

“How close?” Link leaned his face up towards Rhett’s and bumped their foreheads together softly. “This close?”

“No, more like this.” Rhett whispered, and leaned a few inches more. He wanted to do this before he could say anything that would make Link leave him, running.

Link wanted it too, had wanted it since the first day they had spent together, if he was being honest with himself.

Their lips touched, ever so gently, and their eyes closed as lips parted and played with each other. It was easy, and it felt right.

Link’s tongue danced on Rhett’s lips before Rhett opened them and invited Link in further.

The two of them tumbled down onto the blanket, and it was unclear if Rhett pulled Link down, or if Link had pushed Rhett, but soon, Link was on top, hungrily kissing at Rhett’s throat.

They made out like that for quite some time before Link remembered they were supposed to be having a serious conversation. He cleared his throat and lifted himself off of Rhett.

“So… are you willing to tell me? I won’t run away. Don’t wanna leave you.”

“I don’t know. What if the thing I was going to tell you sounded entirely crazy?”

“Like how crazy?”

“Like… ‘I’m a mermaid’?”

Link guffawed at that. “You tease…” He pushed Rhett down and kissed him again, but realized Rhett had gone suddenly stiff. Rhett pulled away and Link felt the loss of the intimate moment.

Of course Link wouldn’t believe him if Rhett told him like that. But it had just slipped out. The humor wasn’t lost on Rhett, of course… here they were at a place called Mermaid Point, famous for its myths and legends of mermaids coming to wash their hair in the freshwater, and here he is, saying something that sounded so absurd to human ears. But he couldn’t help the sense of despair he felt at that moment. How on Earth could he be honest and believable at the same time? He sat up again.

“Rhett? Are you okay? Did I do something wrong?” Link asked worriedly, placing a gentle hand on Rhett’s shoulder and trying to meet his eyes.

“Ahh, no, Link, you’ve done nothing wrong. Now is just not the right time for my secret. I’m truly sorry. I want to be honest with you.” Rhett shook his head sadly, finally meeting Link’s eyes again. They reflected the deep blue water around them. Rhett had never seen anything so beautiful. His heart was aching that he couldn’t just reveal his true self to Link.

Link could see the pain in Rhett’s eyes, so he tried to lift the tone of the conversation again. “Well, it’s okay. Whatever it is, I’m sure it’s worth waiting for. Come on, let’s pack up and get out of here before it gets dark.”

While they hiked out, Link brought up more memories of playing in the woods as a child, but it was hard to get Rhett to engage.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

Despite the awkward conversation about whatever Rhett’s secret was, Link was still smiling internally about the connection he was making with Rhett. The kissing was really nice, and they still had at least another day to do more of it. Link didn’t know if it would go anywhere from there, but he sure was going to enjoy this while it lasted.

He was smiling as he burst through the door at his mom’s house that night, even though it would be another night alone in his old bedroom while Rhett slept a room away.

“Hey, Ma, we’re thinking of getting a hotel room in Raleigh tomorrow night, since our flights are early, so we won’t be in your hair too much longer.”

“Oh, honey, you know I’d like to keep you in my hair as long as you’d like to be, but I understand. Are you gonna go see Nana again tomorrow? I told everybody we’re having a cookout at her place.”

“Sure thing, Mom,” Link jauntily replied, scooping up the fried chicken she had cooked for them and taking it into the dining room. Rhett, who had been very quiet, perked up at this new food quite a bit.

“This is delicious, Sue!” he told her, quickly shoving more into his mouth.

“Haha! I can tell you’ve never had good southern cookin’ before!” She was delighted; her cooking was never very well-praised by anyone but her son… and he was a picky thing, so he was still hard to please.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Rhett couldn’t sleep. He felt stuck. Where was he supposed to go from here? The more attached he was becoming to Link, the more he worried about what he was going to say or do about his secret -- which shouldn’t have been a secret anymore -- but Link wasn’t gullible. Of course he wouldn’t just accept a spur-of-the-moment confession that made little to no sense to a human.

Lights flickered at the edge of Rhett’s vision, blurred by tears, and when he glanced out the window, he saw hundreds of fireflies flashing on the lawn. He decided anything was better than wallowing, sleepless in bed, so he carefully snuck out of the guest room and down the stairs, opening the door as quietly as he could, to step out onto the porch and watch the fireflies.

They were beautiful, almost as beautiful as the glints of light he had seen in Link’s eyes earlier that day. He knew, in that moment, that Link was the one person he wanted to reveal himself to more than any before. The question was, how and when would he ever have the chance? If they were going their separate ways in just over 24 hours, he’d have to find some way to bring them together again. He made a decision right then. He wasn’t going to Florida.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The next morning, they were in Nana’s living room, getting squeezed by the little lady as she peppered them with questions.

“So did you boys have fun on your hike yesterday? Did y’all see any mermaids?” she questioned them.

“Yeah, I saw a big ‘un! It was about 7 feet long, at least!” Link joked, nudging Rhett. Rhett forced a laugh for Nana’s sake, but he seemed more subdued than usual.

“Is everything alright, Rhett?” Link asked him as he pulled him aside later at lunch. More relatives had come over to visit; it was a Saturday, so they were all free. His aunts had brought over some covered dishes and they were all eating outside around a picnic table, except for Rhett and Link, who had finished their food quickly. Everyone was there to see Link, really, but they couldn’t seem to peel him away from Rhett for very long, the aunts not hesitating to mumble their suspicions to each other.

“Yeah, I’m fine. The food is good. Your family is really nice,” Rhett said rather bluntly.

“Okay… but what do you say to the idea of getting out of here and going somewhere where we can… talk more?” Link was really eager to be alone with Rhett again.

“Sure, that sounds nice, Link,” Rhett said, mustering a smile. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to talk, as he had come up with yet another subject to avoid after having changed his plane tickets last night, but it sounded like Link had something even better in mind than just talking.

So Link wrapped it up with the family, giving everyone big hugs and letting them each have a bit of time to chat with him before they went. Link decided to bring Rhett out to his favorite spot, where he used to go alone as a child.

It was a few towns over, in Buies Creek where he had grown up. The ride there was fairly quiet until Link started pointing out his favorite landmarks along the way. Rhett started to perk up hearing about Link’s childhood, growing up mostly alone in the middle of nowhere. Everywhere Link had hung out, from the convenience store to the cemetery, was fascinating to Rhett.

Finally, they pulled up along the outer edge of a golf course, a thicket of trees separating it from the road. No fence. Link found a little pathway that was more like an animal trail than anything that humans had made, one that snaked through the overgrowth towards the creek. His memory of making this trek was still strong.

The smells were of Earth and trees, and a flock of birds fluttered up through the bushes as they exited the woods into a small clearing. It was like a little shelf of land, edged with stones scattering out into the river, a pair of two large boulders perched in the center.

“One for you and one for me!” Link exclaimed brightly as he climbed up on to one of the rocks. He rarely had the pleasure of bringing someone out to his little spot, but he had the tradition of sitting the other person on the rocks and taking turns talking. The person on the big rock spoke, while the person on the small rock listened. Link explained this all to Rhett, who decided to take the small rock first. Link continued describing his memories of coming to this place as a child.

“I don’t just bring anyone out here. This place is very special to me, Rhett. Almost sacred. Do you have any places like that?” When he was met with silence, he added, “Oh, you can answer. You don’t have to be silent to sit on the listening rock, you just answer when I’ve asked you a question.”

“Oh! Yes, there are places like this where I come from. One in particular. It was an alcove amongst rocks, where there was a waterfall. I liked it because it combined Earth and water, and I feel at home in both. This place is similar in that way. I can see why you like it.”

“Do you want a turn on the speaking rock? I feel like you’ve been bottling up things you want to say all day. You’ve been very quiet.”

“Well… I suppose there’s one thing. Yeah.” Rhett decided he couldn’t keep his change of plans to himself. If he wanted openness with Link, he had to start somewhere.

He climbed up on the bigger rock and looked down at Link, whose hair was lit from behind, making it look a warm brownish color, and he could see a strand or two of silver in what he would have considered jet-black hair up until that point. It was lovely.

He took a deep breath. “Okay, so… I changed my plane tickets last night. I’m not going to Florida. I’m going to California. I’m not going to follow you, I’m going farther south. I hear the water’s better in San Diego. I’m going to buy a new boat and pick my diving career back up again." The boat... again, another lie. He needed no boat. "It’s farther away from my home, and I feel better about that. I hope it doesn’t seem presumptuous, but I also hoped… maybe it would be more likely that we’d see each other again?”

Link’s smile split his face to the ears. He jumped up from the rock and gave Rhett a big hug. “That’s a wonderful idea, Rhett! I just hope you’re not changing your life trajectory based on this stranger you’ve only just met…” he backpedaled a bit, because, seriously, this was a big decision for anyone to make.

“No, I… I didn’t know where I wanted to go when I came here. I was just trying to get as far from home as possible. Florida was even more of a split-second decision than this. I’ve been thinking about it ever since I heard you describe your waves and your beaches. I would like to give California a try.”

Link found he was gripping Rhett by the biceps, and pulled him down into a kiss. “That’s for luck.”

“I need all the luck you can give me,” Rhett replied, kissing Link repeatedly. They stayed like that against the rocks for what felt like hours, just feeling each other’s lips in as many ways as they could.

When they finally separated, it was because Rhett’s back hurt from being pressed up against a rock for who knows how long.

“Let’s go somewhere more comfortable, yeah?” Link suggested. He took Rhett’s hand and led him out of the woods and back to the car. They decided to stop at Bojangles' in Fuquay-Varina, a little town to the north, on their way up to Raleigh.

“I’ll show you some real good fried chicken,” Link told Rhett. Needless to say, Rhett ate the chicken and biscuits with glee, exclaiming over how soft and fluffy the biscuits were, as well.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

On the drive up to the hotel in Raleigh, Rhett was much more talkative than he had been, and seemed to be in an all-around better mood. Link was glad he had taken him out to the speaking rocks. What he had said about it being sacred felt true… people opened up there.

They reached their hotel room and fell onto one of the beds, resuming what they had begun down at the rocks.

Chapter Text

Rhett and Link kicked off their shoes, their long legs tangling together as they crashed onto the bed. Link’s hand quickly slid under Rhett’s shirt to stroke his skin. Their touches and kisses felt like fire, igniting the desire deep within them both.

Link bit down on Rhett’s lip and growled, “I want you.” Rhett didn’t flinch, just replied to the bite with a passionate kiss.

“I want you too, Link,” Rhett replied sincerely. “You’re the most beautiful creature I’ve ever seen.” He lifted Link’s jaw and ran his fingers down the sides of it, drinking in the sight of Link’s eyes searing into him.

“That goes both ways, then,” Link said, leaning down to nuzzle into Rhett’s ear and give it a little nip. “You’re freaking gorgeous. I’ve thought it since I first saw you.” He mouthed over the golden beard and back towards Rhett’s lips. “I want to see all of you.”

Link started unbuttoning Rhett’s shirt, his fingers shaking with anticipation. Rhett helped him finish.

“You’ve seen a lot of me already, but I haven’t seen much of you yet. Will you show me your pretty body, too?” Rhett asked, fingering the bottom of Link’s shirt. Link obliged and lifted it over his head. Rhett immediately reached a hand up and petted his chest. “Soft,” he said, at the touch of Link’s chest hair.

“That tickles,” Link started to giggle, but then Rhett’s fingers found one of his nipples, and it soon became a soft moan as Rhett’s fingers rolled over it. Rhett’s hands moved to caress along Link’s sides and down his back. His touch was so featherlight that it sent tingles all over Link’s body.

Link fell against Rhett’s chest and licked and bit at Rhett’s neck. He rolled Rhett over on top of him and helped him peel his shirt the rest of the way off, and impatiently began unbuttoning Rhett’s pants. He slid his hands over Rhett’s smooth cheeks as he pulled the pants down along with his underwear. He was very satisfied with what he found inside. He gave Rhett a few tentative strokes and Rhett’s body melted as his cock throbbed to life in Link’s hand.

“Let me do that for you too,” Rhett said, backing off of Link to remove his pants as well and coming back to lay beside him. Link moaned with relief when Rhett took him into his large palm.

“You’re the first man I’ve been this close to,” Rhett admitted, surprising Link.

“Oh, well, I’m glad you’re telling me this now…” Link was both excited by the prospect of being Rhett’s first, and yet, a little disappointed. He wished Rhett had told him sooner.

“Am I really your first?”

“Well, I mean, I’ve kissed guys before. Plenty of them. But I haven’t gotten to touch them like this. I like it a lot.”

Once again, Link thought of how preciously innocent Rhett seemed for a man of his age and stature. Link turned on his side towards him and nuzzled again into his beard and neck. “You’re so cute.”

They began stroking each other in earnest, feeling the soft skin of their cocks pressing up against each other. They took turns with their big hands, squeezing both at the same time as they rocked into each other, running their free hands across each other’s bodies.

Rhett made deep moans of pleasure that Link couldn’t get enough of. He climbed down between Rhett’s legs and started nipping and licking at his inner thighs. Rhett arched his back off the bed as Link came slowly closer and closer to where he wanted him. Link teasingly licked him from base to tip, before finally enveloping the head in his mouth, making Rhett’s voice ring out, echoing off the walls of the small room.

“Oh, gosh, Link, that’s so good!” he nearly shouted as Link hungrily went down on him. Link almost hoped their neighbors heard it.

Between pants and moans, Link heard Rhett say, “I want to do this for you too, Link. I don’t want to finish yet,” and Link felt a little tug at his hair, so he got up and sat on the edge of the bed.

“Okay, but I want you on your knees,” Link ordered boldly. This was not the kind of thing he would do in his previous relationship, but he liked having this sense of power that being with Rhett gave him. Here was this big, statuesque beast of a man, who seemed willing to please his every whim, and do so gently and with soft, loving eyes the whole time. The juxtaposition of his size and his softness made Link crazy. He couldn’t wait to have him on his knees in another position too, and sink inside him, but this would have to do for now. He knew Rhett wouldn’t be ready for that.

“Anything you want,” Rhett complied. He quickly scrambled between Link’s thighs and stared up at him before drawing his pointed tongue along Link’s shaft and circling its head. He struggled a little with Link’s length in his throat, but bravely swallowed around him and the heavenly sensation made Link throw his head back and grab a handful of Rhett’s hair.

“Oh god, yes…” Link whimpered, running his fingers through Rhett’s soft waves and along his scalp as he sank into the sensation of Rhett’s mouth on him. Rhett did his best, but eventually had to come up for air after choking a little. Link didn’t want to push him too far. He patted the bed. “Come on back up here.”

Rhett crawled back up beside him and cuddled in close. He drew his hand around them both and it slid wetly against their lengths now.

“Mmm, feels... so... good, Rhett. You’re doing so good,” Link mumbled as he left small kisses all over Rhett’s freckled shoulder.

“Wanna be this close to you forever. Don’t ever want to leave,” Rhett muttered into Link’s ear, tickling the shell of it with his moustache. The sensation sent a shiver down Link’s spine and straight to his groin, and he groaned with satisfaction as Rhett’s hand moved swiftly over him. He started rutting into Rhett’s hand, their erections sliding along each other in rhythm.

“I’m so close. I’m gonna come,” Link let out in a strangled voice.

“Come for me, beautiful,” Rhett murmured into Link’s hair. Hearing Link’s pleasure was bringing him quickly towards his own peak.

They rode the same wave of pleasure as their orgasms crested, their releases indistinguishable from one another, their cries harmonized.

Gasping breaths died down to a lull of silence as their spent bodies curled around each other. Eventually, they would get up and get cleaned off, but for now, they were exactly where they wanted to be: together.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

“Oh, shit!” Link cursed as his alarm went off for the third time. He’d been unconsciously hitting snooze as he lay sprawled across Rhett’s chest, one arm dangling over the nightstand.

“Don’t go...,” a sleepy Rhett wrapped his arms around Link’s torso and pulled him back down.

“I’ve gotta, my flight’s in less than an hour. Dammit, I normally like to be at the airport two hours early. This is gonna be hell getting through TSA.” He struggled against Rhett’s sleepy and heavy hold on him and eventually broke free, scrambling to brush his teeth, throw on whatever clothes his hands landed on first, and shove the rest in his suitcase haphazardly. It was so unlike him to be this disorganized, but maybe it had been worth it to lie for that extra half hour in Rhett’s arms. For all he knew, this could be the last time. Even though they had talked about tentative plans to see each other again, nothing had been set in stone. No dates had been made. Who has time for planning when you’re busy making love?

Link was focused on his driving as he sped through the streets of Raleigh, but not so focused that he couldn’t hold Rhett’s hand tenderly. Rhett picked up Link’s hand and gave it little kisses from time to time. Suddenly Link had the thought that he’d like to preserve this moment in time forever. He imagined himself looking back on it from some point in the far future, one in which they were still holding hands.

“Will you call me once you’ve made it to San Diego, so I know you’re okay?” Link asked Rhett, really for the reassurance that they’d have a continued connection.

“Of course, Link. I’ll want to know that you’ve made it home okay, too.”

They’d made it to the airport with little time to spare. Rhett carried Link’s guitar case to the bag check while Link lugged the rest of his luggage behind him. Once their hands were free, they embraced in the midst of a stream of people trying to get to their flights.

“I would kiss you goodbye, but…” Link looked around warily, unsure if Rhett would understand the cultural atmosphere that made people look suspiciously on two men sharing affection. This could be his last chance though.

“Ah, what the hell.” He grabbed Rhett by the neck and pulled him down for one perfect kiss. They drowned in each other, the rest of the people around them a mere blur, and the few seconds felt timeless, though when they pulled away they both knew each kiss could never be long enough.

One more squeeze of hands, and Link was off, running to the TSA line with just enough time to catch his flight. Rhett stared after Link for a long time before heading to one of the airport coffee shops to wait out the time until his own flight. Now, it was time to see what kind of fortune California would bring.