Denki knows full well that there’s never really been a question needed as to whether the mer exist. They ‘exist’ to humanity these days in the same way the true fae and titans do: in fossils and relics, and stories from an age when magic held the world carefully in its palms and instilled new wonders with every gentle whisper.
It’s not like magic is gone— far from it. But the creatures that breathed magic, bled it, held together by miracles and timelessness and enigma… well, they’re another story. It’s a basic fact established by his current employers, afterall. As a marine technician aboard the expedition ship RV Shinkai Maru with the strangest collection of magizoology researchers and interns he could have imagined, he’s more in tune with the history of the mer than your average joe.
So, yes. He knows merfolk existed , once upon a time. But after centuries of silence from beneath the waves, he—like everyone else—had accepted their disappearance alongside so many other mythical species.
Which is why he’s having a hard time comprehending the visual feed from his sea rover.
“Erm— Uraraka?” he calls out a bit shakily, unwilling to pull his gaze from the screen in case the drifting purple-grey shape disappears. He’s having to nudge the rover every few seconds to keep the thing in the headlights; as of yet it hasn’t made any sharp moves at all, but it would be just his luck for something to happen the second he takes his eyes off it.
But there’s no response from the marine veterinarian intern; she must still be in the break room. Instead, he reaches blindly along the table towards his left, tapping and waving to get the attention of his fellow engineer, a surly blonde wearing headphones with the music so loud Denki can almost make out the words. Bakugou’s never been friendly by any means, but Denki’s desperate. He needs someone else’s eyes, anyone’s — just to offload some of his shock, if nothing else.
His hand is swatted away, followed by a grouchy “What,” that’s a bit louder than absolutely necessary. But at least he has the jerk’s attention.
“I need you to see this,” Denki says, adding a quick gesture to the screen. “I can’t— I can’t tell what I’m looking at.”
“Wouldn’t be the first time.”
“Bakugou, please. Come look. I think it’s… it’s a…” he swallows, unable to push the word past his teeth. If he says it and he’s wrong, Bakugou will be shouting the mistake through the mess hall at dinner, and Denki won’t live it down for the rest of the expedition.
Thankfully, Bakugou saves him the potential embarrassment by grumbling and swinging his chair closer.
They peer at the shape together. The grainy rover camera isn’t the best at picking up details, and down where it’s been chugging along everything’s got a distorting blue hue in one way or another, but still— this stands out.
What had drawn Denki’s attention was a long, aubergine-colored tail and violet fin plumage that’s drifting broadly around the end and sides like sheets of silk. The rover’s glow catches a shine on some harder scales that glint like embedded amethysts in the light. But now, Denki holds his breath and maneuvers the rover once again to the view that had his heart hammering in his chest and hopes caught in his throat; the beams slide upward from the tail across a very humanoid torso.
He hears Bakugou’s low intake of breath, and for a moment the only noise apart from the far-off engines was the music still playing, weak and tinny, from the headphones around the other man’s neck. Then: “Move— move the fuck over, Creaky, let me...”
Denki ignores the nickname for once, pulling away from the controls.
Bakugou slides into place, eyebrows knitted and hands expertly working the controls. The rover strafes to the side, pivoting around the unmoving creature. As it shifts, the beam tracks down an honest-to-gods arm that ends in five taloned digits, lax and half-curled where it rests just inches from the camera.
Beside him, Bakugou lets out a quiet ‘what the fuck’ and that’s enough for Denki to let a thrilled grin tear across his face, because holy shit, this is real.
And then the view feed rolls on, and there’s a shoulder, then a gilled neck, and finally face with a fin-like ear on either side and closed eyes and—
“How far down’s this rover?” Bakugou asks sharply. His voice is surprisingly neutral for what’s happening, but the tension in his back and slightly wider-than-normal eyes give him away.
“Only like, two-forty.”
“Does it have its net equipped?”
“Ye—” Denki cuts himself off, finally tearing his gaze away from the merman (again, holy shit ) to stare at his coworker. “Y-yeah... it does. Are you going to…”
“I ain’t going to believe this isn’t some dumbass prank til I see it with my own eyes.” He puts his lower lip between his teeth as the rover comes back around, shuffling it backwards until the entire prone, drifting body of the creature fits within the net deployment guides on screen. “And if it ain’t a prank...” he starts slowly, then closes his mouth. In lieu of trying to find the right words to fit this unforeseeable circumstance, he turns his severe stare to Denki. “Go find the parakeet guy and bring him to the starboard docking pool.”
Denki blinks. “Parakeet guy?”
“That one blonde researcher that’s obsessed with these fuckers. Squawks nonstop during mess. Used to have a radio show?”
Right. “Professor Yamada,” he mumbles, not that he thinks Bakugou will bother committing it to memory, if the fact that he refers to nobody by name is anything to go by.
Bakugou grunts in acknowledgement, and then smacks the net deployment button. Denki watches with bated breath over his shoulder as ropes snap out from a space beneath the rover’s camera and snag around the creature, which… doesn’t react. That’s not promising.
Denki hauls his legs around with shaky hands, careful not to bash the mechanisms of his knee and calf braces against the edge of the desk. Really, Bakugou should be the one going to get the research team if they were gunning for speed, but he supposes this is his colleague’s way of giving Denki the credit of the find. He appreciates it— even if the dude’s an ass.
He shoves himself to his feet, taking a moment to find his balance. On the screen, the merman has yet to move despite the slow reeling-in of the net.
“Go on, and don’t fucking fall over on the way,” Bakugou growls, shoving Denki’s cane roughly into his hands. “You better fucking have it aboard by the time I get up there if I’m putting in all the goddamn work. Go. ”
“...I-I swear I’m not fucking with you— er— pardon my French, sir,” Denki trails on in as quiet of a voice he can, growing increasingly anxious at the stillness of Professor Yamada’s normally-exuberant face. His legs ache from pushing them so hard, and it’s taking all his admittedly limited self-control to not sit on the ledge of the docking pool. “Bakugou wouldn’t have asked me to get you if he didn’t believe it too, I think.”
It’s not only Yamada’s current state that makes him nervous. A few steps away is the professor’s husband, with tangled black hair to his shoulders and a near-permanent exhausted expression. The man has never bothered to introduce himself. Denki’s not sure the guy’s even a researcher, to be totally honest. Or even a fan of the ocean at all. He can’t recall ever seeing him anywhere other than below-decks, skulking in the shadows or tucked into an obnoxious yellow sleeping bag.
But they’re both here now, and frighteningly alert, not saying a word as the whirring machinery in the room languidly works to raise the rover and its captive. Denki shifts more weight onto his cane with a wince and a soft, sharp inhale.
The black-haired man glances over at him at that, and Denki ducks his head instinctively for interrupting his solemn contemplation. But instead of chastising him, the guy slinks over to the far wall to fetch one of the janky plastic folding chairs.
On his return, he props it open next to Denki. “Sit,” His voice is unexpectedly smooth.
Denki nods gratefully and takes the seat. The aching falls away almost entirely and he sighs, not for the first time wishing it would stay that way. Seven years of healing and therapy could only do so much to remedy one brainless teenage error in judgment.
“You didn’t tell anyone else besides the other mechanic, did you, kid?” Yamada’s strange husband continues, making Denki jump.
He glances up to see both sets of eyes trained on him. So much for the assumption that they’d return to uncomfortable silence; this could arguably be worse.
“No! Of course not,” Denki murmurs back, earning a tense but genuine smile from Yamada and a grunt from his partner. The two look away from him and at each other so simultaneously that it raises the hair on his arms. “I didn’t want to alarm everyone, erm, just in case it somehow is a dumb prank left behind by someone else, which would be really shitty by the way, not that I think it’s a prank or I wouldn’t have asked for you, it looks very real, b-but I could be wrong ‘cause I’m not expert, a-and if so I’m really sorry for wasting your time—”
“Kaminari,” Yamada interrupts, and - wow, he didn’t think the professors even bothered to learn the names of the support staff. The man flashes another smile at him, this time with teeth. “Take a deep breath for me, will ya, listener? Even if it is a prank, you’re not in trouble! And I’m sure we’ll get a good chuckle out of it, won’t we, Shouta?”
‘Shouta’—Kaminari is almost positive that’s a given name and won’t dare use it—grunts again, gaze once again levelled on the machinery and open pool of water in front of them.
The bright yellow upper casing of the sea-rover breaches the surface.
Denki starts to rise from his chair, preparing to wrangle the device into position, but Yamada waves him back down and takes over the task. The rover itself is compact, roughly the size of a minifridge but capable of propelling itself unassisted through the water and sturdy enough to hold up at depths far deeper than it’s been used for thus far. It’s kind of Denki’s pride and joy of the expedition, so he has to bite back a grimace each time Yamada bumps it into the pool’s sides.
Finally, it’s able to be hauled straight vertically, and Denki sees a first flash of vibrant color from the netting below.
He really does struggle out of the chair then, but ‘Shouta’ beats him to it, double-fisting the net and yanking it around for a clearer view of the shape inside. Denki can’t see past him, but he takes notice of the man going stock-still and the hissed ‘Fuck,’ that follows.
Denki’s throat is dry. “What can I—”
“There’s a divided holding tank in the room next door. Get it filled from the external pumps.” The man swears again under his breath, struggling momentarily to unclasp a key from the ring on his belt before shoving it in Denki’s hands. “Don’t say a word about this to anyone you see. Do you understand?”
He can’t help himself; he stumbles sideways and catches a glance of greyish-lavender skin and purple neck gills that are fluttering, moving , oh shit it’s really alive — “Y-yes, mister… Yamada?”
“Aizawa,” the man corrects, hauling the netting further up until a breathtaking dark tail bumps the pool’s edge. “Any day now, kid, get a move on!”
The pain is a distant thought as Denki lurches from the room, leaving the pair to their agitated whispering. Footsteps thunder down the hall from the opposite direction and Denki nearly runs headfirst into Bakugou. He must be wearing quite the expression, because his colleague’s eyes inch wider in understanding.
“The—the tank, we need to fill the tank,” he stammers out, brandishing the key and motioning to the next door along.
Bakugou nods wordlessly and grabs it out of his hand, easily beating Denki to the door and swinging it open. The room beyond at first looks like a storage room, with all manner of boxes and doodads piled about carelessly, but the truck-sized glass enclosure against the back wall is impossible to miss.
“Stay the fuck here, you’ll trip on something,” Bakugou growls, pushing the key back at Denki before maneuvering his way through the mess to the tank’s valves and control panel. One jarring pipe-squeak later, seawater slams into the interior glass wall, brown-green and frothing.
Not wishing to be entirely useless, Denki starts shoving aside the lighter objects littering the floor, clearing a path to the tank’s stairwell.
It feels like eons before there’s shuffling in the hall and Aizawa shoulders the door open and backs into the room, arms full. Denki scrambles out of the way and watches in mute awe as the man wrangles the upper half of a near-motionless form through the doorway, followed by Yamada who is barely keeping a grip on a long, thick tail.
“Holy fuck,” Bakugou chokes out, and Denki nods in agreement.
Denki’s no expert on mer, but he’s pretty confident that this one’s male, if there’s anything to be said for likeness to humans. He resolves to look up some more specific shades of purple because from horns to tail there’s no better single adjective to describe the fella. Right now, however, the hair that looked so ethereal on the rover’s camera drips down over speckled cheeks and long ear-fins, blackish lips part soundlessly with gills bubbling out air, and blood drips from a series of gashes on his bare lavender chest.
The two men struggle to climb the tank steps with their burden, which is hardly surprising; the merman’s waist to tail alone must be six feet at least. Then, Yamada falters on the second-to-top step and accidentally pinches a pelvic fin against the metal railing—
And the merman explodes into movement, letting out an ear-piercing shriek. He writhes against his poor handlers, throwing what must be hundreds of pounds of scale and muscle back and forth. Denki can only watch and call out a warning as Bakugou scrambles up the steps to help, and the next moment a railing clatters noisily to the ground, and—
He’s showered with droplets even from several feet away.
“Bakugou!” Yamada shouts.
The scene in the tank is chaotic, six limbs and a tail and too much splashing to make any sense of what’s going on. Bakugou’s strong, he knows, and thankfully there wasn’t yet enough water in the tank to reach past the other blonde’s shoulders when standing, but still — Denki’s pulse hammers in his throat and he hobbles for the intake valve just in case.
When he looks back, Aizawa is leaned half into the tank, one hand tangled in a cloudy mane of purple hair which he holds against the glass just under the surface. The merman’s lips are pulled back in a wordless snarl across bared shark-like teeth.
Bakugou is standing on the opposite side, shoulders hunched and covering one of them with a hand. “The asshole bit me!” he roars between coughs. “I saved you, you stupid fishy fuck! Bleed out for all I care!” He edges toward the tank wall attached to the stairs, but rethinks it when a rumble echoes through the water and the merman’s tail thrashes.
There’s a knock at the door. “Hello? Is everything alright in there? I was passing by and couldn’t help but overhear… is there an injured fish…?” Uraraka’s worried voice trails off.
Denki looks to Yamada for guidance, who looks at Aizawa, who drops his head in defeat. Bakugou at least has the sense to look guilty, murmuring something along the lines of ‘at least she’s a vet’.
“Uraraka, do you happen to have any medical experience with humanoids, too?” Yamada calls out.
“Um? I have b-basic first aid training, and then a bit more, but I can go get the doctor if someone is badly hurt—”
“No no, you’ll do!” Yamada squeezes the bridge of his nose. “We’re going to let you in, but you mustn’t speak a word of this to anyone else, alrighty, listener?”
Denki takes a deep breath, heads to the door, and pulls it open with a half-apologetic smile. Then he steps aside.
Stepping in, Uraraka flicks her gaze between the group of them before finally landing on the tank. “Oh," she says weakly, hands going limp at her side. "Oh my god.”
"If you don't mind," Yamada continues with a brilliant smile bordering on manic, "Would you quickly go fetch your medical supplies? The water's color is growing alarming, and we can't risk losing a mechanic."
As if on cue, Bakugou sways against the glass inside the tank.
"Oh my god, w-what?!"