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The Art of Drowning

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Despite attending the mess hall for lunch for the first time in three days, it’s like Denki never left. In fact, more than one person appears surprised when he apologizes for the absence. He’s pretty sure they never noticed he was gone. When he excuses himself from the table with a shaky voice and unconvincing smile, he’s unexpectedly steered by Bakugou—who never shows up for mealtime—to an out-of-the-way table. They eat together mostly in silence, but Denki’s just fine with that.

When the time comes to go back to work, the other blonde side-eyes him and grunts, “Don’t even think about it. We’re taking the afternoon off.”

“W-what?”

“You think I didn’t notice how distracted you were this morning? Fuck, Creaky, you started blubbering up at the sight of the anti-vapor spray.”

Denki lowers his gaze to his lap. Yeah, that had been pretty bad. “Sorry.”

Bakugou scoffs. “It’s – it’s whatever. But I can’t work when I gotta keep an eye on you so you don’t shock yourself stupid or something, idiot.” Then before Denki can get out another apology, he continues: “You got a T.V. in your room, yeah? One that’s not shit?”

It’s impressive in itself that Bakugou’s trying to make reasonably friendly conversation at all, so Denki is caught off guard—again. “Yes,” he answers lamely.

“Good. I’m bringing over my Switch, we’re gonna play Smash.”

The afternoon ends up not being at all what Denki expected; it’s actually pretty great. Bakugou’s a hypercompetitive beast but his running snarky commentary against both Denki and the AI is worth its comedic weight in gold. When they team up to take on two of his friends online, the guy commends him for being a good distraction for their enemies, and Denki’s certain that he should consider that top-tier praise. Maybe he could engrave it in steel and hang it on his wall.

In the evening, Bakugou fires off a few texts – and shortly thereafter Uraraka is at the door with three dinners in one hand and a USB full of movies in the other. They agree on a Ghibli marathon (well, Bakugou doesn’t, but he stops grumbling when Uraraka levels him a Look) and by the time they’ve made it through Nausicaa and Howl’s Moving Castle, they’re little more than a pile of limbs and pillows and crumbs strewn haphazardly on Denki’s bed. At some point Bakugou had pulled a small bottle of rum from who-knows-where, which it turns out has the surprising effect of mellowing him significantly.

As Uraraka scrolls through the list of movies to choose from next, Denki spots one title that makes his heart catch in his throat. Without further consideration he blurts out, “Ponyo.”

Uraraka squints at him. “Um… are you sure, Kami?”

No, he should say. Don’t listen to me, don’t play it, it’s a terrible idea. But his masochistic streak takes the reins and murmurs, “Yeah! It’s just a movie, it’s fine.”

She gives him a doubtful look. “Well… I don’t know. Wouldn’t it be a little too—”

“Just put it on, Cheeks,” Bakugou says. “He’s gonna have miserable little bitch moments anyways, might as well let them be when we’re here to help set him straight.”

That’s… astoundingly thoughtful, in the other man’s awkward, aggressive way. Denki stares blankly at his coworker—friend?—for a long moment, before grabbing the rum bottle and taking a swig himself.

“Oi!”

“Thanks, man.” Denki pushes the bottle back at him and leans against the pillows with a sigh. “You heard him Uraraka. Let’s put it on.”

She puts it on.

He’s not fine. In fact, he’s an exceptionally miserable little bitch through the whole second half, chest aching and face red from tears as he puts himself in Sosuke’s shoes. Why couldn’t he and Hitoshi find a way to make it work? Why couldn’t they have a happy ever after?

Bakugou shoves a pillow at him and throws an arm loosely over his shoulders at some point, and soon Uraraka is curled up at his side. She’s too small, and he’s too warm, but he appreciates the gesture nonetheless.

 


 

Four days after the guppy’s release, Shouta finds himself on the ship’s deck for the first time in… he doesn’t know how long, to be honest. Staring out across the seemingly-endless vista of blue hasn’t brought him peace in years. Now’s no different.

He fights the desire to throw himself over the side of the ship and dive deep, past the reaches of the sun’s light and warmth. Entering the tank had been bad enough. If he were to touch the sea in its infinity, he’d be a goner, fins or not. He doesn’t want that; if he could just live alongside the water without the primal need to return to it, he and Hizashi could breathe easier at night. Especially at a time like this.

But the fickle magic still inside him itches, burns, more demanding than it has been in decades. So he loosens his grip on the railing and backs away to a nearby bench.

Hizashi joins him not soon after, taking a seat and slipping a hand into his. “Why are we meeting up here, Shou?”

Shouta tosses words around in his brain before answering, hoping to find the least alarming way to share the news. “I overheard some rumblings from the Applied Magic division this morning. They’re picking up small surges of power in the northern region. At the barrier’s edge, but they don’t know that.”

“The barrier?” Hizashi frowns. “Does that mean…?”

“He’s found the old settlement’s protected zone, yes. Been coming and going at his leisure by the sounds of it.” He huffs a sigh. “Wish he wouldn’t be so obvious. Someone’s going to think to watch that area soon.”

Hizashi’s staring at him, mouth agape. “Hold on. You’re telling me Hitoshi stuck around and hasn’t tried to get in contact?” There’s disappointment, maybe even hurt, growing in his gaze. “I was… so sure that they were meant to be together.”

Shouta shuffles in his seat. “I may have given him a bit to think over.”

The gaze on him turns hard; he can feel its sting, can even feel some of his husband’s vexed disbelief in his own mind. “Meaning what ...?”

“He wants to protect the ley-line. I explained the difficulties that a relationship with a human would bring to that.”

“Shouta!”

“He needed to know to make an informed decision—”

“—should’ve let them work it out—”

“—and I didn’t want him to throw his dreams, his goals, everything, away for what could just be a fleeting crush , Hizashi!”

The prolonged silence that follows lets Shouta know he fucked that wording up.

Hizashi’s lips purse. “Throwing away everything, huh?” His words are breathy and soft, all wrong. The mental connection between them floods with hurt and guilt.

“You know full well I’m not referring to us, ‘Zashi,” It’s not the first time the discussion’s come up in the past century. But ever since accidentally letting slip one night long ago that he himself hadn’t known the consequences of his choice before making it, the topic has been rough.

Hizashi’s expression remains pinched.

Shouta sighs; he supposes that this whole issue has brought the uncertainty back tenfold. Squeezing his husband’s hand, he murmurs, “I still don’t regret my decisions. I told Hitoshi that, too. But Hizashi… if he made the sacrifice and then changed his mind, or something went wrong… and I hadn’t said a word…”

Hizashi wilts at his side. “Okay. I can understand where you’re coming from.”

They’re silent again, listening to the waves and the gulls and the low thrum of machinery. It’s still not very peaceful to Shouta, but with his mate at his side, it’s easier to relax.

 


 

It takes Denki nearly a week to find some semblance of routine again, but when he does, he throws himself into it. He can’t keep stressing and wondering, it’s not healthy.

Yamada makes time to track him down at least once a day. They talk about little, pointless things, never mentioning him. Denki doesn’t know if that’s better or worse. He’s only seen Aizawa once since that night, and although the man had looked ready to ask a question, he’d stayed quiet. Simply… nodded. And that was it.

At the end of the week, just when he’s ready to stop hoping for some kind of miracle, a request comes through the technician task queue that makes his blood run cold.

Salvage Footage

Rover attacked near northern ridge of plateau - operator believes creature caught on video feed prior to exterior damage - reports vivid plum-colored scales and fins that do not match known mundane sea life nor magical fauna native to this area - please attempt to salvage and/or copy the video footage for further investigation - discretion requested.

Well, fuck that.

He’s got his phone out in shaky hands before even bothering to check the rest of the queue.

professor yamada, he was seen

what do we do

???

Denki looks over at the rover. Its front end is battered quite impressively considering that the machines are built to be solid enough to withstand mid-sea pressure. The small attachments usually fastened to the sides are all either missing or mangled; it’s an expensive loss. The camera itself is shattered, but the memory for it should be secure, deeper in.

His phone buzzes; a call, rather than a text. He swallows before answering. “Hel—”

“How do you know that?” It’s Aizawa, more alert than Denki’s ever heard him.

“A request came through my queue. It’s— it’s him, I know it, even if it’s vague—”

“Read it to me, Kaminari.”

He does, voice a bit shaky, but the man on the other end doesn’t comment on that. In fact, he’s quiet altogether for a long pause after Denki’s done.

“Who made the request?”

Denki skims the message. It’s a name he doesn’t recognize. “U-uhh, some guy called Okuta Kagero?”

Aizawa swears under his breath. “Kid, destroy the video. Use whatever you think will work. I have some things to take care of on my end. If the workshop has a drone available, get it ready. I’ll get in touch again shortly.” And then he hangs up.

Denki’s never been good at magic tricks or misdirection, but when it comes to destroying electronics beyond even his own repair, he’s a pro. Maybe he shouldn’t be so eager to zap the memory chip until it’s fried, but chances to play with electrical currents are few and far between, and this is for the best cause he can possibly imagine. One short-circuit later, he’s confident that the recording is gone for good.

It’s then he notices a message from a few minutes past:

Meet us at the hull, bring the drone. 

 


 

Aizawa doesn’t look at all comfortable. The man’s casting side-glances at the water as if he expects it to rise up and grab him any moment, while simultaneously fiddling with what appear to be several knotted strings attached to a loop. Beside him, Yamada holds a stone with a hole bored through it. He at least looks happier.

“Hey. What’s the plan? How can we throw them off?” Denki asks, setting aside his cane to fetch the drone out of the box. “Just so you know—this isn’t waterproof.”

“It doesn’t need to be. It’s just a delivery vehicle,” Aizawa grumbles. “For this.”

The collection of strings is… unimpressive, honestly. If Denki didn’t know the man better, he might guess that it’s just a frayed net, discarded and thrown away. Each string is knotted at different spots along its length, some more intricately than others, and a few have what seem to be fragments of shell and beads tied into it as well.

Before he can ask, Yamada leans in, stroking along one of the strings reverently. “A mer message,” he says with a smile.

“A warning.” Aizawa’s fingers deftly tie another bump in the last string. Then he takes the stone from Yamada and feeds the master loop through it, tying that off as well. “Hitoshi will likely be more cautious now that he’s been spotted, but that’s not enough. Destroyed footage won’t prevent follow-up.”

Denki swallows. “You think they’re going to hunt for him?” Like an animal. He gets the mental image of harpoons and nets, Hitoshi’s snarls and fear, and very nearly loses his breakfast. “They—they wouldn’t hurt him—couldn’t—could they? There’ve been treaties and laws in place, for like—”

“One hundred and seven years,” Aizawa answers automatically, voice low.

Yamada settles a hand on his husband’s back.

Once handed the strange rock-and-string creation—(a message?? He has so many questions)—Denki secures it to the graspers of the drone. “So we just drop this and wait for him to find it? How do we even know he’s in the right area?”

“It’s an estimate. We’ll lure him to it.” He pulls out a switchblade, then hesitates, and hands it to Yamada. “My blood…” he says, then clears his throat. “…he won’t recognize it.”

Of the three of them, was Aizawa really the only one who hadn’t been bitten or sliced? Denki’s own injury had been obvious and quite the cause for panic, and he distantly recalls the scrapes on Yamada (and everyone else in the water, for that matter) from wrangling Hitoshi into the tank the first day.

Yamada takes the knife with a grimace, looking nauseous.

“Use mine,” Denki says, before he can regret it. “I get cut up at work all the time anyways, it’s nothing. Plus he’ll definitely recognize mine, yeah?”

There are no protests. A minute later, the strings are splattered with red and Denki’s holding a cloth to his elbow to stop the bleeding. He watches Yamada inexpertly navigate the drone with its package far to the north, until the controller beeps a distance warning some three miles off. The ‘message’ is released to sink deep into the ocean below.

“And now we can only hope he gets it,” Yamada sighs, reversing the machine’s course until they’re able to retrieve it at last.

It feels too… simple. Not enough, just as Aizawa had said earlier. The thought of sitting around on this ship tinkering while Hitoshi might be putting his life at risk nearby is—

“Hold on,” Denki says slowly. “Why is he still this close? I know he can’t go home but the plateau is so shallow, there’s nowhere for him to hide!” A note of anxiety creeps into his voice unprompted. “What did that knot warning mean? We need to be specific—”

Kid. Calm down. There’s nothing we can do at this point except wait.”

Yamada sighs. “He’s worried, Shou.” A pause. “Kaminari, you mentioned the laws that protect mythical beings earlier. Do you know what event made them come about?”

He wracks his brain, but those high school history classes were too long ago. He shakes his head.

“Hizashi…” Aizawa grumbles.

“Love, I’m putting my foot down for this. You helped out your parallel protégé.” Yamada clamps a hand down on Denki’s shoulder and steers him towards the door. “And it’s high time I did the same for mine!”

Protégé? Denki thinks weakly as he’s escorted down through the ship to the bunk cabins. Yamada is a constant source of chatter the whole way, explaining the history of the old merfolk settlement of the Ogasawara Plateau. Its residents weren’t sirens like Hitoshi, but another subtype of mer known as ‘coral-fins’—smaller, brighter, and far less aggressive than their trench-dwelling kin.

“Hitoshi didn’t seem too aggressive,” he murmurs as Yamada fiddles with the door.

“No,” Yamada agrees. “But there are reasons for that. Come on in.”

It feels like stepping into a curiosities shop. For a three-month expedition, the pair have gone all-out, lining the walls of the common area with countless shelves. Each is filled with baubles and oddities of all sorts – jars of sea-glass, pottery both cracked and pristine, carved idols, semi-precious gemstones in heaps, stunning shells, and plenty of suspended string-messages like the one they’d dropped into the sea. Interspersed between the displays are various books and what appear to be hand-written journals.

Whistling, he turns in place. The collection really is impressive. “Nice treasure hoard,” he jokes.

“…Thank you,” Aizawa responds, to his surprise. The dark-haired man walks past and disappears into an adjoining room wearing an expression halfway between irritation and sheepishness.

Yamada steers Denki down onto one of the couches before plucking a pair of textbooks off a nearby shelf. “Don’t mind him. He’s not good with certain discussion topics, no matter how much they need to be addressed. But we can’t keep skirting around your involvement, can we?”

The upturn in volume at the end of the question leads Denki to believe that it’s not just meant for him. “Uhh… no?”

“No indeed. Unless you’ve changed your mind about protecting Hitoshi at all costs.” Yamada’s pale green gaze spears him to the couch. “But I don’t believe that’s the case.”

Denki’s breath leaves him in a rush. “I’ll do anything.

The professor’s intensity washes away like a tide over sand, leaving behind a wide grin. “I knew I recognized a kindred spirit in ya, Kaminari! You remind me so much of myself once upon a time. Speaking of…” he slides one book over, and his voice turns serious again. “The event I alluded to, the one that heralded the laws. Hits close to home, wouldn’t you say?”

The title before him reads ‘Genocide at Ogasawara: pre-treaty extermination of merfolk for magic’.

Denki rereads it three times before the reality of the title hits him like a punch to the gut. “Here? This settlement is what brought about the protection acts?”

After weeks of working in close conjunction with historians and researchers, he’d picked up on some of the old beliefs surrounding the mer, ideas formed when anything non-human was feared, envied, and treated like a beast. Among those was the nauseating theory that consuming mythical creature parts grants power—long since disproved—and that magical beings guard ley-lines to gatekeep humans from deserved ascension.

It’s no secret that Ogasawara Plateau once boasted one of the strongest ley-line paths in the Pacific—that was a fundamental interest of the expedition, after all—but it had never occurred to Denki that it might have brought about the disappearance of the local mer.

No—not disappearance. Slaughter.

Hizashi slides a bowl of ginger candies across the table to him. “The mer themselves are protected these days, as you pointed out. The laws defend magic-inherent populations globally, and was a brilliant step forward for relations between the mythical and mundane. But it can’t rewind the bloodshed on the plateau, and it specifically doesn’t protect that which the mer hold dearest. What they’re compelled to defend.”

Denki leans back, head swimming. “The ley-line. But—this one’s dead, I thought.”

“Not dead, Kaminari. Dormant. For over a century, certainly, but various sources believe that something big is about to come from it very soon.” Those green eyes glimmer.

Denki may not be a genius, but he can connect the dots just fine. “That’s why Hitoshi stuck around? He’s drawn to the ley-line waking up.” It makes more sense than staying for Denki’s sake, especially considering the siren hasn’t come to visit.

“Magic calls to magic,” Yamada says. “Shouta and I think he’s found the heart—that is, the chamber that gives shape and life to Chaos. He felt it pulsing earlier than the rest of us. But once the ley-line wakes up entirely, others—non-mer—will clue in. He’ll fight them to keep it safe, if he has to. That primal compulsion runs deep.”

Goosebumps crawls over Denki’s arms. “Fight them alone?”

“Not if we can help it,” Aizawa murmurs from the doorway, arms crossed.

Looking between the two of them, Denki can’t help but feel like he’s being tested. Yamada’s leaning towards him, bright and encouraging, a due contrast to the doubtful and guarded posture of his husband only paces away. There’s a kind of untouchable static that hangs in the room, eager to snap, building pressure. But towards what?

His mind turns to Hitoshi; dangerous, beautiful, fascinating, powerful Hitoshi. The thought of him hurts like an open wound, inexplicably raw despite the short time they’d spent together. It doesn’t make sense; none of the others seem as affected, as displaced from who they were before. It’s as if Denki’s life has been split into two defining halves, neatly bisected from the moment Hitoshi had said his name. A paradigm shift that’s left him floundering, lost, with only one light to guide his way.

“Please.” Denki swallows thickly, turning so he can face the two of them, folding his hands in his lap and dipping his upper body respectfully, desperately. “I know I’m just a kid to you. I don’t even know what use I can be. A-and maybe it’s weird that I feel so strongly about this, but I do, like I’m being compelled.” Heat burns in his eyes. “So please let me help. Let me fight with him, for him, however I can!”

He’s swept into Yamada’s hug at the first shuddery sob, and just lets it happen, giving into an encore of the pain from a week prior. This time, at least, he’s able to stay grounded, listening.

“Notoriously stubborn heart-thieves, aren’t they?” Yamada says softly. “I knew it was more than a crush. Your pain looked too familiar.”

Denki glances up, confused.

But his question is interrupted by Aizawa kneeling down beside them. The scruffy man’s eyebrows are tight and low, the line of his lips apologetic. “It seems I made an error in judgment. I wouldn’t take back my cautions to Hitoshi even if I could—they’re still important, regardless—but I am sorry for doubting you, Kaminari.”

Yamada continues. “I’m sure when his goals have been met, when there are others to help protect the ley-line, he’ll leave the sea for you if you ask. Until then, of course you can help—”

“Hold on, no,” Denki interrupts, pushing back from the man and swiping an arm over his own eyes. “What? Leave the sea?”

The ticking of the wall-clock fills the brief silence before Aizawa murmurs, “If he chooses to give up his magic, Hitoshi can live with you on land. Functionally, that is. Like a human.”

At first, Denki thinks of Ponyo , and the miserable prayer he’d made curled around a pillow with his friends bracketing either side. This was the chance he’d asked for, wasn’t it? Some small miracle to make it all work out.

But that was before he’d learned about the imminent magical surge and Hitoshi’s determination to safeguard the ley-line once and for all. A renewed purpose, following the near-eradication of his people. A goal which would no doubt require every bit of magic the siren could muster.

“I would never ask him to do that. I don’t want to make him choose.” He steels his shoulders, meeting Aizawa’s gaze. “We’ll make it work some other way. As long as I know he’s coming back to me… I can be happy.”

Aizawa, in a rare wide-eyed display, merely blinks.

Denki finds himself tugged unceremoniously back into a hug by the more emotive of the pair, Yamada blubbering something that sounds remarkably like ‘can we keep him, Shou?’ , along with scatterings of praise and other reassurances. He laughs and pats the tall man’s back awkwardly.

“Really, it’s— it doesn’t take much.” He looks at his hands. “My stuff on the mainland’s in storage. Nobody’s waiting for me back there. Chichijima could probably use another mechanic, right? And then when I’ve saved up enough, I’ll buy a boat to live on the water as much as I can.” He’d been writing ideas of the sort in the margins of his workbook all week, figuring out the logistics of a dream. But... there was one hang-up. Denki frowns. “The language barrier is the kicker. I dunno know how to approach that.”

Yamada chuckles, and lets him go with a sly glance at his husband. “I think we can help in that regard. Shouta’s something of a natural.”

Said husband looks thoroughly unamused. “Spell it right out for him, why don’t you?”

“Come on, love, he’s going to learn sooner or later!”

“Then let it be later.”

Denki stares at him. “You know how to speak their language?”

“Oh yes, rather fluently,” Yamada says, suddenly far too jolly. “We’ve had quite some time to teach each other, little listener. You see, he and I were also hopelessly smitten and facing that same barrier, once!”

“Hizashi!”

“It’s technically later, dear.”

Denki tunes out their bickering in favor of letting the puzzle pieces come together. They do so awkwardly and with great difficulty, like a toddler mashing a square block into a circular hole until it somehow defies logic and physics to pass through. And pass it does, because he’s suddenly picturing Aizawa with horns, fins, and a tail, and it… isn’t completely unbelievable.

Actually, as the seconds pass by, it starts to make sense. A small part of him thinks that maybe he should be more surprised by this revelation, and yet that part is dwarfed by relief and—dare he say hope?

“Okay… alright. I have… so many questions,” Denki mumbles, catching both sets of eyes. “But for now, just… does Hitoshi know?”

Aizawa, caught in a smothering and seemingly pacifying hug from behind by his toothpick of a partner, just sighs and nods.

Denki huffs out a laugh, eyes wet. “That’s—that’s great. Shit, man. He’s not alone.”

Once again, the man appears taken aback. “Pardon?”

“I said he’s not alone. ” He chokes back his tears; at least they’re happy ones this time. “I kept thinking how sad it would be to have nobody to talk to—let alone relate to. But he has you!” A strike of realization hits him, and he laughs again, leaning back as if allowing relief to flood through his whole being. “So you’ve already chatted with him then, yeah? Kinda jealous, not gonna lie. What’s he like, really?”

There’s a strange roughness to Aizawa’s voice as the man retorts, “He’s a brat.”

Denki’s grin is borderline painful. “Sounds about right.”

“Shouta’s attached,” Yamada supplies gleefully.

The other man doesn’t try to deny it, merely rolling his eyes before speaking again. “That aside, the issue of contacting him still stands. I’m confident he’ll find the warning, but he still can’t approach the expedition ship safely. One-sided feedback won’t be enough.”

The giddy high comes to an abrupt, sobering close. Right, there’s still the matter of actually helping the siren. Words wouldn’t ward off greed.

“That house-boat I’m gonna save for would be great right about now, huh,” Denki mumbles. “Don’t suppose one of you has one laying around?”

Aizawa shakes his head.

His husband, however, taps his chin. “ We don’t… but…” He twists his lips thoughtfully, giving Aizawa a side-eye stare. “Shou… she can help.”

The dark haired man’s puzzlement lasts a solid five seconds, before his brows slam down close over a sharp glare, a muscle in his cheek twitching. “No. Absolutely not.”

“She’s your friend! I know it’s been a while, but she did offer a favor...”

“‘Zashi, last time she also tried to eat you.”

Yamada waves a hand flippantly. “It’s been what, half a century? Forgive and forget! Besides, what other options do we have?”

It’s almost possible to see the gears clicking and whirring in Aizawa’s head, searching for any possible positive answer to that question. Denki stays silent, wondering whether he should take that last exchange with a grain of salt or be thoroughly worried.

By the way the ex-siren’s shoulders droop, he’s got a feeling it’s the latter.

“I don’t like it,” he growls. “But you’re right. Give me the phone.”