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Sorry, I Don't Speak Fish

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The first time he does it, it’s completely accidental.

 

He’s minding his own damn business, cruising along near the seafloor in search of something to eat before night makes it harder to hunt, when a fish explodes into motion, moving towards the surface in jerky, desperate movements.

 

Honestly, with potential prey  so distracted, he just sees an easy catch and darts for it, grabbing on and digging his claws through tough scales to get a solid grip. Of course, he’d expected the fish to stop moving towards the surface, but there’s a solid yank, and he’s pulled up with it. 

 

Katsuki swipes through the water above the fish once, twice, before hitting the line. It’s pretty solid and he realizes that, god dammit, it’d slacked just enough to tangle along his fins. 

 

He’s a fuck ton bigger than any fish someone’s about to catch with a line, though, so he just grabs onto it as well as he can and yanks back. There’s a short back and forth – he’s in the water, so he’s got less traction than someone on a dock, but he’s also got a tail made for power and he’s more than strong enough to make it count – before he manages to rip the fishing rod out of whatever idiot’s hand and into the water.

 

His victory comes with a cost, though, and the hook sinks firmly into the meat of his hand, where he’d readjusted his grip around the fish’s head. It stings like a motherfucker, and he knows the only way to get something so  viciously barbed out of him is to push it through, except the other side is still in the fucking fish , so he has to get rid of that first.

 

Sure, he’d been looking for a meal, but if he liked his food with a side of pain he’d eat nothing but urchins. Still, with one hand out of the equation, teeth are the best way to go, so he tears at the fish, letting his tail thrash when it jostles the hook. 

 

It doesn’t take long before the fish is essentially a cloud of scales around him and he’s revealed the hook. He’s ready to just grit his jaw and push the hook through when he realises he can’t. He can’t bring up his other arm all the way, sharp lines digging into his skin when he tries. 

 

Of course, of fucking course, in his focus on the stupid goddamn hook, he’d forgotten to cut the line. It’s a stupid baby mistake – everyone knows that the first thing you’re supposed to do when you get caught up in fishing equipment is making sure there’s no peices near you big enough to tangle up around your body. Except, he’d gone and ignored it, and just his luck, as it sunk and as he moved he’d trapped himself in a looping mess. 

 

So Katsuki bites through or slices every line he can reach, but it’s not enough. There’s none putting direct pressure on his gills, so he can still pump enough water to avoid suffocating, which brings the situation from “you are going to die” to “you are going to be humiliatingly discovered and never ever live it down”, at the very least. 

 

His pride still can’t take that.

 

And the line might cut into him when he tries to move too much, but he has a limited range of motion, and he can just barely swim.

 

There’s some rough rocks near the shore. It’s probably not a great idea to go there, but it’s also a better option than waiting for someone to find him. The beach he’s thinking of is normally empty, especially when the light is already dusk-pale. 

 

He’s had worse than some scrapes, and if he can get just one arm free, he can deal with everything else. So he sets off for the shore.

 

It goes great until he’s actually by the beach. Katsuki is fully prepared to scrape himself bloody against the rocks to get rid of the tangled loops of line around him when he realizes he can’t get enough force behind him to do much more than let the waves slam him into the rocks. It hurts, and it’s not at all useful in damaging the lines even though the sharp barnacles are definitely still slicing into his skin. He painfully and awkwardly makes his way to the side of the rock he’s gotten far more familiar with than he’d like.

 

He’s bruised, bloody, and sore to his very bones, he’s still got a fish hook in his hand that hurts every time he so much as twitches, and he’s tangled enough to make moving in calm water difficult. There’s nothing to do about it. Katsuki is getting beached.

 

So he grits his teeth, pumps his tail in pathetic little movements, and lets the waves drive him up onto the shore.

 

***

 

Of course, once he’s beached, he’s sort of stuck there. It’s marginally safer than the water, but safer doesn’t mean comfortable, and without the use of his arms he’s at the mercy of the tides.

 

High tide is unpleasant. The water pounds against him again and again and a-fucking-gain, and the sandy surf thoroughly scrubs out his scrapes, which hurts like a motherfucker and has the added benefit of rubbing his skin raw. Part of him is glad when it’s over, and the waves retreat until surf just barely brushes him.

 

But with a low tide, he’s left dry and cold. He wants to thrash himself back into the water, but every inch of him aches and it’s easier to to just lay there. He can’t sleep, spends the night watching the stars inch across the sky.

 

By the time the sky starts to lighten, only the surf from the biggest waves hits his tail. It’s cool and damp, and there’s enough fog rolling in from the ocean to make him feel like he’s the only living thing in the grey world, stuck listening to the pounding of the waves without ever reaching them..

 

When Katsuki sees motion through the fog, he tells himself the renewed thrashing isn’t panic. It’s undeniable that moving was stupid, though, because instead of passing, the figure stops and comes closer.

 

It’s a man, with red hair and red clothes and even a red cast to his face, chest heaving as he stares at Katsuki, slack jawed. He steps closer, and his mouth moves. Katsuki bares his teeth and hisses as aggressively as he can.

 

The man freezes. He slowly squats down and reaches a placating hand out, inching towards Katsuki. His eyes dart up and down his body, and his expression changes from open and moderately shocked to something hard and determined. He stops and waits until Katsuki gives up on hissing and slumps back down into the sand, and then he lunges forwards, putting himself over Katsuki and grabbing him so that he can’t twist and bite or claw him, as tangled as he is.

 

Katsuki does his level best to get this human off of him , but the man just drops his full weight onto him, and he’s warm and solid and plants a hand right on the back of Katsuki’s head to keep him from rearing back and trying to get him with the sharp fins that frame his face. It takes a long time for Katsuki to calm down, but the man only moves to restrain him and doesn’t seem to have an interest in hurting him, so eventually he goes still.

 

The man lets go of his head, and he twists to look at him, baring his teeth in a snarl. The man’s mouth moves, and he gives an awkward shrug and an apoligetic grin, before his eyebrows tic up into a more worried expression and he moves his mouth some more, and he can just barely hear muffled sound which must mean something but Katsuki sure as fuck doesn’t know what. 

 

The man looks at him expectantly.

 

Katsuki glares back.

 

After a brief deadlock, the man’s mouth goes wide and he starts gesturing. He points to the line wrapped around Katsuki, then makes a fist without his first and second fingers, keeping them straight and tapping them together like it’s supposed to mean something. It looks like… a bird beak snapping open and shut, maybe? Pincers? 

 

Maybe he’s trying to say Katsuki is going to get eaten if he stays tied up?

 

No shit, Katsuki thinks, Seagulls and crabs are both asshole scavengers who’ll eat anything.

 

The man seems to take Katsuki’s eye roll as an answer of some sort, though, because he shuffles around in his strange red clothing and pulls something out. His mouth moves more as he messes with the object, and Katsuki is just about calmed down again when it becomes very apparent that the object had been concealing a blade.

 

He starts thrashing again, and the man opens his mouth again, wider than before, and  Katsuki can feel his mouth turning into an ugly snarl again, can feel his eyes going wide with fear, and he hates humans, hates their violence and their inherent weakness and hates this human pinning him down in particular.

 

Except, the man’s eyes are going wide and panicked too, and his mouth is moving and his hands are spread in supplication, one thumb keeping the small knife pressed into his hand. Even as Katsuki bucks and squirms and tries to bite or scratch, he moves one hand to brace against his shoulder, and takes the blade right up against his skin.

 

Instead of cutting in, he cuts out. A line goes loose.

 

Katsuki stills. He feels like an ass. This human, this stupid human, is trying to help him.

 

The man smiles, and he moves again, slow and careful, and cuts another line. 

 

It takes a little bit, but once one arm is free, Katsuki is able to lever himself up and start picking at the line himself. The man backs up the instant he moves, but once Katsuki is up he rolls his eyes and curls his free hand towards himself to tell him to come back over. It’ll go faster with three hands than one.

 

He pretends he doesn’t like the bright grin and the enthusiastic nod.

 

Between the two of them, they get rid of the fishing line in short order, and then there’s only the hook.

 

It’s buried deep in the meat between Katsuki’s thumb and forefinger, so close to his palm it’d be flesh even on a human’s unwebbed hands. He can’t quite help but flinch away every time he touches it, and he’s ready to just grit his teeth and power through it when the man – and he really needs to come up with a better name for him – grabs his hand in a gentle, firm grip.

 

The other hand stills before it touches the hook, and he looks up at Katsuki, weird hair starting to fall into wide, worried eyes. Katsuki nods once, something firm and determined, and decides he better grit his teeth anyway.

 

The man with shitty hair works fast, and Katsuki refuses to look away from the hook. It turns his stomach to see the metal getting pushed deeper in and breaking back out from his hand, but even though he can feel Shitty Hair’s pulse racing, his hands are steady and pull the hook through in smooth, efficient motions.

 

It hurts like a motherfucker, and Katsuki can feel the air through his teeth as he hisses, but it would have been a lot worse if he’d done it himself.

 

Shitty hair drops the hook onto his palm, and Katsuki immediately hurls it as far into the waves as he can. Good fucking riddance.

 

He’s about to start hauling himself back into the sea now that he’s got two working limbs to walk himself on, when hands grab ahold of his again and the human is gently pressing something sticky and smooth onto his skin, pressing down the edges of the small strip of plastic to seal the adhesive to his palm. Then, he looks at Katsuki with a grin, stands up, and squats down to pick Katsuki up.

 

Katsuki is not small or delicate. His human half is bulky and well built, and his tail is longer than any legs and thick with muscle. It’s difficult for others to move him around in water, but on land? Shitty Hair is strong, because he manages to pick him up and walk with him.

 

He wades into the water, and Katsuki is surprised enough to stay in his arms until Shitty Hair reaches about waist-depth and drops his tail, keeping a sturdy arm around Katsuki’s waist. He’s got an arm braced over Shitty Hair’s broad shoulders from when he’d grabbed on as a reflex to keep himself balanced, and his skin prickles wherever they touch. 

 

Katsuki gives himself half a second to compose himself before forcing his arm away and dropping into the water with an undignified splash. Shitty Hair lets go of his waist, and even though he still aches everywhere, the relief of being mobile and back in the ocean is amazing.

 

He can hear and smell properly again, and he winces a little at the thick scent of blood. The crashing of the waves around them drowns out most other noise, though, so Katsuki isn't losing much when he puts his head above the water again and nods at Shitty Hair, who grins wide and bright and gives Katsuki the sign for “leaving”.

 

It might be a little abrupt, but helping him wasn’t exactly a planned event, and the man might have things to do. Katsuki gives a rough nod of acknowledgement, and lets the next wave swallow him.



***

 

A mermaid. Merman? Merperson?

 

What the hell.

 

Already, it seems like some sort of ridiculous fever dream. But there’s blood under Kirishima’s nails and he’s standing waist-deep in the ocean with sore, raw hands, staring into space, shellshocked and vaguely offended, because all his brain can really process right now is how he’s never seen anyone scowl so viciously at a thumbs up, of all things. Is that, like, the mermaid middle finger?

 

He eventually gathers himself enough to wade back to shore and shove his pocket knife back into his shorts (and he’s glad for his cargo shorts; he’d never think to carry a knife and band-aids on a casual run otherwise). There’s tangles of fishing twine deep furrows in the sand where the merman had lain, and he pinches himself as hard as he can.

 

Not a dream, then.

 

Pollution is serious, and Kirishima has just seen an excellent example of how dangerous discarded fishing line can be, so he gathers up all of the trash he can see. After that, there’s nothing left, no more problems to throw himself at, no obvious plan of action. He’ll take a shortcut home, he thinks. This jog has been eventful enough.

 

Before he reaches the trail off the beach, he looks back, and tries to cement the past fifteen minutes in his memory.

 

The merman was amazing, and impossible, and beautiful, but he’ll probably never see anything like it again.



***

 

Katsuki can’t let it go. The wounds heal quickly, and he loses patience with the flimsy adhesive strip within a day, but he can’t forget the feeling of a warm, strong body against his, or the gentle hands untangling him from a mess of his own making.

 

So he stakes out the beach. It’s not hard; he’s a proficient hunter and has never found any issues getting enough food, and his free time is normally used up exploring or sparring. It’s not a big deal to take a few days and see if he can see Shitty Hair again.

 

He’s lucky that Shitty Hair’s, well, hair is so distinctive. The bright, unnatural red sticks out like a sore thumb, even from the rocks where he keeps himself hidden, far before the waves break. It’s easy to spot him on his morning jog, and it’s even possible to figure out that he’s from the small coastal village not far from the tiny beach Katsuki had met him on. 

 

In the afternoon, he likes to sit on a small, out-of-the-way dock and let his feet dangle into the water, and drops little bits of food into the water to see silvery minnows darting up to eat. It’s stupid. Katsuki doesn’t know why he keeps showing up to watch.

 

It’s easy to figure out Shitty Hair’s patterns. He lives life on a regular schedule, and rarely deviates from that. Deciding what to do about it is harder.

 

So when Katsuki sees a fishing net hanging into the ocean and is struck by a sudden wave of inspiration, he doesn’t hesitate.

 

It takes barely any effort to cut a big chunk off of the net, especially when he can see the sturdy black cords that make it. The fishermen’s catch escapes, but frankly, he doesn’t give a shit, and he swims off with his prize gripped tight.

 

He waits by the beach until about half an hour before Shitty Hair is due to show up. Then, his plan goes into action. He tangles his tail up into an impressively complex mess of netting, hauls himself onto the sand, and tangles his arms even more thoroughly, until he can barely move without the strong rope biting into his skin.

 

All Katsuki has to do now is wait. 

 

Sure enough, Shitty Hair hits the sand exactly when expected. It’s only a few steps before he sees Katsuki, and then he’s hauling ass, switching from a steady, even jog into a sprint.

 

Katsuki can even hear that, as he comes closer, the impact of his steps rattling through the wet sand and into his skull.

 

Shitty Hair looks worried, and falls to his knees next to him right away, mouth moving away. He reaches out and starts tugging at the net, careful to let up when it starts digging into Katsuki’s skin. He struggles with the netting for a few moments, but when he can’t get any headway (and isn’t that satisfying, that even when he’s doing something like tangling himself up in a net, Katsuki is good at it) the knife makes an appearance again.

 

He moves slower this time, less nervous. It takes more work to saw through the line of the net, and he takes to bracing one hand against Katsuki while the other holds the knife. It’s a lot less painful, too, since his skin isn’t worn raw by pounding waves, and even when the cord bites into him, it isn’t thin enough to cut.

 

But Shitty Hair is so careful and gentle that it hardly even tightens. He cuts away at it carefully and methodically, occasionally urging Katsuki to turn this way or that. Katsuki is still Katsuki, so even as he turns at the prompting of a gentle shove at his shoulder, he snaps his teeth at Shitty Hair’s wrist. There’s no real intent behind it, and after about the second time he does it Shitty Hair seems to get the message.

 

Still, even with both of them cooperating, it takes nearly half an hour for Shitty Hair to cut Katsuki out entirely, and he can’t help but feel proud at how well his plan worked. Of course, Shitty Hair’s mouth had been moving the whole damn time, which was completely unhelpful because Katsuki can’t really hear him and even if he could he probably wouldn’t understand.

 

Once he’s free, Shitty Hair rocks back on his heels and looks at him with a big smile. He moves his mouth more, and Katsuki rolls his eyes and mimics him, just moving his jaw up and down. Shitty Hair goes red, and looks down, mouth still moving while a hand goes to rub at the back of his neck.

 

Well, that won’t fucking do, so Katsuki smacks him to get his attention and gives the sign for “okay” again, and when Shitty hair gives it back and confirms that there’s no issue, he nods, satisfied. Shitty hair seems to get his intention, at least, because he smiles again, although it’s not quite as wide as before.

 

It’s still a nice smile.

 

They sit there for a little bit, neither of them really doing anything, before Shitty Hair stands up. This time, Katsuki’s arms go up even before Shitty hair has finished squatting back down to pick him up, and his mouth opens again, but this time Katsuki gets scooped up against his shaking chest and he can press his temple against his throat to hear his laughter, so he can’t even find it in him to be annoyed at Shitty Hair for doing something so useless.

 

Of course, Shitty Hair is completely oblivious while he wades into the water. When he gets waist deep, he lets go of Katsuki, who can’t help but to keep hanging around his neck just for a moment before forcing himself to let go and drop back into the water. 



***



Halfway through the second ‘accident’, they finally manage to come to an understanding that 1) Katsuki can’t hear fuckshit out of the water, so Shitty Hair is going to have to gesture or touch for his attention and 2) Shitty Hair is going to keep his mouth moving regardless of whether Katsuki can hear and/or understand. Still, communication smooths out considerably after that, because Katsuki is used to seeing humans use their hands to talk underwater and he never really needs to say anything other than “come over”, “here”, and “stop”. Shitty Hair switches over to gestures whenever he wants to tell him something, and manages to make himself clear even without using the signs Katsuki knows.

 

(He does seem to have a tendency to use the sign for “leave” often, including when it makes no goddamn sense. But since when have humans ever made any goddamn sense. Especially pretty ones that are too kind for their own good.)

 

It’s fine, but call him an attention whore, because he still  wants to spend more time around him. 

 

Katsuki decides to take full advantage of the man’s apparent trust in him - the idiot has grabbed his hands, which have razor sharp claws, stupid, more than once, and continued to do so even when he’d gotten nicked – to steal away more of his time.

 

He shows up at the dock a little after Shitty Hair does. He’s just sitting there, a red silhouette turned all wobbly by the surface of the water, feet hanging into the ocean and attracting little minnows. Katsuki might be a fuck ton bigger than most of the sea life that hangs out in shallow water, and his dark scales don’t exactly give him an advantage under the midday sun, but he manages to slip through the seaweed unnoticed. 

 

The water under the dock is cool and shaded, and he gives himself a moment to just hang in the water and rest. The world is quiet and still around them. Katsuki stares up at the silhouette through the salt-stained boards.

 

Shitty Hair’s screech shatters any semblance of peace. It’s more than loud enough to carry under the water, and Katsuki laughs, grabbing tighter to his ankle as the man tries to shake him off. 

 

When he twists to see him, Shitty Hair looks terrified, teeth fully bared in a yell and pretty eyes wide with panic as he scrambles back from whatever was clinging onto him. It is an exceptionally ridiculous expression, and one Katsuki can enjoy since he’s the one who caused it, and he’s not about to try and eat a human. 

 

(He likes this one. And even if he didn’t, gross. Human would be so tough.)

 

When he lets go, and Shitty Hair goes flying backwards, and hits the dock with a clatter that rattles through the sturdy columns. Katsuki pulls himself up to rest his arms on the warm wood, and gives him a wild grin.

 

He gets an ugly hunk of foam to the face for his troubles.

 

Shitty Hair sits there and stares for a moment, chest heaving, before he dissolves into shaking laughter and collapses backwards. 

 

***

 

Kirishima just about has a heart attack when he’s having lunch on the dock and something fucking grabs him.

 

The grip around his ankle is like a vice, and he hurls himself further onto the dock, screaming like a banshee. He manages to yank his leg away, and he’s ready to run away when something pushes up onto the dock, and holy shit, that’s a lot of very sharp teeth.

 

The croc is out of his hand by the time he recognizes the merman’s pale hair and flashy fins.

 

There’s a beat where he’s frozen, heart still racing and head still spinning from adrenaline, and the merman just sits there with the most shocked, offended expression Kirishima has ever seen. It’s so much he can’t help but to laugh, flopping back against the dock in an effort to catch his breath.

 

“Aw, shit, you scared me!” He says. He’s fully aware that the merman doesn’t seem to hear too well, and probably doesn’t understand human speech anyway, but it makes him feel better to talk. “I wasn’t expecting you here. Should you even be here? I mean, you keep getting caught in fishing nets, so it can’t be too safe for you around people.”

 

The merman, for all Kirishima’s attraction admiration, is a bit of a jerk, and has apparently decided that there’s been enough waiting, because there’s a massive splash that leaves Kirishima spluttering seawater. With a wet cough, he rolls on his side and faces the edge of the dock, where he’s met with a scowl and crossed arms.

 

“Sorry,” Kirishima says. The merman scowls harder, though whether he’s guessed about an apology or is just pissed off at more useless talking is hard to tell. 

 

He scoots back to the edge of the dock and lets his feet hang in the water, and grabs his (miraculously spared from any splashing! yes!) sandwich. He’s still gotta eat, and it’s not like he can make conversation with the merman.

 

It’s nice, sitting in the sun with quiet company, even if said company is soaking his thigh and has a sharp fin pressing into his ribs from where his head and shoulders are resting on the dock. He finishes his sandwich and lies back, lets himself ramble on about an order he’s supposed to fill for a wedding party, about the form itself and about how worried he is that the glaze is going to run or end up a weird color, or that they’ll get the set of vases and suddenly decide that they actually hate his work, as rough and solid as it is compared to Yaomomo’s dainty porcelain creations.

 

The side of the merman’s head is still pressed up against his hip as he talks, and he finds himself idly stroking salt-rough hair. There’s no objection, and he finds himself staying far longer than he’d meant to, only realizing how much time he’s spent rambling when his phone buzzes in his pocket and the merman jumps a solid foot in the air with a familiar hiss.

 

Kirishima reads the text from Yaomomo telling him that the pots he left out to dry a little more are going to get too hard to trim in the hot sun and swears, scrambling to get his things together. The merman sits and glares, looking for all the world like a pissed off cat.

 

He’s ready to head back to the studio and make sure he doesn’t have to throw another dozen cups when he runs into a little snag. His shoe is gone. He’d just never grabbed it’d bounced off the merman’s face into the water, and now it’s way out of reach, slowly floating out to sea.

 

With a sigh, Kirishima figures he’ll just bite the bullet and walk back barefoot, even if it means Yaomomo’s going to scold him again about not wearing close-toed shoes. He gives his beloved croc a last mournful look, and mentally thanks it for being so sturdy and washable. 

 

A goodbye is on his lips when he turns to the merman, but he’s already slipping into the water. Kirishima gives himself a moment to admire the smooth way he moves, when he realizes that he’s making a beeline for his shoe, and his jaw nearly drops when he grabs it. And he’s just about to actually leave when he gets smacked in the forehead with a dearly beloved piece of foam. 

 

He can’t help but grin, and yells his thanks to the merman as he gives him a thumbs up and disappears, as abrupt as ever.

 

His shoe squishes for the rest of the day, but he can’t wipe the sappy smile from his lips.



***

 

Katsuki and Shitty Hair fall into an easy pattern for a few days. They meet up at the dock (and the beach; he’s not giving that stunt up just yet), and  Shitty Hair eats his weird nasty food and Katsuki hangs around, looking for shellfish or harassing crabs or napping in the sun. It’s not like they see each every day, but they’ve spent enough time together that something starts to grate on Katsuki.

 

Shitty Hair is still just Shitty Hair, and god knows what the fuck he’s been calling Katsuki.

 

It pisses him off.

 

He’s stuck getting attached to a human and spending way too much of his time thinking about his smile and strong arms and calloused hands and pretty eyes and he doesn’t even know his goddamn name.

 

They’re at the dock when his patience finally snaps. Shitty Hair is just sitting there, face tilted up to face the sun and a soft smile and Katsuki feels lightheaded and hot and frankly like he might throw up from the weight of whatever’s taken up residence underneath his ribs. It’s fucking stupid to feel this way about someone and still have to think of them as some ridiculous epithet.

 

And, well, he’s always been a fan of direct action.

 

“Hey, Shitty Hair.” He says, and he knows the human won’t be able to understand the series of clicks and hisses, but it works to get his attention.

 

“My name’s Bakugou Katsuki.” He points at himself and feels like an idiot, both generally and for not doing this the first time he showed up at the dock. “Kat-su-ki.”

 

He gets a dumbfounded stare, and he repeats himself, saying the part of his name human vocal chords have a chance in hell of replicating again. Shitty Hair says something, which, thanks for nothing since he can’t fucking hear it.

 

Easy solution to that, though.

 

Shitty Hair nearly falls into the water when Katsuki grabs his shirt and pulls him down so they’re close enough, and just barely manages to stay dry by grabbing onto one a posts. Katsuki hauls himself up to press the side of his head against the base of Shitty Hair’s throat and spares some vague guilt at the way a fin jabs into the soft underside of his chin. He can hear, though, Shitty Hair’s heartbeat and breath and the stuttered attempts at his name.

 

It takes a few tries for Shitty Hair to spit out an acceptable bastardization, and Katsuki nods his approval. He sits there for a long minute and it takes Katsuki releasing his death grip on the man’s shirt and jabbing a finger into his chest for him to get with the program. 

 

“Ah, Kirishima?” He says, and Katsuki tries to wrap his tongue around the sound. It’s a bitch, and he can’t quite get the whole name but he can just manage something like “Kiri”, and apparently that’s good enough because Kirishima looks like he just gave him the goddamn moon.

 

Katsuki rolls his eyes. Heat rises into his face and he pretends he’s not blushing.

 

He’s finished what he wanted to do, though, so he just lets himself slump sideways into Kiri’s lap and makes sure to flick some water at his face. He can’t handle such a sappy expression, what the hell is he thinking, looking at him like that.



***

 

The worn wood of the dock tingles against Kirishima’s palms, and he revels in the sensation. High grog clay might leave your hands sore, but he doesn’t mind. Some grit ground into his palms is a good tradeoff for tall, strong forms, and he’s always had thick skin in more ways than one.

 

He’s drifting in his own thoughts, comfortable and calm and enjoying the sea breeze, when  a certain someone decides it’s an appropriate time to set a fish in his lap.

 

It flops violently and he yelps, shrinking back and slapping it back into the water. Katsuki scowls at him and sulks away, hiding under the dock the way he does when he doesn’t want to interact with him but also doesn’t want to leave. For all his bluster and bite (sometimes literal. Kiri thinks he’s just playing but those teeth are wicked , and he’s come out of wrestling matches with blood on his arms) he really is soft. Kinda reminds him of a grumpy cat. 

 

And apparently he’s expanded into bringing back presents, because he drops not one, not two, but four more fish in Kirishima’s lap over the next half-hour. They only get bigger and more impressive, from the first hand-length one to something as long as his forearm, and frankly he’d like to know where the hell Katsuki is getting them because he’s been hanging around the dock the whole time.

 

By the time he has to leave his pants are soaked with seawater instead of just some splotches of wet clay, and even polite as she is, Yaomomo wrinkles her nose when he walks by.

 

The next day, he’s spared getting live fish dumped on him, because apparently Katsuki’s caught on that he’s just going to pitch them back into the ocean. Instead, he gets dead fish, which is arguably worse. He throws them back and Katsuki turns it into the world’s most cursed game of fetch, before giving up and sulkily eating the fish, which ends up being equally cool and horrifying to watch. 

 

Not even because of the gore, but because he’s such a fantastically messy eater. Seriously, scales everywhere.

 

It turns into a trend, and over the next few weeks Kirishima is practically beating away gifts of dead fish. Yes, it’s impressive how huge some of the specimens Katsuki brings in are, but also he has no interest in lugging around a giant dead fish when he doesn’t even know if humans can eat it. He refuses again and again, much to Katsuki’s frustration, and the jerk keeps finding ways to give him ‘gifts’ regardless. He can feed himself just fine without pocket fish, thanks, no need to worry.

 

He does end up bringing one home accidentally. He opens his backpack to find one of the biggest, most vibrant rock cods he’s ever seen, and folds like a wet paper towel. It’s a thoughtful, if misguided, gesture, and he does know that rock cod are edible. 

 

Fresh fish makes for an excellent dinner.



***

 

Katsuki’s going to fucking explode. He feels hot and prickly and his face hurts from blushing so hard.

 

Kirishima probably doesn’t understand the implications of his gift, he shouldn’t get so flustered. He’s just reciprocating a gesture without knowing what it means.

 

But still, he’d accepted some of his gifts (it’d taken some trial and error, but he will take shells, which seems sort of stupid, since you can’t really eat them, and he’s willing to count the one fish he didn’t return, even if he threw it out somewhere else) and now he’s given him one in return, and that means something to Katsuki.

 

He’d completely gotten the spirit of the gift wrong, which should be annoying but ends up thinking it’s cute. It’s entirely useless, and Katsuki still finds himself inordinately fond of the little sculpture. There’s nothing edible involved and it can’t be used as a tool like a sharp clamshell, and it proves nothing about Kiri’s capability as anything but an artist. But it’s pretty and small and the smooth surface of the ceramic fish is painted in the same glossy colors as his tail and Kirishima had turned a shade of pink that made him want to bite his cheeks and curl around him when he’d given it to him.

 

When he leaves the dock, he immediately goes to stash it with all his other important belongings. The bright streaks of orange stand out among the tarnished blades and strings of pearl-and-abalone currency. Nothing else is there just because but Katsuki’s never been the sentimental type that values things without a clear purpose. He’d probably pass the little fish sculpture by if he’d gotten it from anywhere else, but it’s a gift from Kirishima, and that makes it one of the most personally valuable things he owns, now.

 

He is so incredibly screwed.

 

There’s nowhere to go from here; he can keep bringing Kirishima gifts and showing his intentions as much as he wants but there’s no guarantee that he’ll understand and even less of a chance that he’ll reciprocate. At the very least, he wishes there was a way to just communicate with him and ask him what the hell is going on. But Katsuki can’t even hear properly out of the water, much less understand human speech, and Kiri can’t understand his language either. He’d write, but they run into the problem with writing systems and learning languages from scratch again, which just isn’t feasible. 

 

Katsuki swims in tight, agitated loops as he tries to figure out some solution. There’s one option, but he’s got no reason to think that it’ll work out.

 

Fuck it, he’s done more for less.

 

There’s a cave, at the very edge of Katsuki’s normal range. It’s at the coast, and the entrance is entirely submerged except for at the lowest tides, and it’s too surrounded by barren, jagged rocks to interest divers. A strategic place to live, if you want humans to leave you alone.

 

The little weirdo who lives there sure does. It’s understandable, given what he’s been through, in their experimentation and study of his uncanny intelligence.

 

But those experiences make him the closest thing to an expert on humans that Katsuki can actually talk to.

 

So Nedzu’s gross, dim cave is his best option to communicate with Kirishima. He collects enough shellfish and edible seaweed to make an initial payment/bribe/tribute and mentally steels himself for whatever the hell kind of reaction a traumatized sentient rodent (?) is going to have at one of the local merfolk asking to learn human sign language.

 

It goes shockingly smoothly. He breaks the surface and Nedzu is sitting there like he’s waiting for him, with a cheerful wave and an offer of that bitter brewed leaf concoction he’s so fond of. He takes a reluctant sip to be polite (and immediately spits it out, ew) while he waits for Nedzu to turn on his annoyingly tinny underwater speaker system. 

 

“Teach me human sign language.” He demands, shoving a bag of assorted stuff over a flat rock that serves as a table. 

 

He’s expecting to have to fight for it, or even to get an outright refusal, when he sinks back into the water and waits for a reply. Nedzu, to his surprise, says, “Okay! I won’t ask you why you want to know, but all information is good information. I haven’t had a student in a long time!”

 

No bartering, no convincing, just an easy agreement.

 

Shit , Katsuki thinks, this is gonna be fucking torture . There’s a reason the weird little creature is known for his sadistic streak.

 

Well, Kirishima damn well better appreciate his efforts.

 

***

 

Kirishima nearly falls into the water the first time Katsuki gets his attention with a clicking, rasping version of his name, and instead of handing him a fish or a razor clam or a tarnished knife, signs “HELLO K-I-R-I”.

 

He’s not anywhere near fluent in sign language, but he knows enough to recognize the sign and the fingerspelling for his name, and how in the world had Katsuki not only come up with the idea but learned sign language?

 

“Okay! Wow, hello, I’m super impressed, that’s great!” He rambles, too shocked to really respond, grinning like a loon and waving. 

 

He gets a very judgmental look, and that’s enough of a push to get Kirishima to sign “HELLO” back and flash a double-thumbs up..

 

Instead of the smug look he’s expecting at the flattery, Katsuki scowls at him (why does he seem so confused?) and signs a rough, jerky “GOODBYE”.

 

Before Katsuki can sink back in the water and sulk away, he waves his hands frantically and tries to remember the sign for “why”. He can’t quite recall it, but his confusion must come across clearly enough, because Katsuki looks at him with dawning realization and rolls his eyes.

 

He gives Kiri a thumbs up and points to it with his other hand, and signs “GOODBYE” again. Then, he brings his hand across his body and makes a motion that looks like a diver swimming past, and repeats the thumbs up and “GOODBYE”.

 

Oh. That makes sense.

 

Sure enough, when Kiri googles diving signs, he finds that a thumbs-up means “end the dive”, which explains how grumpy Katsuki gets about them. The infographic also explains his violent, defensive reaction the one time he’d offered him a fist bump. Oops.

 

Katsuki signs something at him that has him consulting google again, and when he looks up with a mock-offended gasp, he grins and signs “STUPID” again.

 

What a jerk. Kirishima has no reason to be this fond of him.

 

He’s definitely going to have to learn sign language, though.

 

***

 

It’s nice to finally have a route of communication. Kirishima’s not as fast a learner as Katsuki, and neither of them are fluent by any means, so they often have to pause their conversations for him to look things up, or have to resort to charades and bizzare word association games to get their point across, but it turns out they’re on the same page often enough that Katsuki figures out “KNIFE FOOD IN OCEAN SAND” means razor clams almost right away, so it’s not as bad as it could be.

 

They end up talking about how they met a bit, and Kiri is very concerned about his safety, but Katsuki, who is planning on keeping the fact that he’d washed himself up for attention as a secret until he dies, does his best to reassure him.

 

Well, he signs a curt, “SAFE NO FISHING ACCIDENT” when Kirishima tells him he’s been worried that someone was trying to hunt him since he’d washed up twelve times within a month, but that’s enough of an explanation. If Shitty Hair worries more after that, it’s his problem.

 

(He’s way too embarrassed to confess that he just wanted warm rough hands on him again and that’s how he managed to end up on the beach so often.)

 

It’s fucking great, being able to talk to someone that he actually respects. Kirishima might not be the smartest, but he’s kind and good natured, and as hard a worker as Katsuki is. They talk about their lives, and Kirishima is fascinated by Katsuki’s descriptions of growing up under water, while Katsuki can’t help his curiosity about technology or Kirishima’s job, since there’s no oceanic equivalent. 

 

Learning about the way the kilns work definitely interests him, but part of the appeal about egging him on about his job is the ridiculous and strangely accurate vocabulary. The first time Kirishima talks to him about pottery he’d explained his initial interest as, “CUSTOM ROCK”, and the pattern holds.

 

They still spend most of their time without talking, just lounging out in the sun and keeping each other company or sometimes wrestling on the rough wood of the dock, which Katsuki likes because he gets to show off his strength and combat capability but also because it normally ends up with him pinning a laughing Kirishima down or with the man sprawled over him until he looses patience and shoves him off. Sometimes, Kirishima takes off his shirt and comes into the water, and although he’s weirdly terrified of seaweed, he lets Katsuki pull him around and show him interesting things as long as they stay near the dock. 

 

It’s really, really nice. He likes it.

 

Katsuki’s always been selfish, though, and he can’t help but ask for more.

 

***

 

Kirishima shows up at the dock expecting to get teased about the clay in his hair and maybe pulled in to splash around like a couple of dumb kids. He’s not expecting Katsuki to present him with a beautiful knife. It’s incredible, and must have taken hours to restore. The silver is polished to a sharp shine, and although there’s faint remnants of algae in some tiny cracks, the ivory handle is clean and smooth, inlaid with abalone.

 

He remembers a conversation about useful gifts and proving your worth. The gesture isn’t lost on him.

 

(Anymore. He winces to remember his harsh rejections of all the fish.)

 

Still, he’s taken aback when Katsuki scowls and glares and signs, “DATE ME.”

 

From anyone else, it’d be a question or a request, but even with the blush on Katsuki’s cheeks and the light shaking in his fingers, it’s more of a command.

 

Kirishima grins, and nearly falls into the water grabbing his face and planting a solid kiss right on his mouth. 

 

“YES,” he signs. “OF COURSE.”

 

(And if the first thing he gives him is the pocket knife from their first meeting, well, that just brings them full circle.)