Chapter 1: the boy from above
please appreciate my little mermaid references too i was obsessed with ariel as a kid and to this day i'm still obsessed with mermaids i'd wish i was a mermaid but there's too much trash in the water PROTECT THE ENVIRONMENT Y'ALL PICK UP YOUR TRASH WHEN YOU LEAVE THE BEACH
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Khun Aguero Agnis is a disappointment.
Aguero is a disappointment to his family, and his race - first and foremost, he is the bastard son of Lord Khun Edahn, ruler of Marundo, home of shark-tailed merfolk like himself. He may be a prince, but royalty means nothing when your people want you dead for your heinous crimes.
What heinous crimes, you ask, what could Aguero have possibly done which was so wrong?
The answer is simple: he made a deal with the devil, and in doing so, he betrayed his own blood.
He'd loved Maria - his half-sister, beautiful, powerful, kind Maria. She made him happier than anything else, but she'd always been happier talking about the landlings, always longing to live in the world above the waves, instead of battling her fellow sisters and other women for the 'privilege' to join the Princesses, the all-female warriors of the sea king, Zahard. All merfolk were capable of growing legs, but only under the light of the full moon so they could mate, and return to the waves after the deed had been done. Aguero didn't really see why, but Maria wanted to have legs, forever. The Khun family motto was to never trust a soul, only yourself, but Maria had trusted him with her secrets. At the time, Aguero hadn't had anything to hide, and he'd been all too happy to pretend his beloved half-sister didn't have a little grotto of a cave with gadgets and gizmos aplenty, statues of whosits and whatsits galore. Aguero wanted to see her wordy landling thingamabobs? She had too many, and was all too happy to pull her younger brother into learning the landling language with her.
When the time came, he'd been all too willing to sacrifice anything for her - all too willing to make her happy, no matter the cost, even if it meant he had to let her go and break his own heart.
He'd found a sea witch, an octopus mermaid shunned for her magic, who was willing to use her abilities to turn Maria's tail into a pair of legs, to change Maria's life forever. There was one problem with that - the witch had demanded a life for a life.
For Aguero to give one sister legs, he had to sacrifice the life of another sister.
The witch told him he didn't have to kill the sister himself, merely pass her over as part of a bargaining chip, a trade. Your father has too many children, the witch hissed, surely he will not miss one daughter. What was he to do? Maschenny was a Princess who could knock him out cold with a flick of a tail, his second favorite sister after Maria. He wasn't familiar with his other half-sisters, but he knew their mothers were powerful, much stronger than his own. The witch's demand had left Aguero no choice but to kidnap his own full-blood sister and offer her to the sea witch.
The sea witch had accepted.
Maria had been given legs instantly, and Aguero had no choice but to swim her to land, to leave his blood sister to her fate. A fate that he had decided for her. He would have felt no guilt, if only he hadn't had a sense of smell as strong as a shark's. He could smell the blood three miles away, taste it on his tongue, see the blood painted over his webbed fingers and stained under his nails when he closed his eyes. The onslaught of guilt would've weighed him down, down to the bottom of the ocean where the anglers were, but he had an oily liver that kept him buoyant.
Khun Edahn had many daughters, sired from different mermaids, and Aguero's mother was no more than a concubine. Surely neither mermaid would be missed?
Oh, how wrong he was.
It was his cousin Kiseia who had noticed first. Kiseia was the daughter of Aguero's mother's sister, an Agnis by birth and a Khun by adoption. Aguero's mother had taken Kiseia in when Kiseia's mother was captured by mer hunters, who existed for the sole purpose of murdering merfolk and selling their scales. Kiseia's mother had never been seen again. The younger mermaid had become fast friends with Aguero's older sister, and Kiseia was a variable Aguero had completely forgotten about, much to his own disappointment.
Kiseia had seen how Aguero swam back to the palace alone, how neither sister was to be seen.
She'd connected the dots and tattled on him instantly to his mother, who then told Lord Edahn.
"I never want to see you again," Kiseia hissed at him as a guard shuttled Aguero out of the outer gates of their coral palace. Her face was twisted in an expression of disgust, betrayal and cold fury. "Show your face here again, Aguero, and I'll kill you myself." She snarled his name like he was an oil spill on clear water. "Goodbye, cousin dearest."
What hurt most was the disappointment. The disappointment on his mother's face, the look of how could you do this, Aguero? The disappointment marring his father's features, the way he looked at his schemer son like you could've been great one day, Aguero. Edahn's wife had looked down on him, distasteful, wondering how a Khun could possibly betray his own.
Aguero swam away from Marundo, leaving everything he had ever known behind. His newfound freedom was a prison made of water.
Rak of the Wraithraiser tribe was his first friend. Unlike Aguero, who had human features from the torso up and shark from the waist down, Rak was reptilian, a turtle-hunting monster of a creature resembling the dinosaurs that roamed their prehistoric waters. They had met when the gator had mistaken the merman for a turtle and tried to hunt him down with a spear clutched in a claw.
They're nothing alike, but they found a strange kinship in each other. They are both outcasts - Aguero is a murderer, a discarded prince; Rak is a nomad with the mind of a hunter, who cannot settle in one place for a long time.
Over the years, two became three, three to four, four to five. Their merry band of misfits had expanded to include Shibisu, a purple tang who had run away from his home in Nettai; Anaak, a green-skinned mermaid who had scaly legs instead of a scaly tail and fought anybody who brought it up with high pitched screeches and powerful kicks; Androssi, a former landling who had sacrificed her humanity to King Zahard and became a siren so she wouldn't fall victim to a watery grave.
Being the biggest and the oldest, Rak likes to call himself the leader, and that's what the bandits who had crossed their path believe - fear the great Rak of the Wraithraisers, fearless hunter, powerful leader of a cast-out group of mers with both brains and brawn in equal quantity. The rest of their group know better. Aguero is the true mastermind, the one who keeps them all alive and under the radar. They all have their dark pasts, all of them hiding secrets that they aren't quite ready to tell. They respected each other enough not to pry, even Rak, who was forever unflinchingly straightforward and unafraid to voice his opinions.
Nobody asked questions when Aguero flinches away from octopus merfolk, nobody asks why Aguero is always swimming towards the surface, searching for something, searching for someone, destined never to find what he is looking for.
One day, Aguero finds a boy.
This boy is incredibly ordinary, with dark hair and skin kissed by the sun, like the mers from Mureun, the city of the shallows. He looks young, probably the same age as Aguero, perhaps a little older. There is nothing special about this boy, not how Aguero and his newfound family are special.
There are two problems - he is a landling, and he is unconscious, sinking through the waves into the darkness of the abyss at a rapid pace.
Aguero knows well enough that the landlings belong above the surface, that they are meant to fill their lungs with air that doesn't need to be carefully filtered through water. He looks up, spots a boat drifting aimlessly on the surface. The landling must've fallen overboard. He knows that it would be the death of him if this unconscious landling boy finds out about their kind - the mer hunters exist for a reason, after all. Aguero knows how much he is worth among the landlings - he is not trying to be vain, but he is a beautiful merman specimen, with his unmarred shark tail and perfect balance between masculinity and femininity. He has heard of stories about mers who had gotten captured by hunters under the full moonlight, their bodies used like common whores, then had been thrown away like garbage. Aguero knows that would be his fate if he were to be captured.
Still, he makes the decision to rescue the boy from his fate.
"What are you doing, Blue Turtle?" Rak bellows when Aguero hooks his arms under the landling boy's armpits, tail flipping from side to side and powering them towards the surface. "Black Turtle is probably dead already."
Aguero can feel a pulse beating under skin, faint but present. "He's alive," he answers Rak with clipped clicks. They've spent enough time with each other to learn their respective languages: Rak with his loud bellows, roars and screeches; Aguero with his ear-piercing clicks and grunts. Aguero has always been good with languages, but learning to speak the Wraithraiser tongue is no easy feat. "Get his boat, follow me."
"You will be the death of us all, Turtle." Both of their languages are harsh to the sound, but Rak's words are equally harsh, though not entirely unkind. The gator never admits, but he worries for his team, and he makes sure they are all happy and well fed.
Aguero slows, letting the tide carry him, his charge and the little boat onto the beach. The boat slides onto the shore, snags on a rock. "He will never know."
Rak stays in the water, submerged but still watching Aguero wriggle his way up to the beach, fins glinting under the sun like landling glitter on sandpaper.
The merman huffs and puffs when he is beyond the reach of the waves. He's too used to being underwater - he's not like Anaak and Androssi, who can use their legs on land, who have landling heritage. On land, his tail renders his lower half useless, and his arms are weak against the force of gravity. He coughs wetly, spitting water onto the sand. It takes a while for him to get used to the pure air on land.
The landling's eyes are still closed, lips parted. Salt is beginning to dry on his skin, on his lashes, crusted in his hair. Aguero checks his pulse again. He's still alive, but he won't be for much longer if the merman doesn't refill his lungs with air.
With a grunt of a swear, Aguero pushes himself up until he is sitting next to the boy. His hand wander down the landling's chest until he finds the breastbone, and he pushes down, hard.
The landling's eyes fly open, and Aguero barely has time to move before the boy is jolting forward and emptying the content of his lungs into the sand like Aguero had been doing just a few moments ago.
Aguero can do nothing but watch as the boy hurls, coughing and choking on salty sea water until he's dry heaving. He gasps for air, and Aguero's lungs burn in sympathy. The air here is too pure, but perhaps he could get used to it in time. It feels strange, how he must close his gills, take in air with his nose and his mouth. The boy lays back down onto the sand, presses a hand against his chest and gulps in air until his breathing grows steady.
Only now does he notice Aguero staring down at in all his blue-haired, bare-chested, shark-finned glory. "Who are you?" His voice is raspy, throat scratched hoarse with salt.
"It doesn't matter," Aguero murmurs softly. He remembers some of the landling words - Maria had taught him them, both of them squinting at crystallized landling scrolls, shaping their mouths around strange words. When Androssi had first joined them, she had been constantly switching between the language of the landlings and that of the mers. It had taken her a few years to adapt to speaking completely in mer, but even then she had never truly forgotten her mother tongue.
Aguero lowers a finger to the boy's face, pulling his eyelids down until they cover his eyes. Absentmindedly, he brushes the salt off the boy's eyelashes with a gentle touch. The landling is too weak to react, blind and feeble as he reaches towards the merman.
"Sleep," Aguero repeats, equally soft. Now, he's using that singsong quality the sirens use to entice and enchant landlings to do their bidding. The merman waits until the landling boy's breathing evens out, eyeballs still behind their lids.
The waves sweep onto the shore, coming to collect the merman prince. Aguero lets the sea pull him back into its depths, leaving the landling behind on the sand.
how you like that? (to the rhythm of the song of the same name by blackpink (STREAM HOW YOU LIKE THAT))
Chapter 2: the landling and the merman
rak likes playing wingman a little too much for aguero's tastes.
khun is not very good at the human language, but he does speak odd bits and pieces of it? this is technically a modern au and technology is so advanced bam can hold conversations in dolphin language through what is basically google translate
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Aguero may be beginning to understand Maria's infatuation with the surface.
Androssi has disappeared, presumably to collect landling lives to feed King Jahad's insatiable appetite, brought on by the moon over the tide. Anaak is probably with her, two sirens standing above the waves in their salt-dresses, hypnotic and beautiful as their song sends landlings stranded at sea to their watery grave.
Shibisu too is missing - Aguero thinks he may have returned to Nettai for a short while to see his old friends, who have been searching for him. Surprisingly, Rak is not hunting turtles. Rak is clearing the sea of plastic bags: he saw a turtle choking on a bag, and in a fit of rage, he saved the turtle, swearing to make the ocean cleaner so his beloved turtles wouldn't poison him when he ate them. Aguero had raised an eyebrow, and the gator had grumbled that bullshït excuse.
Aguero looks up, only to see a monstrous figure swimming down towards him, light haloed around it as it blocks out the sun. It's the gator.
"Your landling is saving turtles!"
Aguero's eyes grow wide. "He's saving turtles?" And belatedly, "he's not my landling, stupid gator!"
Rak roars out a laugh. "I like him. Black Turtle seems trustworthy. He's alone, by the way."
It's a drastic difference from the Rak who had told him not to save the landling. He has even given the landling a nickname - Aguero is Blue Turtle, Androssi Ghost Eye Turtle, Anaak Lizard Turtle and Shibisu Purple Turtle. Before the merman knows it, Rak has Aguero in his claws, tail flipping from side to side as he swims the shark prince to the surface.
Aguero is too busy trying to think of what Rak is implying to notice that the gator has thrown him above the waves in right into the landling's boat.
The prince screams, swearing in rapid angry clicks. His tail is still dipped in the water, but his head is resting on the landling's legs. A turtle nips at his fingers.
The landling stares at him, wide eyed. He whispers something in his own language, brown eyes gazing down at Aguero with a look of awe and wonder.
The merman is starting to feel uncomfortable under the landling's intense brown gaze. Is it his blue hair? The shark's tail?
The landling might have said something else, but Aguero will never know - the boy scoots backwards, unbalancing the boat and sending the two of them tumbling into the water. The turtle peers over the edge at the two of them, the merman disappearing under the water and the landling gasping and floundering at the surface. He doesn't notice the monstrous creature that is Rak lurking under the boat. The turtle might've laughed at them, but Aguero has an even lesser understanding of the turtle language than the landling one.
"What was that for, you stupid gator?" Aguero snaps at Rak. "Didn't you say it was a bad idea to save him?"
The landling climbs back onto his boat and out of sight, only to release the turtle into the water. Rak mournfully watches the turtle glide away into the deep - there is a new landling tracker tag attached to a flipper. Aguero has seen those tags before - he had a conversation with a traumatized dolphin who had a tag punched into her dorsal fin once. This turtle seems satisfied with the landling's treatment of him.
The landling drops something into the water with a clumsy splash. It's attached to something on the boat. It looks a little like a trumpet - Androssi had stolen one from a landling once. She knew how to play, and it sounded like she was blowing air out of a conch.
Much to Aguero and Rak's surprise, the trumpet-thing begins to click. Aguero recognizes the clicking as the dolphin tongue.
"Hello," the trumpet-thing clicks politely, "I know you're there."
"Should I roar at it?" The gator grunts.
Aguero shrugs. He wonders how the landling has managed to translate his own language into dolphin-speak, which is only a few grunts and trills away from merman.
"I know you're there too," the machine clicks. "I know there are two of you. I can see your shape under my boat."
The merman prince approaches the machine warily. "Hello." It's the first landling word Androssi had taught them all, although Rak is still struggling to fit the words in his mouth - the Wraithraiser tongue is much more different than all the other merfolk languages, more violently emotive.
"You speak-!" The landling says a word that doesn't quite translate into dolphin.
"Yes." Landling words feel strange coming out of Aguero's mouth, but perhaps it's because he's simply not used to speaking it. "Some."
"You saved me," the landling says through his machine, "thank you." He sounds sincere, even through the translator. "I owe you my life."
Rak roars in laughter. "Blue Turtle, you're pink!"
Aguero slaps his hands over his cheeks, hissing. "Shut up, stinky gator!"
"Sorry," the landling says mildly, "I didn't quite catch that."
"It's nothing," Aguero answers quickly. "I'd introduce you to my companion, but there are language problems. Besides, he's ugly and annoying. I question why we're friends."
The boat shakes hard, and the two merfolk look up nervously. Cautiously, Aguero swims up to the boat, peering over the side.
The landling is laughing, head thrown back, a hand clutching the side of the boat to balance himself. His whole body shakes with the force of his amusement, and his little boat shakes with it. His eyes are squeezed shut in mirth, midday sunlight slanted over his features.
Aguero's heart goes thump, thump, in his chest, and he ducks out under the surface, a hand pressed to his chest. Is it because he's taking in air in with his mouth instead of his gills? That's never happened before. Aguero prides himself on his intelligence, but right now, he doesn't know what's happening to him and he hates it.
The boat shakes a few more times before it stills. There's a splash on the other side of the boat, and Rak bellows in surprise.
"Black Turtle is swimming!"
True to the gator's word, the newly christened 'Black Turtle' has changed into one of those landling wetsuits, cheeks filled with air and puffed out comically as he dives under the boat. He swims like Androssi and Anaak do - his legs power him through the water in scissoring motions. His eyes are wide open. This is most surprising, considering the fact that he is a landling. Most landlings Aguero has spied on wore strange transparent headgear that covered their eyes, with tubes leading from heavy metallic boxes to their mouths.
The sun shines above him, illuminating the features of his face. In the light, his brown eyes look like molten gold, like the pirate coins Androssi loves so much. Those two golden orbs look strangely familiar, but Aguero cannot remember where he has seen them before.
His legs kick in circles when he reaches the surface, taking another deep gulp of air before swimming towards Aguero.
His golden eyes are wide in wonder, hands reaching towards Aguero's face. The prince knows he should swim away, but he remains anchored to the spot as the landling rubs strands of Aguero's signature silvery blue hair between his fingers, tracing the shape of his pointed ears, the lines of the gills on both sides of his neck. He cups the merman's face with a hand, brushes his fingers across the blue-gray scales painting the merman's cheeks with another in a gentle ghost of a touch.
The landling freezes when Aguero shivers from head to tail, eyes fluttering shut. Merfolk are social creatures, thriving on emotional and physical affection. The disgraced prince has been estranged from his old family for so long, but he is not desperate enough to ask for affection he craves from his new family. The landling's skin feels too good against his own, and he can't help the low, throaty moan that escapes his lips.
Both of them turn pink, the landling choking on bubbles and swimming upwards for another refill of air.
When the landling returns to the world under the waves, Aguero is all too glad when the landling turns his attention to Rak, who is not so pleased with the landling's curious poking and prodding at his thicker armor-like scales. The landling is tall by their standards, his legs nearly as long as Aguero's tail. If he were a mer, his tail would be even longer than the merman's. Rak, however, is roughly five times his size, but the landling is fearless even when the gator snaps his jaws at him.
The gator is pacified when the landling clambers onto his boat, disappearing above the surface. The landling drops a hunk of fish as an offering to Rak, apologizing in dolphin. He sounds unhappy when he says he has to leave, but promises to return the next day.
Rak snaps fish up in an instant. "Black Turtle's got good fish. I give you my blessing if he gives me more fish."
"Blessing for what?" Khun growls.
The gator grins, showing sharp teeth. "Think, Blue Turtle."
The boat sputters away, the landling back to where he belongs.
did y'all enjoy poor touch-starved khun lol
Chapter 3: water and words
aguero's friends are horrible. the landling boy is an exception.
day 3 of fairytalestogweek: the little mermaid!
mer!aguero is my baby i'm so sorry i haven't been very focused on this fic because 'ships in the night' is currently my biggest baby i don't think i've ever been so dedicated to a fic before... the characters! the plot! i love maria but i don't know if that's because i'm projecting lmao
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
"Androssi, teach me the landling language."
The siren turns to Aguero with a wrinkled nose and suspicious expression. "What? Why would you ask me for help? What's in it for me if I help you?"
Aguero resists the urge to throttle Androssi on the spot. "Just do it," he grumbles, tail tapping impatiently against the sea bed. He can't even use his 'prince card' to convince her when he's no longer a proper prince, and Androssi, being one of Jahad's sirens, is of a similar status. "You're the only one who knows."
"There's something you want from me, isn't there?" She leans closer, leering at him. "What are you hiding?"
"Blue Turtle wants to court a landling!" Rak roars, too happy.
Aguero bares sharp canines, the fins on his ears spread threateningly. And there goes the secret he was trying to keep. "Shut up, stupid gator!"
Shibisu swims over, plopping himself next to Aguero. "Khun, my love! What's this I'm hearing about courting a landling?" He wiggles his eyebrows. "You've got a guppy crush on one, hmm?"
Anaak scowls, crossing her arms. "It's not going to end well. Just give up, you'll both be better off that way."
Anaak may sound harsh, even rude, but it's her special way of caring. It reminds Aguero of his younger cousin Ran and how he labelled everybody 'bothersome' even when he thought they weren't.
Rak bellows out a laugh. "It's too late for Blue Turtle. He's already infatuated with that Black Turtle. And they're both male!"
Androssi grins and leans forward from her position on the sand, well aware of Aguero and his homosexuality. "So, Black Turtle," she clicks thoughtfully. "Is he cute? What color are his eyes?"
"Green," Rak grunts as he tries to snap a fish out of the water with his jaws.
"No they're not, gator, you know that. You're not even colorblind," Aguero snaps. "They're brown, but when the light is good they look like gold-"
The rest of his so-called friends are staring at him with expressions of glee. "You swam right into that one, my son," says Shibisu with a shake of his head.
Aguero groans, slapping his tail against the sand and flicking it into Shibisu's face. Shibisu yelps when an annoyed crab pinches his arm. "Okay, he's cute. So what?"
Androssi's grin widens. "You know what? If he's as cute as you say, I may help you, after all."
Aguero clicks out a few swears, an entire school of fish taking a big loop around to avoid his wrath. "Just remember I found him first. He's mine."
Shibisu attempts to placate him by patting his shoulder. "I'm so happy for you, my son. You're growing up!"
Aguero is not so impressed. "What son? You're barely older than I am." The shark prince screeches when the purple tang tries to ruffle his hair. They're underwater, the current playing with his long blue locks, but he still despises having people touch his neatly combed hair. Maria had introduced the art of combing hair to him - what was the thing she used to smooth out the tangles in his hair called? A dinglehopper? "You know what, Androssi? I'll teach myself the landling language. Don't bother."
Aguero kicks away from the seabed, ignoring the yelling of the other mers. He has a cave to find, one filled with crystallized landling artifacts, one he hasn't visited in years.
The cave looks exactly like he'd left it. He hasn't been there since Maria left, but he hopes he can move past her while treasuring the memories they had all the same. Little crabs and creatures have made unoccupied nooks and crannies their new home, but Aguero isn't here for them. He's here for the translation guide he and Maria had made from scratch - the Rosetta Stone connecting the mers to the landlings.
It's still as beautiful as it used to be. He isn't sure how exactly it had formed - well hidden from anybody who sought to find it, the only way in being a mer-sized crack in the wall outside that was covered with a seaweed carpet. It was too deep for the mers of the shallows, too close to the sun for most of the deep-sea mers. Best of all, time and weather had carved a hole into the wall, big enough for water to drain out and leave breathable air in its place, but still too small for a landling to crawl through and expose Aguero and Maria for what they were. The sun filters through the wall, bouncing off cleverly placed sea glass and painting rainbows all over the surprisingly large cavern walls. In the water, rocks glow and glitter, the taste of magic whispering through the waves. Aguero can't help but smile fondly upon remembering how he and Maria had squinted at crystallized landling pictures books, trying to learn their language despite having no knowledge prior. He remembers how they'd cut themselves on shards of rock trying to carve landling words onto the walls, their hands bleeding a mixture of blood and satisfaction.
Aguero sighs. He wonders how Maria is doing - is she happy, being human?
He picks up a strange, disk-like tool Maria had called a 'pan'. What did she say it was used for? Defense? He feels a disturbance in the water behind him and freezes instinctively, pan gripped tightly in his hands. Nobody should know about this cave unless they followed him deliberately. He whirls around and clocks the intruder over the head with the pan. His eyes widen when he sees golden eyes roll back, bubbles escaping out of a mouth.
Di- Did he just knock out his landling with a pan?
He can almost hear Rak's bellowing laugh, criticizing his Blue Turtle's inability to understand merfolk and landling courting rituals. Scratch that, Rak had probably fished the landling out of his boat and dragged him here.
Aguero heaves the landling onto a dry rock and waits.
He isn't sure how much time exactly it takes for the landling to wake up. Aguero slips under the waves upon feeling his tail begin to dry out, idly swimming about. He bares his teeth at a crab scuttling too close to his favorite gem, a pretty blue jewel he'd hidden away even from Maria, and it scuttles away from him when the shark prince slaps his tail at it. His ears perk up when he hears a muffled groan.
He peeks out from behind a rock, just enough for him to see the landling but not enough for the landling to see him. The landling makes a garbled noise that must be his own language, golden eyes glittering when he sees the beauty of the cave. Aguero ducks a little lower into the water, pink dusting his cheeks. His face feels so warm. What is this feeling? The landling makes a few more garbled noises, rubbing the top of his head and looking around. Aguero catches something that sounds like an exclamation - awe, maybe? He shuffles over the best he can when the brown-haired boy looks over to where he should be.
A little flick of his tail sends a school of fish darting over to the landling's feet, and the landling kicks out in surprise. He loses his balance, slipping into the water.
Aguero tucks himself further into the water, hands over the rapidly spreading smile. Are landlings supposed to be this clumsy and cute?
Oh starfishes, Shibisu was right when he said Aguero was a guppy crush.
Aguero screeches and grabs his shark-tooth dagger out of its holster by his hip when a finger pokes his bare stomach. He grabs the foreign hand, pushing it back. The hand's owner slams against the wall with a low grunt, upper body held up above the water by nothing more than momentum, kicking legs and Aguero's firm grip, knife poised to slit a throat and-
Wait, legs? Wide golden eyes stare at him, looking down at the knife and back to his own blue eyes. One of them squeezes shut when a droplet of salty water rolls into it, and the landling turns his head away in an attempt to rub it out with his shoulder. It doesn't quite work.
Aguero has his hand around his landling's wrist, effectively pinning him against a wall. The landling has a leg clamped around Aguero's waist for balance, the other one dangling by Aguero's tail.
This is not good.
Stupid Khun Eduan and his stupid way of raising children. Who makes ten-summer-old guppies fight fully grown Great Whites? Aguero was lucky he had survived his match, and he loved his shark-tooth prize dearly, but being born into the Khun shark-mer clan had given him plenty of trust issues he was still hesitant to get over. Aguero clicks out a swear, tossing his knife away and backing off so quickly he drops both himself and the landling into the water like angry crabs.
"Sorry!" He barks once the landling resurfaces. He doesn't know any other landling words, but an apology should be enough, right? It sounds slightly rude, but he's too embarrassed to try again.
"Issues none," the landling clicks slowly, brows furrowed. He glances at Aguero with hopeful eyes. "I right?"
It takes a while for Aguero to connect the dots. The landling is speaking his language - no, he's speaking dolphin, but it's heavily accented. Whatever, mer tongue sounds like dolphin anyway, just less chatty and with a written alphabet. "Almost," he clicks back. He has to keep his words simple enough for the landling to understand. "You speak like me?"
The landling bobs his head. He points at the translation wall. "Don't speak your sounds, but I recognize your words!"
Now Aguero is the one with widened eyes and raised eyebrows. He quickly fixes his expression - Poseidon forbid he gets wrinkles. How does the landling know the language of the mers? "You-" He shakes his head in disbelief. "No!"
But it explains why he's speaking our language more fluently than some young guppies do, his mind rationalizes, but where would he have seen them from? Only our people know the mer tongue.
"Yes!" The landling insists, clicking faster. "Mama called me this!" Aguero watches the landling spell out his name - B, A, M. He repeats it first in his original language, then again in the mer language with a little help from the shark prince. Aguero frowns. The name sounds familiar - a variation of something he used to know, perhaps? He can't remember.
"B-ah-m," he tries out, "Bam?"
Bam nods happily, beaming bright. The light bouncing off the sea-glass cannot possibly compare to the landling's smile - if anything, the blue of the water accentuates the blinding gold of his eyes. Something about him seems inherently trustworthy, innately kind. Aguero has never seen anything like him. He glow burns like the setting sun, blinding warmth whispering out of every breath.
Is this what Maria had yearned for before Aguero made her human?
"Your name?" Bam cocks his head, feet kicking in the water. The fish seem to adore him more than they do Aguero, flocking around his wiggling toes. "What?"
What's your name, Aguero's not-entirely-useless fish brain translates for him. "Khun Aguero Agnis," he clicks. "Koon," he adds in the landling tongue as a casual attempt. It sounds the same. He doesn't give his first name away - it's complicated enough in mer, he doesn't even want to think about the struggles of pronouncing it in landling.
"Khun," Bam repeats, "Khun!"
The smile on Bam's face is a spear staking through his heart, poison from a Ha family lionfish spine. His heart flaps in his chest like the tail of a beached whale. What is this feeling?
They continue chatting in a mixture of their two languages, using the most basic phrases possible. It's the most fun Aguero has had in a while, even if their conversation is full of stutters and mix-ups. He learns that Bam has another name he uses in the landling tongue, one that's almost as long as Aguero's and even harder to pronounce. He learns that the landling has always been drawn to water - his mother was the same, and he had been able to swim before he could walk. It's quite curious, honestly, especially how he can almost outlast Aguero in the water if the merman doesn't use his gills. Bam only loses because he laughs at Aguero's bug-eyed look after they stay underwater for what seems like a quarter-tide.
He learns that Bam will start visiting these waters more often: he studies the creatures of the sea, merfolk excluded, but he has always held fascination for the mysterious humanoid creatures he was told were nothing more than myth and legend. He tells Aguero he must go, but he'll return a moon later at the same time - what type of scholar would he be if he didn't get enough rest before diving back into his research? He promises not to share his findings after Aguero waves his knife around threateningly, unknown words replaced by confident actions.
He likes touching Aguero's ear fins a lot, much to the merman's scandalised horror. It's considered most intimate of touches among mers, but Bam doesn't know that. All he knows that Aguero's ears are the most expressive part of him, fins flared and wiggling when touched, the ear itself flushed a pretty coral pink.
Bam likes to touch, but oddly enough, Aguero doesn't feel violated like he should. Bam's touches feel like awe and respect, reflecting the amazement in his eyes. Aguero tries to return the favor, curious hands wandering up his feet, legs, thighs. Sinuous muscle jumps under calloused fingers. Bam swats his hands away when he reaches the junction between the landling's thighs, but when he tries to explain why it's not good to touch a male landling there he merely turns as red as a crab and gives up.
Aguero realizes with a flaring full-body blush that it's used for reproduction, and that he would have one too if he were to take on a landling form like his father does every full moon.
Bam laughs when Aguero dunks his head underwater in an abject refusal to look at the landling. What an embarrassment.
They part ways reluctantly, Aguero swimming Bam to his little boat. Bam gives him one last head pat before sailing off into the salty breeze, promising to bring Rak more fish next time.
Aguero slips out of his heart-eyed daze when Rak nudges his tail with his snout. "You spent tides in there, Blue Turtle," the gator complains in a rumbling growl, "did you finally mate?"
The shark prince splutters. "Oi! Gator! We just talked!"
Rak roars out a laugh. "'Just talked'? I can't believe you, Stupid Turtle, I brought the landling to you and you 'just talked'?"
"Gator, did you kidnap him?"
Rak dives with a flip of his tail. "Bah! I'm just trying to get you to stop looking so moony over him. Seriously, I'm going to have to call you Pink Turtle when you're with him."
Aguero pinches his nose, ear-fins flaring out in annoyance. "You have five seconds, gator."
"Five seconds for what?"
Aguero glares at him, blue eyes dark with murder-lust. "Five seconds before I hunt you down, skin you alive and sell your scales to the black market."
i can't believe i almost wrote 'a flock of fish'
fish are in 'schools'
me, writing aguero as a very quick learner: *giggles in pun*
(here, i hc that mers aren't usually solitary, they either move in small groups called schools or stay in one place in big groups called clans)
a little bit of worldbuilding and geography: a tide is 6 landling hours, and a moon is 24! the moon's gravitational force causes the rise and fall of the tides, and the tide changes from high to low every six hours and vice versa, so there are 2 high tides and 2 low tides every day! however merfolk don't have that kind of tech, so they just call it moons and tides and sometimes quarter-tides (6/4=1.5 hours).