It had nothing to do with marine biology, but-- sometimes Jotaro liked to go out to the ocean by himself. He'd take the small boat he purchased when he moved to America, and take it out to sea, about 45 minutes off shore. Sometimes he'd bring a book, but most times he'd sit by himself, hand half dipped in the water, and enjoy the silence. It was all for himself, here.
So, it was more than just a bit confusing when he rowed out into his usual place and he saw what looked like just a flare of red, hovering just beneath the surface. It was too red to be blood, but it definitely didn't have the texture of a fish--
"Hair?" He grunted to himself, cautiously rowing himself closer and closer. He didn't want to be the man that happened upon a dead body. It's not that he wouldn't report it, it's just-- he'd rather not have to deal with the interviews...
But as he got closer and closer, the hair disappeared. Quite quickly-- like it was swimming away. The man frowned, and he pulled himself to the spot, looking around. But it was gone. Jotaro just shook his head and laid back. He wasn't going to stress himself over it.
He'd cross that bridge when it came to it-- if he ever did.
He took it easier when two weeks later, the same thing happened. It honest to god looked like hair-- but maybe it was a squid. Maybe the sun reflecting off the water, or-- or something. He expected it to be startled by the boat again and swim away, like last time-- but it didn't. It gently swayed just out of his reach, until he stopped rowing completely. It stopped moving as well. Then, it came closer. But as it came closer, it went deeper, and deeper-- and by the time it reached Jotaro, he could barely see it in the depth of the waters.
He leaned over the side of his boat, squinting, to see possibly what it was, identify it... Perhaps it was a fish, he wouldn't know anyone who would swim out this far-- let alone with how deep it was already, they'd be dying for air. Besides, there weren't any air bubbles. So, as he allowed his curiosity to get the best of him for the first time since he could remember (there was no one out to see his ridiculous behavior, anyhow), he leaned more and more off the side. His eyes focused in, and perhaps if he just leaned down further--
And then he fell off the boat.
He also managed to tip the whole thing-- Jotaro weighing just as much or even possibly more than the small boat itself, it wasn't that surprising-- and when he came up gasping for air he, in the first time in quite a while, felt a surge of panic. The air inside the boat was keeping it afloat, but the cracks between the wood would eventually let it all out-- and the boat would sink. The boat itself was already half way underwater, let alone the oars, and Jotaro couldn't justswimto shore--
"Do you require assistance?" A small, sing-song voice behind him spoke up, and he jerked around in surprise. Behind him was a-- a person, their face half hidden under the water and their shining, purple eyes staring curiously up at him. And curling around their face, in perfect, somehow beautiful even when wet layers, was...
"Red hair," Jotaro whispered, and a shock of understanding ran through his veins. The red thing in the water-- it was this person. But how--
The person raised their mouth just above the water to giggle, flashing dazzlingly white teeth. "Yes. Do you need help?" They raised a pale hand to point toward his boat.
"...Ah. Uh-- yeah. I suppose." Jotaro's legs were getting tired.
Without another word, the person swam silently forward, and easily pushed his boat right side up. As if-- as if they had leverage. That, or really strong legs.
"...Thank you." Jotaro still didn't have his oars, but he supposed the boat was better than nothing. He'd manage a way to get in, too, he didn't need their help anymore--
"I'll help you inside your boat, and fetch your... Um..." They looked lost, blinking up at him as if they had forgotten the word.
"Oars. I'm heavy." He kicked his tired legs over to the boat, and threw an arm over the side. It dipped under his weight, and he pulled off with a sigh. He didn't want to flip it again. "The oars will be long gone by now."
"Let me help."
They tipped their head, as if confused at Jotaro's question. "I caused you to flip, did I not?"
They puffed their cheeks out, and Jotaro saw the tips of their ears go red. That was cute. This person was cute.
He blinked in surprise as they swam over in surprising quickness, grabbing his shoulders and turning him around toward the boat. They dipped under the water and grabbed his knee, pushing up sharply, and suddenly Jotaro was just enough above water to clamber into the boat without it tipping.
He looked down expectantly into the water-- awaiting the person-- but saw nothing. He frowned, and gripped the side of the boat with his wet fingers. He didn't dare look further into the water though-- all the trouble he went through would be for nothing.
After another five minutes, Jotaro sighed. He pinched the bridge of his nose. "Great. I fucking killed them."
But suddenly, there was a splash of water, and the cute person was back, head peaking above the surface. They weren't even gasping for air.
"Here," they said, voice as calm as ever-- and lifted two oars. With prune-less, smooth fingers. "I apologize it took a while. They were almost at the floor."
Jotaro took them, and stared at the person intensely. They smiled gently back.
"Who are you?" He asked finally, setting the oars down in the boat.
The cute person brushed a piece of their bang behind their ear. "My name is Noriaki."
"It's nice to meet you, Jotaro."
Jotaro grunted. There was a silence, before Noriaki spoke up again.
"Why do you come out here so often?"
Jotaro looked around, at the lack of shore surrounding them. How could Noriaki know that he comes out here? They don't look much younger than himself-- where was their family?
"I like the ocean."
Noriaki beamed. "Me too."
Jotaro nodded. "I'm studying to be a marine biologist." He hadn't spoken this much to someone in a while. It was, dare he admit it, nice.
"I've heard of them. What are you studying about the ocean specifically, Jotaro?"
Jotaro liked Noriaki's voice. He liked it when they said his name, too. "Starfish."
"Then why are you so far out here? You can't even see the floor from here."
Jotaro should be annoyed that they were asking so many questions. But for some reason he couldn't find it in him to be. Maybe he was feeling some sort of subconscious gratification-- they did save his life, after all.
"Ah. I understand. I come here because it's quiet, too."
For some reason, Jotaro felt like they were talking about 'here', in a different sense than what Jotaro meant. Then-- Jotaro realized they were still in the water. He felt like a dumb ass.
"...Do you want to come on the boat."
"What? No, no. I'm fine." Noriaki smiled again. Jotaro grabbed the brim of his hat, that had miraculously stayed on during his fall, and pulled it down tightly.
"Are you a swimmer."
"You could say that." They batted their eyelashes. Jotaro clicked his tongue. "I have to be going now. I'll see you again, I hope?"
And with that, they swam away. Jotaro watched as they easily swam into the horizon, and continued watching long after they were gone.
"How do you stay up for so long." Jotaro asked, leaning his face onto his hand and peering down at the redhead. It's been a few weeks since their first encounter, and every time Noriaki denied getting into the boat.
"What?" Noriaki asked, tilting their head in confusion.
"In the water."
"Oh. I'm just a good swimmer. I think we've gone over this before, Jotaro." They grinned, and Jotaro snorted.
The longer that the two hung out, the more questions Jotaro had to ask-- the cuter they seemed to get to Jotaro.
Which was... Strange. Jotaro wasn't really attracted to people, whether is be romantically or even as friends, really.
Maybe he'd get the guts to ask them to come into the boat again sometime. He wondered what the rest of them looked like. It was so strange-- to know this person for a little over a month now and never see their bottom half.
He supposed, some day. Hopefully.
On another, warmer day, Jotaro somehow fell asleep on the boat without realizing he was even tired, and suddenly jerked awake to cold, wet fingers touching his face.
"Wha-- Holy shit." Jotaro gaped down at Noriaki, who jerked away-- but he wasn't looking at their reddening cheeks, or how they shrunk in on themselves in embarrassment. He didn't even care that they had gotten on the boat just to stroke his face. He was more focused on the tail. The-- a tail. "You're a mermaid."
"Well-- you're-- you're not wrong--" They gasped as Jotaro suddenly leaned forward and stroked their tail, his eyes widening at-- at the fact this was real. This was a real tail. A real mermaid.
It was beautiful-- scales shining green and gold in the sun, with a tint of other colors that reflected with the water and the sunlight.
"You... I'm beautiful?" Noriaki asked shyly, and Jotaro whipped his head up. He obviously unintentionally murmured the first part out loud-- but he couldn't be embarrassed, not with how Noriaki looked so... Amazed. Jotaro just looked them in the eyes for a moment, before scooting closer and going back to inspecting every inch of their body-- mainly the tail, and where they connected.
"Do you... Have gills..?" Jotaro murmured, breathless, and he looked up at Noriaki. They flexed their neck, and their gills flared out.
"You seem excited..." Noriaki sounded amused, relieved, but... Also confused. "I'm used to most being terrified of me. Some try to turn me in for money."
Jotaro looked up at him, eyebrow quirked.
"Oh, I don't hurt them! I just break their boat in some way so they're stranded for a few days. No one believes that a mermaid did it." Noriaki smiled, and one hand stroked up Jotaro's arm. Their fingers were so cold.
"It makes sense now, at least."
"What does?" Noriaki asked, a shadow of a smile still on their lips as they blinked curiously at him.
"When we first met."
"Oh!" Noriaki beamed at him. "I hope this doesn't sound too weird, but I'm glad I finally got to talk to you. I had been watching you for a while before you fell in."
It didn't sound weird. "Will you... Dry out."
"Well..." Noriaki looked pensive. "I've never been above the surface for too long, but since half of me is... Like you, I suppose I'll be fine." They hovered a hand over Jotaro's chest. "May I?"
Jotaro's eyebrows furrowed but he nodded, and Noriaki gently placed a hand on his clothed chest. They hummed in pleasure. "You're very warm. I like it. The water is much too cold."
"What about winter."
"You should really come sometime. Chile is a very beautiful country."
Jotaro snorted, and one hand peeled off Noriaki's bony one from his chest to hold it. Noriaki's cheeks lit up in a light pink, and they smiled at Jotaro. Jotaro went to grip his hat-- and realized it wasn't there. It must've fallen off into the boat when he laid down for his nap. He cursed, while Noriaki giggled.
Then, Noriaki leaned forward and kissed his cheek. "You are very cute, Jotaro. Thank you for becoming my friend."
Jotaro just squeezed their hand. "Will you come closer to the shore."
Suddenly, Noriaki looked nervous. "Oh... I don't know, Jotaro-- poachers, and-- and, people will see--"
"I own a private property. Any one caught on my land can be sent to jail."
Noriaki ducked their head, the tips of their ears turning as red as their beautiful hair. "You like me that much..?" Was the question, just audible over the gentle splashing of the water lapping against the boat's sides.
"Yes. You can return back here whenever you want. I'm not stopping you."
"My family won't like it..."
"Do you really care what they think."
"N... Not really, honestly.."
"Good." In a rush of sudden bravery, Jotaro used his free hand to tilt Noriaki's face up, and kissed him. He hoped his grip of their hand wasn't too crushing-- when he was nervous, he would tend to forget how to control himself.
They pulled away after a moment, and Noriaki was grinning ear to ear. "You're blushing," they said, and Jotaro clicked his tongue. He didn't bother hiding his face, though, and instead grabbed his oars.
"Let me show you where my property is."
"Oh..! A date. A strange one, nonetheless, but... I like it."
Jotaro snorted, and dipped the oars into the water.
Somehow, they could make this work.