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on golden sands

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It’s meant to be a secret.

Most of the crew don’t know it’s there. Not even Will knows, and he thinks he knows everything. The only reason Kurt knows is that he overheard the first mate, Riggs, talking to the bosun when they thought they were alone in the galley.

Kurt hates Riggs, a nasty hulking lout with more muscles than wits. Most of the other sailors are kind enough, or at least tolerant of Kurt’s quiet presence, but Riggs acts as though the mere sight of him is a grave personal offense. If Kurt’s father knew of the coarse words Riggs has thrown Kurt’s way, he would have ordered him off the ship ages ago – overboard, if necessary. But the King isn’t here. There is some dispute in the north that requires his close attention, and the voyage to Calpurri is a long one even by sea, so Kurt is traveling to visit his mother’s family alone. True, his tutor is accompanying him, but Riggs seems to have even less regard for Will than he does for Kurt. There’s no point in asking him to intervene.

In any case, what does it matter? Kurt is the Crown Prince, the future King, and Riggs is nothing more than a foul-mouthed brute with blurry tattoos and ragged, dirt-blackened fingernails. Soon enough, they will arrive in Calpurri, and Kurt will never have to see Riggs or any of the other crew members again.

And besides, if Riggs was speaking truth about what he and the bosun are hiding in the hold, Kurt will forgive every slur that’s ever fallen from his gap-toothed mouth.

The sailors love to talk about the monsters that live in the sea, almost as much as they love to boast about all the wenches they’ve tumbled. Kurt privately suspects the creatures are as imaginary as the women, but he likes listening to the stories. The sailors say that the monsters are half-man and half-fish, with rows of sharp, jagged teeth like a shark’s; that they guard vast watery caves filled with the riches of sunken ships; that they sing songs of terrible beauty to entice men overboard, luring them to their deaths.

The idea that Riggs has somehow managed to outwit and capture one of those cunning, dangerous creatures is laughable. Most likely, he’s lying about the thing hidden away in the cargo hold, deep in the bowels of the ship.

But if he’s not – well. It’s not every day you get to see a real, live monster, is it?

+

Kurt sneaks out of his cabin late at night, after Will has already been snoring for hours. Most of the men are below deck, asleep or drunk enough that they may as well be, and it’s simple enough to make his way to the hold without being seen. He eases the door open as quietly as he can, wincing at the creak of the old hinges, until there’s just enough space to let him slip through.

It’s pitch-black inside the hold, cut off from the lamps and moonlight that illuminate the deck. Kurt fumbles in his pocket for the candle and fire-starter he brought with him. He’s long outgrown his childish fear of the dark, but there is something about this place – the boundless possibilities that exist in such a total absence of light – that makes the hairs rise on the back of his neck. Besides, the last thing he wants is to stumble blindly into the monster, like Mrs. Rose tripping over one of the palace cats.

He breathes easier once the candle is lit. He creeps further inside, the small flame throwing a pale, wobbly light onto the towering walls of crates lining his path. The hold is packed full, rows upon rows of barrels and bulging sacks piled on top of each other. The makeshift corridor through the stacks of cargo is narrow and winding, snaking this way and that like the path in a hedge maze. At some points, it’s barely wide enough for even Kurt to pass. He can’t imagine how that oaf Riggs squeezes through without bringing an avalanche of crates down on his thick-skulled head.

The farther he ventures into the maze, the more doubtful he grows that he’s going to find anything. If there were a monster in here with him, wouldn’t he hear it? Surely it would be doing something: growling or hissing, or rattling its cage, or singing its dreadful song.

Unless…unless it knows he’s here, and it’s keeping silent deliberately, so as to draw him into its trap. Maybe it knows its song wouldn’t work down here, and it’s forced to wait until its prey comes close enough to attack.

Kurt eyes the next bend in the corridor with a little more trepidation.

What choice does he have, though? He can either keep going, or he can turn around and go back the way he came, fleeing from the very idea of danger like the coward Riggs thinks he is.

He puffs himself up a bit, drawing his shoulders back and lifting his chin. He’s come this far. He has to see the thing through.

He approaches the bend slowly, quiet as a mouse. It’s probably just his imagination playing tricks on him, but he fancies that he does hear something now: a thin, sharp sound, like the faint wail of a distant wind.

He peers around the bend, holding the candle out just far enough that its light spills into the darkness beyond – and has to clap his hand over his mouth to keep from gasping aloud.

It’s close, curled up a few steps away in a wide wooden washtub. From where he’s standing, Kurt can just make out a hint of what must be its tail, dark green and glittering, mostly submerged underwater. The monster’s face is hidden, head buried in its skinny arms. It doesn’t seem to have noticed Kurt’s presence. It could almost be sleeping, but for the noise it makes every few seconds.

What is that noise? Kurt cups his hand behind his ear and listens intently, but he still can’t quite make out what it is he’s hearing. Perhaps the monster is snoring, though Kurt has never heard anything snore like that, man or beast. It doesn’t sound like any kind of song, either, certainly not something powerful enough to bewitch a grown man. Maybe if he just gets a bit closer…

He takes a cautious step forward, but it’s not cautious enough: the floorboards squeal under his foot, and the monster’s head shoots up, revealing two huge glowing eyes.

Kurt scrambles backwards in surprise, nearly tumbling onto his backside. He brandishes the candle in front of him to ward off an attack, hoping fervently that sea monsters are as terrified of fire as the stories say. It must be true, because the monster doesn’t make the slightest move toward him. It doesn’t lunge at him, doesn’t even snarl or bare its hideous fangs. It just sits there in the washtub and looks at him, a small trembling heap of tan skin and green-gold scales.

Kurt wasn’t expecting it to be so small.

In fact, now that he can see its face, the monster doesn’t look very fearsome at all. It hasn’t got talons long enough to pierce a man’s heart, nor a razor-sharp fin glinting up its back. There are no sea serpents writhing on top of its head, just a salt-stiff mass of knotted curls. If it has rows of jagged teeth, it’s hiding them quite well inside a very ordinary-looking mouth.

Aside from the tail, the only truly remarkable thing about the creature are its eyes, which are a shocking, unnatural gold, gleaming in the candlelight.

“Why, you’re not a monster at all,” Kurt says aloud, surprised and a little disappointed. “You’re just a boy.”

He steps forward again, more confident this time, but the boy flinches at his approach, shrinking away so violently that water sloshes around him, slopping over the side of the washtub. He huddles back against the far side of the tub, cowering like a kicked dog, and Kurt realizes with a sudden shock that the boy is frightened of him.

He almost laughs at the absurdity of it: a savage monster from the ocean depths, afraid of a twelve-year-old boy. The sailors must be even stupider than he thought.

Kurt holds up his hands, careful not to tilt the candle. “It’s all right,” he says, trying to mimic the soothing tone the stable master uses with skittish colts. He sinks down to his knees so he and the boy are on the same level. “I’m not going to hurt you.”

The boy doesn’t react, just stares at him with his big golden eyes.

“Do you understand me?” Kurt asks tentatively.

The boy nods, slowly, like he’s not certain it’s the correct answer.

“Can you speak?”

Another nod, and a whispered yes, so quiet that Kurt almost misses it.

That’s something, at least. Kurt sits back on his heels and tries to think of what to say next. How does one engage in polite conversation with a sea creature? He supposes there’s only one way to begin. “My name is Kurt.”

“Kurt,” the boy repeats. The name rolls peculiarly from his tongue, lilting and rich. Kurt rather likes the sound of it.

He waits a moment for the boy to respond in kind. When he doesn’t, Kurt prompts, “Do you have a name?”

The boy opens his mouth, and what comes out is a word like none Kurt has ever heard before, tinkling and resonant at the same time, like the jingle of wind chimes heard underwater.

It’s so surprising that Kurt laughs out loud. The boy shrinks back again, obviously hurt, and Kurt immediately feels terrible. “No, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean – it’s beautiful, your name. I just can’t repeat it. Not in a thousand years.”

The boy frowns. “I can say your name,” he says in his strange, lovely voice.

“Well, you must be cleverer than I am.”

The corners of the boy’s mouth tilt up, just a bit, hinting at a smile.

Kurt shuffles forward a bit, still on his knees. The boy doesn’t seem to mind this time, watching with some interest as Kurt settles down next to the washtub.

“We could give you a human name,” Kurt suggests. “So I have something to call you.”

The boy looks intrigued. “Like what?”

“Oh, I don’t know. There are lots of names.” He ticks some off on his fingers. “Brandon. Robert. Edward. Matthias. Saul. Jerome. Do you like any of those?”

The boy lifts one thin brown shoulder in a shrug.

“All right, let me think. There’s Henry, or Adam, or Philip, or, ah…Ferdinand?”

The boy’s nose wrinkles.

“You don’t look like a Ferdinand,” Kurt agrees. “Let’s see, there’s John, Alistair, Noah – no, not Noah, you’re too nice to be a Noah – Andrew, Eric, Blaine – “

“I like that one,” the boy says. “The last one you said. Blaine.”

“You do?” The boy nods, and Kurt smiles. “In that case, it’s a pleasure to meet you, Blaine.”

Blaine gives him a shy little smile in return. He seems much less afraid now.

Kurt feels quite pleased with himself. In the space of five minutes, he’s discovered a monster that’s not really a monster, calmed him and given him a name, and maybe made a friend, as well. The girls at home will never believe this.

“Are you hungry?” He digs in his pocket for the bit of jerky he brought with him. Of course, he brought it just in case he needed something to fling in the monster’s face as a distraction while he escaped, but Blaine doesn’t need to know that. “It’s as tough as boot leather, and tastes worse, but it’s food.”

There’s a jangle of chains as Blaine reaches for the jerky; Kurt notices for the first time that one of his wrists is bound with a heavy iron manacle. He takes the jerky and examines it curiously, turning it over in his hands. He bites down on it, and seems surprised when the dried meat doesn’t give.

“I told you, it’s tough. You have to gnaw at it.”

Blaine tries again, worrying the meat between his teeth. Kurt can see now that they aren’t human teeth after all, but they’re nothing like a shark’s, either. They’re more like kitten teeth, small and pointy. Certainly nothing to be frightened of. They can barely cut through the jerky, though Blaine does manage it with some effort. He rolls the bite around in his mouth before swallowing, like he’s trying to work out how it tastes. “What kind of fish is this?”

“It’s not fish. It’s venison.”

Blaine looks at him blankly. Oh, of course he doesn’t know what venison is. He’s probably never even seen a deer before.

“It’s from a big animal that lives on land,” Kurt explains. “They’re good for eating.”

“Fish are better,” Blaine says mildly, and goes to work on the jerky again.

Now that the other boy has relaxed and uncurled a bit, Kurt can see that Blaine looks to be about his size, perhaps slightly smaller. From the belly up, he’s shaped just like a human boy, with a narrow chest, perfectly normal shoulders and arms and hands, and a pile of tangled black hair. The only things out of the ordinary are his eyes, his teeth, and the three long slits on each side of his neck, each one stippled with tiny scales, the same gilded green as his tail. Gills, Kurt realizes with a thrill.

“I like your necklace,” Blaine says suddenly, speaking around a mouthful of jerky.

Kurt reaches up to touch his pendant, stroking a finger over the smooth sea glass. “Thank you.” He hesitates, then admits, “I like your tail.”

“Thank you,” Blaine echoes politely, though he seems puzzled. “It’s just a normal tail.”

“Normal to you, maybe. I’ve never met a boy with a tail before.”

“Well, I’ve never met a boy with tentacles like yours,” Blaine says.

Kurt laughs. “They’re called ‘legs.’”

“Legs.” Blaine ponders this as he finishes the last of the jerky. “Can you swim with them?”

“A bit. Not as well as you, I’m sure. But we don’t need to swim. That’s what we have ships for.”

Blaine’s face falls. He looks away, down into the murky water around him. “Yes,” he says quietly. “You have your ships.”

Kurt feels uneasy, his stomach twisting unpleasantly as he watches Blaine’s hand drift over the surface of the water. “How long have you been here?”

“I don’t know. It’s hard to tell – it’s always dark in here. I’m glad you brought one of those things.” Blaine nods at the candle. “The man brings one, too, but he never stays this long.”

“Riggs?” Blaine doesn’t know, of course, so Kurt hastens to clarify: “Big, ugly man with black hair? Curses every other word?”

“Yes, that sounds like him. He’s the one who caught me, he and one other man. They brought me here and put this on me – ” Blaine indicates the iron band around his wrist, the chain trailing away from it over the other side of the tub. “ – and said that if I made a sound or tried to escape, they’d gut me right here and throw me back overboard for the sharks. I’ve only seen the big one a few times since then.”

“He must be coming down at night, after everyone is asleep,” Kurt says. He hopes fervently that Riggs has already made his nightly visit. “He wouldn’t come during the day, not if he and the bosun are keeping it a secret from the other men. The only reason I know is that I fell asleep in a barrel and overheard them talking.”

“Lucky for me that you did. You’re a better visitor than he is.” Blaine curls his tail up against his chest and wraps his arms around the curve of it. “What are they going to do with me?”

“I don’t know.” It sounds rude just saying it like that – dismissive, the way Riggs talks to him – so he adds, “Sorry. I’d tell you, if I knew. We’re sailing to Calpurri, but it’ll be at least another week before we arrive. They might have something planned along the way.”

Blaine rests his chin on his tail. “I think they’re going to sell me. Hang me up on a hook and scrape off my scales with a sharp blade.”

“That’s awful,” Kurt says, horrified. “Why would you think that?” Riggs is a wretched excuse for a man, there’s no question about that, but even he couldn’t possibly be so cruel. Blaine is just a boy.

Blaine shivers. “It’s what humans do to our kind. My mother told me so.”

Kurt is even more surprised at this revelation than the one before it. “You have a mother?”

“Of course I do,” Blaine says, giving him a strange look. “Everyone has a mother.”

Kurt drops his gaze. “I don’t. Not anymore.”

There’s a little wet, splashing noise, like Blaine is moving around. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s all right,” Kurt says. It’s not, really, but it hardly compares with Blaine’s current predicament. He touches his pendant again. “It was hers. My necklace, I mean. It was my mother’s.”

“It’s pretty,” Blaine offers.

Kurt closes his hand around the pendant. “So was she.”

They sit silently for a long while: Kurt thinking of his mother, Blaine probably thinking of his. Around them, the ship creaks and sways, groaning its way across the waves. This deep in the hold, it feels almost as though they are in the belly of a great whale, swallowed whole like the fisherman in the story.

He shares this thought with Blaine, who seems skeptical. “Whales don’t eat people,” he says. “The big ones don’t even eat fish.”

Kurt frowns. He’s never heard that before, but he supposes Blaine would know. “What do they eat, then?”

He can’t make sense of the word Blaine provides, so Blaine tries to explain: “They’re not like fish at all. They haven’t got any bones, just a sort of shell. And they’re very small, with lots of little…” He wriggles his fingers, imitating the movement of tiny legs.

“Like spiders?” Kurt asks, appalled. “Whales eat spiders? That’s vile.”

Blaine shrugs. “Everything has to eat something.”

Kurt eyes him suspiciously. “You don’t eat those things, do you?”

“I’m not a whale,” Blaine says, in a tone that suggests he’s starting to question Kurt’s intelligence.

Kurt is relieved, though he tries not to show it. He likes Blaine, but he’s not sure he could be friends with a spider-eater. “Well, I’ll make sure to bring along some fish the next time I come. I’m sorry about the jerky – it was all I had.”

“It was fine,” Blaine says politely. He watches as Kurt rises to his feet. “You’re leaving?”

“I have to go. I need to get back to bed before my tutor realizes I’m gone.” And before Riggs decides to come down for another visit, he doesn’t add.

Blaine sinks down into the water. “Can’t you stay?” He suddenly seems very small, much too young to be left here alone in the dark. Kurt wishes he could leave the candle with him, at least, but he needs it to find his way out.

“If they catch me in here, we’ll both be in trouble,” he says. “But I’ll come back. I’ll come and see you again tomorrow. I’ll bring you a candle, and some fish to eat.”

“Do you promise?” Blaine asks, with a wide-eyed pleading look that makes Kurt’s stomach hurt again.

“I promise,” Kurt says. He lays a hand on Blaine’s bare, bony shoulder. “And I never break a promise to a friend.”

+

Back in his bed, Kurt lies awake for ages. He’s exhausted, but his mind won’t quiet enough to let him fall asleep. His head is full of unsettling thoughts, and he flits between them for hours, worrying at each one like a dog with a bone.

He thinks about Blaine’s mother, waiting for him at home. (Do the sea people have homes? He’s afraid to ask. He doesn’t want Blaine to think he’s stupid.)

He thinks about his own mother: the scent of her hair, the softness of her hands. He thinks about how she used to scold him for wandering off, and how worried she would have been if he had disappeared entirely one day.

He thinks about Blaine, curled up in his washtub in the dark, all alone in the whale’s belly. He thinks about Blaine’s shy smile, and his pretty lilting voice. He thinks about Blaine’s golden eyes and his gills and the way he gnawed at the jerky with his funny little kitten teeth.

He thinks about Blaine’s small body gutted and laid out on a table at the fish stalls, eyes as round and lifeless as marbles, sunlight glinting off his shimmering green-gold tail.

Kurt can’t let that happen. He can’t.

He has to do something – but what can he do? Prince or no prince, he has no power on this ship. The kindest of the sailors still treat him like a silly child, like a pet to be humored and looked after. He can’t even demand the deference he’s owed from them; they’ll never obey an order that puts them in conflict with the first mate.

If his father were here, he could fix everything. There’s no way he’d let an innocent boy be slaughtered, and the crew would leap to his command the way they never would to Kurt’s. But the King is in Lima, many days’ journey back the way they came. By the time Kurt could get a message to him, it might already be too late.

It wouldn’t do any good to tell Will. He might be sympathetic – he’s soft-hearted about the most unexpected things sometimes – but even if he tried to help, odds are he’d just make a mess of everything. Better to leave him out of it entirely.

Kurt doesn’t trust any of the individual sailors to help him. They may not be in on Riggs’s scheme, but he doubts there’s a single one of them who couldn’t be bought for the right price. They might even try to steal Blaine to sell themselves.

No, he can’t risk getting anyone else involved. It’s too big of a gamble, and one he can’t afford to lose. Blaine’s life is at stake.

If he’s going to save Blaine, he’ll have to do it alone.

+

Blaine is awake and alert when Kurt arrives the next night. He screws his eyes up against the sudden light from Kurt’s candle, squinting hopefully in his direction, and perks up when he realizes who it is. “Kurt! You came back!”

“I told you I would.” Kurt smiles at him, aware that his is the only friendly face Blaine has seen in quite a while. He sets the candle down and reaches into his pocket, rummaging around for the things he stuck in there earlier. “I don’t have any fish for you, I’m afraid.”

“Oh.” Blaine’s excitement dims slightly, but his eyes are still bright and eager, darting between Kurt’s face and his pocket. “That’s all right. I’m just glad you’re here.”

“I can’t stay long.”

“No?” This disappointment hits Blaine harder than the first, it seems. He slumps down in the washtub, deflated. “Are you sure?”

“Oh, I’m sure.” Kurt triumphantly draws out two long, slender bits of metal from his pocket. “Because we’re getting you out of here, Blaine. Tonight. Right now.”

Blaine’s reaction isn’t anything like Kurt imagined. He doesn’t cheer or shout or wriggle around happily in his tub. He doesn’t even smile. He just sits there gaping at Kurt, open-mouthed and round-eyed, like…well, like a fish.

“You do want to get out, don’t you?” Kurt asks, suddenly uncertain.

Blaine nods vigorously – so vigorously that Kurt thinks his head might just pop off. “Of course I do. But…how…?”

“Just leave that to me,” Kurt says, with lofty confidence. He’s always wanted to say that. “Here, give me your wrist. The one with the chain.”

Blaine thrusts his arm out without hesitation. Kurt inspects the manacle, sizing up the work ahead of him. The cuff is thick and unwieldy but snug, fastened tight around Blaine’s narrow wrist. Kurt doesn’t want to think about why Riggs would have easy access to irons small enough for a child.

“Won’t you get in trouble?” Blaine asks softly, watching as Kurt begins poking around the lock with the rods he brought.

“I’m the King’s son,” Kurt says, trying to sound braver than he feels. “Riggs isn’t going to sell me at the fish stalls.”

In truth, if Riggs and the bosun find out he’s set Blaine free, they’ll probably skin him alive, or at the very least toss him overboard for the sharks like they threatened to do to Blaine. That just means Kurt has to make sure he doesn’t get caught. And how hard could it possibly be to outsmart those two blundering idiots?

It takes him the better part of twenty minutes to pick the lock holding the manacle closed. It’s much harder than Santana makes it seem, and there are moments that Kurt nearly despairs of ever managing it. But the expression on Blaine’s face keeps him trying, and trying, and trying again. No one has ever looked at him like that before: like he’s the sort of prince they tell tales of in storybooks, the ones who slay dragons and outwit wicked sorceresses, rescuing maidens and freeing enslaved kingdoms with nothing but their swords and cleverness and courage. No one has ever looked at him like he’s a hero.

For Blaine, he thinks, he can be a hero – even if it’s just for this one night.

At last, the lock surrenders to Kurt’s persistence, and the cuff falls away from Blaine’s wrist, leaving him chafed and bruised but free.

“I did it,” Kurt says, amazed with himself.

“You did it,” Blaine repeats, in an entirely different tone of voice. He’s cradling his wrist to his chest, but his eyes are fixed on Kurt, shining gold and glowing with admiration.

Kurt grins, buoyed up with renewed confidence. “All right, Blaine. Let’s get you home.”

They nearly tip the washtub over trying to get Blaine out. Blaine does his best to haul himself over the side, but he can’t quite get there. His arms tremble under him, and his thin chest heaves for breath, gills flaring uselessly at his neck. He must be exhausted – and hungry, Kurt realizes with a twinge of guilt. He should have brought the fish anyway. Who knows when the last time was that Riggs bothered to bring Blaine anything to eat?

“Here, let me help,” he says. He slides his arms under Blaine’s, wrapping them carefully around his chest. Blaine’s skin is cold and very smooth under his hands, just damp enough to be slippery. “On the count of three: one, two, three – “

Blaine heaves, and Kurt pulls, and they both go crashing to the floor in a sprawl of limbs and wet clothes. Kurt hits his elbow at just the wrong angle as he falls; the sharp pain is shocking, leaving him stunned and breathless on his back.

“Are you all right?” Blaine asks. He’s propped himself up on one arm, peering anxiously down at Kurt with those big eyes. “I didn’t hurt you, did I?”

Kurt rubs at his elbow, wincing. “No, I’m fine. Just landed wrong, that’s all.” He pushes himself up, tries to get his feet under him, but there’s something holding him down, a solid weight pinning his leg to the –

Oh.

“Oh!” Blaine exclaims. He jerks away, taking the weight of his tail with him. “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize – “

“It’s fine,” Kurt mumbles, barely listening. He’s mesmerized by the sight of that gorgeous tail. He hasn’t gotten a good look at it before now, and he can’t help but stare. It starts just below Blaine’s belly, a smattering of glittering scales right under where his navel should be, and tapers down in a sleek, sinuous curve all the way to the graceful flare of the fin at the bottom, translucent and delicate.

“Kurt?” Blaine sounds concerned this time. He draws his tail a bit farther away from Kurt. “Are you sure you’re all right?”

Kurt shakes himself out of his daze. “I’m sorry,” he says, and means it. He doesn’t know what’s gotten into him. “It’s just…it’s amazing. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“It’s just a tail,” Blaine says, the same as he said yesterday.

It’s not – not to Kurt, anyway – but Blaine is clearly uncomfortable, and Kurt is starting to feel embarrassed himself, his cheeks warming with the first hint of what could easily flame into a blazing full-face flush if he doesn’t tamp down on it. He scrambles to his feet and brushes himself off, steeling himself for the next stage of their escape. “All right, let’s go. We have to hurry.”

Blaine can’t exactly walk out of the hold, so Kurt half-carries, half-drags him, Blaine doing his best to hold the candle steady as Kurt steers them awkwardly around the maze’s tight corners. Blaine is heavier than Kurt expected; he supposes the tail must weigh quite a lot. They’re both breathing hard by the time they reach the door.

Kurt leaves Blaine propped against a barrel while he checks outside to make sure there’s no one around. They’re in luck. In the time it took him to get Blaine out of the hold, the storm that’s been threatening all day has broken. It’s pouring outside, a hard driving rain, sheets of water pelting down to shatter against the deck. Lightning crackles across the sky, chased by great booming peals of thunder. Even the watchman will likely be down below, waiting out the worst of the storm. If they’re ever going to get Blaine off the ship, now is the time.

They abandon the candle. The rain would snuff it out in an instant, and they don’t need it so much anymore, not with the occasional blaze of lightning to illuminate their path.

It doesn’t take long for them to make it over to the side of the ship, but they’re both drenched when they get there, soaked through from the torrential rainfall. The rain makes it difficult to get Blaine up onto the rail. His wet skin is impossibly slippery, and Kurt keeps losing his grip. He just can’t get the right leverage, especially with his arms already aching and quivering from having carried Blaine this far.

After the sixth or seventh failed attempt, Kurt cautiously moves one hand from Blaine’s back down to his tail, hoping that he’s not doing something terribly offensive. He can hardly keep track of all the rules of etiquette in his own father’s court, and he has no idea what sort of conventions the sea people might have.

Blaine doesn’t seem upset or even startled, so Kurt curls his arm more firmly around his tail and uses the hold to (finally) heave Blaine onto the rail. Not a moment too soon, either: the rain is starting to die down, and the captain will surely be coming up on deck soon to ensure that nothing was damaged in the storm. They’re running out of time.

Blaine cranes his neck back to look down at the waves below. He braces his arms against the rail, preparing to tip himself over, and panic flares suddenly in Kurt’s stomach. This is it. Blaine will be gone.

“Wait!”

Blaine’s head snaps back around, his face tense with a hint of the same fear that has taken hold of Kurt. “What? What is it?”

Kurt seizes the cord of his necklace and yanks it over his head, holding it out for Blaine to take. “Here.” Blaine stares at it for a moment, and then back at Kurt, his brow drawn with confusion. Kurt shakes it at him impatiently. “Go on, take it.”

“But it’s yours,” Blaine says, blinking against the rain. “It was your mother’s.”

“I want you to have it,” Kurt insists. He thrusts it at Blaine again, nearly hitting him in the chest. He can’t explain why it’s so important to him that Blaine takes the necklace. He just needs Blaine to have it, to know that they’re connected somehow, no matter how far apart their lives take them.

Perhaps Blaine understands, because he finally nods and ducks his head, allowing Kurt to slip the cord around his neck. He looks down at the pendant, reaches up to cup it carefully in his hand.

“Kurt,” he says. It sounds just as lovely as the first time he said it, but there’s something more to it now, something serious and tender that pangs in Kurt’s chest. Kurt can’t put words to the knowledge blooming in his heart, or to the echo of that quiet certainty in Blaine’s voice. It’s enough to feel it, to know that Blaine feels it too.

There is more to their story. This isn’t the end.

“It’s yours now,” Kurt says. “Take care of it for me.”

Blaine leans down and presses his cool, wet lips to Kurt’s cheek. “Thank you,” he whispers, barely audible over the rain – and then he’s pushing himself up and back, tumbling backwards over the rail.

Kurt surges forward and watches Blaine fall, an ever smaller blur in the darkness, until finally he hits the water with a tiny, distant splash and disappears beneath the rolling black waves.