*Disclaimer: Takeru, Hikari, Daisuke, and Taichi don't belong to me. And just to be safe, Digimon doesn't belong to me. If it did, there would have been a different ending written. The story Nicholas Pipe doesn't belong to me either. T_T So don't sue! .
Author's Note: Wow! I actually did a TAKARI! Believe me, I'm no Takari fan (I don't hate it, though) but I really amazed myself with this story. I hope you readers like it as much as I did. Um, this is strictly AU, so don't expect any Digimon popping up anywhere. Also, this fic was adapted from a picture book called Nicholas Pipe. Of course, some parts in this story I made up myself. I couldn't copy the book completely, could I? Well, enjoy!
By the Seashore
Hikari pulled her hardest and managed to lift up the net full of fish. "A good catch you had today, Father," she said. She slung the net over her shoulder and began climbing up the man-made steps of the cliff.
"Aye," her father agreed. "A fine catch of the many Kent has seen. We can sell half of the fish and keep the other half and still have food to last us at least three weeks." He and his son, Taichi, flipped their fishing boat over and carried it above their heads. The oars were strapped securely inside. "Taichi helped a lot. He's becoming a fine young fisherman."
"Thank you, Father," Taichi said, but there was just a hint of dullness to his voice.
"After all," his father continued, "the Yagami family has always been one of the best fisher families in town. It's always been our family trade."
The threesome reached the top of the cliff and set out into the woods that lay between the seashore and their town of Kent.
Mrs. Yagami was busy preparing dinner in the house. An apron was tied around her waist and a piece of cloth was fastened about her head to keep her hair back. She looked up as her husband and two children entered. "You're back. Did you have a nice catch today?"
"A fine one, wife," Mr. Yagami said. He and Taichi set the boat in a corner. Mr. Yagami went over and gave Mrs. Yagami and kiss on the cheek. "It smells wonderful. What is it that you're cooking?" He looked hungrily at the stew she was stirring in the pot.
"You'll know when it's supper time," Mrs. Yagami said good-naturedly. She was picking up on the light mood. She turned to Hikari. "Be a dear and run over to the Motomiyas and fetch my kitchen knife, Hikari. I let Mrs. Motomiya borrow it but now I need it back."
"You're sending Hikari to fetch a knife?" Taichi scoffed. "She'll probably cut herself by accident in the dark." He gave a nod out the front window at the setting sun.
"Come now," said Mr. Yagami. "Hikari is a fine young woman of fifteen. I'm sure she can handle herself. And besides"—he winked at his daughter—"she's not like the other girls in the town." He gave an encouraging smile. "Do what your mother says and then you are free to spend time to do whatever you want. But be back for supper."
Hikari nodded and left the house. Her father and mother rarely let her have any free time to herself. While her father and brother sailed out in their fishing boat to cast their nets in the sea, she and her mother stayed home and did the house chores. Hikari hated them for they were so tedious, but she did them without complaint.
The girl hurried down the cobbled street of her town. It was a fairly well to do place, not too small, not too large. Most of the fishermen here were honest and hardworking. The cottages were made of stones, held together by mud and clay, with thatched roofs of straw.
After a short walk, Hikari reached the Motomiyas' cottage. It was larger than the rest of the cottages, the Motomiyas being one of the wealthier families of Kent. The door was slightly ajar and Hikari let herself in without even knocking. The Motomiyas were old family friends of the Yagamis and that formality had been dropped long ago.
"Hikari, what a wonderful surprise!" Mrs. Motomiya looked up when the girl entered. The older woman stopped setting the table and came over. "What can I do for you?"
"Mother wants her kitchen knife back," Hikari said.
"Oh, all right. Wait a moment, I'll go get it." Mrs. Motomiya hurried off.
A boy Hikari's age emerged from the kitchen as Mrs. Motomiya went in. He had a tanned complexion and brown hair with a tinge of maroon. His amber eyes widened in surprised and he tried to flatten his hair, which was sticking up all over the place like tiny spikes. "Hikari!" he cried in a delighted voice.
Hikari suppressed a sigh. "Hello Daisuke."
The boy rushed over and took Hikari's hand. "What are you doing here? Did you come to see me?" he asked hopefully.
"No." Gently, Hikari freed her hand from Daisuke's grasp. "I came to fetch Mother's kitchen knife."
"Oh," Daisuke said, momentarily disappointed. Then he brightened. "You're not doing anything after that, are you? Perhaps if you'd like to—"
"Here you are, dear," Mrs. Motomiya interrupted. She stepped between Hikari and Daisuke, placing the knife in Hikari's hands. A piece of coarse cloth was wrapped around the blade, tied in place by a piece of string. "Be careful. Don't cut yourself."
"I won't," Hikari said, glad that Mrs. Motomiya had interrupted.
"Mother," Daisuke said, looking angry. "I was trying to talk to Hikari."
For a moment, Mrs. Motomiya seemed confused, but then a look of understanding dawned on her face. She let out a girlish giggle. "Oh, of course, of course, dear!" She turned back towards the kitchen again. "I'll, um, leave you two alone for a while."
At her words, Hikari started to panic. Of all the things in the world she didn't want, being alone with Daisuke was one of them.
"I'm terribly sorry," she said in rush as Daisuke started to speak again. "But I have something urgent to do at home. And I mustn't be late." Slowly, she began backing away. "Good-bye, Mrs. Motomiya, Daisuke. I'll see you tomorrow." She dashed through the door. Daisuke let out a sputter of protest, but he didn't follow.
Breathing a sigh of relief, Hikari started on her way home, wrapped in her thoughts. When a girl reached fifteen years of age, her parents usually started looking for a husband for her. Hikari knew that Daisuke had had a crush on her ever since they were eight. However, she did not return the boy's feelings and there was no way to tell him because he was her family's most favored suitor. Since the Motomiyas and Yagamis were good friends, what could be more perfect than their two children marrying? The only other option for Hikari was to tell her family that she favored a man that was not of Kent, but marriage outside the community was rare and frowned upon by the elders. Most marriages were for the sake of the family, and not of the heart.
Hikari sighed as she neared her cottage. Somehow, she had to make her family understand.
"I'm back," she announced as she entered her home. "Here's your knife, Mother."
Mrs. Yagami took the blade from her daughter. "Thank you, dear."
"I'm going to the edge of the cliff to catch some fresh air," Hikari told her parents as she untied her apron and hung it on the hook beside the door.
"Just make sure you don't fall off," Taichi teased.
"I won't," Hikari said, giving her brother an annoyed look. She left the house and began making her way down the familiar path to the cliff edge. Deep in thought, the girl followed the trail in the woods and soon, the trees fell away to reveal the end of a cliff.
A breeze picked up and Hikari spread out her arms and let the cool air rush upon her face. The sea was glorious under the light of the moon, the waves rushing and retreating gently upon the sand. The sound it made was like an enticing whisper.
Hikari was just about to descend the steps when she caught sight of a lone figure, walking slowly along the shore. She squinted in the dark.
It was a boy, her same age, and as the moonlight played over his head, she realized that his hair was the color of bright gold.
Takeru, she whispered mentally and her heart started pounding.
Her foot scraped against the step and a rock tumbled down the stairway making the slightest of noises—but Takeru heard it.
Instantly his head turned in her direction and Hikari froze, wanting him to see her, and at the same time, wanting him not to.
"Hikari?" he called out to her. "Is that you?" He began walking in her direction, but slowly, as if he were uncertain.
He had a right to be fearful, because he was not human. Hikari would never forget the first time she had met him, seven years ago
The sky was dark and large clouds let down torrents of rain. The wind blew with a fierce and savage force, howling like an angry demon. The sea churned uneasily and the gale encouraged large waves. Some of them even crashed into the base of the cliff, which was usually a good twenty-five feet from the shoreline. All the men of Kent had returned safely to the town, except for three dark figures that struggled in the rain.
"Push children!" Mr. Yagami cried. "Push!"
Their boat had caught between two rocks midway up the stairs. They redoubled their efforts, but nothing seemed to work.
"Father!" Taichi cried, his voice half lost in the din. "If the waves get any higher, we'll be swept away!"
"I know!" Mr. Yagami shouted. "But this boat was given to me by Grandfather when I came of age to learn the ways of the fishermen! I will not leave it!"
"This is awful," Hikari sobbed. "This was the first time I went to sea with you and Taichi and look what happens!"
"It's good that Grandfather didn't come today, like he usually does," Taichi said with gritted teeth. "I don't think he could have stood up to this."
"One more push, children!" Mr. Yagami encouraged. "And I think we'll have it!"
Pushing with all the strength left in them, father, daughter, and son managed to budge the boat. With a final exhausted shove, it came free.
Working with haste, Mr. Yagami and Taichi carried the boat while Hikari took up the oars. There had been no time to strap them in. Although worn down by fatigue the three made it to Pirate's Cave, which was in the woods near the cliff, and took refuge.
The night that followed had been horrible. Everyone was drenched to the bone and it took some time for Mr. Yagami to start a fire. Hikari sat as close to the fire as possible, teeth chattering. She desperately wished for a dry blanket or cloak, but had neither.
When her clothing finally dried, Hikari stretched out on the coarse floor beside Taichi, ignoring the jutting rocks, and slept.
Morning was heaven for Hikari. She was the first to wake, and running to the cave entrance, she breathed in the crisp air, feeling the warmth of the rising sun on her face. Hikari didn't want to stay in that damp cave any longer. Stepping quietly she crept out into the open air. The place she went to was, of course, the cliff's edge. She squinted as sunlight hit her eyes. Her vision drifted down to the sea—and rested on a figure lying facedown in the sand.
It was a boy, about as old as she, but seemingly small for his years. The cliff was too high to make out anything on the beach clearly. The only distinct thing Hikari could see was a head of beautiful golden hair, enhanced by the sunlight. The waves lapped against him, hiding his legs.
Hikari gasped as a thought came to her. What if this boy was seriously injured, maybe dying, or even dead? And here she was gawking at him from afar while his life may hang in the balance.
Swiftly, she ran back to the cave, shouting for her father and Taichi.
"What is it?" Taichi asked her groggily. He rubbed his eyes. "Stop making all that noise."
"Go back to sleep, Hikari," Mr. Yagami mumbled.
"But—Taichi! Father!" Hikari insisted. "There's a boy on the shore! He's lying on the sand and not moving at all! He may be d-dead!"
"What?" Mr. Yagami's tone became alarmed. "Are you sure?"
"Yes! I saw it with my own eyes!"
"All right, all right," Mr. Yagami agreed. He stretched. "We'll go see what this is all about." He shook Taichi. "Get up, son."
Taichi groaned but did as his father bid him. "This better be worth it," he growled at his sister.
Hikari led her father and brother to the cliff. "See," she said, glad that the boy was still there. She had been half-afraid that he might have disappeared.
"Well I'll be darned," Mr. Yagami said, eyes widening. "You were right. Let's go down and see how the lad's doing."
When the three reached the seashore, the boy still had not moved.
From where they stood, Mr. Yagami, Taichi, and Hikari were about fifty paces away. Hikari began taking more steps towards the boy, but a hand on her shoulder stopped her. She looked up at her father quizzically. "Father?"
"Wait," Mr. Yagami said, looking suspicious of the boy. "What's wrong with his legs?"
"I noticed that too," Tachi put in. "They don't really look like legs at all, if you ask me."
Mr. Yagami took a few more cautious steps toward the boy, then jumped back with a cry.
"What is it?" Hikari asked, bewildered.
"Stay back, children," Mr. Yagami warned, his voice shaking from excitement and terror. "He's one of the sea folk!"
"Sea folk?" Hikari repeated. She started towards the boy again, but Taichi grabbed her wrist and pulled her back.
"Don't be a fool, Kari," he said. "Everyone in Kent knows about the sea folk, or the 'Mer Folk'. They're strange creatures who have the power to control the sea and winds. One of their greatest pleasures is luring humans out at sea to their deaths."
Mr. Yagami nodded in agreement. "This one may have caused that storm."
"But," Hikari protested, "he's so little."
"Don't underestimate them," Mr. Yagami said sternly. "Come, we must tell the rest of the town."
When all of Kent had gathered on the shore, the townspeople formed a circle around the boy, as they talked and pointed curiously. Almost all the men held household items to use as weapons if needed, and the women clutched at their children fearfully.
Hikari pushed her way to the front. The boy was still in the same position as she had last seen him, sprawled face flat in the sand. She gasped when she saw his "legs." The boy had a human torso, but from the waist down, his lower body ended in a fish tail the colors of the sea. The scales shone murky lavender, dark green, deep blue, or a mix of either of the three combined.
Hikari's eyes wandered and fell on the blood smeared into the sand. The girl bit her lip from crying out. The left side of the merboy's tail was badly wounded. He must have gouged himself on the sharp rocks when he had been washed ashore.
"Well, lookee here! It really is one of them damned sea folk," said Luorke, the eldest son of Abel, one of the village elders.
Hikari had never liked Luorke. He was a burly man with wild flame-red hair and a beard that was even more untamed. His black eyes were small and sunken. He had a square face, a large flabby nose, and wide lips that was always turned down in a frown.
The red-haired man was now poking the merboy with the handle of his pitchfork. "I wonder if it's dead?" He pushed harder, turning the boy over.
The merboy was extremely pale. His golden hair clung messily to his face, matted with sand.
Unlike the rest of Kent, Hikari's heart went out to him. She was sure the poor creature hadn't asked for any of this.. He looked so young and innocent. Hikari felt the irresistible urge to reach out to him.
"I wonder how he tastes?" Daisuke commented.
Hikari jumped. Daisuke had crept up beside her when she wasn't looking. "Daisuke!" Her voice rang with disgust. How could he even think of eating something that was partly human? The thought made Hikari's stomach churn.
"Well, what should we do?" Mr. Motomiya asked one of the elders worriedly.
The elders of Kent had huddled together, conversing in hushed voices. They broke away at Mr. Motomiya's question.
"Leave him," Abel said.
"Leave him?" Luorke cried. "But surely if we captured him and took him to the King—"
Abel held up a hand for Luorke to be silent. "We folk live on what the sea provides us," Abel said. "That is our livelihood. The Mer Folk are wicked, soulless things, not of God's creation. If we help this one, we will surely bring upon us the wrath of God." He paused; making sure that everyone was listening. "However, if we decide to kill him or capture him, the sea and its folk may turn on us."
"And that is why," continued Marie, another one of the elders, "we must pretend we never found him. We can't have bad luck in the town. If the merboy's kind want him back, they can surely fetch him when the high tide comes in. And besides, I doubt they'd want us humans meddling with one of their kindred."
A murmur of agreement rippled through the crowd. Slowly, one by one, the fisher folk filed back to their town, all too willing to forget the creature that plagued their shore.
"We should have captured him like Luorke said," Daisuke muttered as he walked beside Hikari.
The girl bit her lip to keep herself from snapping at him. She didn't understand why Daisuke and the rest of Kent hated the merboy. The creature had done nothing wrong, except let himself be washed up on their shore. And that had probably been against his will too. They were leaving an innocent creature to die. She couldn't let that happen. She looked back and the merboy, a plan slowly forming in her eight-year old mind.
* * *
It was dark, and it was late. Most of the town had already gone to bed. Hikari crept out of her cottage, carefully shutting the door behind her. Since their home was so small, the slightest bit of noise could wake her family.
Hikari pulled up the hood of her gray cloak and covered the basket she was carrying within the folds. She hid in the shadow of her cottage as a man passed with a lantern. The town men always took turns doing the night watch. Making sure that the man had gone away, Hikari slipped down the familiar path to the woods. Once there, she would be safe.
It didn't take long for Hikari to reach the cliff and hurry down the steps. The merboy was there, just as they had left him. She slowed down when she reached the beach. Was he really the monster the town feared? They had said that he was not one of God's creatures. They thought he was hideous, abnormal, evil. But to her, the boy possessed a sense of alien beauty.
Hesitantly, Hikari approached the merboy. She was afraid that the merboy would suddenly arouse and pounce on her, but he remained still the entire time. Once again, her heart lurched at the dried blood. Warily, Hikari made her way to his right side where there was none. Slowly, the girl sank to her knees beside him, the basket in her lap. Still unsure, she reached out and gently shook his shoulder.
"Wake up," she whispered. "Wake up."
The merboy remained still.
Getting impatient, Hikari took out the two herring she had wrapped in oiled paper. "Look," she said. "I brought food for you." She held the package to the boy's nose.
The boy groaned slightly.
Excited that she was getting a response, Hikari began taking out other things from the basket. "Here," she said, "I brought something for you to drink. Apple cider made from Mrs. Leonard's apple trees. And here, I also brought you a pear. It's a bit over ripe, but it was the last one we had. It was supposed to be my snack after dinner, but I saved it for you."
The merboy moaned again and his eyelids fluttered.
Hikari looked at him hopefully. Please wake up. If you don't, you'll die. So please, please, please wake up.
As if hearing her plead, the merboy opened his eyes.
Hikari gasped, and drew back. She hadn't expected his eyes to be such a clear, piercing blue.
The merboy turned his head stiffly to her. "Who are you? Where am I?" He tried to get up, but couldn't. He fell back onto the sand, exhausted.
"My name's Hikari Yagami," Hikari said somewhat shyly. "This is a beach."
"A beach?" Once again, the merboy attempted to get up and with the girl's help he managed a sitting position. "Is it inhabited by humans?" His eyes fell on Hikari's clothing and legs. "Of course it is," he said to himself. "You're a human, aren't you?" He shivered.
Hikari felt a stab of hurt. But she wasn't surprised. The Mer Folk and the humans hated and feared each other. "I am," she said boldly.
"Then go ahead," the merboy sighed. "Do what you humans do."
"What do you mean?"
He stared at her again, looking surprised. "You mean, you aren't here to kill me?"
"Kill you?" repeated Hikari in horror.
"Yes," the merboy said. "You did seem a little young for the task, but humans have all sorts of tricks up their sleeves."
"I didn't come here to kill you," said Hikari. "I came to see how you were doing." She gestured to his injured tail. "I brought something to clean you up a bit and something for you to eat." She handed him the fish.
"Do you live on this shore all by yourself?" The merboy took a cautious bite of his food.
"No," replied Hikari. She applied seawater on the scaly fish tale, washing away the blood. The merboy winced. "I live in a fishing town, on that cliff, just beyond the woods."
"A fishing town" the merboy murmured. "And have they found me?"
"Yes," Hikari said. "They decided that the best thing to do was leave you here. They didn't want to meddle."
The merboy sighed in relief. "What kind of fish is this?"
"Herring," Hikari answered. "Why? Don't you like it?"
"I don't know," the merboy said thoughtfully. "It tastesdifferent."
"It's cooked. I suppose you're used to eating fish raw?" Hikari grimaced.
"I guess that's the difference," the merboy agreed. Then, he gave Hikari a strange look. "Why are you helping me?"
Hikari found herself smiling at him. He seemed so bewildered. "I felt sorry for you."
"Oh." There seemed to be sulking edge to the tone. "I did appear rather pathetic, didn't I?"
Hikari smile widened. She finished cleaning the blood. "Can you move?"
The merboy demonstrated. His fin flapped weakly. "A little."
"The waves are retreating from the shore," Hikari observed. "You'd better hurry. You can manage to get to the shoreline by yourself, can't you? I don't think I have the strength to carry you."
"I think I can manage." Leaning on his right side, the merboy dragged himself until he reached the water. Hikari followed him.
"I won't be able to swim back," he muttered to himself.
Hikari wasn't sure where "back" meant, but she said, "There's a sheltered area over there." She pointed. "I found it when my brother and I were swimming one day. I think it'll be a safe place for you to rest."
"So close to the shore?" the merboy said skeptically. "And in such shallow water?"
"It was only a suggestion"
The merboy gave a surrendering sigh, then looked at her once more. A small smile brushed his lips. "Thank you."
Hikari grinned. "You're welcome." She stared out at the water. What would the townspeople think when they found that the merboy was gone the next day?
"You're different," the merboy said, breaking Hikari from her thoughts. He pushed himself into the sea.
"Wait!" Hikari cried. "I don't know your name!"
The merboy stopped at the sound of her voice. He looked back. "Takeru." And then, with a loud splash, he disappeared beneath the waves, leaving Hikari standing alone on the beach.
At dawn, the fishermen of Kent rose to take their boats to sea, just like any other day. But as they neared the shore, they were on their full guard.
Hikari accompanied her father and brother again. This time, their grandfather was with them. Hikari's heart fluttered nervously. Luorke was the first to reach the shore. "He's gone!" the red headed fisherman gasped.
"Good," said another fisherman. "The sooner the better."
"Aye," Mr. Yagami agreed. "Either the sea swept him away, or he was reclaimed by his people. In any case, let us think no more of the creature."
The fishermen all nodded in agreement.
"But," protested Luorke, "think of what we could have done with him! Think of the money we could have made!" Luorke was known throughout Kent to be very greedy and miserly. He'd been a better man when his wife was still alive, but now that she was dead and gone, Luorke had been consumed by his lust for wealth and power.
"Luorke," Mr. Motomiya said sternly, "if your hunger for wealth is so great, perhaps you shouldn't have become a fisherman. Perhaps you should have left Kent when you had the chance."
Luorke glared at Mr. Motomiya. "What do you know of what I long for? You have a healthy son and daughter to look after you when you grow old. You have money, Mr. Motomiya, at times when the rest of us go hungry like stray dogs in the streets."
Many of the fishermen—including Mr. Yagami—protested, but Luorke paid no heed. Angrily, he shoved his way through the fishermen and rowed away in his boat.
Hikari felt fear rise within her. Surely if the merboy called "Takeru" came into Luorke's hands, he would be in trouble indeed.
But to Hikari's relief and disappointment, she did not run into the strange boy again for another three years.
Hikari walked along the shore, gathering mussels. The tide was low and it was the perfect time to pick the creatures from the rocks. Catching sight of a batch clinging desperately to a large boulder, she tied up her skirt so that it only fell to her knees and waded out to it. As Hikari worked, she caught sight of a motion behind a rock nearby. Was someone spying on her? She turned her back and pretended not to notice. As she suspected, she heard another quiet splash.
With unexpected speed, she turned around, just in time to see the golden-haired boy dash back behind his rock.
Hikari began to blush and hurriedly clambered out of the water, letting her skirt fall back down to it's usual length. Her hands trembled. Was it really him?
"Takeru," she called loudly. "You can come out. I know you're out there."
Defeated, Takeru showed himself.
Hikari suppressed a gasp. The golden hair and the remarkable blue eyes were still the same, but everything else about him had changed. He was no longer small and scrawny. If Takeru could stand up on his tail, Hikari was sure that he would be at least half a head taller than she. He no longer retained that childish look either. His body had grown slimmer and longer and it was nicely muscled. His green tail, which she remembered had been rather short and stubby, was now long and powerful.
Hikari blushed again as she realized that he was wearing no shirt. It seemed improper, now that they were older. "How long have you been spying one me?" she asked tentatively.
"A couple of days," he answered with an innocent smile.
"How long has it been since you came back?" Hikari didn't think that the merboy had been hovering around this area for the past three years.
"A couple of days," he said again.
"Why did you come back?"
"To see you."
Hikari started at his words. She didn't think Takeru would remember her, even if she had saved his life. "That's very nice of you."
Takeru shrugged. "It seems strange, after all these years, but I wanted to thank you for saving my life." He turned, ready to dive into the water. "I guess I'll be going now."
"Yes?" Takeru paused expectantly.
Hikari hardly knew him, so why did she want him to stay? "Are—are you going to come back?" She waited nervously for the answer.
"It depends how many more times you come to this shore," Takeru said with a charming smile.
Hikari felt her face flush. Why did she keep on doing that? "Oh, I see. In that case—"
The girl turned around to see Daisuke running toward her. Behind her, she heard the sound of a splash as Takeru dove into the water.
"Yes?" Hikari asked, trying to pretend that nothing had happened.
Daisuke reached her, but his attention was on the water. "Did I just see—"
"A fish?" Hikari put in quickly. "Of course you did, silly! After all—"
"No, no," Daisuke interrupted, shaking his head. "One of the Mer Folk. I swear I just saw one of them. Helooked like the one that washed up on the shore three years ago." Daisuke regarded Hikari with a strange look. "And you were talking to him."
Had he been spying on her too? Hikari sighed. "You're imagining things." She linked her arm in his. Daisuke looked surprised, but pleased. "Let's get going, all right?" Daisuke nodded with a wide smile. But Hikari hardly noticed him. Her thoughts were of Takeru.
The next day, Hikari woke up earlier than usual.
"Hikari, do you want to come along with Taichi, Grandfather, and me?" Mr. Yagami asked. "Daisuke's going with Mr. Motomiya today."
"No thank you," Hikari said politely. "I'd rather stay home and do chores today."
"What's this?" Mr. Yagami chuckled. "You've always preferred the fishing boat to the house. Don't tell me that you're getting tired of the company of your dear old father?"
"No, no, it's not that," Hikari said quickly. "I just don't feel like going out to sea today, that's all. Perhaps some other time."
Mr. Yagami shrugged indifferently. "If that's what you want."
As the day wore on, Hikari became increasingly impatient to get to the cliff shore, but she tried to act as if everything were normal. One of the Yagamis' fishing nets had broken and Hikari spent most of the morning mending it. It was noon when she was done and her mother served a lunch consisting of salted fish and porridge. Mrs. Yagami had no more chores for Hikari in the afternoon, so the girl eagerly rushed to the beach.
No one greeted her when she arrived, but she strove to be patient. Takeru probably had other things to do, too. As she waited for him, Hikari searched for pretty shells to bring home as evidence that she hadn't been idle. She held her apron in front of her, making a sort of basket, and began popping shells in.
"I didn't think you would come," Takeru's voice said suddenly, making Hikari jump.
She turned around. The merboy was sitting on a rock, his tail dangling from the side, his fin, barely touching the surface of the water.
"Well, I did." Hikari waded into the sea, scrabbling onto a rock close to his, sitting cross-legged.
"What were you doing?" asked Takeru.
"Collecting shells," Hikari replied.
"Shells?" Takeru scoffed at the small collection that was in her apron. "Those are nothing compared to the ones I see."
"Really?" Hikari was a little annoyed at his superior tone.
"Wait here. I'll show you." The merboy did a backwards dive into the water and disappeared. A while later, he resurfaced, a conch shell in his hands. "See?" Sounding smug, he gave it to Hikari and pushed himself onto his rock again.
"It's beautiful," Hikari admitted. The shell was bigger than her two fists combined and the coloring was a swirl of pearl pink and creamy peach.
"Large versions of these shells are used as horns, where I come from," Takeru explained.
"What is it like?" Hikari asked abruptly. "Where the sea folk live?"
Takeru hesitated, then looked away. "I can't talk about it. It's forbidden."
"Oh." Hikari was disappointed. She thought about the tensions between her kind and his. "AndI suppose our meeting now is also forbidden?"
Takeru nodded gravely.
"Then why are you here? Aren't you afraid of getting caught?"
"As a matter of fact, no. I don't care at all. I ran away."
"Ran away?" Hikari looked at him with concern.
"My mother became ill and that put my father in a horrible temper. I hate it when he's like that. I couldn't stand it any longer so I left."
"How could you?" Hikari reprimanded. "Right now, your kin must be worried to death about you!"
"I don't think so," Takeru muttered. "First of all, my father and brother are too worried about my mother to think about me. And second, your human ways are different from the ways of my people. Young people of my kind do this all the time. One day, they'll just leave for a couple of days to experience the world on their own."
"I wish things were like that in Kent," Hikari said wistfully. "I hardly get any time to myself. I mean, I have to do chores, and then there's Daisuke"
"What about him?" Takeru inquired. "Is he the loud boy that I saw yesterday?"
"Yes," Hikari answered. She ignored his first question.
"So what about this Daisuke?" Takeru asked again.
"Well" Hikari hadn't told this to any of her friends, so why was she telling him? "Ithink he likes me."
"I think so too," said Takeru.
"I watched you two beneath the waters yesterday," Takeru said playfully. "It's kind of obvious."
Hikari flushed. She changed the subject. "How long are you staying?"
Takeru gazed at her thoughtfully. "I don't know."
"Well, you've certainly stayed more than two days, that's for sure."
Takeru didn't answer. He looked out to the sea and sniffed the briny air. "The fishermen are back," he said. "That means I have to go. Till tomorrowHikari." He slipped off his rock and into the waves.
He had called her by her name. He had remembered her name from three years ago. The way he said it sent shivers up the girl's back. She stood up and gazed out at the sea. "Till tomorrow," she whispered.
And so it went. The girl and the merboy met each day in the shallow waters of the shore and soon, they formed a deep friendship. Sometimes, the two swam together. While Takeru showed Hikari many things of the sea that he'd always taken for granted, Hikari confided everything in Takeru. Takeru also kept no secrets from the girl, except for one thing: why he did not return to his underwater home. Sometimes, Hikari questioned him about this, but he never gave her a straight answer. Soon, Hikari forgot about it all together.
"Takeru?" Hikari and the merboy had been meeting like this for a year. Today was just like any other day, only Hikari came later than usual. It was late in the afternoon and they'd only have a couple of hours to talk before the first of the fishermen came back. "Takeru?" she called again, more anxiously. Why didn't he appear? Was he playing some kind of game with her? "Takeru, this really isn't the time," Hikari said impatiently, deciding that he was indeed playing a game. "Takeru!"
Panic swelled inside the girl. What had happened to Takeru? She searched around all the rocks and all along the shore. She wanted to look underwater too, but dared not, lest her mother asked her how she'd gotten herself drenched from head to foot.
By the time the fishing boats came back, Hikari had worn herself out with her searching. She sat on the sand, nearly in tears. Then a thought came to her. Had Takeru left and gone back to his home? But why would he do such a thing so suddenly and unexpectedly? And without saying good-bye to her? A tear rolled down her cheek, but she brushed it away savagely. She could not cry now, not with the fishing boats so near. Numbly, she got up and waited until they reached her.
The next day, Hikari was distracted with thoughts of Takeru and where he could be. She'd made up her mind that he'd not gone home. It was very uncharacteristic of the merboy and a part of Hikari just simply refused to believe it.
When she was finally able to get away to the shore, she called out his name again and again. And still, the boy did not come. Once more, Hikari found herself searching for him, more desperately this time. And just as the day before, she was disappointed.
* * *
"Dear, what's wrong?" Mrs. Yagami asked, that night during dinner.
"Nothing," Hikari answered glumly. "I guess I'm not very hungry today."
"That's a surprise," Taichi said. "You usually eat enough for five men." He smirked.
"Taichi" Mr. Yagami said in a warning tone. "This is no time to tease your sister."
"Did you have a fight with one of your friends?" Mrs. Yagami asked. "Was it Bethany again?" She sighed. Bethany was Luorke's daughter. She was smitten by Daisuke, but hated Hikari because of Daisuke's affection towards the girl.
"No, none of those," said Hikari.
"Then what's the matter?" Mrs. Yagami asked. "You can tell me."
"A friend of mine" Hikari started slowly, then stopped. How could she ever explain about Takeru? "Never mind." She got up. "Can I be excused?"
"Certainly," Mr. Yagami said. "Tell us if you're not feeling well." He looked at his daughter with concern.
"I'm fine," Hikari said wearily. She headed towards the room.
She did not see Taichi looking at her suspiciously.
For the next two days, Hikari still went to the beach, hoping that Takeru would come. But, he didn't.
On the fourth day of Takeru's disappearance, Hikari trudged wearily down to the shore. If Takeru didn't show up this time, she was giving up. Slowly, as if dreading it, she let her eyes scan the shore area.
The golden haired boy was sitting on a rock near the beach, just as always. His body was turned from her, so that she only saw his profile. A gentle sea breeze blew in, ruffling the merboy's hair.
Hikari stopped in her tracks for a second, overcome by joy and mesmerized by his beauty. The boy was staring out at the water and didn't seem to notice her. Hikari tried to make her way to him as silent as possible, not wanting to disturb his tranquility. She was two-thirds of the way there when he turned. "Hikari," he said softly.
Something in his voice troubled the girl. "What's wrong?"
Takeru shifted his position, and propped one of his legs up, resting his elbow on it.
Hikari gasped. "You're"
"Human." Takeru was expressionless. "Yes." He watched the girl with his blue eyes.
Human. Hikari couldn't believe it. She didn't know if she should be happy or sad. She had always somewhat admired Takeru's fish tail, but now that he was humanHad he done this for the sake of their friendship? Hikari knew that Takeru loved the sea dearly, and now
The girl burst into tears.
Quickly, Takeru clambered off from his rock. "Kari, what's wrong?" It was the nickname he sometimes used for her. The only other person who called her that was Taichi. He put a gentle hand on her shoulder, comforting her.
"W-why? Why did you do it?"
"So I could be with you." He paused, waiting for her reaction.
'So I could be with you'? Hikari was confused. What did he mean? Had he sacrificed his past life all for their friendship, like she suspected?
"Are you saying you didn't want me to?"
"No!" Hikari rushed, fearing that she had hurt him. "That isI meanwhat about your family? The sea? You love the sea more than anything, Takeru! And nowand nowyou can never" More tears streamed down the girl's cheeks.
"Well, I don't love it more than anything," Takeru said thoughtfully. "And it doesn't matter." His tone revealed nothing.
Hikari shivered. Why was he suddenly so cold? So solemn? He was rarely ever like this. It was as if he some part of him had been lost in the transformationHikari didn't want to think about it.
"And besides, I haven't lost the sea entirely."
Hikari looked up at him. "What?"
"Watch," said Takeru. He walked to the edge of the shore and to Hikari's surprise, plunged into the water.
Takeru resurfaced a moment later; his hair and face dripping water. The image of his fish tail could be vaguely seen beneath the waves. "See?" He raised his fin and flapped it, spraying water everywhere.
Hikari watched in awe. "How—how did you do that?"
"An enchantment. I went to a sea witch and bargained with her. Now when I touch land, I walk on two legs like any other human, but when I submerge myself in water, I become one of the Mer Folk again."
"That's wonderful!" A thought crossed Hikari's mind. "What did you give to the sea witch in return?"
"Nothing important." Takeru didn't meet her eyes.
Takeru ignored the protest and pulled himself onto the shore. As soon as his tail and fin touched the land, a wave consumed them and when it washed off, he had his human legs once more. For the first time, Hikari noticed that the knee length trousers he wore were in the fashion of fish scales that were the exact colors of his tail. Perhaps, it was his tail—or the skin of it at least.
Hikari opened her mouth to say something, but was interrupted by a yell.
"Get away from my sister, you monster!"
"Stay away from my Hikari!"
Hikari whirled. Her heart nearly stopped when she saw Taichi and Daisuke running towards her from the large piece of rock that had been their hiding place. "You—you were spying on me?" She eyes flashed and her voice shook with rage.
"Yes," Taichi said as he reached her. He pulled Hikari behind him and gave Takeru a menacing glare. The golden haired boy made no attempt to retreat into the water. "And it's a good thing we did."
"Hikari, are you all right?" Daisuke asked, taking the girl by both shoulders. He shot a dirty look at Takeru.
"I was fine," Hikari said rudely, pushing herself away from Daisuke. "Until you two came along."
Daisuke disregarded her remark and approached Takeru. "Begone, evil creature!"
Takeru didn't move an inch.
"Begone, I say!" Daisuke tried again, this time with a dramatic wave of his arms.
Hikari pushed herself between Daisuke, her brother, and Takeru. "He's not evil!" she insisted and started towards Takeru, only to be stopped by Taichi.
"Hikari, you know the bad luck the sea folk brings," Taichi said severely. "And you still talked to it!" He pointed to Takeru.
"They're not evil, they don't bring bad luck, and for heaven's sake, he's not an 'it'!" Hikari said, exasperated. "His name is Takeru. The Mer Folk are people like us. They may look different, but they're no more monsters than we are!"
"The Mer Folk most definitely are not people," Daisuke declared. "We saw what he could do. A merman in the sea and a human on land! Who knows what other powers he may possess?" He took Hikari in his arms and pulled her against him. "Hikari, don't worry. I'll protect you."
Taichi was studying Takeru through narrowed eyes. "You look familiar. Weren't you the same merboy that washed up on shore four years ago?"
Takeru nodded mutely, his eyes on Hikari and Daisuke. Daisuke was backing away cautiously, as if Takeru were going to unexpectedly jump on him.
"You hear that, Kari?" Taichi said. "He's the same merboy. He's come back to take his revenge on us!" He, too, started backing away. "Why have you chosen to poison my sister with your lies?"
Takeru said nothing, only watched them. He made no attempt to follow.
Daisuke and Hikari were at the steps now. Taichi backed up to them, reluctant to take his eyes off Takeru. "Mother and Father will hear of this," he said to his struggling sister. "They'll talk some sense into you."
* * *
That night, Mr. and Mrs. Yagami were horrified at Taichi's news.
"You talked to one of the Mer Folk?" Mr. Yagami asked angrily.
"Oh, my poor Hikari," Mrs. Yagami sobbed, pressing Hikari's face into her bosom. "What did that dreadful thing do to you?"
Hikari couldn't answer. She only cried. Why didn't her family understand? She wondered how they'd react if she told them that she and Takeru had been meeting secretly for a year and that she was the one who had saved him four years ago on the shore.
"You are not to talk to that thing ever again," Mr. Yagami commanded. "Is that clear? Stay away from it."
Hikari only cried harder.
"And every time you go to the shore, you must have a chaperone, to make sure that monster doesn't come after you again."
"I can take care of myself!" Hikari cried. She glared at her father, her eyes red and puffy.
"Hikari," Mr. Yagami sighed. "I only want you to be safe."
"And for that you'll take away my freedom?"
"If I have to."
Rage burned within the girl. She looked at her grandfather who was sitting on a stool, smoking his pipe, and observing the scene thoughtfully. Her grandfather—that's it! He was always telling cheery stories about the Mer Folk. Surely he'd come to her rescue.
"Grandfather! Grandfather, you aren't going to let them do this to me, are you?" Hikari pleaded.
Grandfather looked at Hikari, then his son. "I think this is for the best," he said quietly.
Hikari was taken aback. Had she heard her grandfather clearly? Feeling betrayed she pushed away from her mother and fled to her room.
* * *
"Hikari?" Mrs. Yagami looked concerned. Her husband, son, and father-in-law had left as usual in the morning, and it was almost time for the three men to come back. Hikari was peeling onions and chopping them—quite savagely—into pieces. She stared out the window absently every other moment. Mrs. Yagami was salting the fish from yesterday's catch, preparing dinner. She cast a worried glance at her daughter.
"Mother, we're out of onions," Hikari said suddenly, without emotion.
"Oh really?" Mrs. Yagami fidgeted nervously. Maybe if she let Hikari outside to catch some air, it'd do her daughter some good. She didn't care if that wasn't what her husband wanted. When he'd said he'd wanted Hikari to be safe, Mrs. Yagami was sure that he meant he wanted her to be in good health too. And Hikari was most certainly not in good health right now. "Perhaps perhaps if you'd go over to Mrs. Leonard's and get some for me"
Hikari brightened up. "I can go outside? But I thought Father said I was to remain in the cottage, within your sight, for a week."
"Well, your father's a man. What does he know about what girls and women want?" Mrs. Yagami sighed. "I'm letting you go out, but just for a little while. You must stay within Kent, and don't you dare think about going to the shore. All right?"
"All right." Hikari got up and took a shawl from the hook by the door. Autumn had come and it was getting chilly. She grabbed her basket, which was set against the wall. Mrs. Yagami came over and handed her daughter a package of fish to give to Mrs. Leonard. "Thank you, Mother," Hikari said gratefully.
Anna Leonard lived in the center of town, her cottage facing the Town Square. Unlike most of the families in Kent, the Leonards had no children. They didn't fish either, but grew fruits and vegetables. Mr. Leonard was always out of town, selling his crops in distant markets. His wife remained behind to manage their gardens and their vegetable stand, which was conjoined to their cottage.
Hikari went around the stand and knocked on a side door. It swung open almost immediately, revealing a bony, rosy-cheeked woman in her mid thirties. The woman's eyes fell on Hikari and she smiled. "Ah, I haven't seen you around for a while, Hikari. Been busy?"
"Yes." Hikari felt a little guilty. Perhaps she had been a little too wrapped up with Takeru for the past year. She rarely visited her town friends or other townsfolk she was familiar with anymore.
"How can I help you?"
"My mother wants half a dozen onions." Hikari rummaged through her basket. "She said to give you this in return." She handed Mrs. Leonard the fish.
Mrs. Leonard accepted them and then unwrapped the paper. "Oh good. Bass. My favorite kind. I've been having cabbage soup for the past week and I think it's high time for some change." She began retreating into the house. "Wait one moment, dear, and I'll get what you want." She returned in a few minutes, the onions in her arms, each wrapped in soft paper. "Six of my best," she said grandly. She helped Hikari put them in the basket.
"Thank you," Hikari said, feeling guiltier than ever. She turned to go, but then paused. "If you want me to, I'd be glad to come over some time and lend you a hand."
Mrs. Leonard looked surprised. "Why, how nice of you to offer, Hikari. I'd love your help. When would you like to come?"
"Any time's fine."
"All right then. I'll send for you when I need help." She winked at the girl and then waved Hikari on her way.
Hikari, of course, did not return home immediately. She felt a pang at her conscience, taking advantage of her mother's kindness, but it had to be done. Takeru had to know the penalty set on her, so he wouldn't think that she had been persuaded by her brother and Daisuke's accusations and was now avoiding him.
Hikari found Takeru once more sitting on a rock. One of his legs was propped up and he had wrapped his arms around it, while resting his chin against it. He was facing Hikari, but he didn't see her until she almost right in front of him. He had been too busy staring at the sand, as if lost in a million thoughts.
"You came." He sounded surprised.
"I wasn't supposed to," Hikari replied. "But I wanted to tell you—"
"I know." He sighed glumly. "Your family has forbidden you to come here."
"I'm so sorry, Takeru! But I promise, I'll find some way—they can't keep us—I won't let them—"
"Perhaps," he said simply. But he didn't sound too sure. He turned his face to the sea again and closed his eyes, letting the wind caress his cheek. Then, abruptly, he turned to Hikari again. "A storm's coming," he warned. "A big one. You should tell the townsfolk."
"But how do you know?" Hikari asked.
"I am a child of the sea," Takeru said with a rather mysterious smile. "We always know. Don't tell me you do not know the ways of your own parents?"
Hikari looked towards the horizon. A black mass had gathered in the sky far away. Gray clouds bunched together, turning darker and darker. She gasped. "The fishermen"
"Go," Takeru commanded, standing up. "I'll see if I can warn them."
"Thank you." Hikari wanted to kiss him on the cheek.
Takeru flashed her a reassuring smile before clambering onto the rocks and making his way to the one that was farthest from the shore. He dove into the water and disappeared into its depths.
Once more, Hikari looked up at the sky. The storm was approaching quickly. She was beginning to hear thunder and see lightening in the distance. Biting her lip, she hurried back to her cottage.
When she entered, Mrs. Yagami did not question her daughter's tardiness. "You have the onions?" she asked, her back turned to Hikari. She was preparing some bread.
"Yes." Hikari set her basket down on the table and took off her shawl. "But a storm's coming."
"How do you know? It was a beautiful day this—" At that moment, the sound of rolling thunder interrupted Mrs. Yagami. The woman jumped in surprise. "Oh, I suppose I was wrong." She hurried outside and looked up at the sky. "Hikari, go out to the back and take up the laundry," Mrs. Yagami said coming in and closing the door. She hesitated before leaving the door open. "It looks like the storm is coming from the sea," she said worriedly. "Your father" she trailed off. "Go," she directed her daughter. "Warn the rest of the townspeople."
Hikari rushed to obey.
* * *
Mrs. Yagami sat by at the dinner table, pale as chalk while Hikari paced the room anxiously. As Takeru had warned, the storm had turned out to be a big one. It was as fierce, or maybe even more so, than the one that had washed him ashore four years ago. The two women had blocked the window with a piece of board and Mrs. Yagami had locked the door. The wind howled relentlessly outside and the entire cottage seemed to shake under its power. The thunder and lightning had worsened and now it was raining heavily, the thick drops of rainwater falling with the weight of an apple.
Some of the fishermen who had started home early had made it safely back to Kent, but not all of them had been so lucky. Among the ones that had yet to return were Mr. Yagami, Grandfather, and Taichi.
"Hikari, will you please stop pacing?" Mrs. Yagami pleaded. "It's making me nervous."
Hikari stopped and went over to her mother, wrapping her arms around the older woman. "I'm sorry. It's just that I'm so worried"
"I know." Mrs. Yagami hugged her daughter back.
They remained that way until the storm passed.
* * *
Hikari burst outside the moment the rain stopped. This storm, although savage, had been rather short. The sun was setting, bathing everything in its orange glow. Raindrops clung everywhere, like sparkling diamonds. In the distance, two weary-looking figures trudged from the woods.
"Father!" Hikari cried, and Mrs. Yagami rushed out of the cottage as well. "Taichi!"
As Mr. Yagami and Taichi reached them, Mrs. Yagami embraced her husband. "Thank goodness you're safe." The family went back into the house.
Something was wrong. "Grandfather!" Hikari cried, grabbing onto the front of Taichi's shirt. "Where's Grandfather?"
Taichi looked away, tears brimming in his eyes.
"Gone." Mr. Yagami's tone reflected Taichi's expression.
Hikari whirled to her father. He had sunk heavily into one of their chairs. "Gone?"
"Gone," he affirmed. "Drowned by the Mer Folk."
"No" Hikari gasped, putting a hand to her mouth. Mrs. Yagami started to cry. "No!"
"It's true, Hikari," said Taichi. "Father and I were there. We saw! It was all its fault!"
"You mean Takeru?" Hikari didn't believe it. "You're lying! He would never—"
Taichi spoke over her. "The storm was approaching, we were aware of that. There were five fishing boats and fishermen still out in the sea, including Father, Grandfather, and myself. We rushed to get back, when that creature of yours came. We drove him away, and that's when the rain began falling. The waves grew violent and wild. We paddled like crazy, we knew the boats wouldn't hold against the waves. And then, that damned singing started—"
"Singing?" Hikari looked fearful.
"Singing," Taichi spat. "That freak of nature must have summoned his kind to punish us for driving him away. We saw shapes flash beneath the waters. The sea folk, no doubt. The cursed song was all around us, trapping us, like a veil. One of the boats overturned and two of our men were thrown into the water. Pale hands grabbed at them, bearing them down. We couldn't help them without getting killed ourselves, so we continued to flee. Father began yelling, trying to distract us from the singing because we heard another splash. The waves became more savage, the wind ripped at us like a knife. That was when our boat gave away and Father, Grandfather, and I were pulled down beneath the waves. I felt hands grasping me, trying to drown me, but I managed to get away somehow. I was swept onto the shore and so was Father. There were three other men who survived besides us and we had started out with nine." His tone rose. "Hikari, do you understand? Four innocent men, including Grandfather, were just killed out there! By those monsters!"
"No, it can't be true," Hikari whispered. Had Takeru deceived her? Had he really sent his kind after the fishermen? For the first time, Hikari began to doubt the merboy.
"It is true!" In his anger, Taichi grabbed his sister and began shaking her. "What do I have to do to make you understand? Do I have to lose you too?"
"Taichi, that's enough," Mr. Yagami said. He rose out of his chair; his cheeks wet with tears. He released Hikari from Taichi's grasp and looked his daughter sadly, but firmly, in the eye. "Speak no more to that creature, Hikari."
"Do as I say! Look at what your meddling has done! Grandfather is dead and you will obey me if you do not want to dishonor his memory!" The last bit ended in a shout. "Do I make myself clear?"
GrandfatherSadly, Hikari nodded her head.
Hikari's flashback ended. How long had she been standing here? She looked at Takeru, who called to her again. He was almost to the top of the stairs. She drew back as he advanced. She had to keep her promise to her father. She had forced herself to do so for the past three years. She had drifted away from Takeru as she had grown up. They were no longer children, and with the end of their childhood, came the end of their friendship. Hikari had made herself believe that. She feared him now, just like the other townspeople.
Takeru was now about three feet away from her. Overwhelmed by her emotions, Hikari turned and fled.
Author's Note: I know, I know, the entire chapter was basically a flashback, but it's just to give you a feel of what happened between Hikari and Takeru in the past. The flashback was written in the present tense, so don't get confused! Oh yeah, this story takes place sometime during the late Middle Ages. Anyway, if you liked it, review! If you didn't like it, review. And I don't care if you flame. ^_^