Author's Note:I don't really have any excuse for lack of updates recently outside of epic writer's block. Hopefully I'm over it now. So sorry, seriously! Thank you for all of the continued reviews though!
Alfred rushed speedily through the water, his fluke moving quickly and the sea rushing past his ears. He had so much to tell his family.
Okay, so he felt weird telling them some of the specifics; things that felt… like they should stay private between him and Arthur. But he still wanted them to know some of it, because it was really awesome!
The moonlight shone down into the shallow waters of the sound, and Alfred continued swimming. It was late, so it was likely his family would already be asleep by now. He was heading to their cove…
Idly, Alfred found himself touching his cheek. Where Arthur had kissed him. His face heated.
"Just thought I should return the favor…"
Alfred blinked, a huge smile spreading across his face. "Awesome. That's… great." He placed his hand on Arthur's brow, pushing his bangs off his forehead and planting a gentle kiss upon it.
Arthur flushed crimson. "A-Alfred… why do you…"
He sighed and gestured dismissively, a small smile on his face. "Ah, never mind. Shall we go back?"
They'd arrived home and parted shortly thereafter, and Alfred felt warmth bubbling in his chest then. He still did even now.
Arthur was… something special. And if a hero like him thought someone was special, that meant a lot! His family's cove was in sight, and he sped up as he approached it.
Turning a corner, he peeked inside, making out the sleeping forms of all six of his pod. Berwald and Tino were curled up together, Tino's smaller form comfortably in Berwald's arms. Nikolas was lying against the wall, Derek's arm flopped over him and his other arm sprawled out on the other side, as if he were attempting to take up as much room as possible. Ingimar and Matthew both slept by themselves, the former on his side and the latter on his stomach, both against the back wall.
Alfred slipped in the cove with a quick flick of his tail and beamed brightly. "Hey everyone!" he shouted, raising his arms above his head. "I'm back!"
Tino shifted and opened his eyes, waking up Berwald in the process. The larger merman instinctively held Tino closer, before relaxing his grip when he realized it was Alfred.
Derek sat up, thwacking Nikolas in the face accidentally in the process, and rubbed his eyes blearily. Nikolas glared and leaned against the wall. Ingimar and Matthew stirred awake as well. There was a thunk when Matthew sat up. He'd smacked his head on the rock of the cove and was rubbing it while wincing.
"S'late Alfr'd," Berwald mumbled, shooting his adopted son a serious expression. "Tryin' t' sleep."
Tino chuckled. "Alfred, I don't mind you staying out late… but do you need to always wake us up when you return?"
"Yeah… I hit my head, eh," Matthew sighed.
"Aha, you all didn't want to be informed of my heroic return?" Alfred asked with a shrug and a sheepish smile.
"Not really." Nikolas nursed his smacked cheek. A red mark in the shape of a palm had bloomed there.
Derek blinked and stared at Nikolas in bewilderment. "Hey Nik, what happened to your face?"
"You hit me, you moron," Nikolas snapped and glared at him.
"God you two…" Ingimar rolled his eyes and rested his hands behind his head.
Alfred laughed. There was only a small sliver of moonlight peeking into the cave, but it was enough to make out the group before him. Home sweet home, huh? Wouldn't be my family otherwise…
"Anyway, since you're already awake." He grinned, huge and wide. "I- totally had an awesome night."
He paused, as if for dramatic effect, and to make sure everyone's eyes were on him.
"I had… a date."
Matthew tensed up at this proclamation immediately, and shot his brother a surreptitious glance. "The human?" he mouthed. Alfred nodded.
Tino wriggled out of Berwald's arms and sat up, stretching and yawning as he did so. "That's… nice Alfred. Who with? There aren't many others around here." His lips quirked up in a small smile.
Derek's eyes grew large, and he pounded his fist in his hand. "It's got to be Natalia then!"
Alfred wrinkled his nose. "Natalia, seriously? I mean she's all right sometimes, but…"
"Like anyone could get between her and Ivan," Matthew finished.
"Eduard? He's nice…" Tino offered.
Alfred laughed and scratched his cheek, starting to feel a bit nervous now. He hadn't sat down yet, still floating above his family in the cove. "No, no and no. It's no one you guys know."
"'Nother pod c'me through?" Berwald inquired, head propped up on one elbow.
He shook his head. "He's…" Alfred paused and rushed the last part out, "He's a human."
The merman gulped and began to babble, a nervous habit, "His name is Arthur. He's uh… really nice? Sorta grumpy too, but that's just how he acts. He's actually kinda sweet when you get to know him." His cheeks flushed pink. "He's from England, and he's here because he's-"
"Who in this pod taught Alfred of all people how to remove the masking spell?" Nikolas interrupted, his brows furrowed in irritation.
"S'probably Derek," Berwald accused, glaring at the aforementioned merman.
"No way I-"
"No one taught me it," Alfred clarified. "Arthur… he has the sight."
Everyone in the cove perked up at this, Nikolas especially. "That's… I haven't heard of that happening since…"
"In your lifetime, I know," he cut in, waving his hand. "But it's true. He does. He can see me and… we kind of hit it off." Alfred smiled, fond.
Ingimar cleared his throat, and everyone turned to him, their attention captured by the previously silent member of the group. "Is it really that surprising?" he asked. "Alfred and a human? We all know how much time he spends watching them."
Tino shook his head in the positive. "It's not surprising but…" he laughed lightly, "on the upside; I guess it's good that he can see you. I'd always worried that you'd meet some human and end up heartbroken because they didn't even know you exist!"
Alfred rubbed his forehead, used to Tino's odd, and sometimes a bit dark, sense of humor. "Yeah… hey, it's not that he's… human. He's just… Arthur." His face grew red again. "We went to see seals together tonight and…"
He stopped. He didn't really want to explain anymore. He didn't want to explain how handsome Arthur had looked with the moon shining down on him, and the way he'd smiled when he held the baby seal, or how his heart had leapt all over the place when Arthur had kissed his cheek. He didn't want to talk about how ecstatic he'd been when Arthur had liked the pearl, when he'd found out that it was actually really valuable and was an awesome gift. When he'd embraced Arthur and it had just felt so…
"Right." Alfred shrugged. "I just wanted to let you know what's up."
He drifted back to the spot in the cove he generally slept, right next to Matthew, and floated down to the seafloor.
"Y'better let me meet h'm somet'me, Alfr'd," Berwald mumbled. "M'ke sure he's good en'gh for m'boy."
Alfred's cheeks flushed scarlet as he curled up beside his brother. "Berwald, I'm not a kid anymore, okay? And we're just… dating."
"That's how it starts," Nikolas said. "And then before you know it, you're stuck with an idiot like Derek for the rest of your life."
Derek lay back down, curling up around his partner. "Aww, love you too Nik."
Alfred laughed and shook his head, used to their antics. He turned to face Matthew. "Hey…" he whispered.
The elder twin averted his eyes and bit his lip. "Do you think um…"
Matthew sighed. "I think that I just want you to be careful, eh."
"I mean… not that I care or anything, because a hero does what he thinks is right no matter what anyone else thinks!" He grinned, a bit lopsided. "But do you think it's okay with everyone?"
His brother chuckled at this. "Like you were ever going to settle down like a normal merman. At least this is better than you leaving with that pod from down south and us hardly ever seeing you, eh?"
Alfred yawned, his eyes sliding closed. "I guess that's true…"
That night Alfred dreamt of sunsets and moonlit nights and a rare but wonderful smile and… what would have happened had Arthur moved just a little bit over when he had kissed him…
It had been two weeks. He'd seen Alfred nearly every day, the only two exceptions being one day when he'd had to go back to Harvard to discuss his autumn schedule with a counselor, and another day when there'd been a particularly nasty storm (he hadn't worried about Alfred that day, most certainly not).
Francis was still teasing him about it, prodding him for information about the mysterious boyfriend whose existence he could not verify. He'd given up on the dolphin joke… for the most part, but Arthur did not appreciate being teased about an imaginary boyfriend.
That struck a rather hurtful chord with him, for a reason he was unable to pinpoint.
Despite how obnoxious Francis was, he… couldn't exactly deny that he'd tease Francis just as brutally if he had such a prime opportunity as this. Bollocks.
He half considered just lying and telling Francis that he had broken up with Alfred.
Alfred was much finer company than Francis. They swapped stories almost every day; King Arthur and King Alfred, and fairy tales and legends and myths from both of their cultures.
Arthur loved it, and he knew Alfred did as well. When he got back inside every night, he'd jot down short notes about the tales the merman told, as not to forget any important details.
As for his promised 'human food,' he'd fulfilled that many times over. Often he'd bring out whatever he was having for a meal and share it with Alfred; whether pizza or salad or fish and chips.
He was delighted to discover that Alfred did not hate his cooking. He'd sort of… given it an odd look upon trying one of his scones, but then gulped it down and asked if "this is what humans called delicious?" Well of course it was! That Frog just had no taste.
For his part, Alfred had shown him… many things. He had favorite spots in the ocean, where seabirds loved to gather and schools of fish balled up in a massive swirling cyclone of sea life, and… dolphins (actual dolphins, not merpeople in disguise) would come up to his boat, as if drawn in by Alfred's presence.
The previous night they'd relaxed under the moonlight, sharing stories and bickering animatedly. Unbidden, Alfred had lain down and rested his head in Arthur's lap, smiling up at him.
He'd been shocked, his face flushing bright crimson, but that had melted into a smile. Arthur had found himself stroking Alfred's hair absently as he'd continued to tell stories of the Wild Hunt.
But they hadn't gone much beyond that. There were occasional embraces, kisses on the cheek (or forehead and nose, in Alfred's case), and… small touches, sometimes lingering ones.
It was enough. It was more than he'd ever really had, at least.
He fingered a tan leather cord that he now wore around his neck, pulling it out of his collar and surveying the large pearl that had been strung onto it. The jeweler had been impressed when he'd brought in the pearl, remarking that it was a fantastic piece and such a lucky find. Arthur had probably turned a bit pink at this, but he'd cleared his throat and explained that he wanted a necklace, and that's how he'd ended up with it. It felt unfair not to use the gift Alfred had given him… and it did make a… really nice piece of jewelry.
Alfred had been ecstatic when he'd seen it. He'd leapt on him again, as a matter of fact.
It was late afternoon now, and he hadn't seen Alfred yet. It would be a few more hours, at least, so he'd decided to give his mum a ring. It was evening there, so she was home from work by then.
His mother, Irene, was a collection curator at the British Library in London, and she often babbled about her work. Arthur found it fascinating, as she worked nearly every day with precious texts from annals of history. It was a job he'd considered at one point himself, before he'd settled on journalism.
She'd just finished relating a story a coworker had told her about a visitor's humorous reaction to the Magna Carta room, and Arthur was mulling, mulling on something he very much wanted to tell her but did not quite know how.
Arthur's mother was visiting later that summer. This was no surprise. He'd known that she was planning a visit since he'd flown back for the winter holidays. She was currently informing him that she had booked her flight for exactly the days they'd planned together, and that she was very excited to visit the Cape because it really did sound lovely.
There was no way he was going to be able to hide his time with Alfred for an entire two week visit, and he was hardly about to tell the merman not to meet with him for that entire time.
He didn't even want to think of how much Alfred would pout.
It would be unbearable. The git.
So yes, he'd probably have to tell his mum about Alfred. As to whether he told her about him being a merman? Well, he did value being considered sane in his mother's eyes. He let out a puff of air.
"Mum?" he asked, curling up his legs on the sofa and resting the phone between his ear and his shoulder.
He bit his lip. "Do you know anything about… the sight? You know, seeing magical things and all that rot. I know, it's a strange question but…"
Arthur could have sworn that he heard her breath hitch. "Why do you ask, love?"
"I'm ah… just curious," he lied, although not entirely. "Something came up recently that brought it to mind."
Irene went silent for a moment before replying, "Well there are lots of stories, some of which… you know, I'm sure." She seemed to hesitate. "T-there is one, about infants born at midnight on Fridays, you know? They call them Chime Children."
"I've heard that story," Arthur said, "but I thought that it was midnight and noon, any day."
"I'm sure that when such things, such superstitions were more commonly believed, it was thought to be a wider occurrence, mmm?" she asked, although Arthur thought it rhetorical. "Arthur do you know when you were born?"
"Can't remember, Mum," he said… although he had… a feeling that…
His throat felt dry.
"Midnight on a Friday."
Of course it would be that, Arthur thought. It certainly explained seeing Alfred, but why had this just happened to him now?
"Ah really?" Arthur feigned obliviousness. "Well that's a rather specific ti-"
"Love, why did you ask me about the sight?" she interrupted. "Did something happen?"
"W-whatever could you mean?"
Even if the slight shake to his voice hadn't been completely obvious, Arthur knew his mother wouldn't buy it. She could read him perfectly, even over the phone. Blast.
"It's nothing Mum," he argued. "I just saw something the other night and it frightened me a bit, but I'm sure it was just a trick of the light."
He could at least attempt to lie.
"A trick of the light?" she stifled a laugh. "Like Gawain was?"
"Gawain?" Arthur furrowed his brows. "Mum what are you…"
"I never did believe you, although I humored it because… what's wrong with a young child having an imaginary friend, you know?" she sighed. "But then there was that time in the library's museum, when you decided you'd translate a bit of Old English for me."
"Wh-what?" Arthur sat up, leaning forward on the sofa.
"Not something most four year olds are adept at, hmm? But you looked at the blooming Beowulf manuscript and said to me 'Mum, Gawain says that this line means this.' And you were right… and bloody hell, how am I to argue with that? It's more likely that than a toddler being able to read Old English. There were other things too… little things that made your sight difficult to deny."
Arthur swallowed down a lump in his throat, brushing away slivers of memory that were surfacing; a trip to Mum's work, a flash of green, his mother's shocked face.
"T-that's very funny Mum," Arthur laughed falsely. "Gawain? That doesn't even make sense as a name. You of all people should know. Gawain fought the green knight, but he was hardly green himself."
"Arthur, love," Irene replied, "firstly, you were barely out of nappies when you first told me about Gawain, so it's hardly surprising the name ended up incorrect. Secondly? I never told you that your friend was green."
Arthur's mouth dropped open, and he came close to dropping his cellphone.
It's not as if what his mother appeared to be implying didn't make sense. He had the ability to see Alfred when no one else could, after all. But… it was still a lot to take in, and… why did he not remember any of it?
"Mum what exactly are you…"
"Of course you claimed to see a lot of things," Irene elucidated. "There were fairies and spirits and… little odd beasts like Gawain. A green rabbit with wings?"
"Y-yes… I suppose he was."
Arthur's mouth felt very dry. He considered taking a swig from the cup of tea he had on the table, but he didn't even think that would help much.
"I… wondered," her voice grew softer, "if you'd ever bring it up, ask me about it? You haven't mentioned anything like this since the first year of primary school. You stopped seeing them then, were quite insistent that you never had."
Now would be a fantastic time to tell his mother what was going on. Oh by the way Mum, the reason I asked? It's because I'm dating a merman.
Green bunny aside though, he was fairly sure that his mother wouldn't believe him.
Although… he supposed that there was a chance.
After all, at some point in his life, back when he was very young (a time he only had snatches of memory from), he'd apparently seen fairies and ghosts and some such rot. And his mother had believed it.
Now, after all these years, this ability had bloody resurfaced, if Alfred were to be believed.
"So I'm… a Chime Child?" Arthur said, his voice quiet, breathless from this revelation.
"Who knows? It's not as if I could go to a doctor and get you diagnosed. I just assumed, considering your time of birth, that it must be the case."
"A-ah… makes sense, I suppose."
"What brought this on, Arthur?" she asked, concerned. "Are you seeing them again?"
Not exactly. Not them. Just… him.
"I-I'm… not exactly?" he replied. "Certainly not fairies or rabbits or whatnot."
He closed his eyes, reached for a sip of his tea (to calm his nerves), and rubbed his forehead. The camera sat on the table, filled to the brim with pictures of Alfred and him. It wasn't just from their second day together either. Arthur had brought the camera along to several other 'dates' since that first weekend. Alfred still found it to be utterly brilliant.
"You see… the thing is… well—I have a boyfriend now."
At Arthur's most pessimistic, he considered that his mum might find that alone more unbelievable than the whole merman thing. He'd come out to her when he was sixteen, but he hadn't… ever successfully dated. One or two dates was all he had ever lasted with anyone. And there'd been nothing beyond chaste kisses either.
"Arthur, really?" He could hear the astonishment in her voice. He felt like such a bloody loser. Damn.
"That's wonderful, brilliant… so great, love!" she exclaimed, and it made Arthur's cheeks bloom bright pink.
"Mum, stop that!"
"Sorry Arthur," she chortled. "I just… I'm so happy for you. I know how much you've-" she cleared her throat. "Well never mind. What's his name, how long, tell me about him!"
Arthur half thought his mother had forgotten entirely about their discussion regarding the sight.
"Alfred, his name is Alfred," Arthur explained, and his face was still hot. "He's a year younger than me, lives… around here, and we met a couple of weeks ago. Hit it off quite quickly." He let out a puff of air.
He's ridiculously handsome. We spend nearly every day together…
I really, honestly l—
"You'd be surprised at how taken with me he is."
"Alfred, hmm?" Irene said. "And I don't see how that's such a surprise. You don't give yourself enough credit, Arthur."
"Preposterous, Mum." He shook his head. "And it's more that he was fascinated with me from the beginning, really."
"Hmm." He heard her tap the phone, something that she often did when she was mulling on something. "A friend of mine, Anna, said that Americans can be like that with the English. I don't know if it's the accent or what, but she claims she encounters it a lot when she visits the States."
"It's got nothing to do with me being English, honestly," Arthur countered, taking another sip of his tea. "It's because… well…"
Just spit it out you fool. If she can believe winged rabbits that read Old English, she can believe this!
"…He's not entirely human. Half human, rather. I… suppose that would be the best way to describe it. And that's why I asked you about the sight and all. Because… well I HAVE seen something out of the ordinary. In fact, I'm dating it and…" He smacked his forehead. "Oh Christ, I'm babbling, aren't I? Better to do that than stop and hear you pronounce me nutters but… yes, it appears this Chime Child thing has returned because I am…"
"Dating a merman."
The line fell silent, and Arthur counted the seconds. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight-
"Do you mean it?"
"Would I make something like this up?" he snapped, and he immediately regretted it, because… it was his mum.
"I-I suppose not…"
Arthur glanced at the camera once more. "Merpeople have… a sort of spell that conceals them from human view. We see them as dolphins. But not me. I just see Alfred as he is."
He could hear his mother exhale. "I'm trying to think of any plausible reason you would lie about this, but everything I can think of is so unlike my Arthur that it's silly to even consider."
"I'm not lying," he assured, tone firm.
"I believe you."
And suddenly, Arthur felt as if a great weight had been lifted off his chest. He cracked a smile. "Thank you."
"But," she continued, "I expect to meet him when I visit." She didn't wait for a response. "It always frustrated me a bit that I could never see what you saw, know who you were talking about."
"Well I apologize," Arthur said. "It's not as if I can remember it anyway."
"It's all right," Irene chuckled. "Do you spend a lot of time with Alfred?"
"Almost every single day…" the words were out before he could register them, and his face grew flush. "I don't know how you expect to be able to see—"
"I don't care that I don't have the sight. If he can do magic that hides his appearance or whatever, I'm sure he can make it so that his boyfriend's mum can see him, hmm?"
Arthur frowned. It figured that his mother would want to meet him. Of course she would. Why wouldn't she? It was part of the standard order of events when one acquired a boyfriend.
"I—I think that Alfred mentioned something to me about removing the spell," Arthur replied. "I can ask him about it, but I can't make any promises."
He imagined Alfred. He would be excited to meet his mother, Arthur thought. Another human! The ridiculous git would smile and babble endlessly about who knew what and ask a million questions. "I've never spoken to a girl human before," or some other such silliness. He noticed then, that his frown had turned to a small smile.
Damn Alfred, always doing that to him.
-The British Library is the world's largest library in terms of number of owned items. There is a museum section of the library that contains some of their most prized items; including two copies of the Magna Carta (from 1215, the year it was issued), and the only surviving copy of the Beowulfmanuscript.
-There are a lot of stories about Chime Children in the UK. What they can see and at what times children must be born to be granted the ability vary throughout parts of the nation.
-Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is an Arthurian story, so no doubt Irene was telling it to Arthur from a very young age. Just as Arthur says, Gawain, a knight of Arthur's round table, fights a knight who is green from his skin to his clothing to his beard.
-In the UK primary school starts during the year that a child turns five, so Arthur was actually four when he entered it.