Author's Note: Thank you for two hundred reviews. Much love!
Arthur thought that five hundred dollars was a load of money to spend on anything, let alone what he was doing now. But after much thought and consideration, and several more very nice kisses, Arthur had decided that he really did owe Alfred something.
Alfred so freely did everything he could in his world; learned his language, ate his food, spent hours upon hours out of water with him. Granted, Alfred hardly seemed to mind, but the least he could do was… try to return the favor a bit.
Still, scuba lessons were bloody expensive, and he'd had to dig deep into his savings to cover them. Arthur had worked his arse off in high school, holding multiple part time jobs and saving most of the money for his college years. He knew that most students his age hadn't done that, and it was a bit unusual of him, but he was… glad to have done so now. The money really did help, even if his mum and his absent father assisted him in paying with most things at this point in his life.
Arthur hoped that they would be worth the money…
Because spending two hours each day in a swimming pool, wearing a wetsuit and strapped in scuba gear, was… a bore. Also, he had a strong feeling that the instructor, Evangeline, did not like him very much.
"Eyebrows!" he heard a shout, and he paddled over to the edge of the pool. His instructor stood there, a smile on her lips and wet pigtails framing her face.
"Do you give derogatory nicknames to all of your students?" Arthur asked, sliding his mask off. Evangeline was very friendly and helpful to all of the other students, but she had loads of fun teasing him. Perhaps they'd just gotten off on the wrong foot, or perhaps it was Francis's fault. He chose to believe the latter.
She laughed. "Just the ones related to Francis Bonnefoy. I can't believe you're his brother!"
"Half-brother," Arthur corrected. "As I've told you several times…"
"Yeah, I know," she replied, slipping off her dive fins and padding over to the other side of the pool to help another student. "Although to be honest, I think Francis is more pleasant than you…"
Arthur's jaw dropped at this. "Evangeline, I—I should honestly demand a refund from you for saying that."
Francis had recommended Evangeline's dive lessons, and Arthur didn't actually want to know how he knew her. He had a feeling, and he didn't want it verified. Although perhaps, Arthur smirked inwardly, she hadn't been that impressed by Francis. Evangeline hadn't given Arthur a discount after all, despite Francis saying that she probably would. Well, he would have liked the discount but…
"All right, everyone. We have our first outdoor dive tomorrow at Micah Pond. Just a couple of more days, and you'll be in the ocean," she explained cheerily to the class, pointedly ignoring Arthur's statement.
Arthur frowned. The things that he did for lo-
His cheeks heated up, and he ducked his head underwater to cool them and abate his blush.
Bloody hell, it was exactly that, wasn't it? For love.
"Agh, Toris, I can't believe the walrus had to come along," Alfred grumbled, swishing his fin across the sand in an irritated gesture.
"The walrus?" Toris queried, his eyebrows furrowed in bewilderment as he trailed his friend.
Alfred grinned, pausing mid-swim to turn toward his friend. "It's what I've decided to call Ivan, because he reminds me of one. But seriously, this whole group hunting thing is such a stupid idea. I get that people within our pods are marrying and it's tradition and stuff, but that doesn't mean we need to spend time together."
Toris chuckled. "Well, in a way, you'll be family."
"…That is one of the scariest things I've ever heard," Alfred retorted. "Although I guess that since you're part of his pod, it's not so bad." He smiled and patted Toris on the back.
Spotting a large rock, Toris floated down and sat on it. "Still, you can't deny that Ivan is a good hunter…"
"Well of course. He scares the fish." Alfred joined Toris by his side. "Hey speaking of, he hasn't been… bugging you too much lately, has he? It just really irritates me how weirdly possessive of you he gets."
Toris shrugged, staring upward. He could make out the clear blue sky far above them. It was a pleasant, sunny day, and the water was warm. A school of fish swam by, obstructing his view. He turned back to Alfred. "I… don't like it either, Alfred. But I have been spending more time with Feliks lately." He blushed, light pink.
"Maybe he'll be less likely to do it if he knows how taken you are," Alfred replied, jabbing Toris in the arm lightly.
The color on Toris's cheeks deepened, and he ran his hands over the top of his fin absently. "Sp-speaking of taken, you and Arthur… you know, he can't… you said he leaves at the end of the summer."
Alfred sighed. Ever since he and Arthur had started dating, Toris's worry over their relationship had increased. He knew his friend meant well, and he was just a natural worrywart, but he still wished that he would be more supportive of him and Arthur.
He shrugged, turning his gaze upward as he did so. A small smile quirked at his lips. "Hmm, I guess. Then maybe I'll just go with him."
Toris's mouth dropped open, and his eyes grew wide. "Alfred… you can't possibly. What if you get hurt? And even if you don't, what if you don't-"
Alfred waved his hand, dismissing his friend's concerns. "Heroes can handle themselves fine, Toris. Plus, there's still lots of summer left. Nothing is definite." His face heated, and he rubbed the back of his neck. "I mean, I haven't… actually talked to him about anything like this. I don't want to weird him out or anything."
He blew a string of bubbles from his mouth, exasperated. "Well… it's not like us. There aren't that many merpeople in the world, and a lot of the ones that are out there, we'll never meet. Don't get me wrong, a lot of us are really awesome, but the selection is kind of… limited," Alfred began. "There are billions of people in the world. Arthur says there are like three hundred million in America alone! We watched a video about it…"
"A video?" Toris raised his eyebrows, quizzically.
Alfred laughed. "On a pho- oh, never mind. I'll explain that part later. Anyway, because of that, because they meet so many other people, a lot of them take longer to… you know…" his cheeks reddened, "choose someone."
Toris nodded. "Humans are strange..."
"Yeah, but it's sort of awesome," Alfred laughed. "Anyway, I've got to go meet up with Nikolas. I've got something important to ask him…"
Alfred pushed himself off the rock and flicked his tail, beginning to swim. "I need to know how to remove the masking spell. I'm going to meet Arthur's mom!"
Toris could only gape.
"Francis, you are absolutely not having a party here on the fourth of July," Arthur snapped, his eyebrows furrowed in irritation. He crossed his arms.
Sighing dramatically, Francis shook his head. He leaned back in the living room's recliner and laughed. "Do you have other plans here, Arthur? If not, I fail to see why it should be an issue."
"You're not even American. Why are you throwing a massive American Independence Day Party?" Arthur paced across the living room, stopping only to adjust his sleeve, which had rolled up slightly.
"Because American Independence Day also celebrates kicking English derrière, oui? That is enough reason for me."
"You know me, any excuse to throw a party," Francis relented, shooting Arthur a wink.
Arthur grumbled under his breath. He did have plans. He wanted to spend the evening with Alfred on the dock. His father's beach house offered a prime view of the local fireworks display, shot from a yacht over the ocean, and he was sure that Alfred would love them.
He imagined Alfred's bright blue eyes, sparking with delight and wonder at the colorful display in the sky, and unbidden, a soft small smile crossed his lips.
"Thinking about Alfred?" Francis cut in, seemingly having noticed his change in expression.
Arthur stiffened, and his smile dropped. "As a matter of fact, I am."
"You should bring him to my party. You say he's shy, but honestly… there will be so many people there that no one would notice him," Francis offered, leaning forward in his recliner as he did so.
Glancing toward Francis, Arthur let out a light snort. "I sincerely doubt that."
Behind his brother, the early afternoon sun shone through the house's large bay window. Arthur frowned, wishing it were later, as that's when he'd be meeting up with Alfred. He was already in a sour mood because of his dive lesson earlier that day.
Francis raised a curious eyebrow. "Either your boyfriend is horrifically unpleasant and you're embarrassed, or he's excruciatingly beautiful, and you're afraid he'll fall for someone more on his level."
"Like you?" Arthur rolled his eyes. "Trust me, Alfred is the very opposite of interested in someone like you. And he's… far more handsome than anyone you've ever dated."
"Then we are back to him not being real," Francis quipped.
Arthur took a deep breath, willing himself to think of pleasant things that didn't involve punching his brother. "He is. We've been through this before."
Francis slid out of his recliner and sauntered over to Arthur, placing a hand on his shoulder. Arthur cringed, but relented. "Fine, fine. You know that I do want you to find someone, oui? I may find you to be unpleasant and unattractive, even for someone that for all intents and purposes, it would be creepy for me to be attracted to anyway, but… I do care about you. Besides, I think that a bit of… joi de vivre might make you less of a pain to be around."
Arthur's shoulders dropped, and he shook his head. "It's… he's good, Francis. I promise he is. He's… a bit daft, but he's… charming in his own way." He pulled away from Francis's hand. "But you can't meet him, and it would be impossible to explain why. I could just tell you that it's because he's allergic to perverts, but I don't think you'd buy that."
"The only way you could be allergic to me, is if you are allergic to l'amour, mon frère," Francis retorted, feigning offense.
Arthur just scowled.
"Oh, and I am still having the party."
His scowl deepened. "Then I'll be borrowing the yacht that night. Alfred and I are not coming to your asinine party."
Francis clucked and shook his head. "You can't hide him forever."
"That's what I'm afraid of…" Arthur mumbled under his breath.
It had been a week since Arthur had mentioned to him that his mother wanted to meet him. Alfred had been planning for that entire week how to ask Nikolas to help him. He considered cool ways to lead up to it, like… telling a story he knew Nikolas liked and then casually bringing it up, or asking Nikolas to tell him a story or just… bringing it up around Derek, because then Nikolas might agree to it just to get away from Derek.
But instead, Alfred had just… brought it up. He'd snagged Nikolas on his own near their cove that afternoon, pulled him aside, and asked.
"Nikolas, I need a huge, really awesome, really heroic favor from you," he said, a beaming smile on his face despite the manner in which his stomach was churning. Nikolas was cool, but he could be sort of… cold and very difficult to convince of things. Alfred blamed it on years and years of having to say no to Derek.
"What?" Nikolas replied, his expression neutral.
"I need you to teach me how to remove the masking spell," Alfred rushed out.
"No," Nikolas didn't hesitate.
Alfred sighed, dejected, but then frowned and puffed up his chest. "Please?"
"But you have to!" Alfred gestured with his arms. "Arthur can see me, but he's the only one who can! I have to… know."
Nikolas's lips twitched down into a frown, and he rested his arm against the cove wall. "If Arthur can see you, then isn't that enough? It's strange enough that he has the sight. Why do others need to see you as well?"
At this, Alfred's cheeks heated, and he rubbed the back of his neck. "Well you see… I'm planning on… meeting his mother."
Eyes widening, Nikolas made a series of quiet clicks in the back of his throat. "You- "
"She lives in England, but she's visiting him, and she wants to meet me. I think that it would be awesome if he could introduce her to me as… myself," Alfred explained.
Nikolas leaned his back against the cave fully and let out a sigh, his frown tightening after he did so. "Alfred. I'm not Berwald or Tino, so it might not be my place to say this, but… isn't that a bit serious?"
Alfred shrugged. "Arthur just said she wants to meet me. I don't think it's that big a deal that I'd want to meet some other people in my boyfriend's life."
"I need you to promise me a few things, Alfred," Nikolas said. "It's obvious… how much you care about Arthur, from what you've been telling us recently. I think that all of us understand this, and the biggest surprise here isn't that you're in a relationship with a human, but that a human can see you in the first place."
The younger merman pouted. "Geez, you all act like I'm so predictable…"
"In some aspects, you are," Nikolas quipped. "Many, many merpeople don't ever learn to remove the spell. Berwald doesn't know it, and of course Matthew doesn't. It's not the common knowledge it used to be. " He paused. "Alfred, the spell is there for a reason. You're reckless. You always have been. And you must be careful with who you show yourself to. Do not show yourself to anyone that Arthur doesn't trust with all of his heart, and that by extension, you feel is trustworthy."
Alfred nodded resolutely. "Yeah. I promise, Nikolas."
Nikolas's lips quirked up in a small smile, and he pushed himself off the cove. "I've never met anyone as interested in our history as you. When Derek and I tell Matthew about it, he doesn't tune it out, but… it's obvious he doesn't believe everything he hears. You know better, on the other hand."
"That's because it's all true!"
"It is. But you know, so much of who we are is being lost over time. Our magic, our history, everything. And… if there aren't more merpeople like you, who are interested enough to not forget it, to pass it on, who knows how much more will be forgotten? Most merpeople are like Matthew, after all."
Alfred bit his lip. "I-I've been telling Arthur… all of our stories, Nikolas. I've been telling him our history and our legends and… just everything I can. He loves hearing them. I'll keep telling him, because then there's at least one other person who knows and won't forget."
Nikolas brightened a bit at this. "I appreciate that, Alfred. I really do," he paused, lowering his voice to a murmur, "but it will still be sad to lose you…"
"What do you-"
"Never mind," Nikolas interrupted. "Follow me. I don't want to teach you magic so close to where we sleep. It tends to leave a residue, and Derek claims he gets headaches from it."
Alfred laughed. "Are you sure it's not you getting the headaches?"
Nikolas smiled and let out a short laugh of his own. "I think the exact same thing."
Doing magic was exhausting, Alfred quickly discovered. Nikolas explained that magic utilized energy the same way any strenuous activity did, and that merpeople could rarely do more than a few spells in a row without getting tired. Alfred had practiced the masking spell at least ten times. Perhaps, back in the days when magic was common, they were able to handle more, he'd mused. "But not now," Alfred grumbled. He felt as if he'd swum across the whole of Nantucket Sound without a break.
Alfred yawned and dropped his head onto Arthur's shoulder, shooting him an apologetic expression. "Sorry I'm so tired tonight…"
"It's quite all right," Arthur replied, absently carding his hand through Alfred's hair. "I'm a bit exhausted myself."
"Mhmmm." Arthur hesitated, but pressed a kiss to the crown of Alfred's head. "Had a long err… meeting this morning, and I had to deal with Francis all afternoon."
"Same. But hey!" He bounced up, an enormous smile on his face. "I think I know the spell now! I've still got to practice it some more. I don't want to mess up and have your mom see me with just the head of a dolphin or something freaky like that."
Arthur chuckled. "Well, you've got a couple of weeks. I'm glad you learned it though. Mum will be thrilled when I tell her. She won't stop bringing you up on the phone." His cheeks flushed. "C-can hardly believe I have a boyfriend…"
"I assumed that the merman part would be more surprising."
"Yes, well," Arthur shook his head, "I suppose it is."
Alfred punched Arthur in the arm gently. "You're too hard on yourself. I mean, I know that you're grumpy and act way older than you are, but… it's not so weird that someone likes you." He made eye contact with Arthur, his cheeks turning a pleasant pink. "At least I don't think it is."
Arthur glanced downward, fiddling with the hem of his shorts as if it were endlessly fascinating. "You'd be the first."
"I don't mind that," Alfred said, placing a hand under Arthur's chin and tilting it upward. Arthur scowled, just barely, and his face was still red. "You're…" he laughed, "you're so cute."
"Hardly," he huffed. "A-anyway, I've got a surprise for you. Er, not tonight, that is. It will be… several more days. But I was wondering if there's any place in the ocean nearby that you really fancy showing off. It's um, connected to the surprise."
Alfred grinned, some of his usual buoyancy having returned. "A surprise, huh? It had better be an awesome one." He tapped his chin. "I know an area that whales sometimes like to gather in. Uh, I don't know the names you use. But we see… the ones with the big long white fins…"
"Humpbacks, I believe."
"Yeah! And the really, really huge ones. Not the biggest whales, but the second biggest in the world," Alfred explained.
Arthur shook his head in the negative. "I'm afraid I don't know that one. A-anyway, Alfred. Whales sound lovely, and I'd… definitely like to see them with you sometime, but I think they're a bit… grand for what I'm thinking of."
Alfred blinked in bewilderment. "Arthur, if you're worried about them hurting you, they won't! These whales eat tiny, tiny food."
"I know but…"
"And it will be like with the seals, okay? They know me. I'm their friend, and I say friend because whales are seriously smart, so it feels weird to call them a pet," he said with a laugh.
"But they're massive!" He honestly did want to go whale watching with Alfred, because if it was anything like the seals, he would get the kind of amazing, privileged view that so few others did. But swimming with them? The first time going scuba diving at that? That seemed a bit much.
Alfred smiled gently and clutched Arthur's hands between his. "I know, and they're amazing. Sometimes they even overwhelm me a little, despite my heroic nature. But… just trust me, okay? You know I would never let you get hurt." And Alfred looked at him with such truth and honesty and affection, that Arthur felt his blasted resolve melting away.
He sighed and chuckled under his breath, closing his eyes and leaning forward to take Alfred's lips in a brief kiss. "I… suppose, if you insist."
-Second largest whale in the world- The Fin Whale. It grows to eighty-eight feet (twenty-seven meters).