A/N: Mermaid love! \o/ For Kayla and Denny and En. Because it's their fault.
Mathias was laughing at him, and Alfred sort of wanted to punch him in the throat.
"It's not funny."
"Yeah it is! It so is, bro!" The older blond was clutching his ribs, the dark scales scattered on his hips and arms glinting close to red. Alfred loved their color in the right light.
But he wouldn't compliment him now, when he was being so annoying.
"It is not. That stupid pirate won't leave me alone. Every time I go up for some sun, BAM, there he is. And with weird stuff too, like bangles or- or sparkling rocks. Why would I need sparkling rocks?"
Mathias' laughter had ebbed away, and he was looking at him with a half-smile. "They'll make you look pretty."
Alfred blinked at him and looked away, scowling. Of course it wasn't unnatural for merfolk to think along those lines- anything to make them look attractive was something worth having. And besides, things that glittered and shone and sparkled in the light- well, merfolk liked having things that were nice to look at.
But there were dolphins to chase and caves to explore, and having stuff on his wrists and neck slowed him down.
Besides; jewels and gold that dripped and shone- Alfred didn't like them.
"And I need all the help I can get in that department, right?" He said it light-heartedly, or he thought he did, but it wiped the smile off Mathias' face in an instant.
The older merman grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him once, firmly. "I dunno what it is you think is wrong with you, Al, but I wish I could knock it out of your head. You're gorgeous, and it's about time you caught your first sailor. I was starting to think all the men in our waters were crazy or blind."
The red merman had "caught" several seafarers this summer; he kept telling Alfred, ruefully, that his sailor would come along, every time he swam down from charming the hapless humans. Alfred laughed and tugged at Mathias' wrists. "Okay, okay, I get it. Can I go now?"
He was sighed at, but released, and he turned tail quickly to flee.
Mathias was pretty. Matthew was pretty. Michelle was pretty.
Alfred was not.
Stupid pirate. Find another fish to chase.
"There you are!"
Alfred considered ignoring him, but he knew that wouldn't help in the least. It would just make the human think it was okay to touch him or something. So he sat up on his rock and eyed him, feeling the beginnings of a reluctant smile on his face at the man's eagerness.
And maybe he did like this pirate. Liked the way his green eyes lit up when Alfred consented to sit with him- as though Alfred was special and important. Alfred reminded himself constantly that the human would probably treat any other merman (or mermaid, for that matter) the same way, that it wasn't because Alfred himself was unique.
He liked when he forgot that, though.
"You find me no matter where I go," he murmured, and the pirate's eyes fluttered. Alfred suffered a dizzying moment of regret that he was what he was- his every trait was designed to drag love-struck sailors to their doom. He shook it off.
It's not my fault I'm stuck here, he thought bitterly, lifting his head enough to glare at the birds swooping around the clouds. Not my fault I'm- this.
The pirate was watching him closely, and followed his eyes. "You don't like birds?"
Alfred almost slipped off the rock. Jeez, way to read my mind. "I- well, it's not personal, or anything. I just- I'm down here, and they're up there." He spread his arms to indicate the sky, and thought maybe the pirate was holding his breath from the way he was staring. "Going wherever they want, the bastards."
There was a heavy moment of silence, in which Alfred folded his arms tightly and regretted speaking at all, before the pirate burst out laughing. His small boat rocked with the waves and the force of his laughter; Alfred had never heard anyone but Mathias laugh so freely, and he leaned toward him before he could help it.
The pirate looked up, and didn't freeze the way Alfred thought he might, finding Alfred closer than before; instead he smirked, but it was much more like a smile than Alfred thought he knew, and leaned closer himself.
"You have most of the world at your fingertips, and you still reach out for more."
Alfred blinked at him, wondering if he should take offense but feeling nothing more than tickling curiosity at the human's remark. "Well, yeah. You humans belong on land, but here you are in the ocean. It's not wrong of me to want to fly, is it?"
He meant the question, but he didn't mean to shell out his innermost desire. He froze, blushed, and slipped back into the sea before the pirate could answer.
But he was reliving that man's laugh as he swam away, his heart beating madly in a way it had never done before.
His laughter was pretty.
"You're such an idiot!" It was the third time he'd yelled so, over the roar of the waves and the wind. The wind was everywhere, though, so he wasn't sure if the sailor had heard him. He didn't check to be sure, either, because he'd have to relinquish his grip on the boat for that and he was not about to lose this man to the sea.
"Why would you come out here when you knew it'd be like this? The sky's been cloudy all day!" Alfred's home had been especially dark and gloomy. He almost hadn't even come to the surface at all, but it was a damn good thing he had. The stupid pirate was out by the rock, in his stupid little boat, and Alfred's heart might very well have stopped beating at the sight of him.
The pirate was clutching the side of the boat, and his head was ducked against the steady rush of rain. Alfred continued tugging him stubbornly and angrily towards the cove, the shore barely visible- and so he didn't see the pirate take his hand, but he felt it.
And he felt it when the pirate didn't let go, not once- and when the sand sloped up under Alfred's tail, and he was able to pull the boat ashore, he wrenched his hand free to drag the pirate onto the beach. He shoved him, once, as hard as he could up into the sand.
"Go," he panted, exhausted and angry, and still so scared. "Get out of the storm. Forget your stupid boat and go."
He could have drowned.
Out of the water, and in the rain, he tilted his face into his hands and cried.
And because humans can't be sensible or leave well enough alone, the pirate knelt in front of him.
"I had to see you."
Such an idiot.
But his green eyes in the rain were pretty.
"Please, Mattie, please please please- "
"Alfred, stop, I really don't want to- "
"Matt! When have I ever asked you for anything!" The incredulous look he recieved from his twin was enough of an answer. He tried a different approach. "You know I'd do it for you."
His brother sighed. "Because you don't have an ounce of fear in your body." His hair was drifting around his head and it looked nice. Alfred told him, and liked that Matthew was used to his random remarks; Matthew only smiled and shook his head, reaching out to touch Alfred's cheek.
"I'll do it for you. But only once. You know I don't like going up there."
Alfred knew. Alfred only ever forced Matthew to the surface for sunlight, because he would get sick if he didn't. But now Alfred had forgiven that stupid pirate, and he wanted to put him to the test.
Because Alfred was maybe falling a little bit in love with him, which was stupid and dangerous and reckless, but so was everything else he'd ever done and he wasn't gonna let it stop him now.
Matthew took his hand and Alfred kissed him soundly on the forehead. "Thank you, Mattie!"
Matthew looked just like him. His eyes were a little softer, his tail was a little darker, but a greedy sailor wouldn't care.
Alfred felt their pace slow the closer they got to the surface. Matthew was nervous. Alfred gave his hand a squeeze, and glanced up to see the underside of the boat bobbing next to his rock.
His heart sped up, and Alfred couldn't tell if he was more excited or scared.
Matthew moved ahead, and pulled himself out of the water. Alfred stayed behind him, tucked out of sight farther down and behind the rock, but his brother left the tip of his tail in the water so Alfred could hear everything.
"Hello," his brother was saying quietly, and he was met with complete silence. Alfred wished he could see the expression on his pirate's face.
"Hello to you. Aren't you a pretty thing?"
Alfred's heart sank to the bottom of his stomach.
"I'm pretty, then?" The words were a challenge to someone like Alfred, who knew Matthew so well. There would be a sharpness to those eyes that could be mistaken for a trick of the light.
Matthew didn't mind being complimented; he liked it as much as Mathias, even if he was more modest about it. But this sea-farer wasn't his, and he wasn't the type to take what was his brother's- not for all the bangles and sparkling rocks in the world.
Alfred was allowed a moment of sorrow and self-pity and the thought of Fuck everybody, I'm just gonna live with Mattie forever because I know he loves me-
"You're beautiful. You look like him." The boat moved, and Alfred imagined so clearly the way the pirate was leaning forward now; all at once, his heart soared again, so quickly it was painful. "Where is he, do you know? He's always sunbathing at this time of day. Where is he now?"
Alfred had to wriggle a bit in glee. He's good! It's me! He wants me! I'm special! Matthew sensed it, and his tailfin twitched in amusement.
"He's just fine." His twin's tone told Alfred all he needed to know; Matt approved. "Flapping around here or there, getting into trouble and making everyone's lives harder than they need to be." Alfred felt his mouth drop open and heard the pirate smother a laugh. "But he makes our lives richer, too, so we can't exactly complain."
There was a definite smile in the human's voice. "Richer?"
"Brighter. Full of color. We don't see much brightness or color where we live. It's not always safe to venture into the shallows- Alfred's an idiot for coming up so often, but he needs the sunlight in a different way than the rest of us do." Alfred drifted, and stared, and wondered how his brother knew so much.
"So it's Alfred." The human said his name like a prayer.
Say it all the time. Say it every day.
"He's worried, you know. All the time. He hides it, but he's insecure." Alfred reached out and grabbed his brother's tail, giving it a firm yank. Matthew ignored him. "He doesn't think he's pretty."
The silence that followed was enough to bring tears to his eyes.
The pirate couldn't hear it, of course, but Matthew did. He hesitated, and sighed. "I think I said too much."
The boat gave a violent lurch. "Can he hear us?" Matthew said nothing, and Alfred tugged on his tail again, harder, but that seemed to be the only answer the sailor needed because he was yelling, as though he'd have to yell through the whole ocean for Alfred to hear him clearly. As though he would try.
But Alfred gave another tug, and Matthew slid into the water.
He was more afraid than anything to hear what the pirate would say.
And despite himself, he wanted so badly to go back and hoist himself onto that rock and listen.
Even though it had the power to destroy him, that man's voice was just so pretty.
"Hey Mathias- shut up."
The merman gave him a dirty look. "Screw you. That sailor's up there waitin' for you. What the hell are you doing down here?"
It was a good question. And Alfred didn't have the answer, so he shrugged a shoulder at him and turned around.
Mathias came closer, and Alfred thought he might grab him or hit him; so he was tensed and when the older merman's arm came around his shoulders gently, Alfred flinched in surprise and glanced at him.
Mathias' eyes were usually very dark, but, like his scales, they shone in the right light. And now those eyes were bright and very focused, and Alfred felt his own fill with tears.
"But what if he's not real?"
Mathias knew what he meant, and smiled. He leaned his forehead against Alfred's and closed his eyes.
"I wish you'd been born something with wings. You'd have so much confidence in a place of freedom and sunshine."
Alfred blinked stubbornly, determined not to cry. "Well... who wouldn't?"
Freedom and sunshine.
Curiosity got the better of him, and he ventured back to his rock to find the boat in its place next to it, rocking gently on the waves.
At the same time his chest clenched in fear, his heart sped up and so did his tail, and he was touching the rock and peeking out of the water cautiously before he could think better of it.
Before his eyes had a chance to adjust, he was seized and dragged up out of the water- he had a fleeting thought of admiration for the pirate, who must have been strong to manage that- before his world narrowed down into two green eyes and all thought fell away.
He's kissing me.
It was tongue and heat, and wetness in a much different way than Alfred was used to, and he didn't have support out of the water but an arm was snug around his waist and the other around his shoulders, the pirate's hand wound through his hair, and he wasn't worried at all about falling.
And then he wasn't worried about anything except where to put his tongue and hands, and even those worries fell away soon enough. He was maneuvered onto his sailor's lap, and they were both falling back into the boat, and there was more kissing and touching and panting, and it took Alfred a long time to realize it, but his human was murmuring into his mouth, low and steady and so passionate Alfred shivered before he tried discerning the words.
"Beautiful. Sailed through every ocean in the world and I've never seen anything more beautiful than you."
The human was on top of him so Alfred had no way of escaping back into the water. He turned his face away, and his lips felt swollen and awkward, but he didn't have time to do more than breathe before the pirate was tucking a finger under his chin and turning his face back.
"I wouldn't chase anything for so long if it wasn't absolutely beautiful."
"I'm not though." His voice was no louder than a whisper, but really, was everyone blind? "I'm... my eyes are blue, and my scales are blue- but I'm surrounded by blue, I live in blue- I don't- I don't stand out, I'm- "
It was stupid to think he could escape those so green eyes, eyes that were brighter than Mathias' and closer than Matthew's had ever been. The human kissed him again, and it was slow and thoughtful and so many words Alfred could feel leave the man's tongue that he didn't need to voice.
He didn't need to, but he did anyway.
"I never thought I'd find the one mermaid in the world, to call herself ugly when she wasn't fishing for compliments."
There was a lot of things wrong with that; Alfred wasn't a girl, he wasn't calling himself ugly, and "mermaid" and "fishing" really didn't belong together- but the human probably knew all of that, and wasn't really giving him much freedom with his mouth, so he lay there and let himself be talked at and kissed.
It was different, it was new, it was out of the ocean, and with his eyes shut the way they were and his lips tended to so carefully, Alfred could almost, almost believe he was in another world.
"You're beautiful, darling." The pirate was tracing his face with gentle, steady fingers- gentle, because it was a gesture of passion; steady, because the pirate trusted him to be substantial, trusted himself to be in the right.
So many things Alfred knew about him, without even knowing his name.
And right now, he knew he wasn't lying.
"What, you're crying now?" The sailor laughed at him, but it wasn't laughing at him, and thumbed the tears away. "So silly, love."
There was so much else to the world than sparkling rocks and shining bangles.
There were strong arms that held him like he wasn't a burden at all and lips to keep up with his. Promises and speculations and wonders and conversation that carried long after the sun had set, words that were whispered in the starlight because they were much too precious to be lost or broken.
So much to hope for, so much to never know for sure. But with the heartbreaking hope and uncertainty came discovery, and pleasure so sweet it felt like a dream.
His lungs were starting to labor and he'd have to slip away soon; but he could ignore the ache in his throat for the ocean, could ignore the rest of the world as his sailor pulled him closer and lifted a hand to point out a constellation in the stars.
The others could keep their jewels and their gold; he had laughter and green eyes. And a future, in freedom and sunshine. All with a pirate, who picked his blue out of the rest and called it beautiful.
Love is pretty.