Summary: In which there is something more to Makoto's fear than what his friends could only begin to imagine and the words "something in the water" takes a whole new meaning.

Warnings: Slash/ Yaoi, merman!Makoto

Pairing/s: Nagisa/Rei, established Haru/Rin and future Mako/Haru/Rin (OT3)

Author's Note: So I'm new to the Free! Fandom and I've fallen in love with Makoto the first time I saw him so this is mostly about him. This chapter is a prologue and comes after episode 6. It will probably not follow the succeeding episodes.

Soundtrack: Is it surprising that I was watching the Little Mermaid?


Tachibana Nami sat by the open windows, warm sunlight and a gentle, ocean-scented breeze washing over her as she stared lifelessly outside, unaware of her husband's approach until he knelt by her feet and took her hands in his, looking up at her and willing her to turn to him.

"Nami, please don't do this to yourself. It's going to be all right, you'll see," he whispered pleadingly as he tightened his grasp on her hands. He paused as she flinched and her eyes began to well with tears, her bottom lip trembling as she bit it hard enough to break the skin. A lone tear fell down her cheek and he lifted his hand to cup her cheek and wipe it away with his thumb. "Maybe now is just not the right time."

"Then when?" she asked, her voice breaking and her shoulders shaking as she finally turned her face to his and the tears began to fall in earnest. "We've been trying so hard and the doctors said that I… that we…"

She couldn't begin to say it and she shut her eyes, shaking her head in denial. She began to sob and he took her in his arms, feeling her cries like a stab on his heart as he held her as tight as he could to offer her as much comfort as he could give.

He could feel the tears in his own eyes well up as she held onto him. He wanted the same thing she wanted, wanted it for the whole five years of their marriage. "Doctors," he started, swallowing the thick lump in his throat, "doctors aren't always right, love. Let's just take it easy then we'll try something else."

"You don't get it!" she cried out, pushing him away, her face a mask of sorrow and anger because it was unfair. It was so unfair that this had to happen to her. "You just don't get it," she whispered brokenly. "We can't have a baby, Yuuji. We'll never have a baby!"

She broke away from him and ran out and he could see her go towards the beach from the windows, her bare feet making deep imprints on the white sand. She disappeared beyond the large rocks and Yuuji knew to leave her alone for now.

meru meru meru Page Break meru meru meru

Nami ran as fast as her legs could carry her to the old cave past their house. She didn't mind the waves crashing on her legs, the way it soaked her dress and the ends of her shawl and almost made her fall. She didn't care about the little rocks and shells she stepped on, how it could have cut her feet. All that mattered was the deep, suffocating pain in her chest as she tried so hard to reconcile the fact that she would never have a child of her own.

They had been trying for the past five years. They were so eager, so excited to have a little one of their own to cherish and to love with all their hearts. They've tried everything within their means they could think of to have a baby but nothing worked and she was just so tired, so frustrated with herself and she couldn't take it anymore. It broke her spirit each time they tried and failed.

Breathing hard and fast, her heart hammering in her chest and her blood pounding in her ears, she reached her cave. In this cave she spent most of her childhood with her grandfather who told her stories about the sea, of its mysteries, its dangers. This place was something familiar, something soothing. It would not make her accept how her life would be immediately or extensively, but it was a start.

Carefully she walked in. The mouth of the cave faced the sea, with a splatter of rocks of varying sizes, rounded and smooth from the constant crashing of waves. The tide had waned enough that the water level barely reached her knees and lightly touched the hem of her dress. Thin beams of sunlight fell from the ceiling and touched the water, reflecting constantly moving webs of light on the ceiling.

It was and had always been her sanctuary since she was a little girl. This cave was witness to every joyful memory and every sorrowful heartbreak she experienced. It knew her secrets like a friend. It was weird to some but it always felt as if her grandfather's spirit lived there, offering her comfort through the sounds of the waves and the rush of wind.

She sat down on one of the smooth rocks, feet dangling in the water as she took a deep breath. Looking out through the mouth of the cave, she felt the guilt roil inside her, ugly and suffocating. She shouldn't have blown up at Yuuji, shouldn't have taken out her frustration and her anger at him when she knew he was suffering just as much as her.

She had to apologize to him but she'd do it once she leaves the cave. She just needed a little time to herself to begin coming to terms with what could never be. So she might never have children of her own, but they could always adopt, couldn't they?It might take a while – an adoption was often a very long process and very seldom do parents get approved for them but they were willing to wait. They already have for five years.

She paused in thought, looking around her. She thought she heard something.

A little whimper and the sound of crying had her instantly on her feet, her heart pounding as she realized that she wasn't alone. She began to search around the rocks and found the source of the sounds, the cries tugging at her heart as she instantly melted, falling to her knees to take the squalling infant in her arms.

meru meru meru Page Break meru meru meru

"Yuuji! Yuuji! Yuuji, look!" The glee in Nami's voice, the tears within her giggles as she called out to him made him run to the front of the house where he saw her holding a small bundle. There was a light in her eyes that he had not seen for a very long time and it made him want to smile and laugh with her. "Yuuji, look at who I found! Just look at him!"

That statement caused him to pause and his eyes fell again on the bundle that just moved. "Nami? What… what is that?"

"Not what, Yuuji, who!" she said and Yuuji wanted to think that his wife had not lost her mind in the space of an hour since her departure. "Come and see! I found him in the cave! The poor thing was left there on his own."

He slowly, almost cautiously, went closer and when Nami realized that he was taking too long, she went to him and showed her what she held. There it – no, he – was. A healthy-looking, little baby boy, sleeping peacefully in his wife's arms liked he was born to be there. Tufts of hair in an unusual shade of green and brown stood in all directions on his head, his forehead scrunched up as if he was thinking about something in his sleep.

Yuuji couldn't help but touch the little one's forehead, falling hopelessly in love with a baby that was not his flesh and blood as his forehead smoothed out and he let out a breathy little sigh. He didn't know if this was because he'd been yearning for a baby himself but it was almost impossible to draw himself away especially when the little one opened one bleary little eye and it was the most remarkable shade of green he'd ever seen.

"Isn't he beautiful?" Nami asked though she knew perfectly well what his answer would be.

Yuuji tried to clear his thoughts because as much as they were quickly growing to adore this baby, it was not theirs and he could have parents who were looking for him. For some reason, he felt his heart break at that thought. "Where did you say you found him?" he asked.

"In the cave and he was all alone, Yuuji," she said gravely, anger in her eyes. "Somebody left him there and I don't know if it's on purpose because the town knows how high the water goes in that cave. If I hadn't been there, the tide would have set in and no one would know he was there. He could have drowned."

Terror filled her now that she thought about it and fury immediately set in as soon as she realized that someone had left a baby there on purpose. Didn't they know how lucky they were?

"I know what you're thinking but we can't keep him, Nami," her husband murmured softly, slmost reluctantly. "He probably has his parents looking for him."

"How – How could you even think about returning him?! They left him in a cave, Yuuji! Where he could have died!"

Yuuji shook his head sadly. "We don't know that. We can't deprive him of his real parents."

Her shoulders drooped and she hung her head, looking at the baby who started to fuss with all the noise. With a new batch of tears welling in her eyes, she began to hum a lullaby, gently swaying as her voice breaks with the effort not to cry.

meru meru meru Page Break meru meru meru

It was the most stressful and gruelling three years but they were time well spent as the day finally came. After a very long process, Tachibana Yuuji and Tachibana Nami were finally the proud parents of little Makoto and would finally take him home.

Fourteen years later...

"Tadaima," Makoto greeted as he opened the front door, bracing himself as his younger siblings tackled and climbed all over him, squealing and laughing as they bombarded him with questions, Ran draped over his back and Ren dangling around his neck.

He smiled as he answered their questions patiently, stopping only when their mother playfully scolded them to let their brother rest before interrogating him. They pouted as they let him go and he had to promise to tell them what happened before they went to bed tonight. With beaming smiles, they skipped over to the kitchen to see what their mother was cooking.

He put his things by the door, promising to take care of them later and sat down at the table. He took a deep breath and leaned his head back, closing his eyes as he welcomed the exhaustion and the sense of familiarity. The sound of his mother puttering about the house, the twins running around and bickering, his father's laughter seemed to wash over him and made the events in the training camp seem like a dream. He was finally home.

"Come on, you two, time to buy something special for dessert now that nii-chan is back," he heard his father say followed by twin yells of "ice cream!" and "cake!". A loud pair of footsteps dashed around him followed by another scolding and his father chuckled as he followed the twins at a more sedate pace.

Ah, silence. He loved his siblings to bits but sometimes, they were just so energetic that he couldn't keep up with them anymore.

"Makoto-chan, you have the tub for yourself tonight. So go and have a little dip while Ren and Ran are away," his mother said as soon as his father drove out of sight, reaching down to pat his cheek. "Your father won't be home for a while so I'll bring you a little snack in a bit."

He smiled at her before pulling himself up to go upstairs to the bathroom. The tub was a lot bigger than the one in Haru's house, easily fitting someone with Makoto's height and build. It wasn't easy to look for a house with this kind of tub and it was precisely the reason why his parents chose to buy this house in the first place. It was already filled with water and he could see Haru in his mind's eye diving straight into it. He had nearly done the same, too, the last time he slept over and Makoto had to hold him before he bashed his head at the bottom of the tub.

He took his clothes off and folded them neatly, placing them in the laundry hamper. With a little more eagerness than he'd care to admit, he went into the tub, sloshing a bit of the water to the tiled floor. He sat down and leaned back until he was up to his neck in water, sighing in relief. He felt the tension in his shoulders melt away as he submerges himself fully, keeping himself underwater till his lungs ached for air, forcing the change.

He felt the throb at his sides, the burn as skin split, three diagonal slashes along his ribs that didn't bleed but expanded as water passed in and out. After the initial burn, everything else came crashing down, like a band-aid that was ripped off a wound. The dull, familiar pain of scales pushing through skin, of muscles melding and of bones rearranging themselves – it was a pain that he had long grown used to.

He opened his eyes and looked down, to where there was a single, thick tail covered in green scales, lighter along his hips and growing darker down its length, a smattering of black splotches here and there. His tailfin was a translucent green, unfurled and seemingly delicate, gently swaying in the water and brushing near the surface.

Not for the first time, he considered sneaking into the pool at school just so he could stretch his tail out and swim properly but there was just too much risk of getting caught. One of these days maybe, he thought.

When he looked up, he could see his mother's face, smiling down at him, urging him to sit up as she sat down at the edge of the tub with a small tray in her lap. On the tray was a little bowl of fruit and a glass of water.

"How was your trip?" she asked as she speared a chunk of apple with his fork, handing it to him. She didn't flinch as his fingers closed on the fork, not minding the dusting of green scales along his hand and the green webbing between his fingers.

Lots of things happened during the trip and he didn't know where to start. He wanted to avoid talking about it all if he was honest but his mother had a way of making him talk wthout even trying.

"Makoto-chan, is there something wrong?"

The storm played in his mind. Of Rei struggling on the water's surface as waves tumbled over him and pushed him down until he was gone. The sky had been dark, the rain pelted his face mercilessly, the waves pushing and pulling him as he struggled to get to him. His sides burned, his legs tingled, the closeness of water was a test of his control. He wanted to change form, it would make rescuing Rei so much easier but he couldn't because suddenly she was there.

She had been floating right behind Rei before he disappeared, almost completely submerged until only her eyes, a bright, glowing green, and the top of her head were visible. She had been staring right at him, staring into his eyes and rendering him almost paralyzed in fear.

She was the one he'd seen that day when the storm came and killed everyone in that boat.

meru meru meru Page Break meru meru meru

Author's Note: Okay, that's done. I've always had a fascination for merfolk and while I understand that in Free! The usual choice as our merman could be Haru or Rin, well, I wanted something different.

Questions and comments are welcome. :)