Mer-Shishido
by Burnein


Once upon a time, there was a kingdom. It was a prosperous, beautiful kingdom, ruled by a rather large, very cheerful king and his lovely wife. They had a vast number of children, all of whom were good-looking and intelligent. The people of the kingdom were happy with their lives, and all was well.

There was one vast difference between this kingdom and other kingdoms you may have heard of.

This one was underwater.

There were nine royal children in total, and introducing them will be way too much trouble, so I'll just go straight to the main character of this fic, who was, as it happens, the youngest child.

Shishido [sometimes called Ryou by his parents and his occasional girlfriends/boyfriends] had dark blue eyes, a tail that matched and a long mane of flowing brown hair that he took very good care of. Not an easy feat considering he was in saltwater all the time. He had everything he could possibly want, but he had one wish, and that was to be human for a day. Just to see what it was like.

Shishido's older brother, Oshitari, often thought Shishido was a bit mad. There was no point going to the surface, he reckoned. Humans were loud, clumsy creatures with so many rules. Like how one's feet couldn't leave the ground. As Oshitari and Shishido and their siblings had been brought up as good merfolk, they found the whole thing with the feet extremely amusing. Imagine, two legs instead of a tail. And with feet that couldn't be brought from the floor.

One day, Shishido was lying on his bed, long brown hair spread in a shining halo of chocolate around his face, when a strange dark shadow passed by. Oshitari floated in the window.

"Look what I found," Oshitari crowed, coming to hover above Shishido's head and dangling something silver and shiny in Shishido's face. "It fell from the ship."

Shishido took the necklace from Oshitari. It was made of silver and was already beginning to tarnish in the seawater, but the cross pendant seemed to be made of sterner stuff and was still bright, glinting in the watery sunlight that filtered down from the surface.

Shishido peered curiously at the cross. There were four strange characters engraved into it, across the shorter bar, and another four on the back of it, also on the short crossbar.

"What does it say, Yuushi-nii-san?" Shishido asked, still tracing the little words with his finger. "I don't read human."

Oshitari peered at the characters. Not for nothing was he the genius of the family. "This side says... Ohtori?... Chou-ta-rou. It's a name, I think. And this," he flipped the pendant around, "says 'ik-kyuu-nyuu-kon'. One ball into soul, directly translated."

"Why would anyone want to put a ball into their soul?" Shishido puzzled.

"Why don't we go take a look?" Oshitari didn't like Shishido's idea of becoming a human, but he was always game for a trip to the surface to look at the funny humans. They amused him.

Thus, Shishido and Oshitari swam up to where the ship was anchored and poked their heads cautiously out of the water. Merfolk were unique in the way they could breathe both underwater and above it, thanks to evolutionary modifications that allowed their gills to close when breathing air and their noses to stop working when underwater. Very useful.

It was sunset when the brothers emerged, and the ship was adorned with bright, twinkling lights and little flags flapping in the breeze. Whoever owned the ship must have been really rich, to have such a large vessel. Words on the side of the ship read 'Phoenix', according to Oshitari.

There was a large number of humans in bright clothing mingling on the flat area on the top of the ship--"It's called a deck," Oshitari informed cheerfully, unabashedly ogling a redhead doing a handstand--and Shishido wondered why the females all wore such short pieces of wraparound cloth while the males had long, twin black tubes leading from where one's tail met one's torso. Were their legs in those tubes? Shishido wondered.

A movement at the end of the ship made Shishido turn. A human male with the strangest hair colour Shishido had ever seen had walked out onto the deck, at the back of the ship, away from the crowd, and was leaning on the railing. A while later, the male was joined by the redhead Oshitari had been staring at.

Shishido couldn't help but overhear their conversation; sound travels well over water.

"You really can't find your chain?" the redhead asked, looking up at the silver-haired male, who shook his head with a sad look on his face.

"I think it may have fallen into the ocean," he murmured, staring down at the waves. Shishido hoped the human didn't catch sight of him. "I can't believe I was so careless."

The redhead reached up and patted the silver hair. "Don't worry, Ohtori, you'll find it." They walked back into the covered area of the ship.

Shishido started. Ohtori? He lifted the necklace still in his hand and looked at it. Was this what the pair was talking about?

"Is that it?" Oshitari asked, suddenly appearing behind Shishido, making him jerk violently. "The larger male is called Ohtori, no?"

Shishido shrugged. The deck was too high up for him to toss the necklace up to, and letting humans find out about the merfolk would be breaking an unwritten law. There was nothing he could do...

But the sad look on Ohtori's face continued to haunt him, even as he watched the party onboard the ship with Oshitari, who would never cease to be amazed by fireworks. After all, they were something merfolk could never imitate underwater.

As the humans retired back into the boat for the night, Oshitari turned to Shishido. "You're still thinking of the human, aren't you?"

"What? No!" Shishido lied, watching as Ohtori talked to an older male.

"Whatever you say." Oshitari dove below the waves. Shishido stayed to stare at Ohtori for a while more, then went under, too.

-*-

There was a storm that night, one that the merfolk didn't see nor hear. All the merfolk but one.

Shishido lay awake, staring at his ceiling of white coral and clutching the cross in his hand. Flashes of light muted by the layers and layers of brine shone in through his window, and he decided to go take a look.

Thunder rocked the skies as the sea churned. The ship was still there, and people were scurrying about on the deck, fastening things and removing others. Shishido caught sight of a familiar face and stared as Ohtori ran, slipping twice, about helping to take the plastic deckchairs away before they flew off.

"You--prince--shouldn't be--!" someone yelled at Ohtori, who shook his head and smiled, still helping.

Barely three seconds after that, a particularly nasty bolt of lightning decided to smash directly into the ship. Shishido watched in horror as wood splintered, people screamed and Ohtori was thrown overboard by the impact.

The human struck the churning waves with a barely visible splash, and sunk, unconscious. Shishido dove under instantly.

Ohtori was even more beautiful up close, Shishido realised distantly, hauling the human up to the air and the incessant beating of the rain.

"Wake up, man," Shishido yelled over the wind. "Don't die on me here. I don't know what to do with drowning humans."

A smaller boat had been dropped into the sea, and there were two panicking humans in it, yelling Ohtori's name. Shishido powered over to the boat and held Ohtori up for as long as he could while trying not to be seen. The two humans noticed the unconscious Ohtori after a short while, and came over to scoop him up.

"Prince Ohtori! Oh, he's alive, thank the gods." Shishido almost choked on a wave. Prince? The guy was a prince? What was he doing helping to tie down the things on the ship's deck? Shishido had always thought human princes just sat around and did nothing.

The little boat began moving back to the ship, and Shishido gasped a little. The necklace! He waited till the two human males began hauling themselves up into the ship before curling Ohtori's fist around the necklace. There. His good deed for the year.

"Who...?"

Oh, no. Oh no oh no oh no. The human had seen him. Shishido froze, staring into the brown of Ohtori's half-open eyes for a few seconds before diving underwater. Back to his home. Back to safety. Away from the humans.

Away from Ohtori.

-*-

The next day, when Shishido went back up to the surface, the ship was gone.

-*-

A few weeks later, Shishido was still moping over the fact that he had never gotten to see Ohtori again before the ship left. Not that it would have been of much use, but still.

"Ryou... don't tell me you still haven't gotten over that human..."

"Shut up, Yuushi-nii-san."

Oshitari smirked. "His name is Ohtori Choutarou, and he's the prince of the seaside kingdom just fifty kilometres from here, as the ray glides."

"So?"

"The castle is right beside the sea."

Shishido looked up at this. "You're joking."

"Do I joke?"

Shishido gave Oshitari his best kiss-my-ass glare and zipped off to pack for a trip to the shore. Oshitari sighed and decided to tag along. The redhead with Ohtori had been really rather worth the trip. Maybe he would be, again.

Two days and five seahorse-carriage hitch hikes later, Shishido and Oshitari poked their heads out into the clear, sunny air of the seaside. Indeed, the castle was beside the sea, swooping down from up on a low hill down to the sandy beach... on which four people were standing.

"Yuushi-nii-san! It's him!"

"Hn." Oshitari had acknowledged the presence of Ohtori, but he was too busy staring at the redhead, who had, for some reason, starting doing strange acrobatics across the sand. A human with hair the colour of gold was sleepily cheering the redhead on, and Ohtori was conversing with another male with hair similar to Shishido's, only shorter and less luxuriant.

Speaking of Shishido... Oshitari turned to stare at his little brother, who had propped his face up on his hands, elbows on a convenient rock, to gaze longingly at the prince. Oshitari wasn't sure whether to laugh or to cry for his brother's lack of luck in love.

Hey, that rhymed.

"Forget it, Ryou, you haven't a chance in the seven seas," Oshitari commented mildly, joining Shishido behind the rock. A seagull landed next to him and he petted its head. "In case you haven't realised, he has legs. Two of them. You have a tail." Oshitari flipped his own tail, messing up Shishido's hair, to make his point.

Shishido sighed and turned away. "It's not fair. The one time I actually find someone I like, he's human."

"Love's tough," Oshitari agreed. "Which is why I don't fall in it."

-*-

Meanwhile, on the beach, Ohtori sighed, echoing one that may or may not have drifted inland from behind a very handy rock somewhere further out in the waves.

"Stop it, Ohtori. You were unconscious, the person you saw was probably a... a mirage or something, caused by seawater in your eye."

Ohtori turned to his servant and shook his head. "I know what I saw, Taki... it wasn't a hallucination. That person saved me... and found my necklace." He touched the cross at his throat, dangling from a different chain. "I wish I knew who he was. He had such beautiful hair."

"Maybe it was a MERMAN!"

"Maybe I'm a goblin, Gakuto," Taki agreed with equal enthusiasm.

"But you are!"

"Oh, that does it."

Ohtori giggled slightly as the two got into a rough tumble over the sand. "Ohtori-kun..." a new voice piped up. "I think Gakuto's right."

"Why do you say that, Jirou?"

"There's someone behind that rock." And Jirou pointed straight at the useful rock behind which Shishido and Oshitari were hiding.

-*-

Half an hour later, the pair had calmed down enough to talk properly.

"He saw us, Yuushi-nii-san," Shishido repeated for the fifteenth time. "He could see us."

"I heard you the first fourteen times, Shishido," Oshitari mumbled, his hand still over his chest. The last time he had gotten such a scare was the time he almost got caught... never mind that.

"Yes, but... how can anyone see through rock? He must... be..." Shishido paused.

Oshitari stared at him. "No, Ryou, don't even think about it."

"Magic," Shishido breathed, turning to look at his older brother. "Magic! That's it! That's the only way!"

"Ryou. No."

"Yuushi-nii-san, all I have to do is go to the sorcerer! He'll have a solution!"

"No, Ryou. The solution will probably kill you."

But Shishido had already swum off, leaving Oshitari to worry for his brother and to wince at the pun the word solution made. Considering who the sorcerer was.

-*-

"A human prince?"

"Yes." Shishido kept his head bowed. The sea sorcerer was not an easy person to deal with, especially with his two familiars--a coiled-up sea snake with strange white markings on its head resting beside the sorcerer and... a funny-looking mushroom-shaped thing in the corner of the cave--ready to strike at any wrong move.

"Hmm. Interesting." The sorcerer, whose name was actually Inui, reached for a notebook on a shelf with one of his tentacles. "There is a ninety-five percent chance you want to become permanently human, up eighty percent from the last time I calculated. Back then, you were only interested in being human for a day, just for a lark."

"How...?" Shishido shut up. He didn't want to anger the sorcerer.

Inui adjusted his glasses with another tentacle. Being a squid with many many arms was really handy. "I have data on the entire kingdom, my young prince."

Shishido didn't want to know.

"At any rate," Inui said, getting off his spongy chair to look at the multiple bottles and flasks on the shelves lining the cave. "I seem to have the perfect potion for you. But," he whirled to glint at Shishido, "it will cost you."

Shishido swallowed nervously. As long as it didn't involve dying, he was quite willing to do anything for Ohtori. "Name the price."

Inui smiled slowly. Ah, young love.

"You have to give me your hair."

-*-

Oshitari looked up as Shishido emerged slowly from the cave. He eyed his brother. Tail intact, good... body still kind of skinny, not too good but normal... face not brutally scarred, good... hair...

"Ryou..."

"Don't. Just don't." Shishido ran a shaky hand through his shorn locks and swam away, a pale blue bottle in his other hand.

Oshitari followed. Of all things for Inui to take, he just had to take the one thing Shishido treasured above everything else. But for Shishido to actually give it up... was Ohtori really worth it?

"Yuushi-nii-san. I'm going up tonight."

"What?"

"You heard me. I'm going to go to the surface and drink this. Tonight."

Oshitari sighed. He would have to cover for Shishido again, then.

They hitched a ride down to the shore once more, and rose to the surface, bobbing amidst the foam. "The moon's really pretty," Shishido murmured. "We don't really get to see it much, down below."

"No. We don't." Oshitari tipped his head back to stare at the moon. Big round thing in sky. Big deal. "Your potion?"

"Ah. Right. If I faint or anything, don't let me drown, all right?"

"Right."

Shishido nodded once, uncorked the bottle and tipped the liquid into his mouth. As Oshitari watched, a pale blue glow began diffusing through the water, and Shishido slumped forward.

Oshitari tugged him over to the beach, which was thankfully empty, and pushed him up onto the sand. How strange, Shishido now had legs. Two long, pale, flesh-coloured legs. With feet. Which had toes. Oshitari stared in fascination. So those were toes.

Strange little things.

"Hello? Is there someone there?"

Oshitari glanced up at the silhouette of the human stumbling down the beach to where they were, a large animal tugging on a leash in the human's hand. Oshitari petted Shishido's head for luck and dove back into the sea.

-*-

Ohtori stared as something detached itself from the shadowy figure on the beach and disappeared beneath the waves. Curiouser and curiouser... but first of all, he had to tend to the unconscious person lying on the sand.

"Hello? Are you all right?" Ohtori squinted at the person's face, which was illuminated by moonlight, and wondered why he looked so familiar. But first things first. "Hey, wake up..."

With a splutter and much coughing, the person sat up and spat a mouthful of seawater into the sand. "Ergh. Since when does seawater taste so... oh!" he exclaimed, noticing Ohtori knelt beside him. "Erm."

Ohtori smiled, relieved. "Can you stand up?"

"Erm," the stranger repeated eloquently.

"Well, never mind. Here. I'll help you." Ohtori slung the person's arm around his shoulders and slid his own arm around the person's body... and realised rather belatedly that the stranger was completely naked. He turned pink. "Um, here, have my jacket."

The stranger took Ohtori's jacket with some sort of gratefulness, and put it on awkwardly, as if he had never worn a jacket before.

"Thank you," he said, and started coughing again.

Ohtori helped the stranger to stand, and he stumbled. "My... legs..." he murmured, almost reverently.

"Is there something wrong with them?" Ohtori asked, concerned.

"No, no... it's just..." the stranger smiled, and stuck out a foot, wiggling his toes. "Wow."

What a strange person, Ohtori thought, and brought him up to the castle.

-*-

"What's your name?" Ohtori asked, after dressing the stranger and sitting him down with a bowl of hot soup.

"Shishido."

"Shishido... what? Surely you have a given name, besides your family name."

The stranger stopped chewing on the spoon and thought about it. "Ryou."

"Shishido Ryou. That's a pretty name," Ohtori smiled. "Erm, don't you like the soup?"

Shishido Ryou blinked up at Ohtori. "What's soup?"

"That. In the bowl. You use the spoon to scoop it up and then you drink it."

Shishido poked the spoon into the soup. "Oh. We don't have this back home, it's all shellfish and seaweed."

"Where are you from, by the way? Maybe I could find your family for you, if you're lost."

Shishido smiled sadly. "I can't go back now. I made a choice... and I can't go back."

Ohtori felt bad for the other boy... was he a boy? Shishido didn't look a day older than nineteen. "Well... would you like to stay here, then? I could find you a job in the palace."

Shishido looked up from where he was getting soup all over his nose. "Really? You'll let me stay?"

"Of course," Ohtori said. "I can't leave you all alone." Shishido really did look familiar, but... who did he remind Ohtori of? There was nobody in the palace with hair cut like that, all over the place like weeds of chocolate. "And oh, that's not the way to drink soup..."

Soon, Shishido was settled in as a cleaner in the palace, though he still tended to eat with his hands and have some trouble walking.

Ohtori introduced him to Gakuto, Jirou and Taki, who immediately took to him and decided to make him their pet project--Operation Turn Shishido Into A Cultured Person.

"But why doesn't the king have more children?" Shishido asked, sitting with his legs tucked under him. It was a strange habit he refused to explain. "Don't you get lonely, Ohtori?"

Ohtori shrugged. "I think they can't have any more. Besides, these three are like brothers to me. Or sisters," he added, glancing sideways at Gakuto helping Taki to tie up his hair.

Shishido looked at them as well, and ran a hand through his own short hair with a nostalgic look on his face. "My brother would love Mukahi," he murmured quietly. "He has a thing for little guys like him."

It was rare for Shishido to mention his family, so Ohtori remained silent and let Shishido talk. "We once saw you all on the beach, and he was staring at Mukahi. I wonder how he's doing now."

"Is your brother cute, Shishido?" Gakuto asked, coming over to lean on Shishido's head.

"You can't ask me a question like that!"

"Aw. Too bad. If he was I'd like to meet him. Is he tall?"

Shishido fell silent. "I wouldn't know," he said softly.

Ohtori wondered what that meant, but didn't pry. Instead, he went back to the royal family tree. History was slightly dry, but it was over and therefore easy to talk about.

-*-

Shishido still missed his family a little, and the freedom of not being stuck to the ground all the time, and especially his hair, but all that was erased by the mere presence of Ohtori.

He wished he could tell Oshitari just how wonderful Ohtori was. How when he laughed, the world seemed to glow along with him, and how when he smiled at Shishido and Shishido alone, the world stopped glowing and disappeared entirely. Was this love? Shishido wondered, and decided he didn't care.

Sometimes, he caught Ohtori staring at him with a little furrow between his eyebrows, but then the human prince would smile and shake his head and dismiss it. Shishido had a feeling Ohtori remembered him from the storm, but now that his hair was gone, would Ohtori ever recall who he truly was? Maybe it was a good thing if he didn't. Humans and merfolk were meant to be separate.

Shishido also managed to find out what the words 'ikkyuunyuukon' stood for. Ohtori had a passion for a strange game called tennis, which was played with rackets and balls. Shishido was trying to learn it, but could never ever return Ohtori's serve, which was basically a bright green blur and a loud thud on the ground. Ikkyuunyuukon was something Ohtori muttered under his breath when he served.

And so a year passed, and Shishido slowly forgot what it was like to have a tail.

However, all good things must come to an end, and the sorcerer got bored somewhere beneath all the seawater. So, he made a potion using three strands of the hair he had saved from Shishido [he knew it'd come in handy someday] and gave it to one of his familiars. The mushroom-shaped object that Shishido had seen. It uncurled and revealed itself as a person with a mushroom-like haircut and a gold-brown tail.

"Take this, Hiyoshi," Inui ordered, glinting ominously. "Take this and wreck havoc on the world above."

-*-

One year, two months and twenty-four days later, there was another mysterious stranger in the castle. He had exotic-looking, tilted purple eyes, a permanent glare on his face and the thickest, most beautiful long brown hair ever.

Ohtori took one look at him and fell. Hard.

He forgot about the stranger he had found on the beach, Shishido Ryou, and how he had fallen for him over the past year.

And far below the pounding waves, Inui smiled.

-*-

"Shishido..."

"Go away."

"Shishido..."

"I said go away."

"Ne, Shishido-kun."

"Jirou can come in."

Jirou pushed the wooden door open and flopped down on the mattress beside Shishido. "You can't keep yourself in here forever, you know."

"I can try."

Jirou fell silent at this for so long that Shishido assumed he had fallen asleep. But Jirou spoke again. "You were the one who saved Ohtori from drowning, right?"

Shishido lifted his head from his pillow to stare at Jirou. How- what- when-

"I saw you, during the storm. You also returned Ohtori's necklace. I guess it did fall into the sea, then." Jirou smiled drowsily at Shishido. "What happened to your hair?"

Shishido ran a hand through his hair, which had grown much longer but was still way shorter than before he had cut it. He supposed he had no choice, now that Jirou knew who... no, what he was.

"I cut it. You see, I saw Ohtori on the ship that time..."

And the whole story spilled out. Sometime in the middle, Gakuto and Taki had snuck in, and by the time Shishido was done, they were petting his head lightly and watching him turn purple trying not to cry.

Three seconds after Shishido had finally calmed down and turned back to his normal skin colour, Ohtori pushed open the door and announced brightly, "I'm getting married to Hiyoshi!"

-*-

The palace soon turned into a seething mass of polish, brooms and recipes as the kingdom prepared for the marriage of their crown prince. Nobody really cared that the prince was marrying another man; after all, the orphanage had many children the could could adopt. Besides, the king was gay. As had the king before him. And so on.

Jirou, adorned in the royal colours of blue and grey, found Shishido sulkily rubbing polish on a trophy in the main hall. "Look, Shishido, you can have this." Jirou pulled out a strange blue hat from his pocket and stuck it on Shishido's head, the funny bill of the hat sticking out from the back. A few strands of brown escaped from the confinements and poked out through the hole in the front.

"Where in the world did you get this?" Shishido asked, reaching up to touch the hat. "I've never seen a hat like this before."

"Secret," Jirou replied cheerfully. "Come on, finish polishing that and let's go down to the beach."

Shishido realised that with the matrimonials coming up, he hadn't been to the sea in weeks. He missed the gulls' cries and the soft swishing of the waves. Besides, it was almost a royal order to stop work. Jirou was Ohtori's cousin, and therefore part of the royal family.

They strolled down to the stretch of sand, and caught sight of a familiar figure. Two, actually. One was standing on an outcrop of rock that led into the sea. Shishido's breath caught in his throat as he recognised the one in the water.

"Yuushi-nii-san," he called out hoarsely, forgetting that he wasn't supposed to know about the merfolk, much less talk to one. But wait. Why was Hiyoshi talking to Oshitari?

Both turned to look at Shishido. Oshitari's hair had grown much longer, and was pulled back in a loose tail behind his head. He waved at Shishido, then turned back to Hiyoshi and began talking again.

Shishido walked closer. There was something very off about this.

"...basically here to seduce the prince. What for?" Oshitari was demanding.

Hiyoshi shrugged. "My master's orders. I wouldn't have cared less otherwise. Long hair irritates me." He reached up and tugged at the ponytail he had gathered his hair into. "My master has strange ideas, really. I think he sent me away partly so he can spend more time with his other familiar."

Oshitari's eyes narrowed. "That hair... don't tell me your master is Inui."

"Weren't you listening?"

Shishido was frozen to the spot. Hiyoshi wasn't human. Hiyoshi wasn't interested in Ohtori. Hiyoshi... had Shishido's hair.

"YOU ASSHOLE!" Shishido shrieked, launching himself across the rock at Hiyoshi. He would have started punching Hiyoshi if Jirou hadn't held him back with a whispered warning that Hiyoshi was, after all, the prince's bethrothed, and beating him up would mean jail, if not execution.

Shishido fumed silently. The whole thing about being a sorcerer's plaything from under the sea, well, Shishido himself was one. The fact that Hiyoshi had somehow stolen his hair, fine. Shishido could grow his hair out again. But Hiyoshi was playing with Ohtori's feelings, and DAMN if Shishido was going to stand by and just watch.

"Ryou. Listen to me." Shishido shifted his glare at Oshitari. He was too angry to feel happy about seeing his brother again after so long. "You must not tell Ohtori about this, you hear? You cannot. Our entire family, the entire kingdom is at risk if you tell the humans that we exist."

Shishido relaxed somewhat. Oshitari had a point. But...! GAH! He wrenched himself out of Jirou's grip and stalked back to the castle. There was nothing he could do. Nothing at all. Except watch Ohtori get married to a man who didn't love him.

"Love's tough," a voice from more than a year ago drifted back to his ears. Shishido whirled to stare at Oshitari, who was smiling at him. "There is a reason I don't fall in it."

Shishido thought about Mukahi. "If you were human, I wouldn't count on it," he muttered, and left.

-*-

The ceremony was to take place onboard the ship on which Shishido had first seen Ohtori, far out at sea. Shishido would have thought the last time would have scared the humans off having celebrations on ships, but no.

Ohtori smiled up at him, and Shishido nearly fell to his knees. Partly from the smile itself, and partly becuase the person to make Ohtori smile like that wasn't him. It hurt.

"Thank you for agreeing to be my best man, Shishido-san," Ohtori enthused, reaching up to pat Shishido's hand. "You have no idea what it means to me."

Shishido smiled back, a weak shadow of Ohtori's. "It would mean everything to me if you'd just call me Shishido."

Ohtori gazed at him for a bit, and his smile widened. "Fair enough, Shishido."

And he turned back to the mirror.

-*-

"Do you, Ohtori Choutarou, take this man, Hiyoshi Wakashi, as your lawful wedded husband, for..." the minister recited. Shishido didn't watch.

He couldn't watch, but still he did, and the look on Ohtori's face was almost too much to bear. That glow of happiness was supposed to be his, Shishido thought wildly. Ohtori was supposed to be looking at him like that, like there was nobody else in the world, like he could survive solely on the other's love, like he wanted to hold the other and never let go. Ohtori was supposed to be looking at Shishido like that, not Hiyoshi.

But what could he do?

Shishido blinked, once. The bright sunlight was being reflected off the surface so much that he could have dismissed it as a trick of the light, but...

Oshitari waved.

"What are you doing here?" Shishido hissed. It was a good thing he was seated right at the edge, next to the railing. It would be hard to talk to his brother otherwise.

Oshitari grinned. "I had to watch this."

"You're just rubbing this in, aren't you?"

"Not really, I... well, all right, yes."

Shishido muttered something under his breath about annoying older brothers and how they were actually there to ogle redheads and turned back to the wedding. Ohtori had just said "I do" in the sweetest voice imaginable, and it was all Shishido could do to jump off the ship to drown himself.

Now it was Hiyoshi's turn. "Do you, Hiyoshi Wakashi..."

Shishido mumbled the vows along with the minister, just because he felt like he had to mock Hiyoshi somehow, the bastard.

"...till death do us part?"

Hiyoshi took a breath, turned to Ohtori, and, even as everyone on the deck and a few in the water watched, said clearly, "I can't."

...

Oh, now Shishido wanted to kill Hiyoshi. First he came along, made Ohtori fall in love with him because his freaky squid of a sorcerer master made him do so, and now he was breaking Ohtori's heart with just two words? Shishido balled his hands into fists; the guy was going to DIE.

"Calm down, Ryou," Oshitari drawled from somewhere far below. "Watch."

Shishido didn't calm down, but he watched. Watched as Hiyoshi took Ohtori by the hand, said something to him in a low voice, and undid his ponytail. Then he turned and called out over the sea, "Hear me, master. I'm not going through with this. Entertain yourself some other way. I'm not playing this twisted game anymore."

Shishido was going to rip out Hiyoshi's scales one by one.

To everyone's shock, a voice came floating back over the waves. "Very well, Hiyoshi." And with a loud crack, Hiyoshi had fallen to the floor, hair cut in a strange bowl shape and orange-brown... and from his hips there led a large, silver tail.

Ohtori had backed up into the railing in horror, and Shishido rushed forward, trying not to stare at Hiyoshi. He had played with Hiyoshi as a child, he had realised chillingly. And as far as he knew, Hiyoshi's family had moved to the rural ares of the kingdom.

"Oh, no," Hiyoshi said hoarsely, and tried to pull himself towards the edge of the ship where he could dive back into the sea.

Instead, a long, black tentacle rose from the water to coil around the merman and lifted him into the air.

Gakuto shrieked.

"Oh, great, now he's physically in this," Shishido muttered, arm still around Ohtori.

Another tentacle appeared to wrap around Shishido, who froze. No. No no no. Inui was not going to reveal Shishido's true form, he was not going to ruin the life Shishido had created for himself on land, he...

He was.

With a flash of bright light, Shishido was topless and had his dark blue tail back. For a fleeting moment he clawed at his neck--he couldn't breathe!--but then his body adjusted to the reappearance of his gills and he began gulping air in through his nose and mouth and into his lungs again.

"You..."

Shishido turned his head slowly to face Ohtori, who still looked shocked but somehow not as much. "I know you," the human prince murmured, reaching out to place a hand on Shishido's head before smoothing it downwards.

Shishido realised with a jolt that somehow, his hair had grown back. It was long again.

And Ohtori recognised him. For him.

...

Except Shishido had a tail and Ohtori, well, didn't.

"You spoil all the fun, don't you?" Inui asked, and a third tentacle shot out to lift Ohtori up. Then, with a vicious flick, all three, human and not, were flung into the sea.

Shishido allowed himself two seconds to enjoy the cool, comforting cocoon of seawater before he streaked through the water. Ohtori had been thrown into the sea. Ohtori didn't have gills. Ohtori was going to drown.

When Shishido reached the lone human figure in the water, he realised that though Ohtori had been thrown into the sea and didn't have gills, he certainly wasn't drowning. In fact, he was treading water and clutching his cross, smiling at Shishido.

"You're supposed to be struggling," were the first words out of Shishido's mouth. He would have kicked himself, only he didn't have legs to kick himself with.

Ohtori reached out to twirl a lock of Shishido's hair around his finger. "And you're supposed to wear seashells on your chest. Humans can swim too," he reminded Shishido. "And I knew I recognised you from somewhere. You saved me that time, didn't you?"

Shishido couldn't breathe, despite the fact that he technically couldn't drown in water nor could he suffocate in air. He stared at Ohtori, and said intelligently, "You're not running away."

"No, I'm not," Ohtori said softly, then tugged his hand out of Shishido's hair, placed both his hands on Shishido's face, leaned in, and kissed him.

When they broke apart, Shishido could only gape. "Your fiance just dumped you at the altar, you found out he's half-fish, you're halfway out to sea in nothing but a tuxedo... and you're smiling?!"

"You're half-fish too." He leaned closer...

And was yanked away by a black tentacle.

"I've collected so much data," Inui smirked, bobbing a few metres away. Shishido stared. He didn't know Inui's tentacles were that long. "Now, show's over, everyone back to their own little worlds."

He would have tossed Ohtori back onto the ship without much care had a jade green tail not slapped him on the back of the head. "Put the human down," a low voice ordered, and everyone found out that the green tail belonged to a merman with large, slanted eyes with a tendency to hiss at the end of every sentence.

Inui flinched. "Kaidoh! I... I meant the human no harm."

Kaidoh just looked at Inui, who lowered Ohtori back into the water and began talking in soothing tones to Kaidoh. The merman dove under, and Inui followed, leaving Ohtori to stare and Shishido to stifle his laughter into his arm.

Hiyoshi floated over. "I'm really sorry, Choutarou," he began, but Ohtori shook his head.

"Don't worry, Wakashi. It wasn't your fault."

As they conversed, Shishido was trying to glare a hole into Hiyoshi's forehead. Choutarou indeed. Who the hell did Hiyoshi think he was, calling Ohtori by the name reserved for Shishido to use?

All of a sudden, Hiyoshi and Ohtori had finished talking, and, with one last hug, Hiyoshi dove underwater. Ohtori turned to Shishido and murmured, "Now, where were we?"

-*-

Ohtori soon went back to his palace, and Shishido to his, but they still weren't happy. They couldn't live on land, nor could they live in the sea, so... what were they to do?

"Go talk to Inui," Oshitari suggested. "What's the worst that can happen?"

Shishido didn't bother answering the question, but went to talk to the sorcerer. Hiyoshi wasn't there when Shishido entered the cave, but Kaidoh was.

"What now?" Inui sighed when he saw Shishido.

"Make me human. Permanently."

"You sure about that? It'll mean never seeing your family again."

"The castle's right next to the sea."

Inui thought about it. "I actually have this potion that may allow you to switch between human and merman at will, do you want..."

"NO!" Shishido and Kaidoh yelled at the same time. Inui grumbled a little and went to get the blue potion from the last time.

-*-

Two months later, Shishido found himself standing at the end of a long red carpet. Ohtori was on the other end, standing under an arch of flowers, a small bouquet clutched in his hands.

Seated on plastic chairs on one side of the carpet were Jirou, Gakuto and Taki, along with the other members of Ohtori's family and various VIPs of the kingdom. On the other side of the carpet, there was a short stretch of sand, and then a number of rocks upon which Shishido's family sat, tails flicking the seawater. Even Inui and Kaidoh were there, along with Hiyoshi, who had brought along a younger merman he introduced as Kevin.

Shishido had caught Oshitari and Gakuto making eyes at each other at least five times already, and Jirou had almost fallen asleep on another of Shishido's brothers, Atobe, when being introduced. It was quite funny, really.

As the music began, Ohtori's father-in-law, a diminutive man who scared the heck out of everyone, turned to his husband. "This is so touching, isn't it, Kunimitsu-kun?"

"...If you say so, Syuusuke," the bespectacled man replied, and watched his beaming son walk down the aisle.

Shishido dug his fingernails into his palm. Why was he nervous? He shouldn't be nervous. There was nothing to be nervous about. Ohtori gliding down the carpet shouldn't freak him out this much. Shishido was madly in love with Ohtori, that was true, but somehow this seemed more... real. The past months had been nothing but parties to introduce the prince's fiance [for real this time] and ducking into secluded areas to snog and... maybe do more.

Ohtori had finished the short walk and Shishido took his hand, and they faced the minister once more. The minister cleared his throat and began, "Do you, Ohtori Choutarou, take this man..."

Shishido looked around. There was Oshitari, gazing at Gakuto again, and Hiyoshi, who seemed to be arguing quietly with Kevin. His parents were there too, his mother dabbing at her eyes and his father grinning at him. On the other side there was Gakuto, staring back at Oshitari, and Jirou, half-asleep on Taki. Ohtori's father seemed to be twitching at something his husband had said... nothing new there.

"I do," Ohtori murmured, looking down at Shishido, who nearly melted. Finally, finally it was him whom Ohtori was looking at in that way.

The minister looked nervous. Shishido didn't blame him; the previous ceremony hadn't gone as well. "Do you, Shishido Ryou..."

Shishido still wasn't quite used to his name consisting of two words, but it was all right. The minister droned on, Shishido only half-listening. Ohtori's face was more interesting...

"...do you part?"

"Eh?"

"I asked, do you, Shishido--"

"Yeah, yeah, I heard you," Shishido muttered. The guy really was prepared to recite the whole thing all over again, was he? What was the minister's name, anyway? Ibu Shinji or something like that.

Shishido took a deep breath, smiled, and said with conviction, "And I do."

"Very well. I now pronounce you man and... I now pronounce you married. You may now kiss the... You may now kiss." The minister paused, then began mumbling to himself, "Gay marriages are so confusing. There's a nice script written for most people but instead of getting married to girls like most people do, this family just has to turn out gay through five generations..."

Shishido ignored him, and kissed Ohtori.

They pulled apart to whoops and cheers, and, with identical smiles on their faces, lived happily ever after.




The End

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