Isodore floated about the seaweed garden, gritting his teeth against a foul mood. He was bored. And lonely. He longed to be back in his home, even though the idea of leaving his eccentric 'master' and the ever-temperamental Dyce and their way of life behind was becoming quite... depressing. How many weeks had passed? He looked up at the underside of the surface, who-knew how far above him. So why didn't he just leave? After all, he couldn't stay here forever; how hard would it be to just forget this place, and start swimming upwards and home?
"Hey two-legs!"
He dropped his eyes from the surface and rubbed the place between them. There was one reason right there.
Calida swam in a circle around him as a greeting. "What are you moping around here for? Let's go explore some old shipwreck or something. Rayain never gets mad if I go out with you; I guess he thinks you'll be the bait if we get into trouble. You're not much of a swimmer, you know."
"Not now, 'Lida, I'm not in the mood."
He heard the merboy give a 'tsk' behind him. "Come on, stop being such a flounder."
"They spend their whole time buried in the mud. That's what you're doing, burying yourself in mud." His tone lightened and he swam above Isodore's head and teased at his waving hair. "Let's go taunt some mean sea-beast. Like we did with Dyce? That was fun, huh?"
Isodore steeled himself from smiling at Calida's attempts to cheer him up. That particular little adventure had nearly cost him a leg. He didn't want to be cheered up, dammit. Fingers pulled teasingly at his hair some more with no response. Calida turned to pulling at his ears.
"Cut it out!"
The merboy flitted a distance away as if Isodore had struck out at him. Wide sea-green eyes implored him until his human finally relented.
"I'm sorry, 'Lida. I'm just homesick I guess."
The merboy smiled gently and ventured closer, having wisely decided to abandon his attempts to make his human feel better. He swam in a half circle about Isodore before settling in the silt at his feet and crossing his arms over Isodore's knees and laying his chin on them.
"Do you want to leave, Isodore?" The human's eyes snapped down to sea-green ones; it was one of the few times Calida had called him by name. "Go back to your world where Dyce found you?"
"I miss my family," he admitted.
They were silent for a long moment. Finally, Calida drew himself up and touched the tip of Isodore's nose affectionately.
"We will go then."
"We? Go? Go where?"
"Up, silly!" Calida pointed to the distant surface and happily turned agile somersaults in the water, his auburn hair twisting up in ringlets about him. "Up into the sun and onto dry land!"
"Oh, you know I've always wanted to go! We can go tomorrow-"
"-And Dyce can come too! He'll be thrilled-"
The merboy stopped his water gymnastics and righted himself to Isodore's level. "Hm?"
Isodore fixed him with a look. "You can't possibly go. You're needed here, remember? Besides," he pointed at Calida's tail, "what about that?"
"Technicalities," he merboy offered with a wave of his hand and an ecstatic smile. "I'm just as able as Dyce to change my appearance," he added indignantly. "And I want to see where you live."
"But what about the king?"
Calida flicked his tail and began his dizzying circles around Isodore again. "He'll deal with it." Something about being with his human gave him the courage to defy his consort, when for all these years he'd simply accepted his imprisonment. When had that changed? His winning smile almost snared Isodore. Almost.
"No, no you can't. I can't take you up there with me! What would I do? Waltz back into my house with you behind me? How would I explain you to my family?"
Calida slowed, his pretty face losing that rapt expression. His brows furrowed slightly. "But," he said softly. "I want to go."
His voice was so sad, such a stark contrast to what passion and excitement it could hold. Like that first day when Isodore had accidentally insulted him, Calida let his ever-hidden sadness actually show. He toyed with strands of his hair, biting his lower lip.
"Damn you," Isodore said softly, clenching his fists. He slowly reached out and touched billowing trusses of auburn hair, curiously feeling the cool, silky texture as it slid between his fingers. It was really the first touch he'd ever initiated besides that time when he'd heard Calida singing. The merboy knew this and he stared at Isodore in wide-eyed wonder.
"I always wondered," the human mused, running red strands through his fingers, "how you..." he raised his eyes to catch the merboy's. "How do you get pregnant? I mean... spawn? How can you?"
The merboy snorted a laugh. "You never asked Dyce?" He sounded incredulous. With a few muffled giggles, the sadness washed away from him. "My consort plants his essence in me through his touch. The baby grows for three months and is born from my belly." Seeing the confused look on his human's face, he added, "They have to cut me open for it, but I heal quickly. We have to be out of the water to do it, and there's a cave here with air trapped in it that we use for the spawnings. All my babies have been born there; it's a very sacred place."
"But the act itself. Through his touch?"
Calida smiled wanely. "Don't ask me to explain, I couldn't even begin to. But I'll say that he likes to get close to do it."
"Like kissing?" Why did it matter? Isodore kicked himself mentally and told himself to shut up.
The merboy cocked an eyebrow. "Kissing? What's that?"
Whoa boy. "Er, it's something that humans do. It's nothing really."
Calida sidled up to him, beseechingly. "Maybe I'll see this 'kissing' when we go up to the surface?" His tone was hopeful.
Sighing, Isodore closed his eyes. "Maybe you will."

"You're sure you want to do this, 'Lida?"
"I've told you, Dyce. I've made up my mind."
The darker merboy crossed his arms and scowled, his dark eyes following Calida's movements as the white-tailed merboy combed out his auburn hair. "You can't stay in transformation forever. Does your pet know this?"
"No," the other replied, stressing the human's name. "But I'll tell him sometime or another. I don't expect we'll stay very long anyway-"
"Until you fall in love with it."
Calida looked up, exasperated. "I won't, Dyce. Much as I hate it, I know my life is here. That's been beaten into my head enough."
His spawn was dubious. "I'm not so sure. You get that look in your eye sometimes. I know you're not happy." He cocked his head and dropped his eyes. "And I don't trust that pet of yours."
Calida propelled himself up. "Don't trust him? Why not?"
Dyce held his hands up in a placating gesture. "I didn't mean that. I don't trust you around him." His dark eyes were defiant; accusing.
Calida was silent. Dyce relented and drifted away. "But do what you will, 'Lida, I of all people understand the need for that. Just come back to me, that's all I ask."

"I'm going to take the breathing spell off you before we get to the surface."
"Why? I'll drown!" Isodore held on for dear life to the arm that dragged up upwards in the pitch black of the night sea waters. They had to slip out now lest they be seen.
The merboy doubled his speed, his tail flicking up and down invisibly, but Isodore could feel the water's reverberation. "Better than flopping around on the beach like a fish. We'll get to the surface in time!"
With that, Isodore felt like his chest was caving in. It was all he could do not to try and inhale the water he'd become so used to breathing. He gasped and choked; he couldn't breathe, couldn't even spare the breath to try to speak to Calida-
They broke the surface with a shattering of water in all directions. Isodore gasped welcome air into long unused lungs, coughing out sea water and thrashing about until Calida dragged him in close enough so that his feet could find their ground. Isodore trudged up out of the water, so exhausted for some reason that he collapsed on the midnight sand on his back, his chest heaving.
Calida. Isodore's eyes snapped open. When had he let go of the merboy's hand? He struggled to sit up, still striving to get used to the concept of breathing air again. The beach was lit in silvery moonlight and there bathed in it, a few feet away from him, lay a beautiful, human boy. Calida lay on his side, also breathing heavily, taking much longer to learn the use of his new lungs. Long, slender legs stretched out in the sand and ten small toes curled and uncurled with his coughs. Of course the former merboy was quite starkly and gloriously nude. And quite unmistakably male.
When his gasping turned into normal breaths, Calida pushed himself up on his arms, his long sandy tresses clinging to his back and cheeks as he looked around with wide, moist eyes. "Isodore-" he breathed, looking about. Fortunately, the night they'd chosen was beautifully clear and crisp with every star in existence visible in the black sky. The boy pulled his long legs underneath him and made his first attempts to stand with the determination and the grace of a newborn foal.
"Careful!" Isodore, not too keen on his balance himself, caught the other in his arms. "You have to balance now, 'Lida. You can't just float around anymore. Here, I'll help you." He steadied the other in his arms as he planted his feet. When Calida's eyes met his, they were teary.
"It's so beautiful," he said, looking up at the sky again. He shivered. "But cold..."
Isodore slowly began walking with him towards the cliffs where he knew his father's keep resided. It was slow going, as the merboy had to master balance first, then the alternating usage of his legs, knees and toes. He held on tightly to his human for balance, trembling with effort and the chill of the night.
"We have to find some clothes," Isodore said idly, looking around. Somehow he'd lost the flimsy garment Calida had given him. The arm around Calida's waist was tangled in wet auburn locks. "And we have to cut your hair."
His outburst threw off their unsteady balance and they tumbled into the sand. Isodore gasped for the the breath knocked out of him, and looked up, quiet suddenly, into Calida's eyes, their noses touching. The threat to his hair forgotten, the merboy smiled down at his human, delighting at the feel of their legs all tangled together.
The female voice shocked Isodore into thrusting Calida off him a little too roughly. He struggled up into a sitting position and covered himself. "Elise!"
"Oh my God! You're alive!" His arms were suddenly full of a hundred and ten pounds of weeping female. "We all thought you were dead!"
"No, I'm all right, Elise. There was an accident at sea-"
"I came down to watch the stars like we used to, do you remember? I saw you both crawl onto the beach and stumble around. Have you not seen land at all in the weeks you've been gone?" She looked Calida, who sat shamelessly sprawled where Isodore had pushed him. He blinked up at her.
So that explains why she didn't think much of seeing two naked boys lying on top of one another on the beach. Perhaps she assumed their clothes had been ripped off by the waves. Isodore breathed a sigh of relief. Let her believe it. Releasing her, he looked about and saw the horse she'd ridden down tethered to nearby sage bushes. Perhaps she had some cloaks in those saddlebags.
"Are you all right? You look a bit dazed. Can I help you up?" he heard her say to Calida as he searched the bags. He found one blanket that was large enough for them to share. He turned around in time to see Elise scream and slap Calida's cheek.
"He, he groped me!" she gasped, her hands over her chest.
Unbothered by the slap, the merboy turned his gaze to Isodore, pointing at the indignant girl. "Is that a she? Just what are those?"
"Well, I never!" She turned and stood behind Isodore as he helped the other boy up and threw half the blanket over his shoulders. Under it, he wound an arm about Calida's waist to help him walk.
"Forgive him, he's been at sea a long time." He shot Calida a warning glare. "A very long time."
Dubiously, Elise gathered the reins of her horse and they began walking back to the keep. She snorted and refused to favor Calida with another glance. The merboy, however, continued to gaze at her in fascination, rubbing his faintly flushed cheek with one hand.
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