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[personal profile] arcadianmaggie
Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Louis slid open the glass door leading from the bedroom of his family’s beach house to the patio outside. He stood, hands wrapped around his mug of tea, staring out at the sea. A breeze carrying the smell of salt and sand ghosted over his skin, and he shivered, goose bumps pebbling his arms. At the edge of the horizon, the sun was just rising, tinting the water a soft, glowing rosy gold. In general, Louis was unused to being awake so early, having fallen into a pattern of staying out late, drinking or smoking with the lads, and then sleeping half the day away. Almost a week had passed since he’d seen his friends, however, the longest stretch in a while. Other matters had occupied his mind, entirely.

Or rather, one matter in particular—the face of a boy staring up at him from the middle the ocean, wide green eyes, pale skin, coral-pink lips, all framed by dark curly hair, wild like seaweed—an otherworldly, incongruous face. At first he’d been convinced he was hallucinating, as he’d been high as the clouds, relaxed and blissed out on Zayn’s killer weed. And if, perchance, someone had asked him to describe his dream companion, surely the boy he’d conjure would look something like this, this gorgeous untamed thing with a face from a vision. When he had seen the movement in the water, the long tail attached below the torso swishing back and forth, supporting the face above the surface, he was even more convinced this creature had materialized from the depths of his drug-addled brain, like a manifestation of his deepest desires, a secret buried deep and brought to life.

Yet… were hallucinations this vivid? He’d had a stint where he experimented with harder drugs; access was plentiful in the affluent circles he travelled. But for someone who liked to stay in control, they really weren’t his thing. He much preferred taking the edge off with a little weed. Even as he’d decided his mind was playing tricks on him, something about the situation had him doubt this conclusion. The boy had looked so real. Or not boy. The mermaid. Merman? Mer person? But he wasn’t actually a person, now, was he?

Well, whatever the creature was, maybe he should get high more often if this was what his brain could come up with, he mused thinking back on the encounter. Louis had given his joint an assessing gaze and mentally congratulated himself. When he’d looked back, he was rendered stock still as the boy’s eyes met his own. Louis’ chest had tightened, as if his heart had been gripped with an icy fist, or all the air had been punched from his lungs. He couldn’t breathe. Because when they’d locked gazes, Louis was acutely cognizant of the awareness radiating from those big green eyes, an otherness he’d instantly recognized as not coming from within himself. This wasn’t an intelligence borne from the depths of his active imagination; the intelligence staring back belonged entirely apart, separate and discrete from his own.

At the same time, Louis had been consumed with an overwhelming sense of familiarity, as if they’d already met. Maybe they’d known each other in another life, or perhaps they’d met before in a dream. But the moment had felt more like a memory of someone he’d once known long, long ago, rather than a vision his mind had conjured while asleep.

Louis’ gaze had darted again at the joint he was holding, a quick glance, lickety-split, not wanting the boy to disappear in the fraction of the second he looked away. Then he’d called out to Zayn, eyes not straying from the green ones staring back at him, asking if perhaps he was smoking something stronger than weed.

The answer was unsurprising. The moment his eyes had locked with the ones below, the truth of what he was seeing had jolted through him with razor-sharp clarity. Yet a corner of his mind had balked, tempting him to dismiss the truth, to allow him to take refuge in a denial that would not force him to reorder the entire universe. For rejecting truths held for a lifetime takes a certain sort of courage; Louis had never thought of himself as particularly brave.

“Are you real?” he had asked, even though he knew the boy was.

The long, scaled tail swished slowly in the water, but the boy had otherwise remained motionless.

Again, Louis sought reassurance, even though he knew deep in his bones the world had shifted.

“Zayn, can you c’mere a minute? Got something to ask you.”

The second the words were out of his mouth, Louis had regretted them. The boy’s eyes had widened and his pretty lips formed into an “o” of surprise, then with a splash he was gone, disappearing under the surface without a trace remaining. Louis leaned forward, scanning the water, anxiously trying to catch a glimpse beneath the waves, but there was no sign of the creature. It was almost as if he had never existed at all. With a sigh, Louis’ shoulders slumped.

“Never mind, Zayn,” he had shouted, eyes still moving over the water, back and forth, back and forth, out towards the horizon, searching. Finally, he had hung his head in defeat, letting out another frustrated sigh. But as he’d looked down, Louis spied a few droplets of water on his forearm, the result of the spray from the abrupt departure of his oceanic visitor. Lips curving into a small smile, he’d felt his mood immediately lighten. So not completely without a trace, then. He’d stared at the drops of beaded water for a few seconds, relishing their presence. Then raising the arm to his face, Louis had dipped his chin, parted his lips, and licked the droplets from his skin, tasting the sea on his tongue.

A buzzing from his pocket jolted Louis out of his reverie. Tea splashed over the side of his mug, and he shook the hot liquid from his hand, muttering a “shit” under his breath, wiping his fingers on his pyjama bottoms before fishing into his pocket for his phone.


“Lou, you’re awake. I was expecting to leave a message.” The surprise was evident in her voice. “Or haven’t you been to sleep yet?”

Louis tensed. “I’ve been to sleep, Mum. Just woke up early. Having a cup of tea on the patio.”

“Hmm.” Louis had long since stopped wondering how she could inject that much judgement into one non-committal sound. He rolled his eyes.

“How are the girls?”

“You’d already know if you took the time to call them. Or better yet, got up to London every once in a while.”

Louis didn’t reply, knowing the futility of treading this familiar ground.

His mother relented. “The girls are fine. The Headmistress tells me their marks are excellent this term. I’m sure they really miss their big brother.” She paused, letting her silence speak.

Louis ignored her obvious attempts to instill guilt. “How’s Dan?”

“That’s the reason I called, actually. He’s had something come up and we’ll be flying to Dubai for a few weeks. He thought you might like to join us. It’d be such a good opportunity—”

“Mum.” Louis cut her off.

“What, Lou?” she asked with impatience. “Do you have any other pressing matters to attend to?”

Louis remained silent.

“I thought not.” Louis braced for the rest. “When, exactly, are you planning to do something with your life? Besides hanging out with those friends of yours, of course, playing on that boat and drinking the days away. Or whatever else it is that you get up to with your time. I’m honestly not sure I want to know the details.”

Again, Louis didn’t respond.

“I think we’ve been more than patient with you. You know Dan’s eager to have you come along with him and learn the business.”

“I don’t want to learn the business. I told you that.”

“Well, you certainly don’t seem to want to learn anything else, either, do you now?”

A hot flash of shame spiked through him. Would he never live down his failed attempt at university? Were his shortcomings going to be thrown back in his face until the end of time? He was tempted to end the call with his mum then and there, but he knew that would cause more trouble than it was worth. Best to get the conversation over with, so he could be left in peace.

The silence lengthened between them. Finally, his mum spoke again, this time her voice taking on a softer edge. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it like that.”

Didn’t she? After a long pause, Louis said, “I know.” He didn’t. “It’s all right.” It really wasn’t.

A heavy sigh travelled across the line. “Dan only wants to help. It really would be an excellent opportunity for you.”


“What? It would be.”

“We’ve already tried that. You know I was a disaster.”

“That was ages ago. And it was so soon after…” Her voice trailed off. “Maybe it’s time to give things another try.”

“It would end the same. You know it would.”


“Mum.” He tried to keep the frustration out of his voice, but they all knew what had happened the last time. He had bollocksed things up even more than he had at uni. He hadn’t understood any of it, and the harder he tried, the more confusing everything became until he’d stopped trying at all. His relationship with Dan had ended up severely strained, and he didn’t think he could endure another round of their disappointed looks when he’d inevitably fail again. Dan’s company was far better off without Louis Tomlinson. “It’s not going to happen.”

“You’ve got to do something.”

“I know.”

She sighed again. “When we get back, we’re going to all sit down and have a long chat about your future.”



Louis shivered as a breeze chilled his bare arms. His eyes followed the path of a bird gliding above the water, watching as it dived down into the sea and emerged, a fish caught in its bill.

Another sigh came across the line, resigned. “I’ll let Dan know you’re going to stay in England for the time being.”


“Do try to get up to London and see your sisters.”

“All right. I’ll try.”

Another sigh was heavily weighted with the assumption he wouldn’t. “Is everything all right with the beach house?”

“Yes, everything’s fine here. I’ve told you I won’t wreck the place.” He couldn’t keep the defensiveness out of his voice.

“That’s not what I meant. Why must you—” He was almost surprised that she stopped short; he was already bracing for another litany of his shortcomings. Instead, his mum actually did surprise him. “Thanks for looking after the place.”

“Um… you’re welcome?”

She chuckled at his confusion, and the knot in his belly unravelled slightly. “I only want what’s best for you. I hate to see you waste— Never mind. If you change your mind, give me a ring.”

“I’m not going to change my mind.”

“But if you do…”

Now he was chuckling. “All right, Mum. If I change my mind, which I won’t, I’ll give you a ring. Say hello to Dan for me.”

“All right.”

“And… um… tell him thank you.”

“Oh.” Now he’d surprised her. “I’ll certainly do that, love. Take care. Talk to you soon.”

“You too.”

He pressed end on the call and slipped his phone into his pocket. His tea was almost too cool to enjoy, but he sipped it anyway. Pulling the phone back out, he scrolled through all the missed texts and messages he’d been ignoring. He really should call Liam and Zayn back. They’d rarely gone this long without speaking to one another. He stared at Zayn’s last guilt-inducing message:

Everything ok? Li is going to send out a search party if we don’t hear from you mate.

Louis typed out a response:

Sorry. Lot on my mind. Everything’s fine. Tell him I’ll ring soon.

After the sending the text, he put his phone away again, sipped the last of his tea, and turned to go back inside. He did miss his friends. And he did plan to ring them soon.

But not just quite yet.


Louis steered the craft closer to the shore. For a moment he thought he’d heard… something. Maybe it was the wind playing tricks on him, although there really wasn’t much of a breeze. He cut the engine, listening, ears straining.

The entire day had been a repeat of the day before, and of the day before that. Of the whole week, actually. Each morning since he’d first seen the boy in the water, he’d awoken early, drank his tea, then set out on his boat, retracing the route he and the lads had taken, hoping to catch another glimpse of the beautiful creature.

His shoulders were pink and his nose slightly peeling from the long days out on the water, but he had nothing else to show for his searching. Maybe he had hallucinated the boy.

No. He knew that he hadn’t. He knew.

Cutting the engine, Louis listened closely. He was much farther east than they’d been that day, having been headed back to his family’s beach home on Poole Harbour’s Sandbanks peninsula, this time the Jurassic coast off the port bow instead of starboard. He wasn’t even sure what had caught his attention over the sound of the engine, but something had.

He let the boat drift while he grabbed his binoculars and made his way to the railing, scanning the water at cliff’s edge. He spied some puffins nesting high in the rocks and took a moment to enjoy the black and white birds with their brightly coloured beaks before continuing his search. A movement on the lower ledge of the old quarry caught his eye and his heart began to drum with nervous excitement. The strength of his disappointment surprised him when he realized the movement had just been a seal. Dancing Ledge was a popular spot for bird watchers, geologists, fossil hunters, and climbers alike, not to mention the many ferries that bypassed it daily as part of the popular boat tours of the Jurassic coast, England’s only World Heritage site. Why Louis thought he’d find his merboy here, he’d never know; besides, Durdle Dor was miles away from where he was now.

But to never find him, to never gaze into those glass-green eyes again was simply unthinkable. He hadn’t even begun to reach the point where he’d consider giving up looking. It had only been a week, after all.

Just then, the wind shifted and Louis’ ears caught the faintest of somethings, like music, yet unlike any music he’d ever heard, like the cliffs themselves were singing to him. The excitement was back, and his heartbeat increased its pace once more. But no matter how hard he strained to pick up the notes of the mysterious song, he was left with only the lapping of the waves and the call of the birds flying overhead. Maybe it had only been the wind blowing across the caves in the cliffs, he thought pragmatically.

He stayed glued to the railing of his boat, however, even as the light grew dimmer, the oranges and yellows of the setting sun giving way to pink-greys, then simply a darker grey. Reluctant to leave the area, he decided he would just kip on the boat overnight. It’s not like he had anywhere to be.

“Are you there?” he called out in the chilling evening air, feeling foolish even as the words left his mouth.

The gentle slap-slap-slap of the water against the hull of his yacht was the only answer he received.

Finally, in the dimming evening light, he went back to the cockpit, checked the depth reading, mentally calculating the tides and how many metres of chain he’d need before moving to the bow and pressing the switch to initiate the windlass. Once the chain was let out, he tightened the winch, secured the chain stopper, set the anchor alarm, then retired to the cabin below.

Exhausted, Louis rinsed quickly in the shower, erasing the salt from his skin, then towelled himself off before dropping face first on the bed. As he drifted off to sleep, he could swear he heard the cliffs singing again.

Louis was up with the dawn, sipping his tea in the same spot he had occupied for so much time the previous evening. Something tethered him to this place. He knew there was a bathing pool on the lower ledge, blasted out by a headmaster of a nearby preparatory school in the late 1800s. At high tide, the pool was replenished with fresh, clear water from the sea. He and the lads had partaken in the traditional “strip and swim” numerous times in the past when Liam had been on a rock climbing lark, determined to scale every cliff face of the coast. There was no reason Louis couldn’t enjoy a little dip in the pool today.

He didn’t hurry, knowing without letting the thought form fully in his mind that he would be here all day, and likely all night again, hoping to catch a reprise of the haunting song he still wasn’t sure he hadn’t imagined. He rummaged in the galley for something to eat, settling on some eggs on toast. After checking the weather, tidying up from his breakfast, and replying to yet more anxious texts from Liam and Zayn, he changed into his swimming trunks and readied the tender from the aft locker.


A gentle breeze carrying the scent of the sea ruffled the fringe on Louis’ forehead. He breathed deeply, tipping his head back into the sunlight, elbows locked as his fingers dug into the grass behind him. His legs stretched before him, pointing towards the water, feet crossed at the ankles. When he tilted his head back down and opened his eyes, the Sunseeker was visible from his vantage point atop the cliffs, a tiny speck against the vastness of the ocean. He lifted his hand to his face, shutting one eye, and pinched the yacht between his thumb and pointer finger. “I crush you,” he said softly to himself, as he closed the gap, imagining the boat splintering into a million pieces.

Laughing at himself, he sat up cross-legged and rested his elbows on his knees, surveying the hummocky swells of grass dotted with small yellow flowers, the path at the curve of cliff’s edge, the huge expanse of ocean before him.

He’d climbed that path earlier after spending most of the day exploring Dancing Ledge. He’d walked over the prickle bed, examining the fossilized ammonites embedded in the stone. He’d had a dip in the bathing pool—several, actually. He’d studied the deep ruts that had been carved into the lower ledge, originally built for the old stone-filled carts to carry their cargo down to the waiting ships at sea. To the west were the sea caves, and to the east, Green Point, an algae-covered section of cliff, which received runoff from a spring above.

Louis had climbed the path to the upper ledge, finding more to explore. The old quarry itself had long since been closed up; however, grates had been placed over some of the old mine openings to allow bats to come and go as they pleased. The cliffs of the area were the draw for many, climbers and geologists alike, with their layers of shrimp bed, limestone, and clay among the various striations of rock. There was even a natural cave.

Eventually, Louis had climbed up farther to the walking paths above, following Smuggler’s Path to Spyway Barn. On the way to Langton Matravers, the parish from which many accessed Dancing Ledge by foot, he had passed the carving of the stone cow, a landmark near the old bull field where smugglers used to hide casks of brandy and gin. He wasn’t sure what he was looking for so far from the water, but the weather was gorgeous and he was easily bored. Exploring seemed the thing to do. Not wanting to get too far from his yacht, he had turned back to sit on top of the world, killing time until the sun’s descent, hoping the cliff’s walls would deign to sing to him again.


Louis rubbed the sleep out of his eyes as he fumbled for his phone buzzing next to his head. He was surprised any battery remained, even with the multiple chargers he’d stored on board.

“What?” he answered after seeing Zayn’s name on the display, too groggy to muster anything more coherent.

“Where the fuck are you, mate?” Music blared in the background.

“In my fucking bed.” He didn’t mention the bed was the one on his yacht.

“Oh, ho. I didn’t interrupt anything, did I? That why you’re so cross? Li,” Zayn shouted. “Think Tommo’s got himself a new boyfriend.”

“That certainly explains a lot.” Liam response was faint, but audible.

“Put him on the phone,” Zayn demanded.

“Fuck off,” Louis retorted. “What’s up? Why’d you call?”

“Besides the fact that you’ve completely ignored all my texts and calls for weeks? Though I suppose it makes complete sense now. I hope you’re being safe and making him wrap it up.”

“Seriously, fuck off.”

“Come on. Put him on the line. Let me talk to him.”

“Christ, you’re an arse. What do you want, anyway?”

“Just having the lads over—little impromptu get together. Thought you might join us. Bring your new friend. Love to meet whoever’s got you ignoring your best mates for so long. Must have quite the nice dick.”

“I’m hanging up now.”

“No, wait. Wait.”


“You should come over, with or without your friend. Liam misses you.”

Louis knew that was Zayn’s way of saying he missed Louis. “I can’t tonight.”

“C’mon, Lou. You can’t spare one night away for your mates?”

“I’d have to shower and change and it’s already half twelve.” The excuse sounded flimsy, even to him.

“You know it’s not healthy to isolate yourself from your friends when you get into a relationship.”

“I’m not in a relationship. Christ.”

“Sex haze, then. Whatever.”

“It’s not a—“

“Fine, fine.” Zayn cut him off. “You’re not ready to define things. I understand completely. The point remains. You need your mates, and your mates need you.”

Louis could hear the underlying sincerity of Zayn’s words, discernible through the flippant tone. They’d been friends long enough for Louis to understand why Zayn spent so much of his time high on weed and why Zayn might be worried if Louis was getting in too deep too fast. They didn’t have many secrets between them.

“Tell you what. I’ll definitely come round later this week.”

“Promise?” Louis knew Zayn would be knocking down his door if he didn’t keep his word.


“Sure I can’t persuade you to drag that gorgeous arse of yours out of bed tonight?”

“I’m quite sure. Tonight’s just not a good night. Next time.”

“I’ll hold you to that. You’ve been ghost long enough.”

“I know you will. Tell Liam hey for me.”

“Will do. Take care, okay, mate?”

“Yeah. You too. Have fun.”

Louis pressed the end button and turned off his phone to preserve what little battery he had left before setting it on the bedside table. He stared up at the ceiling of the cabin, arms crossed behind his head, hoping the gentle rocking of the waves could calm his thoughts, suddenly in overdrive. Letting them believe he was involved in a new relationship wasn’t a bad idea, to be honest. He could hardly explain what was actually taking up all his time, after all. What would he say? Sorry, the real reason I can’t spend time with you is, well, there’s this merman…. No, best to keep that bit to himself.

This was his fifth—or was it sixth?—night he’d spent out on the boat. At this point, he’d got almost a sort of routine down. He’d stuck to Dancing Ledge and the surrounding vicinity that entire first day, hoping to stumble across… something, something tangible to convince him he wasn’t on a fool’s errand. Instead, he held only the wisps of a song in his head, and even that might be the product of his own overactive imagination.

The next day onwards, he’d traveled the coast again, west to Lulworth Cove, past Durdle Dor, even as far as Weymouth. There was no sign of the creature. In the late afternoon, he always returned to Dancing Ledge, anchoring the Sunseeker and going ashore to take a dip in the bathing pool, sunning himself on the rocks before the air started to chill. At night he sat on the deck, sipping a beer or two or a glass of wine, and listened. A few times Louis had thought he’d heard the strange melody again, but he couldn’t be sure it wasn’t his own mind playing tricks on him.

Unable to fall back asleep after Zayn’s call, Louis threw off the sheet and went to the galley to make some tea. When it was ready, he returned to his familiar post by the rail, staring out into the night towards shore. He listened, but heard nothing save the sound of the sea.

“Where are you?” he asked the night sky.


Louis cracked one eye open and groaned at the harsh sunlight streaming through the window. From the slant of the light, he could tell it was later than the usual time he’d been waking, not surprising as he’d swapped out whisky for the tea after the first cuppa. He’d have a bit of a headache today—more than a bit, most likely. Lying in bed, he pondered life and the various ways in which his had gone wrong. He vaguely recalled his foolish antics from the night before, belting out songs to the cliffsides while begging them to sing something back.

If his mer friend had been anywhere in the vicinity, Louis had likely scared him off for good.

Stumbling to the lavatory, he took a piss then dug through the cabinets for some paracetamol. He grabbed a bottle of water in the galley to wash them down before poking around for something to eat—cold cereal, a bagel, a few pieces of fruit. Was there nothing with a little grease available? What he could really go for was a full English, but there weren’t even any eggs left to cook up.

It’s not like he was giving up, he told himself. He needed to refuel and stock up on food. Plus there was that promise to Zayn, and he really should check on the house. No sense getting his mum angry at him again. It wouldn’t hurt him to drive up to London to see the girls, either, as his mother had urged him to do.

Instead of starting up the engine and pulling up anchor, Louis pottered around the boat, straightening the bed clothes, tidying the galley, putting all the recyclables in the bin. His reluctance to leave had no basis in logic. He’d been searching almost two weeks with nothing to show for his efforts but a maybe-melody. He should just head towards home. Yet he stayed, held to the area by a pull he didn’t quite understand.

The sun’s glare grew relentless and he searched for his aviators to block its harsh rays, growing frustrated before he vaguely remembered placing them in a crook in the rocks near the bathing pool alongside his towel. That settles that, he thought, glad of an excuse to stay a little longer. He’d just have to make one last trip to land.

Not too much later, Louis was dragging the tender ashore, giving one last look around Dancing Ledge before heading back to the Sandbanks peninsula. The rocky cliffside rose before him and his senses were full of the magic of the place, the smell of salt in his nose, the sun bearing down on his shoulders, the breeze caressing his bare skin. Listening closely, he thought he heard the strange growl-like call of the puffins in their burrows. For a moment he wondered if maybe he hadn’t mistaken their unique sound with the melody that continually teased his mind. But no, they weren’t the same at all.

He’d be back, he was sure. He wasn’t going to give up, and somehow, he still thought Dancing Ledge held the key. One last dip, he told himself, then it was time to go home.

Louis picked his way across the rocks, carefully placing his feet on the prickled bed. He made his way to the west side of the bathing pool, higher up, where one of the dips in the nodular surface formed almost into the shape of a bowl. He stilled when he reached the spot, heart skipping a beat before pounding furiously. His aviators were gone, but something had been left in their place.

He squatted down to pick up the object resting in the concave dip of rock, holding it up in the sunlight, hands trembling slightly as he examined it. The shape was a fish’s skeleton, slightly longer than the length of his hand, skull still attached. The bones were smooth and hard as stone. Where its eye had been, the hollow was now set with a huge green gemstone. In his gut Louis knew he was holding something of immense value, an emerald, he didn’t doubt. He turned the strange object over and over in his hands, puzzling out what it reminded him of. Then something stirred from memory. He was sitting on his mother’s lap, a little boy. She was reading to him from a book of fairy tales. He was fascinated by the illustrations on the page, one in particular. A beautiful mermaid was holding an object similar to the one in his hand. She was running it through her long, auburn hair.

A comb. He was holding a mermaid’s comb.


A/N: Thank you for reading!! Special thanks to [ profile] otta_ff and jessypt for betaing this chapter and to [ profile] fr333bird for the Brit pick!! Your suggestions were very helpful! I'll do my best not to wait a year and a half between chapters next time!!
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