Ryan looked on as the merman sitting across from him picked at the pieces of fish on the plate. It ate surprisingly quietly. Ryan cocked his head to the side, watching as it scrapped off the scales in a swift motion before guiding the food to its mouth.
Interesting. He thought, letting out a sigh before taking a sip out of his glass of beer. They’d gotten to his apartment about three hours ago, and it had taken some effort to guide the merman into the apartment complex since Omi kept stopping and looking about. The worst of it had been in the elevator, and the merman had clutched his shirt, refusing to let go until they got to their destination.
“How Is it?” Ryan asked, making Omi look up from the piece of fish he had in his hand. He stared at Ryan, unsure of what the man was asking.
“Do you like the fish?” Ryan asked instead after the brief spell of silence. Omi smiled, nodding as he guided the piece of fish to his mouth. Now that he understood. He had stared at the food offered to him oddly for a bit, wondering why the fish was glazed over and had a yellow tone, but Ryan had taken a bit of it, so Omi had tried it.
And he loved it.
Whatever was in the fish, and whatever had been done to give it the texture made it taste wonderful. He was so taken with the taste that he was eating as slowly as he could, not wanting to get rid of it all.
“If you want more I could always give you more,” Ryan said, making Omi blink like he’d heard the best news in his life.
“Yes, more fish,” Ryan deadpanned, laughing when the merman’s smile widened.
Ryan watched as the merman began to eat faster, and he smiled. His smile vanished when a thought crossed his mind. Does he need water? Ryan wondered, realizing that he wasn’t sure where the merman was going to sleep. His fish tanks were tiny. A frown formed on his face as he tried to think up a solution, then one came.
He had a small pool set up somewhere in his storage. The material was like that of a tent, only it was in the shape of a small rectangular space of water. Ryan tried to remember how big it was. He didn’t think it would fit in the patio, but if he moved the furniture around in the living room it would probably hold up.
“Fish?” The question made Ryan blink before turning his gaze to the man in front of him. His plate was now empty, and he was staring at the marine biologist with an expectant look in his eyes.
Ryan chuckled, shaking his head. “I’ll get the fish,” he said as he got up and headed to warm up a bit of the smoked fish he had made earlier in the week. He brought back a plate of fish for Omi, and the merman went about devouring the food.
“So, what do you need help for?” Ryan asked, watching as the merman picked at the last pieces of fish on the plate.
Omi looked up, gazing at the man in front of him. He couldn’t help thinking about how tired the man looked. Or maybe it was just the way humans looked? The rough dull texture of their skin.
“Water,” Omi said, before pausing as a frown formed on his face. He realized he wasn’t exactly sure how to frame what he wanted to say. “Die. Dying water,” he managed to piece together eventually, and Ryan nodded at him before nodding.
He’s talking about the pollution, isn’t he? Ryan thought to himself.
“You made the water good. You made it good water,” Omi said, making Ryan blink, wondering what Omi was going on about. His mouth hung open when he realized Omi had been resting by the rock the last time he had gone to the beach. He had used alum on the water to make most of the impurities settle at the bottom of the test tube before filtering out the remaining particles. Does he think I know how to treat the water? Ryan did — but on a very small scale.
“I…” Ryan trailed staring into the merman’s orange eyes that were freckled with brown specks. Ryan wanted to tell him that he had been mistaken. That he didn’t know what to do what the merman thought he could, but he couldn’t bring himself to say it. The expectant look in the merman’s eyes made him shifty and nervous, and he didn’t want to disappoint him.
“I’ll try my best,” he ended up saying in a low voice, and as if on cue the merman’s face brightened.
“Lots of thank yous!” The merman said in an enthusiastic voice, making Ryan laugh. He shook his head, getting up from his seat before walking over to the creature.
“Relax,” Ryan told him as he walked behind the seat Omi was sitting on. Omi let out a cross between a yelp and a sigh, but he stayed still while Ryan touched his gills — inspecting them. They gapped as Ryan felt them with his fingertips. They were scaly and wet and didn’t seem to be drying up.
“Do you know if you’ll run out of air?” Ryan asked, making Omi frown a bit. Trying to understand the human was making his head hurt a bit.
“A-air? Run… out?” Ryan sighed, laughing a bit before taking his hand away from Omi’s neck. He thought about it for a while before reaching out to run a hand through the merman’s honey brown hair.
“Are you tired?” he asked, and Omi’s eyes went wide a bit. They had been droopy from Ryan’s action, and the merman was still finding it hard to concentrate with the man’s hand in his hair. Ryan seemed to notice since he took his hand away and touched his own beard instead.
“Tired?” Omi repeated in a small voice.
Lord, he’s like a child. Ryan laughed in his mind before stepping behind the chair Omi was on. Omi’s eyes followed him, and when Ryan reached out his hand to him he took it before getting up on his feet.
“Do you want water?” Ryan asked, and the merman moved forward, holding on to him with a death grip so that he wouldn’t slip.
“Do you want to go home, I can drive you to the beach,” the man offered, making Omi look up. The merman thought about it for a while before shaking his head. He didn’t have to go back to Afibia anytime soon. And he was starting to worry that if he left the human wouldn’t be at the shore the next time he swam up.
“Here… Water, here,” Omi said. He thought there had to be a water body here or some sort of nest around. He felt fine. His breathing was fine, but he was too scared to sleep just about anywhere. He had been afraid of laying down on the beach sand too.
“Nest?” Ryan asked, repeating Omi’s words. The merman nodded, and after thinking about it for a while Ryan nodded too. “Come on, we need to get you to my room, so I can fill up the tank,” he said, helping Omi walk out of the kitchen. They got to his room soon after, and Ryan helped Omi sit on the bed. The merman looked around, staring at the clock for a bit, then at the alarm clock on the bedside table before looking out of the window at the corner. It was pitch black now, and most of the lights on the other apartments were off. Only the yellow dim streetlights and the occasional passing of a car filled the streets with light.
“I’ll be back, don’t go anywhere,” Ryan said, making Omi turn his attention back to him. The merman didn’t say anything in reply, and after a while, Ryan left the room to check his storage for the pool set up. He found it after rampaging through his equipment for a few minutes. As he moved the living room furniture around to set the pool up Omi walked in. The merman stood by the entrance, watching as Ryan went about getting a hose to fill up the black tent pool.
“You left the room,” Ryan said, looking towards the entrance. He had only realized that Omi was standing there.
Omi looked down at his feet. “Alone,” he said in a small voice and Ryan sighed. Is he lonely? Ryan wondered but shook his head before turning back to the pool he was filling up with water. He didn’t want to think too much about the merman. his fascination with the sea and everything in it usually just let him into roundabout lost causes like his save the sea project that was folding up on itself.
He turned off the tap when the pool was half full. Omi stepped aside when Ryan made a face like he had forgotten something before walking out of the living room and past him. In a few seconds, Ryan was back with two blankets. He headed for the pool, putting the blankets in before heading to the kitchen to grab as many salt shakers as possible. He emptied their content into the water before stepping aside and placing his hands in hips to examine his work.
“I might have to buy more salt tomorrow,” he said, turning to look at Omi who was now sitting on one of the sofas that had been pushed aside to make room for the pool. “What do you think?”
Omi frowned at the setup in confusion before his facial expression relaxed when he understood what it might be. “Nest?” he asked in a small voice, and Ryan’s smile widened.
“Yes, a nest,” Ryan said gesturing towards the pool the up. “Come on, it’s for you.”
Omi looked over at it with an unsure look, and it wasn’t until Ryan walked over to him to help him up that he got up. They walked over to the pool together, and after some hesitation, Omi climbed in before sitting down — and just like magic Ryan watched as his lower body fused and turned a pretty shade of orange dusted with brown flecks just like his unusual eyes. Ryan was trying his best not to reach out to touch the mere, but he’d be lying if he said he wasn’t itching to. The detail on Omi’s skin and tail were beautiful, and Ryan wondered if anything else about the mere had changed. Was his skin rougher? Was he using his gills now?
Omi made an odd sound — like purring, but for fish. It made Ryan snap out of his thoughts. The marine biologist frowned a bit before laughing and shaking his head. He moved over, kneeling by the pool to grab the pieces of torn clothes. “Maybe you should take off your clothes first the next time,” Ryan said, and Omi moved in the pool a bit, adjusting his position so that he could follow Ryan around the room with his eyes more freely.
“You should get some rest, it’s night. I’ll try to get you a temperature watch for the pool. Or I’ll just mess with the heating and get a thermometer,” Ryan rambled, not sure why he was saying all this to Omi. The man couldn’t fully comprehend him anyway.
Omi opened his mouth, but nothing came out. He touched his throat, then the necklace he had been given. Only with legs. He reminded himself before letting go of the pendant and curling into a ball in the pool so that he was submerged in the water. Ryan took that as a sign that he should leave, so he did, turning off the lights in the living room before heading for his own bedroom.
He could barely sleep, and throughout the night he’d walk over to the living room to check up on Omi. Checking the salinity and temperature of the pool.
I’m just keeping him alive. He tried to convince himself, but deep down he knew he was interested in studying Omi and learning more about him and his people. His biologist senses were tingling, and staring at the wonder of nature, and the most complex display of biological engineering he’d ever seen made him feel attached to Omi in an odd way — like you would to a pet.
Well, at least that’s what he assumed.