“Try this one.” Natalya pushed another of the foods toward him.
He picked it up. The scent was sweet, and a little warm and rich. Tentatively, he took a small taste. Then his eyes went wide, and he took another. It had just a bit of crunch in the center, like small bones, and there was some gooey brown stuff as well. The thing’s blood? “I like this.”
“That…” Natalya grinned. “Is called a Twix. My favorite candy bar.” She leaned in. “Okay, the crunchy bit is cookie, the light brown is caramel, and the coating is chocolate.”
Yalathanil took another bite, savoring the flavor. “Are these creatures hard to hunt? Is that why you don’t eat them all the time?”
“It’s uh…” She blinked.
After a closer look at the inner parts, he raised an eyebrow at her. “What manner of creature is it? I see no organs.”
“It’s not…” She shook her head. “It’s not a creature or a plant. It’s a concoction. Like…” She lowered her hands. “I have absolutely no idea how to explain it. It’s a mix of other things made into this thing and…” She straightened up. “And wow your biology is utterly fascinating. Based on your teeth in your natural form you are clearly a carnivore, yet your body isn’t rejecting anything else you’ve tried so you must be omnivorous on some level. Or are you mimicking humans on the inside as well as the outside?”
“I…” He blinked. “I do not know. I never took this form before. I knew I could, but there was never before a reason.”
“But there are different of your kind. I mean, there must be.” She sat back, looking over at him curiously. “How do your lungs even work? I mean, most can’t go from air to fresh water to salt…” She exhaled. “I’m sorry. I just find you fascinating and want to know how you work, and I know, it’s rude. I shouldn’t think of you like a specimen.”
“You are helping me learn of you, Natalya.” He inclined his head. “I am happy to help you learn of me.” He shrugged, then blinked as the kitten came over to him, climbed into his lap, and lay down before moving her paws on his leg in a kneading motion. He stared at it. “What is she doing?”
“She likes you.”
“I…” He stared at the creature, then gently stroked it with a finger like Adele had done. The kitten immediately started vibrating. “Did I break it?”
“No, they make that noise when they are happy.” She went quiet.
For a few minutes, he just stared at the tiny being, occasionally stroking it with a finger again. The kitten responded to the gesture by grabbing his finger in its paws and happily starting to chew on it. “Natalya…” He hesitated. “You said one of my kind took your brother.”
“It wasn’t exactly like you. I mean…” She folded her arms. “You look kind of like a lionfish. It looked like a squid or an octopus. It had all these tentacles and moved fast, making this horrific screaming noise.” She shuddered a little. “It was on an island. There was this door with marks on it. I should have left it alone.” Tears started falling from her eyes, and she started weeping silently.
Awkwardly, he put his arm around her, as he’d seen Greg do to both girls when they needed comfort. “Rusalkas.” When she blinked at him. “They are rare. They tend toward…” He shrugged. “They are like Xue.”
“Bad guys.” She leaned into him a little.
“Yes. Bad. But not guys. All Rusalkas are females. They liked to steal others, and made others mad. Made war between us and the other…” He searched for the word. “Protectors. Some were sealed away, but too much hurting was done. When the severing was done, we went deep.”
“After we get you to the ocean, you’ll come visit us, right?” She straightened, and smiled at him. “I need to either learn your language or better teach you mine because now I have so many more questions and…” She took a deep breath. “I think they will drive me insane.”
“Yes, Natalya.” He nodded, then touched a finger to her forehead, then smiled. “I will visit.”
“Here you go, Octopus.” Adele put the small bowl of food down for the kitten.
“Octopus, really?” Natalya couldn’t stop herself from snickering.
“Actually, it was Yala’s idea.” Adele chuckled as she sat on the edge of the bed. She walked to the edge of the bed, and she sat down. “He watched her playing a while, then said if she had four more legs she’d be like an octopus.” She shrugged. “Only he didn’t have the word in our language at first, so we had to play a guessing game to figure out what he meant.” She exhaled. “We’ve got to get him back to the ocean, Nat.”
“We will.” Natalya smiled at her reassuringly.
“No, I mean…” Adele took a couple deep breaths. “Nat, he has no reason to like humans or to trust humans or…” She swallowed. “You saw how strong he is. He could have attacked us and forced us to take him or…” She trailed off.
“He gave you back your legs.” Natalya moved to sit next to her.
“He gave me back my legs.” Adele nodded. “Nat, he used his blood. Xue has to know about that. Yala’s blood can heal. It can heal a spinal injury, nerve damage. Do you have any idea what they’ll do to him if they…” She shook her head. “We can’t go to my dad with this. We’re on our own.”
Greg winced when he realized Yalathanil had finally emerged from the shower, and fumbled for the remote. “Shit. Sorry.” Then he blinked again. “Yala, uh…” He exhaled. The merman hadn’t bothered to dress and his human form was… very nice. “You should grab the robe off the door there.”
“The…” Greg sighed. “Never mind. Uh, protocol is wearing boxers or something when you sleep.”
“The mating ritual you were observing seemed odd.” Yalathanil tilted his head, then sat down on the edge of the bed. “Both appeared to be male.”
“They, uh…” Greg winced again. “It uh…” He ran a hand down his face.
“I was not aware your species could breed that way.” Yalathanil shrugged before going toward the pile of clothes. “Which ones were boxers?”
“The underwear.” He sighed. And he’d thought the how to use a toilet conversation was awkward. “Okay, two human males can’t breed together.”
“Then why were they mating?” Yalathanil picked up a pair of boxers.
“It uh…” Greg could feel himself starting to turn red again. He walked toward the bathroom, mostly so he didn’t have to look at a naked merman while he already had a hard-on from watching porn. “It feels good. It’s fun. It’s entertaining.”
“You enjoy this activity?” Yalathanil walked over toward the TV, and Greg found himself a little relieved he hadn’t yet shown him how to work a remote.
“Well, I mean…” Greg closed his eyes and rested his forehead against the wall when he heard the television come on. Great. He’d introduced mermaids to porn. That would definitely be one for the history books. Way to share the culture. “Yeah, I mean.” He took a deep breath. “Yes. It’s uh…”
“With other males?”
God, if you exist, please let the floor swallow me now. “Yes. And females. I mean…” Greg straightened. “Yes, I enjoy sex with other men and with women.” Then he turned around and let out a small yelp when he realized Yalathanil was now standing less than a foot behind him. “Gah, don’t…”
He went silent as Yalathanil caught his wrists and pinned him to the wall. He had just enough time to blink before Yalathanil pressed his own lips to Greg’s, the gesture slightly hesitant. Yalathanil pulled his head back a moment later. “Was that correct?”
“I, uh…” Greg stared. He had a naked merman kissing him and… “Sort of.”
“Show me.” Yalathanil moved his head forward again.
“Yala…” Greg gave a small shake of his head. “I mean, uh…” He took a deep breath. “Okay, there are like a whole bunch of things about this I do not think you understand.”
“You enjoy sexual play with men.” Yalathanil raised an eyebrow.
“I enjoy you.” Yalathanil smiled at him. “And I am enjoying learning of you.”
“I don’t want to coerce you into doing anything if you aren’t —” Yalathanil’s laughter interrupted him. “What?”
“Greg…” One of Yalathanil’s hands came up and stroked his hair. “You are the one pinned to the wall.”
“I…” Greg blinked. “Okay, you might have a point there. I mean, clearly, if you aren’t interested, you can make your wishes clear and you can certainly defend yourself and…” He was babbling. Like a nervous teenager.
“I am…” Yalathanil nodded. “Making my wishes clear.” He stroked Greg’s cheek. “I like the way your face feels. With your fri…” He caught himself. “Beard. I like how it feels on my skin.”
“Well, uh…” Greg raised his own hand, and cautiously brought it to encircle the back of Yalathanil’s neck. “Yala, if this ends up humiliating and embarrassing and both of us with sprained backs under absolutely no circumstances do we tell the girls anything about it.”
“I do not know the meaning of all those words.” Yalathanil leaned forward to kiss him again.
“Okay.” Natalya spread the map out in front of her. “The logical thing to do is either continue the way we are going and hit New York, or flip a right and go down to Texas like we planned originally, where Greg’s boat is.”
“They’ll have Greg’s boat staked out, and now that we know just how valuable Yala is to Xue…” Adele shook her head.
“We turn around and go west.” Natalya nodded, and began tracing the route with her finger. “We can’t tell your dad what is going on, but we could probably get him to wire us more cash or something if we need.”
“He’ll start asking questions.” Adele shrugged.
“Tell him you got knocked up by an illegal and have to make bail so you can have abort your crack baby.” Natalya looked up at her and grinned. “And it’s either pay up or you’ll call the paper.”
“Gah, this election cycle he’d probably leak the story himself so he can look compassionate and accepting when welcoming me home with open arms.” She rolled her eyes. “Okay, jokes aside, I don’t want my dad involved for multiple reasons. I don’t think he’d turn Yala over, especially after what Yala did for me, but there are probably people on his staff that would and uh…” She sighed. “I don’t want him to stick his neck out and have someone start asking questions and asking what he’s hiding and using it to fuck things up and have that neo-nazi ‘family values’ jackass beat him in the next running.”
“Oh, god, no.” Natalya tilted her head. “Maybe we should ask Yala to eat that guy.”
“Jeez, Nat.” Adele stared at her. “I thought you liked Yala.”
Yalathanil leaned his head back, enjoying the feeling of Greg’s beard brushing against his skin as the man gently nibbled his neck. Then he concentrated, and heard Greg give a low moan as the gentle electricity of the biofeedback transfered through the fingers he traced over Greg’s back. “If I were human, what would you do next?” He reached a hand up, enjoying the feel of the fri… hair brushing through his fingers. Greg’s body was noticeably warmer than his own. It made for a pleasant feeling.
Greg laughed. “If you were human, I’d be worried about the fact that you taste weird.” He lifted his head. “I mean, you don’t taste bad, or anything…” He leaned down again to gently lick Yalathanil’s shoulder. “Just different.” He set his head on his hand. “And not fishy, which is a little surprising itself.”
“You taste saltier than I would have expected.” He brushed his hand over Greg’s chest, then experimentally leaned forward to run his tongue around a nipple. “And those don’t taste different. Odd.”
“This is the strangest evening I have ever had and that includes the time I was talked into trying peyote.” Greg shifted to lay next to him. “If I were one of your people, what would you do next?”
He considered the question a moment, then lunged to pin Greg to the bed beneath him. The man gave him a startled look a moment before Yalathanil sank his teeth into Greg’s shoulder. He stopped well short of drawing blood, then traced his tongue up to nibble Greg’s ear briefly. “I would stake my claim. I do not have the right words. You are…” He leaned down to taste Greg’s lips again, and smiled. “Beings like you are not found easily. I would mark you mine.”
“I have…” Greg looked at where Yalathanil was pinning his wrists. “I’ve been with quite a few. Never with anybody strong enough to throw me down on the bed and…” He laughed a little. “Kind of starting to understand why some folks like it.”
“You like that I am stronger than you?” Yalathanil raised an eyebrow.
“I don’t know. It’s weird. You’re weird. I’m weird. This hotel is weird.” Greg smiled up at him. “If you were human, I’d uh…” He exhaled. “Well, if you were human, I’d reverse this hold, flip you over, pin you to the bed, and give you the best fuck of your life.”
“Would you?” Yalathanil smiled.
“I mean, if you were human.” Greg shrugged.
“But since I am not…” He looked at where his hands were gripping Greg’s wrist. “Let’s see…” He shifted, and a heartbeat later had Greg face down. “Next was what, pin you to the bed?” He traced his teeth over Greg’s shoulder again.
“Yeah…” Greg was panting slightly.
“Mmmm…” Yalathanil leaned to whisper in his ear. “How am I doing on that part?”
“Oh, don’t stop now…” Greg smiled.