title: blood and water
fandom: Free!
characters/pairings: Makoto/Rin, their families, Haru
rating: Teen
warnings: mersex
summary: Rin and Makoto won't be deterred by any boundaries.
notes: for Nova, for her birthday, because she is awesome and she makes free!dom better just by hanging out and being there. ♥♥!! also fulfills the trust and vows square for my trope bingo card.

Rin opened the bottom drawer, and roughly sifted through the contents. He ground his teeth together until he finally found it, and then he beamed. He straightened up and went to his mother's polished glass. He tied the leather cord with the tooth pendant around his neck, and then he messed with his hair, trying to get those two strands in the front to flow just right.

"Does mom know you're taking that?"

"Shut it," Rin huffed, running his fingers through his hair one last time.

Gou huffed, drifting in the doorway to their mother's room. "You shouldn't just take things," she sullenly told him.

He stuck his tongue out at her, gave one thrust of his tail to zoom over to her, and then he smirked. "Mom said this was mine right after dad died. So what difference does it make if I take it?"

Gou's eyes were on the tooth on Rin's chest. "And you're planning on keeping it?"

"Eh?" Rin frowned.

His sister looked him in the eye. "You're going to go see him again, aren't you? Are you going to give that to him? ...Even though dad was eaten by an orca..."

"Not a merorca," Rin huffed. "Anyway, are you thinking Makoto's going to gobble me up? Because you've met Makoto so you know how ridiculous that sounds. He doesn't even like eating squid because he says they're so smart."

Gou rolled her eyes, and rolled away from him. "I know that. I know that! But... I was so happy when you came back, and you made friends with everyone again! Don't get me wrong, I like Makoto-senpai! A lot! Who doesn't? But..." She looked at him with sad eyes. "I like Haruka-senpai, too. And the two of them..."

"Yes, yes, they've known each other since forever," Rin rolled his eyes. He moved to swim past his sister. "So what?"

"I mean...! There's a difference, Rin! I like them, but they're both cetaceans! And we're lamniformes."

"So it's ok to be friends with them, but nothing more?" Rin asked her, still swimming. He was feeling irked, but he didn't want to just blow his sister off.

"I'm not saying that! Exactly!" Gou kicked her tail hard and pushed forward, grabbing Rin's arm. "Oniichan, I just don't want you to get hurt! Are you sure... are you sure Makoto-senpai feels the same way you do? Because... Hana-chan told me that her sister's friend who is in class with them said that they became vowed to each other in middle school."

Rin narrowed his eyes. He didn't like to admit that hearing that rattled him. Since he'd come back from his migration, he'd avoided the topic of time lost as much as possible, but. "That's not true."

"Are you sure?" Gou squeezed his arm. "I know Makoto-senpai would never... cheat on Haruka-senpai, or anything like that, but... what if he just doesn't realize how you feel? Or..." she bit her lip and looked down. "He can be a flirt. I don't think he even knows! What if... he sees his relationship with you entirely differently that you see it? I just think... I mean, I'm only thinking about you, oniichan. It can't be denied. Cetaceans are just different. So. Please," she put her hand on their father's tooth. "Don't get in to too deep waters, ok? There's no need to rush, right?" she smiled at him.

He put his hand over hers. She didn't need to tell him these things; he was already afraid of it all on his own. Did Makoto really feel the way he did, or was he just going with the currents? If Makoto had to choose, would he pick Rin? Or would he always and forever choose Haru? Had he already chosen Haru, and was that why it didn't occur to him that he was doing anything other than playing around with Rin? Rin pushed Gou's hand away. "I'm going to be just fine," he smirked at her, showing off his teeth.

He'd fake it until he made sure it was true.

Gou pouted cutely. "You know this isn't a good idea. That's why you're always sneaking off to see him. You've never told mom you're seeing a merorca. You're afraid of what she'll say. That's proof that you know this is a bad idea!"

He smiled kindly and leaned in to kiss her cheek. "Don't hold dinner for me, I'll be out. Be good, Gou!" He tweaked her dorsal fin, and then swam off.

"Just be careful!" she called out to him as he left the house.

He wasn't going to lose to Haru. Not to anyone!

Not when it mattered so much!




Makoto wiggled his tail, heading to the door, but then he arched his back and headed backward, remembering something. He went to his room, and from under his bed, he got out a box, and found inside it a little bracelet of pearls and small stones. He slipped it on, and then smiled goofily to himself. It had been a gift...

"Oniichan!" Ran zoomed straight into him, grabbing him by the dorsal fin. Ren zoomed behind her, slower but just as determined. He latched onto Makoto's tail. "Oniichan, are you going out with Haru-niichan? Can we go, too? I want fish whips!"

"Me, too!" Ren chimed in, wrapping his little arms around his big brother's tail.

"You two..." Makoto smiled affectionately. They made it difficult for him to move, though... He patted their foreheads, trying to pry them off. "We got fish whips yesterday, don't be greedy! Anyway, I'm not going out with Haru tonight. I'm... meeting another friend."

"Noooo," Ran cried. "You're going to see that shark again! Oniichan, sharks are scary! They eat merpeople!"

"Rin is a mershark," Makoto explained patiently. "And he would never eat a merperson."

"He has scary teeth," Ren pouted.

"He's a fish person!" Ran protested.

"That's racist," Makoto told her sternly. "I don't ever want to hear you using such language again. He's a person, that's all that matters."

"He's not like us," Ran persisted petulantly.

"He's scary and mean," Ren sniffled.

"He is not," Makoto sighed. "You two just give him a hard time so he gives you a hard time," which Makoto wished he wouldn't do, but.

"You already have Haru. Why do you need anyone else?" Ran asked him, mimicking Ren's sniffles.

Makoto kept an even expression on his face. "Most people do have more than one friend, Ran. I'm also friends with Nagisa, and he's a bird, technically, and Rei, and he doesn't even live in the ocean."

"But..." Ran started.

Makoto wriggled and got free of their embraces. He ruffled Ren's hair and smiled kindly at them. "You two are so dramatic! What are you so afraid of?"

"He's going to take you away," Ren sighed, his chin almost to his chest.

Makoto gently raised his chin and kissed his forehead. Then, he ruffled Ran's hair, too. "That's not true. That would never be true. I'm your older brother. That will never change."

Ran and Ren looked at each other distrustfully.

"I'm going out now. Behave for mom, ok?" he asked them.

Ran surged forward, grabbing Makoto's arm. "But! You never bring that shark here! So, you know he's not really like us! Otherwise, you'd bring him home like you bring Haru-niichan home!"

Makoto shook his head and slipped his arm out from her grip. "I don't... not bring him home. And his name is Rin, and mom and dad know him. Promise me you'll behave?" he asked them.

"I promise," Ren said quietly, so Ran had no choice.

Still, she stuck out her bottom lip and looked away, "Yeah, I promise."

Laughing, he ruffled both their hair, and then he took off.

He should have known that they were only the first wave, though.

"You're going to see him again?"

Makoto changed directions, turning to face Haru, who was lurking in the rocks. "Well, yes. ...Did you... want to come, too?"

"No," Haru looked away, scowling. For a moment, it looked like he wouldn't say anything else, but Makoto just drifted closer and closer to him, giving him a chance to speak. "You can't trust him, you know."

Makoto's heart dropped. "Haru, we've talked about this..."

"He broke his promise!" Haru looked at Makoto fiercely. "In grade school, he promised us both! All sorts of things! And then he just... up and migrated!"

"It wasn't quite like that," Makoto started, but Haru moved forward and touched Makoto's wrist.

Touched his bracelet.

"He did this before. He'll do this again. How romantic! he says, but he does what he wants, when he wants, without thinking of anyone else," Haru insisted. "You can't trust him."

"That doesn't make any difference," Makoto said calmly, though he didn't feel so calm. Was there a chance that Rin wasn't serious? Sure, of course. Maybe he was just saying things because it was how he felt at the moment, but in another moment, he'd feel completely differently. Makoto was aware of that. "It doesn't change how I feel."

Haru flinched, but he tightened his grip on Makoto's wrist. "Why do you need him, anyway? You have me. Why isn't that enough?"

Makoto's head felt it had dropped to the dark waters beneath while his stomach rose to the surface. "We're not really talking about the same thing, though. Are we?" He pulled his hand away from Haru and ignored the hurt look on Haru's face as he turned away. "I'm keeping him waiting..."

"You know, he only made friends with you before to get to me," Haru shot out. It was a good shot. "You can't trust him. Whatever it is that he really wants... he's just using you."

Makoto looked back at Haru while continuing to drift away. A million thoughts went through his head, but he didn't want to say something that would hurt Haru as much as Haru just hurt him. "That still doesn't change how I feel," Makoto replied, finally. Then, he turned his head and pushed his tail down hard, swimming away fast.




By the time Makoto finally arrived at the place they'd arranged, Rin had been waiting for ages, swimming in circles. Rin zipped right up to Makoto before the merorca could even call out..

"You're late!" he accused, grabbing a hold of Makoto's wrists.

Makoto flushed. "A-am I?"

"I-I don't know, but I got here a long time ago" Rin replied, his cheeks burning.

Makoto smiled brightly. "Sorry, then, Rin! I got held up, first by Ran and Ren, then Haru."

"You were with that guy, huh?" Rin asked, trying to swallow down his jealousy and... suspicion? But Gou was wrong about Makoto. She had to be.

"Well, not really with him," Makoto shrugged. "We just... ran into each other."

Of course, because Makoto and Haru lived practically in the same dwelling. Rin huffed. "Whatever, whatever. You were the one who set the time, anyway. Was there someplace special you wanted to go, or...?"

"Oh! Right! We'd better hurry!" Makoto grinned, and then he tried to pull Rin along with him as he swam off.

"Where are we going?" Rin asked, feeling cranky. "And why do we have to hurry?"

Makoto gave Rin that look, that damned look that made Rin wonder just what Makoto had been up to while he'd been migrating. "We won't have to hurry, per se. Not if you can keep up." He winked then, damn it, and took off, but he was still holding Rin's hand, and anyway, what made him think Rin couldn't keep up!? So what if Makoto was a little bigger, Rin was more hydrodynamic! Rin gave two strong kicks of his tail and then he was minutely ahead of Makoto, but then he let up, because, after all, it was Makoto who knew where they were going, not Rin!

They swam for a while, and Makoto was laughing and Rin forgot about how Gou thought Makoto was already vowed and about how he had waited and worried. He forgot about everything except how good it felt to swim as fast as he could and how Makoto was holding his hand and how Makoto was wearing the bracelet he'd made for him.

And about how Makoto's tail was nice and wide and his shoulders were broad and his chest was strong and comfortable and...

Makoto started to pull them up, and Rin took a moment to pay more attention to their surroundings. Weren't they close to the shoreline? That was a bad idea... the shore was where the boats and the nets and the humans were. In fact, they were definitely getting close to the surface, and above the surface, that was...

Air.

Rin turned a bit and slowed down, tugging hard on Makoto's hand. Makoto gave him an amused, questioning look. "Where are we going?"

"Don't you trust me?" Makoto teased.

Rin's heart pounded. "I... I didn't mean..."

Makoto laughed, and tugged on Rin's hand. "Don't worry, it's perfectly safe!"

"I'm not a damned cetacean, I don't have any use for air," Rin pouted, but he let Makoto drag him up.

"You're merfolk. A few mouthfuls of air won't kill you," Makoto patiently retorted.

They went up and up until they broke the surface and Makoto threw his head back, letting his hair whip around.

Rin grinned.

"Look, it's just about the right time," Makoto beamed.

He pointed away from the shore, but they were in an inlet. The water was calm and almost still, gently rippling toward the shore. There was a rocky outcropping off in the distance, and the sky above them was huge, and it wasn't blue like water. It was orangey-pink, with streaks of other colors.

Makoto slipped right next to him, and put an arm around Rin, just under his dorsal fin. "Haru said it's called sunset. After this, we'll be able to see stars in the sky. And the moon will get bright! And look... it makes the water look like the same color, right?"

Rin subtly tried to push himself even closer to Makoto. He smiled, flicking his tail back and forth to intermittently brush against Makoto's tail. "Yeah, it's not bad." He looked at Makoto and he couldn't help smiling back, because he knew Makoto could see right through him. Sometimes, that annoyed him, but sometimes, like now, it felt good. Safe. "You come up here much?"

Makoto shrugged, and his skin rubbed against Rin's as he did. "Not that often, really. When we were younger..." He closed his mouth purposefully, like he'd thought better of what he was going to say. Then he looked at Rin, and Rin couldn't help but feel excited by the green of Makoto's eyes. "Well, when we were younger, Haru used to like to come to the surface, so I would trail after him. He was fascinated by the land back then. I suppose he still is now, but... He used to say that he wanted to live on the land," Makoto laughed. "And I'd have nightmares about him going to some sea witch or something and having his tail ripped in half," he looked sheepishly at Rin, but Rin knew better. It had been a real fear to Makoto. Those terrible cautionary tales of their youth of merfolk who got their tails ripped in half and were ejected from the sea... they were make-believe, but they taught a valuable lesson about being cautious around landfolk.

Makoto had been afraid of losing Haru. Maybe more than any other fear of his young life.

Rin put his hand on Makoto's face and pulled him close to kiss him, digging his fingers in behind Makoto's ear.

If Makoto thought he was being rough, then, well, Makoto must have liked it rough, because he pulled Rin in closer, and deepened the kiss. Rin grabbed a hold of Makoto, his arms circling Makoto's neck, and he bit down on Makoto's lip. He didn't make Makoto bleed, though, and when he opened his eyes, Makoto was looking at him with such...

That was...

"You used to come here with Haru, then? Did you kiss him, too?" Rin blurted out before he could think. As soon as he heard himself, he wanted to just sink into the dark waters beneath. He didn't want to know!

But he did want to know...

Makoto blinked, and then he looked... sad? "Would it bother you if we did? Would you be jealous? Are you... thinking about Haru?"

"Y-you're the one who brought him up!" Rin accused.

"I know, but that's..." Makoto sighed. He turned a bit, turning Rin in his arms. "Look."

The sky had turned bluish-purplish-black while they'd been kissing, and the stars, looking like sparkling water, were slowing revealing themselves. The moon was bright, and it painted a swath of the surface of the water silver-white.

"This is what I wanted you to see," Makoto whispered, like the magic of the twilight might be broken by spoken words. "That's what I wanted to see with you, Rin." He looked at Rin and Rin looked at Makoto and at the sea, but then he had to look at Makoto. The darkness had bled away the colors, but that only made it feel like the emotions had been stripped naked, and Rin felt weak in the face of those eyes, that sweet face.

He wrapped his arms around Makoto again, and kissed him, deeply and needfully and desperately, bringing their bodies close together as they swayed in the tide together. He grabbed onto Makoto's hair as he sighed into Makoto's mouth. "I love you," he promised.

Makoto shivered from head to tail, and then he tightened his arms around Rin. "I-I love you, too!" he swore quickly, anxious to make Rin know.

Rin smiled, and rubbed his nose against Makoto's. "I am jealous of Haru. He gets so much of you. All that history together... sometimes, it drives me crazy," he admitted.

Makoto smiled, and just touched their lips together. "What are you talking about? Haru and I have only ever been... friends. You were the one who changed schools and borders to meet him. You were the one who... caused him to change."

"Has that guy ever really changed?" Rin asked, shaking his head. No, he knew that Haru had... changed, somehow. But. "He expects that you'll always be there for him. I feel like I'm racing against the tide to try to claim you."

"Rin..." Makoto exhaled, and he pulled Rin closer and they were kissing and spinning on the surface of the water, turning and turning as their embrace got more and more passionate, as his thoughts got more and more scattered. "There is no competition for me. No one for you to race against." Rin's expression must have indicated some doubt, because Makoto smiled, but his smile was... rueful? "There was once a time, I have to admit, when I thought... I even gathered up my courage and told Haru how I felt."

Rin's eyes widened and his jaw went slack. He knew it...!

"He told me that he didn't want that kind of relationship. He just wanted to stay as friends," Makoto said quietly, but Rin could still hear the pain.

"That asshole," he scowled. If Makoto... really wanted Haru... then Haru would have to be a complete moron not to want him back!

"No, it was fine," Makoto assured him. "It was hard, at first... but we were still young. This was only just after you left to migrate. And I didn't want to stop being friends with Haru any more than he wanted things to change. So I just... got over those feelings, gradually. Mm, or more like... I got used to the idea that we'd always just be friends, and then eventually, I felt relieved."

Rin gave Makoto a look. Relieved? Even someone as nice as Makoto would never feel happy about being rejected.

"If we'd tried to be boyfriends back then, we would have failed, and ended up broken up, and then we probably couldn't have been friends at all. We're older now, and I don't feel that way about Haru anymore. I'm just happy to have him in my life. The person who I have those feelings for..." Makoto's eyes appeared darker, and he moved in close to Rin, sliding his hand down Rin's flank. Into Rin's ear, Makoto whispered, "You know who that is, right?"

Rin grabbed onto Makoto's dorsal fin, digging his fingernails in. He was feeling dizzy, and hungry. Like a deep, powerful thirst, and he needed to quench it... "Makoto," he said, his tongue heavy and thick in his mouth. He ran his hands up Makoto's sides, and then down his arms. He took Makoto's hands, and smiled sexily at Makoto. "C'mon. Let's go somewhere..." He licked his lips.

They dove back under the water. He led them, but as they swam, he'd run his body against Makoto's, and then he let Makoto get ahead of him so he could do it again, and again. They were both getting aroused, though Makoto had a nearly impossible time hiding his erection, it was so huge. Rin's own forked dick was demanding attention, though.

He got them to that place, and on the soft bottom of the water, they began their dance. Makoto touched the tooth on Rin's chest, and he kissed Rin's neck and his collarbone and his nipple. Makoto's tail softly buffeted Rin's tail. Rin circled around Makoto, rubbing their bodies together. He tweaked Makoto's nipples and sank his teeth into Makoto's fin.

The water and the sand churned and swirled around them.

When they had both climaxed and they were able to catch their breath again, Makoto had his forehead against Rin's, and they were just looking at each other. It might have been a delusion of their physical closeness, but Rin believed in Makoto, believed in his feelings and his intentions, believed he understood Makoto as well as he needed to, and Makoto understood him. In those moments, they were perfectly in sync.

They were perfectly in love.

Rin grinned, and grazed his fingernails down Makoto's chest. "You can't get enough of me," he purred.

Makoto smirked. "Of course not. I never will."

That was a promise, and Rin believed in him.

"Then... let me show you around," he suggestively said, moving his hands back up Makoto's chest. But... then he kicked up, and took Makoto's hand. He pulled him along, letting Makoto see the place they'd stopped to mate.

He looked at Makoto, and raised his eyebrow.

Makoto looked around, and laughed. "Well... yes? This is nice... and fortunately secluded, because I wasn't paying any attention when we landed..."

"I was," Rin said quietly. He looked up. The moon above was still making the water silvery-white, and the eerie, dreamy glow it cast down below made everything seem otherworldly. "I don't really remember my father... But I do remember... holding his hand." He squeezed Makoto's hand. "And him bringing me here. This was our hideaway. A boys only zone," he chuckled to himself, and looked shyly at Makoto.

The way Makoto was looking at him...

Rin continued, feeling stronger. "After he was gone... I would still come here. Just... you know, to think, or to thrash about, or scream... whatever I needed. This was our secret place. It was my sanctuary."

"Rin..." Makoto said, but he was getting choked up.

Rin let go of Makoto's hand, and he reached up and untied the leather cord and then swooped around to put the cord around Makoto's neck, tying it off. He went back around Makoto's front, and touched the tooth on Makoto's chest. "Perfect," he smiled.

"No, this is... this is your father's!" Makoto objected, choked with emotion. "I... this is... I can't take this from you..."

"You aren't," Rin smiled, and he knew it was going to be fine. "You're wearing it for me. Because..." swooped back around Makoto and hugged him from the back, Rin's flank brushing against Makoto's dorsal fin. "You are my sanctuary now," he whispered.

"Rin!" Makoto turned, and he was probably crying, the big baby. Or maybe Rin was, but either way, they were kissing again, and everything made sense and everything was perfect. It would never be more perfect.

Rin pulled back and touched Makoto's face. "Makoto... let's go to the sea-god's shrine tomorrow. Let's go first thing in the morning! Let's make our vows to each other."

"Wh-" Makoto flushed. "T-tomorrow? But... why... I mean, tomorrow morning?"

"We could go tonight, but it's already late," Rin shrugged. "And why wait? We both know this is right," he said, putting his hand on Makoto's heart. Makoto immediately covered Rin's hand with his own. "You belong to me. And I belong to you. We should make it known."

"But... our families... and..." Makoto's hand was on Rin's waist, and he wasn't so much disagreeing with Rin as he was still processing.

"Our families don't need to be there," Rin reasoned. "We can explain it to them afterward. Once the sea-god has given blessings." Gou disapproved. She didn't believe Makoto loved Rin. And she was right, Rin hadn't told his mother, not because he actually thought she would object as much as he was afraid she'd be disappointed. Makoto's little siblings were brainwashed by Haru into thinking Rin was scary. And then there was Haru... Rin wasn't sure how Makoto's parents would feel about it, but...

"Will the sea-god accept us? Merfolk are merfolk, but... cetaceans and lamniformes... has it ever happened before?" Makoto asked, anxious.

"Who cares?" Rin smiled, and kissed Makoto, nipped at his nose. "Do you honestly believe that this isn't right? That the sea-god will object?"

Slowly, Makoto started to smile, and then he swooped Rin into his arms, and they were kissing again, and their tails were brushing against each other again. "This is crazy. You're crazy. But you're right. This is right.

"Let's make our vows."




He overslept.

It wasn't entirely his fault, because waking up was hard and he was waking up so soon after going to bed, but he felt frantic as he was leaving. He didn't even have to do anything! He was still wearing the tooth Rin had given him... He touched it as he left his room and slipped out. He was almost at the entryway when he heard a soft voice.

"Oniichan?"

He turned, grateful that it was Ren and not Ran or his mother. "Hey, Ren. Why are you up? Go back to sleep."

"I had a weird dream," Ren sighed. He frowned. "Where are you going? What time is it?" Ren's tail flicked nervously, and he looked back at his room, like maybe he had to go get Ran.

Makoto scooted over to him, and rubbed his hair sweetly. "Don't worry. It's... I just have something to do. Go back to bed. Everything is fine." Ren was looking at him distrustfully so Makoto leaned down and kissed his forehead. "I promise you, everything is fine."

Ren blinked, and smiled up at his brother. "Oh... ok... well... but, you should be in bed, too. You were out until late."

Makoto flushed, and gave his little brother a noogie. "It's fine, it's fine, now be a good boy and go to sleep!"

"Ok, ok," Ren giggled, and he smiled at his brother.

Makoto felt guilty, and he felt even guiltier when he checked to be sure they hadn't stirred their parents. He went outside and headed toward the sea-god's shrine.

He had thought last night about going to see Haru to tell him their plans. He thought about it again, lingering near Haru's dwelling. But... No, Rin was right.

They could explain it afterward. Somehow.

Makoto kicked hard with his tail, and zoomed off. He was definitely running late, and he didn't want to keep Rin waiting...

Not on the day they were making their vows.

He got to the sea-god's shrine out of breath, but thankful that he'd managed top speed, because Rin wasn't there yet. Makoto hadn't caught his breath, though, before Rin showed up. At first, they didn't say a word, just... touching each other, looking into each other's eyes. Rin touched the tooth on Makoto's chest, and Makoto pressed their foreheads together. Rin smiled at him, and took his hand.

"Are you ready?"

"Yes, absolutely," Makoto smiled.

They went up to the entrance.

Inside, there were brightly colored shells and small bioluminescent fish drifted to and fro near the shells. They went in through the vestibule, and then down the tunnel in the center of the floor, holding hands tightly as they kicked and kicked to get down as quickly as possible. At the bottom, there were only a few circling electric eels, sending out flashing sparks of power. Rin and Makoto held close together. It was dark down there, but in the center of the floor was a small red pit, which glowed steadily.

"Awfully early, aren't we?" someone spoke, yawning. "For what purpose do you come here, children?"

At the sound of the voice, the bioluminescent algae on the cave walls woke up and started to glow, turning the whole cavern magically blue. At the far end of the cave, the High Priest, the vessel for the sea-god, reclined. He could take on many forms, but that morning he'd chosen to appear mainly human, with legs even, but his skin was as white as the inside of a shell and it had the texture of a turtle's skin. There were red lines running down his arms and legs, and over his chest. His mane of white hair floated all around him, almost as long as he was.

Makoto immediately held his hands together in the penitent posture, and he bowed his head. "We apologize for disturbing you, Great One, but we desire to speak our vows."

Rin nervously looked at Makoto, and then copied his gestures and posture.

"Oho?" the High Priest sat up, stretching. The blue light in the cavern got more intense, as did the red light from the pit in the center. "You two? To each other?"

"That's right," Rin said boldly, glaring at the High Priest. Makoto quickly made a face and gestured at Rin, and Rin straightened up and bowed his head. "W-with your permission, of course..."

The High Priest chuckled, and stood up, pushing off with his webbed foot to come closer to them. "A vow you make in this holy place before the vessel of the sea-god is a vow that can never be broken. Are you sure you are ready to make such a vow?"

"We are," the both said in unison, and then they nervously smiled at each other.

The High Priest rubbed his chin. "A cetacean and a lamniforme... it's not completely unheard of. But you came here alone. What if your family rejects you? What shall you do?"

"We'll be able to manage," Rin said surely. "We have a place to live. We're both good hunters. We can navigate the currents. I am his and he is mine. We will be together for our lives, no matter what."

Makoto was moved by how confident Rin sounded. Makoto knew that Rin was prone to boasting, but, this time, he just sounded like he was stating a fact. "We're merfolk. We're not that different," Makoto added affectionately.

The High Priest chucked and smirked, but he didn't appear opposed. "Hold out your hands." They did as instructed, and he held his hand out, his fingers straight and tight together. He hardened his nails, and then swiped across their palms, leaving a clean, thin, red mark in the center of their palms. They both looked at the mark, thinking of their parents and the scar their vows left on their hands. "All right. Face each other here, over the pit, and hold hands.

"This red spot here is a scar left by the sea-god on the floor of the sea. The joined blood you spill here will carve your words eternally on your souls. This is your last chance to reconsider. When you're ready, make your vows."

They squeezed their hands together. The water above the sea-god's scar seemed to churn and swirl, coming up to meet their hands and then go back down to the floor again. Carrying their blood down. Rin smiled wolfishly at Makoto, and Makoto felt certain.

Rin began. "I, Matsuoka Rin, vow to you, Tachibana Makoto, that I shall cherish and adore you for as long as I shall exist. I vow my life to you, and I vow that I shall honor and respect the life you give to me."

Makoto's bottom lip trembled, and he just held Rin's hand tighter and tighter, until he was afraid he was going to hurt Rin, but he just couldn't help himself. "I, Tachibana Makoto, vow to you, Matsuoka Rin, that I shall cherish and adore you for as long as I shall exist. I vow my life to you, and I vow that I shall honor and respect the life you give to me."

The scar beneath them burned brighter, and then red bubbles spewed up in double-helix arcs which burst and diffused just before they reached Rin and Makoto's hands.

"The sea-god has observed your vows and accepted them. Your words are now eternally scribed onto your souls. This vow you have made can never be broken."

Rin and Makoto smiled at each other, and then leaned forward to kiss each other.

"All right, all right," the High Priest sighed, rubbing the back of his head. "Damned horny teenagers. Ok... let's see..." He went back to the end where they'd found him napping when they'd first arrived. He reached into a cubby that was too dark to see into and pulled out a small stone bowl. He brought it to the sea-god's scar, and put it down on the red. The stone flared up, and a thick black liquid inside churned a bit. "Ok, so this is what you use to make your marks. You can put them anywhere you like, but you must both apply the marks at the same time, so. You know. Oh, and don't get too cutesy or too involved. That's not a rule or anything, it's just good advice."

Makoto flushed. "I forgot about this part..." he said to Rin quietly. "I'm not very good at drawing."

"Just do something simple," Rin winked at him. "Just try to keep it neat."

They each picked up a small stone stick from the bowl. The stick had a sharp, pointed end, and it was covered in the black liquid. Without needing to talk about it, they each took each other's left arm, and prepared to carve their marks on each other's left arm right at the shoulder.

Makoto made one thick, sideways V mark, and then put a much smaller one inside of it. It gave the impression of swimming fast, he felt, and he could make it easily. Under that, he wrote the character for 'life' in the ancient text, which looked like a a bird in the sky from far away, with a dot in the center. He looked to see how Rin was doing, and Rin winked at him, so they both pulled away together. Makoto checked his arm as Rin checked his.

"Congratulations, you are now vowed to each other. Get out, I'm going back to bed," the High Priest yawned.

"Thank you, sir!" Makoto beamed. Rin even bowed to him a bit, but the High Priest didn't care. He was already curling up in the far end, and the algae were already going dark.

Rin and Makoto took each other's hand, and they headed back up the tunnel out of the cave to the shrine above.

When they got to the top, Rin let go and spun around. "We... did it!" he laughed. Makoto had to laugh, too, because despite what they'd just done, Rin was acting like a kid. A cute kid, even. Rin grinned, showing off his teeth. "We did it! And now... everyone will know you're taken!" Rin smirked, running his hand up Makoto's arms. Touching his mark...

Makoto smiled, and put his hands at Rin's waist. "Were you that worried? I'm the one who should be sighing with relief. There aren't that many sharks as sexy as you, you know."

"Of course I know that," Rin boasted, and it was so endearing, Makoto had to kiss him, even though they were in a shrine. Before Rin got it too heated, though, Makoto pulled away.

"We should really say a prayer before we go," Makoto told him.

"What? Why? We already went through all that weird ritual crap," Rin pouted.

"I'd appreciate it if you didn't refer to our vowing ceremony as weird ritual crap ever again," Makoto sighed. He went over to the prayer wall, and put his hands together, bowing his head.

Sighing dramatically, Rin went to his side, and mimicked his gestures. After a moment, Rin leaned close to Makoto and whispered loudly, "I hate shrines."

"I'm starting to have second thoughts," Makoto teased him.

"Too late! It's already been written on your soul! You can't ever get rid of me!" Rin crowed.

Makoto rolled his eyes, and finished his prayers. He touched the wall, feeling very thankful. "All right. But. Now... what? How are we going to tell everyone?"

Rin looked sheepish, and edged away from Makoto. "Ah... I suppose we have to..."

"Well..." Makoto laughed, and pointed to his mark.

Rin beamed and touched his own mark. "Right, ok, so people can tell." He looked at his open palm, and the scar there that was now permanent. "But I have no idea how to tell anyone. Also, Gou saw me leaving this morning, so, uh..."

Makoto felt like a cold water current just passed over them. "Ah... Ren saw me, too. I think he just went back to bed, but..."

Rin smiled and shrugged at Makoto. "We have my dad's sanctuary? We can just live there... we'll be fine. One way or another."

Makoto considered the real possibility that his family would be angry with him and throw him out of the house. It was... a bleak thought that he couldn't really manage. He reached out, and Rin instantly took his hand. Makoto smiled at him. "One way or another," he repeated quietly.

"We're too late!"

Makoto and Rin turned to see Gou jetting away from the shrine door. They looked at each other and then jetted after her.

Sure enough, at the base of the shrine, Gou was meeting up with her mother, Ran, Ren, Makoto's mother and father, and Haru.

Makoto's heart dropped, and he kicked with his tail, going down to meet them. He squeezed Rin's hand as they got to the group.

"It's already done!" Gou said despondently. Makoto looked at her balefully. He knew that it was a strange combination, but he didn't expect Gou to be so overtly opposed...

"Let me see!" Makoto's mother burst forth, putting her hands on Makoto's shoulders. She turned him, looking at the mark Rin had made. "Aw, honey, look! It's like Rin-chan left a bite mark on Makoto's arm! Like he took a great big bite of Makoto," she smiled amused.

Makoto opened his mouth, but he was dumbfounded. He looked at Rin, but Rin didn't seem to understand either. "M-Mom? You're not... mad?"

She looked at him, pressing her lips together nervously. After a moment of holding back, she burst out, "Well, of course I think you are both too young! And I don't think you've fully grasped the difficulties people will make for you, vowing between orders and all! But... since you were both so anxious to jump right in... At least I could have watched! Oh, it's such a beautiful ceremony, don't you think?"

"The High Priest is weird," Rin complained, looking to his own mother.

She smirked, and drifted up to him, touching the mark Makoto made on his arm. "He's been like that always. You should have heard him bitching when your father and I made our vows. And I suppose I can't really complain... he and I were about your age when we vowed. Plus, we had you only a short time later," she ruffled Rin's hair.

"M-Mom!" Rin complained, aghast.

Gou and Ran snickered together.

Makoto's mother looked at his scar on his palm. "Don't you two think you're going to run off and live by yourself right away, either! You're going to finish your schooling and get decent trades! None of this... living like mercavemen off on your own off the fat of the sea and your own wits crap. I suppose... well, we could share them for a bit, right?" she looked at Rin's mom.

"Oh, I'm so glad you suggested that because I was thinking it!" Rin's mom gushed.

"Great! Oh, and let's have a big party tonight! Do you mind if we host it or would you rather we go someplace... neutral?" Makoto's mother asked.

"You can host as long as you let me help prepare," Rin's mom winked at her. They drifted together to start making plans.

"Oh, my gods, they're going to become best friends," Rin said to Makoto, horrified.

Makoto wanted to laugh, but he understood how Rin felt.

Haru came up to them, and wordlessly examined their marks, and then their hands. He glared at Rin for a moment, and then looked Makoto in the eye. "Happy?"

"Yeah... Haru, I really am happy," Makoto blushed.

Haru watched Makoto for a moment, and then he nodded curtly. He looked at Rin. "Well then. Congratulations. I'll eat your liver if you screw this up."

"No one is eating anyone's liver," Makoto sighed.

"I'm not going to screw anything up!" Rin glared at Haru.

"We'll see," Haru glared right back.

"Guys..." Makoto slumped his shoulders.

Ren came up to his side. "Oniichan. Are you mad? I... I had to tell someone..." he looked at Makoto fearfully.

Makoto beamed at his little brother and squeezed him. "No, Ren, of course not. You did the right thing. I should have been the one to tell them, but you did the right thing."

"Congratulations, oniichan!" Ren beamed.

"Congratulations!" Ran zoomed over, anxious not to be left out. "And congratulations to you, sharkboy! You're really lucky. Really, really lucky. So much luckier than you should be..."

"Hey, that's too much!" Rin scowled.

"That's right," Gou came up and hugged her brother. "Makoto-senpai is lucky, too."

"Yes, I am," Makoto took Rin's hand and smiled.

"Aw, man," Rin smiled at Makoto, and Makoto had a feeling that Rin was wishing they were alone so they could... consummate...

Makoto decided to ignore all the family, and he leaned in and kissed Rin, rubbing his nose against Rin's. He could hear their sisters cooing aww, but he decided to ignore that, too.

"Congratulations, Rin," Makoto said quietly, with a smile.

Rin beamed right back at him. "Congratulations, Makoto."








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