Simone woke up with a throbbing headache and lurching stomach. It took an attempt to rub his temples to realize that his arms wouldn't move, nor would his legs. His eyelids opened in slits and were greeted by a view of a rough wooden deck and glossy leather shoes.

"I'm disappointed in you, Simone," said a low gravelly voice that he knew too well, the voice of his Boss. "You betrayed our family for a piece of ass. I thought better of you than that."

Betrayed...? He wanted to ask, but his throat was too dry to work. His mind scrambled frantically to piece together the meaning of those sentences. Something finally clicked, and his eyes widened in realization. Oh, dammit, Lucian! He'd been had. The sweet-faced young man that had shared his bed-that had been so interested in joining his family-was a plant.

His outrage was only outshone by his fear of exactly what was happening. The Boss stared down at him impassively, and nudged Simone onto his back with his toe. The dull clank of metal told the bound mafioso that chains were the reason why he couldn't move. He stared at his Boss's face, briefly silhouetted before the light of a passing airship that cruised overhead in the black sky.

"Nothing to say for yourself, Simone?" he asked, then waited for an answer. He couldn't bring himself to speak in his own defense. He had fucked up, badly, and he knew it as well as his Boss did. Nothing he could say would be enough to placate the family. He knew his Boss wasn't needlessly cruel, though. Simone was certain that he genuinely wanted an excuse that would let his soldier off the hook.

Unfortunately, there was none.

Simone heard him heave a small sigh. "You'll be sleeping with the fishes tonight, then." The Boss stepped back, glancing at the men flanking him. "Toss him over, boys." He turned his back on the condemned mafioso.

"W-Wait-" His words went unheeded as Simone was unceremoniously heaved over the side of the boat. Bubbles rushed past his ears as he sank, and he instinctively shut his mouth tightly to conserve what little, precious air that he had.

He tried to struggle free, but the chains held his arms tightly to his sides and dragged him deeper into the watery abyss. His chest burned with the scream that he couldn't release.

And as his vision darkened, he caught of flash of silver green.

Nileas swam hurriedly through the dark waters, cursing at himself inwardly. He grudgingly admitted to himself that he was lost. The currents in this area were too different from his old home, before it was overtaken by the curse that killed his tribe a few weeks back. The black sludge had suffocated many of his people, and many more had gotten sick and died on the journey to their new home. As it was, with his father and older brothers gone, Nileas found himself in the uncomfortable and unfortunate leader of a handful of unhappy merfolk.

He thought unhappily of how his aunt Liril was going to harp on him for getting lost, as she did for practically everything these days. He was the leader, he should know better than to get lost in new territory. It didn't matter that he was looking for food to scavenge for the surviving young ones, or getting scope of the other creatures that were in these waters. He needed to be perfect, like his father was.

A few of the landmarks were starting to look familiar now. He was pretty sure he explored the cave to the right once before. Spirits brighter, he swam more confidently. Maybe he wasn't as late as he thought, maybe he could pass it off as something other than getting lost. If he could frame it as a reasonably leader-like thing to do, just maybe Liril wouldn't harp on him as much.

Swerving to the side, Nileas narrowly avoided being hit from above by an object. Drawn to the glint of metal, he swam to the descending shape to discover that it was a human wrapped in a tarp and chains, one who looked like he was about to release the precious air that kept him alive. Driven not to witness yet another death, he grabbed the surface-dweller's and pressed his blue-tinged lips against his own, his gills flaring.

He couldn't keep breathing for two up for very long, he knew. Nileas tugged the end of the chain loose and let it spiral down onto the seafloor. The human moved, and for a moment he thought he was going to push away or struggle, but he only clung to him, his arms curling around Nileas's shoulder. He wrapped his own arm around the man's waist and took him into the nearby cave. It was a bit difficult navigating, but Nileas managed to reach the open area in the rocky network that he had in mind. He dragged the human onto a stoney shelf, into shallow water before he broke off his life-giving kiss. The human gasped, breathing in the stale air of the air pocket. He let go of Nileas and lay there, taking deep breaths, eyes unfocused.

Nileas took this chance to study the human up close, having never been this close to one. From the waist up, he much resembled merfolk, just scaleless and oddly colored, particularly his striking ink black hair. He was covered in cloth that was a dark grey with thin stripes of white going down his body. Nileas fingered it curiously. Although the clothing restricted movement, he did rather like the look of it. Actually, he liked the look of the human himself, exotic and beautiful. Otherworldly.

Wondering just how much humans resembled humans, he ran his hand down the man's stomach and pressed curiously between his legs. The human gasped, eyes wide, as he hardened underneath the cool hand. He said something in the clumsy language of humans, sounding like a demand. Deciding to take it to mean the human wanted him to continue, Nileas rubbed him through the cloth, nipping at his collar bone. Groaning, the human bucked underneath him as he slid his hands into the pinstripe pants to grip him more firmly. Hands came up to grip his shoulders, nails digging into his scales.

Nileas kissed the human again hungrily as he stroked him roughly, delighting in the warmth that was so different from his own people. His other hand explored underneath the shirt, fascinated by the unscaled, pale skin. He nipped the man's lips, letting out a soft trill as he ground against him. Beneath him, the man stiffened with a muffled cry as he came. Nileas withdrew his hand and nuzzled his neck. The human spoke again, what sounded like a question.

"Ah, I wish I could know what you're saying," Nileas sighed. He would've liked to take things a bit further with this fascinating creature, but he was already late enough. He slid off of him, back into deeper water. "I'll come back for you, but I need to get this to my camp." He desperately wished he could reassure the human in his own language, but that was a barrier he could not breach yet. With a splash, Nileas dove back into the still, clear waters of the cave.

He turned a corner and was met with the flat, dispassionate stare of yellow eyes.

"You are trespassing, mer," hissed a sibilant voice through needle-thin teeth. "This is my home, and even though you may take over the land outside, this cave is mine." He glided down from the hole he was ensconced in, above the waist was a lanky, angular build with sharp elfin features. Below was the smooth, sinuous structure of an eel. He circled around Nileas.

"I'm sorry, I didn't realize," Nileas said apologetically. "I'll leave you in peace once I take the human I rescued back to the surface."

A flicker of interest entered those cold eyes. "A human? Why did you rescue a surface-dweller?" His voice was still flat and cold, more of a demand than a question.

Nileas shrugged slightly. "I have seen enough death in this passing phase. If I can prevent one, then I will. I'm sure it may sound odd to an ithae." He shifted uncomfortably at the his mannerisms, not quite sure what to expect of this creature.

"You may call me Isqa," he said boredly. "I broke ties with the ithae long ago. They do not look kindly on users of magic. Unlike your people, we are a warrior race."

"Ah...very well...Isqa," he stammered. "I apologize if I offended you."

He waved a dismissive hand, looking Nileas over with disinterest. His eyes narrowed slightly as they fell upon the leadership conch strapped to the merman's side. Leveling his unsettling gaze on him again, Isqa smiled sharply. "I have made my decision. You may come and go as you please, mer. But do get rid of the human before it dirties my home."

"Thank you...Isqa," Nileas said sincerely. He smiled. "I'll get the human back where he belongs as soon as possible. Thank you again for your hospitality." He swam down the tunnel, disappearing into the darkness.

Isqa watched him leave, his narrow yellow eyes contemplating.