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Saltwater Melodies

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Viktor had no idea what he was doing here.

His best friend Christophe - semi-professional surfer, professional beach bum, and owner of a malfunctioning Zodiac - had invited Viktor to spend the afternoon with him buzzing around the nearby island and soaking up some sun before witnessing the solar eclipse, an event that hadn’t happened for SoCal in fifty-eight years.

For all intents and purposes, they were sticking to that plan until the aforementioned malfunctioning Zodiac had proceeded to sputter out and die only a few miles off the beaches of Islaluna, an uninhabited patch of land that had been designated as a state park. So, it had only made sense to paddle over to Islaluna and attempt to fix the motor. When that hadn’t worked, the next step was to try to call for help. Except for the fact that they were so far away from a cell tower that their smartphones were basically shiny paperweights.

“Come on a beach trip with me, he says,” Yuri kept grumbling, stabbing the sand with a stick he’d found. “It’ll be fun, he says. A day of relaxation, he says.”

It probably hadn’t been a good idea for them to drag Yuri Plisetsky, one of Viktor’s conservatory students, along with. It had taken a lot of coercion. Mila Babicheva had been easier, and even she was getting frustrated with their plight.

“Lighten up!” Chris laughed, and oh god he’d already lost his shirt. Yuri was glaring at the surfer, his lip curled in disdain as Chris leaned back on his makeshift bed.

“You’re supposed to be helping with the signal fire!” Yuri shouted, and Viktor and Mila winced as Chris shrugged.

“It’s already big enough,” he said, tapping his round sunglasses and nodding to the bonfire they had going. “Someone’s bound to see it sooner or later.”

“The eclipse is soon!” Yuri snapped, wringing his hands. “Do you seriously think the water police will be looking for signal fires when that happens?!”

“Viktor, tell short stack here to chill out~!”

“Why-- you--!

Viktor caught the blond teen by the collar of his sweat-soaked t-shirt and sighed. Being the eldest in the group meant he had to be the adult, right? “Yura, relax. The fire’s big enough, the smoke is going to be visible for miles. You did a good job.”

We did a good job,” Mila insisted, fanning herself with a palm frond. “I figured out how to light the thing.”

“Yes, yes, both of you.”

Yuri squinted up at them both, and his eyes glittered dangerously. “You know what would make it even bigger?” He wrenched himself out of Viktor’s grasp and sprinted away to Chris’s dead motorboat.

Viktor blinked and Chris sat up, eyebrows raised, as Yuri leaned over the side of the boat and rummaged around in the bottom. Then they both scrambled to their feet in alarm as Yuri hauled his armload of rum out of the cooler. Mila just laughed at them.

“What are you doing?!” Chris cried out as Yuri dropped his bounty on the merrily-crackling signal fire.

“I saw it in a movie,” Yuri answered smugly. “So there.”

“But… that was the good booze!”

“Oh no, what a hardship.”

Viktor let himself mourn the Bacardi, one of his sole indulgences for the week, before he sighed and retreated to the shade. His cheeks were already burning in the bright west coast sun. He didn’t want to think about the tan lines he’d be dealing with after that day.

Chris was still looking forlorn, but Yuri looked pleased with himself. And if Viktor was being honest with himself, the smoke was looking thicker and more plentiful.

Yuri joined Mila and Viktor under the palm tree, smirking, and leaned up against the trunk with his arms crossed.

“Good thing it’s the weekend, huh?” Viktor said aloud, and Yuri snorted.

“Yeah, just how I wanted to spend my Friday. Marooned on an abandoned island.” Yuri blew his hair out of his face and glared at the empty horizon. “I was going to hang out with Beka and do remixes with him today.”

Viktor winced. “Damn, I’m sorry.”

“And I can’t even text him because there’s no fucking signal out here!” Yuri exploded, kicking a tuft of sand up.

“That’s what I like about this place,” Chris offered. “I mean, sure, it’s a drag when it comes to updating Instagram, but as long as I’ve got battery and memory space, I can always upload when I get home!”

“Not helping,” Mila sing-songed as Yuri went scarlet. “Not that anyone cares, but I did want to go clubbing tonight with Sara and some of the other girls from school.”

Viktor pushed his overgrown bangs off his forehead. “I had plans for the evening as well, but there’s nothing to be done. We’ll get off this island soon enough, you’ll see.”

“Were you going to just hang around the conservatory and play sad jazz music all night?” Chris tossed over his shoulder.

Viktor frowned. “Not sad music. Contemplative.”

“No, yeah, sad music,” Mila chimed in. She made a face at Viktor. “This dry spell of yours is really not good for your artistry.” She did the exaggerated air quotes, and Chris laughed.

“I’m hurt,” Viktor muttered. “Maybe I’ll write a song about that.”

“Of course you are,” Chris replied, grinning. “You know what Georgi says, heartbreak makes for the best kind of art.”

“Heartbreak?” Viktor repeated. “What makes you think of that?”

“Well, okay, maybe not heartbreak,” Chris admitted. “More like… ennui.”

“I don’t need to be psychoanalyzed by a sunbathing beach bum,” Viktor said, rolling his eyes.

“Hm, good point,” Chris said, rolling onto his stomach. “I could be sunbathing instead of psychoanalyzing you.”

“You were already doing that!” Yuri shouted.

Viktor sank to a sitting position against the tree, letting his head fall back against the trunk with a soft thud. He closed his eyes as Yuri began to rant again and Mila started to egg him on. The breeze in the shade was heavenly, and he felt himself starting to drift as the wind blew softly again.

He had no idea how long he dozed, but the next thing he knew he was being shaken awake by Chris. The normally carefree surfer actually looked concerned. “Hey, Yuri went off into the forest some time ago and he hasn’t come back yet. The eclipse is starting soon, it’s going to be too dark to search in a few minutes.”

Viktor scrambled to his feet and together he and Chris dashed back to the boat to find the flashlights. Mila had smartly put her phone in airplane mode after the zodiac engine had gone out, and still had enough battery to use the flashlight function in it.

The three of them spent the next ten minutes searching desperately through the foliage, calling for Yuri. Viktor had a vivid image of being eviscerated by Yuri’s mother if he wasn’t successful in finding the teen, and he became increasingly frenzied as time went on with no sign of the youngest member of their quartet.

Worst of all, the eclipse was clearly starting; it was as if the sun was being blotted out in the sky above, like some kind of impossible sunset. Viktor didn’t have the special glasses, but he had checked using his powered-down phone and had been able to see the beginning of the shadow of the moon crossing into the disk of the sun. Viktor switched on his flashlight as darkness continued to fall. They had to be getting close to totality.

And then Mila shouted for him, and Viktor followed her voice through the trees until he broke the treeline.

He blinked. “Wow.”

“I know, right!” Mila twirled. “Isn’t it pretty?”

Pretty was an understatement.

They’d stumbled into a lagoon straight out of a fairy tale, a generously-sized body of water connected to the greater breadth of the sea with a tiny inlet. There was a small rocky drop-off from the treeline, ending in a sandy little beach. It absolutely lovely, and the greater ocean beyond the rocks blended right into the darkening sky over the inlet. To the left, Viktor spotted a small waterfall fed by a river snaking through the trees on the opposite side of the pool. The water in the lagoon was gently pulsing and reflecting the diminished sun overhead. It was breathtaking.

Viktor was beside himself with relief when he saw Yuri perched near the water, feet dangling off the edge of the cliff. He was still as sulky as ever, but he was okay.

“We’re still lost, Baba,” Yuri muttered.

“Yes, but Viktor found us! Viktor, do you remember the way back?”

“Of course,” Viktor answered.

“See, we’re not lost anymore.” Mila stuck her tongue out at Yuri. She poked him on the shoulder. “Cheer up, Yura!”

“Shut up,” Yuri grumbled, shoving her back.

“Seriously?” Viktor muttered, making his way down the little hill towards them. Things were starting to devolve into a shoving match until Mila overbalanced and started to fall back towards the water. Viktor picked up speed as her eyes widened and she grabbed Yuri’s arm, and he yelled as his minimal counterweight did absolutely nothing to prevent them both from falling, screaming, over the cliff’s edge.

Viktor skidded to a stop, but his momentum was not having it, plus he couldn’t see the cliff anymore. Thus, he too ended up pitching over the edge, landing in the lagoon with an ungraceful belly-flop.

He resurfaced, spitting out seawater.

“Nice,” Yuri said flatly, and Viktor splashed the teen in irritation.

“Shit,” he said, treading water. “I can’t see a thing.”

“Oh,” Mila said, pointing upward. “I think it’s happening.”

“Don’t look up!” Yuri sputtered. “You’ll burn your retinas!”

Mila held up her phone, which was of course waterproofed. “I think it’s the totality! We’re in the total eclipse of the sun.”

“In the middle of the ocean,” Yuri snapped. “Turn the flashlight back on so we can swim to shore.”

“Yeah, one se- agh!” Mila squawked, and then Viktor could hear her splashing around for a second before she gasped. “Guys, check this out!”

Viktor frowned and began to swim towards the sound of her voice. Judging by the noises to his right, Yuri was doing the same. It took a minute, but he eventually found Mila with the help of a… massive glowing rock jutting out of the lagoon waters.

“Wow,” he breathed, and Mila giggled, having partially climbed onto it already. “How did we not see this before?”

“It was too dark,” Mila shrugged. “I couldn’t tell if there was anything in the water until it started glowing.”

“Why did it only start?” Yuri eyed it suspiciously. He was staying away, eyes narrowed. “If either of you says ‘bioluminescence’ I’m calling bullshit.”

“Maybe it’s some kind of mineral?” Mila suggested.

“I’m not touching that,” Yuri insisted.

Viktor rolls his eyes at the younger teen and put his hand flat against the rock. “I’m sure it’s harmless, or else the preserve staff would have put signs up.”

“Yeah, you say that until you get radiation poisoning,” Yuri grumbled.

“Oooh,” Mila said, peering at her phone. “I think that’s the ‘ring of fire’ up there.”

“What?” Viktor asked, and Mila handed her phone to him so he could see.

“Look at the reflection. Isn’t that cool? You can see the ring of the sun, just barely!”

Viktor squinted, and yeah, Mila was right. The moon was almost perfectly situated in front of the sun. “Yeah. That is pretty cool.”

“So cool,” Yuri griped. “We’re out here in the middle of the ocean--”

“Chill out, Yura. It’s a lagoon,” Mila laughed. “Not like you’re gonna get eaten by a shark!”

“You dragged me into this, Baba. I won’t be forgetting it.” Yuri kept treading water, then yelped as the lagoon began to bubble.

“What the hell?” Viktor shouted, grabbing onto the rock. The rock that was now glowing even more brightly.

And now Yuri was doing the same, panicking as the water thrashed around them.

“It’s like a hot tub,” Mila said, surprised. “But it’s not hot.”

“It’s freaking me out!” Yuri shot back, making a valiant effort to haul himself up onto the rock.

The water began to roil and sparkle like it was being lit from beneath. Fairy lights that had to be a trick of the light danced around their sodden heads, and Viktor blinked and went cross-eyed as one of them booped his nose, winking out.

“What in the world…?” he wondered aloud, squinting at the air above them.

“I don't like this,” Yuri said nervously, but none of them made an effort to swim towards the shore.

After a few long moments, the totality ended above them and the sun began to emerge from behind the moon as water settled, the fairy lights fading away.

“What the hell,” Yuri demanded, still clinging to the rock.

“I think it’s safe,” Viktor said, venturing out away from the others.

Indeed, the water was now as calm as it had been before the totality, gently lapping at the sand that Viktor could now barely make out just a dozen feet away. He started to swim; eventually, his feet touched the bottom of the pool. “I’m at the edge,” he called back, hauling himself out of the lagoon.

Yuri was off like a shot, paddling desperately for the beach and laughing in relief when he reached the shallows.

“But this is such a cool spot,” Mila whined, but she stowed her phone and pushed off the rock, moving into a graceful breaststroke and joining Yuri on the sand, where the younger teen was wheezing and flopping around at the waterline.

“Don’t be such a drama queen.” Viktor rolled his eyes.

Yuri flipped him off and rolled over before fishing his own phone out of his pocket. “Fuckin’ bricked,” he said flatly. “Great.”

“Stick it in rice,” Mila suggested.

What rice?!” Yuri yelled at her. “We are stranded on a friggin’ island!

“When we get home,” Mila said, getting to her feet and shaking her hair out. “Vitya, do you remember the way back to the Zodiac?”

“Yeah,” Viktor answered, looking around at the little beach. “We’ll have to climb those rocks and head back into the forest. It’s that way,” he added, pointing.

As they scrambled up the rocky incline back towards the treeline, the eclipse was ending. It was like a midday sunrise. Viktor hadn’t brought his phone with him, so they were forced to rely on Mila’s compass app to make sure they were headed in the right direction. As the sunlight returned, they were able to look up and see the smoke of the still-burning signal fire.

At long last, they emerged from the forest and finally reached the beach where the zodiac had been left behind.

“Well,” Viktor said as Yuri collapsed next to the bonfire, “at least this is still going.”

“Ugh,” Yuri said. “It’s already getting hot again.”

Mila and Viktor exchanged exasperated looks and rolled their eyes in unison. “Yura, you’re such a brat,” Mila sang as Chris emerged from the trees a few dozen feet to the left.

“Ffffffuck youuuuu.”

“You kiss your mother with that mouth?” Chris called, fanning himself.

Yuri cracked a baleful eye and looked right at Viktor. “Speaking of her, she’s gonna kill you both.”

Viktor sighed and sat down, burying his face in his hands. “I accept my fate.”

Chris blew a raspberry and stripped off his shirt again. “So how about that eclipse? Hey, why are you all soaking wet?”

“We fell into a lagoon,” Mila informed him, sweeping her hair to the side and exposing her undercut.

“Ooh, do tell?” Chris waggled his eyebrows. “Which lagoon?”

“It’s maybe a mile that way,” Viktor said, pointing. “It’s weird, though. Filled with some kind of weird reactive… thing that started acting up during the eclipse.”

“Oh, hm,” Chris frowned. “I’ve never heard of that.”

“You wouldn’t,” Mila pointed out before they were all startled by the sound of a shrill siren.

“The water police!” Yuri literally jumped to his feet, exhaustion forgotten.

The next ten minutes were a whirlwind. The water police officer, a smiling bespectacled older man named Captain Katsuki, managed to bundle the four of them up in scratchy - but dry - blankets and settle them in on the patrol boat, making sure to tow Chris’s Zodiac along back to port. The trip across the channel took around forty minutes, and Viktor ended up dozing off a little at some point before they pulled into the harbor.

“Oh god,” Chris said, nudging Viktor back into awareness.

Mr. and Mrs. Plisetsky were standing at the end of the pier; Yuri’s father merely looked concerned but his mother, as Viktor had predicted, looked furious.

Viktor sank down in his seat and tried to bury himself in the scratchy trauma blanket. “If anyone asks, I died on the way over of heat exhaustion.”

“What was that about accepting fate?” Yuri snorted, but he still jumped off the boat and threw himself into his mother’s arms once they were docked.

Mila sniggered into her elbow while Chris and Viktor both were notably subdued once Mrs. Plisetsky turned to them, and honestly, if Viktor said that his student took mostly after his mother he didn’t think anyone would disagree.

“What the hell, Viktor?!” Mrs. Plisetsky demanded, and Viktor flinched.

“Honestly, ma’am,” Chris said quickly, raising his hand. “It’s all my fault. I had too much faith in the Zodiac.”

“No, he’s my responsibility,” Viktor argued, poking Chris in the shoulder. “I don’t know what I was thinking, artistic retreat. It was spur of the moment--”

“Well, at least that’ll never change,” Mr. Plisetsky muttered.

“Mom, I don’t even care, I’m not even mad anymore,” Yuri whined. “Can we go home?”

“Of course, dear. Your grandfather should be getting off work soon,” Mrs. Plisetsky squeezed her son tightly and whisked him away, leaving her husband to say goodbye.

“I get the feeling that’s not the end of it,” Chris said as Viktor watched the family leave. “Ah, well, I’m going to get my stuff settled and then head home too. Need a ride?”

“I’ve got my scooter parked at the wharf,” Mila said, shaking sand out of her shirt.

Chris shrugged. “Viktor?”

Viktor shook his head. “Nah, I’ll just hoof it.” He retrieved his bag from the patrol boat and set off along the shoreline, heading towards his neighborhood a short walk away.

When he unlocked his apartment door and let himself in, he was greeted by a loud bark and a ball of curly fluff as his pet poodle greeted him enthusiastically. “Ah, Makkachin, I hope you were okay while I was away,” he said, dropping to his knees to accept the slobbery doggy kisses. “I’m so sorry for leaving you alone, I won’t ever do it again.”

Makkachin whined, crowding onto Viktor’s lap like she thought she was still a puppy, and Viktor allowed himself to cuddle with the poodle for a bit longer before he had to get up. He fed Makkachin a jerky snack to tide her over until dinner that night, and briefly considered taking a shower before discarding the idea and just falling onto his bed, still clothed, for a well-earned nap. Makkachin jumped up next to him and Viktor could feel the mattress shift as the poodle curled up at the foot of the bed, and once that was settled he could finally give into the weariness tugging at his consciousness.

And as soon as he drifted off, he dreamed of dancing lights on the water.

 

When he awoke that evening, the first order of business was to make sure Makkachin got fed properly. As she shoved her face into the food bowl, to Viktor’s amusement, he checked his now-charged phone to see what he’d missed.

Yuri had managed to get himself a new phone, and Mila had tagged the four of them on Facebook for “Watching the Eclipse @ Islaluna”. Yuri was complaining about his lost data on the post in question. Chris had uploaded his photos of Islaluna and the eclipse to Instagram and Facebook, and he’d managed to get a nice shot of the corona with the moon centered in it. Viktor scrolled through his timeline before he couldn’t deny how itchy he was from the dried salt and sand on his skin, so he left Makkachin in the kitchen with her dinner in order to take a shower.

That turned out to be a mistake.

He turned on the shower and waited for the water to heat up, sticking his hand into the stream to gauge the temperature. It still had a ways to go towards being just right, so he shook the excess water off and was about to go brush his teeth when he felt a strange tingling traveling up and down his legs.

He glanced down and had a second to realize the fairy lights were back and swarming him from the waist down before his legs just… disappeared.

Oh. Oh, that was a tail.

And it couldn’t hold his weight so he pitched face forward onto his bath rug, making plenty of noise on the way down.

It took a moment for his brain to recalibrate, and then he flipped over and stared down his body in shock.

“What the fuck,” he said in a dazed, hollow voice.

He pushed himself into a sitting position and found that he couldn’t actually sit - he didn’t really have hips anymore. His hands were shaking as he slowly reached out to poke and then touch the new appendage, which was very solidly a part of him.

It was smooth and scaly, shifting between plum and magenta, and was incredibly muscular. He felt the new muscles shifting under the scales, which was both weird and fascinating. And it didn’t hinge where his knees would be, which allowed him to curl the fin upwards towards his face and examine it.

“Jeez,” he said, tugging on the fin and actually feeling it through the nerve endings in it. “How?” He let it flop back onto the tiles and then jolted at the sound of his phone buzzing on the counter.

“Ah, shit,” he muttered, and then he flipped back onto his belly so he could haul himself over to the sink and drag himself upwards enough so he could grab for his mobile.

The missed call was from Yuri, and he knew right then that this wasn’t just happening to him. He immediately called back.

“Viktor!” Yuri hissed without preamble as soon as he answered. “Don’t get wet!”

“Or else I’ll grow a tail?” Viktor asked dully, glancing over his shoulder at the tail in question. “Too late. You too, huh?”

Yuri was quiet for a moment then said, “Do you think Mila…?”

“Probably.”

“Have you called her?”

“I was kind of stuck on the floor.” Viktor sighed. “No more showers, I guess.”

“Shit.”

Viktor pinched the bridge of his nose. “Yuri, focus. Did you manage to get it to go away?”

“Yeah, it disappears when you dry off.”

Viktor breathed in relief and released the tension he hadn’t realized had been growing in his shoulders and neck. “Thank God.”

“Should I call Mila or do you want to?” Yuri asked, and Viktor picked up on his unease.

“How much trouble are you in?”

Yuri laughed flatly. “None, really. Mom’s still mad at you guys.”

“Okay, I’ll call Chris. You call Mila. Let’s meet at my place if we can get ahold of them. I need to get to a towel.”

“Okay.” Yuri made a pained noise. “I’ll tell my mom I’m meeting with Otabek early or something.”

“Don’t lie-- you know what?” Viktor eyed the towel on the opposite wall. “Do what you gotta do. I’ll text you.” He hung up and put the mobile down so he could start dragging himself across the bathroom.

His shoulders were burning with the effort by the time he got to the towel rack, and he just wearily reached up and tugged one off of its perch, rolling onto his back so he could start trying to dry off the - his - tail.

True to Yuri’s word, once he was completely dry, the tingling and fairy lights returned; his legs reappeared, replacing the tail. He breathed a sigh of relief, and then remembered that he’d left the shower running.

He allowed himself to indulge in a string of curses in three different languages before he tossed aside the used towel and grabbed the one that was more dry. Quickly, before he could get soaked again, he reached into the shower and flipped off the spigot, toweling off again before the tail could reappear once more.

Viktor sighed and scratched at the back of his head. This… this was not going to be easy.

 

After a lot of consideration, Viktor was forced to take a bath instead of a shower for the first time in a very long time, and luckily that seemed to wash away all of the salt and sand, even if it was awkward as hell. He had to drain the tub and then haul himself out in order to dry off, but he figured out how to use the tail to counterbalance and push off the bottom. It couldn’t sustain his weight, but it was better than solely using his upper body strength.

Chris eventually responded to the voicemail that Viktor had left with a confused text affirming that he was on his way over. A few minutes later, Yuri and Mila checked in as well.

Makkachin needed to go out, and once she’d relieved herself and was settled on the couch with a squeaky toy, Viktor tossed some leftovers from last week’s dinner with his parents into the microwave.

When the intercom buzzed, Viktor ducked out onto his balcony and glanced down at the front door. Chris waved from three stories down, and Viktor quickly buzzed him in.

Chris raised his eyebrows at Viktor when he unlocked his front door and let him in. “So what was so important that you couldn’t tell me over the phone?” he asked as the microwave dinged.

Viktor grabbed a towel so he could handle the hot plate and set it on his stove to cool off. “Chris,” he said slowly, unsure of how to proceed. “Have you been in the water since we got back from Islaluna?”

“Yeah, I went surfing with Masumi,” Chris said, referring to his boyfriend.

Viktor stared at him. “You went surfing.”

“Yyyyyeah?”

“And nothing happened?”

Chris frowned. “What was supposed to happen?”

Viktor opened his mouth to answer, but his intercom buzzed again.

Chris eyed him with concern as he hit the LISTEN button. They both heard Yuri’s angry shouting immediately, and Chris buzzed him in.

When the knock came, Viktor opened his door to reveal both Yuri and Mila.

“Well?” Yuri demanded, stalking in. Mila followed him and immediately squatted down to say hi to Makkachin, who had bounded forward in excitement to greet the visitors.

“He went surfing,” Viktor said, jerking a thumb at Chris.

Chris blinked in confusion as Yuri stared at him, aghast.

“And?” the teen asked.

“Didn’t happen to him,” Viktor answered.

“What are you two talking about?” Mila asked, making a show of checking her watch. “You know, I’m meeting Sara and Phoebe and the others pretty soon--”

“Mila, have you gotten wet since we got back from Islaluna?” Yuri rounded on her.

Mila made a face. “Yura. Seriously.”

“I’m serious!”

“No, I still need to take a shower before I go out!”

“That’s not happening,” Viktor said, poking at the leftover lasagna with a fork.

Mila groaned. “Vitya…”

“Miloshka, go ahead and turn on the sink and stick your arm under the faucet,” Viktor replied, raising his eyebrows. “See what happens.”

“Is that a good idea?” Yuri asked as Mila made another face at him.

Viktor shrugged, and Mila made a frustrated noise.

“Fine,” she grumbled, nudging Viktor aside and moving to the sink. “Does it matter if it’s hot water or cold water, старик?”

“Low blow,” Viktor muttered as Yuri answered, “doesn’t matter.”

Mila rolled her eyes and flipped the faucet on, putting her hand into the stream. “Ooooh,” she said in a spooky voice, waving her wet hand and sprinkling droplets on the counter. Yuri and Viktor both stepped out of range, and she stared at them in bemusement. “What are you--”

The change overtook her as quickly as it had both times for Viktor. The fairy lights suddenly appeared from thin air and swarmed her, and Viktor could swear he could hear twinkling noises before there was a brief flash of light and then Mila pitched forward, her new tail bending and failing to sustain her weight.

WHAT THE FUCK,” she shouted in Russian, eyes wide enough that Viktor could see the whites all around her irises. “Viktor, what did you do to me?

“I didn’t do anything,” Viktor said flatly as Chris yelled in wordless shock. “It happened to me earlier.”

“Same here,” Yuri added, crossing his arms.

Mila heaved herself into flipping over and stared down at her body. “What the hell,” she squeaked.

Her clothes had disappeared, replaced with blue-green scales over any body parts that Viktor probably wouldn’t want to see. And of course, her legs had vanished to make way for a long, muscular tail covered in matching scales that glinted in the kitchen lights.

Mila tentatively reached out to touch what had been her hips just a minute ago and yelped in surprise as her fin flexed on the tile floor. “What is this?!” she demanded.

“That’s a tail,” Yuri said sarcastically. “And it goes away when you dry off.”

“And it’s not a one-off thing,” Viktor added, chewing on a bite of lasagna. “It happened to me twice. I had to take a bath earlier instead of showering.”

Mila looked back and forth at both of them, mouth flapping silently. “How?” she finally asked.

“We have no idea,” Viktor said. “Probably magic.”

“Magic is not real,” Chris sputtered.

“Sure looks real to me,” Yuri said. “Hey, you don’t have knees anymore. Flex it towards you.”

“What?” Mila said, and did so. “HOLYSHIT.”

Viktor nodded. “Yeah. Weird, right?”

How are you two so calm?!” Mila yelled at them.

“We got our freakouts done with earlier,” Yuri answered.

Mila let out a long, high-pitched wail and let her head flop down onto the floor.

“Let me get you a towel,” Viktor said, putting down his plate on his table. “One second.”

“Sure,” Mila said, sounding dazed, and Viktor ducked into the hallway to rummage through his linen closet. When he returned to the kitchen, Makkachin was investigating Mila’s new appendage and jolting away every time it flexed or moved.

Mila took the towels from him and started scrubbing down her tail, which was slightly damp for some reason, and refused to look at any of them.

“So this didn’t happen to you?” Yuri asked Chris, who shook his head.

“I spent most of the afternoon in the water,” Chris answered, looking like he’d gotten whacked in the face with a two-by-four.

“So it’s just us three,” Viktor said, and Yuri said exactly what he was thinking:

“It was that lagoon.” He crossed his arms again. “It has to be that. It’s the only thing we all have in common that he wasn’t there for.” He jerked his chin at Chris

“Maybe it was specifically the rock?” Viktor mused.

“Who cares?” Mila snapped. “How do we make it stop happening?”

Viktor and Yuri both shrugged in unison, and Mila groaned.

“I can’t go to the beach ever again,” she said, burying her face in the towel. “What would happen if someone saw me like this?”

Chris sat down on the loveseat, still looking dazed. “You’d get hauled into an aquarium, probably,” he said slowly. “Possibly even dissected. Holy shit.”

“Jesus Christ, Chris!” Viktor snapped.

“Am I wrong?!” Chris demanded. “My boyfriend is a marine park worker, remember? They capture and hold rare specimens for study!”

“I didn’t need to hear that,” Yuri said, sitting down on the floor. “Fuck.”

“We have to go back to the island,” Viktor decided. “There has to be some kind of answer in that lagoon.”

They all looked to Chris, who sputtered. “Don’t look at me! The Zodiac needs to be fixed!”

“So what do you expect us to do?” Yuri demanded. “Swim?

“Why not?” Chris quipped, eyeing Mila’s tail.

“Okay, first of all, up yours,” Mila said, pointing at him. “This is freaky.”

“But it works, right? Theoretically, at least.” Chris crossed his arms and stroked his goatee. “I mean, you could jump in at the docks and probably make decent time on your own. You could even approach the lagoon from the ocean instead of trying to find it from the forest.”

“We don’t even know if these things work,” Yuri started to say, but Mila’s shrill laugh cut him off.

“Yura, I’m willing to bet they do,” she said as she furiously rubbed at her sides. “I’m feeling muscles that I’ve never had before.”

“Okay, so the tails probably work.” Viktor began to pace. “And we have a general idea of where the lagoon is.”

“Do we?” Yuri asked, raising an eyebrow.

“GPS,” Chris pointed out. “We have satellite views of Islaluna. Let’s see if we can’t find your lagoon on Google Earth before you set out.”

“And my phone is waterproof, so we’d have navigation,” Mila added as the fairy lights finally came back, returning her legs to her. She got to her feet, only a little unsteady, and pinched her thigh as if afraid it wasn’t real. “We can’t go out tonight,” she said. “I have plans, it’s Last Fling.”

“What if you get splashed in public, at a crowded club?” Yuri looked ready to grab her by the shoulders and shake her.

“I’ll be careful,” Mila waved him off. “It would look weird if I didn’t show.”

“What if it’s just water that does this?” Chris asked, tapping his chin. “Maybe there’s a scientific method to all of this--”

“If you’re even thinking of asking Masu about this, don’t,” Viktor warned. “We need to get a handle on this before we consult anyone. Nothing leaves this room, otherwise.”

“Don’t be so paranoid,” Chris said. “Who would believe us?”

“I don’t want to find out,” Viktor muttered.

“He’s right,” Mila agreed. “We all know our phones are tapped by the NSA anyway.”

Chris rolled his eyes. “My god, you’re a bunch of conspiracy theorists.”

“Better to be safe than sorry,” Mila sing-songed.

“So basically, act like nothing’s out of the ordinary,” Viktor said. He picked up his plate again and poked the cooling lasagna with his fork. “Be extra careful, and tell no one.”

“I think we can manage that.” Yuri narrowed his eyes at Chris. “Mostly.”

“I don’t want to see my best friend strapped to an examination table, thanks,” Chris replied coolly. “I’ll keep my mouth shut.”

Viktor waved Yuri’s concerns off. “He’s good for it. He didn’t breathe a word about my stint in rehab.”

“You went to rehab?” Mila and Yuri demanded in unison.

“See? You didn’t know. We’re good.”

Chris winced at him. “Viktor…”

“It’s fine. I’m fine.” Viktor took a generous bite of his lasagna to prove it. “See?”

Chris sighed and looked away. “Fine.”

“So we good?” Viktor asked, looking to the younger teens.

Mila and Yuri exchanged conflicted looks but ultimately nodded.

“Miloshka, be careful tonight. Yura, what about you?”

“I’ll just go over to Otabek’s place and hang with him.” Yuri shrugged. “No danger there.”

“Masu’s getting dinner,” Chris said. “I’ll try and get the Zodiac fixed tonight in case you need me out there.”

“When are we doing that?” Yuri asked, face still twisted in a frown.

“Tomorrow?” Viktor suggested, and no one protested. “Okay. Tomorrow. My apartment’s closest to the marina, so we can meet up here tomorrow, maybe around ten in the morning. I’m staying in tonight anyway, so I’ll do research into the area. Cool?”

“Works for me,” Mila said. “Now I gotta figure out how to shower without falling over.”

“Bath,” Viktor stated. “Say goodbye to showers forever, at least until we figure this out.”

Mila groaned, and Yuri rolled his eyes at her. “C’mon, Baba,” he said, heading towards the apartment door. “Don’t you girls love taking baths all the time?”

“You really need to stop generalizing an entire gender, Yurashka,” Mila grumbled as she followed him out.

That left Chris, Viktor, and Makkachin alone in the apartment.

“You’re really all right?” Chris asked.

Viktor smiled, allowing the expression to be as tired as he actually felt. “I mean, it’s not the end of the world. It’s weird and inconvenient, but I’ll be okay.”

“You’re not going to do anything drastic, are you?” Chris pressed.

Viktor shook his head. “I won’t. I promise.”

“Listen, if you need me for any reason…”

“I’ll call my therapist,” Viktor finished for him, and Chris snorted.

“You do that,” the surfer said as he let himself out. Viktor locked the door behind him and collapsed onto his couch, Makkachin immediately hopping up to put her head in his lap.

“I should finish eating,” he told the poodle, who looked up at him adoringly. “I’ll finish eating. I promise.”

She licked his chin in response.