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Fish Tails Part 1 - Gabriel Big Bang 2012

Title: Fish Tails
Artist: pandionpandeus
Beta: wolfrider89
Genre/Pairing: Richard/Misha
Rating:Nc-17
Word count:15,094
Warnings/Spoilers:merman Misha.
Summary:For as long as Richard can remember he's been spending summers at his Grandfather's cabin by the lake. What no one else in his family knows is Richard has a secret connection with the merboy that lives in the water. After an altercation that destroys their friendship, Richard finds himself drawn to a new co-worker that reminds him of the friend he left behind so long ago.

Fish Tails

They have been taking Richard out here his whole life. Not that his life has been very long if you consider how old his grandfather must be by now. This cabin, way out in the middle of nowhere, is where his grandfather moved to when he retired. His mother hates it. She prefers the city life, away from the heat and the bugs that come from living isolated in the woods next to a medium sized lake. Richard’s grandfather has no neighbors, and the closest town is ten miles down the road. There’s an alieness to the countryside that Richard finds fascinating even at the young age of six. It what draws him to explore the surrounding woods against his mother’s wishes. It’s what brings him to the edge of his grandfather’s dock on that fateful early afternoon.

Richard has always been afraid of water. He still cries when it’s bath time at home and God help you if you try to turn on the shower head, because it’s like the world is coming to an end. So nothing really explains why he spends hours that day sprawled on the dock trailing his hand in the dark waters below. It’s like something is calling him there, like it’s where he needs to be, and even repeated warnings from his mother and the incessant teasing of his older brother can’t draw him away from the water's edge.

Until it’s time for dinner, and Richard finally feels the pull of hunger over the siren's call of the lake. He trails his hand through the murky water one final time before preparing to follow his grandfather off the dock, but this time, instead of water trailing along his palm, Richard feels something catch onto his hand, hold tightly like the grip of a handshake, and tug. He slips off the side of the dock with a squeak and splash, falling into the cool water below only to be pulled under before he can cry for help.

He struggles, trying his hardest to jerk away from whatever is holding onto him under the water. He can’t breathe and he’s terrified. A face appears before him, a boy, maybe his age, grasping his shoulders and smiling at him through the blur of the water as Richard feels his limbs getting heavy and sees the world start to fall away. The boy is smiling, too blue eyes shining out in the dim light under the water. He looks so pleased with himself and Richard wishes he could make him understand. This is bad. He wants to go home now. Just as his eyes slip closed he sees the smile melt off the other boy’s face only to be replaced with narrowed eyes and a deep frown. Then he’s being dragged forward, the boy’s mouth pressed hard against his as air is forced into his screaming lungs. Richard inhales, arms grabbing back at the other boy’s body, slipping and sliding along skin that doesn’t feel quite right until his palms slide down to where legs should be and he feels…scales instead. The boy keeps giving him air, never stops to take a breath of his own and Richard is suddenly less afraid of drowning and more afraid of whoever this is that dragged him down here.

But just as suddenly as it all started, the boy drags his face away, still frowning. He looks…sad. Then he shoves Richard hard away from him and it’s only when Richard slams into the flailing body of his grandfather that he realizes the fish-boy must have dragged him back up from the depths to the surface.

His grandfather drags him to shore, his mother screaming in the background while Richard blinks and tries to figure out what just happened to him.

“What’s happened, son,” his grandfather asks him after shaking him silly.

“I fell,” Richard answers, his eyes fixed on a flash of fin in the water. “Slipped, I guess.”

Even at six he knows better than to tell them the truth.

Richard sits through two hours of his mother’s yelling. He’s not sure why she’s so mad, but in the end he and his brother are hauled the ten miles down the road with her still upset and his grandfather just shaking his head. He sees a doctor who says he’s fine, no harm done. Not that Richard thought anything else. The next morning, his mom makes them pack up the car a full three days early so they can head home. Richard hugs his grandfather goodbye and promises to come back next summer even if his mom is already swearing at him that he will not. The road away from the house passes by the lake and Richard swears he catches sight of a pale, blue eyed boy watching him from the water, tucked up under some of the grassy weeds that grow on the edge of the lake.

He waves, before he can stop himself. His brother snorts. “What are you waving at, stupid? There’s nothing out there. You waving at a tree?”

Richard ignores him, his eyes trained on the figure in the water as the boy smiles, bright like the best thing ever just happened, and waves back, fingers glinting water in the sunlight.

It takes them seven hours in the car to get home, and Richard sleeps through most of it. He dreams of flying, soaring through the night sky without need for an airplane only to fall out of the air and land with a splash in the middle of the lake. He thrashes in his sleep, frightened, until he feels that tug on his hand and opens his eyes. In his dream blue eyes stare back at him with a smile and the boy drags him once again under the water. This time Richard can breathe, and he finds that swimming is a lot like flying, only this time he has a partner to share it with.

His mother doesn’t let him go back to the lake the next summer, or the one after that. But Richard keeps dreaming, keeps holding onto that hand. The older he gets the more he knows it has to mean something, so he starts to plan.

He’s going back. He needs answers.

*****

When Richard is nine he spends the first month of summer vacation trying to learn how to swim. Trying, because every single time he sticks his face under the water he’s overcome with panic related to when the blue eyed boy dragged him into the depths. He’s unable to force himself past it. Richard’s previous discomfort with water in general is now clearly focused on pools, lakes, rivers, or God forbid, the ocean. He simply can’t stand it.

He spends the second month of his summer vacation copying his older sister’s summer school homework and slipping it to his swim instructor. It just so happens, said swim instructor is a teenager, the same age as Richard’s older sister. He’s struggling to pass the same summer school class too, and though Richard’s sister is putting forth some effort to actually learn algebra, he’s not. By the time summer school ends his swim teacher gets a passing grade in the class thanks to Richard, and Richard gets documentation that he can swim. It’s an even trade.

Besides, Richard has no intention of ever getting back in the water, he just needs the proof he can swim so his mother will let him go.

It’s a gamble, but they don’t have a backyard pool or anything so it’s not like she can force him to prove it.

So with two weeks left in his summer vacation Richard is on a plane back to his grandfather’s place by the lake. His bag is stocked with all the things a boy of nine thinks he will need to trap a sea monster. From the shoreline, of course.

He spends his first day assessing the territory; he needs to be careful about it. If his grandfather finds out he’s sneaking around the lake like a nut he’s probably going to be sent back home before he even gets a chance to prove to himself he hasn’t been making this story up for the past two years. This is a big deal, maybe his only chance to get it right. So he sets his nets and his lines up as carefully as he can in a secluded part of the lake area where he knows his grandfather won’t follow him. Richard waits, the first day for hours, but nothing happens. The next morning, he finds a fish.

The day after that he manages to catch a rock from the bottom of the lake. Richard isn't sure how it ended up in the net.

On the third day all he finds is a shiny piece of metal. He’s getting frustrated now, and this is serious. He’s running out of time.

He waits until late afternoon on the fourth day of his plan. Richard is getting fed up, thinking maybe this wasn’t the best idea he’s ever had, or maybe he really is just crazy and hallucinated the whole thing after all. When he reaches the water’s edge and he finds his trap empty it sends him into a fit of anger and he yanks and rips at all of his carefully placed lines destroying what he had created in the hopes of finding that creature he still swears he couldn’t have imagined. Richard is dragging up the last line from where it trails out in the water. He’s not crying, boys that are almost ten do not cry. At least that’s what everyone keeps telling him, but the line won’t come free from whatever it’s stuck on so Richard finally just drops into a heap on the water’s edge and presses his face into his hands.

Long moments later, when he swears the sun has shifted in the sky, there’s a tug on the rope he still holds in his hand. Richard blinks, readjusting his red-rimmed eyes to the light still golden and rippling across the water’s. There, just a foot off shore, is the boy, pale and otherworldly in the way his eyes blink so slowly. He’s holding the other end of Richard’s line, the part with the loop around it made to snag onto something. With a flourish the boy lifts it up and places it over his own head, looking back at Richard with his eyebrows drawn close together as if to question if this is what he’s been wanting. Richard gasps. A fish, a rock from the bottom, the shiny piece of metal…they were gifts, treasures maybe, from the other boy to him. A way for him to make a connection, to try and communicate without coming too close to the shore and risking being seen.

Richard howls with laughter, and the boy in the water jerks in fright but he doesn’t swim away. Instead, as Richard continues laughing, his face breaks into a wide smile and after another moment he tries to make the noise Richard is making, blinking in confusion when the tone comes out all wrong. He presses his hand to his throat and then points to Richard’s, cocking his head in a question.

“Laughing,” Richard announces.

He gets some kind of gurgle as a reply.

“You don’t talk?” Richard asks.

A low rumbling sound is all he gets in reaction. It reminds him a little bit of the whale calls he heard on Animal Planet one night when he was supposed to be sleeping.

“Can you understand me?” Richard asks, and his whole plan for the next week fractures around him when the boy cocks his head again and makes a higher pitched, almost questioning, sound.

He flounders, uncertain. How are they going to make this work?

The boy from the water throws his head back, another noise produced from his throat that sounds much more like a chuckle than Richard thinks it really should. Then he smiles again, hugely, and announces, “Laughing,” in a tone that’s clearly not right, his voice stilted and watery like it’s working in a way it never has before. But still…it shows he can learn, and even more so, that he wants to learn.

Maybe he’s lonely.

“Richard,” he says, pressing his hand to his t-shirt covered chest and just kind of hopes he’s doing this right. “I’m Richard.”

There’s a series of clicks and clacks, long and spaced oddly apart from the boy. At the end of the strange noises he smiles triumphantly, like he won a trophy, and slaps a wet, pale hand to his own chest.

Good news, he has a name. Bad news, Richard doesn’t have a hope of pronouncing it.

“Yeah,” he says with a shake of his head, fingers bumping his throat as he shakes his head. “I can’t do that. You need a better name. I can’t go around calling you man-fish.”

“Mish?” The boy says, poking himself in the chest with one long, webbed finger, eyes lifted in question. “Mish?”

“Seriously?” Richard asks.

“Richard!” the boy barks out, stumbling over the last part of his name, mangling it, really, but it’s the effort that counts. He waves a hand at Richard before slapping himself on the chest and announcing, “Mish!”

“Okay,” Richard sighs. “Mish it is, but don’t blame me when you hate it later. You picked it.”

They only get a week and a half that summer, going over the basics as much as Richard knows how. In the end, the night before he leaves he stays up whispering into his tape deck while it’s set on record. Words, so many words he wants Mish to know and understand and so little time for them to learn them all. He packs his headset, tape deck, extra batteries and all, in a Ziploc bag and takes them to the water's edge before he leaves.

Mish looks lost, utterly confused before Richard puts the earphones on and hits play. He shows him how to change the batteries, figures it might last him a month depending on how much he uses it. But it’s all he’s got to go with.

“I’ll be back next summer,” he explains as he goes to leave. “I know you don’t understand everything, but I have to go now. Next time I’ll stay the whole three months, I promise.”

Mish looks upset as Richard’s grandfather drives him around the lake heading toward the airport. Richard waves, and he’s relieved when Mish waves his hand in return.

From there on out, Richard spends every summer at his grandfather’s cabin. He spends the year collecting information needed to teach Mish things about the world and new words. Every year it gets a little easier, with the invention of CD players, and laptops. With the booming success of the internet Richard finds lesson plans and a way to actually show Mish the world outside of the lake. As the years pass Richard never misses a summer, even when it means giving up trips to Mexico with his frat brothers, or meeting Lisa’s parents. He cherishes his time with Mish, where for a few small weeks he’s with someone that wants nothing from him, never judges him, and doesn’t press for more than he has.

*****

When Richard is twenty-four and just out of business school, his grandfather dies. The doctors tell Richard he had a heart attack out in a boat on the lake, that he was soaking wet when the rescue squad came, but that there was no water in his lungs, that a man who would not identify himself had called 911. His whole family thought it was strange, but Richard knew the truth. Mish had tried to save him, maybe even given him CPR since Richard had taught him that a few summers ago. He had somehow gotten the boat back to shore. The only thing he couldn’t figure out is how Mish had gotten from the lake to the old fashioned corded phone in the kitchen that his grandfather insisted on still using.

Richard would have to ask his friend the next time he could. There ended up being papers upon papers for Richard to sign. He spends the next three months in utter terror that the cabin will be sold and he’ll never see Mish again, but it turns out his grandfather left it only to him, a written letter in his will stating that because Richard loved it as much as he did he could keep it. His brother and sister are furious, preferring the money to the place they never really enjoyed going to. Richard refuses to sell; he packs his things that very night and drives down long, deserted highways to get to his friend.

Mish has to be scared, maybe didn’t understand what was happening, and now he’s been alone there for months. Thoughts race through his mind and maybe, just maybe, Richard is as in need of comfort as he thinks Mish might be. He’s hasn’t given into the urge to cry yet.

The car skids to a halt, Richard barely taking the time to throw it into park before he’s out of it in the pale light of the dawning sky and racing down the dock. “Mish!” he shouts into the murky blackness of the water. “Mish, I’m here. Come here!”

The water breaks with almost no sound, but Richard is prepared for that by now; he sees the ripples that signal his friend is answering his call. Mish appears at the end of the dock, looking drawn tight and frightened.

“What happened?” he asks breathlessly. “He fell. I tried to help him, like you taught me, but he was so still.”

“He’s gone,” Richard answers, and the cold ball of dread in his stomach expands outward, burning him and aching until he slumps to his knees on the dock and sobs out his grief into his hands. His grandfather is gone, the only one in his life other than Mish who ever really understood him. It’s as painful as losing a parent to him. He hurts and he doesn’t know what to do.

“Richard,” Mish whispers, and he hears a splash as his friend lifts himself out of the water and onto the dock. Too-cool-to-be-human hands touch his shaking shoulders for just a moment before letting go, a sliding noise before wetness presses up against him, cold arms slipping around him, a cool cheek pressed to the top of his bowed head. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

Richard cries until he’s got nothing left. He cries until the damp form pressed up against his body starts to shake and Mish starts to make a horrible, choking, gasping sound. He lifts his head, turns towards his friend and gasps in horror.

The whole left side of Mish’s finned lower half is scraped and scarred. He has scales missing from his tail and the once luminous surface is marred, blurred. It’s almost dirty looking. “What happened to you?” Richard asks as he reaches out to touch this part of Mish’s body that he’s seen before but never once been allowed to lay hands on. The tail is bumpy, rough is places and smooth in others. It slips and slides through his hands like there might be some kind of coating on it and Mish moans and twists next to him before shoving Richard away and throwing himself off the side of the dock and back into the water waiting below. He resurfaces, face tight like he’s in pain and biting at his lip while the pale color returns to his cheeks where moments ago he was pasty.

“I can’t stay out of the water for very long,” Mish explains with a shrug of his shoulders, his webbed hands gripping the dock to hold him steady. “My gills dry out, my skin feels tight, things…happen to me. It hurts.”

“I’m sorry,” Richard answers automatically. There’s something else there, something he doesn’t understand, but sometimes Mish is like a puzzle he can’t figure out. “What happened to your fin?”

Mish looks away from him, focusing instead on the wooden planks of the dock. “He needed help. I couldn’t get him to wake up. I brought the boat to the dock and then screamed for help. But there’s no one here, Richard. You know that. Totally isolated. It’s what he loved about this place. I dragged myself to the house. The rocks on the driveway…the distance from the water…it hurt me.”

“Don’t you ever do that again,” Richard orders, his voice shaking. The idea of it, of Mish dragging his thin-skinned body over sharp rocks, struggling to cover the distance to the house and then back again so he wasn’t discovered is frightening. The damage is permanent and Richard can tell, just from the way Mish is clinging to the side of the dock that his ability to swim in the water has been affected.

“It didn’t matter,” Mish whispers sadly. His blue eyes are welling up, though Richard has never actually seen Mish cry. “I let you down.”

“No, you didn’t,” Richard assures him as he sticks out his hand to rub through the wet locks on his friend’s head. “People die, Mish. It’s part of life. You did more for him than some other people would have done. Thank you.”

They stay together, Richard sitting on the dock and Mish holding onto the side of it, for a very long time.

*****

Richard works long hours, his days spent doing assessments and adjustments to people’s business portfolios and investment profiles. There are long hours where he’s crouched in front of a computer or sits holding a phone listening to some irate person snarl at him because the stock market isn’t as good as it used to be. He tolerates all of it with two goals in mind.

One day, Richard is going to run this whole business, he’s going to control his own destiny and by the time he’s through with them all he’ll decide when his own lunch break is, damn it. Secondly, and maybe more importantly, he knows that if he can just stomach six straight weeks of uncontrolled bullshit and ass kissing he will have enough saved up vacation days to get on a plane and head home. Home being straight back to his cabin by the lake where Mish is waiting for him. Things have changed in the four years since Richard took over ownership of the cabin.

For instance, there’s wifi now. Mish has a nearly waterproof Netbook that basically lives on the edge of the dock. He has uninterrupted access to email and the internet. Hell, half the time Richard is at work Mish is chatting with him over AIM. They’ve gotten even closer, even though now Richard only gets one week off for every six he works. There’s some kind of communication almost every day. Richard thinks maybe it’s a little weird to be so intimately attached to a creature that frankly isn’t human, but Mish is still the best friend Richard has ever had, and he doesn’t want to trade that in for anything.

Which is why he’s nervous about his next trip home.

He and Daria are getting serious. Sure, they’ve dated off and on for years now. Things have never really seemed to be right with them and Richard is just not that good at relationships when you get right down to it. He’s been called selfish, arrogant, untrustworthy. Honestly, he can be all those things. He has a way of always looking for the next thing, and even in the middle of sex he’ll sometimes find himself thinking about how it’s not going to last, how it doesn’t feel right, how he needs more even when the person underneath him has given their everything to him and he’s the one holding back.

But Daria and he always seem to orbit back together; they slam into one another and break apart just as violently. And the sex has always been amazing. She’s one hell of a kinky lady and where his other lovers have always been uncomfortable with Richard’s urges to be dominated, to be penetrated even, Daria has never backed down from a challenge. He loves her for it.

Or thinks he might. Richard and emotions aren’t really good friends, he tends to only really feel things when they’re being ripped from his grasp.

He wants to bring Daria to the cabin. He's planning on proposing to her and before he does it he needs to make sure that the two most important people in his life can get along. After all, his every seventh week trips to the cabin are going come to a screeching halt as soon as they get engaged. Daria has already made it clear that she doesn’t want any more of his time taken away from her and Richard understands. When you’re serious about someone then you need to be with them.

So his plan is to introduce Mish to Daria and hope they get along. After all, she keeps all kinds of secrets about him even through nasty break ups, so he figures Mish will be safe. If not then Richard will sell the cabin and they’ll relocate him somewhere else.

He just needs to make sure Mish is okay with it first. Richard has never come home with company before.

A few weeks later he’s lounging in the canoe he purchased with his last Christmas bonus, hand trailing into the water beside him while Mish slips back and forth beneath the boat slapping at it with his tail and generally causing a ruckus. Richard is smiling, sunglasses keeping the glare of the afternoon sun out of his eyes while the droplets of water Mish’s tail flings up help keep him cool. It’s perfect, just what he needed to rejuvenate himself. Daria is going to love it. He hopes.

“Next time I come,” Richard swallows before going on. He’s not sure Mish even understands human sexuality. “How about I bring someone with me?”

Mish appears suddenly, hands gripping the side of the canoe enough to tip it slightly so he can meet Richard’s eyes. “You’ve never brought anyone here before,” Mish sounds guarded, protective. “Who?”

“Daria,” Richard explains, hesitating for just a second because he doesn’t like the dark look in Mish’s usually clear blue eyes. “We’re…together. I want you to meet her.”

“Because she is your friend.” Mish says. It’s not a question. It’s more like in his mind there’s no other option possible.

“Sort of,” Richard hedges, suddenly uncertain, but it’s too late to take it back now so he goes on. “We’re involved. I think I love her. I’m going to ask her to marry me, so I want to make sure you think that’s OK.”

Mish lets go of the canoe, the side tipping up and obstructing Richard’s view as his friend sinks into the water. Long moments pass before Mish reappears on the other side of the canoe, much closer to Richard’s head. “How could you ever think that would be acceptable to me?”

The question slams home with so much unexpected force that Richard gasps on the feeling of wrongness swelling in his chest. It’s like he’s done something dirty. He feels like he's violated something he didn’t even know existed. Mish is clearly angry, shaking so much that small drops of water are flying off his skin.

“I don’t understand,” Richard says instead of answering the loaded question.

“You’re…mine.” It’s said with such finality, so much certainty behind it that Richard is stunned.

“I’m your friend,” he whispers. “That’s all.”

“No, it’s not!” Mish shakes the boat and Richard grabs onto the sides, terrified. He forgets how strong Mish is, how inhuman sometimes. The water below holds no fear to the merman, but Richard has yet to learn how to swim. “I don’t even have a word for it,” Mish snarls. “You humans and your stupid words for everything. You belong with me. We’re together. I gave you my breath the day we met. I had been calling and calling to you and you finally answered me. You’ve always come back to me. I belong with you. It has to be you. There are no others. You shouldn’t want anyone but me.”

He tips the boat then, Richard hitting the water with a splash, flailing for purchase only to find Mish there, holding him so his head doesn’t go under. He’s pinned against his friend, Mish’s breath ghosting over his face before he presses their lips together, teeth slamming. Richard fights. The hold is impossible to break but he struggles anyway. He can’t do this. This isn’t right, it’s not him, not who he is. It’s not happening. “NO!” he shouts, and Mish releases him, just far enough to put distance between them but not enough to leave Richard struggling against the water.

“I’m not gay,” Richard gasps out. “And even if I was, I can’t do this with you. You’re not human; you can’t even leave this lake. This isn’t happening. I’m not yours.”

He sees Mish’s face contort into something like agony before the force of Mish hurling him through the water is so great that he has to shut his eyes against the pressure. One moment he’s in the water, the next he’s slamming into the wooden planking of the dock, choking and shaking.

“Get away from here,” Mish says coldly. “Everything about you is a lie.”

Richard runs back into the house, slamming and locking the door behind himself, though he’s not sure why. He’s afraid; something in his chest feels broken and disfigured. He watches through the window as Mish destroys his canoe with his hands and tail, the pieces of it washing up on the shore just like Richard did.

As the sun sets Mish slips below the water and God help him, Richard knows it’s the last time he will ever see his friend.

He packs his things, closes up the cabin, and drives away thinking he’ll never come back.

*****

Richard isn't sure why he keeps the cabin running, can’t seem to make himself turn off the electricity and internet connection just in case Mish still uses it. He hates the idea of his oldest friend out there totally isolated from the world.

Isolated the way Richard finds himself now.

He and Daria did get married, for exactly four years, three months, and two days. It’s something Richard really wishes he could erase from his life. The truth is, he is gay, and nothing Daria or any woman did would change that. So on top of the fact that he hasn’t ever really had a healthy relationship in his life, he now has to admit to himself that when it comes to men his type leans toward dark haired, blue eyed, pale, thin men that remind him of a creature Richard is never going to see again.

Mish was right; everything about him is a lie. Maybe everything about him always has been. Richard hates himself a little bit more everyday, and it’s been five years since that horrible day at the lake when he tore his own life and the life of the only person who never judged him to pieces.

He’s accomplished one of his goals at least: he’s senior partner in his agency now, working to develop a merger with a slightly smaller but equally wealthy firm. If he pulls this off he’s going to be a shoe in for vice president. Hell, they might even put him in charge of the whole division. He just needs to get through the next three weeks of negotiations with the guy the other firm sends over, and from what Richard has heard, he's one tough cookie.

“Mr. Speight?” his assistant says from the doorway. “Mr. Collins is here.”

Mr. Collins. Richard doesn’t know much about the guy. In fact, all the information he’s been able to scrounge up basically points to the idea that up until three years ago he didn’t even exist. They just can’t find anything on the guy. That being said, he has a reputation for being fair and thorough. Richard finds that appealing, so he’s hoping they can make some headway, get a plan set up in both their interests, and maybe even get some dinner.

It’s been a long time since he’s been on a date and even longer since he’s gotten laid. A little attention of the male persuasion wouldn’t be a bad thing, but knowing his luck, the guy is probably straight.

“Send him in,” Richard answers, drilling his way through the pile of paperwork stacking up on his desk while he waits for Collins to come in. A few moments later, when the door opens, Richard doesn’t look up as the other man approaches. He’s too focused on this invoice that clearly has something wrong with it. He’s just not sure what the problem is exactly.

“Whoever sent that in for approval needs to be educated on how to use a calculator,” a voice comments from where Richard is bent over. He looks up and feels his whole body go numb.

This can’t be real.

“Can I help you?” Richard chokes out through a throat that feels too tight. He can’t breathe.

“I’m Mr. Collins,” the man answers. There’s no smile on his face, no recognition in his eyes. But that can’t be right because Richard would swear, from the hair on his head to the shape of his face, the color of his eyes, that this man is his Mish. “They said you were expecting me.”

“I’m…sorry,” Richard stammers. “Have we met before?”

“I don’t think so,” Collins answers with a slow shake of his head. “Is that a problem?”

“No!” Richard barks, leaping to his feet and then diving for the floor to pick up the papers he’s just scattered everywhere. “Excuse me. I’m not myself today.”

Collins doesn’t say anything. He just stands there as Richard struggles to compose himself.

“I’m Richard,” he says for lack of anything else to say, struggling to get his utterly confused brain back into gear. He ends up sticking out his hand to shake and is relieved when Collins accepts the gesture.

“Misha,” the other man says conversationally as Richard is cataloging the differences between his hand and the way Richard vividly remembers Mish’s hand feeling when they touched. Collins' hand isn’t slick, cool, or smooth. He’s hot, almost too warm, and tanned, his hand rough and callused. Richard has just convinced himself that he’s not loosing his mind, this man just looks similar to his lost friend that he’s been missing so much recently, but then he registers the word, and it makes Richard’s head pound.

“Pardon?” he asks.

“My name,” Collins says with an odd grin. “It’s Misha. Unusual, I’m aware, but my mother was eccentric.”

Misha… Richard’s world continues to spin out of control. He’s overcome with one thought; God must clearly be punishing him for being a total, abject asshole. There’s just no other explanation for how this is going.

The rest of the day melts into Richard mumbling incoherently, looking like a complete jackass and a total idiot at the same time. By the time he heads back to his condo very late in the evening he's certain that Misha Collins thinks he’s both spastic and psychotic. Half the time all Richard could do was stare at the side of Misha’s face while he cataloged the differences between him and Mish.

How does one explain such an obsession? Richard isn't sure it's possible. “I’m sorry, you remind me of this merman I knew. He loved me but I rejected him because I’m an asshole,” is really not going to win Richard any brownie points.

He’s going to get fired. He’s going to ruin this merger and burn his whole life down around his own shoulders if he can’t get himself together. He falls into bed, slipping into sleep only to dream about making out with Misha on a pile of papers across his desk. Only when he goes to take off Misha’s pants he has a fish tail instead of legs and all Richard can think of is how frustrated he is that he can’t figure out how to fuck him. He wakes up shouting into the darkness of his apartment, covered in sweat.

He’s going crazy.

All in all, Richard is fucked.

*****

Two weeks later Richard finds himself enjoying his new, regular after work activity; running on the treadmill in the office gym beside Misha Collins. If pressed, though, Richard would admit that his definition of running is really more like jogging, or walking quickly, and Misha runs as though he is fleeing from a psycho killer. The man has stamina like nothing Richard has ever seen. He sometimes wonders on these odd after work dates if maybe Misha is using some kind of steroid. It’s like if Richard wasn’t there to distract him with random off the wall questions he could run forever just staring at the blank wall in front of him. It’s almost inhuman.

“So you’ve seriously got no idea who David Bowie is?” Richard asks as he stumbles and tires to hold a pace even remotely decent in relationship to the flat out dash his co-worker is doing.

“No,” Misha answers, and seriously? He’s not even really breathing hard and they’ve been going at it for over ten minutes already.

“How is that possible?” Richard questions. “The man is an icon of music. Were you born in a barn or something?”

Misha’s face twists in this odd little smile he gets when Richard asks him questions about anything prior to the past six months. There’s a secret there, something deep and possibly dark that Richard wants to dip into. Misha is interesting, hell, Misha is the most interesting person Richard has met in a long time and unlike most people, Richard really enjoys his company. That’s pretty rare, too. Most of the time being around people too much leaves Richard feeling raw and exposed, irritated. But they’re developing an easy companionship as Richard finally starts to get over the idea that Misha looks similar to his long lost Mish. There are significant differences in their personalities. Misha is wild and brash where his friend was more patient and focused. Misha is like lightning, striking when you least expect it, full of information and taking out anyone and anything in his path as long as it suits his purposes. Richard tries not to think of the one time he ever saw Mish angry.

It hurts too much.

“I grew up pretty isolated,” Misha finally answers, still pounding his feet against the treadmill at a steady pace. “So I guess there are some things I just missed.”

“Like where?” Richard presses, hoping for an opening to really get some details. “On one of those insulated religious compounds? You were raised Amish!”

“Yes, Richard,” Misha says blandly with a roll of his eyes. “I’m secretly Amish.”

“Okay, so that is stupid,” Richard laughs at himself. “But give me something.”

He’s really, really hoping Misha presses him for why this matters. Honestly, Richard has been seriously toying with the idea of asking Misha out to dinner, trying to start something more than friendship with him. He enjoys the other man’s company immensely, has random lusty thoughts about kissing Misha, Misha’s tanned skin spread over his sheets, Misha’s sometimes overly filthy mouth wrapped around his dick…Richard needs to stop thinking about this before he trips and kills himself.

“I don’t know,” Misha huffs, wiping some sweat off his forehead. “I don’t have siblings, my parents are dead. I grew up in an isolated place, was home schooled. I taught myself about the business and have a knack for it, I guess. I don’t like to be in one place too long, don’t have many people I’m close to. Never have, really. There’s not much to tell.”

Richard is honestly not sure what to say in response to that, so he just keeps running, turning it over in his head. Misha has given him the information he’s asked for, but it doesn’t feel like enough. Richard wants more.

“What about you?” Misha says several minutes later as he and Richard are powering off the machines and getting ready to head to the bathroom and changing area to clean up.

Richard is honestly startled. Misha hasn’t really done much more than answer Richard’s questions and listen to him ramble. This is the first time Misha has asked him anything in return. “Umm.” He struggles to think of what exactly to share. “I was raised by my mother, but we aren’t close. I have an older sister and brother but we haven’t spoken since my grandfather died a long time ago. It’s a long, complicated story. I stay in town a lot. I like the cities. Wouldn’t know what to do with myself if I didn’t have something to work on. I’ve been married, divorced. No kids, thank God. That wouldn’t have been fair. I think I’m just now learning how to be an adult.”

“So that’s it, then?” Misha says vaguely as he swipes at his sweat dampened hair with a towel. “No significant people in your life?”

“No,” Richard says softly as he throws his towel into his gym bag and gets ready to join Misha on the walk to the garage. “I had someone once, grew up with him. He was a good friend… I messed it all up one day. Didn’t mean to. He had one idea about our relationship and I had another. I was stupid, young. I didn’t even really know who I was or who I wanted to be. Anyway,” Richard sighs as he struggles to control his shaking hands. “We haven’t spoken in a really long time. I’m not sure there’s anything left to fix there.”

They’ve gotten to their cars, parked neatly beside each other like perhaps they belong that way. Richard doesn’t remember the elevator ride, or the walk through the building. It’s weird, to be so distant from his body like he’s lost inside his own head. He blinks, turns toward Misha to find the man looking at him like he’s under a microscope, something to be examined closely. “What?”

Then Misha is leaning toward him, his hand coming up to slide along the side of Richard’s face, tangling in the messy curls on the back of Richard’s neck and urging him closer. Their noses bump, and Richard feels a grin curling around his mouth before Misha’s lips descend against his, hot, wet, and perfect. He drops his gym bag so he can cling to Misha’s shirt, and Richard knows he moans like an idiot virgin. Misha huffs an amused but shaky noise against his cheek after pulling back, just a bit, to nuzzle the side of his face.

“Invite me to dinner tomorrow night,” Misha orders, before pressing a kiss to Richard’s ear. Just like him to tell Richard to invite him instead of just asking Richard himself.

But still, “Come to dinner with me,” Richard breathes.

“Yes,” Misha smiles all bright and content. Richard’s stomach flips over.

They don’t work out the details then, leaving it for in the morning. Richard goes home that night and falls asleep, dreaming of Misha farming in Amish country. He wakes up hours later gasping for breath as if he was struggling to stay afloat in the sea.

Part 2