In Too Deep by Sage McMae

Chapter 1

Kagome groans at the number reflected on the screen. Her bank account balance is the lowest it’s been since she opened her account. Despite working full time over the summer, this semester has completely wiped out her savings. She has enough to cover living expenses for the next month. It will be tight but she can make it work. Deflated, she walks away from the ATM. 

College was supposed to be four years of freedom— time away from the shrine to learn how to live on her own decide what she wants to do for the remainder of her life. She chose to move to Shima because it differed from Tokyo. With its warmer temperature and white sand beaches, it seemed like the perfect alternative. 

Kagome didn’t anticipate the expense. The most important lesson she has learned isn’t from a textbook or lecture; it’s how to budget. 

Living in the university dormitories is out of the question. On-campus housing is expensive. Kagome opted to rent a studio space instead. She found one near the university. The landlord, an eccentric old man named Totosai, lets it to her for 50,000¥ a month. Thankfully, she’s paid up through the end of the semester. 

Kagome ignores the smell of fresh seafood as she passes one of the town’s restaurants. Eating out is a luxury she can’t afford. The only crab she’ll be eating this month will be featured in her dreams. 

When she reaches her apartment, Totosai is outside sweeping the front porch. “Why the long face, Kagome?” 

“Oh, it’s nothing,” she assures her landlord. 

“I may be old but I’m not blind,” he grouses. “I just made a pot of tea. Why don’t you come inside for a bit?” 

Kagome doesn’t argue. One of the reasons she feels so comfortable around Totosai is because of how much he reminds her of Gramps. And like her grandfather, he has an uncanny way of knowing how to cheer her up. 

Tonight is no exception. She sits down to freshly brewed green tea and a plate of daifuku. 

As she bites into the sweet, Totosai fills their cups. “Now, then, tell me what happened.” 

Kagome explains the state of her bank account and how she’s too embarrassed to ask her family for help. Even if she wasn’t, it wouldn’t matter. All their extra income goes to Souta, who qualified for the traveling soccer team this year. 

“What about a job?” Totosai suggests. 

“I’ve never worked before. I guess I could apply at one of the restaurants but I don’t have any experience,” Kagome admits. 

Her landlord strokes his chin thoughtfully. “I may have something better if you’re interested.” She tilts her head curiously. “We need part-time help at the aquarium,” Totosai informs her. 

“I’m pursuing a degree in business management, not marine biology,” Kagome reminds him. 

He holds up a hand. “We wouldn’t be asking you to do anything that requires that level of education. It’s mostly meal preparation for our residents and maintaining the habitats.”

“What are the hours?” 

“We would be able to work around your class schedule,” Totosai offers. 

Kagome brightens. Having flexible, part-time work would help her financially. Plus, it would put her ahead of her peers when it comes time to start her job search after graduation. The opportunity sounds too good to be true, which begs the question: “What’s the catch?”

Totosai chuckles at the unintended pun. “No catch.” 

“Really?” she asks skeptically. 

“Come by tomorrow afternoon once you’ve finished classes for the day. I’ll take you on a tour of our facility and you can decide then. Sound good?”



The last time Kagome visited an aquarium, she was in fifth grade. She’d been on a class field trip in Sumida City and had gotten lost in the Deep Sea Exploration exhibit. She still remembers how cold the dark the room felt. It isn’t an experience she wants to repeat.

Kagome sticks close to Totosai as he meanders past the various attractions. He introduces her to a few of his coworkers, all of whom Kagome forgets the instant they walk away. She’s too busy trying to memorize the layout of the aquarium to learn their names. 

“And this is our pride and joy: the Research and Rehabilitation wing,” Totosai announces, waving his badge over a digital card reader alongside a thick metal door. There is a click and then he gestures for Kagome to step inside. “This area is only open to members of the staff but since you’ll be joining us shortly, I don’t think a quick peek will do any harm.”

Kagome follows Totosai down a narrow corridor. At the end, they reach another door that requires badge access. He clearly takes security very seriously. If Kagome didn’t know any better, she’d think she was interviewing for a job at a bank instead of an aquarium. 

“Down there is my department,” Totosai explains, pointing to a hallway on their left. “We study everything from the effects of beach erosion on tide pool ecosystems to migration habits of sharks.” 

Kagome nods, noting the various maps that line the walls outside his office. 

“Over here are the rehabilitation clinics,” he motions to the right side of the hallway where several windows overlook tanks and labs. “We have separate chambers for each type of arrival— illness, contamination, injury. Our goal is to treat and return them to the wild.” 

“That’s amazing,” she says, peering through the glass. Kagome watches a woman in a white lab coat weighing a sea turtle. Her assistant hits down the weight then helps her place the sea turtle in a tank. 

“It’s imperative that visitors not be allowed back here,” Totosai warns. “This place operates like a hospital. The fewer people who come through these does the lower the risk of infection or contamination. Not even some of the staff are permitted back here.” 

“I understand,” she says. 

Totosai smiles. “Good. Now, there is one last thing I’d like to show you.” 

He passes the rehabilitation rooms to stop in front of a door marked ‘Not an Exit’. This door doesn’t have just one card reader; it has two. Totosai swipes his badge across the first and produces a red card with no characters on it for the second. 

The door swings open to reveal a steep, metal staircase. Totosai leads her up to a large, damp room. “This used to be part of the main aquarium before the renovations ten years ago. I convinced them to leverage the old tanks to create the Research and Rehab wing. It was the first program of its kind but I didn’t design it with purely unselfish reasons. My main goal was this.”

Kagome looks out across the top of a massive tank. The water is so calm at first glance, she thinks it is a pane of glass. “What is this place?” 

“This is where I conduct my personal research,” Totosai answers. “It’s also where the bulk of your help is required,” he adds. 

Kagome spots a desk in the corner covered with a stack of papers, professional journals, and sticky notes. A garbage can sits underneath the desk. It’s overflowing with take-out containers and rotting fruit. 

“I spend more time in here than in my office and home combined. It’s quieter,” Totosai explains. 

She purses her lips, unsure if he’s commenting on her late-night study habits or not. “What’s in there? More fish?” Kagome asks, pointing to the tank. 

“No fish,” he responds. “But I still suggest you keep your distance.”

“Don’t you want me to clean it?” 

“You don’t have to worry about the interior of the tank, just the area above the surface,” Totosai clarifies. “I can offer you 1,250¥ an hour if you’re able to work at least ten hours a week.”

Kagome blinks. He’s offering a substantial increase over minimum wage and ten hours a week should be manageable with her current course load. With that kind of money, she’ll be able to afford better food and maybe even go out with her friends once in a while.

“When do I start?“

Totosai grins. “Let’s go to my office. I have all the paperwork there.”

He immediately begins heading down the steps. Kagome takes a moment to study the room one final time, making a few mental notes about the cleaning products she’ll need to get rid of the stench of decaying food. 

As she turns away, Kagome hears a splash. She pauses on the staircase with one hand on the railing. Kagome glances over her shoulder and swears she sees white fins disappear beneath the surface. She takes a step toward the tank. The water is calm. Kagome shakes her head and decides it must have been a trick of the light. After all, Totosai told her there are no fish in this tank. 

She continues downstairs, unaware of the specter watching her from the shadows. 



Working at the aquarium turns out to be the best part-time job Kagome could ask for. Not only is the pay good, but the staff is welcoming and Totosai keeps his promise about offering flexible hours.

During her first week, Kagome learns where the custodial supplies are and the rotation schedule for cleaning the exhibits. She also meets Kaede, one of the rehabilitation staff members. Kaede teaches her about assessing the health of sea creatures and how to create a treatment plan.

Kagome finds the process fascinating. It’s better than studying supply chain management and far more rewarding. After Kaede lets her assist with a sea turtle who suffered a boat strike, Kagome considers switching her major.

She originally chose business management to take over the shrine. Kagome isn’t passionate about business— she has to study several hours a week just to keep on top of her course load —but supporting her family has always been a priority for her. It’s the sole reason why she doesn’t file a change request with the university.

By her third Saturday at the aquarium, Kagome has her routine down. She starts the morning by cleaning the tide pool exhibit. The shallow water area needs the most attention since visitors are permitted to touch the residents.

“Good morning,” she greets the starfish, crayfish, and mollusks. Kagome is careful not to disturb any of them while she wipes down the glass panes.

Next comes the Ancient Seas and the Coral Reef exhibits. Kagome isn’t scuba certified so she isn’t required to do any diving. Her focus is on the visitor side of the glass. She wipes down all the surfaces and nameplates. Then, she heads into the back where the kitchens are.

Each resident has a specific diet. There are charts along the walls that detail exactly how much of each fish, vegetable, and nutrients are to be given. Kagome feeds the sea lions first. They are the noisiest bunch, often barking nonstop until she delivers their pails of fish. Once their satisfied, she moves on to the tanks and special exhibits. By the time she’s finished, it’s time for her lunch break.

Though the aquarium has an adequate employee break room, Kagome prefers the privacy of Totosai’s research room. After she signed the paperwork agreeing to work for him, he gave her a red badge for access to the chamber.

Kagome frequents the quiet area during her breaks. It’s the perfect place to study. She can understand why Totosai enjoys being here. The only sound in the room is the lapping of water against the side of the tank. It’s rhythmic and soft— a gentle way to decompress after dealing with the crowds downstairs.

She finds it odd that Totosai is never here when she visits. Kagome expected to find him hunched over his desk or littering the floor with orange peels— which appears to be one of his favorite snacks. Yet, each time she arrives, the chamber is empty.

Kagome takes a seat near the tank, under one of the overhead lights so she can scan the latest reading assignment for her marketing class. The text is about as interesting as the onigiri in her bento box.

It’s times like this that she misses home. Mama’s cooking isn’t fancy but it is flavorful, which is more than she can say for her own.

She sets the rice ball down with a sigh. Maybe Totosai will eat the rest. He doesn’t seem too picky about his meals…when he actually eats them.

Kagome has noticed that her landlord often forgets to take care of himself. He gets so engrossed in his work that he loses track of things. She has started making extra bento boxes to keep on hand for him.

Since he’s not around to partake, Kagome sets the food aside and begins reading from her marketing text out loud. She hopes that the exercise will help her focus on the content.

As Kagome is highlighting a section on barriers for emerging industries, she hears a change in the rhythm of the water. She glances around, searching for the source, yet the tank appears empty.

She creeps closer to the edge. Maybe Totosai is rehabilitating a minke whale. Kagome knows he’s against whaling, which has decimated their population. Curious, she peers down into the shadowy depths.

And right into the face of a man.

Kagome screams and falls backward, landing on the cold cement. She winces at the pain. There is sure to be a bruise on her tailbone tomorrow. She massages the area gingerly for a moment before noticing the man watching her.

Jeez, you scared me.”

He keeps his face half-submerged as he silently observes her.

“What are you doing in there?” Kagome asks. “I thought Totosai and I were the only ones allowed back here.”

He doesn’t respond, merely continues to stare.

“Are you in charge of cleaning the tank?” she asks.

He remains quiet.

“Listen, I won’t tell Totosai that you snuck in but you really shouldn’t be back here without permission. This area is private,” Kagome tells him.

His gaze shifts from her face to her lunch.

“Would you like to try some?” she offers, pushing the box toward him.

He moves away, eyes widening at her advance.

“You’re welcome to have it. I’m not a great cook but I promise it’s not poisonous,” Kagome jokes.

A pale hand reaches out of the water and snatches the box off the ledge. He turns away to eat the food. His long silver hair drapes over his form like a piece of drenched silk.

When he finishes his meal, he places the empty container next to her. It’s the first time Kagome gets a good look at his face.

In the harsh light of the overhead lamps, the angles of his face appear sharp and unforgiving. His eyes are gold in color with slitted irises that remind her of a shark. She suspects they are specialty contacts. He must care a lot about his appearance because his eyes aren’t the only strange thing. He also has two pairs of magenta stripes adorning his cheeks.

“Wow, did it hurt to get your tattoos? They’re so—.” Kagome’s assessment of his markings falters when the stripes move. She realizes that she’s made a mistake. The stripes aren’t tattoos. 

They are gills.


Author's Note: This fic is dedicated to Yumanichan (Yumani) who created the gorgeous SessKag fanart that inspired me to write this. Not beta'd.


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