Title: What the Waves Can't Provide
Fandom: The Infernal Devices
Word Count: 1,860 approx.
Disclaimer: Not mine.
Summary: Mermaid(man) AU. Will and Jem had only a moderate interest in humans and the surface world, but then Tessa was storm-tossed into their arms...
It’s only a moment when they glance at each other as they never have before, just an instant when they look at each other as one may look upon a rival, each sizing the other up.
Will swishes his tail. He’s always been terribly proud of his tail, the red scales at his stomach that shift to blue by the end of his fins. And the slow fade of indigo hues in-between that match his eyes. It’s one of his best features alongside his scathing sarcasm. He can’t believe he’s about to lose it. Humans have legs, not hued tails.
It’s always contrasted with Jem’s silvery gray monochrome fins. That’s Jem for you. A calm silver all over. Inside and out. At least, until the day they saw the Lady Tessa’s ship sail over their stormy corner of the Ocean.
Jem hasn’t been calm since. He’s been anxious to to see the sweet human girl again, same as Will. Anxious and impatient.
Magnus says that Jem’s hair and eyes won’t stay silver when he transforms. Humans don’t have silver hair in their youth like that. It will probably be black, and his eyes too. Apparently, humans with Jem’s facial structure tend to have black hair. Will can’t picture it.
The sea-warlock taps his fingers impatiently.
“So? It’s decided? You two are going to pool your money and pay me? It’s five-thousand clams. I’ve done enough free-work for you in the past, Will. This IS a discount.”
Will grits his teeth. Jem nods. It is agreed, then.
“No matter what she decides…” Jem whispers.
“No matter who she chooses, ” Will agrees, “We go as brothers and will abide by her decision. Any choice is better than Mortmain.”
It’s the longing in his brother’s eyes that cuts him to the quick. They remember it as one.
The storm, the shipwreck. A human girl in bundled skirts, tossed by the wind off the port bow, landing directly onto Will. Jem grabbed her. They both carried her. Laid her prone long-legged body on a flat rock jutting from the waves.
Will had almost wondered if she was dead as she slept through the storm, but Jem kept his fingers at her wrist, insisting that all was not in vain. She slept through the raging tempest. And rays of the sun warmed her. In her sleep, she kicked off her boots, and both mermen found themselves rather wondering at her human toes.
“It must drive them crazy, having to always balance on two stiff legs like that,” Will theorized, “Must constantly distract them, cut their brain power in half. Just watch. For all her pretty face, she’ll wake up and be an idiot.”
Jem snorted, “Like that octo-warlock who always beats you at chess?”
“He cheats!” Will protested, “He’s got magic and it’s a stupid human game anyway. Probably invented by ducks, originally. Besides, I doubt he actually keeps track of all those limbs. A couple could probably wonder off and he’d never notice.”
But Jem wasn’t listening. He was watching her. Her eyelids were blinking, and Will found himself similarly entranced. Gray eyes, reflecting the sunrise. But then she turned her blinking face, and frowned at him, groaning a moment, before licking her lips—pretty lips, not too full, just right—and finding her voice:
“Perhaps you have just the one tail, because it’s already more than your brain can handle.”
Jem’s unguarded laughter rang in his ears and Will felt his face turn red.
Her name was Tessa, and she wasn’t an idiot. She read books. A lot of books. And as the three of them waited for a ship from her land to come searching for her, she would tell them stories from her books.
Will, in turn, would fetch his favorite sea-scrolls and tell her fish-tales about the monsters of the deep. When her eyebrow twitched and her lips grimaced—like when Will saw fit to go into graphic detail of how the human victims were torn limb from leggy limb—Jem would interrupt, and sing for her.
Will had always loved the beauty of his brother’s music, but Tessa seemed to inspire something more from it. Where there was once a certain sadness in the refrain, one look from her would drive Jem to replace it with an upraised passion.
And when her lips became chapped and her stomach growled, it was Jem who found the oysters for her to eat.
As the sun beat down on her, Tessa slowly shed more and more of that tattered cloth human females insisted on wearing so much. Both mermen tensed in fascination at finally getting a clear look at her two very human legs.
She had blushed—Will didn’t entirely understand it—perhaps her legs were not beautiful by human standards? He couldn’t be sure—they weren’t a tail—but they looked… enticing enough to his eye. They were long. Identically shaped. The curves of them resembling bows—those human weapons that Jem favored so… Jem mentioned the similarity. That was how Will knew Jem liked Tessa’s legs. Will decided he liked them too. Tessa merely blushed again, but tried to return the compliment.
“Um, you both have lovely tails.”
Will had simply nodded, but Jem had blushed in return. So few people complimented him on his single-colored gray tail. But she genuinely liked it. Said it was beautiful. That it caught the light like a flickering candle.
Whatever a candle was.
As the days passed, she swam a little with them. She was an awkward and clumsy thing in the water, but she never minded them guiding her. Them touching her. But she had to resurface quickly. Always. And where Will forgot the capacity of her frail earth-bound lungs, Jem thankfully remembered.
It hurt, sometimes, to see her gasp and strain after being under for too long. But she needed to swim. She needed to move. Humans were not made to be trapped on small rocks, even if they couldn’t have the freedom of the sea.
As she grew more restless, more overheated, more dehydrated—horrible, horrible irony that humans could not drink of the sea, it made Will want to rage at the unfairness—she grew weaker.
Jem refused to leave her. For he and Will had ventured far from home to see the storm, and now they dared not return to their cove until they knew their human companion’s fate. They could find no more oysters. No oysters similarly meant no liquid that could sustain her. Will wanted to swim out further find something else—but it was not simply starvation. It was sickness. Nothing an ocean-dweller could comprehend.
She continued to fade. Her witty remarks dried up with her throat. Her shining gray eyes grew heavy with exhaustion. Her smile gave way to despair.
Oh, gods… please don’t let her die.
With one mind, they’d reached for the rock and pulled themselves up. It was strange, trying to wiggle their way onto the rock, each laying their tails beside her legs. But as they curled up on the sun-heated crag, with Tessa between them, something felt inherently right about it. Jem put his arms about her. Will hovered over her, shading her eyes from the brightness of the sky as he laid his hand over her stomach. It cooled her a bit, and Will wondered at the fact that human or merfolk, their skin felt much the same.
Somehow, she found her voice for them then. Talked of her brother, of her kingdom. Her ship had been bound for her betrothed’s home. For Lord Nate had decided that the Duke of Mortmain would be a befitting husband, securing magical ties for their less-than-resourceful land. Tessa hadn’t wanted to marry so soon. She’d hoped to travel more, before taking the voyage that would tie her to a stranger’s bed forever.
“So marry one of us instead,” Will joked.
“We’re magical and resourceful,” Jem joined in, “And while we are not dukes, we are princes. Small ones, but still…”
“And we like adventures. Especially ones with monsters.”
“But we would never let them hurt you.”
She had smiled. She was too tired to laugh, but oh! How she smiled… and clutched at them so tightly, it surprised Will how much strength she had left in her body to do it.
Will wanted to cry, but knew better. For if he cried, Jem would have to comfort them all. And Jem was close to tears himself. Better to not cry, and all be on the verge of sobbing.
As her eyes fluttered closed, Will felt her hand graze his shoulder. It was a silent farewell and it made him want to scream. Jem had laid his cheek against her chest, keeping watch over the rhythm of her heart. Her other hand tangled in his silver hair, dry for the first time. Jem closed his own eyes tightly.
It was only then at the ship appeared over the horizon. It bore her brother’s colors, and while Will and Jem had worked so quickly, so desperately, to grab the sailors attention and help her aboard…
“She’ll be fine, ” said the ship’s medic.
And it was all they had to go on as they watched the great floating human thing take her away.
They must have sat on that rock in silence for hours before the sun went down.
They went home. But could not bear it. Will’s scrolls had lost all their lure. Jem’s songs had become painful dirges. Inevitably, they were drawn back to the rock.
Again and again.
Untill finally, a pigeon landed, with a tiny scroll attached to its leg.
She was alive. Thinking of them. And her wreck and her illness had delayed the wedding.
A snap of Magnus’s fingers draws Will back to the present.
“I—yes. Agreed. We both pay you. We will appeal to her brother as alternative suitors. She will choose one of us, and all will be well.”
The spell begins.
It wraps around him, fills his nose and gills and lungs, and he cannot breathe. Will knows that this must be what Tessa felt when she waited too long to surface because he wants to gasp as she did, to force his lung to work. This is drowning. But it is warm. And it wraps around his tail before cutting into it like a knife. He feels his body split as his tail divides evenly, reshaping and forming…
When the time comes, Will shall tell Jem of his plan, his foolhardy plan that involves madness. The madness of saying drown-it-all to Tessa’s human limitations, her villainous brother’s demand that she wed a man of magic and produce heirs like some common sea-cow.
Once they’ve been on the surface world a while, when he has more resources, he will tell Jem what he REALLY wants.
All of them, together. One with the sea, and far away from all hurt, all pain, all monsters.
They will find her. But they won’t play by her brother’s rules.
They are going to bring her home.