She’s skinny as void, a wraith sinking peacefully into your shallow waters. You’re not even sure if she’s alive, but you hesitantly swim closer (no one’s here to tell you no.)
On land you push her chest until she spits up, water and a bit of a foul-smelling substance you assume is human vomit. You wrinkle your nose as she sits up to retch into the sand.
“Um,” her words come shaky and slurred - not unlike the drunk sailors you see occasionally. “T-thanks.”
“You’re welcome.” You say with a smile. Her eyes travel along your body, from the skin of your breasts to the shimmering scales of your tail. She stares at you in wonder, a small smile forming on her face.
“You’re totally a mermaid.” She says in awe. You suddenly remember that showing breasts is against human culture and cover them with your arm awkwardly. She laughs.
“No, it’s fine. I won’t tell anyone. You saved me, I owe you shitloads. Is there anything you want, miss mermaid lady?”
You move a little closer. You can only go so long in the painfully dry air, but you’re curious, running your fingers along the dark skin of her exposed leg. She looks accepting, smiling at your soft touches, but you still start slow. “I’m... Jane. And you are?”
“Roxy.” The strange human says.
The next words stick in your throat. The idea of the knowledge is intoxicating, no matter how much your father told you that you didn’t need to know, that the information would just tear at your delicate gills. “Tell me about being a human.” you whisper.
A wave crashed against the both of you. The breaking of the water on your drying scales and gills feels heavenly, but Roxy winces and sputters as some goes up her nose. “It’s... p’good.” she says, giggling. “I dunno what you want me to say about it though, Janey.”
The sun felt like burning on your light skin, but you wanted to stay up, you wanted to learn, you wanted to touch her. Your cheeks were hot.
“I want to know everything!” you insist, a little aggravated, but it’s becoming too much for you. “I--” The water is slowly draining, and you can’t stand it anymore. “I’ll be back tomorrow. Please be here, Roxy human.”
“Of course, Merjaney,” She says with a smile, ruffling your hair. You frown at the nickname, but let it rest as you slither back into the water, leaving Roxy on a the quiet rocky beach.
The next day you find her a little up the shore. Behind her, you can see a structure made out of land plant material, wound into a shaded area. You kind of wish it was closer to the water, so you could hide there and take a little longer to talk to her. As it is, you think you only have about 10 minutes (a measurement that you’re told comes from humans.)
“I told you I’d come back!” You say to her as she sits in the sand next to you. Something’s off about her smile, so you laugh to break the tension - a soft “hoo hoo hoo.” She pulls you into a hug, nestling her head in your hair. She smells so unfamiliar and comfortable - you almost forget to breathe. (As if it does you any good.)
“Hey, Janey? I’d like to jump into that rad human exploring thing now, but I have a favor to ask from you first.” She says. Her clothed body pressed to your naked one has you enraptured, too much to complain about the short time you have on land.
“What is it?”
“Do you know the nearest inhabited land around here? I kinda need to get back to people.”
You pull back to look at her quizzically. What’s her problem? It seems humans are more social animals than your own kind. “Isn’t there enough here to eat? And plenty of sun. I know you humans like sun.”
Roxy gives a dry laugh. “Yeah, there’s shittons to eat and... well, humans don’t want sun 100% of the time, but really what I need is some fucking water.”
You shudder at her human curse word, but let it slip. “You’re surrounded by water, Roxy.”
“Humans can’t drink sea water. It’ll kill us.” She says, and you stare at her. Humans needed water... and it couldn’t be sea water. What kind of water did they drink? All water had to be like this, salty and nutrient-rich. You had heard rumors of mermaids in saltless water, but they all seemed like scary rumors at the time. Now you’re curious... and concerned, of course.
Roxy sighs. “I know you don’t understand, Merjaney. I’ll explain more later, but I really need to know if you know where the humans are.”
You frown, feeling bad you can’t answer her question. You want so desperately to make her happy. “I’ve... never really seen too many humans before you. A few dead ones, I mean. And a strange shiny capsule full of them, once. And sometimes some on those big ships. But never a live human I could talk to! I don’t know where to find them, or I’d have already talked to them!” You laugh to break the tension but it doesn’t work. Roxy seems more than a little heartbroken.
“You wanna hear about humans?” She finally says, quietly. She lays on the beach in the tide and you lay next to her. She puts an arm around you and talks to you about cruise liners and human food (they eat fish too!) until you start feel crispy around the edges and have to leave her.
“Tomorrow,” you promise, and she nods.
Roxy seems more irritable the next time you see her. She’s panting for breath like a fish out of water.
“Are you a hallucena-whatsit, Janey babe? Is that what you are?” She slurs.
“You shouldn’t lay in the sun, you’ll dry up!”
She takes no heed to your warning.
“Did you find some water?” You ask worriedly.
“No,” she says, voice suddenly weak and small. “I mean, I found some plants with a little. But there’s nothing I can subsi--- soob-- live off.”
“Will you be okay?”
“No, Jane.” Her voice is dry. “I’m going to die. Humans die without water.”
Yet they die in it too. You don’t understand how humans work. Maybe if you understood the concept of oxygen, it wouldn’t be such a paradox.
“I’m-- I--” You choke, brushing a strand of hair out her face. Tears fall from your face. She reaches up to lick them away.
“You cry freshwater.”
“What?” You say admist your sobs. She sits up to kiss and lick at your tears. Her tongue is sand-dry, and you can’t stop crying. You don’t want your only human to die. You haven’t talked to her enough. You haven’t learned about them yet. But it’s more than that, you’re starting to realize - another human just wouldn’t be the same.
You like her, this strange girl licking at your eyelids. She presses her lips against yours. They’re rough like coral, but you press back, hoping to give her some comfort.
“Maybe I’ll live another hour, off your tears,” she mutters into you.
“I’ll save you.” You say, determined. The sun is starting to bite, but you’ll save her. “Go into the shelter.”
“No.” She croaks, clinging to you like a barnacle.
“You need to, Roxy!”
“I can’t stand up,” she says, and you realize just how bad things have become.
“I’ll be back,” you say, pulling away from her dry, swollen tongue and sunken eyes to return to the sea.
“Yeah, I have some.” Meenah says. You shiver. Her house of hidden treasures is cold and terrifying. You never thought you’d have to deal with the queen’s rebel daughter - you feel not just uncomfortable, but a little disgusted at the condition of this place. It’s covered in algae and errant seaweed. “What do you need freshwater for?”
“I.... I can’t tell you.” You sputter.
She frowns. “It’s not like I’m going to tell anyone anyfin. You think I get buy in this business by being a snitchy beach? Come on, spill it like a tanker.”
You’re not even sure what she means by all that. “There’s... a human girl. I need to save her, she says she needs freshwater.”
“So it’s a case of a-moray. ... Okay, that was bad even for me.” Meenah cackles, little air bubbles floating up as the braids of her hair float in the tides. “I understand. But a bottle o’ freshwater won’t last her that long. The sun’ll krill her soon enough. You’ll need a more permanent solution if you want her to live.”
“Can you do that?”
“Of course!” Meenah said, digging in her box of treasures. “I’ve got somefin right here. A... potion. Look, you can’t glub about this to anyone, alright? I’m trustfin you.”
You had forgotten that the princess had... occult tendencies. Your eyes widen in shock, but she’s not turned around to see you.
“This is the one. I’ll throw in the freshwater for free, okay?” She lets the two bottles float to you casually. “Have her drink the water first, then give her the potion when she’s done. Make sure she does it slowly, wouldn’t want her to upchuck.”
You clutch them to your bare chest. “What do I owe you, miss?”
Meenah grins at you with wide and pointed teeth. “You owe me a whale of a story when she’s okay, gir---l.”
Roxy is near death when you come back up. She’s blabbering. “After all that, I never had sex. I got on that damn cruise with a shitton of booze and hotties and all I did was fall overboard. Someone’s looking for me, maybe? Maybe Dirk.... maybe I’ll get a pity one in. Maybe mom misses me for once, maybe she cares. Maybe... Janey, you’re so pretty, if I had thought about it...” Her mumbling becomes too quiet to hear after a while. You’re pressing the plastic bottle to her lips, giving her small sips until it’s all gone.
Then you examine the second bottle.
The substance inside is purple and vicous, with strange sparkling objects in it that look like scales. You’re terrified to know what it may have been made of. There’s a label, with messily scribbled instructions. “Test potion #135! Find human, give human potion. Pull into water. Hope this works.”
You’re doing more than hoping at this point.
“Take this, Roxy,” You say, forcing the liquid down. She coughs, but you’re careful not to let her choke as she takes it in. When you’re done, you pull her into the salt water with you, hoping for the best--
She’s screaming, she’s letting up air bubbles and you don’t know what to do, she’s flailing and trying to form words and clinging to you and you have to close your eyes -- you can’t --
Suddenly, everything goes silent. You dare to open your eyes. Roxy’s eyes are wide and pink, and she’s not breathing. Your eyes well up uselessly against the salty sea.
“No,” you whisper.
Suddenly, you feel a swishing next to your tail, something strong. You turn around to look for another presence, but there is none - you’re alone with a corpse, a corpse you created. The swish comes again, and you look down.
Another tail. Connected to Roxy.
It’s a gruesome sight, to be honest; her new tail was only partially attached at this point, scales and webbing growing up her legs in a way that looked terribly painful. Gills open on her waist and neck with a spurt of blood, and she sputters - water-sputters, the way you understand - clumsily trying to orient herself in the water.
“Janey?” She says, looking at you incredulously. There’s a strange sort of fear in her eyes as you jump her, clinging to her with streaming tears.
There’s no way you could ever regret this moment.