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The Ugly Merman

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Hardly have the golden sparks of the last great chrysanthemum begun raining into the sea below when the band strikes up again amidst polite applause, leaving nary a break between one entertainment and the next. Cast no longer in the ever-shifting colours of the fireworks display, shadows slink cosily back in among the party guests enjoying the spectacle from the deck of the royal yacht. Even from halfway across the bay the cheery trill of pipes and violins can be picked out in bits and pieces when it carries on the wind, scattered in complement to the warm glow of lantern-light dancing over the crests of the waves. Perched on a sea-scoured rock that peaks above the tideline near the shore, someone gives a long, heartfelt sigh.

Presently, the wind picks up again, now carrying cheers from the revellers on the yacht as a new barrel of wine is breeched in aid of the celebration. By the old sea rock, there's a faint splashing sound, followed by a rhythmic series of taps as a sea otter begins hammering a clam shell against one of the craggier edges sticking up above the waves.

From the rock's other occupant comes another sigh, this one perhaps more pointed than the last.

The sea otter pauses in his quest for tasty mollusc flesh. "I'm sorry," he says, "Did you say something?

"Do you mind, Weasel?" his friend complains. "I'm tryna get my romantic pining on over here, and you're ruining the mood with all your clam-hammering! If you must make that noise, you could at least try to get some sort of funky Caribbean beat going, geez!"

"I'm not sure I have the rhythm for that," admits Weasel-the-sea-otter. His own sigh as he sets his clam down on the rock is only a little less heartfelt than his friend's, if diplomatically softer.

"Humans," croons the other, oblivious. "Aren't humans amazing? All that smooth, unblemished skin. All that delicate, flowing hair. All those goddamn clothes they haveta go covering themselves in like the giant fucking teases that they are."

"I'll take your word for it," says Weasel. "I can't say I can really make that much out from here."

His friend grumbles faintly and passes over a telescope. A few moments pass in quiet contemplation as Weasel takes in the view.

"Most of them look rather, well, wrinkly to me," he offers eventually.

"Not them, the cute one! Over on the right, leaning on the... whatdyacallit, the sticky-up bit around the edge of the boat."

"The boat-wall, perhaps?"

"Yeah, that's probably it. Have you ever lain eyes on such a spectacle of beauty? Such a vision sculpted in mortal flesh? Such a smoking hot piece of human ass?"

There is a short, significant pause. "Deadpool," says Weasel, "you do realise that's a boy human, right?"

"So?" snaps Deadpool, defensive. "If you're gonna do this forbidden love thing, you gotta be prepared to go hard or go home. Mooning over some pretty princess is for sissies."

Weasel seems to consider this as he passes back the telescope. "Well, inasmuch as I have any real opinion on humanoids, I don't see much to recommend him over that siren you were mooning over last year. Whatever happened to her, anyway?" Largely on automatic he finds himself picking up his clam again and giving it a bit of a hopeful gnaw. A mouthful of thick shell is his only reward.

"Not that it's any of your business or anything, but some relative left her a very nice bit of whirlpool-front property on a very scenic rocky shore somewhere in the Mediterranean. Last I heard she was hitching her clam on the next transatlantic current. And we're not talking about her. And it's Siryn, with a y!"

"Ah." Too late, it dawns on Weasel that raising the subject may have been a mistake. His friend isn't known for taking his break-ups maturely.

"Grr. Mermaids. They really grease my gills." In Deadpool's hands, the telescope is roughly twisted until it must be well out of focus. "Always combing their stupid hair and wailing on about not having feet, like that's gonna be the dealbreaker in an ocean full of sailors so horny they'd look twice at a dugong that shimmied its hips a little. All out there with their beautiful singing voices and their stupid clam-shell underwear, being all damp and sexy all the time. Mermaids got it made, I tell you. Should try being one of us that weren't lucky enough to get all their fishy bits artistically arranged at the bottom, see how that works out for them. Some of us have real problems."

It occurs to Weasel that he probably ought to come up with something sympathetic to say at this point. Inspiration, however, has failed him; he suspects drawing comparisons between the ocean separating Deadpool from his absent Siryn and the thick layer of shell separating Weasel from his dinner may not go down well, nevermind that both seem roughly as insurmountable just at the moment.

"Humans, now – humans are a whole other kettle of amphibians," says Deadpool, before Weasel can embarrass himself. "All the looks of the fairer marine sex, and none of the squelchiness. I'm done mooning over mermaids, Weas. I've seen the light. I'm moving up in the world – moving on to fresh, dry pastures. That's where the action is."

Weasel relaxes slightly. This is safer territory. "I don't know. I'm hardly one to tell you the sky isn't a pretty sight, but I can't say I see the appeal of spending one's life supporting one's entire body mass on a few stubby appendages. Doesn't seem natural."

"But that's only the beginning! The wonders of the human world, the marvellous things they make! They've got this stuff up there, it's called fire..."

"Yes, I know. You've describe it to me before. In some detail," says Weasel, with the long-suffering resignation of one who's long since heard his fill on the alleged human monopoly on opposable digits and mammalian tool-usage.

"And gunpowder!" Deadpool shivers at the thought. "The things they can do with gunpowder."

"Yes, quite a lot of it was exploding over our heads just a minute ago. Very pretty."

"Then there's the knives. Swords. Oh, the wonders I have glimpsed – shiny, pointy sharp things in sizes big and small..."

"I don't know why you're playing coy. I know about your collection of slightly-used carving instruments that, quote, fell off a boat, unquote." Come to think of it, though... Weasel gives his clam thoughtful look. Perhaps humans have invented something that could be used to lever the things open. They eat clams, don't they? He has a suspicion that they don't spend all their time hammering on them with a rock.

"And the food!" The noise Deadpool makes here is almost obscene. "Spices and sweetbread and candy-sugar – oh, but, a man has not lived until he was experienced the joy of fried chicken. And what's left of it all if it falls in the drink? A few damp lumps of black gunk, a new coating of rust, and a mouthful of salt." A moment of relative quiet passes as Deadpool adjusts his telescope back into focus. "I mention this, Weas," he says, tone having acquired a pointed edge, "because I would hate for anyone to get any funny ideas that my affection for yonder eligible-young-beefcake is purely superficial. Now there is a man who knows his way around a lump of gunpowder."

"Ahh," said Weasel. "He's the one who shot down that seagull who tried to sell you an old tuning fork as some sort of hair accessory."

"Is it romantic of me to feel like there could be some connection between us? The heavy hand of fate, gently nudging us together, while the wind whispers now kiss..."

"He doesn't know you from seaweed," says Weasel, which is perhaps unkind, but also true. "At least Siryn knew your name."

"You don't rush these things, okay? You gotta bide your time, wait for the right moment."

"I think 'stalking' is the word you're looking for."

"Admiring from afar. You tell me, Weas, why'd the maker give me legs if he didn't intend me to scale a few walls and peep in through some windows in the dead of the night?"

"No comment," says Weasel, though hardly are the words out of his mouth when a new angle occurs to him. "Though if you do drop by... maybe you could see if you could get hold of some of that gunpowder stuff sometime?" If it can take down a seagull and light up the night sky in technicolour, what could it do to a stubborn clamshell? Weasel isn't sure, but it seems safe to say they'll have more fun finding out than whichever unfortunate shellfish they sacrifice to the cause, and that's a victory in and of itself. Besides, what's the point of being a supernaturally articulate sea mammal if you don't use your brains for anything creative once in a while? "Aw, Weas," says Deadpool, voice thick with fondness. "I knew there was a reason you were my best bud."

Weasel could probably count several reasons, most of whom have lately moved to the Mediterranean or otherwise wouldn't give Deadpool the time of day – it's not as though openly obsessing over humans is the way one makes friends in the ocean – but it doesn't seem so very important.

When the storm rolls in across the ocean they're busily sharing Weasel's clam, engaged in a heated discussion of the relative merits of mustard and oyster sauce. The fireworks being long since exhausted, it comes as a quite the surprise to all when the light show above starts up again, with a great flash and a bang as the lightning hits the mast. It's rather a shame, Weasel decides, given their earlier conversation, that Deadpool had his head underwater at the point where the fire finds a barrel of gunpowder on board – the explosion is quite spectacular, and he's sure his friend would've enjoyed the view, if only he hadn't rushed off in quite such a hurry.