The Little Merman

(Based on the fairytale of the Little Mermaid)

He stands there, one hand nervously rubbing the back of his neck. It's the dancing boy whom she found washed up on the sand. Strange how well adjusted he has become to the pampered palace life, and in just a few days as well. Silver bracelets- silver, she had insisted, silver like the scales of a fish- adorn the length of his slim arms. They clink against each other with every little gesture he makes so she can hear him before she catches sight of him. Pale blue topaz earrings dangle from his ears, which were pierced with his agreement. When he inclines his head just so, she catches glimpses of the pearls her attendants had managed to string together and run through his shoulder-length auburn hair.

It had been amusing, at first, to see the decorations on him. The layers of colorful, sheer cloth smartly draped across his frame had been reminiscent of the dancers she frequently caught sight of in the town square. She had expected him to be awed by the finery, to wear the jewelry like a peasant would. Awkwardly. Reluctantly.

Instead, he held his head up high, and his sea-green eyes never wavered when she looked upon him. The annoyance was only waylaid by the carefully concealed pain on his face whenever he danced and his feet touched the ground too hard. An injury perhaps? In that way, he was almost dear to her, like an ignorant pet that followed at her heels despite how badly she treated it because it didn't know any better.

And now he stands before her, and his ignorance is verging on the edge of insolence. She's grown tired of the dancing like swimming and the words like bubbles, and besides, she is to marry her intended soon. She has no time to waste on things that have washed up on the beach, as nice to look at as they may be.

"Speak," she replies graciously, ever the face of the respectful monarch-to-be. In her head, she is all angles and curtness.

He looks at her directly, and looks stricken. He's had the same look on his face ever since the engagement was announced. Again, like the dancing, it was amusing at first, tiring in the end.

Then again, he hasn't spoken a word since he arrived. He opens his mouth, closes it, and opens it again, searching for words that disappear as soon as he speaks them. Like bubbles exposed to too much air.

"If you can not speak, then I am afraid that we can not hold a conversation," she finishes, turning back around.

As soon as she takes a step, a hand grabs her shoulder, turning her back. She shrugs him off and raises one eyebrow at him.

His eyes are wide and panicked, and his teeth are clenched tight. It's all she takes in before he grabs her face and smashes their lips together. Without missing a beat, she brings her hand up and slaps him across the cheek. The sound echoes in the empty hall with a satisfying clap. She finds she rather likes it and swings her already-raised hand back around, smacking him soundly on the other cheek with the back of her hand.

Her bottom lip feels warm, and when she licks it, the metallic taste of blood fills her mouth. When she glances up at the dancing boy, he's staring back at her with a shocked expression, a hand on one of his pink cheeks.

"I think I've tolerated enough of you," she says, gazing back at him coolly. "Did you really think I would not remember?"

He tilts his head, the shock turning to confusion. There's an irritatingly red smear on his bottom lip. Hers, she thinks with disgust.

"The shipwreck." At this, the confusion on his face verges on hopeful. "You could speak and sing back then, but you did not have legs back then either."

His lips tilt upwards in a smile. Strange how this creature has learned so well how to imitate human gestures.

"Yes, I remember you," she continues. "Why do you smile at this, you poor little creature? Did you think I would come to love you once I realized who, or what, you are?"

The smile freezes on his face and the hand that covers his cheek trembles just enough to make the bracelets tremble along with him. Clink, clink. She's never heard a noise she hated more in the world.

"Go back to the ocean, with your own kind. You are lucky enough that I do not believe all those myths about immortality and the flesh of merfolk." She waves him off, a less formal dismissal than she's used to.

Instead of doing as she says, he stays, shaking his head. The hand on his cheek delicately moves to his throat, decorated just like the rest of him with a multi-colored jeweled choker, and he opens his mouth as if he expects something to come out.

She's tempted to simply walk away and attend to her own affairs, but he catches her eyes and his look a bit watery. He mouths words to her, and she can't quite make them out. The shape of his mouth is all wrong, with an accent that she can't put a sound to.

But the words come to her, in the end. They've been on her mind for so long, they spill out now, drowning the both of them in something inescapable.

He's made a deal with a sea witch. Voice in exchange for legs. And if he can not have her love by tomorrow, he will turn into bubbles.

But his brothers and sisters came to him with a solution. He wears a sad smile as he produces a strange dagger with a handle carved in the shape of bunches of kelp.

Kill the princess, they pleaded with him, live.

She tenses when she reads the word kill off his lips, and his mouth grows still as he appraises her with his eyes. Unarmed, she would not be much of an opponent, and she can barely run with all her skirts weighing her down. She clenches her hands into fists, determined to fight back as hard as she can.

The knife falls uselessly to the floor. In a grimace more genuine than his smiles, he bares his teeth and his arms go limp at his sides. A silence stretches out before she relaxes, eyes still trained on the discarded knife until she realizes he has been mouthing the same infuriating three words this whole time.

"You might have saved my life, but I can not do the same for you."

"You stupid fool," she hisses at him while he mouths the I love you's that she would never hear. "You've doomed yourself."

In a musical clatter, he collapses to his knees. A creature never meant for air, dressed as a mockery of a dancer, with enchanted feet too sensitive to touch to the ground.

Soon, she thinks grimly, to be nothing.

The End

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