Author's note: Hans Christian Anderson's The Little Mermaid is by far my favorite fairy tale. I have always wanted to retell it in fanfiction form in one fandom or another, and so with Rin and Sesshoumaru I shall do just that. However, the point of view will be first person just like The Last Day. I can also promise you that I won't be copying the original story word for word while replacing the names. The events that happen in the original tale will still happen, but they'll be written in my own words.

Putting my own spin on such a loved tale is the perfect challenge for me to stretch my writing skills and imagination. I had a lot of fun with this and I hope you enjoy reading it. Have some tissues handy, some parts do get pretty emotional.

If I could put music into this story(which I can't anymore thanks to the stupid no lyrics rule), I'd play Owari nai Yume by Aikawa Nanase when Rin swims to the surface for the first time, Come by Namie Amuro when she goes to trade her voice for legs, Shinjitsu no Uta by Do As Infinity when she has to watch Sesshoumaru with the "other woman"(you'll see what I mean by this later) and Dearest by Ayumi Hamasaki from the start of her last scene to beyond the end of the story. LOL I can't help it, I see my stories like movies and movies have music, right?

Rin's older sisters, her father and her grandmother are mine. Everybody else in this story is the property of Rumiko Takahashi.

Okay, this author's note is getting ridiculously long, so I'm going to shut up now. I hope you enjoy the story. Please review so I know if I did the fairy tale justice or not. Thanks!

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The Little Mermaid

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The sea.

It was once my home. A world of shimmering, eternal blue like the finest cornflowers.

I turn my face into the wind. My fingers tighten slowly around the dagger's handle. The handle is sculpted into two gold serpents holding a sharp silver blade between their claws. I was supposed to plunge it into his heart, making his life forfeit to mine, but I could not do it. I love him more than my own life; killing him would only break his new bride's heart.

I know the agony of loss. It is a pain I wish I never had to inflict on anyone.

He won't miss me for long. They have each other and I have nothing. And thus, it is with a heavy heart that I stand here now, alone, gazing into the water. Dawn is fast approaching over the mountains. As the horizon grows brighter, I feel pain behind my breasts. My heart is breaking, but whether it is the beginning of my death or the sorrow from loving in vain, I do not know.

I can no longer bear to look at this instrument of death, so I fling it into the waves and watch it dissolve in a flash of red. As I prepare to follow it, I can not help but remember how I came to this miserable fate.

o

I don't remember when the stone statue of a tall, pretty man with long hair and a sword at his hip appeared near my garden. In my memory it was always there, just as the water was always blue. Such a thing may not have interested me had I not noticed the lack of a tail. This figure stood on two long stilts my Grandmother called "legs". Everyone who lived above the sea walked on them. I always wondered what walking on legs must have looked like. The way my Grandmother described it made it sound as if land dwellers walked with the same ease that a mermaid swam.

I began to rebuild my garden around the statue until it formed a giant circle like the sun. Brilliant red flowers with a rose-colored weeping willow that cast its form between light and shadow. When I had nothing else to do, I rested in my garden with my tail wrapped around the statue's legs, my eyes staring up at this its stone face. It had a moon on its brow and stripes on each cheek that I often traced with my fingertips. Its expression always seemed so sad.

People often told me that I, the youngest of my six sisters, was the fairest of them all. Then the statue must have been of the fairest man on land.

Sometimes I sang while I tended my flowers. Everyone said I had the most beautiful voice in the sea, and people often stopped to listen. They would then swim away sad, for I always fell silent when I noticed I wasn't alone. The songs I sang to the statue were for no one but myself and its stone ears.

When I was not in my garden, I liked to stand by the windows of Father's coral palace and stare up towards the moon. Occasionally, shadows of whales or land vessels drifted across its round face. Did the men on those ships ever wonder about life below the sea the way I dreamed about life on land? Did they know how much I dreamed of being among them?

I will never belong up there, but I don't think I belong here either. Is there a place anywhere where I can fit in?

Then I heard talk about what one person or another saw above the waves. Grandmother, who had been to the surface more times than any other mermaid, wrapped me in her thinning white hair and wove fantastic stories about the land. It sounded so beautiful! Mountains, stars, a sky as blue as the sea, animals with four legs, green trees, flowers with scent, fish that swarm in the air and sang in the trees, music, cities and grand ships that flew across the water. The more I heard, the more I longed to see for myself. I wanted to see it all!

Alas, I had to wait. I was only ten years old, and Grandmother always told me I could not venture to the surface until I reached my fifteenth year.

"...Grandmother is already making my wreath for tomorrow." It was my eldest sister, Shimi, whose tail was as silver as mine was gold. She turned and her wavy yellow hair curled around her face. All she wanted to do was boast - excuse me - talk about her plans for the next day. I hadn't paid any attention until she burst out, "Rin! Stop fawning over that statue and listen! Are you going to see me off tomorrow?"

"Of course," I replied, but remained wrapped around my statue, "You are so lucky...I have to wait the longest of us all."

She turned her tail to me, "Your time will come, little sister."

"Shimi! Father wishes to have an audience with you."

Shimi faced Paru, the second eldest. Paru's skin was pale and her tail pearl-white. She always adorned herself with the jewels she found in shipwrecks. Her breasts and hair were covered in lovely gems and beads that glittered every which way she turned.

"I'll go, then," said Shimi, and she swam away.

Paru crossed her arms, "You're always so quiet, Rin. Are you jealous of Shimi's coming of age?"

"Maybe a little." I answered. "There is nothing I can do but wait."

I watched Paru pick one of my flowers and place it in my hair. "You can't just dream the time away. Ever since that statue fell down here, you have spent hours here instead of playing in the shipwrecks like you used to."

That made me laugh, "Each time I do, I find that you already went through and took the treasures for yourself. You never leave any behind for me."

She giggled at me. "But your hair is so dark that such things would not suit you as well as they do me. I fancy that when my hair begins to turn more white like Grandmother's, no one will even notice."

"Definitely not. Your hair is like your tail!" I caught a strand of her hair and playfully tossed it back towards her face.

Another laugh. "Perhaps...now come along."

The next morning was all fanfare, music, dancing and celebration. My sisters all began to sing, only to drop out when my voice joined theirs. Father clapped his hands and beckoned me to sit with him. I did so and watched Grandmother dress Shimi for her journey. She placed a wreath of pearl flowers atop Shimi's head and ordered eight of her own twelve tail oysters to attach to Shimi's flukes.

Father gazed around and a frown creased his lined brow. "Where is Oisuta?"

"Here!" Called a tiny voice by the squid bowl. Oisuta loved to eat, and I'm surprise that she is not yet as fat as a sperm whale. I saw her dark gray tail ripple and then she appeared beside me. As always, her midnight hair was twirled into a bun. "Kawa was supposed to tell me when you were seeing Shimi off. Weren't you, tuna tail?"

Kawa pushed her curly hair out of her face. She had a yellow tail like the fins on tuna fish, which Oisuta always made fun of. "Excuse me if I didn't want to miss this." She pouted, "Maybe if you stopped stuffing your face for once - "

"Will you two stop it?" Aoi thrust her blue fins between them. "Sometimes I can't believe you two are older than I."

"Girls! Cease this bickering!"

They gasped. "Yes, Father. Sorry, Father!"

Shimi drifted towards the arching coral door, which was shrouded by tall, green seaweed. "Well, I suppose I should be off. I'll see you in a while." And I watched as she twisted outside and shot straight up out of sight.

o

"...the moon wasn't as big up there as it looks to us, but it was glowing white like a silver coin under sunlight and surrounded by stars." Shimi was relaying to everyone about her journey to the surface. She talked excitedly about everything, "I really enjoyed lying on a sand bank in the moonlight. The ocean lapped at my tail, and between the crash of waves I heard the gongs in the shrines and temples Grandmother told us about last year. I could also hear the monks chanting in prayer and smelled so many things I can not tell you which scent belonged to what."

My other sisters listened attentively, but said little. I asked the most questions, many of which Shimi could not answer. In my frustration, I departed from the room and curled myself around my statue.

"At least you don't get short with me when I ask too many questions," I said to it.

A shadow fell across me. "Aww, Rin! You look so sad." I looked up to find my friend, a merboy named Kohaku, floating near the top of my willow tree. He swished his amber tail once to reach my level. "C'mon, I found a new shipwreck that Naraku must have sunk. Let's go there and look at it...maybe it'll take your mind off what has you so upset."

Little did Kohaku know that his choice of activity would have the opposite effect. Still, it was better than spending the afternoon completely alone. I gave my statue a farewell kiss and drifted to Kohaku's side. "It will be nice to see the treasures in a ship before Paru can get them."

"Oh, yes," he laughed, "I'm surprised she can swim with all those jewels attached to her."

We both snickered to ourselves.

Kohaku led me past a whirlpool, then pointed into a shallow valley of coral. There, turned over on its side, was a large wooden vessel. It had a jagged hole on its upturned edge. He and I both looked at each other.

"Last one there is a guppy!" I took off as fast as my tail allowed.

"Hey!" He came after me. I was almost to the hole when he slapped my tail and caused me to spin completely around in the water. We knocked heads and, after a stunned moment, laughed.

Tugging his hand, I pulled him inside. "C'mon, let's go in."

The first thing I saw was a roll of white material Grandmother called parchment. Land dwellers used it to write words or draw pictures. I could not read the text, but there were pictures of strange shapes with text written between them.

"Check this out!" Kohaku said, pulling something metal off the floor. "A sword! Hyah!" He swung it around with both hands, causing the muscles in his arms and chest to flex. He flailed it so eagerly that he accidentally cut the wall above his head. Debris drifted down. I had to dart aside to avoid being buried!

"Kohaku! Be careful!"

Kohaku swatted debris away with the sword. "...Sorry. Rin, are you okay?"

"Yes, I'm fine, but watch where you swing that."

He looked sheepishly at the sword. I swam past him and towards a doorway leading deeper into the land vessel. The floor there was littered with strange wooden objects that had two pieces of rope that met in the middle on one end. I noticed they seemed to come in pairs.

Kohaku leaned over my shoulder to peer at the objects in my hand. "What are those?"

"I'm not sure." I slipped my fingers under the ropes and clicked the wooden things together. They made a nice, hollow click. "Perhaps they are musical instruments! See how they click?" I tapped them twice more before my attention fell on two wooden sticks tied together. Their top halves were square and the bottom halves round. "Oh...oh! I know what those are! Oisuta uses them to hold her hair in a bun." I snatched the sticks up and hastily wrapped my hair around them. Then I turned so Kohaku could see.

He laughed, "That looks kind of funny on you."

I giggled and let my hair free again. My heart grew heavier with each moment I spent gazing at the treasures from above. "Oh, Kohaku...the world on land must be full of more wonderful things just like this. I really wish it was my turn to go up."

"What are you going to do if it's really boring up there? What if none of it is as fantastic as everyone makes it sound? Then what?"

Such a possibility never occurred to me. I hung my head and sighed. "I don't know. But it can't be boring. I've heard too many amazing stories for it to be anything less than fantastic."

There was no way I could ever tell him how I thought the world on land was so much more vast than under the sea.

o

The years passed slowly for me. Each year one more sister got to rise above the waves while I stood alone in my garden or the castle, staring dreamily up towards the surface. My heart grew heavy with yearning. So heavy, in fact, that I hardly spoke to Kohaku when we explored sunken ships or teased the sharks.

Paru went to the surface and came back with stories of a beautiful sunset. She described how the sky changed colors as the sun sank into the ocean.

Oisuta was very bold upon her journey on the surface. She swam up a river and saw land-dwelling children playing, but they noticed her tail and were too frightened to play with her.

Kawa proved less adventurous and had little to tell, just one brief sentence about seeing a ship in the distance. I swam away from her disappointed.

Since Aoi was born in the wintertime, she saw a different surface than the rest of us. For her the sea was green and the sky gray, and enormous icebergs rocked on the stormy water. "Then a storm came up," she said, "and the tips of the icebergs glowed an ominous red."

And so life went on. My sisters visited the surface many times to sing to sailors about to sink in one of Naraku's storms, but I doubt the ears on land would understand their voices as music.

Kohaku and I explored the resulting shipwreck, finding just a few pipes, rolls of cloth and broken weapons. Paru had already been there, and thus I found nothing worth keeping. I became so desolate that Kohaku tried everything to cheer me up - from playing hide and seek in the sails to tricking an angry lion fish into eating pearls.

I pretended to enjoy it for Kohaku's sake.

When my sisters swam up to the surface, I often stood alone in my room, my heart breaking under my desire to be fifteen. Would that day ever come?

Eventually, they stopped going. Shimi claimed it didn't seem that special and that the world under the sea was lovely enough for her taste. My only link to the surface was gone. I wanted to scream.

"Your day will come, my daughter." Father curled his tail gently around mine. "But your mind must not always stay above the water. It will only make the time pass more slowly."

"You're right, Father." I sighed and left him to tend my garden, where I lost myself in pulling weeds.

o

The day of my fifteenth birthday arrived. At last! I was up before the sun, brushing my hair and scraping my tail clean of all sand and slime. Time moved at a sea-slug's pace! My time to surface had been chosen by Grandmother, but she had yet to tell me when I could go! The day wore on and nothing, nothing, nothing!

"Rin! You'll sully your tail if you keep swimming in circles!" Paru scolded me. "Look, you're tangling your hair again..."

"I'm sorry! I can not help this excitement! I want to go now!"

"Are you that eager, little one? Come, come, let me dress you up and then you can go." Grandmother held out her hand. I took it and she led me into her chambers to dress me properly.

The wreath of pearl flowers turned out to be a dreadful, heavy thing. My own garden flowers would have suited my hair much better. Grandmother pulled eight oysters from her flukes and attached them to mine. They pinched terribly!

I complained, "Oh! But they hurt me, Grandmother? Must I wear these?"

She eyed me sternly, her mouth a tight line, "Sometimes one must suffer in order to be beautiful. If I can wear these oysters every day, surely you can manage them for one night."

That silenced me. But I would gladly shake off all the finery that made me feel like something other than myself.

I swam out to greet my sisters. They each gave me words of advice on what to avoid and what to watch for, and then I could bear the wait no longer.

"Goodbye! I'll tell you what I enjoyed the most when I return!"

And I was off! Up and up as fast as I could swim. Though the oysters pinched me and my wreath dug into my scalp, I soon found myself oblivious to their presence. The shimmering water's edge grew nearer until finally, for the first time in my life, I splashed up onto the surface.

How light the air was! For many moments I floated there, just breathing it. I smelled the sea and heard dolphins splashing about. The sky turned darker and a few stars twinkled like pearls above my head. I faced the sun as it sank behind clouds building on the sparkling horizon. It was all so overwhelmingly beautiful and I did not know where to look first.

The stars began to vanish into darkness caused by clouds. It proved disappointing, as I had hoped to spend more time gazing at them. Little did I know that those clouds would signal the moment my life changed.

I finally looked behind me. There, I found a vast ship floating gently on the calm water's surface. It had one sail unfurled. But best of all...it was full of land dwellers! They sat on rope ladders and on benches, all of them laughing and playing stringed instruments. I watched how they walked on their two legs just as gracefully as any mer swam. I paddled right up to the ship and grasped a rope dangling into the water; I did not want the ship to suddenly sail away before I had satisfied my curiosity. From there, I could watch the shadows of men cast on the sails. They were lighting torches and singing, but their singing was not as wonderful as that of my sisters.

Footsteps thumped gently above my head. A figure appeared behind the wooden rail, and my heart skipped a beat. That moon, those stripes, the hair...he looked just like my statue, but much, much more beautiful. He had fair skin and his hair shone the same color as moonlight. His moon marking was deep-sea blue, his stripes purple and his eyelids a deep red that suited his sad, glistening amber eyes. He wore black armor over his red and white clothes and a large pelt decorated his right shoulder. The only difference between him and the statue became the fact that he had only one arm and two swords, but the statue had the reverse.

The man poured something into a tiny bowl from which he heartily drank. Whatever it was, its effects were extremely soporific.

I could not breathe when a zephyr spilled his hair mere inches from my head. He leaned on the railing and I pressed myself harder against the ship's hull so he wouldn't see me. Between the ornate columns of the rail, I saw his feet. They were covered in black leather and looked so oddly small that I wondered how land dwellers managed to walk on them.

"Lord Sesshoumaru!" a squeaky voice called from out of sight, "Why are you way down here? You are missing your party!"

"I don't see why everyone has to fuss over my birthday." said the beautiful man known as Lord Sesshoumaru. His voice was the most wonderful sound ever created.

The squeaky one replied, "You are drunk."

"I thought it was a party, Jaken."

"Always so sour," came the soft mutter. The other presence left and Lord Sesshoumaru stood alone once again. He finished the bottle and flung it into the waves. Then he slid down to sit with his back against the wooden rails. Now his hair did brush against me. I did not dare play with it even though I badly wanted to.

I was right behind him, and he had no idea.

Gathering my courage, I dared to speak to him. If I moved quick, I could always dive off the rope if he started to look behind him. "Why are you so sad on your birthday?"

Lord Sesshoumaru did not stand up or turn around. "I would rather be in the forest than on the water. Why do you care?"

"I know the feeling, and..." I trembled at the power in his voice, "It's my birthday, too, but it's not sad for me."

"Happy birthday," he scoffed, his speech mildly slurred.

I chewed my lower lip. Why was he so bitter? "What is that substance you consume?"

"Sake, and I'm going to get more." He stood up and disappeared off the deck.

I dared to follow him by pulling myself up the rope. What a sight I must have been. I exhausted myself climbing all the way to the uppermost deck where I could see everyone aboard the ship. They cheered when Lord Sesshoumaru walked slowly into view from behind a sail. He spoke to several of the men and women, but his words were too faint for my ears. Still, I forgot everything as I watched him move about. He never smiled, but he did consume another full bottle of sake without bothering to use a bowl.

Hours passed without my notice. I did not want to tear my eyes off the fair beauty of a man whose hair danced in the air like mine did in the water.

The sails began to billow. What had started as soft breezes were becoming strong gusts. Naraku must have been stirring far below the ocean. I swore I heard his throaty chuckle, though the people on the ship would only understand it as thunder. They didn't pay it mind until the ship started rocking and those who drank too much sake began to fall over. Lord Sesshoumaru merely wrapped his arm around a mast while the ship swayed. A few lost their stomachs all over the deck.

Lightning flashed in the distance. Alarm quickly overtook the festivities.

"There's a storm brewin' in the west!"

"Furl the sails before the wind rips them open!"

At that very moment the wind smashed the ship with a violence like I have never seen. The calm sea grew violent with waves taller than my Father's castle and tossed the ship hither and thither. Lightning lit the sky brighter than daylight. Rain battered anything in its wake. I lost my grip on the rope and landed painfully on my back in the wild water. Less than an instant after I fell, the very mast my rope was attached to crumpled in the howling wind. I dove below to avoid it. Waves flung the ship onto its side.

I grew delighted. This same ship was going to be near my home, I could explore it at my leisure later! I had great fun leaping away from beams like a dolphin. People aboard the sinking ship began to cry out. Did they not know what awaited them below?

Then I saw Lord Sesshoumaru leap off the deck. He stood erect on a strange cloud that formed at his feet. The one called Jaken stood at his side, clinging to his leggings.

But Fate had a cruel trick waiting in the waves. Just as Lord Sesshoumaru moved forward, the waves hurled the empty bottle he tossed overboard straight into his head. He was blinded by the rain and did not see it coming. The glass shattered just above his crescent moon marking. He instantly fell into the water with blood running down his face. I glimpsed him clinging to a floating plank, his hair blending into the sea foam. Then a wave slammed down and the wood bobbed back up empty.

"M'Lord! M'LORD!" I heard Jaken screaming as the strange cloud carried him away.

Oh! Now he can live forever with me! I clapped my hands in delight. Then I remembered how Grandmother told me that land dwellers lacked the ability to breathe underwater. They drowned, and only reached the sea floor as corpses. No! I can't let him die! He is too beautiful to die and dissolve to nothing!

With that I dove far down under the tempestuous swells, my tail slapping the surface. It was difficult to see through all the murk created by the dirty ship debris.

"Lord Sesshoumaru? Where are you?" I looked around, grasping many drowned men until finally spotting him trapped against a coral shelf. The free end of his pelt and strands of his hair were caught on the coral and he was too stunned by his wound to effectively free himself. He looked up at me with fluttering eyes when I swam down to his level. His lips changed to a strange, dark shade of blue. By the time I reached him, his eyelids had closed and he no longer moved.

Please don't die! I thought as I struggled to pull him free of the coral. His hair came away easily. The pelt on his shoulder, however, was effectively trapped. I knew he was about to die when bubbles stopped rising from his mouth, and worked the heavy fur off his shoulder. It was still pooling on the coral when I wrapped my arms around my land-dwelling Lord and swam to the surface.

Lord Sesshoumaru coughed up some of the water he swallowed and his small lips gained a little color. I saw his eyes flutter open. They were unfocused and trembling. He looked right at me, "...who?" and drifted back to unconsciousness before I could reply. His long eyelashes were dark fringes on his white cheeks. The wound on his brow was still bleeding slightly, causing blood to run down his wet face like crimson tears. I shifted his head to my shoulder so I could press one hand to his injury, my other arm supporting him to prevent water from entering his mouth. I felt his soft hair on my body when I laid back and kicked my tail so that the suction of the sinking ship could not snatch us back under. Hopefully, the current would take us to land.

I sang softly to my Lord as the sea carried us away from the bubbling wreck. The storm weakened and quieted until the only sound became my voice. I paid it little mind. All I knew was the weight of Lord Sesshoumaru's warm body against mine and the strange heat it created in my belly. I brushed my fingers over his graceful stripes and softly kissed his mouth, exactly the same way I did to my statue. His lips and skin were softer than flower petals.

Lord Sesshoumaru started breathing only through his mouth, giving me a view of his impressive fangs. His breaths got very small and obviously painful. Each time he stopped breathing, I desperately stuck my fingers into his throat to irritate him into vomiting...it was the only way I could think of to make him start breathing again.

Time passed, turning the eastern horizon a rosy red. I looked over my shoulder and spotted land not far away. It was a huge island with a castle on the highest cliff, a stretch of beach at its base and a small village just offshore.

"We're almost to land," I told Lord Sesshoumaru. "Hold on, you can rest in just a moment. Please don't give up!"

I let the waves cast us to shore and used all of my strength to pull Lord Sesshoumaru away from the water. The effort left me breathless. I collapsed on his chest, gasping. His heartbeat grew very faint and he did not breathe well while flat on his back. I heard his chest make unnatural rattling sounds, so I cradled him on my tail and rested his head on my budding breasts. A small string of seaweed floating on the surf found new use as a bandage for his brow.

I lost all track of time. The first rays of dawn washed over the ocean and shone on the lovely man resting against me. He shivered despite being warm. His cheeks flushed. A fever...that did not bode well for him, but I knew not what else to do besides scoop cool water from the waves and sprinkle it on his burning skin. It didn't help.

Lord Sesshoumaru opened his eyes when the sun hit his face. He grabbed my hand, looked at my tail and then up at me. I smiled and kissed the soft spot right in front of his ear. "Are you all right?"

My Lord stared at my face for the longest time. The hand gripping mine relaxed and his eyes fluttered shut. He made a gurgling sound and foamy pink water dribbled from between his lips. My smile dropped and I nuzzled his cheek. I didn't know what else to do besides hold him and stroke his hair. If he was going to die, the least I could do was comfort him in his last moments.

Suddenly, voices! Music! Oh, no! I couldn't let the humans see me!

I hurriedly built a mound for Lord Sesshoumaru to sit against. At that time I honestly believed that would be the last I saw him alive. My final close up view of my Lord was of him covered in sand, shivering and turning blue again.

"Goodbye, my Lord. I'm sorry that I can't stay with you." I slithered into the water and covered myself in sea foam.

A group of human women dressed in dark blue with white hoods over their heads came over the hill. The one in the back of the line was dressed differently and the most beautiful. Her eyes reminded me of the sky just after sunset and her hair was pulled back away from her pale face. The flute I heard a moment ago lay tucked in a fold of her pink and green clothes. She saw Lord Sesshoumaru and rushed to his side.

"Hello? Can you hear me?" The woman touched his face. My Lord didn't move, not even a fluttering of his eyelids. She examined his injured head and bent to listen to his chest, then looked up at her companions. "His lungs are full of water...he isn't breathing, but his heart still beats."

"I will fetch help," one of the women said, and rushed off out of sight.

I watched the loveliest woman lay Lord Sesshoumaru on his side and pound his back and side with her fist. Lord Sesshoumaru sputtered a little. Try as he might he did not seem capable of inhaling. The woman bent and covered his mouth with hers. His chest rose twice. He heaved up a ton of water quite suddenly and the woman rolled him back onto his side.

"There, cough it all up." She continued to pound his back and side until his coughs no longer spewed foam or water. Even from that distance I could hear him taking in full breaths. His color already looked better.

Lord Sesshoumaru opened his eyes. He looked dazedly up at the beautiful woman and whispered something I couldn't hear. Probably the 'thank you' that should have been mine. He lost consciousness again almost immediately.

I did not stay any longer. Turning from the scene, I dove into the waves. I found Lord Sesshoumaru's pelt still tangled in the coral where I left it. Pulling it hard with both hands, I managed to tear it free and took it home with me.

My sisters met me part way. Father grew worried when I did not return after a short time and sent them to search for me. They were relieved to see me, but I had not the words to explain what happened or where I obtained the furry pelt. With a heart heavier than lead, I swam into my sleeping room and spoke to no one for the entire day.

For months afterward, I swam to the spot where I left my dear Lord Sesshoumaru. I saw no sign of him. I watched the seasons change from calm to stormy to snowy, but not once did I see my Lord. I feared the possibility of him not surviving the fever brought on by the water he swallowed.

My sorrow deepened. I could not bear to explain anything to my sisters. Eventually, they stopped asking, and I spent even more time alone either on the surface or in my garden, wrapped around my statue and petting the fur I draped upon its shoulder. I had long since stopped caring for my flowers. They grew wildly all around, choking the tree and invading the pathways to the castle.

I believed then that my Lord was lost to me.

o

Shimi found me in my garden. I hardly left it anymore, save to search the surface for my Lord. She wrapped her tail around mine and looked worriedly down at me. "Rin...it's been months. What happened up there? Please tell me. Did a fishing boat nearly catch you? What happened?"

I could not bear it any longer and told her everything. She in turn told my other sisters. Somehow, Kohaku got word of it.

"Rin! Why didn't you tell me right away? Sesshoumaru is alive and well! My sister saw the ship and she knows where he lives...he's the son of Lord Touga and lives by the western shores of the biggest island." Kohaku grabbed my arm and tugged me away from my garden, "C'mon, I'll show you! It's this way."

Kohaku led me past a place where the shore narrowed into a channel. We swam dangerously close to fishing nets to emerge in a lovely bay. The waves couldn't reach the deep blueness, which was fed by a waterfall that made the water oddly misty near the surface. Night fell just as Kohaku and I surfaced near a sprawling castle.

Kohaku pointed to the lights on our right. "There it is."

The castle was made of many buildings of all sizes, but the main building had a dock that stretched far out over the water. It ended in steps that would be underwater when the tide came in. Set off to the side was a small hanging bridge that led to another small dock under a giant weeping willow with boughs that kissed the water. Candles and torches were lit inside most of the structures. I saw silhouettes of people moving around behind the thin paper screens.

"Thank you very much, Kohaku." I hugged my friend. "You don't have to stay if you don't want to."

He blushed and turned away. "Yeah, you're right...I'm really not supposed to be up here. Don't you stay too long, either, or the tide will leave and you'll be stranded."

"I won't." I heard a splash and knew Kohaku was gone. A short time later, I glimpsed Lord Sesshoumaru walking up the path to the main building. Beside him was the tiny green fellow that owned the squeaky voice...that was the one he called Jaken. I did not hear what they were talking about.

Knowing where my Lord lived gave my heart new joy. I could see him whenever I wanted!

The next night, I took Lord Sesshoumaru's fur and a bouquet of my flowers to the castle. When all the lights had been extinguished, I left the pelt curled up on the end of the dock with the flaming red blooms resting on top. Then I rushed back into the water, hiding myself under the dock to wait until morning.

Lord Sesshoumaru's door slid open precisely at dawn. I heard his soft footsteps creak the wood above my head. Then I saw his reflection at the end of the dock. He was kneeling to pick up his pelt and paused upon seeing the flowers.

"M'Lord? Breakfast is being prepared." Smaller, faster steps skittered across the dock. "What did you...oh! Your pelt! How did that get here? And what of those odd flowers - "

"I don't know." came the cold reply. He stood there staring at the red flowers in his hand. They were lovely against his fair skin. "Have my pelt cleaned immediately."

I know not what Lord Sesshoumaru did with the flowers. He seemed to like them. It felt right to continue leaving him blossoms from my garden. I collected them in the prettiest shells I found on the sea floor and left them on the dock.

One night, many weeks after returning my Lord's pelt, I surfaced to find Lord Sesshoumaru standing lost in thought on the little bridge between his castle and the willow tree. The moonless night offered me a cloak of darkness, allowing me to stick just my hand out of the water and place the abalone shell full of flowers on the dock.

"Huh?" He turned just as I slipped out of sight. I heard the bridge creak, then his footsteps just above my head.

If only I had the courage to simply reply. Surely I could explain myself. Yet, at the same time, I knew my tail would repulse him. I remained motionless. Lord Sesshoumaru knelt and picked up the abalone shell.

Jaken spoke from out of sight. "What is it?"

Lord Sesshoumaru straightened. "It looks like another offering."

"Ohhh, shall I place it with the rest?"

"I suppose..." Their voices and footsteps faded towards the castle.

The next weeks were filled with me surfacing to watch the happenings of the people on land. Once every month Lord Sesshoumaru disappeared into the forest. On the days he was gone, I observed the others at the castle. I think I saw his father once - a tall man with his silver hair pulled back. He wore a cape of fur. Lord Touga only carried one sword, which bore a large jewel on the pommel.

Talk around the castle told me of my Lord's travels. Sometimes he ventured out over the sea in a small boat or on his flying cloud. If he knew that I sometimes followed him, he gave no indication. When I followed his adventures over the water, I remembered how I pulled him from beneath the waves, held him to my breasts and kissed his small lips...but he clearly had no memory of my saving him and couldn't even dream of me.

Everything on land seemed more vast than my world under the sea could ever be. There were mountains to climb, boats to sail on and many more things I could not see. My heart grew more fond towards it with each passing day.

o

"...you can't tell me anything else?"

Oisuta put down her octopus leg and said, "That's all I know, Rin. What has you so enchanted anyway? This world is so much prettier than that drab place."

Her casual disrespect for what I loved sent daggers through my spine. I stiffened. "Fine, I'll have to ask Grandmother. You can have the rest of my supper."

My older sister shrugged and grabbed my food. She laid herself back on her tail and happily ate. I swam out of the room, my mind twirling. Grandmother sat on her throne with her scarred tail curled around the base. Her hair floated just above her left shoulder as she fed a fish from her hand.

"Rin, what brings you here?" A smile wrinkled her face, "More questions?"

I nodded, coiling my tail beneath me to sit on her flukes. "I wonder about how they die up there...can they die without drowning?"

"Oh, yes. A bad wound can kill almost anyone." Grandmother drew me to her chest. "There are two kinds of land dwellers, Rin. Humans and demons. Both can die...humans have a short lifespan less than a century, but demons can live longer than any mer's three hundred years. But in death, they are equal."

"Do they become foam?"

"No...when a person from the land dies, their body releases their soul. The soul is an immortal thing that rises up to another realm, leaving the earthly body behind." She lowered her tone, her face serious. "Mer have no souls, Rin. When we die, we cease to be. But it is better that way. We have a long life, a long time with which to enjoy the beauty of the sea, so don't worry your pretty little head about all this soul talk."

"So I am to disappear from time and memory when I die? With nobody to remember me?" I rocked back when she nodded. "That is a terrible thing, Grandmother! I would give up all of my years for one day, one chance to live on land and have a soul and be remembered when I'm gone!"

"Rin - " she said.

I didn't let her finish. "Grandmother...is there any way, any possible way I could win myself a soul?" I clenched my fists while looking intently into her pale eyes. "I need to know!"

Her silence proved long and frustrating. Would she tell me? She had to know how badly I needed this information!

"My sweet little Rin...to win yourself a soul...a man from the land has to give you part of his own. To do that, he must desire you more than anything in the world and join with you in the act of love. At the climax of your joining, part of his soul would enter you and the gods that be would consider it enough to accept you in Heaven." Grandmother stroked the tangles from my hair and smiled. "But my dear, your tail is ugly to those on land. No man would want you unless you had legs just like every other girl. Now stop your worrying."

I looked away. She turned my head back with one finger. "There is a ball tonight. Please attend, it will take your mind off this silly soul business."

There was no room to ask further. Grandmother swam away to prepare for the ball, leaving me alone to ponder the inevitable oblivion in my future.

Little did I know that the song I sang at the ball would be the last song that left my lips. Yes, I did go; I stayed just long enough to sing so that everyone believed I was enjoying myself. Then I fled the dancing and laughing to be alone in my garden.

Kohaku found me there, tearing off the party adornments my sisters placed in my hair.

"Rin, aren't you going to sing some more?"

I avoided his eyes. "No. I didn't want to stay."

"Why?"

"I've figured out how I can become human, Kohaku." I said, hugging my statue. "...and I don't want anyone to stop me. Especially not you."

"Rin..." he flicked his tail and thrust his face angrily into mine, "...don't say what I think you're going to say."

"I am going to see Naraku."

He glared at me, his brown eyes flaming in anger and fear. "NO! Rin! Don't you dare! He'll kill you! Are you really that stupid?" Then he crossed his arms. "I swear, if you go, I'll go tell your father and grandmother. They'll make sure you don't see the surface ever again."

"Kohaku..." now it was my turn to glare, "if you do, I'll never speak to you again. I mean it!"

His pupils shrank. For a moment his lips moved silently, then finally he sputtered, "Rin, you wouldn't do that to your best friend!"

"I would!" I straightened myself fully, clenching my fists. "I want this, Kohaku. Nobody under the sea can give me legs except for Naraku."

"I hate it when you get these ideas in your head. I hate it." If merfolk could cry, I am sure Kohaku was about to burst into tears. He knew I was headstrong and there would be no convincing me to stay. With a deep sigh, he averted his eyes. "If he can't do it-"

"He can, I just know he can." I kissed his cheek and offered him a smile, my anger melting. "This might be goodbye. If I don't return, you'll know I made it."

"Rin, please..." Kohaku tried to swim in my path, but I easily rolled around him and darted past my tree. He followed me. "Rin, I-"

"I'm going." I left him there, alone.

o

The path to Naraku's dwelling place proved long and terrifying. I swam past volcanoes, boiling whirlpools and eels that glowed odd colors in the murky darkness. The whirlpools threatened to suck me into a place where nightmares came from, and the squids darting in the path tried to capture me in their monstrous tentacles. I trembled, binding my hair around my breasts as I swam with my arms crossed.

Eventually, all life ceased. There existed only rock, skeletons and pieces of old flesh. Bone traps held fast anything that dared swim between them. A treasure chest, fish, an eel, many human skeletons and even a poor mermaid child who swam too close. I wailed and swam past her body at my fastest speed.

I got past the bone trap forest and darted into a giant whale skeleton with flesh still clinging to its bones. I saw a bowl in the middle, a strange torch of blue light and many grotesque white crabs that crawled all around.

"Hello?" I drifted to sit by the large bowl.

Suddenly, a piece of the darkness wrapped around my tail! I shrieked in fright.

"So...here is the little mermaid." I heard a low voice from above. "I knew you were coming to me."

Then Naraku descended from the ceiling. He had the lower body of an eel that intertwined itself endlessly about the whale's ribcage and ended in flukes shaped like fans. Fleshy, twisting tentacles extended from his back, one of which held me firmly still. Long black hair floated around his sickly white face. His narrow eyes reminded me of blood droplets that gleamed in cruel pleasure at my plight. His eyelids were pale blue like the unnatural torch. He might have been handsome if his eyes weren't so cold and mocking.

I felt his icy fingers wrap around my shoulders. Our faces were mere inches apart. My heart beat so hard I saw my left breast moving. "Please, Naraku...if you knew I was coming, then surely you know what I came for."

Naraku laughed softly. "You want to become human so that Sesshoumaru will love you enough to mate with you, thus granting the soul you desire. It is a foolish wish that can only leave you in pain, Rin, but...if you're willing to pay the price, I'll grant it for you." He smiled at me, his face so deceivingly gentle.

"Anything." I shivered. Fear twisted my voice small. "No price is too high for a soul."

"Good." The tentacle holding me up relaxed, letting me slip to the ground. Naraku tossed a serpent into the bowl to clean it and then began adding several foul ingredients. A tongue, serpent scales, the eye of a squid and crocodile tears. The last was some of his own dark blood. He looked up at me. "It is a good thing you came now. One more day and you might have ended up waiting a full year for my help. Now...this potion I am making will cause an alchemic reaction that will turn your tail into legs. Once you drink it, you will become human forever. You will never again be able to join your family in the sea."

"All right- "

"The potion will cause you agony when you swallow it. Every walking step will feel as if burning swords stabbed your feet. Shall I continue?"

I set my brow and pushed my hair out of my face. Grandmother once said one must suffer in order to be beautiful. Now I understood what she meant.

"Yes."

Another chilling smile. He stirred his potion with one tentacle. It made horrible, monstrous sounds like something terrible being born. "If Sesshoumaru does love you enough to take you as his mate, then you have nothing to fear. However...if he should fall for another woman and mate with her, your life is forfeit. The morning after he makes love to another, Rin, your little heart will break and you will melt into sea foam. Your will utterly cease to exist. Heh, heh. Now for your half of the bargain..."

His words clenched my innards. My hands shook. I thought that surely the pain and risk of death were the only prices I had to pay. What more could he want? "P-please tell me the price."

"I want your voice, Rin." He faced me. "It is your greatest gift and it is what I require as payment for your request."

"My voice? But..." I felt my world shrink. Without a voice, there was no way I could tell Lord Sesshoumaru the truth of who saved him! "How will I speak to Lord Sesshoumaru?"

Naraku chuckled and said, "You can speak to him with your eyes and the graceful way you move. Yes, you will retain your mermaid-like grace. Surely you can make him love you with more than just a sweet song."

I said nothing, my eyes staring unfocused into space. My mind was trapped around the idea of losing my voice and home and how it was very possible that I could die. Then I became a little arrogant. What was the chance of him finding a mate in such a short time when I've always seen him alone? Surely if Lord Sesshoumaru was courting a woman, I would have seen her. I had a chance!

Naraku swam towards me and his hair became like a black chrysalis around us. It seemed alive in its own right. "So, Rin...why the hesitation? Are you afraid of the pain? Or is it the thought of doom that strikes fear in your heart?"

My resolve hardened. I lifted my chin to meet the sea wizard's red eyes. "No, I want this. Anything to be with Lord Sesshoumaru."

"So be it!" His thunderous laughter made the whale's skeleton tremble. I knew a storm must be brewing somewhere on the sea's surface. He made a strange motion with one hand and the bone cave closed in around us, leaving so little room that I almost sat on his slimy lap. I watched as more terrible ingredients were added to the bowl until colored ink rose between us.

I pressed myself against a wall as far away from Naraku as possible. He hovered over the bowl, his face lit from below. Demonic shadows played across his ashen cheeks and mouth. He gestured with his hands until the potion glowed soft white. Then, slowly, he fixed me in his unblinking gaze. Before I could think, he rushed forward and pinned me to the whale's spine. His face came closer, closer, so close that his lips pressed against mine. Naraku used his lips to open my mouth and draw out my tongue, and in one quick motion he bit it off. The dull pain cut through my skull. My blood clouded the water between us.

If I could cry at the time, tears would have poured down my face. My beautiful voice was gone forever, lost in the parody of a kiss.

"I left you enough of a tongue to swallow, but any sound you try to make will be grotesque. You will never speak or sing again, do remember that." said Naraku, his voice soft. "No turning back now, Rin." He grinned at me with my tongue in his teeth and let it fall into the bowl. I heard my own voice sing softly in the potion, then all became quiet.

I stood there with blood pouring from between my lips. The sea water made my mouth sting.

Naraku dipped a glass vial into the bowl. It came out filled with a white liquid that glowed like the sun. "You must be quick, my little Rin. This potion will lose its effect at sunrise." He indicated an opening in the chilling bone walls. "If any squid or bone traps catch you, just pour a drop onto them and they will melt."

But I did not need to waste so much as a dram. Every creature that witnessed the glow in my hand gave me a wide berth. I swam over what used to be my home - the lights were extinguished and everyone asleep. Kohaku lay sleeping in my garden. Poor boy, he waited all those hours, hoping I would give up and return. I kissed his cheek, kissed my hand many times towards my former home and turned away. The sorrow at how much I sacrificed nearly broke my heart in two. I felt so heavy that I am still amazed that I rose at all towards Lord Sesshoumaru's castle.

Pink light glowed on the horizon as I pulled myself up onto Lord Sesshoumaru's castle dock. I sat trembling, afraid that if I started to think I would lose courage. No turning back. No time for regrets.

Tremors raced across my arms. I uncorked the vial and choked down its tasteless contents. For a moment, I did not feel anything. Then...

Ugh!

It was like I swallowed fire! I clutched my throat and gasped. Oh! I felt it in my throat first, then my stomach. I fell sideways and clutched at my belly as if in labor, my entire face scrunched. Awful burning made its way down the center of my tail, which bubbled as if someone poured a line of acid through it. The bubbles started at my hips first before continuing down inch by excruciating inch, a torturous line of flames scorching my insides. All of my being wanted to flinch away, yet doing so offered no escape. This sickening froth finally made it to my flukes and spread outward across my fins. The agony increased tenfold. I heard and smelled my scales sizzling. Darkness pricked at my vision. I trembled uncontrollably, gagging on my own spittle. Bones crackled and groaned as they formed in a too-small space where only muscle existed. My fins lost flexibility and undulated against my will, the new bones stabbing me from within. Get into the water, get into the water! My mind kept screaming. I forgot which way to go, so I writhed like a beached dolphin and clawed at the dock until my fingernails left marks in the wood. Fiery lines stretched outwards to encompass the whole of me. Invisible swords cut my body asunder. My entire fishtail spontaneously combusted and tore itself into two grotesque lumps of flesh. Bones shot out the bottom of each and split my half-flukes five ways. My golden scales boiled away in a cloud of amber smoke and I heard a snap when my shriveling flukes flipped forward to become tiny feet. The flames and pain gradually shrank away.

I came to my senses to discover I was clinging to the wooden rail of the dock mere meters from Lord Sesshoumaru's door. Odd, considering I had no memory of dragging myself at all. I must have gone the wrong way in my desperate attempt to reach the water, but that no longer mattered. I looked down and found that I had two delicate legs instead of a fishtail.

The sun rose brilliant and golden behind me.

Exhausted, I fell off the railing and knew no more.

o

Awareness came dimly at first. Just sounds. The click of a sword being sheathed. A soft gasp. An arm lifting me to sit up against something fluffy.

"Is she alive? Who is she?"

"Yes, she is alive. I doubt she can tell us anything even if she wanted to. Look, her tongue has been cut out."

An audible shudder. "...eugh!"

I recognized those voices! Though I still ached all over, I tilted my head back and opened my eyes to find Lord Sesshoumaru gazing down at me through expressionless amber eyes. His single arm cradled me against his chest exactly the way I cradled him when I saved his life. I realized I was cold, never had I felt too cold before, and ineffectively wrapped my damp hair around myself in attempt to regain warmth.

"Whatever you went through, it is over." Lord Sesshoumaru started to rise, pulling me upright. He removed his outer garment and wrapped it around my shoulders. "Are you strong enough to walk?"

The second my feet touched the ground, I felt as if I impaled myself on flaming swords. Unprepared for the sudden pain, I stumbled forward and wrapped my arms around my Lord's waist. He lifted a thin eyebrow. I averted my gaze and let him help me inside, wincing at each step.

"What an odd girl," I heard Jaken say.

Once inside, I was given attire everyone called a "kimono". It was similar to my Lord's, except mine had orange and yellow squares. I also discovered the items I thought were musical instruments actually served as coverings for the feet, but I decided I didn't like them much and went barefoot. Servants dressed me properly and combed my hair free of tangles. Then they left me alone to rest.

Clothes were strange, constricting things. I would have gladly gone without them, however, I never saw anyone walking about the castle nude and soon realized such was improper on land. I had to get used to wearing the heavy cloth if I ever wanted to enjoy my new life.

Then there was the matter of walking. I pushed myself up to stand, trying to ignore the pain in my soles. The stabbing sensation disappeared if I stood in one place, but returned anew when I took a step. With that step I found myself down on my backside again. Graceful, Naraku said? Hah! I was no more graceful than a turtle on its back! I gritted my teeth and pushed up again, this time managing to walk across the room without losing my balance. I found that I walked easier if I let the back of each foot touch down and transferred my weight to my toes as I took the next step. Every footfall ached, but I soon grew accustomed to the pain. In a few moments I circled the room as easily as I used to swim. Walking wasn't too hard...I just had to remember to move one leg at a time instead of my entire lower half.

Lord Sesshoumaru appeared in the doorway. I waved to him and smiled. He did not smile back, instead studying me up and down with an approving nod.

"I thought you might be hungry," he said, turning away. "Follow me if you want to eat."

His statement did not need to be repeated. I felt many eyes on me as I walked beside him to a large room with a table on the floor. Lord Touga was already sitting at one end of the table. Jaken sat on a cushion off to one side and Lord Sesshoumaru folded himself to sit on the other. I looked down at the sticks on the table. Sudden excitement struck me. I remembered those! I grinned and hurriedly arranged the sticks in my hair.

Lord Sesshoumaru looked at me with both eyebrows raised. Lord Touga placed his hand over his mouth. "Oh, my...Sesshoumaru? Where did you find this lovely little girl, again?"

Now everyone gave me the same odd look. I blushed and put the sticks back on the table, too embarrassed to meet their eyes. A servant brought out steaming bowls of something white. I watched everyone pick up the sticks and use them to scrape a layer off the top of their bowls.

Oh, I see, they use them as eating utensils! I thought, and imitated their actions. While I ate, I noticed no sign of Lord Sesshoumaru's mother or grandmother. I could not bear my curiosity and gestured towards the empty place where I knew she should be, and looked at them with a questioning expression.

"She is dead." Lord Sesshoumaru replied. "It was a long time ago."

"Ah, but she is remembered fondly around here." said Lord Touga with an easy smile that lit up his lovely face. I noticed he lacked a moon on his brow, but decided not to inquire about it.

My Lord didn't return the smile. He seemed bitter, but rather than dwell, he looked at me and spoke, "Eat before it gets cold."

Lord Touga called in a few servants and asked them to sing for us while we ate. I felt a small pang at that. There was one small girl with a lovely voice, but I knew mine was once much sweeter. Oh, how I wished I didn't forsake my singing voice when I still had it. Now Lord Sesshoumaru would never know that I gave up my ability to sing for him.

After everyone finished their supper, the servants broke up and danced. I stood up and, stretching out my arms, danced along with them. I still felt the rhythm of the music even though I could not utter a note. I dipped and twirled and dipped again, not caring how badly each step hurt my feet. I had Lord Sesshoumaru's complete and utter attention. His father showed his appreciation by clapping his hands.

"That is what I call dancing! I think - " then a guard interrupted him to whisper in his ear. His face grew serious. "I must go. There is a border dispute that I have to attend to. Sesshoumaru, mind the castle for me."

Lord Sesshoumaru bowed his head. "Yes, father." He turned to me after his father left, "He is always leaving." His voice turned bitter, "He has the audacity to speak of mother so happily when we both know stepmother was his favorite woman. But that is the past."

Sad because he seemed sad, I moved to sit beside him again. I'll listen if you wish to talk about it.

He sniffed dismissively to change the subject. His eyes met mine. "I need to find something to call you. Can you read or write your name?"

I shook my head.

Lord Sesshoumaru made a rumbling sound in his throat. I looked over his shoulder at the wall. There was a woodblock painting of a mermaid holding pearls. I smiled and pointed to it, prompting my Lord to follow my gaze. His mouth quirked. "You did come to me from the sea...just like a little mermaid."

My smile grew.

Lord Sesshoumaru lowered his eating sticks. "Do you like that?"

I giggled and took his hand.

"Very well, then." He smiled only with his eyes. "From now on, I'll call you 'Little Mermaid'."

And he was the only one who called me that. Everyone else continued referring to me as 'the mute girl'.

o

My days with Lord Sesshoumaru became filled with the wondrous adventures I always dreamed of. He owned a two headed dragon named Ah-Un that went with him and Jaken whenever he went on patrol. I often rode or flew alongside him on the dragon's back whenever he went someplace outside his castle.

Lord Sesshoumaru showed me his entire domain. Just the land he himself belonged to seemed much larger than my entire undersea home! I saw the tops of the mountains I previously fancied and flew so high that the clouds rolled below my feet. I ran through fallen leaves in vast forests, heard the music of birds(Grandmother called them fish) and played among butterflies in the flower fields. Not a day went by that I didn't bring my Lord a pretty flower or leaf I found during our travels.

I think one of the most exciting things that happened was encountering a group of odd plant demons. I had been searching for the perfect flower when the very vines I stood on wrapped around my legs! A giant, ugly stalk burst from the ground and opened a slimy mouth. Naturally, I shrieked and struggled against it.

Suddenly, a streak of green light flew past my feet. The vines that bound me fell off, dropping me to the ground. Lord Sesshoumaru appeared in a white blur and, drawing one of his swords, slew the thing in one swing. He was amazing!

"Vine demons, Little Mermaid. Watch your step." Lord Sesshoumaru sheathed his blade and started to walk away.

But why do you always seem sad about something, my dear Lord? I caught up and studied his face.

Lord Sesshoumaru stopped walking. We were under a pretty willow tree that threw shadows about his long hair. He replied as if I spoke in words. "It is nothing you have done, Little Mermaid."

I reached up and traced his stripes with two fingers. He never flinched away when I did this.

"You are such an innocent little thing." He leaned into my fingers, then drew back. "Sometimes, it seems you are the only one who actually listens when I want to talk. Perhaps I just think that because you can't interrupt me when I speak."

But your words are everything to me, why should I interrupt your thoughts? I leaned forward and gently embraced him. He did not return it, never did, but I was content just to show him my love this way. I heard his heartbeat and easily remembered how weak it had been when I dragged him onto the sand. Now it thumped strongly enough that I felt each pulsation under my cheek. I wish I could make you remember...

"Come," Lord Sesshoumaru stepped out of my embrace, "There is still a lot of patrolling to do, and Jaken is waiting with Ah-Un at the forest's edge."

We had barely walked an acre when I saw mounds marked with stones on the side of the road. Curious, I tugged my Lord's sleeve and pointed to them.

"Graves." he replied, elaborating when I lifted a brow, "Where the dead are buried and remembered."

I touched my chest. If I were to die, would you remember me?

"Such a foolish thing," whispered Lord Sesshoumaru. "You are too young to worry about death."

Yet that was my fate if I failed to win his love. How could I not think about it every day when it followed me like a phantom shadow waiting to snatch me away?

o

Chirping insects woke me from a sound sleep. I turned over to peer into the cracked fusama at Lord Sesshoumaru's sleeping face. He recently had a fur futon made for me and placed it just outside his door. When the nights were too cold, he let me sleep on the floor beside him, nestled under his soft pelt.

My feet ached terribly, they often did when I spent long periods of time upright. Just as I did every night, I crept across the dock and sat down to soothe my poor feet in the cool water. Little clouds of dark blood surrounded them. I looked out over the water and thought fondly of the friends and family I left behind. Father was probably furious with me, Grandmother would probably worry herself sick and my sisters...I often wondered if they missed me.

I got my reply when I heard them sing. They were at the other end of the bay, but wouldn't come any closer than that.

"Father and Grandmother are so terribly sad!" they sang in unison.

The next night, I saw Father and Grandmother just beyond the bay's edge. Father with his crown of white coral and long gray-streaked hair, and Grandmother's pale hair blending into the sea foam. Neither came close enough to speak, but held out their arms as if sending me an embrace. I kissed my hand towards them and gestured to show how happy I was.

A week later, I saw Kohaku boldly come up to the dock. He startled me because I had just disrobed to take a late night swim. Swimming wasn't as easy without my tail, but I was still good at it. I slid into the water to embrace Kohaku, whom I honestly had missed a lot. He hugged back tightly and swam with me along the bay's edge. "I didn't think you'd do it, Rin. When I woke up and saw you hadn't returned, I - "

I touched his mouth and shook my head. I didn't want to feel more guilty than I already did for leaving everyone behind the way I did.

He looked straight into my eyes, his expression almost pained. "Are you happy here?"

I nodded vigorously. Happier than I've ever been.

Kohaku's face seemed even sadder. His forehead wrinkled and he chewed his bottom lip. I've never seen Kohaku look so unhappy before. He splashed his flukes about in the water, blotting out the full moon's reflection. I looked sideways at him and noticed suddenly that he was growing up. Muscles defined themselves in his chest and arms. His tail was thicker, stronger and his flukes larger than mine used to be. He had become more handsome since I last saw him.

"I'm glad you're happy, Rin. Really." Then he smiled, though I could tell it was forced. "I miss hearing you sing. I wish - "

"Little Mermaid?"

I pushed Kohaku underwater just as Lord Sesshoumaru stepped onto the dock. He wore nothing but a thin white yukata.

"What are you doing, swimming around at this hour?"

I shyly met his eyes and smiled, feeling Kohaku swim away. When I was sure Kohaku had gone, I beckoned Lord Sesshoumaru to the water. Want to swim?

My Lord glanced over his shoulder. "I suppose there isn't any harm in it."

Down fell his yukata. Naked, he dove off the dock and huffed upon surfacing. I swam up to him and touched the jagged stump where his left arm used to exist. What happened to your arm?

"A humiliating defeat," Lord Sesshoumaru replied. "I have a younger brother who is a bastard half-breed conceived in adultery, and it was he that cut off this Sesshoumaru's arm. Father entrusted him with a powerful heirloom, a fang to be exact...it has a power that I should wield, not that pathetic wretch."

I wrinkled my forehead.

"Don't worry about it, Little Mermaid, you probably won't have to meet my brother." He tilted his head and water droplets sparkled in his hair. "If only you could tell me how you lost your tongue..."

My hand flew self consciously to touch my lips, where I probed the tiny stub of a tongue I still had. It had healed just as rough and thick as Lord Sesshoumaru's stump. For you...I gave it up for you. Then I smiled and dove again.

Lord Sesshoumaru joined me underwater. Oh, he was lovelier than any merman with his long hair swaying that way! I could easily imagine him with a pale silver tail and transparent flukes. It made me wonder, briefly, what he would have given up had our situations been reversed.

I took his hand and led him to the shells on the little shelf where the bay deepened. We looked at them until neither of us could hold our breath any longer. His eyes stayed fixed on me the entire way to the surface.

"You aren't afraid of the water at all, are you?"

Of course not, I shook my head, smiling.

"Then again..." he gazed at me, his amber eyes sparkling in the moonlight, "you don't seem afraid of anything."

His eyes overpowered me. I looked down at the water, watching his hair float around on its surface. How could I be afraid of a world so wonderful?

Lord Sesshoumaru lifted my chin with his fingertips. He was inches from me, so close our bodies almost touched. "There is something about you that seems...familiar. You remind me of someone..." his eyes drifted to stare at the sky.

I waited eagerly for his words. Could it be that he remembered?

"Many months ago, I was on a ship that sank in the stormy sea. The waves carried me to shore. I was dying and this...woman...who had blue eyes and played a flute brought me back from the brink. Though accepting her aid leaves a mark on my pride, she did save my life."

My heart sank. Lord Sesshoumaru didn't remember me saving him at all.

He shook his head and snorted. "I don't know her name or where she's from. I doubt I will ever see her again. Anyhow..." now he was staring into my eyes, "Female demons are scarce these days. Father wants me to take a human mate. As much as I hate the idea, if I don't find that woman by the time autumn arrives..." he took my hand, "...I will name you as my mate, my silent Little Mermaid, because you are a kind, loyal child and remind me of her."

Do you love me, though? I stared back at him, slightly hurt. Do you know how much I love you?

A small smile twitched the corners of his lips. I felt his hand touch my hair. "I know how you feel about me, Little Mermaid. Your eyes always tell me so. You must be the most innocent little thing to walk these lands."

That doesn't answer whether or not you love me, I wanted to say.

My Lord's lips seemed so inviting. If he loved me, surely he would let me kiss him. I closed my eyes and boldly kissed his mouth. His lips pressed gently back in reply. I felt his hand come to rest lightly on my back, drawing me up against his warm chest. Until then I didn't realize I was shivering in the cold water. I felt so...loved and wanted.

It seemed impossible that anything would destroy this wonderful, most glorious moment of my life.

o

Each passing day endeared me more to Lord Sesshoumaru's cold, hard to find heart. Weeks drifted gently by. The days grew shorter and here and there leaves were beginning to change color, a sign that autumn would soon begin. With no sign of the mysterious maiden who saved my Lord, I believed the threat to my life was all but eliminated.

I spent my days scooping the prettiest leaves off the ground and taking them to Lord Sesshoumaru as gifts. They did not last like flowers, however, and by the next day they crumbled at the slightest touch. That meant I merely had to bring back more each day. He never turned my offerings away.

The serenity of one cool, breezy afternoon was shattered by a crash in the training dojo. One of the fusama doors clattered to the ground. I saw Lord Sesshoumaru pick himself up off the grass and glare at Lord Touga, who stood just inside.

"Next time you try a move like that on me, Sesshoumaru, I won't let you off as easily." Lord Touga snarled, "Only a dishonorable demon would attack a man's back."

Lord Sesshoumaru brushed the dirt from his pristine kimono. His face betrayed nothing even as he looked at his own empty sleeve. "It would seem more practical to attack at the best opportunity. Honor does not matter when you are one slash from death."

Shadows crossed Lord Touga's face. He backhanded my Lord's cheek. "It matters when you have someone to protect."

"I protect no one, and even if I did, I would do whatever is necessary to end a battle quickly."

"Do not take that tone with me." Another slap, harder. "And what about the other issue you are being so obstinate about?"

Lord Sesshoumaru's reply came too softly to hear. Lord Touga lifted his hand again.

I leapt from my perch and raced between them. Thrusting my arms out to either side, I struggled to push them apart and clung to Lord Sesshoumaru's billowing sleeves. I stared wide eyed at both of them, gasping for breath. Please, don't hurt each other anymore!

Lord Touga glared at me and lowered his voice. "We will finish this later, Sesshoumaru." And with a swish of his pelt he was gone, leaving my Lord and I alone in the sunlight.

"Of course, father."

I looked up at Lord Sesshoumaru. His face showed absolutely no expression, but his eyes seemed pained. A large, purple bruise marred his left cheek and four slashes left blood dribbling down the side of his neck. He huffed through his teeth, turned from me and walked towards the dock. Naturally, I followed. He stopped to sniff the air and stared down at my feet.

"How long have you been bleeding?"

Huh? I peered at my toes, then at the path behind me. Bloody footprints marked my every step. I looked up, smiled and shrugged. I had become so used to the excruciating pain of walking that it managed to slip beneath my notice until called to my attention. To take his attention away from me, I touched his bruise. You are hurt, my Lord...

"It's nothing." Lord Sesshoumaru knelt at the water's edge.

I tore the bottom off my under kimono, wet it in the water and washed the blood from his throat. Surprisingly, the wounds were already healed.

"You're probably wondering what we were fighting about." He looked over, still expressionless. "Father wants me to go meet a human girl on another island. She is Lady Sara of Asano castle. She is mature at age twenty, a potential mate, but I have no obligation to choose her. There is no way I will want her. Still, I have to sail all the way over there tomorrow just to see her and say no...it is a waste of both my father's and my time. Besides..." I watched him straighten and look towards the sun, "I already told you my true intentions. Autumn is arriving and I have not found her. Upon our return to the mainland, I will announce to everyone that I would rather have you."

My mind fondly recalled the night we kissed in the water. I smiled up at him while pointing to the sea. May I sail with you to this island?

His lips twitched in an almost-smile. "I would like that, Little Mermaid. It will take three days to get there, we will arrive on the first day of autumn...will that bother you?"

I shook my head, laughing, and offered him a dandelion blossom. No, nothing bothers me when I'm beside you, my Lord.

He took the blossom between two fingers, met my eyes and turned towards the sprawling castle. "Come, then, we must prepare for the journey."

And an hour after dawn the next day, Lord Sesshoumaru, his father, Jaken, myself and several servants set sail straight north. I hadn't seen much of Jaken at all during my time on land, save for meals and occasional patrols. He hated the water and never wanted to join me on deck no matter how I pleaded with him.

Lord Sesshoumaru spent much of his time on the bow of the ship. The wind played with his hair and made him squint until his eyes watered. When I joined him at noontime, he turned to me and asked, "Do you ever wonder what lies at the bottom of the sea?"

I smiled and shook my head no, because I knew exactly what was on the bottom of the sea. My eyes drifted to the sparkling blue all around. It was difficult not to laugh at how wrong he was when he said he believed sea floor was a dark place that probably had little life besides fish, coral and seaweed. Oh how I wished I could have dove off the ship with him and shown him just how colorful, bright and alive it really was.

Lord Touga cleared his throat, gently interrupting the calmness of moment. "Sesshoumaru, can we speak in private?"

"Father." Lord Sesshoumaru acknowledged him and followed his footsteps below deck, pausing only to say, "Dinner will be at sunset. If I can not return in time, will come fetch you when it's ready."

Nodding to him in reply, I turned back to the water and smiled. Dolphins were playing in the spray caused by the ship slicing through the waves. I loved dolphins, they were always laughing, singing and dancing...and I kind of missed being able to leap with them in the water.

Jaken skittered across the deck to be sick over the side. He appeared even more green than before, if such was possible.

You poor thing! I knelt next to him and offered a scoop of water from the barrel nearby.

"I hope this goes away by tonight," he moaned, pushing my offering aside. "I don't need your help."

Shrugging, I drank the water myself. After seeing the gruesome sight of my tail becoming legs, I found myself unbothered by disgusting things like slaughtered animals, feces and vomit. They were unpleasant, but did not send me running away to lose my own stomach.

The little toad finally stopped heaving. He flopped down against the water barrel.

Whatever Lord Touga and Lord Sesshoumaru were speaking about, it certainly took much of the day. The sun climbed over the ship's main mast and swung down towards the water again.

I found myself at the stern, watching the foamy track and listening to the soft swish left by the ship. I could have sworn I glimpsed Father's castle and Grandmother's shiny crown. As if called by my thoughts, my sisters rose from the waves a moment later. Each of them looked melancholy and held their hands out to me.

My sisters! Why so sad, can you not see how happy I am? I waved to them and smiled. I might have found a way to let them know everything was going just as I hoped, but Lord Sesshoumaru approached before I could. My sisters dove so quickly that he glanced out at the spot where they were a moment previous.

Lord Sesshoumaru turned from the water. "It's time to eat."

Smiling, I followed him into the cabin below deck.

o

Asano castle was high up on a cliff - Lord Sesshoumaru pointed it out to me upon our approach. The ship pulled into the harbor just after high noon and everyone made preparations to meet this human princess. I helped my Lord into a clean kimono, combed his hair until it shone and picked the dirt off his sharp fingernails. His thank you's sounded distant, distracted, perhaps he was nervous?

I, too, found myself fidgeting anxiously. People everywhere said Lady Sara, daughter of Lord Souju was a very beautiful and wise princess.

One hour later, Lord Touga, Lord Sesshoumaru, Jaken and myself presented ourselves to Lord Souju. Lord Touga and Lord Souju exchanged polite words of greeting. As they did this, I let my eyes wander around the room.

The room was decorated in lavish blues and browns. Paintings of water dragons appeared on every shoji screen that faced the ocean. All the fusama doors were open to let in the ocean breeze and sunlight. Everything smelled fresh and clean, and each soldier looked very well-groomed.

"I suppose we shouldn't keep you waiting. Lord Touga, I hope you don't mind that I present my daughter to your son in the traditional demon way." Lord Souju smiled under his mustache.

Lord Touga smirked in reply. "Not at all."

"Good." Lord Souju stood and walked to the east-facing door. "Bring Sara in."

Two men carried in a chair on which sat a figure completely shrouded in red silk and linen. How could she breathe under all of that? I watched curiously as the soldiers set the chair down at Lord Sesshoumaru's feet, bowed and took two graceful steps backwards.

I heard Lord Sesshoumaru emit a soft, annoyed sigh. He looked utterly bored by all of this. Lord Touga gave him a slight nudge, whispering, "Remember, you only have to meet her."

Nodding, Lord Sesshoumaru knelt and drew away the shroud. Lady Sara's head remained bowed. She was more of a woman than I would ever be. Though she was sitting I could tell she stood a full head taller than I, making her nearly Lord Sesshoumaru's height. Even through her thick kimono I could see she had mature breasts and hips, both of which I did not.

I looked closer at her face. Cold terror tore the bottom out of my belly at the sight of her blue eyes and the flute tucked into her lavish clothing. Oh, no...this couldn't be happening!

"Lord Sesshoumaru, it is a pleasure to - "

"Wait." Lord Sesshoumaru's nostrils flared. He bent forward slightly, staring intently at the top of her head. "Your scent is familiar."

"My Lord? I don't see how-" She finally looked up. Her mouth dropped. "Oh!"

My Lord's eyes widened. Then his normally expressionless face melted in the most beautiful smile I had ever seen, a smile that I could never bring to him. He turned to me, still grinning, and said, "Little Mermaid, this is the girl I spoke to you about." He faced her again, "This is...this is incredible...fate is such a strange creature, isn't it?"

My befuddled mind slowly began to realize the love my Lord had for me was more like the love of a close friend or even a child, not the kind of emotion he clearly directed to this woman. I could see it in the way his eyes grew dreamy when he looked at her...he never turned his eyes to me in that manner during all this time I spent with him. Not once.

I was also aware that my face mirrored Kohaku's stricken expression the night he visited me. Kohaku would have married me, made me happy...and I was blind to his love because I loved only Lord Sesshoumaru. I had hurt him more than I ever thought possible, and I regretted it. Now I had to face something even worse than pain.

Stunned, I forced a smile for them, but my heart was suddenly bitter. I watched another dream shatter each time my Lord kissed his desired mate's hand. Fate is indeed a strange creature.

"Lady Sara," Lord Sesshoumaru took the woman's hand and buried his nose in her hair, "I will have you."

"I accept," she replied, and they briefly kissed.

The world around me spun. I never had Lord Sesshoumaru's heart. I never had anything...all my dreams, hopes, wishes and desires were crashing around me...and he just stood there, oblivious to everything but her.

"Well," Lord Touga chuckled, "I suppose we should get the celebration under way."

o

It began as the largest feast I ever witnessed. Platters filled with pigs, fish and an assortment of other meats and fruit lined the beach. Everyone stuffed themselves. I sat there in a heavy, uncomfortable formal kimono of red and gold silk and watched the others laugh between bites. Many people, even me, partook of bitter sake that made the world hazy and distant. The sand spun and the waves crashing on the shore mere meters from us seemed miles away.

Music played over the crashing swells. People danced, sang and laughed. I joined them after a time, laughing, smiling and dancing wildly while morbid thoughts of death filled my mind. I was blind to the celebration, deaf to the music and numb to the pain of every step. This was the last night I would spend with the demon I loved. The last night in which I shared the same air he breathed, touched his hand, looked into his eyes and heard his voice. The last night in which I could behold the sea and sky, hear the birds, pick flowers, smell the wind and walk along the sand. I gave up my home, my family, my voice and suffered such violent agony for my Lord, and he had no knowledge of it. None! My anguish at his ignorance to what I sacrificed for him hurt worse than the knowing the morrow promised me eternal oblivion without thought or dream.

My mind was filled with thoughts of death as I giggled and let a slightly intoxicated Lord Sesshoumaru twirl me across the white sand. I danced while Lady Sara played her flute and smiled at the applause. I spun with Jaken, Lord Touga, Lord Shouju and Lady Sara. People blurred colorful against the blue sea, orange twilight and white sand.

If only you all knew that I still have a mermaid's eyes, and can not cry. You see me laughing, but my heart is weeping.

"Whoa." Lord Touga caught me when I finally toppled. The world still spun when he spoke. "Goodness, you're energetic tonight." He lowered his voice, "I thought that you, of all people, would be heartbroken - "

I covered his mouth, shook my head and stood up. You were the one who wanted him to come here. But I don't blame you for doing what you thought was best for your son, Lord Touga. My father would have done the same.

As I spun away, I felt his eyes stay on me until the music stopped.

When the sun began its final dip below the horizon, Lord Touga's men set up a bed of fur on the sand. Torches and incense that sent up purple smoke surrounded it. Both Lord Sesshoumaru and Lady Sara inhaled something from a strange wooden pipe, and in a few moments their faces blushed.

A servant called me over. I found myself helping Lord Sesshoumaru undress beside the bed of demon pelts while Lady Sara, already naked, sat in its center with a fold of fur covering her breasts. It felt like the ultimate insult - me undressing the man I loved so he could lay with another woman.

When I finished undressing my Lord and saw what would never be mine, I had to look away. Naraku hadn't lied when he said all of this was a foolish wish that promised me only pain. He must have known how it would end from the moment I entered his domain.

Men and women alike, mostly Lord Touga's people, gathered around to bear witness. I had to stand there and watch Lord Sesshoumaru make love to this woman he only found again today. The unfairness of it all! No one on this Earth gave him more love than I did...I wanted to scream when I saw how she touched him and the way he kissed her. Lady Sara cried out as if in pain. A few moments later, Lord Sesshoumaru moaned and I smelled the salty tang of his pleasure.

My fate sealed, I slipped away, unable to bear the scene any longer.

o

Silence, the surf and twinkling stars became my only companions. Everyone else had retired in tents and shelters on the beach. I didn't want to disturb anyone, so I walked up and down the shoreline, occasionally stopping to sit on the rocks that stretched far out into the water.

How could I blame Lord Sesshoumaru for choosing Lady Sara over me? He said himself she was the only human he could see himself wanting, even loving. I was always his second choice. The next best thing. A consolation prize. His soul was never meant to be mine because it already belonged to her long before they mated.

...and I did enjoy my time on land. I got to know him, see his world and show him my love. I hoped that I could still stay near him even if it was just as foam on the waves.

I heard a splash. Kohaku's head appeared above the sizzling foam. His dark hair stuck to his forehead. "Rin? You look terribly sad! What's wrong?"

I'm going to die, Kohaku. I met his eyes, my face pained.

His expression twisted as if I spoke the words. "No...Rin, this can't be happening! Why? You're such a good person, too good to die!" He climbed onto the rock with me and pulled me into his arms. "I'm going to do something about this. I can't let you die, Rin...I - you just wait here. I'm going to get help."

Kohaku... I touched his hair, can you forgive me for being so blind?

Kohaku wrapped his sparkling tail around my ankles and squeezed gently. I saw forgiveness in his sad smile. "This won't take long," he said. Then he disengaged from me and dove into the waves.

The hours began to pass more slowly. I watched the stars march across the sky. The tide came in, forcing me to choose a higher perch. These were the same rocks I sat on season after season when I saved Lord Sesshoumaru. Now he slept with his mate in a tent on the very spot where I held him to my breast and begged him to awaken.

My sisters rose from the waves, pale as foam and singing a sad melody. I nearly fell off my rock at the sight of them. Their hair was gone, shorn close to their scalps! I barely recognized them because they were more pallid than the foam swirling around their shoulders.

"Rin!" Paru waved, how how heartbreaking it was to see her without her beautiful white locks. "Rin, look, we gave our hair to Naraku!"

"We made a deal with him, little sister!" Shimi joined Paru near the rocks.

Oisuta covered her head with seaweed. "Some deal...but seriously, Rin, listen to us."

"Naraku forged our hair into a magical dagger," Kawa added. "Kohaku?"

"Catch, Rin!" Kohaku appeared behind them and tossed the gleaming knife to me. I caught it by the handle, wincing at how cold it felt against my palm.

"You have to plunge the knife into Lord Sesshoumaru's heart." said Aoi. Her eyes were very grave. "Let his blood cover your feet and your legs will merge back into a tail. You'll be a mermaid again, little sister!"

"Please come back to us, Rin!" Shimi burst out, "Grandmother is so stricken that her hair has fallen out just as ours fell under Naraku's shears. Kill Lord Sesshoumaru and your life will be saved...you'll have your three hundred years back!"

"Make it fast, Rin." Kohaku looked over my head at the mountains, "Dawn will come soon."

I stared blindly at the dagger. Two serpents holding a blade between them, their shiny eyes seeming to watch my every move.

"We'll be waiting," my sisters said in unison. I heard a splash, looked up and saw them gone. Kohaku waved before he dove as well.

When I tilted the dagger just so, I could see the reflection of a thin blue line above the mountain tops. Yes, the sun would rise soon. If I wanted to live, I had to be quick. I hopped down from my rock and made my way towards the white tent set far away from the others. All I needed to do was stab Lord Sesshoumaru while he slept. He wouldn't suffer at all if I did it swiftly.

I silently drew aside the tent flap. Lord Sesshoumaru lay sprawled on his stomach, naked and breathing softly into his new mate's dark hair. Even in the deepest slumber he still smiled only for her. He rolled just before I lifted the dagger, so I dropped the flap and waited. No voice asked who was there...I hadn't awakened him. My heart throbbing painfully, I moved the fur again to find him on his back. His beautiful hair spilled across his chest and arm. His pretty face was turned to me, peaceful, very much like he looked when I saved him.

I pointed the dagger at Lord Sesshoumaru's heart. My entire body quivered. I kept watching his face as the blade hovered over his skin. I saved his life and now I had to take it away to save myself. Tension ran down my body. Up went the knife, poised for the final plunge. I was going to rip him from his new mate, the happiness he just found and the child he may have conceived. What would that gain me?

What would that gain me?

I shook my head violently, tangling my fingers in my hair. How dare I think I could back to my old life knowing I had my Lord's blood on my hands! He was happy. Happier than I ever imagined he could be. And to live, I had to take that away?

No! The knife dropped from my fingers and landed near my feet. I fell to my knees beside Lord Sesshoumaru, staring down at the way his long eyelashes framed his cheekbones. I can't do it...I can't kill you, my dear, beloved Lord. Your joy is mine, too. If I must die so you can be with the woman you've waited so long for, whom you met because of me, so be it. I wish only happiness for you, Lord Sesshoumaru.

Resolving myself, I sighed through my terror. I bent down, moved his hair off his face and kissed his soft lips. He sighed and whispered Lady Sara's name. I let the tent flap fall back into place, picked up the dagger and tip-toed back along the shore. My feet burned each time the waves lapped them.

The sea.

It was once my home. A world of shimmering, eternal blue like the finest cornflowers.

I turned my face into the wind. My fingers tightened slowly around the dagger's handle. I was supposed to plunge it into his heart, making his life forfeit to mine, but I could not do it. I loved him more than my own life; killing him would have only served to break his new bride's heart.

I knew the agony of loss. It was a pain I wished I never had to inflict on anyone. But I also knew what it meant to truly love someone with all of my being.

He wouldn't miss me for long. They had each other and I had nothing. And thus, it was with a heavy heart that I stood on the shore, alone, gazing into the water. Dawn was fast approaching over the mountains. As the horizon grew brighter I felt pain behind my breasts. My heart was breaking, but whether it was the beginning of my death or the sorrow from loving in vain, I didn't know for sure.

I could no longer bear to look at the instrument of death in my hand, so I flung it into the waves and watch it dissolve in a flash of red.

o

The entire sky behind the mountains glows soft red and white. It is almost as bright as the flash from the dagger disintegrating in the waves. I look up at brightness taking over the sky and sigh. Never did I imagine it ending this way. Still...I know love. I saw the world I've wanted to see since my childhood. Now I shall return to where I came from to die.

I'm about to step forward when I hear, "Little Mermaid?"

Turning, I see Lord Sesshoumaru standing three feet behind me. Dressed in a white yukata, barefoot, he is so beautiful to me. The sky behind him is turning as gold as his eyes. I spin and run to him, desperately throwing myself against his chest in a tight embrace. I'm scared and don't want to let go...I just want to hold him forever.

"Little Mermaid," he whispers, tipping my chin up until I meet his eyes. A white substance comes off my skin and smears on his fingers. He looks at it. "Foam..." Then his eyebrows draw together as he looks down at me. He struggles to keep his face expressionless.

Lord Sesshoumaru knows I'm dying, and somehow he knows he is the reason why.

I stand on my toes to kiss my Lord for the last time. He lets me. I kiss him again right in front of his ear and his hand flies up to touch where my lips did. His eyebrows furrow deeper, then his breath catches and his eyes widen.

"Little Mermaid," he says again. His amber eyes become shiny and moist. "My Little Mermaid of the sea..."

I silence him by covering his mouth. He shouldn't have to bend his pride to tell me he's sorry. There is nothing to forgive.

Promise you'll never forget me? I beg him, Promise...

"Yes." he replies through the moisture welling in his eyes.

I disrobe and walk naked into the surf, feeling it swirl around my legs. When the water is up to my waist, I turn to look over my shoulder at him. The sun is rising behind his head, making his rippling hair gleam silver and his skin glow like new alabaster. Wet trails mark each of his cheeks. One tear for himself and the other for all the tears I could never shed. The rest of his face is perfectly composed, his lips do not quiver and he doesn't sniff or sob.

I'll remember you, his eyes say. I'll remember you forever.

I smile at him through the pain we both feel. Goodbye, Lord Sesshoumaru.

Lord Sesshoumaru's face remains burned into my mind when I close my eyes. I still see him against the sun with his long hair swaying and tears glittering on his face.

I'm ready to meet my fate without fear. I now know that will live on in Lord Sesshoumaru's memory. I won't cease to exist as long as he remembers me, so part of my wish has come true. Even after he dies and his soul ascends to Heaven, he won't forget me, and that is how I'll always be a part of him in the same way I'll soon be a part of the sea. I will be a memory, his memory, not just a forgotten mass of foam tossed about on the waves.

The surf rises to my shoulders. Foamy water gurgles across my body, ripping pieces of me away, but I experience no pain, fear, regret or sorrow. All I know is that I love Lord Sesshoumaru more than my own life.

Smiling with my arms outstretched, I leap headfirst into the oncoming wave and—–