Filling in the Blanks

Note: This story is meant to explore Zane's last thoughts as he struggles to free himself from Miss Chatman's sinking boat in the episode "Shipwrecked." What sparks his obsession with the elusive sea creature? Surely more than a half-glimpse of a tail. This is my theory ;-). Zane/Emma, sort of, and slightly AU. Special thanks to FaylinnNorse for being such a helpful beta!

The boat rocked, sinking towards the ocean floor with startling speed. Within a minute, Zane was up to his ankles in salt water, mercilessly trying to find an exit from death by drowning.

Soon the boat was beneath the ocean's surface, but there was still a pocket of air in the cabin that allowed him to breathe. Unfortunately, the air bubble diminished more and more with every second the boat descended.

A heavy armoire had shifted position in the explosion that caused the shipwreck, and now it blocked the only door. Zane pushed it with all his might, his breath labored and shoulders shaking from the exertion. And the cold. The sea water was icy cold, numbing his grip on the armoire. The water level now hovered just above Zane's torso, his heart pulsating faster with every inch the water climbed. Soon he'd be completely engulfed.

The armoire wouldn't budge, but Zane kept at it. He had the unfortunate habit of not knowing when to stop. Obsessive personality, his shrink called it. When his parents split they insisted he visit a snooty old psychiatrist until he'd "sufficiently dealt with the changes" accompanying their divorce. What a joke that had been.

Dr. Shmoozenheim would have loved to analyze why Zane's dying thoughts reverted to jumbled memories of him. "The mind is a curious thing," he'd say, stroking his beard, "always searching for answers, for serenity. You're afraid of dying alone (not an uncommon phobia), so your unconscious mind has recreated an image of me, your kind doctor, in an attempt to find inner calm during an otherwise chaotic experience."

The old man was always digging for boosts to his ego like that, and Zane snorted in a mix of bitterness and laughter, his nostrils producing a trail of northbound bubbles. He watched the tiny marbles of air extending above his head, until even the closest ones seemed to blur -- panic and hopelessness producing an uneasy delirium within him.

Regret. He felt it suddenly, as bursts of images in his mind. He regretted not having a family that loved him, and not working harder to make them love him. He regretted hunting down that crazy old lady. So what if she wrecked his jet ski? It's not like Dad couldn't buy him another. But that was the whole point, wasn't it? He couldn't face his father with another failure, which was exactly how he would interpret any damage to his property.

'You stupid idiot!' Zane thought, the regret taking on a voice of its own, drumming loudly in his head like only regret can. 'Sixteen years old and the only chance you'll make it to shore is as a bloody corpse, rotten and half-eaten by sharks. All because you couldn't stop caring what your jerk of a father thinks.'

Anger surged through Zane, giving him the strength to make one last escape attempt. Rummaging through one of Miss Chatham's drawers, he found a letter opener with a shell base. He pounded the sharp end into the glass window, willing it to break. Pound! Pound! Pound!

Useless. Entirely useless.

He regretted knowing that no one would miss him after he died.

The thought seemed to drain everything out of him. He gave up. To survive things like this you need a reason to live. Zane couldn't think of one.

He stretched his mouth to the roof of the boat, as if kissing it, gasping futilely for what he knew would be his last breath of air before his lungs filled with water.

He floated to the boat's floor, blinking slowly, resigned to his fate. The water was still frighteningly cold, but he felt a gentle warmth come over him. Like a warm blanket, swirling around his frame. It was a feeling he shared with many other sailors who've died on the ocean, a kind of sedative one feels when he surrenders his life to the mercy of the sea.

Suddenly the boat shook, as if struck by something. Zane was too dazed to notice, lulled like a baby in the comforting warmth of the sea's arms.

The boat shook again, harder this time. Zane opened his eyes. The hatch on the door had been ripped off, the walls of his prison suddenly less stalwart. Light from the surface rushed in from the now missing hatch, transforming the cabin's dark water to a bright emerald-blue.

Zane blinked again, his lungs hurting. He was tempted to lull himself back to semi-sleep, but his curiosity wouldn't let him. There was some creature out there, he could sense it.

He saw a glimpse of something gold through the space between the broken door and the wall. Glittery gold like a woman's scarf.

A large goldfish maybe? He always wanted one. A goldfish, that is. But Dad wouldn't let him, he couldn't remember why.

Zane hadn't the energy to move. It took all his effort to keep his eyes open. It was like operating on two hours sleep; at some point the strain of staying awake takes precedence over everything else.

Through half closed lids, he saw the creature entering the cabin.

Zane would have gasped if he had any breath left in him. She swam towards him. Gingery red-blonde hair flowing behind her in streams. A long coppery tail (a tail!) moving with swift, but graceful, motions. That face. Somehow he knew that face. But the lack of oxygen to his brain distorted his vision to the point where he couldn't place it. Whatever. She was beautiful.

And she was a mermaid. An honest-to-goodness, flesh and fin, mermaid.

She wrapped her arms around him, which were surprisingly strong, and used her tail to push them out of the spiraling boat.

Still, he knew it was too late. He would die before they could reach the surface. But he wouldn't be alone. He'd die in the arms of a sea nymph. It was the stuff of fairy tales and old-world fantasies. Something he didn't have to regret. He closed his eyes again, content.