Disclaimer: I don't own The Little Mermaid.
The rain beat down mercilessly, a torrent of water showering down similarly to waves and keeping the environment appropriately dark on the shore of beach, where hundreds of people were lined up for the funeral. In the water, mer-people and other such sea creatures hovered, ready to take the huge clam shell that served as a coffin with them into the water at the end of the service.
It had been Ariel's idea, the only words she'd spoken since she'd received the news of her daughter's confirmed death two days before. "She should be buried in the sea. She always loved the sea." And that had been all.
Grimsby's grave voice as he spoke in place of a priest was hard-pressed to carry over the howling wind and underneath the umbrellas of all the land-dwellers gathered there. Ariel and Eric themselves were huddled under a single large, simple black umbrella - or rather, Ariel stood there, her eyes fastened on the open shell, entirely oblivious to the world around her while Eric had his arm wrapped about her shoulders, constantly making sure that the contraption was directly over her head to ensure no rain could fall on the only precious thing left in his world.
They were in shock; everyone was. It was barely conceivable, barely even possible, that the thirteen year old princess who had been so full of life and laughs could be the same one that was laying there, so still and a shade that nearly resembled blue.
It had come on so abruptly, without warning. She'd had a cold, a cough. Ariel had insisted, despite her daughter's annoyance over the matter, that she remain in bed to avoid getting any sicker. Melody, refusing to be caged, had slipped out and into the ocean to socialize with her sea friends within ten minutes of her mother's departure from her room, certain that so slight an illness should not be cause for a full day of useless boredom.
By the time they had discovered her absence, when Carlotta brought up her lunch several hours later, the cough had increased tenfold until it barely resembled a cough any more, and while swimming was little effort as the water easily supported her weight, the moment they'd gotten the petite teenager on land and on her feet, she'd collapsed with the effort and been carried back to the bedroom. She'd be fine within a few days, the medic assured. A full night of rest, that was what the poor girl needed.
When Ariel woke up, still half on the bed from where she'd fallen asleep beside her, Melody's hand in hers was shockingly cold. Intuition had flickered, and she roused Eric from his slumber in a chair several feet away. Having lived among humans so long, and in a castle no less, he had recognized the signs immediately and ushered her from the room, sending a doctor in in their stead, and while Ariel paced outside the door and Eric tried desperately to console her and cling to his own slim sentiment of hope, the doctor was already drawing the sheets over their only child's face.
Eric brooded mercilessly over this, not even bothering to try and listen to the words Grimsby was speaking. He couldn't get it out of his mind, that moment the doctor had opened the door, the worst moment, by far, of his entire existence. It had opened, and for that horribly brief second or less, he'd turned to look at him, hoping beyond hope that the reason he'd been in there so briefly was because he had not wanted to wake her - and then he saw the look on the physician's face, and his world came crashing down around him.
His wife hadn't understood so quickly. Seeing the grave look on his face, she'd cautiously inquired, "What is it? What's wrong?"
"I'm afraid... I'm afraid I was too late, Your Highness," he'd replied, his voice soft, remorseful. "Pneumonia."
She had refused to comprehend exactly what he was saying. "She has pneumonia?" Her voice had risen an octave, Eric recalled with a flinch. "You can treat that, though, can't you? People get pneumonia all the time!"
"Ariel," her husband had whispered in place of the poor doctor, his voice raspy, choking as he spoke. She'd ignored him.
"Surely it's not that bad!" she cried, her hysteria rising at an alarming rate. "There must be something you can do, some way to -"
"She's dead." The medic's voice had been flat, almost cold, not to be cruel but because he knew that if he continued with gentle terms, she would fail to grasp the situation. "I'm so sorry. There was nothing I could do... She passed in her sleep, I assure you she was in no pain."
And Eric had been forced to watch all the light in her eyes shatter before him, catch her as her knees gave out, pray that she would please just go unconscious so that she would not have to go through this right then when he himself was so close to breaking and could offer her no support, and then listen to her broken wail that did not sound human at all when his prayers remained unanswered.
He tried unsuccessfully to banish the memory from his mind, hating the sting in his eyes that told him he was crying and the fact that if Ariel saw, it would no doubt set her off, too - although that was something that might be for the better, because anything was better than her being nearly as lifeless as the corpse of the girl they'd raised, staring with dark circles under her eyes and absolutely no expression, the only thing giving away how completely torn apart she was being the fact that her body was trembling non-stop and the utter anguish in her gaze, two identical black holes resting on her face that not a creature on land or sea could bear to gaze directly into...
Without his noticing, his grip around her tightened, and he subconsciously pushed the umbrella towards her a little more, so as not to lose her to the same sickness that had taken his Melody from them.
He noticed that Grimsby had finished speaking only when he became aware of the silence aside from nature's wrath, and felt the eyes of everyone else on him. It was time to escort the coffin into water, then. Eric removed his arm from around Ariel, and she turned her head slowly to look at him, obviously not having realized herself that the service was over. He held the umbrella out for her to hold, and she stared at it a moment, uncertain what she was supposed to do with it, before she slowly extended a hand and took it from it, holding it awkwardly. A pang of concern ran through him as she seemed to nearly buckle under the weight of so light an object, even with the force of the rain beating down on it, but a few seconds later he concluded that she would remain standing and began to walk forward towards the huge shell.
It was a magnificent piece, really, almost seeming to be artwork rather than the efforts of nature itself. It was all a brilliant white, polished to perfection, its lips dramatically and perfectly curved. Inside there was a single massive red pillow, on which Melody's frail body lay, almost as if she was sleeping instead of deceased; almost. The way it was propped open, its back against the angle of the rain, kept the inside completely dry and protected from the storm. A huge lock had been drilled into the very front of it, painted white so as not to draw much attention, and it would seal the shell shut, completely airtight thanks to a few modifications of the borders, and forever lock her form inside it.
He stood in front of it for several moments before he became aware, thanks to his peripheral vision, of bright red hair that could belong to none other than his wife. She was beside him, gazing at her baby one last time, and he was too distracted by the utter finality of the moment to even notice that she did not have the umbrella, having dropped it carelessly to the ground moments after he'd walked away.
Ariel moved her hand forward as if to brush Melody's cheek, something he'd watched her do thousands of times, but she abruptly stopped an inch and a half from her skin, her hand poised there, frozen for several seconds before she pulled it back to her body. A single last, longing gaze that threatened to rip his heart from his chest as the sight of it, and she turned her head away and towards the wet sand; his signal to shut it. He slowly removed the ivory poles that had held the top up on either side and gave himself just one more look at her, one more chance to take in her long black hair and eyes that were now closed but were once large and beautiful, her small hands that had never had a chance to grow to their full size, nails cut short for practicality... and then he pulled the top down and bolted the lock, straining slightly at the force required to pull the latch down all the way.
He pressed his lips to the shell and did not remove them until several seconds had gone by, and the tears spilling from his eyes ran down its smooth surface no different from the rain drops that fell on it. Once he had pulled back, several other men pulled up, and at Grimsby's count they all lifted it, wading slowly into the water, the cold of which was a shock to legs but not big enough for him to so much as acknowledge it. They went in until the water was just past his waist, and Triton swam forward, his aging face nothing if not tormented, nearly as much as his son in law's.
Their eyes met for the briefest of moments before Eric looked away, not willing to share his sadness with anyone, even Ariel's own father. The Sea King extended his trident, enveloping the coffin in a golden shine, and the men all went back to the shore. The parents stood beside each other, not moving, not even breathing as Melody's grandfather moved his arm, and the coffin began to sink under the water, moving farther out to sea as it did so until it was no longer visible except for the light surrounding it, and then as that, too, disappeared.
Seeing that what was left of the royal family was in no condition to receive condolences, the majority of the people gathered left, leaving only Grimsby standing far behind them, Triton in the water staring after wherever the make-shift grave was, Attina, Arista, Adella, Aquata, Andrina, Alana, Flounder, and Sebastian sitting on his king's shoulder.
The six sisters approached slowly and Ariel ventured forth until the water was up to her thighs, her face still blank as ever as she allowed them all to kiss both cheeks and encase her in a hug, no words spoken as they one by one disappeared back into the water. Eric found himself joining her when she did not immediately leave, and Flounder shuffled through the water and over to them.
"I'm so... I'm so sorry, Ariel," the fish said, his voice betraying the fact that he was crying. She knelt down and he swam into her arms, and for several long seconds she simply hugged her companion, shutting her eyes as she did so.
When she released him, he turned to face Eric, trying to hold back his sniffles as he nodded at him. Eric nodded back, barely aware he was even doing so, and Flounder, too, disappeared. As if pulled by a string, Triton followed him, not even turning around to look at his child and child-in-law, for which Eric was grateful; Ariel had stood through her sisters and even Flounder, but she could not have managed her father, that much he knew.
He glanced down, noticing that she had not yet stood up, and tentatively asked, "Ariel?" He did not expect an answer, which made it easier to handle when he didn't receive one, but she responded in her own way, struggling back up to her feet. His eyes darkened to see her so weak, so helpless even, stripped of any emotional or physical strength that she might normally possess, and he lifted her gently into his arms and brought her back to the castle, Grimsby staying several steps behind them.
Eric didn't stop along the way, even when the staff gave him such curious looks, and brought her straight up to their bedroom, noting how the wind seemed to double its speed and thankful that they were no longer out in such weather. He pushed all thoughts of what had just commenced from his mind so that he could focus on undressing her and drying her off, both of them completely silent. Though it was only mid-day, he redressed her in a nightgown and socks, doubting that either of them would be leaving their room and noting that it was dark enough outside to be night, anyway.
"I'll be right back," he told her softly, and kissed her forehead before he left to go find Grimsby and tell him, just in case, that they were not to be disturbed. Their entire wing was empty, so he supposed it wasn't necessary in the first place, but just to be certain he tracked him down all the way to the servants' chamber to relay the message before returning.
When he noted that the bed no longer held her small body, he managed to continue thinking rationally for all of one minute - the time it took for him to ascertain that she wasn't in the bathroom, either, or in their walk-in closet. Panic, however irrational, flared like a white-hot iron in his body, and suddenly he was running, not knowing where he was going but trusting that his legs did. His muscles were tensed, carrying him faster than should have been possible thanks to the adrenaline build-up as he dashed out the door and back into the storm, servants trailing behind him by yards already, shouting his name and their questions with it.
The rain was thick, so much so that he could barely see through it any more, and the loudest sound, now, was the furious beating of the waves against the rocks and the sand. He caught sight of her, in the water nearly to her chest with her arms outstretched, just before a wave smashed into her and her hair disappeared from sight.
A second passed as he stared, dumbfounded, waiting to see her swimming back up to the surface, and his heart felt like it would pump itself into a coma when several more went by and she still had not. There were no rocks jutting up near by; perhaps she had hit her head on one underwater? But they'd gone swimming in that area so many times and never seen one...
The realization smacked into him like a human-sized hammer as he launched himself into the water, roaring her name so loudly that no element, not wind nor water, had any hopes of carrying it away. The salt stung his eyes and the frigid water would've sent his muscles into spasms if he didn't have such tense control over them; none of which he noticed as he searched desperately for the white of her nightgown, the vibrance of her hair, anything to tell him where she was.
Not her! his mind was screaming, filling his ears with its terror. Not them both, I can't lose them both! She's all I have left! Anyone else, not her! And then his eyes locked with hers, an inch in front of him underwater, and he wouldn't have believed it if his arms hadn't extended automatically to wrap around her, his legs kicking furiously to bring them back up to the surface.
"ARIEL!" his voice exploded in the same millisecond that they broke through the top of the water, already fighting to swim towards shore. Was she conscious? Her eyes were open, but could she be...?
She let out a shriek, a sound he'd never heard tear itself from the throat of anything human or sea-faring, as wild as it was mad and so utterly unlike her that he nearly convinced himself it wasn't from her at all, and he might have succeeded if she had not begun thrashing against him, trying to tear the arm locked around his waist off of her.
He choked and sputtered as he tried to contain her, not removing his iron-like hold on her even when her sharp nails dug into his flesh, no doubt drawing blood. She elbowed him in the ribs, knocking the air out of him, and kicked against his legs, preventing him from easily keeping them afloat, much less moving.
"Stop!" he shouted, but it was lost as another anguished scream filled the air, giving him goosebumps when not even the water had been able to. She was barely lucid, he quickly realized, conscious but not aware of what was going on, so desperate in efforts to drown herself that nothing else in the world mattered.
"It's me!" he all but screamed himself into her ear, still not letting go despite her surprisingly strong efforts to force him to, especially considering how weak she'd been earlier. "It's Eric! Ariel! You'll kill us both!" Her legs were tangling themselves in him, preventing him from kicking, and with one arm still holding her, he had but a single limb free - not enough to keep them alive. He used it to latch onto a small rock that the waves had tossed them near, his fingers slipping along it as he tried to grip its perfectly smooth, water-worn surface. They were stabilized there, but not for long.
"Let-me-go!" she wailed at him, the first words she'd said since her suggestion for the coffin, and he was torn between relief and horror.
"Never," he growled, a word she had no chance of hearing as it was meant for him only, but that only made it more fierce. He braced himself against the rock, allowing him to let go of it for a moment, and he used his arm to spin her around so she was facing him, gripping her chin and forcing her to meet his eyes.
She tried to tear away, flailing her limbs once more, but he was stronger and she was stuck, not even thinking to close her eyes. Her movements slowly stopped, and he watched as awareness returned to her face, and then it crumpled into broken sobs that could not have affected him more than at a time like this, with his fear soaring around him. He hugged her close, squeezing her so tightly against him that it was already making him ache, but did not release her until they were at the sand when he pushed her into the towel Carlotta already had open and ready, no doubt for him judging by her shocked gaze when she saw that he had returned with his wife as well.
With the endorphins wearing off, Eric fell to the knees in the sand, his heart still slamming much too roughly in his chest as he covered his face in one hand, not sure whether he was actually crying or not but giving choked sobs anyway. He was beyond knowing what, exactly, he cried for, most likely a bit of everything. His daughter was gone, his only daughter, his only kid, half of his world, and her mother had tried so hard to rip the other half away from him, all within two days...
He felt the weight of a towel around his shoulders, as well, or maybe a blanket; he couldn't be sure. His head lifted and he saw that Carlotta had deposited it there, having handed Ariel off to another servant, no doubt to get her into a hot tub of water. A grimace took over his face as he allowed her to carefully persuade him to stand and walk back to the castle somewhat robotically, his clothing in tatters and blood streaming down his forearm from where his skin had been torn, looking a lot more serious than it was because of the way the water diluted it.
He went straight to the bath-chamber in their room, and when the servant in there with Ariel looked up, he gestured towards the door. She opened her mouth to protest and then thought better of it, curtsying and then making her exit without looking at him again, and he locked the door behind her.
The towel around him dropped to the floor as he stared quite openly at his newly-suicidal love, and when she kept her eyes set on her hands, he was suddenly filled with a rage much more potent than any other emotion could have been.
Clothes and all, which hardly mattered any more considering how the sea had shredded them, Eric climbed in in front of her, not even noticing for the first time in their life together that she was naked herself.
"What were you doing?" he demanded, already knowing the answer but needing it confirmed. She declined to respond, and his voice became louder. "Is that really what you wanted to do?" Bellowing now. "Did you think that would solve anything? Did you think by - by killing yourself that you would bring her back? Or maybe you wanted to join her!"
Ariel flinched, and the fact that he'd struck a nerve only fanned the flame. "What about me?" he was suddenly shouting, his fury lacing his words with venom. "I'm still your husband! Still your damn husband! Or did I stop mattering once she stopped living? Is that all we were, two parents, never lovers? Were you really so willing to - to... to just leave me like that?"
"Stop," she begged, half-moaning, half-whimpering. "Stop, don't -"
"Answer me!" he demanded instead. "You think her death doesn't hurt me, too? You think I don't feel like someone's twisting my lungs just when I think about her? You don't see me throwing myself into the water, coaxing it into killing me!"
"I don't know what I think!" She raked her hands through her hair, squeezing her head as if to rid it of every unpleasant word spoken. "I don't know what I was doing! I don't know! I don't know how, how to, what to..." She threw herself forward, momentarily pushing him off-guard as her arms wrapped around his neck and she buried her face in his chest, crying. "Oh, God..."
His anger dissipated just like that, leaving him feeling empty as he wrapped his arms around her, stroking her skin, murmuring words and sounds that he hoped were comforting because he didn't have any idea what he was saying.
"Ariel," he whispered. "Ariel, Ariel, Ariel..."
They stayed there until she fell asleep against him, at which point he carefully lifted her and re-dressed her as well as himself, putting her in bed and drawing the thick comforter over them both but no daring to sleep himself; she didn't seem like she would try to pull that again, but he couldn't risk the chance that she would wake up and decide to slip out once more. He spent the night watching her, using the relief every time her chest rose and as his only weapon to combat the huge, raw hold in his own that was the result of both Melody being taken from him against his well and Ariel's attempting to desert him by her own.