It was wet and dark and damp, and his side burned like hell fire. His eyelids were heavy, too heavy to open, and the moisture in the air settled heavily on his tongue. He felt a whisper of a touch ghost across the skin of his forehead, unbearably cool and tender, and he groaned in his delirium. There was a soft, lilting voice speaking words he could not understand, but nonetheless caused comfort to wash over him like the waves across the sand. The darkness rose up to embrace him, and he knew no more.
The next time he woke, the fire in his side had eased and was replaced by a dull, pulsating ache. There were no soft, whispered words this time, no tender hand against his face. He managed to open his eyes and could make out little in the gloom save for a pool of dark, murky water to his left, and a roof of rock above his head.
Frowning, Philip pushed himself to a sitting position with a low groan, grimacing when an electric current of pain shot through his wounded side. He glanced downwards and saw that his injury had been bandaged, and absently wondered where he was, what had happened. Then, all at once, the memories had crashed over him.
He remembered Syrena, tied to a post, suspended somewhere between the air and the water in her own private hell, remembered fighting to be free of the mayhem of the fountain of youth, of the way his blood had pooled beneath his fingers as he dragged himself along the jungle floor, desperate to save the God-sent miracle of a creation that was said to be a creature spawned of hell. He remembered the terror he had felt upon seeing her near-lifeless state, the way relief had washed over him when he had seen her eyes open. He had been happy to die then, since his life had been given for hers. And then she had pressed her lips to his, and there was water surrounding them, and he remembered no more.
He glanced around him, noting that his body had been cushioned by the rock floor by a bed of dried seaweed, taking in the battered, rusted dish covered in slices of raw fish a handbreadth away from his form. She had saved him, had cared for him. He moved his hand to press against the wound that should have sent him to meet his maker and was filled with awe for the mermaid's tenacity, for her concern.
He glanced towards the murky pool of water, hoping to see her pale face with those large, hazel eyes of hers watching him from just above the waterline, but she was not there. Philip suddenly felt panic reach its icy grip around his heart. He had protected her, had cut her free from the post, had saved her life. Perhaps she had only remained long enough to ensure that she had repaid him in full- a life for a life.
"Syrena!" he called, and watched the water for a ripple of movement. There was none. "Syrena!" he shouted again, but to no avail. The mermaid was not lying in wait for him beneath the water. He took in a deep breath and closed his eyes before lying back down on the bed of seaweed that she had fashioned for him, suddenly spent and drained. The wound in his side was burning again, and suddenly he longed for the oblivion of sleep, desperate to be free of the fear that had begun to gnaw at him.
And then… the sound of something breaking through the surface of the water. Philip's eyes snapped open and he quickly turned to the sound, and was rewarded by the sight of Syrena's lovely face emerging from the water.
"Syrena," he breathed, his heart in his throat, his pulse racing. He held out a hand to her, and his heart stopped when he saw her simply stare at it for a moment. And then she pulled herself up the ledge, lifting her great, coral colored tail from the water and laying it behind her on the stone. He watched, enraptured, as the fin slowly began to split in two, as the tail shed its scales and morphed into two long, slim, soft, white legs.
And then she was crawling forward, and her cool, damp hands were around his, and she was bringing his knuckles up to brush against her face, her fathomless hazel eyes boring into his. "You are well," she said softly, as though she were surprised, and then she gently trailed her fingertips over his forehead, his nose, his closed eyelids, his lips. And a foggy part of his brain remembered a similar touch during his delirium.
And then she was pressing her body against the length of him, her head resting on his chest, her arms wrapped tightly about his waist, her legs tangling with his. He felt her fear in that embrace, her fear that his soul had departed his body, her relief that he was whole once more. "Philip," she whispered his name into his neck, and he could feel the moisture of her tears there as well. Not tears of love this time, or of sorrow, but of relief. Not once, but twice, he had made a mermaid cry.
He ran his hands through her thick, wet hair, ran his fingers over her bare back in comfort. And suddenly he was aware of her bare breasts crushed against his chest, of the light dusting of hair between her legs tickling his thigh. He swallowed hard and tensed, and prayed not for the first time for forgiveness of his impure thoughts towards this young mer-girl. But now was not a time for him to push her away, even to preserve his mental and spiritual well being. Now was a time to hold and cherish and comfort. To love and be loved.
So Philip wrapped his arms around her, whispering meaningless words of comfort into her ear, kissing her temple and holding her tight against his battered, weak, wounded body. He sent up a prayer of thanks for her presence, for her love, and closed his eyes against the wave of emotion that threatened to overwhelm him. Slowly, Syrena's shoulders ceased to shake, and with a deep breath and a sigh she drew away from his body and drew herself into a sitting position.
Her face was still wet with her tears, and Philip was profoundly touched that she felt comfortable enough with him to let those precious tears fall- the same tears that so many of her sisters had died for, the tears that so many men had killed and been killed for. She trusted him, he realized, fully and implicitly. The realization made his heart skip a beat, and he pushed himself up so that he could wipe those precious tears away from her lovely face with his thumb.
"You are well," she murmured again, her voice filled with conviction this time, as though by lying beside him and feeling his heartbeat she had been assured of his well being.
"I am," he replied with a smile, and saw her lips twitch upwards into a small smile of her own.
"I was frightened," she admitted softly, and Philip said nothing, merely ignored the pain in his side long enough to scoot closer to her and cup her soft cheek with his calloused palm.
"Thank you," he murmured, and she closed her eyes and leaned into his touch. They sat like that for several heartbeats before she drew away from him and lifted the rusted dish at his side.
"You must eat," she said, and lifted a sliver of raw fish to his lips. Despite himself, Philip's face scrunched up at the thought of eating what she offered, but looking into those large, concerned eyes of hers, he forced himself to open his mouth and take what she had caught for him. It was salty on his tongue, with a strange, mushy yet chewy texture, but he managed to swallow it and take the second piece that she held ready for him.
After the fourth piece, his empty stomach got the better of him and he paid no more attention to the odd texture or the taste, and he hate until his belly was full. At that point, his eyelids grew heavy once more, and he swayed a little where he sat. And then Syrena's soft, white hands were easing him down onto the makeshift bed, and her lips were pressed against his brow.
"Rest," she murmured softly, and he could feel her soft hands stroking his temple, could feel her body lowering to lay against his once more, her arms tightening about his waist, her lips planting a cool kiss against his chest.
And then he was drifting once more, his arms full with his mermaid, and his heart full of gratefulness and love.