She's standing in the deck, shivering with the night and the ocean breeze. She feels goosebumps travel up her legs and she chuckles softly, still amazed at the many things her legs are capable of. They're truly beautiful wonders, these legs. Cold, with the emptiness pulling at her heart, she wraps his jacket around herself, and tears well up in her eyes when she gets a hint of his smell: leather, sandalwood and sea salt.
Suppressing a sigh, she stares into the bottomless black waters. She had no idea that up here the ocean was black, the same as the night sky, and they both went on endless, without any separation between them but the exquisite moon. She likes the moon, how the pale ghosts of light bring shadows over the water and she can see flecks and bits of foam in the ocean, and how they disappear among rays of black and white. She likes the stars; they remind her of his earring and how much she laughed when she saw it shine in the sunlight, like crusted seashells in his ear and he got all serious and manly and teased her until she admitted she like him wearing a diamond earring.
She likes all the sky wonders because she never knew birds flew across it as fast and as free as her fishes swam around her. She never imagined buildings twice as tall as her home but with no water around it to hold them up. She never guessed there was a thing that flowed like water, but flashed and sizzled; she likes the fire very much, especially when he roasts sweets for her in it.
But the ocean is calling her, craving for her, waiting for her. It misses her and she can feel her heart pounding with each wave. She closes her eyes and imagines the clear aquamarine water around her, she can still see the kaleidoscopes of fishes travel with her, she can still feel her long hair tickle her waist when she twirled and twirled in her cave for hours, dreaming of a neverland.
Her sisters must miss her. Regretfully, she can still pretend their laughter rings in her ears, their silliness over how many times they lost their heads over a merman. She wishes she could have their comfort now, like she did so many times she cried over her long lost mother and they all cuddled and warmed her with kisses. "Aquata, Andrina, Arista, Attina, Adella, Alana" she whispers her names, like a prayer, like a wish, with silent tears sliding across her newest freckles.
But it's when she thinks of her father that a sob finally escapes her and she covers her mouth with her leather-bound hand, his jacket too big on her. Her sweet, kind, protective father, he must be losing his head over her disappearance. The always serious king of the sea, how small he must seem now without his youngest child. Sobbing as soflty as the foam she stares at, shacking with the sea breeze that embraces her, she grips the railing urgently. How much she longs for his smile across the dinner table, over all the chaos of his politics and her sister's chattings. He was always looking at her, mischief and laughter in his eyes over things only she could see, like every time Sebastian's legs got stuck over the algae salad whenever he got nervous and started fretting and running all over the tables over the kingdom's problems.
She startles when she feels his arms wrap around her from behind, the feeling of the hook cold over her belly, and his nose nuzzles her wet cheeks. For a moment, he says nothing, and the hard planes of his chest ground her and the sea retreats from her mind. He's scared, she knows, he's terrified of her longing for the sea. He lost a loved one long time, she was taken from him, and he was left with a deep wound in his heart, never trusting himself to love again. Until her, the tiny mermaid who appeared in front of him in a lost beach.
Her shaky new legs had not supported her and she had fallen in his arms. Oh, he had terrified her at first sight. He smelled spicy and looked so hunted, despite his icy stare being filled with naughtiness and quest. But she was defenseless and abandoned, and for once, his broken and hidden heart took pity on another human and he took her to his ship.
After that, he had fought desperately to push her away and his remoteness and cruelness had hurt her for many days in that strange vessel with loud men. Scared and tired of the odd world that had betrayed her dreams, she had foolishly thrown herself off board, in an attempt to get back to the place she knew and loved. She had been drowning, her beautiful smooth human legs useless to her, she had no idea how to swim with them, but he had jumped after her. He saved her and brought her up to the daylight. And when he tried to resuscitate her, giving her mouth to mouth breathing, and his lips, those lips that had teased for days and nights when they grinned and laughed with his men, touched hers, magic traveled all along the waves and clouds. His roguish blue eyes had opened in shock and she had breathed again. Her green eyes looked huge reflected in his, and she got her first true love's kiss.
That happened so long. Now, under the moon's glow, he drops soothing kisses on her cheek and her hair, trying to appease her tremors. She knows it's just as much for her comfort as for his. She rests her head on his shoulder and smiles, finally, as she sees his earring. She can't see him smile, but she feels him, relieved. His love for her is so infinite but utterly fretful; he's just like the sea, volatile, thunderous, beautiful, encompassing her. Maybe that's why she loves them both so much.
"Are you happy Ariel?" he inquires, and the accent makes her smile wider because she talks just like him now, since he's her only company. He's all she knows in this world, all she has.
"Yes Killian" she answers simply. He tightens his grip on her and nuzzles her shoulder, kissing her freckles, fascinated by how her creamy skin now bears the signs of her stay in this world.
Even so, she can feel his heart pounding behind her back and his breathing over her shoulders is irregular and rattled. She recognizes he's about to say something, she's grown used to his vulnerability and his fears whenever she disappears from his sight.
"This is the third time this month I've woken without you in the middle of the night" he murmurs to her ear before he starts kissing it and she trembles. She turns around in his arms and takes his hand, bringing it to her heart. She knows he does that every morning when he thinks she's still asleep, she's heard his low voice tattoo over heart "I love you, I love you, I love you" until he rests his forehead over her chest and quiets down.
Under his only hand, her heart beats fast at first, then slows down as it recognizes his touch. He closes his eyes, content and calm to feel her heartbeat, the one thing he treasures and protects more than anything in this land.
"I had a nightmare" she lies, protecting him as well, that's what they do; their love means shielding each other from their secrets and old aches. "I thought I was drowning again".
"Oh darling" he groans, lifting her and putting her on the railing and she gasps in surprise. He puts his head on her lap and holds her tightly, believing her completely, sad that she fears the place she loves the most. She caresses his head, softly scratching his neck and he shudders.
"I will never let that happen, do you hear me?" he declares louder this time. "You belong with me, not swallowed in the sea". She smiles sorrowfully, loving them both, longing for the sea, and yet never wanting to leave her broken seaman. Ariel strokes his hair and starts singing in her little girl voice, luring him:
"My heart is pierced by cupid,
I disdain all glittering gold.
There is nothing can console me,
but my jolly sailor bold"
Killian cuddles her tight and closes his eyes once more, sluggish with love, humming the melody; his purring teases her lap like waves crashing over rocks. She feels him relax under her, his desperation burning down, leaving his mind. The song finishes and she flicks his earring, trying to amuse him; he laughs, his mind letting go his dread when he didn't find her beside him. He kisses her knee, his beard scratching her, tickling his favorite spot. Quivers travel from his kiss to her heart, she laughs unrestrained.
"Let's go to bed" he pleads, lifting his head; she nods, and he lets go of her, relieved. She motions him to turn around; his smile is delightful, playful and oh-so naughty. She laughs, hops on his back and wraps her legs and arms around him, his mirth washing away the yearning for the dark waters.
"Where to, Captain?" he squeezes her bottom and she throws her head back in another fit of giggles.
"To bed, sailor. Inmediately" her loves shines through and he's happy again.
"Aye" he yells and runs; her laughter fills the deck. In the deep of the ocean, an old man smiles forlornly.