In the morning, it was clear that a storm was brewing off the coast, but Prince Eric and company set sail as planned. With the King's attacker still unknown, time was of the essence, and Mertonians prided themselves on being strong sailors who did not shy away from inclement weather. By the first night of what was supposed to be a six day journey, the storm had intensified to a point where even Eric was concerned about the safety of the ship and its crew, and things looked even worse ahead.
In the early hours of the morning, Eric made the call that they would have to sail around the storm, adding days to their trip. This decision came too late, however. About twenty minutes later, a bolt of lightning hit the main mast, causing the ship to rock precariously, and in the ensuing panic, no one noticed when their prince went overboard. His last thought before losing consciousness in the icy cold water was that it, as a Mertonian, was both appropriate and humiliating for him to die lost at sea.
Ariel always felt there was something beautiful about a storm at night. She loved the angry clouds, the surging waves, and especially the way the darkness swirled all around her until a crack of lightning illuminated the sky and the sea. This night there was a strong one going, so in the hour before sunrise, she went up to the surface to experience the storm.
When she saw the ship pass over her head, she knew she should turn back, sink deeper into the sea and hide from the evil humans. If she could see them, they could see her. That was the general rule of thumb. But then there was another flash of light, and she could see them well enough to tell that the humans were quite preoccupied. The lightning lingered on the ship, glowing brightly like the sun. It seemed much bigger and closer than the sun, but it was not giving off nearly as much light. It barely lit up more than the ship itself. Ariel was mesmerized by this odd phenomenon, so much so that she stayed in too close a proximity to the ship.
She saw a human fall over the side. This drew her attention away from the strange light source. She watched as the human sank like a rock. She had never been anywhere near this close to one, so all her information was strictly second, if not third, hand. Still, she thought humans could at least kind of swim. She followed it down, not sure what she was planning to do. As she got closer, she saw that the human had the shadow of a beard beginning on the lower half of its face, which if humans were like Merfolk, meant it was a male. A very attractive male from what she could tell. She never knew if that determination had anything to do with her choice to catch his arm and pulled him to the surface.
She was supposed to let humans die. It might not have ever been put quite that harshly, but that was the gist of the Merfolk's non-interference policy. If a human fell off one of those boats, a mermaid is supposed to do nothing. This went through her head several times as they rose. But she couldn't do nothing, not when it was so easy to just do something. It took almost no effort for her to pull him through the water, but it meant that now a sentient being might not die. How was that not the right thing to do?
When they got to the surface, the storm had blown to the west, taking this human's ship with it. The sun was starting to break through the clouds in the east, giving Ariel enough light to see by. She had not thought this part out. Should she take him back to the ship and risk being seen, captured, and put on display like some kind of trophy? That looked like exactly the kind of ship that would have nets, too. She meant it when she told Andrina she did not believe in those stories, but now that she was faced with the possibility, she was not sure she wanted to take the chance.
When the human's head poked above the water, nothing happened. There was a rock formation jutting out of the water, much closer than the ship, and Ariel took him over to it. She laid him against the rock as best she could. The water in the air made it easier for her her to stay above the surface, but eventually, she needed to go under again. She waited until she was able to breathe easily, and then she poked the upper part of her head above the water, keeping her gills well saturated.
He was still unconscious. Ariel did not know how humans got air into themselves. As a mermaid, all she had to do was be in water and it just happened. She pushed herself up on the rock and tried prying his mouth open to let the air in, but there was still no response. There was only one other thing she could think to do. She sucked in as much air as she could stand and then pushed it into his mouth using her own. Then she had to get her gills back in the water.
From her position with just her eyes above the water, she watched him give one small cough. A second later he began coughing harder and rolled onto his side, facing away from her. Which was good, because it meant that he did not see her. Ariel lingered for a second before she let herself sink down so that he definitely would not see her. She did not know why, but it made her sad to think that he would probably never know what she had done for him.
Of course, the crew eventually noticed Eric was missing. Once the fire was out, it was clear that the mast was not salvageable, and they looked to their prince for new instructions. Only to not find him, anywhere. Prince Eric's squire in particular was quite inconsolable; part of his job was keeping the prince safe, and he failed. And this was right on the heels of an attack on the King.
The squire need not have worried though. The ship turned back, away from the storm and toward Mertonia, which was the only place they could go with the ship in this condition. Within a couple minutes, one of the crew spotted a figure lying on a rock formation. The ship veered in that direction, and Prince Eric was saved. When asked about the ordeal, he was unable to remember anything between falling from the ship and waking up on the rock.
Rumpelstiltskin saw everything. He watched as a young mermaid with bright red hair risked her life to save that of a human. This was not a mermaid who wanted to stay out of the affairs of men. In fact, if Rumpelstiltskin was lucky, this might even be a mermaid in love. And love could be a very powerful motivator.
Hanson Warrington was a fisherman by trade. Or at least he had been for the last 28 years. But then walking down the street on a typical weekday afternoon, it suddenly struck him that he used to be something and someone quite different. For a second, he considered whether that was what it was like to have a complete psychotic break. It didn't feel like madness though; it felt more like finally being sane. Not that he expected a mad person to be able to tell the difference.
It helped that he had a theory about what was happening. As Eric, Hanson had not been at James and Snow White's wedding, but the story of her stepmother's threat had made the rounds. This was the world of no happy endings. This was how Regina punished everyone for whatever one woman had done to her, a woman Eric did not even know that well. He looked around the street and saw that he was not the only one having these revelations. A little further down the sidewalk, Sean Herman embraced his fiancée Ashley as though he had not seen her in a very long time. It was rife with meaning. Similar reunions were happening all over.
Hanson scanned the crowds, looking for one distinctive head of hair. His best friend and business partner, also formerly his trusted squire, ran up to him and sank to one knee. "Your Majesty, I humbly beg your forgiveness."
Now he knew for sure that it was not just him. "For what?" He looked down and sighed. "Max, stand up."
Max did as he was told. "For any and all liberties I've taken, Sire." After a beat, he added. "But especially for how often I made fun of you for still living with your mother."
Maybe it was the nearly three decades of living as a commoner, and more than that, living in a society that did not even have royalty, but Hanson found that he was now a little uncomfortable with the titles that had always been his birthright. "Just call me Hanson. Or Eric. But there is no need for formalities. Here, I'm still the same guy you co-own a boat with." He turned his attention back to the other people on the street.
Max knew exactly who he was looking for. "You know, I—I can't remember ever seeing her here."
That was what Hanson was afraid of. With her flaming red hair, so bright it almost couldn't exist in nature, Ariel was hard to miss. Even when he did not remember their history, she would have caught his eye at least once in the last 28 years. He was not quite ready to give up all hope after a couple minutes, but he was preparing himself for the possiblity that Ariel had not made the journey to this world.
A second later, Hanson saw a thick purple cloud rolling in their direction. "Well, that can't be good," he said out loud.
Author's Note: The U.S.S. Warrington was a Naval Destroyer that sunk in a hurricane during WWII. (I didn't just know that off the top of my head; I went looking for one.) There's not going to be a Hanson scene in every chapter, but I wanted to include some of the Storybrooke side for completeness. (And because I figured people would wonder.)