poor unfortunate souls
in pain, in need
this one longing to be thinner
that one wants to get the girl
and do I help them?
Two weeks passed, and Darcy still refused to talk about what had happened on the surface that day.
The moment he and Bing had returned to Pember Sea, Gigi had accosted him with questions. Were the women safe? Alive? Back with their families? Why had it taken the two of them so long to get back home? Did they talk to the women? What were they like?
"Enough," Darcy had finally said. "The women are alive and back on the shore. Now leave it alone, Gigi."
The only problem with that plan, however, was that Gigi Darcy would never leave anything alone. Both her brother and Bing were acting differently since they had rescued those women, and she wanted to know why.
Bing had always been a pleasant merman to be around, but he seemed to float through the water rather than swim these days. The smile that had been etched on his face since birth was even brighter than before, and he spent the day humming to himself much to Caroline's annoyance.
Her brother, on the other hand, had been even rougher than usual. She only saw him during meals and their daily duties as the prince and princess, and even then he rarely wanted to talk. He had never been much for talking, but this time she knew he was avoiding her questions.
Something had definitely happened on the shore, and she wanted answers. So when she was able to find the one person she knew would never lie to her alone, she attacked.
"Caroline, what happened that day?"
"I can't imagine why you think I would know," Caroline replied, uninterested in the conversation. She continued brushing her hair and relaxed further into the shell near Gigi's vanity.
Gigi frowned. "Bing's your brother! Wouldn't he have told you?"
"Your brother hasn't told you. Why would mine act differently?"
"Because he is acting differently," Gigi said, throwing her arms out in frustration. "Your brother has been swimming with his head in the bubbles for days now, and William refuses to even talk to me."
Caroline shrugged. "I don't know what to tell you, Gigi. At this point, I feel as though only Catherine could pull the truth out of the boys. Have you asked her to ask them?"
"NO!" Gigi exclaimed, swimming over to Caroline and holding out her arms. "Are you crazy? Catherine doesn't even know that we were at the surface! She would go insane if she knew."
"Okay, okay," Caroline said, raising an eyebrow at the outburst. She rose from the shell and placed her hands on her hips. "I won't tell Catherine, but I don't see how you're going to get any answers otherwise."
Gigi frowned. She would figure out what it was her brother was hiding, if it was the last thing she ever did.
Darcy knew it was rude to avoid his sister when she so clearly wanted to talk to him. Her constant pestering over what had occurred when he and Bing had been on the shore had lasted long enough, however, and if she was to continue asking, then he would continue to be silent.
At least, that was what he had planned.
His aunt unknowingly thwarted most of his attempts at avoidance after she decided he and Gigi needed to spend more time amongst their subjects together.
"As the Prince and Princess of Pember Sea," she had said very sternly, stroking the blob that was Anniekins in her hands. "You both must be aware of the people you will rule one day. Go to them and show that you care to know how they feel as citizens of our great city."
In all honesty, Darcy knew that this was a good idea. He and Gigi had grown up in the castle, away from the merpeople that lived in Pember Sea; and while he believed that the two of them had been trained to understand how to rule a kingdom well enough, training was no substitute for truly knowing who you are responsible for.
The issue lied in the fact that now he and Gigi were required to spend an entire day together, unaccompanied by Catherine. Despite the fact that they were to be focusing their attentions on the people in the city, if Darcy knew his sister, that would not be the case for long.
"You know, if you hadn't ignored me for the last three weeks, I probably wouldn't be bothering you now," she said, her hands behind her back as they swam.
The day had gone by well despite her constant questioning. Darcy had managed to avoid answering anything incriminating. The last thing he wanted to do was think about that woman again.
"There's nothing to say, Gigi," he said, nodding to a passing merman and his child. "Bing and I helped those women to safety, and now we've returned."
Gigi groaned loudly and slouched over in a rather childlike fashion. Darcy was glad there were no members of the court around to see her act in such a manner.
Her outburst aside, the swim back to Pember Sea castle was relatively uneventful. They had met with several families throughout the city that day, and Darcy had been pleased to learn that most of their subjects were quite happy with the way things were running. Any small disgruntlements were noted and marked to be addressed within the week.
At the entrance to the castle, Collins scurried around, his claws flinging out from side to side as he muttered to himself. Darcy and Gigi shared a look of confusion before swimming closer. "Is there something we can do for you, Mr. Collins?" he asked.
The crab jumped up in shock, then a wide smile appeared on his face. "Oh, of course not, Mr. Darcy! But how fortunate to run into you and your beautiful sister on this pleasant day! I was merely waiting here to see if I might alert you both that your aunt would like to meet with you to discuss the benefits of your journey to the great Pember City today!"
"Would she like us to go to the throne room, then?"
"Oh no, Mr. Darcy! Your aunt was last seen in the hallway outside her working quarters. She shall be out quite soon. And I must be off, I'm sorry to say. Plenty of business to take care of around this delightful castle!"
Gigi smiled pitifully at the crab as he scurried away, and Darcy refrained from commenting on the creature's inability to speak in sentences with less than ten syllables. He began to swim inside when Gigi grabbed his wrist.
"William," she said firmly. "We need to talk."
He pulled away and sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. "Gigi, what more do you want me to say? I've already told you everything there is to know."
She crossed her arms and shook her head, furrowing her forehead. "Don't lie to me, William. You never avoid me, no matter how irritating I act. But you haven't talked to me for almost a month, and I'm starting to get worried."
"You don't need to be worried," he said hurriedly. "It's nothing."
"Which means it's something."
"What is something?"
Gigi gasped quietly, and Darcy closed his eyes for a moment before turning around slowly. "How wonderful the people of Pember Sea seem to be getting along these days, Aunt Catherine. We were both astounded at how well the kingdom is doing after our swim through the city today."
Catherine narrowed her eyes and pulled Anniekins close to her chest. "I'm pleased you found your visit to Pember Sea enlightening."
"Illuminating, even!" Gigi said quickly, a little too loudly. She raised her hand to her mouth and looked at her brother apologetically.
Subtle, Gigi was not, Darcy thought with a grimace.
"Yes," Catherine replied slowly. The frown that perpetually remained on her face deepened as she moved closer to the siblings. "Though I hope you two don't think I am stupid. Georgiana was asking you a question which you refused to answer, William. You have been ignoring your sister?"
Darcy's fingers clenched involuntarily. He knew that Gigi would want to keep any knowledge of their trip to the surface from their aunt, so the look of fear in her eyes was of no surprise.
"I'm waiting," Catherine said, raising her eyebrow. "Georgiana is not the only one to have noticed a change in your behavior, William. I'd like to know what exactly is going on."
Before Darcy could come up with an excuse, he saw Bing and Caroline swim up behind Catherine. Caroline smiled and nodded at him, but upon seeing Catherine's rigid posture, she knew to continue swimming without a word. Unfortunately, her brother did not have the same instinct for social cues.
"Afternoon, Ms. de Bourgh!" he greeted cheerfully with a wave. He swam up beside her and even gave a small finger wave to Anniekins before looking over at Gigi. "Are you okay?" he asked with some concern. "You don't look so great."
"Before you interrupted, Mr. Lee," Catherine said with her eyes trained fully on Darcy. "We were just about to hear my nephew's reason for being so quiet and solitary this past month."
Bing laughed, and in that moment, Darcy knew they were done for.
"He's probably still nervous about that girl he can't stop thinking about."
"Bing," Darcy warned, his stern look not having any effect.
Caroline swam up behind her brother, placing a hand on his shoulder and attempting to whisper in his ear, but he didn't seem to be listening.
"A girl?" Catherine asked, visibly relaxing. "Am I to believe you have finally met a young woman to take the throne beside you, William?"
Gigi squealed to herself suddenly, and Darcy had to close his eyes. "It's a girl?" she asked wildy, grabbing onto his arm. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"Probably because he's just embarrassed," Bing answered, still chuckling at Darcy's obvious discomfort. "He doesn't want to own up to the fact that he was wrong about humans."
The moment the word left Bing's lips, time seemed to freeze over. Darcy lost the feeling in his fingertips for a moment, and he couldn't even bring himself to glare at his friend. Gigi's grip tightened on his arm, and he felt her nails dig into his skin.
"Humans?" Catherine asked, her voice unnervingly calm. "I don't understand what you mean, Mr. Lee. That would imply that my nephew had fallen in love with a human, which would be impossible, for humans are not to know about our kind."
Bing's eyes widened, and he cleared his throat before attempting to backtrack. "Of course not, your majesty. I only meant ... I meant to say ..."
"William Darcy," Catherine interrupted, swimming directly up to her nephew and looking him in the eye. "Did you or did you not go to the surface?"
He looked over at Gigi, who had released his arm and floated off to the side, her arms wrapping around her stomach as though she felt sick. He returned his aunt's gaze and sighed before straightening his back. "I did."
The fire he saw in his aunt's eyes was one he had only seen reserved for the chamber room during court. "And," she continued, her volume starting to rise. "Would you mind explaining to me exactly why you were up there?"
He remained silent for a moment, considering what to say. He had no desire to bring trouble to Gigi, but he had never lied to his aunt before. It would be irresponsible for the prince to lie to the queen, and he had told Gigi fervently that they were not to be at the surface in the first place. If she was not going to listen to him, he thought, then she might at least listen to Catherine.
"I followed Gigi to make sure she was safe."
Gigi's eyes widened and her mouth fell open. She looked away from him, as though he had stung her.
Catherine whipped around to face the girl. "Georgiana Darcy, you deliberately disobeyed orders and swam to the surface, putting your brother and I assume your friends Mr. and Ms. Lee in danger? Do you not understand what happened to your parents when they decided to visit the surface?"
Gigi looked at the ground. "I do."
"Apparently you need reminding!" Catherine spat. "In case the air has fogged your memory, your parents were killed while the humans hunted the fish in our sea for sport. They lost their lives, and you decided to ignore the risk and put your brother and yourself in danger? Do you not care if you or your brother live or die?"
"Of course I do!" Gigi shouted back, her lower lip trembling and voice wavering.
Darcy felt his stomach sink. "Aunt Catherine -"
"No! I will hear no excuses! Georgiana, you are never to go to the surface again! You are not to leave the castle grounds. In fact, I shall not see you leave the castle walls until you can prove that you are intelligent enough not to put other people's lives in danger again!"
Gigi blinked rapidly, her chest heaving as she tried to hold herself together. She looked at Darcy once before swimming off into the castle.
Darcy began swimming after her, but before he could get too far, Caroline grabbed his hand and pulled back. "You know she won't want to talk to you," she said calmly. "Why don't Bing and I go?"
He watched as Gigi's tail disappeared around a corner and sighed. He hadn't meant for Catherine to blow up in her face, or even to make her cry. He nodded and watched as his friends disappeared into the castle as well.
Gigi swam around every corner she came across, occasionally running into a dead end as the salt from her tears clouded her sight. She could hear the water swishing about behind her, and she knew that William was following her, but she had no intention of even looking at him right now.
Before long, she reached her bedroom and slammed the door closed behind her, leaning her back against the wall as she finally allowed herself to break down crying and sink to the floor. She wrapped her arms around her fin and let her chin fall to her chest as the tears poured out, warming the water around her face.
Never had she meant for anyone to get hurt while going to the surface. She had been on sea with Fitz several times, and with William, she knew everything would be all right.
Of course, Aunt Catherine would never understand that, she thought with a huff. She took several deep breaths, trying to calm her racing heart that beat wildly in her chest.
She heard a faint knock at her door and scowled. "Go away, William," she said bitterly.
"It's Caroline," a soft voice answered.
"And Bing." Gigi could hear the hesitance as he spoke. "Gigi ... I'm really, really sorry about what happened back there. I wasn't thinking."
"It's fine," Gigi said quickly, crossing her arms and leaning up against the door. "I don't want to talk to anyone."
It was quiet for almost a minute, and Gigi had started to think the two had left her door already when Caroline said, "You know your brother didn't mean for that to happen."
Gigi scoffed and rose, pacing in front of the door. "Of course he meant for that to happen," she answered. "He's been upset with me for bugging him about what happened on the shore, which he still hasn't explicitly told me about, and he wanted me to learn my lesson."
"But fine! If he doesn't want to talk to his only sister about his problems, then that's his issue! He's just a soulless little prince who refuses to let anyone in whenever he feels even the slightest bit of emotion!"
"Don't interrupt me, Bing! And besides him, Aunt Catherine's already mad at me for endangering her poor little William anyways. You heard how upset she got when she heard I took him to the surface. Which I didn't! He didn't have to follow me! None of you had to follow me!"'
"You're right," Caroline said finally. "We didn't have to follow you. But we did because we care about you. We all care about you. Your brother and your aunt included."
Gigi rolled her eyes and felt the sting of tears threatening to make a second appearance, but she blinked them back. "They love me so much that I can't leave the castle walls until Aunt Catherine stops thinking that I'm an idiot."
"That's not what she said."
"It's what she meant," Gigi said, her voice falling into a whisper. The truth of the matter was, she knew that she hadn't been thinking that day. She had just known nothing would happen to either of them, and nothing had happened. She was smart enough to know how to avoid a dangerous situation above water if they would just trust her.
They never would, though, she realized with a pang in her chest. To Catherine and William, she was still the young naive princess who needed to be caged in for her own good.
Caroline and Bing continued to console her through the closed door, but she tuned them out and swam to her window, staring out at the kingdom, then up at the sun as its light hit the ocean ceiling. She wondered when she'd be able to feel the warmth of the sun on her skin again. In the ocean, the water was simply water. Breaking into the open air felt warm and alive in a way Gigi had never felt below the waves. The idea of never feeling the breeze move through her hair again was almost too much to bear.
"Gigi, you can't stay in there forever," Caroline said finally, bringing Gigi back to the present.
She turned to look at her closed door, thinking about what lay behind it. Past Caroline and Bing, her life in confinement waited for her. How long would it be before she could even see the citizens of Pember Sea again?
Then, she had a thought.
A crazy thought. A thought so incredibly out of her mind that ... it could work.
"You're right," she said, the edges of her lips twitching into a smile. "I can't."
She looked out the window at the castle grounds and made sure there were no guards around, then she swam out without another word.
Where she planned to go, she didn't know, but the moment she was out the window and past the gates of Pember Sea, her heart suddenly felt light again. Gigi knew she couldn't stop to celebrate, however. It wouldn't be long before Caroline would decide to open her bedroom door, and the moment she did, William would be after her for sure.
So she continued swimming, past the homes of the merpeople she and William had visited just a little while before, and out into the open water. When she was younger, she and William would travel out to the coral reefs to swim amongst the fish who didn't reside in Pember Sea, as there were plenty.
Once she passed a small family of seahorses, she looked over her shoulder and realized she could barely see the castle from this distance. This was the farthest she had ever been from Pember Sea alone, and the sudden realization hit her in the gut. She wrapped her arms around her stomach and took a few deep breaths.
This was what she wanted. She wanted to be out and away from anyone would would try to keep her locked indoors. She would be free. Even if that meant being alone.
But she wouldn't be alone for long.
"Gigi? Is that you?"
Gigi gasped and whipped around, her eyes darting every which way. As far as she could tell, there were only rocks and more rocks surrounding her, but she couldn't see anyone. "Wh-who's there?" she asked shakily.
"C'mon, Peach," the voice answered. "Don't tell me you don't remember me."
Out of the corner of her eye, movement from behind a particularly tall rockpile caught her attention. One, two, three, and then several more dark tentacles oozed around the rock until the black faded into tan. Finally, she saw a familiar face she hadn't seen in years.
"George!" she called out excitedly, swimming toward him and wrapping her arms around his neck. "It's so good to see you!"
George chuckled and returned the hug, holding her close. His arms felt almost like her brother's, and the familiarity both warmed and stung her heart.
"What're you doing all the way out here, Peach?" he asked finally, pulling back. "You're a bit far from home, aren't you?"
Gigi blushed and looked behind her in the direction of the castle. There was only sand for as far as she could see now. "Yeah, I suppose I am," she said.
"Want me to take you back?"
"No!" she shouted, jumping out of George's arms. "No, I'm not going back."
George raised an eyebrow and chuckled. "You, perfect little Gigi Darcy, ran away from home?"
Gigi bit her lip and clasped her hands together behind her back. "I'm not perfect."
With a laugh, George moved closer and poked Gigi's arm playfully with a tentacle. "Are too," he answered. "You never did anything your brother didn't want you to do. Anytime I wanted to come out here to play as kids, you were always too scared."
At his taunting, Gigi shrank back, and tears started to sting her eyes again.
George seemed to take notice, and his grin softened. "Aw, c'mon, don't cry. I didn't want to make you upset." He placed an arm around her shoulders and held her close as she tried to contain her tears.
"I went to the surface," Gigi confessed suddenly, causing George to pull back in shock for a moment. "William followed me, and Aunt Catherine found out. She said I wasn't allowed to leave the castle until I could prove I was smart enough to handle myself. And that's never going to happen in her eyes or William's, so I left."
Sighing, George pushed a lock of Gigi's hair behind her ear. He placed two fingers beneath her chin and lifted it slowly so he could look in her eyes. "I'm sorry that happened, Gigi, but do you have any idea where you're going to go now?"
Gigi frowned. "I - Not really. I just needed to get out of there, so I swam as far as I could, and now I'm here."
George nodded. He looked around them for a moment before taking Gigi's hand. "I live right around here," he said, motioning his head off to the side. "Until you get your bearings together, why don't you come stay with me?"
Gigi sighed with relief. She honestly hadn't a clue where she would go when she'd left the castle, and knowing that she could stay with someone like George was a weight off her shoulders. She nodded with a smile, then swam behind him as he led her to a cave behind the rock pile he'd appeared by.
It had been a long time since she and William had seen George. He wasn't a merman, of course, but he and his father used to reside in Pember Sea, just outside the castle. His father had been a guard of the palace. An unfortunate shark attack had taken his father, but George had always remained as a constant companion to Gigi and her brother.
Of course, as they got older, it became harder and harder to visit George outside the palace. Their duties as royals increased, and soon they stopped seeing him altogether. It was a shame, Gigi knew, because the three of them had been good friends as children.
"Welcome home," George said, opening his arms wide. The cave was dark, that much Gigi could say. It was cold and smelled a little bit like water that had gone stale, but she knew there was no need to say anything of that sort. George was being hospitable and rather kind to open up his home to her.
She smiled at him and swam around a bit, looking to explore the place she would be staying in for the time being. He showed her where she could sleep and where he liked to exercise. There was one thing, however, that caught Gigi's eye above everything else.
Off to the side of the cave, a black cauldron held some bubbling purple goo. "Are you making dinner?" Gigi joked, swimming forward.
"No, of course not," George laughed. "Does that look appetizing to you?"
"Not particularly." Gigi scrunched up her nose as one large bubble popped open and hissed with purple steam. "But if it's not food, what are you making?"
George scratched his head, as though debating whether or not to tell her something. "Well ... I've been practicing."
Gigi's eyes widened, and her jaw dropped. "Potion making? You're practicing magic?"
George nodded sheepishly.
"What are you going to do with it?"
"Well," he said slowly, moving closer and peering into the cauldron. "I've actually been trying to figure out a potion to change myself."
Gigi gasped and clutched his arm tightly. "Do not joke with me about this, George Wickham."
"I'm not!" he said, laughing at her enthusiasm. "Ever since you and your brother had to be all 'royal', I've been kind of by myself out here. I figured it was time for a change of pace."
"So ... you're going to live on the land? Become a human?"
George nodded and smiled to himself. "I've got the potion all finished, actually. I'm just working on a way to figure out where to go once I'm up there."
"Oh, you should talk to Fitz," Gigi said, releasing his arm. "I've been to the surface to see him plenty of times, and he lives on the shore. He could show you where to live."
"Is Fitz a good friend of yours?"
George brought his hand to his chin and thought for a moment. "You know, Gigi," he said slowly. "This could be sort of crazy ... but if you already know someone up there who could help ... maybe you should go ahead of me."
She couldn't believe her ears. "What?"
George held out his hands. "Hear me out. You ran away because you wanted to go to the surface, right?"
"Okay, well, I have a way to turn the both of us human. Why not come with me?"
"But -" Gigi looked to the opening of the cave and thought of her brother. "If I go with you, I'll never see William again. Or Caroline and Bing and Aunt Catherine ..."
"Weren't they the ones who wanted to lock you up in the castle?"
He was right. Gigi knew he was right. It wasn't as though she had any other plans, and with this one, at least she would be where she knew she was always meant to be. "So what is the plan?"
"I'm thinking that we turn you human now, and you go meet Fitz to find a place for us to live. I'll finish up some business down here, then meet you in three days."
She nodded and took a breath. This was a lot to take in so suddenly, but she trusted George. If she was going to go to the surface with anyone, she was glad it would be him. "Okay," she said quietly.
George grinned. "You'll do it? You'll come with me?"
She nodded, and the thought that her fin would soon be legs suddenly hit her. She laughed and nodded again, more enthusiastically. "What do we do?"
George reached up on a shelf and pulled down a vile with some red goo inside. He scooped some of the purple from his cauldron into the vile and mixed it with the red, then shook it up for a moment. Carefully swirling the mixture around for a moment, he watched as the colors morphed into one another. Finally, he seemed satisfied, because he held out the potion to Gigi with a smile. "You gotta drink this."
She took the vile and looked into the new potion. "What was the red?" she asked curiously.
He shrugged. "Flavoring. I figure the potion would be nasty without it."
She nodded. Raising the vile to her lips, she looked at his grin once and knew she was making the right decision. She drank it all in one swallow.
Darcy had spent the next hour after his sister had run off worrying himself silly over what he was going to do. He truly hadn't meant for Aunt Catherine to yell at her like that, and in all honesty, Gigi had handled herself rather well on the surface. Of course, she had jumped onto a human's ship and sat within a yard of them, but she hadn't been caught.
He paced around until finally he gave up, sinking to the floor and leaning against the wall. He rested his head in his hands and sighed. Gigi might be young, but she was still old enough to make her own decisions. And yet, he still had nightmares about the day he learned about their parents' deaths.
Should he force that fear onto his sister, or let her live with the freedom she deserved?
"DARCY!" Bing came swimming around the corner so fast he practically ran into the wall. Normally Darcy would have taken this for actual excitement, but the look on Bing's face said otherwise. "Gigi's gone!"
Darcy pushed up off the floor and grabbed Bing's shoulders. "What do you mean gone?"
"I mean she's not in her room! Caroline opened the door after she stopped talking to us, and she's not there!"
"Well where could she be?"
"Not sure," Caroline said, coming from down the hall. "She must've left out the window. Maybe someone in Pember Sea saw where she went."
Darcy nodded and immediately swam toward the castle entrance and out into the kingdom. This was all his fault. If he had just figured out something other than pushing Gigi right into his Aunt's anger, she woudln't have gotten the idea to run away into her head in the first place.
Gigi had never gone far from Pember Sea, so either she was staying in the kingdom, or she was incredibly lost. Darcy swam from home to home, asking ever merman and mermaid he could find whether they had seen the princess. Thankfully one of the mermaids who lived in a corner home had seen Gigi pass by not too long before, and she pointed William in the direction she had been swimming. He thanked the mermaid profusely before swimming off.
Caroline and Bing had been following him, but he didn't have time to let them know where he was going. All he knew was that this was far beyond the limits he had set for Gigi when she was a child, so she likely had no idea where she was. If he could find her and bring her home immediately, everything would return to normal. He needed to act fast.
Eventually he came to a field of rockpiles, and Gigi was still nowhere to be found. He did notice, however, that there were strange paths being formed in the sand. Indentations to show that some creature had been sitting on the seafloor, and they seemed to move behind a particular pile. When Bing and Caroline caught up to him, he motioned toward the markings. "This could easily be nothing, but I've got to try."
The siblings nodded and followed after him. It didn't take long before the trail disappeared. Whatever creature had left it obviously could swim above the floor, but when Darcy lifted his eyes, he found a cave entrance that he knew he would have to enter.
"Bing, Caroline," he said, turning to face them. "I have to go in alone."
"Darcy, don't be stupid," Caroline said, crossing her arms. "You don't even know if Gigi's in there."
"No, I don't. But I have to try. And if something else is in there, it will do no good for you two to follow after to me now. Just ... wait here, and if I don't come out soon, you'll know I need assistance."
Caroline looked as though she wanted to argue, but after one look from Bing, she kept silent. There was no point in stopping Darcy once he set his mind to something. They both knew that better than anyone.
Swimming up to the cave entrance, Darcy peered inside but could only see a faint light and one voice that did not seem to be Gigi's. He swam further in, figuring that even if it wasn't Gigi, there was a chance the creature who lived here might know where she had gone. Or there was a chance that this creature had eaten Gigi and would do the same to him.
He preferred not to think about that outcome.
The further he traveled, the louder the voice from within the cave grew, and before long, he thought he started to recognize it.
"George?" he asked upon reaching the main room.
To his surprise, his ears had been correct.
"George Wickham," he said again, his voice more firm that it had been.
George heard him and spun around, grinning his smile that was charming as ever. "Darcy!" he called, swimming up and patting him on the back. "I was wondering when I'd be seeing you!"
Darcy frowned in confusion. "I'm not sure why. I'm here looking for my sister."
"That's what I figured," George replied, confusing Darcy even further. "Come on in, the water's fine, I promise."
George swam back to the middle of the room, opening his arm for Darcy to join him. He followed reluctantly. "Why would you know that I'm looking for Gigi?"
"Cause she's here, of course."
Darcy's eyes widened, and he swam quickly over. "Where is she?"
"Over there." George motioned to a shelf on the wall as he popped a snack in his mouth.
Curiosity getting the better of him, Darcy swam closer to the wall and peered up onto the shelf. He wasn't sure what George was talking about, as he did not see his sister anywhere around. After a moment, however, his heart sank when he realized what he was looking at.
In the corner of the shelf, what looked like a shriveled brown polyp opened two familiar eyes and stared sadly back at him.
"What have you done to her?" Darcy asked, his blood boiling and fists clenching.
George swam up beside him, and Darcy jerked away. "Nothing permanent. I just didn't want her running away while we waited for you."
"I'm here now. Let her go."
George chuckled and shook his head. "You don't get it, do you? I want both of you here! I just knew that if I kept Gigi here, you'd be the big brother who races to come save the day."
Darcy lunged for him, but George was too quick and swam to the side, letting Darcy ram into the wall and sink to the floor. "What do you want with us?"
George held out his hands in defense. "Look, I'm not going to hurt you guys. But I've been alone out here for ages, and I'm ready for a change of location."
"Then let her go and leave."
"That's just it," George continued, moving close to Gigi and reaching out a finger to stroke her side. She flinched, and Darcy shot forward to knock George aside, but one of his tentacles grabbed Darcy and flung him to the wall again. "I don't want to live by myself anymore. You two were my only family for a long time, but then you just ... left me."
"We had responsibilities."
"You had a responsibility to be my friend!" George shouted, his face filling with an anger Darcy hadn't seen before. "You two left me with no one. I've been by myself for years, and I'm tired of it."
"You're an adult, George. You couldn't make friends?"
"Merpeople don't make friends with those of us with tentacles, idiot."
"That is no excuse, George," Darcy spat, rising again. He scowled and looked to Gigi's shriveled form on the shelf. Though she was no longer a mermaid, her eyes were still the same, and the fear that resided within them struck a pain in his chest. "What will it take to get you to release her?"
"Nothing!" George answered. "You two are going to come with me, and we're going to live like we used to. Like a family. Why is this such a difficult concept for you to grasp?"
"Does she look happy, George?" Darcy shouted.
"She was plenty happy to join me before you showed up. She couldn't wait to get away from you, in fact."
Darcy shrank back. Gigi had run away from him. She'd wanted to leave with George? But surely she couldn't have known what he was truly planning. The look in her eyes was enough to know that she would take her actions back if she could.
"Look, Darcy, you're better off coming with us. I know you. You're just ... You're you. You drove your own sister away, and I managed to convince her to runaway with me in no time at all. You could never get someone to care about you like that."
"You think Gigi cares about you now?" Darcy asked with a dark laugh.
George shrugged. "Not sure that it matters. She's not going anywhere."
"George Wickham, tell me what I need to do to get you to set her free."
With a groan, George slouched and rolled his eyes. "You're such a buzzkill, Darcy. Don't you see that she wanted this? She wanted to run away with me. She's got a runaway spirit. And I can't free her because of it."
Darcy froze. "What do you mean?"
"I mean, she drank both a potion to make her human and a mix of my own that keeps her like this. It feeds off that desire, bro. If you come with me, your decision to runaway will make her human, okay? The three of us will live happily ever after where no one will ever bother us again."
Darcy couldn't believe his ears. "I don't want to run away, George. I'm content with my life. It won't work."
"Then I guess she's staying like this. Nothing I can do about it."
"What if I were to find someone who does want to runaway?"
"What, get someone to runaway with you? Everyone in Pember Sea's happy. They're not leaving, I've tried. Let's face it, Darcy. You can't convince someone to runaway with you."
George raised an eyebrow. "You're serious about this?"
George chuckled. "Just as stiff as I remember." He looked out the cave, then back at Gigi, and the smirk he got on his face was enough to send chills up Darcy's spine. "Okay, Darcy. I have an idea. You need a runaway spirit, and the only one strong enough to break Gigi's curse is going to have to want a serious change, just like she wanted."
"I mean, Gigi wanted to runaway to become human when she drank that potion. So, you'll need someone to match that spirit."
Darcy tilted his head ever so slightly, still confused as to what George meant.
"You'll have to find a human who wants to become a mermaid."
"It's the only way, dude," George answered, crossing his arms. "I can turn you human, and you can go find some chick up there to runaway with you for all I care. If you can do that in ... let's say three days. If you can do that in three days, Gigi won't be a worm thing, and you both can leave."
George held out his hand, and Darcy looked at it apprehensively. "This is the only way to save her?" he asked quietly.
"Hey, if you're not interested -"
"I didn't say that!" Darcy said quickly, grabbing George's hand.
He gave it a firm shake and sighed. George went to mix together a potion, and Darcy sneaked a glance at Gigi. She was trembling, and he wasn't sure if she was thankful or afraid. Either way, there was no point in turning back now.
George held out a purple sludge in a container, and Darcy took it and brought it to his lips. Before he drank, he pulled back. "How do I know you won't turn me into a polyp as well?"
George sighed and rolled his eyes. "You don't."
Darcy scowled. "And what's the catch here?"
"The catch. You can't want this to be easy for me. What're you going to do? Give me dog legs instead of human? Take away my voice so I can't talk?"
George laughed. "So distrustful, Darce. Normally I would do just that ... but honestly, I think your bubbling personality will be a 'catch' enough for you."
He would have argued further, but Darcy knew he needed all the time he could get up to the surface, so instead he just let the slime ooze down his throat.
The moment it hit his stomach, he felt a sudden burning sensation on his tail. It traveled up to his torso, and he had to close his eyes at the sensation. The burning hit him right in the chest, and he suddenly felt it become harder and harder to breathe. He opened his eyes and saw George, still smirking, but he couldn't open his mouth to say anything.
"Oh, I forgot one thing, Darce," George said as he crossed his arms. "Humans can't breathe under water. Good luck."
Darcy looked to the ground and almost gasped to see that his fin had split, and at the ends were now two strange looking ... feet? He had feet!
He kicked his legs out once, trying to swim out the cave, but found that two legs could not swim quite like one fin could. The burning in his chest started to flare up again, and he knew that if he did not find air, he would drown before the three days had even begun.
Kicking and flailing, he slowly made his way out of the cave to find Bing and Caroline about to enter it, possibly to save him. The moment Caroline laid eyes on Darcy's new legs, she gasped. "You idiot!" she yelled, grabbing his arms and pulling upwards. "Bing, grab his other arm and pull!"
Darcy's head felt light, and he didn't have the energy to kick his new legs anymore. Bing and Caroline dragged him upwards, and he stared at the sun that shone on the water above, ignoring the feeling of dread in his gut that he had just made a very grave mistake.