Michael Imagine: Mermaid AU
A rush of cold water soaking your bare calves; the loud groan of metal bending; the whistles of an engine whirring hysterically; the shouts of panic above you, below you, behind you, from you.
The water is rapidly ascending and you’re barging out of your room and the hallways are steadily flooding as the icy ocean water rushes through every open door with a roaring wave.
You’re running and you’re screaming but there’s no one there – the rooms are empty and there’s nothing but the sound of the water drowning out your panicked cries of help.
Someone! Anyone! Please, please –
The water is at your knees and it’s climbing up to your thighs and a glimpse at the staircase shows that the bottom floor is completed submerged ; the doorway to the floor above you flooding water into your hall.
Your hysteria grows with the water level and everyone’s gone – the beds are empty and it feels as if the ship is devoid of all traces of passengers and crew that were so busily bustling just hours before, when you were a part of that before you went to sleep not too long ago.
But the beds were empty and their sheets were starting to rise and float as the water inched up to your chest and there’s no one to save you and there’s nowhere to go; they’ve all left and they’re all gone and they’ve left you here for your watery grave.
The panic crashes through your veins as the reality of your fate begins to settle in your mind; the rushing water that was blocking all your exits and slowly pulling you under, the sound of your cries falling to nonexistent ears and washed away by the cold currents that were creeping higher and higher.
The tears that stream down your cheeks only add to the heavy weight of your impending doom, your own salty tears adding small droplets into the ocean waves that would soon swallow you whole.
And you can’t stop the tears or the hysteria or the water and all you can do is wade helplessly until your head is pushed up to the tops of the ceiling as your tired arms and legs work to keep your floating for a second longer; working until the very last breath that you inhale with desperate fear before the water closes the last gap of air in the hallway.
And then you’re submerged.
Your eyes are squeezed shut and your cheeks are puffed with the last precious breath of air that slowly drains into your deflating lungs and you’re trying hard not to choke on your sobs because your tears will only add to your watery grave and take away vital milliseconds of air.
And you see your very life float away from you as the small trickle of bubbles leave your lips after you can’t hold it in anymore.
Your lungs have a split second of bliss from the last gasp of air before the water starts rushing in.
He finds you.
He finds you among the fallen metal pieces and he’s scavenging for trinkets left forgotten in a rush; bracelets and waterlogged books that he can’t read; silver mirrors and photographs of smiling faces.
He sees you floating, body limp and hair wafting around your face; lips purple and skin tinted blue.
He eyes you curiously, holding you gently in his arms, pressing his ear to your chest.
A small stream of bubbles leave his lips as he sighs softly into the night sea, wrapping his arms around your waist, eyes filled with sorrow as he glances at your peaceful expression at what must’ve been a torturously lonely death.
And with a flick of his tail, he takes you away.
You wake up with a startled gasp.
But instead of fresh air, you get a lungful of salty water; the sudden change causing you to panic as the water rushes down your throat.
You’re reminded all too well of the sensation of the water travelling through your body as it stole your life; overtaking you, drowning you.
“Hey, it’s alright, it’s alright. It won’t hurt you, not anymore. Just – just… breathe.”
The voice is deep and rumbling, and you turn with wide eyes to see a pale boy with calm green eyes, white hair wafting in short tendrils around his face with a shock of blue nestled in the back.
You’re taken aback by his clear words in the water that surrounded you and his sudden bareness of his torso, but that’s not what your eyes linger on, not what you’re thinking of.
You’re too busy focusing on the long, winding tail behind him.
His hips melt away to a shimmering blue tail with glossy scales; embedded into his skin as it extends out behind him, thinning out near the end to two long fins, each one as long as your arm and flapping lightly in the water.
You look at him with large, horrified eyes – what is he?
No, you knew the answer all too well in your head – but it’s the sight of something that was so impossibly real in front of you that sent surprise and shock running through your system.
He wasn’t supposed to exist.
Things like mermaids and sirens were fanciful characters in fairy tales to add to the mystical fantasy of it all; they weren’t supposed to be real.
And if they were, you weren’t supposed to know.
You weren’t supposed to have your world thrown off-kilter like this, you weren’t supposed to know about mermaids and mermen and any other fairy tale creature that’s out there; not when you were always supposed to live the mundane life of grow old and die like you always believed you would.
But then your life got cut short with a violent wave and a sinking crash and now you’re here with – with a merman.
He notices your gaze and his green eyes look at you with a sort of resigned sadness that you can’t quite decipher as to why.
“Don’t be afraid, love. Just stay – just stay calm.”
You wonder what he means – and then you look down.
Smooth green scales circling your hips, fused into your skin as if it was always there; slowly trailing down your thighs and piecing your legs together in a scaled cage with patches of pink flesh peeking out from in between the embedded scales, your feet poked out underneath the mess that was once your legs.
You scream, but only bubbles leave your lips.
You didn’t want it.
You didn’t want the salty water the trailed down your throat as seamlessly as air that made a home in your once-aired lungs, you didn’t want the scales that you so tried to peel away with cracked fingertips despite his warnings, leaving your hips and nails bloody and bruised.
You didn’t want the increasing takeover of your legs by the glimmering scales that you watched grow over your legs with a painful pop as it broke away the soft flesh of your skin.
It was as if the scales were inside you and they were slowly trudging through your system until they broke free, ripping your skin apart as it took its place on your leg.
And you screamed and you screamed with the excruciating agony of it all as your legs were being torn apart, shredded for this tail that you didn’t want.
You felt your nerves snapping and rewiring themselves inside of you as your – your tail grew, scales covering the very last tips of your toes and disintegrating it all before two long fins began to spurt from the end with a painful stretch of what was once your foot.
That’s how long it takes.
Three weeks of screaming from the agonizing pain of the regrowth of your legs with every waking moment that you weren’t passed out from the torture, feeling tears leave your eyes but having them disappear into the water around you.
And he’s there, he’s there and he listens to your screams that echo in the small cave that he brought you to; he stays and sometimes he holds your hand as you squeeze his with all your might, as you lie limply on the sandy floors.
He doesn’t talk much – not that he could over your shrieks – but when your eyes are half-lidded and still clinging on to weak tears, when the pain leaves nothing but a dull numbness that refuses to let you slip into a slumber – he talks.
My name is Michael.
He talks about the songs he still remembers and he sings them to you, his voice smoother than the creaseless water and more jagged than the ceiling of the cave at the same time. He talks about what he knows about – this – and how it’s a freak of nature that happens only for drowned bodies on lost ships.
He doesn’t say the word freak, but you feel enough of it to know it’s what he means.
His deep voice is soothing, a faint balm to the pain that plagued you for so long.
You focus on his words instead of the shifting in your lower body and you’re so weak and you’re so weighed down by the grief and the sadness of this – this burden.
How you’ll never see your family and friends again. How you’ll never be able to walk on land, how you’re trapped in the ocean with its vast nothingness, how your life would now be this endless searching for answers to a question you wished you never had to ask.
You wish it would’ve all ended instead.
And somewhere near the end of the growth of your tail, the fins slowly stretching out from the tip, the pain mostly numbed at this point – you turn to him with worn eyes and ask him how.
Michael doesn’t look at you then.
He takes a deep breath and large bubbles escape his lips when he breathes out once again.
It was stupid.
He gathers himself and you wait with closed eyes as you tried to hold in the whimpers of pain as the fin stretched out, slowly unfolding.
It was supposed to be a trip, but – but it was just a bad storm and the liner went down and I went back I went back.
He takes another shaky breath before he answers your whispered question.
Because I thought she was worth it.
There’s a silence.
Another pause as your soft question is carried with the waves of the ocean you were starting to grow accustomed to.
I wasn’t to her, apparently. She – she was with someone else and they left together. She left me behind. She left me to die.
And he doesn’t tell you about how he screamed her name through the evacuated cabins, how in his last moment, he saw her curled up on the chest of another on a lifeboat floating away from him as the water swallowed him whole.
How his last breath was wasted on her name.
On someone who left him in every way possible, who he wasted his time, his life on.
But your small hands use what little energy they had to rub his knuckles faintly in your entangled fingers, an apology in your touch.
I’m sorry, you murmur faintly.
He guides you.
Slowly, carefully, you sit up, your back sore from the restless twitching and convulsing it’s been through with the three weeks of pain.
His hands are lightly rested on your hips as he steadies you while you try to untangle your new nerves and senses for the tail you had to live with.
He tells you how exactly to move this way and that; the propelling movements of the fins and the arch of the back and the curve of the scales; backwards and forwards and sideways.
It’s harder than it looks – your balance is off-kilter with the lack of two stable legs and sudden presence of a long, flexible tail.
But he’s so graceful with it all, streamlined body as he glides effortlessly in between the waves, sailing on the currents of the ocean.
You practice around the cave and the small network of tunnels for a few days before Michael takes your hand and guides you outside.
Clear blue waters and shoals of colourful fish; crustaceans scuttling across the sand beds and strange plants waving in the flow of the water.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”
You’re looking everywhere but he’s only looking at you when he says the words.
Your lips are wide open, still trying to process everything around you; this undiscovered underwater world that humans couldn’t reach.
“There’s a lot to explore and discover still, but I’ll keep you under my wing – er, tail – for now.”
He cracks a smile and you think you do too, the first one ever since you became – a mermaid.
It’s going to take a while to get used to that thought.
“What to eat, what to avoid, how to read the waters and the sky – there’s a lot to learn.”
He trails off slightly, gauging your expression with careful eyes.
“Can we go to the surface?”
Your voice holds a tint of hope, but the sudden disappearance in Michael’s grin is enough to extinguish it.
“It’s like – it’s like what water was to us before. We can’t breathe in the air like before. We – drown isn’t quite the word. It’s like reverse drowning.”
You don’t ask how he found out.
“All of these things – how to swim with the tail and the surface and how we became this – you just… looked?”
“I looked for answers and solutions, and if I’m lucky, maybe I’ll find answers.”
“Like you found me?”
“Like I found you.”
There’s a shy smile on his lips that you don’t think you’ve ever seen before.
The water threads through his white hair as he guides you through the water with a sturdy hand and confident flicks of his aquamarine tail while you stumbled behind with clumsy swishes in the wrong decision with your own emerald tail.
You stare at his broad shoulders and the valleys of bone and muscle on his back and how he weaves through the water so seamlessly as if he’s always belonged – and you have to remember that there was a time when he was just like you with uncoordinated strokes and confusion etched on his features at the new world he was forced to adapt in.
And you remember that Michael was lost without a hand to hold; that he broke through the surface with air in his lungs that was now toxic in his regrown system, that jagged teeth met his flesh at a wrong turn with a predator, that he cut his fingers reaching for answers.
You remember that he was alone through it all; that the fear and the confusion and the frustration that seeped his system was ten times worse than it was in yours without that steady figure to keep him going.
You have him, but he had nobody.
He doesn’t stop swimming, but he gives you a quick side glance at your call; a flash of green eyes as he continues to propel himself forward.
“Were you lonely?”
He smiles a little as he tugs at your entwined hands, pulling you up and closer towards him until you can see the flecks of silver in his eyes.