Chapter 10

A/N: Some little shtuffs about the relationship between Justin and his aunt and uncle. Might be a long chappie, we'll see how it goes.

She watched him quietly, not daring to move or breathe too loudly. Justin slept soundly a few inches away from her, his eyelashes fluttering as he dreamed. She smiled; he looked so relaxed and at peace, not stressed and frazzled as he had looked before.

Nia turned sharply, her eyes wide and her ears twitching. She had heard…something. She wasn't sure what, it was so quiet, but she caught it. A small twig snapping, or a branch being moved aside. She wasn't sure. She turned back to Justin, who remained motionless, his sheets kicked away to the end of his bed. She studied his face for a bit, in awe of how he was not physically handsome, but how a certain purity radiated from him that made him attractive.

A sharp pain at the base of her spine alerted her. Now was the time. She had remained in human-form almost too long; she had to transform again. With a swift kiss on his forehead, she slowly dropped to the ground and crawled out of his room, her muscles tense and almost waiting to be discovered and – in her paranoid fear – killed.

Somehow, she made it out to the poolside without alerting anyone inside the house. As she slid into the water in the shallow end of the pool, she hugged Justin's shirt close to her skin; it had become precious to her in the hours spent wearing it, and she refused to remove it. The scent of his skin, permanently etched into the fibers of the shirt, was a physical comfort to her somehow.

She took her mind away as the pain washed up her legs, binding them as one. Spines ripped thru her skin, and she shivered. Her tail fin made a slight splash, and she felt as though every inch of her was going to explode from fright. Before anything else could happen, she slunk into the water and dove, hardly creating a ripple in her wake.

Goddamn, I'm freezing. Justin shivered, reaching for a blanket while mumbling silly bits and pieces of dialogue under his breath. He snuggled into his feather pillow before his brain realized the lack of a certain presence in the room. He shot up immediately, no longer sleepy-eyed and drowsy, but fully aware that Nia was nowhere to be seen. He leapt out of bed and fell promptly on his face, further banging up his already injured chin. Muttering curses under his breath, he sprinted out of his room and down the stairs, hardly aware of the fact that he wore only plaid boxers and a grey shirt.

Aunt Miriam looked up from the stove in time to see her nephew's features freeze with shock. Poor thing, is he sick? she thought worriedly. His hair was messy, his face pale but for two pinks spots on his cheeks, and he seemed a bit shaky. She set down her spatula, aware of the bacon frizzling in the pan but more concerned for Justin.

"Sit down, sweet, you look like you might be sick," she bustled about, grabbing his upper arm (she only reached his shoulder) and guiding him gently to a chair. "How about some nice crispy bacon and a glass of orange juice to start off the morning, doesn't that sound nice?" She smiled at him, patting his head before feeling for a temperature. She frowned slightly. "You seem a bit hot, are you feeling all right?" He nodded mutely. "All right, I'll get you some juice." She turned to the fridge as her husband walked thru the glass doors in his trunks and towel, and she started in alarm as she heard Justin make a sort of choking noise.

"Well, that's no way to say good morning to your uncle," Uncle Jesse said indignantly to Justin, who truly appeared faint at the moment. His hands were shaking rather badly. Jesse turned to his wife. "You know, I think he'd gotten used to it by now, I always take a swim on Sunday mornings."

"And yet you don't appear to be wet," Aunt Miriam commented.

"I take one step in the shallow end, and it goes from warm to freezing. I swear, I thought my foot was going to fall off in shock!"

"You like the bagels with everything on them, right?"

"Miri, are you listening to me? Something's wrong the temperature system in the pool or something, that sort of thing doesn't happen at all."

"Of course I'm listening, Jess, maybe it's just your imagination," she said absent-mindedly, spreading cream cheese on a toasted bagel. "You know how sometimes it's so cold it seems warm for an instant?"

"It wasn't like that."

"Well, why don't you show me after breakfast and we'll see for ourselves."

THUNK! They both turned to see Justin, collapsed on the tile floor beside his chair. "Jesse, get the smelly salts," Aunt Miriam ordered, rushing over and kneeling by Justin's side. "Poor thing, I knew he looked a bit ill." She gently raised Justin's head to her lap, dabbing at his sweaty forehead with her sleeve. "Justin? Justin, sweetie? Justin, open your eyes if you can hear me." Jesse handed her the salts, his face tight with genuine concern. She wafted the salts beneath Justin's nose, whose eyes flew open with a start. He looked up at his uncle, who knelt beside him.

"You all right?" he asked softly.

"Of course he's not, he just keeled over!" his aunt cried. "It must be the flu, I heard from Sally that it's going around the kids now."

Justin weakly raised a hand. "No, no, I'm all right," he mumbled. "I'm fine, really."

"Sweetie-"

"Help me up, Uncle Jesse." He raised his hand to his uncle, who took it and fairly lifted him up. Justin staggered for a bit, but his uncle had a firm hold on his shoulder to keep him from falling again. Aunt Miriam watched worriedly.

"He should lie down for a bit," she suggested. "Go help him down to the den, Jesse, and I'll bring him some breakfast on the tray." She rushed off the stove, scooping up bacon and bagels and cream cheese and going to town. Uncle Jesse gently helped Justin into the den, helping him onto the couch. He grabbed a blanket and draped it over his nephew, tucking him in.

He smiled. "Are you sure you're all right?"

Justin looked at his uncle with a bit of fear in his eyes, startling Uncle Jesse a little. "Did you – did you see anything?"

"Did I see anything?"

"In the pool. Did you see anything?"

"No, I didn't. Didn't even get wet, now that I think about it. Why you ask?"

Justin shrugged, his body finally relaxing. "No reason."

Uncle Jesse studied him for a bit, then shrugged. "Okay…your aunt should be down in a bit. Be sure to eat what she gives you, or else you'll get the whole herd." With a final pat on the shoulder, he left, still in his bright red-and-yellow trunks.

Justin let out a sigh, raising a hand to his aching head. Nia had evaded discovery…for now. He had completely forgot his uncle's habits in light of Nia's presence and how much danger would be present for her. He had not meant to faint, but he saw it now as an excellent diversion. Perhaps if he kept his aunt fussing over him, she would forget about Uncle Jesse's pool problem.

He snuggled into the couch, pulling the blanket up to his shoulders. It wouldn't hurt to be spoiled a little. At least for right now.

She shivered in her little niche in the waterfall, although from the temperature or the utter terror, she didn't know.

She had nearly screamed when a man, not Justin, had tried to enter the pool, hairy chest and loudly-colored shorts bared with pride. She had nearly screamed out loud. The man had tested the temperature with his big toe, and nodded in approval. Nia had closed her eyes and concentrated with every fiber of her being, and when the man stepped in the water, he bellowed like a startled bull and leapt away from the water, his brows furrowing in confusion. She hoped that he wouldn't come back. Please, Justin, help me. The man gave a last puzzled look at the still water, and had walked back into the house.

Nia slunk down into the water, which adjusted back to warm once she was sure he was gone for good. Her gills flapped comfortably at her neck, and her face relaxed as she sank to the bottom of the pool, letting her weight drag her down. Her dangerous spines, which had been tense and ready to slice, had now relaxed and looked generally harmless. A smile broke across her face: she could totally tell that the hairy man was Justin's uncle. They both hollered the same way. She laughed, and bubbles gently fluttered from her mouth to the surface. She had no idea why she felt so merry all of a sudden, but took full advantage of it. She spun around, arms straight out, feeling gleeful as she felt her soft hair gently flicker across her skin. She felt like a child again, carefree and wild and jubilant at nothing.

A nerve suddenly twinged in her chest, and without a second thought, she shot for the surface of the pool, suddenly afraid. The hairy man was marching across the concrete to the poolside, dragging a small, clearly exasperated woman (his wife? she thought. Justin's aunt?). Justin had charged after them, clutching a blanket around his shoulders, slightly panting. Nia trembled.

"I'm telling you, Miriam, there's something wrong with this blasted pool," the man was saying.

"You always say something's wrong when you can't understand it," the woman remarked. "Jesse, the pool is FINE, now will you leave the thing alone?"

"She's right, uncle," Justin said, putting himself between the man and the pool (and me, she thought). "The pool is fine, nothing's wrong with it."

"You didn't feel how damn cold it was," Jesse said indignantly. He sighed angrily. "My own wife and nephew don't believe me when I say the water's freezing."

"Jesse, don't say that," the woman (Miriam?) said, clearly annoyed now. "You're making a big deal out of nothing. If the pool is cold, then fine, the pool is cold. But you don't have to be dragging me and your sick nephew outside to prove your point."

"Apparently I do, because you don't believe me!"

"That's not what I said!"

"It is, Miriam, you just said so!"

Miriam threw her hands in the air. "FINE. The water is cold, I believe you." With that, she turned and stalked back into the house. Jesse looked at the pool, then after his wife, as if he didn't know which to choose. With a groan, he trudged after his disgruntled wife, hoping that she would accept his apology. Justin glanced between the glass doors and the pool. His aunt and uncle were talking animatedly (although they didn't appear to be mad), and he didn't want to the risk them catching him chatting with the waterfall. He looked where he thought Nia would be (and was spot on), and said quietly, "Please, be extra careful now." And he ran back into the house, his blanket like a cape flowing in the wind.

Nia sighed, relaxing once more. She hadn't thought about how dangerous things could truly be. She had to exercise extreme caution now. With that thought, she sank back into the water.

A/N: Another chappie coming up, I promise! Review please!