"I don't understand what's worrying you."

"It's hard to explain, and I don't think you'd really understand it," She shrugged.

"Come on, try me," David rolled his eyes, blinking in surprise as she started to row. She wasn't as good at it as him—the oars splashed clumsily in the water—but the boat kept moving in the same general direction he'd intended, and at a decent pace, so he didn't comment.

She sighed, and their eyes met again. "Do you know why humans started to be afraid of mermaids?"

"I have a few ideas, but not really," He frowned, clutching the shawl-dress-thing a little tighter. A breeze had started blowing, and it felt like ice.

Sera glanced over her shoulder, her brows creased in confusion. "That's strange…."

"What's strange?" He stammered, glancing from her hands to her face as she stopped rowing, turning her back to him.

"I think my grandpa's here," She replied, and snapped around to face him quickly enough to nearly give David whiplash. "Humans became afraid of mermaids after they found out what their magic did to them. Everything has a price, you see…even small things like the 'kiss of breath.' Anyway, are you going to keep going this direction?"

"Yeah, but what's this about your grandfather? Isn't that the Emperor?" He stammered, putting his hand overtop hers as she started to move closer to the edge of the boat, like she was going to leave. He wasn't afraid of her disappearing, really…it barely occurred to him, and when it did, he remembered the whale song. He had heard whales singing to whales that weren't even born yet, to whales that had died, and to whales they had never met. He and Sera were like that, too. They wouldn't be separated easily.

His hand was warmer than hers, and she smiled, leaning over and pressing her lips against his. "Yes, he's the Emperor, and I don't know what'll happen if he finds us together, so you'll have to go on your own for now. I'll come as soon as I can, and in case we can't find each other, I'll go to the beach we first met at and wait there from sunset to sunrise. Okay? Don't worry, David. I'm not going to disappear."

He smiled, taking her cool hand and pressing it against his face, kissing her palm. "I know. Be safe, Sera."

He saw her turn green and let out a small, surprised laugh. "No, you be safe, David."

With that, she slipped over the edge of the rowboat, and waved David off as a warmer wind brushed against him, like a farewell embrace.

Chapter 2

As soon as David was far enough away, Sera dove into the waves. Her heart pumped urgently and she took long, heavy breaths, racing as far away from him as possible. Grandpa must not, under any circumstances, suspect her of being around a human. He was kind, but humans were off limits.

She remembered how cold David had been and clenched her teeth. There was a good reason humans were off limits.

A few minutes later, the surface was hundreds of feet away, and she couldn't see any hint of the rowboat. The water had a school of horse-eye jacks swirling ever closer to her, and Sera smiled gently at the glittering fish with the bright yellow tails. Soon, they had placed her at the center of their yearning, artificial sphere, their bodies sliding against hers, aching for her touch.

She laughed, arching her back and stretching her arms and fingers to their limits, letting the slick scales strike past her, letting the fish consume all sensations. That was what they wanted, after all. They wanted the touch of the Emperor's granddaughter, to win the touch that brought about miracles.

"What stupid fish," She sighed, shutting her eyes. "My grandpa is here, but you're still coming to me."

Then, her grandpa's booming voice struck through the choppy, spinning sound of water and hundreds of fins. "Maybe they think you're more capable," He chuckled.

Sera snapped to attention, narrowly avoiding smacking her head into a fish. There, barely ten feet away, was her handsome grandpa, with his long black hair, fiercely sleek features, piercing greenish-black eyes, and his dark green fin. By human standards, he looked no older than twenty-four, but Sera knew better than to judge his age with such a faulty method. Her grandpa was, as far as they knew, the oldest aquarian by a difference of at least two hundred centuries. The second oldest was ninety-something, and certainly looked his age.

"No, you're definitely more capable than me," Sera forced a weak smile, holding her hands behind her back.

"Maybe, maybe not," He shrugged, holding out his hand to her. "Come swim with me for a while."

She sighed, and left the protective orb of the horse-eye jacks, letting her grandpa's strong, sculpted hand envelop hers. For a moment, she'd been expecting David's hands, with his sun-drenched, rough skin, but her grandpa had skin just like hers—pale, flawless, and slightly translucent. In so many ways, she was exactly the same as grandpa—the same hair, the same skin color and quality, the same shade of blood, the same eyes…the only difference was their ages, names, and genders.

That was the way it had always been, though. She was his duplicate.

"Are you going to try to make me come back home?" She sighed, watching him from the corner of her eyes. He had a carefree smile, and his hair flowed behind him like a banner, the same way hers did. "It's a waste of time."

He laughed, flicking her with the edge of his tail. "I just came to hear the whales again, and then I realized you were here…with a human."

She froze, and pulled her hand back, staring at her grandpa with her heart beating too slowly. Her chest hurt. "Please don't tell dad."

"That depends on why you were with him," his smile vanished, his face was stern, and Sera knew the laughter was over. His hair floated around him like a living thing, while Sera's was like a curtain. He looked like an Emperor now, with such serious, grim expressions. "So, what were doing with a human?"

Sera took a deep breath, squeezing her eyes shut and screaming as he came unbearably close to her, pressing the palm of his hand against her forehead. Where their bodies met, Sera could feel the tingling of electricity. It pulsed into her once, rendering her completely motionless as her grandpa's eyes dove into her memories, dragging Sera along with him.

The ocean around them changed. It was dark, and the sounds of drowning, thrashing humans sank from overhead.

Grandpa held her tightly by the wrist, eyes impassive as the memory-Sera swam through them and toward the humans. She watched herself drag men back to their precious moonlight, watched herself drag them toward debris…and winced as she saw the wild-haired old man.

He would be the one that fought back.

Grandpa's grip tightened, and she saw cold fury blazing in his eyes as he recognized the strange, sharp blade in the old man's hands.

Memory-Sera's fingers craned toward him, just barely grasping his blouse as the man began to scream, kicking and slashing uselessly. The memory was quiet, but Sera remembered her fear as she'd pressed her body dangerously close to the human, blowing into his face and watching him slump into unconsciousness.

Then, she'd dragged him up to the surface, and just as she was about to go, the old man woke up, grabbed her arm, and stabbed her.

Sera glanced warily at the Emperor beside her. She'd never seen him this outraged before—he looked feral, and his teeth and fingers had an unusual degree of sharpness. They more were like a monster king's teeth and a monster king's fingers than her gentle grandpa's. His eyes were aflame with the desire to rip off limbs and dig out human hearts with his bare teeth.

Nevertheless, the memory continued to play itself out, and even though the ocean above was becoming green with her blood, memory-Sera swam to the nearest rowboat, peeking over the side.

She remembered seeing a human face, softened by the faint light of the moon. For a human, he was handsome, and she studied his bright, smooth clothes with a sad smile, thinking how pathetic she was, to be unable to lead even one human to this rowboat.

Then, he'd stirred in his sleep and his hand had brushed against the edge of her fingers for the briefest moment. The touch reminded her of the pain in her side, and she'd come to a resolution.

She would not touch this human; she would lead him to shore and save him, without letting him see her or know what had saved him. That way, he would live without having to have been afraid of his rescuer.

Despite the dark blood oozing into the ocean, memory-Sera blew against the boat and escorted it to shore.

By that time, however, memory-Sera could not see straight, and barely had the strength to swim. Grandpa and Sera watched her sink and struggle to follow the rowboat, faltering with each pained, difficult stroke.

Sera had wanted to swim back into the ocean once the human was secure, but by that time, she knew she didn't have the strength, so instead, she'd climbed a rock far away from the human and his boat.

Grandpa and Sera climbed onto the rock, watching memory-Sera shiver and grow paler and colder as her blood pooled around her. Sera looked at her grandpa, and saw that the anger was gone—in its place, there was only grief.

Memory-Sera squeezed her hand against the wound, making a sobbing sound that was part choking. She was dying, after all, and all because she hadn't wanted the humans to drown.

Then, Sera and her grandpa heard David begin to wade toward the memory-Sera.

Through the course of the conversation, grandpa's mood changed from sorrowful to shocked. They followed the memory to the dock, and then from the dock back into the ocean, and to the kisses of breath, and then to the moment he'd entered her memories.

I'm alive! :) Check out my profile for a general update. I've accidentally made a second account, and there's another, very different, mermaid story I've started posting there. Hope the past 4 years have treated everyone well.