So, I know it's been a long while; gosh it's been ages, but I'm finally writing this story properly and have given it a revamp enough that I've been posting it more consistently. However, while I'm now primarily active on RoyalRoad and AO3 (same username), I forgot for a bit that my origin site really should get updated better. The entire story of Cry of the Mer is available on those sites, as are the first three chapters of the sequel - which I'm going to mass post here as well. If you'd like to read it on one of those other sites (I find it has a cleaner interface) or remain here, either is fine. Please also disregard the original prologue chapter that was posted here, because it's no longer relevant.
Katie's fin dangled over the edge of the couch. She breathed deeply through her nose and held the breath for a long moment, staring with an unblinking gaze at Lewis as he shifted the stethoscope against the violet scales rippled across her chest. He didn't speak for a moment, but his lips twitched slightly, as though counting silently in his head. The stretch of quiet felt like an eternity, but finally he pulled the medical device away and turned to jot something down on a notepad.
The tips of her fin twitched and Katie chewed her lip, glancing away to hide her irritation. Even the slight scratch-scratch of his pen across the paper was annoying her today. She chewed absently on a fingernail, turning to stare across the room. Luna was laying on the floor a little ways away, her tail arched idly behind her. Her tongue poked out the side of her mouth as she fingered a puzzle piece. She'd really taken lately to quiet, simple activities. Katie imagined it helped absorb her thoughts, especially after a particularly bad nightmare.
A prick in her tail brought Katie to shift position, tugging the appendage away. She turned to find Lewis with tweezers still outstretched. He didn't seem to notice her annoyance and instead reached once again for one of the rippling scales. This time, she was a little more forceful about yanking away from him, her temper flaring. "Stop," she snarled, eyes narrowed to slits as she squinted at him. "Enough already."
Lewis's gaze flicked to hers. His chocolate eyes seemed infuriatingly unfazed. "It's okay, Kate." He spoke slowly, as if to soothe her, and it only made her lash her tail in frustration. She didn't feel like being patronized. "I need to take a scale, okay? I know it's not the most pleasant experience possible, but you know your DNA is no longer stable. It could unravel at any moment. I need to keep an eye on it, and I need fresh samples if I'm going to look into reversing what was done to you."
A growl bubbled in her throat and her lip curled. She hissed at him through clenched teeth. "Lewis. You. Can't. Fix. It. Stop trying. I'm not chip in the paint that can be fixed with a fresh coating. Consider the tail a glass figurine that's shattered, powdered into pieces. You can't reverse that. You can't fix it. So back off and leave me the hell alone. I'm tired of feeling like a lab rat."
A muscle feathered in Lewis's jaw and he glanced away, returning his equipment to the bag he'd brought it up in. "I'm only trying to help, Katie. I know it's been a rough two weeks, but we're all just trying our best."
Katie snorted and looked away. Her gaze caught Luna's for half a second. The younger girl's eyebrows had dipped together, a question sparkling in her gaze, but she didn't vocalize it. Instead, she pulled on her bottom lip with her teeth and set her puzzle piece down. Katie sighed. She watched Lewis out the corner of her eye as he stood and retreated back out of the apartment. The door pulled shut a little too forcefully behind him, revealing his frustrations.
Katie could still feel Luna's gaze burning into her. It caused the hairs on the back of her neck to prickle. "What is it, Luna?" she muttered.
"That was not very nice," Luna whispered in response. "I know you are frustrated and you did not sleep very well last night, but Lewis is not like the scientists. You taught me that. He is the only doctor whom I actually like. He only wants to help. I just think he does not know how, so he is being pushy in the one use he thinks he has."
"I know," Katie growled. "But it's driving me nuts. Every time he's here, he wants to check my breathing, take pieces of me. He doesn't hassle you near as much."
"No," Luna murmured. "But he cares about you. I am worried. You grow more hostile each day that passes."
Katie sighed and hung her head. Luna was right. She was right and Katie hated it. "I don't know what's wrong with me," she finally admitted. "I just feel so angry all the time now. It's not fair, I know. I just…I don't even know. I don't know and I feel like we're at a standstill and it's stressing me out."
A soft rumbling noise filled the silence that followed her words as Luna dragged herself across the floor. Her scales produced the sound, catching on the fibers of the carpet. She sat up and laid a hand over Katie's own. Katie turned her wrist palm up and closed her fingers around Luna's thinner ones. Her friend gave a gentle squeeze in response. "You do not have to explain it to me; I understand and I feel it too. I just want to forget, but everything continues to haunt me. But I am worried about how much it is getting to you."
A bitter laugh bubbled at Katie's lips and she finally turned her head to meet Luna's crystal gaze. A wry smile pulled on her face. "Talk about a role reversal, huh? Isn't being reassuring and the voice of reason supposed to be my job?"
Luna's shoulders scrunched up near her jaw as she shrugged. "We all need to be assured sometimes." The springs in the couch creaked slightly as Luna braced her palms on the cushion and dragged her weight up onto it. She pressed her torso against Katie and the warmth was soothing.
The irritation from earlier fully slipped away by the time Luna rested her chin on Katie's shoulder. Katie took a deep breath. "Thanks Lu. I don't know why I'm so irritable lately, but I don't want to be. I'm going to try not to be as much."
Luna hummed in agreement but didn't speak up. The younger Mer's breathing was steady and soothing, and Katie wondered if she drifted off if the nightmares might be kept at bay for an hour or two. She could really use the nap.
Luna shifted slightly, half on top of her as they stretched on the narrow sofa. Katie picked absently at a loose thread on the arm of the couch.
She only glanced up when the apartment door opened. Sophie stepped through it, locking it behind her as seems to have become a habit lately. The woman's fiery hair was pulled into a tight bun, only a few stray wisps framing her face. She walked over to the couch and sat on the very edge; Katie and Luna took up most of the space and hadn't left her much room, and folded her hands between her knees. "I suggested that Lewis might back off just a bit, but I would appreciate if you could refrain from snapping at him in response. He only wants to help. You know he hates seeing you in pain," she said.
"I'm sorry," Katie whispered.
"I know. I don't think you wanted to be nasty. And I know that there's a lot of high stress and tension right now. Being cooped up probably doesn't help. I know you don't like sitting still. And you both have been through far too much, but I need you to try just a little harder to keep a semblance of peace, okay?"
Katie nodded and lowered her head down to rest her chin on her folded forearm. Everything everyone was saying was true. It made sense. She wasn't sleeping well. Whenever she managed to be nightmare free, Luna's bad dreams usually roused her. On top of the lack of sleep, being confined mostly to the apartment the past two weeks has been far from pleasant. She itched to move, to do something, and instead felt helpless and trapped, in a constant state of dread. It was doing little to help her bitter mood. She hated feeling like this, no longer wanted to feel this way. "Luna?"
"Hmm?" Luna made a noise in the back of her throat and shifted slightly.
"Don't fall asleep on me. Maybe I could help you with your puzzle?" she asked.
Luna's jaws parted in a massive yawn and she smacked her lips before sitting up. Katie shivered slightly as Luna's body heat vanished. The younger Mer rubbed a fist against her eye and blinked blearily a few times before nodding. "I would like that." Her scales clicked as she slithered to the floor and hauled herself back over to where the puzzle pieces lay.
Sophie's hand fell on Katie's shoulder before she could follow, and she glanced up at her adoptive mother. Sophie looked like the past two weeks had aged her several years. The stress of her supposed death, her reappearance, the changes and threats looming over them, must have weighed on her more than Katie had first thought. Sophie smiled, but it was a weak gesture. Her lips were thin and pursed. "We're going to figure it out."
Katie nodded and grasped Sophie's hand. "I know. And I'm sorry. This hasn't been easy for anyone, and I'm not making it any easier having a hissy fit over little things."
"You've been through a lot. More than anyone your age, or any age, should ever have to go through. A little bit of misplaced aggression is far from the worst thing I could expect as a result," Sophie responded. She squeezed Katie's fingers and then rose from the couch. "Luna, would you like a smoothie?"
Luna's head shot up from its bowed position over the puzzle pieces. "Mango?" she questioned, a childish eagerness lacing her tone.
Sophie chuckled and nodded. "Sure thing, sweetheart."
Katie slipped off the couch and pulled herself over to Luna, curling up on the carpeted floor to investigate the pieces. The puzzle was a thousand pieces, strewn out on a foam mat easily moved aside as necessary without disrupting the puzzle itself. She glanced at the box. The picture was of a large waterfall tumbling over a mossy cliff, with mist and a rainbow coiling over the lake at the bottom. Luna had already outlined the edge pieces and a few chunks of the body. It looked like she was currently working on part of the ledge to the right of the waterfall, where a gnarled tree grew with overgrown roots stretched toward the water below. "You're getting good at this," she commented idly as she picked up a piece out of the box, examined it, and began to scan for a spot it might fit. It looked to be part of the lake. Very little of that was done yet, so she suspected she'd have a bit of work ahead of her.
Luna merely shrugged. She set a piece down and tapped on it to lock it into place. "It is something quiet and simple," she whispered, her voice so low Katie had to strain slightly to hear it, despite their close proximity and the heightened hearing of the Mer. "It is not performing for a gawking audience or trying to survive the pain, or stressing about one wrong move making everything worse. I can almost forget when I focus on the pieces. Almost. For a time."
Katie sighed and nodded. She joined two puzzle pieces that fit together but not into the puzzle just yet. "It will get easier."
"Do you really believe that?" Luna countered softly. She met Katie's gaze and her eyes were hard with pain and doubt. "I do not feel I will ever be truly free of the horrors."
Katie swallowed the lump rising in her throat, threatening to choke her. "I feel like that sometimes too. But I have to believe that it will get easier, that the bad dreams will become less frequent, and that we'll be able to move on. Otherwise, we don't stand a chance at happiness. And we have to hope for something, don't we?"
The corner of Luna's mouth twitched. "Hope hurts. But it is better than feeling empty, I suppose. I have had hope abandon me in the past. I do not like the hollowness left behind. They are still looking for us. I do not believe they will ever truly stop looking. Do you think they will find us?"
"I think we'd be fools not to prepare for the worst," Katie replied as she fit a piece of the rainbow into place. "So yes, I do think they will find us. Eventually."
"And what do we do then?" The quake in Luna's voice had Katie looking up. She wanted desperately to reassure her friend. To take her fears. But false promises and expectations would do them no good now.
"I honestly don't know."