Chapter 2: The Little Mermaid

My mind was abuzz with a satisfying mix of panic, pride, joy, and the sort of excitement I'd thought I'd seen the last of when I left childhood behind. I'd actually seen a human, touched a human, met a human!

"Met is a strong word, Ariel," Sebastian grumped at me, and I realized that last part had been aloud. "He was unconscious, girl."

"Only for most of the time!" I defended. He'd stirred when I had sang, leaning over him, closer than I'd been to anyone before. Close enough to...

I shook my head, and dragged the fingers that had been playing across my lips at the thought down, swimming with a more power than was necessary, leaving Sebastian behind for just a moment as he clumsily followed. It gave the red in my cheeks a chance to fade before he noticed it. The human had been handsome, even if he had gone scarily intense, when he tossed that lightning bolt aside like it was nothing. Even if he hadn't been able to hold a candle to the prince, who stood in the face of the storm with a self-assured determination, and effortlessly commanded the respect and attention of his men through the howling winds and pounding rains.

"I don't get it, Sebastian," I said, slowing so that he could catch back up, mind flickering back to the human I'd saved. "How did he do that? The stackenheimer he had with him didn't look magical, so how did he control the lightning?"

"Do you mean his stick?" Flounder piped up from beside me, keeping pace without wheezing like Sebastian was. "It might be magic, it got all glowy right before he caught the lightning."

"Is it called a stick?" I wondered aloud. "I was sure that Scuttle called it a stackenheimer…"

"What it is called does not matter!" Sebastian huffed, paddling himself in front of Flounder and me, and forcing us to stop short. "And you should not be learning anything from that idiot of a bird! This should never have happened! Oh, if he hears that you saved that human, he'll… He'll-!"

"Well then, I guess it's a good thing that he won't hear it, right?" Sebastian looked unimpressed at my words, and something in my stomach dropped into my tailfin. "Sebastian, you can't tell him! If Daddy finds out-"

"I won't, I won't tell him, child," he sighed, claws rubbing at the sides of his head. "If the king knew, he would have himself a lovely crab bisque before anything else, and then deal with your disobedience." Looking up at me desperately, Sebastian's claws came together as he slowly floated to the sand below, pleading, "but we can't hide this forever. If you don't stop with your visits to the surface, or your collections, the King will have both our hides!"

My lips closed together in a thin line. "Sebastian, I can't just stop-"

A call from the castle interrupted, and when had we gotten so close to home? "Ariel!" My father shouted, obviously searching for me like the old worrywart he was. Sebastian let out a sound that could generously be called an 'eep,' and Flounder had frozen, drifting down into the sand before he let a deep breath of relief out, and swam his way back up to us.

"Not another word of this." Sebastian looked up at me meaningfully, his eyes hard, waiting for my word on the matter.

"We'll talk about it," I promised instead, "Later. After I make sure Daddy doesn't tear down the city looking for me."

"You're singing again," my sister sighed, rolling her eyes as if she could hardly believe it.

"Why shouldn't I be?" I laughed, running my hands through my ruby red locks, collecting the slowly bouncing, drifting hair into a single mass to begin brushing it. "It's a beautiful day," I said as I continued trying to tame my mane of softly flowing curls. The only things I really had left of my mother, it seemed sometimes, were the looks I'd inherited. People always seemed to make a big deal about my hair, especially my sisters, but I had been old enough when she passed to remember her face, and it was so very close to the one that stared back at me from the polished sea-glass set in a giant clamshell.

It made mirrors more than a little bittersweet, but if I wanted to look my best for… for tonight, I was going to use every tool at my disposal, even if it caused a sad smile to ghost across my lips when I stared at my face, her face. The expression was soon replaced with an ugly grimace, though, when the large-toothed coral comb caught a particularly nasty tangle.

Alana snorted at my attempts, before swimming up behind me. Taking the comb from my hand, she shook her head, her ocean blue eyes meeting my seafoam green in the mirror. A wry smirk tugged at her face, and she began to work through the knot with enthusiasm, if not care.

"Watch it, Alana!" I complained at the rough treatment, my hands doing their best to keep my scalp from tearing off with the rest of my hair. "I thought you came over to help me?"

"Why would you think that?" She asked. Leaning down so her heart-shaped face rested on my shoulder, beside my own face, black hair streaming out behind her and brushing against my red locks. "I just like to see you squirm up close and personal."

"Just because you're older doesn't mean you get to tug my hair. We're not guppies anymore, Alana."

"Maybe," she smiled nostalgically, before a businesslike mien came to her face. Her lips flattened into a line, and her left eyebrow quirked up in an unimpressed sort of bend. "So who's the lucky guy?"

I jolted in place, tail kicking before I knew it, and in half a second my head hit the ceiling of the little room we shared even now, more out of favoring the other's company than a lack of space in the palace. Nursing my head wound, I looked down at her, the same look on her face, but a light of laughter dancing in her eyes.

"I… uhhhh… don't know what you're talking about?" I ventured.

"Try again," Alana sighed, patting the little rock I had just sat in, now a seat for two. "I need details, so if he hurts your feelings I can hunt him down and make him rue the day."

I floated down beside her, hands fiddling with each other in a nervous habit I couldn't seem to break. "But if I tell you, you might…" I stopped, not wanting to say it. I didn't like to think it, because it wasn't really fair to the rest of my sisters, who were so much older than me, but I was closer to Alana than any of my other sisters. So it hurt to even think that she might take this, something that was so important, and ruin it for me.

"I might what?" She asked, bringing me back to reality. "Tell father? He'd be thrilled to see you put up with a nice young merman, you know." She stopped her teasing to look at me. Whatever she saw must have worried her, because she stopped the teasing, before continuing with a deep breath. "But I wouldn't. I wouldn't betray your trust like that. You never told anyone when I snuck out to chase all the boys when I was thirteen, remember?"

"Except that time Attina bribed me with candy," I admitted. I wasn't exactly helping my case, but I hated not being truthful with Alana. The rest of my sisters treated me like a kid. Alana treated me like an equal. Maybe it had to do with how she was only two years older than me, but she made me feel like my opinions and my feelings mattered, like I wasn't just her troublesome little sister.

"Right," Alana agreed, "except that time Attina cheated and used your greatest weakness against you."

I laughed a little at that, relaxing into my sister's side, as she gave me a one-armed hug. "Well…" I began before I'd consciously decided to share, "he's…"

"So it is a boy." She said with a self-satisfied smile. "Aquata owes me a spa-day, she thought you just managed to get out of rehearsal for the week."

"Aquata needs to stop making bets on my personal life," I grumbled. If she was going to do it, you'd think the least she would do is spend more time with me, to figure out which bets were worth making. It took another few seconds before the rest of that sentence registered. "Rehearsal! Oh, I knew I forgot something today!"

"Relax, somebody covered for you," she grinned. "Somehow, Sebastian got it into his head that you thought you could go over things in private with him later today," she continued as she drifted up from her seat behind me, turning me to face the mirror again, and taking up her preferred instrument of torture… the comb. "It seems that some beautiful, fabulous mermaid must have convinced him it was better to make sure you worked on your solo where prying ears can't hear it before it's ready."

"Well, if you see this beautiful, fabulous mermaid, tell her thanks for me. With how pretty you make her sound, I'm sure you'll know her when you see her."

"Ha, ha, Ariel," Alana rolled her eyes, bumping me none too gently on the head with the comb, hitting the clam-shell I seemed to be growing already from my eager meeting with the ceiling. I winced, as she sucked in some water. "Now, about this boy," she said, as she wiggled her eyebrows. "I need all the details."

"Well," I began, trying to call to mind the features of the prince, tall and proud as he guided his men through the storm. Every time I tried though, his visage was washed away by that image of the man standing taller, screaming at the skies and forcing them to heed his call, throwing aside a raging force of nature as if it were a mild current from the shore. The rugged chin and mild stubble, the hair that whipped about in the wild squall, the scowl he levelled at the heavens as they came crashing down on top of him.

I shook my head. "Well," I repeated, "there's sort of… two?" Oh no, that sounded so bad out loud, and what happened to the surety the other day, when the prince was the only one that mattered? He had been so near, so strong, so intoxicating! Am I really so shallow, to just trade out one infatuation for another? I feel like I'm a little kid, just playing at her first real crush… Panicked, I looked to Alana, in time to see her surprise give way to a devilish smirk. "Oh, is my little sister a heartbreaker already?" She crooned, working her comb through my hair again, far less painful now that she'd broken its will to resist. "Tell me all about them, don't spare a single detail!"

"Well… One of them's really tall, and has… has this sense of presence to him, you know? Like if he were to-" I paused, remembering that while yes, humans walked places, the sort of man Alana was expecting me to describe most certainly did not. "If he were to swim into a room, you'd notice it. You'd feel it, like a cold current sweeping into the room. He's got these sharp features, and eyes that sort of… burn."

"Burn?" Alana asked, eyebrows drawn together as she worked through another knot in my hair, causing me to wince.

"They… well, they… do you know how the crystals that light the city in the night flicker sometimes, if the water hits them just right?" At her nod I smiled. "It was just like that, but… hotter. More intense."

"Sounds like Ariel might have a favorite," Alana teased. I scowled at her image in the mirror.

"If I do, it was the other one," I said dismissively, remembering the thrill that had run through me when I saw him, nearly glowing with power and surety in the night, even as his face kept sliding away from my grip. "He was… breathtaking, Alana. I could have stared at him for hours, he just…" I swallowed the next words that wanted to spill out of my mouth to avoid being teased until my dying day.

"Well," Alana said, with a smile, "sounds like you need a little bit more time to decide who you want to pursue a relationship with." An indulgent smile came to her lips. "And whichever one you don't want sounds like they may be just my type. Handsome and striking, or passionate and commanding… a girl could do worse, either way. I'll let you go see them, then," Alana's smile widened as my eyes did. "And yes, Ariel, it was that obvious. I hope you have a good night, on your little date!"

As she swam out of the room, I scowled. "It's not like that!" I called, unhappy with the truth. After all, if you're going out to watch a boy, rather than meet him, it can't exactly be called a date.

Spying might be a better word for it, sadly...

AN: This is an iffy chapter for me, because I'm not sure how well I characterize women. I don't know, I feel weird about how I do it, let me know if I did a crappy job, or if I did well. I'm a little afraid that I'm going to end up making her into a damsel, especially since Ariel is pretty much the opposite of one, and if there's one thing I don't like it's violating what a character is. I really do like Alana so far though, and I'm hopeful I did well with Ariel and her scene together. Honestly, Alana absolutely hijacked the chapter, which was meant to move the plot along a fair bit more than it has, but you'll find no complaints from me. She's fun as Hell to write.

Another issue: Sebastian. I wrote his way of talking as well as I could, without writing his dialogue how it sounds. I can't find a graceful way to do it, but if you guys would rather me write him speaking in an accent instead of just writing the actual words and letting your brains fill in the blanks as far as sound and pronunciation, let me know!

Also, I've written myself into something of a corner here, in not including the statue, and gotten further into it by writing these scenes as coming up at different times to those in the movies, so it will be pretty hard, getting Ariel to Ursula in desperation. Stay tuned to find out how I pull it off, or to watch how I crash and burn while trying!