The liquid in the bottle was warm to the touch, even though it had been created a few days ago. Eric looked through the glass vial and wondered what it would be like to see under the waves. He had given little thought to what lay below the surface until recently. He loved sailing and fishing but didn't explore much.
Ariel would be here soon. He wanted to wait for her before drinking it. Then he remembered how scared she must have been when she changed for the first time. She was alone. She had done it for him.
The second time he'd been with her. He watched in horror as her body clenched and the pain tore through her. He hadn't known how to help.
He didn't help.
Taking a deep breath, he then steeled in himself. The cork came out of the bottle with a faint pop, and he drank it down.
Warmth flowed down into his stomach, and then he waited. For a few moments, nothing happened. He had just begun to wonder if he had done something wrong when a tingling sensation began in his throat. He cleared it in a vague attempt to stop it. What started out as a gentle tingle quickly became a burning like he'd drank lava instead.
He gasped. He couldn't breathe. His hands clawed at his throat as his respiratory systems rearranged itself. He fell over onto the steps of the palace by the sea.
Ariel's head broke the surface, and she instantly knew something was wrong. Eric was lying on his back, struggling. She swam to him, trying to figure out what was wrong. His face was blue, and he clawed at his chest and throat. Ariel remembered feeling the same when she'd suddenly been turned human at the bottom of the ocean.
"He can't breathe," she whispered to herself. She glanced at the vial lying next to him and looked around for something, anything that might help him. She leaned over him and touched his face.
Eric could see her as he had the day she brought him to the shore. Was this the last time he'd ever see her? Had she saved him then only to watch him suffocate now?
"Shhhh," she said softly, "It's okay. It will pass."
He took her hand in his, and she didn't pull away as he almost crushed her fingers in his grip. When the sensation didn't fade, Ariel yanked him into the water. His instincts made him thrash at first. His human brain told him that water was dangerous. But after a moment, his system took over, and he tried to breathe. Water flooded his lungs. First, it was painful. But when the air was out of his lungs, he finally took a deep inhale.
Ariel supported him underwater, ready to bring him back at any moment. But finally, as the last of the air bubbles left him mouth, he began to relax. The color in his face began to return to normal.
"There you go. In and out." Ariel instructed as calmly as she could. "Hang on. I've got you."
After the panic subsided, Eric realized he held her like she was his only tether to life. He relaxed his grip but kept his arms wound around her. His head rested on her chest as she ran her fingers through his hair.
"Are you okay?" She asked after a few moments has passed. He leaned back and rubbed his forehead.
"I think so." Eric sighed. He looked over at her in amazement. "You did that alone?"
It felt like a lifetime ago as Ariel remembered her first transformation. She blushed and avoided the question.
"Eric… look around."