Author's Note:

A short fic I stumbled across when cleaning out the files on my computer and decided to share. Inspired by the sequel The Little Mermaid II, I wrote this after seeing a certain scene in which Ariel returns to the ocean to save her daughter Melody. I was always a big fan of Flounder and had my own plushie Flounder when I was little, as well as being a fan of the adventures of Ariel and Flounder – so even though the sequel was okay, I couldn't help wondering about the consequences of events that were set in motion as early as the first film. Please read on and if you could leave a review, that'd be great!

The Choices We Make – By Amalialia
"Children, what did I say about playing 'kick the clam' on the reef?" He sighed. "Kids, haha."

Her oldest friend beamed at her, rolling his eyes ever so slightly and so maturely, miles away from the little guppy she'd left behind twelve years ago. Her face fell, even though she tried so hard to stop the emotions show.

Flounder saw her facial expression. Luckily, though, he completely misinterpreted the selfish thoughts running through her head as worry for her missing daughter.

"I'm sorry about Melody…"

Morgana had taken a lot from them twelve years ago. The forgotten (and arguably forgettable) sister of Ursula had taken their dreams and hopes for the future,shining so brightly in the wake of Melody's birth, and dashed them against the sharpest and most unforgiving rocks. She'd taken away the other half of Melody's life, her underwater home, and destroyed all chances of the childhood Ariel had envisioned for her mischievous baby girl. She'd broken the links between Atlantica and the shore, and etched a deep sadness onto King Triton's weary face.

And Morgana had snatched away something very, very dear to Ariel, the loss of which only manifested itself in the coming years as a terrible ache deep in her heart.

She'd taken the last remaining fragments of Ariel's childhood.

Ariel had been only sixteen years old when she fell utterly, head over fin, in love with the dashing human Prince Eric. That emotion was completely real, and if anything, her love for Eric had only grown over the years as they came to know each other better than before. But it was only now, after all this time, that she had begun to realise just why her father had tried so hard to protect her from growing up, why he'd seen her for so long as his little girl. He had seen then what she wished now that she had understood.

Youth is so very fleeting.

It seems at the time like it goes on forever, for Ariel certainly remembered how hard she had tried to be accepted as a grown mermaid back then. She had been the youngest of seven girls, always treated that way, and yet she was the first to leave Atlantica as things turned out. She was the first of her sisters to fall in love, and while she knew Eric was indeed her one true love as she'd first suspected, she sometimes wished he could have happened into her life just a few years later.

She'd grown up, all of a sudden, in the rush of making a deal with Ursula and then playing a part in the sea witch's destruction to save all the seas from the mess she'd created. Her father had accepted her wishes, and turned her into a human for good, allowing Eric and Ariel to be together. It was what she had wanted, but now she found she was in two minds.

Then, it had been spontaneous and brilliant and wonderful. She'd never thought twice about leaving, because she'd never really considered what commitment meant. She'd been young and reckless and it had all seemed like a grand adventure, new and exciting. She'd never, not for a moment, thought about all that she had left behind.

Without really glancing back, she'd left behind her youthful innocence, her childish dreams, a world of mystery and beauty and surprises that she'd never had the chance to completely explore. They'd gotten pretty far, her and Flounder, but certainly not the entire ocean as they'd once dreamed. And she'd left behind her best friend in the world, the fearful-yet-indisputably-bravehearted Flounder.

Why hadn't she ever considered his feelings in the matter? He'd always been the sidekick in her crazy adventures, but he'd never, not once, voiced his opinion on her leaving. It had all been so sudden and she suspected, somewhere in the back of her mind, that she had never really given him the opportunity to object. Because, back then, it wouldn't have changed anything. She still would have left.

It just would have hurt more.

It wasn't as if she wanted things to be different. She loved Eric entirely, and the arrival of Melody had been the happiest time of her life. Melody was the best thing she had ever done. She didn't want to change any of that.

No, instead she wished she had had the power to lead two lives at the same time. To grow up, and yet to remain young and silly and adventurous, when all the sea was hers to be explored. When her most important questions were where the next treasure chest to be uncovered was, or when the moon would next be new so she and Flounder could float on their backs and watch the stars, or how they could lose Sebastian and swim as far as they could into unknown, uncharted waters.

When she'd returned to Atlantica, she'd spotted the very spitting image of her guppy best friend, and without thinking about how much time had passed, she'd swept the tiny fish in her arms and hugged him to her chest. But it was only a ghost, one of Flounder's five children, and Flounder had grown up in the time spaced between them just as she had. He'd recognised her instantly, in that familiar, lovable way. And yet she had completely forgotten that she'd left him behind for twelve years, expecting to find the same Flounder, unchanged by all the lost years. It had been unfair of her.

And as she watched Flounder admonishing his children, as she looked in on this foreign and surreal scene, she'd found her head filled with memories of her childhood, swirling through her mind in a big mess of emotional tendrils. She remembered the baby orca she and Flounder had kept, the scruffy yet charming orphan merboy Urchin, their encounters with the Crab Mafia, various different shark nemeses, escapes from Sebastian's many musicals…

It should have made her happy to see Flounder all grown up, a proud dad of five gorgeous baby guppies. But instead, as the memories dissolved in her mind and left her again, she felt hollow and numb. She felt like she wanted to cry but the tears wouldn't come, and thankfully they didn't because she didn't know how she would have explained that to Flounder. How could she explain, in mere words, how sorry she was for all the lost years that hung between them sadly, longing to be reclaimed but forever caught in imagination and never to be realised?

For the first time since her naïve youth, Ariel had felt the weight of those years. The worst thing was she couldn't even completely blame Morgana, not really, even though she would have liked to. Morgana had made it necessary to cut themselves off from Atlantica, preventing Ariel from being a part of the passing times and from watching everyone grow up and out of the preconceptions she held about them. But it wouldn't have changed anything. It had been her own choice to leave Atlantica and grow up, to sacrifice her youth for true love.

If she could go back now… no, she wouldn't change anything. But if she had one wish, she would wish for just a few more years of carefree innocence to ride the waves without any worries, to soar through the sky and plunge back into the ocean like she had when she was sixteen. To be without ties, without commitments, without anyone but her best friend, Flounder, as they explored and had adventures, always moving forward, constantly forward, even though they would spend the rest of their lives trying to go back.

Morgana was to blame in some ways. Without her interference, Ariel could have pretended for a bit longer that this was all a game, and she could have seen Flounder every day and kept herself a part of his life, as well as everyone else in Atlantica. Morgana's threat only accentuated the loss of her world for the human world, by forcing them to erect a barrier between the land and sea that had pained Ariel every single day. She had taken away what broken bits remained of the world that Ariel had left behind.

But in the end, as she'd realised when looking at her friend-turned-father all grown up, the choice had been hers. She'd grown up too soon, inevitably, and so it was her alone that was to pay the price and carry the burden of the youth she'd too willingly given up. So she'd smiled, and they'd reunited, and she pretended it was all okay. And she consoled herself with the knowledge that, although the years had been lost in reality, she would always have her precious adventures, both lived and unrealised, playing out forever in her imagination.

The seven seas would one day be hers… if only in her mind.

Mini-note:Thanks for reading, please review!