Ariel felt the old, salt-crusted wood under her fingers as she climbed the side of the ship. The lights in the sky trailed bright colors behind her as her hand grabbed the next ledge and pulled. When she reached the top of the ladder, she swept her flame-colored hair aside and looked in wonder at the many humans on board.

As they danced and laughed, she noticed all of the people were male. Most were much older than her, but a strange creature sprinted forward and licked her face. At first, she was afraid of the fluffy grey and white beast, but when it looked at her affectionately, she smiled and watched it run back to its master.

"Max!" The boy called as he ran up behind him.

Ariel's breathing slowed when she took in the dark-haired young man. His chest was bare, and his deep blue eyes were warm and bright. Her heart began to beat faster in her chest as she watched him play with the animal. His shoulders were broad and his muscular torso angled down to the black pants and boots he wore. Butterflies danced in her stomach when she looked over his well-toned body and tan skin.

Another man approached him, tall and frail looking. He was much older and had a stern look on his face like the one her father often gave her. They began discussing marriage, and Ariel listened with interest as the young man insisted he hadn't found the girl of his dreams.

"Oh Eric, you've been with plenty of young women! At least one of them must have caught your attention?"

"Until I tried to have a conversation with him," Eric chuckled as he came to sit on the side of the ship, "Trust me, Grim, I didn't see a single one of them like a queen."

"Well, you saw everything else about them!" Grim scolded.

Rolling his eyes the Prince said, "Come on Grim, don't start!"

Thunder rolled in the distance, and everyone froze. Ariel new the shift in the air, something terrible was coming. As the wind picked up, she was tossed into the sea and didn't emerge again until the ship was engulfed in flames.

Ariel had only ever seen the strange orange and yellow liquid in pictures but knew it was a bad thing.

Fire, She thought.

When men began jumping into the sea and taking smaller boats, she searched for the handsome prince.

When the explosion rocked the water, Ariel smacked her head on a piece of debris. Waiting for the stars to stop floating in front of her vision, she finally focused and found Eric slipping off a board and down into the sea. The mermaid swam forward and put both arms around his broad shoulders. She managed to pull him with her to the surface with a giant tug and let his head rest on her bare chest as she did her best to swim toward

His eyes opened and closed every so often, but Eric never fully woke as she struggled to keep his head above water. The sun was up when she finally managed to drag him onto the sandy shore. He lay limply for a while as she watched him, and ran her fingers through his beautiful onyx colored hair.

Ariel softly sang to him, watching his chest rise and fall. Sometimes he would open his eyes a bit, or cover her hand with his. Finally, his dry and cracking lips moved, and he said, "You saved me."

The words were so breathy and soft that she almost hadn't heard him. Ariel didn't speak as he continued to breathe, "Who are you?"

She leaned over him and swept his hair away, "I don't know if you would believe me, Prince, but I can't stay."

"No!" he tried to sit up but his eyes fluttered, and he collapsed back on the sand. Ariel shushed him and bent down close, resting a hand on his chest.

"You need to relax." Her eyes were kind as they bore into his. Suddenly, her bare chest against his became very obvious, and she watched his eyes travel down her torso. The tail was hidden from his view.

Eric's hand gently came forward and cupped her neck. His thumb ran the length of her jaw as he gently pulled her to him. She leaned forward, knowing she should leave, but desperately wanting to know how he tasted. The bridge of his nose softly touched hers, and she shuttered. His other hand ran down her shoulder and cupped her bare breast. She arched her back in longing. When his lips finally did meet her, she felt a fire burn over her skin like never before.

Eric's had moved from her chest and locked around her waist. She wound her hand in his hair. When he began to kiss her neck, she sighed but jumped when the sound of an animal in the distance was heard. The same grey creature called Max was bounding down the beach, and sadly she looked down at Eric and said, "I must go."

Ignoring his protests, she leaped back into the water and watched from the rocks as help came to find him. Eric shook himself and stood, leaning heavily on the other men in the search party. Staggering steps indicated he was looking for her, but the others seemed to think he was hallucinating.

Eric shuttered as his dark blue eyes searched for her Ariel. Her chest rose and fell with deep breaths. Part of her knew that she could never see the man again, but another part knew she would sooner die.