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asked by howlands
She saves him from drowning.
It’s an impulse that sends her shooting across the water, kicking her fin at a frenzied pace.
Jeyne wonders if she should have, if he was worth it—she saw him leap into the water despite the shouts of his companions, saw the curve of his mouth curled at the corners before he crashed into the waves and didn’t resurface.
But she couldn’t watch him die.
He’s not moving when she catches his arm and pulls him up, and he lays limp in her arms as she swims to the surface. Jeyne can barely drag him onto land, lets a wave propel them onto the sand. The water laps at his feet, but he’ll be safe there, she thinks, pressing on his chest.
His eyes are blue when he opens them, dazed and unfocused, still coughing up seawater. He touches her face and Jeyne flinches away until she hears him say, “please, please,” in a cracked, salt-worn voice and she stills, peering down curiously at him as he watches her, fingertips brushing back her hair, the smile returning to his lips.
“I knew you were real,” he says.
“I don’t think you’re a siren,” he says (Robb, she thinks, that’s his name), his eyes crinkling at the corners. “Or else you would have let me drown.”
Jeyne wants to laugh, but all she can do is smirk up at him, bobbing in the water near the jetty.
Robb scoots closer, hanging half-off the rocks, and Jeyne scents blood from where he’s cut himself on their jagged edges—that’s dangerous, but even if she could tell him, she doesn’t think he wouldn’t listen, a recklessness in his eyes, trouble threaded taut in his muscles.
“But you could be.” He grins, and it reminds her of a shark. “Are you trying to ensnare me and drag me down to me grave?”
Jeyne grinds her teeth, and leaves him with a sharp look.
I saved you when you were hell-bent on chasing your death.
She watches him look after her until he blurs and then disappears.
Jeyne dreams she has legs and she walks out of the sea on them, feels the sand under her feet, feels how it sticks between her toes.
He’s there, and he’s waiting for her.
But they’re only dreams.
She doesn’t have a voice to sell and the sea-witch died years ago, and her mother would never take up the mantle, let the magic die along with Maggy, and she certainly would never give her legs.
The sea is her home, and Jeyne knows she could never leave it—
—but she wonders all the same, the heat of the sun haunting her thoughts.
Her mother scolds her for swimming too close to the shore, too close to docks and ships and fishermen with their nets.
“I taught you better than this,” her mother says, brushing her fingertips down Jeyne’s cheekbone, and Jeyne is almost sorry.
But she meets Robb again, and again (the curiosity is catching, along with the thrill bubbling up in her chest; she shouldn’t defy her mother, but this is hers, and it’s the first time she’s had something to call her own).
They’re in a cove he told her about, dark and full of shadows, where the water echoes off the rocks and sends ripples of light cutting through the gloom. Jeyne hoists herself up on a rock and lets him trail his fingers over her scales, and press his hand over her hip, making her stomach twist and her heart quicken.
“I don’t think it would be so bad, living in the ocean,” he say, sitting too close to her on the rock, touching her hair, curling the wet strands around his hand. “You could swim anywhere, do anything—you’re free.”
No, you’re trapped, she can’t tell him, but hopes he can see it in her eyes when he looks at her.
“Hey,” Robb says, voice gentle, hand coming up to rest against her cheek; it’s warm and rough like sand, and she leans into it, closing her eyes. “Hey,” he says, again. “It’s just—land doesn’t have you.”
The sea doesn’t have you, either.
“Take me with you,” he whispers, and he smiles, crooked with teeth, his eyes edging on desperation, pleading. “I was watching you, too, you know? Before you saved me.” Robb gives her his hand, dangling it off the dock. “Take me with you,” he repeats.
I can’t, she wants to say, but she can’t speak, can’t tell him in words he’ll understand, so she swims up on a wave, pushing herself up and presses her mouth against his.
It was meant to be goodbye—a stolen kiss before she disappeared under the waves, a piece she could take and no more.
But Robb pushes himself off the edge of the dock and slips into the sea with her, arm wrapped around her waist, chest against hers, hand cupping her cheek and she can’t keep them afloat, not with his tongue against hers, tangling sweetly, tasting like nothing she’s ever tasted before. He’s warm, warmer than she imagined with his fire-bright hair and clear, sky eyes, and she shouldn’t pull him down into the cold, but she can’t help it, can’t help clinging too hard, holding for too long; Jeyne drags him under without thinking.
His heart is a steady beat against hers and she can keep it thumping, pulsating under his skin and bones if she keeps breathing into his mouth, if she keeps kissing him.
But they can’t kiss forever.