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Once upon a time...

~

"Tell me, sweetcheeks. Tell me what you dream."

One slick tentacle tucked underneath the girl's chin to pull her closer. So nervous, her blue eyes wide and her fins trembling. Ursula watched the youngest of Triton's daughters with an easy, calculating eye; the green glow from beneath her cauldron gave a sickly glow to the mermaid's face.

"I... I want to be human," Ariel whispered.

"Good, good," Ursula coaxed. One finger swirled lazily around the mouth of the cauldron, the thick light-liquid therein. "Go on."

"I've watched them for so often," she said, voice still tremulous but a little stronger. "On the land, on the beach. So many things. I want to be one of them."

"And?"

"And..." a wistful look came over her face. Ah, the look of the young in love. So fresh and unspoiled, and therefore so easy to spoil. "I want Him."

"Your little princeling."

Ariel didn't seem to notice the undercurrent of a sneer that Ursula had not been able to keep from her voice. "I want to be with him. I want to belong to him. I want to-- oh, I want to have him be the one to stroke my hair and tell me how well I've done, I want to answer to him, to serve him-- oh!"

Ghostly green hands were wrapped around her, drawing thin lines on her skin, over her heart, down the centre of her fins. They highlighted so beautifully the fear in her eyes, Ursula thought.

"Go on! Don't stop now!"

A fresh determination, a fresh desire lit in her eyes. It was unusual for a submissive to be able to do this, Ursula thought with a wry, dark smile on her features, but then again she supposed they must all be answerable to the same depth of desires in the end. And it was so sweet, so amusing to see, the way her little fists clenched and she forced herself to look up and, for a flicker of a second here and there, look Ursula in the eye.

She would have to watch closely when this one was on the surface. Somehow, Ursula didn't think that the deal was as understood on both sides. She doubted that Ariel knew what it was to move from one mind to another; to suddenly have the mind of a Domme in a body that had been submissive for so long that it would try to kneel, and to bow its head, and to defer.

"I want to be human. I want to be his human. I want – oh –" she shuddered as the green light poured into her skin, throwing her head back, giving a gasp that had a little moan deep within it as Ursula's magic filled her. "I want the land and the sun and humanity and –"

Then her mind became a starburst of magic, and then next thing she knew was the pain that tore through her fins, no, now her legs, and the magic that tore through her mind like a rip tide, and then Flounder was beneath one arm and Sebastian was beneath the other and she was struggling to control two limbs at once as her lungs burned and she fled towards the surface.

And, deep beneath the waves, Ursula laughed coldly and bitterly and waited for her game to unfold.

~

Ariel supposed it must have taken her a long time to understand. It was months, years, until she would sit and gently stroke her baby's hair and laugh softly at how fate had wound itself around. And her pet would stir and look up uncertainly with wide blue eyes and ask 'What is it, Mistress?' and she would whisper 'Nothing, nothing,' and it would be close enough to nothing for it to be close to true.

Her fingers slipped beneath the beautiful blonde curls that she loved to sit and stroke, or even brush for her baby girl, stroking gently against the neck beneath. Her girl sighed and stretched, nuzzling into Ariel's lap, and a burst of desire flowered between her thighs. Oh, how she remembered what it had been to first feel like this...

~

She looked so nervous, out on her own. Ariel looked at the woman curiously, her simple servant's clothes, her trembling fingers as she removed the coins from her purse and handed them to the baker. One of the coins slipped from her fingers, and she gave a slight squeak of surprise as it fell to the floor.

Before Eric could stop her, Ariel stepped forwards and picked up the coin, putting it back into the woman's hand. "Here," she said, with a smile.

The young woman caught her eyes for a split second only. "Thank you, Ma'am," she whispered. Ariel could barely hear the words, but she found herself oddly entranced by the woman's blue eyes, sweet rosebud lips, the stray curl of hair from beneath the scarf that covered her head.

Then Eric caught hold of her arm and tugged her gently back into the line, and moments later the woman hurried from the shop and into the crowds. Ariel tried to put it out of her mind, but succeeded only in part even when Eric distracted her with the beautiful cakes that the baker offered them.

~

"Here," said Eric, handing her a skirt and blouse. Ariel peered up into the garments curiously, as she had done with the undergarments he had offered her beforehand, and given an exclamation of surprise as she did so. Eric laughed. "You must come from a long way away, huh?"

"Oh, yes," said Ariel quickly. She had barely had an instant to think of a story: a shipwreck, her memory being hazy. She tried putting one of her arms into the skirt, then turned it the other way out, and by this point Eric was almost breathless with laughter as he took it out of her hands, turned it the right way out, and motioned for her to stand still for a moment.

She stretched her hands up above her head, arching out her breasts, beneath their flimsy cotton top, in his direction. It had been strange, at first, to think that he might be the one to help her dress, but after all she had spoken to him like a Domme so that must have made them sound like equals and... well. She supposed that it made sense, then. But she was surprised, and disappointed, that there was no real tingle down her spine as he had seen her, either at first when she was wrapped in the sheet that she had found, or now as he was helping her into her clothes. Even when he had to lace the bodice that he had given her and his hands were brushing back and forth against the small of her back.

It was nice, of course. And he was still so handsome, with those blue eyes and that dark hair. And the clothes were so amazing to see! But... she didn't want him. And she'd known that since the previous day.

~

Probably Ursula had laughed. Watched from the depths of her ocean hideaway and seen Ariel's face light up at Eric's appearance, only... to dim slightly as the ache in her chest did not appear.

She wanted to talk to him. Deep into the night and about any topic. She wanted to spend time with him. But... she no longer loved him. She desperately wanted him... for a friend.

That night, for a while, Ariel cried. Curled up in the centre of the beautiful bed in the beautiful room that Eric had leant her and sobbed into a pillow, whilst Sebastian sat helplessly at her feet and stroked her ankle gently. "What can I do?" she whispered. "If I can't love him then..."

"Don' worry, Ariel," said Sebastian, but now she looked in his eyes she could see the fear there. He scurried up to sit on the pillow, amidst the marks of her tears, and pushed some of her hair out of her eyes. "We'll find a way 'round it, hmm?"

"I've only got three days," Ariel said. "The sun's already set once! And then..." A fresh wave of tears caught up with her and her lip trembled dangerously. It was so strange to taste the tears this time, salt on her lips, like being underwater again. "Oh Sebastian, why did I do it?"

"We're all fools sometimes," he said softly. The back of his claw brushed against her cheek, and she suppressed another sob only so far as to turn it into a whimper. Then he frowned. "Hey, wait a minute..."

Rubbing her cheeks with the back of one hand, Ariel looked the crustacean in the eye. He had folded his claws, clearly slipping into thought. "What is it?" she said.

He took hold of her cheeks very firmly, eyes fixed on hers. "Ariel, think carefully. Did it have Eric's name on the scroll?" When she did not answer, he pressed: "Did it say the boy's name, Ariel?"

"No..." she said softly, wonderingly.

Sebastian smiled. "Den maybe we have a chance yet."

~

She could still remember the kiss. Sunlight painting their faces in red gold, tears making the world look as if it was being viewed through choppy water on the surface. Then Ariel cupped the chin of the one she loved and drew them together, lips finally touching, and she felt another rush of that beautiful golden energy through her again as the spell sealed itself around them.

~

She awoke on the last morning with a sense of determination, a light that burned in her eyes and made her move quickly, enthusiastically, a smile on her lips. This time the clothes were not such a mystery to her, and by the time that Eric came to check on her she was all but dressed already, and he merely had to discreetly remind her of her forgotten drawers and correct the way that she had put on her bodice. She thanked him profusely, even kissed him on the cheek, and he smiled warmly at her in return.

“You are sure that you want to leave the castle?” There was concern in his voice, for this strange girl who had appeared out of nowhere to him, and he held her shoulders as he looked her in the eye.

“Oh yes,” she replied. “There is someone that I need to find, I just know it.”

Eric paused a moment longer, then nodded. “Here,” he said, drawing from his belt a coin purse. “Take this with you. If you cannot find them, do not be afraid to return to this place. Indeed, even if you do, you are more than welcome to return. I think that I would like to see you again.”

“I would like that as well,” Ariel said, and was surprised that the words fitted quite perfectly. She would always remember Eric as the first, the first human whom she had met, to whom she had talked, who had been kind to her when he had no reason to do so.

He walked her to the gates, and there she clasped his hands for a moment, and hidden in her petticoat Sebastian shifted impatiently. But it was summer, and the day would be long, and she embraced Eric briefly and breathed in his scent, like he was wearing the sea. For a moment he stood surprised, then wrapped his arms around her in return and squeezed her tightly. A movement which, a small and distant part of her knew, he would not have dared were she not a Domme as well, but most of her did not care in the slightest. Then, with a final wave, she turned and started to walk down towards the town at the foot of the hill, already alive with motion despite the earliness of the hour.

As she rounded the first corner, she bent for a moment to retrieve Sebastian and place him on her shoulder, where he hid in the curtain of her hair and whispered irritably, “How you think you going to find this girl in de whole town? You got lost in de castle yesterday!”

“I’ll find her somehow,” replied Ariel calmly. Thoughts of blue eyes, a shy face, simple clothes, flitted across her mind. She hopped over a stone, delighted with how her legs were, with how easy it had become to walk and run and skip with them. Like she was born to have them.

Sebastian muttered something and retreated a little further behind her neck, his feet like little pinpricks on the back of her neck. The sun rose further overhead as Ariel continued making her way down the path, even until her feet ached, and into the small town. For a moment she stood at the crossroads, staring uncertainly around her (“I warned you,” hissed Sebastian), then a smile flitted across her face and she made her way to the bakers that they had visited the day before.

It was not yet open, and she peered in through the windows, standing up on tiptoes to do so. Seeing movement inside, Ariel waved broadly, rapped at the glass, and looked pleading, until with a visible sigh the baker came up and opened the upper half of the door. “Yes, ma’am?” he asked. She had, after all, been with the Prince when she visited here.

“Good morning, sir,” she replied brightly, turning on the full charm that her blue eyes and young face could muster. “I was hoping that you could help me with something.”

The baker paused, all gruff demeanour and slight frown, then his  expression softened slightly and he leant on the lower half of the door. “I’m not open yet, I’m afraid. But what is it?”

“I’m looking for a girl that was here yesterday,” she replied. “A sub, I think. Blonde hair, covered, nervous. She was here around the same time that I was.”

The baker frowned for a moment, glancing upwards with his thoughts, then inspiration seemed to strike and he looked back to her. “Ah, yes, I do recall. She comes in quite often; she is a servant, I think, to the Tremaine household on the edge of town.”

And after Ariel thanked him with a kiss and a coin, and began to hurry through the streets again, Sebastian from her shoulder whispered, “All right, all right, no need to say I told you so...”

~

Her cavern beneath the waves had been so beautiful. Of course, it was always a tragedy when a ship came to settle here, beneath the surface, and she would shiver at the bones that she passed as she flitted through the ship like a stray ghost herself. But there were things, so many beautiful things, and she would run her fingers over the clothes in their wooden trunks, over the music boxes, over the strange tools that littered the ship. She wanted the names, the names for them all, but there was no-one to give them to her.

Of course, that was before her father had discovered it. Discovered her dreaming. And torn it all away from her.

She remembered sitting out among the waves, when the storms were at their wildest, and watching the shore in the far distance. Sometimes she could see people there, huddled against the storm and hurrying inland, but more often she could see their houses and the signs of their life in the far distance. She had to be far more careful in watching the people themselves, in case they saw her in return. That was the one rule of her father’s that she did obey, for now at least: that humans were not supposed to know of them. She wished, of course, that she could go to them all the same, swim up to them and speak, but she had not been so young as to not remember why they remained a secret below the waves.

But still, sometimes she would be bold, and from the shelter of rock pools and stacks and stumps in the water she would peer up onto the beach. Watch the sailors, watch the families, watch the people, the humans in all their wonderful variety. To hear them laughing and singing and shouting to one another, or watch them at work on their boats – it seemed so strange to her that so many seemed all but afraid of the water – or picking through the rocks looking for crabs. What they did with them she was not sure, but perhaps sometimes they remembered or realised that the creatures of the sea could communicate with them.

She had taken lost things from the shore occasionally, as well as from the great wrecks that loomed through the cold, still waters that she lived in. Broken, forgotten things that humans did not care for, but which she cherished. And the walls of her cave sparkled and chimed and danced, and she revelled in it, and when she closed her eyes she could imagine that she was human.

~

Her hands tangled in her baby’s hair. Lips on lips, skin on skin. She trailed soft wet kisses down the slender, exposed neck, peeled away the cotton from her skin. A smooth shoulder, soft rounded breasts, narrow waist, and that delicious little sound in the base of her throat when Ariel sucked hard enough on her skin to leave a mark.

She discovered so much, counterpoints to the mundane things that she learnt during the day, in those sultry, beautiful nights. What it was like to tie her lover down and pleasure them until they whimpered. What glories could be found at the apex of those legs upon which she had been so desperately fixated. How it was to steal away into a deserted part of the castle and without warning press her pet against the wall and kiss and caress her until she whimpered in arousal and fear of being caught. And other gifts as well, how wonderful it was to lay a golden necklace with a little lock pendant around her lover’s neck, and know that it meant belonging, how it was to walk around with a hand in hers, how it was to be able to run to someone with questions about the world and have them answered, albeit shyly at first, so that she could learn ever more about this world.

And at first she had been nervous, not knowing what it could be like to live like a Domme, but after a while it seemed that it came naturally to her, that it felt as much like stepping into her own flesh as had finding herself with legs with which to walk.

And to hear the whisper of, “I love you,” in her ear as they lay in bed at night, and to smile, and reply in kind... was worth it all.

~

The point of the trident pressed beneath her skin, one tentacle wrapped around each wrist. Ariel struggled against the hold that Ursula had upon her, frantic, fins churning the water until another tentacle wrapped around the base of her tail and dragged her down, hard enough for her to cry out in pain, and pinned her against the sand. Ursula’s eyes shone wildly, the trident in her hand, the crown in her waving pale hair. A brief burst of cackling laughter left her lips, and she pressed the trident deeper against Ariel’s neck until she felt the skin break and blood begin to run down either side.

Backlit against the setting sun in the sky of the cave mouth, Ursula leant over her, black body rippling with demonic delight. “You thought you could escape me, did you, mermaid?” She raises one hand, clutching within it the glowing conch shell, Ariel’s submission. “You thought that you wouldn’t have to pay the piper?”

“You broke the rules,” Ariel replied, gasping, her throat raw from the water she had swallowed before her body had become its mermaid self again. She tried to pull her hands out from the grip around them, but the suckers clung to her skin, tiny blades inside grating against her flesh as Ursula bore down upon them. “We had a deal!”

“Oh, you mean our little contract?” In another tentacle the contract glittered into being again, yellow-gold and shimmering, Ariel’s signature burnt into the base. Ursula’s voice became a gentle coo, though her eyes still shone as she bent down closer, dangling the conch above Ariel’s face so that the glow reflected from her features. “There never was a word for what I had to do, honey. And I don’t think you can talk either, with your little toy.”

Finally Ariel was able to tear her eyes away from the vision before her, looking beyond as best she could to the mouth of the cave where Cinderella lay. Her dress was soaked, one shoe lost to the waves, as she lay face down and still where Ursula had thrown her to the sand. A fresh wave of anger washed over Ariel and she screamed in wordless fury, thrashing so hard in Ursula’s grasp that a fourth tentacle reached down to wrap itself around her, this time across her bare stomach, almost immediately cutting into her skin and mixing pain with anger in her cry.

“Rule number one, sweetcheeks,” said Ursula. She drew the trident away, holding it high as it began to glitter and grow gold with power once again. Ariel closed her eyes in preparation for the fate that had already been fastened upon her father, upon Eric, beneath the shoreline now. “There are – no – rules!”

Let it come swiftly, if it comes at all. Let it—

She did not expect a scream. Ursula cried out, a roar of pain and outrage in her turn, and Ariel opened her eyes to see blue blood running down the woman’s shoulder, over her breast, dripping to the sand.

“You little brat!” Ursula bellowed, and Ariel saw the large shard of glass in Cinderella’s hand, the girl’s pale face, as she fell backwards again and tried to move away. Ursula wheeled, reaching for the girl with every limb, and Ariel realised in amazement that she was free, free to move.

She lunged for the trident, wrapped her hands around it, bloody weals on her wrists. For a moment Ursula seemed to remember that she has other prey, but then Ariel had both hands on the staff of the trident to Ursula’s one, and she had never been taught magic but it lived on in her blood and suddenly—

A wailing sound, magic streaming through the world. The trident flared and jumped out of Ursula’s hands, and Ariel was thrown to the sand again still clutching it. She turned it towards the cacaelia, fierce fire in her eyes, and struggled to a kneeling position on the sand, her tail suddenly unwieldy after three days with legs.

Ursula, though, just laughed. “And now the little princess thinks she can use her father’s staff!” One hand clasped over the wound in her shoulder, the other curled into a threatening fist. She advanced on Ariel in a wave of tentacles, reaching out for the staff even as Ariel clutched it protectively to her chest. “I rule Atlantis now, Ariel! And you can do nothing to—”

Gritting her teeth, Ariel pointed the trident out towards the sea, through the cave. It bucked again in her hands in a flare of magic, and even Ursula looked round to see Eric, gasping for breath, burst from the water. The fear that suddenly flashed in the witch’s eyes, though, could not be for Eric, but because as she watched Triton, too, appeared from the water, vengeance flashing in his eyes. He held out his hand, and the trident tore itself from Ariel’s grasp to return to him, leaving her to fall exhausted onto her side.

“For the pain you have visited upon my people,” intoned Triton, “you will know pain yourself.” And before Ursula could part her lips again, he raised the trident high and magic swirled around her, dragging her down into the depths of the sea herself.

For a moment they fell silent, save for the rushing of the waves that lapped now at Ariel’s fins, for Cinderella’s frightened breathing, and for the heartbeat that pounded in Ariel’s head. Then Triton turned upon the two humans on the shore with a glare, as Eric helped Cinderella to her feet, and he roared, “Go!” and they fled.

Then there was silence again. Ariel’s father turned to her, extended his hand, and almost unwillingly she took it. The message was written clearly in his eyes: that it was done.

~

Sometimes, she still struggled to sleep. Though it was years later, and she could now look calmly from the window down to the see visible beyond the castle walls, sometimes sleep would not claim her and she would lie awake late into the night with an arm draped protectively across Cinderella’s shoulders, listening to her steady breathing.

Eric had been so good to them. On that terrifying night, he had taken Cinderella back to the castle, found her dry clothes, and they had sat and talked about everything that had happened. Trying to make sense of it. Cinderella had told her about it later, and how she had slipped out just before dawn to go down to the sea again, to sit on the sand with a blanket wrapped around her shoulders, her eyes red from crying, and hope.

And now they lived in his castle, and made their plans for the future from there, and he would not dream of having them leave. Ariel gave him a life, he says; it is only right that he should help to give the one in return. It is for the same reason, he says, that he came down to the beach that night when he saw the storm brewing and the sea moving unnaturally. He knew the sea too well to think that there was not something wrong.

Ariel still thanked him sometimes, out of the blue, for everything that he had done. He laughed, and patted her on the shoulder, and said that life would not be the same without her friendship. She supposes that he is right.

~

That night, Atlantis celebrated its freedom from Ursula, and the return of those that had been held captive. The sound of the festivities carried through the water, through the palace, and all gathered there – save for Ariel, who returned to her cave with a dinglehopper, now called a fork, in her hands and dreamt of the sweet smile she had seen above the waves.

~

She had not expected it to be the girl herself who answered when she knocked lightly on the door. But the doors parted, she laid eyes on the figure inside, and when their eyes met an understanding that did not need words flashed between them.

“My name is Ariel,” she blurted, fast and trembling. “I have been searching for you.”

“My name is Cinderella,” the girl replied. “I have been waiting.”

~

She did not notice, at first, the figure in the doorway to her cavern. Ariel turned the fork over in her hands, running her fingers over the delicate marks in it, the bent tines, sitting among the detritus of her dreams. She started when her father called her name and drew back, fearfully, then stopped when she saw the weariness in his eyes.

“You are not happy,” he said.

Tears wavered in her eyes again, and her lip trembled, but she fought to hold back the sensation. “I’m sorry, Daddy. I just... so much happened.”

“Hush,” he said, and his voice was so gentle that it caught her by surprise, and she looked up as he swam towards her, cupping her chin in one rough hand. It had been a long time since she had seen him act this tender. He paused for a moment, looking at her intently, then sighed. “I did not want to lose you, Ariel. I love you too much for that. But I will not see you this upset.”

She looked at him questioningly as he cocked his head back towards the entrance.

“Come with me to the surface.”

She followed him, still uncertain. The surface of the water was still after the dying of the storm the previous night, still dark as the light from the sun just started to break over the horizon. Triton pointed towards the surface, and for a moment she did not understand, then she saw the figure sitting on the beach, waiting, and love and heartbreak spilled over her.

“What is her name?” asked Triton.

“Cinderella,” Ariel whispered in reply.

She was not watching as her father paused, soft pain written across his face, then raised his trident. A gasp left Ariel’s lips as magic enfurled her, warm and soft this time, gentle as she looked down and found herself rising on feet again, clad in silver. From the shore Cinderella looked up at the light, gasping, then stumbling to her feet and leaving her blanket behind as she ran down to the edge of the water, arms outstretched, and Ariel clasped her tightly once again.

They stood there for a long moment, water lapping at their calves, then drew apart as Ariel ran one hand down Cinderella’s cheek. She glanced back over her shoulder for a moment, to her father who raised one hand in a wave and nodded gravely, then over to the horizon where the sun was appearing, wide and red and beautiful, and finally to Cinderella again. Tears were in her blue eyes, her hair was in disarray and rough with salt, and she was dressed in borrowed clothes, but none of it mattered. Never before that moment had Ariel seen such beauty.

And finally, as the sun rose for the third time, she drew Cinderella close, and bought their lips together in the kiss for which she had waited for what seemed like an eternity.

~

...and they lived happily ever after.