I had always loved the water.
No matter where I lived, there was always water nearby. A lake, a river, an ocean... it didn't matter. I would walk on the shore, and fall asleep to the sound of waves, soft and gentle lapping or wild yet rhythmic booming, and it would colour my dreams. Unlike most children, I never suffered nightmares. If I did, I never remembered them.
As I grew, I began to paint. I took jobs on cruise ships and river boats, so I could stay close to the water, contrasted against different settings, in all of it's mediums, and I ended every day with a sketchbook or an easel, whichever was available. (Some of the crew cabins I stayed in barely fit a bed and a carry-on, never mind art supplies...)
I sold some of my paintings, infusing them with aquatic fantasy; mer-folk, selkies, fantastical beasts from my imagination or from various mythologies, something to appeal to potential buyers. The true paintings, nothing but water and waves and a hint of shoreline, I kept for myself. There was something about them that was too personal, a connection too deep, for me to share.
It was hard work, living as on-board customer service, and staff couldn't socialise with the tourists, but there was always the water for company, and that made it all worth it.
One day, we made harbour, and with all the tourists out on a full-day trip, the staff had a half-day to do what we wanted. I took myself off to the nearby cliffs that I had been admiring for the last day, armed with sketchbook and pencils. This particular section of the cliffs was a cove, almost certainly used by smugglers in the past. I wondered if this sketch might turn into two paintings, one of the waves that I loved and one of a moonless night, the smugglers I imagined hauling their cargo.
I pondered on how close to the edge I wanted to sit. It looked stable enough, but the wind was fierce, and one slip was all it would take.
I shrugged and sat down, accepting the risk. There was an angle I wanted to capture that I wouldn't get if I sat further back.
Lost in my sketching, I didn't hear the sound of crumbling rock.
The first I knew of my danger was a sudden 'crack', and the feel of falling. I was terrified, and almost angry. I could not die; there were still so many waves and shorelines and rivers and lakes that I had not seen, had yet to paint! I did not want to die, not by way of the water I had spent my life loving!
I braced for a hard, final impact... and felt as though I were being cradled, the arms of thousands acting as one to gentle my landing and save my life.
It felt as though someone whispered in my ear, almost lost beneath the sound of the waves, or perhaps formed by the subdued boom of water meeting land. "Not yet, my love."
Surprise overcame my fear, and I looked around.
The waves I had been sketching had surged together, reaching up to catch me, and now they formed the shape of a body.
It was like some of the abstract art I had seen, suggesting more than defining, with no way to call it man or woman, their bottom half merged into the waves themselves. I wished I could say something to impress them, but all that came out was a puzzled "Huhwha...?"
The sound of a burbling brook, almost like laughter, came from the being. "How could we destroy one who has loved us so well? One who has kept us so close to their heart?"
I didn't question the statement, unwilling to destroy a miracle formed from my greatest desire by applying logic. "Will I see you again?"
Something like a hand cupped my cheek, and I was drawn closer to the waves. "We can never stay, but we will meet again. That I can promise."
I smiled. "I know, and I will wait."
I had never cared for a lover or life-partner, for the water had claimed my love and devotion from the first time I saw it.
Nothing had changed, other than knowing that it was not one-sided.