Beau darts from the trees to the little shore, her pockets weighty with sugar and promise as she skids to a stop and looks around. "Yasha? Are you there?" There's no response, but Beau figures that's probably fair. She'd realized, after they promised to meet up again - how's a mermaid supposed to know when two o' clock is?
She steps out into the water and splashes around a little, careful not to wet her shorts or the goodies inside of them. "Yashaaaa. I can only stay an hour today, c'mon." She considers. "I brought something better than fiiiish." She waits, kicks a little more water around. It's probably been three minutes, but she's a kid and about as good with time as mermaids. It's forever and thirty seconds before she hears the sound of a tail breaking the surface, and she whips her head towards the ripples with a huge grin as she follows the faint line of her friend around.
"Sorry," says Yasha when her head breaks the surface. "I thought you were turtles fighting. It's harder to tell what's happening too close to shore."
Beau accepts the mental image of turtles slugging each other in a tiny boxing ring without anything in the way of fuss and shoves her hand in her pocket excitedly. "Look! They had your brownies at snack today and I got two!"
Yasha's eyes do something wholly inhuman but which universally translates to sheer and immediate rapture. Beau doesn't even see her body move - she just seems to sail forward at an impossible speed, her eyes huge and almost fully black as Beau fumbles the wrapper off and tosses the snack on reflex.
Beau's parents don't tend to watch horror movies, which means Beau herself has had very little in the way of exposure to visual effects intended to frighten or surprise. She loves to read creepy stories, but descriptions of monstrosities are only as scary as the information a mind has to build from and not a one of them have the ability to prepare a ten-year-old for whatever it is Yasha's face becomes when she snaps at the brownie with a vicious and otherworldly hiss. It's like a cave full of teeth - far too many teeth to fit in a mouth that in turn fits nowhere on the face of Beau's friend - and it's gone again before she can so much as blink.
Beau's on her butt in the water and she doesn't remember falling, and now Yasha looks like Yasha again as she reaches out with a stricken expression even more terrified than Beau. "I'm sorry!" Her normal human eyes are wide in horror. "I got so excited and I forgot! I'm sorry - please don't cry, Beau."
She's not crying, is she? She might be crying a little. "I - I…" Yasha watches her try to make words, drifting slowly backwards and looking heartbroken. Beau wants to call out, to tell her she's fine, but her body seems to be working against her. She wouldn't even be lying - she's ten and resilient, and her mind has already accepted and filed away the new fact of what a mermaid can do. But the power to make her mouth form words has left her and her desperation to reassure Yasha is making everything worse.
Beau exhales a short burst of frustration and shifts the focus of her efforts from speech to raising a trembling arm instead, numb fingers reaching. Yasha's fists have curled protectively at the base of her throat, and she looks from Beau's hand to her face with something like hope. Beau manages a tiny nod. Please. Yasha hesitates, and then a chunk of Beau's paralysis fades in relief as she begins to drift slowly forward to touch her fingers to Beau's.
"M'sorry," she gasps as soon as she's able. She stumbles forward onto her knees and makes her way deeper into the water until she can reach Yasha, and then she grasps her shoulder to pull her in for a hug. "I'm not scared of you." She is - or at least she was - but it's a fear buried so deep beneath the greater terror of being left that Beau can't see it anymore. That's the same thing for her.
Yasha almost seems to slump in response, her arms coming around Beau's back. "Yes you are. You can't help it. It was an accident, but that's what it's for."
Beau, avid National Geographic reader, nods jerkily against her shoulder. "So you can catch things?"
Yasha nods back and grips her more tightly. It doesn't occur to Beau to wonder where Yasha learned to hug; as far as she's concerned, this is a reflex for anything with arms. But hugging is something Yasha had been taught - and as her teacher was Caduceus, she had learned from the best.
She sniffs into Beau's neck. "I promise I won't eat you."
The possibility that Yasha might try to eat her hasn't even crossed Beau's mind, so it's no trouble at all to believe immediately. "I know you won't. You're not a monster."
They pull back and look at each other, checking for signs they're not old enough to recognize or identify but determining somehow, both of them, that the import is in the act of looking itself.
"I think I might be a monster," Yasha admits quietly. "They're scary like me."
Beau shakes her head. "Nuh-uh. Monsters are mean and they hurt people. You're just Yasha."
She smiles a little at that, but the tension is still there in the nervous way she pulls her fingers through her hair. "What if I accidentally do hurt you and we're not friends anymore?"
Beau's whole body jolts on the word "friends." She isn't used to worrying somebody doesn't like her and realizes only now that she's been waiting to hear that Yasha does. A huge grin pulls itself across her face, soft and bright and unstoppable. "We'll always be friends, don't worry. Besides, I'm tough." It doesn't occur to her that Counselor Caddy would help her, and that's nothing he's done wrong. It's just that Beau's already learned who she can count on - or perhaps more accurately, who she can't. Adults are unpredictable even when they're nice, but Yasha is unpredictable in a way that fails to register to Beau as terror and falls neatly into excitement instead.
"You are tough," Yasha agrees. "But I still scared you just like a fish."
Beau hears the tease that doesn't quite land right and meets Yasha halfway with an indulgent scowl. "I'm definitely tougher than a fish. I just have to get used to it is all." She leans in, earnest now. "Show me again."
There are a hundred reasons her request could be a bad idea, but luckily all of them are negated entirely by good faith and the growing trust between them.
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah, I'm sure."
Yasha takes a deep breath. "Okay."
It's not any less horrifying the second time, or really any of the times Beau happens to glimpse it throughout the course of their friendship - but it doesn't have to be. It just has to be familiar, and after a solid minute of Beau examining the slavering maw of teeth with her eyes and a gentle, steady finger ("is that poison or just a lot of drool?") familiar is exactly what it is.
"That," says Beau when Yasha's face is again the one she knows, "is nuts."
Yasha nods soberly. There's not much more to say.
"Oh." Beau rummages in her other pocket with the sound of rustling plastic. "Did you want the other brownie?"
Yasha eyes it mournfully and shakes her head. "You can have it."
The intricacies of guilt are beyond Beau, but the pervasive sense that something is not quite done being set right has and will never steer her wrong. "Here." She breaks it down the crease in the middle and offers half. "I get another snack later, so I'll eat a whole one then and we'll both have the same amount of brownie."
They would also have the same amount of brownie if Beau ate all of the one in her hand and left it at that, but the satisfaction that comes from the idea of fairness owes nothing to the logic beneath it and Yasha happily accepts without further reservation.
As they sit in the shallows and enjoy their snack shoulder to shoulder, Yasha's tail flicks up from the water to settle naturally over Beau's crossed legs. Colors under the water are muted things for Beau, shades of brown and yellow and green, and the impressive monochrome glint that had dazzled her the day before is dwarfed now by the true colors revealed by the sunlight above the surface.
"Whoah." Beau reaches a hand and looks to Yasha for permission, given readily, and rests her fingers on the smooth, slippery surface. Beau doesn't know the word "pearlescent," but "shiny" hurls itself to the forefront of her mind and lodges there. The scales that flash in direct light are a creamy white that glint with hints of lavender and aqua, and the tradeoff for so much brightness seems to be that the shadows along the sides and underneath pull in darkness to become a deep and dusky gray imbued with the same. Yasha wiggles her tail fin a little, and the simple twitch sends a cacophony of pastel rainbows and shadows rippling over her scales.
Beau strokes her fingers gently over the cool, pleasing texture and marvels as the color seems to deepen - as though someone had turned up the saturation on a photo. The whole pallet seems go from pastel to something more vibrant, and Beau's strokes become bolder but no less gentle as she runs her hand down over and over, transfixed. She scrapes her nails experimentally and jumps when Yasha squirms all over with a little squeak.
"Oh, sorry." Beau pulls her hand back and looks back at Yasha's face to find her biting her lip, eyes shining.
"Here." She puts her hand over Beau's and places it a little lower, and Beau can feel a kind of hardened ridge where her ankles might be if she were wearing a costume. "Now do that again." Beau scratches lightly, eyes on Yasha's face, and she smiles when Yasha shivers and melts a little against her shoulder as the vibrance in her tail gives way to pastel by degrees. "That feels good," she mumbles.
Beau would be glad to spend the whole rest of her hour just like this, but Yasha sits up a few seconds later with a frown and pulls her tail away to splash it quickly in the water.
"What's wrong?" Beau asks.
Yasha doesn't answer at first, just scoots a little further so that the water can cover her all the way to the little fins along her hips. Only then does she look relieved. "They were getting too dry."
The use of "they" snags on Beau's thoughts, but it's buried by the restlessness itching under her skin now that the quiet, easy spell between them has broken. She'll find out about Yasha's legs another day, why Yasha refuses to use them still later. For today, the sun is still shining and Yasha's flipped over belly down now, propped on her hands as her tail fin curls happily behind.
"Come on," she says, impatient. "Let's go play."
Beau is rinsing the shiny scales left behind on her knees and looks up just in time for Yasha's lips to press against hers. She's gone again in the next instant, a "you're it!" tossed over her shoulder just before she dives under and off the shelf right off shore.
"You better run!" Beau shouts, and she's laughing when she sticks her head under the water to push off after her.
Underwater tag with a mermaid isn't a game Beau could ever truly win, but that matters not at all when the mermaid likes to be caught every bit as much as Beau likes to catch.