Series: Tales of Vesperia
Story warnings: language and some blood
A/N: Written as a prequel for the Seaside set, this story ended up being WAY longer than originally anticipated. XD
As with the others from this set, this is a gift fic for Flynntervention on tumblr. <3
Disclaimer: The characters in this story are from Tales of Vesperia and do not belong to me.
Troubled by dreams that she couldn't recall upon waking, Yuri slept poorly that night, and woke up tense and on edge. The shadows filling the empty streets of her neighborhood, always a bit strange between three AM and dawn, felt like curtains masking watching eyes. She hurried on her way to work, knowing that her haste wasn't due to the fact that she was running late. Her shift at the bakery only worsened her mood, leaving her feeling trapped as time ticked away. She couldn't help reflexively glancing over her shoulder at every little sound. By the time she was done for the day, she was itching to get a baseball bat and hunt down the doppelganger. Acting like everything was normal when she could swear that she felt the creature's influence humming beneath her skin was almost more than she could take.
Of course, nothing happened. Still, for all Yuri knew, the doppelganger was somewhere nearby, laughing as it watched her jump at shadows. The feeling that something was simply not right wouldn't leave her alone. She'd sprinkled salt around the bakery and mumbled spells of protection and warding throughout her shift, but she had no idea if that would be enough to keep the staff and patrons safe. It was the best she could do for the time being, however. As she left work, she hoped that being the doppelganger's target would mean that the bakery was safe so long as she wasn't there.
Yuri headed directly for Estelle's home across town. It was a straight shot along the coast, and she biked along narrow neighborhood streets and wide intersections, swerving around parked cars or knots of tourists migrating to the beach. The ocean sparkled and beckoned between the buildings she passed—expensive condos, mansions, hotels—broken up into flashes of blue and white, never bigger than two lanes across. Wooden foot bridges spanned stands of nodding beach grass at the public access points. Gates with faded logos on their signs claimed certain walkways 'for hotel guests only.' More than half the beachfront homes sported 'No Trespassing' signs.
The sea breeze swept continuously over her, muting the scents of roses, jasmine, and hibiscus. Daisies and orange lilies sat between fat palm trees on lawns and green islands dividing the wider stretches of the road. Crepe myrtles were frozen fireworks of color. Square-cut hedges blossomed with tiny white flowers that perfumed the air. Yuri breathed it all in, trying to shed her agitation and fill herself with the familiar rhythms and energies of her home. She couldn't quite manage it on the go, and didn't bother to stop to walk down to the beach and ground herself by letting the waves wash over her feet.
Estelle was rich. Rich beyond what Yuri could wrap her brain around. It wasn't something they talked about, leaving it merely a fact of the world such as grass being green or water being wet. She had inherited everything from her parents when they had passed away, but the money hadn't spoiled her. She had a sweet temperament and a driving need to help others. It was enough for Yuri to overlook the wealth, which so often went hand-in-hand with all sorts of unpleasantness in Yuri's experience.
Her home was a large, two-story, whitewashed house with a wrap-around porch and a yard of flowers and green shadows dominated by a massive orange tree. Yuri got off her bike as she reached the edge of the property, and stepped slowly from the street onto the winding path that led to the front steps. As usual, even though she knew they were there, she couldn't sense even a hint of the spells Rita had laid down. As a sorceress, she was already a cut above Yuri so far as power and ability went, but apparently, she was something of a genius in her field, to boot. Yuri walked her bike along the path and left it leaning near the bottom of the steps. Estelle was opening the door for her before she was even close enough to knock.
“Welcome back,” she said, standing aside to let Yuri in. She wore an old yellow t-shirt, jeans with dirt and grass stains ground into the knees, gardening gloves, and a white, broad-brimmed sunhat. “It's rare for you to come visit so often. Not that I'm not happy to see you, but is everything all right?”
“Weird week,” Yuri said shortly. “Is Rita in, too?”
“She's out in the garden. Did you need to speak with her alone, or...?”
“I had a question for both of you.”
Puzzled, but willing to wait and let Yuri ask her question only once, Estelle smiled and beckoned for her to follow. Inside, her home was all light and air: white walls, honey-gold wood, and open windows channeling the constant sea breeze. She led Yuri through the short entryway with its sparkling marble tile floor, past the spacious kitchen that never failed to rouse envy in Yuri, and out into the garden.
The back door stood wide open, and the scent of roses had blossomed into the house. Yuri took a deep, appreciative breath and stepped outside. An arching trellis shaded the door, thick with flowering vines. Pale pink and yellow roses sunned themselves among dark green leaves. One step past the trellis, and Yuri cold smell the herb garden, sharp and clean, mingling with the warm scent of roses. She paused for another deep breath and felt her anxieties ease.
A kitchen garden took up most of the backyard of Estelle's house before the property ran up against the wall of beach grass and then on into the dunes leading down to the ocean. The house was bracketed by oak trees that shaded two corners of the garden. Spanish moss hung from the branches of one oak, swaying in the breeze as if feebly reaching for new perches. An ornamental pond beneath the other was dappled with white waterlilies and home to carp and frogs. The frogs' occasional trilling and the splashing of the small waterfall added to the peaceful atmosphere Estelle had so carefully cultivated along with her plants.
The garden was separated out into squares, divided by paths of grass dotted with pale paving stones. Over a dozen varieties of herbs in as many shades of green filled the patches of soil. In addition to the herbs, Estelle grew tomatoes and peppers, radishes and carrots, lettuce and kale, snow peas, zucchini, and eggplant. Strawberry and blueberry bushes had a plot to themselves, an orange tree filled one far corner, and a lemon tree sat in a large, wooden tub near the door. The entire garden was fenced in with a hedge of rosebushes that opened only where one arched trellis tangled with tea roses and honeysuckle looked out over the beach.
Rita was in the garden, nearly hidden behind a plot of tomatoes. Her fingers were buried deep in the soil, and her lips moved as she muttered almost soundlessly to herself. As with the barrier around the property, Yuri couldn't sense anything even though she knew there was magic at work. Rita's understanding of magic was fundamentally different from her own, her casting incomprehensible. Yuri had long since given up on understanding and simply chalked it up to having different ways of seeing the world.
Rather than interrupt—which Yuri knew from experience could have spectacularly unpleasant consequences—she let Estelle lead her over to the hedge of deep pink roses that surrounded the garden. Estelle had taught her how to prune them a long time ago. Although Yuri wasn't as practiced as it, she accepted a pair of shears and went to work.
“How is your friend doing?” Estelle asked.
“Much better. Another day or two and she'll probably be moving on.”
“Oh? I'd been worried when you said you'd used up the whole jar of salve.”
Yuri shrugged. “Looked worse than it was.” She felt obscurely guilty for leading Estelle to think that she had wasted the healing salve, but explaining Flynn's fae-enhanced healing would only raise other questions that she wasn't supposed to answer.
They spent the better part of half an hour pruning the hedge and chatting before Rita finished her work. She stood, dusting dirt off her fingers, and came over to join them.
“Done. You'll probably have the healthiest vegetable garden in the city.”
“Thank you, Rita.”
Quickly, before Rita could see it coming, Estelle leaned in and kissed her, lifting a hand to her sunhat as she nearly knocked it off in her haste. Rita glanced at Yuri who was pretending not to notice, although she was having trouble keeping a straight face.
“Why are you back again?” she demanded. “Somehow, I can't think it's because something good happened.”
“What, I can't just visit a couple old friends?”
“You're always welcome, Yuri.”
Estelle was quick to reassure her, but Rita stared her down, not buying it. Yuri figured she had a right to be suspicious. She had first met Estelle and Rita back when she had started learning about witchcraft. Once she had decided that 'Witch' simply wasn't the vocation for her, Yuri had stopped coming by to visit so often. There was no getting away from magic in Estelle's home, even if she couldn't sense most of it. Being there was a reminder that her life wasn't entirely her own. She had inherited responsibilities along with her magic.
Yuri dropped the pretense that she'd come by just to see her friends, even as her conscience prodded her with the knowledge that she needed to stop avoiding them in between needing supplies.
“There's a doppelganger in town and I need to know how to get rid of it.”
“Don't try to fight it,” Rita said immediately.
“I know that much.”
Rita did not look convinced.
“I've heard stories about them,” Estelle offered, “but never one where a doppelganger was defeated. Rita?”
“Not my area of interest. I'll have to do some research.”
“Are you sure it's a doppelganger?” Estelle asked. She looked worried, and Yuri got the impression that she was asking more because she wanted the answer to be 'no' than because she actually believed that Yuri could be wrong.
“Pretty sure. Leblanc showed me the feed from a security camera.”
“Did it look familiar? If we can find out who it's after and warn them—”
“Well, it didn't look that much like me yet.”
Rita piped up, cutting Estelle off. “If it didn't look like you, how did you figure out what it is and that you're the target?”
Whoops. Couldn't let Estelle know that she'd cursed someone's boat, even though it had been well-deserved. As she was wondering what to say, Rita sighed heavily and let her off the hook.
“How many enchantments do you have going around town?”
“Umm....” She tried to think back. Most of her spells were one-time deals, but there were a few that she renewed—usually protective spells and wards.
“It's going to target those. If it's already gotten a taste of you, it'll be looking for more to build up its strength. Magic, blood, saliva, hair—they're all the same to it. That thing's going to be feeding until it's ready to come for you.”
“Gee, thanks. Got any hints for knocking it back down to size?”
“No. I told you already: doppelgangers never interested me. I'll see what I can find out, but for now, I only know the basics.”
“All right. Let me know what you turn up.”
Rita snorted. “So you can do what?”
“Uh...kill it, banish it, seal it away—I don't know. Whatever is supposed to get rid of these things. And avoid getting flayed alive in the process.”
“I don't think so. Aren't you the one always saying that you're just a baker, not a witch? Leave this to me.”
“No way! I'm the one this thing is after, and I'll be the one to get rid of it!”
“Yuri!” Estelle grabbed her arm, trying to diffuse the argument. “Rita's right. This isn't something an amateur should try to face.”
“I'm not an amateur!”
“No,” Rita said coolly. “You're a...a grudging hobbyist, which is almost worse. If you can't even accept your calling, how do you expect to be able to overcome something like this?” She turned on her heel and marched off into the house.
“I'm sorry, Yuri,” Estelle said quietly after a moment. “Rita is.... She takes it personally when she feels that someone with talent isn't giving magic the respect it deserves. In this case, I don't think she's wrong. You've been dabbling with simple spells for a long time, but now you've attracted the attention of something really dangerous. I—we—are worried for you. Your skills might not be enough to deal with this.”
“It's after me.” The words came out harsher than she had intended, the result of having brought trouble to her friends' doorstep and being edged out of a fight that was hers to tackle. Quieter, but no less determined, she added: “I'll handle it.”
Rather than accept or deny her claim on the situation, Estelle sidestepped it. “Why don't you come stay here for a few days? It would be safer, and you'd be close by when Rita finds out how to defeat it.”
“No thanks.” The last thing she wanted to do was lead it right to her friends.
Just as with the day before, Flynn was aware of Yuri's presence the moment waves washed over her toes. The first time, she had attributed such a sensitivity to the drawing of blood and the promise that had been made to her. There had been no such compulsion laid this time, however, and she hadn't tasted enough of Yuri's blood for any lasting bond to have been formed. No, the sensation was faint and oddly welcoming, as if the ocean itself was glad of Yuri's presence. Flynn supposed that it could be true. Witches were supposed to gain power from the land, and if they tied themselves down to one place it was possible to gain the respect of the genus locii. Flynn considered that idea, decided that even if Yuri seemed decent for a human she was still mostly a mystery, and slipped into the water to leave the cavern.
Swimming was easier this time, though it still pained her. She tried to be aware of how she moved. Going too quickly left her wincing, hanging still in the water until the pain passed. Even so, the drop in severity was enough to surprise her. She had spent most of the day resting, her body pulled half way out of the water in her cavern and growing uncomfortably dry on the hard stone. She had eaten nothing, too wary of worsening her injuries to even hunt for food. Now, she felt that she could have taken the risk. She was slow, and it would have been frustrating trying to catch anything, but she could have managed. Hunger gnawed at her, disapproval voiced in the growling of her empty stomach. After she and Yuri parted, she would have to find food.
Yuri was waiting for her, pacing in the shallows, flinging her legs out with each step so that water sloshed and sprayed. For a few moments, Flynn just watched her, seeing anger in her movements. She wondered if she ought to stay hidden, then grimaced as she realized again how deeply ingrained her distrust of humans was. If Yuri had meant ill, she'd had plenty of opportunities to do harm. Even based on such limited experience of her as she had, Flynn knew deep down that Yuri wasn't a human to fear.
She swam toward shore, gritting her teeth against the pain every time she had to fight through a receding wave to continue. Her body felt stiff and graceless, even worse than she imagined having legs must feel. It would be a long time before she ventured near a boat again. The humans would have to look out for themselves.
Flynn knew the moment Yuri saw her by the way she held herself suddenly still. Yuri crossed her arms tightly over her chest as she waited for Flynn to come closer. It wasn't long, however, before she lost patience and waded out to meet her. She was waist deep in the ocean and stumbling as the breakers shoved her back toward the shore when they met up.
“Good evening,” Flynn said. In the shallows, it was difficult to stay in one place while keeping her head above water to talk. She swam a wobbly circle around Yuri, fighting against the waves to keep close while not knocking into her.
“Are you trying to make me dizzy before I patch you up?” Yuri had tried turning to keep Flynn in front of her, but her temper hadn't lasted more than one spin. Scowling, she planted her feet in the sand and crossed her arms again, twisting at the waist to keep an eye on Flynn.
“It isn't so easy to stay still here,” Flynn snapped back, stung by Yuri's tone. “Perhaps if you'd care to join me where it's a bit deeper...?”
“Not if you want me to check on your boo-boo.” She heaved a sigh and waded a few steps deeper, then crouched low in the water. “Come on. I'll help you to shore so I can take a look.”
The prickliness had gone out of her all of a sudden, and Flynn took her up on the offer. She wrapped her arms over Yuri's shoulders from behind, and held on tight as she was lifted partially free of the ocean. The straps of the clothing Yuri wore felt strange against Flynn's breasts, and she wondered, not for the first time, why humans bothered. Such a tiny bit of fabric couldn't possibly be keeping her warm. Curious, she ran one of her hands down the top edge of the front of it as Yuri slogged through the water. It fit snugly against Yuri's small breasts, but stretched as she slipped her fingers beneath it.
“Hey! Watch it with the hands!”
Immediately, Flynn withdrew her touch, trying to secure her grip in a way that would neither cause Yuri to complain nor choke.
“I meant no harm,” she said.
“Just don't go pulling my top off. I'm not some lonely sailor, you know?”
“If I planned on eating you, I would immobilize you before worrying about your clothes. There's a lot of blood flowing very near the surface here.” She nuzzled against the warmth of Yuri's neck and drew a deep breath, confirming something she had noticed last night. “You smell good.”
Flynn felt Yuri's grip on her tail all but disappear, felt her start to lean backwards. She tightened her hold around Yuri's shoulders, realizing her mistake.
“Not good like something to eat!” Although, there was that, too: faint and enticing and somewhat unsettling after having spent time talking with Yuri. “Just...nice good.”
She couldn't define it. She'd never smelled anything like Yuri in the ocean. It was a warm, mellow smell, something sweet, something characterized by spices she had no name for. She breathed deeply, appreciatively, trying to pin down Yuri's scent while she was jostled as Yuri tried to get a grip on her once more. As Yuri carried her toward the shore, Flynn grasped for a change of subject.
“Is there something troubling you?”
Yuri laughed shortly, and the sound of it was hollow in Flynn's ears. “What makes you think that?”
“When I first came up, you were agitated. Angry, even. I saw you.”
“All right. You got me. I'm a bit pissed off at the moment. What of it?”
“I only wanted to know if I could help.”
They lapsed into silence. Yuri carried her ashore and knelt low so that Flynn could slide off her back onto the damp sand. As before, she had chosen a spot within reach of the waves. Sea foam tickled against Flynn's sides as she propped herself up on her elbows and waited quietly for Yuri to attend to her wound and be done with her. This time, she didn't flinch when Yuri pulled out her knife and began cutting away the waterlogged bandages.
“...there's a doppelganger after me,” Yuri admitted quietly. She talked while she worked, briskly stripping away the bandages to check Flynn's injuries with gentle fingers at odds with her obvious irritation. “I asked a couple friends for help—just for information on how to fight it. I don't need anyone fighting my battles for me.”
“They refused?” Flynn guessed.
“Worse. They told me to hide and let them handle it.”
Flynn looked back over her shoulder, catching the grimace that twisted Yuri's lips. “This doppelganger is very dangerous?”
“Guess they're not something you have to worry about under the sea.”
The fragrance of the healing salve wafted to Flynn on the breeze as Yuri uncapped the jar. After the warmth of Yuri's hands, the chill of it made Flynn shiver. She did her best to hold still as Yuri worked and described what she was up against.
“Doppelgangers steal people's lives. They choose a victim, stalk them, gobble up anything left behind—hair, blood, anything. They get stronger as they go, and start to look more and more like the person they're after. Eventually, they kill their victim. Once a doppelganger forms a bond, it can flay with a touch. It literally steals a person's skin, then assumes their identity.”
“Maybe your friends were right to tell you to keep yourself safe. If you're the one in the most danger—”
“I can handle it,” she snapped. Then, quieter: “I just need to know how.”
“You're being ridiculous about this. If you have friends that want to help, why not let them?” Again, she twisted to look back. Yuri avoided her gaze, however, staring fixedly at the jar as she capped it, then turning away to dig for something in her bag.
“You're looking a lot better, though I can only see what's on the surface. Are you swimming okay?”
“I'm recovering well, thank you, but we were talking about your friends. They wouldn't think less of you for accepting their help, surely.”
Yuri spelled another square of cloth—a temporary measure against the power of the ocean, but probably some small help in keeping the water from diluting and washing away the salve. She covered up the healing gashes with it, and used long strips of sticky fabric to hold it in place.
“You can't always handle things by yourself, and there's no shame in admitting that. Do you think any less of me for having to accept your help?”
Even as she asked the question, her stomach dropped. She wasn't sure she wanted to hear the answer, yet at the same time, she needed to know. Thankfully, Yuri's response was fast and direct.
“No! Of course not. And that isn't the issue, anyway.” She tapped Flynn's shoulder and held up a roll of gauze. “Sit up and lean on me like last time so I can get this wrapped up.”
Flynn did as she was told, wrapping her arms around Yuri's shoulders to hold herself up as she leaned forward. Yuri's chin rested in the crook of Flynn's neck. Her long hair felt warm, and tickled against Flynn's cheek and ear. Yuri worked quietly, wrapping the gauze carefully so that it would neither slip nor grow too tight. She only spoke a couple of times, asking Flynn if it felt all right, then continuing on. She took her time, careful to do the job right even though she ought to be hiding from the monster stalking her, or, at the very least, planning how to fight it.
“You're this town's witch, right?” Flynn ventured, wondering if she couldn't talk Yuri around to seeing sense. Maybe all Yuri needed was to walk through their reasoning for why it was a bad idea, even with her magic.
For a second, Yuri's hands stilled as she hesitated. “I sort of inherited the witch business.”
“But you still practice. You ward and protect and heal.”
“What do you mean, 'sort of?'” She pushed herself back to get a look at Yuri's face. “You either are a witch or you aren't.”
Frowning, Yuri held Flynn's stare. “I'm not a witch, then.” The words were practically a challenge, though Flynn hadn't meant to inspire a reaction like that. “I'm a baker. I make breads and pastries. If any of Granny's old customers come by, I mix up their poultices or chant something for them and sent them on their way. I'm not a witch.”
“Oh.” Surprised, it was all Flynn could think to say. Suddenly, she understood better why Yuri's friends had advised her to hide from the doppelganger. You couldn't deny magic and still expect to be able to call upon it. The waves washed over Flynn's tail, racing up the sand, falling short before reaching Yuri. The sea felt plaintive.
“Lean back in. I'm almost done, but I can't reach around you like this.”
Yuri went back into hiding, cheek pressed against Flynn's, arms and hands brushing impersonally against her body as she finished wrapping the bandage. Even when she was done, she avoided Flynn's gaze, instead fixing her attention on gathering her things and putting them away into her bag.
“Lucky for you, it seems like you're almost all healed up. Even if that thing gets me, you won't be around for the fallout.”
Before she knew what she was doing, Flynn's hand shot out and closed around Yuri's wrist. It caught them both by surprise, but Flynn was the first to break the moment of silence.
“It wasn't that simple an injury. If you hadn't found me when you did and used your magic to help me, I—”
Yuri pulled free, waving away Flynn's words in the same gesture. “I told you I'm no good at healing, didn't I? It was Estelle's salve and whatever super healing powers you mermaids have.”
“We don't heal as quickly as this,” Flynn insisted calmly, “and I doubt the salve could have made that much of a difference on its own.” She caught Yuri's gaze and held it, determined to be heard. “Your magic is what kept me alive the night you found me, and your will for me to survive is what guides my body to heal so quickly. I can feel it singing in my blood.”
She could, too, now that she had spoken of it, now that she could admit that she didn't want to sever their connection. Yuri's magic had been humming beneath her skin, faint and warm and potent. Her will had set a healing spell in place, and it was working still to finish mending torn flesh.
“You told me that healing does not come easily to you. Right now, I don't know you well enough to say if you are modest or unaware of your own power or even if you simply gain strength in the midst of adversity. I do know that you saved my life that night. I owe you a debt.”
Swiftly, Yuri turned her face away, rejecting Flynn's admission. “I just helped out a bit. There's nothing I need from you.”
“Perhaps not now. Eventually, I will repay your kindness. In the meantime, I think I'll stay here for a while. This stretch of ocean has been...welcoming.” She smiled when Yuri glanced dubiously at her. The debt had been acknowledged. They were bound.
“Weren't you the one that had been so eager to get out of here?”
Based on ingrained fears and prejudices, yes. “I've had some time to think. Don't tell me you've never changed your mind.”
“Right. What's suddenly worth sticking around for?”
Flynn frowned, wondering why Yuri was being ungracious. “Why are you so suspicious?”
“Why are you suddenly looking for excuses to stay? Afraid I'm going to blab your big secret about mermaids existing?”
“No!” Her tail lashed, splashing them both. “I want to get to know you better!”
“You—!” Yuri broke off, gaping. Her mouth snapped shut as she snorted, then she suddenly leaned forward, shoulders shaking as she laughed. “You...you want to....” She shook her head, grinning as the laughter drowned her words.
“What is so funny?”
“Nothing, nothing.” She sat up straight again, still grinning helplessly. “I just thought that maybe you were going to look for a chance to eat me.”
“You what? After I just acknowledged that you saved my life?” She angrily whipped a hand through a wave as it rolled in, splattering Yuri with sea foam.
“Hey! Come on, what was I supposed to think?” She was grinning behind her upheld hands, but there was a hint of accusation in her next words. “You haven't exactly been eager to make friends.”
“Maybe I want to change that.” There was more challenge in the statement than she'd intended, but Yuri held her gaze with clear eyes and a crooked smile.
“Sorry for doubting you,” Yuri said.
“It's all right.”
Quiet washed in with the next wave. The potential argument had been snuffed out, but it left awkwardness in its place. Unsure what her next move should be, Flynn dropped her gaze to the sand. She ran her fingers idly though it, digging shallow furrows that were washed away with the slightest kiss of the waves. She wasn't sure how to becomes friends with a human. Yuri's world was off-limits to her, and she couldn't very well bring Yuri along to experience the depths of the ocean: the beauty of the waterlogged light and inky shadows; the buffeting currents; the kelp forests and coral gardens; the chattering of crabs and flighty conversations of fish; the twisting logic of debating with an eel; the knowing, musical conversation of whales. No, Yuri would never be part of all that. The only world they could share was that of the shallows, of the sun-warmed upper reaches, the crests of waves and banks of wet, clinging sand. Even then, they would have to be careful. Yuri was an exception. Flynn wasn't prepared to share the secret of her people with any other humans.
She looked up, hoping to find a clue in Yuri, but something else had attracted the witch's attention. She sat tensed, half-turned back to stare across the tideline, over the dry dunes, up into the swaying beach grass, white-gold in the moonlight. It took Flynn a moment to see what Yuri saw. A figure, dark and perfectly still, stood on the rise, camouflaged against a black sky from which the city had banished the stars. A chill ran through Flynn's body as the figure stared back at them.
“Back into the ocean.” Yuri's words were little more than a breath, faint and...had that been a tremor of fear?
“What is it?” Flynn's gaze darted between the apparition and Yuri and back again. “Is that it? The doppelganger?”
Yuri stood up, and all of a sudden the figure was moving, a patch of darkness flowing through the grass. It moved without hurry, but Yuri was suddenly all haste. She scooped Flynn up, hefting her with a grunt, and sloshed quickly into the waves. Flynn gritted her teeth against the pain as Yuri's arm pressed into her back, grinding the bandage against the wound with every movement.
“Swim away. Since you didn't know about them, maybe they don't pose a danger to mermaids, but I wouldn't bet on it.”
“I am not going to flee.”
“You will if you're smart.” She glanced down and sighed. “Fine. Stick around. You can watch me beat that thing into a pulp.”
“I thought you said you couldn't touch it!”
“Yup.” She grinned, fierce and wild, and Flynn saw something in her that she hadn't seen before, something that she'd only gotten a hint of when she had called desperately upon the magic in Yuri's name the night they had met. “Gotta be creative.”