When the first of the three days dawned, Emilio awoke shortly after. Worry and hunger filled his heart and his face, recalling that he'd fallen asleep alone. He felt soft breathing on the back of his neck and slowly turned to Marcelina's blank, sleeping face. Emilio eased out a breath he wasn't aware he was holding. He'd worried that Marcelina had abandoned him last night. She was gone so abruptly. Emilio thought over every word of their conversation, tried to find any mistakes on his part, tried to understand the subtle tones. Emilio tentatively hoped that Marcelina was warming up to their future together, or at least wouldn't hate him. When she had left, he was a fretful mess, but now she was here.
Marcelina laid on her right side, her arm outstretched just inches from him. Emilio was tempted to scoot backward so her hand could grab him but resisted to observe her. He didn't get to watch her sleep often, the most being during their walking sessions, but those times were always brief. Now, Emilio could note every small detail. He saw her small, but thick eyelashes on each eye, soft and innocent. He saw how her body was positioned not unlike a sleeping child, curled tight and far away from reality. Her braid was always well-done, intricate in a way only a fishtail braid could be. It curled over her neck and a series of small blue and white scales acted as placeholders throughout the mass of curly dark brown. Emilio searched through his renewed memories of his water-borne father to compare. His father slept on his back more often than not, and snored loudly, though it looked like a mass of bubbles rather than sound. His hair was always impeccably braided, however, down to the shortest strands. Marcelina had loose bits of hair around her face that moved in minute degrees from the current.
The small imperfection endeared Marcelina to him more than her immaculate traits. She wasn't always perfect, sometimes she deviated from the pristine image her kind prized. Emilio smiled, a slow creep along his lips and a steady brightening of his eyes. Carefully, he made contact by cupping her cheek and rubbing the apple of it with his thumb. He stroked the soft skin once, twice, thrice, before he saw and felt her stir. "Marcelina? It's day one," he said softly, the tenor of his voice not harsh but smooth. Marcelina opened her eyes slowly, blinking and then squinting. It deviated from the magical fluidness one imagined waking up would go. She saw Emilio smiling at her so tenderly, making her smile back in her sleep-muddled state. Seeing that sugar sweet smile was a pleasant surprise for Emilio, making his heart thud a little faster, making his hopes rise. She yawned and nuzzled into his hand--still on her cheek--eyes sliding closed for a moment. Emilio could only watch and smile, just lightly nibbling on his bottom lip. "Good morning, my dear."
Marcelina hummed, turning on her back. "Bonum mane, Ramon," she yawned out, unaware of the effects. Emilio pulled his hand away as if he was burned, his breath stopped and every beat of his heart was a pained drag. "Who's Ramon?" Marcelina blinked her eyes open again and looked at Emilio like he was a stranger. Then, nothing but pain and guilt filled her eyes and she quickly looked away. Inwardly cursing herself, she brought a hand to her hair, pushing the stray locks back. "He's...oh, I don't know anymore. He was my dear old friend, my pretend perfection," Marcelina sat up, frowning at her tail, "Now, I suppose he's nothing. I know I'm nothing to him." Emilio stared at her, frowning but silent. Marcelina met his eyes again, looking tired beyond drowsiness. "I'm sorry, I wake up slowly. Don't concern yourself over this." Marcelina made to rise off the lounge mound but found Emilio's hand grabbing her arm tightly.
His eyes were hard and already concerned. "Marcelina's, there's no way I can't be concerned about this. Look at you! Tell me what happened yesterday." His tone left no room for excuses, making Marcelina lean back and blink in slow surprise. "Why would you want to know? For all intents and purposes, he was your rival." Marcelina knew she was using a bitter bite to her words, but she couldn't bring herself to tone it back or care. Emilio sighed, worried at his lip again, but held firm. "He was your friend, and this pains you deeply. Did you forget that I feel these things?" Emilio's hardness softened some at the end, his fingers stroking down her arm. Marcelina took long, slow breaths, well aware of this. "Of course, I want to know, so I can help you feel better, offer advice, something to sooth you," he finished leaning back on his haunches to watch for her response.
Marcelina kept quiet for a few tense minutes, staring at him and dipping into the half-done bond to test how sincere he was. Finally, she opened her mouth, "Ramon and I have been close since birth. Our family caves were very close to each other. We hunted together, learned together, loved together, as best as we could. When our parents died, we taught ourselves the art of singing and charming. We tested it out on each other, we know the other's strengths and weaknesses better than anyone else. He and I had everyone--even ourselves--convinced that one day, Poseidon would deem us two halves of the same whole and we'd converge. That never came, and it was evident to me that while we were almost perfect, it would remain just that: almost perfect. Ramon remained stubborn, and I was, too. We did everything mates did, took in children, lived in the same cave for months at a time. It was nice, but I got restless, so I left."
"Yesterday, I went hunting, and I realized I was almost to his cave, so I decide to visit him and the children," she paused to take a shaky breath, blinking hard and fast to fight tears. "Oh, they grew so big in a decade, so beautiful. Ramon, he looked exactly the same, looked at me with the same crooked smile and the same love in those golden eyes. I didn't want to tell him what had happened, but I knew I had to." She went quiet again, wiping angrily at her face and enduring the sting. "I've lost my oldest friend, all because of you." Marcelina knew that comment would hurt, felt the distant tightness in her chest that wasn't her own sorrow. Emilio didn't make a sound, full of guilt and sympathy and envy. He was a deep romantic at heart, he mourned for Marcelina's lost chance. A story like that, with so much potential to be perfect and beautiful, dashed away. He was involved in that destruction, and that broke his heart.
"I'm sorry, Marcelina. You deserve happiness, and I took that. You have every right to be angry at me, to reject me and take back that joy," Emilio mumbled at her, pushing aside his desires and his happiness to give it to her. Marcelina shook her head resolutely, however, looking out towards the mouth of the cave. "No, Emilio. It wouldn't work. This bond, even half-done, has a strong hold on me. I could never touch or kiss him without feeling lost and uncomfortable. I would never know him emotionally, mentally, spiritually, not completely, as he would never know me. I have only one match, and it's you. I can't abandon you like that, I won't." Marcelina turned her gaze to him again, surprisingly tender, resigned but not unhappily. Emilio risked a touch, taking her hand and rubbing the back with his thumb. She let him, shyly linking their fingers together.
"You are still my friend, Emilio, and now you are to be my future, whatever it holds. I just..." she trailed off, not sure what to do or say. Emilio lifted his other hand to cup her cheek, nervous but steady. "I'm sorry to have made you suffer, indirectly or not. I wouldn't wish that on my worst enemy. But, you must understand, I'm almost glad that it took this to make you see. We are meant to be together, you give my life brightness. For so long I've been living in a monotonous droll, knowing what to expect at every turn. You have brought a new purpose, a new excitement to life and a reason to keep living." He smiled at her, trying so desperately to say the right thing, to show himself as openly as he could. Marcelina's breath hitched as it kicked in. She looked at him with far away eyes, feeling more than seeing, understanding, finally.
Emilio grinned outright now, releasing her hand to press it to her other cheek. She shivered but didn't pull away. Marcelina's eyes flicked to his mouth once, just a split second of movement, but it was all Emilio needed. "You are mine as I am yours, my dear." He leaned in until soft lips met their match. Marcelina's eyes went wide, tearing up again. Her body shook from her fingertips to the corner of her tail fin. Despite the onslaught of new feelings and realizations, she relaxed and kissed him back for all she was worth. Emilio's soft sigh of relief didn't go unnoticed as it fanned across her cheek. He pulled her close, tilting his head to better kiss her. Marcelina could love him like she wanted to; like she was meant to. All others be damned.