"She's got a dreadful fever. I can only hope it's a by-product of her fighting off Arturo. I wish I could offer her more support than this," Emilio sighed out, watching Marcelina--currently laid out on the infirmary bed closest to the window and still motionless--from a bench nearby. Sergio sat beside him, giving them both security as well as support. "Should've seen something like this comin'. Arturo was extra creepy and secretive while you two were gone. Kept looking at the water and talking to himself, then after a trip to the market he locked himself in his cabin for a whole day," he sighed, running a hand through his hair.
Glancing sideways at Emilio, he warned, "You know he's not gonna back down unless you do something really drastic." Both let out a weary sigh. "Yes, I know. Right now, I just want my mate awake and safe," Emilio replied, taking Marcelina's hand and rubbing the back of it. She was still running hot, a sheen of sweat all over her skin. Sergio hummed in agreement. "Of course."
After that, he went silent, with nothing but the ocean and Marcelina's breathing to keep track of the minutes passed. "So, mates, huh? How'd that come about?" Sergio couldn't help to ask, side-eyeing Emilio again. Emilio sighed again and gave Sergio a minuscule glare, but seeing the earnest curiosity on the younger's face made his soften. Sergio was a child at heart and needed sound to stay comfortable, whereas Emilio liked the quiet just as much as the noise.
Sergio was just asking to keep his anxiety at bay, he was just as frazzled and worried as Emilio. "Technically, we'd been together for months. Almost right after I had you come help carry her to the deck. Something had clicked just from the sight of each other, though neither of us understood it at the time. That connection was blurred and confusing for a time, but it allowed us to become friends without the inner pull to muddle things. It let my affection come naturally and of my own will, as it did for her. Once I said her name, though, Poseidon told me everything, how it was going to be between us from then on," he explained, looking up at the ceiling.
"It was...hard to grasp, having such a large chunk of my life returned to me, being aware that it had been gone in the first place, and then realizing that the friendly affection was more than that, and coveted by Arturo? I thought I'd die before I'd get to this part," Emilio confessed, chuckling at himself and getting a smile from Sergio. "But yes, I understood that I loved Marcelina, and even though I was scared and resigned to never having that love, I still enjoyed my time with her, seeing her personality and just relaxing for once."
Sergio blushed at the romanticism, but it was pleasant, something to look forward to one day. "So, how did you break it to Celi?" Emilio glanced up at the younger. "I had us meet in her cabin secretly and told her everything. Naturally, she panicked, and understandably so. As odd as it sounds, female nereids don't have the capacity for that binding, truly romantic love until their future mate finds them. That is to say, they know love, of course, platonically, and to a degree, romantically, but it's fragile, missing that essential piece that really makes a couple."
"Those three days were to let Marcelina find out where her feelings lied, let her come to her own terms about what Poseidon had decided. She came around, thankfully, and one of her old companions oversaw the ceremony that made us mates." Emilio intentionally left out the brief conflict with Ramon and the intimate details of converging. Those were his memories, after all. Sergio looked amazed enough regardless. His eyes shone and were wide as a child's. "Wow, um, congratulations, I guess? Awful time to say it, and awful circumstances, but you and Celi are gonna be great together. I'll support you two on that no matter what," he pledged, that rare-but-effective serious look on his face.
Emilio looked back up at Sergio, grateful and pleasantly surprised. "Thank you, Sergio," he said, then smiled. "Don't look now, but I think you're truly becoming a man," he teased. Sergio gave him a light shove on his shoulder for it, but he had a grateful pride in his smile, too. They fell into a much more comfortable silence again, watching over Marcelina with a stronger bond between them.
While she looked unchanging and calm, her real situation was anything but. After falling unconscious to the sight of Emilio's frightened eyes and green mist, Marcelina found herself alone in a black space. Her hands were chained above her head to an iron ring. She pulled and twisted with all her strength, but the ring was enchanted to fortify itself against her with every tug. When it became apparent that she couldn't escape from this odd plane nor could Emilio get to her here, she hissed angrily at nothing. She knew who would arrive eventually, so Marcelina decided to speed up the process. "Let me OUT! Arturo, this is madness! Show yourself, you slimy eel, and release me!" Marcelina rattled the chains as loudly as she could, calling out over and over.
"You're right, Marcelina." Arturo's voice came before his body, filling the surrounding darkness and making Marcelina's stomach drop. In a circle of green fire, he materialized, then as it died out, his steps and eyes were the only light Marcelina could see. When he spoke, his voice still carried that awful echo, and for the first time, Marcelina was truly afraid of him.
"This is madness, but one you drove me to. You call me a slimy eel, but even they have their desires, even they know what belongs to them," he repeated her words, walking towards her until she was pressed up against a wall. "I'll release you, from Emilio, and bond you properly to me again," he finished, leering at her. His breath was hot on her cheek, their chests pressed together so that Marcelina could swear she could feel his heartbeat on her skin.
His face was stoic while hers was fighting against being distraught. "Arturo, I warned you of this. You're better than this-- Arturo cut her off by lifting his hand and grabbing her neck, glowing fingers icy hot and power crackling dangerously under the skin. "This is what happens when my belongings are stolen, this is what happens when lust overtakes the mind. I was too kind to you, let you enjoy Emilio's aesthetics, but in that I let him get too close and ensnare you," he hissed, eyes narrow with distaste. "Now he says he's gone and mated you," he added, stepping back and looking her over. "Let's see how far that lie goes."
Marcelina didn't understand at first, but when she did, she opened her mouth to protest, not knowing that was exactly what he wanted. Arturo snatched her jaw, keeping her mouth open as he smashed their lips together. Marcelina was trapped, unable to shut her mouth and defend against his invading tongue and harsh lips. She could barely breathe after a few moments, squirming and kicking wildly. Arturo ignored it all, kissing her until Marcelina almost passed out, only then did he pull away, though his lips didn't leave her skin. As they gasped for air, Arturo blazed kisses down her neck, creating bruises when and where he so desired, almost mindless.
Marcelina began to feel things other than fear, and desperately began to try and throw him off. One of her kicks landed true and Arturo fell to his knees with a pained grunt. They panted harshly, Marcelina at a faster pace. In the dark, she felt twice as vulnerable. Her legs were shaking, tears pooling and dribbling off her chin. Her mouth hurt, her neck hurt, everything hurt. "I'm his mate, Arturo. Only his. It was meant to be the moment we laid eyes," she sobbed, her voice small. "Please, you have to accept this and let me go, please, Arturo," she hated having to beg but saw no other option.
Arturo let out a long sigh, closing his eyes for a moment and leaning away. Marcelina thought it sounded like defeat, that she'd gotten through. However, Arturo had other plans. He stayed on the ground, crawling back to her and keeping low so that she couldn't track him. When his face pressed ever so lightly into her dress, Marcelina let out a soft whimper. "I'll break you yet, Marcelina. We'll keep this up every night, just like this, and I'll convince you in every way possible," he spoke just above a whisper. His hand slowly lifted her dress, up, up, up, until it was high enough for him to slip his head under.
Her body was quivering, and shrouded in darkness, but Arturo could see her clearly. She was warm, soft, slender. Dark black curls shielded his target and gave it away. He smirked, his fingers walking up her leg. "This, too, will belong to me as it should. You'll find it stings at first, but I'm skilled at pleasing a woman. You'll get addicted in no time," he cooed.
Suddenly, Arturo cupped the apex of her thighs and Marcelina shrieked, "NO!" Her free leg lifted and shot out, catching Arturo's shoulder and sending him flying. He vanished and so did the black space. Marcelina woke up to a natural darkness instead, still screaming. Emilio and Sergio jumped to their feet, startled awake. When Emilio saw that Marcelina was awake, he didn't pause, he simply gathered her off the table and held her close. She whimpered and struggled at first, then inhaled. Once it registered that she'd escaped, Marcelina burst into quiet sobs.
"It's ok, love. You're with me, you're far away from him," Emilio eased, rubbing her back. Marcelina shook her head against his chest, feeling dirtied. "No, I'll never be far away enough until I'm under the waves, Emilio. He's gone crazy and poisoned the bond, he says he'll break me," she broke off into incomprehensible sobs, tearing into Emilio's shirt from her strong grip. "He...he touched me, Emilio. He says it won't stop until I give in, and I'm terrified." Emilio pulled away slowly, tilting her chin up. He saw the bruises on her jaw, her abused lips, the hickeys up and down her neck. It made him want to murder Arturo that very second, but he knew Marcelina needed him more. He realized he still couldn't cross their sixth sense either after trying it again, meaning Arturo was most likely using it to his own whims.
Emilio gently stroked her cheeks, wiping the tears away. She held his hand to her face, trying desperately to read him and hating that she couldn't. "You're out of his hands now, Marcelina. You're safe in here with me and Sergio. Come lay down, it's ok." He gathered her head under his chin, letting her breathe his essence in and settle down at least a little. Marcelina could barely stand once the adrenaline left her system, sagging heavily against him. Emilio carried her to the pile of blankets he and Sergio had made earlier and laid them down on it. Marcelina didn't want to sleep, afraid she'd be trapped, but she couldn't bring herself to stay awake either.
As Emilio stroked her hair, she mouthed 'te amo' into his chest. When he mouthed it back into her hair, Marcelina let herself drift off. With Sergio keeping watch, Emilio followed after in an uneasy, melancholy sleep.