Warnings: near-drowning experiences.
A/N: Written for originalfic_las for the prompt “change.”
Summary: The sea has always been waiting for Amanda.
It happened every time. A hapless flailing, a waving arm, and Amanda was off her stand, running across the beach, her red float and scarlet lifeguard suit clearing a path before her like a police car’s sirens. She plunged into the surf, keeping her eye on the drowning tourist, marking where he was so she could dive under the water to pull him to the surface.
The sea was there, every time. Looking down in the water, past the sinking body of a struggling victim of the waves, the sea followed her. When she was little, and had pulled her little sister up from the depths, it had been colorful reef fish that stared at her. In high school, a shark haunted the dangling feet of her boyfriend when she’d saved him from falling overboard. Now she saw the endless limbs of an octopus writhing, reaching up to her as she tried to pull herself back into the sunlight, the struggling college student in her grip. There was a tug of resistance from the water, and Amanda turned back.
Opening her mouth, she screamed out a denial into the ocean, the sound reverberating in her ears and beating against the creatures below. No bubbles rose from her mouth at her cry as the sea filled her, filled every empty space inside her.
Amanda’s flukes beat powerfully to beat the pull of the tide, and her arms wrapped around the young man five or six times to keep him secure; he’d have an interesting set of bruises from the suckers, but he’d be alive. She broke the surface and her intake of breath was more than half scream as air crowded into lungs reluctant to be human. The rescue boat was beside them now, and Amanda flung a pink, five-fingered hand out of the water to grab Carter’s arm and be hauled out of the sea.
Her feet hit the deck as the man tumbled into the boat, shooting pain up her calves as the cramps worked themselves out.
“You were down a hell of a long time,” Carter said, manhandling the victim flat on the deck. “Damn it, he’s not breathing. Come on, come on…” Carter tipped the man’s head back and pushed air into his lungs. Once. Twice. “No one lucky enough to get pulled up after that long is going to die. Amanda, compressions!”
She leaned over the man, straightening her arms and pushing down on his chest. Pump, pump, wait for Carter to breathe for him. Again. And again.
The man sputtered, coughed, and took a gurgling breath. Carter turned the man on his side and sighed in relief as he began to breathe again.
“Awesome job, kiddo,” Carter said with a grin, his teeth very white in his dark face.
Amanda’s return smile was tremulous. Water streamed from her body and pooled in the bottom of the boat. Carefully she pulled herself up onto one of the seats and tucked her feet under her as the driver pushed the throttle to get the boat back to shore. Leaving the sea behind them.
“You want to talk about it?”
Amanda shrugged as she signed off on the near-drowning report.
“Not literally, you know,” Carter added. At Amanda’s long, still silence, Carter just filed the report in the cabinet and walked around to offer her his arm. “Come on. How about just a walk, then?”
Amanda laid her hand on him, so tiny and weak, as he walked her down the beach. The tide was higher than it should have been, and she kept him between her and the water.
“You get like this every time,” Carter said softly, barely audible over the waves. “I swear you pull more people out of the drink than any five other lifeguards combined. But you act like you’re going to your own funeral every time there’s a bad one.”
Amanda ducked her head, her short dark hair barely hiding her face. The waves seemed louder, calling her more insistently. She should have had Carter take her into town, to a bar, a club, anywhere but a long walk on the beach.
The sea had demanded much for sparing her sister. It wanted more for letting her high school sweetheart go. Now it simply waited, biding its time, every time she came close. Every time she claimed another life from the sea, the creatures showed themselves and changed something in exchange. It would be soon now.
She had already given the ocean her freedom, for she could she could not live far from the sight of its waters. Her body she’d parceled out piece by piece, one for every life. Her voice she’d given up two years ago. The changes were legion. Underwater, she was the sea’s creature.
Amanda clutched at Carter’s arm as an unexpected surge of water enveloped her feet. Her flukes screamed in pain before the wave receded, and she could put her feet on drier sand.
“Amanda? What’s wrong?” Carter asked, turning her towards the moonlight to see her face. Her mouth gaped silently, like a fish gasping for oxygen, as she flung her arms around him. He held her gently, confused, as Amanda’s ears were filled with the roar of the surf behind her.
Her fist thumped on her chest as she felt the absence of the throb inside of her. Instead, the surge and flow of the sea filled her veins.
“Your heart? Are you ok?”
An unexpectedly high wave crashed ashore and drenched Amanda completely. For a moment, Carter could see her flukes and tough skin, her long arms and slick colors, her glistening eyes, her scales and fins and spikes.
The cool pulse of the sea calmed her, let her extract herself from Carter’s shocked grasp, her burgeoning ardor washed away. Somewhere, on the sea’s floor, her heart was being pulled out in the riptide she’d saved a man from today. Another change. Another life. And soon to be the end of hers.