“Oh, uh, wow,” Leo said, mind racing as he processed Alfia’s words. He could be a pond Mer. A mer-person. But not just any mer-person. A were mer-person. A were mer-person witch.
Who could shapeshift, look like anything.
Look like himself.
Leo understood, on a practical level, that this was a big decision. That this would change his life. That there would be problems–big problems. That it wouldn’t magically make his life any better or any cooler. That he would have responsibilities.
Leo had read his fair share of fantasy novels. He knew it was not a unicycle ride through a spring park.
Knowing all this, he still knew his answer, immediately, enthusiastically, and without reservations.
The answer was yes.
He’d always loved the water, he’d always been a dreamer, he’d always been queer. He’d always wanted to help people, stopped by a powerful loneliness and shyness. A powerful fear.
This was, in one sense, a purpose for Leo. A commitment.
He was crying, but it was underwater, so no one could tell. Still, his throat was tight, his chest burning. He didn’t deserve this gift.
“Yes,” he said. “You can do it. I want to help.”
Alfia grinned. They made some sharp, loud noise, like a dolphin at a rave, clicks echoing through the murky water. A half dozen mer-people showed up, forming a circle around Leo, including Aristea, who looked pumped, shaking and dancing in place.
“Are you ready?” Alfia asked.
Leo squared his shoulders, lifted his head, and nodded.
Alfia swam forward, coming close enough that Leo could see the glittering chips of green and blue in their eyes. “This may hurt.”
Using their webbed hands, Alfia tilted Leo’s neck, exposing the tan skin to the glowing light.
“I’m doing it in 3, 2, 1,” Alfia said.
Then they bit down, their sharp teeth piercing the skin of Leo’s neck.
Leo bit his lip, cutting off a pained groan. He’d had his blood drawn before, but this was way worse. The pain was sharp and unending, beating out a rhythm that felt like he was bleeding out, he was dying. Had he made a mistake trusting these people? Was this actually the end?
His eyelids fluttered, his fingers and toes going fuzzy. Just before he could pass out, he felt his body growing warm all over, vibrating and tingling through him like he was in a jet-fueled hot tub.
The whole world went bright, stadium-light white, then disappeared in a slurry of bubbles.