i dreamt this, and then wrote it down. i actually planned on using the girl as a character for rp-ing. (yes i'm a loser). it's ok if you think it's dumb :)

"You don't understand!" she pulls him into the bathroom, shuts the door and sits down the bathtub. "There's … just … this thing. I can't… you have to promise… not a word, to anyone!"

He stands, bewildered, with this girl almost half his age tears welling in her eyes. He's been in the house for less than five minutes, just pulled himself out of the car and asked her if she wanted to go hot tubbing with him. (Skiing was all well and good, but a man needs to warm up every once in a while.) But a simple suggestion that she wear that tiny red bikini she'd bought in New York sent her fleeing from the family in the living room and nearly yanking his arm out of its socket, dragging him into the bathroom of all places.

"Well…uh sure, what is it?" He shifts his weight and sits on the counter obviously confused.

"You have to promise," tears spring from her eyes, she's almost hysterical but she continues on, "not a soul, no one, ever, unless I say you can."

He raises an eyebrow and glances at her suspiciously but he nods and slowly responds, "If it's that important to you…"

"It is," she replies.

He waits patiently for her to go on, leaning his back against the cupboard. "What is it?"

She takes a few deep breaths and settles herself, eyes looking at the ground, she twists her hands in her lap, "There's this thing, I don't even know how it started." She pauses for a second. "But it's been happening for almost three months I think." She sighs and raises her gaze to his.

He is more confused than he thinks any man has any right to be, and he tells her so. "What is happening?"

She takes a deep breath and whispers, "This." She peels off the small black gloves she's been wearing this entire vacation and holds her hands out to him, spreading her fingers towards him.

He feels his jaw drop, even as he leans closer, he's repulsed even as he's fascinated. Smooth flaps of bluish brown skin grow between her fingers all the way up to the second knuckles. He takes her hands in his and dimly reminds himself to breathe. "You're hands are webbed?" He touches the skin gently and looks at her face for a moment to gauge her reaction. "This…this is new."

She nods, eyes closed, hair swaying in front of her face. "I don't know what it is. Sometimes, I've read about children born with webbed hands. But … I wasn't. And I haven't read anything about it occurring in adults and it's not natural and I tried cutting them off but it hurt so much and I didn't want to and swimming's over now and I thought I could…let them stay." Her voice drops to a small whisper.

He turns her hands over, palms up and traces the webbing with his fingertips, barely able to believe what he's seeing. "Well… it's fixable right? If they bother you, maybe a plastic surgeon could… get rid of them for you?" He glances at the wrinkled pale palms he holds before returning his gaze to her. She seems so fragile and breakable in this moment. The feeling is unnerving.

She breaks his gaze and for the first that he can remember, she can't hold tears back. "They're …not all that's happened to me…"

"What do you mean?" he asks, confused again, and worried. Worried for this amazon he's loved for what seems like forever "You got that on your toes too?"

She shakes her head, "No, thank God."

"Then… what is it?"

She shudders, reaches a hand down to the side of her shirt and slowly pulls the hem upwards, wincing as if it passed over raw skin, until the bottom reaches her bra. He stares; quite sure that his jaw will very quickly become unhinged and fall to the floor from all the dropping that has occurred lately. "Holy shit!"

Four fleshy pink cuts run horizontally up her side. "What in hell is that?" He never used to curse, but he feels the situation merits a few expletives. They look almost like slits from a scapel. The area around them is fleshy pink, rich with capillaries and he knows, somehow, that this is not self-inflicted.

She takes in another deep breath, grimacing as she does so, "I wasn't sure. I thought they were… just scratches at first. Accidental, you know how clumsy I am. But I took the bath the other day, and… I held my breath and went under the water, just to get my hair wet and…" She pauses and lets out a dry sob. "I think they're gills. Gills! Oh god what's happening to me?"

She drops her shirt and sinks slowly to her knees, tears running down her face. He's never seen her breakdown before. Despite knowing her for more than a decade, he's never seen her cry. But here she is, with a secret he knows she couldn't have held much longer, sobbing on the dirty floor of a bathroom at a rented ski chalet, hoping he won't turn away from her in disgust. Her eyes begging, pleading him to accept her as she is.

He kneels on the floor next to her and lifts her chin gently with a finger. This is his girl, his friend, though he was her teacher when they first met. He strokes her faces, dries her tears with her hair and offers a tissue for her nose. He swallows once, twice before managing out words. "Do…they work then?" And immediately hates himself for the question.

She turns, suddenly furious, eyes blazing, "Do they work, do they work?" she mimics him coldly. "Do you know what it feels like to not need to breathe? Not even to hold your breath, but to not need to move your body, to not need to feel the lift of your shoulders, the tightening of your diaphragm as your body takes in oxygen. But only as long as you're in contact with water! I don't have to breathe anymore. Breathe! And it hurts, when air touches them, stings like I'm doing something wrong. I can't live in a swimming pool for the rest of my life. You think the doctors can remove these too?"

He cradles her head in his arms, pulls her close, careful to avoid the rents in her sides with his arms. He was never good at comforting but he tries, she knows he does. "I still love you baby, we'll figure this out. You'll be fine baby, fine." Silent tears stream down her cheeks as her rocks her gently, this mercurial hurting angel. Voices rise outside in the living room and he wonders how all of the sudden the world became such a small and lonely place.