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“I know you can hear me. Now if you don’t get out here, I’m… I’m… I’m just going to have to keep telling you to get out here.”

It wasn’t a real threat, but it was the most Marlin could do under the circumstances. After all, he was only a small clownfish, and what else could he do to force a much bigger creature to leave its room? Sighing, he pressed his forehead to the sea stone, ready to start begging if that’s what it took. “Look, if you come out and go to your lessons, I’ll…” He paused, struggling to think of what he could possibly offer.

“Come with me to the boardwalk tomorrow?”

Marlin raised his head, surprised to hear the voice so soon. “Uh… the boardwalk? … Yeah, sure, the boardwalk, let’s, uh, let’s go to the boardwalk. But only if you-”

He was interrupted by the opening of the pale door, and the cheerful face of his ward appeared. There were no signs of bed-head on his big round ears, and though his room was in its usual disarray it didn’t appear he had been trying to sleep during this debate. No, young Mickey was wide awake, his blue fish tail bobbing back and forth behind him. “And Nemo too? And Dory, and Bruce, and-”

“Hold it!” Marlin swam up to his superior’s nose, giving him a small bop with his fin. “I’m not agreeing to anymore of this until you go to your lessons! Which, by the way, you’re already late for! Now hustle, Mickey!”

Mickey’s cheer was dead in the water, replaced by grim annoyance. He huffed, but with a flick of his blue tail, he was out into the hallway, grumbling about this and that. “It’s not like anyone’s even gunna know I’m there. And who needs these borin’ old lessons anyway? Nothin’ exciting ever happens around here.”

Marlin stayed ahead of Mickey as they shoved themselves out of a carved window. They headed downwards, passing by schools of silverfish and rainbows of corals, with Mickey taking his time to offer a wave to every creature going the opposite way. This was only a small portion of the grand Kingdom of Oceania, inhabited in the deepest part of the seas. Ordinary fish mingled in with ordinary merpeople, looking for food or lazily flopping about in their caves. There were only two actual ‘buildings’ to speak of – Mickey’s palace, which they had just left, and the upcoming school. Everyone else could live and do as they please with no worries, which Mickey was a tad jealous of. Many of these people often avoided the young prince, since he was supposedly so superior to them. Mickey himself felt no such barrier between them.

He tried to engage a playful game of tickle the octopus, but Marlin smacked his ear and insisted they kept going. “Now, Mickey, it’s your duty as the 76th son to be informed about all the important issues! Should the 75 first brothers pass on, it’ll be your responsibility to take care of the family along with the rest of the ocean. If you don’t know your past, you’ll never be prepared for the future. One day, you will pass on this imperial knowledge to your sons, and you’re making faces as I say this, aren’t you.”

Yes he was. Mickey smirked at being caught, turning to swim upside-down, resting his arms behind his head. “And if I ever pass on, my 24 younger brothers will handle it. Give it a rest, will ya? I ain’t exactly important around here.”

Marlin would have tried to give it another shot, but they were already approaching the large marble auditorium. It was stacked stories high, able to fit the dozens and dozens of royal sea princes inside. It was carved with ancient battles that Mickey was supposed to learn about, and his mood only grew worse as he made for the entrance. Yet, after a glare from Marlin, he made his way inside the dark hallway, able to hear his father’s voice deep within the building. King Marino had already started, from the sound of things.

The old man’s face was obscured by a gray beard that threatened to trap his entire body should he move the wrong way. His wrinkled fingers were treading over an ancient scroll, his eyes glued to the faded paper. “The war between land and sea would have continued for eternity, were it not for a single spell that utterly destroyed that man’s plan. She took out a piece of his heart, and-” He stopped, having noticed the latecomer out of the corner of his foggy eyes. He squinted, and then clicked his tongue. “Who are you? Whatever business you have, it will have to wait.”

Mickey resisted the urge to groan. “Mickey. Your son. 76th son.” He cast a glance at Marlin, who sheepishly grinned, hoping the silly expression would calm Mickey down. It did not.

The king took an even greater pause, and surveyed the crowded room. Most of the other sons were already there, with their own fish wards, and it was near impossible to tell who was attending the lessons and who wasn’t. Some were diligently taking notes, some were asleep, and some had even brought females to flirt with. The king grunted after his look. “I thought Mitch was already here.”

“Mickey.” The side of his mouth began to twitch.

King Marino raised his finger, as if tracing the figures already sitting at their places. “No, Mark should be over there…”

“Mickey.” The twitching became much more noticeable, and his hands balled up into fists.

The elder did one more scan of the room, before shrugging it off. “Are you sure you aren’t Mitt?”

“M-I-C, K-E-Y, M-O-U-S-E!” Mickey shouted at the top of his lungs, startling three of his brothers out of sleep and causing laughter out of five. He didn’t wait for an answer, and shot off towards the closest and emptiest seat, curling his elongated tail around his waist. Marlin quietly followed him, settling behind his ward’s left ear. There was nothing he could say to ease his companion’s temper, as this sort of scene was a daily occurrence.

King Marino wasn’t shaken, and waved a dismissive hand about the entire matter. “All right, pay attention, Michelangelo. Now, where was I…” He read over the same line three times before deciding it had been the right place all along. “Ah, yes. Since his heart was no longer whole, the wizard’s magic suffered, and he was forced to abandon the battle in shame. He vowed to someday return and seek vengeance on both land and sea for his humiliation…”

Mickey had heard the same story a hundred times already, so he was free to stew in his own anger and frustration. On some level, he knew remembering one son out of one hundred was extremely difficult. Every royal mermaid family had a large, extensive family, and his other brothers never had a problem with being forgotten or remembered. He looked around – his siblings had already forgotten the small shout he had made, lost in their own business. Mickey himself often had trouble keeping them in order – but at least he made an effort! He looked at the desks – merely stacks of old wooden boards ripped away from abandoned ships.

On each ‘desk’ was a name, carved by Mickey when he was much younger. In ploy to remember his brothers’ names better, he had snuck in night after night to carve in the names with a rusty nail he had picked up from the same ship. Instead of being praised for his cleverness as he had hoped, the brothers merely went to whatever desk they felt like, not paying attention to their now assigned seats. When Mickey pointed out their names, he was met with questioning looks, and a typical ‘Who are you?’

In the present, Mickey laid his chin onto his desk, able to see the carved name ‘Mitchell’. That attempt was years ago, he told himself, he shouldn’t care. It had been like this for ages, so he shouldn’t care. It would be like this forever, so he shouldn’t care.

Marlin gently rubbed Mickey’s ear, keeping his voice to a low whisper. “Hey, uh… about the boardwalk thing… sure, we can all go. Nemo, Dory, even Bruce.” He didn’t know what was so exciting about the boardwalk – he wasn’t even sure what a boardwalk was – but he couldn’t stand seeing his young friend so upset.

Mickey’s eyes widened, and though he didn’t say anything, there was no denying the sheer excitement on his face. He nodded once to acknowledge Marlin, and obediently stayed through the lessons – the danger of Land Walkers, the Lost Catacombs, and proper mating rituals – only because of the excitement that lay in wait afterward. The pain of his normal life could be pushed aside, for soon, very soon, the event he had waited all year for was here again. “The Grand Carnival’s almost here…” he murmured to himself.

“All right then.” King Marino raised his wrinkly fingers upward. “Ever since that fateful battle, we have sworn to limit the use of our powers. While an ordinary mermaid’s voice has the ability to capture a creature’s attention and hold it, only those of royal blood can use their voice to give a command. Who can give me an example?”

“Could we command no more lessons?” Mickey quipped, causing a few snickers to ripple through his brothers. Marlin groaned, settling himself down onto Mickey’s head.

Marino sighed at Mickey’s attitude, but managed to find another prince who was diligently raising his hand. “Yes, you over there.”

“You can command another creature to forget they saw you.” The brother answered, earning tidy claps around him.

“Correct.” Marino nodded twice, and then slapped two of his fingers against his scroll. “Should you ever be in enough danger, say, from a Land Walker, you can channel your voice to command them to forget they ever saw you. It works on all creatures, save for other merfolk, of course.” He ran his fingers over the scroll, trying to find another important piece. “Now who can tell me why we call them Land Walkers?”

Mickey honestly couldn’t resist these chances. “'Cause Land Not-Swimmers is too long to memorize.” Some chuckled at his game, others clicked their tongue at his youthful behavior. It was all the same to him. If he was going to endure these boring, useless rules every day, why not spice it up every so often? “And Land Leggers is just silly.”

The old merman ran a spotted hand down his face, his patience growing thin. “Young man, this is serious business. Are you here to learn, or are you here to laugh?”

Marlin was trying to cover his eyes at this point. “Don’t do it, Mickey.”

He did it. “Ha ha ha ha ha ha!” He threw himself backwards, sitting on his hands and letting himself laugh loud enough for it bounce against the walls. Marlin fell off of his head and landed on Mickey’s tail fan, wondering what he did to deserve such a troublesome boy as his ward. The other fish were shaking their heads, perhaps blaming Marlin for not disciplining the prince.

Marino pressed his fingers to his temple, and then blew several bubbles out of his mouth. “Remind me to give you extra homework after class, Mark. If you had paid attention, you would know it is because of the very first encounter a merman had with a Land Walker. Hundreds of years ago, when they saw their first ship…” He lapsed into another long story that Mickey already knew by heart, as did others judging by their bored expressions.

Since Marlin knew Mickey wasn’t listening to his father anyway, he made an effort to speak up. “Why can’t you be more like your brothers? It wouldn’t kill you to actually sit through one of these lessons peacefully.”

“Aw, you're' no fun.” Mickey began to swish his tail fin up and down, lightly tossing Marlin around. “Besides, most of ‘em aren’t listening anyway. Gosh, six of ‘em are flirtin’ with their girlfriends!”

Marlin would have looked in those directions but he was too busy fighting off the nausea the bobbing was putting him through. “At least it keeps them quiet! And you know, you’re old enough, maybe you should start looking for a nice girl to… Oh, why did I have a big breakfast…”

Mickey snorted at the very idea of courtship. “Just what I need, another person who won’t remember me. Those girls just wanna marry a prince. If I’m gunna get myself a girl, I want her ta like me, for me, because I’m me. I’d want… y’know, what ya got with Dory.” He mercifully stopped flipping his tail fin, allowing Marlin to rest his stomach.

“That was very well thought out… good for you.” Marlin managed after he was sure his breakfast wasn’t going to leave his tummy. “Okay, maybe I underestimated you, Mickey… maybe you’re finally starting to mature.”

 

~*~

“Who wants me to do a flip?!”

“Ooh, ooh, I do!”

“No! No flipping!”

Mickey had only managed to make a few true friends in the sea, and all of them were Marlin’s friends and family. Most royal mermen didn’t bother with something trivial as getting to know their assigned companion’s family, but Mickey had immediately asked about them as soon as he had met Marlin. It was for this reason that Mickey was so memorable to them, though his friendly personality didn’t hurt either. They all often played together after lessons, which gave Marlin both his happiest and worst memories.

The worst was due to the fact Mickey constantly enjoyed swimming to the surface to look at any passing boats. There weren’t any now, thank goodness, but Mickey was still haphazardly swimming right where the water ended, swimming on his back. “Get back under the surface!” Marlin shouted, falling on deaf ears. “You’re not supposed to expose yourself! What if a Land Walker sees you?”

Nemo, Marlin’s son, had to laugh at his father’s reaction. “Dad, there’s no one else around for miles! The only ones who can see him up there are seagulls!” Mickey was a constant source of delight for the young boy, and he always looked forward to this playtime.

“If you ask me, Land Walkers aren’t so scary.” Bruce the shark had vowed to give up eating other fish, after he decided to sign up to be a royal bodyguard. However, he usually wound up encouraging Mickey’s dangerous antics instead of advising against them. “Whenever I see one, all they do is swim away! Bunch of scaredy-catfish, that’s what they are.”

“Gee, I wonder why that is.” Dory checked her reflection in Bruce’s gigantic sharp teeth, and as always her natural blue was perfect. As Marlin’s wife, she didn’t have to join on these romps, but stopping her was impossible. “That’s the problem with people today, everybody’s too afraid to make friends.”

Marlin found that he had to be the adult in this group of over-grown children. “No, the problem is that Land Walkers love to eat fish, and catch fish, and do you have any idea what they’d do to someone who is a fish but looks like them?!” Marlin gestured toward Mickey, who was getting even further away.

“No, but you don’t either.” Mickey replied, twisting around in the water. “And I wanna find out. I think their walker parts are kinda neat. Movin’ back and forth like that all the time… they have to have a lot of energy for it! Which means they gotta do a lot of fun things up on land!”

“That doesn’t make any sense!” Marlin whined, trying to keep up desperately. When Mickey wanted to, he could easily out-swim any of them. “Is that what this whole ‘boardwalk’ thing is about?!”

“Yup!” Mickey grinned, slowing down to a halt. “We’re almost there!”

“What’s all the excitement for, anyway?” Bruce nudged Mickey with his fin, unable to see any further with his friend’s body blocking the way. “So a bunch of Land Walkers walk on boards. They do anything else?”

“A lot more!” Mickey clapped his hands together, making a splash on the surface. “See, a few years ago, I was tryin’ ta hide from Marlin since he was bein’ such a nag -”

“Thanks, Mickey.”

“ – And I swam away the farthest I ever had. That’s when I saw it…” He began to gesture with his arms and hands, creating a whole new world before them. “Wooden pillars holding up all these strange buildings… some of ‘em look like ships, but others… gosh, I don’t even know how to tell ya! There’s all these weird foods, and new smells, and loud noises, and all different kinds of Land Walkers! Big ones, small ones…and they all gather for this thing called… the Grand Carnival!” With a thunderous splash, he had swum off again.

“Slow down, your highness!” Yet for all of his yelling, Marlin knew that the young prince wouldn’t slow down his swimming for anything in the world. Mickey didn’t even appear to hear him, focused on his goal as he ripped through the ocean waters, leaving behind his fish friends. Marlin sighed heavily, already exhausted but not giving up. “So this is where he goes every year…?”

“I guess so!” Nemo was right beside his father, with Bruce at his other side. He was holding onto Bruce in an effort to not get abandoned. “He’s been counting down for something, but wouldn’t tell me what!” It had gotten to a point where Mickey could no longer contain his excitement and had even left in the middle of the king’s lessons.

“I think I heard about this Grand Carnival!” Bruce was more than happy to offer his help, and since he was finding it much easier to catch up to Mickey, the smaller fish decided to latch onto him as well. “I passed by a few ships earlier this month, talking about something like that carnival … they even get visitors from around the world!”

Nemo had to give this some outside thought. “You mean he goes there every year? Doesn’t the king get mad?” Fish were given warnings to avoid Land Walkers, but for merpeople it was much stricter. There were rumors that a mermaid had once been banished from her clan for daring to speak to a Land Walker.

“No punishment ever sticks with Mickey.” Marlin admitted, but he was relieved that Mickey had finally stopped.

The prince stuck his head out of the water, grinning as he saw the planks of wood on top. The boardwalk seemed to stretch out for miles, standing in the water and already there were plenty of people excitedly moving back and forth. Mickey could make out viewpoints from the spaces between the boards, able to see fancy shoes and chatting faces as they went back and forth. Magnificent metal rides had already started to stir, making clicking noises as men with bushy eyebrows beckoned others to come take a spin. Fancy females were doing their friend’s hair in elegant ribbons, sharing rumors about their loved ones. Children screamed in delight as they escaped their parents, skipping along the wooden steps to races they just invented.

Mickey flopped onto his back, floating along as he watched in utter fascination. These creatures were magnificent, and he both loved and envied every single one. He had gotten used to his family having trouble remembering his name and forgetting to invite him to royal events. But the Land Walkers were different. Each one was special, and they all had their own lives to tell, their own unique stories laid out. Not a single Land Walker was the same as any other. Mickey had no reason to exist – simply another son, who the throne wouldn’t go to. He had no purpose in life. But every Land Walker had a purpose.

“Let’s see.” He murmured out loud, confident no one above would hear him. “What do I wanna do first? It’s always fun to see people tryin’ that weird pop gun game… but I like the smell of the food they make too… the best gossip’s over by the beach… what to do, what to do…”

Nemo let go of Bruce, and swam up to Mickey, nestling near his ear. “Is this what you do all spring? Just watch and listen to them?”

“Sure do!” Mickey saw no shame in this, proudly proclaiming the answer. “I would do it all the time, but the carnival only comes around in the spring. Look at ‘em!” Mickey sat up, and cupped Nemo in his hands, keeping him in a small pool of water before raising him upward. “Ain’t they somethin’? Those weird things they wear, and all the strange things they talk about! They have things called parties, and dancin’, and books, and all kinds of stuff!”

“I guess it sounds pretty neat.” Nemo didn’t understand the obsession just yet, but he had to admit, the land people were a very nice view. They all looked happy and cheerful, even waving to complete strangers and wishing them a joyous day.

“Don’t get him started!” Marlin grumbled, and Bruce could only chuckle.

“I know whatcha might like!” Mickey was on the move again, although this time he kept it slow for the sake of the child clownfish in his hands. “They got a great puppet show here! It’s one of my favorite things ta see!”

“What’s a puppet?” Dory asked, keeping her eyes up on the planks.

“It’s kinda hard to tell ya… so… ah, here!” Mickey stopped again, remembering that the show always took place near one of the supporting poles of the boardwalk. He put Nemo back in the water, and then looped his royally blue tail around the pole in order to arch himself up higher. A royal merperson had longer tails than a regular one, which to Mickey was the only good thing about being born in that family. “Should be startin’ real soon!”

Up on top, a small array of children were impatiently squirming around on smaller wooden seats. A movable stage had been set, with a velvet red curtain and golden tassels dangling below. An older man with a tiny beard was rubbing his hands nervously, a closed suitcase upon the stage. “I am terribly sorry, children… but this year, we cannot have the puppet show.”

“What?!” Mickey sounded as upset as the children were, the youngest ones bursting into wails. Those who knew words begged why, said they had brought their siblings along this year, demanded the show to start, all of which the old puppeteer tried to handle as he held out his gloved hands to try and settle them down. Marlin rolled his eyes at the prince’s childish attitude, but he held back commentary as he noticed Dory’s wandering eyes. She had been unusually quiet since they arrived with a comment or two – she was paying strict attention to the surface of the water. He decided she was just indulging in another one of her oddities.

“Our narrator has gotten very sick.” The puppeteer shook his head wearily. “And we cannot perform without our narrator. I truly am sorry…” But this did not quell the children, who cried even louder, and kicked their feet and pulled their hair. Mickey pouted, blaming the narrator for being so foolish as to get ill. Well, this day was ruined! He wanted to show his only friends the glory of Land Walkers, and the wondrous stories they could perform, and now it was gone. He loved the imagination of the Land Walkers, and this had been the best way to show it. What could be more beautiful than a well told story?

“Excuse me.” A new voice peeked in on the dilemma, rising above the tears of the babes. “But I think I can help.”

Mickey looked toward the voice, and…

And…

And his world changed forever.

By the standards of other Land Walkers, the girl that was walking up through the crowd of children could be considered somewhat plain. She was a petite mouse, with a dress that did nothing to help her figure or her face, but she wore it all the same because it had been given to her – powder blue with a frilly white apron tied around her waist, and a clearly very old bow tugging behind her ears. The attire said she wasn’t poor, but that she was employed, and perhaps by someone of a much higher class than she was. Mickey didn’t know about such things, and even if he did, he wouldn’t have cared. The things he cared about were her magnificently round cheeks, flushed with rosiness, her pert lips that were turned upwards in a charming smile, and those wide sparkling eyes that fluttered with curly eyelashes. This was, in fact, the prettiest Land Walker he had ever laid eyes upon.

“Uh oh.” Marlin whispered, knowing that the stupefied expression the prince was wearing, along with his jaw going slack, was not good news.

“You see,” The girl spoke again, taking the hand of the closest child to her and gently petting their auburn hair. “I’ve come to see this show every year, since I was a little girl. I’ve got the entire story memorized. Maybe I can be the narrator for today?” The children were instantly delighted, now that the problem was solved, some tugging at her wrinkled dress for her to start right away.

“Minnie.” Another new voice came in, but it was nowhere near as pleasant as the first girl’s. The duck girl that had actually been standing by the mouse the entire time – Mickey had been unable to notice anything existing outside of the mouse girl a while – was wearing the exact same outfit, but hers was much cleaner and did not contain a single wrinkle. “You said we were coming here to have fun, not play babysitter!”

‘Minnie’ - what a lovely name! – kept on smiling, nonplussed by her friend’s behavior. “It’ll only be for a little while, Daisy. This show isn’t long, and then we can do everything you want. All right?” Her decision had clearly been made, as she continued pampering the delighted little ones around her.

‘Daisy’ rolled her eyes but didn’t argue further – she was probably worried about being mobbed by all the children present. The rusty puppeteer began to straighten up, delighted by the assistance. “You’d truly like to help us, miss? Do you know the opening song, too?”

“Why, of course!” Minnie smoothed down her dress, and moved to sit on the stage, hands on her lap. “You can’t have the show without the song!”

“Excellent! I cannot thank you enough, miss!” The puppeteer clapped twice, and then threw open his suitcase, digging out all of his colorful puppets. “Could you give it a try, while I get everything arranged?”

“Certainly… though I don’t know if my singing will be as good as the usual narrator.” Minnie giggled, kicking her dainty feet back and forth – she was very short. “Let’s see…. Oh, yes…”

There once was a maiden, with hair the color of gold,
And she lived with her dearest papa, a man so very old,
They spun their cloth together, and wanted nothing more,
Until one day, a strange little man, came rap tap tapping at the door…

On Minnie sang, weaving the story of a lying father and the fate of his daughter, while the puppeteer delighted the children with adorable characters that bickered back and forth. Daisy tried to be patient, playing with her bow, while all the children laughed, gasped, and applauded the grand story that was told. Despite Minnie’s comment about her ability, not only was her singing marvelous, but it surpassed the narrator’s talent tenfold. As it continued, Minnie found herself more taken in with the tale, playing along with the puppets, dancing with the children, and even giving the old puppeteer a kiss on the cheek when the curtains closed. Everyone enjoyed the show…

Most of all Mickey. He stunned expression had melted and sagged as time went on, becoming more peaceful and happy. He leaned on the pole, believing himself to be the luckiest guy alive. This was officially the best Grand Carnival ever. “… She’s pretty.” Mickey finally spoke, in a hushed tone that none of the sea creatures had ever heard Mickey use.

“Oooh boy.” Marlin slapped a fin to his face. He really hoped for once he wasn’t right about something, but it appeared he was too smart for his own good.

While Bruce asked what was wrong, Daisy began tugging on Minnie’s arm to lead her away. “Yes yes, hurrah for the puppets, hurrah for the ending, can we do something fun already?”

“But that was fun.” Minnie’s spirits refused to be doused as she walked alongside her friend. “I love that story. True love winning out over evil, and they all get a happily ever after.” She exhaled deeply, her hands pressed to her chest – on top of a golden locket in the shape of a heart. “Those are my favorite kinds of stories.”

“And nonsense like that only belongs in stories.” Daisy chided, wagging a knowing finger. “Love may sound nice, but the only thing you should look for in a man is money. Love isn’t going to fill your stomach, or get you nice clothes, or provide a roof over your head! Keep love in love stories!”

Mickey pushed himself off the pole he had neatly wrapped himself around, and now diligently began to follow the females in hot pursuit. Why, in all these years, had he not noticed this charming lady before? How much had he been missing out on? Who in the world was she? Questions like these continued to flood him, his friends left behind without another thought. She was so much different than any other Land Walker he had watched from below the murky waters. If only that Daisy person could make Minnie sing again!

“Of all the times for puberty to kick in…” Marlin grumbled, not bothering to keep up with up with his youthful ward.

“That’s our boy!” Bruce couldn’t help but laugh triumphantly, slapping Marlin hard enough on the back to send him skipping across the water. “He can’t even crush on a girl normally! Come on, Dory, get a load of this!”

Yet Dory still wasn’t paying attention, having gone entirely silent as she watched the waves from afar. Nemo came to her side, lightly poking her fin. “Dory…? What’s the matter?”

Now that she was being acknowledged, Dory spoke, though she wouldn’t turn her face. “Something’s not right… can anyone else feel it? In the water?” She tried to gesture outwards, but was only met with confusion from her stepson. “I just think we all need to get out of here as soon as we can.”

Dory rarely spoke so seriously, which told Nemo more than enough. He turned around in the water, trying to catch his family’s attention. “Guys! We have to go!”

Mickey wasn’t hearing a single word, not when Minnie was having a vastly more interesting conversation. “Why don’t we get a bag of candy? We can split it, my treat!” She was already trying to reach for the stand, but Daisy took her hand, tugging her away.

“First, I’m off sugar. Second…” Daisy twirled Minnie around before giving her a push away. “You are the only person in the whole wide world I will not allow to spend money on me! Go buy something for yourself for once!”

Minnie giggled once more, rocking back and forth on her heels. “But there’s nothing I could possibly want! I’m already here! What could be more fun than being with my friend?” But as she spun around again, she caught a glimpse of something disturbing far off in the distance. She stopped her playful dance, brows furrowing. “Say, what’s going on over there?” She pointed to the very edge of the boardwalk, the furthest point out, where a small group of men were looking over, talking loudly among themselves.

Daisy leaned over to get a better look, but she couldn’t determine what they were doing nor what was being said. “Hm… probably just trying to get a better view. Guys can be so utterly obsessed with trivial things…” She huffed her beak up, trying to lead Minnie away. “Don’t trouble yourself with commoners. Ladies like us deserve a better class of men.”

“What, like a prince?” Minnie smirked, nudging Daisy with her arm. “Do you think Queen Millicent has a little brother she’s been hiding away somewhere?”

“It’s not outside the realm of possibility.” Daisy nudged right back, ready to play the new game. “Maybe she’s got twin brothers. One for you, one for me. We can have double dates, then a double wedding!”

“There are so many things wrong with that, I hardly know where to begin.” Minnie held Daisy’s hand as they walked, shaking her head. “Her highness would never keep a secret from us, and a prince, falling for a maid… maybe that could happen for someone as elegant as you, but what kind of prince would fall for me?”

The prince in the water was numb to the desperate fish tugging at his tail. Mickey was content to continue swimming after this immaculate goddess, as he tried to memorize the way she spoke every new word. Even the way she spoke was musical, and he wondered if there was any way she could, by chance, say his name. But that would require her actually knowing his name, and that would require her actually meeting him, and her eyes meeting his, and – and the thought of that alone was enough to make his face hot. He wasn’t dumb enough to expose himself here and now in this crowd of Land Walkers, but his mind spiraled onto infinite possibilities.

“Mickey!” Marlin was almost screaming at this point. “We have to go!”

Would banishment be so bad? Mickey was already easily forgettable, so it might even give him more freedom to leave that place. Surely Marlin and the others could visit when they wanted. So what if Mickey took that daring risk to meet miss Minnie? Maybe after the Grand Carnival came to a close, she would wander the beach alone to get some privacy, and then Mickey could suavely present himself, lazily resting on some rocks, pretending he wasn’t waiting for her. She’d gasp in shock at his appearance, perhaps be in awe of his royal tail. She’d sheepishly approach him, daring to ask who – what – he was.

“Mate, we really need to go!” Bruce was reluctant to sink his dangerous fangs into Mickey’s tail, but his tugging was very ineffective. “It’s getting dangerous!”

Mickey had learned enough Land Walker talk to introduce himself, taking her hand and saying he had come this way to find a beautiful maiden. She’d blush demurely, insisting she wasn’t good enough for the likes of him, but he’d reassure her by running the back of his fingers over her warm cheek – oh, she’d be very warm, having not known a life of water. She’d be warm all over, from her cheeks to her neck to her legs to her stomach to her lips, such soft lips, such pretty lips, such precious lips that he would not be able to resist –

“OW!” Mickey yelped, smacking the fish family away with his tail. “Why’d ya have ta go and bite me?!”

“Because we’re about to go through a bloody tidal wave!”

In the next second, a hard wave of water pounded the boardwalk, exploding the furthest point in bits of wood and sprays of foam. The Land Walkers screamed in terror, running for their lives as another wave began rolling toward them at unheard speed. In the water, Mickey had to bob and weave through the swirling fallen planks, barely to process what was happening. Tidal waves didn’t appear out of thin air, they took time to build! And they certainly didn’t strike one after the other like a flurry of fists! This was unnatural in every sense of the word! A whirlwind under the waves was beginning to form, and Mickey reached out to hold Dory, Nemo, and Marlin close to his chest, lest they get swept up. “Bruce! You have ta get ‘em out of here!”

“I ain’t goin’ anywhere without you, your highness!” Bruce shoved Mickey hard, forcing his friend to grab on his dorsal fin. “Hang on, everyone! This is going to be a bumpy ride!”

Up above, the once harmonious and friendly crowd had turned into a terrified mob, plowing over anyone in their way to escape the oncoming waves. Minnie and Daisy were among them, keeping together by their hands, until Minnie was harshly shoved to the side. In that moment, her locket flew off, landing back towards where the waters were heading. “No!” Without another thought, she let go of Daisy to push against the crowd, heading where she saw the locket fly. Daisy yelled her name, but she was being thrust away, unable to go back.

Minnie grabbed the ends of her dress to run faster, able to spy a glint of gold up ahead. As fast as she could, she knelt down to scoop it up. She couldn’t lose it, not that last remaining part of her lost –

The next wave struck, and Minnie’s shriek was drowned out - the boards under her snapped and vanished – she clawed for the surface, vision blinded – water filled her lungs, her ears, every orifice – a piece of the puppeteers’ stage had come apart and crashed into her skull – and the world was darkness.

Bruce hadn’t been able to get very far in the chaos of the waves, but before he could dive deeper in an attempt to escape the madness, Mickey had already seen the little body fall from the pier. He too could not think further before letting go of the shark to blaze off after her, leaving his smaller companions to hang onto Bruce and yell the prince’s name. His speed when he was playful was already remarkable, but in true concentration and need, he could move faster than anyone’s eyes could keep track of. In the span of a breath he had already taken Minnie into his arms, clutching onto her with all the strength he could muster.

The waves continued to crash down, restlessly tearing the boardwalk apart with each slamming motion. Mickey knew he could count on Bruce to lead the other fish to safety, so for now he could only do what he could for Minnie. With her head on his chest, he fought against the pull and push of the water, aiming for the surface. Land Walkers needed air, and he couldn’t protect her down there forever. He shot up towards the surface, making sure to keep Minnie’s head above the water as he scanned the area for safety. Another wave was coming, and fast – he had to move!

Though she was most likely incapable of hearing him, he still spoke as he braced himself for the oncoming onslaught. “I’m not gunna letcha go… whatever happens… I’m not gunna letcha go!”

~*~

My my, this had been a most interesting development. He had only tossed this about in order to relieve his unending boredom, but who would have there would have been a special guest thrown into the mix? A smile slithered onto his long face as he watched from deep within his lair. Perhaps after all these years, a golden opportunity had finally arrived. He eased himself into his seat, deciding that this show would bear fruit if he continued to watch.

He began to flex his fingers, and dabbles of sprinkled magic flowed throughout his fingertips. It would do no good to lose his pawn now. The sudden loss of the same storm would surely draw the attention of King Marino, but it was doubtful the fool would dare come into this territory. It was so very like the mermen to ignore what suited them best. Then how fitting would it be for one of their kind to ensure their downfall?

He licked his lips, as if able to taste sweet vengeance coated on his tongue. Soon, so very soon, he would take his place.

Chapter Text

Bruce, Marlin, Nemo and Dory had gone to the safest part of the ocean during the disaster, which was deep under the water, almost to the bottom. They had tried to be patient in watching the surface to see how long this would last, but each of them worried about Mickey. Dory kept Nemo close to her, trying to reassure the youngest one that their royal friend was made of stronger stuff than the wood they had seen shattered to pieces. When the water at last appeared to recede and relax, the four friends quickly made their way up, poking their faces out to try and catch a glimpse of Mickey.

“There he is! He’s trying to rock the Land Walker to sleep!” Dory shouted, and she led the others right behind her getting closer to the ruined shoreline. The boardwalk had been ripped in half, and all of the partygoers had escaped and long since vanished. The only ones to be seen on the rocky beach were Mickey and Minnie, the prince delicately cradling the fair lady in his arms.

“I think he’s just trying to put her down.” Marlin sighed, trying to gauge how close they could get without being washed ashore. “I hope she didn’t see him…” He then tried to catch Mickey’s attention, calling out for him. “Your highness! We’ve got to go! We need to report this back to the king!”

On some level, Mickey heard him this time. His body allowed him to drag the both of them onto the beach, where he laid Minnie down as slowly as possible, as if afraid she would crumble to dust. Mickey had kept his word – he had held onto her the entire time, so she wasn’t harmed any further than the bump on the back of her head. The beach was empty, so they couldn’t ask for a better time to get the girl to shore and leave before being seen. It should have been as simple as that, but once Mickey gently laid Minnie on the sand, he could not find the will to move. He checked her pulse one last time – still a healthy beat – listened to her breathe again – no problems there – yet he would not leave her side. He stayed there, and who knows how long he could have stayed there, were his friends not waiting for him.

“Your highness…” Marlin dragged out the title, his head sticking out of the water even further. “Will you please just get back here already? Someone could come along any minute! She’s okay, she didn’t see you, now please…”

“… Can’t I say goodbye?” Mickey’s voice was heartrendingly soft, not able to deny Marlin’s truth but not willing to leave either. How could he go yet? She was so soft, and delicate – he was afraid to leave. What if something happened the moment he was gone? What if land animals got to her? Or she got sick? Or she got scared? “She’s gunna be all alone…” He held her tiny hand, but even that proved how different they were – her fingers couldn’t get through the finned webbing between his fingers.

“You didn’t even say hello!” Marlin snapped, swimming in closer. “You’re only making things worse. Now, I’m going to count to three, and then you’d better be in here! Ooone…”

Normally Mickey would have mocked Marlin’s attempt at discipline, but all he could think of was that this girl was going to forget him too. Everyone forgot about the inconsequential prince. His family easily forgot about him, his subjects easily forgot about him, and he only had his tutor and guards to call on as friends. Maybe one day they would forget him too – he shook his head hard, trying to focus on Minnie’s well-being instead of his own pettiness. He squeezed her hand in both of his, and then closed his eyes, kissing her forehead. He pressed deeply onto her, wanting so desperately to be remembered, even if it was only as a faint dream.

He whispered a pained “Goodbye,” into her ear, and then violently threw himself back in the ocean. Without another word to the fish, he swam as hard as he could, as if able to escape the loss of the carnival, and the fresh wound that had opened deep within his heart.

~*~

The passage of time is often difficult to tell deep within the ocean’s waters, so Mickey wouldn’t have known almost an entire day would have passed before Minnie was found. As the first stars in the sky began to illuminate the inky blackness, a carriage up on the hill began to ride down towards the ruined beach. Within it was several royal attendants and Daisy, and the moment she saw Minnie’s petite body laying in the sand, she frantically ran as fast as her heels would allow. Daisy had thrown the door open before the carriage stopped, hysterical as she saw her best friend – and only her friend – laying on the beach. She shrieked Minnie’s name, tripping out of her high heels as she raced to the sand, followed by other attendants from the kingdom.

The survivor had been awake only for a few minutes beforehand, but had chosen not to get up as her head was in pain. But now Minnie’s eyelashes fluttered as her body was suddenly yanked into a hug, Daisy hysterically crying over her shoulder. “You silly girl! How could you run back there?! Oh, you… you… don’t you know how worried I was? How we all were? Don’t you ever… oooh!”

Minnie blinked, consciousness still barely returning to her. While the girls fretted and helped Minnie to her feet, she slowly reached up, and touched her forehead, the skin there cold and sad. Daisy continued to speak for her, throwing a handful of sand at the other attendants. “Don’t just stand there, you fools! My poor girl… She needs to come home!” The collective flurry of females guided Minnie back to the carriage, asking her over and over how she survived such a terrible ordeal.

She didn’t say a word, as she didn’t have an answer for them. She thoughtlessly touched her neck, and then froze in place. “No…” First it was a murmur, and then it was a yell. “No! It’s still gone!” She shoved the ladies aside, stumbling her way back to the sand. “My locket! I know I had it!” There was no golden glint to be found in the sand, yet she found where she had just laid down and clawed her fingers in, as if it would suddenly pop out and return to its rightful place.

“Minnie! For goodness’ sake!” Daisy stormed up to her best friend, hot tears still rolling down her cheeks. “You almost died because of that stupid thing! It’s not here, just forget about it and come home!” Yet when Daisy tried to yank Minnie’s shoulders, she found herself pushed backwards by a now desperate Minnie, whose tears now matched the flow of her companion.

“It’s all I have left!” She wailed pitifully, her knees sinking into the sand. “It’s all I have left of Mama and Papa!” She howled in her pain, not caring for the life that had been saved but for the precious memory that had been lost. Daisy watched helplessly as Minnie moaned in anguish, and eventually she was allowed to put her arms around Minnie again. It felt like a long journey to take Minnie back to the carriage, abandoning the beach once and for all.

~*~

“All of the stories are the same, your majesty.” The tall, lanky horse kept his head down as he spoke, unable to believe the story he was telling. “The tidal waves came out of nowhere… there wasn’t even a cloud in the sky, or a drop of rain.”

She said nothing right away, her back to him. Since the Queen always wore a heavy white veil around her face, her expression was impossible to tell. Thus those who conversed with her had to rely on the tone of her voice to have any idea of how she was thinking. When it was quiet like this, the messenger’s nerves shook underneath his skin, and he only allowed himself to exhale when he heard the Queen starting to move her feet.

“We mustn’t start any unnecessary panic.” She touched the window that reached far above and across, giving her the perfect outlook of the ocean and the cliff behind her palace. “As far as the people must know, Sir Horace, it was a mystery of the weather.”

“So you don’t think it was…” Horace made a quick glance to her imperial staff, not needing to say anything else.

“I cannot state what I do not know.” She replied firmly, though the fingers around her staff seemed to grip tighter. “I will consult the books of my elders… Have the guards increase patrols around the borders. If anything strange occurs, I want to be told at once.”

“As you command, your highness.” He bowed once more, and started to turn in order to take his leave.

“Hold.” The Queen raised her hand, and Horace didn’t move a step further. “Before you go… How is she?” At once her voice stopped being commanding, and instead was as soft as the silkiest blanket. “My dear Minnie, how is she?” She put her hand to her chest, hoping to relieve her aching heart.

Horace turned his head back, giving a smile of reassurance. It was moments like this that made him proud to work for such a good woman. “Shaken up… but it’s better than being dead. Daisy put her to bed right away. I bet she’ll be just fine.”

The Queen breathed like she had been holding her breath for ages. “Thank you… be well, Horace.” Now it was she who bowed her head, in gratitude of the news received. Once Horace had left the throne room, she cast her eyes back to the ocean, trying to balance out her emotions. Horace could have been right about the cause of the waves, but if he was, the reality was that there was little she could about it. She sighed deeply, and decided that the best she could do for now was consult the wisdom in the books left behind by her mother and mothers before her.

All of which could wait after she visited Minnie. It wasn’t very regal of a queen to sprint down the steps, but at least no one was watching her.

~*~

Over the course of seven long, excruciating days, Marlin had seen Mickey’s mood go from bad, to worse, to ‘I’ve seen seaweed happier than this guy’. Mickey had stopped putting up a fight to go to his lessons. After the lessons, instead of playing games with Dory and Nemo, he’d merely float up at the surface, staring at the shapeless clouds. Bruce offered the idea that maybe Mickey did this to try and see passing ships, since he would no longer be able to see any Land Walkers on at the boardwalk. When Marlin tried to ask Mickey about it, all he got was “Eh.”

In fact, a lot of Mickey’s answers were merely “Eh.”

“Your highness, did you remember to shine your scales this morning?”
“Eh.”
“Hey, Mickey, we’re on time for your lessons for once!”
“Eh.”
“Look! Dory turned purple and looks like a hippo!”
“Eh.”

Not even a single joke could make him chuckle. It was if as he was merely existing but not truly living. It troubled Marlin to see his ward this way, but nothing he asked could stir Mickey from his depressed mood. Despite failing time and time again, he continued to try and think of what he could to do steer Mickey back into his playful, troublesome self. He thought these things even as Mickey was in his lessons, King Marino droning on about the power of a merfolk’s voice. Mickey’s head was flopped onto his makeshift desk, his eyes dull and face inattentive.

However, this wasn’t going to be like their usual day of boring lessons. Up in the left corner, a crowd of five siblings were flocking around one of the eldest sons, pointing and whispering at something in his hands. King Marino raised his head from his scroll, eyebrows pressed together in annoyance. “You there! Quiet down! What do you think you’re doing?”

The younger brothers bowed their heads in slight shame, but the one who had drawn attention to himself held out his hand. “I found a Land Walker treasure yesterday!”

Marlin faintly recognized the golden glint from the tragedy days ago, and spoke without thinking. “Say, wasn’t that what the girl was wearing?”

Mickey’s faded eyes slowly turned in that direction, and in the single moment he caught a look of what the brother had in his palm, color returned to his face. His head jolted up so fast it sent Marlin reeling backwards. “It is!”

King Marino grumbled, starting to get out from behind his podium. “Land Walker treasure is nothing but trash. Give it here, and I’ll dispose of it properly.”

“NO!” In a blue rush, Mickey was suddenly at his brother’s face, trying to snatch the locket away. “Gimmie that! Ya gotta give it ta me!”

The eldest – Mitch, if Mickey was recalling correctly – closed his hand around the locket and held it over Mickey’s head. “Why should I give it to you? I found it, so I can keep it… whatever your name is.”

“Ya don’t understand!” Mickey latched onto Mitch’s arm in a desperate struggle to get him to release it, causing the other brothers around them to start laughing at the childish display. “It’s all I got left!”

“Enough!” King Marino raised his voice, but only Marlin was actually listening to him. “I said give it here! Association with Land Walkers is strictly forbidden!” He slammed his hand down on a desk in an attempt to get attention, but most of the brothers were having too much fun watching Mickey try uselessly to get the locket back.

Mickey couldn’t use his smaller fingers to pry open Mitch’s stronger ones, and all of the sneering and laughing around him made him feel much weaker. He dug his as hard as he could into Mitch’s skin, knowing if his father got a hold of the locket, it would never be seen again. The only proof that he had ever met Minnie, the last connection he had to the boardwalk, would be gone forever. Then it hit him – what did he need dignity for, if they couldn’t bother to remember who he was?

Taking a lesson from Bruce, Mickey sunk his teeth down into Mitch’s arm, causing the elder to both yell and open his hand. Mickey then clasped the locket in his hands, and made an attempt to swim off with it – and instead bumped right into his father. He slowly tilted his head upward, perhaps only now realizing how very tall and how very important the king seemed all of a sudden. The other brothers hushed into silence, even as Mitch rubbed the lasting bite mark.

King Marino opened up his hand, waiting for Mickey to drop the item in his palm. “Nothing good can come from Land Walkers.” His voice was dark with ill consequences, a tone Mickey could not recall hearing before. “They would treat you as a monster, and your fate would be worse than death. Give me the treasure, and forget this nonsense.”

Mickey looked down at the golden locket in his small black hands. It was in the shape of a heart, with a secret hidden inside. The chain that used to keep it around the maiden’s neck had been broken. He ran his thumb over it, and then looked up. “I’ll give it to you… if you can tell me my name.”

In the background, there were whispers of confusion about something so needlessly trivial. Marino was inclined to agree with them, given the extra anger that spewed in his reply. “This is not an exchange! You will give it to me! There is nothing worthwhile about that Land Walker trash!” He made an attempt to swipe it out of Mickey’s hand, but Mickey instantly backed up, holding the broken chain.

“Say my name!” Mickey snapped back, no longer intimidated by his father. “Say my name, right now!”

Marino made another false swipe, and then he smacked one of the desks aside, reducing it to near rubble. “Do you think this is a game?! Your name does hold worth compared to the safety of your kind! You will hand it to me, or I will have it by force!” He then raised his fist, shouting to all of the brothers who were bothering to watch. “Seize him!”

About ten brothers were disinterested, another ten hesitant, but more than thirty were getting up to obey their ruler. Mickey knew all of the trouble he was in, and so he swam as fast as his fins could take him back to the entrance of the auditorium. Outside of the massive building, Bruce had been about to enter, and instead was steamrolled by a frantic school of mermen. Once the hunt passed him by, he dizzily rolled over, trying to get his bearings. “… Going out on a limb here, and guessin’ that wasn’t the ocean’s biggest game of Tag.”

Marlin managed to make it outside and found his flattened friend. “Bruce! We have to go after them, Mickey’s in trouble!”

“That’s not exactly news.” Bruce managed to right himself up. “Anyway, I was supposed to come here to talk to the king… After the whole tidal wave fiasco, he had me and the other sharks check out the borders of the Lost Catacombs for anythin’ strange. And there’s all his smoke and bubbles comin’ out, so I figure that goes right into the strange category.”

Marlin went nose to nose with the much more imposing shark, ready to beg for help. “Look, can we tell the king about the Lost Catacombs’s gas trouble later? Mickey might get mauled out there! He isn’t thinking straight!”

“… If you’re saying we ignore the king’s order, that’s got to be serious.” Bruce allowed Marlin to hang onto his dorsal fin, and then went after the horde of merfolk. “Our Mickey’s faster than them, but even a crowd of crabs can take down the biggest seagull!”

Bruce’s unusual analogy was proving to be true several meters up ahead. As fast as Mickey was, his army of brethren were swiping and clawing at his tail, injuring him and slowing him down. Despite how deeply frightened he was, Mickey still hung onto the locket as if his very life depended on it. At this point in the madness, it was no longer about the girl or even about Land Walkers. What he had in his hands was evidence of a unique experience like no other, something that made him different than the rest. This was a physical memory, remembrance in gold, and it mattered. He wasn’t even looking where he was going as it was taking all of his energy and strength just to keep ahead of the pack.

Unfortunately, because he didn’t look, he swam right into a smoky plume of purple – it covered his face and forced its way into his gills. Mickey cried out, unable to move further, and that was when hands grabbed his fin and yanked him backwards – a fist to the back of his head, a two fists to his stomach, and five hands forcing his palm to open – the locket was no longer with him.

“You dropped it!” One of the younger brothers pointed out, and dozens of eyes now saw the locket twirling down into the smoke, falling within gigantic cracks of the earth. It was out of sight within seconds. Around the cracks were signals drawn in squid’s ink, warning none to enter. Several jagged pieces of broken ships lay here and there, making a grotesque graveyard of fallen journeys. These were the Lost Catacombs, the deepest part of the ocean and forbidden by every single creature to enter.

With the object of their quest gone, the siblings released Mickey, lapsing back into their lackadaisical boredom.

“Well, if it’s in the Catacombs, that’s as gone as it’s going to get.”
“Does this mean no more lessons today?”
“Who wants to grab something to eat?”
“Who was this kid, anyway?”
“I don’t know. One of us, maybe.”

By the time the last sibling had left the scene, Marlin and Bruce had caught up, thoroughly exhausted by the trip they had to make. “Mickey!” Marlin hopped off the shark, swimming all around Mickey to inspect his bruises. “Are you all right? Geez, they really did a number on you…”

“See? This is just what I was tellin’ you.” Bruce waved his fin at the strange smoke that continued to emit from the cracks. “No idea what’s causing all of this, but it can’t be good. Let’s head on back before this gets worse.”

“A monster.” Mickey said out loud, surprising both of his friends. “That’s what he said… that if Land Walkers ever found me out, they’d treat me as a monster.” His eyes stayed on the smoke and on the dark abyss that had swallowed up the proof of his fateful encounter. Even in Mickey’s most mischievous and playful moments, he had never strayed too close to the Lost Catacombs. He had no reason to go deeper into the ocean when he found the life above it far more interesting.

Marlin tried to stay between Mickey’s ears, offering tiny strokes to his companion in an effort to comfort him like another son. “It was harsh, but you know on some level he’s right… if you hung onto that locket, it’d only make you want things you can’t have. Why don’t we go on home and get those injuries looked at?”

Mickey ducked his head, trying to get away from Marlin’s touch. “… I’d rather be treated like a monster than treated like I don’t matter at all!” He blindly forced himself into the smoke and spiraled downward into the murky darkness below. Marlin and Bruce called out for him, the only ones who could bother to know his name, which only made Mickey reach down further and further. The farther down he went, the wider the cracks became, allowing him more room to swim and search. The smoke kept blinding him, making him unable to notice the landscape around him. But as minutes of fretful swimming passed, the smoke began to dissipate, allowing him to use his eyes and adjust to his surroundings.

Sunlight could not reach his distance, but he could make out the faint image of caves starting to align the walls. The bruises and scrapes from his brothers stung, and Mickey found himself rubbing his arms as he actually gave thought to what he was doing. How was he supposed to find a tiny locket in total darkness? But on the other fin, he couldn’t go back and face his family after what they put him through. Maybe he could have let the locket go, if the king – if any of his dozens of brothers – had bothered to say his name. Why even bother giving him a name at all?

Sharp rocks began to poke at his tail, and Mickey was starting to think he should return after all. Marlin was probably worried half to death, and Bruce might get the idea of going down after him. They cared about him, they remembered him, and so did Dory and Nemo. Four was better than none. He closed his eyes and steadied his breathing. He would allow himself one more indulgence, and then start back up, ready to put it all behind him.

For this brief solitary moment, he allowed himself to remember every single detail he could of Minnie. Yes, she had been pretty, impossibly pretty, but it was not confined to her shimmering eyes or delicate frame. There had been beauty in her kindness as she comforted the children around her, and there had been loveliness in the friendship she shared with Daisy. She was the sun and she was the air and she was warmth – she was everything Mickey wanted and could not have. The feel of her body as he kissed her forehead, the softness of her cheeks – every word she had said made Mickey want to hear all words from her, just to hear the unique way she said them. Then, as a last pained tribute, he remembered how she sang the story she had made her own.

He opened his mouth, and with it opened his eyes, ready to sing alongside her in his memories…

… When he saw the golden glint.

“Looking for this, your highness?”

A pale hand with large, pointed purple fingernails reached out from the shadows, and the locket fell in its fingers. The hand was yanked back into the unknown, and Mickey – his decision to forgo the quest and go home shattered - immediately set out after it. “Gimmie that back! It’s mine, I tell ya!” Yet his anger was quelled when he reached the other side of the shadows.

This particular cave before him was illuminated by glowing rocks, shaped like pearls, and was decorated with painted relics along the sides. Yellowed and withered scrolls hung from the walls, the ink beyond blurry, and discarded bands of jewelry were heaped onto the floor. In the middle of the cave, sprouting from the floor, was a wretch of crystallized coral, twisting and turning around a white sphere that shared nobody’s reflection. The room was messy and eerie, perhaps a manifestation of the person that lived in it. That person – who held the locket – stood before Mickey on legs! Actual legs! In fact, were it not for the gills on his pale neck, Mickey would have thought this was a Land Walker.

Though a bizarre looking Land Walker, at that. This person wore elongated robes of purple and black that hung off his body, far too large for a person of this size and weight. Yet none of his attire floated around him, and instead stayed perfectly still around his body. His eyes were purple, his lips were purple, his long ponytail that stretched down his back was purple and black – this man was very gaudy, right down to his curly multicolored mustache. “Doesn’t it truly belong to the maiden?”

Mickey cautiously came inside the cave, eyes darting about the strange interior. “… How’d ya know about that?” He said after a moment’s hesitation, feeling unsettled from all corners of the room.

“I know everything that happens in the ocean. Including your noble rescue of the lady fair. Bravo, really.” The creature clapped once, a smirk playing on his mouth. It was difficult to tell if he was being sincere or sarcastic, as his voice was layered with thread-like softness.

Either way, Mickey was uncomfortable. “Can I have it back now?”

“Certainly... if that’s all you want.” The man tossed the locket carelessly, and Mickey caught it with ease.

Mickey pressed the locket to his chest, exhaling deeply as he felt the metal on his heart. He had gotten to thinking he would never see it again, and by all means he should have left after that. Yet curiosity could not let Mickey be. He chewed on his bottom lip. “… Whaddya mean ‘all I want’?”

The man rested his hands on top of the white sphere, leaning over dangerously. There was a glitter to his eyes that compelled Mickey to lean in too. “… What if I were to tell you that I can help you walk side by side with her?”

“… I’d call ya crazy.” Mickey’s few remaining bits of caution nagged at him to leave, yet he fingered the locket, still listening. “Who are yaou, anyhow?” A person this unique to the ocean would have been covered in his lessons, or been a part of some lecture. Somewhere in the back of his mind there was a note of familiarity, but he decided it mustn’t have been important. Mickey couldn’t have been in real danger, as he would just use his voice to command this creature if he was a threat.

“You may call me the Sea Wizard.” He pushed away from the coral, and walked around the room with flair, waving his fingers and causing sprinkles of color to flutter off of his nails. “It’s quite a long and boring story of how I came here, so let’s stick to what’s important, shall we? I wait here for any poor creature needed the kind of help only my magic can provide. You should see how I change their lives!” He paused as if expecting some sort of praise or applause, neither of which he got.

“I’ve been told anyone who comes down here doesn’t come back.” Mickey still didn’t figure he’d be one of them. He stayed with the coral sphere, tail flicking about as his curiosity grew bigger and bigger. “Are ya sayin’ it’s cause you helped ‘em out?” Why not play this game a little longer? It was more exciting than what was waiting for him back home.

“Exactly my point, my dear prince.” The Sea Wizard stopped on his heel and turned. “And what you want is a simple matter for me. You want to be among the Land Walkers as one of them, and I can give you that very wish.” He then shrugged, nonchalant. “For a price, of course.”

“Of course.” Mickey repeated, fingering the broken chain. “And I’m a seal’s uncle. Are ya just tryin’ ta make fun of me?” This guy was good for a laugh, but nothing else.

The Sea wizard over dramatically flipped his hair, and stuck out his lower lip. “You don’t believe me? I’m hurt. Perhaps if I gave you a demonstration, you’d be more inclined to listen? I know just the thing.” He snapped his fingers, and then slammed an open palm on the sphere – it glowed brightly, almost blinding Mickey for several seconds. When vision returned to him, he couldn’t believe his eyes – in the sphere was Minnie! He moved in closer for a better look – she was sitting in a room, probably her room, while Daisy stood behind her as she finished brushing her friend’s hair.

“Are you still upset about it?” Daisy was nearly done brushing, but nowhere near done with the conversation. “You survived a monstrous storm, and all you can do is think about the locket. You really can’t buy another one?”

“You don’t understand, Daisy.” Minnie touched her chest at the space where the locket used to be. “It’s all I had left of my mother and father… The ocean took them from me, and now it’s taken that too.” She whimpered, shutting her eyes, her fingers clenched on the maid uniform. “I can never go near there again… it takes away all I care about!”

“Oh, honey.” Daisy put the brush away on a desk drawer, and hugged her friend tightly, giving her a tender kiss on the cheek. “I know it’s painful, but you can’t think the ocean is actually out to get you. Come now…” She urged Minnie to stand up, swinging her hands. “If the ocean was really that cruel, it would have taken you away from us. But you came back safe and sound. Isn’t that something to be happy over?”

“Mmm…” Minnie looked down, mulling. She then timidly met Daisy’s eyes, taking her time to say the next words. “Daisy, do you… do you believe in guardian angels?”

“No.” Daisy answered easily.

Minnie expected no less and continued anyway. “I know this will sound odd, but… it wasn’t the ocean sparing me. I could swear, I felt like…” She let go of Daisy’s hands, gesturing around them to try and show what had happened. “… Like I was being held. Like someone was embracing me, and I was safe.” She closed her eyes as she attempted to hold onto that memory, though it became more difficult with each passing day. “I wasn’t scared. I knew I was okay.”

“Whatever helps you get through it, Minnie.” Daisy didn’t press further, taking Minnie by the arm and heading for the door. “Angels, the will of the ocean, if you say they helped you, then they helped you. Now, let’s put on some bright faces. We have a lot of work to do.”

Then the images stopped, and only Minnie remained, not moving. “What a sad little thing.” The Sea Wizard commented, lightly patting the sphere. “Though she isn’t bad to look at.”

Mickey had gone unusually quiet. Emotions were bubbling up inside, and he didn’t know how to handle the onslaught. Finally, he was choking out words he never knew he’d say. “She… remembered me! S-she… oh my gosh, she actually remembered!” Someone important had actually held onto his presence! He was a memory, he was a moment, he was unforgotten and alive in someone’s history! Not just anyone’s history – hers! Becoming overly ecstatic, he touched the sphere with one hand, laughter escaping in between sentences. “You remembered! You really did! It was me, I was the one that saved ya! I kept ya safe!”

“Quite.” The Sea Wizard lazily draped his arms over the sphere, covering Minnie’s image up. “Of course, it has only been a few days. But she’s never going to near the ocean again, so with each passing week, and month, and year, as they roll on by, she will have fewer reasons to remember the mysterious being that kept her protected.” He appeared to be taking delight in Mickey’s smile fading into pain. “What she needs is someone to help her get over her fears… someone to console her… and someone to return that darling locket. And why shouldn’t that be you?”

Mickey’s heart was pounding harder and harder. He was heading onto a path of no return, but the image of Minnie praising his arms would not vanish. “… So you can… you can really… turn me into a… a Land Walker?” It was ludicrous to say it out loud, but he could not abandon this opportunity, no matter how impossible it seemed. The ocean wasn’t something to be afraid of. She needed help and she needed the locket. He told himself these were purely unselfish reasons, but the twists of his heart also yearned to touch her warmth one more time.

“As long as you do exactly as I say.” The Sea Wizard picked off a scroll from the wall, able to read it despite the damage. “It’s a matter of exchange, and loyalty.” He traced the scroll, and the ink began to move on its own, forming legible letters. “I will turn you into a Land Walker for a little while… say, until the end of summer. When the last leaf falls from the last tree in the Kingdom, I will come and see how you are. If you want to turn back into your fishy form, I can provide that, and we can all pretend this never happened.”

“… And what if… I wanna stay… like that?” Mickey’s eyes kept darting from Minnie to the Wizard, his fingers clenching around the locket. He would leave his family behind – leave behind what little friends he had – leave his home, leave his life, leave everything he knew and enter a world where the simple act of movement would have to be learned all over again. But he would be remembered there. She remembered him now, and she would remember him again, she could have a lifetime of memories of him, and he would not be forgotten ever again.

The Wizard made final adjustments to the scroll, licking his thumb as he dotted the last I. “If you want to stay with her and with your legs, then you must get true love’s kiss. Then your transformation will be permanent.” He kissed two of his fingers, pressed it to the scroll, and then flipped the end of the scroll towards Mickey – a feathered pen now rested under a black line where Mickey was supposed to sign.

Mickey picked up the pen, thinking this to be easy enough. A kiss was simple, hardly worth thinking over, but he bit his lip, one more detail in the way. “You said it was an exchange. What else am I givin’ up?”

“Oh, nothing important.” The Wizard waved a dismissive hand with his nose held up high. “You won’t even miss it. All I need is your voice.”

“My-” Mickey immediately dropped the pen and touched his throat. “My voice?! How am I supposed to talk to her? I can’t help her like that!”

“Actions speak louder than words, my prince.” The Wizard tugged lightly at the other end of the scroll, threatening to take everything back. “That is my price. If you want to see her again, and be remembered as more than a fabrication, then you will give me your voice. And…” In one blink, the Wizard’s eyes turned red, but when he blinked again, they were purple, so Mickey figured it had merely been a trick of the light. “… should you ever convey that this deal happened, you forfeit the contract, and lose your humanity.”

Mickey could have asked for more time before making this decision. He could have asked why the wizard didn’t want people to know about the deal. He could have asked what would happen if he didn’t get the kiss. He could have thought long and hard about the step he was to take, but in this tight cave with the lights glowing brighter and the image of Minnie still present, he felt he had no time to do anything else. The locket was cold in his hand, and each second was another chance that Minnie could forget. He picked up the pen…

M-I-C-K-E-Y.

Suddenly the Wizard thrust his hand out, slamming Mickey into the wall, shaking the remaining scrolls off the walls. He snatched up the pen, grinning maliciously, his overly decorated face now demonic in its manic glee. “And now, it all begins!” He stabbed the pen into Mickey’s throat, and Mickey could not yell, could not cry, could not do a thing – the blood that slashed out of his neck melted into the water around him, and an intense heat brewed within his tail. It grew warmer and warmer, hotter than he ever knew, pain throbbing there and in his throat, each throb intensifying so deeply he thought he would die –

Da mihi virtutem suam!
Da mihi vox eius!
Mittere in terram, stultus est
Et constituerit eum humani!

The last bits of life left him, and Mickey fell into the shadows.

~*~

The morning was bright and clear, which told the hapless fisherman that today was a good day to take his pole out and reel in the day. Typically he fished every morning for a couple of hours, but with the recent boardwalk disaster, he had decided to stay away just in case. Now with that terrible afternoon long gone, he could resume his livelihood. His shack was nothing much, bordering on the outskirts of the prestigious Nereid Kingdom. It creaked and groaned every hour of the day, and he had to duck to get past the front door. Yet for all of its misshapen flaws, he loved his house, for it had been a family hand-me-down, much like his clothes, furniture, and fishing rod. The one thing he could call his and his alone was his faithful dog, which was patiently waiting for him at the doorway.

“Ya’ll set, Pluto?” He asked his buddy, lovingly rubbing the top of Pluto’s head. “Aw, I bet we’re gunna get a big one taday! Bigger than anythin’ we’ve ever seen!” Pluto yipped in happy agreement, walking out behind his master. The kingdom had started to wake up, with tired shop owners setting up their tills, and schoolchildren grumbling as they left their parents doorstops. The fisherman stood in place for a while, looking at the bustling activity from afar. The distance often made him wonder if he was considered an actual citizen of the kingdom. People bought his fish when he walked onto the smoothed shaped rocks that formed their grey pathways, yet he wasn’t exactly a shopkeeper himself. Some still called him 'goof', instead of Goofy.

But it would do no good to dwell on something so meaningless. He had a job to do, and the fish weren’t going to catch themselves. He turned around, his long black ears swaying about, and he whistled a jaunty tune between his large buck teeth. “Oh, the world owes me a livin’…”

He had been at the Grand Carnival on the day of the tidal wave disaster – it was now being called the Day of Wrath, by more creative folk – selling fish to tourists who had never seen the size or color of the sea creatures at this part of the world. It had scared him silly, but surely they would rebuild the pier and the boardwalk, and they’d have the carnival again. The Queen herself had said to see it as a day of blessing, since no one had gotten injured or killed. His mind continued to travel from one tangent to the next, as now he pondered about what the Queen actually looked like, since she had made her declaration from the castle balcony, as all royals did. Nobody had ever seen her face, not even the maids in the castle, so the rumors said.

His mind bounced back and forth between stories and rumors until Pluto’s barking began to seize his attention. “Huh?” They had made it to the beach, and Pluto had run off frantically, barking to signal something up ahead. “Hold on, Pluto! I’m a comin’!” He ran as fast as he could to catch up, pole in one hand and basket in the other. As typical when he opted to get in a hurry, his lanky legs betrayed him, and he tripped on his loose shoelaces. With a yelping tumble, he rolled down the hill until he landed on the sand. He sat for a moment, allowing his dizziness to work itself out. “That hill gets bigger every day…” Pluto barked again, reminding him why he had fallen.

Lying in the sand not too far away was a young mouse, coated in seaweed from the waist down. He was drenched in sea water, and the fisherman dropped his tools, assuming the worst. “Oh no! The poor little fella!” He scrambled to get to the mouse, and then dropped his head onto the boy’s chest, trying to hear a heartbeat. Once he did, he sighed in relief. “His ticker’s still goin’… But he’s cold as ice! Looks like our fishin’s not happenin’ taday either.” He pulled back to scoop the mouse into his arms, standing up to check the area in case any other partially drowned people were around. “Wonder where he came from? Not a stitch of clothin’ on him… well, I guess he’ll tell us when he wakes up. C’mon, boy.”

Pluto picked up the pole in his mouth, and the basket with his tail, once again following his master. The fisherman wasn’t perturbed by the loss of income again, as this boy clearly needed someone. He hummed on his way back, letting the black body slump against his raggedy clothes. Maybe tomorrow they could try again. At the time he failed to notice that the boy’s hand was closed, holding tightly on precious treasure.

Chapter Text

On that very same day, Minnie, Daisy, and the other royal attendants of the castle rose to perform their chores. Queen Millicent’s castle was a large and historical monument which required several dozen hands to keep it clean every day. Minnie was given the opportunity to stay in bed for another day due to her trauma, but she had chosen against it. If she stayed like that one more day, her fears and tears would eat her alive. It was better to distract herself with her duties. She and Daisy were one of the few attendants who had the privilege of living in the castle, which meant they cleaned their own rooms first.

Occasionally as Minnie dusted the corners and folded the laundry she would notice she did not feel the locket thumping against her body. She’d stop, touch her neck, and remember that it was gone. She’d lower her head, fight back the trembles in her cheeks, and then resume what she had been doing. She knew she should be grateful to be alive after what she had been through, but the loss of her parent’s locket continued to haunt her. What if without it, she started to forget her parents? What if she started to forget what they looked like? Who was she without them?

She brooded on such depressing ideas until Daisy yanked her backwards by the shoulders. “We’re going out!”

Startled, Minnie wobbled back and forth in her shoes, trying to regain her balance. “What? Out?”

“You’ve been washing that same window for fifteen minutes.” Daisy patted Minnie’s cheek. “Either you’re trying to see if your reflection can get any cuter, or you need something much bigger to get yourself off the edge. It’s time for lunch, so we’ll go out to get it.” She then took Minnie’s hand and began to lead her away.

“But I lost my money during the Day of Wrath!” Minnie squeaked, finding herself being dragged along. Daisy’s grip was something to fear.

“No one in their right mind would think of charging you after what you’ve been through.” Daisy huffed, keeping her bill up in the air. “And if they do, then I’ll show them what real wrath is.”

Minnie stopped resisting and chose to walk side by side with her friend. “… Thank you.” She said after several steps, keeping her eyes lowered. “I know I can’t be the most pleasant person in the world to be around right now.”

“Do you even listen to yourself speak?” Daisy swung Minnie’s hand back and forth, ready to give her a big push if necessary. “You’re always going on and on how everyone else feels but you don’t take that same care about yourself! Do us both a favor, and think selfishly for once!”

It was an odd request, but Minnie tried to mull it over anyway as they walked along the lavish carpet. They passed by more stain glass windows that depicted battles of yesteryear, mythical creatures climbing aboard sailing boats and the glory of the Queen’s ancestors. Minnie’s eyes traced over the familiar artistry before coming to a decision. “Does thinking about my guardian angel count?”

“I’ll take what I can get.” Daisy smirked, as the sunlight shone through the windows and illuminated the deep colors of the windows. “Maybe it was someone from the pier who saw you fall and dived in after you… I bet it was someone from the kingdom, too.”

“Do you think so?” Minnie had thought about her savior late at night when she was supposed to be sleeping, as it was a refuge from her thoughts of the locket. “Then maybe I’ll see them again someday… oh, but it’d be so difficult. I don’t know what they look like at all.” All she could remember was the strong arms around her, and the faint kiss that graced her forehead. It was only when sleep swept her back under could she grasp at any other details of what happened, but with every morning she lost those as well. Memories were proving to be faint and fragile things, given the loss of the locket and now the vanishing savior in her mind.

“Then let him come find you!” Daisy flew her hand open dramatically, ready to create the story. “Maybe he was a rich merchant who’s sick of selling, and wants to share his time and money with a cute young thing! And he’ll have an equally rich brother who’s looking for a double date!”

Minnie at last started to smile, though it was weak. “I don’t care if he’s rich or poor… Whoever saved me risked their very life... But wouldn’t it be romantic if he saw me again?” They had started to approach the front doors of the castle, where the big burly guards tipped their helmets in greeting. Minnie curtsied politely for them, but Daisy continued on walking, as if they were merely pillars, not leaving Minnie enough time to apologize on her behalf.

It was the start of a fresh and prosperous day as the maids walked out of the castle and into the market square. For all of Daisy’s prompts, Minnie doubted she would see her savior, and doubted much more so that anyone would want to seek her out. After all, she was a plain little maid, whose eyes were still red and puffy from crying over a trinket. Once again she touched her chest and found nothing resting there.

~*~

Mickey didn’t want to get up. He was tired and exhausted, and he didn’t want to go hear any more boring lessons about people hundreds of years ago. Any minute now, Marlin would lecture at his door, telling him to move his tail and get going. He grumbled about his bad luck, turned over in bed, took a huge gulp of air –

AIR?!

Mickey’s eyes popped open and his body sat up like a bolt of lightning. He breathed heavily in and out, shaking at the fact he was breathing at all. His fingers trembling, he touched his neck and did not feel his gills. Instead, he felt a jabbed scar that reached across his Adam’s apple. This was not his bed – this bed was for someone at least twice his size, and worn down over years of use. The pillow was losing feathers, and the blanket covering his body had been patched over a lifetime. He did not think things could get any stranger.

He was wrong. “Good mornin’, lil’ buddy! … Though I think it’s afternoon now…” Standing in the doorway was the tallest Land Walker Mickey had ever seen. Much like the blanket, the clothes he was wearing were also patched together after years of wear and tear. “Me and Pluto here found ya on the beach!” Pluto must have been that strange looking animal that was walking in between the Land Walker’s legs to get a closer look at Mickey. “Easy there, Pluto, we gotta let him have some space!” The man tipped his hat. “The name’s Goofy! What’s yers?”

Mickey opened his mouth – and nothing came out. His tongue worked, his lips worked, but as he tried to voice his name, nothing would emerge. He even tried to yell, but the only result was Goofy and Pluto tilting their heads in confusion. In defeat, Mickey pointed at his throat, trying to signal what he could not say.

“Cat got yer tongue?” Goofy tried to make a joke out of it, deciding they’d figure something out eventually. “Guess he musta got everythin’ else too… Suppose that means ya can’t tell us where yer from or how ta get ya home.”

Home – No, he wouldn’t be going back there for a long time. Not after what he went through, not after he learned how little he was needed. Frustration surged throughout his body, and he grabbed the blanket, taking it off so he could move his –

LEGS.

His anger evaporated at this next miracle - he had legs! He was a Land Walker! No longer did he have a scaly tail of royal blue, but black limbs with toes that wiggled about. Knees and heels and thighs – it was all there! He couldn’t hear Goofy trying to ask Mickey how he got on the beach, as Mickey was too involved kicking his brand new legs around. This was the most amazing thing in the whole wide world! He could learn how these things work! He hopped onto the floor, and a shock went through him as he felt the floor under his feet. His one hand stayed closed, but the other one opened, fingers trembling in the air.

Before Goofy could ask another question, Mickey burst through the doorway, running – running! – through the small shamble of a house to get outside. He felt the ground under his feet, felt his knees bend, and all at once he wanted to try everything he’d seen Land Walkers do. He hopped up and down, he kicked his feet, he even tripped and fell over. All of these new experiences were overwhelming, and had he the voice to do so, he would have laughed in delight. He rolled around in the dirt, and then stood back up, running around in circles.

“Excitable lil’ guy, ain’t he?” Goofy quipped as he poked his head out the front door. “Still as naked as a jaybird, though…” He calmly stepped outside, slid his hands under Mickey’s armpits, and lifted him up. Mickey froze at the sudden lack of stable footing, and looked behind him. Goofy smiled. “If ya wanna run around, why don’t we getcha dressed up? Then we can grab somethin’ ta eat in the kingdom… maybe find yer folks.”

Mickey allowed himself to be carried back inside, as a new discovery was about to be made. The famous ‘clothes’ that Land Walkers wore was a staple of confusion for him. He tried to recall his lessons, where it had been said they could have been used as a way to attract mates, or used as armor for battle over territory. Mickey found neither explanation worked for the attire that Goofy helped dress him in – it was two sizes too big, one of the sleeves was ripped, the buttons were stitched on haphazardly, and it was all around uncomfortable. Goofy clicked his tongue, equally disappointed. “Well… I guess my old school uniform ain’t exactly a good fit… guess they’ll have ta do fer now. Maybe we ought ta getcha somethin’ ta wear while we’re there.” For some reason, Mickey had absolutely refused to open his left hand, leaving whatever was in there a mystery.

Mickey looked down at the crinkly loafers now on his feet. Even if he didn’t understand the nature of these clothes, it was still a nice thing to do, giving something of yours to a stranger. He reached up and took Goofy’s hand in both of his, giving it a vigorous shake.

Goofy raised his eyebrows, but then he smiled again as he understood. “Aw, yer welcome! See, we can understand each other just fine without a lick a'words!” He heartily slapped Mickey on the back, sending him stumbling. “I can tell we’re gunna be best buddies! I’ll show ya all ‘round Nereid!” He then chuckled as he walked outside, sticking his hands in his pockets. “Guess this makes me the smarter one fer once! Never thought I’d see the day!”

Thus Goofy, Pluto and Mickey began to make their way up to the Nereid Kingdom, with Mickey’s excitement growing with every passing second. Even the first glimpse of the schoolhouse and the homes of the citizens were enough to make his mouth go wide with awe. He walked ahead of the dogs, trying to capture all of the vibrant colors and unique structures that towered above them. Even if Mickey could speak, he had no words for the new things that were popping around on every corner – horses pulling wagons, loud men trying to sell their wares, older boys kicking a ball back and forth – it was so new and fascinating, and Mickey could not get enough of it.

He sprinted ahead, losing a shoe in the process. He wanted to see everything! He chased the cats in the streets- he splashed into the waters of the fountain - he snatched red, yellow, and green fruits from table, juggling them around before tossing them at laughing children – he ran through every store, slid around every front porch, and used the passing people as obstacle courses. Goofy and Pluto attempted to chase him around every new adventure, but Mickey’s speed had stayed the same despite the change in form. Thankfully they caught up when a delicious smell hit Mickey’s nose, and he stopped at an open window. He was about to snatch cherry pie from the windowsill when he was yanked up and away once more by his taller friend.

“Slow down there, buddy!” Goofy wheezed out, dripping with exhaustion. “How about we take things one a time?”

As Mickey dangled in Goofy’s grasp, he pointed at the cooling treat nearby, and then looked back at Goofy, waiting for an explanation.

“Shoot, no wonder you’re hungry, with all that runnin’ around.” Goofy put Mickey down, and then wiped his forehead with the back of his arm. “I could go for twenty of those mahself!” But when Mickey pointed again, a little more insistently, Goofy realized this wasn’t an issue of the stomach. “… Are ya tryin’ ta say ya dunno what that is?” When Mickey nodded, Goofy let out a whistle of surprise. “Why, that’s cherry pie! Ain’t ya ever had cherry pie before?”

Lo and behold, Mickey had found a tutor. How was he supposed to enjoy anything about this world if he didn’t know what they were? He latched onto Goofy’s arm and began to force him forward, pointing more things out. Goofy didn’t mind – it was kind of like teaching a child. At least now he could keep track of the boy. With Pluto tagging from behind, Goofy helpfully explained that this was a mailbox, that was a carriage, and over there was a clock-shop.

Goofy almost felt like he had a second pet now, given the way Mickey refused to stay in one straight line, wanting to see everything. Mickey was enthralled by every sight, and would tug on Goofy’s sleeve, wanting to know what this was – fruit – what that was – a bookstore – and wound up stumbling on his feet every so often. Pluto felt it was his duty to keep Mickey with them, and so he’d nudge Mickey back to Goofy if the boy wandered too far off. Goofy didn’t mind too much, feeling smart for once in his life. “Gosh, little fella, we ain’t even in the town square yet!” He chuckled, affectionately patting Mickey between the ears. “Ya ain’t been outside much, have ya?”

Mickey shook his head, smiling so wide his cheeks began to ache. There was so much he wanted to see, but his new legs would only allow him so much speed. He wished Goofy and Pluto would move faster, and he breathed heavily as he took several steps ahead, trying to get closer to the next thing that caught his attention - windows! Windows in a store! He waved to his reflection, to the people inside the store, to Minnie and Daisy walking by behind him –

Wait.

He whipped around –

“For the last time, just take my money.” Daisy counted the coins in her small change purse, taking one out and offering it to Minnie. “That star shaped locket would have matched your eyes perfectly. You could have taken it as an early birthday present.”

Minnie held up her hand, refusing Daisy’s coins. “I appreciate it, Daisy, I really do. But nothing can ever replace my parent’s locket. Please don’t worry so much… I swear, I’m feeling better.” She tried to smile once more, though it was still feeble. “We should start heading back to the castle. Besides, we-” And that was the last word she got out before she was violently tackled down and kissed right on the mouth by a strange boy in clothes worn by a man over a dozen years ago.

Mickey had failed to take into account just what ‘true love’s kiss’ detailed aside from the kiss part. So he felt rather accomplished as he loomed over her with a chipper smile. He’d learn later that the thin black thing sticking out behind him that was wagging in delight was his new tail. He learned now that his kiss was unwelcome by being swiftly punched in the head by Daisy, who then smacked him with her purse, over and over and over again as he crumbled to the ground “Pervert! You disgusting pervert! Someone get the guards and arrest this… this pig!”

Suffice to say, this wasn’t how Mickey thought things were going to go. He tried to explain himself, sitting up and holding out his arms in defense, but again he forgot his lack of a voice, and all he could was endure the beating. What did this nutjob think she was doing?! She was interrupting a very tender moment between lovers!

Goofy had managed to make his way over during this assault, and quickly yanked Mickey up by his arms for a third time, dangling him in the air now as if it was natural. “Wow, buddy, I can’t take my eyes offa ya fer a second! What happened here?”

“So that thing belongs to you?” Daisy growled, wringing her pale blue purse in her hands. “He just assaulted my friend! Get him out of my sight before I lose my temper!”

Mickey snorted derisively at Daisy’s over the top behavior. If she didn’t understand true love, then forget her. He looked over at Minnie, but she wasn’t smiling or giggling demurely as he had imagined she would. She had managed to sit up, and while her cheeks were the very shade of red Mickey had known they would be, there was no happiness to be found in her trembling body. Instead, there was the kind of horror he had seen when smaller fish tended to first meet Bruce. This was terror, her frail arms curled up around her chest. She was feeling a lot of things and it was obvious that love was not one of them.

Well, dang, Mickey thought to himself as Daisy continued to insult him with words he didn’t understand. Maybe he’d done it wrong. It was true that his kissing experience before this was nonexistent. But how many different ways could one go about it? He continued to think and puzzle it over, letting his body relax – and without realizing it, his hand opened, and there was a tiny ‘clink’ of an item hitting the ground. Only Minnie noticed, for it was the one item she had felt was missing from her very soul.

“My locket!” Minnie’s voice broke through the others as she dived for the ground, scooping up the precious locket in her hands. “It really is! Oh, thank goodness!” She pressed it hard to her chest, overwhelmed with complete and utter joy. “It’s back, it’s really back… I thought I’d never see it again…”

Now Mickey knew that was an expression of happiness coming from his dear Minnie. It was contagious, as seeing her so flushed with pure relief made him smile. He would have indulged in the moment, except Daisy kept shrieking – “And he’s a thief! A perverted thief! He should be in the dungeon for a thousand years!”

“Who cares!” Minnie stood up, holding her precious treasure to the sky, eyes filling up with tears. “It’s back! I got my locket back! Oh, this is a miracle!” She sniffled, and looked at Mickey, who was still being held up in the awkward position. “Thank you so much, sir! Thank you, thank you, thank you! Is there any way I can repay you?”

“I wouldn’t go askin’ that.” Goofy replied, slowly setting his companion down, now that the threat was supposedly over. “He can’t speak. Not a word. Strangest thing!”

“I just bet.” Daisy huffed, arms crossed.

Minnie blinked through her remaining tears, trying to collect herself. “Can he understand us?” She timidly approached Mickey, now inspecting him very carefully. Mickey puffed out his chest, doing his best to look princely and regal in hand-me-down clothes.

“Sure thing!” Goofy gave a thumb up, which Pluto copied. “Every word!”

“Well, then, in that case.” Minnie bowed her head low, doing a proper curtsy with her now dirty maid dress. “Sir… you have my gratitude for finding this for me. It means more to me than you could ever know.” She lifted her head, her face even more colorful with the heat of her tears moving own her tan cheeks. Mickey felt a lump in his throat – seeing her up close like this was intense. The pretty girl he had harbored in his memories was even more divine in flesh and blood. The solace she had found was all because of him, which only made him feel more elated. He leaned in, expecting a congratulatory kiss peppered with that True Love stuff he needed.

She then slapped Mickey across the face, sending him down to the ground again. “Now don’t you ever kiss me again!” She then spun around, her attention on the locket’s chain. “Oh, dear, it really is broken. I’ll have to get it fixed.”

“Not to worry, dear.” Daisy turned around as well, ready to put the whole ugly mess behind him. “Let’s go back to the castle and first thing tomorrow morning we’ll drop it off-”

If they thought Mickey was giving up that easily, they had another thing coming. He hopped back onto his feet, and then raced ahead of the girls. He stopped in front of them, and then pointed at his face, trying to get Minnie to remember her savior. Daisy growled, and then snapped her fingers. “Big dog person!”

Goofy took a guess. “Y’mean me?”

Daisy then snapped her fingers at Mickey. “What is this thing’s name?”

Goofy and Pluto shrugged, unsure of what to make of the whole event. “I dunno… I’ve been callin’ him buddy, and kiddo, and pal… Since he can’t talk, can’t get much of a name outta him.”

Mickey wasn’t about to let something as mediocre as a language barrier stand between him and his goals. He’d just have to get creative. So in the course of thirty seconds, he began to mime his mermaid body, seeing Minnie at the pier, Minnie’s singing, her falling, him saving her life, and then, ta-da, here he was!

The end result was him looking like a gigantic weirdo. Minnie frowned, rubbing her locket between her hands. “Is there something he wants from me? Like a reward…?”

“I’d say that kiss was reward enough.” Daisy put her hands on her hips, suddenly starting to look scarier than most of the sharks in the ocean. “Listen, whoever you are, your business with us is done! Go! Vamoose! Scram! Hasta la vista! Sayonara! Whatever language you speak, find the word for get lost and do so!”

Mickey tugged on his ears at the sheer frustration of it all. Why couldn’t she recognize him and love him as instantly as he did her? He had to stir her memories back somehow. He was tempted to hold her to see if that would do the job, but judging from Daisy’s glare, he probably wouldn’t have survived the attempt. He helplessly pointed at his face again, then got on his knees, begging Minnie to know who he was and why he had come there. His brothers got girls all the time, why was he having such a difficult case?

Minnie looked to Daisy, who looked to Goofy, who looked to Pluto, who could only shrug again. None of them had a clue what it was that Mickey wanted, but it was clear he wasn’t going to give up. “Whatever he’s trying to say…” Minnie attempted, twisting her lips as she didn’t like what she was about to suggest. “… It must be important to him. And if none of us can understand him… maybe the Queen can.”

“The Queen!” Daisy loudly balked at the idea. “You want to waste her time on this creep?”

“But she’s the wisest person in the entire kingdom.” Minnie knew it sounded ludicrous, but at the time it was the only suggestion she could come up with. “Surely she’ll be able to help him out.” She then cleared her throat, addressing Mickey formally. “All right, you’re going to follow us to the castle to meet Queen Millicent. I expect you to be on your best behavior. So don’t you go kissing anybody!”

What a silly idea. Of course he wouldn’t kiss anybody! He just wanted to kiss her! He got back on his feet, slightly insulted by the thought. Goofy then leaned over, hands pressed together in excitement. “Can me and Pluto come over too? We ain’t ever seen a royal up and close before! No one in the family ever did! Pretty please?”

None of them noticed Mickey pointing at himself again – there’s a royal right here, dang it! – as Daisy threw her hands up in the air, giving up. “Let’s invite the whole kingdom while we’re at it!”

“Oh boy!” Goofy chirped, not knowing sarcasm if it spit him in the face. “We get ta see the Queen! If I’d have known this day was gunna be so excitin’, I woulda brushed my teeth! C’mon, Pluto!” Pluto barked merrily, just as thrilled as his master. The six of them began to walk towards the castle, Mickey loyally staying near Minnie’s side.

While Mickey pondered over what it was he was doing wrong, he took a good look at the imperial castle that came closer and closer into view. Unlike his underwater home which showed signs of age and decay covered with barnacles and coral, this pristine home was well taken care of, with glistening marble and smooth ivory. The guards at the large red doorway weren’t finned or had imposing teeth, and instead were wearing an odd reflective material that Mickey knocked his fist on. Minnie grabbed his hand to make him stop and then swiftly apologized to the burly men, saying the strangers were with them.

The halls were lined up with beautiful stain glass windows of stories Mickey didn’t know of, and carpets that trailed on endlessly below. A three-way hallway was split up ahead, and in each one Mickey could hear the faint sounds of footsteps. Atop smaller pillars were ancient treasures, including a ruby plated vase and intricate miniature statues of past rulers. It was a stark contrast to the palace Mickey was used to, as they simply had things as they were, no decorations, no useless distractions, and leaving the walls bare and plain. Another drastic difference was the quiet.

Underwater, Mickey could hear every movement of the ocean, every drop of chatter from schools of silverfish, and the bubbles rising from beneath. Here, it was footsteps, and nothing more. He would have stayed in place and listened to all the ‘nothing’, had Minnie not tugged him along. “No time for sight-seeing.” She chided, pulling him back. “If you don’t pay attention, you’ll get lost.”

“Speaking of which…” Daisy trailed off, now looking around their immediate area. They had gone straight down the middle hallway at this point, but now they were minus one visitor. “… Where did that tall guy go? How could he get lost already?!”

Minnie tried to fight off her ever growing headache at all the problems the past hour had brought. “Let’s try to handle one problem at a time. Someone’s bound to find him sooner or later.” To be honest, she couldn’t find the strength to be as mad and annoyed as Daisy. She was perturbed, yes, but with her locket back where it belonged, it was impossible to stay fully upset. She wasn’t even sure she wanted to drop it off to get fixed, as that would mean she’d have to be without it for even a few hours. Once the problem with this boy was done, her life could go back to normal, with the image of her parents back at her side. She rubbed the locket to her chest, trying not to smile at the bliss the feel gave her.

Soon they stopped before doors even grander and larger than the ones at the front. Rubies, emeralds, diamonds, jewels of all kind had been planted inside to form the image of the royal tiara. Minnie and Daisy then cast Mickey a cautionary glance, and Mickey didn’t need words to understand that if he was impolite to this Queen, he was a dead man walking. Perish the thought! If this woman was important to Minnie, then she was important to Mickey as well. Though, he did think it odd they only had one royal figure in this whole entire castle.

The girls pushed open the door, leading to the gigantic throne room. The back of the room consisted of one large window looking over the ocean, and the sunlight made a spotlight for the throne that rested above five steps. The throne itself was pale turquoise with silky undertones of aquamarine, looking soft enough to sleep upon. A horse wearing short robes of cerulean had been on one knee, speaking to the woman on the throne when he heard the door open. He stopped, and looked behind him, confused at the interruption.

“We apologize for the intrusion.” Minnie announced, curtsying much deeper than before. Daisy did the same, and Mickey, wanting to be polite, tried to curtsy with his shirt. “We can come another time, we did not mean to interrupt…”

The woman atop the throne was unlike any Mickey had seen before – mostly because Mickey wasn’t sure you could count someone so heavily draped and cloaked as seeing them. Her long flowing white dress appeared to go on for miles, and not a patch of skin or fur was exposed anywhere. Instead, her arms and hands had long clean gloves, and her jasmine colored tiara was attached to a white veil covering her face and neck. If Mickey squinted, he could make out the shadowy figure of a head underneath the veil, but it was impossible to get any details or shapes of what she was like. The most he could wager was that she was a sizable woman and that was all.

Clasped in her hand was a staff that was as tall as Goofy, if Mickey had to wager. Twin dragons of saffron were wrapped around a black rod, and at the very top was what appeared to be the face of a clock, frozen in time. The small dot that held the metallic arrows together was red, which seemed to jar against the entire color scheme the staff had. The Queen raised her hand, and thankfully her voice seemed cheerful. “We have just finished our business… and I would gladly put the whole world aside to have company with you, my dear Minnie.” She then turned her head back to Horace, nodding once. “Thank you for your report today.”

Horace kept quiet, bowing his head before getting up. Despite the pleasantries the Queen was giving off, the horse looked grim and worried, teeth set in anticipation of something dreadful. He walked around the group, not sparing Mickey a second look. Whatever was going on with him would have to wait, as the Queen was coming down the stairs to greet the group. “Now, to what do I owe the pleasure of your company? Could it be because of that young man?”

It was at that moment that Minnie realized she had yet to let go of Mickey’s hand. She quickly released him and stood up straight, clearing her throat. “We were hoping to seek your advice, your majesty.” She explained the unusual circumstances of meeting him, from the surprise kiss to the insistence of his company. During the entire time, Daisy kept a half heated glare at Mickey who ignored it just as easily.

Queen Millicent listened attentively, and then turned her head toward Mickey’s direction for confirmation. Mickey, unsure of how to prove what little story he had, fidgeted with the clothes he had and opened the shirt enough to show off his neck. Millicent lowered her head to get a better look. “I see… are you saying because of that injury, you cannot speak?” Mickey nodded, and so she asked again. “Can you write?” Mickey nodded again. “Can you write your name in the air?”

Mickey blinked, but then gave it a try. Unfortunately, the language of the merfolk underwater and the Land Walkers above only sounded the same. The way they depicted their letters and words was radically different and this was a very disappointing time to find out. Even Pluto was at a loss to what he could possibly be miming. Mickey frowned, and then ‘spelled’ frantically, trying to detail the journey he had taken to get there, only to be met with the same confused faces. Millicent sounded especially puzzled when she held up a hand to stop him. “I have taught several languages of the world, but… that is one I am unfamiliar with. But we are fortunate in that he appears to understand us.”

She then knelt down, both hands clasped steadily onto her staff, so she could address Mickey closer. “If what my dear Minnie says is correctly, you have a connection to her besides the locket you retrieved.”

It wasn’t a question but Mickey nodded hard, hands clenched up, embittered by how he could not express the millions of words in his head. How could he convey he had traded his life to seek her out? He pounded a fist to his heart in determination, and Millicent ‘hmm’ed out loud in slight amusement. “.. A very deep connection, you say. Well then, we can’t just leave it alone.” She stood back up, smoothing her dress down. “If we are to solve this mystery, I’d like to hear from the one who found him.”

As if summoned by that sentence alone, a loud yell broke out throughout the castle.

“YAAAAA-HAHA-HOOIE!”

All of their heads snapped to the left, wondering what in the world that had been. Pluto appeared to have some idea, no doubt recognizing the voice of his master. With a worried bark, he ran back into the hallway, and for the sake of finding out what happened, the others followed in suit. The room adjacent to the throne room was a large library, with walls of books standing proud on the wall. Rows of leather bound history used to align like dominoes, but also like dominoes they had all fallen down into a heap. Lying on top of the disaster was Goofy, who was trying to collect himself as he sat up. Pluto got to the room first, trying to encourage his master to get off the very expensive and very old paper books.

Mickey, Minnie, Daisy and Millicent arrived soon after, along with dozens of maids and guards who curiously poked their heads in. Only Minnie had the strength to voice exactly what everything was thinking. “… How…?”

“Oh, so there ya’ll are!” Goofy climbed down from the wreck, dusting himself off. “I was lookin’ everywhere fer ya, but when I came here, I saw one of the books had fallen off the shelf. So I went over ta pick it up, but it wouldn’t fit, so I tried crammin’ it in there, and then the whole thing just started tippin’ over, so I used that there ladder to climb up and keep it steady, and then it all went over!” He slapped his hands together as if they wouldn’t believe his tale without a sound effect. “We’d better clean this up before the Queen finds out!”

Minnie eyed said Queen. “Um… about that…”

Mickey pointed to the Queen as well, but Goofy didn’t pick up the hint. “I’m sure if we all work together, we’ll fix it in no time! I sure don’t wanna land in the dungeon or nothin’.” He sized up everyone, and then grabbed Millicent by the wrist, tugging her along, much to the horror of the others. “All right, us bigger ones will put the shelves back up, and the little guys can pick up the books.”

Millicent didn’t resist, and smoothly asked him, “You’re so sure the Queen will throw you in the dungeon? Is she that frightening?”

“I ain’t takin’ any chances!” Goofy quipped, trying to figure out whether to start from the beginning or the end of the mess. “Shoot, I ain’t ever even seen the Queen. Rumor is, she hides her face all the time. I figure it must be ‘cause she’s real shy! Or maybe she’s got a real big nose. A honker that huge, I understand hidin’ it away. What do ya’ll think?” He looked back at his smaller friends, all of which, Pluto included, were fanatically pointing at the Queen.

Goofy looked back to her, still holding her wrist. One second passed, then two, then three. Then his eyes widened bigger then saucers. He dropped her wrist, and then dropped to the floor, bowing his head over and over while on his knees. “I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry! I sure yer honker ain’t that big at all, y-yer highness!”

Millicent had gone absolutely silent at this point, making her even more difficult to read. Everyone was keeping their heads low out of respect, except for Mickey. He wasn’t all that intimidated by a royal presence, since he thought to have one himself. So he freely looked at Millicent’s veil, and as he concentrated, he understood the source of her silence. In the faint outline of her face, her cheeks had puffed out, and there was a tremor to her throat. Far as Mickey could tell, Millicent was using every ounce of willpower not to break into uncontrollable laughter.

Mickey then happily walked to Goofy, giving him a pat on the back to reassure him. He then faced Millicent, smiling brightly. She swallowed heavily in an effort to compose herself. “… I take it, then, you are the one who found this boy?”

“Sure did, yer highness, yer grace, yer majesty.” Goofy babbled, sitting on his knees. “See, I was goin’ out ta the beach ta go fishin’ with my pal Pluto… I’m a fisherman, y’know. So I go out there, and Pluto – well see Pluto found him first! So Pluto starts barkin’, and he sees this little fella out on the sand, all covered in seaweed. I figured he might be hurt so I took him back home, but he was right as rain! Gave him some clothes, though. Can’t go walkin’ ‘round wearin’ seaweed.”

“So you took him in without a second thought.” Millicent concluded, her voice now delicate. “Out of the goodness of your heart. That’s a very noble thought, sir…?”

“Goofy, missus… uh… highness!” He saluted, almost hitting himself in the head. “Just plain ol’ Goofy.”

“Goofy.” She repeated, steadily watching him. The room was quiet for an uncomfortably long moment, as she kept looking at him.

Eventually Minnie, wondering when she had become the voice of reason, had to speak up. “Your highness? The boy?”

“… Oh! Yes.” Millicent’s head jerked up, her view swaying back and forth. “Yes, the boy.” She waved her hand about, resuming the original problem. “A mysterious boy who cannot speak or write, who has a connection to Minnie deeper than she knows it to be.”

“And he’s a learner, too!” Goofy added, now able to get up. “Shoot, he didn’t know what anything was when he got here. Not a carriage, not a shop, he didn’t even know what cherry pie was! Can ya just imagine not knowin’ what cherry pie was?”

“Indeed… there appear to be many secrets within him.” Millicent approached Mickey, looking down at him. “And until he learns to communicate with us, we cannot hope to understand what it is he wants with dear Minnie… so I believe we must use that connection to help him.” She turned toward Minnie, speaking like a combination of a mother and a scholar. “Minnie, I am assigning you to be his tutor. You shall teach him to read and write, so he can tell us his story.”

“What?!” Daisy and Minnie both yelped at once, with Minnie taking control afterward. “Teach him? How? I don’t know anything about tutoring! Surely we can ask a more suitable teacher out in the kingdom to do it!”

“And one he can kiss to his heart’s content.” Daisy muttered under her breath.

Mickey, naturally, was thrilled at the original suggestion. He bounded over to Minnie’s said, hands rubbing together in excitement. No wonder she relied on this Queen so much, the lady was a genius! The Queen gestured to Mickey’s obvious enthusiasm. “Aside from his clear bias… Your locket was lost in a tidal wave and doomed to roam underwater for eternity. It could have been washed ashore and found by him… but I am not a believer in coincidences. The best way to find out all of these secrets is to discover them yourself.”

Minnie clutched her locket, silently debating to herself over this idea. She was grateful to have the locket back, and she did trust the wisdom of her Queen. She uneasily looked at Mickey, who, despite being not being one of the dogs in the room, had the appearance of an excited puppy. She sighed heavily in defeat. “When should I start…?”

Millicent nodded, glad she had come to agree to the idea. “A week’s time, so you can prepare your lessons. If there is anything you need, merely ask.” She then turned her head towards Goofy. “And that extends to yourself, if you wish to keep aiding the boy. I would prefer to have him temporarily move in while he is being taught, if that is all right with you.”

“A-huh!” Goofy grinned, happy to be of service. “Does this man I can stop by and check on my buddy when he’s a studyin’?”

“Certainly… but he’s going to need a name.” Millicent cupped her gloved hand to her chin, and then let it go as it came to her. “Someone as full as secrets as him… until he is able to convey his real name to us, he shall be known as Segreto. What do you think?”

Mickey raised his eyebrows at his ‘name’. It wasn’t too bad, as far as names went, and it would only be temporary. He nodded once, continuing to smile at Minnie who wasn’t returning it. It hadn’t been the start he was hoping for, but he had more than enough time to remind her who he was and get the kiss that would seal their destiny. How difficult could True Love really be?

Chapter Text

“I told you not to come here!” Marlin snapped at his son, trying not to sound too furious. “Go back home, and leave this to me and Bruce!”

“But we’re worried too!” Nemo whined, Dory bobbing up and down as she tried to look behind Marlin and Bruce’s figures to the smoky abyss behind them. “Mickey’s been gone for days, and no one’s seen any sight of him since he went down there!”

“Maybe he’s stuck.” Dory wagered, managing to keep calm despite the circumstances. “Have you ever gotten stuck between rocks before? I did once, I think. Or maybe I dreamed it. I also once had a dream about Australia… Oh, I’ve got it! Maybe he’s stuck in Australia!”

Marlin thankfully ignored Dory’s line of logic. “I know it’s a bad situation, but the king’s barely noticed he’s gone, and we’re the only ones who care. So it’ll have to be up to Bruce and I to find out what happened, because I’m not willing to risk either of you.”

“Why can’t we go down there?” Nemo insisted, trying to swim around his father but getting blocked at every turn. “What’s down there that gets everyone so worried?”

“You don’t get the same lessons as the merfolk, do you boy?” Bruce tsk’d, shaking his massive head. “Though I wouldn’t be surprised if Mickey went and forgot it too… Never was a good note-taker, that one.”

“Ooh! Ooh! I know!” Dory raised her fin to answer Nemo’s question. “It’s because there’s seaweed clogging the drain! No, wait, it’s because of poison coral! Sea monkeys gone bananas! The never ending war between catfish and dogfish!”

“… So close and yet so far.” Marlin replied sarcastically, rubbing his face. “Okay, look… The Lost Catacombs used to be an archive of old magic and spells, but hundreds of years ago, it was used by a crazy merman who tried to take over both the land and the sea. At the time, both parts of the world were at war, trying to take over the other.” He swam down to the sand, drawing lines with his fin to illustrate the story. “Land Walkers and merfolk thought they were both superior and deserved the other’s territory. Neither side was winning… it was worse than a stalemate. Both sides were losing lives without gaining anything. It was mindless in every sense of the word.”

Marlin pushed rocks and shiny pebbles around to try and create what he thought the antagonist of the story looked like. “The oldest son of the king decided to end the war in what he thought was the best way – he made himself into a combination of both merman and Land Walker. But he wasn’t satisfied with that. He started using darker spells that required the lives of his fellow merfolk to work. Soon everyone started to see he didn’t want the ocean to win the war, he wanted to rule over both by himself.”

“How did we win?” Dory asked, hiding behind Nemo as if the terrible villain was there amongst them.

“That’s the thing… we didn’t.” Marlin lifted a pebble from the drawing’s chest. “We never knew the Land Walkers had magic. But a single woman from their side went into battle against the eldest prince, and she took out a piece of his heart. Without this piece, he lost much of his power, and he wasn’t a threat anymore. It made both the mermen and the Land Walkers realize how bad of an idea this whole war had been, and it was finally put to an end. We vowed to never go near Land Walkers again, and to leave them alone in peace. As for the prince, he was banished to these Catacombs, as sort of prison, and he was never heard from again.”

Dory gulped audibly, but Nemo wasn’t as impressed by the story. “… You said it was hundreds of years ago. There’s no way he could be alive.”

“Don’t go underestimatin' magic, mate.” Bruce warned, warily glancing back at the continuous smoke that rose from the cracks. “Just because that Land Walker took one piece of his heart doesn’t mean he was completely powerless… and just because you don’t see somethin’, doesn’t mean it ain’t there. I haven’t a clue what he could want with Mickey, but there’s no way it could be anything but bad.”

“So that is why…” Marlin swam up on top of Bruce, ready to grab his dorsal fin and begin the haunting voyage. “The two of us will be going down to see if there’s any sight of Mickey, and why the two of you are staying here. For all we know, Mickey could be back tonight and you two can smack him in my place.”

“Happy to do it!” Dory grinned.

“No way!” Nemo objected, being held back by Dory at this point. “If this big scary merman is down there, what are you two supposed to do? Even Bruce can’t fight a regular merman, and this one is supposed be powerful and evil?!”

“Mickey wins one wrestling match and no one ever lets you forget.” Bruce huffed quietly to himself.

Marlin closed his eyes, almost reminded of Mickey the way Nemo reacted. Perhaps this was why it was so painful to have the young man gone. “… You’re just going to have to trust us. When it comes to someone you care about…you find yourself willing to risk more than you ever thought you could. You’ll understand someday.” He then wiggled Bruce’s dorsal fin. “We need to get going. You ready?”

“I was born ready!” Bruce pushed himself up, and began to head towards the Lost Catacombs.

Before they started their dive downward, Marlin managed to shout again. “Nemo! Dory! Take care of each other until we get back!” Anything else he said was lost as the pair vanished down below.

Dory and Nemo held each other’s fins, watching their family leave. A heavy silence hung between them, until Nemo spoke. “We’re going after them, aren’t we.”

“Oh definitely.”

~*~

It was the end of the week and Minnie still wasn’t sure if she was ready for this looming task ahead of her. She had gone to the small schoolhouse at the end of the village to borrow some supplies, such as a miniature blackboard, textbooks and writing paper. She has also asked advice from every schoolteacher there, and the most common response was to be patient with her student. She wasn’t sure they understood, given they taught small children, and she was faintly sure ‘Segreto’ was about her age. How long was patience supposed to be a given?

Daisy had wanted to stay behind to keep an eye on him, but Minnie insisted she could handle it and that Daisy should go about her chores. It was late in the morning as Minnie smoothed down her dress and checked herself over the mirror. As she saw her locket, she gave it a tap, hoping her parents could give her strength she needed. She wasn’t ready to hand it over to anyone yet, and so in lieu of repairing the chain, she had tied a piece of string to keep it together. It wasn’t pretty but she didn’t care about such matters. As long as it was with her, she was content.

There was a knock on the door, and Minnie took a guess that it was Segreto. She drew a deep breath, “Coming!”, and took the first book off of her stack of helpful texts. If Queen Millicent said this was the best thing to do, then Minnie surely would see the wisdom of these actions. She owed the Queen deeply for her continuous kindness, ever since they first met. With that gratitude in mind, she opened the door –

To find Segreto trying to kiss her again.

THWACK!

“First lesson.” Minnie told him evenly, her book now firmly pushed into Segreto’s face. “Stop doing that.” She pulled her book away, seeing his disappointed expression. “If you’re going to learn from me, we need a simple understanding. As long as you’re with me, you will not to try to kiss me. Not a single smooch or a peck, or else I won’t teach you anything ever again. Do we have an agreement?” She held out her hand, waiting for him to shake it.

Segreto looked at her hand, blinking at the gesture. He tried to copy it, sticking his own hand and leaving it dangling there. Minnie bit her lip, and found a bit of sympathy starting to foster. Whoever taught him before had to have been terrible – if he ever had a teacher before. “… This is called a handshake.” She answered, taking his hand in hers and moving it up and down. “People do this when they agree on something, or want to say hello.” She then let him go, and pointed at the bed. “Now, please sit there, and we’ll begin.”

Segreto hopped onto the bed, eagerly leaning back and waiting for the lesson to begin. Minnie noticed he was still wearing Goofy’s hand-me-downs. In fact, judging by his unkempt tussle of fur, it appeared he had just gotten up and run over as soon as he could. He at least seemed to understand what to do with paper and pen, and so Minnie took up a piece of chalk and began to write on the chalkboard. She had decided to start off with the alphabet, although she wasn’t sure how interesting she could make it. As she listed off each letter and the sound it made, she took a look at him to see how she was doing.

Segreto was doing his best on his own terms. He dutifully wrote down each letter, in small and capital forms, often with his tongue sticking out as he concentrated. No, he wasn’t finding this very entertaining as near as Minnie could tell, but then he seemed to be watching her more than the blackboard. With each word, she listed off things that began with the word, usually using objects in the room. When she got to D and tugged down on her dress, ‘D for dress’, Segreto had stopped writing. He looked at her dress, but not in the way a pervert would ogle a lady. This was genuine curiosity, studying the stitches and fabric that made up her maid uniform. Minnie faintly wondered if they had maids back where he was from.

“Is there something you wanted to know about my dress?” Minnie regretted it as soon as she said it, because there wasn’t any way he could answer. Segreto’s brows bent and raised, as he was doing his best to express what it was that he wanted to say but could not. What Minnie couldn’t have known was he was having difficulty understanding why she wore it in the first place. So he did the only thing he could think of to get some sort of answer.

He grabbed the outside of her dress and flipped it up.

THWACK!

“You really are terrible, you know that?!” Minnie shrieked after clobbering Mickey with the same book. “Daisy says you’re making up this whole mute thing just to harass me, and I’m starting to believe her!”

Segreto rubbed his sore head, more miffed than anything else. He then gestured to his neck, pointing out his scar that couldn’t have been made up or fake. The two of them scowled at each other until Minnie relented, turning her back on him to the letter E. Though the rest of the alphabet went without incident, the tension and irritation continued to swirl around in the room. After Z was done, Minnie didn’t bother to check the time before announcing “I think that’s enough for today’s lesson. For homework, I want you to practice writing each letter, uppercase and lowercase, one hundred times. Proper penmanship is important, so stay on the lines.”

She couldn’t tell which was giving Segreto more grief, the homework or that the lesson was already over. “Well you can’t stay here all day. We still have to get you a room and fitted for proper clothing. You can’t go around wearing that.” Segreto stared blankly, so Minnie tried again. “… Because you don’t fit in them. And they’re hardly wearable as is. You can’t walk around the castle in something so shoddy.” Segreto shrugged, and Minnie found herself exasperated. “Because that’s the way things are!”

There was a tiny snap, and her locket dropped to the floor. The string hadn’t been able to keep up with Minnie’s vigorous movements, but it was Mickey who stooped down to pick it up. He held it out for her to take, and after Minnie did, she decided she may as well fit in another lesson. “You’re probably wondering why this is so important to me.” She squeezed the edge of the heart shape, and it flipped open. Within it laid a cut photograph of three people – a distinguished but happy looking man and woman, both of which were hugging a tiny Minnie. “This was my father and mother… that’s me when I was a little girl. They would go to different countries around the world, and bring back things to sell. They would leave me behind on their trips, but they always came back for me. They had their own ship… He named it after her when they married, and then they renamed it when I was born.”

She then closed the locket, solemn as she continued her story. “… Two years after that, their ship crashed. They didn’t come home. So this is all I have left of them.” She faced Mickey, serious in her statements yet pained in her eyes. “That’s why I am grateful that you gave it back to me, Segreto. I will always be grateful. But even doing something as kind as that does not mean I owe you my body. All right?”

Segreto nodded but his expression didn’t change. It was like she had only stated the obvious and he wasn’t expecting an exchange. He waited on her, and she turned away, confused by him yet again. “I’ll find you a room, but then we will part ways for the day. Don’t forget your studies.”

After Segreto had collected his pencils and papers, he diligently followed Minnie outside of the room. Minnie had memorized the history and layout of the castle during her years there, and so she could certainly find him an unused guest room that hadn’t been touched in a decade or so, aside from the usual clean up. As they passed the stained glass windows, Minnie caught Segreto taking a pause and looking out one of the windows. “What? Do you see something?” She joined him at the window, where down below two figures were walking in the gardens. It appeared to be Queen Millicent and Goofy, walking side by side as he weaved stories of the sea.

Minnie raised her eyebrows at the unusual pair, but she pulled back. “Well, that’s no surprise. Everyone loves the Queen. She’s the wisest and kindest person in the whole wide world. That’s why I’m doing this, after all. Her and her alone.”

Segreto tilted his head back in thought, and then nodded in affirmation. He quickly reached over to tap the locket in Minnie’s hands, and then tapped the window, making an invisible connection. To finish it, he pounded once on his chest, and then gestured to the space above his right shoulder – where Minnie’s mother had been in the photograph. Minnie caught the idea after a few seconds. “… Are you saying... you think she’s my mother?”

Segreto nodded again, his palm on flat on his chest. He wasn’t saying she was a mother of blood, but a mother of the heart. Minnie looked out the window, at the image of Millicent helping Goofy stand up after he tripped over a prickly rose bush. “… I suppose you could be a little cleverer than you look.” She didn’t give him an exact smile, but she wasn’t as aggravated with him as he was before. “But it still doesn’t mean you get to kiss me.”

She wasn’t sure, but the face Segreto made could have been a silent chuckle.

~*~

The broken down pier had been abandoned by everyone save for Goofy on the odd occasion. With the broken machines sticking out of the water and wooden planks floating around, it made for a dangerous place to fish. That didn’t stop the small rusty boat from choosing this as the best place to head for shore. “Watch it, will you, Pete?” The taller of the two aboard the board snapped. “Are you trying to make us sink?” He slid a match over the steering wheel, and then lit his cigar, smoke covering up his gigantic rat teeth.

“I’m doin’ the best I can, Mortimer!” The smaller yet wider cat snapped right away, his knitted cap almost falling off his head. “Why can’t we go use the kingdom’s docks?”

“Because then everyone would see what we reeled in! You got fat in your brains, too?” He slapped Pete upside the head, causing the cap to fall off. “There’s no way I’m sharing the loot with anyone else.” He turned his head back to the lofty, wet safe that lay under the shaking mast. “Once we find the key to this thing, it’ll be nothing but smooth sailing for the rest of our lives. But until I figure it out, you have to keep your big mouth shut. You got that?”

Pete grumbled deep in his throat, keeping his eyes on the water. “It doesn’t look like any keyhole I’ve ever seen… How do we even start lookin’ for it?”

Mortimer walked over to the safe and knocked on its top. “Maybe you have some fat in your eyes… the names are etched right in! We find out who’s related to the Mr. and Mrs. Mouse, and we find ourselves on easy street. Now, move in closer to the wreckage.” He pointed to the dismantled pile of wood and steel. “We’ll hide the ship around there. No one should be stupid enough to poke their big noses around here…”

~*~

The division of classes within the Nereid Kingdom was wide and often obvious to outsiders. One need only look at the clothes a single citizen wore, and you could tell from that instant where their standing on the economy ladder was. A man like Goofy wasn’t even a part of the ladder – he was more the dirt where you would place the ladder. The first wooden rung of the ladder was where you had those taking care of animals, such as the stablemen and carriage riders. Thus when you took a good look at Donald Duck, you could see his place on the ladder, if the smell of the horses didn’t give it away first. His duties for the morning were finished, and he didn’t have to return to the horses until later that evening. With this batch of free time, he counted the coins in his pocket, and smiled at the number. Maybe today could be the day!

He scrambled to get to the castle entrance as soon as possible, watching the large doors for any sign of movement. It was almost lunchtime, and his luck proved itself as the doors began to open. Out of the three that came out, he was only concerned with one. “Hey, Daisy!” He happily caught up to the group – Daisy, Minnie, and Segreto - with his cap almost falling off in excitement. “Out to eat? What a coincidence, so am I!”

Daisy didn’t bother to look at him and simply continued walking. “You wouldn’t know a coincidence if it bit you on the beak.”

“Hello, Donald.” Minnie curtsied politely. “It’s nice to see you.”

Donald tipped his cat. “Good to see you too, Minnie. And…” he trailed off, not just because he didn’t know the boy, but because the boy was also curtsying with his tailored shirt. “… Is it good to see him too?”

Daisy huffed, and waved her hands back and forth to single them out. “Commoner, meet pervert. Pervert, meet commoner.” Despite her effort to get away, the group followed, Donald included.

“This is Segreto.” Minnie offered a better explanation in her friend’s place. “It’s… kind of a long story, but he can’t talk, so I’ve been teaching him how to write.”

Donald looked Mickey up and down before nodding. As opposed to the maid’s uniform, he was wearing the standard male servant attire, much as Horace wore in thin shades of aqua and silver. However, his version had been torn at the legs and stretched at the shoulders. “So this is the one the other maids have been gossiping about? … Thought he’d be taller.” He shrugged it off and offered his hand. “Name’s Donald. I take care of the Queen’s horses.” At this point, Mickey had mastered the handshake and proudly took Donald’s hand. “So, you guys out to eat? Because I’ve got my money saved up-”

“No.” Daisy automatically cut in, holding out a hand to stop him. “If you must know our business, the pervert keeps ripping his clothes, so we have to get him new ones.”

“Then let me pay for them!” Donald bounded up to Daisy’s side, holding out a change purse full of collected coins. “See? Before you know it, I’ll be buying you jewelry and taking you out to fancy dinners every night! You just need to be a little more – hey!”

Mickey’s excitement had taken over again as he split the ducks up, catching the small satchel in his hands. He picked out a small silver coin, turning it over in the sunlight. He had seen many of these odd objects fall into the ocean, and he could never guess what Land Walkers would want with them. Donald angrily snatched his money out of Mickey’s hands, ready to tell him off. “Hey! Earn your own, Sea-Salt! Nobody’s taking my wages without a fight!”

Minnie hurriedly pulled Mickey backwards before things could escalate. “Sorry, sorry! He just doesn’t understand…” She wagged a finger in front of Mickey’s face. “Segreto, we’ve been over this. If you want me to explain something to you, just point it out. We do not take things that don’t belong to us.” Mickey frowned, but nodded his head, bowing his head to Donald as a makeshift apology.

Donald didn’t take it right away, tossing his small sack up and down in one hand. “Are you really telling me this kid doesn’t know what money is?” Mickey gave him a blank stare, slowly causing Donald to stop tossing. “… Oh, wow, he doesn’t know what money is.”

Daisy then turned around, taking the coin purse in annoyance. “Then I’ll be the teacher for today’s lesson. This is money.” She shook the purse in front of Mickey’s face. “It makes the world go round. It gives you power and happiness. With it, you can get everything, and without it, you’re nothing. And since you don’t have any, guess what that makes you?” Mickey’s silence made her smirk. “Correct, you get an A. And hopefully Donald will learn his lesson too.” She plopped it back into its owner’s hands, finished. “That you’ll never earn enough in this lifetime or the next to even come close to even think of courting me. A woman like me deserves someone who owns the carriage, not the person who cleans up after it.” She stuck her beak up in the air, and made her way off, expecting her friend and ‘the pervert’ to follow.

Mickey still didn’t understand the purpose of power of the coins, but he had a few choice words to call Daisy that he couldn’t use. It was evident from his face how the lesson had fared with him, and Donald stuffed his money into his vest pocket. “I know she doesn’t always come off as the warmest person, but that just makes me want to work even harder.” He wistfully turned his head where Daisy had sauntered off, sighing happily. “A year ago, one of the horses almost ran her over. I pushed her out of the way, and she was so relieved she kissed me exactly seven times. If I was good enough for her then, I know I can be again!”

Minnie smiled faintly, but decided to keep her opinions for herself. Mickey, on the other hand, recognized Donald’s lopsided smile and glittering eyes from his own reaction the first time he had seen Minnie. His shoulders jerked – a brother in arms!

He spun Donald around, and then grabbed both of his hands, firmly and violently shaking them up and down in great enthusiasm. Someone else who was going through the same struggles he was! He would have hugged Donald to encourage him, had Donald not looked befuddled about the whole thing. “… Affectionate little guy, huh.”

“I will say one thing.” Minnie admitted as Mickey continued to shake Donald’s hands over and over in glee. “He does everything with zeal.”

Mickey had only been allowed to roam the kingdom grounds with a supervisor, be it Minnie or Goofy, but he never got tired of looking at it. Somehow it always seemed to change, as people bought things and flirted openly in the streets. It had only been a few days since the lessons with Minnie had started, and yet he felt he knew human behavior like the back of his hand. Now he had found someone from which he could learn a better lesson - the lessons of love! By watching Donald’s triumphs and errors, maybe he could find out how to better woo Minnie over. Lesson One – Find a way to attain those money things.

He listened in on the conversations between Minnie, Daisy and Donald, and tried to connect the pieces on his own. In order to obtain money, one had to do something that someone else could not or would not do. It was almost like a favor. However, the more Mickey thought about it, the more problems began to arise in his mind. Doing these favors would require him to be knowledgeable about more Land Walker behavior than he already knew. What if, by the time he gained enough knowledge to even try earning money, the last leaf would fall from the last tree? Would he have to go back down to the water and start all over?

He was so busy letting his frustrations grow and expand he fell behind, not even watching where he was going. He had almost come to a complete halt when a round object suddenly rolled its way onto his path. He stopped, blinking at a white sphere that now rested before his feet.

“Hey, mister!” Small Land walkers, children no doubt, were waiting a couple of feet away. They were wearing different colored versions of the school uniform Goofy had lent him a while ago. “Can you kick the ball back to us?”

Mickey looked back down at the ‘ball’, unsure what to make of it. What was a ‘kick’? The kids were becoming impatient, groaning and repeating ‘Just kick it already!’ One child was incessantly tapping his foot – was he supposed to move the ball with his foot? He’d need to give it a bit of power in order for it to reach the children, so he swung his leg back, and connected his foot to the ball as hard and fast as he could. The ball flew over the children’s heads, bounced against a lamppost, and aimed right back at Mickey, smacking him right in the nose and causing him to collapse backwards.

Seconds earlier, Minnie had noticed her student wasn’t with her. Normally when they were outside, he stuck to her like glue, tugging her hand and pointing out things he wanted named and explained. She hadn’t felt his hand in what felt like a long time, so she turned around just in time to see him get hit by his own strength. “Segreto!” She quickly came to his side, kneeling down to help him sit up. “Are you all right? Let’s get you back to the castle and have someone look at your nose…”

But as Mickey sat up, he wasn’t wincing in pain or angry at what happened. He was grinning, and sprang up on his feet. So that’s what a ‘ball’ could do? That was fun! How far could it go? How fast could it go? The children were scrambling around him, amazed by the display as well.

“That was so cool!”
“Do it again! Do it again!”
“Come play with us! I want you on my team!”

He would have laughed if he could, reminded of Nemo in how these children fawned over him. Minnie cleared her throat, trying to stop anything before it could start. “Now now, we don’t have time to play. We have to go shopping for clothes. Isn’t that right, Segreto?”

The children all whined in unison, not wanting to lose their new partner. Mickey copied their expression perfectly, right down to how they clasped their hands together in a begging position. She was outnumbered ten to one, and all of their ‘pleeeease?’s wore her down in no time at all. “… Well, he is getting new clothes anyway, so I suppose a little play wouldn’t – Oh!” Mickey hadn’t waited for the end of the sentence before grabbing her and pulling her towards the ball in question. He let her go as they approached, and at first she thought he wanted an explanation to what a ball was. Instead, Mickey lightly tapped the ball with his tip of his foot, sending it rolling toward her.

“Oh… oh, no, no, no.” Minnie held up her hands. “I can’t play. You just have fun without me.” The children were inclined to do so, diving up teams among themselves, but this wasn’t sitting well with Mickey. He frowned, and tugged on her arm, trying to encourage her. “Because I’ll get my dress all dirty, and besides, I haven’t played since…”

Her voice became quiet as it occurred to her she honestly couldn’t remember. The locket, still broken, was tucked away inside of her dress since she still hadn’t been able to find the strength to let another person fix it. The loss of her parents had happened right around the age as these little ones, who were debating who got which mouse on their team. She had lost her childhood and never tried to find it again.

She stared down at the ball, and then Mickey was nudging it again as gently as he could. He was waiting for her patiently, and Minnie bit her lower lip.

“Minnie!” Daisy was calling out, her own patience worn razor thin by this point. “We can’t spend all day out here. Are we shopping or not?” Donald was watching the ball, and though he looked eager to join in, he stayed by Daisy’s side, wanting to prove his maturity.

Minnie’s feet wiggled in her shoes, and she turned towards the children. She started to recognize a few faces from the puppet show back at the pier, and she began to smile. What brave little souls to find the will to live and laugh again. The ball had started rolling towards them – she had given it a tiny kick without even thinking of it. “… Go on ahead! I’ll catch up with you later!” She picked up her dress, trying to catch up to the ball, and the game started as the children spread out, trying to keep the toy away from one another.

Mickey continued to impress the kids, and Minnie a bit, as he experimented with this newfound object. He kicked hard, he rolled it around on his foot, and he managed to lob it up and down with his knee twenty times in a row. Daisy wasn’t impressed, and she balled her hands into fists at their defiance towards her. “Minnie Mouse! You are an adult! Do you have any idea what people will say if they see you?” As a last resort, she looked to Donald, grumbling in her beak. “Tell them!”

Donald glanced to the game, and then back to Daisy. “… I’ve got ten gold coins that says I can score more goals than you.”

Daisy narrowed her eyes. “… Make it twenty, commoner.”

So what did people say when they saw four young adults playing a rousing game of not-quite-soccer with a small crowd of children? The occasional passerby thought they were seeing a display of immaturity, but for most of the amused shopkeepers and upper-class citizens, they stopped to watch the game. It became difficult to separate the ages among them, as laughter spread throughout the players. Even Daisy couldn’t help but crack a smile or two as Donald failed to block a shot into the goal made out of tossed together school bags. Mickey had become the leader of the children within minutes, managing to give them orders without a word.

Midway through the game, one of the smaller boys had tripped over his loose shoelaces and landed roughly on the ground. He started to cry, as his knee had been skinned. The game screeched to an abrupt halt, with Mickey pausing in the middle of a kick to see what the trouble was. Daisy, now reminded of where she was and what she was doing, swiftly turned her head away, greatly embarrassed. Donald flailed his hands to the child, trying to urge him to stop crying but only making it worse. Minnie started to head over to the boy, but Mickey beat her to it.

He knelt down beside the boy, and then ripped off his sleeve without batting an eye. Much like underwater when they would wrap seaweed around a scratch, so did he with the torn cloth, wrapping it around the boy’s leg. Donald snapped his fingers, putting the pieces together in his head. “Is that why his clothes look like he got shredded by half a dozen cats?”

Daisy crossed her arms but nodded. “Any chance he gets, he tears something off to help someone else. He tried to rip off his whole pant leg to help one of the maids wash a window.”

Minnie decided another lecture about what was proper and what was not would do no good here. Besides, the fact that Mickey had wanted to give aide to the child without a second thought was pleasantly charming. “There now, do you feel better?” She stroked the boy’s head. “Come, stand up, I bet you can do it.”

The boy nodded, and, using Minnie’s dress for support, he began to stand up. “Uh-huh… can you come and play tomorrow too…?”

Mickey nodded vigorously, looking around at his older friends. Daisy has already retreated back into her snooty persona, and Donald was busy handing over his lost bet. Minnie continued to pet the little boy, trying to speak for everyone at once. “This was fun, but we can’t play here every day… and don’t you all have homework to do?” She eyed Mickey on that one, who sheepishly began to twiddle his thumbs. “How about this? If you all promise to do your homework, we’ll come play with you on the weekend. Okay?”

The children shouted out a chorus of “We promise!”, sticking their hands straight up and so Mickey copied that action too. They began to collect their books and bags, knowing they’d have to get a jump start on their homework if they wanted to keep their end of the deal. Mickey waved the children goodbye and managed to learn what a high-five was at the same time. Daisy clicked her tongue to the top of her beak, trying to pretend as if the last half hour hadn’t happened at all. “Honestly, Minnie, you let those children walk all over you. At that rate, you’re going to adopt one of those commoner children.”

“That’s not a half bad idea.” Donald chuckled, starting the walk again. “I bet she’d be a great mom. Why haven’t you got yourself a boyfriend yet?”

Mickey raised his hand but no one noticed. Minnie shook her head, trying to change the subject. “I don’t have time for such a thing. Now with teaching Segreto and my chores, I have a busy life. Besides, I can’t imagine anyone wanting someone like me… I mean, my dress is so dirty after all that play! No man in his right mind would want to be on my arm after that.”

Mickey continued raising his hand, waving it around hard enough that he began to sweat. Instead of getting the attention he wanted, he only got a new pair of shoes and socks.

~*~

Goofy whistled pleasantly as he made his way through the town, holding a present under one arm. Pluto was faithfully at his side, looking forward to the intriguing smells the castle always brought. These trips to the castle had started out once a week, but now had turned into almost every day. Just the thought of being there started to make Goofy grin, especially with the new friends he had made there. Gosh, he really hoped she liked this present. Nothing could ruin this good mood!

But when Goofy went to tip his hat to the owners of the bakery, he stopped in his tracks, and found the only people who could ruin this glorious mood of his. “What’re the two of you doin’ here!”

Pete had been stuffing his face full of freshly baked bread, trying to fit an entire loaf at once. This left Mortimer to answer, as he tipped his cigar to shoo away some extra ash. “That’s some greeting, Goofy. Last I checked, this was a free country, and we could come and go as we please. C’mon, you can’t say you haven’t missed us.”

“Aw, there’s a lot of things I can’t say, but that’s cause we’re in public.” Goofy’s growls lined up with Pluto’s, both of them hitching their shoulders and baring their teeth. “The two of ya are always connin’ folks, pullin’ schemes, and takin’ what ain’t yours! Ya stole my boat when I was sleepin’ last year, and I want it back!”

Pete had started choking on his rushed meal, but Mortimer put on a feign sign of sadness. “Unfortunately, that’s why we’re here. We’ve lost our boat, and with it, the last of our business. That’s why we’ve resolved to turn over a new leaf! From now on, we’re only interested in honest deals. Ain’t that right, Pete?” he slapped Pete on the back, thankfully giving his body the shock it needed to swallow the rest of the food down.

“I’ll believe it when I see it!” Goofy hugged his wrapped up box close to his chest. “Iff’n the both of ya can stay out of trouble, then I’ll forget about what ya stole. But I’ll be keepin’ my eye on ya!” He then resumed his walk. Pluto gave the nasty duo a bark before joining his master.

Pete pounded on his chest to clear the remainders in his throat. “That fish for brains thinks he’s better than us? Why, I wish we did lose his boat, and smashed it into the pier!”

Mortimer quirked an eyebrow as he watched Goofy go off. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d say he’s heading towards the castle.”

Pete blinked, now standing beside Mortimer to watch the same scene. “… They’re lettin’ him right in! What’s the big idea?”

“Looks like we’ve got a lot to catch up on.” Mortimer hastily chewed on the end of his cigar. “We’d better wrestle up some information…” He then smirked, catching a good victim turning around the corner. “Pete, grab the duck.”

Donald had only wanted to stop by the bakery to grab a single slice of pie for breakfast. The moment he saw Pete grab for him, though, it was too late, and he found himself hoisted in the air. “WAAAK! Not you two! No way am I paying another ‘Friend Tax’!”

“Now now, we’re not in the mood for money anymore.” Mortimer strolled up, puffing out rings of smoke onto Donald’s beak. “This time, we’d just like to have a little talk. No crime against that, is there?”

Chapter Text

“And step, left, up, right, down, left…”

The Queen had come to check up on Segreto’s lessons, but instead of finding Minnie and he in her room, the two were using an old ballroom that hadn’t been used since her great-grandmother’s time. She inquisitively poked her head into the yellow and orange room, where it was easy to spot the pair due to the sheer vast emptiness of the room. Daisy was also simple to find, off in the corner and keeping a steady eye on the record player as it skimmed over the soft music. Segreto was trying to follow drawn chalk lines on the floor, while Minnie stayed nearby, gently directing him.

However the door creaked as she opened it further, interrupting the lesson. The trio immediately stopped what they were doing, and after seeing who had entered the room, curtsied all together - until Segreto remember the 'right' way, and bowed. Daisy fumbled to turn off the music, but Millicent waved her hand, hoping it would go on. “I do apologize, I didn’t mean to end anything. I had no idea your lessons were becoming so advanced.”

“Yes, well…” Minnie shrugged, slightly embarrassed. “This was Daisy’s idea.”

“If he’s going to be a perverted commoner, he’s going to be a gentlemanly perverted commoner.” Daisy chided, coming over.

Millicent turned her head towards Segreto. “And what do you think of these… extracurricular lessons?”

Mickey smiled, and clicked his heels. He enjoyed anything that caused him to exercise his legs, and the music was very nice to listen to. He repeated the steps Minnie had instructed him over, except faster than she had wanted, as he felt a need to show off. Look, he could do it backwards! With his hands behind his back! With his eyes closed! With one leg –

All right, not with one leg, but at least falling down had made Minnie laugh. He grinned, dusting himself off to stand up again. These lessons may have been unusual, but they were a lot more fun than the ones underwater. Half the time it was easy to forget he was supposed to be winning Minnie over.

“He is a fast learner.” Minnie admitted, giving him a gracious nod. “In a few more months, he’ll be able to write out everything he needs. I’m sure of it.”

“Then your teaching skills are something to be admired.” Millicent praised, coming over to lovingly pet Minnie’s ear. “As I suspected. There couldn’t be anyone else better suited for the job.”

“No, it’s nothing, it’s all him, really.” Minnie leaned in to the touch, cheeks turning pink as she basked in Millicent’s attention. Mickey couldn’t help but glance at Daisy, who simply admired the adoration from afar. Why, Mickey thought to himself, was the Queen so doting on Minnie but not towards the other maids? Was it all only because of Minnie’s loss all those years ago? There were pieces to the puzzle still missing. Perhaps if he found them all, he could find the path to Minnie’s heart.

“Your highness.” The doors opened again, this time showing Horace as he bowed gracefully to the Queen. “Goofy is here to see you.”

Millicent suddenly jerked her body wards, and then slammed her staff down on the floor before hurriedly smoothing down her dress. She then raised her head, with all the poise and elegance as if she hadn’t had a knee-jerk reaction just then. “Send him in, if you would.”

Horace stepped aside, and in walked Goofy and Pluto, the earlier unpleasantness erased from their faces. “Good mornin’, everyone! I sure hope I ain’t interruptin’ somethin’?”

“Not at all.” Millicent replied. “You know your company here is always welcome.”

Mickey was already distracted by the colorfully wrapped box Goofy was carrying, and he tugged on Goofy’s sleeve, wanting to know what it was. Goofy smiled, happy to see his companion. “Hang on, hang on… I was out fishin’ this morning, and I found these three little guys. We never get these types before, so I thought this place could use a lil’ extra company when the ladies feel lonely!” He almost offered it to Millicent, but he hesitated, and swiftly changed directions, giving it to Minnie. “Here ya go!”

Minnie awkwardly took it, deciding not to question what that had been about. “Ah… thank you, Goofy, I’m sure it will be lovely.” She placed it on the floor, and everyone leaned in to watch her slowly unwrap the gift. Beneath the paper and colors was a large glass fish bowl, with two clownfish and a blue surgeonfish. “Oh, how cute! Little fish!”

Anything else she had to say was cut off as Mickey snatched the fish bowl, pressing his face into the glass. It was Marlin, Nemo, and Dory! What were they doing here?! He waited to hear an answer, but while the fish had their eyes widened and their mouths flapping, he couldn’t hear a thing they were saying. He hugged the bowl tightly, unable to believe they were here.

“Sheesh.” Daisy crossed her arms. “Has he never seen fish before?”

Minnie stood straight up, looking at the three fish that began to swim about in their bowl with great excitement. She could have sworn they were ready to leap out of the water in sheer joy. Segreto himself appeared positively thrilled, holding the bowl up and down and nuzzling his nose to the glass. “Segreto… you really like them, don’t you?” She’d never heard of anyone being so delighted by fish before, and she hadn’t seen that kind of mirth on Mickey’s face since he first tackled her down with a kiss. “Then that settles that… these will definitely have to stay in Segreto’s room.” She smiled, coming to stay by his side. “And when you’re ready to put letters together, you can name them too.”

Mickey couldn’t keep still. His best friends from the ocean, meeting his friends on the land! Even if they couldn’t talk, Mickey had managed, and so would they! He placed the bowl on the floor, and then took Minnie’s hand by the wrist. Using her hand, he pointed to each one, hoping to convey the connection each fish had to each other. Minnie peered down, squinting her eyes. “These two ones… the orange and white ones. Do you think they’re related?”

Mickey nodded hard to answer her, and he could catch Nemo smiling up at them. Mickey tried to tug Minnie’s hand closer to the water, but she quickly forced it back. “Ah…, no thank you, Segreto.”

He didn’t catch on, sticking his hand in the water to pet Marlin. Surely Minnie would want to meet them directly. He tugged again – “Mickey, please…” Goofy and Daisy were trying to tell him to stop, but he wasn’t listening, putting all of his strength into forcing Minnie’s hand downward. Why wouldn’t she just do what he wanted?

And then he yanked down, trying to plunge her hand in the water. “Stop!

In the next instant, Minnie had shoved Mickey hard enough to make him sit, freeing herself and falling over. Daisy came over to hold Minnie, stroking her back and glaring hard at Mickey. Mickey looked around, unable to understand what he had done wrong. Millicent sighed, stooping down to stroke Minnie’s ears again. “Oh my… perhaps we should end things for the day. Segreto, why don’t you take your new pets to your room?”

Mickey didn’t want to go. He wanted to find out why Minnie was shaking and what had upset her so much. Goofy touched Mickey’s shoulder urging him to move along. “It’ll be okay, lil’ buddy. After all she went through, I don’t think I’d like the ocean much mahself.”

Mickey blinked as he was led away, recalling what he had seen in the lair of the Sea Wizard. Minnie’s fear of the ocean was now bordering on the insane. As he passed Horace by, the fish looked up at their prince quizzically, and a deep hard stone dropped in Mickey’s stomach. Exactly how selfish had he been during this entire trip? Everything had been about his experiences, what he wanted to learn, and his struggling quest to win True Love’s Kiss. He looked down at his family in the glass bowl and felt even worse. They had obviously been worried about him, and he left them behind.

How much had he learned about Minnie? How much had he tried to learn? The stone grew larger and larger inside of him as he realized he didn’t know her favorite foods or colors, what she wanted to do in her future, or even what size shoe she wore. He plunged her hand into the water without a second thought because he barely had any first thoughts about her. He went to his room, locking the door as he held the fish bowl in his lap. For the first time in his life, Mickey realized that not every memory that is kept within you is a good one. He stayed there for the rest of the day, not coming out when dinner was announced, as he traced the edge of the bowl with his dry fingers.

~*~

Horace decided that this would be the last time he’d check out the wrecked boardwalk and the beach surrounding it. The Queen had commanded him to do a thorough search of any unusual activity since the Day of Wrath, but nothing ever came up. Perhaps that day was a freak accident. Horace scanned the area as best as he could, but this time he did spot something strange. He wasn’t entirely sure of it, but it appeared as though there was something behind the fallen boardwalk. If he concentrated, he could make out a small mast with a tattered flag. Now who in their right mind would leave a boat there?

He’d call the royal guards later, he thought to himself. It logically had nothing to do with the tidal waves, but that boat had no business being in such a dangerous area. He moved across the sand to get a better look at it. Maybe if he saw a name or a title on it, he could find the owners and give them a good talking-to. There would be no need to bother the Queen with such petty business. She was spending so much time with that clumsy dog, so why bother interrupting her happiness?

But before he took another step, he heard a voice – a singing voice - out in the distance, coming from the ocean. It was beautiful, enchantingly so, and Horace found himself holding his breath so he could hear it better. It was unlike anything he’d ever heard from another person. It entered his body and soothed every nerve, letting all of his muscles sag in relaxation. He wasn’t aware of his feet moving on their own, walking straight into the ocean. All he knew was that he wanted to hear this amazing singing for the rest of his life. Nothing mattered anymore, not the boat, not the Queen, not his life…

A hand seized his ankle from within the waters, and yanked him downward.

~*~

Minnie was content to pretend the entire incident never happened, but as she continued Mickey’s lessons, his attitude had taken a turn for the worse. His enthusiasm for learning had dropped, and he stopped pointing and silently asking for things all around him. He simply did as Minnie instructed, doing his homework and piecing sentences together without any interruption. It unnerved Minnie to see him so despondent and without a trace of curiosity. He kept his eyes down, barely looking at her, and his smile became a thing of the past. Whenever she tried to ask him what was wrong, all she got was a shake of the head.

With that in mind, she decided one morning that their lessons wouldn’t be held inside today. She took him by the hand and led him outside, not telling Daisy lest her well meaning snobbery put a damper to the whole thing. “It’s one thing to learn from books.” Minnie said as they came out the castle entrance. “But if you don’t apply them to the real world, then you’re not really learning anything at all. So today we’re going to listen to conversations all around the kingdom. And if you have any questions at all, you know how to ask me.”

She smiled at him, but Segreto didn’t respond at all. Not a smile, not a nod, he merely walked alongside her without a hint of life. It was depressing for Minnie to see someone who tended to burst with energy now be absolutely sluggish. However, she wasn’t going to let things stay like this. Even if he had been strange before, it was better than this. “You know, if this is about the whole fish thing… it’s not as bad as you think! That was days ago! And I know I’ll never be going near the ocean again, so I don’t have to be afraid of it. You didn’t do anything wrong.”

For some reason that appeared to make Segreto’s shoulders slump even further down. Minnie had to practically drag him into town at this point. “And who needs the ocean? The fishermen bring food here, and if I want to see a puppet show or play games, they can bring that on land too. I could stay here for the rest of my life and be perfectly happy. I have everything I need here. Don’t you?”

Still no response. Minnie groaned inwardly, and tugged Segreto along. “Maybe we should get something to eat first. I know I can’t be happy if I’m hungry.” She dug in her dress to get out her change purse, but as she did so, her locket popped out and hit the ground. Segreto was about to scoop down to get it, but another man beat him to it.

“Ha-cha-cha! Now isn’t this a thing of beauty, from another thing of beauty?” Said the tall rat as he held up the broken gold chain. On the ever present social ladder, this man was dressed a rung above Donald, his sea faring outfit having lost its colors due to time. His eyes were as yellow as his teeth, and it was if his body couldn’t decide which terrible smell to stick with. He loomed over both mice, not just in height, but purposely leaning over to make sure they only had eyes on him. “You ought to be more careful, little lady.” He placed it back in her hands, nearly finished on his burning cigar.

“Oh… thank you.” Minnie gently placed her hands around it, now unsure of where to put it since it wouldn’t stay inside of her dress. “It’s a long story, but I swear I’ll get it fixed one of these days.” She looked up at the rat, and frowned. He was somewhat familiar, but she couldn’t place a name or details behind it. Unlike Donald and Goofy, Minnie didn’t tend to draw the eyes of bullies towards her. “… Do you… live around here?”

“We live where life takes us!” The smoke-puffing man grabbed the large cat beside him, pulling him around. The cat had been popping chocolates in his mouth, and the stains on his fingers matched the stains of his clothes that had stretched and snagged with him as he had gotten larger. There was a lazy sort of gait to him, and he almost looked to be bothered now that they were talking to others. “We search the seas for treasure, and we share it with museums, collectors, and the poor orphan children. This is my esteemed associate, Pete, and I’m Mortimer.”

Segreto was at last showing signs of life, even if it was only an eyebrow raise of skepticism. Yet he still copied Minnie’s polite curtsy - oh, right, bowing! “It’s a pleasure to meet you. My name is Minnie Mouse, and this is my friend, Segreto.”

Both Mickey and Mortimer’s eyes lit up at certain words in that sentence for altogether different reasons. Pete leaned in, grinning with uneven teeth as he took a guess. “Mouse… wouldn’t happen ta be the same Mouse that lost a big honkin’ ship with lots of treasure on it?” Mortimer swiftly plunged his elbow into Pete’s ribs, but it was too late to un-ring the bell.

Minnie stared, speaking softly as she answered. “Why… yes… I mean, it wasn’t my ship, it was my parents…”

Mortimer glanced at Pete, then to Minnie, back to Pete, and then he threw his arm over his head, wailing out loud. “Oh, the tragedy! The heart-break! You poor little girl! It’s times like this that make the job so difficult!” He then swooped down, throwing his arm around Minnie’s shoulders. “But it’s also what makes me love it so… because have I got news for you! We found something from your parent’s ship!”

“You did?!” Minnie gasped, her hands pressed heavily onto her heart. “Are you sure?”

Pete shoved Mickey aside in order to take over Minnie’s other shoulder. “It’s got your folks name on it, Mouse! We threw our nets into the ocean and pulled it up. And now we wanna hand it over, but we want ta make sure we got the right Mouse with us!”

“I’m the only person in the kingdom with that last name!” Minnie insisted, looking back and forth between the two foul smelling men. “It must be mine! Please, let me see it, whatever it is!”

“It would be our pleasure!” Mortimer straightened himself up, tossing his cigar into Mickey’s hands – who stumbled at how hot it was and quickly dropped it. “Just follow us…”

Minnie then reached out to take Mickey’s hand, almost bursting with giggles. “Oh, I can’t believe it! After all these years, I can have another piece of my family back! Segreto, I want you to hold me if I faint!”

It was only then that Segreto made a true and honest smile, as he saw how Minnie was bouncing in her heels. But that happiness was cut short was Mortimer slapped Mickey’s hands away, ‘tsk’ing at the interaction. “If you ask me, this is more of a family affair… we don’t need a crowd drawing around on your big day.”

“And we got a lot of business ta take care of, too.” Pete tried to shove Mickey away, although Mickey dug his heels into the ground, refusing to be budged. “Ya got yer paperwork, and yer documents, and legal how-de-doo… it’s all really borin’. Once we get all sorted out, we can bring the treasure back here and throw one big party!”

Despite Minnie’s glee at finding a miracle, she couldn’t help but look back towards Segreto. It seemed wrong, somehow, to leave him out. He had a connection to the locket, after all, but Segreto himself wasn’t fighting to join them. He met Minnie’s eyes, and there was a sad acceptance floating in his sea glass eyes. He bowed once, and then turned his back to them, abruptly heading back to the castle. This was the better option, he told himself. He would do nothing but bring down the mood, and she would be much happier basking in the glow of her parent’s findings.

He stuck his hands in his pockets, trying not to listen in as Mortimer and Pete led Minnie away. He pretended he didn’t feel Minnie’s eyes on him. If he hadn’t bothered to get to know her all this time, why should he deserve it now? Maybe he should wait until the leaves fall and return to the sea…

The thought made him shudder. No, that would be the worst option. It would be unfair to Minnie, who had worked so hard to teach him so much. It’d be unfair to the Queen, who had put her faith in him and his secrets. Goofy, Daisy, Donald, would they miss him too if he was gone? Did he deserve to be missed?

The guards asked him why he had returned without Minnie, but Mickey curtseyed quickly and returned to his room. He didn’t bother to lock the door, and took his usual place of picking up the glass bowl and placing it on his lap. He lacked the ability to apologize, and hoped his mournful expression could do the job.

He still had not grasped the concept of time and how it worked when the door opened. “There you are!” Daisy huffed, letting herself in. “The guards told me you left with Minnie, but she didn’t come back!” She stood in front of him, hands on her hips. “You’ve got some nerve, abandoning her when she’s doing her best for you! What happened to the cheeky pervert?”

Mickey didn’t even bother looking up, his eyes on his unhappy friends. Daisy sucked on the inside of her cheek, debating over something. “… If it’s about what happened with that fish bowl... She overreacted, but Minnie, she…” She rubbed her arms, still unsure of whether to continue. “… I know you can’t talk, but if you find a way to tell anyone what I’m about to tell you, you’ll pay for it dearly.” She moved to sit on the bed beside Mickey, who was starting to pay attention. “When Minnie lost her parents, she couldn’t handle it. She refused to allow herself to be adopted by anyone, and threw terrible fits. She’d wreck rooms and cry all throughout the night. It was impossible to console her. When the Queen found out about this, she decided to seek matters out herself.

At the time, Minnie had run away from her latest foster home, and no one had any idea where she was. There was a thorough search within the entire kingdom, until the Queen had an epiphany. She went to the boardwalk, and there was little Minnie, on the edge. She dove in… she wanted to ‘join’ her parents.”

Not only had Mickey’s attention been caught, but even the fish were slack-jawed with horror. Mickey had never heard of the ocean being used as a self-made grave. How could Minnie, who was so full of warmth and life, want to end it all? Daisy appeared satisfied by the terror on Mickey’s face and continued. “The Queen dove in right after her. She pulled Minnie to shore, and told her that wasn’t what her family would want. She refused to let Minnie go, and decided that Minnie would live in the castle with her. And that’s what finally cured her… to have someone to love and fight for her.” She then gripped Mickey’s shoulder tightly, making sure he was looking at her. “Whatever your reasons for coming here, I won’t let you ever hurt her. She’s been hurt more than enough for one lifetime… and if she’s afraid of something, let her be afraid. There’s nothing wrong with fear. But there is something wrong with forcing courage.”

Mickey bit his lip as he digested it all. He hadn’t been the first to save Minnie’s life – he was hardly the first one to try and help her. He had thought himself so important that he hadn’t tried to connect with Minnie’s friends. He slid off the bed and placed the bowl on top of his desk drawer. He had no right trying to change Minnie’s life when it had been content and fixed before he arrived. If she didn’t need True Love, then she didn’t need him either. Yet that thought wasn’t entirely depressing. The idea of her being happy was good enough for him.

He turned back and around and hugged Daisy, much to her surprise. Daisy cleared her throat, awkwardly patting him on the back. “Yes, well… as long as you don’t hurt her… and you understand what she’s been through… I suppose you wouldn’t be a terrible addition to her life.” She then poked Mickey’s nose, lightly pushing him back. “But that doesn’t change why I came here in the first place. Where is Minnie now?”

Mickey let her go, and pulled his notebook and pencil from his drawer. With delicate practice, he started to write out as best he could. He then held it up for Daisy to see.

‘T-w-o m-e-n.’

Daisy raised an eyebrow. “She left with two men? Guys don’t tend to notice her that much… Why did they want her?”

‘L-o-c-k-e-t. P-a-r-e-n-t-s.’

“So it’s about the locket and her parents…” This wasn’t enough. She scratched her head, trying to come up with questions that Mickey’s limited vocabulary could fill in. “What did the two men look like?”

Mickey flipped the page over, deciding to use some creativity with this answer. In less than a minute, he had drawn a thin figure with big ears and big teeth, and a round figure with pointy ears. When he showed to Daisy, she ripped it out of his notebook in shock. “Mortimer and Pete! You let her go with the two biggest crooks in the entire kingdom?!” She flipped the image around, pointing them out for him. “These two are always stealing and lying to everyone! They take treasures from sunken ships but only keep it for themselves! If they have anything to do with Minnie, it’s not good news!”

The weight in Mickey’s stomach from before seemed like the size of a grape compared to the one he felt now. He didn’t even bother to question Daisy before he sped outside of the room, running as fast as he can. This would be the last mistake he’d make on Minnie’s sake, he swore it!

~*~

Why did Mortimer get all the light and easy jobs, Pete thought, as he lugged the giant safe onto the beginning of the ruined boardwalk. Maybe if the big rat actually helped out every once in a while, he’d get some actual muscles. But if all he was going to do was dangle a little girl over the edge of the destroyed pier, he’d stay lean as a stick for the rest of his life. “Can I put it down now?” Pete groaned, his back starting to crack under the weight of the safe.

“Oh, quit your whining, that can’t be any heavier than the quadruple-decker sandwich you had for lunch.” Mortimer took out his cigar, and tossed it into the ocean. “Now, little miss, have you had time to think about my generous offer?”

Please stop!” Minnie screamed, clinging onto Mortimer’s side for dear life. “I told you, I don’t know anything about it! Just let me go home!”

“That’s some good acting, sweetheart. Maybe you should quit being a maid and head for theater.” He grabbed the neck of her dress, hoisting her up again. “But if you actually expect me to believe your folks didn’t tell you about how to unlock this safe…”

“They didn’t!” Minnie kicked about, trying to free herself from Mortimer’s grasp while not looking at the terrifying ocean down below. “I swear! Let me go, let me go!”

“Suit yourself.” Mortimer did let her go, but only for enough seconds so that he could grab her wrist as she fell. It sent Minnie into worse hysterics, screaming for her life as hot tears wrecked down her face. “Be a good girl and tell us how to get it open, and you won’t have to go for a swim.”

I don’t know!” Minnie screeched as loudly as she could, nails digging into Mortimer’s arm as she clung on.

Pete, now feeling as if the safe was getting heavier by the minute, tried to speak up over Minnie’s constant wailing. “It might just be my knees breaking, but maybe dat gal really doesn’t know.”

“See, Pete, you don’t have faith in anything.” Mortimer replied coolly, bobbing Minnie up and down like a yo-yo. “That’s what makes me a winner, and you a loser. All you need is some patience. She might just crack when we do toss her down there.”

“Don’t!” Minnie could feel Mortimer’s grip on her weakening on purpose, and now her heart was beating loud enough to vibrate in her ears. “Please, I’ll do anything, but I really don’t know how to open it!” She felt as if she was in death’s embrace all over again, ready to claw at her and have her join her parents at last. Had it come back to take her after she tried to dive in all those years ago? It wasn’t fair, she had a new life now, a new family, so much to live for, she wanted to see his face one more time –

Pete would have welcomed any chance to put down the safe, except for the one he actually got, which was a wooden board smacked to the back of his head. He yowled as exploding splinters hit his skull, and yowled again as he dropped the safe on his foot. The person who attacked him then used his body as a launching pad, crawling on top and then leaping off his head to get closer to Mortimer.

Even in Minnie’s blurry teary vision, she could make out – “Segreto?!” – standing there, teeth bared and snarling like an angered animal. He came back? But why? How could he have known what was going to happen? But she shook her head - it didn’t matter, someone good was here to help!

Mortimer paused in his torture, trying to decide if the small fanged menace was much of a threat. “What, didn’t you get the memo before, short stuff? We’re doing business here. Unless you want to join your girlfriend here in the briny deep.” He lowered his arm, trying to decide if adding the boy to these games would give more incentive for the girl to spill her secrets.

In all of Mickey’s land lessons, Minnie hadn’t thought to tell him how to protect himself and attack others, as she didn’t know such things herself. Mickey’s mermen training would do no good here either, as he lacked a strong tail and sharp fingernails to attack Mortimer with. But there was one thing he had kept with both bodies, and he mentally thanked Bruce for his demonstration months ago.

Mortimer smirked, believing he had won. “You wouldn’t happen to know what opens the safe, would you? That’d save us a whole lot of time and dry cleaning bills.” He offered his hand to Mickey, waiting to hear the paying information. Mickey slowly approached him –

And then sunk his teeth into Mortimer's arm.

“OWWW!” Mortimer raised his arm but Mickey refused to let go. Mortimer could have sworn the little guy broke past skin and muscle. Mickey bit in as deeply as his teeth would go, and then wrapped his legs around the length of Mortimer’s arm, kicking him soundly in the face. All three bodies fell backwards, with Mickey staying on top. Mortimer flailed and waved his arm about, but Mickey wouldn’t pull back. He spared a glance to see Minnie, who had thankfully gotten free of Mortimer’s hold and was sitting down, a hand to her chest as she breathed haggardly.

“What are you, a shark?!” Mortimer raised his free hand and tried to smack Mickey in the head, but it was only when Mickey chose to let go did Mortimer have both hands released. “Why, when I get my hands on you…”

“I got him, I got him!” Pete, by this time, had managed to regain his senses. The safe forgotten, he charged towards Mickey, intending to scoop him up in his grubby paws. Mickey allowed himself to be grabbed, only so he could slam his forehead against Pete’s, causing the cat to yelp in pain as he stumbled backwards. “Yowch! This kid’s head is made outta sea stone!”

The mouse then whipped around, able to see Mortimer trying to crawl away. He launched himself at Mortimer’s leg, now biting deep into his knee before Mortimer managed to kick him off. “He’s crazy!” Mortimer staggered to his feet, feeling bits of blood coming out from the bite marks. “Look, kid! How about we split it three ways?”

“No way!” Pete had dropped Mickey, holding a hand to his injured forehead. “Bad enough we have to split it 20-80, I ain’t losing anythin’ to this twerp! It’s two against one! We can take him!”

Pete’s head could only suffer so much damage before he was down for the count, as proven when a heavy fishing rod slammed down on his skull. As his body toppled over, Goofy stood over him, wielding his trusty rod as a knight would a sword, with Pluto, Donald and Daisy right behind him. “I ain’t the best at numbers, but I think yer gunna wanna step back, Mortimer.” Goofy growled, much in the same tone as his beloved pet was doing. “And apologize ta her, too!”

Mortimer started to shake, unable to believe his grand plan was falling apart at the seams. “N-Now hold on, everyone… we can be reasonable! Why don’t we split it… uh… one, two, three, four-”

Mickey made a snapping, biting motion which was enough to make Mortimer shriek not unlike a six year old schoolgirl. Unfortunately, it also made him lob backwards, hard enough to give Minnie a push off the boardwalk.

Minnie felt as if time had come to a halt as she fell down towards the ocean once more. Both times had been her fault, hadn’t they? Maybe this had been her destiny all along. Yet before she plummeted into the cold depths, she saw one last image. Segreto had jumped off in that same second, hands reached out toward her.

Both bodies hit the water with alarming splashes, and Segreto’s arms were around her at once. He pressed her head to his chest, and began to swim to shore. Minnie clung onto him, whimpering, but somehow she was less afraid now than she was when she was on the pier. With his one arm safely around her, and the lower half of Mickey’s body moving in time with the waves, she felt secure. His heart beat against her ear, and Minnie closed her eyes. Yes, this had happened before, hadn’t it? First when the Queen had securely carried her little body back to the sea, and then when those monstrous tidal waves struck, that guardian angel…

… Minnie’s eyes snapped open. That guardian angel that had kept her safe with loving arms, moving as one with the ocean, who carried her to shore and left a cold kiss on her forehead. She hadn’t thought about him in weeks, but now as she was in a mirror replica of what had happened, the memory was crystal clear. The touch, the grip, the motion, it was all exactly the same. She didn’t dare look up at him, her amazement swallowing any remnants of fear leftover. There was only one difference and it didn’t make any sense at all.

That time, what felt like ages ago, she hadn’t felt the duo motion of his legs. No, there had only been one…

Segreto took her to the sandy shore, and laid her down breathing slowly through his nose. Minnie sat up, watching him as he shook water off of his head. Her body shook not from the cold ocean, but from what she was daring to ask. “Segreto…” He lifted his head as he was called, eyes darting about to make sure she was all right. “… Have you… helped me before… like this?”

The way his eyes broadened was more powerful than any wave. He didn’t need to answer verbally or physically, for the way his blue eyes gazed at her spoke volumes. Minnie couldn’t explain what she was feeling or what his shock said, even to herself. It would make sense if Segreto had been another visitor on the boardwalk that day, who had simply seen her fall and saved her. But then why could he not even grasp pies, or balls, or a curtsy? What had been below his waist when he first saved her?

What was he?

She blinked back to reality as she felt his hand touch her cheek. She was sure heat was burning off of her face as he observed her as another heavy piece of the puzzle dropped down. If he had saved her that time – had he followed her to the kingdom? Had it always been about her? But why her? Those desperate attempts at kisses that he had never tried on anyone else – that sheer excitement to be with her – the guilt he had felt from harming her – was this that fairy-tale word she had dreamed of, but never thought to grasp? Did he love her?

She trembled as her thoughts raced faster and faster in a circle. She wasn’t special, she wasn’t pretty like Daisy or elegant like the Queen. She was a foolish girl without a family, no different than the dozens of maids out there. So he couldn’t love her. No, he couldn’t, he had no reason to, and she dared to look at him again. “Segreto… where… did you come from…?”

It was only now in this moment that she could have known his eyes were the same color as the sea. He raised his hand, and pointed back towards the ocean.

That’s not possible, Minnie thought but could not deny as she stared out into the horizon. He wasn’t pointing above the ocean, as if saying he was from another land across the way. His finger was right at the blue deepness, and Minnie didn’t know if she had stopped breathing or the tightness in her chest was from what she saw. She couldn’t find any more words, and Segreto held both of her cheeks. He then kissed her forehead, and the final piece laid into its hole in Minnie’s memories.

That kiss – that had felt like desperation, and tenderness - pressed so deeply against her that it was impossible to forget it even as days went by. It stopped her shaking, and she exhaled slowly, for this was a kiss of kindness, not something to be afraid of. No matter where he had come from, Segreto was still Segreto, a silly fun-loving boy with a good heart. His strangeness had never stopped him from being welcoming to others, nor encouraging joy and mirth to those around him.

“… Thank you.” She spoke softly, finally able to give her savior her gratitude. “I… I mean it, I really…” The corners of her mouth crawled into a smile, and he did the same, not to copy her but an earnest happiness that spread to both of them. “You really are… something special.” Their foreheads were pressed together, and then Minnie, moving without thinking about it, tilted her mouth towards his –

“I found them! They’re okay!”

Minnie jerked backwards as she heard Donald’s yell, and she glanced over her shoulder to see their odd collection of friends run towards them. Segreto mouthed several obscene words he learned from Donald before sitting beside Minnie, pouting like a disappointed child. Daisy raced past Donald in order to throw her arms around Minnie, rocking back and forth. “I’m never letting you go again! This is the last time any of us ever go to the ocean, I promise! I’m not letting it have you!”

“Way ta go there, buddy!” Goofy cheered as he caught up with the rest of the gang. “And don’t ya worry none about them two bullies… I tied ‘em up real good with the line from my fishing rod! They’ll be a special delivery for the royal guards!”

“Mortimer kept calling you rabid!” Donald laughed, slapping Segreto on the back. “Maybe you should be a royal guard too! Who needs a sword when you have teeth like those?”

“All of this for a stupid safe that doesn’t even open!” Daisy sighed as she pulled Minnie to her feet. “I say it’s more trouble than it’s worth. Maybe we should just toss it back in the ocean.”

Minnie shook her head. “I’d like one last look at it, if all of you don’t mind… maybe I’ve been hanging onto my parents for too long, but if my parents put something in there, it must have been very important to them. I want to honor their memory.”

No one argued against it as they returned to the pier. Daisy refused to let Minnie go for a second, even though for once Minnie didn’t appear to need the comfort. Instead, Minnie kept glancing over at Segreto, trying to figure out when to pick up their unusual conversation. What was she going to say? What had she been planning to do if they hadn’t been interrupted?

Back at the pier, Mortimer was bound up and arguing with a new conscious Pete, both of whom were arguing about whose fault this was. But as soon as Segreto entered their vision, they yelped and tried to hide behind each other. “Keep him away!” Pete begged. “He’s a nutjob!”

“Better a nutjob than a creep like you.” Daisy huffed, looking over the safe. “Where’s the keyhole? You two better not have broken it.”

“There isn’t a real keyhole!” Mortimer found Pete wasn’t big enough to hide him. Segreto started to smirk at him, baring his teeth, and Mortimer began speaking rapidly in order to get mercy. “Right there under the name! There’s something you have to insert!”

Everyone stooped over and stared intensely at the strange hole right below the MOUSE name. Their heads tilted this way and that, trying to figure out what object was supposed to inserted into his unusual shape. Then, all of a sudden, Segreto snapped his head up, and clapped his hands once. He tugged on Minnie’s sleeve, and then tapped on his neck where her locket used to be held.

 

“My locket?” Minnie asked, digging in her dress to get it out again. “Wait… let me see…” She held it out, and stuck the edge into the hole. She turned it, and a ‘click’ was heard by all.

“Let us see!” Pete howled, straining his restrained arms to try and see over everyone’s shoulders. “At least let us see it!”

“It’s got to be gold!” Mortimer wiggled around, trying to see as well. “Or diamonds! Rubies, or emeralds!”

Minnie pulled back the safe door by its gray handle as she heard everyone hold their breath at once. What was the Mouse family’s treasure, hidden by the sea for years?

It was a small, furry teddy bear with a piece of parchment right beside it, reading ‘Happy Birthday, Minnie! Love, Mama and Papa.’

Donald tapped Segreto on the shoulder. “And this, Segreto, is what it means to be ‘sappy.’”

“Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me!” Mortimer flopped onto his back, starting to cry like a spanked child. “We wasted all of our time for a lousy toy?! Someone wake me up from this nightmare!”

“Wouldn’t happen ta be a golden teddybear, would it…?” Pete slumped his head forward, utterly defeated.

Contrary to the baby-like whining of the conmen, Minnie believed she had indeed found real treasure. She picked up the teddy bear, tears welling in her eyes as she found herself as a child again, remembering the birthdays her parents would celebrate. The ocean may have cruelly taken them away from her, but it had also given her a gift. “… Thank you, Mother, Father.” She murmured, wiping away tears with her hands. “Maybe it’s time… we all went home.”

Donald saluted to his former bullies, unable to stop grinning. “Don’t worry, boys, the guards will pick you up soon! Why don’t you take in the lovely scenery?” Segreto joined in, making a biting motion like a rabid shark.

Goofy whistled as he led the gang along, and Daisy explained that after Segreto had left in such a hurry, she had found Donald outside the castle. Mortimer and Pete had forced him to reveal who he knew with the Mouse name, and Donald hadn’t known what to do afterwards. Goofy had just ended that day’s visit with the Queen, and once all three understood that the two schemers wanted something to do with Minnie, they had joined up and ran to the most abandoned place nearby – the destroyed boardwalk.

“But maybe we didn’t need ta show up after all.” Goofy chuckled, giving Segreto a pat on the head. “The way ya fought ‘em both, that was somethin’ amazin’! Who taught ya how ta do that?”

“Not everything can be taught.” Daisy had to admit, swinging Minnie’s hand back and forth. “That looked like it was all instinct… besides, with a name that means secret, he’s not going to reveal anything anytime soon.”

“Well, y’know the old sayin’.” Goofy shugged. “Some things are better left unsaid.”

“But I am grateful.” Minnie managed to speak up one arm snugly around her old present. “To all of you… I didn’t think anyone could care about me this much. Why, it’s too much.”

That was enough to get everyone to stop walking and stare at her in confusion. Daisy reached over and pinched Minnie’s cheek, making her squeak. “We seriously need to work on your self confidence issues, sweetie. Do you really think it’s impossible for a group of people to like you?”

“You’re a good kid.” Donald tipped his cap. “Always thinking of everyone else before yourself… hey, you’re the only reason Daisy hasn’t chased me off!”

“And just ‘cause our friendship is new, don’t mean it ain’t worth anythin’.” Goofy nodded in sync with Pluto. “Everyone’s got worth. Even if yer just meetin’ someone fer the first time, there’s worth in that first smile. Makes people want ta learn even more about ya!”

Mickey blinked three times in rapid succession after hearing Goofy’s nugget of wisdom. To learn about someone else… that was a more important lesson than any writing he’d done during his time here. If there was still a chance to make things right with Minnie, then this could be it. Alongside learning words and sentences, he should take time to learn the ins and outs of what made Minnie so very Minnie. He smiled at the idea, as his mind buzzed over how to ask her questions and get the answers to lay a better foundation for both of them.

Minnie was positively beaming at this shower of affection, her cheeks crimson. “I suppose if I say you’re all too good for me, that wouldn’t help much… so… thank you again…” She then shivered – no matter how good she was feeling, it couldn’t stop her clothes from being soaked. “… But maybe we should hurry this along! I’m about to catch a cold!”

“We can’t have that!” Daisy started to walk even quicker this time. “There’s no way I’m playing substitute teacher!”

The boys laughed and followed along, with Mickey so used to the cold of the ocean that it didn’t bother him. He and Minnie continued to sneak looks at each other, quietly smiling with their own hidden plans for the future.

Chapter Text

Part of Mickey’s renewed plan to stop being selfish and think of the world around him involved worrying just as much about Horace as the rest of the servants. It’d been several days now, and no one had seen him. The Queen had sent out guards to search for him, but no clues had turned up. Everyone tried to hope for the best despite how long it had been. Minnie managed to continue her lessons, and she had also finally dropped off her locket to the local blacksmith to get it repaired. The questions surrounding Segreto poked and prodded at her, but she never had a good time to bring it up again, as far as she believed.

This day had brought about heavy clouds that threatened rain, but never let loose a single drop. Occasional peaks of sunlight broke through, nearly becoming beacons of heaven’s glory as they graced the kingdom. Due to the unpredictably of that day’s weather, Minnie decided that the day’s lessons would be held indoors entirely, just in case. However, she decided to take a different route throughout the castle’s complex hallways in order to give Segreto a different sense of scenery. This hallway had the specialty of stain-glass windows, each one depicting different stories of times long passed.

He had always been fascinated these windows, and as she walked she had to stop every so often to check behind her to see if Segreto was following her or was admiring the windows. Perhaps a month or two ago, she would had admonished him with a snippy tone, but in the short time she had gotten to know him, he had nestled deeply into her heart and refused to budge. Now when she patiently waited for him to catch up, she wore a bemused expression, and was more than happy to explain the origin of each window. “The royal guards told me these stories.” She told him, their footsteps echoing back and forth in the empty hallway. “And they were told by their elders, and so on, and so forth. That’s how stories are supposed to work, of course. You tell the young ones so they live with it, and can pass it down to their own.”

Segreto nodded with a sweet smile of understanding. Minnie had learned to pick up on certain facial features of him. One such example was the certain way his smile would perk to a side – that meant he was looking forward to hearing more of her past. He showed that perkiness now, and Minnie quickly turned her face away from him. She knew about his body tics, but not the reason behind them. Why was he so utterly curious about her every step? She was nothing more than a simple lady-in-waiting to Her Highness. Yet ever since this mute mouse had literally stumbled into her life, he wanted to be at her side constantly. This obsession with her, combined with his lack of a voice, and his secret origins… he was a mystery in every meaning of the word. His name was apt now more than ever, and even as she felt closer to understanding him, the truth still seemed so far away.

“These are my favorites.” She spoke again once she was confident. “They’re stories about the ocean. They’re many of them in the library.” Mickey’s eyes widened, and he was easily distracted by the windows they were upon. Blues and greens mixed together as they depicted images of unique fish swimming around imagined corals. There were strange creatures that appeared to be half mortal and half fish, swimming to the surface to lure their love from boats above. “There are so many legends sailors bring home from the ocean… and even though so many are impossible, how much do we really know about the sea?” Minnie noticed that some of the clouds were parting off in the distance. “It seems so endless. I don’t think we can ever really explore all of it… and maybe that’s for the best. Don’t you?” She looked to him, but for once, she was not the center of his attention.

His eyes were locked onto the oceanic window, as frozen in time as the images. The sun peaked through the clouds, casting light through the window, and the sea hues of beauty delicately rested on his face. In his eyes were reflected the very depths of the ocean, both enriching and sad at the same time. In that instant, he appeared to be royalty, regal, something more than mortal understanding. In the span of seconds, that one memory came over Minnie’s eyes - sad eyes, trapped under the forbidden ocean, unable to breathe, cold lips…

Her lungs seized up, as during her pause she had somehow stopped breathing, and the memory shattered back to being forgotten. She coughed twice, and when she looked up, Segreto was his normal unique self, and the sunlight was gone. His arms reached over to her, grabbing her by the shoulders and looking her over in worry. She gently gave him a small push, embarrassed. “No, no, I’m fine… I was just watching you.” Segreto became equally embarrassed, scratching the back of his head and offering a small glance back at the windows. “You just seemed very… sad.”

They both looked at the windows now, side by side. “… May I ask you something?” Segreto nodded, once again his attention full on her and nothing else. “Does this… remind you of home?” She knew nothing of his home, but that kind of sadness emitting from him seemed to be connected to a feeling of something lost. Segreto reacted with widened eyes, surprised that he had been so obvious. He bit his lip, looking down, and then nodded solemnly. “Do you miss it?”

Minnie had expected just another nod, since of course anyone would miss their home. Yet when Segreo met her eyes, he was momentarily lost in thought. There was change in his eyes, trying to make a decision. There was an answer he didn’t want to know. Minnie could never guess at the heavy choices weighed in his heart, and the sacrifices he had made for the sake of following true love. There was a tremble in his body, seen in a fight to hold back tears. Then, suddenly, his arms lashed out, and she was forced into his tight embrace. She squeaked, surprised, but instead of shoving off his odd affections as always, she found herself going still as she felt his shakes. He was in a pain she could never fathom.

Slowly, unsure of what else to do, she returned his hold, as if to comfort a crying child. Perhaps, like she, he had lost his family? That all ties to his bloodline were also gone forever? Maybe all along he had been able to sense a similar sadness in her, and sought her out in an effort to ease one another. It was all guesswork. “It’ll be all right.” She finally spoke again, quietly. “You’re not alone. You’re never truly alone.” Her Highness had given Minnie the same words when she became an orphan, and never did she think she would repeat them to another for the same effect.

She felt his warm cheek brush by her own when he pulled back. She had expected to see comfort in him, and she did, but it was in amidst an overpowering expression of devotion, centered entirely around her. Typically he was prone to stares of cheerful admiration, and boyish glances of crushes and flirtations. Yet whenever they were alone and he had her all to himself, his eyes would swallow her up in this state of eternal longing that she couldn’t begin to grasp at understanding. It was if he existed only for her, and that to look upon her was one of life’s greatest treasures. Such moments left her as speechless as he was.

His hands touched her cheeks, tilting her head upwards. For a moment, she thought he was going to kiss her again – it seemed like centuries ago when he had that obsession with kissing, quickly taking her lips and then touching the scar on his throat, looking quizzical and disappointed while ignoring the yelling punishments for such invasions of personal space. That was not his aim this time, though. Instead his kiss was to her forehead, and she felt a wave of gratitude flow through his lips to her. She swallowed hard – had she actually been disappointed that it not been her lips? No, no, surely not! This was just… unexpected. That was all.

“You’re… w-welcome.” She stammered once he released her, and she was quick to turn her back to him. “Yes, well… we must get going. We’re going to have little time for your lessons if we keep wasting the day like this.” She hurriedly went down the hallway, her dress in her hands, desperately trying to drown out the sound of her beating heart. What would have happened if she allowed herself to remain in his arms any longer? To even think the question was blasphemous. Yet the thought lingered.

Mickey watched her leave, and then settled for one last look at the windows. He knew the scar would still be there, yet he tugged down on his clothes to feel it under his fingers. He was so lost in his past that he didn’t hear the relieved cries up ahead until the third time.

“Horace! You’re back!”

Up ahead, Minnie was looking into the throne room, as several maids and servants flocked in to see their good friend. Mickey jogged over to catch up, glad that his last worry was laid to rest. He put the useless sadness of his scar behind him, catching Minnie’s relieved sigh. He took her by the hand, and led her inside, glad that balance had been restored.

But when he looked inside the throne room, his past found him instead.

There, standing beside Horace, was the Sea Wizard. He smiled as calmly and naturally as if had belonged there all along, no gills on his throat and his robes far more regal than before. Black insignia covered his white clothes like ink stains on paper, and the overwhelming amount of violet was now only in his eyes. Horace’s own eyes appeared to be dull, shaded over in darkness. He bowed to the Queen, ignoring all of the maids around him. “My apologies for my prolonged absence, your highness… When I was inspecting the boardwalk, I fell and injured my head. This brave gentleman found me, and stayed by my side until I was well again. I owe him my life.”

The wizard laughed, a hand under his chin. “Come now, Horace, it was a bump on the head. I am only grateful I could escort you home and meet your famous Queen.” He bowed deeply, arm under his chest. “My name is Macchia Nera. I have gone far and wide in my travels, searching for a place to call home. I was almost going to make the mistake of passing this beautiful kingdom by, when I found this poor young man.”

Mickey darted his eyes around, but the only window in the room was the gigantic set behind the throne, and that wasn’t able to show a single tree. There was no way his time could already be up! Surely only a few leaves had begun to fall! He couldn’t be here to collect the debt! He shook in place, missing Minnie’s concern for him.

Sitting in her throne, the Queen nodded her head once Macchia’s story had finished. “You have our gratitude, Sir Nera. For aiding my servant and returning him home, name your reward. Kindness of any length should always be rewarded.”

Macchia stood back up, almost pushing Horace aside to take several steps forward. “Then I ask only two things… The first, to be given stay here in your glorious kingdom.”

“Why, of course.” Millicent replied, waving a hand aside. “We welcome everyone to live here, saviors or not.”

“Then my second request will sound most unusual, I imagine.” He chuckled, smoothing out his thin mustache. “My strengths are lacking, and my skills are worse… but there is one thing I have always been able to take pride in. If you will allow me, your highness… may I sing for you?”

The Queen tilted her head for a moment, but then gestured forward with her hand. “What a lovely sentiment. Please, feel free to share your song with us. It has been so long since I have been able to hear such a thing. The honor would be all mine.”

Realization hit Mickey harder than a punch to the face. He grasped at the scar of his neck – his voice had not been destroyed, but handed over! The wizard now had the merfolk’s powerful voice that could take over a mortal’s mind and have them do their bidding! He looked around wildly, but how was he supposed to warn anyone? The maids looked eager to see what would come from the handsome man’s throat, but Minnie was touching Mickey’s arm. “Segreto, what’s the matter? You look so afraid…”

As the wizard – Macchia?! He had a name?! – opened his mouth, Mickey knew he had no chance of saving everyone right now. All he could do was stick his fingers deeply into his ears, trying to block out all sounds. Minnie tried to ask again what was going on, and Daisy was chiding him for being so rude.

Mickey had never paid attention to his voice, and his singing lessons were a terrible bore. Regret filled every bone in his body. If only he had been a better student, maybe he could have remembered how to cure this venomous singing! But in his deaf state, all he could do was watch Macchia belt out his mystical voice, the faces of everyone starting to change. Much like Horace, their eyes began to dull in color, and their arms fell to their sides. They stared in unison, losing all traces of emotion and thought as they listened to him. Mickey helplessly tried to nudge Minnie with his leg, but she didn’t move, no matter how hard he pushed. As far as the hypnotized victims were concerned, the only thing that mattered was Macchia and his singing.

Even the Queen had clearly fallen under the same trance, her body falling into a slump on the throne. She started to loosen her grip on the staff – the same staff that, as Mickey recalled, the Queen had never let go, not even when she was hugging her precious Minnie. As it started to fall from her fingers, Mickey dashed forward, running while still plugged up, and only popped out his fingers from his ears to catch the staff in the last second. Thankfully Macchia had allowed himself to be interrupted, closing his mouth as he smiled wickedly at Mickey.

All of the victims simultaneously looked up, surprised that the song had ended. Some of the color had returned to their eyes, but a hint of dullness remained, as the maids started to applaud, cheering how beautiful his performance was, how amazing Maccia was, and begging him to stay in the castle. The Queen released a heavy sigh, as if awakening from a peaceful slumber, before noticing her empty hand. She jerked, and quickly grabbed the staff from Mickey, gripping it tightly all over again. “My… goodness. Thank you, Segreto.” Then, easily ignoring him, she stood up and started to walk down the velvet stairs. “And thank you, Sir Nera… thank you for gracing us with something so beautiful. In all my life, I’ve never heard anything like it.”

Macchia bowed again, but kept his eyes on the Queen – more specifically her staff, as Mickey noticed. “It was my pleasure. Sharing my talent like that is my single greatest joy. Music has such a wonderful way of bringing people together, don’t you think?”

“Yes…” Millicent had a hand to her chest, breathing softly. “Yes, it does… About your stay here… it must be in the castle, here, with us.”

Mickey scrambled to get down the stairs, meeting Millicent at the bottom. He tugged on her dress, flailing to point at the scar of his neck. Millicent looked down, and gave Mickey a pat on the head. “It looks like our dear Segreto wishes you to stay as well.”

Mickey’s jaw dropped – there was no way she could misinterpret his panic and fear. It must have been the song, dulling everyone’s senses to Mickey’s actions. Macchia was amused, stroking the ends of his mustache. “So this is Segreto… Horace has told me so much about him. Perhaps he could show me my new living arrangements.”

Mickey frantically shook his head to Millicent, trying to make a big X out of his arms to veto the idea. But his silent pleas went ignored as she nodded, giving him a gentle push forward on his shoulder. “What a splendid idea. Segreto, by now you should know this place better than any maid. And once he’s settled in…” She faced Macchia again, her voice soft and tender as she had only shown one other man before. “… He can grace us with another song.”

“It would be my pleasure.” Macchia grabbed Mickey by the shoulder, fingers painfully jabbing in. Mickey had no choice but to start walking, and no one was stopping them. Minnie and Daisy merely waved him goodbye, arms moving like that of a marionette. He didn’t dare look at Macchia as they entered the hallway, and so he headed back for his room, his heart ready to explode out of his chest. Despite the good deed Macchia had done for him by turning him human, there was absolutely no good reason to enchant the entire castle. The wizard said nothing on their walk, but Mickey could feel the same awful smile boring into his back.

Mickey carefully opened his door, and when his fish friends saw who came in with Mickey, they started to swim around in fear, thereby increasing Mickey’s own fright. Macchia released Mickey and shut the door behind him. “Now now, why all the unhappy faces? I brought you back together, and I mean you no harm, as long as we all get along.”

‘Back together’? Mickey looked at the fish bowl, then back to Macchia. Macchia calmly began to stride over to the fish bowl. “I guess you could say I’m a stickler for details… everything has to be planned, even the most wild of circumstances, including what happens to a few meddlesome fish who should stay out of other people’s business.” He stuck a finger into the bowl, and the three family fish backed up as far as they could to avoid it as he moved it around in the water. “Shame about the big fellow… he managed to get away. He would have made a delicious snack.”

Mickey’s fear began to be overshadowed by his anger, and he bore his sharp teeth, wondering if he could perhaps intimidate Macchia as he did Mortimer. Alas, this only got a hearty chuckle out of the wizard. “You must be impatient for answers… no, I’m not here to give you back your merman form. In fact, as far as I’m concerned, you have plenty of time to attain love’s true kiss, and keep that body for the rest of your days. You and your Minnie can live happily ever after.”

Mickey was reminded of back when he first met Macchia, about the deal that was too good to be true. Back then, Mickey took it without much questioning. But he wasn’t going to make the same mistake, he wasn’t going to be selfish and act only for himself. He stomped on the floor once, indicating he wasn’t budging without an explanation.

Macchia tsked, slowing down his finger. “Well, if you insist, I could tell you why I’m here… but with those shameful eyes, I have to wonder what you’d believe. Maybe this should come from a more trustful source.” He then grabbed Marlin, and after a brief glow of violet light, he yanked the fish from the water, pressing hard onto his gills.

Marlin gasped and spoke! “M-Mickey!” he gagged, needing water, but tried to speak as much as he could. “You have to get away from him! This guy’s going to take over the land and water! If he gets his hands on that staff, we’re all-” Macchia then dropped him back into the bowl. He was forced to be quiet again, as Dory and Nemo held him close.

“More or less.” Macchia added on, snapping his fingers to get rid of droplets of water. “I have big plans for her highness, and thanks to you and your voice, everything will go as it should. I’ll get my powers back, and my rightful place as ruler. You can be a good little citizen and subject yourself to my will. It’s not as much world domination, as it is the world being handed over to me.”

Mickey was stunned to hear it all, but he wasn’t going to let it overwhelm him. There was no way anyone was going dethrone anyone else! He tried to charge at Macchia with his hands stretched outward, but Macchian grabbed him by the throat, and with impossible strength began to lift Mickey up. “And here I thought Daisy was making you in a gentleman.” Mickey began to stop resisting as horror crept in. “Yes, I’ve been watching you for a while, Mickey… I know exactly who means what to you. So don’t go getting any dumb ideas. Remember our deal? What would happen if you dared reveal your connection to me?”

The color drained from Mickey’s face, but his mouth opened and closed in rapid thought. There had to be a loophole, there had to be a way to warn everyone without losing his legs. In the next second, he found himself slammed into the wall, Macchia keeping him pinned there. “I can see your clever mind at work, dear… nephew. And rest assured, if you try to stop my master plan in any way, I won’t just turn you back into a merman.” His grip tightened, and his smile grew, taking sadistic delight in Mickey’s panic. “Before that, I will erase every trace of you from their memories. The Queen, Donald, Goofy, Daisy, and yes, your darling Minnie… every single one of them will forget you! Every moment, every touch, I will make it so it never happened at all! You won’t even be recalled in dreams!”

All of the strength in Mickey’s body was drained at once. There were no loopholes or escape strategies with that threat. That wasn’t an ‘if’ situation. Macchia could make that happen, there was no doubt about it. Mickey’s arms began to fall at his sides as every sweet memory he had made during his time on land was now threatened to be extinguished. Every one of Minnie’s lessons, playing with the schoolchildren, Daisy’s dancing, Donald and Goofy and Pluto and the Queen, every good time with them be gone. To be forgotten all over again – the very idea of it was enough to bring tears to Mickey’s eyes. He could not stand to lose his friends after all they had been through.

Satisfied with Mickey’s misery, Macchia let the boy drop to the ground, and then stepped away from him. “I’m glad we could come to an agreement. Why don’t you take a moment to clean your face? You’re a mess… and I need to find myself a good room.” He walked to the door, waving goodbye. “Not to worry, I won’t stay there long. The Queen’s chambers will welcome me soon enough.”

Mickey didn’t bother to move as the door closed and Macchia’s footsteps echoed away. Nor did he bother to move as Nemo, Dory and Marlin tried to signal for him, wanting to help. Mickey sat with his sins, going through imagined scenarios of every friend asking ‘Who are you’? What was the point of existing if everyone you cared for didn’t even know who you were? Faced with the disgust of his selfishness and his love for the land, Mickey stayed on the floor, hugging his knees as rain began to pour outside.

~*~

For the next two days, Mickey was afraid to leave his room. He lived in fear of upsetting Macchia and having his friends memories utterly destroyed. Yet he also could not convey to anyone why he was so afraid, lest the same consequences arrive. Minnie asked again and again why Mickey wouldn’t leave, and all she got was a distant, pained look in his eyes. She settled for giving him his lessons in his room, while keeping him updated about the going-ons of the castle. Macchia was constantly with the Queen, so Minnie said, and singing to her every chance he took. Some of the maids tried to follow them around in order to hear more of his magnificent voice.

But Minnie noticed whenever she spoke of Macchia, Segreto appeared to clench up, holding something back in the depths of his stomach. Minnie had only heard Macchia sing once, and so after a few times of mentioning his name and noticing Segreto’s discomfort decided to simply not mention him again. After all, there were more important things to talk about. For starters, about his mysterious origins that she had yet to pry out of him. The rain had continued on this bleary day, and Minnie had put down her chalk to sit on the bed next to Segreto. “Maybe when the rain clears up, we can walk outside.” She suggested, hoping to cheer him up. “Have you ever watched anyone bake something before?”

He lifted his head, grateful for the distraction. He hadn’t, and began to scribble what few letters he knew onto his notebook, holding it out for Minnie. ‘B-A-K-E-R-Y?’

Minnie shook her head, smiling as she gently pushed the notebook down. “No, we won’t go there to watch. I want to bake something myself. It’s not something I do too often… but it’d be a nice lesson for the both of us. And then you can have all you like of what I make.”

A hint of a smile crept onto Segreto’s face, clearly liking the idea. He thought, and then wrote again. ‘C-H-E-R-R-Y P-I-E’. Next to it he made a comical drawing of Goofy, slightly exaggerating his long ears and teeth. Minnie looked over to see the finished product, and a musical giggle bounced out of her. “My goodness, yes! We should definitely share it with Goofy! I feel like we haven’t seen him in ages.”

Segreto flipped the page and drew once more, tapping on the finished word with his pencil. ‘I-D-E-A?’

“How did I come up with the idea?” Minnie interpreted. “It was Daisy, actually, who gave me the idea.” She looked away, embarrassed by what had happened. “She said any girl who wants to get a rich husband should be able to cook with rich flour. Honestly, can you believe her? Sometimes I think she wants me to get married more than she wants to do it herself.”

Mickey thought he’d heard that word more than once – marry, marriage, married. It seemed to be something vastly important with the young girls of the kingdom. He tapped on Minnie’s shoulder, which had become his symbol when he wanted clarification. Minnie looked back towards him, trying to figure out which word he wanted a better explanation of. “… Married? You don’t know what that is either?”

When Segreto shook his head, Minnie felt a shy lump start to form in her throat. Her eyes went down, and she twiddled her thumbs as she came up with the best she could. “It’s… well… it’s a very special ceremony between two people. It tells everyone in the world that they love each other, and they will always love each other. They exchange rings as a symbol of their bond. And everything that they own will be shared.”

What a pleasant thing, Mickey thought. It sounded very similar to mating rituals under the sea, and then his tail started to flick about as he entertained ideas and feelings he hadn’t touched in a long time. Since he could no longer do the sea rituals, perhaps he could do this ‘marry’ thing with Minnie sometime. He tapped her shoulder again, wanting to hear more about it. Minnie’s cheeks started to burn even more. “I haven’t really been to many myself, but… you wear the rings on this finger.” She held up her hand, pointing out the special intended finger. “And you announce vows in front of everyone there. You talk about how much you love that person, how you met, what made you fall in love…”

Segreto’s smile began to droop into a troublesome frown. Obviously he couldn't speak in public, and Minnie fumbled to correct herself. “It doesn’t have to be that way exactly! When you get married, I’m sure you’ll be allowed to write them out!”

Segreto raised an eyebrow at her, an Minnie realized her word folly. “… If… I meant if! If you get married! I don’t know if you would or not…” But Segreto wasn’t going to let it go, judging from that playful smirk. He leaned sideways toward Minnie, hands pressed together, enjoying Minnie’s desperate attempts to get mad at him. “Don’t you think I’ve forgotten those kisses! You still have a lot to learn before you can get married to anyone… And who says I wanted to get married to you?” She turned her head away, but Segreto continued to lean on her, and she knew him well enough to assume he hadn’t stopped beaming. “Who says I like you at all, you silly little boy? Maybe I don’t, have you ever thought about that?”

It was a pathetic attempt on her part, given how her mouth was making a shaky smile. Segreto poked and prodded at her cheek to point out her smile. She was just too adorable, that was the problem. “Quit it! Q-quit it! I don’t like you at all!” Segreto tossed his notebook away and now began poking Minnie all over, finding her ticklish areas. Minnie erupted in laughter, falling backwards, kicking her small feet around. “You’re terrible! I’m not going to bake anything for you! Knock it off!” She rolled onto her stomach, laughing into her arms. Segreto scooped her up and had her sit on his lap, where she twisted and giggled until she wore herself out.

Once she had collected her breath, she made no move to leave his arms. Instead, she made herself comfortable, a hand on his chest and her head on his shoulder. She would have been content to stay like that until she felt Segreto kiss her forehead. That familiar sensation brought her way back to the beginning, and she shyly looked up at him, unsure of how to approach the subject. “So, maybe… I like you, a little… after I got to know you… but… what about you? … If you like me, then… when? When did you start to…” She swallowed, as if afraid that saying the word love would make it more real than she was prepared for. “I was thinking for a long time, you must have liked me when you first saw me… and that was why you kissed me, but… that wasn’t when you first saw me.”

Segreto’s hand took hers, and he kissed the top of it. He smiled at her, and Minnie pulled his hand closer to her. “You’ve known me for a while, but even after all this time, I feel like I’m only just catching up. Is it really… possible… to like someone, even if you don’t know that much about them?” But while her lips spoke one thing, her mind was asking another. Was there a difference in how kisses felt when it was wanted by both parties? It had become so very warm in the room, and he was so very gentle, and he was so very close. She was scared, but felt a strange sort of pleasure from the fear, daring to try something new, and she closed her eyes, waiting.

Three sounds came in rapid succession after each other. The first was the knock to the door, the second was the Queen’s voice - “Minnie, are you in there?”, and the third was Minnie falling onto the floor. This time she and Mickey wore equal expressions of annoyance on their faces, but it was only Mickey making obscene gestures with his fingers in frustration. Minnie managed to get up and smoothed down her dress. “Coming, your highness.” She opened the door, and curtsied to her superior.

Millicent chuckled underneath her veil. “My apologies for the interruption… but I have wonderful news to give to the entire kingdom, and I cannot do it if you are not here.”

Minnie was flattered of course, but that didn’t wash away her confusion. “… All of a sudden? Right this moment?” If the Queen was going to make a royal declaration to the people, that tended to take time and planning.

The Queen nodded, holding out her hand for Minnie to take. “It cannot wait. It must be said as soon as possible… I have the guards gathering everyone outside. I’m almost fit to burst!” Without waiting for another moment, she began to walk away with Minnie. Mickey followed, supposing he could always catch up on what they were doing after this little oddity was done with. Most of the maids and servants were gathered at the front door, equally confused as Minnie. Daisy herself shrugged when Minnie looked at her. Mickey wasn’t paying too much attention, figuring it was perhaps some new law being put into effect. The doors opened, showing the gathered townspeople – and Macchia.

In that instant Mickey’s terror returned, and he instinctively grabbed Minnie’s hand, afraid to lose her. As the Queen began to walk outside, she let go of Minnie’s hand. She stood beside Macchia, linking hands and arms with him as the crowd of people bowed and curtsied at her presence. “Thank you all for arriving so quickly.” Millicent began, bowing her head in return. “I know this is sudden, but I assure you, I would not have acted this way if I did not want to share my joy with all of you. Soon, you will all get to know Sir Macchia Nera and love him as deeply as I do. For he shall be your new king, and my new husband, come tomorrow.”

If there was a world record for simultaneous jaw drops, then the Nereid Kingdom set it that day, as every man, woman and child gaped in awe at the announcement – Mickey included. Even as Macchia put an arm around the Queen to hold her close and stroke her veil, there was not a doubt in Mickey’s mind that the wizard had no love for Millicent. The audience uneasily started to applaud, looking over at each other as if their neighbor had an explanation for this incredibly quick proposal. Some of the maids were more jubilant in their congratulations, no doubt thanks to the influence of Macchia’s constant singing. Mickey uneasily watched the unnatural couple, but as his eyes fell upon Millicent’s staff, his heart seized in place.

Whatever belonged to one, would now also belong to the other. Marlin had used his only chance to speak in order to warn that Macchia must not get his hands on that staff. The world moved on without him, as Millicent continued to announce preparations for the wedding – it would be held within the castle, and everyone was welcome to attend. He couldn’t listen, too lost in his mind. If Macchia wanted the staff so badly, why go to these odd lengths? Why not use his magic to forcibly take it himself? Yet Mickey knew he could not ask Marlin, or even understand any of his answers anymore. He was only snapped out of his frantic thoughts when Millicent had approached the mice, lightly touching Minnie’s cheek. “And naturally, you would be my maid of honor. I couldn’t even dream of getting married without my dearest Minnie near my side.”

Minnie had needed some time to let the announcement sink in as well, and as a result she blinked five times in rapid succession before acknowledging what Millicent had said. “M-Maid of… If you wish for it, my lady, I will do it, but…” She did her best to avoid looking at Macchia, despite how he was looking at her. “It has hardly been a week… Are you sure you wish to marry him?”

“I have rarely been so certain in all of my life.” Millicent replied without a beat of hesitation. “Love works in mysterious ways, after all. I don’t want to waste another day being known as anything else but Queen Millicent Nera.” More applause, stronger this time, rang out through the townspeople. Soon people began coming forward, offering their profoundest wishes to the couple. Macchia basked in the glory, while Millicent shook hands and thanked them for their kindness. An awkward line formed, and Mickey could not feel the will to move anywhere in his body. Minnie was looking to him for comfort, but it was something he could not provide.

Minnie then made a tiny gasp, causing Mickey to finally notice that Goofy was in the crowd. He hadn’t joined the line, standing off to a side as Pluto whined at his feet. Instead of his usual droopiness and tilted limbs, ready to trip over any second, he was frozen and rigid in one shape. A lump the size of an apple wiggled in his throat, and then was swallowed down, as Goofy grabbed his hat to cover his now welling up eyes. Pluto’s black tail fell down, but then his head whipped around to glare hotly at Macchia. The pet arched its shoulders, startling to snarl at the supposed new king.

Goofy took a step backwards, ready to leave, but Pluto began to bark wildly, charging through the crowd and heading right towards Macchia. Mickey found fuel in fear, as he sprinted away from Minnie, hoping to stop Pluto before he incurred the wizard’s wrath. He tackled down the dog, to the gasps of others, but Pluto continued to claw at the ground, snapping his teeth and barking with hot spit at Macchia, who only frowned as specks of spittle flew onto his shoes. The crowd backed away as Mickey formed a reluctant headlock around Pluto’s neck, struggling to drag him away.

“Pluto! Knock it off! Down boy, I said down!” Goofy jogged up to the disaster, and he knelt before his friend, grabbing Pluto by the muzzle to force him into silence. “That ain’t like ya at all, now quit it! Bad! Give the fella an apology!” He forced Pluto to bow his head down, and the canine began to quiet down, whimpering at his master’s voice. Mickey let him go, sighing with relief that they managed to stop him.

Goofy took off his hat, looking up at the superior couple. “I’m real sorry, he ain’t like that usually! Musta gotten inta a bad mood… but it ain’t no excuse. The both of us are sorry.” He tried to keep focus on only Macchia, but he could not resist looking at the Queen, and Mickey could practically feel pain echoing off of Goofy. “I… Um… I’m, uh…real… happy fer ya, yer highness. I hope he makes yah happy. Cause he’s about ta become the luckiest fella in the whole wide world.” He smiled, which confused Mickey most of all. How in the world was Goofy smiling at this situation? Hadn’t he and the Queen spent so much time together? Hadn’t they meant something to one another?

Millicent herself said nothing, but Mickey could make out movement underneath the veil. It was difficult to tell what it was, exactly, but it was not anything confident or planned. It was if she was procrastinating on giving him any kind of answer, unsure herself of how to react. Her fingers began to flex, but then Macchia held onto her even tighter, getting her back into place. “Duly appreciated, I’m sure.” Macchia shook his foot, trying to get the bits of spittle off. “But in anticipation of all the change that will take place when I rule…” he reached down, and picked up Pluto by the collar, causing the dog to yip and yap while trying to move about. “I’d rather not have such disgusting behavior present at my wedding. Consider the mutt and the bigger mutt banned.” He then haplessly tossed the dog at Goofy, and while Goofy caught his friend, they both tumbled to the ground. “In fact, a lot of you aren’t going to be able the castle willy-nilly anymore. This is royalty, not a playground. I’ll fill you all in on the big changes after the wedding. Now, go off and do whatever it is that peasants do.” With a flourish of his hair, he headed back inside, tugging Millicent along, and though she turned to face Goofy once more she still said nothing.

With the two disappearing back into the hallways, both servant and townsfolk erupted in talk, chatting about what to wear and what to bring, and gossiping about what sort of fellow this Macchia must be. Goofy had managed to sit up by this time, and now he was surrounded by Mickey, Minnie, Daisy and Donald who had caught up to them in the mess. No one was sure to say first, if there was anything that could be said at all. Eventually Donald made an attempt. “Aw, weddings are dull anyway. You wouldn’t want to go. I’ll probably sleep through the entire thing.”

“I feel uneasy about the whole thing.” Minnie confessed, lingering back to the doorway. “I mean, the man seemed nice enough when he first came here, but to marry someone so quickly…” She reached over to pet Pluto, making sure he wasn’t injured. Pluto licked her hand, whining again. “And you were spending so much time together… I thought you two were… well, you know…”

Goofy put his hat atop his head, smiling again in that impossible way Mickey didn’t understand. “We were just friends, that’s all. I mean… it’d be dumb for a lady like that ta be with any kinda fella like mahself. Sides, that Macchia guy musta made her super happy ta make her wanna marry him right away.” He stood up, dusting himself off as if he was as chipper and cheery as he had always been. “I couldn’t afford ta give her no fancy weddin’ gift either, so bein’ banned, shucks, just gives me more time ta fish. I ain’t been doin’ that much as I ought ta.” He stretched a bit, rubbing his eyes afterward. “Now, whatcha standin’ around here fer? Ain’t ya got dresses and tux’s ta wear? Tomorrow is already gettin’ closer with every word we say!”

Daisy played with her hair, as uncomfortable with it as her friends. “… You know, we could always… hang out afterwards. We’ll slip out, no one will even notice.” She paused. “… You will clean up your house so it doesn’t smell like gross fish, right?” Minnie elbowed her for the remark. “What? If I’m going to comfort him, I don’t want to be gagging the entire time!”

Mickey was the last one to offer something, and since he had no words of consolation, the most he could do was open his arms for a hug. Goofy bent down to take it, giving Mickey an appreciative pat on the back. “Ya’ll are worryin’ too much. But if ya really wanna come on down, I ain’t gunna stop ya. Gosh, I’ll get us a real big catch, and we’ll have a swell dinner! Yer gunna be full for days!” He chuckled, and then pulled away, snapping his fingers to signal to Pluto. “We all got a bunch ta prepare for. I’ll see ya’ll tomorrow!” He then turned on his heel, hands in his pockets, whistling about how the world owed him a living.

The friends watched him walk away, with Donald letting out a huge sigh of air. “Either that guy’s the greatest actor the world’s ever known, or his heart flip flips more than his legs do.”

“He has a point, though.” Daisy shrugged. “The Queen has to be doing this because she’s happy. Why else would she marry him? The tailor’s going to be busy all day making dresses for everyone, we’d better get there first before a long line forms.”

Minnie frowned, crossing her arms deeply. “… I’ll just wear my uniform.” Three heads swiveled to look at her, all equally surprised. “… It just doesn’t feel right. There is no way anyone could fall in love that fast. I’ve known her majesty long enough to know how she thinks and feels, and she’d never drop Goofy like a used shoe. I’m going to the wedding, but I can’t find any honor in being her maid of honor.” Then she took Mickey’s hand, making him forced to face her fully. “You agree with me, don’t you?”

Mickey was startled that his opinion was so desired. In another time and another moment, he would relish in this and agreed with her instantly. But he knew information she did not, and again the threat of being forgotten increased his cowardice. He wanted to console Goofy better, and warn his friends, but the echoes of his own family asking who he was repeated endlessly before his eyes. He was swallowed up by his despair, and so he dropped Minnie’s hand, not wanting to see how she reacted to it. He was a terrible person. No matter how hard he had tried to change things, he was still a terrible, selfish person. He could feel of their eyes on him and his despair grew more and more until it threatened to devour him entirely.

He started to run back into the castle, ignoring Minnie calling after him. He raced back to his room, slamming the door behind him, and dropped to his knees, clutching his head. The loudest place in the world was within in his own mind, memories mixing in with his own voice condemning for what he did do and what he could not do. He locked the door so he would not be disturbed, and he despaired, and he despaired, and he despaired.

He slept.

 

~*~

Starting from the early hours of the morning, almost every single person in the castle was busy with preparations for the wedding. The chefs toiled over perfectly precise meals and the maids hung freshly picked flowers from the walls. Blindingly white decorations and clothes were chosen by hand, and volunteers from the town brought in chairs and pews to fill up the throne room. No one could afford to stop and think what they were doing, which was a blessing for several of them. No one dared to voice how quick and strange the entire thing was, as they voiced the same mindset as Goofy – as long as this was the Queen’s decision, how could it possibly be wrong? It was not their business to question.

Yet Minnie stood outside of Segreto’s doorway, wanting to get confirmation for her own paranoia. As she had promised the other day, she had not bought a fancy new dress or even a new bow. Her maid uniform was good enough for this confusing spectacle. She would still attend the wedding, but she wanted company, and the only company she thought she could confide in wasn’t responding to her. She knocked again and again, but got nothing in return. “Segreto, please.” She begged, leaning on the door. “I know you must feel the same way I do over all this. The way we met, all we’ve been through… you know better than everyone what it’s like to instantly care for someone. Won’t you just listen to me…?”

Over and over she tried to appeal to him, but she did not know she was speaking to no one. Inside the room was a glass bowl of worried fish, and beside them an open window.

Chapter Text

Mickey had taken the coward’s way out so many times before that surely adding one more to the list couldn’t hurt. That was what he had tried to tell himself as he escaped the palace as the sun waited in the sky, but his heart still pained with every throb. He knew he could not be a witness to the wedding, but at least he could be with company. No one noticed him as he walked throughout the kingdom, since everyone was so devoted to what they would do for the wedding they did not dare to stop and allow their thoughts to rest. So he left the kingdom as easily as if he did not exist at all, and he retraced his steps to the time he first left Goofy’s humble tilted shack.

They could wallow in their sadness together, neither of them able to gather up their courage to say what they felt in their hearts. It would be a grand pity party. He raised his hand to knock on the door –

And the door opened before he could touch it, smacking him in the face.

Mickey fell backwards, blinking up as Goofy, eyes slightly red and puffy, walked out, fishing rod strapped to his back. He noticed his friend sprawled out below, and he stooped down in surprise. “Hey there, Segreto! Whactha doin’ out here? Yer gunna be late for the weddin’ at this rate.” He helped the mouse to his feet, and Pluto came out not too long after, looking rather pleased. “We were just on our way ourselves. Why don’t we all go together?”

Mickey stared hard at both dogs. The blow to his face must have knocked his hearing out of whack. Slowly, he gestured back to the kingdom, to clarify what he had just heard. Goofy smiled, nodding that it was correct. “I figure with the walk, by the time we get there, the ceremony will have already started. But, well, better late than never!” Satisfied with that, he started to walk, his usual stagger and clumsy ankles swaying this way and that.

Mickey stood in place for a moment, trying to process what was going on. He shook his head hard, and then ran back to Goofy, trying to stand in front of him. Goofy was banned from the wedding! Didn’t he remember? If he showed up, terrible things would happen to him! Mickey began to mime them all out one by one – guards beating him up, being trapped n the dungeon, or even worse, execution! Goofy patiently waited the show out, but then smiled again, in that same way that boggled Mickey’s mind. “Sure, I know it ain’t gunna be sunshine and roses when I stick mah big nose in. But… I just gotta tell Millicent how I feel. If I don’t, I’m gunna regret it fer the rest of mah life.” He walked around Mickey, but the mouse refused to let his friend sacrifice himself. It wasn’t about feelings, Millicent was brainwashed! No sappy love story was going to fix magic! He threw himself at Goofy’s leg, trying to keep him down.

Goofy easily kept walking, dragging Mickey along like a wad of tissue paper stuck to his shoe. It was a tiny bit damaging to Mickey’s ego, but Goofy spoke up again. “I appreciate ya bein’ worried fer me, Segreto. But I already made up mah mind. Even if she doesn’t remember that silly fisherman that came by ta admire her roses, I’d be okay.Long as I did mah best and said mah piece… then I’m happy with what I did in mah life. When it comes ta someone ya care about…ya find yerself willing ta risk more than ya ever thought ya could.”

Mickey looked up as dirt and mud slid onto his clothing. Goofy was okay with being forgotten? Mickey let go, and sat on his knees. How could Goofy stand it? What made him so strong? He stood up, and Goofy looked back at him, offering his hand. “Shucks, it’s okay ta be selfish every once in a while. I ain’t gunna say it’s all about her… ain’t no one in this kingdom that don’t think about themselves every now and then. Just gotta find a good balance in lovin’ others and lovin’ yerself. If yer not gunna fight fer yerself, then can ya wait long enough fer someone else ta do it?”

Mickey’s entire body went cold. It was an idea that had never occurred to him before – did he love himself? Did he actually find value in his own existence? Or had he been so absorbed in the idea of being remembered that he never tried to find out why it was important at all? What was the value of memories if none of them were good? What was the value of remembering Mickey if he could only think of himself as a selfish coward? Even if Goofy forgot, if Minnie forgot him, Daisy and Donald and the Queen, even if Marlin and Nemo and Dory forgot him – would Mickey love himself, and be proud of the actions he took? Could he live with himself, if he allowed Macchia to continue his plans?

If he wanted Minnie to love him, and he did, then he should be a man worthy of that love. If he wanted to be remembered, then he should fight to make those memories worthy ones. If he wanted to live, then he should do with his head held high. He was Prince Mickey, the 76th son of King Marino, and there was nothing to be ashamed of.

He grabbed Goofy’s hand, and then started to run back towards the kingdom. Goofy stumbled, but managed to catch up, and Pluto barked at their heels, keeping up with them as best he could.

~*~

The throne room was filled with more people than it was designed to fit. Still, no one voiced a complaint as they sat there, with nervous musicians tuning up their instruments in the corner. Macchia was waiting patiently in front of the throne, tweaking his mustache with a hand mirror held up to his face. The doors began to open, and a hush fell over the crowd. The musicians began to stroke up their strings as the bride walked into the room. Millicent only had small differences in her usual attire, with jewelry hanging down from her neck, and beautiful seashells dangling around her veil. A hastily made bouquet was in one hand, while the other hand held onto her staff.

As she passed by the rows of people, all bowed their heads in reverence to their majesty. Millicent walked forward, nodding her thanks to every person she passed. Macchia was too busy going over his own good looks to pay attention to his approaching bride, but when he noticed the music coming to an abrupt halt, he grumbled and looked over at the interruption. In the pews and chairs, people had turned their heads to look at the maid of honor who stayed in front of the doors, but had not moved to join her queen. Millicent began to notice the disturbance, and turned around to look at her. “Minnie?”

Minnie stood in place, her fixed locket sitting atop her chest, giving her the will to speak. “My apologies, your majesty. You know I love you with all my heart… you are my second mother. When I lost my parents, you were all I had. You raised me as one of your own, and gave me a chance for a new life when I tried to throw mine away. For this, I owe you everything. And it’s because of this… that I cannot be your maid of honor, and I cannot accept this marriage!”

Gasps popped up all over the throne room, allowing people not to notice Macchia rolling his eyes. Millicent was so surprised she dropped her bouquet, petals spilling on the floor around her. “What are you saying? Why are you against this…?”

“Because…” Minnie swallowed once, trying to keep her nerves collected. “… Because there are no guardian angels, or fairy tales, and love doesn’t happen in an instant! If you love someone based on one meeting, then all you love is an illusion! True love takes time and patience, it takes knowledge and learning! Every experience should be a lesson in what the person is like! If you two can take the time to get to know each other, then I would celebrate your love like a daughter should. But as it is right now… I cannot, I will not believe that man is in love with you!”

Silence hung as tightly as the breaths held in the townspeople’s lungs. Chairs creaked as people uncomfortably shifted about, but then another voice chimed in. “Well… she’s got a point.”

Daisy had gotten the most elaborate dress she could afford, and had her hair done up to look more regal than a princess, so she was impossible to ignore as she walked out of her chair, coming to stand by Minnie’s side. “Come on, we’re all thinking it. But no one wants to say anything because she’s the Queen. Leave it to Minnie to be the one with any brains around here… after I bought this, and there was no return policy.” She sighed, shaking her head. “Would it really kill you to wait it out, your highness? I mean, he’s a good singer, and he helped Horace out. That’s two things. Can you marry anyone based on two things? I know I’m always going on about needing to marry someone rich, but if that’s all I ever got out of someone, I’d be so bored. So I’m not going to support this either.” She took Minnie’s hand, giving her a squeeze of support.

Instead of silence as an answer, the people began to mumble and whisper to each out, agreeing without speaking out directly. Millicent looked all over, stunned that so many people thought the same thing about her wedding. “You all did? … Why didn’t anyone say anything before?”

“Then how about I say something?” Macchia stepped down from the throne, ditching his hand mirror into a pocket. “In fact, why not two things, as the little lady mentioned? The first is that I do so hate disruptions to my plans. Everything has its place in the big scheme of things, and I hate it… I truly, truly hate it… when something doesn’t work out. A pet peeve, if you will. So rest assured, once we’re done here, you both can have a cozy stay in the dungeons. And second…”

He widened opened his mouth, ready to sing once more, and end this foolishness.

~*~

“Aw, c’mon, fellas!” Goofy begged the guards in front of the castle. “I gotta do this, I just gotta! Shucks, I bet it won’t even take that long!”

The heavily armed and armored men shook their heads, continuing to deny access to the inside of the castle. Though they appeared reluctant, they refused to budge from their spots. Goofy kept pleading, ready to get on his knees to get access. “Ain’t there anythin’ I can do to change yer minds?”

The first guard sighed, sympathizing with Goofy. “Sorry, but nothing less than wild horses dragging us away would pull us away from here. They’re Sir Nera’s orders.”

Goofy was about to get on all fours for his next pleading tactic when loud whinnying broke through the air. All of their heads swiveled to see wild horses galloping from the side of the palace, escaping from the stables. “Those belong to the royal carriage!” One of the guards yelped. “Get back here!” The two men in metal ran off after the horses, starting off a chase that left the dogs and mouse blinking in wonder.

“Ain’t that a co-inky-dink.” Goofy said after a moment.

“No, it ain’t.” Donald poked his head around the corner, grinning at his victory. “Look, that’s only going to distract them for so long. Let’s go!” He ran up to his friends, throwing open the doors and leading them all down the middle hallway in a frantic run.

“How’d ya know we were comin’?” Goofy asked, evenly keeping up the pace.

“Like you would miss the chance to do the number one cliché in the book!” Donald laughed, shaking his head. “Remind me to teach you what that means, Segreto!”

Mickey would have appreciated the humor later. Up ahead, he could hear the faint sound of an unnatural music. If they heard that voice up close, then the battle was already lost. Thinking quickly, he eyed Goofy’s back and the bobbing fishing pole he was wearing.

~*~

Macchia clapped once, satisfied at the brainwashed faces everyone was wearing. “Good, good. For a moment there, I almost lost my composure, and that wouldn’t have been pretty. Now then.” He grabbed Millicent by the arm, and began to drag her to the throne room. “Let’s get this done without any further distractions.” He pulled out his hand mirror, making sure his latest singing bout hadn’t caused him to sweat or create a wrinkle. “I’ll even start us off. I, Macchia Nera, take this woman to be my lawfully wedded… pain in the rear end!”

As one could guess, that wasn’t part of the traditional vows, and it was instead about the doors that slammed open. All of the previously hypnotized victims looked at the intruders, already starting to wake up. Mickey had already taken Goofy’s fishing rod, but Goofy was only focused on Millicent, who was staring right back at him. “… I’m real sorry about this, but I can’t let ya do this without tellin’ ya how I feel! Just let me say mah piece, and I promise I’ll go.”

“Oh, no you don’t.” Macchia’s lip began to twitch, storming up to the small group. “I’m not going to have any more interruptions. I waited a hundred years for this plan to come into fruition, and I’m not going to have another detail changed!” He took a breath, ready to sing their minds into oblivion.

Mickey whipped the fishing rod back, and then, with a flick of his wrist, launched it forward – the wire whipped around Macchia’s neck, gagging him as it snagged tightly into his neck. Mickey tugged hard on the rod, nodding to Goofy that if he was going to say something, he’d better do it now!

Goofy ran up to Millicent and grasped her hand. “Every time I came here ta see ya, it’s been makin’ me happier than I ever thought I could be. It ain’t like I’m talkin’ ta someone better than me… it’s like I made a new friend, but so much better! And I ain’t ever felt like this about anyone else before, and I don’t wanna feel like it ta anyone else! Yer the only one fer me! And… and I just love ya a whole lot, Millicent! I’d do anythin’ fer ya! Even if it means seein’ ya be happy with someone else… that’d be okay, cause… cause yer happiness means more ta me than all the fish in the sea. Yer the best catch of ‘em all!”

Millicent’s shoulders began to ease down, and her gloved fingers began to slide along his, fitting in perfectly with the shape of his hand. “… Sir Goofy, I… I…”

Alas, fishing wire is not as strong as Mickey would have guessed it was. Macchia snapped it off with his fingers, his eyes now burning hot with hatred. “Enough! I’m not playing around anymore! I have waited day after day, planning out detail after detail, all for some hicks in hats to barge their way in! Do you have any idea how long a good plan takes to work out?!” His beauty began to diminish as his mustache curled up into itself, and his fancy shoes stomped into the ground like a petulant child throwing a temper tantrum. “None of you understand artistry! Finesse! Dedication! We were supposed to get married, then I reveal my true self, break her heart, make her cry, I talk about my master plan, and you all cower in submission! It was beautiful! But no, you can’t just be good cowards and stay out of things! Well, fine! FINE! FINE! I AM DONE!”

He violently grabbed the staff out of Millicent’s hand, shoving her hard into Goofy’s arms. “You prefer ugliness over beauty? Then I’ll show you something hideous beyond measure!” He raised the staff high, and the strange red dot that held the entire clock face began to glow. “The Day of Wrath will be nothing compared to my Day of Art!” A howling wind screamed through the air, and to everyone’s joined horror, the ocean view behind the gigantic windows began to rise, forming a tidal wave that slammed into the castle. The windows shattered into infinity, water forcing its way into the room. Men and women were stricken against the walls, and when the water settled it was knee length, with bits of glass floating around and threatening to stab anyone who made a wrong move. Now human screams joined the wind, and people scrambled to escape the castle by any means necessary.

Millicent was held safely in Goofy’s arms, but she understood better than anyone what was going on. “It can’t be… you’re the one… the one from the legends! The one who tried to take over land and sea and was only stopped when his heart was ripped apart!”

“And I haven’t even used it yet!” Macchia sneered, waving the staff around like a baton. “But since you all ruined my fun, why not prolong the finale a little while? We can make some real beauty in your suffering faces!” With a wave of his hand, another hard wave hit, water flooding into other rooms of the castle. The men held onto their women, with Pluto wrapped around Goofy’s leg for extra measure. Water choked out of their lungs as the level went back to their knees, and no one was sure how many more hits they could take.

Mickey could see Macchia preparing a third one, so if he was going to act, now was the time. He grabbed Minnie and pushed her towards Goofy, despite her shrieking. He scooped up a shard of glass and, ignoring the pain in his hand, embraced the next hard wave as it attacked them all. But the moment it smacked into them, Mickey dove headfirst into the wave to swim through it. He swam right for Macchia, intending to stab him in the chest, perhaps as Millicent’s ancestor did so long ago. But land legs were not faster than a fish tail, and this slowness allowed Macchia to grab him by the shirt collar just as the wave finished its assault. He sneered as he dangled Mickey helplessly in the air. “And you… you couldn’t be a simple little pawn, could you? I gave you what you wanted, and this is how you repay me.”

He tightened his grip on Mickey’s throat, the scar beginning to glow violet. “Let’s see how far your friends will go for you when they see what you really are! Consider our contract broken!” Macchia opened his mouth, and a trail of purple smoke ran out of his throat, and then started to swirl around Mickey’s body. A miniature storm was created around Mickey’s torso, and his friends could do nothing but watch Mickey’s shape begin to twist and mutate. His legs slipped into one form, and fins began to jut out of his spine. Mickey clawed at Macchia’s hand in pain, his solid fingers becoming webbed once more, his clothing evaporating into dust.

When the transformation was complete, the smoke glittered into nothing, and Macchia tossed him into the floor with a splash. “Who wants to kiss the calamari?” Macchia cackled, enjoying the sight of Mickey writhing in pain while he tried to move his tail around. Mickey struggled to stand, could no longer do so, and so he fell down with another splash. “I’ve given you back everything but your voice. After all, why play fair now?” He stabbed the end of Mickey’s fish tail with the staff, taking mirth in his misery. “So what will it be, young prince? Will I erase their memories with my voice, or would you rather them know you as the monster from the deep?”

Mickey pushed himself up with his hands, glaring up at the wizard. Yes, those were two options he could face. But he wasn’t going to wallow in self pity and selfish desires anymore. There was a third option – biting Macchia right on the ankle.

Macchia yelled in pain, shaking his leg around. “No! No! Stop deviating from the plan! You’re supposed to cry in agony over your choices while your friends ask you stupid questions! You lost, so give up and start whining!” He stomped his foot down, trying to shake Mickey off. “Do as I say! Give up! Give up! Give up!”

“YOU LEAVE HIM ALONE!” Option four, that even Mickey did not see coming, was Minnie picking up Goofy’s fishing rod and using it as a battering ram, charging forward to jab it into Macchia’s stomach. The wizard tumbled backwards, now looking up as Minnie held up the rod as an almighty sword, ready to strike him down again. “I don’t care what he is! He’s part of my family, and I’m not letting anyone or anything take my family from me again!” She smacked the rod down in Macchia’s face, breaking his nose and causing it to twist to a side. Macchia lost the last shreds of patience as he felt Mickey’s teeth and Minnie’s rod injure him over, and over, and over, working together to release two untapped sources of sheer determination to protect the other.

Macchia yelled at the top of his lungs, wordlessly condemning them both as he kicked them aside with all of his strength. Mickey rolled around, but straightened himself up in front of Minnie, ready to defend her, while Minnie sat up, threatening to charge again if the opportunity arose. Macchia, bloody, sweaty, and completely ugly inside and out, snarled as he held the staff in both hands. “Drown together, you miserable rats!” He punched through the staff’s glass sphere, snatching the piece of his heart, the red circle, out in a messy show of glass and blood. He held the piece up high, dropping the staff to the ground. “I’ll hit you with wave after wave until there’s nothing left but your soaked bones!”

True to his word, yet another powerful wave was summoned from the ocean, leaving the small group of companions no choice but to stick close to each other, bracing through the painful attack. Minnie coughed as water escaped her lungs, and she fell to her knees. Yet she held steadfast onto the fishing rod, refusing to leave Mickey’s side. He stayed with her, his tail around her as best he could make it to keep her close. They would not budge, they would not yield, they would not surrender, and their strong unity only made Macchia angrier.

“Do you plan to stay there forever?” He mocked, breathing hard. “I can do this for eternity! All you can do is stand there with those pathetic looks on your faces! As long as I have my heart back, I an invincible! You’ve run out of miracles!” He held out the piece of his heart, displaying it at his side, reveling in his glory despite his frustration.

To his macabre delight, Minnie began to shriek. She even started to back up, but Mickey stayed in place. Mickey wasn’t sharing her fear. No, he was blinking in surprise. Macchia was about to revel in Minnie’s scream, until he noticed she wasn’t looking at him. In fact, everyone that had remained in the throne room was looking towards Macchia’s left side, as he had accidentally dragged something else in with the ocean waters.

He looked down at his arm to find Bruce the shark smiling at him.

“… Oh, no.

Bruce chomped down on Macchia’s hand, making the wizard scream louder than Minnie ever could. He kicked and punched Bruce who hung onto him with ease, not even bothering to tug or thrash about. “Let go, damn you! I need my heart! I need it! Don’t you dare swallow! Don’t you dare-”

Bruce gulped, and the heart piece went down the hatch. There was no magic that could beat a good digestive system, as Macchia began to shake in true horror. Acidic black bubbles began to spew from his chest, dripping over his body. “NO! This wasn’t part of the plan! This is too ugly! It’s all so UGLY!” Bruce let him go, flopping into the water as Macchia clawed at his chest, but found his hands starting to dissolve as well. “My plan! My beautiful plan! My beautiful…” His clothes bubbled up, his legs and his chest, and within seconds there was nothing to remain of him but sea foam that floated along the top of the water.

Minnie sat in the water, not sure if she should believe what she just saw. She would have been content with silence to think this over, but Segreto had slid away from her, happily swimming over to Bruce. The two appeared to recognize each other, bumping noses and hugging each other, rolling around like old friends in a wrestling match. Daisy suddenly yelped, jumping into Donald’s arms. “S-Something just brushed past my legs!”

Mickey looked over, and he could spot three familiar fish speedily making their way towards him. The constant tidal waves against the castle must have knocked their fish bowl over, allowing them to escape. He scooped them up in his hands, nuzzling them with great affection and love. Marlin jumped up, hitting Mickey in the throat. He stopped to touch his neck, and the scar that had haunted him for so long was no more. He ran his fingers over his neck over and over in wonder. Did this mean he could speak again? Oh, he had so much to tell! Now he could explain everything! He could say he really felt to everyone!

Everyone… He slowly lifted his head, looking over at his Land Walker friends. Now that they were no longer trying to survive, they were staring at him with wide eyes and open mouths. They had the power of speech but could not think of anything to say. Minnie herself kept looking back and forth between his face and his tail. The end of the room had Land Walkers, and here, near the edge with the broken window and shattered dreams, were all creatures that belonged in the ocean. He had saved their lives at the cost of being unable to stay with them.

And that… that was fine with him. All that mattered was that they were alive. Whether they remembered him or not, no matter where they found their happiness, he was happy to have sacrificed himself for them. Now it was time to make things right, and allow them to move on. He began to inch towards the edge, where the cliff overlooked the ocean. Bruce, getting the idea, swam alongside the prince, and their fish friends safely held close to Mickey’s chest.

Fear seized Minnie’s heart, and she dropped the fishing rod. “Segreto!” She picked up her dress, trying to make her way through the water. She could hear the splashes of the others trying to catch up, but none of them were going to make it. She reached out for him, only able to grab air. “Segreto, wait! Please, wait!

With the last bits of strength he had left, Mickey jumped off the cliff, and returned to the ocean at last.

~*~

From sunset to sunrise, Mickey reveled in having his voice back. As if to make up for all the words he could not say for months, he told Bruce, Marlin, Nemo and Dory about his adventures on the land, floating on his back as he adjusted to swimming again. Nemo kept pestering for better details, but when Marlin suggested they wait until Mickey felt better, Mickey chuckled. “I dunno if I’m ever gunna ‘feel better’… but I don’t wanna forget what happened. Even though it hurts. Cause all the good that came with it is worth every single bit of pain, too.”

Marlin smiled, coming to sit between Mickey’s ears with Nemo. “When did you turn into an adult? At this rate, you’re not going to need us around anymore.”

“But is that really the end?” Dory frowned, swimming in circles. “I mean, you almost got the girl, the bad guy’s defeated… isn’t there supposed to be a happily ever somewhere? Did you skip over that part?”

Mickey sighed, allowing a few bubbles to pop out of his mouth. “They’re just gunna have ta find their own happily ever afters without me. And I guess I can start payin’ attention to my lessons… maybe I can slip in and pretend like nothin’ ever happened.”

“I think they’re going to have a tougher time forgetting you, mate.” Bruce quipped, nudging Mickey in the back. “Unless that’s an army of octopi comin’ our way.”

Mickey righted himself up, now able to see spots of movement off in the deeper parts of the water. As they came closer into view, Mickey could make out the faces of his father and all of his brothers, though their expressions were all different. Nemo hid behind one of Mickey’s ears, worried about what consequences were heading for them. “I guess a whole bunch of tidal waves is really hard to ignore or forget…”

“Hold on, we can clear this up!” Marlin swam out in front of Mickey, ready to defend his friend. “Now we’ve got every side of the story!”

“They ain’t gunna land a hand on you!” Bruce agreed, baring his teeth as he floated alongside Marlin. “Leave it to us, we’ll settle this!”

Mickey bit his lip, but then gently took Nemo away from his ear, setting him with Dory. “I think I’ve had more than enough of swimmin’ away from my problems.” He swam past Marlin and Bruce, heading for his vast array of family members. When he was close enough, King Marino came to a halt, holding a rolled up scroll of paper, but his brothers surrounded him in large, continuous circle. Marlin, Nemo, Dory and Bruce insisted on coming in anyway, keeping closer to Mickey while watching the king. Mickey bowed his head to his father, no longer angry at the old man.

The King held up his chin, blue eyes boring into Mickey. “… The presence of the terrible sea wizard, Macchia Nera, can no longer be felt. After inspecting the Lost Catacombs, we could see all that he has done, and all that you did with him. It has been determined that he is no longer a threat to both land and sea. However, he only became a threat again only because of your rash foolishness. You wandered into forbidden territory, aligned with the wizard, and nearly brought destruction to land and water.”

Mickey didn’t deny any of it. What would be the point? He bowed his head again, acknowledging the sins he had committed. “I know it might not mean much, but I really am sorry for what I did… kind of.”

Marino paused, raising an eyebrow. “Kind of?”

Mickey faced his father, smiling in a strange but honest way. “I am sorry about the trouble I caused… but I think it’s better ta make a few small problems ta get rid of the bigger one, then just pretend nothing’s wrong at all. If it wasn’t gunna be me, then he was gunna use someone else some day. And thanks ta him… I’m not afraid of the same things anymore. I made some really great friends, and I’ll remember them forever. And I think my life’s way better for havin’ known ‘em. They’re better off too… they’ve got each other, and their homes are safe. And even if some day I do forget ‘em… I’m still gunna be proud of where I am and how I got here. They liked me for who I was, and now, I do too.”

Dory was audibly sniffling at the sentiment, and Bruce was pretending there was plankton in his eye, that’s all. Marino searched Mickey carefully, but then pulled away, straitening his back out. “Regardless of what you have learned, you must still be punished for your transgressions. Maybe if you had paid attention in what I taught you, you would prepared for this better.” He unrolled the scroll, and Mickey squinted – it looked very familiar. No, it wasn’t the scrolls from his lessons. It looked more like the ones that hung up in Macchia’s lair.

Nemo raised his fin, despite clearly shaking. “He’s going to get banished? Like that mermaid who spoke to a Land Walker?”

Marino nodded solemnly, tracing the letters over the scroll. “Yes, young one. Like her long ago, the prince will be banished… to the world of the Land Walkers.”

Mickey jerked his head up, eyes almost popping out of his skull. “To… the world of Land Walkers?! Ya mean it?!” He looked from brother to brother, but there was no sign of any joking or mockery. A handful of them were smiling, while others remained stoic or pained. “How… how can ya even…?”

“Macchia was originally one of us.” Marino reminded Mickey, signaling with his hand for the brothers to come closer. “And the ability that allows us to enchant another’s mind is magic. He abused his powers so that only way to change you was to steal from you. But if all of us use an ounce of the magic from our voices… you will be sent to the world of the Land Walkers, never to return here.”

If Mickey had his legs, he would have danced, he would have kicked, he would hopped and skipped and jumped. His original body now seemed so dull and mundane, as all he could do was spin around in his glee, laughing wildly at the top of his lungs. “Whoo-hoo! I don’t believe this! This is the best!” He bounced from brother to brother, giving them surprise hugs before headbutting a laughing Bruce and juggling the smaller fish. Be as he celebrated with his friends, it began to dawn on him he was given a chance that Macchia never offered – the chance to say goodbye.

He looked down at Nemo, Dory and Marlin, with Bruce smiling sadly as he came up around the front. Mickey ran his hands along their fins, trying to keep his eyes dry. “… I’m gunna miss all of ya.”

“We’re going to miss you too, Mickey.” Nemo hugged Mickey’s finger. “You’ll come by the ocean every now and then, won’t you?”

“Just try and stop me.” Mickey chuckled. “I gotta see how big and strong ya become when yer all grown-up!”

“See? I told you.” Dory grinned, giving another hug after Nemo was finished. “You’re getting your happily ever after! When have I ever been wrong?”

“Never, not in a million years.” Mickey kissed her cheek. “So keep provin’ everyone else wrong for me, okay? Someone’s gotta keep ‘em in line.”

Bruce slapped Mickey on the shoulder hard enough to make him wince. “That’s what I want to hear! You show those Land Walkers how to have a good time! Or else I’ll make them!”

“Aw, yer gunna be too busy down here, Bruce.” Mickey gave him a small rub on the top of his head. “You saved us all! Yer name’s gunna go down in the history books!”

Bruce blushed, clearly enjoying the idea, but he moved aside for Marlin to step up. He fumbled with his mouth, unsure of how or what to say. “… I don’t know, Mickey. I wish I had something all… heartfelt and sappy to say, but… I’m proud of you. I really am. And you know I’ll never forget you.”

Mickey cupped Marlin into his hands, and nuzzled his cheek against the clownfish. “Yer the best friend I ever had… no matter where I am, yer always gunna be with me. Cause that’s what a real memory is.” They pressed their foreheads together for a long moment, and then, Marlin let him go. Mickey took one last, lengthy look at his real family, and then faced Marino. “… Thanks… father.”

Marino nodded once, and with his beard floating around it was difficult to tell if he was smiling or upset. Despite however he was feeling, he released the scroll, and opened his mouth to start singing. One by one, all 99 of Mickey’s brothers began to sing as well, creating a magical harmony that enveloped Mickey until he too found his voice. A soft wind began to float around him, creating a heavenly glow around his tail. The light began to shine brighter and brighter until it was blinding, casting a warm reflection over everyone in sight. Mickey felt no pain, and was embraced by a farewell from all living beings of the ocean.

~*~

“Can we take a break?” Donald groaned, ready to flop down on the sandy beach. Right now it was looking inviting as any bed. “We’ve been searching all night and all morning…”

“Do you see Segreto anywhere?” Daisy snapped, flicking her fingers to the back of Donald’s head. “No, you don’t! So we’re going to keep looking until we find any sign of him!” She gave him another shove, and then marched ahead of him. “He has to come back, or else I’ll never forgive him!”

Once again the birds, the dogs, and the lone mouse scoured the beach of the destroyed boardwalk, where the story felt it had first begun. Millicent was so unused to walking without her staff that she felt an awkward sense of balance whenever she moved around. As a result, Goofy offered to carry her as they searched the sandy seashore, and she happily took up his offer. Pluto kept his nose down, hoping to get some trace of his friend and whining when he still came up with nothing.

“He will come back.” Minnie declared at the head of the group. “He would never leave me… us like that. I said I wasn’t going to lose any more members of my family, and I meant it.” She had not cried, she had not wept – because she felt she had not lost him. It was impossible to lose Segreto. He had become such an integral part of her life that he now belonged there permanently.

Donald didn’t want to bring the group down, but he also knew there were dark facts to face. “How would he even know we’re looking for him? He’s in the ocean by now! He’s… some kind of fish? I think? So he’ll be in the water, he can’t just walk up and say hello!”

Minnie walked slower until she stopped, quiet in thought. “… You may be right.”

“Aw, that don’t mean nothin’!” Goofy objected, somehow not tripping even once while he was carrying Millicent. “We’re definitely gunna see him again, no matter what he is!”

Minnie nodded, fiddling with her locket. “And you’re right too.”

Daisy crossed her arms, losing her patience. “How can they both be right? Are you giving up or waiting for him?”

“Neither.” Minnie took a breath, and then began to undo the chain of her locket. She looked down at the heart shaped gold in her hand, and then gave it a kiss. She faced the ocean, and then with all of her might, threw the locket into the water.

“Minnie!” Millicent gasped, forcing herself out of Goofy’s arms to try and hug her daughter figure. “After all that, you’re throwing it away? Didn’t that locket mean the world to you?”

Minnie kept her eyes on the ocean, hands clenched together. “Segreto came here to give it back to me. So… he will definitely return it to me again.” Her voice was filled with a calm wisdom she had learned from her Queen. The ocean was not something to fear, but a gift to her life, and now it would give her what she needed most of all. She felt the Queen tenderly stroking her ears while Daisy hugged her, both of them giving her support for her decision. The locket floated on the surface, gently riding back and forth…

… and then it was snatched up by a gloved hand.

Loud splashes echoed across the beach as the figure began to walk out of the ocean, holding the locket gently in his hand. A prince donned in armor of blue seashells and green coral made his way out of the water as easily as walking up the stairs, a smile donned underneath clear eyes. Water dripped off his black fur as he knelt in front of Minnie, offering her locket back. He did have something planned to say, but it was blocked by Minnie’s lips as she violently tackled him down and kissed him right on the mouth. It was a bit familiar.

They both fell into the water, and his arms went around her, trying to pull her back so he could at least breathe. She giggled at him, allowing graceful tears to drip into the salty water. He looped the locket back around her neck, and then kissed her forehead, taking her scent of the land and the sea.

“… My name’s Mickey. And I love you.”

The End.