[AN: Epileptics, beware of the gif background]
The water was her second home. People who knew Nel said that they were waiting for her to grow gills. The people of Nothéré Island knew her so well that she once attended a job interview in a bikini and flipflops. Nel knew everywhere on Nothéré in relation to the closest or the most convenient swimming location.
And it was one summer afternoon after a particularly bad squall that she found Nim.
Some idiot had cut their fine mesh net loose when it snagged on debris, which washed up on a shore that the tourists hadn't found and desecrated, yet. Nel always checked the shores after a big storm for stuff just like this.
There were two dolphins in the net, and a number of fish that Nel was too late to help. And, gasping and terrified, struggling to free himself from the tangle, was Nim.
Nel almost didn't see him, assuming he was some exotic and endangered fish, because the humanoid half of him was under a waning dolphin. She singsonged her way through cutting the dolphins free and moving them into the shallows, and then realised that the struggling form was...
Logically, she knew, there had to be mermen. Otherwise, how would mermaids happen? And even then, mermaids were supposed to be a myth. But no. They were just another species that humans hadn't encountered, captured, or otherwise found a means to exploit, yet.
Nel knew in an instant that, if she took a photo, if she called anyone, his life was forfeit. So was the life of any of his pod. Family. Whatever the merfolk called themselves. She singsonged her way through cutting him free, and towing him towards the water. Merfolk were supposed to drown sailors, so Nel let him loose and dived for the shore the instant he could swim away.
Then it was just a matter of finding any trace of ownership on the illegal net. If she ever got her hands on the numb-nuts who had it in the first place, there would be not enough left of them to identify without gene testing. The local law enforcement knew this, alas, and refused to give her any details about their investigations. And warned the shopkeepers not to pass them around, either.
Nel resorted to blogging about it.
She dragged the net way above the high tide line and anchored it to a handy rock. When she was done with her swim, she would be dragging it off to the law, anyway. People had to learn that owning an illegal net was not going to be tolerated.
The merman was in the shallows. Watching her. "What you do?" he said.
Okay. He could talk. "I'm logging all the details of this net and trying to publicly shame the person who owned it," said Nel. "The law won't let me punish them the way I want to. This is all I'm allowed to do so I'm doing it with gusto."
"You are not like the others. You love the ocean."
Nel couldn't argue with that. "Sooner or later, humans will realise that we have to live here. I just wish it was sooner." She finished her rant and posted it from her phone.
He was still there. And rather dreamy, actually. He did have claws, but he wasn't being menacing. And his striped scales were... wow. He had fins where ears should have been. And a fine dappling of scales all over. "Do you have a name?" she asked. "Everyone calls me Nel."
"You may know me as Nim." There was a longer, more complicated name that his people knew him by. Nel couldn't pronounce half of it, no matter how hard she tried.
And it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.