He was much heavier on land than in the water. Arm around his chest, Ariel dragged the prince and herself further from the breaking waves, onto the warm sand. Her muscles ached and trembled and her hair stuck to her face, limp and stringy surrounded by air instead of water. She could hardly believe she'd swum so far, and pulling him behind her, as well.
There. This ought to be far enough to avoid high tide. She dropped him, and scooted away. The breeze chilled her scales just as much as the sand warmed them. Brushing her bangs out of her eyes, she laid her head against his chest.
Yes, his heart beat steadily. Much more slowly than her own. And her breathing... She wasn't used to the air. It rasped in her throat and left it drier with each inhale.
He stirred. Ariel started, flicking her gaze to his face. Something rattled in his chest, rising, and finally spurting forth in a heaving cough. Humans weren't meant to breathe water. Ariel thought frantically for what to do to help him.
"Don't move," She put her hand on his shoulder. "You're safe now, you're on land. There's air."
His body shuddered, and several moments passed before he stopped coughing.
He didn't open his eyes. Ariel had hardly gotten a look at him when she'd seen him in the thrashing waves of the storm. Now she examined him. He was a prince, she knew, for she'd heard him called that by the men still on the ship. The sun shone on his face, which had a strange, darker tint to it. Like his hair. Black as night through the surface of the ocean. Though it seemed he had the form of someone strong, the storm must have exhausted him, for he lay limp and Ariel would have thought him dead were it not for his chest like bellows rising up and down.
Then she heard the footsteps. She didn't know why, but it frightened her. Another human.
In a flash she dove across the sand for the water. One more thrash, and she disappeared beneath the surface. But she still wanted to see. Skimming the shallows, the little mermaid swerved around a cluster of coral, and once again raised her head out of the water to see.