The Waters We Must Swim (Nereid, Light Femdom, Feels)

I stare out at the blackness before me, aware of the sound of the waves. Even now, with all the numbness of the past few days, with all the agony I have suppressed, I feel a small bit of joy as I recall countless trips to the beaches of my past.

The sandcastles. The soft, hot sand under my feet, the cool mud near the lapping waves. The water rising up over my ankles, the joy of finding seashells. The pungent, ever-present smell of dead fish which disappears with the strong gusts of salty air. And…and my mother, in her straw hat and sunglasses, waving at me.

And that is enough to make the pain return. In my mind’s eye, I see her in the casket, as I saw her this morning. I see her look so different than she did in life, so old. A simulacrum of the vibrant woman I knew, the conqueror who fought against the tides of a cruel world valiantly.

Fought, and lost. Cancer took her, spread through her lungs and into her blood. Her passing was a mercy, though it was agony to me.

I was the receiving line. Mom’s parents both died years ago. Bruce, my father, fucked off when I was two, and my brother – my older brother – he had fucked off six years ago. He was, as near as I was aware, shooting up whatever toxins he could in one of the Anarchologies on the west coast. I had no way to contact him, save for an old address that I sent a postcard to. It was enough. He could add nothing to any of this. And he didn’t care. His name isn’t really necessary.

Mom had given us everything. Despite Bruce being gone, the house was warm. In that same way that a she-wolf creates a den for her puppies in a world of starvation and predators, she created a home for us. We were not rich, but we were loved. She worked as an accountant, and juggled us with babysitters and bosses’ demands. She had lived long enough to see one of her kids make it to college.

I was so, so scared. Mom was…is…all I had. Even at the end, with tubes coming out of her like some science experiment, with each breath causing us both agony, she was the one comforting me.

“You’ll be alright,” she said, her voice barely above a whisper. “You’ve always been tough. You have always been a good boy, and you have grown up. You can do this on your own. I know it’s hard, believe me, I know. But you’ll come through it, just like I did. And you’ll look up at your sweet and beautiful boy or girl one day, and be as proud of them as I am of you.”

I promised her all kinds of things as my tears fell. I promised her that I’d marry and have a family, that I’d find my brother and make peace with him, that I’d even look up Bruce and make a connection. I never lied to my mother, until then, but I knew there was no way I could do any of that.

As I stare out at the black waters, and listen to the waves splash and recede, I see clearly what I must do. The cold wind of November hits my face. The water will be warmer than the air, but still cold. I feel a tinge of fear.

For all my fond memories of the beach, I haven’t swum in these waters since I was six, when I nearly drowned in them. My brother used to say that I was in waist deep water and exaggerating, but he’s an asshole. I was in deep, panicking. My mother dragged me out. Since then, these waters have always been death to me.

I begin to take off my suit. I toss my tie on the ground, and take off my dress pants. I bought this suit with the last two hundred dollars I had. Mom had worked hard, but had little to show for it. There were a lot of things I didn’t understand. Somehow my Great Aunt and her family had already raided my Mom’s house for everything of value. Apparently Mom gave her a key years ago. Fuck them. They can have it all.

I had been a ball of agony, grief, and terror all the night before. I had finally finished up with all the fucking funeral planning, with the documents, fees, suits, receptions, flowers, and legal shit, and I was laying in my bed. The house was empty, and everywhere I saw my mother and things that reminded me of her. I had been in the dark for hours, just staring out the window at the quiet street, and the flickering street lamp. The light should either be on steady, or just go out, I told myself. I wanted to just go out.

The world scared me to death. How was I going to do this, alone?

It was damned unsporting of the Everlasting to fix His canon against self slaughter, as Hamlet said. I couldn’t do that, I knew. My Mother would never forgive me. And Hell would likely mean that I would just wake up, right where I was.

The fundamental question of all miserable people is to be, or not to be. Whether it is nobler to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or arm ourselves against a sea of troubles. A sea…of troubles…

That was when I had my idea.

Its amazing how a plan of action, how control, can give one hope, focus, and purpose. The funeral, the prospect of being alone, didn’t matter anymore. It would all be temporary. Mom was gone, but I’d see her soon. I was in control. The world was not going to grind me into paste over passing years. I would meet it on my own terms, confront it in a final battle. Though I would die, it would be in defiance of it, not at its mercy. If the world was going to kill me, it would have to kill me face to face, as it had tried twelve years ago.

There were a lot of people at the funeral. Mom was very, very well liked at her company, and they are good people. People commented on how well I was doing, being the receiving line, and how well I was holding up. I even laughed once or twice, though I was never happy. I was numb. I still am. But I didn’t look at that open casket. I couldn’t. Mom was just away. I’ll see her soon.

I was at the cemetery until the sun went down. Everyone else left. I stared at my Mother’s grave. I put a rose on it, then began my preparations.

It is ten miles from one side of Lake Ulysses to the other. Ten miles of frigid water, in the darkness of night. A five hour swim, for a trained and prepared swimmer. I am neither. But that is the point; I am not prepared for any of this.

I will not survive, but I will not give up. I will push across until fatigue kills me, until the waters overcome me. I will swim until I die, or by some miracle I reach the far shore. If I do…well, I won’t.

I’m sorry Mom. You wanted me to press on, and I shall, in my own way. I’ll see you soon.

The water is cold, but the wind bites deeper. As I step in beyond my ankles and up my shins, the coldness changes to relative warmth. It is bracing, even. But when I reach to my chest, I gasp, as one does in the cold water. My heart pounds in my chest, and my breathing is shallow. The old fear from my childhood, of the waters of Lake Ulysses, returns. I briefly look back to the shore, and wonder if I should return. But there is nothing for me on that shore. I swim in these black waters for a reason.

I plunge in, and begin to stroke, hand over hand, kicking my feet. I chop through the waters, and for a moment it is as enjoyable as it was in the summers of my youth. The warm memories do not last.

The cold black water is grief itself, and as I swim I feel the weight of all of it upon me. The weight of the world. The terrifying loneliness. I was never very popular in school, I was too shy. I never had any real friends. My brother despised me, resented me for ‘taking’ Mom, he said. I remember the fights he and Mom had, before he left. The water, as I chop it with my hands, reminds me of the shouting.

My mother tried hard with him, he didn’t even know. Oh, the tears she shed for that piece of shit. But he had figured out the world, figured out what you needed to do to survive in it. You do not swim in the waters. You become them.

You become yet another cold member of the endless swarm, another churning wave, crashing over the others. Dragging down the swimmers to their deaths. My mother swam farther than anyone, but the waters pulled her down.

The chopping reminds me of the sound of Mr. Berk, smacking his lips as he does. How dare he show his face at the funeral? He had promoted younger people over my mother, despite all the work she did for him. But he resented her for having children, for putting them first. None of the high performers did that – they let their kids grow fat and disinterested, carve up their arms and inject themselves with drugs and hormones. The important thing to Mr. Berk was that he wanted people who pursued and focused on their worthless and shitty careers. Mr. Berk was divorced, and his kids hated him. He could have been my father.

I chop the water more furiously as I thought of him with clenched teeth. As I was going to college, my mother was working more and more. She was putting her health second, and those coughs which she claimed were just a cold grew worse and worse. I should have made her go earlier, but I was too wrapped up in my own world, too eager to get away, to go to college.

I had a plan, once. I was going to major in business. I was going to glad-hand, schmooze, and flatter everyone. I was going to work hard, work without end, tirelessly, so that Mom could retire. I would make a million dollars, and buy her a mansion, make a billion and buy her an island. I would pay her back for all that she had given me.

The waters are laughing at me.

They know that I was never going to glad-hand anyone. I was not gifted with any ability to sweet talk. I doubt my classmates could even recall me. I was not going to be a millionaire. Even if I could be, now, why would I? What would I buy with the money? Friends? Love? The world without Mom is Bruce, and Mr. Berk, and my brother. It’s this endless lake.

My God, the waters are cold. And I am so, so tired. I look back, disappointed by how little progress I have made. The waters were always going to defeat me, the only question was how. They just have done it so soon…

I take a deep breath and press on, toward the other shore. A part of me wants to reach it, to die there, just as a final fuck you to Bruce and Mr. Berk, my fuckface brother and my parasite Great Aunt Delores and her shitty kids.

I don’t even know their fucking names. All I know is that they glare at you, all of them, with those black eyes that shine like the eyes of a mouse. My mother brought us to see them a few times, and I’ve never felt less welcome anywhere in my life. Even Bruce, when I’d see him once a year, was more pleasant.

But my Great Aunt got that jewelry though, didn’t she? The way these people slather over the pittance of a dead relative…what and why? What do they want it all for?

And Mom. Mom, why didn’t you plan your own funeral? You planned out everything else. Why didn’t you take care of yourself? Why did you leave me here? Why didn’t you make the world safe for me, as you did when I was little? Why did you lose the power you once had, over all things?

I am tired. My arms are tired. My heart is tired. My soul is frozen in these waters. The laughter grows louder. I decide to just kick my legs for a bit, but my mouth keeps dipping underwater. I take in some as I breathe, and begin to cough, but this isn’t a pool, and there is no side to grab. I begin to panic, and splash at the water.

I am going to drown. I have arrived at the moment when the waters, when the world, will kill me, as they tried years ago. I am ready. I say a prayer for my soul, and shut my eyes.

When I dip beneath the surface, into the brutal cold and thundering sounds of water, I feel something against my leg, something smooth, wet, and cool. I struggle and twitch, wondering what is in the water, but I am too exhausted to swim. Instead, I plunge deeper beneath, but my eyes are open. There is only blackness, until I see golden eyes stare into my own.

I inhale water, and everything goes black.

I am awake.

I am in a bed, with roughspun fabric. I look around. I am in a small hut, mud colored, lit by the warm glow of a fireplace. For a split second, I think I am in Yoda’s house on Dagobah, but then I see a hole in the middle of this hut, a hole over black water. I cough, and grimace. My body hurts. My memories flood back. I think of my mother, and I am sad. Then I think of the eyes…

From the small side room I hear slapping feet, like someone wearing flippers, and as I stir, that someone enters.

She is…she is beautiful. I have never seen anything like her. Blue, and with gills and a fish tail, but with two legs. She is both a comely young maiden and a fish, and she has a ridge of raised chitin on top of her head like a crown, flowing with her dark purple hair. She is wearing very little, and I can see her flawless skin melding into fish scales. She is small, but obviously very fit. Her tummy is tight.

But her eyes…I see them. I see the gold color that I saw beneath the waters. They are the most captivating eyes I have ever beheld. They are gems, stars, every precious metal.

“My God…” I whisper.

“Oh! You’re up,” she says, not hearing me. “You were in a bad way in the lake. Did you fall out of a boat? I couldn’t find it, if you did…”

I stare at her in wonder. “You are a monstergirl?” I ask.

She nods eagerly. “I just moved in a month ago. My name is Thetis.”

“But I thought you were restricted to the east coast…”

“Not me; I am an ecological assessor,” she says to me, puffing out her chest. She is literally wearing seashells over her…her…

I can’t stare. I think she might have noticed. She’s turning red. So am I…

“W-what’s your name?” She asks.

I tell her my name. She smiles when she hears it, and that makes me feel warm. Thetis has a very pretty smile, and her fish ears wiggle.

I sit up in bed, and look around the little hut. It is cozy, and I am warm, but I do not know what to do. I had planned on two outcomes for my trial in the waters, and this was neither of them. “Well,” I say. “You certainly surprised me. How long have I been here?”

“Just a few hours. You should probably rest. I’d guess you have people you want to call, but I don’t have a phone, or a computer,” Thetis says, apologetically. “When you live in water, electronics don’t make a whole lot of sense. There were some pictures of iPhones being able to go underwater that got me excited, but…no…” she shakes her head, somberly.

“I still don’t understand how you are here,” I say. “They told us you couldn’t come out here.”

“My mission here is 100% legal. One of the sections of our treay says that ‘ecological assessors’ can move out and assess ecological damage to natural resources. Why you’d ask aliens to assess your planet is beyond me, but your leaders seem like idiots. I mean, if we judge you by our world…”

“How bad are we doing?” I ask.

“Not so bad, honestly. I guess the other side of the planet is a total mess, but we can fix that. But here…” she looks around. “What a nice lake. It’s very quiet, and aside from those kids drinking beers, and skipping rocks across the water and hitting my hut, and that unfortunate skinny dipping incident with the senior club, it has been pretty nice. I can’t wait to see summer here. There must be a lot of people.”

“I couldn’t tell you. I haven’t been here in years,” I say. “My Mom…” I pause. She sees the anguish on my face.

“Yes?” She asks.

“My mother used to bring us here, but I stopped coming when I was six.”

“Is she around? I could go to her.”

I shake my head, fighting the stabbing feeling in my gut. “She is away,” I say. “She went to…”

Thetis stares at me with big, curious eyes, waiting. My mind searches, as I try to think of the place most like death.

“…Pittsburgh,” I say at last.

“Pittsburgh?” Thetis repeats. “The cheese-steak people?

“Uh…yes,” I say, taking some private joy in this pointless lie. “She’s in Pittsburgh. I’m going to join her, soon.”

“Oh,” she says, and the way she says it, I almost think that she is disappointed. “Well, when are you leaving?”

“Soon…” I say. I don’t know why, but I add: “In a few days.”

“You should stay here for now,” she says. “You were very cold in that water, and I had to get the water out of your lungs…” she pauses. “Do you remember that?”

I shake my head. “I don’t. I remember seeing you, that’s it.”

“Why were you in the water, anyway?”

“Oh…” I say. I pause, searching for a reason. I’d rather not explain. I force a laugh. “I was kinda drunk last night. Probably why I don’t remember.”

“I see,” she says, with narrowed eyes. “You didn’t know that I was here?”

I shake my head. “I am quite surprised. Why?”

“Just curious. What do you know about us?” She asks.

I shrug. “To be honest, I haven’t paid much attention to the news. They made it sound like you were the worst thing since World War 2, but then all of a sudden it was okay for you to be here.”

She stares at me with a small smile, and for a moment I feel a flutter in my stomach. Fear? Excitement?

“They didn’t say what we want?”

“Maybe they did. I wasn’t paying much attention.”

“Oh, I think you’d know, if they said it,” she says in a playful tone.

I frown. “Why, what DO you want?”

She giggles, and bites her thumb. It is enchanting. “We’re here for the cheesesteaks,” she says.

“Seems like a lot of work for them…”

“Well, it isn’t just that. We are here for a…cultural exchange. Do you know the deal with us, with males? We have a shortage.”

I shook my head, nonetheless intrigued. “I didn’t know that. I mean, I assume there are male sea creatures and such…”

She grinned at me. “Nope. Just Human boys.”

“You…breed with Human boys?”

“Well, not personally…” she says. She looks at me with a sideways glance. “Not yet.”

I clear my throat. “S-so our planet is about half and half men to women,” I said. “I’m not sure what you plan to do about that.”

“As it happens, monsterized women tend to give birth to a lot of human boys, like two to one. So we’ll have a nice big crop coming soon. And there is the practice of boysharing…”

“Boysharing?”

“Sometimes sisters marry the same boy, or good friends marry the same boy. Some girls…well, there are a lot of girls into weird stuff. Most girls don’t want to share, of course. But then there are girls like me, who just sit out all the fun so others can have it.”

“I’m sorry.”

“It isn’t so bad. I travel a lot, I visit new and interesting worlds. I find all kinds of interesting things…oh! I have to show you this. You might be able to tell me what it is.”

She moves towards the small room adjoining this one, on her slender legs and her flat flipper feet. Her tail sloshes back and forth. She has such a nice, tight little rear which wiggles with every enthusiastic step, covered by a tight little spandex material. I bite my lip.

She returns with a wooden box in her arms, held like a schoolgirl holds her notebook. It is gilded and worn, obviously soggy for years, then dried and covered in sand. The faint outline of a crown remains on its surface It is clasped with a latch which remains shiny due to its veneer of gold. She opens it slowly, and looking inside, I see a set of small glass figures.

“I found it yesterday evening! Look at these intricate little glass statues. I wonder what they are…”

“It’s a chess set,” I say, picking up what I guess is a pawn. The glass is clouded white, and the others are stained black. “It’s a game.”

“Oh! A game!” She exclaims. She claps her webbed hands together. “How is it played? Can you show me?”

“I…” I begin. I am conflicted. I don’t exactly know what to do. I was supposed to die last night…

But she stares at me with those sparkling eyes and that big smile, and I find it impossible to say no. After all, what is a few days?

“Sure,” I say.

We set up on her small table, then sit across from each other. Despite being on opposite sides, we lean in close as I show her the pieces, and I can feel her forehead brush against mine in places. I have a strong urge to just press against her, and shut my eyes.

I show her the game, the pieces, the moves. She eagerly convinces me to play. It takes me a little bit – I am rusty. The first game is mostly her asking questions and me fumbling through the answers. It mostly is just explanation. She wins, but I am playing as her side as much as my own.

“This is fun,” she says, “I think I’ve got it. Want to play again?”

Normally I hate chess, but this is kind of fun, I think. “Sure,” I say. We set up for another game.

“It’s been years since I played,” I say with a small smile as I advance a pawn. “I was sick and had pneumonia. My Mom was home with me, and we played with an old set she had.”

“A set like this?” She asks, swiftly responding with a move of her own.

“No, it was pretty cheap. A cardboard board and plastic pieces. My Mom got it from a school library sale, I think.”

She casts me a sideways glance. “Was she good?”

I smile. “I don’t recall,” I say. “I just remember playing that one time. I don’t think I played it, since.”

She stares at me a moment with a small smile, and I wonder if there is sadness in her eyes. “Your Mom sounds great.”

I nod. “She…she was,” it is the act of speaking that almost makes me cry, but I hold it in. I can’t show any of this. I have to keep it down. I look away, praying that she doesn’t stare at me for too long, for I will break if she does. Mercifully, she doesn’t seem to notice, being so absorbed in the pieces.

We continue, and she wins, and it is legitimately a win, although hard fought. “I like this game,” Thetis says, picking up the checkmating Queen and looking down at it. I notice that on her index finger, she has a gold ring, with a large amber gem in it. “It seems to be about staying a few steps ahead of your opponent.”

“So they say,” I reply. “I never do, when I play it.”

“Don’t sell yourself short. You are very smart,” she replies. “You nearly had me, if you had moved your knight…”

I stare at the board. I laugh without mirth. “Aw man. I’m not as good as you at this.”

“Well, we have a game back home called Tleilaxu. It is similar to this, only played on discs.”

“Maybe you could teach it to me?” I ask.

“I don’t have a board with me…” she says sadly. She stares at the chess board. “I suppose we could use this, but we’d need to use our imaginations…”

She teaches me the game, and it is nice to have my mind off my troubles for a while. The rules are similar to chess, although the game is played with pieces in a circle like a besieger and besieged, with players alternating inner or outer ring. We play a game, but trying to imagine a round game on a square board works somewhat poorly. It is still fun.

As we play, we trade stories. She tells me about her life, and about her home. White marble columns, lush green tress, flowing waterfalls of white water into crystal pools of blue. Of beaches on a great shore, and warm ocean waters, and beneath them, vast kingdoms under the waves, of monstergirls of all kind of fish forms. She speaks of pink kelp forests and the beauty of schools of fish, shimmering in the sun which penetrates the waves.

“It sounds so wonderful,” I say, moving a knight who has been repurposed as a unit called a ghola. “Why would you leave it?”

“Well, it is wonderful, but it is good to see new things, meet new people. And there’s a whole world here to explore. There is so much to learn. It’s all so exotic.”

I laugh. “Your world, that is exotic. This world is mundane.”

“Mundane? How can you say that?” Thetis replies. She motions to the chessboard, and the pieces in poor concentric rings. “Look at this fine board, and these crafted little figures, and tell me this isn’t fascinating.”

“It’s just a chessboard,” I reply. “Probably made in a factory in China for cheap and sold for a markup.”

“That all sounds fascinating,” she says.

“It isn’t. It’s kind of sad,” I say. “Slaves made this chess set for greedy men to sell to someone who tossed it in a lake.”

“Well, there’s a reason you need us,” Thetis says with a laugh. “But I don’t sense that at all from the board. That isn’t it’s story.”

“How do you mean, ‘sense?'”

“Well, magic, of course.”

“You have magic?” I ask.

“Everybody does. They just have to learn how to use it,” Thetis replies. She puts a webbed hand to her chest, and my eyes widen as I focus on her pretty cleavage. “Magic is in your heart. Intuition, I think they call it here.”

“I prefer using my brain.”

“That’s because you’re a boy, and that’s what boys do. But that’s okay: wondrous things come from brains, after all.”

“Not from mine.”

She laughs again, and the sound is sonorous. “Then maybe you should use your brain less, and your instincts more, hm?”

I smile, and for the first time in weeks, it is genuine. “No fair turning that on me.”

“You can be a sour puss, but you are a sharp sour puss. A lot of great ideas will come from you, I can tell.”

“More intuition?”

“More magic. One day, ideas will come from you like a fountain. But you are still young.”

“Me, what about you? You can’t be any older than me.”

“Now, now; mustn’t ask a girl her age, or her weight. Those are the rules,” Thetis says.

I laugh. “We have similar rules on Earth. I still can’t believe you chose to come to this dump.”

“It’s not a dump! It’s lovely, just a little retarded. Don’t you like exploring, learning new things? Meeting new people?”

“I prefer to be home, with the people I care about,” I reply.

She smiles. “That is sweet,” she says. “That is the one thing I miss: my family. My mother, and my brothers and sisters.”

“How many do you have?”

“Seventeen: nine girls and eight boys.”

“W-wow…” I stammer.

She blinks at me. “What?”

“Nobody has families that big on earth, except the uber orthodox religious.”

“What’s normal here?”

“Well, I have one brother.”

Her fish ears prick up. “Oh? Is he nearby?”

“No. I haven’t seen him for years,” I say with a hand wave. There is nothing I want to talk about with a pretty girl less than my brother. “What about your siblings? Did any of them come through with you?”

“Not yet,” she says. “I’m sure they’ll visit, once I have the place cleaned up. They all have castles and children to look after.”

“Castles? Are you nobility?”

“Royalty. I’m the twelfth of seventeen princes and princesses. My father was King of the Adrianople Sea,” she says.

“He was? Did he pass away?”

“Ten years ago,” she says. She doesn’t betray any emotion, but it is in the same way a calloused hand doesn’t acknowledge the prick of a knife. She rubs her ring as she says this.

“I’m sorry,” I say. “It never gets easier, does it?”

“Never ever,” she says. “I think of him everyday. But my siblings all help, and my Mom. And now I try to focus on the good times we had. I think of him every day, and I’m sad, but I try to think a happy thought about him, so I’ll smile.” She looks at the ring on her finger. “I look at the ring that he gave me, the one he took off his own hand, and it reminds me of what a good man he was. He really was the best of men. He was grim, and serious, but no one had a bigger heart. Mama saw that, that’s why she gave him The Kiss.”

“The Kiss?”

“When a Nereid chooses a husband, she kisses him. Once she does, he can breathe underwater, and they can live beneath the waves together.”

“So then…”

She nods. “My family all live at the bottom of the ocean, now that all my brothers were married off,” she replies. “Some of them haven’t been to the surface in years.”

“It must help, having a big family that can come together when someone dies.”

“It did,” Thetis agrees. She rubs her ring. “My sisters helped me a lot, and my brothers made me laugh. It got me through.”

“You were lucky. The world…” I hesitate. “The world can seem a very scary place, without anyone to help you. It’s like the waters outside. So black, so cold.”

Thetis takes in a deep breath. “I’ve been in these waters quite a bit. The waters aren’t just black and cold. The world may be harsh, but there are good people in it. Good things. Like chess sets.”

“A chess set can’t get someone through the death of a loved one,” I say grimly.

“It can’t?”

“No.”

“Well, I guess all it can give is some friendly conversation. A respite from life’s problems.”

I think back on the past few hours. They have been more bearable than the last few days. “That is true,” I say. “Shall we play another game?”

She smiles. “I’d like that.”

We laugh together a bit. I can’t ever say I truly forget about my Mother’s passing, but I do enjoy this brief break with Thetis before my journey. I get my clothes from the beach, and dress in them. They are pretty tattered now, a waste of a two hundred dollar suit, but Thetis seems adamant about me not leaving. I’m okay with that; I don’t want to go to my Mom’s house.

I decide that maybe a few days of waiting won’t hurt me. Thetis has a deck of cards from her Mamono world, and she teaches me a few of their games. We play card games of various kinds until the sun sets. When it is dark, she cooks fish, and I eat the first home cooked meal I have had in months, since Mom got sick. Oh, Mom…forgive me for tarrying.

Thetis says I should stay with her for a while, and she sleeps in the water and I sleep on her bed. She floats so peacefully in the water, floating at the surface looking almost like an Egyptian monarch with her arms folded and her eyes shut. She is both regal and spritely, young and old. I find myself staring at her as I drift off into sleep.

I spend three days with her, playing games, chatting. I even help her sift through rubble and do some cleaning. Sometimes I wonder what I am doing, and sometimes I think this must be a dream. Sometimes, I even have second thoughts about the swim. But it must happen, it just can’t happen at Lake Ulysses.

That feels very wrong. It should happen at Lake Ulysses, but it can’t happen here. Not with Thetis. Oh sweet, innocent Thetis. You are so vibrant and loving. I can’t inflict that kind of grief on you.

It is the fourth day that I have been with Thetis at Lake Ulysses. I wake up to clay pots and pans clattering, and the aroma of cooking fish. Even so, my first thought is of my mother, and I am sad. I try to think of a happy thought about her, and I think of the time she brought me to the Circus, back when they had Circuses. I smile a little, but not enough. I take a deep breath as I prepare for the burden of another day. The smell of warm food, and Thetis’ cheery morning greeting, make it easier to face the day.

Though seafood isn’t my usual fare for breakfast (my usual fare being nothing), I eat the tiny, salty fish that are expertly cooked. My Nereid host joins me, and she eats everything: the tail, the head, the scales, with the same gusto that she lives her life.

“That was good,” I say. I have grown to enjoy the little fish, and our breakfasts, and our conversations.

“Glad you like it!” She says. She seizes the plates swiftly and takes them to her sink, washing them with a kettle of hot water. I eagerly towel them off, and replace them in the cupboard.

“Shall we play a morning game of Chess?” She asks.

I nod, eagerly, as I get the board and set it up on her table. “I’m glad that I found this,” she says as she watches me set up.

“Me too. By the way, what does your intuition tell you about this chess set?” I ask. I smile impishly. “Can you pin down the owner, so we can return it?”

“Oh, they already have another,” she says. “Besides, finders keepers. It’s the oldest law in the sea.”

“Convenient,” I say.

“My magic tells me that this chess set was on a boat,” Thetis replies. “A married couple used to play chess, and the winner would get a kiss from the loser. And they would keep track of how many kisses they got.”

“That’s what your intuition says?”

Thetis nods with a little smirk. “So…what do you say?”

I smirk as well. “To what?”

“To the victor getting a kiss?”

I feel myself turn red. “Well…I mean, I’m okay with it, if you’re okay with it…”

“I’m okay with it.”

“Okay then. Good.”

“So winner gets kiss?”

“Or takes it. Whatever she wishes.”

“She? I’ll have you know I won the last two games!”

“Luck.”

We set up, and begin to play. We both want our kiss, and so we both play at our best.

“I have decided that I do like chess,” Thetis announces.

“That’s good,” I say. “Otherwise, the last few days would have been miserable.”

“Trust me, they were anything but. But I find that I like the concept of chess. It’s so romantic.”

“I don’t follow you.”

“The Kings are rivals, and their Queens fight for them, and the Queen is so powerful. She dominates the board, and protects her King,” she glances up at me. “How do you feel about a strong Queen?”

I sense what she is really asking “I like them,” I say, my voice shaking. “I like strong women. Not fake strong women, who just are cruel to people, but strong women like my Mom, or like y-“

Her eyes widen, and she purses her lips in a smile. I stare at her in horror, feeling exposed. “It’s nice to see a young man who appreciates a strong woman,” she says. She quietly reaches across the table, and her webbed hand brushes against mine.

I feel my heart pound in my chest.

We play the game. I play as well as I can, as does she, but it comes down to me with my King and a rook, and she with a pawn, a Queen, and a King. I topple my King when she places a second Queen on the board (represented by a rook).

“Alright, then…” she whispers. “I’ll have that kiss now, Mister.”

I didn’t lose. She is so, so pretty. That smile, those eyes…I feel myself lean in. I see her take in a shaking breath, tilt her face, and shut her eyes. Our lips meet.

I kiss Thetis. I kiss the Nereid Princess who is the embodiment of joy and wonder. I am happy.

A thought rises up from within me. It has not been a week since my mother died, and I feel joy again? I am a bad son. I shouldn’t be happy like this now. It’s wrong.

I pull away, horrified by my happiness. Thetis looks at me, confused. She calls my name, but I stand, and exit the hut swiftly. I turn and run. She calls again, and I hear her pursuing after me. But we are on land, and I am faster. I hear her cry out my name in anguish, and it rips my heart in half, as badly as when Mom died. But this has to be.

I get to my car. For once, it starts right away. I drive. My heart pounds. I am a wreck. I just drive, and drive. There is only one place to go. I drive all day, eastward.

My car gets a flat. It takes me a good forty-five minutes to fix it, it seems like everything is going wrong. The jack is jammed, the nuts are on too tight. It takes forever. Fortunately I have a fill sized spare. I finally arrive just to the edge of the Mamono zone, to the coast. I get out.

The waters are before me. Not Lake Ulysses, no. The dark blue waters of the Atlantic. There will be no coming back from this. The waters here rise as high as I am tall, and crash against the rocks. This isn’t the black waters of death. This is the raw ferocity of a god.

I hear someone calling my name.

Thetis is here. It makes no sense for her to be here, running awkwardly down to the beach, her golden eyes tinged rose colored by tears. Her teeth are clenched, and for a moment I think she might attack me.

“Don’t you go near that water!” She shouts.

“How…” I ask. “How did you find me? How did you know?”

“Magic,” she snaps. “As for how I knew, I knew all the time. I knew when you didn’t thank me for saving your life.”

“Just let me be, Thetis,” I plead. “I must do this.”

“You’re being wrong! Your mother wouldn’t want this!”

“My mother is in Pittsburgh…”

“You don’t think I know what that means? I know everything. You think an ecological assessor doesn’t read newspapers?”

“Nobody reads newspapers!” I exclaim.

“Ecological assessors do,” her rage softens. “Listen…I am so, so sorry…”

She moves to clasp me, and a part of me wants to fall into her arms and utterly surrender to her, but I move away.

“No…” I say, shaking my head. “I don’t want this. Nothing anybody says can help. Nothing can help. Not even…” I pause.

“Not even me?” She asks.

“Why do you care so much?”

“Because your mother called me from Pittsburgh,” she says sharply. “She says she wants you to live.”

“More magic?”

“Believe in it, damn you!”

“My mother wanted me to live a fairy tale, and make peace with my father, and brother, and get married and have kids.”

“And why can’t you do that?”

“Because my father and brother are assholes…”

“That’s not what I mean!” Thetis yells, and she sounds hurt. “Damn it, how dare you?”

“H-how dare I?”

“Yes! You…you nearly drown, you seduce me, you kiss me, then you run off to try to drown yourself again?”

“I didn’t mean to seduce you,” I say.

“Well, you did. And when you die, am I supposed to go walk across a desert, so I can join you?” Thetis asks.

“Why would you do that?” I ask. “What am I to you? You’ve known me for less than a week…”

“You are going to lecture ME on time?” Thetis asks. “Go ahead, break the rule. Ask me how old I am.”

I sigh, and roll my eyes. “How old are you?”

“I am a thousand years old.”

I am stunned into silence. This carefree maiden, so innocent? But I see it now. I see the impossibly ancient look in her eyes. She’s not naive. She burns like a star. She’s sharper than steel.

“Yes, a thousand,” she continues. “In the waters, things can lie still for years. Decades, even. Eons. Heartbeats can slow to once in an age. Then, in the blink of an eye, when the right prey comes into view, there can be an instant change. Hearts come to life with a great thunder, and fire burns beneath the water. In a flash, and a flurry of passion, life is seized. I should have dragged you beneath, like I wanted to. Given you The Kiss…”

I take a step back, fearful that she will apply this trick to me.

“I won’t do it, not like that. But consider this,” she says. “If you enter the Atlantic, it is suicide. And I if I let you enter it, then I commit murder. Do you want me to be a murderer?”

“I want you to leave. You should go back to Lake Ulysses, and find a guy who will be what you deserve…”

“I already did find him. I’ll go home, but only if you come with me,” she says. “You wanted to swim across Lake Ulysses. I think you should.”

I laugh without mirth. “You just want to get me back, to talk me out of it. You’ll stop me,” I say. “You’ll give me The Kiss.”

She looks at me with sad, golden eyes. “No,” she says. “But I will swim alongside you.”

“You can’t do that. You’d have to watch me…”

“Watch you die? Well…maybe you won’t. Maybe I can convince you to stop. Or maybe you’ll swim alongside me to the other side. I have hope.”

I stare at her. She has a game, of course. She has a plan to stop me. I look out at the pitiless roaring ocean of the Atlantic. She is right. These are not the right waters. The waters of death are in Ulysses Lake.

We drive back in my car. I wasn’t planning on driving back, but fortunately I have enough gas for the trip.

“How did you make it here so fast?” I ask her as we drive on the long stretch of highway.

“I have my ways,” she says. She glances at a passing tractor trailer, and shudders.

I realize that she hitchhiked. “You didn’t…” I say with horror.

“I had little options,” she replies. “I found a nice man in one of those big trucks. He was heading where my magic said you’d be.”

A sudden horror fills me. Thetis, wandering around, riding with strange men…she could have been hurt. “The nice man…he didn’t ask for anything, did he?”

“Nothing of import,” she says with a hand wave and a sideways glance.

“What did you give him?”

I see her hand. My eye catches her ring. The gem is gone from it.

“No…”

“Magic has costs. I needed to sacrifice something so that Fate would ordain that I reach you in time. A gem is just a gem. I consider it a fair trade to get you away from the ocean.”

“But your father’s ring…”

“It’s just a stone. My father would understand.”

I feel like I might throw up. Thetis gave up her father’s gem, because I ran away…

“You shouldn’t have done that,” I say sharply. “It was stupid.”

“Of course it was,” she replies, just as sharp. “This whole situation is stupid. You should have just talked to me. I could help, you know.”

“You knew I was…going to Pittsburgh.”

“And just what the hell is so great about Pittsburgh, anyway?”

“Nothing,” I snap. “Only that my Mom is there. She shouldn’t be, but she can’t come back, so I’m going with her, and you can’t stop me.”

“But first, you need to swim across the lake.”

“Yes.”

“This is all very, very stupid,” she says, throwing up her hands. “I wonder why you don’t lay down across train tracks, or blow your head off with a shotgun?”

“Jesus…” I say. “I guess because I’m a coward.”

“I don’t think a coward would choose to die by exhaustion in a lake.”

“If I die swimming…” I begin. “I’m not committing suicide. I’m dying fighting. I don’t go to hell, because I was trying to prove something.”

“And what is that?”

I pause as I organize my thoughts. “I nearly drowned in Lake Ulysses when I was six. I never swam in it again. But if the world wants to destroy me, I’ll charge right at it,” I say. “None of this bullshit where I grow old, and fat, with a combover, shuffling after some dink like Mr. Berk, desperate to kiss his ass so I can get promoted to some job that I don’t give a damn about…”

“Who is Mr. Berk?”

“He’s all the evil in the world,” I reply. “All of it.”

I’m on fumes when we arrive back at Ulysses Lake. The tank is on E. Just like my life, I muse.

“When will you do it?” She asks quietly. “Now, or can we rest first? I’m very tired.”

“Tomorrow morning,” I say. I am tired also. I yawn.

We return to her hut, but we say little. She doesn’t want to sleep until I do, I can tell that, and she sleeps across the doorway like a shepherdess sleeps across the gate to her flock. I shut my eyes, and pretend.

It is many, many hours before I stir again, though I never sleep. I open my eyes, and the hut is as dark as the night outside. The fireplace is nearly out, just glowing red embers in the dark, casting little light.

There is just enough light to make out the doorway. Thetis is asleep. She is so cute. She sleeps with a frown, with her brow furrowed and her mouth puckered. What a wonderful creature she is. She deserves a good man.

I put a hand to her cheek, and feel its warmth. I could feel happiness with her, but that would be wrong. A sign of how false I am. That’s just it; all my actions just prove what a garbage person I am. How selfish I am being. I know my Mom didn’t want me to die. I know Thetis has feelings for me. I have feelings for her, I think. I was…I was happy. Mom’s dead, and I was happy, because a girl that I barely know kissed me. And she’s right. I led her on. I wanted it, then ran away. She lost her Dad’s gem, because of me. I fuck everything up.

There is only one thing to do. She will hate me for what I do, and it will hurt her, but that will make it easier for her to move on. It will. I step around her, gingerly, pausing when there is no stirring. God, I am awful. No matter what I do, I am awful. But I have waters to traverse. This appointment cannot be delayed.

I undress upon the beach again, down to my boxers. I feel the chilled wind make my skin contort with bumps. The water laps at my feet. I feel the coldness of it again, just like last time. A fog rises above it, and I wonder briefly if I’ll see a skeletal ferryman approach me, or the lights of drowned souls.

But there’s more to the waters than death. As I look at the black water, I can see its vast, unending currents, its unending noise. The chaos of life and all its burdens. I must swim in these waters. I must test myself against them. Beyond suicide, this is about me. This is about if I can do it, if I can survive, even when I am not prepared for it. Because I am not. Mom died too early. I’m not ready yet. I can’t balance a checkbook. I can’t pay for college. I don’t know any of this shit. I don’t even know where to begin.

I kick off into the water. I swim with all my might, and the waters are as confused as I am. I feel the grief, and it is intense. I think about the empty house, about college, about the world. The vast sea of blackness stretches out before me, indistinguishable from the night sky. A void. And I think about Thetis. I don’t want to hurt her, and I hope that comment about crossing a desert was just an exaggeration. But she doesn’t really know me. She’ll forget me. What’s one mopey idiot in a thousand year life?

I swim and swim and swim, and it is endless. Even Thetis would be getting tired, I muse. Oh, Thetis…if I could, I’d give you the world. I’d give you love, and joy, and everything you could ever want. I wish I could be the man you deserve. I wish…I wish.

I wish you were with me, now.

The waters are endless. The chaos streams past me, voices in my head, shouting at me. I must swim. I must go on. My heart feels like it is going to give out. My arms are tired. I want to stop, and breathe. I am beginning to flag again. I begin to struggle. Again, I start to tread water, and splash. I feel myself dipping. Goodbye, Thetis my love. I am so, so sorry…

I feel arms wrap around me. I see golden eyes.

“Thetis!” I pant. “H-how?”

“I’ve been with you the whole time,” Thetis says softly. “Swimming just behind you. You’ve done well so far. We’re almost halfway across the lake.”

“Let go,” I say, panting, and ashamed.

“No,” Thetis replies, matter of factly. “I’m not stopping you. I’m keeping you from stopping. I’m going to hold onto you right here, until you rest. Then you can resume swimming, and you can reach the other shore. We’ll reach the other shore together.”

“I lied to you,” I say, but I am so tired that I cannot help but rest in her arms. Oh God, her arms are wet and cool, but so soft, and lovely…

“And I’m pissed at you for that, but we’ll talk about it later. I get it. I lost someone I knew for nine hundred and ninety years. You don’t have to do this alone,” Thetis says.

“We face the waters alone, all of us,” I replied.

“You are wrong. The waters are not a tomb. These waters…these waters can be here for us. For you and me.”

“What about my Mom?”

“It’s painful, I know, and I wouldn’t wish it on you for the world but it happened. You know that she wouldn’t want you to die, not like this. You said she wanted you to marry and have a family. You can.”

“I miss her so much, Thetis…”

“When you miss her, you just hug me tight, and I’ll hug you tighter.”

“I’ll never stop hugging you.”

“Good.”

“I don’t deserve you,” I say.

“I decide who deserves me, not you,” she replies. “And I say that you do. You are not alone.”

I bury my face into her chest, and she holds me so tightly. I can feel her heart, beating in her chest. I can feel her arms around me. I can even feel the currents from her tail as is slowly glides in the water, keeping us both aloft. I cannot drown, not in her arms. The waters suddenly are not so dangerous. They are warm. I add water from my eyes into the waters of the lake.

I miss my mother so much. But I have someone here to swim with me.

The rest of the swim is like walking, but it is like walking in a huddled embrace. She clings to me and I cling to her, and I propel us both along until I get tired, and she holds me up. I feel…I feel as if we could have crossed the Atlantic like this. As if there was not stopping us. Oh, Thetis…

This swim of death, once her heartbeat is next to mine, becomes a graceful, leisurely swim. We cross the distance, and the sky begins to brighten. I can feel her body against me, feel her arms around me. There is nothing like it, nothing like the feel of her scaly skin merging into soft feminine flesh, the gentle brushing of her tail against my legs.

There is no danger, now. The swim is a journey. I feel grief, but I feel something rising up along side it. Death is a black hole in the soul, but love is a neutron star, blazing against it without end. Love…my God, the love.

As we move, her grip becomes stronger. Tighter. I can feel it is no longer just caring, there is lust in it. I feel lust within me, too. Thetis is gorgeous, even in the dark. Her face is perfect, her eyes so bright and sparkling. Her lips reveal that wonderful smile, and her nose is a cute little Elvish button. I want her, and she wants me.

“Thetis,” I say. “I owe you a kiss.”

She blinks, and tears flow from her eyes. “Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

“Then kiss me.”

I obey. Our lips meet. Our mouths open and our tongues mingle, but just for a tantalizing moment. My heart skips. Our tongues meet, but with them comes air, her air. Air that rivals the mountain valleys, the same clean air that comes from untamed forests of pines and firs.

She takes my hand, and brings me beneath the cold waters.

“Go ahead. Breathe.” She says, though her lips do not move.

I inhale the black water, and it feels just like cool air. I gasp, I cough up bubbles, but I am breathing. She leads me by the hand, and we swim.

When we reach the shore, I am hers. She bids me to lay down, and I obey. She removes my underwear, and then her top. It is dark, but I can see the glint of her eyes, and her perfect, spherical breasts, just as big as my hand.

She climbs on top of me. I can see her breath as white smoke, and mine rising to meet it. The air is cold, but we are not. Steam is rising from us both.

I feel her womanhood brushing against my glans. She stares at me with big eyes full of wonder with her mouth slightly open, as she watches what effect her moist hole has upon me. I satisfy her curiosity with a moan. Her lips curl into a grin and she slides herself down upon me.

I penetrate inside her, or rather, she takes me in, for she controls the process. Her eyes widen and bulge, and I gasp. We savor the feeling, panting, looking into each other’s eyes. She runs her slender thumb over my lips, then with a smile she lifts, and slides down again.

I moan. The feeling of my hardness within her soft and wet womanhood makes my head swim, and she lets out a little cry. She takes my hands in hers, and our fingers interlock. She puts my hands above my head, pushing them into the dirt. Her breasts press into my face, and I kiss them with all my might, making her moan. Her little, erect nipples are very sensitive.

She growls, staring down at me with her golden eyes. She rises up, and begins to take me furiously, pushing me deep within her soft warm womb. I am screaming in pleasure, and she loves it. She is screaming as well.

The pleasure is so great that we are both overwhelmed. We are trembling. My manhood is so hard, and she is so damp, and soft.

“Oh, Thetis…Thetis…” I chant. Her cries mix with my repetition of her name, sonorous and wonderful, driving me to even greater heights of ecstasy. I can see it is so intense to her that she almost looks in pain, but she is in control. I am hers. She has me now. My soul belongs to her.

I erupt inside her womb, in full, massive gusts. The walls of her womanhood quiver and rumble, and the earthquake of a female orgasm dominates us both.

She looks up into the brightening sky, and calls out my name, loudly, and birds in the trees nearby take flight.

The sun rises on her naked form, and her body, covered in sweat and beach sand, glistens as beautifully as a heavenly gem, a star in the evening sky. I go numb, I get tunnel vision. The whole world tingles. All at once a warmth and relaxation suffuses me. My heart beats.

As we pant, staring at each other in shock, she looks down at me. She puts a hand under my chin, letting me know that I am her dear King, and she is my Queen. She smiles, and she comes in close. Her fish ears wiggle at me, and she opens her lips.

We kiss again, and we wrap our arms around each other. The waves lap over us gently. The air is nice, and the sun on this mid-November day is uncharacteristically warm.

“Thank you,” I whisper when our kiss finally breaks. “You’ve saved me.”

She smiles at me, and kisses me again. “Whatever happens, I will be with you,” she says. “But you must promise me the same.”

“I promise,” I reply. “I am yours. Body, mind, and soul.”

We kiss again, and hold each other. As the sun rises.

As the senior citizen bird watchers file out of their bus.

That aside, it is a perfect morning, and a perfect life. Thetis is so, so wonderful to me. She is not my mother, and she does not replace my mother, no one ever can. But she is wonderful, and dear to me in a way I couldn’t imagine. She is more to me than anything, than myself even. I live for her, and she for me.

And now, the both of us live for one other person, no more than a bump in Thetis’ tummy, a little boy or girl we conceived on the night I planned to die.

The waters are dark, and cold, but we must swim them. They are filled with negative things, emotions, and people, but there are good things within. And we must not forget, there are other swimmers in the water. They will help us, as we help them. For I have steadied Thetis as she steadies me.

I have reached the other side, at least for now. But the swim shall continue.

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3 thoughts on “The Waters We Must Swim (Nereid, Light Femdom, Feels)

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