Happy early Easter to those who celebrate. And I hope everyone is doing well despite everything going on. Here’s another short story — fantasy romance again, but this time it’s M/M instead of F/F like my first short story was.
I actually meant to post it last month but it wasn’t finished in time, so I hope you’ll enjoy the newly completed product!
CW: Abuse, Blood/Injuries
Prompt (from writing-prompt-s): Everyone knows it’s too dangerous to swim in the ocean. However, sitting at the end of the docks or peering over the edge of a boat, you’ve always felt the inexplicable urge to dive into the water. One day, despite the danger, you give into the urges and jump. There’s an entire world beneath the surface, and it’s not what you were expecting.
Braden had lived by the sea his entire life. His family had spent several generations inside their house on the cliffside above the ocean. Braden could hear the waves crashing against the rocks from his bedroom, the rhythmic rush often lulling him to sleep at night.
When Braden was five, he wandered into the water despite his parents’ warnings. He was sucked away from his family by a riptide. The more Braden struggled, the harder it pulled. He survived, but he swore to never go in the sea again. He grew stronger. He overcame his fear of water by swimming at the neighborhood pool. He joined his school swim team but he still never stepped foot into the ocean, no matter how often others tried to convince him. It was dark, and dangerous, and so very cold. But that didn’t stop the longing he felt every time he looked at the waves crashing against the sandy shore.
Braden sighed, leaning over the edge of the pier to look into the water. The rising sun made the crystal clear water sparkle. It’s a trap, a voice whispered in the back of his mind, conjuring up the terror he felt fourteen years ago. Braden reeled back, scrambling away from the edge and scrunching his eyes closed as he breathed in and counted to four. He held it for seven seconds then finally exhaled, making sure to count to eight before he stopped. He repeated the calming technique a few more times before he was finally able to open his eyes again.
He was made aware of the twinge of pain in his wrist and glared down at it. His dad had yanked it to make Braden face him as he shouted his usual drunken tirade. Braden had slipped out of the house when his dad finally passed out on the couch and had stayed at the dock until morning. His dad never came down to the beach anymore, not since Braden’s mom passed away. It was safe there. Braden scoffed at himself, correcting his thoughts. He was safe on the small sliver of sand between the cliffside and the water.
Braden crawled back towards the edge of the dock, determined to face his fear. He had survived in all the other water. This was the only place left. He stripped off his clothes until he was left in his boxers — he didn’t want to risk running into his dad by going to get his swim shorts. He clung to the wooden boards as he lowered himself into the water. He could do this.
The water was as cold as he remembered but he was tall enough now that his feet could reach the sandy bottom. Nevertheless, he didn’t loosen his grip on the pier.
He took a deep breath then dove underneath the water, opening his eyes once he was fully submerged. The salt burned, but it wasn’t as bad as the chlorine in a pool. It was calm underwater. It always was, wherever he swam. Water provided peace he couldn’t find on land, distorting the chaotic sounds of life. But the ocean was different. Seaweed brushed against his ankle, tiny fish swam in the distance where the sand dipped, and seashells were half-buried in the seafloor. There was life in the sea, thriving below the surface. It was amazing.
He waited until he couldn’t hold his breath any longer then lifted his head to take a greedy gasp of air. He pulled himself back onto the pier, laying back against the boards and basking in the sun to dry off faster.
He looked back at the sea longingly then shook his head. Tomorrow, he promised himself as he stood up. He hiked up the cliff back home to get ready for his part-time summer job.
“Braden, you lazy bastard! Where is my breakfast?” his dad shouted as soon as he walked in the door. He had hoped the man would still be asleep.
“Sorry, Dad. I’ll get started on it now,” he replied, moving around the empty beer bottles littering the floor to the fridge. With any luck, his dad would choke on it.
Braden continued to swim every morning, sneaking out before his dad could wake up. By the second day, he had let go of the pier. After a week, he was swimming up and down the shoreline and under the waves. Today, he would go even further.
He slid into the water, swimming out towards the sun. He dove underwater to avoid the blinding glare but paused when he reached where the sand sloped further down. His lungs strained so he went up for air, holding up his hand to block the sun before he dove back down. He could do this. He could—
His thoughts were cut off as something shimmered in the water in the corner of his eye. He whirled around but it was gone. He followed it without thinking.
He propelled his body through the water, struggling to catch up with the shiny thing that disappeared in a flurry of water every time he spotted it. He almost gasped as he swam over a colorful coral reef. Hundreds of fish swam around and through the coral far below him. He swam up again for another breath then went back down, spotting the silver sparkle he searched for — scales, he finally realized — again as it swam towards the surface. He launched after it. He had come this far. He wasn’t going back without seeing what it was.
The tip of a silver tail disappeared into an underwater cave. Braden rose up to take one last deep breath then went in. His chest started to hurt as he curled through the tight tunnel. It soon opened up into a cavern and Braden gasped in relief as he finally came up for air.
“Why are you following me, human?” a voice asked and Braden spun around, gaping in surprise. A man’s torso leaned against a rock as he glared down at him, but a silver tail dangled into the water, contrasting with his dark skin. “Well?” he shouted, making Braden flinch back.
“I—I—“ Braden stammered.
“You shouldn’t be here,” the merman spat, sneering at him. “No humans are allowed in the sea.”
Braden tensed, clenching his fists. “Well, I’m here, aren’t I?” he snapped as he scowled at the merman. “Your tail caught my attention so I followed you. Sorry if that’s such a problem,” Braden scoffed, rolling his eyes.
The merman narrowed his eyes on him. “The sea is calm around you,” he noted, sounding almost confused. “It accepts you, a human.”
Braden blinked at him then curled his arms around himself in a hug as the memories resurfaced with a vengeance. Cold. Dark. Alone. He let out a shaky breath, looking away from the merman. “Not at first,” Braden muttered, his voice made bitter by his own feelings, his disgust for his weakness.
“But you survived,” the merman voiced, bringing Braden’s attention back to him. The merman smiled slightly at Braden’s surprised look. “That makes you strong, makes you worthy of the sea’s blessing to travel through her waters unharmed.” He suddenly glanced up at the small opening in the roof of the cave that let in sunlight. “This cave will fill with water come high tide. You’d best leave now before it’s too late.”
The merman dove into the water before Braden could ask anything else, swimming past him towards the cave entrance. “Damn it,” Braden cursed but took a deep breath and quickly swam after him.
“Your home is that way,” the merman said once Braden surfaced, pointing out over the open ocean. The teen paled. His hands shook as he stared at the expanse of water and his legs felt like they had turned to jelly. He gripped the merman’s arm without thinking to stay afloat. “What is wrong?” the merman asked, confused.
“I didn’t— I swam so far. I…I don’t think I can go back. Not—not right now,” Braden said, his breaths coming out faster and sharper as he began to panic. He would die out here. His dad wouldn’t know what happened to him. He didn’t even know if he would realize he was missing. He was alone. Cold. Dark. Suffocating. His legs refused to work. He couldn’t breathe!
He let out a gasp as a hand grabbed his shoulder, turning his wide-eyed gaze to meet the dark brown eyes of the merman beside him. “You are safe,” he said. His voice was firm, leaving no room for doubt in Braden as his panic slowly started to subside. He wasn’t alone. It wasn’t the same as before. He was safe.
“Thank you,” Braden whispered, letting go of the merman’s bicep as Braden began to tread water again.
The merman just nodded. “Circle your arms around my neck. I will take you back home,” he ordered.
“What?” Braden gasped but the merman just turned his back to him, waiting for Braden to do as instructed. Braden blushed but latched onto the merman’s broad back, holding on tight. The merman took off with a powerful flick of his tail. He made sure both of their heads stayed above the water as he swam in silence.
Soon enough, the cliff holding Braden’s home at the top rose in the distance. The merman slowed as he neared the pier until he finally stopped at a place where Braden could touch the ground.
“Thank you,” Braden said, squeezing tighter around the merman’s neck in a hug before he climbed off. “What is your name?”
“Raen,” the merman replied, smiling slightly.
“I’m Braden. Will I see you again, Raen?” Braden asked, trying to hide his hopefulness.
“I will meet you here. If you are willing, we can go to the cave,” Raen suggested.
Braden smiled brightly and nodded. “That’s sounds great. Thank you again!” He scrambled out of the water, tugging his clothes back on. He gave Raen one last wave, which the merman returned before he sank back underwater.
Mermen were real. Braden was sure life couldn’t get much weirder after meeting Raen. Or any more interesting. He walked back up to his house with a giddy smile on his face, even listening to his dad’s barrage of insults without losing his quiet excitement.
He had a merman to meet up with tomorrow, after all. How many other people could say that?
Braden crawled across the pier. His bare chest was rubbed raw from rocks and sand, but he had to get away even though he couldn’t stand long enough to walk. He slid into the water, letting out a hiss of pain as the salt stung the bleeding welts on his back and split lip. The coldness soothed the black and blue bruises covering his skin, giving him the energy to push forward.
He swam slowly, his back twinging with pain whenever he extended his arms over his head or kicked too hard. Behind him, blood marked his trail to the cave. To Raen. To safety.
They had met up almost every day for the past three months. In the beginning, Braden would work on facing his fear of swimming with Raen at his side, reminding him he wasn’t alone while answering any questions Braden had with an amused look on his face. Raen wasn’t as curious about humans, but sometimes he asked questions too. About a month after they first met, Braden was confident enough to swim to the cave himself. Raen started meeting him there instead and would always greet him with a smile when the teen arrived safely.
Unfortunately, while his fears of the sea dwindled, his attraction to the merman he now called a friend grew into love. He couldn’t go a full minute without thinking of Raen. Thoughts of the merman distracted him at every turn. He had always known he was more into men, but he had no idea mermen would be included in that. He didn’t know how Raen would feel, so he kept his feelings hidden. He would rather remain friends forever than lose him.
He took a deep breath and dove underwater, struggling against his own body as he fought to reach the cave. His vision filled with black dots but he blinked furiously, pushing himself harder. He surfaced inside the cave with a gasp of air, clutching a nearby rock to keep from going back under. He wasn’t sure he’d be able to come back up if he did.
He scrambled up onto the rocky ledge, wincing as he scraped his palms and knees. He slumped down onto his stomach, feeling his back burn as the salt water began to dry on the wounds. He didn’t care. He was too tired. The pain was finally fading. Raen wasn’t here, but he was away from his father. He was safe. His eyes shuttered closed and he finally gave in to the darkness.
“Braden!” he heard a voice call, pulling him from his haze. He blearily looked around, finally noticing Raen in the water beside him with a worried look marring his beautiful face.
“Raen,” Braden rasped, his voice hoarse. It felt like razors were tearing up his throat, but he continued speaking anyway. “You’re here,” he said, smiling softly at him.
Raen’s hands hovered over him like he wanted to touch, but was afraid to hurt him. “What happened? How long have you been here?”
“My dad. He got angry again this morning,” Braden breathed. Raen scowled. He knew Braden’s father hit him. Braden had never lied to him about the bruises that would appear, but they had never been this bad. Braden didn’t even know what had set his dad off this time.
“The water is rising. We have to leave. The rocks are too sharp at the top to remain inside and if you stay here like this, you’ll drown,” Raen said, glancing worriedly up at the stalactites on the roof of the cave.
“I can’t move,” Braden said, smiling sadly. “I won’t make it out in time. Go.”
“I won’t leave you here!” Raen said fiercely, surprising Braden. He glanced towards the cave entrance then again at the ceiling before he turned back to Braden. “Do you trust me?”
“I do,” Braden agreed without hesitation, making Raen smile. Water started to fill the cave faster, lifting Braden up, and Raen carefully pulled him into his arms.
“Trust me,” Raen said and then slotted his lips over Braden’s. The teen’s eyes widen in shock before he melted into the kiss. Raen pulled away with a smile then clutched Braden close and dove underwater before Braden could take a breath. He gasped anyway, but instead of getting lungs full of water, it felt like he was breathing air.
“What—?” Braden tried, but his words came out garbled by the water. He shut his mouth, staring at the merman in shock as Raen swam towards the cave entrance.
Raen glanced down at him and chuckled. “It’s the magic of my kind. We can give humans the ability to breathe underwater,” he explained, his voice as clear as it was above the water. They broke through to the surface and Braden hesitantly took another breath. He could still breathe air too.
“And you never showed this to me before?” Braden questioned, astounded.
Raen’s gaze saddened, looking over Braden as if he was looking at him for the last time. “It is a last resort. I would never have done it if there was any other option. You must go home now.”
“I don’t want to go home. I want to stay with you!” Braden exclaimed.
“You must, before it’s too late. If you stay in the sea, her magic will turn you into one of my kind. You can never set foot in the sea again,” Raen said, a cold mask settling on his face though Braden could see the devastation in his eyes.
Braden’s heart clenched, more painful than any of the wounds on his body. “What?” he asked. “Never return? But what about you?”
“You must forget about me,” Raen stated with a shake of his head.
“How could I ever do that? I love you!” Braden blurted out before he could stop himself. His hands shot up to cover his mouth, but it was too late to take the words back.
“What?” Raen asked, shocked, but he didn’t pull away from Braden, still holding him close as he kept them both above the water.
“I-I love you,” Braden stuttered, his cheeks burning. He wanted to make himself believe it was from a sunburn, but he knew the truth. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have—“
“Braden, stop,” Raen interrupted before Braden could work himself into a panic attack. He kept one arm around Braden’s waist as he used his other hand to tilt up Braden’s chin. “I love you too,” he admitted.
“Really?” Braden asked.
“More than the sea herself,” Raen said with a smile. He cupped his cheek and bent down to give him another kiss, one that Braden eagerly returned.
“Don’t make me leave you,” Braden whispered against his lips.
“Never,” Raen replied as they kissed again.
As always, thank you for taking the time to read this! I hope you enjoyed it.
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P.S. If anyone noticed my new blog header, it is called The Misty Wood and was created by ChaoyuanXu. Their fantasy artwork is really great, so I recommend taking a look.