My knuckles are dripping with bright red blood by the time Kai pulls me off the innocent sailor. For a moment, everything went black. The entire room ducked for cover, except for one sailor who continues to drink his beer at the bar. As I continue to back away from the bloody mess, I notice a thick crack has formed on the wall beside the booth. The fissure is branching out in different directions. A moment longer, and I would have brought the entire building down.
I lost control. After everything I have done to prevent that from happening, I lost it.
Looking at the sailor, my stomach twists with nausea. He lies unconscious on the ground, as a few of the nymphs Kai hired to work at the bar tend to his wounds. His mouth is nothing but a gaping hole. His teeth are scattered around the floor, having cut into my fist when I wailed on him. His face is unrecognizable, nothing but shattered bones and blood. I did that. Me.
The poor mortal probably doesn’t even know what he’d found. He probably came across it innocently, yet I took my anger out on him. Kai continues to drag me from the bar to his private quarters. He locks the door behind us before shoving me onto his black couch.
“You can’t just do that, Po,” Kai growls. He is the only Mer I would allow to talk to me this way. Looking at my hands, covered in a mix of gold ichor and blood, I watch as they start to shake.
“I…I…” I stutter. I can’t seem to find the words. There is no reason I should have lost control. It was a long time ago. It makes sense that he would have thrown the key away. I broke his heart. The words I have always wanted to say to him are still clogged in my throat. They have been sitting there like a stone, frozen, for the last fifty thousand years. Things I never said. Things I never did for him. And he…he threw it all away. Threw us away?
Squeezing my eyes shut, I try to find peace. I focus on my deep, shaky breaths. I can’t think like that. I can’t…spin out of control again, and something about him has always made me spin. It makes me want to be a never-ending cyclone hurtling towards the seafloor.
He threw it away. As if it was nothing. As if I am nothing.
Kai waits patiently, pulling a chair in front of me. His hands clasp together as he tries to figure out what the hell just happened. I have never lost control like this in front of him. It has been centuries since I have beaten a mortal so hard they bled. Thousands of years since I’ve killed one.
“Po, what happened?” he asks, resting a hand on my knee. He’s trying to comfort me, even using his powers to soothe the tsunami within me, but it has little effect. No matter how close we are, I’m the ruler of the deep. I’m the earthshaker, I’m the God of the Seas. He’s not.
I would have to let him in for him to have any impact. And I haven’t let anyone in, in a very long time. I can’t let down that wall, even if it will stop me from bringing down the building on top of us. If that wall tumbles, I won’t take just this building. I’ll take this world.
Opening the palm of my hand, I see the key. It is stained with the mortal’s blood. I must have taken it back when I was…I close my eyes.
“I don’t know,” I finally say, opening my eyes once more. “This key. I haven’t seen it in a long time.”
“So you beat a harmless mortal?” he accuses, his dark eyes scanning my face, looking for an explanation. If he finds one, I hope he explains it to me. I’m having trouble understanding.
“I didn’t know what I was doing,” I admit, my hands still shaking. I still don’t even know what I did. Or why I did it.
“You do realize we have to wipe all of those mortals’ memories? We’ll need to clean the bar, not to mention take care of the mortal you practically killed. I will need to come up with a whole story!” Kai lectures me.
I wince at the thought. Memory wiping is not something either of us can do. We’ll have to call in someone to do it, which makes my fuck up an even bigger mess. “Sorry…”
Kai looks at me seriously for a moment before breaking into a smile. “It’s alright, Po. Now, are you going to tell me what is so special about that key?”
Looking down at the key, I sigh and shake my head. “No. I…I can’t.”
The wall is shaking inside me, but it’s holding. It won’t if I say it out loud. It will crumble. I’ve never said it out loud, never admitted it, never even discussed it. No one knew, not even my brothers or my queen.
Kai leans back in his chair, crossing his arms. “Alright, then what are you planning on doing with it?”
A key to Atlantis found in the depths of the ocean. I frown, tracing my thumb over the key absentmindedly. What else have mortals discovered on the ocean floor? What other things that belong to me, that I treasure, have been defiled? My heart stops. The chest. Have they found the chest? Bolting upright, I storm to the door without bothering to rinse the gore from my body.
“And where are you going?” Kai says, grabbing my shoulder.
I stop walking, turning to look at him. “I need to find my chest.”
My friend looks me up and down, shaking his head. “Take a shower first, moron. Then we will go find that chest.”
I nod. “Right, shower.”
Kai spins me around before shoving me toward his room. He grabs a towel and a fresh pair of clothes for me before leaving me to my thoughts in the shower. My mind continues to go back to Nerites and how I wronged him.
Where is he now? When did he throw the key away? Would he ever forgive me? Why should he? It’s been thousands of years, and nothing’s changed. Why would he ever forgive me? I rest my head against the marble tile. The hot water scalds my back, sliding over my coiled muscles. I regret not saying those three simple words to him. My fist hits the shower wall. I regret not choosing him. The stone cracks under my fist. I regret so much.
Lying in my bed, sweat drips down my back and neck as Nerites curled into my side. The sound of his heavier breathing makes my lips twitch, knowing I fulfilled his needs. I take the moment to admire him. His chest rises and falls with each breath. He is a lean god that has trained himself well. His muscles are cut and defined, perfect for me to trace with my tongue. His skin is tanned from sitting in the sun. I place my hand on his chest, admiring him as I watch his facial expression. His lips twitch, but his eyes stay closed.
“If you are wanting a round two, you will need to give me a moment. You worked me hard, Pos,” he whispers, though he nuzzles my side, pressing closer to me.
I bite my lower lip, my eyes scanning lower down his body. I’m hardening beneath the sheet I managed to drape over us. I’m already imagining all the ways I’ll take him next. “Are you sure? You look ready for another round.”
Nerites chokes out a laugh before opening his eyes. He turns his head to look up at me, his golden eyes sparkling in the light. “I love you, Pos.”
I tense at his words before sitting up and moving him off me. The three words I have continued to struggle to say. He continues to say them over and over again, but I can never say them to him. There’s only so long I can avoid answering the unspoken question. There is only so long I can not respond in kind.
“Pos?” Nerites frowns.
“I’ve got some things to take care of,” I whisper, my voice cracking. The words won’t come. They fester in my throat, frozen by duty. The duty to take the seas, to take one of his sisters as my queen. I love him…too much to only give him half of me. I love him too much to wed his sister and spend my nights with him. I won’t do that to him. I can’t. I have to choose. It’s either the love of my immortal life or the throne of Atlantis.
“Pos, do you love me?” he asks, his voice trembling then strengthening, ivory laced with steel. He’s preparing to demand it, to demand the words. He knows I feel them, but doubt is creeping in. The longer I don’t reciprocate, the more he doubts, and we’ve come to the breaking point.
I freeze, my eyes widening. Fuck, fuck, fuck. I stand, grabbing a toga. The cloth feels unfamiliar against my skin. My unfulfilled lust for him still simmers inside me, making my nerves stand on end. “I must go.”
Nerites sits up as well, his brow furrowing. He pauses for a moment, taking a deep breath before hissing. “Don’t bother.”
He gets up from the bed, hurt clear in his features as he roughly pulls on his toga. He ruffles his hair before storming to the door.
“Nerites!” I shout, holding out my hand.
He doesn’t turn to me, his shoulders are coiled tight with tension. “What?”
I know this is it. The moment. He’s giving me one last chance. One chance to tell him what he needs to hear, the words he deserves. The feeling grows inside me, but the words refuse to tumble from my lips. If I don’t say anything, he’ll leave. He’ll be done with me. He’s not a man to give second chances. It’s speak now or never. Just say it, it’s true isn’t it? Why can’t I tell him I love him? Why can’t I just give him what he wants? What he deserves?
Because it’s not enough.
My throat closes, and I am unable to say the words. I can’t. If I say I love him, he’ll stay. I know he will, he loves me that much. But I won’t do that to him—I can’t do that to him. He deserves to be happy, even if it’s with someone else.
“Don’t forget your sandals,” I choke out.
It only makes Nerites angrier, his shoulders tensing from my words. He picks up his sandals, not even looking back at me before he exits my room. The door slams shut behind him, and I wince, sinking back onto the edge of my bed.
I love you, Nerites. I fucking love you.