It was the day after I revealed myself to Pania and Oliana that Mano and I were out walking on the beach. I could walk, I could teleport a few feet, but I still couldn’t run well. Why was this taking so long?! Mano and I had taken to laying in the surf as the sun rose and fell. Mano was building up a tolerance to seawater, which I found amazing.
“Mano, you know I’ll be able to create a little bubble for you when we swim, right?” I asked softly.
The little axolotl just looked at me, and I swear he sighed. “Sea Lady, I want to be able to swim with you, not just get pulled by you.” His answer made sense, and it would be fun to swim around with him. “But for now, we should help the nice ladies at the resort. The money came in yesterday, so that is good.”
My friend made an excellent point. I got up out of the surf and teleported a few feet away, leaving behind only sea mist. I sighed, hoping that my power would return soon, but it excited the children, so I kept it up most of the way back to the resort. We began by cleaning up debris, sweeping where necessary, and helping with some of the lighter work.
Oliana had been watching my recovery while I stayed there, and I was eager to do more, but the kind woman just kept me doing what I was. I think she wanted me to focus on recovering my strength, my power. I would make sure to lay a blessing of protection on this family, this place, once I could, for everything they’ve done for me.
“That’s it. We give up!” Pania shouted, startling Oliana and I as she came rushing into the room.
We looked at each other and then at her. “What are we giving up?” Oliana replied.
Pania shot a worried glance at me and sighed. “We’re closing the resort down. The money you sent barely covers the insurance, wages, and cancellations. It doesn’t cover any of the damages or restoration.” I flopped onto the floor, and Mano skirted up around my neck. “Trite, it isn’t your fault. You couldn’t have known. But…” Pania paused and sat beside me. “Apparently, the resort has been declining for years. And this storm just confirmed what people already knew. That we would be closing soon.”
I fought back tears, and Mano nuzzled my neck. “I’m so sorry. I can call Mathieu and have him send more.” Pania shook her head and smiled.
“It’s alright, Trite. We’ve known it was coming for a while.” Oliana replied, sighing along with her sister. “We’ll just go over to one of the larger resorts on the island and—”
“No,” I cut her off. “You both will come to Nymphaeum and work there.” Their faces went slack, and I continued. “Please, let me repay you how I can. And this I can do. You would both make excellent members of the staff, and I have two perfect openings!” Now, how did I know that Mathieu hadn’t filled them? Because we’d been waiting for the right people. And now I had found them. “Please, think about it.” They nodded, and since the resort was closing down, we were told that clean up would cease. Pania and I stood, and I left.
The ladies stayed behind to gather all their personal belongings, and I walked ahead back to their place along the beach. I was walking in the surf as I normally did, when I noticed a figure coming from the direction of Oliana and Pania’s house, following the small waves washing against the shore. He was walking toward me but also moving up and down on the beach, sometimes chasing the water, sometimes being chased by it.
There was something familiar about him, something I couldn’t quite place. He was fit, not overly muscular like some of the other men and gods I’d known, but well built. He wore grey plaid cargo shorts and a light short-sleeved shirt that was unbuttoned and flapping in the wind. I saw tattoos along his arms and over his chest and wondered what they were. They reminded me of him, even though I’d only seen glimpses of his tattoos. Dark brown hair and a reddish beard adorned the man’s face, and I caught myself momentarily stunned by the idea of running my fingers through both of them.
He was handsome, alluringly so…maddeningly so. I felt drawn to him, yet I didn’t know why. I felt like I was looking at someone I knew ages ago. For a moment, my mind went to the first time I met Rommel, and I shook my head to clear the incoming memory. No mortal man since had ever commanded my attention this quickly. As we neared each other, I saw dark brown eyes, which only served to pull me into his aura. I caught a whiff of wine. Not that I’ve been boozing and am drenched in it but the wine is in my soul kind of thing. I knew then who it was, but I couldn’t believe that it was him.
“Dion!” I cried out and ran full-steam at him, which right now wasn’t very fast. I leapt into his arms, holding on tightly for all the world, and I just clung to him. “Gods, I’ve missed you!”
Dionysos’ arms wrapped around my waist, and he held me close. “Pheephee, are you well? I told you not to go too deep. I told you I’d come after you.” His voice soothed every doubt that it was, in fact, Dionysos, and every last fear I’d had that I’d never make it back home. “Are you still not able to return yet?”
I shook my head, leaning into his embrace. “Nisos, I can’t teleport more than a few feet away, and I can’t shift yet.”
Dion gave me another squeeze, and he nodded a few times, working things out in his head. “You need not worry. I am here, and so is my jet. There is plenty of room for you.”
I looked him over, leaning back slightly to do so, and smiled. “I like the new you. I liked the old you too…but what happened? I sense that whatever happened in Napa, it was something major.”
“Oh Pheephee, what happened and what did not happen? The Master Plan was very masterful, but there was an imbalance in the balance that I tried to balance. There was happiness and tragedy and anger. So much anger.” Dion looked away as tears formed in his eyes, and I knew then that the change was not only outward.
I placed my hand on his cheek, turned his face back towards mine to look at him, and gently kissed the other cheek. “I’m sorry, Nisos, is there anything I can do?”
Dion heaved a long sigh, cleared his throat, and held me with his gaze. “There is much to say and much to do, dear. For me, for you, and for us. The trip back is long, and we will both have a story to tell.” With that, he leaned in and kissed me ever so softly on my forehead.
Mano shifted uncomfortably on my neck as I moved, and I realized I was pinching him. “I’m sorry, Mano, this is my friend, Dionysos.”
I brushed my hair aside, revealing my new friend. “Dionysos, before you ask, this is Mano, my axolotl.”
Dion leaned into my neck and breathed in where Mano was perched, and his breath caused a chill to run up and down my spine. “Well, hello there, little one! Thank you for looking after Pheephee and keeping her safe.”
The gentle tickle of his beard as he spoke, coupled with his soft voice, was almost enough to make me swoon. That’s when I realized it. I realized that Dion hadn’t let me go, and I suddenly got very self-conscious, given everything we’d discussed and admitted before we left on our respective trips.
I started to squirm a little, but Dion held tight. “You said you were going to let me know before you left, Amph. Why the secrecy?”
As if on cue, I saw Pania and Oliana as they came running up behind me. I took the moment to gently break free of Dion’s arms so I could introduce them. “These two wonderful ladies here are Pania and Oliana. They found me beached a few days ago and have been taking care of me.”
Dion straightened, and before they could react, he leaned in between them and took them both in an awkward embrace with a booming laugh. “So! It is you two that I have to thank for this. I hope you were not put out in any way, and as far as costs go, you will be well compensated.”
The two women, almost lost in his embrace, half giggled, half cursed at him, and fought for release. When he finally let go, they bowed with bashful smiles, and he returned the gesture, almost tipping over face first.
When he turned back to me, I sighed a bit and ran my fingers through my hair. “I didn’t know that I would be leaving when I did. Mathieu basically pushed me to it. And after that, well…” I shook a little and continued, “I don’t want to get into it here.” I looked up at him and smiled softly. “I’ve offered them both positions at Nymphaeum. I hope they’ll accept them. If not, I’ve already had Mathieu wire them some money to compensate for my lodging and using their phones.”
“That sounds like a wonderful idea! If they need transport to the resort, let me know, and I’ll have Luis make all the necessary arrangements.”
I felt my heart swell for Dion, the care he was showing two women he’d only just met because they cared for me…well, I almost cried tears of joy. Instead, I felt the tides respond to my emotions, and I smiled, pulling the water up and around Dion and me, encircling us. I leaned in, wrapped my arms around his neck, and pulled him into a kiss, the waves wrapping us entirely. I had enough control that the beach was unaffected, creating a sphere of water around me and the man I loved.
I melted. My heart, my fears, my inhibitions, all of them dissipated into the kiss, and I felt the blockage that had kept me from shifting disappear. As it did, my legs melded together, my tail returned, and I looked every bit like the sea queen I was always meant to be, the one I felt like over 3,000 years ago. I felt like that was all thanks to Dion, his love, his care, but I also knew how much I had grown since facing my fears in the Trench. I broke the kiss momentarily and whispered softly, “I love you, Dionysos, please don’t hurt me.”