by Nara Kagerou (奈良蜻蛉)
Dylan dreamed of drowning.
First, there was the splash, and the splash hurt. The initial slap of water as you hit, and then the icy embrace of the waves as they grabbed and pulled you under. The traitor gravity that kept you so stable on solid ground now just pulled you down and down. And all around you, bubbles glistened in the champagne water, fizzling over your skin and under your clothes, a thousand tiny caresses like lascivious sprites.
When he was five, his older brother Ross held him underwater in the lake near their family’s summer retreat. He remembered the seaweed-green tint to the water, and the way it faceted and reflected. He remembered struggling, seeing Ross distorted through the stained-glass surface of the water. He remembered the way it burned inside him, like it was acid in his lungs.
That was how he learned that water was evil. It pulled you down and closed its hands around your throat, choking you, until you opened your mouth to gasp and the whole sea rushed in, raping your throat and lungs and soul, as it stole your breath away in bubbles. Bubbles fleeing away from you in the water, swimming upwards towards sunlight and life and oxygen, as the currents pulled you down and down and under, into the darkness.
Dylan never learned to swim.
That was the second part, the struggling. Gasping and crying as you clawed at the water, kicked and fought, and it didn’t matter how strong you were or how many men it would take to hold you down: the water was stronger than a thousand men, it wrapped its liquid tentacles around your legs and arms and throat, and down you went.
Dylan was barely alive when their father noticed and his brother Ross let him up. They pumped on his chest, squeezing the water from his body and lungs, salvaging him from the watery nets that weighed on his lungs and life. He developed a fear of water immediately afterward, and wouldn’t go within ten feet of it, not even a puddle.
And that was when he started dreaming.
Not of pools, not of rivers or lakes, but of the sea itself, the very progenitor of all those pools and rivers and lakes. The sea was alive, and it was hungry.
He dreamt that it would come into his bedroom, creep and leak and bubble, inch by inch, swirling and pooling around his bed; and scream as he might, there was only seawater behind the glass of his window, and only seawater pouring in through the cracks of his door. And as it claimed him, pulling him under and gagging his screams with bitter water, he screamed, and screamed, and awoke with a quiet gasp.
He asked his mother once, if he ever screamed in his sleep. She laughed, surprised, and said no. Never.
But he screamed in his dreams. And he always awoke with a gasp, and a tingle to his lips, and a confused memory of tangled golden hair like seaweed and a warm caress that wasn’t like water or seaweed at all.
Dylan grew up, and he didn’t care when his peers teased him about sitting on the side of the pool, and he didn’t flinch when Ross splashed him and called him a coward. He just curled up with a book and sat on the porch, a safe thirty feet away from the water of the lake.
Dylan never made friends easily, he was quiet and shy and awkward, so he just sat alone and read his books. People didn’t like him, and he didn’t like them much either.
Which was why he found it so strange that Maro loved him.
When he was thirteen, on the porch that summer reading, he saw Maro watching him from the water.
Sea-glass green eyes peered straight at him, under a tangle of wet blond hair, cluttered through with leaves and twigs from the lake water. Slender arms crossed on the wood of the dock, supporting a skinny body that disappeared into the lake. The eyes were too wide and too large, and they stared straight at him.
Dylan dropped his book, heart stammering with surprise.
The strange lake-boy lifted his arm and waved, fingers scrunching in and out of his flat palm in greeting.
Dylan didn’t dare move. He didn’t know what to say.
Maro began. “Why don’t you come for a swim?”
“I don’t swim,” Dylan told him, not taking his eyes off the other boy as he groped for the paperback and set it within reach on the table.
“I’ll drown,” Dylan said.
“No you won’t,” Maro said, and laughed at him. “You’re silly.”
“I have to go,” Dylan lied, and scrambled into the house, hiding in the closet until the pounding of his heart slowed and he could breathe normally again.
A few days later, Maro came calling.
“Dylan, get the door!” his mother snapped, and Dylan scrambled down the stairs, opening the porch door without checking to see who it was.
Maro stood on the porch, head tilted curiously to one side, bouncy golden curls sliding rebelliously out of a rainbow scarf tied around his ponytail. He smiled happily to see Dylan, white teeth behind pink lips, and raised his arm in that odd wave of his. “Hi.”
Dylan stared at him through the screen door, breath shocked right out of his body.
Maro’s smile flickered a little, but he continued doggedly. “My name’s Maro.”
“Hi,” Dylan said, breath returning in a rush.
Maro fidgeted, hopping restlessly from one foot to the other. “C’n I come in?”
Dylan chewed on his lip. “Okay.”
Dylan’s mom made them grilled cheese sandwiches. Maro watched him with fascination as they ate, seemingly baffled by the simple concept of cheese.
“What kind of name is Maro?” Dylan asked.
“Italian,” Maro told him with a smile. “It’s supposed to be Mario, but I don’t like the aie.”
“Oh,” Dylan said.
Maro followed him everywhere, chattering happily and asking questions. He was a bit like a pet dog, seemingly happiest just curled up with his head against Dylan’s thigh while Dylan sat reading, and constantly bringing little treasures for Dylan to see, most of them fished out of the lake, where he spent every waking moment that he wasn’t with Dylan. Little lake-snail shells, water-polished pieces of colored glass, lost trinkets, and colorful bottlecaps. After a few weeks, Dylan started reading aloud for him, and Maro watched him with entranced eyes, stopping him every few paragraphs to ask questions.
His mother disapproved of Maro’s tangled hair and messy clothes, but she was grateful that Dylan had at least one friend, so instead of arguing with his choice of company, she simply hauled Maro inside and gave him a proper scrubbing. Dylan stared when the two of them emerged from the bathroom, Maro’s hair gleaming two shades lighter than the murky blond it had been before, neatly combed and braided, the boy’s cheeks scrubbed rosy and without their usual smudges.
Maro was delighted by the concept of a shower, which he said was like a waterfall in a box, but thought the whole thing was rather ridiculous. He put up with the scrubbing, though, and after a few weeks learned to do the routine on his own to please her, even if he insisted that it was a waste of time because he never stayed clean for long.
“I have to go,” Maro told him, in August, a couple weeks before Dylan and his family were supposed to leave. “We’re migrating.”
“You mean you’re moving,” Dylan corrected, quietly amused by Maro’s attempt to pick up the vocabulary words Dylan taught him.
“Okay,” Maro agreed, and threw his thin arms around Dylan’s neck, crying. “I love you.”
Dylan let himself be hugged, staying awkwardly still. Maro let go and waved as he disappeared around the trees on the edge of the lake.
Dylan was taller in June, when they came back, and the flowers were all in bloom in a carpet between the porch and the lake, and he curled into his favorite chair and laid out a chess set, playing an invisible opponent for long idle hours. His mother snapped at him to get some exercise, and his brother upset the board and called him a sissy, but Dylan just sat and played, considering his moves for hours at a time before he moved a piece.
Maro’s approach was heralded by the soft smoosh of wet feet on the wood deck. He stopped by Dylan’s side, eyes darting curiously over the pieces, and collapsed to the floor with a muted sigh, pressing his wet cheek against Dylan’s leg like he’d never left at all. His dripping curls were tied back with a snatch of ruined velvet ribbon.
Dylan watched him, surprised to see him but incredibly grateful. He touched Maro’s wet hair, but pulled his hand back when the other boy looked up. He went back to the chess game.
“Teach me how to play,” Maro insisted, after a few days of watching him play the mysterious game.
Dylan nodded, and started to explain.
Maro lost, and lost, and lost, biting his lip in frustration. “You don’t have to play with me if you don’t want,” he said, bitterly.
“Okay,” Dylan said.
Maro walked away with tears rolling down his cheeks, fat with pain and hot with anger. He went into the lake, disappearing under the water. Dylan didn’t see him the next day, but on the third Maro came back and sat down next to him, subdued.
“Why won’t you come swim with me?” Maro asked, as he always did.
“I can’t swim,” Dylan said.
“I’ll teach you.”
Dylan didn’t know where Maro went when he left. Sometimes he disappeared into the lake, sometimes he walked around the grove of trees at the edge of the lake. The choice was made without regard for the amount of clothing he wore – his strange and colorful scatterings of clothing, usually too large for him and frequently stained or torn, like some bizarre gypsy-child. He didn’t wear bathing-suits, and would frequently go swimming fully dressed, and just as frequently naked, although he quickly learned that Dylan’s mother strictly disapproved of nudity, and made sure to swim clothed when she was around. (She also disapproved of his preference of skirts over pants, but decided to pick her battles and be content that the boy at least wasn’t going about nude. Maro, on the other hand, decided to pick his battles and only go about naked when Dylan’s family was out.)
“Why would anyone want to wear pants?” Maro asked, making a face. “They get in your way when you swim. Skirts are almost as bad, they get all tangled in your fins, but pants just don’t work.”
Sometimes he didn’t leave at all, but followed Dylan inside and upstairs, curling up with him on the bed, and they slept, long teenage limbs tangled around each other and cuddled close. And when Maro slept in his arms, Dylan didn’t dream of drowning. He dreamt of the waves lapping peacefully against the dock, and Maro darting through the water, hips tapering into a long gray fish tail that glittered silver-green when it caught the sunlight.
Dylan started sketching the next summer, sitting in his favorite chair with his sketchbook, and drawing the lake and the hills and the hummingbirds and the chipmunks that darted in and out under the porch. Maro sat by him, wringing out his wet curls, and Dylan drew him, too, his petite figure and elfin smile, strange pointed ears sticking out of his tangled golden hair.
“Come swim with me,” Maro said.
“I’ll drown,” Dylan responded, as he always did, tucking a strand of hair behind his ear. His hair was mouse-brown and straight, and it needed to be cut, because it kept falling into his eyes when he was drawing. Dylan’s habit of pushing it out of the way delighted Maro with its uselessness, because the strands always fell rebelliously right back into his face. He sat watching Dylan draw and giggled every time he did it, finally fetching him a hair ribbon and helping him tie back the bangs.
His brother burst out laughing when he saw this, the pink ribbon tied around his head with a little bow, and just walked by, laughing too hard to bother with any kind of insulting jibe. Maro giggled, too, but Dylan kept the ribbon and went back to work on his drawing.
“At least come sit by the water,” Maro coaxed, resting his arms on Dylan’s lap and watching him with his wide sea-glass eyes. “You can draw on the dock. Sit and put your feet in the water.”
Dylan didn’t put his feet in the water, but he did agree to sit on the lakeshore, only five feet from the perilous waves, watching Maro spin and dive through the water, laughing, his silver-green tail shimmering in the sunlight.
Maro coaxed and wheedled, pulling him forward, and got him out onto the wooden surface of the little dock, settling him in a chair in the middle of the dock. Dylan whimpered, pulling his knees up to his chest and looking around distrustfully at the water on three sides of him as Maro giggled and teased him for his fear, jumping in and out of the water to show him how harmless it was.
The next summer Dylan brought watercolors, and sat on the edge of the dock and painted, with his feet kicking lazily at the water. Maro swam underneath him and tickled his toes, laughing.
“It’s time for me to migrate,” Maro told him, resting his head and arms on Dylan’s lap, long fish-tail stirring languidly in the water beneath them.
“I know,” Dylan said, and Maro pushed himself up, supporting himself with one arm and pulling Dylan’s head down with the other.
His lips were wet and warm, and he tasted like fresh berries and grilled cheese and lake water, his tongue staying out between his lips for a moment when he pulled away, before it disappeared back into his mouth and he smiled. “I love you.”
Dylan felt himself blush. He would his arms securely around his friend’s shoulders and hugged him without a word.
Maro waved at him as he disappeared into the darkness of the lake water.
Around the time he turned seventeen, Dylan sprouted, tall and awkward and almost handsome through his awkwardness, still hiding behind his hair with a shy blush, confused and baffled when girls when out of their way to flirt with him.
He welcomed June with near-frantic gratitude, took a deep breath of fresh country air as he stepped onto his beloved porch and ran down to the edge of the water, stirring the waves with his hand. “Maro?”
With an impatient sigh, annoyed to be kept away from his best friend when they’d already been apart so long, he sat down on the edge of the dock and kicked his feet through the water, pulling out a book and reading while he waited.
Maro didn’t come, not for days and days and weeks, and Dylan dreamed of drowning again, but always woke with a gasp, the taste of Maro’s kiss on his lips. Summer dwindled, and he grew restless and unhappy, ignoring his books and his paintings and his chess games, and just sat on the dock and kicked at the water, wishing for a glow of golden curls or a shimmer of silver-green scales.
He came back to the lake with his family the summer he graduated, and sat by the porch to draw, messy strands of hair kept back by a tattered pink ribbon.
“Hi,” Maro said, as he flopped down on the porch by Dylan’s feet, long limbs grown all slender and elegant, pretty boyish features grown into something ethereally beautiful; long golden curls tied with a purple glitter scrunchy and draped forward over his shoulder, long waves of hair accenting his long chest with his long arms and long legs, and he was almost as tall as Dylan, when he stood up.
Dylan’s heart stammered, and he smiled, putting down his pencil and reaching out to touch Maro’s hair, winding his fingers into the strands.
“I’m sorry I didn’t come,” Maro whispered.
“It’s okay,” Dylan said, reaching down to hug him, heart pounding with gratitude to have the slender lake-boy back in his arms and his life.
“I want to kiss you again,” Maro said, arms wrapping around Dylan in return. “Can I?”
Dylan blushed, and nodded. “Okay. Let’s go upstairs.”
Their fingers wound together as they walked upstairs, and Maro giggled as Dylan closed the door behind them, blushing. Maro’s body pressed up against him, warm and damp from swimming, and he tugged on the ribbon in Dylan’s hair, so that the bow unraveled and it came off in his hand, fluttering forgotten to the floor.
“Hi,” Maro teased him, breath hot and flurried against Dylan’s lips, mouth cocked with a smile.
Dylan cut it off with a kiss, sipping warm sunshine and soft smiles off of Maro’s lips, tongues brushing hesitantly, clasping and retreating. Maro’s hands pulled him backwards, so that they tumbled onto the bed. Dylan braced himself on his arms when they fell, and Maro laughed at him for it, pulling him down for more kisses. Dylan pulled the purple scrunchy out of Maro’s hair, so that the long yellow curls spilled free across the patchwork bedcover, shining bright in the puddle of sunshine around them.
Skinny fingers snuck intrepid up his shirt, skimming over the freckles on Dylan’s pale skin. Dylan sat up to remove it for him, and Maro giggled, poking at the freckles. “The spots go all the way down?”
Dylan blushed. “They’re freckles.”
Giggling, Maro kissed one, licking them up on the tip of his tongue. “They taste nice.”
Dylan laughed and kissed him again, tongue pushing farther and deeper and they moaned together, blood blossoming to the surface on cheeks and lips and –
“Oh,” Maro whispered, “oh.”
His long, slender fingers dipped into the waistband of Dylan’s pants, struggling over the complications of button and zipper until Dylan’s hands closed over his fingers, helping him, and Maro met his eyes with a grateful smile.
Wiggling out of his yellow linen shirt and flounced pink skirt, Maro tangled his arms around Dylan, pulling their bodies flush, addicted to the soft friction of skin on skin and lips and tongues.
Then Maro pulled away suddenly. He opened the drawer by the bed, digging through it, closing it again, and digging through the drawer below that one. Dylan missed the kiss he was leaning in for and watched him, surprised and distracted.
“Here,” Maro said, pulling out a bottle of hand lotion and squeezing some of it into his palm. “Like this,” he whispered, and Dylan fell lost into his sea-glass green eyes as a warm hand wrapped around his length and spread cool lotion over it, coating him with the slick cream.
“Won’t it hurt you?” Dylan asked, when he realized what Maro meant to do.
“Not with you,” his lover smiled, and Dylan felt his heart tremble with adoration, for that familiar, sweet smile.
His head fell forward onto Maro’s shoulder, lips parting with a stifled cry as Maro’s hips lifted, welcoming him inside, and he thrust, gasping with need and want and love. They moved together, like waves on the lake and the slow, building crash of waves as they lapped against the shore. Dylan watched him, couldn’t, wouldn’t, hardly dared to blink, drinking in the sight of Maro, breathtaking Maro with his skinny arms and elfin face and shimmering golden curls, sweet Maro with his sea glass eyes and rose-petal lips, bruised from kisses, beloved Maro, erotic Maro, arched up off the bed, breathless cries escaping with each thrust, and Dylan didn’t care anymore if anyone could hear, because he was drowning, tangled in Maro’s body and lost in Maro’s love, and the waves of his orgasm pulled him down and down and under.
“Come swim with me,” Maro said, breath sweet against Dylan’s cheek.
“I’ll drown,” Dylan said, watching his lover with a smile.
“Don’t you know,” Maro said, “my kiss means that you live forever?”
“I can’t.” Dylan accepted a kiss, still smiling.
At the end of the summer, Maro emerged from the water, hoisting himself up on the dock and flipping his tail to scatter the drops until it dissolved into human legs. He stood up, wobbly as he always was when he first got out of the water, sunlight glistening on his naked skin. Dylan looked up from his sketchbook and set it aside.
“Look,” Maro said, squinting in the sunlight and pointing off into the hills.
Dylan followed the stretch of his finger. “What?”
“Stand up,” Maro said, still pointing. “C’mere.”
Dylan stood, puzzled, and walked over to where Maro stood, toes curled around the edge of the dock. “What is it?”
Maro’s arm still pointed, his other arm winding tight around Dylan’s waist. “Here,” he whispered, pulling his hand back to secure it behind Dylan’s neck. “With me.” He smiled as he took a kiss, licking the taste of Dylan off his lips.
Dylan smiled back at him, sweet and adoring. “I’m looking,” he said.
“I won’t let you go this time,” Maro promised, tears glinting on his cheeks as he stole another kiss.
They hit the water with a splash, and the splash hurt. The initial slap of water hit Dylan like a betrayal, as the icy embrace of the waves as they grabbed him and pulled him under, body all tangled in Maro’s embrace. And all around him, bubbles glistened in the champagne water, fizzling over his skin and under his clothes, a thousand tiny caresses like lascivious sprites.
Maro held him tight, never minding how he gasped and cried as he clawed at the water, kicked and fought, but the water was stronger than a thousand men, and it wrapped its liquid tentacles around his legs and arms and throat, and down he went, tangled in the warm net of Maro’s arms and the cold net of the lake water.
Maro’s mouth never left his lips, kissing him though he struggled and fought, as the water spiraled into his lungs and he watched the last bubbles of his breath fleeing away from him in the water, swimming upwards towards sunlight and life and oxygen, as the currents pulled him down and down and under.
“I love you,” Maro whispered in his ear.