Long ago, in the time before the heavens forged their bond with the seas, there was a lone sea goddess who longed for company. Seeing how the gods and goddesses of the earth filled their domains with life, she sought to do the same. She crafted creatures from coral and sand, wove seafoam into jellyfish, shaped the waves into manta rays and dolphins and sharks, and bore whales into being to give voice to it all.
She filled her waters with every animal and plant imaginable, and for a time they were enough. She delighted in how sunbeams sparkled off the scales of her fish, and how the algae swayed in the waves. She pushed and pulled her tides gently against the shores, hoping to coax life into the few brave seedlings that took root within her reach on land. She told herself she was content, and she strived to be.
But it changed in the nights, when all was dark, when she couldn’t see her fish or algae or plants, when the sun no longer warmed the surface of her waters. In the night, it was hard to feel content. In the night, she swam with the whales. Sometimes, she would stretch herself out over a whale’s back and lie there, just to feel its haunting song echo in the cavernous space of her chest.
The gods and goddesses of the land never complained of loneliness. They spoke of their subjects and realms with pride. But while the sea goddess could find pride and even affection for her creations, she was certain she must be forgetting something, a key ingredient which now robbed her of the happiness her peers had made for themselves. To seek out their secret, she began to lurk in the shallows, eyes scarcely peeking above the shimmering surface, to watch what they’d made.
Their trees and sands and the plants she watered held nothing for her that she could not find in the depths. They did not seem to live and breathe as her creations did; if they swayed, it was too clearly due to the efforts of the wind. But the goddess found her enchantment. She found it in humans.
Humans! What a notion—one that had never occurred to her. To create beings in the likeness of the gods, that could speak to the gods in their own tongues, with the knowledge and love to see the beauty in what the gods had created and be thankful for it. The goddess was enraptured by them. She learned the songs sung by the brave few who began to sail and fish in her waters. She studied them as they skipped stones across still waters and tried to learn the trick herself. But as she watched them, she ached. Humans laughing together. Friends, as they called themselves, speaking in whispers that were swallowed by the wind before they could reach her ears. Parents taking their children to splash and play at the shore, cradling them in their arms when they were too tired to play on. Lovers secreted away between trees and within coves, with their whispered promises and lingering embraces. The goddess saw how their hands interlaced, fingers entwined together. She tried to recreate it with her own hands, but the effect was not the same, and she knew it.
She understood it now as an ache not for company, but for companionship. It was something which none of her creations, no matter how dear or beautiful or intelligent, could provide in the way that she needed. The goddess had come to know her loneliness, and she loathed it.
The goddess could not recall how she first came across the young man, or why she continued to seek him out. But once she had found her stargazer, she could hardly keep her eyes off of him.
Sometimes, she could catch a glance of him at the docks among the merchants, or skipping stones across the water. Most often, though, she found him at the edge of an outcropping of rocks deep into the blackest hours of the night, watching the heavens with such breathless wonder that the goddess had no choice but to look at him the same way. It did not seem to matter how the wind whipped at his hair and his clothes, or how the chilling waves crashed against his perch. Each night he was there, thin and furtive and determined. The goddess was sure that if she ever came close enough to peer into his eyes, she would find starlight in them.
It was under the eyes of his beloved heavens that he fell into her depths. It was by no fault of his or hers. Unsteady footing on a damp rock, and down he plunged into the black, tossing waters. As other humans had taught her loneliness, this one had taught her to fear. She raced toward him from her vantage point beyond the shallows, hoping against hope that he had not hit his head, that none of her creatures had already laid claim to him.
As soon as he was gathered safely into her arms, she leapt out from the raging currents to the shore, laying him out gently on the sand as he gasped for air. For the first time, those starlit eyes turned to her, wide and frightened and awed. And the goddess was nearly as frightened by that gaze as she had been by the sight of him disappearing into the depths. A wave crashed over them and took her with it before that gaze could hold her there any longer. From the safety of the black waters, she watched as he looked about for her, then scrambled away and disappeared into the trees.
Though the goddess thought she would never see the man again, she could not erase the glow of his wide eyes from where they were burnt into the blackness beneath her eyelids. She had found more than starlight in them. She had found the very cosmos themselves. The heavens above her were unknown to god and man alike; both the endless expanse of swirling cerulean skies by day, and the inky blackness across which the stars were spilt at night, were the domain of no godly creature. They had never spoken their secrets, but the goddess found herself suddenly wishing that they would. In the night, when she was far adrift away from mortal and immortal ears, she called out to the moon and received no answers.
The goddess had not expected to see him again, but she had. From that day forward, the man became more faithful to his outcropping of rocks than he’d ever been. The first sight of him after he’d seen her had been powerful enough to still the surface into glass. For the first time since she’d begun to watch him, her stargazer never once looked to the skies. His eyes panned over the surface of the sea, and the goddess was thankful for her stillness. In her shock, she’d created a mirror, and for just a moment her realm would reflect the stars he loved so dearly.
In the days and weeks that followed, although she never leveled her seas again, she often felt his eyes searching there; when she looked, he would be frowning, squinting, tracing the peaks of the waves for something unknown to her. The goddess tried in vain to discover what he was looking for. Each night, as she peeked out from the blackness, she tried to follow his gaze; but he never found anything, and likewise, neither did she.
Then one night, she failed to find her stargazer. The hours stretched on, and the rocks remained unoccupied. The goddess felt a resurgence of that familiar loneliness, tainted with a feeling still unknown. Had he given up the search? Had he lost his love for the skies? Or had he simply found a safer perch to view them from?
The goddess emerged from the shallows, her eyes locked on those rocks longingly, scornfully. But as she stepped toward them, a voice spoke from the shadows of the trees nearby.
“So you have been watching me then?” the voice asked.
The goddess’ eyes flicked sharply in the voice’s direction. As if beckoned, the man stumbled out, his gaze cast aside and a strange redness to his cheeks, almost like a sunburn. It made the goddess wonder if he’d been out waiting for her all day. Humans were so fragile.
“You lured me out?” she asked, raising her chin haughtily the way she’d seen other goddesses do when speaking to mortals. She hoped that with a show of pride she could command his respect, and hide her trembling hands and hammering heartbeat. What was it about this feeble human that taught her these unnamed feelings? Could this be just a cousin of fear, inspired by the sight of him so close to the waters that had nearly snatched the light from his eyes?
“I would never dream of it, goddess,” he said quickly, bowing his head.
“Then what are you doing?” she asked. She had hoped he would raise his gaze, so that she might find the heavens in them again, but he did not.
“I have been searching for you, goddess,” he said. “You saved my life. It’s a terrible offense not to thank a god, but I don’t know what shrine to pray at to reach you.”
There was no such shrine. Mortals feared the sea too much. They thought it best to escape her notice, rather than curry her favor. She felt her face warm, but he did not see it; he still would not look up at her.
“Thank me now, then,” she said. The eagerness in her voice startled her. She hadn’t even known she wanted gratitude for what she’d done. She’d done it for herself, for her own selfish desire to see him. His presence night after night had been reward enough, or so she’d thought.
“I don’t know your name,” he said. “I don’t know how to thank you.”
“I have no name,” the goddess said, her voice nearly breaking. “They are given to the gods by worshippers.”
She did not continue on to say that she had no worshippers. She did not need to. He lived among the humans, and must know their fears.
The young man stepped forward, his hands balled into fists at his sides. When he raised his face again, his eyes were closed, but his expression was determined. The goddess was stricken by it. In the hours and days that would follow, she would trace the features of this expression over and over again in memory.
“May I name you then, goddess?” he asked.
For the first time in her existence, the goddess drew breath as a mortal would. The shock, the gratitude, the fear, the responsibility, the honor—the multitude of swirling, intertwining emotions inspired by this simple question drew her lungs in and out in a single, heaved breath. The air was salty and cool in her throat. She used the breath to reply, “You may.”
With a single nod, and a deep bow, the man turned and took off into the trees again.
The man came to see her nightly. Although he never brought with him her name, the goddess did learn his—Amane. Sound of the heavens. No wonder she could see them in his eyes.
They took walks along the moonlit shores, the waves lapping gently at their feet as he asked her question after question. Amane told her that he wished to know her, to understand her, before giving her a name.
“A name is important, you know,” he said, pausing and watching the sinking, wet sand swallow his feet. “You have it forever.”
The goddess was impatient, but she tried to understand. She answered his questions as well as she could, and learned to ask some of her own.
Amane had a small family, just himself and a brother. They both worked on the docks doing odd jobs. He’d once voyaged with a merchant ship, where the sailors had taught him how to read the stars. When asked, he taught her what he knew of them. The stars gave direction and guidance. They traced slow, steady paths across the sky that sailors and stargazers committed to memory; these paths taught them of the passage of time, taught them the seasons, taught them the way home on tumultuous seas. The stars had names and stories, and Amane seemed to know them all by heart.
“The gods fear the heavens,” the goddess told him one day, in a voice so quiet it was nearly swallowed by the crash of the waves. He did not look at her—he never looked at her—but she could see how his eyes widened.
“I didn’t know the gods feared anything,” he said. “Especially not the stars.”
The goddess nodded, her hands interlaced behind her back as she looked up at them.
“Everything you see, we created,” she said. “Everything except the stars. No one rules over them, so we don’t know anything about them.”
“Everything but the stars?” he asked, casting his gaze out over the endless expanse of the ocean. The goddess looked as well, trying to imagine she was seeing it through his eyes. For the first time, the goddess felt small—a single grain of sand dropped into those limitless depths. No wonder the mortals feared her. No wonder Amane wouldn’t look at her. “You must have had a lot of time on your hands.”
Her eyes snapped back to him, and she felt her face grow warm.
“No more than the others!” she exclaimed. At least, not at first. The gods and goddesses of the land were always occupied with the affairs of humans now.
Amane laughed, a clear, musical sound that the wind embraced. She wanted him to look at her now more than ever. She wanted to know what laughter looked like in his eyes.
“Why don’t you ever look at me?” she asked.
In the pale moonlight, she could see that his cheeks colored, though she couldn’t understand why.
“People say you’re not supposed to look at goddesses,” he said.
Not look at goddesses? What a strange idea. The gods and goddesses of the land had created humans to be almost like themselves, to understand them and to worship them. Why would they demand that they cast their eyes away?
“Do you want me to look at you, goddess?” Amane asked.
Of course she did! The goddess nodded, then almost laughed at herself. He couldn’t see her nodding.
“I do,” she said.
Amane nodded, and his hands bunched into fists at his side. She recognized that same look of determination from when he’d asked to name her. Then, at last, his eyes lifted. As they took her in, the goddess felt suddenly embarrassed. No human had ever looked at her before, and it troubled her not to know how one might react. What if she was every bit as frightening as they’d imagined?
But as he looked at her, a tension seemed to uncoil from his body. He breathed out deeply, lost the tightness in his fists, gained more coloring in his face. And when his eyes met hers, he smiled. When his eyes met hers, they were lighter than any celestial body she’d seen.
“I think I understand why humans aren’t meant to look at goddesses,” he breathed.
It was the sort of statement she’d learned was worth asking about. She ought to have asked why. But there was another feeling knowing him had taught her, called shyness, and she felt it then.
“I need to return,” she said, looking back at the sea. It grew too restless in her absence. She stepped into the shallows, and would have disappeared into it had a hand not closed over her wrist.
The goddess was startled at Amane’s touch—so warm, so gentle in spite of the callouses worked into his hands by years of hard labor. It sent a shock through her body more startling than the touch of an eel. She looked sharply at him, and the contact broke. He stepped back hastily.
“I’m sorry, I—” He shook his head. “I think… I think I’ll know your name soon.”
The goddess couldn’t answer, too shocked still by his touch, his gaze, his words. All she could do was nod before she let the waves take her from him.
Their hours together spun longer, and yet they never felt long enough. In the days she thought of him, of things he’d said and done, of the ways he’d smiled and the moments he dared to touch her. The nights were always his, and his alone. It might seem that as a goddess, she could keep him there at her will, but it wasn’t so. She would never bind him anywhere he did not choose to be. But this mere mortal had the power to tame the very seas if he ever asked it of her; it was a power she knew better than to speak of. It seemed bad luck to risk the others hearing of it.
She offered to teach him of her realm, and he accepted. She pulled him into the black, tossing ocean and he trusted that she would allow him to return. In exchange for that precious trust, she kept nothing from him. Over the course of the weeks she laid out every precious treasure and beauty before him, things no mortal had ever been allowed to see. He felt the brush of seaweed, saw the shimmer of her animals’ scales under the thin blue moonbeams, heard the whales’ mournful songs. The goddess watched his face anxiously each time, afraid of disappointing or frightening him. But all she ever found was wonder. In time, that became one of her treasures, too.
He taught her of the mortal world. He named her emotions as she described them. He taught her what to call the plants that bloomed at the edge of the trees, and how to make them grow. He taught her the songs the sailors sang about her, taught her how the real sailors loved her as much as they feared her. When her face warmed and her heart fluttered at that knowledge, he’d frowned, and teased her for acting like a timid school girl. As she grew to know him, she learned how Amane liked to tease, but that became an odd sort of treasure too. She’d learned over years of watching that loved ones teased.
She still spied other humans on her shores in the daytime. She asked Amane about the things they did, and he explained whatever he could. They collected shells and sea glass for jewelry and decoration. They fished to be able to eat. They skipped rocks for entertainment. They held hands to show affection.
Sometimes, she’d spot a pair of lovers tucked away in the shadows, tangled in their secret embrace. She never needed to ask Amane about them, but she still thought of him when she saw it.
One night as they walked, she felt the back of her hand brush against his. It sent that same shock through her that she’d felt when he grabbed her wrist, and she moved closer, hoping it would happen again. Again. Again. After some time, his hand closed around hers, and their fingers interlaced. When she looked over at him, startled, she found him smiling, with laughter in his eyes.
“I can take a hint,” he said. He gave her hand a squeeze, his palm flat against hers. She could feel every scar and callous. She wanted to commit them to memory, like landmarks on a map.
“Why do you think humans aren’t meant to look at goddesses?” she asked, glancing down at their hands.
Amane came to a stop, and it surprised her. She looked up to see what was wrong, but the words never left her lips. He was facing her, eyes warm, skin pink. He smiled softly.
“I can’t think of any mortal worthy of it,” he said.
His other hand reached out between them, hesitated, then tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. When it began to drop to his side, she caught it. His gaze flickered to it, eyes widening, and then back to hers. The moment seemed to stretch on infinitely. Then, timidly, he brought her knuckles to his lips and kissed them gently. The goddess knew a little about kissing—it seemed important when she’d seen humans do it. But watching could not have prepared her for the soft brush of his lips over her skin. She felt full to the point of bursting—full of what, she couldn’t say. But he was watching anxiously for a reaction, one she didn’t know how to give.
“I want to give you a gift,” she blurted.
“A gift?” he repeated, startled. He glanced at their still-joined hands, the ones at their side and the ones hovering still near his face, and then back at her. He didn’t seem to understand.
She nodded fervently, then began raking the depths of her mind for something that would alleviate the feeling that seemed to threaten to pull her apart completely. Her eyes skittered over everything around them, then caught on the stars.
“Which are your favorites?” she asked, releasing one of his hands to point to the sky. He seemed incredulous, but he answered, pointing to a few that were scattered across the sky.
One by one, the goddess reached into that untouched realm and plucked the stars from the sky for him. They filled her hand like warm, glittering diamonds; she pressed them into his hand.
“You love them,” she said. “So they are yours.”
The glow of the stars reflected in spots on his face. He took a shaky breath, and managed to tear his eyes away from them.
“Are all things I love to be mine?” he asked. It seemed an odd question, and yet the goddess knew her answer immediately. If she had the power to give it, she would make it his. Anything to see that wonder and adoration in his eyes that had filled them the moment she brought down the stars. So she nodded.
Amane looked for another moment at the glittering jewels in his hand, shifting them around and watching their light dance. Then, carefully, he set them down in the sand and took the goddess’ hands again.
“I know what your name is,” he said.
The persistent beat of her heart paused for just a moment in her chest, and she became aware of where the axis of her world currently lay, and the fact that that axis would certainly realign the moment the word was spoken. She would have a name. She would have a worshipper. Her godhood would be forever changed.
“Are you sure you’re ready to know it?” Amane asked, his lips tilting slightly in amusement. “It’s yours forever, you know.”
The goddess nodded quickly.
“I want to know,” she said.
Amane squeezed her hands tighter before stepping close and bowing his head to bring his mouth close to her ear. When he spoke, it was so softly that no one else could have possibly heard, even if they were standing directly next to her. “Nene.”
Nene. Her name was Nene. She felt it absorbed into her being the moment the sounds left his tongue. Nene. Peaceful. Tranquil. Like the soft, gentle waves that lapped at the shores whenever she was with him. Like the glassy surface of the sea when she wanted it to reflect the stars for him. No one had ever described her as peaceful before, or as anything but something to fear, but now it would be her name.
As he leaned back to face her again, tears began to spill over from Nene’s eyes. He reached out to gently brush them away with his thumb. Even once they were wiped away, his hand remained there, cupping her cheek.
“Do you like it?” he asked.
“I love it,” she answered softly. He burst into the widest smile she’d ever seen on his face.
“Good, because its yours now,” he said, laughing quietly. He squeezed her hand again, while on his other hand his thumb stroked gently over his cheek. Nene felt suddenly, certainly, that she was not close enough to him—that she could not be close enough to him. “Nene, if I tell you something else I love, will that be mine, too?”
“Yes,” she said fervently, feeling almost dizzy as he leaned his forehead against hers. She already knew—or hoped she knew—what he wanted, and it had been his from the start.
He squeezed his eyes shut.
“Even if I love you?” he asked. If she wasn’t afraid of hurting him, she’d have squeezed his hand as tightly as she could.
“Especially if you love me,” she said. And then, remembering what she’d seen lovers do in hidden coves and copses, she leaned forward to press her lips to his. Amane’s hand found the back of her neck and he drew her in closer. They kissed over and over until it all blurred into one long, unending kiss, and in time they were little but a single tangle of limbs in the sand. They remained locked in their embrace until the early hours of the morning. Amane whispered her name into her skin again, again, again, and called it prayer.
Amane was nothing if not a devoted worshipper. He came faithfully to her each night to prove again his love and adoration. If Nene could take him to her bed, he would have made it his alter. Nene had never heard of the other gods taking mortal lovers, and with their strange rules she feared retribution for him if they were discovered in her realm—or at least that’s what she told Amane. In truth, she didn’t trust that if she let him stay with her in her domain too long, she’d ever be willing to let him go again.
So they made their secluded section of the beach sacred. Amane sowed his stars into the sand like seeds, and under the steady attentions of the waves they flourished. They bloomed into flowers that shrank away in the day, but unfurled and glowed a silvery blue in the night. Nene would have harvested the whole sky to give him a garden of them, to see the glow illuminate his face and reflect in his eyes, but Amane would never ask for it.
“I’d build your temple here, if I knew how,” he said to her one night as they lay together on the sand, beside the glow of the flowers. Nene’s head rested on his chest, and the rumble of his voice echoing there made her smile and wrap her arms tighter around him.
“What do I need a temple for?” she asked, although the image of it began to take shape in her mind. A small little temple at the edge of the trees, where the waves rarely reached. She didn’t need marble altars or lofty columns or statues in her honor. But it would be nice to have a place to keep him near.
“I can see you smiling, you know,” he said, as he began to run his fingers gently through her long hair. “Are you thinking of it?”
“Of course not,” she scoffed, blushing.
“Oh, you are,” he replied. She looked up at him and found that teasing smile she’d come to love more dearly than anything of her own creation. “No doubt imagining fountains and statues in your image. More worshippers, of course. No doubt handsomer than me—they’d better keep to the traditional kinds of worship.” He squeezed her tighter against himself, his fingers pressing into her side in a ticklish sort of way that made her squeal. “I don’t like to share.”
“Bold of a mortal to be so possessive of a goddess,” she teased, wriggling her own fingers under the ticklish part of his arms and grinning when he caught her hand and pressed it to his lips.
“I have to be bold,” he said as he kissed each knuckle in turn. “How else can a mere mortal keep a goddess’ attention?”
“Not just any goddess,” Nene said, turning her head slightly to press a kiss to his bare chest. “I thought I was your goddess.”
Amane smiled softly and held her closer, craning his neck to kiss the top of her head.
It was in moments like this that Nene understood, fully, what it was that she had been missing in those lonely days adrift at sea. It was more than company, more than companionship. There was nothing she could have created by her own hand to compare with the contentment of being warm in Amane’s arms, of being Amane’s.
They drowsed together, in and out of sleep, until the orange glow of dawn broke across the fading night sky. The hours of belonging solely to one another were behind them once more, and the day stretched ahead. Nene walked with him as far as she could without encountering any other mortals. When it came time to part, they lingered, as they always did; each waited for an excuse to keep him there that never came.
Amane pulled her into his arms and leaned their foreheads together.
“I won’t be able to see you tonight, or for a few days after,” he said.
Nene whined and bunched her hands tightly into the back of his shirt. The fabric there was thin and worn. Amane didn’t speak of it often, but Nene understood humans well enough to know that his life in the village was not one of comfort. She thought of her home in the sea, the safety and ease of the life she could promise him, if she were not afraid to pluck him from his natural home. She had seen in her own creations what became of those taken from their kind, how the joy and life left them. Would Amane wilt just the same? She didn’t dare it.
“Where will you be?” she asked at last, loosening her grip on his shirt.
“The scholars say there’s going to be an eclipse,” he said, stepping back and looking out hopefully at the sky. “My brother and I are going with some others to a place in the mountains where they say we’ll see it best.”
The mountains. She knew the god who had crafted them, intending them as walls to protect his solitude from the creations of his peers. The mountains’ dangers were as countless as their beauties. Nene thought again of a life beneath the sea.
“Be safe,” was all she said.
Three lonesome days faded into three lonelier nights, and Amane did not return to her. Three days turned to four, then five, then a week. Each night Nene began to wait for him in the garden, but come daybreak she was always alone.
Ten days came and passed before Nene dared to swim beneath the docks where he worked to listen for his voice. It was there she heard the news that would bring her to discard her name of tranquility, to drown the shores and raise waves so tall they darkened the skies.
There had been an accident in the mountains. And Amane… Amane… Amane.
At first there had been complete stillness. A lack of everything. Nene did not feel. Nene did not understand. Nene stood by the star garden that night and waited as she always had. He had not come. He would not come. He would never come.
But even as Nene had sunk deep down into the coldest and darkest corner of the sea, feeling shattered and numb and void, there had been a small light of bleak hope. For she knew that some societies had taken to the practice of burying their dead at sea. In this way, she might get to hold him once more, kiss his eyelids closed, lay him to rest in a place where sunbeams sparkled on the ocean floor in a way that was almost like the stars. But Amane never came, and in time she understood again. Amane would never be laid to rest at sea. She would never get her goodbye. What remained of him had been laid deep within the earth, where even the brightest stars could not reach him, and where Nene could never hold him again.
Amane’s final lesson to her had come—the feeling of grief. Loss at its most desolate and complete.
The goddess wailed and the winds howled with her. She tore at her hair and beat at her breast and the seas rose in righteous anger above her. Boats and their men were thrashed to pieces by waves, ripped from their moorings, swallowed whole as if into the belly of a great beast. Waves grew like peaks of mountains before devouring shoreside villages. Trees were torn from their roots, temples and towns alike were leveled into piles of shabby stone.
And while the onslaught raged, unabating, the goddess ripped the stars from their garden and cast them out into the sky. She arranged them into his likeness, but the image was hollow, and it made her hollow too.
The landbound gods and goddesses gathered in the safety of the mountains, whispering to themselves as her grief stripped life from the land. If she were allowed to continue, nothing of their well-loved creation would be left in her wake.
The sea goddess has gone mad, some whispered.
The seas will rise and kill us all if we don’t stop her, others warned.
But none knew how to stop her. The goddess was little known to them, although their mortals kept careful track of her changing moods. She had always been there, alone in her endless waters, master of a realm nearly as mysterious to them as the skies.
It was a goddess of love who at last found their only hope of salvation. For her eyes and ears reached all places where love touched, and until now she’d cherished her knowledge of the elusive goddess’ heart in secret.
The goddess had taken a mortal lover, she said. Her voice was hardly above a whisper, for she knew there were none who could not hear her when she spoke. And he’s done what mortals do best.
All eyes fell to this goddess’ own lover, who reigned over the place beyond, where departed mortals found their rest. He took his wife to this garden of souls, each still filled with a longing for desires and dreams so far beyond their reach. She waded through them, suffered the baring of their souls, until at last she found the one that whispered only one wish. Nene.
In the stillness at the center of the storm, the goddess sat idly. The winds whipped the air around her, and if she had listened she might hear screams still at the shore, but she did not care to hear it. Try as she might she could not tame this storm. She wondered if she even wanted to.
There was nothing in the seas to please her. No shimmer of scales would ever be bright enough, no brush of algae would ever be a warm enough caress, no whale song would ever be half so mournful as she needed. She looked to the stars and moon again, this time gazing at their vast emptiness in anger.
“I am alone!” she cried out, her voice drowned in the roaring of the waters. “Is this all I’ve been made for?! To have vacant skies as my only companion?! To be feared and loathed?! To be always taunted—” Her voice broke as she choked on a sob. She pressed the heels of her hands into her eyes, which were now too stinging and dried up to still produce tears. “—taunted by what he loved most?”
The goddess shook as rasping, needless breaths ripped in and out of her unpracticed lungs. So this was to be her existence—to become the very creature of devastation the mortals and gods alike must have always thought her to be.
But even as the certainty of it began to settle into her bones, the winds thinned into breezes, and the waves fell flat as if smoothed out by hand. The goddess watched as something beside herself breathed calm into the waters she’d always ruled alone, and could not understand. The loss was still there. She could feel it like a hole in her chest. Yet the tides receded from the shore.
Then, the same hand that had smoothed the surface of the seas came to caress her hair. The goddess turned, and could not understand what she saw—Amane, or perhaps the memory of him, floating just inches above the surface, petting her as affectionately as ever. For a moment, Nene could almost fool herself into believing it had been nothing but a nightmare, the loss and storms alike. But the ache, though soothed, was lingering. And Amane was unlike himself.
Amane smiled at her confusion, and brought a cool hand to cup her cheek. She shivered at his touched, but could not help but lean into it.
“Remind me never to make you angry,” he said. There was a strangeness in his voice that had never been there before—a quality to it that made it echo as if it were in the caverns of her soul.
“You left me,” was all she had the strength to say. She took a deep, shuddering breath. “How am I supposed to go on without you?”
“My goddess,” he said, drawing closer and pressing his lips to her forehead. “You’ll never have to.”
These words brought reality into shocking focus. The strangeness of his voice, the way he hung suspended in the air, the chill of his touch, the way he glowed as if his very soul had been imbued with the cosmos. Nene pulled back sharply and drank him in. He was himself, yet different. There was no whisper of finality pushing in at the edges of her mind when she looked at him. Immortality became him.
“Amane,” she gasped. “You’ve become—”
“There was no one to rule the skies. No one to help you push and pull the tides,” he said. “And I was the only fool they had who knew a bit about the stars and you.”
Nene knew, without having to ask, that there was no mortal word for what she felt. For the way laughter bubbled in her chest and tears welled in her eyes and a warmth filled her like nothing she’d felt before. She drew him tightly against herself, tighter than she’d ever dared hold him as a mortal, and kissed him hard. Then again. Again. Again. Each one interrupted by laughter, or whispers of love or apologies, which were then in turn interrupted by another kiss.
And so by the love and loss of a sea goddess, a god of moon and stars was born. He ruled in the night, and returned to her under moonbeams and starlight as faithfully as he had in life. Though the master of the heavens, he remained first and foremost a worshipper of the sea, easing the push and pull of the tides as they caressed the shores, on and into eternity with the sea goddess who loved him.