Author: LadyShiin PM
After her mother’s death, Kaoru and her father moved from their village to the city. With the arrival of a redhaired stranger who smells of the sea Kaoru discovers the truth about her mothers past… and her future. FinishedRated: Fiction T - English - Romance/Fantasy - Kaoru & Kenshin - Chapters: 3 - Words: 15,888 - Reviews: 103 - Favs: 150 - Follows: 29 - Updated: 06-15-06 - Published: 06-06-06 - Status: Complete - id: 2977622
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Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world's more full of weeping than you
W. B. Yeats – The Stolen Child
Kaoru's memories of her mother were vague and misty. A pale face framed by a halo of dark curly hair and eyes the color of the sea tossed by storms. In her memories her mother never smiled. There was always an aura of sadness about her.
Kaoru didn't remember the details of her death. She couldn't recall if her mother had died of a wasting illness or just dropped dead one day. What she did remember was walking into her parents bedroom just after dawn – her father had already left for work in the harbor and some faint sense of urgency had filled her, sending her fleeing to her parent's bedroom and the comfort of her mother's arms.
What she found when she slipped into the room was her mother dead upon the bed, her head turned in the direction of the window that overlooked the ocean. Her expression had been peaceful, almost happy. Gone was the ever-present lingering sadness that seemed to envelop her.
The neighbors attracted by her screams had come into the house to find her curled against her mother, sobbing. Kaoru remembered the unaffected looks on their faces as they stared down at her mother's body. They had expected her mother's death; it had come as no surprise to them. This piece of memory only unearthed itself years later and Kaoru had been puzzled and a little alarmed by it when she had it slip into her conscious.
Her father had returned within the hour. By noon Kaoru had found herself sitting beside him on a train heading inland away from the coast. As they had ventured farther and farther from the sea a great pain had ripped at her heart and she had wept silently – for what exactly she did not know – the entire way to the City.
The house her father had bought for them had nothing familiar about it. It was a modern dwelling of steal and concrete, there was no wood or anything of the earth. And it was several stories up in the air. Kaoru missed the taste of salt in the air, the rough grains of sand against her feet. The reedy call of the gulls circling in the sky.
She spent the first few days curled up on the seat of the couch, looking out the window at the sky. Something she had seen her mother do frequently. The expression on her father's face when he had first caught her like that had shocked her. Anger, sadness and something else that had made her throat tighten.
She had barely been in the City a week before she found herself enrolled in school. The starchy uniform she had been forced into chafed her skin and she thought longingly of her trousers, ripped at the knees and her loose tunics. So used to running around barefoot, her feet felt constricted in the shoes they were forced into.
The children were another matter all together.
They weren't openly hostile. But there was as feeling of tension in the air. Of wariness. Kaoru could have almost expected it. She had felt the same things from the townsfolk of her home whenever she and her mother had gone to the market. They kept their distance and whenever they had spoken to them they had been polite. But it was an edged-politeness. That tension had faded whenever they had gone into town with her father. But if they ventured without him at their side they were once more met by wall of icy politeness.
Kaoru may have attempted to make friends at any other time. But she was too wrapped up in grief over her mother's death that she walked in a haze. She didn't miss what she didn't have and found her solace in books. It had soon become apparent that her schooling in her little village did not come up to the standards of the City and so to keep from being dropped down in class Kaoru had thrown herself into her studies, especially her reading.
They might have written her off as a book-reading geek at least until the weather had warmed up and for gym class they found themselves swimming. Kaoru had grown up with the sea in her backyard. Swimming was as natural as breathing to her and she felt some of the ache in her chest disappear when she entered the water. It was pool water, sterile and chlorinated and missing the salt of the sea – but it was water.
She had run home after her first day of gym class excited and eager to tell her father. His expression when he had seen her – hair still wet and dripping from the water and her face flushed – had stopped her mid-speech.
He wasn't the father she remembered. The one who always had a smile on his face. Who would sit in front of the fireplace at night playing his fiddle and singing songs with his eyes sparkling in the light.
Some part of him had died along with her mother.
Kaoru found herself stepping on eggshells around him. A distance grew between them that she hated. It was the look in his eyes when he glanced at her. A sorrow-tinged expression. The years passed and Kaoru didn't realize the exact reason for it until she was going through some boxes in the attic one day and stumbled across a picture of her mother taken just after their wedding.
She looked just like her. She had the same dark hair with a hint of curl, blue eyes and fair skin that never tanned no matter how much she was exposed to the sun.
Kaoru began to spend as little time as possible at home.
If she wasn't at school for study or swimming she was in the library. Her gym teacher caught her several times swimming when everyone had already headed home and suggested that she join the school team. Kaoru agreed and proved to be a very fast swimmer, helping the win many competitions and she managed to gain some measure of acceptance for her accomplishments at school.
Her father never once came to her competitions.
Kaoru swam throughout high school and when applying for a college was given a partial scholarship in one of the larger universities of the City for swimming. Just before she was supposed to start her freshman year her father died suddenly of a heart attack over the summer.
Once more Kaoru threw herself into her studies and swimming as a way to escape her grief. Her freshman year was stellar grade wise and she made the Dean's list, but Kaoru was unhappy.
She decided to drop out for a year or so to give herself a chance to figure out what she was going to do.
The first thing she did was sell the apartment. Kaoru had never felt comfortable so high up and away from the ground encased in steel and manufactured stone and wood. She bought a small, old, wooden house not far from the university. It was dirt cheap because it had none of the modern conveniences and was badly in need of repair.
Kaoru loved it.
The floor under several inches of dust was proven to be authentic stone. There was a little fireplace that needed sweeping out, there was no heater and the air conditioning worked only half the time. You never knew if the laundry was actually going to wash and forget about the kitchen. Kaoru burned more meals than she actually ate. There was no dishwasher.
But out in the back there was a tiny plot of land. Kaoru planted vegetables and flowers and hung birdfeeders from the ancient tree in the yard. She bought a water decoration and the sound of constantly running water was soothing.
Little by little the ache in her chest disappeared to a dull throb that only panged her in the mornings when she awoke from dreams with the smell of the salt strong in her nose and mistaking the tears on her face for sea-spray.
She swam daily at the pool and began to teach kids to swim in her spare time for a little bit of extra cash.
It was after a rather tough teaching lesson (seriously how hard was it to do a butterfly?) that Kaoru decided to stop off at the café on the corner for a much needed cup of coffee and chocolate muffin.
She had taken a quick swim herself in an effort to get rid of some of her frustration. Kaoru liked kids she really did. But after teaching several lessons all day the best way she knew to take the edge off was a dip in the pool followed by caffeine and chocolate.
The café was packed as usual.
College kids lounged in the couches and chairs with a cup of coffee in one hand and a pen in the other as they bent over their textbooks. The murmur of voices and soothing sounds of conversation was accented by the instrumental music playing from the speakers high up in the corners of the ceiling.
Kaoru slipped into the line and dug around her purse for the money she needed. Out of the corner of her eye she caught a flicker of color and an odd thrill ran down her spine. When she turned to look whatever it was that had caught her attention was gone.
Pushing it to the back of her mind she ordered her coffee and muffin and walked home. Several times she thought she saw something out of the corner of her eye, just beyond her line of sight. Whatever it was, it kept disappearing whenever she attempted to get a good look at it.
Kaoru found herself unconsciously speeding up her walking and cursing that she'd forgotten her mace. The City had never been known to be a dangerous one, crime was very low if nonexistent and Kaoru had never, not felt completely safe living there. Still she couldn't push back the unease at the edges of her mind.
She dug out her key from her pocket several strides before the door and slipped it into the lock, letting herself in and closing and locking the door quickly. Once inside she let herself collapse on the couch.
She lay there for several moments still clutching her muffin and coffee. With a sigh and a shake of her head for being so foolish she got to her feet and left the muffin and coffee on the kitchen table as she walked through the house and out the back into her garden.
What she found in there nearly had her fleeing back inside.
What she found was correct.
Even though she would deny it later Kaoru had known instinctively the second she had laid eyes on him that he was not human.
He was standing with his back to her one hand outstretched over her water fountain. Above his palm droplets of water danced.
Kaoru took a step back in the direction of her house and must have made some kind of noise because he turned toward her and for a moment all she could see was gold-edged violet eyes and a face framed by hair the color of crimson.
There was a roaring in Kaoru's ears and the taste of salt was strong on her tongue. She blinked and the image of the ocean appeared on the backs of her eyelids and then faded away.
All of Kaoru's instincts were screaming at her to run into the house and lock the door (and put a chair up against it under the knob for good measure) and call the police. They came to a screeching halt when she remembered belatedly that she didn't own a phone.
She knew she'd forgotten to install something when she moved into the house…
Slowly and carefully she began to back in the direction of the house. The roaring in her ears had softened to a dull throb and the ache in her chest made it hard to breathe. Blinking again her mind was assaulted by the images of white-foamed waves breaking upon sand and the cries of gulls.
She staggered and unexpectedly there were tears in her eyes.
"Wha - ?" Her mouth didn't seem to want to form the words.
"How long have you been away from the sea?"
"What?" Kaoru blinked at him. The sea? What did that have to do with anything?
"You don't know what you are do you?" His voice was unexpectedly soft.
Kaoru could only gape at him.
The urge to flee was still there. He didn't appear dangerous. A bit crazy perhaps but that was nothing a call to the men in white coats couldn't fix.
"Who are you?" She finally managed. Now all she needed to do was keep him calm and run over to the neighbors and get them to call for whoever it was that you called in situations like this.
"You should be able to tell who I am."
Kaoru blinked at him. "Yeah… right…"
The expression on his face flickered suddenly turning almost angry. Frustrated… exasperated maybe…
"How have you gone so long not knowing what you are?" His eyes were a swirl of gold and violet and Kaoru found herself oddly fascinated. "I can't even smell the sea on you. You've been away so long. Almost too long..."
Kaoru nodded blankly. Keep agreeing with him and buy some time. She could make him tea or something and then slip over to the neighbors. It seemed to be her best bet. She really had no clue how to deal with crazy people.
He shook his head suddenly, a smile tugging at his mouth. "You think I'm crazy don't you?"
"Um…" Kaoru murmured. Did he really want her to answer that?
"I'm not," he insisted.
Kaoru nodded again. Sure whatever you say… keep agreeing with him…
"My name is Kenshin," he told her.
"Nice to meet you," Kaoru managed. "I'm Kaoru."
He smiled and it made his eyes sparkle. He was pretty good looking for a crazy person; Kaoru found herself thinking and then squashed the thought.
"We're not meeting under the best of circumstances. I apologize if I've made you uncomfortable."
"That's okay," Kaoru said. "Would you like to come in…? I could make tea or something…" she offered.
He nodded. "Tea would be welcome."
Kaoru didn't take her eyes off him as she stepped toward the door. "Come in," she invited holding it open. She just hoped she wasn't making a mistake. He wasn't one of those weird people who thought they were vampires and would take an invitation inside for permission to do things.
He brushed past her on the way into the house and Kaoru caught the scent of sea salt from his coat. There were a few grains of sand imbedded in the leather along the creases and she half-expected suddenly to find a strand of seaweed or something stuck to it.
The ache in her chest sharpened and she sucked in a breath.
When she opened her eyes (she didn't remember closing them) he was looking at her and there was something oddly compassionate in his gaze. She met it squarely and the ache in her chest traveled to her throat where it formed a hard lump.
"Sit down," he murmured. "I'll make the tea."
Feeling somewhat dazed she nodded and moved over to her table, pulling a chair away from it and settling down heavily upon it.
He moved quietly through her kitchen. There was a grace to him that had made it hard for Kaoru to keep her eyes off of him. He looked around appreciatively and flashed her a small smile before filling the kettle to boil for tea and pulling out two cups and teabags. The cup of coffee and muffin she had left on the table he tossed into the garbage.
There were no words of how backwards she was to be living in a house that barely had heating in a time of computers (which she didn't own) and television (Kaoru never really found herself watching it so she hadn't bought one).
Then again… as Kaoru watched him closely she couldn't quite see him living in one of those soul-less high rises of made of steel and concrete either. He wasn't a city dweller. She knew that for certain. It was the aura he gave off, the clothes he wore, the way he moved.
She blinked pulling herself out of her thoughts as he set the cup of tea down in front of her. She took it automatically and raised it to her lips. He was watching her and she looked away finding the scrutiny uncomfortable. Lowering her tea to her lap, she cradled it between her palms, her finger tapping idly against it.
He sighed softly, pulling out a chair away from the table and sitting down. "I've made you uncomfortable again haven't I? I apologize." He ran his fingers through his bangs, raking them out of his eyes.
"I… I just don't know why you are here," Kaoru murmured.
"You called me," he replied.
Kaoru could only blink at him.
"Our… kind can recognize one another the second we lay eyes on each other." He explained for all the good it did her. Which was none.
"What's 'our kind'?" Kaoru asked, she couldn't quite keep the wariness from her voice.
"Selkie," Kenshin replied, "Roane-folk."
"Seals," Kaoru said.
He shook his head, "not quite. We can take their appearance but we are different."
Kaoru nodded again.
Kenshin smiled somewhat sadly. "You don't believe me do you?"
Kaoru opened her mouth and then closed it. Shaking her head she offered him an almost apologetic, "no."
"I don't blame you," the look in his eyes was understanding and sympathetic. "You are an orphan aren't you?"
"My father recently died," Kaoru admitted softly.
"And your mother?" He questioned.
"When I was little… We moved to the City, father and I, not long after."
"You look like her don't you?"
"I think so," Kaoru replied. "My memories of her are not that clear."
"She was a Selkie," Kenshin murmured almost too soft for her to hear. "She wasted away having been made to live separate from the sea and without her skin."
"She wasn't a Selkie," Kaoru insisted. "She was a human. Who… who just spent all of her time looking at the sea…" Her hands tightened around the mug, becoming white-knuckled. The sadness her mother had always carried with her, the way her eyes would always look past her and toward the direction of the sea… all those odd little habits and quirks suddenly seemed clear to her.
It all made a twisted kind of sense and Kaoru found herself oddly accepting of it. But at the same time…
"I'm not a Selkie," she spread out her hands. "See no webbing between my fingers."
"That's an old wives tale," Kenshin said. "Selkie-born children look just as human as the human children."
The things that was scaring Kaoru the most was that she was pretty certain he was crazy. But aside from the things he was saying (which she was doing her best not to believe and finding ever so slowly that she was failing) was that he appeared completely and utterly sane. He wasn't foaming at the mouth or acting crazy. Either it was true or he was so deep into his delusion that he believed it was the truth he was speaking.
"I know you think I'm crazy," he repeated his words from earlier.
Kaoru nodded silently.
He didn't seem offended, Kaoru was glad.
"You are a Selkie," he insisted. "You probably swim every day. Every chance you get." He laughed suddenly, very softly. "Do you put salt in everything that you eat?"
Kaoru's eyes flickered over to her nearly empty salt shaker. He followed her gaze and shook his head smiling.
"I don't know how you've lasted as long as you have, so far away from the sea." The humor in his voice was suddenly gone.
Every time he said the word images flashed through Kaoru's head. Faint at first but steadily growing stronger… Memories of growing up in her little coastal village. The way the sand would feel, fine and silky against her feet cream colored and golden-tinged by the sun and then turn dark brown and feel rougher as it became wet. The glistening strands of sea weed that washed up upon the shore. The way that the ocean would reflect the light, stealing the colors of dawn and dusk from the sky…
Her tears started then, slipping hot and wet from beneath her eyelids. Kaoru could taste the salt on her lips. The lump in her throat dissolved and the ever-present ache in her chest spread throughout her body.
A keen tore its way from her throat, the sound high-pitched and haunting. A longing that she hadn't known she had. That she had refused to recognize, had locked away with her mother's death, thrummed through her.
Vaguely she registered Kenshin then, taking her cup of tea gently from between numb fingers. He picked her up carefully and she burrowed her face against his shoulder, clutching at his jacket and feeling the grains of sand imbedded there rough against her face and palms.
Without speaking he carried her to her bedroom, nudging open the door soundlessly and setting her down upon the bed. Gently he pried her fingers free from his coat and pulled the covers over her. Kaoru kept her eyes closed and felt his fingers run through her hair pulling her hair tie free and then a soft touch at her cheek and he was gone.
Kenshin let the door close shut behind him. For a moment he paused and listened. Her sobs had quieted. After a moment he heard the sound of even breathing. She had fallen asleep.
He frowned, eyes narrowing. How she had lasted so long was a mystery. The human-half of her blood must have been the only thing keeping her alive in this city. Selkie's weren't meant to live away from the sea, trapped in metal and far from the earth.
And she hadn't been taking care of herself either. Her skin was pale and there were dark circles under her eyes. She had been too light in her arms when he had picked her up. And when he had gone through her cupboards he had found a lot of instant soups and junk food. There wasn't even any fish…
He quickly cleaned up what little there was to do in the kitchen. A quick check on Kaoru found her still asleep and he slipped silently from the house in search of something more edible and healthier than instant ramen and macaroni and cheese to fill her cupboards.
Kaoru woke feeling drained. Her eyes were gritty as she pried them open and she rubbed at them with a fist. Pushing back the covers she sat up and tried to remember what had happened.
Kenshin… Selkies… Her mother…
The lump tried to reform in her throat and she swallowed. No, no more crying. Taking a deep breath she sighed and then paused…
Was that cooking she smelled?
It couldn't be.
Her ancient stove objected to anything more daring than macaroni and cheese. Kaoru had once attempted to make spaghetti only to have it catch fire and end up a charred mess. She didn't even want to think about the time she had experimented with mackerel…
It wasn't that she couldn't cook. It was just she was pretty sure her stove was on the high side of a hundred and acted like a grumpy old person. It had very distinct likes and dislikes and opinions about what she was allowed to cook. Anything that once been living was not included on that list. Kaoru was half-certain it had been a vegetarian in a past life.
She got out of bed and padded down to her kitchen to find Kenshin busily engrossed in cooking what looked like salmon on her stove. The thing that had her gaping was that the stove was actually allowing him to do so. There wasn't a cloud of black smoke to be seen anywhere.
He heard her approve and turned his head as she appeared. "Sit down, I'm almost done. I made tea if you want some."
Kaoru nodded and made her way to the table and poured herself a cup of tea. "What are you making?" She asked curiously.
"Salmon," he replied. "And pasta with parmesan and spinach."
Kaoru blinked. When was the last time she had, had fish in her home and not in a restaurant (hell when was the last time she even ate fish in a restaurant?).
"Good luck," she said.
Kaoru jerked her head in the direction of the stove. "My stove is finicky."
"It seems to be behaving itself." He turned the salmon over and scrutinized it. "A few more minutes I think."
Her stove was behaving itself. Evidently it liked him. Kaoru wasn't sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing.
He went over to her cupboard and pulled some plates from it and then some forks and knives from the drawer which he then set down on the table. He moved around her kitchen as if he had been there all his life. Kaoru found it a bit uncomfortable.
She watched and sipped her tea as he put some pasta mixed with spinach and then sprinkled parmesan over it before setting it down on the table in front of her.
Kaoru wrinkled her nose, "spinach?"
"You need the iron. You're too pale." He replied.
Kaoru arched an eyebrow and her grip on her fork tightened before she could stab him however he moved out of reach.
Turning her gaze to the pasta she glared at it and then stabbed it and took a tentative bite. It tasted good much to her surprise. Very good.
Drat him, he would know how to cook and more so her stove would actually allow him to.
She concentrated on eating and ignoring him. Kenshin took her plate away once she had finished the pasta and spinach and replaced it with some salmon before grabbing his own dinner and sitting down across from her.
"How is it?" He asked.
"Good," Kaoru admitted.
"You need anything else?" Kenshin questioned.
"No thank you," Kaoru replied. Maybe for him to leave so she could try to get her world which had suddenly been turned upside down back right side up.
It didn't look likely.
"So…" Kaoru tried. "Selkie?"
Kenshin's fork paused in midair. "Yes."
"Don't know why I believe you but I do." Kaoru rubbed at her temples. "You come out of nowhere and inform me that I'm not human and am in fact a seal."
"Selkie," he corrected gently.
"Selkie," Kaoru amended. She dropped her hand away from her temples and gave him a level look. "So what now?"
"You need to leave the City," Kenshin told her.
"I can't," Kaoru's response was automatic.
"Why not?" Kenshin murmured softly. "What is holding you here?"
To be truthful nothing was. The only reason she had stayed in the City was because of her father and with him now dead… She found she had nothing to stay for. But for some reason Kaoru just couldn't leave. As much as she disliked living here, it was still her home. A home she felt unwelcome in but still a home nonetheless.
"Nothing," she finally admitted. "Nothing is holding me here."
"I'm sorry," he said quietly.
Kaoru blinked. He felt sorry for her?
"It's… It's fine," she shrugged.
"Why did you never return to your home?" He asked.
Home… when he said it Kaoru thought of her little seaside village. With the waves flowing over the sand and the sky as blue and endless as forever…The ever present tang of salt in the air and the cries of the seabirds.
"I don't know," she replied. Her memories of her childhood there were bittersweet. Growing up next to the sea had been heaven but her mother's sudden and unexpected death had shattered that idyllic life she had lived.
"I'm afraid to," she finally said. If what he was saying was true… Then she didn't know what she'd find when she returned to her village. She was now well aware that secrets had been kept hidden from her, about her mother's death, her mother herself.
Once more the images of the looks on the villagers' faces as they had stared down at her mother's body flashed through her mind. Her death hadn't been unexpected to them. They had anticipated. They had known she was going to die…
If Kenshin was actually telling her the truth. That her mother had indeed been a Selkie – had they known what she was?
"Kenshin…" She took a deep breath before speaking. "If my mother was a Selkie… how did she die?" A lump formed in her throat. "Why did she die?"
"A Selkie cannot live without the sea. And to be in the sea it needs its sealskin." Kenshin's eyes were sad. "When we go around in human form we shed our skin. Most stash it someplace they think it to be safe. The easiest way to control a Selkie it to steal its skin... They cannot go back into the sea without it. And without it they will waste away and die."
"Couldn't they just find wherever they had their skin hidden and take it and go back to the sea?" Kaoru asked.
Kenshin nodded, "it does happen sometimes. But the magic in our skins warps when it is away from us. It becomes hard to find. Hard to detect where it is."
"Oh," Kaoru murmured softly.
Kenshin nodded again.
"Is that what happened?" Kaoru asked. "To my mother? My father took her skin and hid it from her?"
"It's possible." Kenshin replied.
The ever-present sadness in her mother's eyes… to be forcibly separated from the sea and unable to ever return… To end up wasting away because you could not go back to a place you loved…
"What happens to the children?" Kaoru questioned. "The ones born of Selkies and humans? Do they go with their Selkie parent back to the sea? Do they take them with them if they find their skin and return to the sea?"
"Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't." Kenshin answered. "Some want nothing to do with humans after being imprisoned on the land. Others love their children and take them into the sea."
Would her mother have left her father if she had found her skin? Would she have taken her with her? Or would she have just abandoned her?
"Come," Kenshin said, his voice pulling her out of her thoughts. "You need to get out of the City. It's killing you. Can't you feel it?"
The ache in her chest sharpened with his words. It had started when her father had taken her away from her village. Grown more and more painful the farther she had gone from the village. It had formed a constant kind of pain that she had almost stopped paying attention to. But ever since Kenshin had appeared it had doubled in pain, centering on her heart and squeezing tightly.
"Leave the City," Kenshin said again. "You have nothing to hold you here."
Kaoru bit her lip. "I…"
"I'll come with you."
Kaoru arched an eyebrow. "Who said you were coming along even if I did decide to go?"
"I got you into this mess," his grin was unrepentant. "I may as well see you through it."
Kaoru's eyes narrowed, "fine."
"Good," he got to his feet and started clearing the dishes. "We leave in the morning. I've already got the train tickets booked."
Kaoru sputtered incoherently at his back.
Selkie-born children supposedly had webbing between their fingers and toes. In the Orkney Islands where most of the Selkie-myths originate there is a family who is known for webbing in their fingers and toes and they have legends that say they descend from Selkies.
Selkie-women who had their skins stolen by human men supposedly made "good if wistful wives. Who were always staring at the seas." If they ever found their skins they always left their human husbands and sometimes the children they had with their human husbands. Other myths have them taking their children with them.