For quinconcinnity (or Quin):
Thank you for your generosity toward the suffering people in Japan. Here is what your donation has purchased, and I hope you enjoy it!
. . . Also, a huge thank you to Uakari for reading this over and pointing out my failures. If you like this story, it's because she made it better.
Listen, guys. I know that I'm not supposed to post stuff this graphic onto this site. But I have spent the past 2 hours trying to post it to LiveJournal, and it's not working. So I'm being a rebel. DON'T READ THIS IF YOU'RE NOT OLD ENOUGH FOR IT! *ahem* So, story...
I have spent my entire life by the sea.
I love it—the way the mist rises with the sun each morning and obscures the world in a nimbus of light; the way my quiet community moves to its rhythms, season by season; the way the waves will not be stopped, have never been stopped, and remain inexorable and constant. Each little roar of water coming in to caress the sand is the same wave, older than my village, telling me like it has told all the others who've stopped to listen: this too shall pass.
For most of those who live on the world's edges, it is a life of fishing until your hands become too gnarled to hold the nets. Or, if you are a woman, of waiting at the door each night to make sure your salt-water-stained companion is coming home to you. That's how it is for most. But I am no fisherman, nor is the twin brother I live with. Yuui has been sickly since childhood and a life on the water could kill him. I, however . . . am simply unsuited for it. There are many who would tell you that I am unsuited for their quiet village altogether. They say I might be touched by the devil, or that I am a son of the Fair Folk, or any number of superstitious nonsensical claims.
They may say whatever they like. It touches me not. If my abilities to find uses for the gifts of nature are devilish, then I gladly thank the devil for them. It is my experiments in herbs and plants that are responsible for my brother's life and what little health I can coax into his weakened body. People may gossip, but it does not stop them from buying bread in our bakery. At least not yet. Yuui creates such delights that I think God himself would be hard-pressed to turn away from them, devil's taint or no.
By the by, our mother was not a witch, whatever they may say. Only foreign, which is just as sinful in a small community like mine. Our father, a fisherman himself from a long line of good stock, could never be trusted after bringing her here. He was lost at sea and my mother wilted under the pressures of poverty in a small cottage with a sickly child. I think she died of a broken heart. There were none in our village who were kind to her. There was nothing to soften the blow of my father's death or of the illness that crept into Yuui's lungs and never left them. There was nothing but me, and I know that I was only more grief to her.
They have not been kind to me, either. I am different, even if they could never define what made me so. I think the accusations that I am one of the fae are the closest to the truth, though I know I am only human. Even my mother would say there was something wild behind my eyes, some untamed spirit lurking behind the blue that was not in my twins'. Yet I live here still among the suspicious and judgmental folk, baking them bread and slipping tinctures to mothers whose children sniffle and who will brave disapproval for the sake of their bairn. I am young, but certainly old enough to leave this place and seek out a more welcoming community—and I shall, one day. Coins are rare, but I hoard them carefully. I am saving for the day when I can take Yuui to a warmer climate, where I hope his health will improve.
In truth, I could be trying harder. I could be saving more carefully, and I could be making real plans instead of indulging in fond daydreams. If I really love my brother and if I really want to leave this little fishing village that is so like a cage, I need to be more disciplined.
But I will miss the sea.
I often went to that place when I needed to think. The rocks are sharp and unsteady and it's foolish to risk it, but there's no better guarantee of solitude. I would crawl out onto the horn of rock that juts out into the sea, curl up and wrap my arms around my legs for warmth, and just close my eyes. The waves would crash below me and a fine spray of dampness and salt would rise up to my face. I found it soothing. Below, in the sheltering little cove created by this rocky outcropping and the outlying skerries stretching off in the distance, there is a quiet beach. Sometimes the seals come to shore there, when there is sunlight, to bask in the little warmth and enjoy the silence. Whenever the seals came, I would leave my eyes open to watch them. I was always fond of the creatures. I loved watching them gambol about, so clumsy and funny on the sand, and then slipping into the sea to become graceful and mysterious again.
It is a rare child who has not heard of the selkies. It is a rare adult who still believes the stories of seals shedding their skin and walking on land as humans. We had all been told the story of the fisherman who got himself a bride by hiding the selkie's skin from her and in so doing broke her heart. I knew the true tragedy of that story lay in how the man and his selkie bride had loved each other but it had not been enough to silence the call of the sea. I didn't completely believe it anymore, not then, but that untamed thing my mother saw in me could not be destroyed. I kept waiting. I kept hoping I would see some magic for myself. I felt that if I could see such a thing, everything in my life would suddenly fall into place. The bitterness of not belonging, which I could taste in my throat along with the salt air, would be soothed. If magic were real, then somehow my existence would be justified. I would be right to be just a bit fae, and I would be right to not fit in with the plodding, unimaginative people I grew up with.
Perhaps that explains why I believed what my eyes saw. Perhaps that explains why I did not run away.
I went out to my lonely outcropping of rock as the sun was already setting for the day. The light was fading, the golden glow slipping beyond the watery horizon to leave the sky dark above and brushed with pink and orange at the edges. It was nearly blinding, so I turned my eyes down to the beach. I didn't expect to see any of the seals that day.
But one of the creatures lingered there, its dark coat half-hidden among the dark rocks. I frowned down at it, wondering why it was there and why it was alone and wondering the same about myself—
The air shimmered. It was blue and red and purple, only it wasn't, it was a not-colour, the colour of magic, a colour a mere human was not supposed to see and so became blue and red and purple. The shimmer of not-colour surrounded the creature, and my heart leapt and pounded against my chest so hard that it hurt. My breath was stuck fast in my throat.
I could already see her, before the transformation even took place. I could see the way she would walk up the rocky beach, her skin pale and luminescent over her curvaceous body, and her hair would be dark and rippling with curls— Everything I had ever wanted would suddenly be true— I would protect her skin for her while she went to find a lonely fisherman and soothe him during a long cold night— She would give me a seashell to remember her by—
The figure that crouched on the sand and slowly rose to its feet was not what I had expected. Water dripped from the spiky black hair, down the muscled back with skin as bronzed as any fisherman's, rivulets running over the most well-formed arse I could have imagined. Those strong legs were wavering with the unfamiliarity of standing upright, but his head was already turning to inspect his surroundings. The sharp red eyes moved unerringly to mine where I sat above, and my panicked gasp reminded me that mere mortals needed to breathe.
I started to scramble backward, not even certain where I planned to run to—
"You. Come down from there."
His voice was rusty and strange, but for all that it was as deep as the sea and as resonant as the crashing of the waves. I stopped moving, staring down at him with my mouth open in shock. I had never seen a more beautiful being in my life.
"Come down, I said."
That voice could not be disobeyed. I carefully picked my way down toward the beach. I did not want to take my eyes off him, but I had to watch my feet. At one point, I looked up and saw him frowning with concentration, watching my progress, carefully lifting one foot and studying the bend in his own knee. He was studying me to understand how to move his own legs. My eyes were drawn unerringly to his naked flesh, and my face began to suffuse with heat. It was both embarrassment and lust that made me blush and grow careless, and I tripped over the last of the rocks and fell forward. My flinching was more from anticipation of hard impact than from any actual damage.
That wasn't what broke the spell of eerie silence, but rather what happened a mere second later. He reached out toward me, perhaps to catch me, and his newly-formed legs did not respond the way he intended. He, too, fell forward into the sand. He rolled over and scrambled to his feet again in an instant, snorting with indignation as he did. I couldn't help it. I began to laugh. I rolled over onto my back and giggled in a truly unbecoming way. The slight dampness of the sand was creeping into my breeches, but the tension of that moment and its sudden release left me weak.
"You laugh at me," he accused me, scowling deeply.
"I do," I chortled.
"You are supposed to be awed by the sight of me," he informed me.
"Oh, I am," I assured him, rolling onto my side and grinning up at him. "I just thought you'd be a woman." Then it occurred to me that I had, indeed, heard stories of selkie men, who came to shore and stole a passionate night from an unhappy wife, sometimes even getting her with child. "I'll wager you thought the same of me."
The bluntness of his response, coupled with the fact that he was sitting down carefully on the ground beside me and frowning down at me, stopped my laughter somewhere in my chest, and I had to cough to get it unstuck.
"I came for you," he said without a hint of dissembling.
I just gaped at that. I had no words, or at least no words that would be of any use.
"I see you here often. The other men would tell me stories about taking off their skin and visiting the village. They said the women there were more amorous and luscious than they appeared. They said I should come to shore. I never wanted to, until I saw you up on the rocks."
A tingle began to spread over my entire body. It frightened me, and I sat up to face him.
"Women are . . ." he frowned, thinking ". . . squishy."
I let another peal of laughter go ringing off the rocks.
He only scowled at my laughter, and pressed on with determination. "I can have that in my home. If that's all I wanted, why would I leave the sea?"
"Ah . . . indeed," I stuttered out, since he seemed to be waiting for a response.
"I have seen you on the rocks, and today I decided to come to shore. I want this," he said, full of conviction, and placed both his hands on my chest as though he could get at what was beneath my coat and shirt that way. He nearly could, by my reaction. My skin began to feel uncomfortably tight, especially where his hands lay on me. "You should take these skins off," he frowned.
"Well, you can't have 'this,'" I heard my voice saying in a jovial tone. It was like listening to my own echo. I did not feel as though I was in control of my mouth, more that I was listening to myself from far away. Because while I was speaking there was something inside me, bound up inside my too-tight skin, that was screaming no, no, what are you saying, he can, he can have anything— "These are clothes, not skins. Humans don't take them off for just anyone, you see."
The way he looked at me communicated his thoughts very clearly. At that moment he was thinking that I must be soft in the head.
"I am not just anyone," he said, that same conviction in his tone. "I am a selkie."
I don't know why I was so determined to act chaste, but I was. The sight of selkie should have immediately removed any thought of rules and mores from my mind, but I was stubbornly assured that I should not simply let a stranger have his way with me. "Aye, you are, howe—"
"What kind of fool are you? I appear before you, and you would resist?"
"If all you came for was sex, go have it with someone else," I retorted.
"I came here for you," he snarled, offended. "For no other."
That tightness to my skin, that tingle that danced beneath it—it was growing stronger and more unbearable with each moment that his heated red gaze lingered on me. I felt too warm and yet was suppressing a shivering that wanted to start at the base of my spine. Frissons of that tingle raced up my back and back down it and crawled over my legs—and oh, but how fathomless his eyes were, and his words—
"I came here to find you because you are lonely and beautiful," he said, as though unaware that these things should not be spoken. "That is why selkies come to shore looking for humans. I have spent a long time watching the people who come here, looking for one who would cause me to shed my skin for a night. It is only you I want. I will do to you . . . I have heard it is called making love by the humans. Love is a special thing to make?"
"I—" I choked out, my breath so tight in my chest that I could hardly speak. "It's— yes, special, and it's only supposed to be a man and a woman—" Supposed to be were the words that formed the bars of the cage around me, and no matter how frantically I beat myself against those bars they never went away. "And not with—"
"Perhaps for humans," he said dismissively. His hands found the edges of my coat, and with a moment of frowning concentration, he succeeded in peeling it off my shoulders. My own hands rose up to resist, to draw my clothes around me more tightly and protect my shivering body. Instead, they glided up his bare arms, marveling at the smoothness of his damp skin. "I am not a human. I may do as I wish. If you are with me, then you may also do as you wish. I wish to make love with you. I know that you wish to do this as well. So we will."
"I have never spoken with you before this moment," I gasped out, fighting the way my blood was all but singing in my veins, almost screaming in my veins, "so it cannot be love."
"I have come from the sea for you." He frowned at me. "Stop your human chatter. You hide behind it." His red eyes sparked as though something had occurred to him. His hands rose higher, to touch my face. He tried to smile at me, but it was more of a grimace. "You are afraid. But I will not hurt you." I don't know what I expected his hand to be. It was smooth but hard and warmer than anything I have ever felt. Where it touched my face I felt like all my desire raced to the surface of my skin in that spot. I had to close my eyes to keep from fainting. "You caught my eye. Only you. I would not waste our time together in causing you harm. Your world is forgetting magic, but I will make you remember it. I will give you this love and make you special."
I felt the warmth of my own tears against the cold in my cheeks. It was getting very cold outside as the sun disappeared, and he was so very warm. More than that, his words were . . . they were everything. It is a powerful magic indeed that could find that singing beneath my skin and trace it all the way into my very soul. I have never been one for tears, but that moment was more than I could bear.
I was poised on a cliff, looking down at him, and he was holding out his arms and telling me he would catch me. I was huddled in my bed knowing that the dawn was coming and I would soon drag myself out of this safe place to go serve them, and he was there kneeling at my side with his hand outstretched in an offer to take me somewhere else instead. I was being crushed to death by the tightening bars of supposed-to-be and those warm hard strong smooth hands were prying them apart. I was—
His finger traced the tears on my cheeks, and I opened my eyes and saw him touch the tip of his finger to his tongue. He looked surprised.
"You taste of the sea," he said.
I threw myself upon him.
He was able to catch me as I fell onto him, his hands grabbing my shoulders and preventing us from toppling into the sand. He had learned to use his human body quickly, it seemed. But he didn't hold me back, allowing me to obey the shrieking urge to taste his pink lips. Warm and salty and controlling, guiding me into his mouth, forcing me to taste him further, sliding his own tongue inside my mouth to taste me, too.
When I pulled back, completely breathless and utterly wild, he was smiling in a feral, pleased way. "You don't always taste of the sea," he said comfortably. "I'm glad."
It was less a tingle now than a roar. I began to strip my clothes from my body, my hands clawing frantically in my increasing urgent desire to feel every inch of him against every inch of me. But my shaking hands were clumsy with need, and he batted them aside with a slight growl of disapproval.
"I will do this. I will do everything."
"What?" I gasped, feeling dizzy from nothing more than the slight scrape of his palms on my bared arms.
"You are inexperienced in this."
"Aye," I hissed as his hands traced over my chest. My nipples were hard from the cold, and his warm palms nearly made me cry out.
"I will show you how it is done. Your work is to enjoy it."
It was beginning to seem like an overwhelming task. I knew this was nothing compared to what would happen next, and I was no longer certain I could remain conscious for the whole thing. He began to tug at my breeches and shoes, but I managed a mewling sound of protest. I was not going to do this in the sand.
"I'll put— my coat down—" I told him breathlessly, struggling to my feet even though the surging sensation in my blood was beginning to seem like fire.
He ran his hand over my leg as I removed the last of my clothing, looking like he was thinking, then he also got to his feet. "Your coat is too coarse for such skin. Come."
He led me forward, both of us stumbling along pitifully—he from lack of experience, myself from an inability to cope with my own lust. I had looked at men before, and found them handsome, it is true. But it had never been possible that anything would come of my hidden glances. No one had ever looked at me with such eyes. I had been waiting my whole life for this, and this tiny delay of a few seconds had me ready to weep in frustration.
Then he knelt down and spread his seal skin out on the sand, carefully smoothing down the edges. In the dusk, I could hardly see anything with clarity—dark sand, dark skin atop it, dark man kneeling beside that— but I saw his red eyes look up at me with command.
Fear began to creep over me, stirring beneath the desire and slowly eclipsing it. I knew so little, I hardly knew what came next. He said he wanted me to enjoy it, but I knew only vaguely what "it" truly was. Still, his eyes compelled me and I obeyed them. With no words necessary, I clambered onto his own magic skin and lay on my back and looked up at him. I am sure that my desire for him and my fear of the unknown were displayed as nakedly as my skin.
He carefully nudged my legs apart, and when my breath heightened in anxiety, he paused to place a kiss from his warm mouth on the inside of each of my thighs. This relaxed me enough to allow him to spread my legs wide so that he could kneel between them. He placed his hands to either side of me and leaned over and that was the end of any gentleness.
He began to kiss me, his lips sucking and demanding more. He smelled musky and just a bit briny with salt. His mouth, though, tasted sweet. He was nibbling at my lips, thrusting his tongue into my mouth, leaving me breathless.
Each kiss drained a little of my fear, like it was soaking into the sand beneath us, leaving only my desire. I moved my body beneath his, rubbing our skin together and encouraging him to lay over me and keep me warm. He was rough as he kissed, tangling our tongues and urging me to respond forcefully. My hands clutched in his still-damp hair. As our bodies rubbed together I grew harder and I felt his own erection stiffening against me. I raised one of my legs and ran my foot down his leg. He responded by grabbing at my hair like I'd been doing with his. He yanked my head back, exposing my neck. With a growl, he moved his kisses there, sucking hard enough to leave marks, nipping at my throat with his teeth. I hissed and bucked my hips, but he pressed me down and continued his task of kissing and biting every inch of my neck.
When he reached my collarbone, he lifted himself up on one of his hands, seemingly without effort.
"This body is fascinating," he said, and began using his free hand to touch me all over. He was studying me, my human body. I lifted my hand and ran it over his broad chest, feeling my pulse in my lips after all the work they'd been doing.
It was fully dark. The moon had risen and was beginning to sparkle on the water. The ceaseless noise of the waves crashing against the shore was soothing as ever—no one would be here so late, no one but me, and no one would hear my gasps and whispers of desire. The selkie was studying me by touch alone, able to see nothing but the moon shining on my pale hair and perhaps in my eyes. He ran his fingers over my collarbone and the slender muscles of my arms and chest, sometimes pinching the skin or pausing to place a sucking kiss there.
By the time he crawled backward to begin on my stomach, I was beginning to feel drunk on his attention. I still felt a fierce craving for more, but his steady pace as he worked his way down my body had stirred that craving into something less shivering and more pounding. As his mouth landed on one of my hips and his fingers tried to dig into the other, I released a whimper of need and arched my back pleadingly.
He looked up at me over the narrow slope of my stomach, his unfathomable eyes shooting another thrill through my belly. I could have come right then, but I would have been ashamed of myself. I wanted to cling to the rapidly dissipating threads of my consciousness and prolong my pleasure for as long as he would. Still, my toes were curling in the sand and the muscles of my thighs were so tight that they burned.
He resumed kissing me, trailing his lips from my hip down my leg and accepting the way I arched myself upward, still whimpering shamelessly, to grant him better access. When I felt his warm breath on my balls, my fingers clutched desperately into the skin upon which I lay. I heard myself groan with the agony of holding myself back.
He looked up at me again, and seemed to decide that I was ready for more. He sat up, resting on his heels, and slowly lifted my legs. I began to feel frissons of fear again, because his face was grave as he brought my legs all the way up to his shoulders and rested them there. He left one warm, rough hand to hold one of my legs, and reached out with the other hand and slipped a finger inside me. I gasped in shock. It didn't hurt, exactly. But it was strange. His finger was moving. Soon he placed a second finger inside me, and after another moment a third.
I began to whimper again, but this was less desire and more nervousness. He turned his head to place a kiss on the skin of my thigh, then nipped it. He trusted me to keep my own legs in place, it seemed, because he let go. While one hand was slipping fingers uncomfortably inside me, the other hand was brushing over my shaft, a careful touch on the weeping tip. It was all I could do to keep myself from squeezing his head off with my legs. He withdrew his fingers then, and slowly guided himself into me.
It burned. I told myself I could survive this, that he had given me a great deal of pleasure and something far more than pleasure already, and I could endure this to give him pleasure in return. I tried to stay relaxed, tried to keep my legs spread apart and resting high on his shoulders—
A ragged cry escaped me. He stopped a moment out of concern, but I gasped a wordless encouragement for him to continue. He did, rocking his hips slowly and thrusting into me again and again. Each movement increased my need. I could feel something in my belly coiling, even though I was so lost in the sensation of him inside me that I could barely feel the silken fur beneath my back.
He moved again.
In that moment, my sight went white and my body arched upward and I was certain I'd been struck by a lightning bolt, a lightning bolt of pure white-hot pleasure, and I screamed and heard my cry echoing around the little cove and I heard his groaning reply—
The next thrust and another bolt of lightning and another cry of amazement. His hips moved faster and I felt my own muscles tensing up to help him along, controlling the way he rocked me back and forth on my seal-skin bed, building the tightness of that coil in my belly and then burning away my every thought until there was nothing but his thrusts and my hips matching them and my ecstatic cries and his grunting.
He came with a hoarse cry that sounded strangely like the barking noise he might make in his other form. I came to my release at the same moment, driven over the edge by the sound of his pleasure. I cried out again, for none could hear me but my selkie lover. We rode out the last throes of orgasm together, his seed spilling into me and mine spreading warm over both of us. His head was thrown back and the moonlight gleamed on his dark hair. He was beautiful.
After we had both finished, he pulled out of me. Slowly, he crawled beside me and lay down naked at my side. I was cold again, so I pressed myself against him and rested my head on his chest. But he took my chin in his hand and lifted my face. He looked soberly into my eyes.
"I have seen many people on the shore," he said. "And I can see that they do not believe. You do. You believe that this is a world of magic. Of wood faeries and river sprites and selkies. But I saw your face changing every day, and I saw that you were forgetting these things." He leaned his head forward and kissed me again. "Now you will remember."
I kissed him in return, and felt tears coming to my eyes. Even though I felt nearly boneless and limp after our joining, my lips were hungry for the taste of his face, and my hand grasped his neck. He was about to leave me. I did not want to let him go. I pressed us together, slick with our spent seed, and tried desperately to twine us together.
"I'll forget," I whispered, trying not to choke on my tears. "Please, I—"
"You are stronger than this," he chided me. "I have seen that, too."
I swallowed my tears. I inhaled the scent of him one last time, the salt and sweat and musk of him, then I drew back. I rolled off his skin and knelt on the sand. He, too, moved off the skin, picking it up and laying it in his lap.
"Thank you," I said hoarsely. "Thank you for choosing me, I—"
"No," he said. His resonating voice did not sound tender. To him, these words were simply the truth. "I did not choose you. You . . . You just are the one who is right."
I had nothing else to say. If I opened my mouth to speak, I would only plead with him to stay. If I moved, it would only be to steal his skin away from him and trap him here. So I knelt on the ground and watched him in silence. He said nothing else. He sat quietly under my gaze, as if he knew how desperate I was to memorize every curve of his muscles before he was gone.
Eventually, he rose to his feet. He was much more steady this time. He had gotten used to his legs. What a pointless thing for him to get used to, I thought bleakly as I watched those perfect calves flexing and taking him away from me, toward the sea where he would disappear and not need them anymore.
But then he turned back, at the edge of the water with the waves lapping over his feet.
"I forgot." For the first time, he sounded just a bit impulsive. Just a bit less than assured. "I forgot to ask your name."
For some reason, that made me laugh. My name seemed like the least important thing about me at this moment. It was the first moment it had occurred to me that he might be young, as I was. He had never come to land before, and I wondered if he really felt as confident as he had acted.
"I told you—do not laugh at me!" he growled. "What is your name, you fool?"
He smiled that feral little smile he wore when he was pleased. "That is a good name."
"What is yours?"
His mouth worked for a moment, then he shook his head. "Call me Kurogane. My true name will not form on this tongue."
"I will remember," I said. "Your name, and you. And everything you asked of me. I'll remember."
"Good. I will surely remember you."
And then he turned, and drew his skin over his shoulders, and without another word or a moment of lingering, he dove into the sea and was gone.
It was several minutes before I rose up and went to the edge of the water to wash away our seed. My hands lingered on my body, recalling his warm touch even as the cold water swirled around my legs. I was slow to gather my clothes, laughing a little as I found them strewn haphazardly over the ground, realizing how frantic I'd been to get them off. I was slow to shake them out and dress myself. I was slow to climb the rocks and leave that place. But when I finally forced myself to turn my back on it and set my face for my home, I made haste to get there. I was cold and tired, and morning came very early for me.
We lived in a little room behind our bakery. I slipped inside silently, thinking that Yuui would be asleep. He was, but he had left a candle burning for me. After I undressed and slid my cold feet under my blankets, I saw the slits of his eyes as he blinked them open.
"Aye, it's me."
"I was getting worried," he mumbled, only half-awake.
"I was only at the cove."
Perhaps it was something in my voice that alerted him, or perhaps it was only the lateness of the hour, but he frowned, and sat up in his bed.
"Did something happen?"
I have never lied to my brother. I did not want to do so now. But how was he to believe such a thing?
"I dozed off and had a strange dream," I answered, making sure to shrug as casually as possible. It was nearly true. It was already beginning to seem like a dream. But I knew it had happened. I knew it by my tangled hair and the quiver in my muscles and the slight stickiness that lingered between my legs. "I didn't mean to make you worry."
"Well, I'm glad you—" He broke off in a ragged cough. I waited patiently for a moment, but his coughing went on too long, and I sprang from my bed again to go to him. I put a hand on his back. His muscles spasmed and I could feel the wrenching pain in his lungs. I don't mean I had sympathy for him. I could feel an ache in my own chest. It's always been like that. I've always been able to feel things I should not be able to feel, especially when it comes to Yuui. Perhaps there is something of the fae in me, after all.
"You have a fever," I said, laying my other hand on his brow. "Come, lay back down. I'll make you some tea, and then you must rest. I want you to stay in bed tomorrow."
"I have work—"
"I ken how to knead bread well enough," I said sharply, not willing to accept any argument from him. "The village can live without your sweet rolls for one day."
He looked as though he wanted to argue again, but he instead obeyed my orders, laying back and waiting patiently for me to heat water over the glowing embers of the fire that he'd already banked for the night.
My life was so simple and so common. Wake in the morning and work hard for little reward, then go home to tend to my brother whom I love with all my heart and whose pain causes me unbearable grief. Yuui's love and appreciation in return for mine was my whole reason for surviving. Is it any wonder that I had all but forgotten the magic of this world?
I lay in my bed that night, listening carefully to the sound of Yuui's breathing and assuring myself that he would be okay, and I felt the selkie's touch again, as though ghosts of his fingers and lips were tracing across my skin. Magic was real. I would not forget.
I have lived my entire life in one little village. Saving money has never been easy, but I have carefully, slowly, stashed away what I need to begin a new life. A new life for myself and for my brother. I will take him somewhere warm, to a place that will ease his lungs. Somewhere large, where people have seen more of the world and will not think I come from the devil simply because I know which plants in the forest are good for an aching head. Perhaps I will even find a place populated enough to contain other men like me, where I can look at a man and find him handsome and I will look up to see his eyes lingering on me in the same way.
It is a foolish dream of mine, but I have dreamed of magic before.
I watch the waves crashing on the rocks below me, and I hear the cries of the gulls. The sunlight on the water is nearly blinding, and I close my eyes. I am standing here for the final time before I return home to pack my things and tell my brother that we will be leaving this place forever.
For a moment, I think I hear the barking noise of a seal, but I do not open my eyes. I am ready to leave this place behind me, and I must not open my eyes now. I am going away, taking my belief in magic and my dreams with me. It will be a good life when I find a city to call my home. I will be happy there.
But, oh how I will miss the sea.