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Fleet of Hope

Chapter Text

The two girls huddled under a thin blanket, giggling as they swapped stories back and forth.

“Have you ever heard of the people of Elfen Mere?” Suzy asked. “They’re all merpeople.”

“Oh Suzy, what a story!” Jean, her twin sister, remarked.

“Do you really think it’s a story? Look at us, at what we are…”

“Shh,” Suzy whispered. “Don’t let the neighbors hear.”

Jean nodded, swallowing hard, trying so hard to be brave. Suzy bent close to the candle, and continued the tale.

****

She met the boy with the curly hair the next day. Tall, sitting by the ocean, he had a fishing pole slung over his shoulder and a sweater on his lap.

“I haven’t seen you before,” she said jocularly.

“Oh,” he said, “I’m totally around! You just haven’t noticed before. I come here to fish a lot, and sometimes to look…but I can’t get in. It’s too scary.”

The girl tilted her head and nodded. “What’s your name? I’m Suzy.”

“It’s Danny,” he said. “My folks run the new jewelry shop in the square.”

“Cool!” she said. “My mom’s the sheriff.”

Danny winced. “Jails are totally scary.”

“Not really. Want me to show you what ours looks like?”

He still looked afraid. “Only if you’ll stay with me?”

She grabbed him by the hand and dragged him away.

It was the beginning of a wonderful friendship.

 

***

The years began to pass, as Suzy and Danny grew closer and closer. They soon felt they could share anything with one another, and their closeness was so obvious that Danny’s parents were sure they’d marry. It was a concept that made Suzy laugh – she was going to be an artist, planned on living alone, and Danny’s dream was to become a composer.

They weren’t soulmates, and were far too young. Besides, they all knew if she didn’t maintain a close connection to the ocean, she would lose herself utterly.

Alone by the shore, she let the salt air soak into her lungs. There was nothing better than being there, where her mind and soul could fully rest in peace.

She reached for the skin by her shoulder and rolled it down, until her true form appeared and, soft, warm and grey, she rolled into the safety of the ocean.

She didn’t know that the boy next door was watching from behind a rock, his jaw dropping open in utter shock.

Chapter Text

Danny poured more oil into the lamp before trimming its wick, then catching it alight with his father’s favorite lighter. The kitchen was illuminated in a flood of pale orange-white light. Dan let out a satisfied sigh and opened their enameled red bread box, and began to make himself a sandwich with whatever leftover meatloaf he could find in the icebox. He didn’t want to waste his dad’s precious electric light; it would just wake up everyone else in the house anyway.

With some milk , a sandwich and an apple, he sat down with a sigh and began eating.

What he’d seen on the coastline had to have been his imagination playing tricks on him. It was Suzy; sweet, funny, sarcastic, tender, artistic Suzy. How could she be a selkie?

For Danny had often heard tales of their viciousness; that they would rip a man apart and eat his insides after they mated. That they had no loyalty to anyone but their own pod.

He shivered. That didn’t sound like Suzy at all.

He finished eating, slurped down the last of the milk and rinsed out the glass bottle. His mom or the maid would find use for it.

As for his use, Danny would leave that up to the fates, he decided, and crawled off to bed.

 

***

Suzy felt invigorated for the whole day after her swim, which tended to be a regular response to her oceanic gambols. She felt truly happy for once as she went off to Miss Sarah’s Finishing School and Art Academy, a respectable school for young ladies at which she and Jean had been learning since they were six years old. Soon she would be a graduate, sent out into the world to make her fortune. For most young ladies her age, that meant marrying a man of well-to-do means of her own age. For Suzy, however, this ending meant something entirely different. The school was well-to-do, and Suzy had friends who would have homes which would need art on the wall. She would provide them this, and they would in turn provide her with freedom.

Merrily, she, took her mathematics and history and English courses – and ones in charm and deportment. She would have physical education in the afternoon, and then would ride with her friend Holly Conrad back into the city to take her art lessons.

A picnic lunch with Jean under a large elm tree was interrupted by the hoots from the boys’ academy nextdoor.

Suzy grinned into her apple hand pie; she was quite used to the sound of Danny and his friends yelling and making merry on the boys’ side of the wall. She abandoned her lunch with Jean, taking the last half of her turnover with her. She pressed her lips together and let out their signature whistle – two quick, short blasts. She heard Danny’s trilling response, and saw his brown eye peeping back at her through a knothole.

She wound her arm up and pitched the

There was a cacophony of sound as boys stumbled over one another in an attempt at getting the morsel she’d thrown. Danny let out a yell of triumph; soon he was nearby, and she could hear him panting. “Thanks!” he said, and that was followed by munching. “Can you meet me after school?” Danny asked.

“I have art lessons waiting for me,” she said. “Will you walk me to Nicto’s Candy after?”

“That’s fine! I have to work at my dad’s shop for an hour after my music lesson.” He wiggled his long middle finger into the knothole, and she brushed it with the tip of her finger. “I’ll see you after.”

Suzy walked back to the picnic and cleared up her crumbs. Jean – always quieter, always more innocent – looked back over her shoulder at the fence. “Do you think he’s up to something?”

“It’s Danny,” said Suzy, shrugging. “He’s never had a mean thought in his life. We’ve known him forever, Jean. We can trust him.”

Jean added nothing more to the conversation, but she helped her sister sweep the crumbs before the ants got them. There was much more to be learned during this endless afternoon before they could reach the peace of freedom.

Chapter Text

Danny poured more oil into the lamp before trimming its wick, then catching it alight with his father’s favorite lighter. The kitchen was illuminated in a flood of pale orange-white light. Dan let out a satisfied sigh and opened their enameled red bread box, and began to make himself a sandwich with whatever leftover meatloaf he could find in the icebox. He didn’t want to waste his dad’s precious electric light; it would just wake up everyone else in the house anyway.

With some milk , a sandwich and an apple, he sat down with a sigh and began eating.

What he’d seen on the coastline had to have been his imagination playing tricks on him. It was Suzy; sweet, funny, sarcastic, tender, artistic Suzy. How could she be a selkie?

For Danny had often heard tales of their viciousness; that they would rip a man apart and eat his insides after they mated. That they had no loyalty to anyone but their own pod.

He shivered. That didn’t sound like Suzy at all.

He finished eating, slurped down the last of the milk and rinsed out the glass bottle. His mom or the maid would find use for it.

As for his use, Danny would leave that up to the fates, he decided, and crawled off to bed.

 

***

Suzy felt invigorated for the whole day after her swim, which tended to be a regular response to her oceanic gambols. She felt truly happy for once as she went off to Miss Sarah’s Finishing School and Art Academy, a respectable school for young ladies at which she and Jean had been learning since they were six years old. Soon she would be a graduate, sent out into the world to make her fortune. For most young ladies her age, that meant marrying a man of well-to-do means of her own age. For Suzy, however, this ending meant something entirely different. The school was well-to-do, and Suzy had friends who would have homes which would need art on the wall. She would provide them this, and they would in turn provide her with freedom.

Merrily, she, took her mathematics and history and English courses – and ones in charm and deportment. She would have physical education in the afternoon, and then would ride with her friend Holly Conrad back into the city to take her art lessons.

A picnic lunch with Jean under a large elm tree was interrupted by the hoots from the boys’ academy nextdoor.

Suzy grinned into her apple hand pie; she was quite used to the sound of Danny and his friends yelling and making merry on the boys’ side of the wall. She abandoned her lunch with Jean, taking the last half of her turnover with her. She pressed her lips together and let out their signature whistle – two quick, short blasts. She heard Danny’s trilling response, and saw his brown eye peeping back at her through a knothole.

She wound her arm up and pitched the

There was a cacophony of sound as boys stumbled over one another in an attempt at getting the morsel she’d thrown. Danny let out a yell of triumph; soon he was nearby, and she could hear him panting. “Thanks!” he said, and that was followed by munching. “Can you meet me after school?” Danny asked.

“I have art lessons waiting for me,” she said. “Will you walk me to Nicto’s Candy after?”

“That’s fine! I have to work at my dad’s shop for an hour after my music lesson.” He wiggled his long middle finger into the knothole, and she brushed it with the tip of her finger. “I’ll see you after.”

Suzy walked back to the picnic and cleared up her crumbs. Jean – always quieter, always more innocent – looked back over her shoulder at the fence. “Do you think he’s up to something?”

“It’s Danny,” said Suzy, shrugging. “He’s never had a mean thought in his life. We’ve known him forever, Jean. We can trust him.”

Jean added nothing more to the conversation, but she helped her sister sweep the crumbs before the ants got them. There was much more to be learned during this endless afternoon before they could reach the peace of freedom.

Chapter Text

Suzy’s lesson seemed to take forever that day. She worked on the portrait of her mother she’d begun over the summer, but nothing about it seemed to satisfy her; the nose was too long, the hands too monstrous. She deeply wished she could be at the seaside, stealthing through the water, feeling it sweet on her bare skin. Human regulations – darn them all! She wanted to be free and naked, her skin soft and sweet against the rapid tide surrounding her.

Her teacher, Miss Devonshire, did seem proud of her when she showed off her latest sketch. “That’s some major improvement,” he insisted, though Suzy definitely didn’t see it herself. “Why don’t you leave it to dry? Your young gentleman is waiting for you in the lobby.”

Suzy’s heart still leapt whenever someone called Dan that in front of her. “He’s not my gentleman,” she insisted. “He’s a friend.”

“Mm. Such a friend who’s always waiting for you with sweets and laughter.”

“It’s not like that,” she said. And even if it was like that she didn’t want her teacher to know about it. She washed her hands after bidding Miss Devonshire goodbye, and wondered what the skinny spinster woman knew of romance. Not even Suzy had any idea how emotions worked. She hadn’t even been kissed and she was eighteen years old. Soon she’d be an old maid, painting up in Rockport Colony – her secret wish for a peaceful life granted.

Danny was indeed waiting in the lobby, his hands stuffed into the pockets of his pants. Those eyes of his lit up brightly as he saw her.

“Are you ready to go?” he wondered

She looped her arm through his. “Absolutely.” Around them, Jersey City roiled busily, with tradespeople and salespeople. Most of them knew Dan and Suzy by name, which was another reason she tried to project a friendly but not sweethearts air when she walked beside Dan. Everyone really did expect them to end up together.

But even Danny knew she wanted nothing more than to be free.

Caught in her brooding thoughts, Danny had to stop her in front of the store. “What do you feel like?” he asked.

“Lemon sherbets’,” she said. Dan came back with as sack full, and they took them to the beach.

She watched the waves rise and fall as Dan continued to nibble the candies. “Have you ever,” she wondered, “wanted to just sail away?”

He grinned. “Yeah. You know I have.”

She sighed and played with the crinkled edge of the wax paper holding the candies together. “I don’t know if I’m ever going to be happy here, Danny. All I can think of is how badly I want to go away and start painting.”

“Wanderlust. That’s what my abba calls it,” Danny said. “I’ve got it too. Can you imagine me taking over the shop when he dies?”

Suzy shook her head. “And I can’t imagine being a society wife,” she said. “I don’t think my mom understands me at all.”

He nudged Suzy’s shoulder. “Well, that’s what I’m here for,” he said.

“I know,” she said, nudging back. That was why Danny was the best – he never judged. She dipped her boot-covered foot in the sand beside the rock. “We have to go home soon.”

“I know. But until then, we have the sea.” There was a note of romantic silliness in Danny’s tone, one that rose Suzy’s hackles. But he didn’t pursue the thought any further. They let the rolling ocean swallow up their fears instead.

Chapter Text

Danny managed to forget what he’d seen by the ocean. Suzy didn’t want him to remember, so like Persephone swallowing a pomegranate, he became amnesiac. They courted gently while he spent time with his music teacher. He hoped that he could find a symphony who needed a soloist – something that would take him around the world, far from the town of New Jersey. He could convince Suzy to come with him, if she’d have him. He wasn’t a hundred percent sure if he could convince her to let go of her dreams of being a maiden artist, living by the coastline, painting by herself. He wanted to be with her, whatever the cost was.

Something he realized as summer entered its oppressive first heat. Windows were open all over town, and Suzy, when she wasn’t painting, was by the shore and in the water. Dan’s family, too, took themselves to the same beach; his father kept talking about training him in the art of diamond-honing. Dan could care less, but had no idea how to tell his father this.

On the last day of July, when the heat was oppressive, Dan thought it might be fine to risk his secret. Past three in the morning the beach was deserted, and he didn’t think he’d bump into anyone else as he took a lone midnight swim.

He realized too late it was a full moon. A gasp pressed forth from between his lips as the change occurred; his long legs becoming a tail with rainbow colored scales upon it. No one knew – not even Suzy – that the full moon turned him into a merman if he was underwater. That was why his parents tracked its passing in the sky so carefully.

He ducked under the waves and began to enjoy the freedom of motion having a tail gave him. Like a child, he threw himself with vigor into the motions. He didn’t notice what he was doing until he bounced nose-first into a seal.

A brown seal with big green eyes.

His gurgly scream almost drowned him. He paddled to the surface, flailing in shock.

He realized only a minute later that the Seal was no longer a seal. Tugging her skin back on, Suzy took him by the shoulder. “It’s just me! I know there’s a lot to explain… “ she eyeballed his tail, “definitely, but just give me a minute…”

“Suzy!” he gasped.

“Shh,” she said, and kissed his cheek, much as she had done years ago when they were children and he was victim to the wild impulse of his panic attacks. “You’re safe, Danny.”

“But…”

“I’ve got a boat,” she said quickly. “Would you like to use it?” He nodded. She swam over to it, and pulled it up to him with one hand on its wooden belly. He averted his eyes as she used a nearby rock to climb inside, and then helped him up as well.

He let himself be picked up and carried in her strong arms like he was a doll. He had no idea how he felt about that, but it was the least macho thing he’d ever done in his life.

“Suzy, I have to…” he began.

“I need to…” she started, even as she rowed.

“But there’s something…”

She stopped talking. “Okay, you talk while I row, Dan.”

“Uh. OK. Suzy,” he said calmly, the warm air drying his skin, making his fin a pair of legs once more. “I don’t know how to tell you this. But we’re married now.”

She dropped the oar into the ocean with an echoy splash.

Chapter Text

“Married?” she squawked. “What do you mean we’re married?! All I did was…”

“…Kiss me underwater,” Dan said. “Which in the custom of my people is part of our courtship rituals.”

Suzy stared at him. “In the selkie world it doesn’t mean anything,” she said. “Pups flirt all the time under water. That doesn’t mean…”

He stared at her intently, his brown eyes enormous and filled with concern. “I know…you don’t want to be with me,” he said. “And I know we’re really young. We’re almost a month from graduating, we’re almost eighteen…”

“…And I’m leaving this town to go to the coast and paint,” she reminded him. The sternness in her voice sounded mean and sharp, but she needed to be frank with him. “I like you a lot, Dan, but…but as a friend,” she said.

“I know,” he said. She heard him straining to keep his voice from wobbling. “I know you don’t want to be my mate. But we kind of…have to.”

Suzy’s face turned green. The boat bumped against the rocky sandbar by the coast and hilted there. “You know I can’t, Dan. I never wanted to be a mother, to be a wife – the same way you don’t want to be a jeweler like your father.”

He nodded. “I know.”

The sound of water slapping against wood, of seagulls swooping overhead; the scent of early spring salt. The feeling of her leaving the boat as Dan’s fin turned back into long, long legs – these were the memories that would fill Suzy’s head every single time she thought of leaving him behind, sitting in the boat.

She couldn’t deal with this now.

***

Dan came home to a quiet house, but this time his mother was sitting at a silent kitchen table. The relief in her expressions was palpable, and Dan instantaneously felt guilty.

His expression must’ve given something away, because his mother’s look turned sour. “You got caught,” said Deb, her voice flat and accusatory.

“Deb! No!” he flushed. He reached into the icebox and pulled out milk and a leftover casserole dish, then began to mount the cold food on a plate. “I just went out for a swim!”

“Pardon my language, but if you went swimming then why’re you blushing like a bride?” She eyeballed the back of his head. Dan didn’t break.

“It’s nothing,” he said. “Just the weather; I’m a little flushed. You guys don’t need to wait up for me y’know; I’m gonna be eighteen in a couple of weeks.”

“You’ll always be my baby,” Deb protested. She leaned over and kissed his cheek noisily.

“Ugh,” he groaned, wiping away the remnants of her lipstick. “Please go to bed.”

“All right, I’ll go to bed!” she slid away. “You need to be careful, swimming after dark like that. You could get harpooned. Or worse.”

“Or worse,” he echoed. “I promise I’ll stay safe.” He knew he was less than stealthy even on the best of days.

When she left him alone he spent a long time staring at his own hands, wondering how he’d tell Suzy that he couldn’t leave this town without her. Not ever again.

***

Suzy lay on her back, staring at the beautiful white ceiling of her room. Sometime past midnight, Jean padded to her bed and crawled in, just as they had a million times before when they were smaller. “What happened?” she asked. “Did you get caught?”

She bit her bottom lip. “You have to promise not to tell mom and dad. I took a swim and…Dan saw me.”

“Dan? Danny Avidan?” she nodded, and Jean made a quiet, horrified sound. “Doesn’t that mean…”

“He didn’t take my skin,” Suzy said. “But he knows about me. Not the rest of the family. And…he’s a merman, Jean.”

Jean’s eyes widened. “Mermen are murders!” she said. “They eat selkies!”

“And marry them.”

Jean’s eyes went wide with horror. “What…”

“We kissed underwater. According to Dan, that means in his culture we’re married.”

“That’s total hogwash!” Jean yelled, both of her arms wrapping tight around Suzy’s middle. “I won’t let him take you away. I won’t let him eat you.”

“I’m pretty sure he won’t eat me,” Suzy yawned. It always felt better, safer, to lie beside Jean. It always has.

“I’ll protect you forever, anyway.”

She knew Jean would. And Suzy was thankful for it.