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Ondine

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“If you slide back into the sea before I get a good look in your eyes, I’ll kill ya.”

The briny dog gives a shake and a bark, before slipping eel-slick from her released grasp. Big, black, vacuous eyes; as always. A bad catch.

Rey slumps back into the seat of her dinghy, her teeth grit and her eyes boring hateful holes into the cliffs over by shore. Her cable-knit sweater is soaked through with mist. Her wet hands shake, red with cold. They ball into angry fists.

Of all the seals she has lured to her boat, not one has recognized her, or even shed its skin for her when she pushed her knife to its throat.

She would find the bastard selkie. She would find it and kill it.

But she’s been gone too long today. Exhausted, she grabs her oars. It’s time to feed the baby, anyways, and that selkie might enjoy one more day until she’s found the damned thing and cut his throat. Human or seal.


 

The leaning little cottage is just as green-hued and dingy as always when she drags the boat to shore. Gray sand squelches under her boots. Her breast is sore from the need to feed the baby, Maz is clearly quieting some cries from inside that signal that the baby feels the same way.

Maz has begged her to name her child, baptize it properly in a church, or there will be no name for it if something goes wrong. If Rey is lost on her daily rows out to sea, there will be no name given by its own mother.

The front door is littered with dead fish again. She spits on the ground, cursing. Did that monster leave this shit for her to clean up again, and she didn’t even catch a glimpse of him?

It is not fair to press the baby to her cold body, or feed it her milk while her own blue lips tremble. She wraps her in woolen blankets and apologizes to the fuzzy, soft head of her daughter. Maz tries to talk sense again, but Rey has spoken of little else than finding the selkie and killing it when it left her with his baby.

She is doing her best. This is all she can do for herself and the child.

Even nursing a child in her rocking chair, crooning a lullaby she had to make up for how little she remembers her own mother, she thinks of nothing but her rage.


 

When she’s not on the boat anymore, perhaps she’ll learn to knit. Maz does that, while she watches over the baby. What else can she do when this hunt is done?

Out on the boat, it would be too distracting. She’d miss her catch.

She does fish for normal prey as well, enough to haul nets to the market to sell, and to feed herself to make food for her daughter.

But her real catch is long coming; the sealskin of the monster who gave her another mouth to feed and taken all her sense with her when he left.

You were the one to lie with him, Maz pointed out, you knew what he was then, and you still let him on top of you on a mess of nets in your boat. And that he had to return to the sea. All for a siren song.

Maz had never seen a selkie shed its skin. The first time Rey saw it, is was magical. He was so beautiful as his broken English tried to charm her, his shy looks into her eyes. She made love to that man in her rowboat, unashamed, the waves tossing her along with the rock of his hips.

Rey fists her hands in her skirt as the waves get rougher. Maybe this is the only way to fight with her anger. Maybe her lover really was a man in a pub that wandered in and out of town as fast as she’d spread her legs. Maybe there was no magic in the baby that lay in her belly.

No. When their daughter took to water-

Her father is of the sea.

She takes a deep breath of cold salt air. Their girl was born in Summer, it’s getting too cold to soak her clothes and hair out in the boats all day, not without proper fishing gear. The other boats jeer at her when they pass, that crazy woman with the fatherless baby, but she doesn’t care. She’s good at waiting.


 

Something has destroyed her boat.

Rey flings an oar across the sand with a pained cry. Her revenge is the only reason she can wake up and feed her daughter in the morning. It is the only thing that can force her to sleep at night. It’s what helps her repair nets. It’s what helps her be patient while Maz tries to teach her to knit. It’s what gets her out of the house with her daughter in a basket to walk the shore, looking for resting seals. Into church on Sundays.

It is the only thing that makes sense, and now her boat is sunk.

The briny gravel crunches when she collapses down on her knees. Her tears taste of the sea. Like him.

Her boat was the only way to try and get that love back.

When she opens her crying eyes to look at the roaring ocean, a seal sits before her. Nudges its wet nose to her cheek.

It squawks when she swings at it.

Rolls away, awkwardly failing, and the sealskin gives way to flesh and a male rolls right out of the body of the seal.

She’s so stunned she doesn’t grab her knife. She beats her fists against his chest instead.

“Rey.”

His voice is rough from disuse. “You knew I had to go back.”

“You knew what you left,” she nearly bites his throat as she yells it, reaching up for his ear so to be heard over the wind. She has never bent close at someone to shout at them, or had them bend close to hear it as he does. Accepting her anger.

His arms still close around her, her and her burning hatred, and tries to soothe her with kisses to her hair as she fights him. It aches so badly. His nose nudging her ear. Trying to sing the same seductive song that had made her love him.

“I left you fish,” he’s breathing unevenly, which happens after he shifts. “I tried to stay close.”

The slimy, silver bodies rotting under her door. He was this close, but where was he during the birth, where was he during the days she was counting pas by and raging inside at him.

When she was alone and afraid.

“You wanted me for what I am. I cannot fight what I am.”

She shoves him back.

“Return to the sea, and pray I don’t find you again.”

“I want to see her.”

"You have no right."

"Half of her is mine."

She slaps him, hard. Not as hard as he deserves. She speaks to torment him, give him a taste of her pain.

“You will never. She has black hair like you and she melts into a pup when I give her a bath, so quick and nimble I’d almost prefer her that way to keep her out of trouble if she didn’t reek like you. You will never see these things. She loves me, and thinks nothing of you, fatherless thing that she is, and I will die before I let you near her.”

He shudders against her, a mournful sound in his throat.

“I came back, Rey. As soon as I could.”

“I will not have her be left like me. I will not have her wait for her father.”

"Or will you not wait for her, when her time comes when she is called?"

"Quiet," Rey says, her voice like death. 

Kylo shivers. He needs to keep this body warm, his thick skin gone. He needs a blanket, a fire. He needs clothes. But she keeps pushing him back from the sunken boat, its hull cracked open, leaving him there to sleep for all she cared as she storms back to her house.


 

It rains. The baby cries all day. She sends Maz back to the village, feigning a bad cold, and watches the pale form of her lover hunched naked on the shore.

What a pathetic way to kill him. She must claim a better one, if he won’t leave.

“Your old clothes should still fit,” she shouts from the door. She puts the baby in a basket and covers it delicately with a useless square of practice knitting. Enough air, but veiled.

He nearly crawls to her cottage door.

She tosses a blanket at him to cover the skin she once licked sea salt from. There’s a useless pile of the few things she hadn’t yet burned on the beach when she realized she was pregnant and he wasn’t coming back. She hands off the clothes without looking at him. White undershirt and black trousers.

There are cries from upstairs. The bark he gives at the sound is harsh and animalistic, instinctual and the baby is so sharp in reply, Rey's milk comes from her breast as if summoned. Rey growls, shoving him back.

“Get dressed and stand by the fire.”

She tries to hide what room she takes the baby to with the quietest feet possible. But he’s right there once she has the baby latched, and removing her would make her cry more.

“Out,” she murmurs, death in her voice, but her lover kneels at her feet. Tries to touch the bundle.

Rey lets the rocking chair swing harshly back, dodging his shaking hand.

“Do not. Touch us. Kylo.”

“What’s her name.”

“She has no name. No father either.”

He whimpers, his wet black hair trembling.

“She belongs in two places, Rey, don’t make it impossible for her to belong in either of them.”

Her rubber boots squelch as she pushes the rocker back again.

Still, he tries to get closer. He buries his face in the blankets in her arms, sniffing. “Ondine.”

“You don’t get to just show up and name her.”

“You haven’t, after months.”

She stands abruptly. The baby loses her latch and begins to cry. She shoves past him and locks herself in the bathroom; but is shaking too hard to guide her mouth back to her breast. It is alone in there, with the baby, that she finally cries, along with the soft sound of his whines on the other side of the door.


 

“Can she swim yet?”

“Better than me,” Rey cautiously tells him as she peels potatoes. Ondine, as he keeps calling her, and Rey keeps accidentally not correcting him, is covered back in her basket. He keeps close, like a watchdog. Trying to get a glimpse when Rey’s back is turned.

Kylo can’t contain his proud smile.

“I wish I could see.”

“You will wait out this storm, and then you’ll go get your sealskin and get back to where you came from.”

He glances up at her.

“You left it out there?”

No. She had gathered it into a fishing net when she pretended to go out to get herbs from the window box. It was for her to know where it was. If he can’t find it, he can stay.

But she does not need to admit anything to him.

She should have done that the first second he shed it for them to make love. The first time they touched hands, before they ever even spoke. Him getting used to his skin.

Her knife slides under the potato skin threateningly. He swallows and watches in fascination the briefest stir of a breath against the blanket draped over his daughter.

Her daughter.

She will never be his.

She’s got flour all over herself and her hands when Ondine cries again, and she give a hopeless, frustrated noise because this is always when she’s in the middle of something.

She goes to the basket, but knocks over a pitcher of water and nearly drowns the pie crust she’s rolling out. Cursing, she backs away from the bundle.

She knows the difference when crying is genuine distress or just fussing, but he doesn’t yet.

“Rey…”

He sounds physically in pain. Something must comfort their baby.

She closes her eyes to his sounds. He’d seduced her with croons like that, but this is all grief in his voice.

“Just hold her,” she moans, covered in dust because of trying and failing to wipe it off her hands. He dives for the basket.

His large hands awkwardly prop up Ondine's head, and he stares down at the baby. How someone so pale and cold could help make something so pink and warm-

She watches him stare, both parents unable to breathe.

“Rey,” his tone is mournful, and tears prick her eyes, “when the sea calls me...”

“You must answer,” she repeats the words he told her when they once made their daughter. “But we will be here to call you back.”

He looks stunned, Ondine’s pudgy hand brushing his cheek. He swallows, his own tears falling.

“I never expected you to forgive me.”

“She will have to leave me too, someday, I suppose I should just get used to it.”

Flour smears across her cheeks as she covers her face. She’s a crying wreck in front of the man she had vowed revenge on for months. He is now cradling her baby like it is the most precious thing on earth.

“Rey.”

He doesn’t feel confident enough to move with Ondine in his arms, but his voice croons the same siren call. She drops the rag in her hands, cuddling under his extended arm. Ondine rests in his elbow, quieted by his smell.

This is the first time they can all three be together.

“Does it help to know I’ll be with her?”

She buries her face in the crook of his neck.

“I prayed to fight her nature. But I can’t. Her whiskers are even longer than her hair when she touches water.”

He brushes his thumb along Ondine’s black curls, marveling.

“I love her, Rey.”

“I know.”

“I love you. So much. As much as the day I changed for you. Shed my skin to be in your arms. Maybe more, because of Ondine.”

“Hush.”

“You can hide my skin forever,” he tries, and she shakes her head.

“You will grow to despise me if I do not let you be free.”

“I will stay as long as I’m able,” he nudges his face along her neck, pleading. “I’m here for you as much as I am for her. And I will be back after every time I leave. I promise.”

Rey clenches her jaw. Her entire being, top to bottom, aches. Aches for the love of this magical thing that she must sacrifice for.

She knew what he was when she lay with him first. 

“I will wait.”


 

Ondine swims better than she walks. The little seal flops out of the water and is much more dexterous on her flippers than her feet, so the change back takes a while because she's more comfortable not being a toddler. Rey has gotten good at holding the slippery thing with big black eyes.

She still remembers her mother, in this form. As her father did. The little seal bounces into Rey’s waiting arms when she returns from Kylo teaching her to fish. Sheds her skin like rose petals and squeaks about silly crabs and stinky kelp. Rey patiently dresses her in a little dress covered in pink flowers and a sweater and noisy rubber boots. Wraps her in a newly knitted blanket and carries her to the cottage.

Kylo slithers out of the water onto the rock right after her, making sure she’s safely ashore before then shedding his skin and climbing into the clothing she left behind for him.

Rey has not let him back in her bed. She cannot bear another baby that she will have to share with the sea.

Or another lover.

Still, he has Ondine home after every hunt, and the time he vanishes from the house becomes shorter and shorter until it’s nearly only a swim every Sunday while everyone is at church.

He cares for their child, as though he’s making up for lost time. Once, drunk on whiskey after Ondine was asleep, always too shy to be truly alone with Kylo at night, she tells him about the pain of her birth, so painful she thought she’d die of it. How much she despised him over it.

She falls into step with the weeks that followed, when she grieved too thickly to see through the fog. She couldn’t do anything but weep in bed. She couldn’t wash her hair or eat or leave the house. Maz had to care for her the entire time, keeping safe Ondine in a cradle instead of just next to Rey on the bed. Keeping the house from burning down under Rey’s grief.

And she admits she only lived because she loved their daughter so much. This perfect thing they made.

He apologizes with a sort of howl. He has tried to explain the fish, the only thing he was able to give her when his body would not let him change. How he left them every day. It was all his instincts understood.

He’s so sorry, she feels it, but knowing he is sorry for the pain that had her bedridden is almost too much to wrap her head around without awakening that pain again.

He kisses her hands, whimpering, until she has to push him away to stop the trembling.

His lullabies to Ondine are better than hers. So much that they put her to sleep too.

He sleeps on a pile of net in the sitting room, something he declares he fully deserves, and gratefully eats mealy potato soup and pies she’s been too rough rolling out and he does everything with the tenderest, most careful smile because it’s too much for him; even only the little bit she can give.

Chapter Text

Kylo’s English has never been stellar.

Maybe not English being the right word. Human. Kylo doesn’t speak human very well, after months at sea. He knew a little from before he met her, from fishermen. From occasional visits with his kind on shore.

He didn’t like going on them, but they all had to once in a while, to keep from forgetting themselves. It happens to selkies. That it all starts to vanish and they become animals. 

He hadn’t been to the surface for a long time before he met her. He had been close to forgetting himself. 

There is not a lot of the memory of being a person; it’s not much language to explain himself with.

Rey, now embittered to him, can overwhelm him with her words, she’s had a lot of time to stew on them.

Time was nearly useless to him, so Rey had taught him that out of necessity in their early days of love. Even if he couldn’t keep track of it. She’d tell him how many days had passed since she last saw him, when he had last swam to her boat, and he seemed fascinated in the early visits.

“Three days?” he’d echo back, and she’d nod, and he knew to count and that more than seven had her eyes dot with tears. One week.

Most of his more advanced English, or human, she had taught him.

And they hadn’t much use for it, in their courtship. They spoke in kisses. Touches.

Magic spoke between them plenty.

He knew enough to talk to Rey when he came back. To make her see what he was feeling. Simple words strung into direct sentences. Go. Want. Change. Need. Come back.

Love.

Maybe because he once could speak her language as his natural tongue, but had since abandoned himself to live in the sea, and some of it was not unlearned as much as it was lost. It was like being shut in a dark room and having his eyes slowly adjust; light was dim but shapes formed with time. He could make excuses with a fair amount of ease, talk about coming and going and holding his daughter who he loved; but once the word pocket escaped him so helplessly that he was lost for an hour in his own head trying to find the stupid word to say to Rey.

There’s still hiccups: and she notices his ears perk up when she tries to teach Ondine to babble out new words.

Apple, he will mouth to himself after Rey tries to get the baby to ask for what she wants.

Blanket, he touches the knitted fabric, as though committing to memory.

Pain.

“Ooch,” Rey murmurs as Ondine’s little hand bears a scrape from slipping while crawling about. “Ohh, that hurts, doesn’t it?”

Rey kisses the palm, her face wrung up with sympathy, as Ondine shudders with angry tears.

He is in awe of her tenderness. He had known her as the fierce love of his life, pulling him over her on her little boat and kissing him hungrily amongst the waves. And angry. Angry with him. The seals that feared her and spoke of her knife, from her rows out into the sea where she bade them her cold threats.

Yet with their little daughter, she was patient, she was calm; she was beautiful and a little sad.

Ondine’s face, in rage, is so much like her mother’s he almost unintentionally laughs when she whimpers over her injury, if in only the tiniest portrait of Rey he’s ever seen.

Rey glares, her fingers combing into the black curls, just like his.

“I don’t like seeing you in pain, little one,” she carries the girl around the kitchen to a hidden jar on the third shelf. Talking around Kylo, to their daughter, in a way that made him breath harsh out both nostrils. As if he did, from his moment of affectionate laughter. 

Ondine quiets the second Rey’s hand lights on the jar, knowing. Her eyes greedy instead of sad.

The cookie in her little fist ends her suffering.

Pain.

The phrase makes him feel odd. He understands...maybe half of it. It is like a burn. Or a cut.

But the depth or Rey’s pitying croon has deeper meaning.

It’s not that he forgets. It’s that after months of not speaking, he needs to re-examine. Let the shapes form before his eyes as he adapts to the light in the room.

Rey attempts to put Ondine down for a nap, and she is fussy until Kylo enters the room and makes a show of kissing her wound and cuddling her until she quiets. He can tell this bothers her mother. She watches him thrown across the bed next to the nest of blankets, making Ondine smile, and feels her profound dread.

He only meant to help.

Rey never really...lets him alone with the baby, unless she’s really in a tight spot and can’t watch them both closely. She waits in the doorway until he leaves the nursery. Walks silently past him to shut the hallway window; a draft filling the upstairs. He likes a sea breeze. Even though it’s getting colder, it stifles him to be shut indoors, but he tries to hide that itchy feeling from them.

He’s waiting at the end of the hall. Rey is always anxious when Ondine sleeps, as though the baby prevents much from happening between them when she’s awake. Alone, Rey draws herself sparingly downstairs, not looking at him, waiting for their buffer to wake up.

He catches her before she does. She rears back as if to slap him for grabbing her arm, but he crowds closer. Anticipating it.

“Pain,” he says quietly, staring into her eyes.

She blinks at him. He jerks his head to the side, intent, but it’s clear he’s not going to hurt her. Offering his cheek.

She regards him flatly;

“I’ve already hit you before.”

He shakes his head. “Couldn’t feel it. Wasn’t in my body yet.”

The transition always left him scattered and numb.

She doesn’t move. Watching him closely.

“Funny thing to ask for.”

“Show me what it is,” he urges, “I couldn’t remember.”

And she looks at him for a moment, and then neatly slaps him across the face.

"Like that?"

He nods, even with his head jerked back in surprise.

She’s stunned that this is what he can’t remember. She had known him to be a bit dry in his well of vocabulary between land and sea; but pain?

Animals feel pain, but maybe in a different way. She’d seen enough seals licking their wounds as though the next swipe of the tongue will be what makes the ache and bleeding go away. Heard of livestock that have been attacked in the night and awaiting the farmer's bullet to end the misery. Watched dogs with limps still follow their masters.

They keep walking until they can’t; supposing this is instinct.

Hurting, and going on anyway.

But wasn’t that what she had done, when she finally left the agony of her birthing bed?

Just kept going?

She had more mercy for their baby than herself. There was no sweet to soften this pain. Nothing waiting in a jar to make the tears go away.

There’s a harsh breath out his nose as a red mark flushes his cheek. He just keeps looking at her.

“Again. Show me.”

“Pain?” she repeats, and he nods.

Once more, the crack echoing through the whole house.

“That is pain.”

His language was always the mirror of hers, or the echo. Learning what to say from her example.

He feels like he’s missing a meaning here, and it’s so close-

She realizes this, as the one who re-taught him months, and halves, and waiting. Her head perks up from its defeated slouch, but like all things he’s trying to discover; it’s not that easy from his old love.

“Rey?”

She walks silently to the kitchen. He’s still stunned by the force of the blow. He dimly remembers he asked her to do this. After catching his breath, he follows her.

Her eyes are filled with tears, but she works on making Ondine’s dinner, switching the girl to solid food gradually. Applesauce. Sugar cookies. Mashed up potatoes.

She’s still nursing, and Kylo is anxious of the time slipping away to get to see it happen again. She hasn’t let him. She locks the door. Sends him on errands out of the house when Ondine starts whining for her feeding.

It was the best he had ever felt, watching her feed his daughter, that one time.

“Rey?”

She shakes her head as she peels an apple.

“Tell me about the pain.”

She shakes her head faster.

He swallows. “Tell me about-”

“Pain.” she points angrily out to the sea. “That is pain for me. You know it.”

“Pain,” he repeats, “I’m trying to understand-”

She gestures to her chest. An X over her heart.

“It hurts.”

Her fingers wipe the tears on her cheeks, hold them up to the light. He blinks at them.

“Of course you’d forget,” she goes back to cutting the apples up. He shakes his head.

“What did I speak of when I returned?”

“You pretended to be entitled to my daughter.”

“And I spoke of coming back. That is what I thought of while I was gone. Not pain. Hope.”

“Hush,” she orders again, slapping her hands on the table as though a noise will silence him forever. He clears his throat.

“Tell me how much pain.”

“You don’t get to know that.”

“Inside?”

She shuts her eyes.

“You don’t get to come back and have me. She doesn’t need a father; but I’m not like you two. That is what she needs. Maybe you should just go back to the water until she's ready.”

He stands across the table from her. Trying to make her look at him and see.

“Give me more words, Rey. Help me understand them.”

She picks her knife back up, peeling furiously.

“Suffering,” her jaw is clenched. “Agony. Anguish. Despair. Sadness. Fear.”

He trembles in his boots, the words hitting like the first few drops of a rainstorm before it picks up into a sudden deluge.

“Loss. Abandoned. Left. Alone.”

She keeps going as she’s peeling, her emotion falling from every word until she seems numb in just firing off at him. Content, letting him try to make sense of it when he is so lost.

“Shame. Regret. Foolishness.”

He keens, trying to draw closer. She holds up the knife automatically.

“Just because you understand how to say things again does not make you any man worthy of me.”

“I want to understand you,” he attempts to step closer again. She jabs at the air between them with her blade. Shaking her head.

"It's inside too," she finally snaps at him, "do you get it yet? You hurt me deeper than any slap could."

He gestures to his chest.

She nods. 

He takes a deep breath.

“I felt pain. And afraid. And regret.  Alone,” he adds, as she goes back to her work, hiding that she will give even an inch into him after this.

“You weren’t alone. You had the sea," her voice is bitter of the thing he will always choose over her.

“You weren’t alone. You had our daughter.”

She sets down her knife, hunched over the table. 

“Two things we have to love now.”

She swallows after she says it, like it’s left bile on her tongue. He can feel her hurt from her own words, tremble under her shawl and bite her cries back and let the room be filled with the silence of a sleeping child.

“When we don’t have each other, to love, then?”

His tone is careful, even when it hurts, and he understands the rupture of new pain instead of old.

She didn’t tell him of a shape just existing in the dark of his dusty human mind for him to stumble upon with new light.

She showed him how to feel it fresh.

 


 

Ondine eats her mushed-up apples and sings without words, not needing them like Kylo now does. Cooing and bouncing in her chair and perfectly content with her two parents who can’t even look each other in the eyes.

“I haven’t...seen her in water yet.”

Rey, who was poking the fire, closes her eyes as sighs as embers flicker around her.

“Aren’t you after my nerves today,” she observes dryly, scooping up some of the sloppy-handed carved blocks on the floor.

“Let me,” he goes to the mess, crouching by her side. She flippantly ignores him. “I don’t want you to feel alone in this. When you give her a bath tonight, I can help, you can show me-”

“You just want to see her sealskin.”

Rey closes her eyes and breathes a few times before continuing. “You want to see her skin and see her take to water and you want to see how long it takes before you can take her away from me.”

“Rey…”

He nudges her arm with his brow, the action one of a seal nudging the other when he forgets he has hands.

“I should have slit your throat before I let you enter this house,” she mumbles gravely, to herself, or to whatever being she speaks to in grief.

He had heard of her attempts to. He would not be received well by any seal who knew him, with her smell on him. The fisherwoman was deeply feared.

Ondine is oblivious. Her parents sit on the carpet at her feet, speaking quietly to each other. The child knows nothing of their turmoil.

“I’m back, Rey. You have let me in. You have let me hold her. You can let me help you.”

“The less you have to do with me, the better.”

He sighs.

“You deserve, at least, some rest.”

Rey sits back on the rug, falling to the side onto her hip from where she crouched. There’s a conflicted look in her eyes.

He touches her hand gently. She flinches, but does not strike him. He strokes across her knuckles tenderly, even with her clenched fist so ready to throw a punch.

"Dear one," he tries carefully, as she is, but Rey shakes her head. Not ready.

“I will let you see her change,” she says softly, and she says it with the gravity that a man says that someday, he too must die.

 


 

“There’s tubs made for babies,” Rey tries to explain, excusing, like he would know the products that line shelves of the shops in the villages for new, better off mothers. That he would judge what she couldn’t afford. She felt shabby as a mother, but he was a seal, so there was little he had to compare to. “There wasn’t money when I was pregnant. Less when I gave birth.”

She gestures self-consciously to the old nightgown she wears. Ondine pulls irritably at the string holding it closed over her bosom; sensing what time it is. Kylo tries not to urge the baby to rip it straight open. 

He misses her. Still loves her. Wants her. 

The brush of his fingers over her hand has been the most she's allowed since he embraced them upon his return. As a woman, as his mate.

The tin tub is full, steaming. Rey draws up the nightdress to swing a leg over the raised edge. 

“So I’d just bathe her here, with me, so I wouldn’t drop her. Then she got good at swimming, but sometimes she prefers to cuddle in the water so I still get in with her. Saves time from having to heat the water twice, gets us both clean quicker, and I don't have to worry about her while I bathe.”

He tries not to smile stupidly at all she’s telling him.

“Please hold her,” Rey orders softly, stepping into the water herself.

He takes the baby with the usual excitement he reserves for when Rey lets him do anything. She can’t look at him as she dips under the surface of the deep, slightly rusty tub, dousing herself with her fingers pinching her nose closed.

The nightgown clings to her skin when she emerges, so it’s barely more modest than just being naked. It is more of her skin than he has seen in over a year. The lamplight makes her shine slick. He wants to put his mouth on the curve of her shoulder.

“It’s nothing I haven’t seen before,” he tells her quietly, and she just looks at the surface of the water shudder at her disruption. Not at him.

“Give me her,” she says when she finds her voice.

Dutifully, he obeys. Ondine chirps excitedly at the hand-off.

Upon the water, her skin blackens and turns to an oily coat when Rey splashes a few handfuls over her.

Then a small baby seal is nuzzling her chest.

Rey can’t help but smile at the creature, who dips under the water and swims around her knees before flopping back onto her lap.

"I can bathe her," he licks his dry lips. "From now on. You can take a break. And when she naps, I can take care of her, and you can take a bath alone, if you like."

Rey shrugs. knowing her power to say no. Torturing him a moment. 

"Funny how I didn't have that for months, when I should have. And suddenly I'm supposed to melt because you offer what I've been fine without."

He doesn’t want to cry, not so close to the strongest person he knows who is looking upon him with mild disgust. His shaking hands stroke over Ondine’s coat.

“She’s beautiful,” he says softly, his voice merely a breath.

“She is,” Rey agrees quietly.

There's a discoloration in the water. He realizes her milk leaks into the bath. Guilty, he stares at it swirling from out of the fabric over her breast. She raises her eyebrows, looking down.

"Jesus," she hisses, covering her breast with a bent arm. Ondine is swimming small circles over her feet. There's only the sound of splashing as Rey glowers at him.

He flushes. 

"I'm sorry."

"I'm sure you feel proud of yourself."

He shakes his head, his mouth watering. "I'm proud of you. I'm...mated to you, Ondine will always be the proof of that. When you feed her...I get hard, sometimes. Just knowing."

She is quiet. Staring at the light flickering on the windowpane. "I don't care. Deal with it yourself."

"Rey," he sighs, resting his chin on the edge of the tub as they watch her. "When our kind are small, they forget more easily that they are human. I will never let her out of my sight. I will be careful not to lose her. And I say this because it is my promise to have her back to you soon, whenever we leave. She is of you and she is of me, and she belongs in your world as much as mine."

His presence here is only treated as temporary. In her view for survival, his because he will agree to whatever she says if it means he can stay. But Rey lets out quiet tears because as soon as he goes; Ondine will likely follow.

Chapter Text

Ondine goes down easily after her bath.

She always does.

Kylo hovers.

Just enough to set her teeth on edge.

Once Ondine goes to bed, Rey always tries to banish him to the mildewy pile of nets he uses as a pallet to sleep on in the sitting room while she cleans. But tonight he hovers.

Holding dishes in his hands he doesn’t know where to put away.

Getting underfoot when she tries to clear the table, lifting them out of her hands as fast as she can grab them.

Making more work for her in having to instruct him in what to do with them.

She dressed hastily in a sweater and trousers once Ondine had gone to sleep. Her wet nightgown with only a shawl over it had him longing to fold her onto the ground and plunge inside her body; until they both could go back to those days on her boat. When it was just them.

He can’t help but be close, with those thoughts, and doing everything he can to make her trust him. Making up for lost time.

The whole thing makes her angrier, and she skirts around him throughout the kitchen. Seething. Her mood black.

He catches her elbow and barely misses her answering slap with a quick step back. He's getting better at dodging them.

“Sit down,” he tells her calmly, with his voice like a creaking hull, and she glowers at him.

"Stop touching me."

He holds up a dirty dish.

“Hot water and soap until the food bits are gone. I can figure it out.”

“Hot water,” she snaps, “she could get sick if you don’t wash them right.”

He keeps his temper and tone even, but she knew the nasty side of him once. He could be as petty as she was. This Kylo was on his best behavior for their daughter.

"I'm not going to let anything happen to her," he says evenly, "I'll be careful."

Rey is at a loss for words, so she grumbles to herself as she shoves the chairs in under the table.

She is still surprised to see him stomach it for Ondine’s sake. She'd though he'd give up, get bored, return to sea. She hasn't made this easy, because he hasn't deserved it yet.

Rey holds all the cards, until the sea calls Ondine. He lets her play them one by one.

“It just seems like the better job for me instead of asking you where every dish should go to be put away.”

She glares at his logic. Looks ready to spit at it.

“Rey,” he says softly, with longing, and she steps away again.

Points to the basin. Gestures to the soapy water.

Have at it.

He demonstrates his method. Pantomiming. 

She nods once, a jerk of her head, and he rolls up his sleeves to get started.

Kylo sighs as he returns to the water. When his arms submerge, sleeves rolled up, he tries to hide the shudder of pleasure. He wants to go back. It feels so nice.

Especially with her harsh, hot, dry stare constantly in his direction.

The sea is a temptress.

Rey is his torturer.

He can’t quite leave one or forget the other.

Because he deserves her anger. But it exists as it has to. As the sea does for him.

Quietly, he wipes the dish clean.

“Here’s the-”

He pauses.

“Plate,” she provides, her tone overly-offended. She wipes it clean, standing at his elbow, and he picks up the next dish and lathers it; for a moment they work together in silence.

He glides his hand through the hot water, feeling his fingers prune. This human body is strange to him. He tries not to whine with need for the feeling of his wet skin.

Just for relief, one way or another.

The sea.

Or her.

She watches for his first few dishes. He holds a few under her nose for inspection. There’s two - spoon and pitcher - that he wiggles in his hand, dances in front of her face, until she blurts out the proper word and he repeats them. Practicing.

Then she begins to put them away.

It does get things done quicker. Him helping.

But that gives her more time to not know what to do with him, too big in her little cottage, too hard to feel safe around in her home. She is edgy, picking at her thumbnail, staring at the ceiling like Ondine could summon her at any moment.

The baby sleeps.

His lullabies ensure that each night.

“Tell me more about her,” he murmurs, and she’s stuck in place, caught by him like a siren. "What I missed."

Rey shrugs, taking longer to wipe down the kitchen table than even he knows it should take.

"It was such a long time..."

He bites back a more poisonous response. He might have deserved her coyness, but it is wearing his patience thin.

Rey is quiet for a moment, thinking.

“She...makes faces like you. Sometimes. Not her reactions, but her thinking face.”

He raises his eyebrows at her. She smirks.

“I won’t show you your thinking face. I wouldn't want to insult your vanity," this sounds more like the girl on the boat, the one who laughed so much, "But maybe you’ll see it in hers.”

He'll take the challenge. Hopes he won't feel insulted when the time comes.

“Alright.”

“It’s very serious…” she halts her smile and removes it swiftly, once she realizes.

He steps closer, lowering his voice.

“There has to be more. It was a long time.”

“I don’t know,” she goes still, across the table from him. “I don’t know, Kylo. I don’t know what you want.”

He swallows. “Her... reactions are like you.”

She laughs sheepishly, like a shudder of relief. “Really?”

He nods, gathering up the basin to pour the dirty water outside the kitchen door like he’s seen her do before. There’s a churning feeling in his gut as it seeps into the earth.

He’s been avoiding baths since he’s come back, just a wipe down with a hot cloth every night; knowing the feeling of immersion would make him want to leave again.

He turns back to the warm kitchen, away from the night and the sea breeze.

“She moves her nose like you do,” he steps into the light, and she unconsciously wrinkles it in the same incredulous expression he’s talking about as she sweeps.

“I never see myself in her. Just you.”

There is some insult there. He will not dig for it.

He shakes his head.

“She’s all you. There’s so much to love there.”

Rey is never shy to brag about Ondine.

“I don’t know where she gets all her good qualities. She’s too happy to be my baby, sometimes,” Rey mutters, “Maz makes fun of me. That you must have been patient as a saint for someone like me to get something like her.”

He feels his hands itching with the need to run into the ocean. He can’t even imagine how wrong Maz is about him.

He's undressed her with shaking hands and guttural sounds of annoyance, ripping clothes and cursing the words he learned from fishermen; Rey knows how untrue Maz's belief is.

She sighs.

“I don’t feel like there’s a lot of me in her.”

“She’s still human, Rey. More than I am.”

She mutters as she folds up the wet rag;

“Not for much longer…”

He tries not to let his pain seize out of him, because he needs to hear this from her.

After a moment’s silence, she grabs a bottle of the shelf. Sits down with a devilish look.

Dark brown liquid. He watches her pour two glasses.

“We’re going to drink. That’s what adult do when the baby sleeps.”

“Is that all that adults do?”

He can’t hide his tone. She ignores it with only a little shiver.

She takes a thoughtful sip. “You think nursing is beautiful?”

He nods eagerly. Sits across the table from her. She laughs, a quiet choke from the strength of the drink. He follows her lead, but the taste is repulsive to him. He hasn’t had alcohol in years, much less this cheap whiskey she’s hidden in her kitchen.

She downs her glass; confessional.

“Her gums leave my tits raw. Sometimes she bites. There’s veins all over me. Purple, like yours when you’re in the water for too long.”

He tries not to tease her too hard; she might vanish into thin air from the shame. But he can’t help it much- “I never imagined you’d noticed that.”

She merely shrugs.

“There is nothing beautiful about nursing.”

He shakes his head. “Maybe not to you. But to me, it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”

“That you have only seen once before…” she takes a rough sip, her expression curdling at the strength of the drink. “Unless there’s a few more selkie families you’re helping raise, a few more girls on land, waiting for the father of their babies to return.”

Her hand gestures in front of her belly, motioning it curved full of another child. 

He closes his eyes.

“No.”

She pretends to be shocked more than she actually is.

“Oh, there’s been none, you’re trying to tell me? None since me. Have a hard time believing that.”

“Only you,” he replies darkly at the accusation, and it’s maybe the only time he’s been angry with her since he came back.

She raises her eyebrows, dubious. He holds her gaze as they drink. He tosses his back with more ease, but none to rival hers.

They go like that in silence for a while.

She sips.

He follows hers down. Drink for drink.

“So you haven’t at all, not since we made Ondine.”

Making Ondine is a deeply erotic concept to him; somehow overwhelmingly overshadowing that of simply making love. He swallows thickly, nearly choking, and remembers with a feeling that boils his blood that they did make Ondine together.

He’s nearly certain that day was on shore, on sunny rock, her wet dress sluicing around his legs as he thrust and growled at her, the mouthy thing. Like he needed to catch her; not the other way around.

There was something about being inside her that day that he could almost feel that change in her when he was done.

A certain sway to her hips.

“I didn’t think I could ever love your breasts more then. Didn’t think I’d ever see one of those lovely tits in my baby daughter’s mouth.”

She grimaces.

“They don’t look near the same now,” she warns, her tone icy.

He shrugs bravely. Daring her to ever see him disgusted with her.

She looks away first.

“That was the last time for you, too?”

She stills her glass against her lips. Swirls the whiskey a few times.

Just staring.

“You were gone.”

His heart sinks in his chest.

“Oh.”

She looks flippant over angry, but a hasty coat of flippant painted over that old anger.

“You were gone.”

“You were... pregnant.”

He cannot hide his horror. She acts as though she cares little, but her defenses are up high.

She slides her fingertip in a circle around the rim of her glass.

“Hormones make you half mad the first few months. And I wanted to prove I could. That I was still my own person.”

He tries to hide how his hands shake.

“Tell me what hormones are,” he requests simply; in a tone that is too civil for his own damn good. Too polite.

Instead of throttling himself, for his mistakes, and then her, for punishing him so cruelly for them; like he clearly wants to.

She snorts bitterly. “It’s like whatever you smell on me when your instincts take over. The feelings inside you can’t control. Those urges. Like yours: to leave me high and dry to go for a year-long swim.”

She should not tease him; she sees it in a dangerous look in his eyes.

“I suppose you think it was what I deserved.”

“I didn’t really think of you at all,” she snaps. The remark is as harsh as a whip on his skin. “Not after you left."

A casual shrug lifts her shoulders.

“I suppose I heard a song in a pub I liked and the man who played it liked my eyes. He left town not long after he played that song, and I was already far gone with another man’s baby and all on my own. So I will not answer to your jealousy for one moment. There’s plenty of seals in that bay that would be forever yours. I’ve got enough of yours forever now.”

He hides his face, his shame, with a dip of his head. His hair trembles above the table.

Kylo is still quiet.

She rolls her eyes, leaning back in her chair. One arm is slung over the back of the seat next to her.

She sounds reserved in her surprise.

“I tried to kill you. This can’t hurt you more than that did.”

“I have hormones for you,” he attempts abruptly, and she shakes her head.

“I know what you think you’re saying -but stop it.”

He tremors a little from the emotion, but she reaches across the table and brushes her fingers along the back of his clenched fist. Maybe comforting him for the first time.

And yet it’s too much. He lifts off from the table at the brush of her skin; retreating to the pallet she makes him sleep on.

“Have I hurt you enough for one evening?” she asks genuinely, and he nods. She lets out a sigh. Taking pity. Drinking by herself at the table as he lays down.

“I said I’d be back,” he mumbles into the nest of net and canvas. She stares at the table.

He rolls on his stomach, burying his face in the bed he’s made. His hands fist into the nets on the floor.

“I promised you.”

It feels for a moment as though he's about to strangle her.

What right does he have to her. What right.

Rey shakes her head.

“You didn’t promise me that if I ever found out I was pregnant, everything would be alright in the end. You didn’t promise that you would never take her away from me. You didn’t promise that I would live through that birth, even if I was alone. I didn’t know these things. I chose other comforts for what you couldn’t give me.”

He hadn't. He hadn't thought of anyone else, not once, since he had last seen her face.

“Why?”

She doesn't want to look at his betrayed expression.

“Because I’m human, Kylo. I am not bound by the way things must be; some cycle of nature that makes me act upon my life. I make mistakes. I do stupid things. I am just trying not to drown here.”

His reply is short and bitter.

"I'm sure you're proud, telling me now."

Rey sucks her cheeks in, shaking her head. 

"If you were here, it would have been a very different story."

She sounds so sad. It all circles back to one thing. If had had been back sooner, if he had been there at the right time, none of this would have been the mess that it was. 

Instead he stayed in the ocean until he nearly forgot himself again.

He doesn’t know if he sleeps after she leaves him. Carrying her lamp up to her room. He knows every squeaky step of those stairs. Hears them every night, wakes to them in reverse every morning.

There are whines that fill the tiny cottage all night that she can hear from her room.

And the morning brings pity.

Or mercy.

With her, it’s hard to tell.

He’s barely asleep, or barely awake, when she kneels down at the side of his pallet in the corner. He hears the soft sounds of the sleepy baby, croaking for her first feeding.

He knows that sound, from a distance. He always wakes up to it, too scared to breath, while he listens for Rey to climb out of bed and take care of Ondine at dawn.

Usually in the privacy of her own room.

His heart beats fast. But he can't move. He may startle her.

She’s right next to him, sighing, staring nervously at Ondine’s face. Looking over her shoulder, like she can sneak away from him before whatever plan she’s hatched goes south.

But the baby has waited for too long. It cannot be helped, or put off any longer.

Ondine cries hungrily.

Her yelp crashes through any hopes he had of pretending to still be asleep. Rey heaves a deep breath when his eyes fly guiltily open.

Caught.

But unclear who feels more so.

Then she pulls her breast free of her sweater and props Ondine’s head up to it.

There’s a soft sound of the baby feeding. Rey shifts to the side, resting on her hip instead of her knees. He throws an arm over her thighs for good measure. So she won't run.

This is the first time they look at each other.

“My girls,” he finally whispers, rubbing his brow against her knee.

What he heard last night will never change that. He decides that as soon as he sees her in her nightgown, feeding his baby.

She shakes her head, drawing away an inch or two.

After last night, she doesn’t want him to be nice to her. It makes what she said more painful.

Rey stares out the window, her eyes sad.

“He was shit in bed, by the way.”

His hands ball into fists. She keeps going as she adjusts the baby’s head after Ondine gives a grumpy whine either about her position or the latch.

“Kept calling me ‘Maeve’ and I have no clue where he got that name from...”

He finally sits up to look at her.

“You didn’t like him?”

Her nose wrinkles, like Ondine’s.

“I will never see him again and I couldn’t give less of a shit. My body was craving a cock.”

He lies perfectly still. Letting her snide tone torture him.

“Could have been yours, if you had played your cards right. I was wet as a lake and needed half a stroke to go off. A man in the house, sticking around, I couldn’t fathom it at the time. I would salivate for it.”

Sharing the gorey details seems to interest her less and less, once her aggression is gone. She adjusts Ondine into the crook of her elbow, her voice pensive. “I was hurt and alone and aching. I had just found out I was pregnant and I wanted to die. So no; I didn’t like him. I liked the song.”

“What was the song called?”

She thinks for a minute, her thumb stroking the back of Ondine’s head, “Hiljainen Suru.”

His eyes are glued to her chest, to Ondine’s lips on her. He tries to slide his thumb down the curve of her breast, but she slaps his hand away without so much as shaking their daughter. She’s gotten good at that.

“Your breasts are still so pretty,” he murmurs, and she closes her eyes. “Perfect.”

“Please don’t,” her voice breaks.

He touches her knee very gently. With a sigh, when she doesn’t flinch away from the exploratory touch, he rests his head in her lap.

The three of them together again.

“Did it help?” his eyelids flutter. Pleasure filling him more than he can say. “with the loneliness?”

She shakes her head.

“But it helped me know that I belonged to myself.”

 

Chapter Text

She’s feeding Ondine when he tries again.

His large body pushes the mattress down, crawling behind her, Rey stretched out to try and rest a little while the baby feeds. The lamp casts a halo around her body and she looks relaxed for once. He lies next to her, rested on the pillows.

He's never been in her bed before.

He’s still curious of the act of feeding; always has been. He paces around like a guard dog, but also exactly like the same kind of voyeur he seems to be trying to protect her from.

Maybe protecting his own right to watch the milk from her breast feed their baby.

So the motion towards her isn’t enough to send her hackles up: but his soft sound of pleasure and then a kiss pressed to her shoulder certainly do.

“Beautiful,” he murmurs, smiling vaguely at the sight, but she’s pulled away so fast that his face falls far too late. She sees the look he gave her.

“No.”

She snaps at him like she’s punishing a dog.

He flinches away.

He had been trying to enjoy this. He feels like shit, every day, his entire being itchy and uncomfortable. Ondine's been colicky; he hadn't the chance to bathe her yet because Rey can't control a seal pup throwing a tantrum so for the past week Ondine just gets gently rubbed clean with a wet cloth when Kylo can get her to sleep. Rey keeps her distance still, keeping space decidedly between them at all costs, even when all he does is chase.

“Rey,” his eyelids flutter. Stunned, still, each time she rejects him.

Touch was their love language when he had so few human words to speak. They did not first come together because he had poetry for Rey. He had soft eyes and firm lips. A body she got lost in. Skin that made her tremble, once.

Now, they have to make do without; and it kills him.

Doesn't she miss him?

He constantly sends Ondine into her arms for cuddling, for her feedings, as if the baby contains a message in a bottle of all his desired affection.

She ignores any codes from him through their daughter.

She’s still staring at him as though he’s bitten her.

She’s out of breath. She honestly looks...scared. He whines softly, staring at her, as though begging to be put out of his misery.

“No more babies,” she levels at him. He keeps blinking.

“I never said... -it was a kiss, Rey-

Her head whips over her shoulder to face him, her body hunched away, curling around their daughter in her arms.

“Out.”

“Rey…”

She ducks her chin and he sees her face almost ripple with the strength she steels herself with. There’s a bull-like breath that hisses out her nose. She is quivering from her bones to her skin.

“Get out.”

She gathers Ondine closer, looking down at her like it’s easier this way, shaking with a rage he can’t even comprehend. Her face so firm and angry, staring deep into nothing at all right in front of her.

Around them, there’s yellow, soft lamplight and afternoon sun tossed through lacy curtains. This place is supposed to be safe for them. This is supposed to feel good.

He gets defensive.

“I wasn’t trying to-”

She’s rapidly buttoning her dress back up, re-bundled Ondine resting in a nest of blankets and gurgling softly. Oblivious.

“Out.”

It’s the last time she will tell him. She has been very, very cautious with him. This is of the first few feedings she hasn’t tried to put a locked door between them to keep him away. He’s supposed to be grateful to just watch.

He is blind as he stumbles down that stairs. She's shut all the windows again, there's no salt air. He knows she's done it so the baby doesn't catch a chill, like she keeps saying, but her spite curdles so much of his ability to hold his tongue. 

His skin itches, like it’s going to flake off like dry scales.

Maybe she can bear a house this miserable, but if she's just going to sneer at him and tell him how little she needs him-

She doesn't have to need him. 

He promised he would come back. He couldn't

-wouldn't-

fight this anymore. He felt like he was dying. 

And there’s not much more he can do for himself. 

Rey was the only person in this world who cared about a stupid seal: even only enough to want to hunt it down.

He has a fucking curse and half a mind to swim straight into a crushing wave that sends him headfirst into the rocks. He has a damn skin that itches and needs to be wet by entire seasons spent oblivious of his own heart. He has something more vile and cruel than man; nature, and one that does not need him in the world and sneers at his attempts to fight it.

Rey has Ondine. She always had Ondine.

She won.

He fetches his skin from the flower box under the window and tears at the threadbare clothes he’s been wearing since he came back.

Just a short one, he promises as he sheaths himself back into his black self. Just a moment.

 


 

He’s back by night.

She doesn’t even flinch when he walks through the door. The house is quiet. She’s furiously knitting, the clicking in tight sequence and never slows as he, dripping, half-naked, drags himself to the chair across from her and collapses.

It was not enough time, but it was something, and his tongue is too swollen and furred to attack making an excuse for himself.

She doesn’t even scold him for tracking water in. His hair drips, he has to keep licking the salt from his face and blinking it from his eyes as it falls from his brow and nose.

“Suppose you needed that,” Rey observes after a few minutes, not looking up.

He grunts, nodding.

“We were fine while you were gone, thank you for asking.”

“Ondine?”

Rey merely licks her lips before speaking:

“Has already entirely shifted her favor from me to you; but I managed.”

Her tone is acrid. She just keeps knitting.

He swallows.

"And you?"

She shrugs. Rey delicately lifts the glass beside her on the table up to her lips.

He recognizes the color, knows it is drink. Tries to piece together…

She won't answer his question. Goes back to knitting.

“What did you get up to?”

“Hunted,” he blurts like a cough. He's still shuddering with labored breath.

“Uh-huh,” her lips purse as she focuses on her needles. “Three whole days of hunting.”

When he came back at night; he truly had thought he had swum day to night. Just one day to night. Ashamed, he lowers his head.

“Been that long?”

“Yes, Kylo.”

“Uhn,” he closes his eyes. Exhausted. He’d been trying to outswim himself since he touched the ocean waves.

He had not meant to be gone that long.

She gets up, gathering her knitting into its basket. He’s still panting, shaking like she was three days ago, and there’s a resignation there in her eyes as she watches him. Not quite mercy. More that her withheld anger was from pity instead.

“Didn't think you were coming back. I’ll make you some tea,” she murmurs, and despite having her point proven, she can’t bear to look at him.

“What are you..." he pauses and stares at the glass, "...drinking?”

“Whiskey,” she informs him, “but you’ll stick with tea.”

She fetches a mug when the kettle whistles.

“Where’s the skin?” she asks casually as she pours. She asks as though she's asking where he's left his muddy boots before coming inside.

“Box.”

She peers out the kitchen window. The oily sheet is balled up in a lump in the flower box. She stands on her sock-clad tiptoes to see it, the muscles of her calves flexing out from under the curtain of her flowered skirt.

All these things are little points of interest to him, fascinating, a human thing that makes her world seem magic. 

He adores her. Always will. But he has no idea how long she can fight him for. She didn't even bother to pick the fishhooks out of the net she gave him to sleep on; he's still not sure he's gotten them all after one dug into his arm the other night when he rolled over.

He tries to take it quietly, because he hurt her. He has no idea how to fix it.

He only has one way to make her like him; and she won't let it happen.

“So it is,” she sighs it out, setting the kettle down.

He lets out a guttural noise.

“I want to fuck my mate,” he growls, eyes glossy with the dull sheen. 

That was not about words. He speaks an instinct. 

He’s not going to move towards her. He stares at the fire as she adds honey to the mug and stirs for a few silent moments.

It is not a threat. It is undiluted, clumsy, pleading; in the fever that is such a heavy slam back and forth between land and sea and then back again. There is no subtlety to have.

She presses the steamy cup into his shaking hands, bending close;

“That’s not a demand someone makes after being gone for three days.”

"Let me make it better," he growls, something dipping his voice into a raw scrape like a knife across stone. 

"Shut up," she mutters, but there's little indication she's even taking him seriously, so he speaks without shame or regret. There is an odd sense of trust in that, an odd, metallic taste in his mouth as though he's been chewing on his own tongue for three days straight making him slap out words like water left in his ears.

She just sort of tolerates it.

“Being so close to you-”

It drives him insane. He has no other way to properly show her how he feels; other than following her around two steps behind and begging to do anything he can for her. It's not enough. He wants to scream from it not being enough.

Upstairs, the baby who lacked all of her usual lullabies for three days has been already restless and begins to cry. Rey doesn't even flinch; it's been three nights of this and no help. It's been months of this and no help. Three nights she can handle.

There are shadows under her eyes. He wonders how she slept. He wants to sleep beside her. He wants to fix what he's broken but he has no idea where the depth of her loathing sinks. 

That is what kills him. That she can prove, though painful, he can just leave; is expected to leave, is expected to be more monster than man and cursed and lost and doomed-

Kylo gives a little yelp at the sound of the baby's cries, making Ondine louder still in response, just like the first night he came in, until Rey presses her palm roughly over his open mouth.

“If this is so difficult for you, you can leave. Because I’m starting to think that the worst thing you did to us wasn’t being gone; it was coming back.”

She looks dead in his eyes. Daring him to find the words to say that he was back here, after she had already gotten her strength again, on anything but his own selfishness.

And he can't answer that in any way that doesn't start with "I wanted..."

There aren’t words. Not yet. He slumps back in his chair.

She doesn’t look happy that he has nothing else to say.

“When you are in a state to do so, you may hold her. For now, stay here.”

She squeezes his jaw, twisting his head away from her before she goes upstairs. He's not sure he has the legs to go. He'd been on the beach a few hours the last time he came to the house, practicing what to say. He came back as furiously in a trance as he left. 

From what he can hear; it takes a long time to soothe Ondine all by herself.

Chapter Text

There is a tentative routine formed now that he has returned.

It circles, as everything does, around Ondine. Meals and naps and baths and bedtime. After she sleeps, they clean the kitchen up together without speaking. Rey drinks whiskey at the table until her eyelids droop. Kylo lies on his mat and tries to listen and appreciate just the sound of her breathing; because he is here with her and he told himself once that would be enough.

They don’t talk other than to hand over duties or explanations; Ondine is asleep, the mixing bowl goes on the third shelf, can you pass me that basket of laundry?

Rey is somewhat proud that her suspicions have been proven correct. But he made his promises, and he is back as he vowed to be; so they are at a standstill.

She cannot own that she cares enough to be hurt.

And he cannot own that he cares enough to stay.

Rey doesn’t look at him. They only speak of the baby. Everything he touches she abruptly blurts out the word for; like he’s too stupid to remember “diaper” after three days away after helping perform hundreds of changes of them.

Yet he holds his tongue because how many hundreds more had she done before him.

Ondine loves him. He maybe doesn't appreciate it until her temper is cured by his return. She pulls his hair, giggles whenever he picks her up to cuddle or move or even to change her. Rey holds her tongue; even though he can see it kills her, after all that work a baby would never appreciate, that just the smell of her father is enough to calm their child. It's easy for him to be the lighthearted parent. Rey had to be soft and hard, strict and kind, order and chaos all on her own, exhausted and alone. Kylo could show up and offer balance without ever being the opposite of what he was.

They are different. Kylo has never had to compensate for her absence.

He hastily stacks blocks for Ondine's favorite game, tipping them over, so they stand sloppily and tumble readily. He savors the disruption of their collapse as Ondine shrieks at how deliciously naughty the idea of knocking over a tower can be.

Rey is patient. The patience of a seal hunter, or fisherwoman, sedately creating tall towers brick by brick. Ondine still tips them, but there is beauty to how she builds things. Sometimes he holds Ondine still, distracted, singing, so he can watch Rey finish what she started. Towers and forts and flowers- she makes flowers out of old ribbons and hands them to Ondine, who gives them to Kylo, who is enraptured by the present in a way he can't even fake-

-thank you, Ondine, thank you-

-and then they meet eyes and have to look away, Kylo resting the flower back on Rey's knee in her seat in the rocking chair. 

He is broody despite the smiles he puts on for Ondine, because the way he asked for the thing that he wanted was the way that ensured he would never get it. Rey is prickly, untouchable, and he wants her to stop steeling herself against the one way he can give her something good.

“Please let me watch her tonight,” Kylo comes up behind her at the sink. “Dear one. If she cries, I can take care her. You need the rest.”

Her shoulders slump with defeat. She doesn’t like to be an illogical mess to dodge his good intentions; but she’ll keep it up if she has to.

She also hates the nickname; but has stopped trying to strike the words from his mouth.

Rey is tired; they both know it. Under her eyes the skin is bruised and gray. But she just wipes the dish in her hand dry without raising her head from her work.

“If she needs a feeding, I have to be up anyway.”

He nods gently. “Then I’ll bring her to your side. Don’t even get out of bed.”

“Kylo,” she sighs, her brow furrowing, “I can’t imagine it’d be very restful with you coming up and down the stairs all night with her crying as long as it takes you to-”

“Then I’ll sleep in the room with her.”

“My room,” she reminds him, agitated, and he heaves out an annoyed sigh, like she’s being more difficult with her boundaries than usual. She’s astounded that he keeps pretending this behavior is new from her.

“Then if she needs feeding, I can dunk her in the tub, and she can change, and that way I can give her fish. She won’t need a nipple for that.”

“Kylo.”

His finger points right in her face. She freezes, staring at it hover between her eyes.

“You smiled.”

He’s at her elbow in an instant, ducking close to peer at her face. It is grave again, she’s furiously returned to washing, but he saw it reflected in the window.

She had laughed.

She doesn’t even speak to give him the satisfaction of a response. They finish the dishes in silence, but he's still flushed with pride.

When she’s rolling down her sleeves, languorous in taking her drink tonight to the table; she pours out two.

Sets the glass down and taps the vacant spot beside her.

He seats himself neatly there, drinks obediently.

Her head is in her hand, her closed off face ready for sleep. Those lids already drooping, her mouth downturned and sad.

“Sing me one of those selkie lullabies.”

Again he obeys, after a moment to choke back the protesting cough from the drink.

They watch the fire and he lets his voice float out and fill the room.

It’s not in words; but a purring sound that nudges her throat like a sleepy cat. She can’t look at him as he does it.

There’s a tremble, the lines beside her eyes wrinkle like she’s holding back a sob.

It doesn’t need language. It is the sound of the earth.

She doesn’t move until the song is done. There is a pale arch of color on her cheek, he wonders if she really does blush in the light.

Rey pinches the bridge of her nose. “Jesus. She does sing exactly like you.”

He takes another sip, watching her carefully.

There is insult again in the comparison, but in the deprecation of self. Rey judges herself; not her spectacular baby, or even the lover who gave her a magical child.

“She is so much more like you-” he tries, but she will not have it.

His love shakes her head, tears dotting her eyes. She sets her empty hands on the table. Her palms look soft. Warm. He wants to place his head in them.

She looks guilty, for once, having not even a smidgen of regret to throw his way when she tormented him about that night in the pub.

But the muscles of her face seem to physically struggle to get this glimmer of honesty out:

“I love her. Don’t ever doubt that. But I also...I hate her sometimes. When she looks at me with your eyes.”

It is horrible to him. He leans back, a huffy breath leaving his nose.

“How can you hate her, if only sometimes?”

His tone is curious, not accusing. But it still sounds an awful thing, impossible, and she closes her eyes and turns away.

She had said it to hurt him. But she found the truth in it reflected in his tone.

Rey looks at her glass. Sips again. There’s a thickness in her throat; perhaps the whiskey. The room leans slightly, but she almost believes it was the seduction of his song.

“The terrible pain.”

She shakes her head when his hand flutters over his chest, asking.

“No. Outside pain,” Rey takes a deep breath. “The birth. She nearly tore me open. I bled for days. Maz was sure I’d die: between that and the state of my heart I was a goner. We were all sure of it. That Ondine would be a girl alone in the world, like I was. I had very little fight in me. No one was coming; because of what I'd done, they thought I deserved it. I thought as much too. I lay in bed and let the pain take over in waves.”

“And you were alone.”

She nods.

“Couldn’t leave the bed. That’s when it hid inside. Maz says…”

She clenches her jaw a few times before continuing, “That mothers sometimes lack the instinct to see their own baby, at the start. I just saw a mouth to feed, crying, and some mornings resented it and what it had done to my body and all the things I could not have. It got easier. But it took me time.”

He feels that horrible, eel-slick twist in his gut again; the inside pain that could be his undoing. Rey has been wronged by him in a thousand ways. But he can’t have his child suffer for it.

“Hate me,” he covers his mouth with his palm, pleading, “hate me instead.”

“I do.” She grips her glass in a white hand. “If she hadn’t come, our Ondine-”

“If I hadn’t come,” he tries to correct, but she shakes her head. “Blame me.”

Rey gives him a look that begs him to let her speak. He is silent. Waiting.

She takes another breath. The tears fall freely down her cheeks.

“I might have been someone different. Someone stronger. Darker. A stone woman, of no softness, after you left. But I had to be soft for her. Open myself to a million burning inside pains every day when I saw you in her. I felt that I could be soft if I were able to think of nothing but killing you all day and give everything else in me to her.”

“Would you give her up?”

She had readily done that with him.

“A lover and a baby are two different things to get over,” she glares at him. “You never get over a baby.”

And the idea sinks black through his soul.

She didn’t keep Ondine on a conscious choice. She didn’t do it for him. She felt there was no other option. He’s thinking like an animal; runts being left out in the night for nature to take its course.

He could never imagine Rey doing that.

But sometimes nature demands that savagery, and he had filled in, with his mind in the sea, that if she truly didn’t want this....

But he wants to kiss her bare feet in thanks that Ondine was there for him to come home to. Even if Rey felt she had no choice.

Because she lived on a conscious choice. He wants to kiss her until his lips bleed in thanks that she did.

She clenches her jaw as she sips, tossing the words over her shoulder to him like scraps;

“You may not understand now that sometimes I hate her; but you will never understand how much I love her.”

He takes a shaky breath, and willingly fills his mouth with whiskey for the first time. She watches him with her piercing gaze.

“I love you,” he murmurs, “because you lived through all that pain.”

She shrugs off his attempt. He loves her for Ondine. She knew that for a long time. Didn’t mean this was meant salvaging for scrap.

“That’s not enough for me,” she tells him with finality.

Then he understands. Her aversion to touch. Her rages. Her resentment when he tries to get close; pretend they can go back.

“Because you can’t do it again.”

Her face crumples; she whimpers, lowering her face into her hands. She’s dealt with this decision alone for a long time.

He just wants to put his arms around her. But his touch did this to her; and he knows now that every stroke of his fingers or look of longing terrifies her.

Touch meant sex. Sex meant babies.

She couldn’t prevent it from happening; no more than she could stop herself from loving him. She didn’t know the ways to stop it. They had to do what they did, as natural as breathing. But when the baby came everyone around her wrung their hands and averted their gaze and acted astonished that she like so many girls her age became pregnant with nothing but their own naive sense of the world to tell them what had happened.

Shoulda’ been married first.

Someone spat this at her when she was purchasing carrots at the market before Ondine came. She had held the vegetable tight in her fist with the ringless finger, belly extended out of her and her hips stuck in a permanent waddle, but she’d still best him in a fight. Her jaw was clenched as she watched him retreat to his truck; picking up Sunday roast for babies that just kept coming until his wife’s time came in ten, fifteen years. As though they were as wanted, the brood of rabbits they were, or as planned each time as Ondine was once.

People like them felt more prepared than a girl like her because they had steeled themselves for an onslaught. 

She resigned her bitterness to inaction, in that moment, for there was nothing more cursed than one’s own fate.

Doctors didn’t come, Maz tried not to let her see it, but when her waters came it was just her there for the birth. Maz, the old hermit woman. Much like what Rey would probably become herself, in that cottage alone, if not for Kylo and Ondine.

The doctors wouldn’t come, wouldn’t help, and the only people who offered help in those days other than Maz were the nuns. There were places for girls like Rey. There were homes for children like Ondine. Shuffled away so no one had to look at them and the odd place they occupied. Ugly things, inside.

Unwanted children. Unwed mothers.

How would she be better off, married to a selkie? She’d still feel the same, with him at sea and a ring on her finger, at least when he was free so was she.

“I can’t,” she shakes her head. “I can’t have another baby with you. I can’t stand to see you go and Ondine go; one more person leaving me would put me in the grave. I mean it, Kylo.”

“I won’t do that to you again,” he swallows, grabbing her hands and holding on with white knuckles. They are clasped in almost a prayer. “I will never. Rey. I’m so sorry.”

She leans her brow on his shoulder and he wraps his arms around her. Holding tight.

She’s tired, and drunk, and so wrung out on grief. Her repulsion towards touch is forgotten in her need for comfort.

“I’m sorry I hurt you. You’re so strong. So, so strong. I couldn’t take this pain. Dear one, you were strong for our girl and I was weak. I don’t deserve you.”

Her hands, tenderly, tentatively, weave into his hair.

In a sad way, they come to a place of peace. They can both be miserable; denied of the things they want, together.

Bound by Ondine.

Chapter Text

“It is...maybe time...” he sighs, bringing it up over breakfast in his impossibly careful tone.

Rey lowers her spoon with an already-sick expression. That tone always leads to bad things. She would be calmer for Death himself to warn her of the right time for anything.

It’s too early in the day for this argument.

“...to let her be in the sea.”

She shovels oatmeal into her mouth -hers cold as always, from the chores she has to do in the morning she always eats last- and rests those tired eyes on his face.

There is no room in her mouth for a response, only cold food, because she’s hungry.

“I won’t let anything happen,” he tries to keep his voice sweet and gentle. Trustworthy too, more even and serene than he truly feels about this. “Just a swim.”

With a tired sound, she looks down at the baby at her breast. The fuzzy little head.

His viewing of it certainly took all the ceremony out of when Ondine fed. And with how difficult she has been to latch lately; the convenience of pulling a breast out at the table is not wasted on Rey, who is bruised under the eyes with sleeplessness.

With Ondine rested in her sling, the heels of Rey’s hands dig into the hollows of her eyes, her head tilting back. He’s not sure if she cries behind her palms.

“How do we do this?” Rey sits back up, adjusting Ondine in the sling over her shoulder.

She’s cranky and gives a tired wail.

“I don’t know what’s been wrong with her,” Rey admits sadly, and her confusion is so hopeless that he would crush his own skull with a rock if his brain held the answer on a slip of paper inside it, just for her.

“Maybe she just needs to feel that what she is.”

“The baths were supposed to help-”

Rey’s face is puffy and downturned.

No one in the house has been sleeping. There are thing he just can't do to help. Things he doesn't understand, about sore nipples and difficult latches and colic and a million human pains. But saltwater, wild, twisting saltwater, might soothe the baby the way her milk cannot. 

Kylo leaves his seat across from her and pulls her to rest her head on his shoulder. Ondine between them.

“You said your kind can forget themselves…”

“I will not let that happen. We’ll take her to our cove.”

The place they had kissed and cuddled and maybe, just maybe, made Ondine. That was the safest place in the world to him.

She burrows closer into his embrace, the memory, in her exhaustion, a happy one. But her threat is still deathly cold.

“If you lose her; you will have killed me.”

 

 

Rey fumbles her boots on. Kylo fetches his skin from the window box. Ondine’s cries finally break as the sea air hits her.

They walk the shore in silence.

He insisted she bring something for herself to eat, a distraction and a break while he took Ondine to salt water for the first time. Rey had been wary of this on her own; how easy could it be for one woman to hold onto a baby seal slippery in her hands. He keeps his hand on her shoulder, and she tolerates it as he carries Ondine and she the basket of food.

He even kisses her ear as she locks the door behind them. Like a family readying to go to Sunday mass.

“What’s it like?” she wonders aloud, the waves tossing over the tops of her boots. He stays carefully away, knowing the water is too hard to resist when it hits his skin.

He looks at the rocks crunching under his feet. “Like going home.”

Rey’s shoulder give a slight shake; nothing she can build can be his true home.

Ondine’s either.

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine,” she shrugs, because it’s not. It might be salt mist on her cheeks, just might be, but he’s not so blind to her body as he is to her words, “Tell me more about her skin. She doesn’t shed hers. I’ve tried…”

She looks steadily ahead.

“I’ve tried removing it.”

“I know,” he can’t blame her, especially with a young baby. “As a selkie, you can shed it as you choose when you get older. She’s too little. Too young to know there is a choice. So her body adapts to land and sea. When she grows, it’ll be different.”

Her face is drawn and thoughtful.

No one imagines a baby as something that will someday make choices.

“But it’s easier for you this way, imagine how quickly she’d lose it.”

Ondine is chirping in his arms, holding a shell he had scooped up off the sand for her, and as if conspiring to prove his point; drops the shell.

Even Rey laughs.

“I wouldn’t try very hard to find it.”

She then sighs a little dreamily, arms crossed over her chest from the cold.

“Will she be warm enough?”

“As a seal, yes.”

“Kylo,” her voice is very firm. “Is there any way a baby can be removed from their sealskin?”

He had not said it was impossible; his initial explanation dismissive.

“It is possible,” he answers slowly. “And I know someone who can. But I won’t teach you, Rey.”

She grumbles and shakes her head, annoyed.

“I wouldn’t ask you to ruin her nature, however much it hurts me.”

Ondine is staring at the sea like a bag of sweets. Her mouth puddles the fabric of his threadbare shirt, making it cling his shoulder.

He clears his throat.

“Dry her out.”

Rey looks at him, surprised.

“If you want her to change back. You can’t peel off the skin, but if you want her to go back and she won’t, put her in blankets, or just near enough to the fire for her to feel dry. It’s the easiest way. She’ll go back.”

“That sounds like torture,” her voice is labored and sad. He shrugs, walking slow steps to keep pace beside her.

“It is,” he agrees, “but I trust you won’t do it on a whim. I don’t know how to take her skin off, I just know it can be done, as it was to me, when I was a little one. I got sick, I couldn’t change. My parents had to change me back. They...they know how.”

Her arms are crossed.

“You never said you had parents.”

“Well, it’s not impossible,” he murmurs dryly, pleased by her offense and even more greatly by her clear interest in them.

“They must not approve of me,” she mumbles, looking at the ground. Ondine reaches for her, tugging a loose strand of the hair she binds at the nape of her neck, forcing them to walk closely as the child plays with her curls. “Trapping you here. Raising your child when I’m not fit to marry.”

Kylo laughs softly, watching her sweet little ear turn flushed.

“They’d like you,” and he pinches her waist from the other side, surprising her, “and you’re the one who doesn’t want to get married, dear one.”

“Hmm,” her lips are thin with doubt.

They weave around a massive stone in the sand; ancient and towering, and the dip towards the cliffs, away from the water, leads them to the entrance of the cove. The rocks form a safe little basin before opening into the sea. It looks like a targe tub, and Rey looks both relieved and afraid.

Rey rests back on the blanket as Kylo lets Ondine explore their cove, the circle of rock that almost enclose it into a bowl. His top half is naked, he told her something of the smell of him, the contact with his skin, and she remembers Maz pulling the buttons of her dress open to place the bloody infant on her breast.

A bond, Maz said it formed, a bond between her and her child.

His large arms encircle their pup, shining like a jewel in seawater.

He is in his human form to keep an eye on her slippery swimming, but Rey sees the occasional tremble of pleasure in his bare shoulders when a wave caresses his leg.

It calls him even now.

The day ends abruptly when Ondine darts off.

Her taste of the sea is a fierce drug. It’s like a penny dropped down a well and Rey can only watch her daughter vanish from shore. Kylo dives quickly, moving through the water like a knife cutting through flesh.

Her heart stops. He’s killed her. He’s killed them all. She howls in time to see his form shift and then he’s too deep, out too far, to see a thing.

She doesn’t resume breathing until a seal breaks the waves with a squirming pup hanging from the scruff of the neck in his mouth. He swims to her. Part of her isn’t sure it’s the right pup. Maybe this will be the sad song about them. A story of a selkie husband loses their selkie baby so he brings a seal pup home to their cottage and his sad wife nurses it like her own child.

She wouldn’t know it was truly Ondine until she decided to change.

A little squeak awoke something ancient and divine in her, the pup’s cry, her tit dripping milk eagerly through her dress for the baby that she knew that it was.

Kylo was dripping, his form a man, his hand on her cheek, his eyes blown black and his body trembling from the shock of tearing himself back for them.

"I've got her," he croons, desperate to calm her like he calms their baby when she cries. "I'm sorry."

Salt coats her tongue as they hold the wriggling, squawking pup between them.

Why were the stories, even the magical ones, that dotted this coast all so sad?