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The Salt of the Ocean

Chapter Text

Every time Nomura goes to buy groceries, she sees her.

The redhead woman who feeds the ducks swimming around in the pond in the park Nomura cuts through as a shortcut.  This weekly occasion is the only time and place Nomura ever sees her.  Not that Nomura would admit to actually looking when elsewhere.

It’s unusual.  The woman is unusual.  Everything about these fleeting moments is unusual.  Nomura, more than most, knows the unusual like the back of her hand.  So, the fact that she doesn’t know this woman.  Well, it doesn’t upset her.  Not exactly.  But it doesn’t leave her completely unperturbed either.

Perhaps it’s that the woman never wears shoes or socks, but refrains from dipping her toes in the water.  Perhaps it’s the way the wind catches and tugs her tangled hair, yet she never responds or attempts to tame it to it.  Perhaps it’s the way her dress flutters, so light and airy, like a flower petal that just happened to come to a rest on her.  Perhaps it’s the wide parasol she always has with her and sits under.  Perhaps it’s the way her voice, talking to the ducks, is so quiet one can only hear the echo of it on the breeze.

Perhaps it’s all these things.

Perhaps it’s none of them.

Regardless, Nomura always notes the woman when she passes by on her way.  Though she doesn’t speak to her.  She makes a habit of not conversing with anyone she doesn’t have to.

Even if her mind has made a habit of wondering about the redhead woman.

The wind is particularly strong that Saturday morning, despite the sun shining and lack of indications of an oncoming storm in the sky.

Nomura sees the parasol before she sees the redhead woman.  It bounces on the breeze toward her.  Spiraling and spinning, clearly out of control.  Behind it, farther down the path, Nomura can see its mistress giving chase.

Without truly thinking about it, Nomura plucks the parasol out of its dance and holds onto it until the woman, breathing heavily and shivering, reaches her.

The woman freezes a couple of foot-lengths from Nomura, like a deer frozen in a car’s headlights.  Her eyes dart from her parasol to Nomura’s face and back again.  She bits her lower lip.

“Here.”  Nomura holds out her hand with the parasol.  “Take it.”

The redhead woman hesitantly closes the distance between her and Nomura.  One step.  Two.  They’re facing each other, only a few inches apart.  The woman reaches out, places her hand over Nomura’s—and it’s cold, so cold—and gently removes the parasol from her grip.

“Thank you.  It was very kind of you to retrieve this for me.”

“Y-you’re welcome,” Nomura stammers.  “Did you fall in the pond?  You’re cold.”  She doesn’t like the idea of taking off her own coat to offer to this woman, but she does it anyway.  The wind is biting as it whips around them.  Nomura knows she can withstand a little cold, but this woman is already freezing to the touch.  A small amount of kindness wouldn’t hurt.

The redhead woman smiles sadly.  “Don’t do that to yourself.  I’m always cold,” She whispers.  “I’ve grown quite used to it.”

“Then, why come out here?”  Nomura snaps.  “Especially on a day like today!”  Why do I care?  She asks herself, but doesn’t say.  Maybe it’s because the woman is one of the few familiar, nice things she gets to see regularly.  Sure, she may not have a personal investment in her, but she also doesn’t like the idea of her freezing to death.

The redhead woman shrugs.  “I like to see the water and talk to the ducks.  Sometimes they’ll fly out to the sea and, when they come back, they’ll tell me about it.”

“That doesn’t make any sense.”

The redhead woman cocks her head.  “It doesn’t, does it?”  There’s something piercing in her gaze that unnerves Nomura.  Like looking into a still lake when the first winds of a storm ripple over it.

Nomura opens her mouth to speak.

A car honk’s loud blare shatters her opportunity.

The woman glances over her shoulder, and then hastily asks, “Will you come again tomorrow?  I only see you every now and then.”  An expression that might be a blush takes over her face.  “I would like the chance to see you sooner.”

The car honks again.  Thrice it booms over them.  The redhead woman flinches.  “And there is something I need to ask of you.  Something important.  Please. I can’t do it on my own.”

“I…”  Momentary kindness is one thing, but Nomura doesn’t do favors.  Not big ones.

Please?  You’re the only person who may be willing to understand.”  The woman gulps back a cry.  “Please, help me.”

Nomura is not a compassionate person, but she promises, “I’ll come.  I’ll be here,” anyway.

The redhead woman rushes off, and Nomura is left with the wind and her wonderings.

Chapter Text

The next day it rains.

Hundreds of water droplets patter against the windows as Nomura tries to find her old umbrella.  Something she’d always considered a perk of living in Arcadia was how little the weather was anything but dry.  Nomura does not like sogginess.

“I cannot believe you, you, are going out in this.”  Otto, Nomura’s (unfortunately permanent) roommate chuckles.  “And, for what?  You have broken promises before, nein?  Am I not sitting here?”

Nomura glares at him while shoving coats this way and that in the closet.  She’s fairly certain the umbrella is in here somewhere.  Logically, it’s the most sensible place for it to be.  “That’s different.  I never promised you anything.  Your own foolishness is what caused your demise.”

“Tsk, tsk, mon freund.  Don’t you know it’s rude to remind a ghost about his death?”

Nomura rolls her eyes.  “If you don’t want to be reminded of it, you’d leave.”

“Ah, and let someone else have the honor of haunting you?”  Otto’s expression turned to a faux sympathy.  “Nein.”

Nomura finds the umbrella on the closet floor underneath a pile of discarded replica costumes from various, old museum exhibits.  Monetarily, they’re practically worthless, but she likes to keep them around for sentimentality’s sake.  That, and it’s utterly exhausting to regularly come up with new disguises on her own.  There are much better uses for her powers.

Nomura yanks the umbrella out from under the costumes and goes to close the closet door.  She pauses, and casts a second glance at the costumes.  On the one hand, she’s not expecting trouble today (at least not much of it).  On the other hand, she hasn’t survived this long by not being prepared.

Nomura grabs a couple of the costumes and throws them over one arm.

She tells Otto on her way out, “For a haunting ghost, you’re rather tame.”

He shrugs.  “Eh, it’s not worth it when it rains.  Though, who knows?  Perhaps I’ll do a bit of rearranging in your absence.”

“I dare you.”  Nomura smirks at him.

“Perhaps not.”


When she arrives at the park, Nomura half-expects to find the redhead woman nowhere in sight.  During her short drive, the rain took a turn for the worse.

A torrential downpour hammers into the ground.  Nomura parks her car and takes her keys from the ignition.  She passively observes puddles flood the sidewalk and pour into the street outside the window.  She groans, half-convinced she should just turn around and go home.  This is no weather to be out in, especially on a day when she has off from work.

A flicker of movement catches Nomura’s eye.  Outside, in the world grayed by the storm, is a burst of deep crimson red.  It bobbles and moves around so fast that, at first, Nomura assumes it’s some flyer torn from one of the park’s notice boards.  But, it’s not she realizes.  It’s thick locks of something—hair—twisting around something—someone.  It’s hard to make the person out, her white dress and pale skin tone blend easily into the monochrome background, but she’s definitely there.

Before she can think it through, Nomura’s hand is on the door of her car and she pushes it open.  She slips out of her car without grabbing her umbrella, which she instantly regrets.  The rain wastes no time in drenching her.

No turning back now, she mentally tells herself.  Otto will likely pester her about this encounter when she returns home, and tease her relentlessly if she lets slip she got out of the car in the rain without going through with it.

Nomura walks into the park.  Her first steps are careful to skirt around the puddles, but after her third misstep leads to her toes being submerged in freezing water, she gives up.  Destiny’s plan is not for her to be comfortable today.  Message received; grouchily accepted.

Nomura stops when the redhead woman, who, she makes a mental note, she’ll need to get some kind of better name or title for, fully comes into view.  Her original assumption had been the redhead woman was sitting in her usual spot while the weather whipped her hair around her head.  That is not the case.

The redhead woman dances around the pond.  Bare arms outstretched, she spins in circles and leaps over her reflection in the puddles.  Her hair slaps against her back and sticks to her shoulders, but she doesn’t seem to care.  Rain races down her body in long rivulets, but she doesn’t seem to care.  Her dress has to be waterlogged by now, but she doesn’t seem to care.

She only cares when she sees Nomura.  Her eyes widen at the sight of the other woman’s intrusion.  Her feet splash down in a puddle, but their landing is wrong.  She loses her balance and falls.

Nomura slowly approaches her, as one would a frightened animal.  The redhead woman always was more dainty and delicate than her, but here she appears truly vulnerable.  She gazes up at Nomura, and gulps.  The way the redhead woman’s dress clings to her huddled form makes her look so small.  Breakable.  Her dress has fallen off one shoulder, leaving a curved, tear-drop shaped scar revealed.

Nomura holds out a hand, “Can I help you up?”

The redhead woman hesitates, but then places her hand in Nomura’s.  Whereas, yesterday, in the sun, her touch was cold, today it’s warm and comfortable.

Like the water gives her life.  The thought flits away before Nomura can truly process it.

“I…err…I shouldn’t have…I’m sorry.”  The redhead woman releases Nomura the second she’s up.  “You…you um…must be freezing?  I’m sorry.”  She casts her eyes down at the ground.  “I should never have made you come.”

“No one makes me do anything,” Nomura retorts.  “And you’re rain-drenched.”  She thinks of the costumes in her backseat.  “Wait here.”  She goes back to her car, rustles through the costumes, and pulls out a long coat that was originally from something about ships and sailors (she forgets what exactly).  When she gets back to the redhead woman, she wraps it around her shoulders.

It is only partially an act of kindness.  The woman’s dress, soaked as it is, clings particularly to her curves and chest.  Despite her not wanting it to go there, Nomura’s brain still considers, for a briefest instant, the thought of being attracted to the redhead woman.  Covering her up helps her banish the thought.

“Thank you.”  The redhead woman draws the coat tighter around herself.  “This is very nice.”

Nomura spots a roofed pavilion nearby.  “Let’s go under there.”  She doesn’t wait for an answer before she begins walking.

When they’re out of the rain, she turns on the redhead woman.  “So, do you have a name?”  It’s more of a demand than a question.  Nomura likes to know who she’s talking to.  Anonymity gives everyone else the power of concealment.  Concealment allows them more knowledge than her in situations.  That never works for her.  Not anymore.

The redhead woman blinks, taken aback.  Nervously, “I…errr…Barbra.”  Then, with more confidence, “The name I go by is Barbra.”

“What about a last name?”  There were likely dozens, if not hundreds, of ‘Barbras’ in the Arcadia region.  Nomura needs more than that if she’s going to be successful in finding out more on her later.

“…Streisand?”

Nomura raises an eyebrow.  “You really want me to believe your name is ‘Barbra Streisand’?”

‘Barbra’ bits her lip and hunches in on herself.  “Yes?  I…I do not wish to take my husband’s name.”  She clenches her fingers into fists.  “There was once a cottage by the sea where the people played pretty music.  I used to sit on the rocks below and listen to it.  I heard them say one day the singer was named ‘Barbra Streisand’.”  She looks up and her eyes meet Nomura’s.  “That is the name I want.”

Nomura frowns.  “Alright.”  She’ll press again for something more than an alias later if necessary.  “What do you need my help for?”

Barbra gives her a piercing look, one significantly less fearful than all her previous ones.  “You’re not like the humans are you?”  She responds with a question of her own.

Nomura’s eyes automatically dart around.  Of course, no one else is there.  She breathes out in relief regardless.  “What do you mean?”  She feigns innocence.

“Your shadow.”  Barbra continues looking at her.  “I’m not exactly sure what it is.  I know very little of surface creatures, but I know enough to recognize what is not a human shadow in the sun’s light.”

“Ah.”  Nomura’s frown nearly turns into a scowl, but she prevents it.  “That.”

“The humans.  They don’t notice, do they?”

“Not usually.  I’m very careful.”  Nomura thins her lips.  “So, why did you?”

“I’m very observant.”  Barbra cocks her head curiously.  “What are you?”

“Do you want my help or do you want to ask me too many questions?  It’s one or the other.”

Barbra’s eyes turn downcast.  “I just thought…if you’re not one of them, you might…I’m…I’m not…” she takes a breath.  “I don’t belong here.  On the surface.  The sea is my home.  I want to go home,” she ends these words on a soft note.  “But I cannot.  Not while…when he first…when I was…when—I went to the human authorities.  They refused to believe me.  They laughed and then my husband came and they listened to him.”  She sighs heavily.  “And he…he was angry.”  She squeezes her eyes shut, opens them.  “I thought that maybe.  Maybe, if you’re not one of them, you might understand?”

Nomura sits down on one of the benches lining the border of the pavilion.  This, whatever this is, is going to give her a headache.  She sighs.  “I’m not a human, but I’m not telling you what I am.  You’re going to have to live with that.”  She pauses.  “I will help you, but you need to tell me with what first.”

Barbra sits down beside her, but leaves space between them.  She stares at the ground, and then says, “I’m a selkie, from the sea.  When I walk upon the land, I can take a human form.”  She runs a hand along the hem of the long coat Nomura gave her.  “To return to the sea, I must wear my sealskin.  Otherwise, I will never be able to go back.”  She wraps her arms around herself.  “The man who became my husband stole my sealskin and hid it.”  She looks to Nomura.  “I need you to find it and steal it back.”

A car’s honk steals Nomura’s opportunity to reply.  This time, Nomura can see the vehicle it belongs to.  Its headlights pierce through the rain, not quite landing on them, but coming close.  A silhouette of a dark figure sits in the driver’s seat.

“My husband.”  Barbra lets out a breath.  “I must go.”  She looks to Nomura, her gaze searching.

“I’ll find it,” Nomura promises.  She watches Barbra walk to the car.

Is she getting too deep into this conflict?  Yes.  A century or two ago, she vowed to herself she wouldn’t involve herself in trouble unless it involved itself in her life first.  But, despite not being a selkie herself, Nomura feels a small amount of kinship with Barbra.  Here’s someone who also knows what it’s like to live among the humans while not being one herself.

That, and despite what some believe of her, Nomura doesn’t have a cruel heart.  She can’t just leave Barbra in a situation she’s clearly miserable in.

Calling upon her own abilities, Nomura disappears in the blink of an eye.


“Who is she?”

Barbra focuses on the windshield and the rain running down it.  She loves the rain, the way the water feels against her skin.  It’s the closest she can get to feeling like herself again.

“Who is who?”  She asks her husband back quietly.  Barbra feels him grab her chin and turn her head to face him.  She looks away, anywhere but him.  He growls a warning.  She meets his gaze.

“You know very well who.  The woman you were sitting with.”  He narrows his eyes.  “Is she someone you’ve met here before?  How regularly do you see each other?”

Barbra forces herself to gaze at him steadily.  “Just a kind woman who offered me a coat when it started to rain.”  She realizes she’s still wearing the garment.  Her heart skips a beat.  She doesn’t dare ask to return it.  “I’ve never seen her before today.  We sat together in the enclosure because it was the only place for refuge from the rain.  She told me about her children and her life.  She was very talkative.”

His eyes search her for the lie, but don’t find it.  “Alright.”  His hand trails up her jawline to cup her cheek.  “You know how I worry about you.  The human world is a cruel place.  One you can’t possibly understand.  I only want to protect you from it.”

“I know.”

He smiles, and strokes her cheek with his thumb.  “Well now, aren’t you going to kiss your husband hello?”

She does.

He leans back, satisfied.  His eyes sweep over her.  “I suppose that coat does suit you.  Perhaps we should do some roleplaying later tonight.”

The corners of Barbara’s mouth tick up in an acquiescing smile for the briefest moment, but her hands tremble in her lap.

Chapter Text

It was three weeks after the last time that Nomura saw the one she once loved for the final time.  At the time, it was one of the longest periods of waiting she’d ever endured.  When Nomura was with the last one she ever loved, everything just was better.  The world became a much grander place, full of vivid colors and excitement.  People, rather than being potential enemies, were just going about their business.  A new adventure waited around every corner.  Nomura seldom had to go long without a dainty, warm hand intertwining itself in her own, the sight of clever blue eyes twinkling with a new idea, or a warm set of lips pressing themselves against her own.

And the music.  Oh, the music.  The music was, by far, the very best part.

A century and a half had passed since then.  The world with it.  What was once warm and alive long since had been laid to rest in a chilly grave.  Music, once played in opulent orchestra halls, was left forgotten on old recordings that no one bothered with anymore.

Unless they happen to be the curator of a museum dedicated to the history of the arts tasked with opening a new exhibit, that is.  When she was first given this assignment by her sole superior, the elderly Ms. Tabitha Germaine, Nomura had considered ‘forgetting’ about Peer Gynt.  There were other operas and plays from Northern Europe that surely could take its place in the exhibit.  Ms. Germaine trusted her, would never suspect her to purposefully leave something out.  Yet, in the end, despite all that it had come to mean to her, Nomura couldn’t bring herself to do so.  For once, the minuscule part of herself that still clung to fondness for that time of her life won out.

So, when the opening night for the exhibit came, Peer Gynt had a corner dedicated to itself in the gallery.  A small corner.  An easily ignorable corner.  But a corner all the same.

After doing a final walkthrough of the exhibit, Nomura joins Ms. Germaine by their museum’s main entrance.  It’s a couple minutes until 8, when the doors automatically unlock and the guests invited to the Opening Night Gala would filter in.

Ms. Germaine eyes Nomura.

“Everything is ready,” Nomura tells her before she can ask the question.  “The security guards are in place.  The caterers are prepared in the Reception Room.  Servers have been assigned to each of the doors to remind the guests to not take food or drink out into the exhibit.”

“I don’t know what I would do without you, Nomura.”  Ms. Germaine sighs in relief.  “You always think of everything.”

“It’s my job.”  The corner of Nomura’s mouth twists up into a smile regardless.  She looks to her watch, and then the doors.  It’s time.

Wealthy patrons and philanthropists generally make up the guest list for their opening galas.  As their money almost entirely funds the museum, it’s considered a courtesy to allow them first viewing rights.  Soon after she came to work for the museum, Nomura memorized who each of the regulars were that show up to these events.  So, going into that night, she assumed she knew each and every face that would walk in through those doors.

And, technically, she did.

She just didn’t have enough information to make a certain connection before.  Or expect to see a very particular face there.

Mr. Walter Strickler wasn’t like their other patrons.  He had less money to throw around.  Nomura was vaguely aware he was a history teacher at one of the local public high schools, so his income wasn’t stellar, but, it was rumored he had quite the inheritance from somewhere.  That or, as Ms. Germaine believed, he was ‘taken care of’ by one of their other patrons.  He sure was handsome enough to fulfill such a role, she’d reminded Nomura on numerous occasions.

Regardless of how he got his money, Mr. Strickler had enough to regularly make donations to the museum and appearances at their galas.  He wasn’t a surprising sight.

Who was, was the arm candy he brought with him.

Nomura hadn’t seen Barbra for almost a week, not since their meeting in the rain.  She visited the park both before and after work, but neither were times where Barbra could show up.  She was never there.

Seeing her now, it took Nomura a moment to recognize her.  Both because of her memory blurring between the time since their last meeting and this one and the elegance of the way Barbra was dressed.

Like a porcelain doll, Nomura thinks to herself as Barbra and Mr. Strickler approach her.  Barbra always wore nice dresses when she went to the park, but this—well, the gala was a black tie event.  Despite the dress looking lovely on her, it didn’t seem to suit Barbra like something she picked out herself would.

“Ms. Nomura, lovely to see you as ever,”  Mr. Strickler gives her with a warm smile.  He reaches out, and she allows him to kiss her fingertips as he per his usual greeting.  A shiver doesn’t run up Nomura’s spine.  She’s far too in control of her emotions for that.  Yet, she’s glad when he takes a step back.

Nomura nods politely back at him.  “Likewise.  I hope you enjoy yourself this evening.”  Her eyes dart to Barbra and back in the quickest of motions, but he still notices.

“Ah, I don’t believe I’ve brought my wife to one of these events before.”  Mr. Strickler wraps an arm around Barbra’s waist and pulls her forward to be the center of attention.  “I’m afraid she’s quite shy, so doesn’t like leaving home, but tonight I was quite insistent that she spend some time out of the house.”

“Well, I hope she enjoys the exhibit too.”  Nomura offers Barbra a reassuring smile.  “If you need, I’d be happy to explain the history behind the collection pieces for you.”

“I…” Barbra glances at Mr. Strickler.  He raises an eyebrow at her.  She bites her lower lip.  He nods ever so slightly at her.  “I would like that.”  She holds out a hand stiffly.  “My name is Barbra, and yours is?”

Mr. Strickler swats her hand down.  “I already told you, this is Ms. Nomura, love.”

“I know, but, you also always tell me how I must learn to be polite.”  Barbra glances at Mr. Strickler, then Nomura.   “Since I’m so new to this country and I still don’t know all the customs?”

“Oh, all right.  She’s not bothering you too much, is she?”  Mr. Strickler looks to Nomura.

“No, not at all.”  Nomura keeps her tone polite.  “My name is Zelda, Zelda Nomura,” she tells Barbra.

“Zelda.”  Barbra whispers to herself with a smile so quick and small that Mr. Strickler doesn’t have the opportunity to pick up on its presence.

“Shall we go in?”  Mr. Strickler gestures for them to move on.  “The night isn’t getting any younger.”

Nomura retreats into her professional self for most of the evening.  She shows Mr. Strickler and Barbra around the exhibit for a while, before being called away by other patrons.  She tries to keep her eye on them, but it’s hard without being directly in their presence.

Late into the evening, Nomura finds herself unable to find them and assumes they’ve already left.

Then, she finds Barbra standing in Peer Gynt’s corner.  Alone.

She stares at the back of Barbra’s head, wondering at what fortune made the selkie choose that specific piece.  If it was her choice at all, that was.

“Ahem.”  Nomura approaches slowly.

Barbra jumps regardless.  Her expression softens when she sees its Nomura.  “This is a lovely piece of music, Zelda.”  She puts down the headphones that play a sample.

“Yes, it is.”  Nomura agrees.  She runs her hand over the panel that describes the history behind Peer Gynt.  “I loved it once.”

“Not anymore?”

“I’ve changed since then.”  Nomura frowns.  “Is your husband nearby?”

Barbra flinches.  “He wanted a drink, but they wouldn’t let him take it out of the banquet room.”  She clenches her hands into fists and releases them.  “He’s still in there so…so it’s most likely he’ll have had more than one drink by the time he returns for me.”

“Barbra,” Nomura, noting a bruise on the selkie’s forearm, speaks the name softly.  “Does he hurt you when he drinks?”

“No.”  Barbra’s eyes turn downcast.  “He never tries to hurt me.  He just wants and doesn’t like being refused.  When he drinks, he wants more…”  She wraps her arms around herself.  “I will be fine, but please find my sealskin.”

Nomura thinks, sighs.  “There may be something I can do.  Now.”

Barbra gives her a puzzled expression.  “He does not keep it on him.  Even when drunk.  I’ve searched him after he’s passed out.  He’s too clever.”

“That’s not what I mean.”  Nomura considers.  Attempts to convince herself not to do it, but fear for Barbra wins out over self-preservation.  “I am capable of something that I believe can help you.  Tonight.”  She reaches out.  “I’ll show you.  Take my hand.”

Barbra doesn’t hesitate.  Something twangs in Nomura’s heart at the trust she’s being given.  She doesn’t deserve it.

Regardless, she calls forth her magic.

In that small, unnoticed corner of the museum, a forest, one thick with ancient trees and birdsong springs up.  Nomura hears Barbra gasp.  No one else responds.  No one else can see the illusion.

Barbra steps away from Nomura.  Curiosity draws her to a brightly colored songbird sitting on a low branch.  Nomura allows it to hop from its perch onto Barbara’s hand and chirp merrily at her.  Barbra giggles.

Nomura can’t help but smile, and, in that moment, loses focus.

As Barbra reaches out with her other hand to stroke the bird, it disappears in a puff of smoke.  Barbra cries out.

Something twangs in Nomura’s heart again.  “I’m sorry.  I lost focus.  It’s, it’s only an illusion.”

“But I felt it.”

“I know.”  Nomura sighs.  “I make things seem real even when they aren’t.”  Her happiness at getting to share her gift with someone who wasn’t Otto fades away.  “I can make a person believe what I want them to.”  She takes a breath.  The forest illusion vanishes.  Anyone.”  As she speaks, she calls forth another illusion.  She closes her eyes, hears Barbra gasp, braces herself, and then looks.

Fear is written across Barbra’s face.  Then confusion.  Then understanding.

“You do not have to return to him tonight.”  Nomura steps toward Barbra.  “I will go in your place.  He will think I am you and be none the wiser.  I will find your sealskin.  You will be free.”  She reaches up and kisses Barbra’s forehead to cast her second illusion.  When she looks at Barbra again, an illusion of her own face gazes back at her.  “You can leave here.  I will tell you how to get to someplace safe.  Go.  I will come for you later.”

“But—”

“Shush.”  Nomura puts a finger over Barbra’s lips.  “You want my help.  This is how I give it.”

Barbra nods.  Nomura tells her how to get home and what to say to Otto so he’ll understand.  She watches her disappear into the night.  Then, she turns back around and goes to find her quarry.

It has been so, so long since she truly hunted.  This should be fun.

Chapter Text

There are certain stories that crop up from time to time, across the world, that share a few key attributes; a fox, a beautiful woman, a night of passion, an illusion, a vanishing act in the morning.  The realization that every single valuable in the house has been stolen.

But, not every story goes precisely the same way.  The places they originate from do tend to vary widely.  One of the oldest is from a small village in the mountains of Japan.  A man realizes the traveler he gave shelter to is a trickster.  One of the youngest is from Norway a century or two back, and doesn’t involve the theft of valuable objects so much as it does the heart of a wealthy heiress.

The first story ends with the man lamenting his fate and becoming a warning tale for others.  The second with the heiress claiming she was possessed by a demon.  One who needed to be hunted down, she said, and her family’s associates doing just that.

Despite the numerous differences in all the stories, they have one thing in common.  A central figure.  One who, unbeknownst to all, is exactly the same in each of them.  A centuries-old being who has mischief and trouble written into her very nature.  A being who slips away into the night before anyone’s the wiser.  A fox spirit capable of walking among man and conjuring the most realistic of illusions.  A kitsune.

One who has very few qualms on using a man’s heart against him.  After all, Nomura dared to love before.  What better way to use the lingering pain of betrayal than turning it on others?

And so, on the calm night of a museum exhibit opening, a man who currently calls himself Walter Strickler doesn’t realize he’s walked into someone else’s story.  To be fair, he believes his own is far more important than any other living being he may come across.  To an extent, that is true.  Walter does have a way of setting things in motion.

From a very young age, Walter desired power.  Strength.  Might.  These were the tools of control.  One may tell a story of a little boy frightened of the powerful witch with control over his life, but one wouldn’t if that boy grew up to strangle that particular story from existence, and then the witch herself.

As long as he had control, Walter had power.  No one could defeat him.  No one could make him vulnerable ever again.  He will never be weak again.

Without the path he chose, such a thing, turning anguish into might, could be considered magnificent.  But, that is not the truth of things here.  The truth here is simple.  In his quest for invincibility, Walter’s hunger for power turned into a craving, one that consumed him.  No matter what he did, what heights he reached, it was never enough.  He needed more.  Always.

So, rather than continuing to build himself up, he began to tear down whomever was above him.  After all, no matter how much work he did, there was always someone better.  The only way to be the best would be to destroy anyone else who came close to claiming that title.

It came to be, however, that, like most, Walter desired love and companionship.  In recent years, he successfully found it in a woman who wasn’t quite what she seemed.  To say he didn’t love her would be a lie.  He did.  In the way one loved a shiny trophy or a particularly valuable collectible.

He loved her because she had inhuman power, and he made it his.  All with one simple act.  A betrayal.  On the first night they shared a bed, he stole the sealskin coat from around her shoulders as she peacefully slept.  As long as he had it, she could never act against his will.  She was his.

Yet he never saw her smile the same way again.  Sometimes, secretly, he wished for that.

“Well, did you enjoy yourself?”  Walter asks as he and Nomura-disguised-as-Barbra approach his car.  “A nice little adventure.”

“Yes, it was.” The answer, courtesy of Nomura’s illusion, is exactly what he wants to hear.

Walter unlocks the car.  “Continue this streak of good behavior and I may consider letting you come on more excursions.”

Nomura doesn’t conjure a response to that.  It’s just as well.  Walter doesn’t expect her to reply.  Barbra herself seldom speaks unless prompted these days.  He’s long grown adjusted to her quiet.

In rare moments of deficiency, he sometimes misses the exuberance of her voice, the challenge of their once-held discussions, but not for long.  Never for long.  There are costs to control.  If his companion’s unwavering submission comes at the cost of outward displays of personality, then so be it.

The drive passes in silence but for the occasional clicking of the turn signal.  When they reach the house, a minor shift happens, at the hand of Nomura, and unbeknownst to Walter.

When they enter the house, he walks upstairs immediately.  She does not follow.  Regardless, Walter perceives the person with him following obediently behind him, close enough that he merely has to turn and close the door to lock her and himself in his bedroom a second after entering.

Nomura tucks away maintaining the illusion in the back of her mind.  As long as she has some capacity to fuel it, it shouldn’t vanish.  She need not have to focus like she did with the one at the museum.  A little venture into Strickler’s mind, then a subtle amount of persuasion over his perceptions, and the illusion will show him whatever he wishes, without her direct prodding.  It’s a skill Nomura has honed over the years.  One that she knows she can do better than most.  Other kitsune believe it is good to personally oversee one’s illusions, and, for the most part, Nomura agrees with them, but, there are times, like this one, when she simply does not wish to see her victims’ deepest desires.

Once she’s sure he’s unlikely to move from the bedroom, Nomura begins her search.  She peruses the most open rooms of the house - the den, the kitchen, the bathrooms - but hurries through them to get to the locked doors.  Yes, Strickler could have hidden the sealskin in one of them.  However, if he wanted to maintain an appearance of normalcy, he’d have to give Barbra free rein over those parts of the house.  Hiding it there would mean risking her stumbling across it or finding it.

The likeliest hiding place, Nomura determines, is a study tucked into the back corner of the house.  Unlike every other room, she can feel the slightest enchantment emanating from its perimeter.  Not enough of a security spell to stop her, no.  Its presence does mean something at least is there, though.

When Nomura enters the room, it looks normal enough.  Perhaps a place Otto would have enjoyed spending hours in in life.  A mahogany desk is planted across from the door.  Behind it, a large bay window allows moonlight to stream in.  On either side, bookshelves, mostly covered with thick books.  Nomura passes them by.  She doesn’t see anything of interest.

Not at first at least.

Her eyes land on a shelf, one that’s strangely clear of tomes (almost every other shelf has books crammed on top of books).  Nomura approaches, her gaze fixed on the shadowy objects strategically placed upon the shelf.  Her gut twists with unknown dread.  She can feel something.  The tiniest sense at the edges of her mind.  Familiarity. She doesn’t know what exactly the objects are.  She doesn’t know.  She doesn’t.

One is a long, silver spiral that glitters.  Another, a cluster of purplish-bluish-green ovals.  A third is almost a tuft of golden fur.  Nomura keeps looking until her eyes land on an orb, one that’s almost like a pearl.  Smooth.  Round.  Sitting on a cushion.  Pale.

She jumps.

The corner of the desk digs into her backside.  Nomura doesn’t notice.  She can’t pull her eyes away from the star ball.  No light flickers inside it.  It just sits on its cushion, gleaming in the moonlight.  Innocently.  Unaware.  Silent.

Nothing.  There is nothing.

It can’t be his.  He wouldn’t just leave it.  No.  No.  There’s nothing.  Nomura knows what it is to be near one.  She knows.  And this?  This is nothing.  Nothing.

Nomura flees.

Out of the house, down the road, around the corner.  Revert to fox form.  Hide in the underbrush.  Concealed.  Unseen.  Breathe.  Breathe.

Her heart stops hammering.  She takes another breath.  Then, carefully, Nomura calls her own out.  Her hoshi no tama, her star ball.  Nomura watches its ghostly fire flicker and lets the feeling of knowing her magic is there, still there, reassure her.

Nothing shakes the thought that, if she is separated from it for too long, she will die.  If someone manages to take it, they could get a promise from her.  Or worse.  She’s heard stories and words of caution.  She must never be without it.  It holds her magic.  Her soul.

Walter Strickler is not a kitsune.  If he was, she would have figured it out by now.  Yet, he has a hoshi no tama.

Someone, someone who Nomura had likely never met but was her kin regardless, is dead.

Strickler is a teacher, Nomura thinks to herself.  Perhaps he has a secret place in his school.  She’d need to return to that house, yes.  Just.  Not yet.  Not yet.

It’s not hard to break into the school.  Nomura takes strength from the ease which she completed the task.  She relaxes a little.

Perhaps whoever died was a fool.  Perhaps they’d lost their star ball ages ago and it had traveled around the mortal world since then on its own.  Perhaps Strickler had no idea what it was that he kept in his study.  On a cushion.  Almost in a place of honor.  Perhaps he just thought it was a pretty object.  Perhaps.

One could almost believe.

Nomura exhales when the strange end to a pen slides easily into what could be a keyhole.  The wall rumbles before lowering into the floor.  She’s found something.  This is it.  It’s almost over.  She’ll get the sealskin.  Get home.  Get it to Barbra.  Pretend none of this ever happened.  Never admit to herself that last step truly existed.

While she’s distracted, the door to the room opens behind her.

Then, a flash of bright yellow light.

Nomura can’t move.

Chapter Text

Barbra wraps the blanket around her shoulders.  It’s no substitute for her sealskin, but it’s a comfort.  Walter doesn’t allow her to cover her shoulders much.  She needs to adjust to the feeling of her sealskin not always being there, he always says.  It makes her ache, but she never tells him that.  He says her discomfort hurts him.  She doesn’t tell him so he won’t be hurt.

She closes her eyes.  All that is over now.  Or soon will be.  Nomura has agreed to help her.  She will find her sealskin.  Barbra will return to the sea very soon.  She tries to imagine what it’s like to be a seal again, but can’t get there.  Not exactly.  The memories are blurry, old.  It’s like they’re a lifetime away.

It occurs to Barbra that she may not remember how to transform back.  Her heart beats faster.  The world begins to fade away.  She recognizes this as one of her panic attacks.  Barbra cocoons herself tighter in the blanket.  She catches a whiff of Nomura’s distinctive scent, lets it reassure her.

Unlike so many others, Nomura listened.  Extended her aid.  Barbra will never forget that.  Never.

Barbra breathes easier.  Maybe, before she goes, Nomura will show her another illusion.  There’s so many parts of the world she hasn’t seen.  Despite everything, Barbra holds onto her curiosity about those places.  On so many days, it was her daydreams about such places that carried her through beyond the nights.  It pains her that she’ll never get to go to them, but returning to the sea is far more important than such things now.

Barbra shifts positions.  How long has it been since the ‘outing’ and seeing Nomura? she wonders.  It feels like a very long time.  Too long.  What if something went wrong?  What if Walter figured out their deception?  The illusion on herself faded the moment she stepped into Nomura’s apartment.  What if the illusion on Nomura faded at the same time?  What if Walter saw Nomura?

To Barbra he felt immensely powerful.  Almighty.

Her heart hammers again.  What if, by asking her aid, she’d condemned Nomura to a fate similar to her own?  The thought was unbearable.

Nomura was, was beautiful, wonderful.  The very idea of that…

Barbra jumps—tumbles, rather, due to being wrapped up in blankets—out of bed.  She scrambles into the main room of the apartment.

“Is there something you need?”  The ghost, Nomura’s companion, Otto, looks up from his translucent newspaper at her.  “Despite my unnatural state, I assure you I can acquire whatever it is.”

Barbra shakes her head.  She makes for the door.

The ghost puts herself between her and it.  “I’m afraid leaving is the one thing I can’t let you do.  Nomura intended for me to keep you safe.  That means remaining here.”

“No,” Barbra whispers.

“What was that?”

“I said NO!”  Barbra clenches her fists.  “He—he could hurt her.  I asked for her help.  If he—I—I have to go!”  She gulps.  “I cannot remain here while she endangers herself for ME!”

Otto mutters something in a language Barbra doesn’t recognize, but it sounds like a swear to her.  “Nomura sent you to me, for me to keep you safe,” he reasons with her.  “You don’t know her like I do.  She’s powerful.  Trust me.  She can handle whatever this guy throws at her.”

“She doesn’t know him.  Barbra rushes straight through the ghost.  Shocked, she pauses on the other side.  “You can’t truly stop me, can you?”

“I was hoping you wouldn’t figure that out.”

For the first time in a very long time, Barbra smirks.  She turns to leave.  She’s terrified, but she goes anyway.

The house is empty when she eventually reaches it.  Barbra takes a breath to steady herself.  If not here, then where…?

The school.  It’s the only place Walter spends significant time when he’s not home.

Still terrified, she goes.

Barbra’s footsteps echo through the empty hallways.  She slows her walking.  Her heartbeat thunders in her ears.  She tries, but she can’t quell her fear.  She hopes no one can hear it.  Barbra reaches the right classroom.  She knows it’s the right one because it says his name on the outside.

As quietly as possible, Barbra opens the door.  Yellow light glinting off a khopesh displayed on the wall opposite her is the first thing she sees.  A circle of glowing stones surrounding a red, four-legged creature emits the light.  Walter looms above the creature.  Even from behind, Barbra knows him enough to recognize when he’s feeling powerful.  Triumphant.

“You are a clever one, aren’t you?  To trick me with an illusion.  It took me some time to figure out what happened.  I could hardly believe it!  Little Ms. Nomura, always so polite and proper!  I never suspected!”  Walter laughs.  “What a treat!”  His tone turns grave.  “But you will learn.  In time, you will learn.  But first, you will tell me, where is Barbra?”

The creature—Nomura—growls.

Barbra takes a shaky step forward.

“That wasn’t an answer.”  Walter tells his prisoner.  “Now, I know you can talk in this form, so tell me, where is Barbra?  Or things will get significantly worse for you.”

“I’m right here.”  Barbra’s voice carries confidence she doesn’t have.

Walter spins to face her.  He smiles.  “Oh, my faithful pet.  You couldn’t just stay away, could you?  I am so, so proud.  Now, come here.”

“I will fight you.”  Barbra’s voice shakes as she speaks.  “From this day forward, I will always fight you.  No matter where we go or what you do to me, I will fight.  But.”  Barbra gulps.  “If you let her go.”  Despite her trembling, Barbra takes a step toward him.  “I won’t.  I’ll do whatever you please.  Just let her go.”

Walter stares at her.  He chuckles.  “Oh, my dear, I am truly honored that you think you mean that much to me.”  He advances on Barbra and despite her retreating steps, reaches her.  He cups her face in his hand.  Twists his fingers in her hair when she tries to pull away.  “I was going to get rid of you soon anyway.”

“What?”  It’s barely a whisper.

“It’s simple.  You bore me.”  Walter chuckles again.  “In the beginning, I will admit, you were absolutely delightful.  Such fire.  Such passion.  Not many of the others had as strong a will as you.  It was absolutely marvelous to tame you into the creature you are now.  Soft and compliant.  Delicate.  Willing to do whatever I ask without all the fuss.  Truly one of my most notable successes.”  He takes Barbra’s chin in his hand and tilts her head up to face him.  “It’s sad it must come to an end, but can you blame me?  You’ve delivered an exciting new challenge to me.”  Walter grabs her by the arm and yanks her over to Nomura.  “Just look at her, at what you’ve done.  I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t pleased.  I couldn’t do a better capturing job myself.”

“What?”

“Oh, that’s right, you don’t know,” Walter chides Barbra like she’s a child.  “Allow me to clear up the matter.  The world is brimming with monsters.  Powerful ones.”  He squats down next to Nomura.  She snarls at him.  “What’s a poor human like me to do?”  Walter reaches out to stroke Nomura’s fur.  She snaps her jaws at him.  He smirks.  “In the face of such unfairness, but learn how to claim that power for myself?”

“What?”

“You think you were the first?”  Walter chuckles again as he examines Nomura’s bindings.  “You think it was an accident that that shortsighted fisherman speared you with a harpoon?”  Both he and Nomura watch as Barbra’s hand goes to her shoulder, to her teardrop-shaped scar.  “Sure, he may have told you that, but who could blame him for trying to absolve himself of guilt?  He was only human.”

“He was my friend.  He cared for me, until you—you—”

“I paid him.”

Barbra crumples at the words.

Walter takes this as a sign that she’s finished.  He turns his back on her.  “Don’t worry about your pain.  I’ll free you from it soon enough.”  His attention shifts over to Nomura.  “Now, you, you are a truly lovely specimen.  Three tails?  Still young, then.  But clever.”  His eyes glint.  “I’m going to have to inhibit your illusions, aren’t I?  Can’t have you go changing reality on me.”  He considers.  “Though, it would be a useful skill to claim for myself, I believe.  I’ll have to get out the equipment again.  You should feel honored.  It didn’t exactly work the first time I tried.  You’ll be my first kitsune success.”

Nomura growls.

“Well, no matter, it must be done.”  Walter wipes his hands together.  “Now—”  The tip of a blade, the khopesh from the wall, thrusts up through his abdomen.  He laughs dryly.  “Very cute, Barbra, but it’s going to take more than a little flesh wound to—”

Barbra yanks the khopesh back and then stabs him again.  And again.  And again.

“Now you’re just being silly.”  Walter turns to face her.  “Knowing my intellect and my capabilities, do you truly think I would display something that could kill me so openly?”  He doesn’t notice that his foot brushes one of the stones that’s keeping Nomura trapped slightly out of alignment.  “I am much—”

The world darkens around him.  He can’t see anything.  He freezes.  It’s cold.  So cold.  A shadow moves.  He sees it out of the corner of his eye.  Fear creeps into him.  “What?”  Walter whispers.  “What is—oh, oh I see.  This has to be an illusion.  This—”

A burst of blinding blue thrusts through the dark toward him.  He can’t move out of the way in time.  It spears his chest.  He looks at it.  The khopesh.  It’s aflame.

Walter gasps.  It hurts.  For the first time in centuries, it hurts.

Two solemn faces appear out of the shadows.  One, the face of the one he’s been hurting for years.  The other, the face of the one he was going to hurt next.  There is no mercy in their eyes.  They’re the last his own eyes gaze upon.  He slowly disintegrates into ember, and then dust.

Nomura releases her hold on the khopesh.  The fire engulfing it extinguishes.  She aches, and not because she’s used too much magic tonight.

Barbra drops the blade.  It clatters to the floor.  She crumples.  Her hair shields her face, but her sobs are audible.

Nomura puts a hand on Barbra’s shoulder.  The selkie shies away.  Nomura takes the hint.  Sidestepping the pile of ash in front of them, she goes to search the room.

She finds what she’s looking in the bottom drawer of the work table in the formerly hidden part of the room.  Between its texture and its smell, there can be no questioning what it is.  Nomura picks it up and returns to Barbra.

Nomura wraps the sealskin around Barbra’s shoulders.

They return to that house without saying a word.  Barbra waits outside.  Nomura doesn’t blame her.  She goes to the study, to that shelf, where the trophies Strickler collected from his previous victims are.  One by one, she carries them outside to where Barbra waits.  In Nomura’s absence, the selkie built a makeshift funeral pyre.  Nomura places each of the remnants she carries on it.  Once all are there, they each recite a mourning song.  Neither knows what the other says, as both speak in their native tongues.  Neither asks.

Nomura adds a second, quieter aria for the kitsune who’s star ball rests lifelessly before her.  No, she doesn’t know who it belonged to.  At least, she thinks she doesn’t.  In all her centuries, she never spent too much time with her own kind.  Regardless, she feels it necessary to recognize whoever it was as her kin.

Barbra lifts the khopesh.  Nomura wraps her hand around the selkie’s and sets the blade aflame a second time.  Together, they lower the fiery blade to the pyre.

A burst of light, a soul long trapped, rises from the ashes of the first remnant to burn.  It hovers between the kitsune and the selkie, as if regarding them.  A gentle breeze blows past, carrying it off into the night.  Home to wherever its true final resting place may be.

Thirteen times a burst of light rises to be carried away by the wind, and thirteen times Nomura and Barbra shiver, and thirteen times their hands find each other and squeeze reassuringly.

The last of the procession vanishes from sight just before dawn.

A final breeze blows past.  The release of an exhale no one in the world knew they were holding.

Chapter Text

Nomura wakes to the sound of the breeze gently blowing through the wind chimes hanging in the window.  She opens her eyes to gaze at the the seashells carefully laced through with twine.  She takes in the way the sun illuminates their colors.  The glow of the peach-pink.  How the soft oranges almost seem to shine.  The way the powder blue flickers into indigo shadows as the shells rotate.

The movement of one of the shells leaves an opening for sunlight to stream through directly into Nomura’s eyes.  She squints and shifts positions.  Her sleeping partner cries out at the abrupt loss of the warm body next to her.  Nomura jerks her head in Barbra’s direction, looking for the telltale groans and twitches of a nightmare, but they don’t arrive.  Barbra doesn’t wake.

Nomura settles in a new position, one where she can more easily observe.  Barbra has been sleeping soundly recently, but this isn’t her first good streak.  Nomura doesn’t hope for a bad night, but she’s prepared for one all the same.

There’s not much Nomura knows how to do for Barbra.  However, they have found a warm, fuzzy body to hug and cry into the fur of during the worst of the episodes does help some.  So, Nomura allows one exception to her rule about not being touched in fox form.

Barbra continues to sleep peacefully.  Her breathing remains even.  No other outward signs of stress—and Nomura has had plenty of opportunity to learn all of them—appear.  Nomura turns away from the selkie.  She yawns and, with a flick of her tails, stretches.  She makes her way to the end of the bed and then leaps off.  She transforms into her human form midway into the jump and expertly lands without a sound.

Once last glance at Barbra, and Nomura tiptoes out of the bedroom.  She leaves the door open, both so she can hear if anything changes inside the room and so Barbra can wake to the sweet aroma of breakfast cooking.

Nomura browses through their record collection, picks an old favorite of hers, and puts it in the player.  She hums along to the serene tones of a cello while cracking eggs and dropping them into the frying pan.

“Eggs again?”  Barbra’s murmur announces her arrival.  “I was hoping for herring.”  She wraps her arms around Nomura’s waist and nuzzles into her shoulder.

Nomura tenses.  She doesn’t mind displays of affection from Barbra.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  It’s just…there’ve been days when the simple act of being touched would set the selkie off into a panicked, downward spiral.  Affection, unlike so many other things, wasn’t something he withheld.  Nomura is always careful to give Barbra her space, but this…?  She places her own hands over Barbra’s and squeezes with reassurance.  This is Barbra reaching out to her.

“We don’t have any herring, because someone ate through all our stores,” Nomura teases as she slides the eggs expertly out of the pan and onto a plate.

Barbra sighs dramatically.  “So, what you’re telling me is that I need to go out for a swim and catch some more?”

“We could take the boat out of the bay.  Go to deeper waters?”  Nomura offers.

“I…” Barbra withdraws.  She goes and curls up on the cushioned seat that wraps around the corner of the room.  She pulls her sealskin tighter around her shoulders.  “I’m not ready.  Zelda, I…” Barbra looks up at her.  There’s so much going on behind those blue eyes; frustration, anger, fear…

“It’s alright.”  Nomura joins her.  “The ocean isn’t going anywhere.  It’ll be here, whenever you’re ready.”

“I should be ready now.”  There’s a sharpness to Barbra’s voice.  “I wanted…for so long, I wanted…and now I can’t even…” She looks down at her hands.  “What if I never gain it all back?  How it felt…I can barely remember.”

“Barbra—”

“I know.  I know.  You don’t have all the answers.  I don’t expect you too.  I shouldn’t.  That’s unfair.  I wish…” She squeezes her eyes shut.  “I just wish…”

“I know.”  Nomura hesitates, and then puts one of her hands over one of Barbra’s.  “We’ll stay in the bay today.”

“Okay.”

They eat quietly, and then go outside.

The sun shines brightly.  Overhead a few seagulls soar and call to each other.  Only a few clouds linger on the horizon.  Waves wash gently onto the beach.  A gull lands and pokes about a tide pool.  It soon flies away with something that looks like a crab trapped in its beak.

Nomura lingers back, on the path between the dock where their boat is moored and the little cottage they live in together.

Barbra walks across the sand to the water’s edge.  The wind blows around her, toying with her hair.  It smells of salt and fish, and whispers of home.  But the whisper isn’t as loud as it once was.  Barbra wonders if she’s been rejected and just hasn’t realized it yet.

Waves surge around her ankles.  Barbra’s toes sink into the wet sand.  A new feeling rises in her chest.  Familiar, yet foreign.

Barbra is a child of the ocean.  One who has been away a very long time, but one who the ocean has not wholly forgotten.  It may be a while yet before her old strength returns and she can endure longer swims out to sea, but, here, in this hidden bay she and her kitsune call home, the water welcomes her back in a fond embrace.  She dips beneath the surface and is free.

Some hours later, a smooth, damp head emerges from the waves.  Two dark eyes glisten.  A wet, black nose pokes into the air to sniff about on the breeze.  Whiskers twitch.

The seal swims for shore.  When she gets to shallower waters, she changes directions to head up the coast until she finds what she’s looking for.  A sun-baked, smooth stone, the favorite of a particular fox spirit, who’ll nap there for hours.  The fox spirit in question is indeed there, so she makes for shore.

Barbra is careful not to wake Nomura.  She watches Nomura much like Nomura watched her that morning.  Once she’s satisfied that Nomura is indeed peacefully resting, Barbra heads for their cottage, where she deposits the pearls she spent quite a bit of time hunting for.  Later, she’ll weave them into a necklace or a bracelet or a hair decoration.  She’s not sure yet.  The idea that she can do whatever she please without fear is thrilling, but also anxiety-inducing.  So, she’ll take it slow.

Regardless, the oysters that made the pearls will be a delicious dinner.  Later.  Right now, Barbra wants to enjoy the day.  She grabs her sketchbook and walks back outside.

Nomura naps on when Barbra reaches her again, so she settles in to get a couple good sketches of the kitsune.  After finally getting some drawings she’s satisfied with, Barbra shifts back to seal form and lays out to sunbathe next to Nomura.

Sunset casts a cool rainbow of colors across the sky.  The seal wakes, and then the fox.  They gaze out at the ocean together, both enjoying the peaceful moment, their comfort their closeness brings, and the warmth of the sun, as well as the chill of the evening breeze.

With a smirk, the fox swishes her tails over the seal’s nose.  The seal responds with a headbutt.  The fox yips.  The seal makes for the surf.  She jumps in the water, splashing the fox.  The fox leaps in the air.

Their play goes on until both, breathless and in human form again, collapse on the sand.  Side-by-side, they gaze up at the sky as it transitions out of burnt oranges and rose petal pinks to a soft yet steely blue, a shifting indigo, and finally a deep violet blanketed in twinkling stars.

“What stories?” Barbra asks quietly.  Her fingers graze against Nomura’s but don’t have the courage to clasp around them.  “Do the kitsune have about the stars?”

Nomura doesn’t answer at first.  She sits up and holds out a hand to Barbra.  “Let me show you.”  When Barbra takes her hand, she leads the selkie into an illusion.

There are secrets and there are stories and there are the secret parts of the world where stories happen.  The unusual kind of story, that is.  The kind that only exists in a myth or legend of questionable believability.

In a bay somewhere on the pacific coast of the North American continent, a great distance from the closest human settlement, is a tale that appears nowhere in history.  It’s a tale still in the making and one that hides itself from those who would write it down.  It doesn’t want to be noticed, and it isn’t.  Maybe it will be one day, and maybe it won’t.  Only time will tell really.

The tale is one of two creatures descended from myths that originate on opposite sides of the world.  By all means, they should have never been able to come together.  Yet, they have.  And they will stay together for as long as they wish.  For, in each other, they have found warmth and love, peace and healing.

And nothing, not the salt of the ocean nor the bitterness of the earth, can truly take that away.