Jim was the first human to ever learn that Hannah was a selkie. She’d kept it a secret for the years of their friendship leading up to when they moved in together, but they’d only been flatmates for a couple of weeks when Jim noticed her pelt. She liked to sleep with it (it was comforting and reminded her of the sea) and the one day she forgot to make her bed was the day that she had asked him to get her guitar from her bedroom. Instead, he’d come back into the living room holding the large skin, a confused look on his face.
“Han?” he asked innocently. “What’s this?”
To see your pelt in the hands of someone else was the stuff of nightmares for selkie folk. Jim was Hannah’s best friend in the world and the sight still sent a shudder through her body; even though she knew he meant no harm.
“James, please put that down,” she requested quickly, voice small.
He handed it to her awkwardly and she hugged it to her chest like a well-loved stuffed animal, feeling herself relax the second it was back in her possession.
“Sorry.” He looked very unsure and ill-at-ease. “I didn’t realize it was so important.”
Hannah looked at her blushing flatmate and smiled softly at him. “You gave it back,” she sighed, “so no harm done.”
They passed a few minutes in uncomfortable silence before Jim spoke again. “I–er, sorry, but can I ask what it is?”
Hannah’s face felt hot. There really wasn’t anything to say but the truth. “It’s a, er...it’s a pelt,” she explained hesitantly. “My pelt.”
Jim frowned perplexedly. “Er, and what exactly do you have a pelt for?”
“It’s because...I’m a selkie.”
Hannah honestly should have expected Jim’s uncomprehending expression. Myths of the selkie-folk had long been on a decline in popularity. Nobody really knew what they were anymore. It was pretty irritating to see all kinds of art of sexualized mermaids with the lower bodies of seals plastered across the internet and labeled as selkies.
“That’s like, a mermaid, yeah?” Jim asked with an expression that clearly said “this is probably wrong, please don’t hurt me.”
Hannah rolled her eyes and fought to keep the tension out of her voice as she responded. “No,” she exhaled, “I’m not a bloody mermaid.”
She could have actually explained it, but the fact that they were having this conversation with no planning on her part was a bit distressing. She locked eyes with Jim and gave him a pleading look. “Don’t freak out, ok?”
He nodded worriedly as she stood up from the sofa. With a deep breath, she draped the pelt over her shoulders and changed to her true form: a large, grey harp seal. It had been a while since she’d been to the ocean, so she stretched as best she could and relished in the feeling of this more comfortable body.
Jim lost his shit. Hannah felt internally relieved that he wasn’t holding the guitar she’d asked him for as she watched him struggle to make sense of what he was looking at.
After a few moments of distressed sputtering, Jim knelt down next to her and slowly reached out a hand to touch her side, checking if she was actually real. “Hannah?” he asked in quiet shock.
She picked up her head a little and nodded at him, figuring that any noise of communication she could make would startle him.
“Fucking hell,” he exhaled.
Hannah shed the skin and stood back up, folding the pelt neatly and setting it on the couch.
“A-and you’ve been able to do that this whole time?” Jim wondered in awe.
He shook his head in disbelief. “And you’ve just...kept that to yourself?”
“You’re the only human I’ve ever told,” Hannah swore, making firm eye contact to show him she was serious.
Jim’s eyes widened at that revelation and his expression softened a little. “Really?”
“Yeah, mate,” Hannah assured him. “I take this shit seriously. Can’t let that fall into the wrong hands, can I?” She pointed to her pelt.
“What happens then?”
“Well, it’s how I turn back into a seal, yeah, so if someone took it, I’d never be able to transform again.” She looked at him with a grave expression before continuing. “Losing my pelt’d be like losing myself.”
Jim looked thoroughly convinced, but Hannah had one more thing to add. “Historically, a man would steal a selkie woman’s pelt as a way of trapping her on land and forcing her to marry him.”
Her flatmate set his jaw. “Well then it’s lucky we’re best friends,” he told her.
Hannah didn’t quite follow the jump in his train of thought. “Er, why’s that?”
“Because if anyone but you tries to get near your pelt, they’ll have to deal with me.”
Hannah was…touched. And seriously relieved that this conversation had turned out so well, but…”James, you’re very sweet, but most people would kick your arse.”