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fell in love with the fire long ago.

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The oceans off the coast of Ireland were cold and dark and teeming with shadows, so it was no wonder that legends had been told for centuries of the creatures that could call them home. On soft days, the mist rolling in off the sea limited visibility to only a few feet and the spray tasted like salt, like magic . Late at night when pulling nets in off the ocean, it was hard for fishermen to tell what was just seaweed and rocks, and what could be something a little more. 

Stories spread as easy as breathing, and they became part of the culture of the people who relied on the ocean for their livelihood- the land had its fairies , its púcas , its bean sídhes , but the ocean had merrows , it had selkies , it had huge and amazing beasts that were spotted off the coast before they disappeared into the deep again, only lurking in memories and the stories of people.

Neil Josten was one of those creatures, a Selkie with little family to speak of and even less friends. He’d been born off the coast of Donegal, the cold water more a home to him now than the land had been. His mother had been a selkie too, his father an evil man who stole her pelt while she was resting in the pale sunlight on the beach and had kept her trapped and voiceless until she managed to take it and run, dragging Neil to the sea with her and hiding there. 

He had been young at the time, too young to know what was happening until his mother forced his own pelt on him, dragging him down to the sea foam and pushing him in ahead of her. They had lived like that for years, always on the move, never slowing down or looking back. 

It had just been the two of them against the world, until his mother was killed in a fishing accident and he was forced to run on his own. 

They had been looking for seals to cull, trying to protect their fishing industry on the coast, when they had caught his mother and him by chance. She had torn herself open on the net to tear a hole wide enough for Neil to squeeze through, and Neil had barely turned around before the fisherman struck, dyeing the water red with blood. The taste of it had choked him, burning his eyes and forcing him to swim blind until he could find somewhere to come ashore and wash them, both with sea water and the few tears that he allowed himself to shed. He had hidden for a long time after that, out at sea where no one could find him. 

He had briefly considered going to look for his mother’s family- he knew that she had a brother closer to England, but Neil had ever met the man and his mother had raised him better than that. Family or not, the man was a stranger and the only person that Neil could have relied on was probably being sold by the pound on shore already. The thought probably should have filled him with grief, but all he felt was an awful numbness and the bone deep chill he always had from the water.

Instead of finding his family, he stayed on the west coast to explore caves and shallows where seals were protected to rest in for as long as he could. Then, he constantly moved on again to fresher waters, not staying long enough to allow anyone to catch up with him. His mother’s voice became his internal monologue, stopping him from settling down, from finding other selkies, from going on land. 

He was all that he could trust, and he needed to remember that.

Selkie hunting had become increasingly popular through the years- there was a lot of money to be made from the market. Selkie pelts came with their own selkies attached, trapped in human form and unwilling to leave their pelts behind them. They made good maids, good wives, good husbands. Selkie bones crushed into a poultice for different ailments, selkie fat used for cosmetic products that women in the cities could smear on their skin to look beautiful. Neil hadn’t seen any of it, but he had heard snatches of it whenever he came near the land, braving the areas where the fishermen frequented in order to grab enough fish to eat. 

It was dangerous for selkies in the water, especially lone selkies, but where else could they go? There wasn’t anywhere for Neil to hide, nowhere that he could stay long enough to rest.

Of course, Neil wasn’t infallible, so something had to slip through the cracks. Neil was tired almost constantly, his muscles driven to spasm after days of swimming, and he wasn’t as observant as he should have been. If he had been watching his surroundings better, he wouldn’t have been caught. 

It was down by the south, off the coast of Kerry when it happened.  Neil had been barely able to keep his eyes open from lack of sleep. He hadn’t seen the net in the water, the string of it clear and invisible in the dark and stormy night water until it was too late .He felt it dig into his skin as it closed around him, holding him fast. He couldn’t see anything then, the bubbles from his thrashing obscuring his vision as he was dragged up, dragged out of the water. Still though, Neil kept struggling, eventually pulling his pelt off in an attempt to get his hands free to rip at the net. It made it easier to pull at it without biting at it, even though he did that too, but there was no give in the bindings that were holding him.

It wasn’t working, and he could hear his own heart beating in his ears.

He gasped for air when he hit it, coughing up phlegm and water from his lungs and then twisting in the net to try to see the fisherman who had snagged him. If this was how he was going to die, then he wasn’t going to go down easily.

It was a man, the fisherman who had snared him, who’s mouth twisted into a satisfied smile as he took in Neil’s bloodied form. “Well well well, what do we have here?”

Neil struggled harder, his fingers slicing open on the fishing wire net that the man had crafted for this horrible purpose. He didn’t speak, his vocal cords rusty from lack of use over the years. He wouldn’t have spoken even if he had wanted to, too busy making guttural, animalistic noises that left his throat raw and aching. 

“A little selkie…” The man reached into his net, and pulled Neil’s pelt from his bloodstained and slippery hands. “How fortunate .”

Neil croaked. “Let me go.”

The man laughed at him, and tucked the pelt under his arm before pulling on the net again, pulling Neil up onto a cart and then picking up a rock. “You’re going to be very valuable to me.”

Neil snarled at him, still shredding his fingers on the net as he tried to throw himself off the cart and back into the water. Even without his pelt, once he reached the water he would be able to swim away, to come back once he was healed up and able to fight for himself. He’d be able to do something , instead of just writhing and leaving himself at the mercy of whoever this fisherman was. He knew what selkies were, which was a bad sign- he probably had plans for every part of Neil, pawning off each body part to the highest bidder like Neil was just a piece of meat to sell. Just the thought of it made his stomach turn, and he kicked and wiggled until he fell off the cart with a wet thump.

The man just laughed at his feeble efforts, and put an end to them by bringing the rock in his hand down on Neil’s arm hard enough that Neil heard the crack echo through his whole body. Pain forced him into the foetal position, and a second strike from the rock caused his world to disappear in a burst of pain before he fell unconscious.

 

Neil woke up to the sounds of knives sharpening, and for a moment he was seven years old again, standing in front of his father while he waited on whatever punishment lay in store for him. It didn’t even matter what he had done, his father would punish him anyway- he enjoyed it, he loved making Neil beg for him to stop, to leave him alone. His mother had just told him to be quiet, to sit still. Little girls should really be seen or heard, as far as Nathan Wesninski was concerned, and little girls who thought that they were little boys even moreso. So Neil learned to stay quiet, to save his words for someone who would listen. Not many people would listen, though, so he was quiet a lot more than a child should have been.

It had served him well, though. Selkies didn’t need to speak when they were in the water, and once his mother was gone and he was on his own, he didn’t have anyone to talk to anyway. 

The feeling of something dripping down his face brought him back to the present, and a couple of seconds later the pain set in enough for him to flinch away. The man that had caught him waved the knife in front of his face and grinned, a sharp and unsettling thing.

“Oh, she’s awake.”

Neil tried to move his arms, but found them tied behind his back. “Who are you?”

The man laughed. “I suppose I can tell you my name- you won’t be alive long enough for it to matter either way. My name is Riko Moriyama, little seal.”

Neil spat in his face, and took the blow that came with a grunt. “Let me go, I’m worthless to you.”

Worthless ?” He laughed, and then shook his head. “My family will be very happy with you- the government is trying to stop seal hunting, so the selkie market is plummeting. You’re going to make them a lot of money little one, but more importantly you’re going to make me very popular.”

Neil laughed. “So what, you’re going to sell me to make your family love you? That seems healthy.”

Riko struck him again, the edge of his ring catching on Neil’s cheekbone and tearing a new gash open there- Neil let the air in his lungs hiss out through his teeth. He twisted his hands again, pushing his nails against the ropes that were binding him. His hands ached, the cuts starting to scab and itch, but he dug his nails into the fibres and worked on sawing through them strand by strand. He wasn’t going to die at the hands of some asshole fisherman and his family, that was for sure. 

Riko picked up his knife again, and smiled widely. “Luckily for both of us, there are some parts of you that are worthless. We can just get rid of them, right?”

Neil whimpered, leaning back into the chair and away from the blade, but that did little to stop Riko from bringing the knife up to the skin on his chest, digging the tip in and dragging it down towards his navel. Pain, white hot and terrible, made it hard to think, and Neil felt himself jerk from it, shrinking away from the pain. 

Riko just laughed at him, and then wiped the blade on his chest. “You won’t need those legs either. Good luck running away when I’m finished with you.”

Panic seized in Neil’s chest, and he felt his body move before his brain could catch up, striking out with his legs and catching Riko in the face, his nose cracking horribly from the force of it. He wrenched his hands free of the bindings, ripping his skin in the process but too busy looking for an exit to care. His head was spinning, and he scrambled for the open doorway, the blood dripping from his open wounds making his feet slip slightly on the floor. Distantly, he heard Riko start to move, probably already moving to chase him, but he couldn’t stop now. In what felt like both a lifetime and a matter of seconds, he hit the beach, the salt of the sand making his feet sting and burn as he ran. 

He had left his pelt behind. He couldn’t go back to the water, he couldn’t-

“Where will you go, little selkie? You’re stuck here.” 

He heard Riko taunting him, but he blocked it out, running away from the place where the man had kept him captive as quickly as he could and finding a place to hide. Once he was certain that Riko was gone though, that he had given up the chase and gone back to tend to his own injuries, Neil dragged himself out from under the brush and got to his feet. He grimaced and pressed a hand to his chest as he started to walk again. The surgery scars there were old now and they didn’t hurt anymore, but the newer cuts across them stung enough to make Neil short of breath. It felt like he was walking on broken glass, and he could feel himself starting to stumble as the sand gave way to small rocks.

Riko would easily be able to follow him at this rate, with the amount of blood that was coming off his feet and smearing into the sand and across the rocks. Still, Neil couldn’t just stop and let the man take him, cut him up and sell him. That was what had happened to his mom, and Neil wasn’t going to throw her sacrifice away for nothing. He wouldn’t end up as some product for land folk to use, not if he had anything to do with it.

He got to the edge of the beach and then tripped, landing hard on his knees and feeling the sand scrape the skin away, shutting his eyes tight and feeling hot tears rise to the corners of his eyes. He had nowhere to go on land, nowhere to go anywhere . He needed to make up a plan, he needed to think clearly, but he couldn’t focus very much now that he was starting to feel dizzy. His head was pounding, everything beyond his immediate surroundings unfocused. He refused to let himself stop though- He had had worse injuries than this, even if he didn’t have anyone to stitch him up this time. Soon enough though, he felt his body start to give up on him.

He dropped down onto the sandy rocks, wincing as the sand stuck to the blood that was smudged along his cheekbone. He was too damn tired to care about it, though, and he closed his eyes as he curled up slightly. Dying of exposure on the beach was better than dying at the hands of some maniac anyways, even if it did result in the same thing. Once the elements and the passage of time had gotten to him, he’d probably be less valuable to sell anyways. 

He clenched his damaged fists, and then tilted his head down towards his chest, willing himself to go to sleep. His mother would be furious at him, resigning himself to death like this. 

I’m sorry mom.

Chapter Text

It was a windy day, dry and bright with a moderate breeze. Perfect weather for scavenging the beach, as far as Andrew Minyard was concerned. 

“Andrew, come here!”

Andrew groaned and then turned around, crossing the sand to where his cousin Nicky was waiting on him. Nicky had come over from America the previous year, braving the journey across the sea in an attempt to escape his own shitty home life, as well as a desperate bid to hold onto whatever family he had left even if they were across the sea. It had been shortly following the death of Andrew’s mother, a tragic fishing accident that had left Aaron devastated and Andrew a couple thousand pounds richer and in charge of the family fishing business. It wasn’t a luxurious life, but it was an honest living with a family who couldn’t give him back to the foster home—which was a lot more than Andrew had expected out of life whenever he had felt particularly self-destructive in the boys’ home. 

“What is it?”

Nicky turned a bright smile on him and then lifted what he had found; It was a  name-board, a pretty old one by the looks of it. Its colours had faded from deep brown to a weathered tan, stripped by the roughness of the ocean and the passage of time. Still, though, Andrew could make out the words that were carved into it, see the flecks of gold paint that had probably stood out bright and proud when it had first been painted. 

“HMHS Endeavor.” Andrew smoothed a thumb over the softened driftwood and then handed it back to Nicky, who stowed it safely in his bag. “A hospital ship. What will you use it for?”

Nicky grinned brightly and then started walking towards where Aaron was standing by the water’s edge. “I was thinking that I’d hang it in my room, above my bed or something?”

Nicky loved this little routine they had, going to the beach most mornings to see what the ocean had brought their way, searching the beach for anything that had been left behind and bringing it back to their little cottage before getting ready for a day’s work. He kept most of the things that he found, cluttering up the main room and his bedroom with shells, driftwood and other little trinkets that made him happy. For his birthday, Andrew and Aaron had paid for him to be able to send some of the ones that he had picked out over to his fiancé Erik. Nicky had cried, and in the letter that Erik had sent back a couple of weeks later it was clear that Erik had loved the gifts dearly. 

“Sounds like a good idea, Nicky.” Andrew followed him over, stopping to pick up a shell and then continuing to the water to wash off the sand that clung to it. 

Aaron looked up as they approached, and then tugged his bag open to pull out some fabric bundled up. It made a gentle clinking noise as he moved the bundle, and Andrew knew what it was before he pulled the fabric open. 

“Seaglass.” Nicky smiled brightly. “Oh Aaron, it’s beautiful .”

Aaron looked vaguely pleased with himself, and then glanced at Andrew. Andrew just shrugged at him. “We have some leftover wire on the spool from when we fixed up the fences- you could make something for that little seamstress you’ve been sneaking off to see in town.”

Aaron rolled his eyes at him. “Her name is Katelyn, Andrew. You know that.”

Andrew waved him off. “For Katelyn, then. File off the edges, and use the wire to make a necklace or whatever you think she’d like.”

“That’s…not a bad idea, actually.”

“I tend to have good ideas, yes.” Andrew turned and started to amble along where the sea met the shore, sea foam sticking to his shoes a little as he kept an eye out for anything that might be of some value. Whatever they didn’t keep, they took to the town nearby to sell at the stalls to locals and tourists alike along with the fish that made up the bulk of their income. Ballyferriter was a tiny village really, but Andrew liked it that way- there were less people to give a shit about what he and his family did, less of a chance of trouble. Of course, they had to make daily trips further afield to Dingle and the towns around it in their beaten up old van to garner the rest of the money that they needed to keep everything running, but that wasn’t the same as living there, as dealing with the people there. Andrew had adjusted to small town life just fine and he had no intentions of getting any more involved with society as a whole than he was already. 

He collected a couple more shells, washing them off and drying them on his shirt before putting them into his bag. He wasn’t sure what he would use them for, but he supposed that it wouldn’t hurt to keep them. Sometimes, Nicky used the shells to decorate their stall, lining the edge of the ice that they used to keep their produce cold. The tourists loved it, taking pictures on their cameras and telling them what a cute, quaint little town it was. He was still stuck in his train of thought when he felt an arm on his shoulder, turning and lashing out before his brain caught up with him. 

Nicky, used to it, danced out of the way, his eyes wide. “Andrew, you need to see this.”

Andrew raised an eyebrow. “What is it?”

Nicky turned and started walking again, Andrew following behind him before stopping short. “Is that-”

Nicky nodded, looking like he was fighting the urge to throw up. “Blood? Yeah. But that’s not all, there’s a…”

Aaron was crouched beside a thicket of bushes, a crease forming between his eyebrows as he inspected whatever the hell it was that they had found. Andrew pushed past Nicky to go over to his brother. It was probably some stupid animal who had gotten themselves hurt. If it was fresh enough, maybe they could even skin and eat it for dinner. 

Aaron looked up at him, his face drawn and pale. Then, he reached forward and pushed the bushes aside, letting Andrew see what had made him look so ill. 

Andrew paused. It wasn’t an animal, that was for sure. There was a man lying in the sand, his auburn hair like fire in the grey early morning light. He was naked from what Andrew could see, and he quickly took his outer layer off to preserve the man’s modesty. He was a man too- Andrew could see that whether or not he looked like the “regular” man- Andrew knew it intimately, having similar scars on his chest, his body having been mislabelled his whole life.

The man’s scars and injuries didn’t stop there, though. It looked like he had been runthrough a meat grinder pretty recently, though the blood was starting to clot up around the wounds. 

“Is he dead?” Andrew dropped to a crouch, ignoring Nicky’s hissed ‘Andrew’ in favour of reaching out and pushing the bush back more. 

Aaron shook his head. “I thought he was, but his chest is still moving, I can hear him breathing. Andrew, he’s so cold- we have to take him back.”

Andrew glanced at him. Aaron’s expression was serious- he had always had an interest in medicine, reading all the books that he or Andrew could find on the subject. He watched as his brother reached down, checking the man’s pulse and pressing his lips together into a firm line. “Help me lift him?”

Andrew looked at the man again. He was lovely- his eyelashes were long and pretty, his face elegant and angular even though his hair falling in matted curls on his forehead made him look a lot less striking than he probably did usually. He looked away, before looking back at his brother.

“Yeah, okay.” They lifted him carefully, sharing his weight equally between the both of them as they made their way back towards their little cottage, just a quarter mile away. The man was oddly heavy, but Andrew didn’t mind because in no time at all Nicky was opening the door for them and clearing off the table so that they could lay him out on it. 

“Is he going to be okay, do you think?” Nicky sounded nervous, wringing his hands together slightly as he watched Aaron move around the kitchen, filling a basin with warm water and grabbing a soft cloth.

Andrew found himself wondering the same thing- Sure, the man was alive, but the little colour that was in his face had drained out of it and left him grey and uncomfortably dead looking. 

Andrew didn’t care, though.  The only reason that he had even brought the guy back to their house was because Aaron and Nicky were freaking out so much. Why the hell would he care about some random stranger? Even if they were attractive, and probably running away from something bad enough that it made Andrew’s protective instincts rise so quickly he could feel it in his stomach. He didn’t fucking care. He didn’t .

Aaron squeezed the cloth in the water, turning it a rusty pink colour before he brought it back to the stranger’s chest and continued dabbing gently at the smaller scabbing wounds, cleaning away the sand and the smears of blood from his skin. It wasn’t long before Andrew was sick of watching them, and he turned away to grab the kettle as Aaron reached for a needle and thread.

“He’ll scar?” Nicky frowned, moving the dirty cloth out of the way and rinsing it in the basin, wringing it out with a few quick twists of his hands. “That’s a shame, he’s kind of cute.”

“I doubt he’ll even notice, honestly. Now grab me the kettle, I need to disinfect this.” Aaron snapped off a length of thread with his teeth, and then threaded the needle easily. Of the two of them, Aaron had definitely always been better at things that required patience like that. Andrew would have thrown the needle and thread into the bin and been done with it. Andrew handed the kettle to Nicky wordlessly, and then let him turn to hand it back to Aaron.

“You’re probably right. How does someone even get that many scars?”

Aaron silenced him with a look, and then pushed the torn skin together, sewing it closed easily and then pulling until the skin was brought together neatly. It was quite a thing to watch, Aaron when he was intensely focused on something- In another life, Andrew was sure that Aaron would have been a doctor. If he weren’t so attached to his mother’s piece of shit company, if he would just take that seamstress and run away to have the life that he deserved. Although, Andrew supposed that they were young enough that there was still time for Aaron to go and start more formal studies in one of the big cities. Maybe he’d get some sense before he was in too deep. For all that Andrew liked having his family nearby so that he could keep an eye on them, he hoped that he would.

The two men watched him work in silence, and before long all that was left to do was for Aaron to clean the newly stitched wounds before leaving him to rest. Andrew watched him breathe shallowly for a moment. 

“Will he be alright?”

Aaron shot him a weird look and then washed his hands in the sink, lathering the soap between his fingers and rinsing them in the basin. “It’s not like you to give a shit about anyone, Andrew.”

Anyone who wasn’t Aaron or Nicky, that was, but that went unspoken between them. If he was being honest, Andrew had no idea why he cared so much about this stranger- he was sure that pretty strangers died all around the world all the time. Still, the worry of it niggled at the back of his head, annoyingly. 

“Call it a morbid curiosity.” He stole the rest of the kettle to make tea, making a second cup when Aaron asked for one. “Someone did that to him.”

“Well he hardly got it from falling on the beach.” Aaron looked at him again, worry making his face look much older than his twenty five years. “What if whoever did that to him comes here?”

Andrew raised an eyebrow; He had thought that Aaron knew better than to worry for their safety, at least while Andrew was around. “Let them try.”

Aaron nodded, doubtful, before looking at Andrew and then nodding again. “Yeah, okay. If he wakes up come and get me, okay? I need to finish balancing the books for last week before I can get back to reading.”

Andrew waved him off and then sipped his tea, walking past the unconscious stranger before going into his bedroom, leaving the door ajar so that he’d notice if the man woke up. He knew exactly how he would react if he woke up in a stranger’s house, naked for the most part and with no doubt an entire headache’s worth of traumatic memories waiting for him. It would be completely understandable if the man ran away immediately, with no intention of ever returning. 

Andrew doubted that he would, though- The man was injured, and scared, and whether or not he liked it there was someone after him who he probably didn’t want to catch up with him again. He would be safe with them. 

He put down his mug of tea and then picked up the book that he had left face down on the desk. He turned it over and then leaned over to turn on his lamp, lighting up the room with a slight flicker as he started to read. He quickly lost track of time in it- Renee Walker, the local bookstore owner, had recommended the book to him and he trusted her opinions of things more than almost everyone else- She hadn’t steered him wrong yet. The sound of a sharp intake of breath tore him out of his reading, though, and he looked up just in time to see movement in the other room. He got to his feet and put the book down, careful not to lose his place.

“Hey-”

The man turned to him, his eyes blown wide with shock as he wrapped Andrew’s jacket around his waist. The stitches looked red and angry, probably irritated from the man moving around so much. Andrew put his hands up in mock surrender. 

“Who are you?” The man stumbled backwards, hitting his hip off the counter and grimacing in pain. “Where am I?”

Andrew took a step forward, rethinking it when the man scrambled backwards again. “My name is Andrew Minyard, my cousin found you on the beach.”

“You found…what did you do to me?”

Andrew raised an eyebrow. “Stitched and cleaned your wounds, and gave you a safe place to rest. You’re welcome, by the way.”

The man was too scared to take notice of Andrew’s sarcasm and he swallowed harshly. “You helped me? Why?”

Andrew couldn’t place the man’s accent. It did have something distinctly Irish to it, but there was an off note- English, maybe. Andrew supposed it didn’t matter, but the man’s voice had a pleasant lilt to it that complemented the rest of him- lovely, and hard to place.

“You would have died on the beach. My brother wants to be a doctor.” Speaking of Aaron, Andrew turned slightly to call out for him. The man flinched slightly. “What can we call you?”

The man’s breathing had slowed since he had first woken up, and he looked surprised at the question. “You can call me Neil.”

“Neil.” Andrew nodded, and then gestured towards his room. “Just the one name?”

“Josten.” He spat out the name like it burned him. 

Andrew accepted the answer with a nod and then crossed his arms. “Would you like some clothes?”

Neil looked down at himself and went pink. Andrew couldn’t help but follow his gaze, before pointedly looking at the table. The man was gorgeous, with big blue eyes and a sharp gaze, but Andrew hadn’t been given permission to look at him like that. 

“Oh. Do you have clothes I can borrow?” Neil tilted his head and then tightened the jacket around him. 

“Yeah. Stay here and let me grab them?”

Neil nodded his agreement, and Andrew turned on his heels to go back into his room. It probably should have bothered him to leave a stranger unsupervised in their house, in his house. As it stood, though, he just busied himself finding matching socks, a shirt and trousers for the man and pushed all of that to the back of his mind.

*

Aaron really wasn’t getting paid enough for this shit. Actually, he wasn’t getting paid at all for this shit. Not that money was his main motivator in life- far from it, in fact- but still, there was only so much stress a man could put up with before it started to have a price tag. 

“Neil, I really need you to sit still.”

The man shifted his legs again, and Aaron took a deep breath before adjusting his grip on the needle and thread and starting again. He could feel Andrew and Nicky’s eyes on him from where they stood by the table being absolutely no help at all. He shook off the threat of nerves that hung around at the back of his mind. He was good at this kind of thing, he knew that.

Neil shifted again, and Aaron groaned. “Stay fucking still .”

“Why?” Neil shot back, jutting his bottom lip out rebelliously like a child. Aaron counted to ten in his head slowly before he let himself respond.”It hurts.”

“Well, because someone decided to freak out and burst some of his stitches, and I’m the only one who can fix them. I can’t fix them if you keep moving the fuck around, though. It would have already started healing if you’d left it alone.”

Neil huffed, but then shoved his hands under his thighs and sat on them, doing his best to hold still. Grateful for small miracles, Aaron got back to work, stitching neatly and efficiently to pull the torn skin back together, covering it this time with some cloth bandages pulled tight across his chest, cream slathered across the ones on his cheeks to aid healing. “There, fucking mind them this time.”

Neil looked appropriately chastised. “I will.”

“Don’t mind him, Neil.” Nicky rolled his eyes and then held out an enamel mug to him, handle side first. Neil took it gently, taking care not to press his broken skin against the hot surface of the mug. “He’s just tired; he was worried you wouldn’t wake up.”

Neil tilted his head. “Why do you care?”

Aaron looked at Nicky, and then Andrew, before dragging his gaze back to Neil incredulously. “Seriously? You could have died .”

Neil took a sip of the tea- His mother had loved tea, back when they were still living with his father. She would make it for Neil, too, when Nathan wasn’t there. It was their own little thing that they did, and Neil had started to associate it with warmth and safety. Until of course, he had asked for it one day when his father was present- Mary had hit him, told him to shut up and then never made it for him again. He had been six at the time. Now the tea burned Neil’s tongue, but he swallowed regardless and drank another mouthful. He hadn’t drank anything in days, and he felt his throat immediately stop hurting as badly as it had been. “Thank you.”

Aaron’s face did something complicated, and he shook his head. “Don’t worry about it. How are you feeling?”

Neil thought about it. “Fine. Hungry?”

Nicky chuckled. “Drink that, we’ll get you something to eat to help you get your strength back.”

Andrew was watching him, and Neil looked at him for a moment before turning to Nicky. “Thank you.”

Nicky went to do that then, leaving Neil alone with Aaron and Andrew. They were clearly twins, but Neil could see the differences there. Aaron looked like he slept better than Andrew, for one. Not by much, but the difference was there. He wasn’t quite sure what to make of these people- They hadn’t hurt him ( yet , the unhelpful voice in his head supplied) but Mary Hatford’s way of life had always been not to trust anyone, so Neil didn’t feel quite right trusting these strangers to keep him safe. It wasn’t as if he had much of a choice now though, since Riko had his pelt and could be back to tracking him down already. Neil had to lay low for a while, to make up a plan to get it back so that he could leave. 

“You’re twitching.”

Neil flinched and then looked up at the two men who were watching him; it had been Andrew who had spoken, it seemed. Neil hugged himself self consciously, before forcing himself to relax his pose into something more neutral. He couldn’t show weakness no matter how non-threatening these men seemed. His mother would have killed him for even allowing them to bring him here. Trust hadn’t been in her vocabulary, and it shouldn’t have been in Neil’s either.

“He’s injured , Andrew.” Aaron shook his head and then looked at his brother. “Stop interrogating him until he’s feeling better at least.”

Andrew simply raised an eyebrow. “He’s looking like he’s about to bolt. I’m only worried for his emotional wellbeing, Aaron.”

Aaron rolled his eyes, mouthing the words ‘emotional wellbeing’ before startling slightly as Nicky loudly made his way back into the kitchen. He was carrying a bucket of fish that he set on the table with a clatter, and Aaron reached for it as soon as he put it down. “Fuck, there you are. I’ll make more tea.”

“Sorry, the freezer was jammed closed and I had to grab a crowbar to pry it open. Is fish okay with you, Neil?”

Neil frowned at him, as if he hadn’t expected to be spoken to. “Fish is fine.”

He reached for the bucket then, wrapping a hand around one of the gutted fish and bringing it up to sink his teeth into it easily. He ripped the flesh away from the almost translucent bones and chewed on it roughly until he could swallow it down. The salt bit at the wounds where he had bitten at his own cheeks, but the burst of flavour that followed was worth it. Neil hadn’t really realised how hungry he was until just then, but now that he had, it was like he couldn’t stop . He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand before taking another bite, sucking the torn shreds of flesh off his fingers before finally dropping the bones onto the table in front of him. Someone cleared their throat. Neil looked up to meet his saviours’ eyes.

Aaron and Nicky stared at him in horror, while Andrew simply raised an eyebrow. He wiped his hands on his trousers and then frowned. “What?”

Nicky cleared his throat and forced a laugh, reaching to pick up the discarded bones and dump them in the bin. “If you were that hungry, you should have told us, Neil.”

“What the fuck?” Aaron shook his head and then looked at Neil again. “You couldn’t have waited for us to cook it?”

Neil wrinkled his nose. “Why would you cook fish ?”

Aaron stared. “What the fuck are you?”

Andrew waved his hand, shutting them all up. “Just cook the damn fish, Aaron.”

Aaron grumbled as he grabbed the bucket and brought it over to the stove. He reached for a fish knife- a long, thin and serrated piece of metal with a curve that made Neil’s stomach drop out. It must have shown on his face, too, since Andrew tapped his arm gently and then gestured to the door. Neil cursed himself again for being too emotive, but followed the man out into the salty air nevertheless.

Andrew produced a packet of cigarettes from his pocket and thumped the butt of it into his hand twice. Two long, slim cigarettes slid from the box. “You want one?”

Neil had never smoked before, only ever seeing humans doing it while he was lying low on land. Still, though, he reached out and took it before turning it over in his fingers. “Thank you.”

Andrew ignored him, taking a packet of matches out of his pocket to match and then lighting his cigarette, offering it to Neil after. “You’re a weird guy, Josten.”

Neil lit his and then allowed it to burn a little, inhaling the smoke with only a slight cough. “Men are weird.”

Andrew chuckled. “That they are, Neil. That they are.”

Neil slowly brought the cigarette to his lips and let the acrid smoke fill his lungs. “Not many men would bring a stranger into their home, clothe and feed them and then give them their cigarettes.”

“I’m not like most men.” Andrew considered his words, and then flicked ash down onto the sand. “You’re not either, are you?”

Neil’s head snapped up, and Andrew could see a spark of fear there. “I-”

Andrew cut him off. “Aaron and Nicky won’t say anything. They know better than that by now.”

“What does that mean?”

Andrew dropped his cigarette to the sand and put it out with the sole of his boot before reaching to his shirt. He pulled it up enough to reveal the harsh looking scars on his chest that matched Neil’s own.

Neil seemed to hold his breath. “You’re like me.”

“I am.”

“How did you…” Neil took another shaky inhale and then blew the smoke out. “Aaron?”

Andrew nodded. “Yeah, him too. He wants to be a doctor in a big city. It was good practice for him, and he talked me through it when it was his turn.”

Neil glanced at him before looking back out at the ocean. Home surgeries didn’t sound the safest, but they all knew that already. “You don’t seem to like that idea, him moving away.”

“Something tells me you know just how cruel the world can be.” 

Andrew didn’t look at Neil’s scars, but Neil knew he’d already seen them- the silvery lines that littered his body, the mottled red scars that wound their way across his chest, hidden under borrowed clothes.

He breathed in cigarette smoke and shook his head. “It’s not the world that’s cruel, it’s the people in it. Don’t you want him to find a job, find a wife? He can’t do that stuck in that house.”

“He has a girl.” Andrew sounded sullen about it, but when Neil looked at his face it was the same mask of indifference he had been wearing since Neil arrived. “She lives in the village, works as a seamstress.”

Neil hummed. “You don’t like her.”

“I don’t care about her.”

“You’re lying.” Neil smirked. “You’re afraid she’s going to take Aaron away. What about Nicky?”

“A fiancé.” Andrew spat the word and then took a less casual drag of the cigarette. “He came over here after Aaron’s mother died, to handle things.”

“Aaron’s mother. Surely she was your mother too?”

“That woman was never a mother to me. She was barely a mother to Aaron.” Andrew dropped the cigarette to the sand and crushed it under his heel. 

“Then I’m glad she’s dead.” Neil shrugged and hugged himself. looking out at the sea spray. “My mother died too, killed in a fishing accident.”

It wasn’t the full truth, but Andrew seemed to accept it as enough to continue their truth-sharing game. “Machinery failure. Crushed her inside. It was a real tragedy.”

“Aaron must have been devastated.”

“He got over it.” Andrew looked back at the house. “Threw himself into work, met the seamstress while he was doing a delivery one day.”

“And you?”

“Me?” Andrew raised an eyebrow at him. “I never cared for her, she got exactly what she deserved. I barely even knew the woman.”

Neil digested that and then decided that the subject of Andrew’s mother wasn’t worth pursuing any further. She didn’t sound like that much of a loss if Andrew was to be believed. “You don’t think they’d come back here to visit you? They’re your family, Andrew.”

“Tell me family means shit to you, Neil. Then you can say that to me.” 

Neil said nothing.

Andrew snorted. “Exactly. Go back inside. I’m done talking to you.”

Neil sighed and handed Andrew what was left of his cigarette. Andrew brought it to his lips and inhaled slowly, and Neil ignored the little stutter in his chest at the sight- it was just some excitement leftover from seeing the sea, that was all.

 

Chapter Text

sunshine neil

Life with the cousins had settled into a nice routine, a routine that Neil had never had before- not that he minded, helping Andrew with his deliveries before cleaning and doing whatever he could to help was a long shot better than running all the time, even if it was tiring. As the days passed, Nicky and Aaron had both taken turns showing him the ropes around the business while Andrew brought him with him whenever he ran into the nearby town to drop off their product to the markets there. Neil had never been in a car before- the van that Andrew used was half broken down according to him, and the thrum of the engine made Neil’s heart race. 

“Neil.” Andrew tightened his grip on the wheel and turned it gently, easing them down a small road heading away from the town again. “Earth to Josten.”

Neil blinked, and then flushed. Andrew was good company, so it didn’t make sense why he tended to zone out whenever he was with the man. Aaron and Nicky had been perfectly kind, of course, but Neil tended to spend most of his time with Andrew, whether it was leaving the house or tucking himself into a seat with a borrowed book to share a silent evening with him. He had never liked anyone before- he had loved his mom, sure, but he had never genuinely enjoyed to be around anyone that he wasn’t related to before. 

“What?”

“I was talking to you.” Andrew rolled his eyes. “We only have one delivery left on the way home, but then the rest of the day is free. Do you want me to drop you into the village?”

At Neil’s blank stare, Andrew shook his head gently. “You can’t honestly want to spend all of your time around me and my family. The village has more things to do.”

“Why wouldn’t I want to spend time with you?”

Andrew watched him for a moment, and then huffed a laugh before turning his attention back to the road. “You’re ridiculous. I hate you.”

"You don't hate me." Neil turned to look out the window and watch the hedges and lazy blue sky whisk past them as they rattled down the small road. "I have no reason to go into the town. All I need is at the shore."

Andrew didn't have an answer for that, so he just turned up the radio. 

Soft crackling music filled the inside of the van. Neil didn't know the song or the person singing it, but he found himself tapping and humming along with the melody regardless. 

Andrew strained to hear Neil's soft voice over the sound of the music despite the fact that he had been the one to turn it up. Nicky had always told him that he was too stubborn, and he supposed that it was true, though he had never quite regretted it quite so much before.

"Can we go to the ocean?"

Neil’s question was so quiet, Andrew would have missed it if he weren’t already trying so hard to hear the man. "Neil, we go to the ocean everyday. We're fishermen ."

Neil rolled his eyes and made a face. "You know what I mean."

"And you can't go to the ocean on your own?" Andrew regretted speaking as soon as the words were out because Neil's expression shut down a little. He tried to lighten the mood a little. "Afraid of the water?"

Neil paused then huffed out a breath. "I wish it was that simple."

Andrew decided not to push on it. "Sure. There are other beaches I can take you to if you're sick of the one we always go to."

Neil nodded jerkily. "Thanks."

Andrew dropped a gear and changed route, heading down to a smaller, more secluded beach that he usually only went to when he needed to get away from everything. Andrew had no idea why he was showing Neil his own private hiding spot- though he supposed that the man would be gone soon enough and that it would hardly matter after that. 

They left the van parked up where the sand started to solidify back into the stones that led to the beach, and began a slow walk to where the water pulled away from the shore before embracing it again like a long lost friend. The beauty of the scenery was lost on Andrew, though. He was much too busy watching the way Neil’s face lit up at the sight of it. 

"Oh, it's beautiful." Neil's words were a breath, swept away on the sea breeze almost immediately.

"It's alright. Do you want to go in?"

Neil looked at him sharply, as if going in hadn't even occurred to him. Then, slowly he brought his gaze back to the water.

"I suppose it wouldn't hurt."

Why would it hurt? Andrew shook his head and then went back to the truck, pulling out the spare clothes that they kept in case of fishing mishaps. "I have a change of clothes here, so don't worry about getting your clothes wet."

Despite Andrew's assurance, Neil carefully eased his borrowed trousers off, folding them and leaving them on the sand before approaching the water again. He flinched away from it as if burned as it first touched his feet, before stepping in again and letting out a harsh breath.

"Cold?"

Neil laughed then, a hollow sound. "Yeah, that's it."

He walked into the water until it reached his mid calf, the waves lapping gently against his skin and seemingly draining all of the tension out of his body. Andrew had never seen anything like it. Yes, Neil had adapted quickly to life around the ocean, but Andrew didn't think he'd ever seen anyone that relaxed in the water itself. Neil looked like he was happy there, like he belonged there.

Andrew wasn't sure that he had ever belonged anywhere as much as Neil seemed to belong in the ocean.

He kicked off his shoes and socks and joined the man. The gentle ocean sounds washed over them. "We can stay here for a while. The delivery can wait."

Neil startled as if he had forgotten that Andrew was there at all. "Oh, we can go if you-"

"No." Andrew assured him, too quickly. He would sooner have given up the business altogether than pry Neil away from the ocean right then. "We have some time."

Neil's smile spread slowly like cracks spiderwebbing through ice. "That would be nice."

Andrew watched Neil wade deeper into the water, happy to enjoy the feeling of the cold water around his feet where he was. They spent almost half an hour like that, until Neil walked back out to where sand and sea met and greeted Andrew with an almost breathless smile.

Andrew's heartbeat stuttered. "Let's go." 

"Home?" Neil tilted his head in question, catching his lip between his teeth.

Andrew could have laughed, if it wasn't so sad the way that his breath caught at the thought of Neil feeling at home with them.

"Yeah, let's go home."

andreil selkie

*

“He always looks a bit lonely, don’t you think?”

Andrew looked up when Nicky spoke and followed his line of vision to where Neil was visible outside, cradling one of Andrew’s cigarettes while he sucked the last dregs of smoke out of it. He seemed to have picked up the habit since that first time Andrew had gone to the shore with him. When he wasn’t too busy helping them out with their chores and creating little chores of his own, Neil could often be found by the shore nursing the end of a cigarette or holding a book. Usually it meant that he was having a bad day, though he never seemed to want to talk about why that was. That was okay, though. Andrew was no more entitled to the inner workings of the man's mind than Neil was to Andrew's.

Andrew joined him sometimes, and they sat in silence together while they listened to the waves crashing onto the shore in a slow rhythm. Against his will for the most part, Andrew thought that Neil was probably most attractive when he was like this—like he belonged there, to the sea and the stormy sky. Maybe he did. They didn’t know where he was from, only that he was running from something bad.

Andrew was surprised to find he didn’t care much about where Neil had come from . All that mattered was that Neil was there now, with them. 

“He must miss home.” Aaron threw the dishcloth down onto the counter and crossed his arms across his chest. “He’s been here a pretty long time. Isn’t there anyone at home waiting on him?”

Somehow, Andrew doubted it. Neil had never even hinted at anyone other than his dead mother, and Andrew had never pressed the matter. If he didn’t want to talk about it, they wouldn’t talk about it. Far be it from Andrew to try to force someone to do something they didn’t want to. His conclusion had nothing to do with the pestersome feelings for the other man that had been brewing in his chest. Though they definitely didn’t help things.

“You should go and talk to him, Andrew. He likes you.” Nicky’s voice took on the hints of a smile as he spoke. 

Andrew’s stomach flipped. Nicky had been picking up on the tension between him and Neil, despite Andrew’s best efforts to hide it. It was only a matter of time before Neil himself caught on. Andrew was sure that Aaron already knew. Aaron always seemed to know. 

Andrew rolled his eyes. “Offload all of the emotional work onto me, I get it.”

“Oh, fuck off. As if you weren’t thinking about going out there already.” Aaron snorted. “I’m going to Katelyn’s for the night, so it’s either you or Nicky. Something tells me it’s going to be you.”

Sometimes Andrew hated his brother. All the time, really.

“Fuck you.” There was no heat in his words, and he was already grabbing two jackets as he spoke. Aaron just smirked at him. 

The wind was biting outside, and Andrew pulled his jacket tight around him as he made his way across the sand to where Neil sat on a flat rock. The sea was slate grey, mirroring the sky perfectly as the waves approached and receded from the shore. It was high tide; most of the beach was swallowed up every time the water came rolling in. 

“Neil.”

Neil blew out a cloud of smoke and turned to rest his head on his arms. He looked up at Andrew. His eyes sent a jolt through Andrew’s chest like they always did and Andrew threw the jacket down onto Neil’s lap. 

Neil put the cigarette between his lips as he wrapped the jacket around himself. He relaxed into the coat like it was a lot warmer than it was, and Andrew realised with a start that the man hadn’t even realised he’d been freezing. He shook his head and gestured for the man to move over, taking a seat beside him. “If you were cold, you could have just come inside.”

“I barely noticed.” Neil’s teeth chattered slightly. “Thanks for the jacket.”

“No problem.” Andrew stole the man’s cigarette, took a drag of it and then passed it back. He didn’t miss the way that Neil’s eyes lingered on his face a moment too long. It was a pipedream and nothing more, but Andrew couldn’t help but indulge himself in the fantasy sometimes. “You sit out here a lot. Missing something or just a new brand of masochism?”

Neil’s face did a complicated thing and he sighed. “My mother.”

Andrew hummed. “Cursing the ocean for taking her?”

“What? No. The ocean is my home, I-” Neil cut himself off. “I miss it.”

Andrew raised an eyebrow. “Then why not go back? You don’t seem happy here with us.”

Neil shook his head, twitched his fingers enough to send ash tumbling to his feet. Andrew didn’t like the way he exhaled through his nose, like the thought had upset the man. “Not an option. I’m stuck here, just like the rest of you.”

“You could leave.” Andrew frowned. “There’s nothing holding you here.”

Neil smiled, but there was no joy in it. “There are more things in heaven and earth, Andrew Minyard, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

Andrew didn’t know what to say to that, so he just shook his head and kicked at the sand a little. “What the fuck are you?”

Neil snorted. “You wouldn’t believe me.”

“Don’t presume to know what I would or wouldn’t believe.” Andrew levelled him with a look and then turned to stare out at the ocean again. “Just say what you need to say, Josten.”

“You’ll think I’m insane.”

“You think we don’t think that already?” Andrew waited until he heard Neil laugh beside him to crack a smile. “Out with it.”

Neil bit his lip, chewed it for a moment. Then, he spoke, his words getting almost swallowed by a swell of ocean wind.

“Andrew, what do you know about selkies?”

*

“You can’t be fucking serious, Josten.”

Neil groaned and then kicked at a pebble, sending it skittering down to rest in the soft sand below him. “As a heart attack. I told you you’d think I was crazy.”

“You told me you’re a fucking mermaid .”

Andrew’s lips twitched into a smirk as Neil grimaced. “So- what? You’re trapped here until you get your weird rug-”

“Pelt. And I’m not a fucking mermaid, I’m-”

“I know you’re not, I know the stories.” He paused, and then corrected himself. “Pelt, whatever. Until you get your pelt back from the evil psychopath who stole it from you?”

Neil shrugged off his annoyance at the mermaid joke and nodded miserably, leaning his chin on his knee. “That’s the gist of it, I guess. I’m lucky I even got this far… If you guys hadn’t found me on the beach, I don’t know what would have-”

“Don’t think about it like that. We did find you, and you’re going to be fine.”

Neil nodded once. “Andrew, what am I going to do?”

Andrew raised an eyebrow. “Well, we’re going to have to get it back.”

Neil stopped mid sentence, sucked in a breath. “What?”

“You heard me.” Andrew took a half-crumpled packet of cigarettes out of his pocket, thumping the bottom of it before taking out two slender rollies. “So some psycho has your pelt, get it back. You’re all fixed up now, what are you afraid of?”

A memory came unbidden to the front of Neil’s mind- a running motor, blood spreading through the water, his mother’s guttural screaming. He sighed then, and brought his arms around to hug himself tightly. “You don’t understand, my mother-”

“Was alone. You’re not alone, Neil.”

Neil frowned and looked up at the man. “I won’t let you get hurt because of me.”

“Oh, ye of little faith.” Andrew lit his cigarette with a match and then blew it out, crushing it out on the rock to make sure there was no heat left on it before putting it in his pocket. “You don’t think I can handle myself?”

“Why would you do that for me?”

“Don’t ask stupid questions.” Andrew took a drag and then blew the smoke out, watching it disperse into nothing in the cold air. “Come back inside, it’s cold.”

Neil was too tired to argue, and he was starting to lose feeling in his feet. “Yeah, okay. Do you guys need any help with dinner?”

Andrew clenched his jaw and flicked his cigarette again. “Just look after yourself, Josten. There’s a hot bath with your name on it inside, Nicky’s orders.”

“Nicky’s and not yours?”

Neil laughed and dodged as Andrew took a swipe at him, bundling the coat Andrew had brought him around himself. He looked cute like that- Andrew felt odd calling the man cute , but it was true- his hair curling a little from the salty sea air, his eyes bright and crinkled at the edges in laughter. Andrew tamed his heart back into place forcefully only to have it jump back out again when Neil leaned down to steal the cigarette from between Andrew’s lips and place it firmly between his own.

“I wasn’t finished with that.” Andrew’s voice was thin, like the air had been knocked out of his lungs—it had been, but Neil didn’t need to know that. 

Neil smirked, and tapped his fingers to his temple in a mock salute before setting off towards the house. 

Andrew hated him. He really did.

“For fuck’s sake.” He heaved himself from the rock and followed the man back to their shared living space, though Andrew supposed it wouldn’t be shared for long. He had promised to help Neil get his pelt back, and once the deed was done there would be no reason for him to stay anymore. The thought dropped, hollow, in the front of Andrew’s mind, but despite the feeling Andrew couldn’t bring himself to want to make the man stay. Neil was like the ocean, wild and free and meant to be that way, and Andrew was sick of keeping people tied to him. Neil had been right, Andrew hated to be alone, but he was finished with forcing people to stay with him. Neil needed to go home, he missed it like Andrew might miss his own lungs. and Andrew wouldn’t be the one to stand in Neil’s way.

Neil waited for Andrew at the door, sucking in the last dregs of the cigarette before dropping it to the ground. “You took your time.”

“Shut up.”

Neil smirked and ducked inside when Andrew opened the door, just barely missing the flush on Andrew’s cheeks.

Chapter Text

A couple of days passed in mostly silence as Neil licked his wounds from being so vulnerable around someone—no one had known so much about him since his mother was alive. And even that had been nothing like this . Neil wasn’t exactly sure what this was, but he found himself hoping that it would continue. Neil had found himself hoping a lot more recently, after being afforded a normal routine for the first time in his short life- Nicky and Aaron had accepted him into the household and he helped them with what they had to do, and he found himself feeling more and more like he was part of the family that they had created together. Despite his better judgement, probably, he hoped- it was a dangerous, disquieting thing, but he thought that maybe he was starting to like it. 

Andrew kept his distance for the most part, only approaching to give Neil his meals or drop new books at his door before going away again. Neil supposed Andrew was giving him space to get his head in order- it was kind of him, something that Neil had never experienced before he had arrived in the Minyard/Hemmick household. Andrew seemed to know just how much it had taken for Neil to tell him such an important secret, a fact that Neil appreciated immensely. Andrew always seemed to understand where he was coming from, and now he was adjusting his own behaviour for Neil’s comfort. Still, though the intent was appreciated, he missed the company. Neil had grown surprisingly close to Andrew in the weeks that he had been staying with the man and his family, and it was surprising how odd it felt to barely see him. 

Neil had never been one to just sit by and let things go, so once he had had enough of the silence he decided to take matters into his own hands. 

One morning before deliveries were due to begin, he stepped out into the hallway’s pale light. 

“Andrew?” Neil kept his voice soft, knowing that the other man would hear him.

“In here.” 

Neil entered the kitchen. Andrew raised an eyebrow from where he sat at the table. “You never usually see the world this early. Is something wrong?”

“I just wanted to talk to you.” Neil could see the world turning from a dull blue to a pale grey outside, and he watched it for a moment.

Andrew huffed, and then got to his feet to take his dishes to the sink. Soon, the ambient noise of the water running filled the room.

Neil gathered his nerves. “I missed talking to you these past few days.”

“You could have talked to Aaron or Nicky,” Andrew noted, his voice perfectly flat. Too flat to not be on purpose, Neil was almost sure. Then again, he had learned to never assume things about Andrew either. 

“I didn’t want to talk to Aaron or Nicky, not like I talk to you.” Neil frowned. “Did you not want to talk to me?”

“Shut up.” Andrew put his dishes on the rack and dried his hands on a tea towel before turning around to face him. “I didn’t want to push you.”

“I was fine.

“That wasn’t fucking fine, Neil, that was telling me the biggest secret you have.” Andrew’s voice had raised slightly, so he dragged it back down to his normal level. “You needed the space, so I gave you it. Don’t tell me you didn’t need it.”

Neil crossed his arms, petulant, but he didn’t argue. “Well I don’t need it anymore.”

Andrew took a deep breath. “Alright. You can run deliveries with me, if you want.”

Now it was Neil’s turn to raise an eyebrow. “You could admit that you missed me too, you know. Nicky said you barely left your room except to work.”

“Nicky is a liar.” Andrew turned his face away, adding the rest of his sentence in an afterthought. “I hate you so fucking much.”

Neil knew that he had won, so he didn’t push the matter any further. “I get to pick the music this time.”

“No music.” Andrew hummed at Neil’s odd glance. “I told you I was going to help you so we need to start planning what we’re going to do.”

Neil widened his eyes. “Andrew, you—”

“You can thank me after we get your pelt back.” Andrew tossed the notebook containing their lists of deliveries to Neil before grabbing his keys. “Let’s go.”

*

In the van, Andrew fought for control of his thundering chest. He couldn’t help his reaction faced with Neil’s smile- no one had ever affected him like this, but Andrew desperately contributed that to the fact that he lived with his family and didn’t really see anyone other than that rather than the fact that the other man was gorgeous. He was starting to feel like he was lying to himself, though.

He started the ignition with a sharp turn. “So, the man who caught you- he lives near here?” 

Neil nodded, sitting up into the van. “Down the coast, away from the village.”

Andrew hummed quietly, noting that. Anything that they could learn about the man who had hurt Neil so badly would help them in getting inside to get his belongings back, so Andrew wanted to know anything that could prove useful. “Any family around?”

“I think he has some family, but he lives alone.” Neil recounted what he had seen in the man’s home, mentioning anything that he thought might give them any extra help. It turned out that Moriyama lived alone in a big creepy house, but that he had family in the midlands who he desperately was trying to win the favour of- which explained the obsession with valuable goods, Andrew supposed. 

He took a deep breath and then drummed his fingers on the steering wheel. “If he’s alone, it shouldn’t be too hard to get your things back.”

“If it shouldn’t be too hard, then why don’t you stay at home? Why do you care if I get my pelt back?”

The million dollar question, really. Andrew considered it for a moment. “Neil, I know the stories. You’ll get sick without it.”

Neil bit his lip. “Why are you all so nice to me?”

“Is it so hard to believe that someone gives a shit about you?”

Neil didn’t answer, but that was answer enough. Andrew paused, and then reached out to touch his shoulder. When Neil looked over, he schooled his face into something more neutral. “We’re going to get you back home, Neil.”

Neil swallowed, jerking his head in a half-nod. “Yeah.”

The car rattled on, and the two of them sat in semi-comfortable silence until they reached the main road to the town. Neil seemingly had enough of it then, and he spoke.

“Thank you, Andrew.”

Andrew glanced at him. “It’s nothing.”

“It’s not nothing. You and your family have been more like a home to me than anywhere I’ve ever stayed before. That’s not nothing.” Neil’s cheeks were pink by the time he was finished speaking, but that was nothing compared to the flustered expression that Andrew was trying to hide. It wasn’t fair- Andrew had built up a reputation in the little life that he had, and Neil Josten was ruining it. Still, Andrew couldn’t bring himself to mind all that much, as long as Neil kept smiling like that.

*

Even the wind seemed to be holding its breath as Neil and Andrew crossed the threshold onto the land surrounding Riko Moriyama’s house- Neil was almost sure that his lungs would burst. Just the sight of the place made the scars on his arms ache and he had to fight against the bile that rose in his throat at the idea of seeing the man who had almost killed him again. His mother would have killed him for doing something so stupid, but then again she hadn’t exactly lived to a ripe old age either. He hadn’t been living the way that she had prescribed for him for a long time now, but that didn’t mean that he could just shake the mindset that she had so deeply instilled in him. His only regret now would be dragging Andrew into his mess with him, especially if something happened to the man. He didn’t expect Nicky and Aaron to forgive him for getting Andrew hurt, but he hoped that they wouldn’t hate him.

Andrew seemed unphased as ever though, and he tapped Neil’s arm before gesturing towards the windows and leading him across the yard. Jimmying the lock was a simple matter for Andrew- Neil supposed that he was used to the faulty locks around their house, and Andrew just seemed like the type to know how to pick a lock- and wedging it open gave them time to brace themselves for what they were about to do.

“You ready?” Andrew’s voice was barely above a whisper, his expression serious.

“It’s not too late to turn back, Andrew.” Neil’s fingers brushed past a splinter on the windowsill, and he fiddled with it for a moment. “You could get hurt, what would Aaron and Nicky do?”

Andrew huffed, the air misting. “You really want to do this alone?”

Neil broke off the splinter and let it fall to the ground. “No one would miss me.”

There was a long pause, and then Andrew’s voice came rough and unsteady. “You’re so fucking stupid Josten, help me open the damn window.”

Neil helped him to ease it open, climbing inside before grabbing Andrew’s arms and pulling him in most of the way. The house was quiet except for the usual settling noises, so each breath and footstep they made set Neil’s heart racing. Nobody seemed to be home though, so after the first few tentative steps Andrew gestured for Neil to follow him as they made their way down the hallway. The walls were a dark wood, and the only light that they had were the snatches of moonlight that came in through the window. Despite himself, Neil felt a shiver down his spine. 

“Shit, this guy is a freak.” Andrew huffed and then peered down the darkened halls. “Do you remember where he took you in the house?”

Neil worried his lip between his teeth. “Not really- I think there was stairs?”

“Down or up?”

“Down.”

Andrew nodded and they continued their search, until they finally found themselves on the precipice of  rather ominous looking stairs. They paused for a moment, before Neil finally pushed forward to take the first step downwards.

Halfway down the stairs, Neil tasted blood on his tongue. His scars ached at the memory- it could have been his own blood he was tasting. Andrew seemed to be having the same thought, and what Neil could make out of his face was contorted in disgust. The boards creaked under their feet, and the sound echoed tenfold in Neil’s ears- surely, someone would hear them before they even got to Neil’s pelt. Nevertheless though, they reached the bottom unscathed. 

He heard the shuffling of Andrew’s movement beside him, and after a drawn out moment the light flickered on. The only source of light in the basement that they had found themselves in was a single lightbulb, hanging from the ceiling and flickering every so often. It was something out of Neil’s nightmares- he could barely breathe. 

“Neil.” He felt a hand, warm and solid on the back of his neck. His breath came in ragged then, and he swallowed hard. He did his best to focus on the breaths that did come, in, and out and Andrew, Andrew, Andrew.  

“I’m fine.”

Andrew huffed, more an exhale than a laugh. “I don’t think you know what that word means.”

Neil shook his head, dislodging Andrew’s hand from where it was- he mourned the loss almost instantly. “Let’s keep going.”

After they had gotten past the immediate area near the stairs, the room started to get even more grotesque. Neil found himself staring at the chair in the centre of it with a sort of detached horror- He had been tied to that chair. He had been tortured in that chair, he could have died . He felt as if he couldn’t move, and he hardly noticed as Andrew moved past him to explore further. His mother came back to him, coming up in his memory like the bile in his throat. He could almost hear her screaming at him now- this chair symbolised every one of his failures, as far as she was concerned. He never should have come near the land, he should have stayed far away for humans and every trouble that they brought with them like she had always told him to do. He couldn’t bring himself to regret it though. He had met Andrew and his family because of it after all, and he wouldn’t have traded his time with them for anything. 

“Oh fuck. ” 

Neil blinked and then turned his head towards where Andrew’s voice had come from. “Neil, you need to come and look at this.”

“What-”

Now .”

The smell of blood intensified with every step that Neil took, until he could barely handle the stench of it. He pulled his shirt up to cover his nose and coughed out the taste. 

“What the fuck is that?”

“It’s them. ” Andrew’s voice choked out at the end. 

“Wh-” Neil stopped, his words cutting off as he gagged. “Oh, god.”

“Yeah.” The lightbulb flickered again, casting shadows on the cages that lined the far walls. 

“Are there people in there? Andrew, we have to free them.”

Andrew jerked his head and then moved away, searching for something he could use to break the locks. In the meantime, Neil approached the cages slowly. 

“Hello? Are you..” Neil didn’t know how to finish that question, so he started again. “My name is Neil, we’re going to get you out of here.”

He heard a groan, and the sound of metal dragging on metal.

“Run.”

Neil’s blood chilled, and he swallowed hard. “We’re not scared of him.”

“Liar.” The voice that spoke was heavily accented, but Neil couldn’t quite see the man’s face. “You’ve been here before, you’ve seen what he can do.”

Neil felt his scars starting to itch, but he pushed the feeling down as Andrew came back over holding a long, thin piece of metal. Then, he pulled a jagged knife from his pocket and held it out to Neil. 

“I’ll break the locks, you deal with the restraints.”

It seemed a fairly simple plan to Neil, so they set about breaking the locks as efficiently as possible before Neil stepped into the cages to free the people inside. The man who had been speaking to them was dirty and malnourished, but Neil could see the brightness of his eyes and teeth even in the half light.

“What’s your name?” Neil quickly sawed through the restraints on him, before stopping dead in the shallow water that coated the bottom of the cage. “Oh, fuck you’re a-”

“A selkie, like you.” The man sneered, and rotated his wrists slightly. “Jean Moreau, if you even care.”

Andrew was working on the other cage, and soon enough they had gotten both of the people out into the main room where the light could hit them. They were a sorry sight, coated in blood and grime and severely underweight- Neil felt himself grow nauseous at the sight. There were two men- Jean and Kevin, as they found out. They had been trapped there for years, so long that they barely remembered their life outside of it. It hurt Neil’s heart, but he didn’t allow himself to dwell on it for long- Riko could return home any moment, and then where would they be? 

“You’re both idiots, for coming here.” Kevin’s voice was ragged from lack of use, and Neil just shook his head. 

“We’re getting you both out of here- do you know where he keeps them?”

“How do you know he even has them still? He could have sold them by now.”

Jean spoke up before Neil could, looking at his fellow captive. “He wouldn’t have sold it. Not until he broke us, not until he could sell everything.”

Neil’s stomach turned, and he looked at Andrew who seemed to be seething. “I don’t want to split up.”

“Me neither. You take one of them, I take the other?” Andrew moved forward and slung Kevin’s arm over his shoulder, lifting him to his feet. Neil did the same for Jean- It was frighteningly easy, given how malnourished the men were. The had just made it to the stairs when they heard a noise above them, a door opening. 

“Well, well. The runaway has returned. And he brought a friend .”

Chapter Text

Riko Moriyama wasn’t a man of intimidating stature, but that had no effect on how Neil’s heart jumped into his throat at the sight. Unconsciously, Andrew moved in front of him, hauling Kevin in tow. 

He took the stairs one step at a time, pushing the group backwards into the centre of the room again. “You really thought that you could steal from me?”

Kevin whimpered, and Neil heard Jean curse softly in French. He raised his gaze until he met Riko’s eyes, and he forced a smile. “Who’s going to stop us? You?”

He felt more than saw the other three men look at him, but he didn’t balk. Riko’s lip curled up in a sneer and he raised an eyebrow, unamused. 

“You dare speak to me like that?”

“I have a bit of an attitude problem. It’s four against one, just let us go.”

Riko laughed at that. “Hardly. Those two invalids are useless, and you aren’t much better.” 

Andrew let Kevin sink to the ground, and he took a step forward. “There’s still me.”

“There’s still you.” Riko conceded that fact, but with a quick flash of metal there was a knife pressed to the soft of Andrew’s throat. Neil felt his heart squeeze as the man froze.

Kevin pushed himself backwards, but there was only so much he could do with his limited strength. The whole room held its breath as they watched the stand off unfold. 

Riko let the tip of the knife caress Andrew’s throat, and he smiled. “I can’t sell you- idiots come ten a penny around here it seems. You might make her more compliant, though.”

Neil made a noise of protest in his throat. “Let him go, I’ll-”

“Neil.” Andrew’s voice was calm, measured. “No.”

Riko chucked. “No no, let the creature speak.”

“I’ll do whatever you want, just let him go home.” Neil stepped forward, putting Jean down before meeting Riko’s eyes again. “You’re a rational man, you know it’s not worth it to hurt him.”

Riko held them in the balance for a few seconds more, before lowering the knife slightly. A couple of things happened quickly then, almost too quickly for Neil to follow- Andrew’s hand came up like a viper to grab the blade, and with his other hand he brought the crowbar up against the man’s jaw, shattering it with an echoing crack. Riko fell to the floor, the noise he was making less than human.

Andrew dropped the knife, blood dripping to the floor along with it. Still though, he smiled- In that moment, Neil would have done anything for that smile. Riko screamed again, the sound ripping itself out of his throat and doing irreversible damage. 

“God, I was waiting to do that ever since I first heard about you.” 

Neil rushed forward, reaching for Andrew’s hand. “You’re bleeding .” 

Andrew pulled his hand out of reach. “Not my priority.” 

He turned the bar in his grip, and then brought it up to Riko’s chin again, pushing his face up. “Where are they.”

Riko gurgled a laugh, and then spat. His words came out slurred when he spoke. “You’ll have to kill me first.”

“Oh, we plan to. But first, where are they.”

Riko stayed silent at first, but a push of the bar into the broken bone made him scream again. He took several ragged breaths before replying. “You won’t kill me.”

“Oh no, not me.” Andrew chuckled, and then stepped aside. “But they will.”

What was visible of Riko’s face under the blood seemed to pale, and Neil stepped aside as Kevin and Jean began to move. Their teeth were sharp still, their instincts primal after so many years spent in the dark, and they moved towards their tormentor with an animalistic glint in their eyes. Andrew tapped Neil on the shoulder, and together they stepped around the scene towards the stairs. 

Behind them, Riko began to beg. 

“Search whatever rooms you find.” Andrew kept his voice low, the sound of Riko’s pleading devolving into guttural screams like music to their ears before it eventually faded to silence. “They’re here somewhere, and then we can grab them and get the fuck out of here.”

That sounded like a good plan to Neil, so they split up briefly to search the house- once the fear of Riko had been lifted, it was almost ridiculously easy to find what they were looking for. Then, it was just a simple matter of getting Kevin and Jean out of the house- through the front door this time, making it a lot easier- and back to Andrew’s own property. Neil stared at the pelt on his lap- the fur was mottled grey and grimy with dirt and dried blood. His chest ached. After so long apart, the pelt almost felt like a foreign object in his hands, but at the same time it felt like coming home in the best way. He smoothed his hands over the sleek fur, feeling the dirt gather under his fingernails as he held it. He barely noticed the passage of time, so he jumped when Andrew roused him from his little bubble. 

“Neil, we’re here.”

They got out of the van, and Neil watched as Jean and Kevin took in the beach and the open ocean. Neil saw the longing in their eyes, and he looked at Andrew.

“Why did you help us.” Jean sounded tired, understandably. They hosed most of the blood and grime off them and then dressed them in some of Nicky’s hand me downs- thankfully, Aaron and Nicky were both asleep so there was little explaining to be done about the fact that Neil and Andrew had brought home two bloodsoaked men who looked to be one foot in the grave. They fed them then, skimming a couple of fish from their most recent catches and letting the men have their way with them. 

“It was the right thing to do.” 

“Bullshit.” Jean shook his head, and then looked at Andrew. “Why.”

Andrew said nothing, and Jean raised an eyebrow. “Oh, that’s why.”

Neil had no idea what he was talking about, so he just went to retrieve the pelts that they had brought back from Riko’s. He had washed out as much of the dirt as he could, and they looked as fresh as they could under the circumstances. “Are you both going to be okay out there?”

Kevin smiled weakly. “We’re going to be fine.”

Andrew shook his head. “I don’t think any of you know what that word means.”

The pelts were passed back to their rightful owners, and together they walked the short distance down to the beach. The waves were more gentle at night, and as Jean and Kevin waded out together into the water Neil was hit by an intense longing for his home- it was odd, since he had almost forgotten that he too was meant to return to the ocean soon. 

“Look away.” he murmured, averting his gaze to along the beach. Andrew followed his lead, but his confused expression told Neil that he had no idea why he was doing so. “Would you watch someone undressing?”

“Fair point.”

When they looked back, they were greeted with the sight of two seals playing around in the waves. The joy was palpable, and Neil’s heart ached for it. The aching eased though, when Andrew nudged him gently. 

“Cheer up, mermaid, that’ll be you soon.”

Neil nodded. It was weird- he could leave with them, go back home , but something held him back. “Soon, yeah.”

Andrew rubbed at his arm, and then hissed slightly. Neil jumped, and then turned to him. “Fuck, your hand .”

“It’s fine.” Neil laughed, shocking himself as much as it seemed to shock Andrew.

“I don’t think you know what that word means, Andrew.”

“Oh, fuck off. There are bandages inside, I’m sure I’ll survive.” He swatted at Neil’s shoulder with his good hand, and then pointed towards the door. “Come on, we need to shower and get some sleep.”

“That’s the best idea you’ve had all day.” Neil yawned, and followed him inside out of the cold, salty air.

*

Since Neil was a child, the ocean was his home. It was all the home he knew- too young when his mother took him away to remember very much about his childhood home other than how much it had hurt him. His mother had always loved the ocean too, some of Neil’s favourite memories were when his mother told him stories of when she was younger. She hadn’t grown up in the same waters that Neil had, but that hardly mattered- on her good days, she had regaled him with stories of her brothers and her parents and the life that they had off the coast of England before she had met his father. 

Through her love for the water, Neil had fallen in love with his home the same way that she had. At first, it had just been a welcome escape from their hellish life with his father, but before long it had become a place that Neil never saw himself leaving- which was why he was so confused at his own reluctance to go back there now.

Kevin and Jean had gone home a week beforehand, and since then Neil’s pelt had sat in his bedroom untouched- now that it was back in his possession, Neil was able to sleep better at night, and Aaron had remarked that his healing had accelerated considerably. He knew that Andrew was confused about the fact that Neil hadn’t left yet. Hell, Neil was confused. There was no reason for him to stay with them anymore now that Riko was gone and he had his pelt back, but thinking about returning to the ocean alone made his heart sink into his stomach. He didn’t know what it meant- he wasn’t sure if he wanted to know either, but he was willing to wait the feeling out before he went home.

*

Aaron’s hands were slightly wet as he gripped Neil’s arm, snipping the stitches with a nail scissors before pulling them out efficiently with a tweezers. Neil hissed at the feeling of it, a sharp exhale of air through his teeth that was his only reaction to the process. Aaron had insisted on removing them himself- something about Neil being “unhygienic” and “untrained”. Neil just thought he was being ridiculous, though he didn’t mind sitting back and letting the man take them out for him. 

“Sit fucking still, Neil.” He dropped another piece of thread onto the counter, and then turned his arm to access the rest of the stitches. “Andrew, tell him to sit still.”

Andrew didn’t look up from his book, just thumbing to the next page. “I’m not his mother, Aaron. What kind of doctor are you going to be if you can’t get your patient to sit still?”

Aaron blinked, seemingly lost for words at Andrew’s acknowledgement of him having a life outside of their fishing business. He shook himself out of it rather quickly though, and returned to removing the stitches. Neil met Andrew’s gaze as soon as he looked up and he smiled. 

Nicky brought over a new basin of hot water for Aaron to work from, as well as a clean rag to clean the injuries. “They healed up pretty well- you did a good job Aaron.”

Neil hummed his agreement. “They’re really neat, scars aren’t usually so small.”

“I didn’t think you needed any more bad scars.” Aaron shrugged and then dabbed at the skin. “It was the least I could do.”

Neil bit his lip and then adjusted his position on the table. “Thank you, you guys have been so kind to me. I can’t thank you enough.”

“What else were we meant to do, leave you there?” Nicky shook his head, and then went back over to clean the counter. “Now that you’re all healed up though, you’re probably going to leave soon right?”

Neil froze, and out of the corner of his eye he saw Andrew stiffen too. “Uh, yeah.”

“I mean, it was nice having you here but you can’t stay forever, right? You have a life to get back to.”

Andrew got up suddenly, the dishes on the table clattering as it got jostled. Neil turned to speak, but he was out the door before he could. 

Nicky frowned, turning the dish towel over in his hands. “Did I say something wrong?”

Aaron sighed, and put down the scissors and tweezers. “Go after him.”

“What?”

“There’s no way you’re going to sit still now, so go. We can finish this later.”

Neil was about to argue more, but then he realised he didn’t want to and eased himself off the table to follow the man. He grabbed his shirt and Andrew’s cigarettes on the way off, and pulled it on as he stepped out onto the beach. He knew exactly where Andrew was going to be, so it took no time at all to find the man. 

“Fuck off.” Andrew was down by the shore, kicking at the foam there and getting the front of his shoes wet. 

Neil walked down to him, opening the box and holding a cigarette out to him. Andrew looked at it, before meeting Neil’s eyes as he took it and put it to his lips. 

“You forgot a lighter.”

Neil rolled his eyes and took the lighter out of the box. “These are yours, you’d never let yourself forget it.”

Andrew plucked the lighter from his hand and then lit his cigarette, taking a shallow drag and then blowing it out. “Why haven’t you gone home, Neil.”

Neil recoiled slightly from the change of tone in the conversation, but then braced himself. “I’m waiting for-”

Andrew turned on him, flicking the ashes down onto the wet sand. “What are you waiting for? You could have left a fucking week ago Neil, why are you still here?”

Neil stayed quiet, but it seemed that Andrew wasn’t finished. “You can’t just- you can’t just wait around and act like you don’t want to go home, it isn’t fair . What are you waiting for, Neil?”

“I’m waiting to fucking want to, okay?” Neil lit his cigarette, but he found that his hands were shaking. “I’m sorry, it must be so difficult for you.”

“You’ve been waiting to go home this entire time, what changed?”

Neil stared Andrew down until he saw the man starting to calm. “I’m happy here.”

Andrew took a deep pull of the cigarette, and busied himself with slowly blowing it out. “You’re happy here. Why the hell would you be happy here?”

Neil figured that he had little to lose, so he cut to the chase. “You, even though you’re being an asshole right now.”

Andrew’s hands were definitely shaking. “I know better than this.”

“Is it that hard to believe, that I don’t want to leave here?” Neil said, echoing Andrew’s earlier words. 

Andrew looked at him, expression flat. “Shut the fuck up. You staying here is a pipedream, Josten. Don’t pretend that it isn’t.”

“Who said it is?” Neil frowned. “Don’t you want someone around to help with the business when Nicky and Aaron move on?”

 Andrew stopped, and then laughed. The sound shocked both of them it seemed, and Neil waited for him to finish before speaking. “What?”

“You think I want you around to help with the fucking business?”

Neil frowned. “What? I’ve been helping around since I got here, why wouldn’t-”

“Oh, for fuck sake.” Andrew dropped his cigarette and stepped on it. “Neil, yes or no?”

Neil had no idea what the man was talking about, but somehow he trusted him. “Yes.”

Andrew took a handful of his shirt, careful to avoid where Aaron had been removing stitches earlier. “You’re so fucking annoying, Josten.”

Before Neil could reply, Andrew pulled him forward and pressed their lips together. He could taste salt from the sea spray, and he found himself frozen. He had never been kissed before by anyone, so all of his bearings left him suddenly.

Oh

Andrew pulled back then, stealing the arse of Neil’s cigarette and putting it to his own lips, taking a hard drag from it. Neil blinked and brought his own hand up, his fingers pressing to his lips. 

“You-” Neil shook his head and started again. “You want me to stay.”

Andrew laughed again, the sound restarting Neil’s heart. “Yeah. I do.”

“Then I’ll stay.”

Andrew looked at him, his eyes bright with something . “It can’t be that easy.”

“Why can’t it?” Neil stepped closer to him. “I have nowhere to go back to. The ocean is right here, I’m not losing it.”

“You’ll resent me for it.” The ocean turned and crashed beside them, reflecting the turbulent clouds above it.

“Andrew, let me fucking do this.”

Andrew stared at him, before huffing and walking away. Neil followed him, until they were just a couple of metres from the front door. Neil watched the man pause and brace himself to speak.

“You’re staying, then.”

“If you’ll have me.”

Andrew ran a hand through his hair. “I hate you so much, Josten.”

Neil bit back a smile and then stepped closer. “Somehow, I don’t think you do.”

“You’re a menace.”

“You like it.” Neil pressed forward to kiss him, the second kiss of his short lifetime. Andrew seemed to freeze, before leaning into it with a ferocity that Neil had come to expect from the man. They stayed like that for a few seconds until the wind started to pick up, and Neil pulled back with a smile. “We should go inside.”

Andew opened the door and held it for him. “Go on then.”

Neil grinned and stepped inside out of the elements, only laughing at Aaron and Nicky’s confused expressions. 

Andrew followed him in, hands in his pockets. “Neil is staying.”

Aaron raised an eyebrow. “He is?”

Nicky looked pleased though, and he pulled Neil into a gentle hug. “We’d be happy to have you Neil- it’s nice to have another set of hands around the place to take care of things.”

Neil flushed and then nodded. “Thank you, I can’t thank you all enough for-”

Aaron waved him off. “It’s fine. I’m going to bed now, goodnight.”

Neil frowned as his speedy departure, but Nicky just chuckled. “He’s going with Katelyn to pick up some materials for her shop tomorrow, he hates to keep her waiting.”

Neil nodded and then looked back at where Andrew was waiting for him. “We’ll see you in the morning, Nicky.”

Nicky looked between them, his expression softening into a smile. “Yeah, see you in the morning.”

Neil followed Andrew to his bedroom, sitting on the desk while the man busied himself with fixing up the blankets and tidying the few messes that he had left that morning. “So, this-”

“Yeah.” The high points of Andrew’s cheekbones were dusted pink, and Neil was rendered breathless by how pretty it was. He got up and crossed the room to press a gentle kiss to that blush, just because he could.

“Good.”

Chapter Text

Six months later.

The oceans off the coast of Ireland were cold and dark and teeming with shadows, so it was no wonder that legends had been told for centuries of the creatures that could call them home- Neil, being one of those creatures, had heard all of the stories from Andrew now. 

His mother must have heard them- the story of the Selkie woman trapped by her evil human husband was a tale that seemed all too familiar to be a coincidence and Neil knew that the stories must have come from somewhere .

There were other stories too though, ones that Neil liked a lot better. During the first few weeks of Neil staying with Andrew he had grilled the man for all of the information on selkies that he knew. The stories of selkie lovers were many, and though many of them centred on the idea of being trapped, not all of them were. Sometimes, the selkie willingly gave their pelt to their human lover, deciding to stay with them on land rather than returning to the water. Neil didn’t care what other people thought, but he had to admit that it was a relief to know that what he did wasn’t unheard of altogether. 

It wasn’t as if Neil had said goodbye to the ocean forever, though. 

The water was cold against Neil’s fur, but he had long since grown accustomed to the temperature over the morning. He didn’t do this often- the waters were dangerous still and he didn’t want to get into a mess he couldn’t get himself back out of. He loved swimming though, and it felt good to flex his old muscles and get some time away from everything. Andrew was on a delivery run and he was due back soon, so Neil would go back home once the sun had climbed a little higher in the sky. It was odd, to consider anything besides the ocean his home, but after half a year of living with Andrew and building a life with him in their cottage it was starting to come more naturally to him. As the shore came into view, he felt his heart skip a little- Andrew had that effect on him, and he started to swim a little faster.

Andrew was waiting for him in his van, and Neil yawned as he wrung out his pelt and scrubbed at his hair with the towel that he had stashed on the beach.

“Morning, how were deliveries?”

Andrew greeted him with a quick kiss, before groaning. “It always gets so busy this time of year, I’m not used to not having as much help as usual.”

Neil smiled, reaching for the notebook that Andrew kept track of his deliveries in. Business had picked up in the last month or so, so much so that Neil was going most days with him just to help with the sheer amount of them- ever since Aaron and Nicky had moved away to get on with their own life, Andrew had taken an even larger role in the business than he had had to before. “I’m running afternoon deliveries, and we can go together in the morning.”

Andrew hummed. “Aaron and Katelyn are taking over this weekend while they’re down, so we can relax then.”

Aaron had finally started studying to be a doctor, and he and Katelyn were living in the village now and making a life together- that didn’t mean that they didn’t visit whenever they could though. Nicky visited too, less often because he lived further away but still often enough to help with Andrew missing him.

Neil smiled. “Maybe we could go to Kinsale? We could go to that Bakery you like.”

“You’re driving.”

“That’s why you taught me, Drew.” Neil kissed him again and then stole his jumper from the van, pulling it on. “Breakfast? We can go back to bed after.”

“The gutters-”

“Will still be there after you sleep.” Neil took his hand and tugged him forward. “Come on, Andrew.”

“You’re a bad influence.” Andrew huffed, but allowed himself to be pulled along towards their shared house. 

“You love me.” Neil stole the man’s car keys to open the house, unlocking the door and letting it swing open. 

“For my sins.” Andrew maintained his annoyed look for a couple of moments before smiling and following his boyfriend to the bedroom. “Yeah, I do.”

Neil pulled the curtains shut, casting a blue shadow over the room as he busied himself getting ready for bed. By the time he turned around again, Andrew had already fallen asleep- his face was pressed into the blankets, his hair messy and his mouth slightly open. Neil felt his heart fill with love for the man, and he walked over to the bed. It was in times like this that he knew that he could never regret his decision to stay on land with the other man- Andrew was more a home to him than even the ocean had ever been, and he was never leaving his home behind again.