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Selkie by the Sea

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There was moonlight filtering in through the window, cutting across Frenchie’s face. He couldn’t sleep. “Do you think Izzy was cursed?” he asked, only partly to himself. Wee John, who had been dozing in his own bed at the other side of the room, snorted awake.

“What, that little angry fecker?” Frenchie knew Wee John was only half awake, otherwise he wouldn’t be entertaining the conversation. Wee John had gotten sick of listening to Frenchie talk about Izzy a long time ago.

“Yeah. Do you think he might have been?” Frenchie pressed.

“Been what?”

“Been cursed?”

Wee John sighed and rolled over so he was properly facing Frenchie now. “Why would he have been cursed?”

“Well it’s just,” Frenchie huffed, pressing his hands over his eyes, “things were going really well, you know. Or at least I thought they were. And then I kissed him and now he won’t even look at me.” He wasn’t going to cry over Izzy. He wasn’t.

Wee John jolted and raised himself up on one arm to stare at Frenchie, bewildered. “You kissed him? And he didn’t bite your face off?”

“That’s not the point!” Frenchie tossed his hands up and then let them flop down to his sides. “I kissed him and he ran away. So maybe he was cursed before. Since kisses are supposed to break curses, and all. What if he was bespelled to like me and when I kissed him, he was released from his magical bindings?”

“I thought that was true love’s kiss that broke spells and made people more in love. Like in the movies and stuff,” Wee John grumbled as dropped back down to lay on his side. “Sounds less like a curse and more like commitment issues to me.”

Frenchie laid there for a while, staring through the moonbeam to the ceiling above. “Okay but what if—” his attempt at further musings was cut off by a snore. Wee John had fallen back to sleep. With a quiet groan, Frenchie rolled out of bed and got to his feet.

He threw on whatever clothes he grabbed first out of his drawer and slid on a pair of sandals. When he tiptoed downstairs and slipped into the front hallway, he nearly had a heart attack when a whispered, “Going somewhere, mano?” came from over his shoulder.

Frenchie jumped around to see Jim’s silhouette. He pressed a hand to his chest to try to calm his heart. “Just, uh. Just going for a walk.”

Jim tilted their head at him, and Frenchie could practically feel the considering look they were probably pinning him with, even if he couldn’t see it. “At one in the morning?”

“Yeah, I couldn’t sleep, you know. Figured going for a walk down to the beach might clear my head a bit.” Frenchie shrugged a bit, scuffing the toe of his shoe against the floor. He wasn’t expecting the awkward pat to his shoulder or the stilted, “There, there, chiquito.” Jim’s silhouette retreated into the shadows as they told him, “You better be back by the time I’m up tomorrow. I don’t want to have to avenge you if some random mugger jumps you just because you went wandering around in the dark.”

“Thanks Jim,” Frenchie murmured before he went on his way.

***

Frenchie wandered his way down to the beach—his beach, as he was beginning to think of it. He sighed, kicking a pebble along the path. He didn’t even feel like humming as he walked. It felt a bit like all the music had just left him.

He just wished he knew what had happened, if he’d done something wrong. It was fine if Izzy decided that maybe he didn’t want to date Frenchie after all, but it was the not knowing that made everything feel worse. Well. It still hurt but having some closure might make it easier to get over the man.

As Frenchie was starting to pick his way down to the sand, he stopped. There were already people on the beach, talking. He ducked behind one of the palm trees, hoping he hadn’t been noticed. The voices caught his attention. One in particular. Izzy was there, on the beach.

The other voice—oh shit, it was that bird guy, Mr. Buttons—said something about… moon bathing? But then it was quiet. He peeked around the tree to see that Buttons had left somehow, and Izzy was left sitting alone in the shallow water. Frenchie drew a breath. This might be his only chance to talk to Izzy and get some answers out of him.

He stepped out from behind the palm and took another step into the sand. “Izzy?” he called out, uncertain. Izzy turned his head when he was called, looking out from under the hood of his coat. That same bulky fur coat. Frenchie spared a thought to wonder why Izzy was wearing such an expensive piece of clothing while sitting in the ocean. Was that just one more precious thing he didn’t seem to care about?

The man didn’t get up, didn’t look like he was going to bolt, so Frenchie made his way over and sat down near him. He kept to the drier part of the sand where the tide didn’t reach though, rather than sitting right next to Izzy in the surf.

Frenchie steeled himself for whatever came next. “So,” he started, watching as Izzy’s shoulders tensed, “are you going to tell me what’s going on?” He wanted to be able to know if they could work this out. Or if he should cut his losses. It was sad, but emotion alone wasn’t enough to sustain a relationship. Especially if it was one-sided.

In a small, rough voice, Izzy said, “I got scared. That something might happen, or that you might leave.”

“That I might leave?” Frenchie let out a bitter, disbelieving laugh. Because really? “Izzy, baby, full offense, but you left first. You think I was just okay with that? Or that it didn’t hurt me?” He was really doing this over ‘mights’ or ‘maybes’? And instead of coming and talking to Frenchie about it, he had just fucking ghosted him.

Izzy kept curling in on himself, and a little meanly, Frenchie thought if Izzy made himself any smaller, he would just blink out of existence. “What can I—I don’t know what to do.”

“Well maybe start with explaining why you’re so afraid. So I understand what’s going through that pretty head of yours.”

Izzy was quiet for so long that Frenchie thought he was being ignored. He watched with growing trepidation as Izzy lifted his head and kept his eyes steadfast on the moon. Frenchie was just beginning to consider that this wasn’t going to work, that Izzy wasn’t going to talk and maybe Frenchie should just go, when Izzy finally spoke up.

“Right. Well, my parents were in love. Like, the kind of in love you get in fucking Disney movies or whatever.” Izzy started, and Frenchie narrowed his eyes. What, was this going to be some kind of sob story about how Izzy would never have a perfect love like his parents or whatever, so why bother? He kept quiet though, if only to eventually get some answers.

“They had a proper courtship and got married by the sea, and my da was just so fucking devoted. Our type, it’s almost always all or nothing when we go willingly, and she was it for him.” Our type? Frenchie wondered at that, at what Izzy meant by that, but he didn’t have the time to ponder it to closely when Izzy kept talking. “But see, he was devoted to his home, too. He loved the sea, and he loved his home, so he and my ma, they stayed in Belfast together,” Izzy said wistfully. Frenchie could see him move his hand up to his throat. To where he remembered Izzy kept a little silver ring.

Izzy laughed under his breath. “My da’s name was Braonán. Means ‘sorrow’ in the Old Tongue, did you know?” He didn’t wait for Frenchie to respond, just shook his head and pushed on.

“So.” Izzy stopped, swallowed, and started again. “So. My sister and I, we were born and raised in the midst of The Troubles. Even with all the abuse from the Protestants and the British and the bombings and shit, even when my ma begged him to move us all somewhere else, he didn’t want to leave. Belfast was his home, he said; always would be. So we stayed. And it ruined him in the end. Ruined all of us.”

Frenchie hadn’t ever really heard of the Troubles before. Maybe only in passing during year ten in school but never in detail and not enough that it struck any recollection, but at the mention of bombings, he held his breath.

“My ma, she was taking me and my sister somewhere, into a shop or something. I don’t remember exactly. But I remember I didn’t want to go in, refused to, so my ma let me wait outside.” Izzy hugged himself and bowed his head. “Sometimes,” Izzy said in a strained voice, “I wish I had just gone in with them.”
Was Izzy saying what Frenchie thought he was? He hadn’t taken Izzy for suicidal, but that… He reached a hand out to, what? Comfort Izzy? It seemed like such a paltry gesture right now.

Frenchie let his hand drop as Izzy sucked in a shaking breath.

“The whole fucking building went up. It was there one minute, and the next it was all just smoke and fire and noise. Woke up in a hospital with a fucked up arm and a busted head.” Here, Izzy let go of the ring and lifted his gloved hand for emphasis. “Doctors told me I’d been thrown clear across the street from the blast, that I was lucky to be alive. Didn’t feel very lucky, did I. My ma and my sister were gone, and they may as well have taken my da along with them. It was almost worse, when I finally got to go home.”

Izzy was clutching hard at his ring now, doubled over. “When he wasn’t sleeping or crying, he was drinking. Kept a bottle of good ol’ Jameson for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.” And well, didn’t that explain Izzy’s reluctance around alcohol.

“We didn’t sing anymore. We didn’t go to the sea anymore. He packed up his coat and locked it away and he never left the house again,” he said, trailing his bare hand through the water. Izzy’s voice was starting to go flat, hollow, like he had to force himself not to think while he spoke, or he might break. Frenchie was starting to regret pushing Izzy to talk. “He just Faded, wasted away for years. He wasn’t my da anymore, Frenchie. I was stuck in that house with a ghost until he finally drank himself to death. I was fifteen when he finally did himself in.”

So young. Izzy had been so young. Frenchie thought to himself about his own father, what it felt like to lose him as a teenager. It had been hard to lose one family member. He couldn’t imagine losing three, and for his father’s death to be so drawn out…“The only thing I took with me when I ran away was the only thing he could stand to keep. His wedding ring. I went to the sea after that and stayed there for a good long while until I met Edward about a year later.”

Izzy fell quiet, and Frenchie almost thought he was done. Izzy was all drawn up on himself again, and it was painfully easy for Frenchie to see him as a child, balled up the same way.

“I can’t remember what my family looks like anymore,” Izzy started again dully, voice hoarse and wavering. “I can’t remember their faces or their voices or what it felt like when they held me. I just remember what losing them did to him. To me. So I kept the ring, his ring. I kept it because I needed it, to remind myself to never end up like him, to never fall in love with anyone as fully and completely as he did. Only, now I’ve gone and done it anyway, and it fucking terrifies me, Frenchie.”

And, well, Izzy just looked so miserable, sitting there curled into himself in the sand and surf after reliving the horrors of his childhood. Frenchie couldn’t even be happy that Izzy had essentially confessed his feelings. His love, apparently. Frenchie reached out again, and this time brushed a hand along Izzy’s shoulder to draw his attention, opening his arms when the man raised his head. It was probably a testament to Izzy’s distress that he barely even hesitated before crawling into Frenchie’s lap.

Izzy settled himself sideways so that his legs were slung over one of Frenchie’s thighs, his head tucked under Frenchie’s chin. Frenchie closed his arms around the man, feeling the tickle of fur against his skin. He was trembling in Frenchie’s hold, reaching up to twist the fingers of his bare hand in the green knit scarf.
For a few long, quiet minutes, Frenchie just held Izzy, gently rocking him. He had to swallow his own tears, because what he’d just heard was… awful. Izzy must have been so unbearably lonely, for all these years.

“You’ve never talked to anyone else about this before, have you?” Frenchie asked quietly. He felt Izzy shake his head. By now, Izzy’s wet clothes were soaking into Frenchie’s, but he couldn’t bring himself to care. That wasn’t important right now.

Frenchie tilted his head to kiss the top of Izzy’s head. “Thank you,” Frenchie murmured into Izzy’s hair, “for telling me all of this. Even when I can see how painful it is for you.” The suggestion that Izzy should maybe see a professional about this was on the tip of his tongue. Because while Frenchie was telling the truth, that he was glad Izzy told him, he knew for a fact he was not equipped to parse through all that long held trauma. It wouldn’t be fair to him or to Izzy if Frenchie was his only emotional support.

But it really wasn’t the right time to bring that up. Frenchie didn’t want to sound like he was trying to shove all of Izzy’s raw emotions back under the rug right after the man had bared his soul.

Slowly, Frenchie reached down to cradle Izzy’s gloved hand. He lifted it up to his lips and pressed a kiss to the curve of Izzy’s palm just below his thumb. Izzy sucked in a sharp breath. Against the soft leather, Frenchie murmured, “Do you still want to try to do this, make this work?” It really would be alright if Izzy couldn’t bear to have that kind of relationship. Frenchie was amazed Izzy was even still here.

When Izzy nodded again, Frenchie turned his hand over to kiss his knuckles. Maybe that finally knocked something loose in Izzy. The man choked on a sob and turned his face more fully into Frenchie’s chest.

He cried for a long time, worryingly quiet, like he was still trying to force something down. Frenchie couldn’t do much more than hold Izzy, rock him to the sound of the waves coming in from the sea. There was nothing he could say right now to make this better.

Izzy cried himself to sleep in Frenchie’s arms, but even then, he still didn’t relax. His shoulders stayed hunched, and his hand was still clutching at Frenchie’s clothes. Frenchie sighed heavily and ducked his head to rest his forehead against the top of Izzy’s head. There was no way he could get up and just leave after all that.

Slowly, gently as he could, Frenchie maneuvered them both so they could lay down and maybe be a little more comfortable. He wasn’t sure if he could sleep after that conversation, but he could at least do Izzy the courtesy of laying him down.

Frenchie took Izzy’s gloved hand again and left one last lingering kiss to his fingers. It was the last thing he remembered doing before his own eyes closed and sleep did find him.

***

Frenchie woke slowly with a great big yawn and a stretch to match. He must have moved during the night, since he couldn’t feel Izzy in his arms anymore. Eyes still closed, he rolled over into the warm body at his back and hummed. Izzy had stayed then. Last night felt so far away, and yet so horrifically close, still.

He reached to drape and arm over the man and pressed his face into the tickle of fur.

Only… Izzy wasn’t quite that round. Izzy wasn’t nearly that squishy.

His eyes shot open, and Frenchie found himself once again, right up close and personal with That Seal. He scrambled back with a yell—not a high-pitched shriek absolutely not—sending sand everywhere. The seal made a sound of protest, head tilting back to avoid the sand spray.

It took a moment for Frenchie’s heart to settle and to really take in what he was seeing. The seal was laying on its side, head just barely raised off the ground to stare at Frenchie. But it wasn’t trying to be a bastard. And Izzy was nowhere in sight.

“You nearly gave me a heart attack,” he scolded the seal, pointing a finger at it and trying to affect the sort of stern attitude he’d seen Izzy take when he went waving his finger about. “What is it with you and getting all up in my space like that when I’m not expecting it, anyway?” Frenchie continued. Not like the seal could answer him, but there wasn’t anyone around to see him lecturing a seal.

The seal grumbled at him, rolled onto its belly and scooted toward Frenchie. Frenchie leaned back, ready to jump up and run just in case, but the seal stopped about a foot away and dropped its head onto Frenchie’s thigh. It grumbled again and then stared up at him with big, sad-looking eyes.

He was a bit mesmerized at the display. “Alright, alright. You’re too pretty to stay mad at for long,” he said with a little grin. The seal lifted its head and gave Frenchie a few slow, squinty-eyed blinks. He supposed he could take that to mean the seal was pleased.

The seal wiggled a bit closer and stretched up to press its wet snout to Frenchie’s mouth. It lingered there for a second before it turned away, leaving the tickle of whiskers and the taste of salt behind.

It bounced down the beach, pausing when it splashed into the surf to look back over its shoulder. The seal did the banana pose again and barked at Frenchie before it dove into the water.

Frenchie stared after it and raised a hand to his mouth. It was then that he noticed the bracelet tied around his wrist. Momentarily distracted from thinking about seal kisses, he held his arm up to the light and let out an awed breath.

On a thin braided string, colorful bits of sea glass threw out a rainbow under the rays of the sun. Every color of glass imaginable was stacked in a pleasing gradient, each piece worn smooth and fashioned into disks of almost equal proportion. It must have taken forever to find all the pieces and fashion them into such an attractive trinket.

This definitely hadn’t been there the night before, and unless seals suddenly had the ability to tie knots, then there was only one true culprit. Sure, they had a lot of work ahead of them, but this was a nice start. It made him think that maybe things could be okay. Frenchie smiled as he admired the bracelet, turning his wrist this way and that to watch the sea glass twinkle under the sun.

The sun. Oh shit, Jim!

Frenchie scrambled to his feet and broke into a run. If he didn’t want Jim to go out and avenge him, then he had to get home.

The only remainder of the night before was the vague impression of two bodies in the sand, which eventually, even the tide came to take.