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It Still Stings Where You Stung

Chapter Text

Statement of Jonah Magnus on the nature of his species. Statement taken directly from subject’s mind. 

 

If you steal a selkie’s skin, she must stay with you and be your loyal servant and wife for the rest of time. 

 

That is how the story goes. A thousand stories, of the clever man and the resigned selkie, dreaming of the ocean as she stays, dutifully tending to her husband’s needs, because he has bound her in heart and soul. It is a metaphor, some say: the skin is her heart, and the husband is a good man. It is a punishment, others say: for her carelessness, for her freedom, these creatures are locked away in servitude to man. It is a gift, others argue: twisted, but a way of showing love and commitment that is difficult to capture.

 

They are all wrong. The skin is not a heart, nor a gift, nor a punishment. 

 

The skin is bait. 

 

The skin is glimmering and fluid with promises of love and sensuality and loyalty, shining like a lure to any thief foolish enough to test their luck.

 

They never question why someone would leave their heart lying on the beach.

 

They never ask why a gift must be stolen in the night from a hidden cave.

 

They never wonder why a punishment is simply hung up on a rock, waiting.

 

They never question, or ask, or wonder. They are too greedy. Too hopeful. Too vengeful. 

 

They take the skin, and seal their doom. What awaits them is glinting teeth and hungry hands and a gleeful anger that has existed for millenia and will exist for many more. 

 

Without its skin, a selkie is not powerless. Without its skin, a selkie is angry. It is sharp. It is without mercy.

 

Without its skin, a selkie is still a creature of the ocean: And like the ocean, it cares little for the will of men. It does not matter if they stole it for love, or vengeance, or self-assurance. Like the ocean, it is merciless, and like the ocean, it will kill them.

 

A selkie’s skin is not a weakness.

 

It is bait. And it exists to be stolen.

 

Of course, there are those who refuse the bait. 

 

Kind souls. Merciful souls. People who know all too well how it is to be trapped. People with no wish for what the cloak offers. 

 

The kind of people who pick up the cloak, only to move it closer to the sea. Block off the cave. Steer their ship away. 

 

They are kind, and caring, and the selkie hates them. 

 

It hungers for blood and bone and marrow and justice, and these people will not allow themselves to be hunted. They are not hungry for servitude or love: or they know well enough what it is to be eaten for the same. And so, full and knowing, they leave, and the selkie gnashes its teeth and moves the skin back, arranges it even more alluringly. Hopes that the next one will be just a bit more ravenous. 

 

Sometimes, those kind souls come back. And sometimes, the selkie’s anger turns to curiosity. They are creatures of the world as well, after all - they do not only feel hunger and anger. And just like the ocean is a constant draw for humans, the push and pull of the tide beckoning them to fortune or death… so does the human world beckon the selkie. 

 

But that is the exception, not the rule.

 

Most of the time, it’s with grateful words and hungry eyes that a selkie accepts its cloak returned.

 

It’s not uncommon. It just takes a human with a kind disposition, a generous heart or a dislike for holding power over others. Simple disinterest means the bait is left untouched, intact for the next prey to come upon it. 

 

But it is good humans that present the true temptation, offering a meal that must never be consumed.

 

See, selkies hunt selectively. They feast only on the flesh of drowned predators, those who would have a spouse for a servant, and a stolen skin before trust.

 

This rule must be followed, indiscriminate of hunger or convenience. 

 

Like any fairy tale creature, the selkies are bound by the rules, with terrible punishment to follow if they break one. The fae like to play with these rules, bend and twist them to their advantage, but for a selkie? 

 

For a selkie, there is only one rule, and one, terrible consequence.

 

Just like a loss of their cloak locks them in human shape forever, regaining it through such terrible means will make them nothing but dumb animals: their sentience and shape-shifting forever lost to them.

 

And such, the balance is kept. The greedy lose their lives, and the famished lose their minds. 

 

Statement Ends .

 

Jonah, of course, thinks all of this is absolute bull.

 

He is a powerful creature of sea and stone, capable of tearing mens’ minds apart just as easily as their limbs. Why must he limit himself to the ones who act evil?

 

All humans are evil. And good. When he eats the heart and mind of someone who would want to capture him, he still finds a loving son or a curious student. 

 

It is all so bureaucratic, is what it is. 

 

But rules are rules, and Jonah hangs his cloak on a misty pier and waits for a greedy sailor to remember all those stories of obliging selkie wives. 

 

Steps across stone, and Jonah readies himself. A man - long coat, captain’s hat over grey-streaked hair, wiry and tall. As good as any. He waits, tense, as the sailor sees the coat. He hesitates in front of it, and Jonah almost crows with joy. His meal is so close - 

 

The man snorts, grabs Jonah’s coat with careless hands, and throws it into the water before stepping onto his ship.

 

Jonah is frozen. Rage, hunger and affront all battle for attention in his mind. How dare he? He hated the kind ones that would simply leave the coat, or make sure it was not left unattended - useless things, depriving him of a meal with their kindness and compassion. But this? Simply throwing his coat away like trash? 

 

Jonah hit the surface of the water in frustration before gathering up his coat once again. No matter, he tried to tell himself, even as he seethed. He would have to try elsewhere for his meal. There were still many foolish sailors about, and the night was dark and foggy. 

 

Jonah was stubborn, was the thing. He had set his sights on that sailor - a captain, apparently, if the memories of the next sailor he’d eaten were to be trusted. He was his meal, now, and Jonah would be damned if he let him slip away.

 

But the captain kept being infuriating. When he didn’t ignore the skin, he threw it into the ocean, always with a laugh. It was as if he didn’t realize the importance of it - but he must know, if he sailed in these waters. Stars, Jonah knew his sailors talked about it. He must know the legends, the promises: All lures and tales, meant to make them foolish and brave. 

 

It made Jonah want to tear out his arms. 

 

It also made Jonah desperately curious. 

 

Who was he? Why was he doing this? He was not a kind man - that much Jonah had known the first night, and everything else he learned about him only reinforced the idea. He was petty and distant and cared little for the well-being of his crew. Actually, he seemed to spend most of his time isolated from other people, and when he did interact with them, he was rude and presumptuous and generally made people uncomfortable.

 

He wasn’t nice. He certainly wasn’t compassionate. So why didn’t he just take the coat? It was, essentially, the promise of an obedient slave for the rest of your life. What stopped him? What made him not even hesitate as he passed it by, again and again? 

 

Jonah needed to know. 

 

And if he wasn’t going to get the answer by drinking it out of his mind… well. He would have to go the old-fashioned way.

 

Jonah’ coat fit him like, well, a second skin, even in his human form. It took the shape of a well-tailored jacket, something that screamed wealth and aristocracy to anyone who saw it. He basked in that aura as he climbed the steps of the Tundra and headed straight for the captain’s cabin.  He would have his answers.

 

Peter Lukas was a simple man. He liked being alone. He liked the ocean. He liked being alone on the ocean.

 

His evening on the Tundra was shaping up to be just that, his crew off carousing in port. He was planning on using the time for some good old-fashioned moping. 

 

That changed, of course, when a complete stranger waltzed into his cabin, fine fur coat flaring dramatically around his bare legs. He was also barefoot, in open defiance to their current climate.

 

“Why,” the stranger demanded, tone as if at the tail end of a long argument. “Why are you doing this?” 

 

Peter blinked. Blinked again. Waited for this obvious hallucination to fade away.

 

When it didn’t, Peter dredged up what little people skills he possessed.

 

“I’m sorry, what do you mean?”

 

The man squinted at him, and Peter very seriously considered throwing himself out the window. It was fifty feet down to an ice-cold sea, but surely but that would be preferable to this, whatever it was.

 

“You know what you did,” the man hissed, fluffing his coat. 

 

Peter wondered which of his many sins this was retribution for.

 

“I - who are you?” 

 

The man looked like he was about to burst into flames, moving into a quick pace in the small cabin.

 

“You - for weeks! For weeks, you-” he cut himself off, drew his coat tighter around himself. Seemed to be gathering himself for a speech.

 

Peter looked at the window longingly. If only he had gone for the kind that opened…

 

The man drew in a slow breath, covered his face with one hand, and when he drew it away, he looked calm.

 

“You’re not kind in the least. I know that from your former third mate. His wife took her own life and you didn’t offer any condolences, denied him leave to attend her funeral. I know you spent the next few days in an uncommon good mood. Smiled, even.”

 

He took one step closer to the desk, staring Peter down with eyes so bright they looked like ice. (Peter could almost appreciate eyes like that. Analytical and uncaring. Anything but warm.)

 

“You’re not compassionate. You do not care for your sailors. You barely noticed when your deckhand disappeared - only enough to replace her.”

 

Another step closer, right at the other side of the desk. As he spoke, Peter caught a glimpse of sharp teeth - too sharp, too many.

 

“You’re not kind, or compassionate. You do not care for the well-being of others - you do not care about them at all. So why ,” he leaned forward, and Peter saw the claws digging into his desk, recognised the dappled, grey-brown color of the coat, and suddenly, he understood.

 

Why have you not taken my cloak?” 

 

“You’re a selkie,” is the only thing Peter could say, discomfort creeping up in every inch of his being. Not at the otherworldliness, no: just that it had decided to come so close .

 

“Yes,” the selkie said, impatience clear in his tone. “What else would I be? Now, why did you do it?” 

 

Peter opened his mouth. Closed it.

 

“Don’t you want a doting spouse? Someone loyal, someone who can never leave ? Is that not what you humans want?” The selkie spat in frustration, still far too close for Peter’s comfort.

 

The words sent a shiver of disgust up Peter’s spine and he made a face, finally finding his words.

 

“God no,” he said, swallowing nausea at the thought. Someone who would never leave? Someone who would follow him wherever he went? 

 

He could imagine nothing worse. He’d heard about selkies, of course, of the strange magic that bound them. 

 

The selkie seemed baffled.

 

“So you just. Threw it in, because you didn’t like the idea?” He said, clearly trying to understand. It made Peter squirm.

 

“No. That was mostly for my own amusement.” He felt like he was about to throw up. What was it with this man and making him speak? Why was he even here? Peter forced himself to put together a sentence of his own volition, before the selkie could ask more questions.

 

“Was there anything else? Otherwise, please leave my boat.” 

 

The selkie hissed, a sharp, surprising sound. Peter could smell his breath, like sea salt and old blood. He leaned away, making no effort at subtlety.

 

“I won’t impose on your hospitality any longer,” the selkie said, and it wasn’t the anger in his tone that disturbed Peter. No, it was the intelligence in those dark eyes. Horribly, it seemed that this wasn’t the end of this particular problem, not by any measure.

 

The selkie stepped back, and Peter couldn’t help but breathe a sigh of relief. Precious space.

 

“I’ll be seeing you, Captain Lukas,” the selkie said as he reached the door. “This is not the last time our paths cross. I will have you.”

 

Peter’s shudder was entirely involuntary. To think what could’ve happened if he had grabbed the damned thing without thinking!

 

When the selkie left, it was a quick, quiet exit. Despite that, it was days before Peter stopped feeling the weight of another presence in his quarters.

 

---------------

 

When Jonah left the captain in his quarters, it was with stung pride and his cloak sitting heavily on his shoulders.

 

He had suspected, but to know that the man actively spurned the idea of a selkie bride, found it so disgusting that he could hardly keep it off his face… It was an insult.

 

Of course, the myth was a trap, serving only to provide an avenue through which his kind could feast, but still… It was designed to be enticing. Specifically to cruel men. But, evidently, this particular cruel man was above such vices.

 

Bastard. He should be so lucky to have Jonah rend the flesh from his bones and drink his memories from his marrow. 

 

No, this would not be the end. This man didn’t want a spouse, nor a servant, but surely there was something he wanted. Jonah could be very convincing.

 

This man would have his cloak, and Jonah would have him. Without a doubt.

 

Jonah draped his cloak artfully against outer railing of the ship before he jumped overboard, shifting form just as he hit the water.

 

Soon the sailors would be coming back, merry with drink. A drunk man was more likely to take chances, to grab at things they didn’t understand. 

 

And Jonah was hungry for a sailor. It wouldn’t be the one he wanted, not really, but it would do.

 

For now.

 

 

------------------

 

 

Peter wasn’t scared of the selkie that had made a habit of trailing his ship. It was no threat to him, and he honestly didn’t care either way that something was slowly picking off his staff as the seal-man persisted.

 

He just found it… unsettling, was all. 

 

What could it want from him? Surely the selkie didn’t want him for a spouse. That must not be the case.

 

But the frequent appearances of his skin suggested otherwise. On the ship’s railing, at the dockside, even hung on his doorknob once. (He hadn’t gotten much sleep that night. To think that what was practically a proposal of marriage could chill him to the bone so!)

 

It just - it did not make sense. Peter was familiar with the story of selkies - creatures whose cloak was tied to their very heart, and if you could capture it, you would have a loyal spouse for as long as they did not get it back. 

 

The stories had always made him shiver with fright, for obvious reasons. A loyal, loving follower who cared about him? No thank you. He was perfectly content on his own, with his ship, and with a crew more loyal to their cook than to him. 

 

The thing was… he was pretty sure the selkies in those stories hadn’t necessarily wanted their cloak taken. There was probably a deep moral question in there somewhere, but Peter didn’t quite care enough to devote thought to it. What was important was that he had never heard of a selkie doing this - going after someone so obviously, so intently, yet with so much frustration.

 

The deaths were less concerning, in all honesty. Peter just did not know how they were connected. 

 

It didn’t help, of course, that in the short few glimpses he’d gotten of the selkie he’d been… well. Tall, and imposing, and so obviously without either softness or care. Not only did this go against the whole loyal, helpless spouse thing, but it was… 

 

Well.

 

He was rather Peter’s type, and that was the scariest part of all of this.

 

Of course, he would never act upon it. It went against… his personal principals to pursue any attachments. But still, it was more of a temptation that he would like.

 

Even with a pistol to his head, he would not have taken the skin in earnest, but he perhaps might have liked to see further into the motives of the strange beast. To see more of that calculating intellect at work, those predatory eyes watching him with a shameless hunger. (If he didn’t know better, he’d think the selkie would sooner have him for a meal than a spouse… but that was the supernatural for you.)

 

All of this is why he didn’t immediately retreat when the selkie approached him a second time. 

 

It was another night, and he was alone on the deck - with his crew shrinking, he had needed to take on more of the actual work of guarding and maintaining the ship. He thought maybe the selkie had waited for him to be alone. Why, he didn’t know, but he was curious.

 

He saw the eyes before he saw the selkie itself. Black as an oil-slick and with almost no whites, they spoiled the illusion of humanity long before the sharp teeth could.

 

“Hello, captain,” the selkie greeted him with all the civility he had lacked last time they met. The skin was slung over his shoulder, shining wetly in the moonlight. He was still unclothed, Peter could not help but notice.

 

“Well, hello there,” he said, voice slightly rough from disuse. “Have you come to beg for scraps?”

 

There was an unmistakable flash of anger in those inky eyes, even as the selkie laughed quietly, insinuating himself further into Peter’s space. Peter forced himself to stay his ground, even as he imagined he could almost feel the body heat of another on his skin. Revolting.

 

“Yes, well, I believe that your idea of my diet and my actual preferences are not very close at all. No, I just thought I would come and check up. It’s been quite a while since my cloak has been unceremoniously flung into the water, and I was concerned you may have taken ill.”

 

This solicitousness was unprecedented to Peter, in a number of ways. He felt horribly warm at the back of his neck, and thought longingly of the stretch where he had once gone 3 blessed months without seeing a human face. Better times.


“I have not,” he managed. “Can I ask why you’ve been lurking around my ship?”

 

“Would you believe I’ve been trying to learn more about you? You’re very unusual, as you probably understood from our last interview.”

 

Was the selkie referring to when he burst into Peter’s office, demanded to know why he had no interest in a selkie bride, and then warned him of his return?

 

As for trying to learn more about him… well, that simply could not stand.

 

“Surely you know enough about me from our conversation. I am a captain. I do not desire a seal-bride. And I believe you called me by name? Counting the second item, that’s one thing more than any member of my crew knows of me.”

 

Peter couldn’t have helped the bitterness in his voice if he tried. This bastard knew too much already, and now he wanted more? 

 

He did not care if this was some selkie tradition. He would not take a spouse, no matter how intimidating they looked. 

 

“Not even your crew?” The selkie echoed, one eyebrow raised in question. “You are a strange one, captain.” Slowly, his demeanor changed: A small, sharp grin grew as the selkie took a short bow. 

 

“Forgive me for not introducing myself. My name is Jonah. And you… are very different from anyone I’ve met before.” 

 

He looked up at Peter again, and Peter would have squirmed at the hunger in his eyes if he hadn’t been holding himself perfectly still.

 

“I do look forward to getting to know you.” 

 

“And I have no choice in this?” Peter found himself saying, annoyance clear in his voice. He did not want to learn more about this… this Jonah. Even knowing his name felt like a violation of his carefully kept loneliness. 

 

Jonah hummed.

 

“No, I don’t think you do,” he smiled, all sharp teeth. “I will see you again, captain.” 

 

When Jonah- the selkie turned to leave, Peter found himself quite speechless, and with mortifying flush creeping up his neck. 

 

Worst of all, though, was the step he took after the beast before he caught himself.

 

Chapter Text

 

“The man’s intolerable!” Jonah complained as he combed his hair, his back turned to the supremely unimpressed countenance of one Jonathan Sims.

 

“I’m sure.”

“You wouldn’t believe it, he has no interest in the cloak, he’s without a spouse, he doesn’t know the names of any of his fellows-”

 

“Despicable.”

 

And , and- he has no appreciation for my efforts to know his miserable self! I swear, when I told him I’d get to know him, I’ve never seen a human look so green, and I’ve seen them two weeks drowned!” Jonah yanked a comb through a tangle, ignoring the few strands of hair that came with it.

 

“He sounds like a scoundrel,” Jon intoned, examining a chipped claw.

 

“Jonathan, you have no respect for my efforts. You always give up when they decline the cloak. There’s no artistry in it,” Jonah snapped, setting down his comb to work at a stubborn knot with his fingers.

 

“Yes, well, I prefer not to risk my intellect on a grudge,” Jon said, sticking his claw in his mouth to chew it smooth.

 

“You are utterly impossible, I heard your complaining when you were newly infatuated with that banshee. Of course, you didn’t know that, it was all complaints about how loud he was, and how could he still get so upset about the death of a mortal , and weren’t banshees all female -”

 

“Shut up!” Jon interrupted, sounding just this side of mortified, his jagged claw abandoned. “You only wanted ammunition to make fun later, and this proves it!”

“Yes, well, but I listened ,” Jonah insisted, examining his newly untangled locks with pride. “I even offered to help you trick him into taking the cloak, but you’ve always been so soft-hearted-”

 

“That is- that is entirely besides the point! I’ve been listening fine , I just know you’ll not want to hear it if I were honest and told you that you clearly hate the man-”

 

“Well, that’s a matter of opinion-”

 

“And, as such, you shouldn’t chase after him!” Jon finished, practically shouting. Honestly, he was so easy to fluster.

 

“Come now, Jon, you can’t say I wouldn’t be doing a public service by disposing of the man.”

“That’s true,” Jon conceded, tone full of exasperation. “But you don’t care a whit about the public, your foremost concern is, as always, finding someone nasty to eat and then complaining to me when they behave as their nature dictates.”

 

It was almost flattering, that Jon knew him so well.

 

“Yes, well. Still, I think it’s only fair you listen to me when I share my feelings on my latest project. Remember when I helped you pry that lamprey off your side?” 

 

“You said you’d not mention that again,” Jon hissed, hand flying to the ring of scar tissue on his flank.

 

“It’s just the two of us, Jon, don’t be so sensitive. Besides, I’m sure that banshee of yours was absolutely beside himself when he saw your latest battle scar. I’ll bet he fussed over you for hours.”

 

Jon winced. That was as good as a confirmation. 

 

“So I’d say you owe me a sympathetic ear, if not assistance with the game I am currently pursuing. Now, where was I… did I mention that he actually shuddered when I told him a selkie bride is eternally loyal?”