It’s a Tuesday morning when a sea-change arrives in Torvill Cove.
A pink convertible is spotted winding down the tree-lined ribbon of Market Street, flashy enough to turn heads but not nearly as obnoxious as the slowly chugging line of holidaymakers trying to get to the Yu-Topia Resort. At the wheel sits a handsome man with silver hair and blue eyes, accompanied by an overeager brown poodle barking in the back seat.
The convertible makes its way to Dean Street, stopping at a little sea-sage cottage. The poodle bounds from the back as soon as he can, streaking up to the front door with a joyous bark. The man follows, perching his sunglasses on his head as he looks up at the cottage with determined satisfaction.
This is how the story starts, and by all means the rest should be history, except this time around, there is something tucked into the bottom of this man’s bags and boxes. It’s been with him, grown with him, travelled with him all these miles from Saint Petersburg to Hartford to Manchester to here. It had once been brilliant white, and now it is silvered to a darker variant of his hair.
This time around, Viktor Nikiforov tucks his sealskin into the closet of his new cottage in Torvill Cove, and is determined to forget.
They say the story goes like this: boy meets seal, boy charmed by seal, boy meets another boy who has never been spotted in the same room as the seal. Boy falls for that boy, not realising that boy is the seal.
(And contrary to popular belief, the boy never fucks the seal.)
This time, Viktor Nikiforov meets Yuuri Katsuki on the same afternoon as his arrival. He had been on his way down to town for groceries, but he’d stopped at the sight of someone down on the little beach tucked away from the larger beach closer to town. The someone is tangled in a fishing net, and trying to untangle themselves as fast as possible. A black object lies on a nearby rock, drying out in the midday sun.
“Do you need a hand?” Viktor calls down to the person on the beach. They look up, before waving for Viktor to get closer. Makkachin barks, already halfway down the rickety stairs despite his age, and Viktor quickly follows after.
As he gets closer, he realises with a jolt that they are completely naked.
As he gets even closer, he realises with another jolt that the object drying on the rock is a pelt of some sort.
The world screeches to a halt around his ears. Slowly, he kneels down next to the selkie, examining the nets tangled around their legs. “How the hell did you get yourself into this?” he asks, raising an eyebrow.
The selkie grimaces. Long story, they trace into the damp sand.
Viktor chuckles. “Well, you’re really stuck in here, so let me go grab something to cut it, okay? Makkachin will keep you company.” The selkie’s eyes light up at the sight of his poodle, who licks eagerly at their hand. Viktor rushes to grab a pair of scissors from the kitchen, hurrying back down to cut the selkie free. They scramble out as soon as Viktor finishes, leaping lightly to their feet. Viktor quickly averts his gaze, going to the rock and picking up the pelt.
“I’m guessing you’ll need this,” he says, draping it around the selkie’s shoulders. Their eyes go wide, their cheeks flush hard, and they almost tangle themselves back in the net as they step back to take Viktor in again. Viktor, too, admires the way the sun gleams in the selkie’s black hair, admires the twinkle in their enigmatic dark eyes.
“I’m Viktor Nikiforov,” he offers.
The selkie grabs a piece of driftwood. Yuuri Katsuki, he writes. It’s good to meet you.
Viktor sees the markings on his pelt — harbour seal. It almost explains the muteness.
“You’re from around here?” he asks. Yuuri nods, jabbing the wood towards the town. “Great! I’ve just moved in; I can do with someone like you showing me around.”
He hadn’t meant for it to be so flirtatious, but Yuuri flushes at that. Briefly, Viktor fixates on the pink that crawls down Yuuri’s chest before he catches himself and drags his gaze back up to his eyes. I’m busy this afternoon, Yuuri writes into the sand, but I hope I’ll see you another time?
Viktor smiles. “Perfect! Well, Makkachin and I are getting some food. We’ll see you soon!”
Yuuri suddenly grabs his forearm, stalling him. Startled, Viktor turns back, just in time to catch Yuuri’s mouth brushing against his own. Warmth bursts inside him; when Yuuri releases him he takes a step back, gingerly touching his lips. Yuuri flushes, moves one hand down from his mouth to touch his other hand. Thank you. He gestures to the pelt, and repeats the sign.
Viktor runs a hesitant hand through his hair, before deciding that life is too short to give a damn, and he leans in to return the kiss. Yuuri’s eyes flutter just as he breaks away.
And with his heart the lightest it’s been since he arrived, he sets back out towards the coastal trail with Makkachin fast at his heels.
He runs into Yuuri again on a Saturday evening, when everyone in town seems to have crammed into the confines of this beachside mansion, and the pool in the backyard glows like an aquamarine under the starlight.
Yuuri’s eyes are bright as he extends a hand for Viktor to take. He’s clothed now, his hair carefully gelled back and his eyes framed by blue-rimmed glasses. His cheeks are rosy from both alcohol and proximity, and Viktor feels much the same as they dance together beneath the stars.
“What do you say to us heading out?” he asks, gesturing to the rest of the crowd. Yuuri nods fervently, already pulling them towards the closest exit. He shoots off a wave at his friend Phichit, who returns it before diving back into conversation with a grouchy-looking man in a turtleneck, and at Yuri, a gangly blond teenager who shoots him a rude gesture in return.
Viktor raises an eyebrow. Yuuri chuckles, shaking his head.
The streetlights glow off of Yuuri’s lightly tanned skin, casting parts of his handsome face into shadow. Viktor feels the magic in him, a similar music that thrums through his own bones. He’d pushed that down so long ago that he’d almost forgotten what it feels like, but now with one touch Yuuri brings it all rushing back to the surface — he longs now for the touch of Yuuri’s hands and lips just the same as he once longed for the sea.
But he will never return to the sea, so just having Yuuri will have to be enough.
Yuuri leaps into his arms just past the threshold, nearly knocking the wind out of him. Viktor laughs, kissing him as he walks them back to his bedroom. Makkachin is asleep in the kitchen, but he kicks the door closed just in case. Setting Yuuri down on his bed, he pauses for a moment to admire the stark play of moonlight and shadow across Yuuri’s face before leaning down to recapture his lips.
“How far?” he asks. Yuuri curls his fingers in Viktor’s hair, bites a mark into his collar, and Viktor gets the message as clear as day.
Yuuri is exquisite, and Viktor is very, very fucked.
He’d lost track of the universe somewhere around midnight, collapsed in an exhausted heap in the middle of his now downright filthy sheets. But Yuuri’s not done with him, it seems; he’s still half-hard, despite having come at least three times. Viktor’s not sure if he can remember the last time he’s had sex this intense or mindblowing, but then again, he doesn’t remember much of the years he’s spent with his sealskin tucked into the bottom of his heart.
When the world is usually grey and tiring, day and night tend to bleed together. But somehow Yuuri is a splash of vivid crimson against the slate, bright and wanting. Viktor clings to him, drawn to the circle of his arms like a moth to flame.
Yuuri nudges his legs open, his kisses lingering along his neck and down his chest. Viktor’s fingers clench in the sheets as Yuuri’s fingers fiddle with another condom packet, as the head of his cock teases against his entrance just seconds later. Yuuri pushes in with ease, the lube from previous rounds still slick inside, and Viktor bites down a whimper as he feels the stretch yet again.
He doesn’t even have the energy to get himself up, so he lies back and lets Yuuri do the work, gasping and moaning under the other selkie’s touch. Yuuri’s hips snap forward in frantic want, driving stars into Viktor’s vision with each perfect thrust. His teeth latch to Viktor’s neck, leaving a mark at his collar; his fingers dig crescents into Viktor’s skin, scrape bright lines of red across his chest.
Viktor has never felt so claimed, so owned before.
His mind soars somewhere above the stars, lost in his own ecstasy. Yuuri is the inexorable push of the tides, and Viktor the overwhelmed beach below the surging waves — a force of nature descending upon a small harbour town, a summer storm that Viktor is still learning how to weather.
Yuuri comes, his breath ragged but slowing. He lingers, and Viktor lets him, his fingers still clenching the sheets even as exhaustion seeps into his bones and weighs down his eyelids.
Hours later, Viktor wakes to a dull pain at the base of his spine and an empty bed. Yuuri’s glasses and clothes are still in the room, though, so Viktor swings himself out of bed, checking the time. It’s almost four.
The cottage is silent save for the echo of the sea outside the window and the gentle tinkle of windchimes on the back patio. The clouds outside obscure most of the stars; the air feels thick with the promise of rain.
There’s a crash. Makkachin barks, springing to his feet. Viktor turns, his heart sinking to his feet as he sees Yuuri emerge from the depths of the hall closet, dragging with him a familiar silvery pelt.
Wordlessly, Yuuri sets the pelt down at Viktor’s feet, tilting his head. Viktor looks down at the memories that seem to gleam across the surface, at the harp markings that shift and shimmer under the dim light outside the window, and sinks to his knees, putting his head in his hands.
So this is why I haven’t seen a harp seal in the harbour yet? Yuuri wonders.
It’s now six in the morning. Viktor’s amazed he has any fluids left in him at this point.
He reaches out for a tissue, dabbing at his eyes before tucking his head against Yuuri’s shoulder. Idly he plays with Yuuri’s fingers, looking at the question the other selkie has written down before sighing and replying:
I haven’t changed ever since the day my parents were hunted. I don’t feel safe in the sea.
Yuuri bites his lip. But isn’t it unsafe to stay on land forever, too? he writes. A selkie’s skin is their first connection to the sea and everything else about them. It is their voice, their identity.
That’s what you think, Viktor points out. I have my own voice. I made it myself. I wrote poems with it.
So have I. Yuuri’s brows furrow. My hands are as much of my expression as your vocal cords are for yours.
Viktor doesn’t want to argue with him on that, or about anything at all. At this moment it still hurts to sit, his mind’s still halfway out to the stars, and all he wants to do is pull Yuuri back into bed with him and forget any of this ever happened. But Yuuri juts his chin out, defiant, and Viktor realises this isn’t something he’s going to win.
The sea-longing will kill you, Yuuri warns him. Eventually, but it will.
I’ve been avoiding it for years now, Viktor retorts. I’m just fine.
With an exasperated sigh, Yuuri crawls into his lap, cards his fingers gently through his hair. He examines Viktor for a long while, his hands moving as if trying to memorise Viktor’s entire being. Viktor takes them, presses kisses to each knuckle. Yuuri’s cheeks flush.
I want to help you, he traces into Viktor’s skin, pressing their foreheads together. I don’t want you to waste away.
“I’m fine,” Viktor insists, but Yuuri shakes his head.
The longer you stay on land, the harder it will be for you to return once you change again.
Viktor shakes his head. “Don’t you get it? I don’t ever intend on changing.” Smiling, he leans in and presses another kiss to Yuuri’s hand. “I just want to get to know you better, okay?”
Yuuri considers it, his cheeks flushing. Slowly he nods, leaning down to kiss Viktor’s forehead.
I know a place, he offers. I’ll take you there next weekend.
Lover’s Point is attached to numerous local legends, and a popular spot for sighting the ghosts of lovelorn widows and forsaken mistresses. Its secret cove, one of the town’s last hidden locations in an age of digital tourism, is a popular spot for clandestine trysts.
Viktor had assumed that was why Yuuri had brought him there, until their pelts come tumbling out of the gaudy totebag Yuuri is carrying with their picnic basket. “Why have you brought the sealskins?” he asks, only to receive an enigmatic smile.
This cove is sheltered from the open ocean, Yuuri writes once the blanket is laid out and he’s kicked off his shoes, sitting cross-legged on the blue gingham. The waves are safer here.
“It’s not the waves I’m worried about,” Viktor points out. Yuuri makes a face and takes off his shirt, and Viktor’s train of thought is swiftly derailed.
He indulges his lover instead, stripping down and wrapping the silvery harp pelt around him. Yuuri beams, leading him down to where the water laps gently at his feet, urging him like a mother duck back into the cool salty embrace of the sea. Viktor clenches his teeth; the rushing of the waves seems to fill his ears even though his head has not yet reached the water.
Yuuri gestures for him to try when it does, and Viktor pulls down the hood of the pelt and submerges himself, pinching his nose as he tries to remember the necessary words. But the music refuses to come, only faint echoes from the bottom of a locked chest deep in his heart. Years of disuse have cast away the key, and now he flounders, resurfacing with a gasp in time to watch Yuuri’s head slink under the water.
A sleek black harbour seal appears moments later. Viktor sighs, shaking his head and slowly paddling back to shore.
He hauls out, leaving the harp pelt to dry on the nearby rocks as he covers himself in a towel and lies down on the blanket, taking out his notebook for yet another attempt at writing. But the words stop and start, like a sputtering engine running on fumes, and soon Viktor has no energy to even try to keep the pen upright anymore. He’d come so close to giving in — he could hear the siren song of the waves more clearly than ever, feel the longing seep through him more acutely than it had even during the first year away from the sea.
Wouldn’t you like to see your family again? The waves tease him. Come with us, and be healed of your pain. The human world does not deserve you.
The ocean is a cruel mistress; the only things she can give him are the likenesses of his family in foam, the imprints of their memories stained on the insides of conch shells. The sting of the salt spray fills his nostrils as he lies back, locking his memories back into the deep.
He dreams of the breaking light of water, of salt grating the inside lining of his lungs. He dreams of Yuuri’s fingers cold against his, his black hair floating like seaweed all around. A kiss, searing itself against his lips. A touch, branding Yuuri’s imprint into his skin.
He wakes, and Yuuri is hovering above him, dripping water into his eyes. Yuuri tastes of the sea, just like in his dreams, but in waking life his fingers are gentle and warm.
Yuuri’s kisses move southward along Viktor’s body, and with a sigh Viktor tangles his fingers in inky tresses, and holds on.
The dreams continue, long after they’ve packed the picnic and walked back to town, long after Yuuri starts making a habit of showing up at Viktor’s cottage with his toothbrush, clothes, and sealskin. Viktor welcomes this intrusion of life and love, loves the easy banality of Yuuri’s mug on his counter, Yuuri’s razor in his bathroom, Yuuri’s sealskin hanging on a coat hook by the kitchen door. It should be this easy, it says. You can live in between the land and sea like myself.
Viktor tries to ignore that voice whenever it gets too loud.
“Why are you so determined to get me to swim?” he asks Yuuri one evening in June, a couple days before Midsummer. The other selkie pokes his head up from the whale reports he’s perusing for his friend Yuuko from the Harbour Watch — Yuuri’s friends with everyone in town, Viktor thinks — and bites his lip.
‘I think it could help you,’ he replies, his hands slow so as to ensure Viktor can read them correctly. Viktor sighs, coming over to sit on the couch next to Yuuri, folding his own hands in his lap.
“You don’t need to. You being here is better than what I’ve had in years.”
‘I’ve been there,’ replies Yuuri, before grabbing his notebook again. It was your poetry that got me out of the depths of my own sea-longing. I owe you my life.
“I’m not going to die,” Viktor says, a little defensive.
‘We all want to think that,’ Yuuri replies.
“Say I manage to change, though.” Viktor reaches out, cupping Yuuri’s cheek. “The sea-longing takes back all the time you spent neglecting its call. That’s why all the selkies of legend never returned to to shore — the humans who married them took away a good portion of their lives. If I go now, I won’t be back for years.”
And if you never go, you’ll wither, writes Yuuri. Midsummer is coming. That’s the easiest night for you to try. Please, just once. He sets down his pen. ‘For me?’
Who is he to deny someone who thinks they’re trying to save him? Yuuri’s fingers fret along the edges of his report, his eyes are wide with apprehension as he awaits Viktor’s answer. With a sigh, Viktor leans in, kissing Yuuri’s forehead, his nose, his lips.
“I’ll try,” he promises. Yuuri nods, taking a couple deep breaths. Viktor can feel the ferentic racing of his heart, the anxious bubbles brewing in his gut. Their attentions drift to other things for the rest of the night, but Viktor still dreams of the waters when he closes his eyes.
On Midsummer, the pier is bright with fairy lights and the boardwalk is filled with dancing and music. Yuuri and Viktor, on the other hand, are at the little beach with their sealskins clutched in their hands.
“Well,” says Viktor, arraying the skin around his body. “Let’s try this again.” Next to him, Yuuri nods.
They stride out beyond the whitewater, the music from the boardwalk echoing distantly behind them. It feels like a separate room — a separate world, even, as the water rises to Viktor’s knees, to his hips, to his chest. He shivers, but Yuuri squeezes his hand, and the calmness of the ocean beyond the breaking shore sinks into Viktor’s blood.
Welcome back, the sea breeze whispers. It’s been a while, my son.
The sand falls away. Viktor treads water, his pelt bobbing around him. Dimly, he sees Yuuri sink below the waves, the transformation almost seamless, but he himself still flounders, still struggles for the necessary words.
Still, deep below, he can feel it lurking in his bones. The song his mother taught him echoes in his ears, suffuses through his skin and blood. His lungs gasp; his heart races; his vision grows dim as the seal part of him awakens from its years of dormancy.
BOOM. The sound of fireworks unexpectedly erupt from the shore, followed by the roar of the Midsummer blaze. The screaming of children echoes across the waves, their dim forms running and dancing around the flames. The noise rocks Viktor out of his stupor, jolts him back to cold, sinking fear.
Blood on the ice. The crack of a gunshot. A diver, emerging onto the floe, hakapik raised above the prone form of his parents —
Into the water, into the water, into the — his lungs scream, his body lumbers. Why so slow? Why isn’t he getting away? His vision blurs. Dimly, another boom. The water freezes his bones, chatters his teeth. Salt fills his mouth, chokes him.
The last thing he sees before the world goes dark is the shape of another seal approaching from the deep.
The first thing Viktor sees when he comes to is the sight of Yuuri’s tear-streaked face, hovering moon-like above his.
‘I’m so sorry,’ he signs, wiping at his eyes. ‘I didn’t know it was that bad.’
Viktor curls his fingers in the sand. His pelt lies atop him, a smothering silver blanket. He throws it off, shivering in the nighttime chill. Yuuri drapes a towel around his shoulders; Makkachin licks reassuringly at his face.
“I tried my best,” he says. “And it wasn’t your fault. You didn’t know.”
‘I made you go into the water,’ Yuuri replies, his hands slow, trembling. ‘I put you in danger.’
Viktor sits up, leans his forehead against Yuuri’s. He brings the other selkie in, carding his hands through Yuuri’s hair.
I didn’t want to see you like me, Yuuri writes into his shoulder. You mean so much to me.
Viktor thinks of the geometry of snowflakes, of the crystalline structure of ice. He kisses Yuuri again, and wonders if death will taste like seawater.
And so the harp sealskin returns to the closet. Yuuri moves in properly, boxes and boxes of his journals and books lining the shelves alongside Viktor’s. Tide charts are strewn messily across the coffee table; his laptop seems perpetually open to some sort of tracking software.
“I thought you were a writer,” Viktor remarks one evening, peering over Yuuri’s shoulder.
‘I help Yuuko,’ Yuuri replies, before taking out his notebook. We’re co-authoring a study monitoring killer whale predation on local seal populations.
“Isn’t that dangerous for you?” Viktor asks. Yuuri shrugs.
I try not to change when I’m working, he replies.
The summer passes, bright and blazing. Viktor watches from the shore as Yuuri sets out early for research trips on the little catamaran that Yuuko pilots. He walks Makkachin, buys groceries, and tries his hardest to write despite the words having dried up in him long ago.
In August, Yuuri receives news of seal attacks in the Hebrides. I’ve got to catch this, he texts Viktor the morning of his departure. There’s a brisk wind blowing, and the clouds are grey with the promise of a storm.
Viktor looks up from his mobile. “It might rain,” he says, waving the weather app.
The orca won’t be here forever, Yuuri replies. It’s one we’ve been tracking for months. If everything goes to plan we’ll be docked in Portree before the storm gets heavy.
Viktor sighs, striding over to kiss him. “Good luck,” he breathes. Yuuri wraps his arms around his neck, and steals the air from his lungs.
The storm comes in sooner than expected.
Viktor watches the sheets of rain outside the kitchen window with Makkachin, listens to the frantic tinkling of the windchimes on the patio. A draft blows in from under the kitchen door, ruffles the papers Yuuri’s left strewn about the table with a half-cold mug of tea.
Viktor tries to time his heartbeat to the steady ticking of the clock, tries to count the lulls between the thunder and the lightning. Makkachin cowers in his arms, whimpering with each crash and boom, and Viktor buries his tears into the fur of his stalwart companion, praying to all that he knows for Yuuri to be safe.
His mobile rings. “Oi, Dogbreath,” Yuri snarls over the receiver. The sound of the storm is static over the receiver. “The piglet’s caught in the storm.”
Viktor looks towards the door, and his blood freezes in his veins at the sight of Yuuri’s sealskin, hanging like a forgotten mackintosh on its hook. “Where is he?” he breathes.
He barely remembers how he dredged up his own sealskin from the hall closet, how he rushed down the rickety stairs to the little beach. The wind and rain sting at him, the waves lap angrily across the sand. Viktor takes a deep breath, drapes his sealskin around him, and walks into the water.
Please, he begs the ocean. I don’t remember the words. I’ve forgotten them, pushing away this part of me because I was hurt. But Yuuri is in danger, and I need to go to him. Please.
The sea churns. The music echoes. His mother’s song wraps around him, warm, familiar. Viktor closes his eyes, as the magic bursts out of the forgotten corners of his heart, seeps from his skin into the pelt until there’s no distinction between the two anymore.
It doesn’t take him long to reach the catamaran, which has capsized in the waves. The thunder bursts, the lighting cracks, and the first thing Viktor sees is Yuuko and a young man with a streak of red in his dirty blond hair, hanging on for dear life to a small inflatable dinghy. Yuuko is calling someone on a portable radio, the static cracking in the storm. In the distance, the whirr of coastguard helicopters approaches them.
But Yuuri is nowhere to be seen. Viktor casts about, glimpsing a head of inky hair just before it slips below the water. Frantically, he dives after Yuuri, pushing him back to the surface with all of his strength. Yuuri gasps as he surfaces, splashing about for his life jacket; just behind them, the catamaran creaks in the rolling waves.
‘Viktor?’ Yuuri mouths at him, his eyes wide. Viktor nudges him towards the raft, as Yuuko and the young man paddle away from the capsized ship. Yuuri swims with him, ungainly and slow in his human form, all the way to the side of the raft and the sound of Yuuko’s relieved scream.
“Yuuri! Oh thank god — we couldn’t see you when the boat went over — are you all right? And what —” she cuts off, looking at Viktor as Yuuri starts to clamber onto the raft. The adrenaline that burns through him is ebbing away, an unfamiliar darkness now flowing into the edges of his mind. All around him, the sleek black forms of harbour seals surround him, whirling in a mesmerising dance.
Come with us, lost one, they beckon. You won’t need to hurt any longer.
Yuuri, Viktor begs in turn, the cry of the harp seal causing Yuuri to startle and lean forward. Yuuri, if you can understand me —
Come with us, the others dance. Viktor bobs desperately, trying to keep himself afloat in his own mind.
I’ll come back to you, he cries, though his words are little more than guttural calls. The darkness continues to seep in. I love you.
Yuuri swallows, nods. His hair is wet from the rain, his shirt soaked through with seawater. He points to himself, crosses his wrists over his heart, and points to Viktor.
Viktor smiles, sinks below the waves, and closes his eyes.
The following spring, Yuuri signs for a continuation of the lease on the little sea-sage cottage. He pays for it with the advance of his new book, and the landlady doesn’t question why he’s signing on behalf of a man who’s disappeared half a year ago.
Yuuri takes Makkachin with him down to the little beach, watching the waves lap gently against the shore. The cottage still feels possessed by Viktor’s ghost, his smile flickering at every turn.
The orca’s back, Yuuko texts as soon as his feet hit the sand. She brought friends, we’re going to try and tag them at Portree again. You coming?
Just a second, Yuuri replies, as Makkachin barks at the sight of something bobbing in the waves. A silvery harp seal has poked its head out of the water, craning for a glimpse of the shore. Makkachin rushes into the whitewater, and the seal swims in on a wave to meet them halfway.
It hauls out onto the sand, dropping a pearl at Yuuri’s feet before looking up at him expectantly. Yuuri turns the glowing token over in his hands, a lump rising hard in his throat.
‘I’ll wait for you,’ he signs at the seal, and it seems to smile before turning and heading back out into the waves. With a sigh, Yuuri pockets the pearl, whistles for Makkachin, and fires off a text to Yuuko:
I’ll be right there.
The sea glimmers in anticipation.