He's not supposed to be on the beach this late. No one is; the beach closes at ten, and anyone out past then can get cited for loitering.
But, hell, the day Derek Hale bows down to human rules will be quite the day, indeed. So, instead, he sits back in his lifeguard's chair and flicks the dim screen of his tablet, enjoying the calm white noise of an empty beach. Becoming a lifeguard wasn't part of Derek's life plan, originally. In fact, he'd hated water as a child, turning his nose up when the pack would flock to the preserve's tiny lake on hot, sticky summer days.
Things changed after Kate, after the fire. His entire family, save for his sister and badly scarred uncle, burnt up in ten minutes of blaze. And all he could do was watch.
Derek's not sure when his feelings about water shifted to that of competition. Water is consumptive and tempestuous, but, unlike fire, it could be overcome. Derek couldn't ride the flames that licked his family to ash, but he could ride the waves of water as they crashed around him. Somehow, that made him feel better about everything. Like even if he could control one element, he could control the other. Add to that werewolves' natural tendency to pick jobs that capitalize on their heightened skills (firefighters, policemen, lawyers, et cetera), and poof, lifeguard.
It's mostly an easy job. Derek sits on his chair and tunes out the din of the crowd around him. He tilts his ear instead to the gasps of breath coming from the surf, carefully waiting to see if they get too strained. His supernatural hearing usually picks out distressed swimmers before they've really sunk into a panic, which makes it easy to save them before they're really in danger. Sometimes he counts how many lives he's saved, and wonders if they'll ever make up for the fourteen he's lost. He doubts it.
Derek clicks his tablet off and stands on the foot of his chair, stretching his back. The seas today were hard and choppy, so he'd had few swimmers to watch: most resort-goers choose the pool on these kinds of days. Still, the day felt long and arduous; Derek had sat at attention all day, hyper-vigilant for those few swimmers who did brave the water.
His watch reads just after eleven. Time to go home. Derek slides his tablet into its waterproof sleeve, then into his bag. He throws on his shirt and slides the bag over his shoulder. He turns to climb down his ladder, when all of a sudden, a flash of pale streaks against the black of sea. Derek stops and blinks. It's too dark for human eyes to see, so much so that he can't make anything out without shifting. Derek casts a glance around to check for company— there is none— before letting his eyes flash to blue. His teeth and fingertips tingle, but he reigns in the rest of his change. Caution is one thing, stupidity's another.
His world immediately becomes brighter and grayer. The waves look black as ever, and Derek feels ridiculous for his paranoia. But then, just as he's about to give up, Derek spots the whiteness again. It's an arm. Someone's out there.
Two years ago, the cold, black sea would have given Derek pause. Now, he barely even thinks before tearing off his bag and shirt, racing into the depths. He had a life to save.
The water is frigid and, without a buffer of sunlight, Derek breaks out into goosebumps about twenty feet in. Werewolves run hot, so they're superficially sensitive to cold, even though it takes them far longer to catch hypothermia. Derek lets that knowledge calm him as he cuts through the tide. He won't die out here, no matter what.
As he nears the spot where he saw the arm, he begins to make out a faint heartbeat, steady but too slow to be healthy. Derek speeds up his strokes and prays he can reach the person in time. Who the hell comes out here this late, anyway? Do they have a death wish?
Derek sees another flash of skin, far closer than he'd expected, and pulls to a stop. He sees no foam, no sign of struggle. Whoever is out here is just as comfortable with night swimming as he is. "Hey," Derek calls, treading the water, "you can't be here this late. The beach is closed."
A pale head breaches the surface, and Derek's breath catches. It's a boy, no older than nineteen or so, and his round, surprised eyes just about glow in the darkness. He opens his mouth and Derek swallows hard: they're full of pointed, sharp-looking teeth. Whatever this boy is, he isn't human. He closes his mouth with a click and dives back into the water.
"No!" Derek cries, lunging to grab the boy. Experienced swimmer or no, the deeper waters were treacherous at night. He grasps nothing, thought he feels the slide of smooth, delicate skin slide over his jaw. Skin like a fish's tail.
Derek spends another minute or so treading the water, waiting to see the boy surface somewhere. He gives up after he counts to ninety and coasts on the waves back to the beach. He nudges his shirt over his damp, salt-sticky skin and grabs his bag, heading for home. Whatever creature he just encountered, he'd deal with it in the morning.
The morning, however, brings no relief to Derek's mind. The boy plagued him in his dreams, a vision of white and gold, all sharp angles and streamlined curves. He wakes frustrated and curious, and hurries through breakfast so he can get back to the beach, strung out on a desperate hope that proximity to the encounter will yield answers. It doesn't.
Derek spends the entirety of his shift watching for a pale stretch of skin and, when all he does is save a teenaged boy trying (and failing) to impress his new girlfriend, he walks home with a resigned set to his shoulders.
"Hey!" Erica greets when he walks through the door. "You're home early!" She's in the kitchen, running what smells like cilantro and olive oil through a food processor.
"My shift ends at four," he reminds her, even though he knows she has his schedule memorized. They all do, Erica and Derek and Isaac and Boyd, the league of werewolves-turned-lifeguards that banded together as soon as they met. As annoying as they can be, Derek loves to come home to an occupied house. It doesn't quench the homesick ache in his heart, but it dulls it.
"Thanks, dumbass," she says, opening the processor and adding peeled cloves of garlic. "What I meant was, it's strange to see you home so soon after your shift. Don't you usually go for a swim, or something?"
He does, but Derek itches at the thought of being so predictable. "Sometimes," he grumbles. "Not today."
Erica snorts and starts cutting tomatoes into large chunks. "Whatever, dude. Isaac's in the shower and Boyd's on his way to the beach. You want salsa?"
"Yeah." Actually, Erica's salsa sounds amazing right now, even more so than usual. She claims it's an old recipe from her Puerto Rican abuela, borne of sweat and tears. Derek doubts it's that hard-won, but he isn't about to argue. The stuff is, like he said, amazing.
Isaac flies into the kitchen soon after Erica and Derek settle around the opened food processor canister, looking hungry. "I smelled cilantro," he explains, swooping in to steal Erica's chip before she can eat it.
"Hey!" She slaps him on the arm, hard. "Rude."
"Wha'evah," he drawls, mouth full. "Go', das goo'."
"Isaac," Derek growls, "apologize. Erica doesn't have to share her food with any of us. You should be grateful."
He's not their Alpha, but he's a few years older than them, which makes him their surrogate, of a sorts. Isaac ducks his head and swallows his bite. "Thanks, Erica."
"No prob," she says easily, grinning. "Off on your hot date, then?"
"Date?" Derek asks, lifting an eyebrow.
"His name's Danny," Isaac says, the corners of his lips curling shyly. "He's from Hawaii, but he goes to college at UC Davis."
"Is it serious?" Derek asks, shoving another chip into his mouth.
"I dunno." Isaac's cheeks tinge pink, and Derek takes that to mean that the answer is a yes, at least on Isaac's end. "We've only gone out a few times."
"Well, be safe, and if it is serious, let us know if you want to have the Talk." The Talk being, of course, not one of sexual education but rather one of filling in a human on the supernatural world and its many diverse habitants. It's a Talk Derek wishes he could have had with Kate. Maybe if he'd been more open with his family about her, she wouldn't have burnt them to the ground. Or maybe she would have done it anyway. It doesn't matter now.
Isaac rolls his eyes. "Yes, Dad."
Derek shrugs, unrepentant. "I'm happy for you, you know that. No one deserves someone more than you. Just be communicative with us, okay?"
Isaac smiles, and it's a soft, happy thing that lights up the entire room. "I can do that."
Isaac still hasn't spoken of his past, other than his Turning. He was out one night with his father, arguing, when they'd both heard a noise. Isaac stayed back, but his father arrogantly walked toward the noise, into an alley. A few loud, wet-sounding seconds later, something black pitched out of the alleyway and bit his hand. He'd been a werewolf ever since. His father was found two days later, mangled. Derek doesn't like to read too much into situations, but it's clear that there was no love lost between Isaac and his father. If the way he flinches back from shouting is any indicator, Derek can see why.
It's made Isaac the innocent of all of them, even though Erica's the youngest. They take care to protect him, even when it makes him petulant and angry. Usually, though, he takes the love quietly, with warm eyes and happy, quiet smiles.
"Well, I'm supposed to be there in ten minutes," he says, scratching a hand through his golden curls. "I'll let you know how it goes when I come back?"
"Have fun," Erica tells him, planting a loud kiss on his cheek. "I'll be expecting lots of details."
Isaac blushes and cuffs her on the shoulder before leaving the house. Erica grins after him fondly. "What a little tiger, off to slay some hearts."
"You want to spy on their date, don't you?" Derek asks flatly.
Erica gasps, mock-offended. "That would be completely invasive and inappropriate."
Derek shoots her a look. "Give me five minutes to put on clean clothes, okay?"
"Okay," she hums happily, scooping a loaded chip into her mouth. "Wear something festive." She dusts off her hands. "I think I'll wear that purple dress, the one with the straps?"
"Knock yourself out," Derek sighs, hiding his grin. Their band of rogue betas wasn't a pack, not really, but Derek would be hard-pressed to say they weren't a family. It almost erases the sting of loss from his heart, and it's more than he could have ever hoped for.