Stiles has a conch shell hidden in the back of his closet. Sometimes, late at night, when he can’t sleep, he’ll dig it out and press it against his ear, hearing the faux sound of the ocean.
He knows it’s not really the ocean. He knows it’s just the ambient sound of the room, amplified by the shape of the shell.
But still. When he closes his eyes and sways slightly, it sounds enough like the ocean that he always thinks of his mom and the trips they would take when he was little.
They would rent a beach house and although his dad was on vacation too, he knew that Stiles and his mom needed their time alone on the beach. Knew that although he loved them and they loved him dearly in return, these trips were for them - for Stiles’ mom to teach him how to play, how to swim, how to hunt.
All the things that mermaids and mermen do.
Stiles’ mom told him all about how she and his father met. She was swimming too close to shore, got trapped in a bad crop of seaweed. It was horrid that year - overgrown, tough and spindly not at all like the gentle, sleek fronds it should have been. Blame global warming, blame chemicals poisoning the ocean, blame mother nature herself, it didn’t matter. What mattered was she’d been stuck, unable to break the ropey seaweed that tangled in her hair and wrapped all around her. His father had been wandering the beach alone, late at night and saw her thrashing and struggling in the water. Without a thought, he swam in after her and luckily, as a real honest-to-goodness Boy Scout, had a Swiss army knife in his pocket and had cut her free.
And had been amazed and awed that she was a mermaid.
She’d fallen in love with his open, honest face, his brave, true heart and his loyal, heroic spirit.
All things that he passed on to Stiles, she would say, pulling him close and hugging him tight.
Her name had been Evyenia, the Greek name that Eugenie comes from, but it sounded so much more to Stiles in Greek.
His father called her Evy.
She called Stiles her Teddy Bear and would rub his short cropped hair with the palm of her hand. Stiles didn’t know how she stood her hair getting tangled and messy from the salt water. His dad kept Stiles hair buzzed close to his scalp for him and then he and his mom would both rub their hands over it.
He took them to the beach whenever work would allow it. They’d shut the house up and drive to the coast, his mother rolling down the window, breathing in the salt air, a smile on her face. She said she didn’t mind being away from the ocean for his father. She loved him and love meant sacrifice. He was a good man.
As they played on the beach, over those stolen weekends and two-week holidays, she would tell him stories of mermaids in Ancient Greece. His favorite was about the sister of Alexander the Great, Thessaloniki, who after learning of her brother’s death, threw herself into the sea in grief and was transformed to a mermaid. For years afterward, she was said to ask Greek sailors as they passed by if her brother was alive. If the sailors answered that he was, she would let them pass.
If not, she would turn into a gorgon and drown them.
When he presses the shell against his ear, on nights he can’t sleep, and he thinks of his mother, he understands how Thessaloniki could be so grief stricken she would want to drown in the sea, tossed about by the powerful waves, and instead became of the sea itself, missing her dead family member so much she never stopped speaking of him.
Stiles asked his mom if that’s where they came from, how they came to be. She smiled and rubbed his head and said, “I don’t know, Teddy Bear.” She scratched at his scalp and he preened under the touch. “We’ve just always been.”
He made his dad stop using his name when she died. Couldn’t hear it without thinking of her calling him her Teddy Bear. His dad’s lips had pressed together tightly, his eyes going wet and shiny. He nodded, taking a shaking breath and said they’d come up with something else to call him.
Stiles hasn’t gone back to the ocean since his mother died. His father offered every weekend and every vacation for two years. He finally stopped offering when Stiles refused wordlessly with a shake of his head every time.
He can’t think of diving deep into the dark, cool ocean, turning over rocks, playing with crabs and fish without feeling his stomach clench knowing he won’t ever look over and see his mother’s dark brown hair, drifting in the current, her dark eyes wide and alive, her tail gloriously silver and green, flapping gently to keep her in the same place. Blissfully happy in the sea.
His legs ache terribly sometimes, longing for the shift. He gets bone-deep pains that won’t relent no matter how much he runs or plays lacrosse or takes drugs or stretches.
They’ll fade eventually and won’t return for a few months until they come back again, plaguing him mercilessly.
Only he and his father know their secret. No one else. Not even Scott.
It’s not as though it’s a difficult secret to hide. No one really believes in mermaids and Stiles’ shift isn’t brought on by just the touch of water. He obviously knows how to swim, although he avoids going to the pool. He can be in chemically treated water without feeling a twinge of shifting. In fact, the chlorinated water makes him sick and nauseous. Just the thought of that chemical water getting pulled through his gills makes him shudder. Fresh water doesn’t make him want to shift either, but at least doesn’t make him sick like pools do. When he would go regularly to the beach with his mother, they would shift when they wanted - usually wading out a bit before they would dive and change.
He’s denied his body for so long now he knows as soon as he dipped a toe in saltwater, his body will force the change - his legs would fuse and his gills would slit open up his back.
His tail was more silver than his mom’s. She said that it would darken up as he got older and she was sure he’d end up with a silver-green one like her father’s had been. She described it as a sort of moss green with marble-veined silver; beautiful in the sunlight.
Hers, she said, was like her mother’s; more of a leopard print silver with faint green patches.
Sometimes when they would swim, his mom would curl her tail around him, pulling him close to swim by her side.
He couldn’t imagine being in the water without her. No matter how much his legs ache sometimes.
He can’t say he’s really surprised when he finds out that werewolves are a real thing.
He is a merman himself, after all. It’s probably why it doesn’t take him very long to figure out what Scott’s ‘problem’ is.
He’s anxious and nervous the first couple of times he’s around Derek. Okay yeah, mostly it’s because he’s super hot and wow, you can’t even glance at him without thinking of sex and also, he’s dark and dangerous and little scary. But Stiles is worried that Derek will be able to smell that Stiles isn’t human.
He’s not sure if he has some kind of different scent or not. Scott’s never said anything but then again, he would never think that Stiles was anything but human.
So, Stiles is scared when he’s near Derek. Scared that Derek will come closer and sniff him, wrinkle his nose and say something like, you’re not human, what are you? Or maybe, I don’t associate with other shifters. Or the absolute worst, my wolf loves having fish for dinner.
He fidgets, he babbles, freaks out - all in an effort to keep Derek from looking deeper, looking closer, standing closer and figuring it out.
But Derek never says anything and Stiles wonders if maybe Derek can’t smell anything on him or maybe if Derek doesn’t even know that mermen and mermaids exist.
It’s not like Stiles’ mom ever told him about werewolves, so maybe Derek’s family never knew or never told him about merpeople.
Stiles sometimes thinks maybe he could tell Derek about what he is. About his mom. Like Derek would be the closest thing he has to someone understanding.
He’s thought so many times about telling Scott, but now he fears that it’s been too long, that Scott would be too hurt if Stiles told him now. That Scott would think Stiles has been lying to him all this time.
And he wasn’t. Not really. Stiles wasn’t lying. It was just that… it was the one thing he shared with his mom, and only his mom. Yeah, his dad knew, of course he did. But those times at the beach, in the water… after she died Stiles felt like he had to keep those memories secret to keep them safe. They were like camera film - secure only as long as they stayed in the dark, but if brought out into the light, they would be ruined forever.
Then Scott was changed and Stiles didn’t want to make it seem like he was taking away from that or lessening it by telling Scott about his own otherworldliness. Besides, it’s not like Scott knowing Stiles was a merman would have helped him with his wolf problem anyway.
But sometimes, he thinks maybe Derek would understand. He would know what’s it’s like to be alone and different. He’s got the pack now, sure, but they aren’t like Derek. They’re all bitten wolves, not born.
It’s different when you’ve had something your whole life.
Derek would maybe understand how Stiles feels about his mom. He thinks that Derek feels the same way about Laura.
Derek would like the story about Thessaloniki, Stiles thinks. He would understand her too.
It’s harder than it needs to be, holding Derek afloat in the water. Derek’s all muscle, ready to sink like a stone as soon as Stiles stops swimming. It would be so much easier if Stiles could strip and shift. He’s a strong swimmer, even without his fins and gills but Derek is heavy and the chemicals in the pool make Stiles feel sick. Although he knows it’s not technically possible for his gills to be any more closed than just closed, he can’t help but feel they are permanently sealed shut with the very idea of taking in all that chlorinated water and letting it filter across his lungs.
And talk about bad timing. Having his first shift in front of Derek while the kanima is stalking them would be a little awkward. To say the least.
Stiles tells himself that if he really can’t go on any longer, in five minutes, he’ll shift.
Then in five minutes he tells himself that again.
He keeps telling himself that, keeps promising himself that if it gets really bad and he can’t swim anymore with his legs because he’s tired and sick, he’ll shift. Explain it all to Derek and ask him not to tell anyone.
It doesn’t come to that and his secret remains safe.
Stiles doesn’t tell his dad about the werewolves for a lot of reasons. They don’t always make sense during the cold light of day, but late at night when he thinks about them, they always seem so right.
He wants his dad safe. He wants his dad protected. He doesn’t want to remind his dad that Stiles is different and that there may be other creatures out there. He doesn’t want his dad to think about his mom anymore than he already does and maybe constantly being confronted with werewolves would to that to him.
It certainly does to Stiles.
He almost tells his dad the truth a million times.
And stops himself a million times.
Watching Derek run, as a wolf, makes Stiles long for the water. When Derek finally shifts into his Alpha form - a sleek, beautiful, powerful, black wolf with a silver streak - he runs circles around the Betas. He takes them out into the woods and trains them - chasing them, letting them chase him. The speed and animal power he has as the wolf makes Stiles want to dive deep underwater and swim to the bottom of the ocean - drift aimlessly in the current, hear the muffled sounds of the water.
Lately, he goes into the bathtub and pushes himself under, holding his breath. He doesn’t force his fins out or open his gills and the sanitized, treated water doesn’t make him want to. But he does let his hidden, third eyelid slide over his eyeballs so he can open his eyes. He puts music on in the bathroom and listens to the murky, muddled sounds he hears while submerged.
His mom would sometimes make this weird trilling sound underwater to get his attention - like a long, drawn out hum. He practices it, in the bathtub, under the water until he can make it almost exactly like she used to, only his voice is lower, deeper than hers was. But it’s still close.
He comes out of the bathroom, towel wrapped around his waist and stops short upon entering his room. Derek is sitting on his bed, cross-legged, flipping through one of Stiles’ books on Greek Mythology. One that his mom gave him.
“What were you doing in there?” Derek asks, his muppet eyebrows going akimbo.
Stiles smiles and plays it off. “Dude, personal time in the bathroom should never be questioned. Creeper much?” he says, going to his dresser and pulling out some clothes.
“I’ve heard that sound before,” Derek persists and Stiles knows his heart is betraying him, he can feel the thudding of it. He knows Derek must hear it clear as a bell. He tries to scoff anyway.
“I’m sure you have,” he says wryly. “Teenage boys are pretty predictable when it comes to private time.”
“No, I…” Derek huffs and frowns at Stiles. “I heard it, I think, at the beach. We went a few times when we were kids. My family. Sometimes, early in the morning, we’d hear it. My siblings and I. I always forgot to ask my parents what it was. ”
Stiles pauses, his back to Derek, clothes in his hand. He should leave - take his clothes and go back to the bathroom, get dressed.
He doesn’t move. He says instead, “My mom used to take me to the beach all the time. We’d go every weekend, every holiday, every vacation. All of us. My dad too, of course. But… it was for my mom and me.”
“You never said.”
Stiles shrugs. He’s getting a chill from his damp shoulders. “You never asked.”
“How long since you’ve been?”
Stiles sighs and looks to the closet, where he keeps the conch shell hidden.
“A long time. Since my mom died.”
He takes his clothes back to the bathroom and gets dressed. When he returns, Derek’s gone.
They’re having a pack meeting at Lydia’s since she proclaimed that she wasn’t a wolf and refused to live like a barn animal and she wasn't going to hang out in a creepy house or a tiny apartment with no furniture nor a decrepit train station. Until Derek makes his family house structurally sound and not infested or at the very least gets some real furniture in his infinitesimally small apartment she’s not going back to either.
Don’t even get her started on the train station. Lydia refuses to talk about it.
By chance or fate or creeper intervention, (Stiles is never sure which), he and Derek arrive at the same time. Derek unfolds his long, lean body from the Camaro and Stiles does his best not to gape with his mouth open.
But it’s tough.
There’s a sign on the front door that tells them to come around to the back and Derek huffs as he reads it, making one of his frowny faces. Stiles stifles a smile but he must not be entirely successful because Derek’s eyes slide over to Stiles immediately. Stiles lets his smile out a bit and Derek rolls his eyes at him.
They go around the side of the house and there’s something… different that Stiles can’t put his finger on. He’s a step behind Derek as they come around the back, hearing everyone’s voices - Lydia’s commanding tones, Allison answering back, Scott’s good-natured reply. Nothing sounds off or strange but Stiles feels… something. He moves forward on autopilot, following Derek past the iron gate, hearing it clang shut behind him, almost feeling like he’s being pulled forward and then it hits him.
Lydia’s family has a large, slightly obnoxious pool and normally it isn’t a problem for Stiles but they must have changed their water to the new salt water kind. It’s still chemically treated, still has an ‘off’ and unnatural smell to him but….
He hasn’t been around salt water for years.
He gasps as he feels his gills slit open, under his shirt, up his back and around his sides and it hurts and fuck he can’t breathe. He can’t breathe with them open. He uses them underwater and his mouth in the air and the same way he can’t breathe with his mouth underwater, he can’t breath with the gills open in the air.
It’s happened to him before. After his mom died, sometimes when he would think about her, they would slit open and he’d start gasping for air, unable to get the pressure and vacuum his lungs required to work while both of his breathing organs were operating. To outsiders, it looked like he was having panic attacks. He’d keep taking harsh, sharp breaths but he wouldn’t be getting enough air. His dad would press his hands over Stiles’ gills, holding them shut until Stiles got his breath back or toss him in the bathtub and make him breathe underwater.
But he can’t press against his own gills that way now; he doesn’t have the right angle on his own body. And he definitely can’t dive into the pool, in front of everyone, in front of Scott and show them all what he is, how he’s been lying to them. He belatedly realizes that one of his hands is fisted in the back of Derek’s jacket, clutching him fiercely, trying to pull him closer. Derek’s nostrils are flaring slightly and he’s turning around looking at Stiles with wide eyes and fuckit, Stiles can’t breathe, he can’t and everyone will see him like this and he can’t - they can’t -
Derek grabs him and pulls him back around the side of the house, back to the front again and pushes him into the Camaro, slamming the door shut just as Lydia comes around. Stiles can hear them talking, make out all the words perfectly, even as he gasps, trying to press his back against the seat, hold his gills shut with pressure, as Derek blocks the view into the car.
“Where are you going?”
“We can’t stay. I came by to say I need Stiles for something,” Derek says.
“You came by to say you couldn’t come by?” Lydia’s voice is suspicious and cutting and Stiles knows exactly the expression she must have on her face right now.
“Yes,” replies Derek, not rising to the tone or the look Stiles is sure he’s getting from Lydia.
Stiles presses his elbows down against his side, hoping the pressure will help close his gills. He doesn't look up as Derek turns his back on Lydia and starts walking around the car.
“You’re the one that called this meeting!” Lydia calls after him.
“I’ll call another one.” Derek’s voice is steel - unbending, unyielding.
Stiles can see Lydia out of the corner of his eye and he knows he should look over and give her a reassuring smile or a wave, but it’s taking all his effort to keep it from looking like he’s having a full blown panic attack. He’s still hitching his breath, feeling like he can’t get enough oxygen. He can feel his gills trying to work but without water, they can’t process the air. They’re taking up the room and resources in his lungs, keeping him from breathing properly.
Lydia knocks hard on the window. “Stiles! You tell me what’s going on! I’m going to find out anyway.”
He can’t stop himself from looking at her, through the glass; can’t force his mouth to say anything, can’t look away. Stiles feels the car start up and he just wants to go, just wants Derek to get him out of here where he can get himself under control, get his gills shut and breathe. He clutches at Derek’s arm, fingers digging into the leather jacket, feeling the muscles underneath.
The Camaro pulls away, leaving Lydia standing in front of her house. Seconds later, Stiles feels his phone start to vibrate and hears the distinctive chime of texts coming in. He closes his eyes, pulls his hand back from Derek, wraps his arms tight around himself and tries to slow his breathing down.
“What’s going on, Stiles?” Derek demands. “What do I need to do?”
“H-h-home,” Stiles manages, hitching his breaths, gasping. He feels dizzy. He wants to go home. “M-my d-d-dad.”
Derek curses but takes the familiar turns that lead to Stiles house. As soon as Derek pulls up, Stiles scrabbles at the door handle, pushing the door open and starts stumbling toward the front door. He wants his dad. He needs his dad. Derek grabs him under his arms and hefts him up, banging on the door.
His dad opens it looking ready to tear a strip off whoever is hammering on his front door but he takes one look at Stiles, sees him gasping for air and yanks him inside, Derek coming along too.
“Let’s get him upstairs, in the bathroom,” Stiles’ dad commands and the relief Stiles feels makes his knees weak. Stiles is seeing stars and black spots in his vision. He can’t stop, he can’t make his gills shut but he can’t breathe through them and they’re forcing unprocessed air into his lungs, filling them up from the bottom with air he can’t use. He can’t breathe, oh fuck he can’t breathe. His throat hurts, his head is pounding.
He’s trying to tell his dad his sorry, trying to mouth the words as his dad and Derek drag him up the stairs and down the hallway to his dad’s bedroom and the master bath. He sees the big clawfooted tub, the tub his dad had brought in special for his mom and his chest seizes even more, panic and grief moving in and making it harder still to breathe. His dad lets go of him and Stiles sways into Derek, Derek’s strength easily holding him up. His dad starts the bathtub and then turns back to Stiles and Derek.
“Oh, Stiles,” his dad says. Stiles’ knees buckle and Derek holds him upright. “No, no, put him on the ground, we need to get his shirt off.”
Derek lowers him gently to the ground and Stiles fists one hand in Derek’s shirt, pulling it, grasping at it, as if it can give him oxygen. His dad fumbles under the sink, coming back with a pair of scissors and slices his shirts up the middle, pulling them away from his body. Stiles sees blood on his dad’s hands, on Derek’s, as they pulls Stiles’ shirts off him and he wants to apologize. To his dad for making him do this, for seeing him like this. To Derek for him finding out this way, for not telling him. He sees Derek’s eyes flick down, over Stiles’ body, sees the exact moment Derek sees his gills, long slits in his side. They hurt - sensitive and sharp - he hasn’t had them open in so long he knows they’re bleeding, long slashes of red curling around his side. They’re probably mawing open, trying to suck in water, trying to breathe for him. Derek’s eyes go wide, unblinking. The rest of his face stays motionless and impassive.
“Hold on,” Stiles’ dad says and then he’s hefted up, away from Derek’s arms by his dad, like he’s a boy again. His dad sweeps him up, cradling him in close, even though he knows he’s not small anymore and his dad isn’t a young man. His dad lowers him carefully, gently into the tub, the high pressure faucets already providing enough water. His dad pushes Stiles under the surface, holding him down.
He hears Derek shout something - a warning, a curse - Stiles isn’t sure. Through his hazy eyesight he sees Derek make a move toward his dad and Stiles immediately jerks out a hand, wanting to stop Derek, wanting him to understand.
Stiles feels a valve in his throat shut as soon as he’s underwater and it’s a such a relief as his gills start sucking water in and his amphibious lungs start processing oxygen. It’s not like he can taste or smell with his lungs, but he gets the sensation of both from them and he can taste the treated water, so different from the ocean. The water is metallic and processed. His body sucks it in greedily, his gills working hard to supply him with oxygen. Stiles clutches as his dad’s arms - the firm strength of them - safe and secure. His third eyelid slides over and he can see clearly up through the water. His dad holds him down, keeping his gills submerged. Derek stands behind him, looking down at Stiles - serious and solemn.
I’m sorry, Stiles mouths, directing it at his dad and at Derek. His dad keeps pressing down with on hand and smoothes the other over Stiles short buzz-cut soothingly.
“Oh, Teddy Bear,” his dad says. Stiles can hear the muffled sound under the water, can see his dad’s lips move. Stiles’ heart begins to slow, his brain clears as his gills push water in and out. He knows he’s only got about ten minutes before the water will get stale and he’ll have to get out or empty the tub and get more fresh water. But he can breathe now. He knows he’s got it under control. He could tap his dad’s hand and let him know it’s okay now, Stiles could shut his gills and come up and breathe like normal.
Like a human.
But it’s quiet under the water and his dad’s hand is strong and solid against his chest, keeping him submerged. Derek is still and unmoving behind his dad - watching Stiles, unblinking. Stiles doesn’t know what he’s going to say to Derek or how to tell him the truth.
Stiles closes his eyes, flexing his fingers a bit around his dad’s wrist, feeling the solidity of him. It’s quiet in the water. He can hear the sound of his heart beating, hear the quiet swish-swish of his gills working. Hear the thundering pulse of more water pouring into the tub as it fills. Hear the occasional thump against the tub as he dad shifts and knocks his knees against the side.
By the time Stiles opens his eyes again, Derek’s gone.
Stiles tells his dad everything.
His dad has to empty out half the tub and refill it only once before Stiles feels ready to come out of the water.
His dad brings him a towel and some clothes and embarrassingly stays with him, offering to help him get dressed. Something he hasn’t needed help with since he was three.
A fact he reminds his dad of. His dad smiles a tired smile at him.
“Well, I’ll always look at you and see a three year old looking back. And a six year old. And a ten year old.”
Stiles’ gills aren’t bleeding but they still feel a little tender and sore. He hasn’t opened them in years and they aren’t quite shutting all the way seamlessly like they used to. He hopes he hasn’t ruined them or something. He doesn’t even know who he would ask. He sees his dad looking at them with a worried face and Stiles shrugs a bit, offhandedly. He doesn’t want his dad to worry. His dad has already cleaned up the mess that was left and the bathroom looks like any other day.
His dad claps him on the shoulder and they both kind of pretend that neither one of them is going to cry. They head downstairs and his dad makes hot chocolate for them both, out of the little paper packets of dry mix with the really awful fake marshmallows they both love.
“So,” his dad says, stirring his cocoa. “Derek Hale.”
Stiles doesn’t even know where his dad was going to go with that because he starts spilling his guts first. He wants his dad to know, to understand that Derek won’t say anything about Stiles, that Derek will keep their secret, that Derek has his own secrets and they aren’t the ones he’s sure his dad thinks Derek is keeping.
So he talks. He talks and he talks and he talks and his dad just sits there and listens, his face staying open and impassive and Stiles doesn’t even have to hear the questions his dad has, he knows what his dad will want to ask before his dad even gets the chance and Stiles just fills it all in.
Scott, the bite, Derek, werewolves, Peter, the Argents, Jackson and how Stiles is so sorry that he’s been lying and it all got away from him and then he didn’t know how to tell his dad. He wanted to but he didn’t want to. He wanted to involve his dad but he also wanted to keep him safe. Some of the secrets weren’t his to tell and he didn’t know what to do, how to tell his dad stuff like this. And he didn’t want his dad to worry, because Stiles knows how much his dad already worries.
The mugs are long empty by the time Stiles is done. His dad hasn’t said much of anything except to clarify things when Stiles’ narrative got confusing or convoluted. Stiles sits there, staring at the chocolate crust in his mug, scratching at it with a ragged nail and just waits.
God, the waiting. His dad is, like, a master at the interrogation.
Finally, finally, his dad speaks.
“That’s a lot to take in, Stiles. And I need to think about a lot of this. But there are a few things I want you to think about first.”
Oh, Jesus. He’s so grounded.
“One. I am the parent. Not you. I know you want to watch what I eat and keep me healthy but that is not your job. It’s my job to look after you.” Stiles tries to interject but his dad silences him with a look. “Not the other way around. You don’t keep me safe. I keep you safe.”
His dad levels him with a fierce look and a finger point. Parental Glare of Doom. Stiles nods.
“Two. I cannot even begin to express how unbelievably grounded you are. But I’m gonna have to think about what that means because I have no scale for the level of subterfuge that has been going on and the enormity of what you’ve been lying about.”
Again, Stiles nods. He can feel his face flushing with shame. He hates letting his dad down.
“Three.” His dad pauses and takes a deep breath. “What happened tonight? You told me pretty much everything that’s been going on in Beacon Hills except what set you off tonight.”
Stiles blinks. “Oh. The Martins got a salt water pool,” he manages.
Understanding filters across his father’s face. “Did your friends see you?” he asks Stiles gently.
Stiles shakes his head. “No, Derek… Derek took me home before anyone saw.”
His dad nods. “Are you going to tell them? About yourself?”
Stiles takes a deep breath that hitches several times and looks down at the mug again. “I don’t know. I’ll tell Derek because… well. I don’t know. I just… I’ll tell Derek.”
His dad nods again. His voice is quieter when he speaks this time. “Do you want me to take you to the beach, Teddy Bear?”
That name. That nick-name that his mom used all the time makes him feel four years old again, makes him want to bury his face in his dad’s shirt and play in the back of the cruiser and just… never grow up. His throat clenches and he’s not going to cry. He won’t.
He shrugs. “I don’t know.”
“Okay,” his dad says softly. “If you decide you want to go, if you want me to take you, you tell me and we’ll go.”
They spend a few more minutes in silence before his dad stands up and pulls Stiles into a hug, holding him fierce and close. Stiles still can’t get over that he’s almost as tall as his dad. His dad still seems so impossibly big to him sometimes.
“So grounded I don’t even know if there are words invented for it yet,” his dad says gruffly and Stiles laughs a little.
“Yeah, I figured.”
“‘Night, dad,” he says, giving him one more squeeze.
His dad calls over his shoulder as he leaves the kitchen, “You put those mugs in the dishwasher then start it.”
He can’t help but smile at that. It’s so normal. He does as he’s told, loading the dishwasher and even giving the counter a quick wipe before shutting off all the lights and heading upstairs to his bedroom.
His dad left his phone on his dresser and a quick look at it shows it’s still waterlogged from his time in the bathtub. It had been in his jeans pocket when his dad had put him in the tub and…
He sighs. He heads back downstairs and puts it in a tupperware container of uncooked rice, hoping that will dry it out. He’s honestly a little relieved he doesn’t have to worry about it ringing or going off. He’s sure he’s got a bunch of missed texts and phone calls after the way he and Derek disappeared tonight. He’s so tired, though, he just doesn’t want to think about it.
He trudges back upstairs and doesn’t even bother turning on the lights. He fumbles around in the dark for a few minutes in his closet before he finds his conch shell and pulls it out, holding it close to his chest. He lies down on his bed, a little uncomfortable. His gills hurt - a dull ache - kind of like how his legs hurt at times.
But they stay shut.
He holds the shell up to his ear and listens to the fake ocean sounds. He falls asleep.
His Jeep is in the driveway the next morning with the keys in the mailbox.
He’ll have to thank Derek for that too.
It takes Lydia all of five minutes to seek him out and corner him at school the next day and demand to know what happened the night before. He tells her that it’s nothing she needs to worry about and it’s all fine.
It’s between him and Derek.
She narrows her eyes at him and studies his face and wow, she’s almost as good as his dad at the interrogation. Her face softens for a second and she asks him if he’s okay and if he needs anything.
He swears he’s fine.
She purses her perfectly glossed lips and then says that when he gets into trouble without her, which will always happen without her superior intellectual skills, she’ll still come bail him out but she’s going to make him beg for it.
He tells her he loves her too.
She presses her lips against his cheek, leaving a sticky residue of sparkly gloss, laughing when he tries to wipe it off and smears it across his face.
Scott claps him on the back and says they missed him last night. Next to their lockers, Scott oh-so-not-casually asks if everything’s cool, his worried eyes and earnest expression making Stiles so grateful for his friendship.
And so sorry he’s been lying to him for… ever.
He blurts out that he told his dad everything.
Scott’s face goes wide and a little scared.
“Like, everything everything?” he asks, face all screwed up.
Stiles nods. “Everything. I just… couldn’t do it anymore.”
“How grounded are you?”
Stiles laughs nervously. “I don’t even know yet. He hasn’t told me.”
“Jeez. How long is he gonna make you sweat it out?”
“Probably until he’s finished building me my very own cell in the county jail,” Stiles muses, tossing some books into his locker.
“I’ll come visit you,” Scott offers. “I’ll bake you a cake with a nail file.”
“In your little werewolf oven?” Stiles smirks and Scott punches him on the shoulder. “Ow,” he says, playing it up. “Besides, you’re dreaming if you think I’ll be allowed any visitors. Three hots and a cot, man. Maybe some yard time if I’m lucky. I’ll probably have to Shawshank my way out with a spoon.”
Scott gives him a sympathetic look. “Shitty, man. I’m sorry.”
Stiles shakes his head. “Not your fault. Don’t be sorry.”
“Still,” Scott says with a shrug. “Werewolves.”
Stiles feels guilty again. If anything, it’s his fault they’re in this mess to begin with. He’s the one that dragged Scott out the night he was bit. He’s the one still lying to Scott.
“Don’t worry about it. It’ll…” Stiles sighs, not sure what to say. “It’ll be okay.”
“So you can’t come over for a weekend of Call of Duty? I was thinking we hadn’t had one in a while and it’s been kind of quiet and all.”
Stiles shakes his head forlornly. “Probably not. Unless something drastic happens, I gotta feeling I’ll be chilling at casa de Stilinski for many weekends to come.”
“You used to be an adventurer like me,” Scott says with a grin and Stiles can’t help himself but laugh as he helps him complete the phrase from Skyrim, “but then I took an arrow to the knee!”1
Scott claps him on the back as they laugh and head down the hall to class.
He doesn’t see or hear from Derek.
Stiles’ phone dries out after a day and half and he stares at it for long stretches wondering if he should text Derek. He types out a few, always backspacing and deleting them before he can hit send. He starts out funny, thinking again that humor and sarcasm will save him.
So, merman! Bet u never saw that one coming!
I should tell u the ‘tail’ of my life. Badumsha.
Sea (hahah) there was a sea witch….
As he sits there, staring at his phone, he starts feeling more serious, trying to think of a way to tell Derek what he suspects Derek already knows.
My mom was a mermaid and when she died, I didn’t want to tell anyone else about her.
I’ve kept this secret so long, I don’t know how to tell it.
I haven’t been to the ocean since she died.
He doesn’t send any of them.
Stiles comes home from school the third day after ‘the incident’ and gets a message from his dad telling him he’s liberated to go out and grab them a pizza and that they’ll talk at dinner.
Ugh. Last meal. Punishment details coming up.
So he gets a meat lovers.
It’s not like he’s trying to bribe his dad, except he so is.
His dad comes home and Stiles sees his eyes light up a bit at the site of actual, real (okay, mostly real - it’s a pizza chain) meat. His dad sniffs the pizza a bit and then grabs two plates and some paper towels and they sit at the kitchen table.
“The thing is, kiddo, you know better. I know you know better.”
Oh god. If the punishment is bad, the lecturing is worse. Stiles can’t handle the guilt. The shame. The disappointment.
His dad levels him with a look. Not only does his dad believe in the lecture, he also believes in full participation in the lecture.
“Yeah. I do,” Stiles mumbles.
“And I get what you were trying to do. You were trying to help. God knows you’ve got your mother’s,” his dad obviously was trying to say this sentence without getting emotional but isn’t managing it. “Your mother’s heart.”
Stiles smiles. “She always said I had yours.”
“Well, I guess you come by it honestly then. I know you wanted to help your friends.” His dad kind of pauses and Stiles knows he’s as hung up on that word as Stiles. Jackson Whittemore, Stiles’ friend.
Or something, at least, Stiles thinks.
“And I know you’re almost eighteen now and I’ve tried to do right by your mother and raise you to make good choices. I know your heart was in the right place.”
Could it be that Stiles might not be facing a home-made penitentiary? Because it sounds like his dad actually gets why Stiles was doing what he was doing.
“But, totally unacceptable with the lying.”
And there goes Stiles’ hope out the window.
“From now on, I want to know where you are and who you’re with. You’ve got a cell phone, I expect to be your favorite number.”
Okay, that’s not so bad, Stiles thinks. Then his dad continues.
“I’m going to enable GPS tracking on it and you’re not going to disable it.”
“That’s like an ankle monitor!” Stiles protests.
“Yep. And don’t think I didn’t look into one,” his dad affirms. “If I see that dot somewhere I don’t like or in your bedroom when I know you’re not up there, or moving too fast or traveling too far I’m confiscating the Jeep until you can pay me out for it and you will be under house arrest.”
“And,” his dad continues not missing a beat. “I’ll be having a talk with Derek Hale about his… affliction and what that entails. And why my son is involved.”
Stiles heart thuds. “Oh, you know you could talk to Scott? I mean Scott knows a lot now and-”
“I’m sorry, Stiles, you seem to be under the impression that I’m asking you.”
No one can glare like his dad, not even Derek. Stiles doesn’t know if it’s a cop thing or if his dad always had it. Derek’s glare looks hot, like fire and you get the feeling that something is coming, but it will burn out quick and you’ll be able to escape. His dad just looks cold and serious - like he’s contemplating all the many, many ways he can make your life miserable. Long, protracted and never-ending. “I get that you’re involved now and god knows I know you well enough to know that I couldn’t pull you out if I tried. Believe you me, military school was on my mind these last few days but as I said you’re almost eighteen and I don’t think they’d get to keep you long enough to drill some common sense into you.” He pauses and looks carefully at Stiles. “I don’t want to fight with you. I don’t want you to lie to me. I want you to be safe. You’re going to tell me what you’re involved with at all times. You don’t get to chose what I get involved with. Like I said, I’m the parent. You don’t keep me safe, I keep you safe.”
Hello old friends guilt and shame, coming back to replace the righteous indignation that bubbled up when he heard he was going to be tracked and at the threat of losing his beloved Jeep. His dad raises an eyebrow at him and Stiles nods, head hanging low.
“You’re getting off so easy here that I’m almost tempted to put you in jail for a week to make up for it.”
Stiles huffs in laughter. He can tell by his dad’s tone that he’s not serious. Well, not totally.
“I completely disagree with how you’ve been doing things, but -” his dad sighs, looks down at the table and he looks tired in that moment. Older. His face lined. When did his dad get older? Stiles thinks. His dad looks back up at Stiles. “I’m proud of the man you’re becoming. Proud of the man you are.”
Stiles’ throat locks up and he can’t swallow over the lump that’s there. It hurts and he thinks he might cry but he can’t cry now. Not when his dad just called him a man.
“But pull shit like this again, and I’ll put you over my knee.”
His dad’s words break the knot in his throat a bit and he huffs out a cross between a laugh and a sob. His dad stands and comes close to him, pulling him into a hug, and with Stiles still sitting, it’s just like when he was little - only coming up to his dad’s waist.
“Jesus you age me quick sometimes, kiddo,” his dad says and Stiles heart clenches at those words, said in fondness, but he knows the truth behind them. His dad rubs over Stiles’ shorn hair. “When did you get so big, Teddy Bear?”
He squeezes his dad tight, shutting his eyes tighter, like he can pretend his five years old again and his dad is taller than him and bigger than life.
“I love you,” Stiles tells his dad.
“I love you, too.” his dad kisses him on the head and Stiles thinks that while most of the time growing up is pretty cool, sometimes it really fucking sucks.
His dad gives Stiles’ head another solid rub. “C’mon, lets go watch CSI and tear apart their procedure.”
Derek’s in his room that night when Stiles heads up to bed.
He looks up as Stiles comes in the room. He’s sitting on Stiles bed, legs stretched out long and lean, clad in dark denim. He’s got one of Stiles mythology books on his lap and he flips through it casually.
“Hi,” Stiles says awkwardly.
Derek doesn’t say anything, just looks at him with those crazy intense eyes. Stiles fiddles with the hem of his shirt and toes the carpet a bit.
“I’m sorry,” Stiles blurts finally. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you and I didn’t know how to tell you and at first it wasn’t like I was going to tell you because I didn’t know you and you were Derek Hale and you were all grrr and scary and then I got to know you and I wanted to tell you and I didn’t know how and then it just all got so -”
“Stiles,” Derek interrupts him, thank god, because Stiles isn’t sure where he was going with that rant and he’s afraid of what would have come out of his mouth. His brain is usually quick enough that it’s well ahead of his lips but in that moment, his brain was stuck in a lock and he just didn’t know what he would say if he hadn’t been interrupted.
Derek flips to the front of the book, to the inside cover and he looks at the childish lettering there and then at Stiles.
“What’s this?” Derek asks.
Of all the questions for Derek to ask him, Stiles really didn’t expect him to ask about his name.
“It’s my name. Theodore.”
Derek’s eyebrows come together in a confused ‘V’. “Like the chipmunk?”
Stiles laughs. He can’t help it. The look on Derek’s face and his mouth actually forming the word ‘chipmunk’… the fact that Derek Hale knows the names of Alvin and the Chipmunks… it’s too much for any one human to take.
“Yes,” he says in between breaths. “Like the chipmunk.” He steps closer to the bed, crossing the space in inches until he hesitantly sits on the edge, looking at Derek out of the side of his eyes.
“My mom,” he starts and he has to clear his throat. “My mom named me. She picked it for its meaning.”
“What’s it mean?” Derek asks, voice low. Stiles sneaks a glance over toward Derek and Derek’s not looking at him - he’s focused back on the book, flipping idly through the pages.
“It, uh, means ‘gift from god’, or ‘gift of god.’ It’s Greek. My mom had a Greek name too and she really liked mythology. So…”
Derek turns another page and Stiles wonders if he’s read the myth of Thessaloniki yet, if maybe Derek looked up merpeople after leaving Stiles the other day.
He wonders what Derek is doing here.
“Your dad called you something. That night,” Derek says and Stiles notices that although he looks casual, the lines of his body are very still, very steady. Careful and… practiced.
“Um, yeah,” Stiles says, feeling embarrassed. “Teddy Bear,” he says, his voice barely above a whisper. “My mom used to call me that. You know.” He shrugs, wondering if Derek will make fun of him. He thinks maybe a few weeks ago, he might have, but now Derek’s lips just quirk a bit, like he likes the name or thinks it’s cute, but he doesn’t say anything.
“My mom picked my name too. She said she had a list of names and she was waiting to see me, to see what I looked like before she named me. After,” Derek pauses and swallows, “after I was born, she said she looked at me and went through her list in her head and thought that Derek fit. That it looked like a good name for me.”
Stiles moves slowly, slower than he’s probably ever moved, scooching up the bed until his shoulder is pressed against Derek’s, both of them leaning against the headboard. He looks down at the book in Derek’s lap, seeing the legend of the minotaur and the labyrinth.
“I never liked that one,” Stiles says, pointing to the picture of the half-man, half-bull creature. “I felt bad for him, stuck in the labyrinth.”
Derek turns another page and they sit in silence, looking down at the text and pictures in front of them.
“What’s your favorite?” Derek asks finally.
Stiles feels shy and uncertain as he pulls the oversized book from Derek’s lap, the heavy cover warm from Derek’s body. He flips carefully through the pages until he finds the myth of Thessaloniki and then hands the book back to Derek.
“This one. I like this one best.”2
Derek takes the book carefully, almost reverently and Stiles can watch his eyes move back and forth as he reads the words. It feels like a hundred hours as he waits for Derek to finish reading. Stiles heart pounds in his chest and he’s sure that Derek can hear it, sure that he must wonder about it. Stiles is so nervous Derek won’t like the myth, that he won’t get it the same way Stiles gets it, that it won’t mean anything to Derek.
Derek’s eyes stop moving and one of his fingers comes up to the color picture next to the myth - the green-blue sea with white-cap waves, the back of a woman’s head, her long, dark hair trailing into the water and fanning out like seaweed. Derek trails his fingertip over the hair of the faceless woman.
“I like that one too,” Derek says and Stiles feels something loosen in his chest. He presses his shoulder a little harder against Derek’s, feeling Derek shift slightly to press back. “Show me another one,” says Derek, his voice low and rumbly.
Stiles reaches over and starts flipping through the pages.
Stiles’ dad is true to his word. The GPS is activated in his phone and his dad becomes more involved in his life than he ever imagined.
Hale house again?, his dad texts.
Home by 10. That’s requirement not question, his dad texts.
No bacon. That’s requirement not question, he texts back to his dad, adding on a smiley face. His dad sends back the smiley face with its tongue sticking out and he laughs.
He watches Derek work on training the others. Scott already has a lot of agility and speed from lacrosse that just needs to be channeled and used with his wolf powers. Isaac is tentative and hesitant with his new-found strength, afraid to use all his power even when Derek tells him to. Erica is the opposite - using all she can every time and Derek tries to council her the other way, to warn her not to use up all her good shots, or all her strength at the beginning. Boyd is thoughtful and precise and Derek works with him on just getting better. Jackson needs to control his temper and Derek pokes holes in any veneer of self-control he manages, probably because Derek can see through them so easily having used most of them himself.
Halfway through the pack meeting, Derek shifts to his alpha form and Stiles can’t take his eyes off him.
His legs have been hurting lately, worse since the night his gills slit open, almost as though his legs are tied to his lungs and they know that he’s partially shifted and they’re wanting their own change.
Derek’s wolf form is beautiful - fluid, animalistic, primal and gorgeous. The wolf’s shoulder joints rotate and move gracefully, his hind legs are strong and powerful. He runs through the forest and Stiles can only catch glimpses of his dark fur between the trees. He feints and darts easily, hopping lightly on his feet. The betas are completely unable to keep up, even Scott with his agile grace.
It makes Stiles want to swim. He remembers how easy it was to glide through the water with his mom - how smooth and seamless it felt. His legs ache even worse watching Derek run through the woods. Stiles doesn’t know if it’s psychosomatic or not. All he knows is his hip sockets have become spheres of pain - radiating out and down his legs, consolidating in his knees and then shooting down to his ankles and feet. It hurts to walk, it hurts to sit, it hurts to sleep.
It just hurts. He can’t adjust himself and move around the pain, he can’t get painkillers to touch it, he can’t massage it out or get enough heat or ice to manage it.
He needs to shift. He knows he needs to shift.
He’s not sure if he can.
Lydia eyeballs him, watching him fidget slightly as he works on the beastiary and Stiles tries to still himself, not even letting his eyes dart over to Lydia. If he looks at her, she’ll make him talk. He doesn’t even know if he’s up to lying to her.
The betas and Derek come out of the forest, sliding back into their human form, Derek stopping to gather up his clothes and pull on his jeans. Dear god that man is just as beautiful in human form as he is as a wolf. He has no artifice or discomfort with his body and Stiles envies and admires it all at once. Derek dismisses the pack and Stiles starts packing up his computer and shoving it into his bag.
“Not you,” Derek says, his tone brokering no argument. Stiles pauses in his movements and looks up cautiously. “I need you for something.”
Lydia stands up and crosses her arms. “For what?”
“None of your business,” Derek says easily.
“If there’s pack business, it’s everyone’s business,” Lydia says icily. She’s definitely not afraid to go toe-to-toe with Derek and Stiles fears and loves her for it. She won’t be cowed by Derek; even when (if) she backs off, it’s always clear that she’s not giving up or giving in, she’s simply tabling it for another time.
“It’s not pack business,” Derek replies cooly. Lydia looks from him to Stiles and Stiles finds the inside of his computer bag very interesting.
It’s a Mexican stand-off. Lydia and Derek on the porch. Scott and Isaac look fidgety and it’s so obvious they’re trying not to stare. Boyd and Erica are milling about, looking casual and unconcerned. Jackson is leaning against his car looking pissy and Allison is watching the whole thing with cool eyes, fingers playing lightly on her crossbow, whether by design or intent, Stiles isn’t sure.
“Fine,” Lydia bites out finally, tapping her toe a few times. As she turns, she manages to flip her hair so that it hits Derek in the face. His expression is a comical mix of indignity, offense and disbelief but before he can recover, Lydia is already stepping past him and moving toward Jackson.
Stiles keeps fiddling with his bag and power cords not looking up until he hears all the cars pull away. Derek sits down next to him on the porch, the wood creaking under his weight.
“You smell like pain.”
“What?” Stiles says, looking up at Derek with wide eyes.
“You smell like pain,” Derek repeats. “It’s…” he waves his hand around, “all around you.”
“Can the others smell it?” Stiles asks, worried. Derek looks thoughtful.
“Isaac can. He keeps looking over at you, like he’s checking you. Scott might but if he does, he doesn’t recognize what it is. Erica can smell it but I don’t think she knows how bad it is. Boyd doesn’t smell it, neither does Jackson.”
Stiles slumps a bit in relief. He doesn’t want to think that he’ll have to share his secret with all his friends.
“It’s gotten worse lately.”
Stiles nods. “Yeah, since…” he sighs. “Since that night, with my gills. It’s like… my legs, they need to shift.”
“Why don’t you?”
Stiles thinks carefully about what he wants to say. “I don’t know. I haven’t shifted since… my mom died. Since the last time we were at the beach. I don’t…. What if I try and I can’t? What if it’s been to long? Or if I shift and I can’t go back? Plus I don’t really have anywhere with enough space.”
“What about a pool? I could break you into the high school,” Derek offers.
Stiles makes a face. “Too many chemicals. I don’t… I get sick. That night with you, in the pool,” he says, waiting for Derek to nod, “I felt really sick afterward. And for me to breathe, I’d have to take that water into my gills and…” he shudders “Just, no.”
“And your bathtub’s not big enough?”
“It used to be, when I was little,” Stiles says, smiling at the memory of shifting in the tub when he was little, his mom always close by, leaning over the tub and giggling at him. “But now… I don’t think there’s enough room.”
Derek nods to himself, like he’s deciding something and then he stands up and squeezes Stiles’ shoulder.
“We’re going to the beach.”
Maybe that was the problem with going with his dad, or rather not going with his dad all these years. His dad always asked him if he wanted to go, if he needed to go. Derek didn’t give him that option. Derek just flat out told him they were going to the beach and Stiles was nodding and climbing in the Camaro before he could think too much about it. He doesn’t have time to talk himself out of it or tell himself he really doesn’t need to go - they’re already in the car and driving.
He fiddles with his phone, pulling it out of his pocket and turning it over in his hands. He knows he has to call his dad; his dad will see his little GPS dot leaving Beacon Hills. He dials his dad’s number before he talk himself out of, hoping to capitalize on the momentum of the moment.
“Stiles,” his dad says.
“Hey. Um. I think I need to go to the beach?” he says, his tone going up at the end like it’s a question.
“Are you okay?” his dad asks immediately.
“Yeah, I just… my legs, um… they’ve been hurting and I… I think I need to go.”
“We can go this weekend, I’ll get my shifts changed and we’ll go”.”
“Um, yeah, the thing is,” Stiles hesitates, eyes darting sideways to Derek. Beside him Derek is a calm, solid presence, focused on the road and even though Stiles is sure he can hear his dad’s side of the conversation, he’s making no motion like he’s eavesdropping.
“The thing is,” Stiles continues. “Um, Derek’s taking me. To the beach. He offered to take me to the beach.”
He hears a long pause on the end of the phone and he’s so scared his dad will tell him to turn around, to come straight home and Stiles will do it. If his dad tells him to come home, he will.
“Do you want me to come with you? I get off in a few hours and I can drive out and meet you wherever you want.”
He thinks about it. Thinks about being with his dad at the beach. But when he does it’s like the gaping hole that’s his mother’s presence is wider, more empty. Like having his dad there just magnifies her absence.
“Uh, I just… I think I need…” Jesus, this is hard. He doesn’t know how to tell his dad that he doesn’t want him there without making it sound hurtful or mean. His heart thuds in his chest and he pinches the bridge of his nose, rubbing his eyes.
“It’s okay, Teddy Bear,” his dad says softly and Stiles breathes out a sigh of relief. “You get a one time pass on this but I expect you to check in with me and let me know how you’re doing. Okay?”
“Yeah, yeah okay, dad.” God he loves his dad. Stiles throat is tight and his heart pounds a little more. Derek’s hand settles on his leg, comforting and warm, squeezing slightly and Stiles feels his heart slow down a bit. He puts his hand on top of Derek’s, threading their fingers together, holding tightly.
Neither one lets go the entire way there.
Stiles directs Derek to the beach they used to go to when he was younger. Despite the years that have passed since he’s last been there, he remembers the way. Some of the landmarks have changed, but the overall shape of things remains the same and Stiles has no problem telling Derek which turns to take. Derek steers with one hand deftly, keeping his other hand entwined with Stiles’.
As they drive, Stiles rolls the window down and can smell the faint tinge of salt in the air as they get closer to the beach. He breathes in the briny scent, pulling it deep into his lungs. It pulls memories along with it and he finds his hand getting tighter and tighter around Derek’s, his fingers digging in, cramping tightly. Derek tightens his grip in response and Stiles finds it grounding and soothing.
It’s dark by the time they pull up to the stretch of beach that he remembers playing along with his mother. He knows the little cottages they used to rent are a little further back but he’s not interested in going there. Those were just the places he used to sleep, used to eat. There’s nothing special about them.
Derek pulls the car into a spot and as soon as he stops the car, Stiles is out, his hand painful and cramped from holding onto Derek’s for so long. There are a few old street lamps, lighting the area. A sign boldly declares that the beach is not to be used at night, that there’s a dangerous undertow, that there’s no lifeguard or emergency services on duty.
Stiles starts to walk.
Derek falls into step behind him. Despite the warning signs there are still people out and about on the beach - teenagers mostly looking for something to do, feeling dangerous and rebellious, frolicking on the beach harmlessly but pretending they’re bad and defiant.
They all look over speculatively at Derek and Stiles in the nosy, entitled way that teenagers have. Derek reaches out and takes Stiles hand again, giving him a slight tug, pulling Stiles closer into Derek’s space. The teenagers stop staring at Derek’s fierce glare, looking away hastily. They may be dangerous and savage in their own eyes but Derek is dangerous and savage in almost everybody’s eyes.
They walk along the beach, their feet digging into the sand. There’s an outcropping that Stiles remembers from when he was here with his mom. He remembers that beyond the outcropping, the water is rougher, harder and most people avoid it, unable to swim in the waves. It’s also rockier, not as conducive to bonfires and sprawled blankets. His mom had loved it for its privacy, for its seclusion.
Derek’s hand is hot in his and he feels kind of bad and awkward about how sweaty he knows his palm is but Derek doesn’t pull away, even after they’ve long passed the populated areas and there’s no longer anyone around that Derek has to scare off.
Stiles finally reaches the area where he and his mom used to play, where she taught him how to swim, how to hunt. They used to spend lazy days in the water and then warm up on the rocks, only to back into the ocean to cool off again. He stands there, unsure what to do. He can feel his gills, across his ribcage, poised to split open. He focuses on keeping them shut. He doesn’t want Derek to have to carry him into the water, hold him under. He wants to do this in his own time. He just doesn’t know how long he needs.
“I’m scared,” he blurts out, surprised by his own confession. “I haven’t shifted in so long and I can’t… what if I don’t…”
Derek’s hand tightens around his and Stiles presses his lips together, willing himself to stay silent.
“It’s part of who you are. You can’t forget. No matter how long it’s been since you’ve changed, your body will remember.”
Stiles shifts on his feet a bit, the rocks underneath making a clicking sound. “Nobody’s ever seen me shifted. Except my dad and my mom.”
“Do you want me to go?” Derek’s voice is low, barely audible over the sound of the water lapping at the rocks.
Stiles shakes his head, fingers clenching around Derek’s reflexively. “No. No, I -” He fidgets again, unable to articulate what he’s saying. He doesn’t want Derek to leave, but he feels strangely shy about shifting in front of him. No one else has ever seen this part of him. He hasn’t even seen this part of himself in years. What if he’s ugly now? What if his tail is broken and ragged? Despite what Derek assures, what if it’s been so long that he can’t shift and he just ends up trying and trying and nothing happens?
Derek pulls his hand away and Stiles panics, his throat closing up a bit and his breath gasping.
Derek pulls off his shirt and Stiles can only stand there and gape at him, at the moonlight spilling across Derek’s body painting his muscles in silver light. Derek doesn’t pause, undoing his belt and then his pants, pulling them down and Stiles finally looks away because what the fuck?.
And then Derek shifts, his body becoming more hirsute, crouching over onto his hands, his arms turning into legs. His hands turn into paws, his face elongates growing a snout. It takes only seconds and it’s stunning and mesmerizing. Stiles hears the shift as well as sees it. Hears the snap and click of Derek’s bones and muscles sliding over one another and reforming themselves.
Wolf-Derek sits back on his haunches and looks up at Stiles, his light eyes glinting in the moonlight and Stiles suddenly gets it.
Derek shifted so Stiles wouldn’t feel so odd about shifting, wouldn’t feel so strange, so shy. Although Stiles knows that Derek is still himself when he’s the wolf, he does think of Derek differently when he’s shifted. Maybe it’s that Derek can’t talk or that he doesn’t look human, but there is something both more and less about Derek when he’s a wolf. Stiles feels touched by the gesture.
It also makes it easier to strip. He won’t lie to himself, he’s very attracted to Derek and getting naked in front of him would have been awkward, embarrassing and nerve-wracking. Disrobing in front of wolf-Derek isn’t as fraught. In fact, wolf-Derek trots away from Stiles and toward the shoreline, leaving Stiles as alone as he can be on the rocky beach.
The air is chilly on his bare skin, the rocks sharp and painful on his bare feet. He steps carefully on them, stumbling a bit, feeling exposed.
At the first touch of salt water, Stiles wants to sigh in pleasure. He can feel the pull to shift, to fuse his legs together and swim - just swim far, swim deep, maybe never come up again.
He hears splashing next to him and Derek is in the water up to his first knee joint but has stopped, going no further. Stiles picks his way over the rocks underwater, getting in as far as his own knees before crouching down and pushing off in a swim. He kicks one or two strokes and then dives beneath the water.
True to Derek’s word, Stiles feels his body remember, feels his gills slit open and pull salt water across themselves, filtering out the oxygen. It tastes so good, so fresh and clean. His legs fuse together and it’s such a relief, the pain immediately dissipating. It’s like a really good stretch after being in a cramped space for a prolonged period of time. He flaps his tail, swims hard, away from the shore, going deeper where the water is darker, denser. He has no fear of the water, knows he will sense something before it approaches him with what his mom called their ‘fish’ sense - a combination of underwater scenting and hearing. He twists and turns underwater, gliding along and he laughs, or at least the underwater equivalent of laughing, his gills billowing in an out in amusement. He rolls and spins, finning his tail, turning himself around and over.
He hears something filtered and muddled, not something underwater but something from the shoreline and he tries to pay attention, tries to listen for it.
It’s a wolf howl.
He realizes Derek has no way of knowing that Stiles’ shift was seamless, that he’s underwater right now swimming, rolling and turning. He swims hard upward, breaking the surface, closing his gills and opening his throat valve again so he can speak. He sees Derek pacing quickly back and forth in the surf, and then he pauses and howls. Stiles waves one of his arms in a huge sweeping arc.
“Derek!” he calls, voice giddy excitement, “I’m here! I’m okay!”
Stiles can just barely see him in the distance, see Derek take a few steps deeper into the ocean and then pauses when the water hits the middle of his wolf-chest. Derek howls again but this time it’s a joyous howl, a happy howl. It’s not a mournful, hollow sound; it’s playful and lighthearted and Stiles laughs in response. Stiles closes his throat valve and dives down under the surface again, doing another spin and twirl, going as deep as he can, as fast as he can.
He loses track of time underwater, lost in the muddled sounds of the ocean and the free, clear feeling of swimming. He still misses his mother, still feels the ache of her absence but he can’t believe he waited so long to come back to the water, can’t believe he denied himself this for so many years.
The sky is turning pinky-orange with the sunrise by the time he finally decides to surface. He swims as a merman as close the shore as he can, waiting to shift until he’s in shallower water and it’s more awkward to keep his fishtail than it is to shift back to his legs and walk through the water.
Derek is on the beach, human, sitting on rocks, his knees bent, arms resting casually on his legs. Stiles’ own legs feel like jelly as he tries to stumble forward and Derek gets up, coming into the water, feet splashing in the break, jeans getting wet to the knees. He slides an arm around Stiles’ shoulders, pulling him close, heedless of the water. Stiles is laughing, his earlier awkwardness and shyness forgotten.
He had so much fun.
Derek steadies him as they walk back onto the shore and now Stiles is babbling. Babbling like he hasn’t done since he was with his mother and you had to save all your words while you were underwater and get them out in one fell swoop as soon as you broke into the air. He’s telling Derek about the water, the fish, the seaweed, the shells. Derek manhandles him, gently but briskly, managing to get one of Stiles’ shirts onto him and then helping him step into his boxers. The jeans will have to wait until he dries off a bit. He clutches at Derek, still telling him about how clean the water tastes how good it felt on his gills. Stiles shivers slight in the cool morning air and suddenly, without thinking, he presses himself against Derek, hugging him, holding him close and stealing his warmth.
He feels Derek hesitate for a moment and then his arms are around Stiles, pulling him closer, his body hot and muscular against Stiles’.
“Thank you. Thank you for bringing me and for not… for letting me… and you told me I could shift but I was so scared. Thank you,” Stiles breathes, another shudder wracking his body in the sharp air and Derek rubs Stiles’ back in long, soothing swoops. Stiles can only repeat it over and over, thanking Derek stupidly and profusely, unable to articulate anything more. Stiles laughs again, happy and a little wobbly. He pulls away a bit from Derek, wanting to see his face, wanting Derek to see Stiles’ face in case he doesn’t understand, doesn’t know how happy he is. Derek’s smiling, white teeth glinting in the early sunrise, his eyes crinkled a bit at the corners. Stiles can feel his own smile, his cheeks hurting with how big it is. Without thinking, he surges forward, pressing his lips to Derek, kissing him fierce and fast and then he buries his face in Derek’s neck, thanking him again. He feels Derek’s body freeze for a second and then Derek sort of melts a bit against Stiles, relaxing into the embrace. Stiles wonders how long it’s been since someone hugged Derek. How long it’s been since someone was just really happy to have Derek there. Stiles wants to tell Derek that he gave Stiles back the ocean; gave Stiles back his mother too, in a way. He wants to be able to give something back to Derek too.
“I’m really happy,” he says, clutching Derek a little tighter, hoping Derek gets that Stiles means he’s happy here with Derek, because of Derek.
Stiles feels Derek’s lips move against the soft skin next to his ear.
“Me too,” Derek says quietly, his voice barely above a whisper.
Derek’s perpetual five o’clock shadow scrapes lightly against Stiles skin as Derek rubs his cheek against Stiles’. Stiles isn’t sure if Derek’s doing it on purpose or not, but it’s nice and he likes it.
A long line of heat curls between them where they stand pressed together. When Derek pulls away, the air seeps against Stiles’ body chilly and crisp. Stiles shivers and Derek rubs his hands over Stiles’ back in long arcs of warmth. Stiles eyes are slightly gritty and salty from the water and he blinks at Derek a few times in the pale light. Derek’s eyes meet his and Stiles grins stupidly, unable to stop himself. Derek chuffs with laughter and gives Stiles’ shoulder a quick squeeze.
“Let’s get you back in the car,” Derek says.
Stiles doesn’t want to leave this area, this secluded spot where he can be himself, where he’s trapped against the solid warmth of Derek but he nods anyway. Derek’s hand slides down Stiles’ arm and his fingers thread through Stiles and then he’s pulling Stiles along, stooping to pick up Stiles’ jeans and and shoes.
The beach is deserted at this time - no more stragglers from the night before and too early for even any joggers to be out and about. It’s beautifully quiet, only the sound of the water breaking against the shore; rhythmic and even. Stiles rubs his thumb over Derek’s fingers - they’re rough in places and strong - wrapped around Stiles’ own fingers and Stiles feels connected and grounded in a way he hasn’t felt in a long, long time.
The walk warms him up but he’s still damp and by the time he’s seated in the car and Derek has the heater blowing semi-cool air while the Camaro heats up, he’s shivering slightly. He’s not in any danger of hypothermia but he is cold. He’s surprised and yet not when Derek slips into the driver seat and then pulls him closer, into the circle of his arms and chest. There’s something very chaste and safe about it and there’s no other word for what he does to Derek’s chest other than snuggle. Stiles feels Derek’s lips press into his wet hair which is salty and stiff from the sea water.
Stiles is tired, so tired, in the way that only swimming can do to him. He can hear Derek’s heart beating in his chest, slow and steady. The heat finally kicks in on the Camaro and he feels drowsy - like he’s drifting again underwater - pliant and supple.
“‘m tired,” he says on a sigh, his voice coming out dreamy and soft. He hears and feels the quiet rumble of Derek’s chuckle.
“I can tell.” Derek’s tone is fond and it makes Stiles rub his cheek against Derek’s shirt. “You can sleep if you want,” Derek tells him.
“Yeah,” Stiles breathes out, already feeling himself falling unconscious without even making the decision to do so.
He wakes up when Derek shakes his shoulder slightly and calls his name. For a moment, Stiles is confused and disoriented - looking around blearily. He sees his own front porch, looks back at Derek and yawns.
“You slept the whole way back,” Derek says quietly.
Stiles stretches a bit. “God you must be tired. You didn’t sleep at all at the beach did you?”
“I’m okay,” Derek replies. He cocks his head slightly for a moment, listening. “Your dad is inside waiting for you.”
“You should come in. I’ll make you something to eat.”
Derek pauses and Stiles heart sinks a little bit, waiting to hear him say no and just drive off. But suddenly, Derek is nodding and saying, “Okay,” and getting out of the car.
Stiles scrambles after him, legs still a bit wobbly and weak from his swimming. “Oh, hey, I never… I mean I should’ve told you before, my dad… he said he wanted to have a talk with you? But I don’t think it’s going to be too bad, I mean, I hope but you know, he’s my dad and I -”
“Stiles,” Derek says, cutting him off, he turns to face him on the front porch.
Derek’s lips quirk a bit. “Your dad already talked to me.”
“What? When? What did he say? What did you say? Oh my god no one tells me anything!” Stiles fumbles for his keys in his jeans but before he can get them out, the door is opening and his dad is there and he looks a little worried and tired and Stiles just throws himself at him, hugging him tight. His conversation with Derek forgotten as he starts telling his dad all about going to the beach and how awesome it was and how much fun he had and how it felt so good to swim again.
“And maybe we can go next weekend?” he asks, finally pulling back and looking at his dad. “And maybe… I mean if it’s okay, maybe Derek can come too?” He looks nervously back and forth from his dad to Derek, who are both looking at each other. Fuck, he shouldn’t have said anything. But Stiles feels so good and his legs don’t hurt anymore and he had so much fun. He wants to go again, he wants his dad there this time but he still wants Derek there too. But maybe Derek doesn’t even want to go again. Stiles stares at Derek and thinks maybe he looks… cautious. Hopeful.
Stiles’ dad nods once. “I can shuffle some shifts and get next weekend off,” his dad says, rubbing his hand over Stiles’ hair, like he always does. His dad’s eyes flicker over to Derek. “And if Derek would like to come, well…” His dad pauses for a moment like he’s thinking about something. “That would be all right.”
“Thank you, sir,” Derek says and holy shit, Derek looks a little shy and awkward. Stiles has never seen him look like that. And he called Stiles’ dad sir.
Stiles really wants to know what was said in that talk.
“I, um, invited Derek in to have something to eat? He was at the beach all night while I was swimming,” Stiles says and his dad’s eyes flick back over to him.
“You swam all night?” he asks and Stiles feels his smile break out again.
“It was awesome. The water tasted so good and I forgot how much fun it is and I’m bigger now so the kelp isn’t scary,” he starts babbling as his dad puts his arm around his shoulder and pulls him inside, Derek following behind. Stiles natters on about the fish he could smell and the rocks and how deep he swam, how far he could go. He doesn’t stop talking as his dad pulls out a skillet and starts making some grilled cheese sandwiches - a big pile of them that Derek and Stiles start eating even as they’re still melty and hot.
His eyes start drooping shut again after his third sandwich and his dad pulls his plate away from him and suggests he goes up to bed. Stiles nods and as he stands up, Derek does too and before he can lose his nerve, he barrels into Derek, hugging him tight again and thanking him for taking him to the beach. He hears Derek say Stiles is welcome, low and quiet in his ear. Derek thanks Stiles dad and they exchange a somewhat tentative handshake and then Derek and Stiles is staring at the front door, eyes heavy with fatigue.
“C’mon kiddo, let’s get you upstairs,” his dad says, and starts leading him up the stairs. Even though Stiles is fine to make it on his own, his dad’s hand is a welcome warmth on his shoulder.
“Dad? What did you say to Derek?” Stiles mumbles as he strips down to his boxers and crawls into bed. He hears his dad laugh a bit and then sigh.
“We talked about the things you had told me, about what’s been happening in Beacon Hills. And then we mostly commiserated about how hard it is to get you to stay out of things once you put your mind to something,” his dad says, his voice fond and deep. He pulls the covers up around Stiles, just like he did when Stiles was a boy.
“I like him,” Stiles says, not really aware he was going to blurt it out until the words are already out there in the world.
His dad sighs again. “I know you do.”
He hears his dad step away from his bed and then pause at the doorway.
“But I still have a shotgun, son, and I’m a damn good shot. If that boy comes over, he uses the front door like a regular person.”
Stiles lips curl a bit at his dad calling Derek a boy. Stiles can’t wait for the weekend when they can go the beach. Maybe Derek will shift into a wolf again and let Stiles’ dad see him, Stiles can shift too and get a better look at his tail in the sunlight and see if his mom was right all those years ago about what color it will be.
His last thought before he falls asleep is that it finally didn't hurt to think of his mom.