This story was inspired by Arthur Rackham's illustration Undine.
The cabin he’s being kept in is old and rustic. Furnished with only the barest amenities, a wood burning stove, a couple chairs in front of the hearth, a dresser with a missing drawer and the bed to which he’s chained. Stiles isn’t sure how long he’s been there, days certainly, maybe a week, but he knows that his time is almost up. He’s growing weaker. The man who abducted him feeds him only once a day, and the physical exertion from the frequent bouts of torture and other abuses takes more energy than the measly nuts and jerky provide.
He’s not sure who the man is, he just showed up in front of his house and took him right from under his parents’ noses. He does know that it’s someone his dad has dealt with on the job. The man rambles as if he has no inner monologue, only stopping when he’s asleep, or focusing on causing Stiles pain. he mumbles things under his breath, about prisons and no account Sheriffs who convict men without proof. At first Stiles had defended his father, Sheriff John Stilinski is a good man and an even better cop, and he knows without a doubt that his father would never put anyone away without verifiable evidence. But reacting to what the man said only made him heat the knives he used over a fire before bringing them to rest on Stiles’ skin. Stiles stays silent now. He lost his voice days ago anyway.
It could be forgetfulness or overconfidence that leads the man to leave Stiles alone one day. Stiles can barely move, but he’s done enough snooping around his father’s office to know how to pick a lock in his sleep. When the man leaves and Stiles hears a car start up and drive away he seizes his chance. There are small knives on the bedside table that the man had used to pry his fingernails from their beds the day before. He reaches out with clumsy fingers and grabs the nearest one, slipping it into the lock on his cuffs. His wrists turn numb from the awkward angle and his head is foggy from the days of abuse and little food, but after a few minutes he hears the telltale click of the cuffs unlocking and his arms drop from the cold metal loops.
He’s up and out of the cabin before he can even think, limping on bare feet, his naked skin vulnerable to cool fall weather. He can’t tell where he is, the woods seem familiar but in reality it could be any forested area in Northern California. He sees the dirt road the man must have taken,it leads down a hill. He imagines that it must be the direction of some town or another, so he knows he should head down too. He needs to stay clear of the road though, just in case the man returns.He hobbles into the woods, going as far as he can while still keeping the road in sight. It’s difficult, one of his eyes is swollen shut and he’s limping badly from where the man had taken a fire iron to his right knee a couple days before. So he makes his way slowly, picking through the brush and trees and trying to remain upright. It’s easier said than done.
Walking takes a lot out of him, his breath is coming in wheezing pants and his injuries becoming more evident with each step. It’s not long before Stiles comes to realize that he won’t make it out of the woods. His vision is blurring in and out and his mind is clouding, making him forget where he is and what he’s doing. He can only imagine what the man will do to him when he catches him.
It could be minutes or hours but suddenly he stills. He can see his parents up ahead of him, they’re talking in the garden. His mom is always watering the plants or planting some new vegetable, in an attempt to get them all to eat better. Today she and his dad are bent down over the tomato plants, talking and laughing while packing dirt around the bases.
“Hey kid, why don’t you give us a hand?” His dad asks, motioning for Stiles to join them.
‘S-sure dad.” Stiles smiles, limping over to them.
“Oh look at you now” his mother tuts with a fond smile on her face, “You’re a mess and now you’ve gotten yourself all wet.”
“What?” Stiles looks down to see that he’s standing in water that rises up to his bare thighs. “Oh...sorry mom” He starts to back away, but his feet slip on the slick rocks of the riverbed and he lands on his rear with a dull splash. His parents are still smiling and it’s comforting because Stiles is so cold and tired, but as long as they’re here he knows they will look over him. He will be alright. So when he feels his vision dim and his body fall back into the cool embrace of the river he isn’t afraid.
Stiles isn’t sure how long his body floats until it comes to a smooth stop at the bottom of the river, resting atop current smoothed stones. He knows it was long enough for his heart to stop and breathing to become unnecessary though.
It takes a long time, perhaps days or months for Stiles to come back to himself. He spends weeks lying where his human life ended, the smooth pebbles of the river bottom and green aquatic plants cover him, offering safety and comfort. His injuries heal quickly the skin hardens and smooths becoming less like human flesh and more like the scales of the animals around him. His eyes change too, allowing clear vision beneath the water’s surface. Then he begins to hear the voices.
He’s afraid he’s crazy at first, hearing voices is never a good sign after all. Perhaps he’s still back in that cabin, maybe this is all in his head. But then the Vilia begin to appear. Sometimes they’re only shadows among the seaweed, others they’re faces within the water or swirls of fast tide that glide around him. They all tell him the same thing, that they are water spirits and that they will protect him. They have made him into something new, and that something will be powerful. He trusts them because he has no reason not to, and because no other explanations for his continued existence are forthcoming.
The Vilia encourage him to move, to experience life in the water and so for the next several years that is what he does. He ventures from his place in the river, following its meandering path, learning about the life within it and his new form. His new body is swift, soft clear webs having formed between his fingers and toes. He tumbles over the river beds at speed, chasing fish and terrorizing larger game that stop at the shores for a drink. His ability to talk to the animals within the water seems more inane than the developed speech he learned as a child. It flows telepathically, sending brief images or feelings to him from the others. Less like speech and more like instinct, but he finds he can understand and send his own thoughts back to any creature he approaches.
The river ends eventually, sliding smoothly into the salt and brine of the Pacific Ocean. Stiles finds even more mischief here. He loves the huge open expanses and the large mammals with stories that awe him. He travels with a gam of Orcas up the coast into the cool waters of the North and then circles back South to glide along the currents with a group of stingrays. The dolphins are fun, they’re intelligent and play games with him as they chase trails ahead of ocean liners and aircraft carriers. He finds that he likes the sea turtles most of all though, likes watching the hatchlings leap into the water for the first time and learn to swim without any help. They’re strong and fierce despite their size and he watches them grow and flourish despite their rough beginnings.
The Vilia are not the only mythical spirits possessing the water. Though they are the only ones he trusts. he comes across mermaids, more tribal and vicious than Ariel on her worst day, and Sirens, don’t get him started on the Sirens. The most narcissistic bunch of blowhards he’s ever come across, and that’s including Jackson Whittemore, so it’s a pretty high bar. He doesn’t connect with their species and doesn’t meet anyone else like him.
One day, he makes his way to the north once more, hitching a ride on the back of a large blue whale. She moves slowly but gracefully, diving through the chilly clear water of the northern pacific with never ending patience for Stiles and his prodding. Stiles has gleaned that she’s birthed over twenty calves in her 65 years of life, so it’s probably old hat to her.
Just as Stiles is getting bored of their meandering path, a vilia appears, teasing him with winding fast tides and tempting him from his path. He sprints off immediately, giving chase to the spirit towards land, bending his body to swim through a bale of leatherback turtles as he continues into a small open bay. He bats at the vilia with his webbed hands when it slows, confused as to why the game has stopped and curious as to what the spirit wants to show him.
It’s autumn, and the water is frigid against Stiles’ bare skin, though temperatures have not affected him since before he became whatever he is now. Which perhaps, is why he’s so surprised to find himself shivering as he continues to follow the spirit towards land. He’s only a few yards from a black pebbled beach when his heart begins to race. A heart that has not beaten for so long that he’d forgotten how it felt, how loud it sounds in his ears, pounding in his head, along with unexpected pressure.
He breaks the surface of the water, gasping for air as his toes drag across the ocean floor. He thinks he hears yelling from somewhere, but he’s so focused on the feeling of air filling his disused lungs that he pays it no mind. He struggles forward, his hands and feet feeling clumsy in the water around him, moving him forward slowly without his usual grace. His fingers, when brings them up in front of his face are blue and wrinkled, the webbing between them gone.
His breathing is becoming erratic, and his chest feels tight with panic. He remembers panic. He strives forward, but suddenly the smooth expanse of the land beneath him falls away, and in his panicked state, Stiles finds it hard to tell up from down, everything looking wild and blurry beneath the waves.
A moment later, amidst the panic and confusion, his memories rush back to him. All of those that he’d put aside when he’d left humanity behind. His parents, his home, the garden, Scott, Lydia, school, lacrosse, all of it streams back in a series of high definition images flashing through his mind at a speed that leaves him reeling. Then comes the ugly stuff. A kidnapping, knives and bare skin, sick rancid breath against his neck, and fire red hot metal gleaming in the firelight of an old run down cabin. Stiles can’t breathe, he’s gasping and reaching for the surface but his muscles are aching and seizing as the strength that he’s known these last years leeches out of him. The pressure of the water is closing in on him in a way it hasn’t since that day he’d landed in the river. The water rushes, casting him sideways until a thick band of flesh slots around his chest, jerking him upwards.
He breaks the surface and gasps, as the person, a man judging by the shallow rounded planes of muscle at his back, drags him further upwards and towards the shore. His body is still not responding to him, he wants to break the man’s hold, get back to his home, the water he’s lived in for so long. He’s so tired though, like he hasn’t slept in years. Which come to think of it, he really hasn’t.
The man is saying something as he hefts him out of the water completely and deposits him on the sandy shore. Stiles drags his eyes open, his vision sharpening just enough to take in the handsome face looming over him. The man’s light eyes are contrasted by heavy dark brows that pinch in confusion as he continues to speak words Stiles can’t make sense of . He knows he should understand him, the words seem familiar, but their meaning is just out of grasp.
“...okay?” The man says and Stiles smiles slightly, understanding the word, before he gives into exhaustion and falls asleep.
Stiles wakes up in a house, which in and of itself is surprising, he’s not been outside of the water in...well he’s not sure how long. His skin feels cold his muscles ache and he gingerly pushes himself up. He’s sitting in a bed in what looks to be a small but cozy room. The walls are a deep green, like seaweed on the ocean floor and there is a large desk covered with papers and a drafting table set up near a wide picture window that overlooks the secluded bay.
Stiles has no idea where he is, though he’s not exactly feeling threatened. He’s tucked into bed, a glass of water and a cold sandwich sitting on the bedside table. Someone has taken the time to slip him into a pair of gray sweatpants and and t-shirt, and though the fabric is itchy and confining after so many years of being bare in the water, the scene doesn’t really spell out ill intent.
There’s a light knock at the door, and it swings open a moment later to reveal the man who'd pulled him from the ocean. In the light of day Stiles is able to take in the man in more detail. His hair is dark and soft looking, lightly styled but not fussed over. He's tall, broad shoulders and muscled arms making him look capable and strong. He also wears a curious expression, no doubt mirroring Stiles' own.
“How are you feeling?” he asks. Stiles stays silent, not sure how to respond, but it doesn’t seem to deter him from taking a seat in a chair next to the bed. Stiles finds himself scooting away, back hitting the headboard of the bed and bunching the blanket against his chest. It's a shock having someone so close after all this time. “Hey, hey it’s okay” he soothes, putting a hand up to signal he's not a threat.
“Wh-” Stiles coughs, his throat dry from disuse.
“Here” the man says, handing Stiles the glass of water sitting by the bed.
Stiles gulps it down, reveling in the cool feeling of it making its way down his throat and into his chest. “Whe-re am I?” he manages
"Kodiak", the man says, leaning back in the chair to give Stiles some space, "Kodiak Island."
"Alaska" the man answers, seeming alarmed that Stiles doesn't know what state he's in. "Did-did something happen to you?"
Stiles is unsure of how to answer that question. A lot has happened to him. Far too much to address, at least at the moment, when he is simply trying to understand how he's alive, breathing and being seen by a human.
He'd run into humans from time to time during his years in the water. They'd ride over the water in boats or swim out from overcrowded beaches, even dive off cliffs into the sea. But none of them, when he approached, were able to see him. Just like the Vilia, he was invisible to them all. Yet, here he is. Sat in front of this man, in a bed, with a heartbeat and cold feet.
"Is there someone I should call?" the man tries again. "Someone who is missing you?"
Stiles wants to scream 'yes! yes there is! My parents, I need them!' but something stops him. Looking around the room he sees traces of the time that has passed since he was taken. On the desk, there's a slim silver screen attached to a keyboard, it looks like a computer, but it's so small compared to the big colorful apple computers they had at his high school. There's a small TV on a dresser across from him, it looks light and thin, nothing like the big tube television he'd had at home. It's all adding up in his mind, the years he spent away, and what that could mean.
"What y-year?" He asks.
"What do you mean?" the man looks confused, "What year is it?" Stiles nods, and the man seems to realize that the situation might be more serious than just a lost teenager needing a lift home. "2018." Stiles can feel his eyes get big, shock rolling through his body. 2018...15 years. He's been gone 15 years.
The man, Derek he eventually introduces himself as, tries to reassure Stiles that he's safe with him. That whatever happened, he will be okay now. Stiles doesn't respond. He's not sure how, or even if he should. Derek leaves soon after, telling Stiles to get some sleep and that they'd try to get a better handle on things in the morning. Stiles is almost ashamed of how happy he is to be left alone.
He doesn't know what to do, he doesn't know what's happening or even WHAT HE IS. All he knows, is that if he told a human the truth they would think he was insane. Stiles stands up, looking out the window at the overcast sea. He wants to go home, he wants to be back in the water where things are simple, where they make sense.
There's an open door across from the bed, and when Stiles looks in he's relieved to see a bathroom. He steps inside, looking up into the large mirror over the sink. He’s wrapped up tight in a maroon hoodie Derek had given him earlier, when he'd noticed Stiles couldn't seem to get warm. It’s at least two sizes too big, and it makes him look even younger than the seventeen years he’d lived before his...his what? Death, vacation, transformation? Well younger, anyway. He hates it, he shoves it off, letting it fall to the floor with a soft thump, his tee shirt following after.
Stiles thinks he remembers what he used to look like, and he must still look the same, but to him his reflection seems alien. He misses what he’d come to think of as him, His eyes are back to their brown oval shape and the webs between his fingers and toes disappeared the minute he started struggling to breathe underwater. Though, looking over his chest in the mirror he was comforted to see that some things remain the same, like the scales. He has cerulean blue scales covering the places the Vilia had healed him, one swath across his abdomen trailing below his left pectoral, another spot on his right shoulder. There are also his nails, he looks down at his hands, remembering all too vividly the pain of his kidnapper prying his fingernails from their beds. They’re white now, solid and strong like the tusks of a walrus or the teeth of a great white shark, but they fit in their beds just so, not a millimeter over the ends of his fingers. It’s like the Vilia tried to rebuild him but didn’t have the right knowledge of human anatomy to get it quite right.
Stiles undresses entirely, mapping more scales, one row along his heel and another patch over his right knee in the vague shape of a fire iron. This is me now , he thinks. It’s not what he wants though. He wants to go back, he wants that feeling of freedom and grace being in the water gave him. He could just be in the water, he didn’t have to think about his family and what they might be doing now, or what his disappearance had done to them. He wouldn't have to remember the man who took him or the time they spent together.
Sighing, Stiles reaches down, turning on the water and cupping his hands beneath the spray. The water is comforting as it slides through his fingers, he lets the steady stream wind around his fingers, makes it form intricate patterns as it slides up his forearms and over his round shoulders. It strikes him, after a few seconds of drawing animal shapes in the air with water, that this was not a skill he possessed as a human. Humans cannot control water, or any other element for that matter, not like this. So perhaps...maybe he wasn’t back, maybe he wasn’t human, maybe he didn’t have to deal with all this after all.
Derek catches him sneaking out of the house, but Stiles manages to make a break for it before the older man can reach him. Derek's cabin is right on the beach, secluded with no other homes in sight. So Stiles does not hesitate to raise his hands towards the sea and draw the water to him, splashing Derek with enough spray to make him stumble and fall as he follows him.
The water is cold like nails against his bare skin as Stiles rushes in, and his breath wheezes out of him as he plunges in further. Nothing changes though, he doesn’t forget his troubles and the webs between his fingers and toes don’t reappear. So he dives again, letting the water rise over his head. It feels better, in that it’s what he’s used to, what he wants to feel, but he’s still cold and he’s still not transforming.
“Kid!” Stiles stops as Derek’s voice cuts through the waves. He’s only got a little time before the older man will try to pull him back again. He takes a deep breath and submerges himself in the dark freezing water. At first he sees nothing, so he pushes further diving farther and deeper until his lungs begin to burn. He emerges several yards out from the beach, gasping for breath.
“What the hell are you doing?!” Derek calls making his way further into the water.
He dives again, he wants to go home, he wants to be away from this. Surely the Vilia wouldn’t just abandon him. He pushes deeper, latching onto large boulders littering the ocean floor to propel himself along. He’s tired, but he refuses to give up. His chest is burning and his arms want to cramp but he continues on, searching both within himself for the change and for the Vilia who had been his friends. His mind is getting fuzzy, blurring at the edges when he finally sees the light, a small wisp of white current headed towards him. Stiles stops as it wraps itself around him, easing the pain from lack of oxygen and clearing his vision. It sends him waves of frustration and curiosity, Stiles understands they mean what are you doing stupid child? He sends back feelings of hurt, abandonment and confusion. The Vilia stills, coming to rest in front of his face and taking a more human form to talk to him. “You’re meant for more, little one” she whispers, using the pet name they’ve always used for him. “You will come back when you’re ready, we will be here when you need us.”
The burning begins to return in his chest and he flails as the spirit starts to move away back into the dark water. He screams, both mentally and physically but all he hears is the Vilia whisper “be calm, little one.”
For the second time a strong arm surrounds him from behind and with a kick off the ocean bed, swiftly moves them both to the surface. Stiles stays limp but breaths as Derek hauls him above the water. Derek is shaking him, asking if he’s okay, but Stiles doesn’t know how to answer, he’s not okay, his home in the water has been taken from him and the Vilia don’t want him back. He’s seventeen years old but he’s lived thirty-two, almost as many in the water as out and he doesn’t know how to correlate these two worlds when he belongs to neither.
The next day, two important events transpire. First, Stiles decides that if he's going to be stuck as a human, then he should probably pull himself together and stop trying to drown himself. Second, Derek turns out to be a werewolf. Which okay, it's not like he turned into a werewolf for the first time that day, but it's when Stiles finds out they exist, and he feels like that's pretty important.
Derek as it turns out is an alpha werewolf, with red eyes and fangs and lot more self control than Stiles always assumed werewolves would have. He has a pack, and Stiles finds out about werewolves when they all turn up at Derek's small bungalow and immediately turn glowing eyes on Stiles where he's sat at the kitchen island eating Lucky Charms.
"I've failed you all" Derek mumbles, hiding his head in his hands at the pack's lack of subtlety.
So yeah, werewolves, who knew? And apparently the shock of discovering ("You didn't discover us Stiles...") a new species, and Stiles' ever present curiosity is just what he needs to come out of his shell, actually tell Derek his name and distract him from the confusion that is his life.
He grills Derek and his pack (Boyd, Erica and Kira, who is apparently a Japanese fox spirit? WHAT?) about the ins and outs of being a werewolf, or in Kira's case, a bad ass fox. They answer him, but only in exchange for information about himself. Stiles has to show off the whole water trick, making koi fish out of tap water and having them jump and slide along his arms. In turn Derek tells him about pack structure and how his pack formed. Stiles tells the pack about his ability to communicate with aquatic animals, and the pack shows him their beta shifts. Stiles tells them his real name, and Derek looks at him curiously and the betas explain how the phases of the moon effect their control. Apparently Kodiak Island, Alaska is a perfect place for a werewolf pack on the full moon.
It's an odd day to say the least, a group of mythological young adults sitting around a kitchen playing show and tell, but it settles something in Stiles. He starts to feel increasingly at home in his old skin, less exposed and more at ease. The pack take a shine to him easily, maybe too easily, but they probably don't have many people around to share their lives with in such an open way. Derek smiles at him, slight and almost hidden, but it's there, and Stiles tries not to stare.
Stiles has been part of the pack for one month when the other wolf attacks. Apparently, though werewolves are pack animals with established and staked territory, it doesn't stop other packs from trying to invade. Stiles is sitting on the beach, surrounded by a small family of sea lions, making shapes from the water to entertain the pups, when a loud roar echoes from behind him. the seal pups rear back, hiding behind their parents who shoo them into the water, as another series of growls come from the house. Stiles can hear crashing and shattering glass, and he knows immediately, that this is not just another playful sparring session.
Stiles is up and running before the noise cuts off, his bare feet (because he still hates shoes) pushing against the dark pebbled sand. He runs fast, knowing that the pack is out, working or attending classes on the mainland. Whatever this is, it's not good. He rounds the side of the bungalow just in time to see a large bald man drop Derek to the ground. Derek lands with a thud, blood already soaking the front of his henley, his hands coming up to cover the wound.
Laughing rumbles from the other man's mouth as he smiles down at Derek, sharp teeth and protruding brow on display. He leans forward, a large work boot coming to rest on one of Derek's legs.
"Should have taken Duke's offer" He smiles, bringing his leg back up and tensing to bring it down hard.
"Hey!" Stiles calls, distracting the man from his attempt to break the alpha's leg.
"Well, what have we here?" the man smirks, kicking Derek in his injured stomach before walking casually towards Stiles.
"Stiles..." Derek wheezes, "Run...." Stiles just shakes his head, looking down at his Alpha, He's healing but slowly. "Please..." Derek insists, trying to get a hand under him to push himself up.
"Just hold on, Derek." Stiles says, looking up at the other man who saunters towards him.
"I would listen to your alpha, little human."
'Oh," Stiles smiles wide and feral, "I am not human." It's nothing for Stiles to call on his powers so close to the water, but to the man it must seem sudden and overwhelming. Water rushes forward, pitching around Stiles from behind and streaming in great swaths from the ocean. It's aimed right for the hostile wolf, who has only a moment for the shock to slide over his face before the water is encircling him.
The man screams, stumbling back at first, before the waves crash over him, forming a ball of water around him. It contains him easily, filling quickly with salt water that swirls around him in erratic patterns. Stiles has a clear view when the wolf starts to struggle for air, pushing his body through the water trying to find a way out, barely getting his head out of the swirling bubble to gasp before being plunged back under by the current Stiles creates. It's ugly, and panicked and just about as far from graceful as one can get, but Stiles does not release him.
This idiot hurt Derek, the man who'd saved him from his own self destructive actions when he first emerged from the water, the man who had given him a home and a pack. The man whose eyes smiled at him, and made him feel human and alive after so long. Stiles understands that what he's doing is wrong on some level, chocking the life from a man who has no way to fight back against the onslaught of his powers. Another part of him, deep seated and simple, does not care.
"Stiles..." Derek calls, from where he's struggling to raise himself from the ground, "Stiles!" He yells again, and Stiles turns, giving him his attention. "Let him go" Derek sighs.
Stiles looks back at the man, panicked and struggling, and relents. he takes a step back, letting his powers drain away, instinctively trusting Derek to handle things from there. The alpha manages to stand up, slowly but steadily, and through the hole in his shirt, Stiles can see that his wound is almost healed. He relaxes slightly as his friend stands tall and squares his shoulders.
The other man falls clumsily to the ground as the water dissipates. A strained 'oof' sounding from his throat on impact, before he begins to heave deep breaths of air. His arms are shaky as he pushes himself up, looking over at Stiles with fear.
"Tell Deucalion, that this island is protected." Derek says, drawing the other wolf's attention back to him, "He won't have it or my pack." The man seems ready to argue, but Stiles steps to Derek's side, twining streams of water between his fingers and the wolf nods instead. "Good." Derek says, flashing his crimson eyes, "Now. Leave."
The man does, and Stiles watches him until he's away from the shore and far enough into the surrounding trees that he can no longer be seen. When he turns back, Derek is staring at him. It’s a deep stare, and there are emotions floating in Derek's eyes that Stiles would like to give a name to, but is afraid to mislabel.
“He could have hurt you” Derek says, reaching out a hand and cupping Stiles' cheek in his hand. “I know you think you’re invincible, but we don’t know that for sure.”
Stiles looks up at the alpha without regret, “I’m not sorry.” He says. There is a darkness to the actions he took against the other wolf, he knows that, but it was instinctive. Like an octopus protecting her clutch, he lashed out without a second thought, and he would do it again if someone threatened Derek.
“I don’t want you to be” Derek says, stepping closer. “I would have done the same.”
“You would have called on your waterbending powers to drown a trespassing wolf?” Derek rolls his eyes, no doubt regretting letting Kira introduce him to Avatar, but he smiles too. It’s soft and inviting, and when Derek’s lips press against his own, Stiles doesn’t regret losing his place in the water, not as long as he gets to have this in return.