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The Weathered Shell

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Derek isn't surprised when the knock comes on the door to his cabin. He'd heard the heartbeat a long time ago, big-enough to separate from the background noise of the smaller creatures roaming nearby.

He'd simply hoped it would have moved on. Though of course, logically speaking, there was little reason for anyone to be out this far, especially at night. That made his cabin a far more likely destination for any unfamiliar heartbeats, unwanted though they may be.

But what he finds when he opens the door is a surprise nonetheless.

The young man is standing with an arm casually thrown up to lean against the door frame, displaying his bare torso to advantage, his powerful swimmer's shoulders and lean body pale with moonlight. His cocky grin, however, is fading quickly into a look of shock and confusion. Other than a pelt shaped into a sloppy kilt, his legs are bare too, despite the chill winds coming in off the ocean.

"You're not a girl," he says in a gently lilting accent that's like an odd blend of all the coastal voices Derek's ever heard, squinting at Derek like his eyes might somehow be deceiving him.

Unlikely, given his dark beard and broad, well-muscled shoulders, let alone what he's got under his kilt. Derek snorts, stepping back from the doorway and waving a hand back to invite entry.

"Come in, Selkie," he says in his far-more city-bound tones. "I've enough to share a meal and a bed."

"Uh," the man says ineloquently, fingers tangling together awkwardly like he's not used to having them. Which he probably isn't.

Derek lifts an eyebrow at him and says, "Or don't, if you'd rather - though I warn you, you'll be disappointed if you're searching for better company. Mine's the only cabin for miles. But close the door either way. It's cold."

The man starts sharply, then zips forward into the cabin and closes the door behind him. "Sorry," he says sheepishly.

Derek just shrugs it off and makes his way to the stone hearth where he gets down a bowl from the mantle. The only reason he has two is because his sister had given him the both of them, and he didn't have the heart to get rid of the second, even though his cabin was small and every unnecessary thing added significantly to the feeling of clutter.

As the Selkie drifts closer behind him, he dips the ladle into the cauldron for some stew, not really worried about turning his back on the stranger. They're benign-enough creatures, at least from a wolf's perspective. Humans had their myths and legends about them, plenty of them unfavorable. But for the most part, nothing is inherently dangerous.

The seal clears his throat behind him, then says hesitantly, "How… how do you know…"

"That you're a Selkie?" Derek asks, glancing back at him. There's not much meat on his bones, which seems like it would be undesirable for a seal. The cold water must be difficult without enough padding for body heat. He adds another scoop of stew to the bowl.

"Yeah," he murmurs.

"Well, for one, you smell of the ocean," Derek says, carrying the bowl over to the table. His voice feels rusty from disuse, coming out rougher than he remembers it sounding. But then it's been a long time since he's spoken aloud. "You're wearing a seal-skin pelt that hasn't been cured in the ways of men. It's cold out but you are bare to the winds like you're used to much colder. You've clearly come from the water, and since I know of no other creature who regularly sheds the ocean to walk the shores, that makes you Selkie," he explains, searching through the kitchen drawer for another spoon for his own just-dished bowl. He doesn't find one, which doesn't surprise him, and he gives up with a grunt. Soup can be eaten without a spoon.

"Yes but how do you know all that?" the young man implores, looking torn between apprehension and fascination.

Derek looks back at him with raised brows, then smirks a little. He flashes his wolf's eyes at the Selkie, who blinks at him in surprise.

"I'm no human either, seal."

The young man's amber eyes are luminous as he leans across the table to get a closer look at Derek's eyes. His lips bow and twist as he studies Derek's face. "What are you?"

"Wolf."

Derek can't help the little bit of pride that bubbles up at the look of awe in the Selkie's eyes.

"I've never met anyone fae before who wasn't a Selkie. I've heard stories but… Do you know many fae?"

Derek tilts his head a little. "I've met some other land dwelling fae, but never a Selkie before."

"Well, you've met one now. I'm Stiles," the young man says, extending a hand across the table with a grin.

"Derek."

His palm is broad, and perhaps a little sea-roughened, but otherwise somewhat smooth and trim. Not calloused and work-thickened like Derek's.

"I guess it would be pretty unlikely to meet one of us. We're pretty fond of staying in the ocean, except for when we search out lonely souls on land and come ashore for some, ah…" Stiles wiggles his eyebrows with a suggestive twist to his lips, "special one-on-one time, as the legends say. I'm sure you know what I mean."

"Do I?" Derek wonders aloud, brow furrowing.

"You don't…" Stiles's eyes widen almost comically before he grabs up the soup bowl to serve as a distraction. He looks at the chunky broth as he says, "I mean, sure. I guess sex isn't for everyone up here, right? I shored up with one woman who told me that. She was just lonely for comfort and intimacy, not sex. She didn't ever want sex. I mean, that's super strange for seals, but I guess that happens up here. I, uh, I kindof insulted her at first I guess? Since I didn't understand? But she taught me some stuff."

When Derek just gazes at him with a look of vague confusion, Stiles glances at him with a sheepish expression as he mutters, "Clearly I'm still missing the wave a little, though." Sheepishness shifts to Stiles putting a carefully neutral and polite expression on his face as he clears his throat a little and tries, "What I'm trying to say I guess is… Is that… are you a non-sex person? Or, or maybe you just meant you haven't had any yet?"

The earnest expression is endearing and despite himself, Derek's mouth twitches up a little into something of a smile. "No. I have sex," he says, mustering enough boldness to send a speculative, interest-laden glance over Stiles's body. The look is met with blankness and he looks down at his hands, frowning in embarrassment. "I meant that I don't necessarily know what your people actually do, coming ashore. I just know a couple stories. Only pieces of legends, really."

"Oh," Stiles says laughing awkwardly as he runs his fingers through his short fringe of hair, sending the mid-tone brown strands shimmering in the firelight. "That would also make sense."

Derek nods and looks at his almost-empty bowl, poking at a carrot with his finger. He should know better than to feel disappointed that Stiles hadn't returned the look. After all, his flirtation skills are so far gone beyond rusty, they're little more than dust.

"Well, I'll have to tell you some stories. Only, you know, after I finish eating this amazing soup."

The food gets consumed rather quickly by the lightly-padded seal, accompanied by thoroughly appreciative sounds that have Derek forgetting to eat his own food as he watches. Maybe it's just that he's been alone so long, but Stiles has a sort of magnetic vividness to him. It's hard not to stare.

When Stiles's spoon hits the bottom of the bowl, he makes a distressed sound that has Derek hiding a smile. He brings Stiles a second serving without even asking.

Eventually Stiles finishes his second bowl and sits back with a contented sigh, patting his bare belly.

"Finished?" Derek asks. His voice sounds a little nervous to his ears, which he supposes makes sense. With the meal done, there's not much else between them and the sexual elephant in the room.

"Yeah, thanks a ton," Stiles says, smiling warmly up at him as he stands.

If he just went by the legends, now would be a perfect moment for him to step forward, to say something flirtatious and engaging. Or bring up the issue of the bed. Instead, cowardice has him gathering the dishes and taking them to the cleaning bucket. He busies himself by getting out two mugs instead of addressing the issue.

Stiles turns on the log stool to gaze out the window while Derek concentrates on carefully dipping out the cider that's been simmering all evening. The apple harvest was good this year, with a second tree he'd transplanted finally bearing fruit. It had also meant he'd spent a lot of time coming up with new ways to enjoy and preserve them. With a few dried spices and herbs in the mix, he's got the uniquely flavorful drink in spades.

Stiles remains silent. Derek would assume he's gazing out at the sea's edges glimmering in the moonlight, since the view from the window had been chosen for that purpose. But Stiles's face is pensive, his gaze turned inward.

Normally it's not the sort of thing he'd question. He'd leave others to their silence, never presuming it was his place to interfere. But there's no one else around to better manage the social mores he's so hopeless at. Stiles might be hoping for a friendly ear, for all he knows. Plus Derek's been alone for long enough that even awkward conversation is something that is, if not desirable, at least of interest. He's unwilling to let the threads of conversation slip away without a protest just yet.

"Are you alright?" Derek asks, breaking the silence.

Stiles startles and spins around to face him, nearly overbalancing as his momentum gets the better of him. He looks up at Derek and puts a smile on his face, but it doesn't quite seem genuine.

"Yeah, no, of course. I'm great. And thanks for the meal. It was great."

Derek purses his lips for a moment. "But?"

Stiles gives him a forlorn look, then looks back out the window again. He hesitates a moment, then turns a wry smile back at him. "It's just… I'm really confused. I don't understand why I'm here."

Derek brings him the mug of warm cider, skin tingling where their fingers brush. "Didn't you swim here?"

Stiles rolls his eyes, arm gesturing widely out at the ocean. "The seal swam here. Not me."

Derek squints at him. "There's a difference?"

Stiles arches his eyebrows high. "Is there not for wolves?"

Derek shakes his head a little.

"Huh. For me it's so different. When I'm a seal, I'm a seal. I'm not a man. So when I'm a man, I'm left with memories which are often difficult to interpret."

Derek hums in understanding, but tilts his head. "I am always myself, always a werewolf, though my outward form changes sometimes."

Stiles gnaws on the edge of his thumb, partly listening but mostly entrenched in his own thoughts. "I wish it was more like that for me. I wish I knew what my seal was thinking. I've never ended up somewhere I wasn't supposed to be before. I mean, not that you're not great, because you are, don't think that I'm saying you aren't. But… well he's supposed to swim towards a yearning heart."

Derek looks at him a long moment, wondering if Stiles really doesn't see what he thinks must be plain on his face.

Stiles flushes.

"A yearning female heart," he clarifies. He waves a mockingly imperious hand. "So that I might lie with her till she is satisfied and maybe even beget a child on her and salve her loneliness with my company," he intones with a dramatic gesture before flopping back on his seat. He rolls his eyes and glances over at Derek.

"It's what we do."

Derek tilts his head in concession, though the disappointment he feels is heavy.

"So yeah, I guess I just don't get why I'm here, because you're clearly not a woman and I'm pretty sure my Seal knows the difference because in all my years coming ashore I've never been sent to a man. Well okay there was that one time but he had a sister that… anyway, you sure you're the only person who lives around here? No, of course you're sure. I wish I could shift again and figure out what my seal was thinking. I can't just go back to the water. Not till dawn." At Derek's quizzical look he explains, "I don't have the energy. It's not easy to do."

Derek ponders that as he finishes sipping his cider. Transforming isn't ever easy, but he's never felt it would be unwise to attempt his own transformation for lack of energy, not that he can recall. Another difference between their kinds. Not all shapeshifters' transformations work the same way. It's a little strange, when he thinks about it, and it makes him want to ask more about what it's like to be a Selkie, but there's a more immediate question on the floor, a practical concern. He's not about to turn the Selkie out into the cool night, but there's not much space in his little cabin, and there's really only enough furs and blankets for one set of bedding. It's too cold to sleep on the floor without blankets.

They'll have to share.

The lore would suggest that Stiles would be more than happy to join him there, to lie with him and share physical comforts. That Stiles was meant to be appealing to Derek, and to want him in return. It should be appealing; the inevitable moment of suggesting that they share the bed. The excitement and anticipation. Except Stiles has expressed a bafflement at the idea that he might be sent here for Derek, not a woman. And as he'd said himself, he doesn't know much more than legends.

Still, that doesn't change the practical facts of the situation. Regardless of anything else, he needs to do the decent thing.

"You're welcome to join me in my bed," Derek offers quietly, but the words come out lower and dirtier than he'd intended, and he finds himself looking up through his lashes at Stiles despite himself. His disobedient tongue insists on adding, "Is that not what Selkies do? Take to the beds of those they visit?"

Stiles fumbles his cup at the suggestion, splashing a little bit of cider on his wrist.

"I don't. What do. Do you… you want me to lie with you?" Stiles asks in a hushed voice, cheeks going red.

And there's his answer. He is unwanted. Again.

Derek turns away and removes the sight of Stiles's rejection from his purview. He busies himself with shaking out the bed-furs and arranging pillows as he forces a bland smile onto his face and says in as easy a voice as he can, "I'm offering you a place to sleep, however small my home."

Stiles laughs uncertainly, like maybe he thinks Derek had been joking. Then there's quiet for a long moment, and eventually Derek glances back at Stiles, who's got his lower lip caught between his teeth, being gnawed as he stares at the narrow bed and makes up his mind.

"You're sure you don't mind if I sleep with you?" Stiles asks.

Derek closes his eyes briefly at the phrasing but nods, and Stiles's shoulders droop, relief spreading through his features.

"Thanks, man. I mean it. It's really cold up here as a human. I'd have a tough time."

Derek doesn't doubt it, given that Stiles isn't wearing anything more than a seal pelt. He doesn't trust his voice right now so he just nods again, turning to bank the fire in the fireplace a little, to settle it in for a lower, slower burn that should last the night through. He takes up the task of blowing out the various candles that he had lit since he'd had company, leaving just the one candle near his bedside and the fireplace to light the room.

The next step in his routine is stripping out of his day clothes. Out of habit he drags his shirt over his head, then gets his belt off and is about to tug his kilt down when he realizes he might not want to do so tonight. Normally he'd sleep naked, but he gets the sense that after the turn in their conversation, it would send the wrong signal, even with a fellow shapeshifter. After a moment's debate, he balls up his shirt, dumping it in the hamper and digging around in his dresser for the longer one that will serve more like a nightgown since it falls to mid-thigh.

It will work for him, he thinks, holding it up to his chest, but he's not the only one without appropriate clothes for bed. He glances back at Stiles to ask him what he might prefer, but the words die on his lips when he catches the hungry way Stiles is staring at his bare torso and legs.

A look like that on anyone else would mean he was mere moments from being taken to bed for anything but sleeping. Stiles, though, snaps his eyes back up to Derek's, face going a little pale and then confused as he jumps to his feet and busies himself putting his mug away where Derek had put his earlier.

Derek doesn't understand the mixed signals, but he doesn't push. He makes himself pull the larger shirt over his head and dispense with his kilt, then returns to the practical question of clothing instead. He doesn't think the pelt Stiles is wearing would be comfortable to sleep in. Then again, Stiles wearing Derek's clothing, absorbing his scent, would also be oddly intimate for a platonic bedfellow. Of course, the only alternative of nudity would likely be an uncomfortable suggestion for both of them. There aren't any good options.

Sighing, he pulls out another of his shirts. He offers it to Stiles with a polite smile. "This might be more comfortable to sleep in."

Stiles takes it with a grin, all hints of discomfort already smoothed away.

"Thanks. Hey. You're not trying to steal my pelt, are you?" Stiles asks, putting on an expression of mock suspicion as he pulls the shirt over his head.

Derek frowns at him in confusion. "Why would I steal your pelt?"

"Uh. You know, I need my pelt to transform. Steal the pelt and I can't go back to the sea. Aren't wolves… Don't you…?" Stiles frowns at Derek, then glances around the small cabin, presumably looking for sign of a wolf pelt. He finds none.

"Huh. No pelt?"

Derek just shakes his head and then shrugs, since he has no idea what makes different types of fae the way they are. He moves around the edge of the cabin, extinguishing the couple of candles that are set in the corners backed by small pieces of reflective glass to bounce their light around better.

"Sometimes humans try to steal our pelts to keep us from going back," Stiles explains as he reaches under the long shirt to tug at the makeshift kilt. The pelt comes free in his hands and he folds it carefully in his hands. "So we're very protective of them."

"Makes sense," Derek says as he returns to the bed and turns down the bedclothes. "I can't imagine what it would be like to not be able to shift."

"It's more than that," Stiles says. "We can't go home without our pelts. So yeah. Do you, uh, do you mind if I…" Stiles gestures at the bed with his pelt.

Derek shakes his head, and Stiles grins, laying the pelt down over the other furs on the bed. Keeping it close.

Then they're both just staring at the bed. The narrow bed.

After just a moment's deliberation, Derek decides that he ought to get in first, to stay closest to the wall so that Stiles won't feel boxed-in in the strange bed. And as a wolf, he's never minded getting firmly nested in somewhere to sleep.

He douses the last candle near the bed and then climbs in under the sheets and furs, scooting himself across the bed to lay against the wall. He ignores the way his heart beats faster as the bed dips behind him when Stiles moves to join him. His breath is too present in the silence, the way the sheets rustle. Stiles's knee bumps against the back of his thigh. It's all far too intense for the simple act of laying down in bed to rest. Derek clears his throat to break himself away from listening and fluffs up his pillow above his shoulder, trying to focus on getting himself comfortable.

Then silence falls.

It's a heavy, laden thing, the silence. Stiles is stiff. Tense. He's clearly not inexperienced at sharing beds with people - women, anyway. It's part of his way of life. But being in Derek's bed seems to be a unique situation for him.

Derek tries to relax, but also to maintain the distance between them. It's difficult. More than he'd anticipated. The incidental touches, no matter how innocent, are like fire brands they feel so good. He knows he's merely starved for touch, having been alone for so long, but it's overwhelming. Thoughts of sleep are far from his mind - keeping himself from rolling over and covering Stiles's body with his is far more pressing an issue. The urge to burrow his nose into Stiles's skin and draw in their combined scents is a strong one. Still, even the warmth of Stiles against him is soothing in its way. He lies still and savors it as best he can.

For a long time, though, Stiles doesn't relax. In fact, his heart beats faster each time they shift or touch, escalating in pace like they're doing something much more energetic than trying to sleep. Derek tries to tune it out, but he has little luck. He's just too aware of Stiles's presence at his back.

"Are you awake?" Stiles whispers after a long while.

Derek sighs. Clearly neither of them are sliding towards sleep any time soon.

"Yes," he replies. "I can hear your heart pounding."

Stiles sighs heavily. "Sorry. I'm just fouling up your night all over the place, aren't I?"

Derek just shrugs a shoulder, though he doesn't know if Stiles can see it in the dark, so he says, "The change is nice, even if I don't get as much sleep."

After a moment, Stiles puts a hand on his shoulder, tugging him a little. Derek turns onto his back as urged, looking over at Stiles in the faint light.

"Are you lonely?" Stiles asks tentatively.

Derek pauses, stares up at the roof in the dark. Isn't he happy with his own company? He had thought so. But it's not enough, he supposes as he looks down at his hands. He wonders what it is about that word that makes it so hard to admit.

"I am," he says eventually. "I have been alone a long time now. Your company here is the first I've had in years."

Stiles looks sad at that, his hesitation about sharing the bed with Derek seeming to melt away. He runs a warm hand through Derek's hair and down over his shoulder, hugging him as best he can with the awkward angles. "I think I'd literally die if I didn't touch anyone for that long," he says as his hand slides down and settles over Derek's heart, warm and almost tingling with the intimacy of the touch.

"It's not easy," Derek admits. "But I'm… I'm glad you're here."

Stiles sighs and rests his head next to Derek's, his chin bumping against Derek's shoulder. "Sorry I'm not a girl," Stiles mumbles.

"I don't mind that," Derek says, and wonders if Stiles understands what he means.

 

The morning brings him awake in slow stages. His body is cushioned snugly beneath the blankets and his nose is full of the scent of the sea and deep, masculine warmth. Stiles is against his chest, he realizes vaguely. The source of those appealing sensations. Eventually Derek realizes that it's Stiles's morning wood pressed against Derek's that has him flirting with consciousness. With the absent motions of someone still mostly asleep, Stiles ruts against him, face nuzzling closer in at Derek's throat when Derek makes a faintly pleased sound. Slowly, Stiles shifts, his body pressing Derek's back into the rushes, pinning him to the bed with his weight. He takes Derek's mouth, tongue slipping lazily out against his lips, then between them to slide slick along his own. With a long, sensuous roll of hip, he grinds his bare erection against Derek's, sending sparks of sensation shooting through him.

Derek gasps as their skin connects beneath their tangled bedshirts, coming more fully awake now that the lazy snuggling has turned into something altogether different. Just as he breaks the kiss, Stiles's head jerks back, eyes flying open.

"Oh fuck," he blurts, scrambling wildly backwards in the bed. Before Derek can grab him, he lands on the edge of the cot and then overbalances, hitting the floor with a heavy thump that has Derek wincing - then shivering as the cool morning air touches his suddenly bare skin, since Stiles took the furs and blankets with him.

He tugs his rumpled nightshirt down over his erection, though the thin fabric does little to disguise the straining flesh beneath it. Cautiously he leans a little over the edge of the bed to peer down at Stiles, who's still in a pile of blankets and furs on the floor, his cheeks a bright red.

"I'm so sorry. I must have been having a uh… exciting dream," Stiles says, voice tight with embarrassment as he scrambles to his feet.

"It's fine," Derek says. "It's only natural."

Stiles sends him a glance that falls somewhere between dubious and withering as he scrambles to his feet, holding the blankets up with him till he can reach for his seal-skin kilt and wrap it around his hips, though Derek does end up getting an eyeful of Stiles's bare backside in the transition. Rude of him, to have stayed watching, he realizes in retrospect, though he feels more guilty that he can't seem to feel the proper degree of self-recrimination at accidentally peeping.

Stiles settles himself and glances out the window, making a soft sound of surprise. "It's later than I'd expected. I should…" his words falter and his eyes widen when he turns back to Derek. It's hard to miss the way Stiles's eyes skim quickly down over Derek's body, his legs still bared up to where his shirt barely covers his still noticeably-full groin. Stiles jerks his eyes away and awkwardly, while averting his gaze, dumps some of the blankets back onto the bed. "I should get going before too long. I'm part of the hunting detail for the pod. I've got to bring some fish home."

Derek nods his understanding, though he doesn't pretend not to be disappointed. Despite the uncomfortable wake-up sequence, he's been enjoying Stiles's company a great deal. He wraps a blanket around himself to soothe Stiles's apparent physical modesty and gets out of bed.

"Can I offer you some breakfast?" he asks, hoping to perhaps eke out a bit more of Stiles's company.

Stiles offers him a grateful but chagrinned smile. "That's super generous of you, really. I appreciate it. But I've got to get going pretty quickly here so I'm not late. I don't think I was expecting to come ashore last night, really. I've got some responsibilities right now in the pod."

Derek nods his understanding, and walks with him out the front door and down the path towards the beach. When they arrive down where the surf is churning up little bits of foam and detritus onto the wet sand, Stiles turns to him with a broad smile, all earlier awkwardness seemingly forgotten.

"Thank you for the company," Derek says. If he were being entirely honest, he might think that it's going to be all the more painful now that he's had a reminder of what it could be like. But still.

"It was good to meet you," Stiles says with a warm smile. "Thank you for your generous hospitality. I don't know if I'll see you again. I'd like to, but the seal will probably take me to someone else next. Someone, uh, female," he says with a sheepish laugh.

Derek nods, even though he doesn't fully understand. There's a lot he doesn't understand about the Seal. He wonders whether the Selkie drives really are so heterosexually determined, or whether it's Stiles's desires. Either way, he's grateful his yearning heart gave him the chance to meet this strange creature, disappointing though it may be to watch him go.

Stiles lifts his arms to wrap around Derek's shoulders, pulling him close for a firm, welcome hug.

"Be well," Stiles says.

"You too," Derek replies as the Selkie lets go of him and steps away, out into the cold ocean waters.

Stiles slips into the sea, disappearing beneath the water in smooth strokes. Getting back to his life, his duties.

Derek doesn't expect to see him again. He should get back to his own life, his own duties. He has things to do. He needs to tend his garden and do his chores. Harvest the eggs from his chickens, and sniff out the edible mushrooms in the woods that have surely grown full after the recent rains.

But he stands there a long while, gazing out at the sea, listening to the waves crash against the rocks in the silence. A long while.

 

He doesn't expect there to be a knock on the door that evening. He really doesn't. In fact he's so thoroughly talked himself into accepting that the Selkie won't return, that he's running any number of other possible visitors through his mind as he makes his way to the door. But Stiles has returned, nonetheless. He looks chagrinned when Derek opens the door to find him standing on the other side.

Derek finds himself momentarily without words.

"So, apparently the seal thinks you need company," Stiles says by way of greeting, reaching out to poke a finger at Derek's chest through his shirt, the touch to his heart tingling faintly and accompanied by a cheeky grin.

"I am glad of it," Derek agrees softly, feeling his ears heat a little in embarrassment. The rush of longing and relief he'd felt when Stiles had arrived… and not to mention the sheer visceral attraction. Well.

Derek welcomes him inside with a gesture, then closes the door against the cold winds after him. Perhaps he hadn't let himself go so far as to expect Stiles, but he'd made more than enough mushroom pie for himself. The skin over his chest is still tingling with residual sensation. Some Selkie magic perhaps, or the intersection of two fae. Either way, it seems part of him had been steadfastly hoping that Stiles would return after all.

Stiles takes a seat at the small table again, near the fire so that he can extend his bare toes toward its warmth as the damp dries on his skin. He's again bare except for where his seal pelt wraps around his hips, and, now that he's familiar with Derek's home, comfortable in his skin like most shapeshifters of Derek's acquaintance. A little ocean water drips off the edges of his pelt, and leftover moisture leaves his hair a little glossy, but even as Derek watches it dries, faster than nature would normally allow.

"Hungry?" Derek asks, following him around the table to where the castiron pot is hanging next to the fire.

"Oh. Starved," Stiles says, glancing up at him with an infectious grin. His eyes are brightened by the firelight and the effect makes them look as intent and hungry as his words suggest. It's a striking look, and Derek tries not to imagine that desire turned on him that way.

He dishes up a large serving of the pie for Stiles, and more for himself before settling down alongside him at the small table, watching as Stiles tucks into the food with alacrity.

Stiles hums his pleasure over the first proper bite he gets, tipping his head back, eyes drifting closed. It has Derek staring at his bared throat, feeling a sudden desire to lean across the table and set his mouth there. He'd noticed Stiles was attractive the previous night, certainly, but after sleeping with him, after that unexpected wake-up… well. Knowing what someone's mouth tastes like tends to change perceptions a bit. Plus there'd been a long day of thinking wistfully of the might-have-beens, thinking Stiles long gone and himself safely into the territory of idle fantasy.

But Stiles is here, right in front of him, all that life pulsing vitally just beneath the surface.

Derek clears his throat, turning his eyes to his own food. "Did the… hunting not go well?"

Stiles laughs, pausing between bites he's been so voraciously stuffing into his mouth. "No, it was fine. I just have to bring back more to the clan than I stop to eat, or I'm not doing my job. Plus the seal likes to do what he wants, which is not always the most sensible. It's not like I'm starving or anything. I get lots of food. Though I never seem to get enough, it's true. You would think I'd have grown out of being a 'growing boy' by now, but…" he shrugs with a wry little twist of his mouth and then tucks into his food again.

Derek shares his smile, and then follows suit, albeit more slowly. He's busy thinking about how to keep Stiles entertained. He doesn't know what to say, how to keep the conversation going, but he doesn't want to let things become boring. They'd always made fun of him for that, for being poor company.

And he hasn't thought about them in a long time. He shakes off the memory.

"So, tell me more about your life here," Stiles says, with half a mouthful of pie. "And how you've become such a brilliant cook."

Derek shrugs his shoulder, though he's pleased to hear that Stiles enjoys his food. It's not much he has to offer, but he's done a fair job of making what little he has go a long way. He makes his favorite recipes the best he can, having tweaked them over the years to suit his tastes best.

"I keep a simple life. I tend my gardens. Sometimes I hunt for fish or deer or other food. When I have need of other supplies, I take my woodcraft to the village some ten miles from here to barter with."

Stiles looks up in interest at the last part. "Woodcraft?"

Derek nods, looking over at the shelves he'd built and the few finished pieces on them he's kept. His harp nestled in the corner is the most intricate, perhaps, having two full octaves on it. Stiles follows his gaze, twisting on his seat in a way that makes Derek wonder how flexible Seal spines must be. He makes a bright little sound, his spoon clattering to the table as he turns the rest of the way around to look at Derek's work.

"Oh, that's an instrument, isn't it? You play the… what's it called? Oh, will you play me something?" Stiles asks, turning pleading eyes on him. "We only sing. Please play the thingy."

He hesitates. Derek hasn't played for anyone else in a long time. But with hopeful eyes like that, how can he deny Stiles?

"Harp. I don't perform for people much," he warns Stiles aloud as he gets up, but he does, in fact, make his way to the harp on its shelf.

He brushes his fingers down the strings and winces at the uncoordinated sound. It's been more than a while since he's played it, then. But Stiles doesn't seem to mind. He looks excited when Derek carries the harp over to sit on the stool again with it, and thoroughly engaged as Derek sets about tuning the strings quickly.

He picks out a warm-up tune first, a simple lullaby whose words he doesn't remember. Stiles's pie remains untouched for the entirety of the song, his amber eyes bright with reflected firelight, and lips parted just so. Stiles's delighted grin when he finishes has him growing confident enough to pick a faster, more intricate tavern song next. He starts with the melody first, the accompanying triplets in his left hand. The words for this one he does know, and they're as much silly as they are anything, but the tale of Finnegan and his various mishaps with whiskey and the local tavern crowd and his friends are engaging enough that he forgets to feel embarrassed about his rusty voice or the occasional clumsy missteps his too-large fingers make.

They had always poked fun at him for favoring the harp with his blunt fingers. Stiles doesn't seem to care.

By the time he's finished, Stiles is laughing and halfway singing the chorus with him in a pleasant tenor voice. And Derek's laughing along with him. He adds a silly and slightly imperfect flourish at the end, but he's smiling as Stiles breaks out into enthusiastic applause.

"That was amazing," Stiles says with a happy sigh, leaning back against the table in a way that stretches his lean body to distinct advantage - though Derek doesn't think he intends it to be so blatantly suggestive. He tears his eyes away from the bare stretches of skin in front of him and starts in on a more somber tune, one whose words he knows all too well but doesn't want to sing and spoil the happy mood.

Stiles watches him play, eyes fixed upon him intently and a soft smile playing about his lips. It's hard not to over-interpret the way Stiles looks at him, so interested and yet pleasantly relaxed, his eyelids lowering in what Derek might think was flirtation if Stiles hadn't…

Or maybe it is. Maybe…

Whatever it is, there's a deep warmth pouring off of him as Derek finishes his last song, and Derek revels in it as he sets the harp down. It's been so lonely here of late. Perhaps he hadn't noticed how much until Stiles had arrived to fill the emptiness. Stiles extends a hand towards the harp, and glances at Derek to receive permission before he touches it, strums a few of the strings idly and traces the delicate knots carved into the wood.

Stiles makes a happy sound and blathers some absurd compliments for his playing that are clearly exaggerations, but make Derek smile nonetheless.

He feels a surge of affection for the seal, and attraction too. It's hard not to. The way the light of the fire dances over Stiles's skin is distracting. His eyes are amber pools that are deep as the ocean and warm as the flames reflected in them. The way his fingers move as he talks, the way his lips twist and bow to show his every expression. The long column of his throat, bare and taut and-

"Stop looking at me like that," Stiles murmurs, jerking Derek's eyes back to his face. A face that's twisting away from delight into something like dismay. "Why are you…"

Derek looks away, frowning at his hands. He had thought… well. A spark of sullen defensiveness makes itself known alongside the urge to apologize. Perhaps it's wrong of him to want more, to hope for more than Stiles does… but that would only be true if he was sure that Stiles didn't want him. He's seen looks of desire in Stiles's eyes, hasn't he? Looks directed his way? It's not wishful thinking. There'd been confusion, yes. But also desire. Curiosity.

He curls his fingers into fists as he gazes at them, then unfurls them slowly. Difficulties aside, he'd be doing both of them disservice by avoiding the truth.

"You told me that the seal brings you to someone whom you might… comfort. That you might lie with. You know my heart. You know I am lonely."

Stiles swallows awkwardly and says, "So. So you weren't joking, before…"

Derek shakes his head slowly. "Is it really so strange that I should look upon you with longing?"

After a long moment of silence, he looks up again, gazes over at the Seal, though he's careful to keep to his eyes.

"Is it not strange for you?" Stiles finds his voice to say, looking almost frightened. A little desperate. "Do you not desire a pretty female to bed? A… a higher voice to sing counterpoint to your songs?" he says, fumbling over his words as his cheeks grow hot. He shakes his head at himself, swiping a palm over his features before he sets his jaw as he lifts his gaze again, glaring in the direction of Derek's bed. His hands jerk up into the air in some semblance of illustration as he adds determinedly in a low voice, "What could you want of me there? Don't you want soft breasts to pillow your head on, and wet heat to bury yourself in?"

Derek sighs. "At times," he says truthfully, but he shakes his head. "Sometimes, but… More often I desire broad shoulders. Strong arms to wrap around me. A…" He drops his hands back on the table and turns his gaze back in Stiles's direction, deciding to be just as blunt in return. "A hard cock to tease along with my own. A low, masculine scent in my nose."

There's a moment of stunned silence, and then Stiles leans forward.

"Why?" Stiles asks, looking horribly confused.

That almost sparks a bitter laugh in him, but he schools his features to quiet and says, "Why not?"

That has Stiles's mouth dropping open, then working as he tries to form a reply. None forms, and he closes his mouth again. Derek lets him have the silence, gives him the space to think it over. It can't be easy to understand for someone coming from a perspective, perhaps an entire culture, that's so narrowly defined in its definitions of sex-roles.

Stiles curls in on himself, thinking, while Derek busies himself with straightening the logs in the fire, turning them and setting them up again so as not to lose their flames too quickly. At the very least, his evening is not a mundane one. He cannot say that he is bored.

"Is that… is that why you're alone?" Stiles whispers, breaking the silence with hesitant tones.

Derek goes still.

"No, I am exiled for entirely different reasons," he says in a plain, matter-of-fact voice. He shrugs it off, hopefully staying any forming pity or more intent questions about the subject, and returns to the issue at hand. "Who I take to bed has not made me a pariah. I am not alone in my desires, you know. Before I lived here, I knew people like me. It is not so strange a thing."

Stiles makes a disagreeable sound.

"At least, it's not strange among the people in these lands," Derek admits, reminding himself that he does not know much of Stiles's kind. "Not just men and women go together up here. It's all kinds."

Stiles takes a bit to process that while Derek continues to poke at the fire unnecessarily.

"I… had no idea," Stiles finally says, finally seeming to believe at least something of the truth of Derek's words. He shifts in his seat, and glances out the window at the sea waves again. "So… you thought I'd come here… I was to…" His eyes jerk unwittingly over to Derek's bed. "Oh. Of course you would. Uh…" Stiles grows more stiff, more uncomfortable as he regards the bed, rubbing a hand through his hair on the back of his head.

And what an uncomfortable position to be in, when one was dependent on one's host for shelter for the night.

"Stiles," Derek says firmly, dragging the Selkie's attention his way. "Whatever I might have first thought or hoped, I don't expect you to do anything that makes you uncomfortable. I am glad of your friendship."

Stiles frowns at him, looking thoroughly unconvinced and still a little upset as he turns his face back to his bowl.

Derek busies himself by selecting a little piece of unfinished whittling and gives him some space.

 

Sharing the bed that evening is destined to be awkward, but Derek does his best to make it clear that he doesn't want to make Stiles uncomfortable. He slides to the farthest side of the bed and carefully tucks the blankets in a bit behind him, giving a little bit of separation between them for when Stiles slides in after him.

For all his good intentions when tucking in, their sleeping bodies seem to have a different set of desires to attend to. When he wakes, it's to the sensation of Stiles rubbing slowly against him, just as he had the other morning, unwittingly sexual in his sleep.

It's hard not to let himself take advantage of the implied offerings from the warm body in his arms, but he knows enough about Stiles to know that it would be a bad choice to encourage him while mostly unconscious like that. Slowly he works to nudge Stiles back to his side of the bed and extricate their tangled limbs.

Stiles blushes a little still when he wakes fully and realizes his physical situation again, but quickly his face shifts towards worry as he looks around. He leans over the edge of the bed, and soon worry turns into panic and he starts casting about in the bedsheets.

"Where is it? Where's my pelt?" he demands, voice rough with sudden emotion.

"What… it's not here?"

"No," Stiles snaps, looking at him with something between fear and accusation and lurching out of the bed. "Get up. Get off the bed."

"Stiles, calm down. It has to be here, we'll find it."

His words earn him nothing but a frightened glare, and he doesn't take offense. He lifts the blankets and slips over to the edge of the bed, getting up to help look.

Once Derek gets to his feet, Stiles grabs the edge of the blankets, tugging them to the floor. One by one Stiles drags them apart, shakes them out. The pelt is not among them and Stiles fists his hands in his hair, making a sound of frustration as he twists around in a fruitless circle and then starts to go through them again.

Derek goes to his dresser for his kilt, and then to his hamper when he finds none clean. When he pushes his laundry aside and lifts his day-old kilt, he almost laughs. He doesn't, though. He can smell the anxiety threading through the air.

"Stiles, it's here. It got folded in with the laundry."

Stiles bumps into him he hurries over so quickly. The pelt gets snatched up into his hands and pressed to his face as he heaves a relieved sigh. Derek watches him, listens to his heart beat begin to steady.

"Sorry," he murmurs.

Derek just shrugs and steps away to let him collect himself.

"Hungry?" he asks as he moves over to the fire to put a fresh log on. It's still a bit cold.

"Uh, no. Thanks. I think I'd better…"

Derek glances at him, and Stiles tips his chin towards the sea.

Right. Home.

Like many early mornings on the ocean's doorstep, the predawn light is obscured by a thin rain. Neither of them are the sort to find it a deterrent, but Stiles seems significantly less bothered by the rain, being a water-dweller. Derek walks with him again out the front door and down the path to where the water meets the sand. The morning air is sharp and biting through his light shirt as it tosses the little spitting raindrops around, and Derek curls his arms around himself to guard against it.

"I don't know if I'll be back," Stiles says with a lopsided smile, but he shrugs. "But maybe I will. I have a feeling I will."

Derek nods silently, then hesitantly spreads his arms for a hug he hopes for far more than expects.

Despite the awkward moments they've shared, Stiles grins at him with warm friendship and comes into his embrace easily. As before, he's squeezing him tight a long moment and then stepping back and patting him on the shoulder. Stiles gazes at his face one last time before turning out to face the ocean.

Like it's his habit to try and memorize a face when he parts from someone, a little talisman for his memories, knowing he might never see that person again if it's the sea's will.

He wades out into the water like it isn't terribly cold, slipping out between waves with an unnatural grace till he's chest deep. He ducks under the water then and is hidden a few of Derek's breaths. When he surfaces once more, it's with the face of a seal, his brown fur shimmering in the pale morning light and his eyes bright and dark as he twists his head back towards the shore for the barest moment.

Then a wave crests and he is gone.

 

That night Derek waits out on the beach for Stiles to return.

He has the same feeling, he thinks, that tells him Stiles will be back again, and neither of them are to be disappointed. Not long after he arrives on the sand, Stiles's dark head bobs up above the waves, a seal, then a few moments later, human form.

They share a meal, and company. It is as pleasant as it has been the last two evenings, despite the previous night's awkwardness. They talk and share stories, much the same as before. Stiles stares at him a little more now, with a speculative expression on his face from time to time. In turn, Derek does his best not to let his gaze wander too heavily on Stiles. He doesn't pretend not to find him attractive, doesn't try to hide his feelings - living alone this long has made it unlikely he'd succeed at such an attempt anyway. But he doesn't let himself take of anything that isn't offered.

Sometimes Derek wonders if Stiles has questions, or if he sees Derek differently now, but he doesn't push and the conversation stays light and full of friendly warmth.

They eat. They talk. Stiles teaches him a Selkie song, and Derek teaches Stiles to play the melody on his harp. When they are finally tired, they once again dress down and share Derek's bed. The night is wrapped around them and they sleep soundly and warm. As the day breaks they wake up again aroused and embarrassed in each other's arms, but they ignore it. After some brief morning conversation he walks Stiles down to the sea and offers the hug he's been so long unused to but quickly wondering how he'll live without. Stiles goes back to the water and Derek gets back to work on his farm, feeling just a bit lighter than he has been, looking forward to the evening for the first time in what is probably years.

Much the same happens the next day, and the day after that. It becomes almost familiar, and the pain of watching Stiles leave each morning gets both more and less foreboding each time. Hope is a dangerous thing, especially for a wolf, to whom bonding and loyalty come naturally, but Derek can't bring himself to wish away this gift he's been given. At least not while Stiles returns each night, a smile on his face and strong arms carrying a welcome hug. His companionship is precious and enthralling. And if after Stiles leaves some mornings Derek goes back to bed to burrow into the residual heat and scent left there by Stiles, and takes himself in hand to finish what their bodies had started together in sleep, well it's only natural.

On the seventh such night, the end of the first week of their acquaintance, things are going quite normally. He'd made a shepherd's pie, rich with gravy and creamy potato crust that had been so well-received he'd had to distract himself with fetching more firewood. Stiles had spun a terrifying tale of his pod's hunt for one of the great monsters of the deep that had once encroached on their territory. When they bed down, Derek doesn't expect anything different than the last few nights. He goes to sleep snuggled tight against the wall.

But tonight he doesn't sleep through till morning before he's awakened by Stiles's touch, the warmth of his body against his back. At first he thinks it's incidental, that Stiles is perhaps dreaming. But then Stiles's hand slides right up under his shirt, pushing the fabric up, fingers roaming up his abdomen with the sort of smooth pressure that has to be intentional.

"Stiles?" he whispers.

Stiles hums faintly in answer, and then his lips are pressing warm against the back of Derek's neck, just below his ear. Derek draws in a surprised and ragged breath as Stiles nips at his earlobe, tongue darting out hot and wet to flick at the sensitive skin behind it. The hand on his chest skims over so that Stiles's fingers find his nipple, and he can't help but sigh out a breathy moan when those fingers pinch.

"Stiles?" Derek asks again.

"Shh," Stiles breathes. "Let me…"

The hand slides lower then, down over his belly and Derek is holding his breath, frozen as it goes lower still. Stiles's hand is warm as it brushes down over his cock, curls around him.

Derek sucks in a sharp breath of the cold sea-tinged air, Stiles's scent drifting over him. He can hear Stiles's heart beating rapidly, though his own is surely almost as quick. The hand on him trembles a bit, but after a moment it strokes, long and slow against the heated skin of Derek's shaft. Again, the fingers slide over him. Then again. Soon it becomes a continuous motion.

He twists onto his back, fumbling a hand over that catches in the folds of Stiles's borrowed shirt, and Stiles makes a pleased sound, leaning closer to put his mouth to Derek's nipple since his hand is occupied with stroking Derek's cock.

He looks down and in the faint light he can see Stiles's face over his chest. There's a sort of determination in Stiles's eyes, a seriousness. And it is serious, Derek remembers through the drowsy haze of interrupted sleep. It's Stiles's first time lying with another man.

He wouldn't know it from the hand on him, though. Stiles's touch is hot and just the right roughness for Derek. Oh it feels good. It feels amazing. It's been so long since someone touched him, so long. And it's all happening so quickly. Too quickly. He doesn't want to come alone. He doesn't want this to be over too fast. He reaches for Stiles, pressing one hand up along his ribs and over his shoulder up to slide in between his jaw and the pillow. He shifts closer and reaches down with his other hand, ready to touch Stiles in return. Maybe he will take them both in hand together. Stiles would enjoy that, he thinks. He reaches -

But Stiles pulls away, shifting his hips and letting go of Derek's cock. He twists his face out of Derek's hand and reaches down to tug his borrowed shirt down over his lower body more firmly. "Don't, uh, don't worry about that," he murmurs, laughing nervously.

"I want to," Derek says, touching Stiles's arm, looking over at him in the faint light, trying to see his face, to see what he's thinking.

"No it's… this isn't about me," Stiles says, gently but firmly removing Derek's hand from his arm and then reaching for Derek's cock again, twisting his fingers around Derek quickly in a smooth tug. That light of determination is back, despite the wariness that had flared in Stiles's eyes.

Why…

"Stop," Derek says when sleepiness clears enough and he figures it out, voice flat.

"No, come on, it's fine," Stiles says, leaning closer and moving like he's going to take Derek's nipple again.

"I said don't touch me," he snaps, pushing Stiles's hands away before his mouth comes down again. It's already hard enough to resist. He separates them completely, and then says in the firmest voice he can manage, "Don't you dare touch me if you don't actually want me."

"But it's… I can bring you comfort. I'm a good Selkie. I can figure out how to please you. I can," Stiles insists, though he pulls back, downturned lips making him sound more peevish than hopeful. Like he's offended somehow. He studies Derek's face with a furrowed brow, like he doesn't understand.

Derek clenches his teeth, fighting the horribly physical urge to take that offered comfort, damn the repercussions. He shakes his head sharply once, and Stiles abruptly deflates, looking upset.

"Fuck. I'm sorry. It's the mutual touching, isn't it? I shouldn't have said no. I-I don't mind if you touch me a little, if you like that. I just… I got hung up a second. But it's fine, really. You can touch me. I can satisfy you, I swear. Can't I at least do that?" Stiles insists, leaning closer again, though he doesn't touch him. "I can do it."

The words make his skin crawl. Derek grimaces and bites out, "You mean you can suffer through my affections? You can force yourself to do something that is distasteful to you in order to please me? You can find some way to live with letting me use your body against your desires?"

"Don't say it like that," Stiles whispers, eyes wide as he sits up sharply. He looks hurt almost, the way the moonlight is reflecting in his eyes, making them seem bigger than they are.

Derek twists away in the furs, his erection dragging almost painfully against the sheets. "It is like that. Don't touch me again."

Physically, he is still stimulated enough that his erection will take a bit to wane, but his arousal has fled completely, leaving him with nothing but discomfort.

"Derek," Stiles pleads.

He ignores him. He curls the furs tight around his shoulders and burrows his face down into the pillow and presses as far from Stiles's body as he can in the narrow bed. He wishes he were alone, but it would be horribly petty to turn Stiles out of his bed, to make him sleep by the fire. And he wouldn't want to suggest that his generosity, such as it is, is tied to what Stiles can offer him in bed. He focuses his hearing on the sound of the waves outside his cottage, lets the sound rush loud through his mind and drown out any other thoughts or sounds, till the night fades away from him.

 

In the morning when he wakes, Stiles is gone. Derek is unsurprised, but also terribly sad. He hadn't heard him leave. Hadn't had a chance to soften the sharpness of the words he'd spoken. There's much to regret about his bitter words. Oh, he doesn't regret being clear about what sort of touch he wanted, about saying no to something he didn't want. He also tries to forgive himself for not being at his most eloquent when just-woken from a deep sleep and distractingly aroused. But still, he wishes he hadn't been so hard on Stiles.

It isn't Stiles's fault that this is new for him.

He just has to hope that Stiles will come back and give him a chance to talk about it. To part as friends at least. He stands out on the beach in the evening, watching the sun set over the waves, watching for bright brown eyes to appear over the water. He waits and he hopes and he watches, for what feels like hours.

Stiles never comes.

Though the longing in his heart is surely great, and he goes out to the shore each night, Stiles doesn't come. Not for days and days. A week goes by, then two, and eventually Derek starts to give up hope. Aren't Selkies supposed to disappear and never return? Isn't that part of their legend? And why should he come back anyway? To sit in a tiny cabin with someone who makes him uncomfortable? No. Although Stiles's company has grown precious to Derek, surely Stiles has better things to do than entertain a morose outcast werewolf who upsets him. Perhaps Stiles has found the female heart he'd been longing for.

He tries to make himself hope that's true. He tries, but it doesn't work. Not yet anyway.

The sense of loss will take time to heal, he knows. He also knows that he'll survive, as much as it hurts. That's what being in exile means. It means that he deserves nothing but to live on. That all he'll ever have is survival. And that will have to be enough.

The days begin to blur together, just one chore after another, the meals tasteless in his memory, the weather numb on his skin. He stops going to the beach, and eventually convinces himself that he doesn't wait for Stiles's return every night. He stops listening for the sound of a heartbeat. Stops making too much food for dinner. He tells himself that it's time to move on. That he has moved on.

He almost believes it.

And then, almost two months later he hears it. He hears it and he knows, he knows by the way he leaps towards it with unbridled haste, sending his cup to the floor with a clatter when he bumps the table, that he'd still been miles from letting go. He can hear the heartbeat, he can hear it, but he dares not believe it, not until he can see him with his eyes, scent him with his nose. It feels like he can't breathe.

When he flings open the door, his heart feels like it just might melt, he's so overrun with relief.

Stiles is there. He's really there.

"I'm sorry-" they both blurt, and Stiles laughs as their words smash into each other.

Derek closes his mouth and just looks at Stiles, just memorizes the details of a face he'd thought to never see again. He's backlit by the setting sun, the amber rays catching at the soft fuzz of his brown hair and the smooth pelt of his seal.

"I missed you," Stiles murmurs, staring back at him just as intently. "I missed you every night. Every day. I didn't even know I could miss someone that badly. But I guess there were a lot of things I didn't know. Things like this, for instance," he says, then strides right into Derek's arms and kisses him. Really kisses him. With open-mouth heat and blatant desire.

And despite old worries that have him pulling back, when Derek lifts his head the look in Stiles's eyes tells him that there's no question that Stiles is kissing him because he wants to.

Derek drags Stiles into his arms, pulling him into the cabin as he kicks the door shut after him. He takes Stiles's mouth again for another kiss, one he can savor and not be wary of. Stiles makes a soft sound of want or contentment or something that feels as though it sinks right into Derek's skin and warms him to the bone.

"I missed you too," he whispers against Stiles's lips, bumping their noses together in a gentle nuzzling slide.

"I know," Stiles replies with a grin that has those soft brown eyes crinkling. "Now kiss me back. I've got a lot of missed opportunities to make up for and I don't want to miss any more. Show me the things I don't know. Kiss me how you've always wanted to."

So Derek does.

Stiles opens for him, allows him entry with welcome. Stiles's mouth is soft and smooth, just enough cooler than his that it's a noticeable contrast. He tastes the sea, the salt. He tastes the metallic hints of blood from Stiles's last meal, bright amidst the sweetness of this human form. He traces the smooth hardness of Stiles's teeth, presses his tongue deep along Stiles's in a brief pass before pulling back enough to lick the perfect curve of Stiles's lower lip.

Stiles's body is warm against Derek's chest, though the surface of his skin is cool to the touch as Derek pulls him closer still to deepen the kiss again. Unwilling to part their lips for something as mundane as respiration, his breath huffs out through his nose, tickling along his face and surely Stiles's too. There's not enough air when they both inhale at the same time, but he doesn't care. The taste of Stiles's mouth is something he never wants to give up.

Stiles makes a faint sound, something appreciative as he continues to yield to Derek completely, passively taking everything Derek wants to give for a few more moments. But Stiles has only so much restraint. He hums again and starts to kiss back, the muscles of his mouth flexing to give pressure in return, to guide their lips and tongues along each other in slow glides of sensation. There's no leader to the dance anymore, just a perfect synchrony as they chase sensation.

Stiles puts his hands on Derek's hips and starts to guide him back towards the bed in slow steps between presses of his mouth. At first Derek doesn't really notice where they're going, too immersed in the salty scent of Stiles, the taste of him. When he catches up, though, he stops. He pulls his head back to break the kiss again.

It's still almost startling, seeing Stiles's face again, so close, so real.

Stiles gazes at him with a soft, open smile. He gives Derek's hips a quick squeeze, then he leans over a little to grab the edge of the blankets piled on the bed and drags them down. The intention signaled by the move is almost unmistakable and Derek's breath catches. Stiles flexes his fingers as he lets go of the blankets and the smile he flashes Derek's way is a nervous one.

All at once, Derek's thoughts catch up to his body and he steps back slightly, away from the bed.

"Stiles, we don't have to do anything. I don't want you to jump into bed with me if you're not ready. If you don't want to-"

"I know," Stiles interrupts easily, taking the wind out of Derek's sails. "And I appreciate that. I really do. But…" He looks down at his pelt, wrapped around his hips, still a bit damp with the sea water.

"I'm a seal. We live in each day. I don't often know where I'm going, or when I'll be back. I've rarely passed up chances to do things I want, and I usually regret it when I do." He tugs at the knot and folds holding the pelt together at his waist, sending the covering to the floor in a wet heap and leaving every last inch of his body bare. "I want this. I want you."

Derek gazes at him, at his offered body, at his open face. He stands naked with the quiet confidence Derek expects of a shapeshifter, all hesitations gone. Derek doesn't argue or cling to his own expectations about what might be right for Stiles. Refusing to accept his yes is no better than ignoring his no. He takes him at his word.

Slowly he reaches for himself, prepares to bare himself to Stiles in turn. Stiles's eyes are bright with anticipation, following his hands as lifts the edge of his shirt up, draws it up over his head and lets it fall to the floor between them. Stiles studies his naked torso with interest, eyes lingering on the dark hair that runs the length of him. When those eyes flick back up to Derek's face, he continues. His belt falls to the floor, and then, just a moment later, his kilt.

Without the heavy fabric pressing down on him, his cock begins to lift, swelling with anticipation and desire. Stiles's eyes are wide as they trail down to watch, but not with nerves. Not much anyway.

Carefully Derek reaches for him, sets warm, rough hands on soft skin. He strokes his palms down Stiles's arms, down to his hands. He takes them, brings them to his lips. Cradles them against his chest. He leans in to take Stiles's mouth again, much more gently this time. More briefly.

Then he pulls back and sits on the bed. Slides over under the blankets to make room for Stiles like he has seven times before.

Only this time he turns back. He lifts his hand to Stiles, offering himself, and Stiles takes it, kneeling down on the open space left him. He comes to Derek, sliding down under the covers and laying his body out beside him. Carefully, he pushes past the former boundaries of their sleeping arrangement. He lifts himself over Derek, gazes down at him with an intent expression. There's seriousness there, but none of the fear that Derek had seen the last time they'd been in bed together. He's so beautiful, so familiar and so precious now that he wants to reach for him, to partake of him. Still, Derek stays relaxed, lets Stiles set the pace.

Stiles hesitates a moment, then kisses Derek again, letting his weight come down more fully against Derek's body. He's still only half hard where his cock brushes against Derek's thigh, but that doesn't surprise Derek. It's not like he's sporting a raging hardon at the moment either. There's more to this than just sexual arousal or attraction.

Derek curls his arms around Stiles's waist and pulls them closer, savors the pressure of Stiles's body over his. In the span of a moment, Stiles changes, abandons his hesitation. Stiles's soft kiss deepens, becomes rougher as they curl together. His leg slides around one of Derek's, tangling them together, pushing against each other for the resistance of it, the tension. Stiles's makes a low sound of appreciation as his fingers drag up through Derek's hair, fisting amidst the strands. He's cradling Derek's head and tipping it back so that Stiles can take from his mouth just the way he wants to.

At first it catches Derek off guard, this sudden confidence, but quickly he reminds himself that this is not a virgin in his bed. Stiles might never have taken to another man before, but sex and sensuality were in his very nature.

The tension in his own body is growing swiftly under Stiles's intent touches. Derek's hands spread flat and smooth along his back, stroking the long planes of muscle that hold him together. He can feel Stiles growing hard against him, pressed tight against his groin. It gives him even more confidence about Stiles's choice to be here, makes it easier when he shifts his hips slightly, giving his cock some little taste of the friction its longing for.

Stiles groans, lifting his head and sucking in a breath as he returns the motion, grinding slowly back. The hand in Derek's hair softens as Stiles looks down at him and a smile starts to spread across his face.

"It's really not any different, is it? Like, the details are different. Of course they are. You're different. But this," he says, pressing his hand to Derek's jaw as he holds his gaze for a soft, connected moment. "And this," he continues, rutting slowly against Derek and sending little spikes of pleasure through them both. "It's the same."

"It is," he agrees.

Stiles sighs, leans down to nuzzle in against Derek's throat, pressing little kisses down along his neck. "What a fool I've been," he murmurs.

"You're here now," Derek replies, sweeping his lips along Stiles's temple.

Stiles hums his agreement, leaning into the touch as he rocks his hips again. He's well and truly hard now. Derek can feel the little bit of moisture at the head of Stiles's length, a sticky trail left on his skin as Stiles moves. But it's not enough. Not enough to make it comfortable even if they just rub against each other to their finish.

Carefully, Derek tightens his grip on Stiles's waist and sits up a little, turning them so that Stiles lays down on his side. The move drags the blankets back, exposing them to the air. He can suddenly smell the scents of sex and desire filling the room, pushing back the cold and the sea.

Stiles looks up at him with curiosity as he reaches for the small table beside his bed. There's a small jar of oil he keeps beside the candle, and he takes it in hand, popping the stopper out with his thumb before he sits back and shows it to Stiles.

But Stiles isn't looking at his hands anymore. His attention has been diverted lower on Derek's body. His lower lip is caught between his teeth as he studies Derek's cock where it hovers next to his in the space between them. Then, like he can't resist the impulse, Stiles's hand reaches out to touch him, to brush his fingertips along the heated flesh.

Derek shudders, dick jumping under the touch. Stiles's eyes flash up to Derek's, looking apprehensive and excited, searching his face for an assessment of the touch.

Derek smiles at him, arches an eyebrow and says, "Hold out your hand."

Stiles's brows furrow for the merest moment, then his eyes track over to the bottle in Derek's hand. He lifts his hand, palm up, and watches as Derek pours a small pool of oil into his cupped hand. There is uncertainty in Stiles's eyes when he glances down at Derek's body, then his handful of oil, then back up to Derek's face, but the encouragement he sees in Derek's eyes seems to be enough. There's enough trust and determination between them for him to move forward.

He takes a slow breath as Stiles curls those fingers around him and squeezes, drags his fist back up again in a slick slide. It feels mind-numbingly good, the pressure and the glide, the heat of someone else's hand on him. But he only lets himself savor it for a moment. He has other priorities right now, and those include putting some of that oil in his own hand and sharing the pleasure it yields.

Stiles pauses in his stroking when he sees Derek reach above him to put the oil away and then reach for him in turn. He watches Derek put that oil-slickened hand down between them too, watches him curl a hand around Stiles's erection. The breath he sucks in at the touch pushes a slow smile across Derek's mouth. Watching Stiles's eyelids flutter, the way his lips part over impulsive breaths, it's a heady thing.

For a moment he just touches him, just runs his broad, callused hand over Stiles's skin to show him how it feels. But there's something he wants more than to bring Stiles off with his fingers alone. Something he's wanted for a long while now. Slowly he guides his hips closer, his dick slipping out of Stiles's loosened hold to bounce forward and collide with Stiles's. He opens his hand wider as he presses close, wrapping his thumb around his own shaft to bring them together. A steady roll of his hips and a twist of his fingers has Stiles's head snapping back on a moan, his oil-slickened fingers clutching and slipping over the muscle flexing in Derek's hip.

"Oh, wow," Stiles groans, hips shifting in response, creating an uneven counterpoint to Derek's motions.

The glide is smooth and the friction warms the oil further. Soon Stiles finds his rhythm, rocking his hips firmly against Derek's hand, grinding their erections together. He shifts them, pushes Derek back on the bed and tangles their legs together for better leverage, bracing his weight on one arm tucked beneath Derek's shoulder. His free hand roams Derek's torso, his neck, his face as they both fuck into the pressure of each other's bodies, of Derek's hands fisted around them.

His mouth nips and drags along the skin stretched over Derek's collarbone, down through the divot between his pectorals, up to the soft corner of his jaw. They're scattered touches, as disorganized as their thrusts are rhythmic. Stiles's breath is hot and dry over skin that's starting to glisten with sweat and residual saliva. His eyes are bright, the amber burning through the softer browns with need as he looks up at Derek's face and stretches up to take his mouth in a rough brush of a kiss.

Every touch, every press of his lips is hungry, desperate. Each thrust grows more intent, and it's all Derek can do to hang on to them both, to keep them together and himself from falling apart.

"I don't. Want this. To end," Stiles gets out in broken pieces between unrelenting thrusts of his hips. "But I can't. I can't-"

And for whatever reason, it's his words, the look in his eyes that has Derek's tenuous hold on himself snapping free. A grunt chokes off in his throat as his abdomen tightens and his legs jerk as the heat and the friction and the sensations all boil over into a sudden effervescence of pure pleasure, like the first breath of air when coming back up from the water, like the first drops of misting rain dusting his face after a heavy exertion, like the first moment Stiles's lips had touched his own.

Like the sound of Stiles's breath catching as he comes, eyes glazed over as he is transported through his pleasures, body warm and solid and real over Derek.

Derek remembers himself enough to stroke Stiles through the rest of it, to smear his fingers with their combined release until he sees Stiles's eyes focus again and lets go so as not to cause discomfort. Stiles sucks in deep, silent breaths as he smiles a little through his parted lips, then he rolls slowly onto his side, then back, laying himself out beside Derek in the bed as he struggles to catch his breath.

Derek drags his fingers through the mess on his belly, savoring the thick scent of sex in the air, the heat and the sound of cooling hearts and breaths.

"It's not the end," he mumbles.

"Hm?" Stiles replies, turning his head a little to look at Derek through heavy-lidded eyes.

"That was just the beginning."

Stiles studies his face a moment, and then a soft smile spreads across his lips. He stretches his neck to bring their faces closer together and brushes his lips ever so faintly across Derek's.

"Yeah."

 

Later, he lays with his head cradled on Stiles's chest and shoulder. The intimacy is so precious it hurts. It's also not the only thing that pains him. His arms tighten reflexively around Stiles's waist, drawing him impossibly closer, and he drags in the scent of his skin, never wanting to know what it will be like to feel it fade from his bed.

"You know I'll have to leave again, right?" Stiles murmurs, as though giving voice to Derek's thoughts.

The words are pain. Thinking about them is loss. He doesn't want to say anything, doesn't want to acknowledge any of it, but Stiles is waiting for his words.

"I know," he whispers, because his feelings aren't Stiles's responsibility.

Silence sits heavy between them, and Derek doesn't want to ask. He doesn't want to think about it, or know the answer if the answer is no. He doesn't want to ask. But he has to.

"Will you come back?"

Stiles hesitates, lips brushing against the edge of his hairline, a kiss pressed softly to his skin.

"It depends," he says eventually.

"On?"

Stiles makes a sound of frustration. "On the sea. On the whale that might eat me for dinner. On the pod I help protect. On the Seal remembering me and what I want. On things. On life." He sighs, like there's more to say, like he doesn't know how to say it or even what to say, and he leans his face against Derek's brow. He takes a moment to gather himself, and then Stiles's fingers drift up along his arm, fingertips soft and strong as they press down over Derek's chest, settling over his heart. "But mostly? It depends on this."

His heart feels as though it's reacting to his touch, to his presence, beating harder in response. The skin tingles where Stiles touches him, even more strongly than before. Or so it seems. He still hasn't asked what it means.

"On whether your heart still calls to me," Stiles explains softly.

"It will."

Stiles sighs, breath teasing the edges of his hair. "Maybe. But someday you'll move on. Someday you won't need me anymore. You'll meet someone else. Or grow tired of waiting. Someday you'll forget to miss me. Every shell is washed down to sand eventually. Nobody loves us forever."

Derek doesn't try and argue with him. He can't protest, because he can't know if what Stiles has said is as wrong as it feels. Promises of love are just words. They aren't what lives on day after day, to the end of forever, and he doesn't try and pretend he knows what will happen tomorrow, let alone eternity.

Instead he lifts a hand to join the one Stiles has pressed over his heart. He closes his eyes and breathes in the scent of Stiles's skin, the salt and wind and seal, the precious essence of what Stiles is. He bundles up all his longing over the past months, all his love, all his gratefulness. He wraps it all with all the fledgling hope that Stiles's entry into his life has brought, all the life he'd forgotten he could feel.

"Can you hear it now?" he whispers.

He hears the hitch in Stiles's breath, scents the spark of salt in the air as the skin of his chest tingles with warmth, with that sensation he's sure now is Stiles.

"Yeah," Stiles says. "I can."

 

In the morning Derek walks with him to the sea, the way he always does. But this time, he doesn't stop at the water's edge. He walks right into the ocean, Stiles laughing at his side in surprise. The morning sun is warm but the water is cold on bare skin. He doesn't care. He wades out into the water, slips over and through the lazy waves coming in, Stiles's hand clutched in his own. When the water is chest-deep he stops. This is the edge of his world, the tiny sliver of the water where Stiles's world overlays his own. He lifts Stiles's palm to settle it over his heart.

He doesn't ask Stiles if he will come back. He doesn't say anything at all. There are no words that can overcome the power of the ocean. The forces of nature. But they too are forces of nature. A seal and a wolf. He holds Stiles's hand over his heart and he gazes at him until it doesn't hurt quite so much to let him go.

Stiles doesn't say anything either. His laughing smile fades into something more bittersweet, and he kisses him, one more time. Then he's reaching down into the water, folding the pelt out around his body. His legs bend beneath him, pulling him down into the water as he pulls up on the pelt, bubbles and the swell of a wave obscuring the sight of his transformation.

But Derek feels it, feels the world bend around him, the way it must when he takes on his wolf form.

The seal that bobs back up to the surface stares at him with unfathomably deep eyes, ringed with slightly paler fur and sleek black whiskers. The seal, Stiles, nudges closer to him, bumps a cool, wet nose to Derek's heart.

"Don't forget," Derek says when the touch of Stiles's nose tingles, whiskers tickling against his skin. "Don't forget this sound."

The next wave lifts them both a little, separating them, and then Stiles sinks below the surface of the water, eyes still staring up at him, wide and steady. Derek stares back, fingers brushing through the dense fur as Stiles slips away from him.

Then another wave comes upon them, pushing them further apart, and Stiles turns and swims away.

Derek watches him go, waits till he's sure that he can't see him anymore through the shadowed water. Then he climbs back up the sand, up the path home.

There are chickens to feed. Plants to tend. Though the ball of longing in his chest is heavy, it is also beautiful. Something to treasure. He carries it with a sense of eerie peace as he begins his day. Time will pass, and yes, the water of the ocean will beat every shell to crumbs, eventually. But the sun will still remember to shine each day. The creek will still remember to trickle down from the mountains to the sea. The moon will still remember to call to the wolves below.

And Stiles will remember to come back.