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The Waves that Rolled you Under

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At heart, Stiles was a California boy, built for sandy beaches and sunshine. He loved the sea in the heat of midday, when you could laze for hours on a warm towel and then dash into the waves to cool off and body surf. It was okay as a scenic background on cool nights when you could set a bonfire and get a little tipsy with an arm around your crush for warmth. Beyond that, though? He had no use for it. In other words, the frigid, rocky shores of Ireland wouldn't have been his first, second, or fiftieth choice for a vacation destination. What was the point of a beach you couldn’t tan on?

Denying Lydia anything would have been unthinkable, though. There was so little she’d asked for in the last five months that Stiles had jumped at the chance to do something to make her happy. When the Irish library that held her great-aunt’s collection had refused to subject the fragile documents she had requested to scanning, she’d been devastated. She’d pled with him to come with her so she wouldn’t be alone, and it had been the easiest thing in the world to agree. At this stage of his PhD, it wasn’t as if he had classes preventing him from spending a few months abroad. So, here they were in the northern reaches of Ireland, in the tiny sea-side town of Kincora.

It's not what he expected. The two cabins they’ve rented are old and drafty, sure, and the “town” barely qualifies as such, despite the library’s impressively curated historical archives. But with nothing except the noise of the crashing waves to distract him, he's got more work done on his dissertation in the last two weeks than in the previous six months.

When he isn’t working, he goes for hikes - not because he’s suddenly fallen in love with the harsh landscape, of course, but because it helps him think. At least, it starts that way. He does have to admit that the unfamiliar steely grey of the water seems curiously alluring, capturing his imagination in a way the blue-green expanse of San Diego never had. He’d never thought something so unforgiving could be beautiful, but in a way, it is.

That could just be the boredom talking, though. Despite her insistence that she needed his support, Lydia’s been too wrapped up in her research to hang out since the first week. Secretly, he had hoped it would be easier for her to heal away from the constant reminders of what had happened to Allison, but it’s hard to say if her feverish focus here is any healthier than her listless detachment back home.

Even though he thought he was familiar with the trails around his cabin by now, Stiles had gotten thoroughly turned around on this evening’s walk after roaming too far on the little goat paths. It seemed unbelievable that he could get lost when all he had to do was follow the shoreline, but it had happened all the same. He kept running into dead ends that required him to loop up and back around yet another sharp ascent, cursing his flimsy Chucks under his breath. He should have taken Lydia up on the suggestion of hiking boots.

By the time he’s confidently back on the right track, it’s late and getting dark fast. Tromping along with only the fading glow of the dipping sun for light, his full attention is devoted to avoiding tripping over the sharp, loose stones on the path. He’s pretty sure he could twist an ankle and easily die of exposure out here. It’s chilly for February, and the beach is deserted enough this time of year that nobody would find him until morning.

Muttering to himself about Lydia’s new obsession with Irish mythology, Stiles thinks longingly of the flat, paved streets of California with their wonderful cell reception. He’s so focused on putting one foot safely in front of the other that he almost walks right by without noticing anything. It’s only at the very last minute that Stiles glances out seaward, towards the rocky shore, and sees him.

He’s dark-haired and pale in the half-light, laying naked on a low, wet rock that’s barely past the tide line. It’s as if he’s sleeping, an incongruously calm still life against the harsh landscape.

“Oh God,” Stiles whines, foregoing the path to scramble down the rocky slope towards the man as directly as feels safe. The roar of the ocean drowns out the scrabbling of shoes on rocks and even the heavy thump of Stiles’ heart in his ears. There’s no good reason to be out this late in the cold with no clothes, and Stiles’ imagination provides about a million bad reasons. Is the man drowned, did he wash up on the choppy waves from some shipwreck or other shore? Finding a dead body is about on the bottom of Stiles’ list of things he’d like to do tonight, but he’s a cop’s son and he can’t just leave, either. Not when he might be able to help.

Stiles falls to a crouch beside the body, still in a panic. The man is about Stiles’ height and age, though more solidly built and with generous body hair curling on his chest and limbs. From this close Stiles can see the man breathing, so he's alive at least. Though, no telling in what state. He's probably been mugged or, Stiles thinks as he considers the man's bizarre nakedness, worse. Even if he wasn’t attacked, he might have fallen. There’s no visible bruising or blood, but there could be a head injury covered by his dark hair. No matter how he got here, he’s going to catch pneumonia if he stays exposed in this weather.

Stiles reaches out and grabs his arm.

The man startles awake and instantly curls away from Stiles, eyes wide in shock.  He doesn’t cough up any sea water, which Stiles takes as a good sign. In fact, he has to grab tight with both hands to keep the man from jerking away out of his reach.

“Hey, hey, calm down, you’re good,” he says, releasing one hand to make the universal gesture for ‘I am unarmed and mean you no ill will.’

The man’s still coiled muscle and flitting eyes, as if he’s considering making a break for the waves. Like maybe he thinks dashing into the ocean would be less deadly than Stiles. He must really be disoriented. Stiles tries hard to look harmless and trustworthy, because if it came down to it he doesn’t think he could physically restrain this guy.

”I want to help, okay? Do you need help? Are you hurt? It’s super cold out, are you cold? Can you talk?” Stiles shoots out questions as he thinks of them, without really leaving any time for an answer to slip in edgewise, he realizes belatedly.

“Yes,” the man says hesitantly. To the last question, or maybe all of them.

Stiles has to admit that the man actually does looks fine, despite the circumstances. Or - more than fine. It’s at that moment that Stiles notices the man he’s trying to rescue, really notices him. He’s got full, expressive eyebrows, perfectly sculpted cheekbones, flawless skin, a swimmer’s well-muscled shoulders.

He’s fucking hot, in short.

How did Stiles miss that earlier? Jesus, those hazel-green eyes alone could stop traffic.

“Come on,” Stiles encourages, throwing his jacket around the man and pulling him to his feet by the elbow. Luckily, he stands without any problem. Stiles looks up the trail towards his cabin and sees that Lydia’s lights are out. If she’s finally getting some sleep he’s loath to wake her for a ride, and the town center is a good half mile away down the road, past the other, unoccupied summer cabins. Too far a walk, he decides. His place it is.

“My cabin is just over this way, let's get you warmed up.”

 


 

Once they're inside, Stiles shoves a pile of blankets at the man, half because they’re warmer than Stiles’ jacket, and half because they’ll keep the exceptionally distracting nudity better covered. He sets a kettle boiling, turns the rickety water heater up to full blast, and a few minutes later he’s pressing a hot cup of tea into the stranger’s hands. He keeps his own fingers wrapped around the cup, in case the man’s going to start shivering and drop it. The man doesn’t shiver. He does look up at Stiles in a way that sends one running down Stiles’ spine, instead.

Their fingers brush and then interlace around the cup, eyes still locked. The man’s gaze is unabashedly searching, intense enough to steal your breath. Stiles releases the cup quickly and turns away. Right - helping.

The man seems perfectly calm, if a bit quiet and confused by Stiles’ panic. God, he's been drugged hasn't he? Or is lethargy a sign of hypothermia? Stiles bites his lip, fretting. The water heater is shit and it's still drafty and cold even though they’re indoors. In his experience, it could be a good thirty minutes before the cabin really heats up. Just use the fireplace, Lydia had told him when he complained, with an epic roll of her eyes. It’s never quite been worth the trouble before, but...

“You're going to be just fine,” Stiles assures the other man, bending over the small and as-of-yet unused hearth. How hard can it be to start a fire, anyways? He tosses some wood in, crumples some old scratch paper on top, and lights it. The paper quickly burns off, leaving the logs unaffected. He curses under his breath and tries again.

“I'll get this fire going in a second, just- damn it to hell," he breaks off with a curse as the little curl of flame dies out for the third time. Is he going to have to pull up a wikihow? “Just drink that tea and tell me if you can feel your fingers.”

“I can feel my fingers,” the man says right in Stiles’ ear, a smile coloring his light brogue. “You're doing that all wrong, you know.”

Broad hands reach past his hip, taking the wood from him with reassuring confidence. Stiles watches in awe as the logs are placed into a neat little stack around the kindling. The fire takes, this time, and in a moment warmth unfurls from it like a breath of summer.

Stiles turns to stare, and finds that the man sitting on the floor next to him looks the opposite of hypothermic. The blankets are pooled around his lap as if he's not cold at all, or embarrassed. Though frankly nobody built like that really needs to be, do they?

“Are you really alright?” Stiles asks, accepting at last that there’s at least no imminent danger of the man dying, but not entirely satisfied that things are fine. “What were you doing out there?”

The man shrugs casually, though his eyes dart away towards the fire in a notably suspicious manner.

“Uh huh,” Stiles replies flatly, narrowing his own eyes. Definitely drugged, though maybe not by anyone but himself.

“Why are you so worried for me?” the man says, like getting high and dying of hypothermia is a cute joke. His whole face crinkles up when he grins at Stiles. “We’re only strangers, but you gave me your jacket. You made me tea .”

“Well, sure,” Stiles mutters, blushing. “I mean, most folks would be a little concerned about someone taking a nude nap in the negative-a-million degree weather out there. Like, fine, it’s probably not actually freezing. But you were so close to the tide line you could have ended up washed out to sea.”

“I wasn’t in any danger,” the man assures him.

Stiles snorts before he can help himself. “Oh, so you’re an olympic swimmer or something? I promise, it wouldn’t matter. Forget the undertow, you have any idea how cold that water is this time of year?”

Shifty eyes again. “I'm a local.” Stiles is almost sure that doesn’t count as an explanation, but the man seems sure it does. “You're not from around here, though,” he continues over Stiles’ forthcoming protest. “Not with that accent. What are you doing in Kincora?”

“Me? Um,” Stiles stutters, flustered under the man’s suddenly intense gaze. “Writing, mostly. Oh, not a novel or anything interesting, just my dissertation. Theoretical physics. Sounds fancy, but it’s basically just math. I’ve been thinking of this trip like a sabbatical, but it’s not really since I'm only a grad student. I have all my credits, though, so once I finish writing, all that’s left is the defense, and since Lydia wanted to come here for the library’s archives…”

“She’s your wife?” The man glances around, looking for entirely absent feminine touches.

“No,” Stiles protests quickly. “Just a friend who happens to be a girl. We used to have classes together when she was in my major, that’s how we met, but she switched into the anthro program a few months ago, even though she was on track to get her PhD like, last month. Everyone thinks she’s crazy, now. Even I think she’s barely holding it together after… well, that's not your trauma, sorry. Honestly, I don't want to talk about it, either. But there are primary sources she can use here, and I just need some peace and quiet to write my damn dissertation. So, I came with her for the semester, and... here I am.”

Ugh, he's babbling. But mystery man’s intense stare has softened into something downright fond, a small smile playing on his lips that’s just as sweet as the grin from before.

Stiles swallows, mouth suddenly dry. He pulls his knees up to his chest with an apologetic wince. “Sorry, it's boring.”

“Oh no, I don't think you're ever boring,” the stranger says with a searching, interested look.

“Other people say so.” Stiles can't help the little smile pulling at the side of his mouth.

The man leans in to whisper conspiratorially, “Other people are daft.”

Stiles turns his face away with an embarrassed huff of laughter, pressing his cheek to his knees, but he cuts his eyes over at the other man a second later. He hasn’t felt this much like a teenage girl with a crush since, well, ever .

Once the room warms up enough that Stiles doesn’t resent leaving the circle of heat around the fire, he gets up and fishes some clothes out of his bags; a green sweater Lydia gifted him the Christmas before, plus a pair of boxers and the sweats that are a bit loose on him.  

“Here,” he offers only a little reluctantly, then flushes and turns quickly away when the stranger stands up to dress like it’s no big deal to show off his perfectly tight ass. Which, you know, Stiles would love to enjoy in all it’s glory except for the part where that would make him a giant creeper.

When they curl up near the fire again, the man ask about Stiles’ classes, and from there  it’s only too easy to chatter away, leaping from one topic to the next until somehow they’re discussing baseball stars from the ‘90s. Stiles cherishes the broad laughs he’s able to coax out of the stranger, and finally lets himself stop worrying if he’s hogging the conversation or being a bore.

Before he knows it the fire is dying down to embers, though it’s still hot on Stiles’ face. The man looks pleased with the glowing remains of his efforts, and the flickering red hued light dancing over his features is doing him some serious favors. As if he needs them, honestly. It’s clear he’s not in danger anymore - if he ever was - but all the same, Stiles isn’t sure he wants to see the man leave.

“Do you have a place to go nearby? Somewhere warm? I can call someone for you.”

“No-o,” the man answers pensively. Not such a local after all, then. Obviously. Stiles would remember seeing someone who looks like this if he was one of the couple hundred people who actually live in or around Kincora.

“It’s gotten pretty late,” Stiles starts, hesitantly. “I mean, you’re probably still cold and… I don’t mind if you stay the night, figure things out in the morning. There’s only the one bed and it’s small, but, um, we could share?” Stiles can feel himself flush with embarrassment, and he’s almost ready to start back-tracking when the man graces him with another of his brilliant smiles.

“That sounds lovely,” he says.

They need few words after that, which is lucky because Stiles’ tongue feels thick and clumsy with nerves. He changes quickly into pajama bottoms and a worn t-shirt, slightly embarrassed at his lanky 18-hours-a-day-in-the-library scrawniness, while the man divests himself of Lydia’s sweater and Stiles’ sweats with his characteristic nonchalance about nudity.

“Well,” Stiles huffs, sweeping a hand towards his bed. The man hangs back, shifting unsurely on his feet, so Stiles scootches in under the covers first and presses tight against the wall to make room. The man follows his lead a second later, hesitantly shuffling in close to keep from falling off the edge of the mattress.

It should be strange, lying so near and almost naked, but the man doesn’t seem to mind their knees knocking together, their foreheads resting on the same pillow. They’re close enough their breath is mingling, and the man’s eyes keep searching Stiles’ face like he’s trying to memorize it. The air seems charged with potential that has Stiles’ breath catching and his lips tingling. It would take so little to close the distance between them.

So Stiles does. It’s impulsive, a reflex more than a decision. An inevitability. He’d be panicking at his own forwardness, except that his head is too full with the feeling of soft, dry lips pressing against his. Such a chaste thing, a quick little peck, shouldn’t feel so electric.

They break apart, a few inches apart on Stiles’ pillow again. Nothing visible has changed, except maybe the quickened tempo of his breath. The man's still just staring; it was too much, too soon.

“I - sorry, we should sleep,” Stiles huffs, half rolling onto his back. He’s half expecting rejection, but the man eases an arm over Stiles’ side, turning him on his side so they’re spooning. Their bodies slot against each other like they were built for it. Warm fingers skate across Stiles hip, under his shirt, and then come tentatively to rest just grazing the hair on his belly. The touch feels like a brand, setting Stiles heart pounding even though he’s exhausted enough from the hike and fear.

Still, he finds himself dozing almost instantly in the cozy nest they’ve made of his bed. For once he feels no need to rush into things headlong; unlike the guys he usually chases, this stranger seems equally interested in exploring the pull between them.

Falling asleep twined together feels like the beginning of something great.

Chapter Text

Stiles is unpleasantly surprised to wake up alone the next morning, daylight pouring in through the window where he’d forgotten to draw the curtains.

The sheets behind him are already cool, though he imagines he still feels a memory of the man’s warm breath on the back of his neck. It had seemed so natural to fall asleep together, with such easy intimacy. He can’t help but be caught off guard to be left without a goodbye. And, he realizes with an unpleasant twist of his stomach, without even a name.

Then again, in the light of day it seems more like a weirdly vivid dream than his real life. Honestly, finding a naked man near the ocean, bringing him home and sitting by the crackling fire, their easy camaraderie, their kiss…? Shit, the way the guy looked should have been enough of a hint that Stiles was hallucinating a fantasy that would vanish at the first rays of dawn, along with the moon and stars.

Before he can get too carried away with that train of thought, though, he spots the ashes in the fireplace and the two tea mugs sitting in front of it on the floor. He’s not imagining those, is he? So it really had happened. Not that Stiles had genuinely doubted his senses, but it’s nice to have evidence that someone who looked like one of his wet dreams had in fact deigned to spend the night spooning.

And then, of course, left.

Which is fine. It would be silly to be disappointed that he hadn’t stayed. Stiles’ life isn’t a romantic comedy; Ireland is only a vacation, a way for Lydia to heal enough for them both to head back to California and continue on with their lives. Obviously Mr. model-look-alike wasn’t going to emigrate to be a house husband or whatever. He’d be a distraction at best. Stiles is not disappointed, then, that his mystery man left without even a note. He’s just… really disappointed, he admits. It had seemed for a few magical hours like he might finally have found someone who appreciated his nerdy, slightly manic ramblings.

A dissertation waits for no man, though, so he settles in at his desk to work. Graduating before he’s thirty would be nice, after all. He stares at his screen and makes a valiant attempt to focus. After skimming the section he’d been working on most recently, he gets down to reviewing the equation from last week that wasn’t working, trying to spot the error that spun him off into impossible conclusions.

No luck. Half an hour later, he slaps his laptop closed with a groan. ADHD meds or not, it’s simply too hard to think about math when his mind keeps slipping to the strange man and the warmth of his arm wrapped around Stiles’ waist.

Stiles dials Lydia, half for her advice and half for something to do that isn’t work. She picks up the second time he calls, after the first rings through to voicemail. “Lyds, hey. Can you remind me of that thing I always get wrong with Clairaut’s Theorem?”

A loud sigh over the crackly line - she’s making a point to let him know he’s being stupid. “It’s the f value, that’s what you always calculate wrong. F is equal to a minus b, divided by a. You’re using b divided by a, aren’t you?”

Stiles looks at his work. She’s right. “Oh,” he says.

“Even you aren’t usually this bad,” Lydia replies smugly.

Stiles groans, tipping his head back and slouching down so his neck is resting on the back of his chair. “I know. It’s just that last night was super weird.”

“How so?” Lydia says after a breath’s pause. “Did you hear anything?”

“Huh?” he says, feigning ignorance. Of course he hears her screaming nightmares, but he knows that she doesn’t want to talk about them, and he respects her privacy. That isn’t why he called, anyways. “No, I went for a hike and got turned around, and I didn’t get back to the cabin ‘till almost after dark. But then there was this guy on the beach. Naked . Like, my dream dude just washed up on the shore right in front of my house all, ‘Here you go, Stiles, thanks for being a bro! Best, The Universe.’ I’m telling you, he was funny and hot, and we spent the night...”

“Oh, ha ha,” Lydia interrupts snidely. “Let me guess, he was mysteriously gone in the morning?”

Stiles jerks upright so quickly he almost falls out of his chair. “How did you know? Did you see him leave?”

“You’re cute, Stiles, but this isn’t funny.”

“What? I’m not trying to be funny, I really liked this guy, and...”

Lydia cuts him off. “Look, I know you physics guys think the soft sciences are a big, fat joke, but anthropology is seriously my major, now, and I'm seriously studying folklore, so stop being a dick.”  

“Lydia!” Stiles protests. “I would never make fun of you.”

“Sure,” she drawls icily. “Well, joke’s on you, that’s the wrong Irish myth. I’m researching banshees, actually. I may have mentioned it once or twice?”

Stiles is tugging his own hair in frustration at this point. “No, of course I remember that, I… wrong myth ?”

Lydia heaves an irritated sigh at him, almost like old times. “Uh, yes, myth. Finding a stupidly hot naked person near the sea who then abandons you is Selkies 101.”

“Se-what now?”

“Sell-keys,” Lydia enunciates slowly. “Don’t play dumb, it’s not attractive. And stop bugging me.”

Stiles is stunned into silence, and before he can insist, again, that this is not a joke, it is something that really happened to him, Lydia hangs up. He glares at the phone in his hand, but it’s hard to stay mad when that’s the most authentic bitchiness from Lydia he’s had the pleasure to be on the receiving end of since their flight over, when she’d snarked at him for trying to get out his liquids and take his shoes off at the same time. He figures he can let it slide.

Anyways, whatever she says, he knows the man he slept next to was a real person, not some mythological creature.

 


 

Working doesn’t go any more smoothly after the call, despite Lydia’s help with the theorem. It’s the other thing she said that’s running through his mind: Selkies .

Finally, Stiles gives up on being productive entirely and finds himself down a Wikipedia wormhole. It’s not that he believes her about the man being a shapeshifting animal, obviously, but he’s trying to be a supportive friend. If that means reading up on mythology, so be it. He doesn’t understand why she’s devoted herself to researching stupid kids’ stories rather than continuing her groundbreaking work in hydrodynamic equations, but it’s her choice and he respects that. She could have been famous and probably rich if she’d stuck with physics, so she must have some good reasons.

The basics are that selkies are seals, but also people - similar to werewolves in that they have two forms. But unlike werewolves, who are tied to the moon’s cycles, selkies can change back and forth at will. The legends say that when they transform, they leave behind a seal skin that they must use to change back into animals. Not much else stays constant between all the sources: Most of the stories say that selkies are attractive and generous lovers, are good cooks and homemakers, come to shore to dance on midsummer’s eve, can be summoned by crying into the ocean, and are only allowed to see a human once in seven years. There are other things, too, that only come up once or twice and seem like personal embellishments; weird stuff about lifespan, true mates, the rising and setting of the sun. The one constant is the skin. Every story agrees that taking that skin traps a selkie in their human form, and binds them to the human who’s taken it.

"Stories concerning selkies are generally romantic tragedies,” Stiles reads next. “Sometimes the human will not know that their lover is a selkie, and wakes to find them gone." And that part… his heart thrums with unexpected sympathy. So alright, he has to admit that he can see where Lydia was coming from with the misunderstanding. The weird thing where the man was hanging out in the buff right next to the sea, sure. The hotness fits, and the leaving. But this is real life, and what he’s thinking now, it just isn’t possible.

So it’s settled. Not his concern. Mystery man was just… part of a weird nudist cult or something, and he’s gone now, anyways. He was a hot guy who left before Stiles woke up and didn’t bother with a name or a note, so message received loud and clear: not interested. Best to put it out of his mind. Stiles should just go back to his work, and surprise Lydia with his newfound knowledge about seal people when she finally takes him up on his invite to dinner at Sean’s pub in the center of town.

Still, Stiles finds that the idea is weirdly hard to ignore over the next week, no matter how many times he tries to forget. And in some ways, doesn’t a selkie make more sense than a nameless, naked man out on the rocky beach who isn’t supernatural? One who left with no car, no keys, no phone or even shoes? He’d taken the clothes Stiles had given him and that was all. So where had he gone?

Despite his claim, Stiles knows now that the man wasn’t really a local. The day after hearing Lydia’s less than helpful theory, he’d gone and asked around for the man in town, trying to describe his features to the Kincora residents and shopkeepers in a way that wasn’t weird and stalkerish.

“Yeah, so, the guy’s about my height? But more muscles,” Stiles had told Sean, the owner of the pub. He felt ridiculous to not even have a first name for his mystery man. “Dark hair, kind of pale, bit of a pointy nose? But uh, in an attractive way. Amazing eyes. Anyone like that that you know?” Jesus, scratch the “not weird” part, everything about how he’d gone about it was beyond weird. He was lucky the local population seemed to have taken a shine to the funny foreigner.

“Nobody like that around here, boy,” the bartender had told him, weathered face crinkling in thought. “Not really an Irish appearance, is it? Black Irish, maybe. Or maybe you found one of our seal people,” he finished with a broad smile and wink.

“Ha, ha,” Stiles had replied nervously.

That had been a week ago, and he’s no closer to finding out the truth. He still goes for his walks along the goat trails by the cliffs, hoping to regain the precious focus he’d been riding so far. It doesn’t quite work, especially when one afternoon he spots the dark, sleek shape of a seal in the water. Its head bobs with the waves, nearly disappearing under the steely-grey surface of the water before popping up again. Somehow, it seems to Stiles that the animal’s gaze is fixed steadily on the cliff where he’s standing. Like it's watching him.

After that the seal is a silent companion on his walk, popping up at intervals to keep pace with him. Until then, Stiles had never seen a seal on any of his hikes, much less one that appeared so frequently above water, following the shore, waiting and watching. Even at a distance, the seal’s eyes look impossibly green when they catch the light. Green like the man’s had been.

Except that even considering what he’s considering is crazy. It's crazy that he's thinking this. He gets one hot guy into his bed where, mind you, they don’t even do anything , and he’s become a literal nutcase.

He turns away from the sea and the oddly behaved seal, curtailing his hike to rush back to his cabin and his work.

 


 

He’s got himself half convinced that he’s insane for even considering it and half convinced that it’s actually true, but a week and a half later their encounter finally isn’t consuming his every waking thought. Yes, it would have been nice if the man had stuck around. Yes, it would have been nice if he’d gone for more than a kiss when he had the chance, but that ship sailed and he’s slowly coming to terms. Or something. Anyways, he’s actually making some progress his writing for once when the knock comes.

Stiles wrenches the door open ready to turn away yet another Greenpeace activist - Lydia would just call, and the locals keep to themselves - but instead of someone with a petition, it’s the man from the beach.

He’s even more good looking that Stiles had remembered, all sharp jawline and brilliant eyes crinkling slightly at the corners with a small, tentative smile. He’s in Stiles’ clothes, the same ones he’d loaned him that first night.

Stiles stands frozen in his doorway, gaping like a fish. “Uh,” he manages finally. “Hey. What… why are you here?”

The man hovers in the doorway, glancing at the cabin like he’s as surprised as Stiles to find himself there. “I wanted... I wanted to see you,” he says, like it’s that simple. And maybe it is. Stiles has wanted to see him, too. More than see him; he’s wanted take him apart in any number of the filthy ways he’s imagined, to live out any number of the fantasies he’s imagined for them. Stiles steps back into his cabin, and the man follows.

“You’ve got to at least give me your name, this time,” Stiles says, half joke half plea.

“Derek,” the man says quietly. The door shuts firmly behind him, and his eyes are fixed on Stiles’ face, his gaze nervous yet heated with all the charged possibility of that first night.

“I’m glad you came back,” Stiles admits. He places a hand on Derek’s chest, lightly, just to reassuring himself this is real. Derek’s breath catches, sternum hitching under Stiles touch, and he moves his own hands to Stiles’ waist.

It’s Derek reaching out to him that does it. Before he can help it, Stiles’ fist is curling into Lydia’s sweater and dragging Derek towards him. Their noses bump, faces so close Stiles can only see incomplete portions of Derek’s face. He closes his eyes and tentatively presses his lips to Derek’s.

It’s an electric impact, a levy breaking. Derek kisses back this time, needy, and any hesitance falls away. They’re pressed tightly together, clutching each other’s necks and waists to keep their bodies close, chest to chest. Stiles feels heady with desire, drunk on the slick drag of their mouths together, the prickle of beard on his chin.

They pull back for a breath and kiss again, hands running over each other’s bodies greedily, and Stiles thinks that he’s saying something about how much he’s wanted this, how glad he is to see Derek again. He’s not sure of the exact words; they don’t seem particularly important. Neither does standing, actually.

He stumbles back towards his bed, tugging Derek with him. This time they don’t crawl in one after the other, awkward and shy - they topple back onto the bed as one, prompting an alarming creek in the old frame. Fuck it, the thing could drop them to the floor and it wouldn’t matter. Stiles wants more than chaste kisses and spooning this time. He wants marks, wants red welts from nails dragging down his back and bruises on his neck from Derek’s mouth. That was the problem last time, the cuddling all night when there was clearly something more between them. Stiles needs to get myste -Derek out of his system.

Derek grabs the hem of Stiles’ shirt and drags it clumsily up, breaking their kiss only at the last possible moment. Stiles squirms under him, shamelessly chasing the sensation of his nipples rubbing Derek’s chest through his sweater. Derek sits up to pull the sweater off, revealing a chiseled set of abs that Stiles can’t help but palm. Derek smoothes his hands appreciatively over Stiles’ slim waist, thumbs back up to his nipples to rub them with a mischievous little smile at the moans he inspires.

“Shit, that’s really - ah - do you do this alot, or something?” Stiles gasps. It’s never this good for him the first time he sleeps with somebody.

“Not this specifically,” Derek admits, eyebrows pulling up with a hint of insecurity. “I’ve never, actually.” So, a natural then. He probably couldn’t be more perfect if Stiles had dreamed him up.

“God,” Stiles says, twisting to drag his sweatpants off of Derek, and then to strip himself. He’s uncut, because of course he is, and Stiles is infinitely grateful that he’s allowed to look his fill this time. The crazy thing is that Derek is staring like he’s the lucky one to see Stiles.

Then their bodies are pressed together again, their cocks brushing with an almost electric thrill. Stiles shifts so Derek can rut into the crease of his hip, the head of his cock dragging across Stiles' stomach and leaving a thin trail of precome. The bed is too small for this kind of thing, their limbs falling over the edge every other time they adjust positions. On the other hand, Stiles’ bottle of lube is conveniently close to hand. He grabs it and flicks the lid open, slicking up Derek’s and his own fingers simultaneously.

“Just- here,” he instructs breathlessly. “Is this okay?”

At Derek's needy whine of agreement, he guides their tangled fingers down his cleft, rubbing against the tightly muscled ring of his hole. He bites his lip at the pulse of want the simple gesture sends straight to his cock; he wants this so badly that he slips Derek’s forefinger in to the second knuckle with only the slightest resistance.

After nothing but his own hasty strokes for months and months, Derek’s thick fingers catching on his rim is almost too much sensation and Stiles keens with it. As soon as he’s able to get the first finger sliding all the way in without any discomfort, Stiles encourages Derek to add another, the cool slip of their fingers against each other a contrast to the hot pressure of the one already inside him. After, he lets Derek take over the pace. He’s inexperienced, yes, but a fast learner. He’s attentive, watching his fingers sink into Stiles with awe and then flicking his eyes back to check his expression, picking up on every hitched breath, twisting and pushing in that much deeper each time. He adds the third finger on his own, finds just the right angle to hit Stiles’ sweet spot.

“Okay, that’s good, wow, that’s really, really good,” Stiles says.

He fumbles with the condom package for a second before managing to open it, and reaches down to roll it on to Derek’s thick erection. He presses a hand to his forehead, trying to ground himself - the fingering is hot, but he’s absolutely not going to let himself come now and miss out on actually having Derek inside him.

Stiles reaches down again to line them up, hitching his legs wider to make room. The blunt warmth of Derek at his entrance is anticipation edged with nerves. He can’t believe he’s here with someone like this, someone so perfect. Their gazes catch each other as Derek pushes the head of his cock into Stiles, stay locked while he eases the rest of the way in with one smooth motion.

It’s intense, the kind of thing that you know even as it’s happening will hook its way into your fantasies for the next decade. Stiles tries to feel every inch of Derek sinking into him, hold on to the moment.

Derek bottoms out, almost trembling, then pulls back an inch for a second thrust. And this part he seems to already know; building a rhythm, pumping in and out in quick rolling snaps of his hips. Their hands end up clutched together at Stiles’ ear, and he arches into the thrusts, bracing his feet. It’s good, too good. God damn it, he’s going to lose control in a second if this keeps up.

“Slower,” he manages to choke out.

Derek stutters to a stop, concern written all over his face.

“No, not bad,” Stiles murmurs, brushing a thumb over Derek’s drawn brows. “Just - here.” He rolls them over so he’s on top and can set the pace. It’s a bit awkward, scooting around on Stiles’ small bed, but it doesn’t spoil the mood. Somehow, Derek’s generous laughter is hotter than the porn star stamina alone. And then Stiles is on top, seated even more deeply on Derek’s cock, and oh. Oh .

He starts to move. It’s good to have something to focus on rather than the feeling of Derek filling him up and stretching him. He’s not coordinated or strong enough to keep up the kind of pace that Derek set, but he can fuck the way he likes it: mixing up the pace, sliding almost all the way off Derek’s cock and grinding slowly down again. From the noises he’s making, Derek seems to like it too.

All too soon, the sensation becomes too much all over again. Stiles stops trying to hold back, loses himself in the feeling of fullness and stretch as he’s riding Derek. There’s no pretence in the man’s expression, his mouth fallen open in awe to show an adorable hint of his front teeth. Every movement is instantly reflected on his face so Stiles can see exactly how good he’s making him feel. Even this seems to be enough, their pace slowed to barely moving, Stiles seated deeply on Derek’s cock with only tiny, rocking thrusts to work him deeper.

Derek reaches for his face, strokes his cheek in wonder and Stiles has to turn away before that alone sends him over the edge. He catches Derek’s thumb in his mouth and sucks. In response, Derek pushes up into him with a moan, and then sits up so they’re chest to chest, nosing into Stiles’ pulse point.

The new sensation of the angle, and his cock rubbing up against the line of hair low on Derek’s belly, is what finally pushes him past the point of return. Stiles comes, shuddering with the intensity of the feeling. Being held so tightly to Derek’s firm chest feels like being home, safe and cherished; Even before he’s coming down, he feels Derek’s last stuttering thrust too, the way he goes tense and then slack. It feels hard to breathe, but maybe that’s only them gasping into each other’s open mouths, not quite a kiss but almost more intimate. And then he does kiss Derek, sloppy and deep, full of everything they’d just done together.

They clean up and curl into each other on the bed afterwards, like the first night. Again, it feels much more familiar than it should. Stiles hadn’t even realized he had been so lonely since coming here, or maybe even since he started grad school. When’s the last time someone held him? His father, the summer before when he was headed back to school? He can’t remember, and suddenly that seems like a tragedy. He thought that sex with Derek would release him, but instead it seems to have sparked an even greater pull towards this man he barely knows. He already feels in his bones how he won’t be able to think of anything else if Derek’s out of reach.

“Stay the night this time,” he says quietly. “Please don’t leave.”

Derek shifts behind him, moulding their bodies together and mouthing at Stiles’ neck. It feels like a promise to never let go, but what he says is, “I have to.”

“What do you mean, have to?” Stiles says.

“I just do,” Derek says, the lilt of his accent making it plaintive and final.

Stiles’ mind is spinning. There’s a rational explanation for what’s happening, there must be. But in the dark, spooning so they can’t look one another in the eye, it’s also easier to hold the idea of transformation as something actually possible. He doesn’t have to admit the enormity of what he’s considering - the existence of the supernatural - when it’s just them and the quiet hush of the sea.

“When I found you it was late, and it was freezing, but you weren’t even shivering. You were so close to the ocean. You left without any shoes or a car, and now you’re wearing the same clothes as when you left, and nobody in the town knew about you when I asked. Are you...?” Stiles can’t quite bring himself to say it, even in the dark like this. “Just, tell me. Where do you have to go?”

“Back to the sea,” Derek murmurs. Stiles feels the warm breath on the nape of his neck, stares in front of him into the darkness.

“A boat?” Stiles asks, weakly.

“The sea,” Derek repeats. He pulls Stiles a fraction closer, pressing muscled thighs against the back of his, real and warm and human.

Stiles squeezes his eyes closed against the darkness because, God help him, he believes it despite everything he’s known up till now saying ‘no.’

“Wow,” he manages. “I thought that meant you couldn’t see me again for seven years.”

There’s a half-second pause, and then: “I can still see you,” Derek says, nosing into Stiles shoulder.

“Are you going to, then?” Stiles can’t help the stupid smile the blooms on his lips, even as the tacit confirmation of Derek’s true nature should be terrifying him. “When?”

“I’ll come back when I can,” Derek assures him. He places a tender kiss on Stiles’ spine as punctuation, and Stiles twists around in his arms to cling to him, as if the connection between them was everything he’d ever been looking for. He’s starting to think that maybe that wasn’t so far from the truth.

Derek is gone again in the morning, leaving Stiles to thumb the knob on the back of his neck and hope.

Chapter Text

“Oh, Stiles. Hi,” Lydia says, stepping out of her cabin and half shutting the door behind her. Stiles wonders if she’s embarrassed; she’s always been as fastidious with her housekeeping as with her appearance, but what little he can see of her place looks like a mess. Then again, it’s been a long time since her days of red lipstick and perfect eyeliner, too.

“Hey, so,” he says, shuffling on the front step. “You know the guy I told you about? That you joked was a selkie? He came back last night.”

“Lucky you,” she says, eyebrow arched.

Stiles doesn’t take offence at her tone; he knows she’s hurting over her own lost might-have-been. It wasn’t always clear what she and Allison were or weren’t to each other, but it was certainly some kind of love. Maybe part of the confusion was that even the two of them didn’t quite know how to name it, back then. Given time, though, he knows they would have have figured it out.

Only, they hadn’t had time. Considering the circumstances, he can see where it could feel like he’s rubbing his relationship in her face. If a relationship is even what he has, of course.

“Look, it’s kind of… I need to talk to someone. Can I come in?”

She sighs, stepping aside, and gestures him past her, into the cabin. They both know he’s probably the closest friend she has left, after all.

The place really is a mess, with scraps of paper pinned haphazardly on the walls and large tomes from the library piled on the counters among half-full cups and dirty plates - not to mention the several large stacks on floor. Bundles of dried herbs are lying about as well, some of them half burned and dusting sooty ashes on the counters and table. A pile of gemstones of some sort, possibly quartz, spills out onto the floor from a bag haphazardly placed on the windowsill. He’d never known her to be into that new-agey stuff, so it’s strange to see such detritus in her home. He bites his tongue, though.

The pages on the wall should be for her research, but Stiles can’t make heads or tails of them. Some in are Latin and some in old Irish from what he can make out, and yet others are cramped notes in Lydia’s own hand. There are drawings, too: strange symbols and trees and women with wild hair and eyes, their mouths open too wide. Stiles’ gaze catches on a piece of formal letterhead being used as a bookmark, a semi-familiar blue logo that looks more modern and corporate than anything else in the place.

“So,” Lydia says sharply, redirecting Stiles’ attention back to her rather than the notes. Stiles winces to hear the edge of that bitterness, again. “It sounds pretty rough, having your dream man be a real live person.”

He lets out a nervous laugh at that. Real live person, eh? “Well, the thing is that he’s maybe not a person, actually,” Stiles admits.

Lydia gives him a flat look and opens her mouth to say something cutting before she realizes from his expression that he isn’t pulling her leg. She sinks slowly into one of her kitchen chairs. “What?”

“I’m saying, he’s real but I think you were right. I think he’s maybe a... a what you said. A seal person. Am I insane?” Stiles asks, in a whisper as if anyone’s there in her cabin to hear.

“Wait, you’re serious?” Lydia gapes over the table. “A selkie ? How do you know, what proof do you have?”

Stiles isn’t sure what he was expecting, but it hadn’t really been this urgent request for evidence. Which, to be fair, he doesn’t have. “I haven’t seen him transform, or anything. Just, the way he showed up, how nobody around here knows him. Last night I asked where he went when he left, and he said the sea . That he had to go back to the sea. But it’s impossible right?” That’s what he’s here for, he realizes. For Lydia to tell him he’s being silly and that there’s some rational explanation for all this. She’s always been so grounded and matter of fact, not to mention smarter than him by miles.

Lydia has a far off expression now, her mouth pursed in thought. “I don’t know, Stiles. Maybe it isn’t impossible. Lately, I’ve been thinking that there may be more to the world than we assume.” Stiles blinks in surprise. Her eyes are focused in the middle distance, flicking as if she’s examining something he can’t see.

“Lydia, what are you saying?” Stiles gapes. “How do you just believe something like that? I’m the one it’s happening to, and I can barely get my head around it.”

“I’m not saying I believe you,” she says sharply, looking back to him with a guarded glare. “Only that it might be possible. If you have proof, let me know. Once you’re sure.”

“Okay,” Stiles agrees, dumbfounded. “Just… what do I do in the meantime?”

“Do about what? You seem to enjoy his company. So, enjoy it.”

Stiles throws his arms wide in disbelief. “And just ignore that he might be some kind of monster?”

Lydia’s gaze is heated with jealousy, and something like desperation under that. “If you love him, it won’t matter. Nothing else will matter. But I need to… I have work to do.” She looks away again, plucking one of the pages from the wall to compare to a drawing of a tree in a book she has propped on the water heater.

When it becomes clear a moment later that she was perfectly serious and will continue to ignore him, Stiles lets himself out. He’s still shocked that Lydia, always the practical one between them, is actually entertaining this insanity. More than entertaining - she barely seemed surprised to hear him suggest that there’s such a thing as selkies in their backyard. He’s heard her screams at night, and he knows she’s been a little lost after losing Allison. But the nightmares, falling behind on housework, even changing career paths all seem small in comparison to her apparent belief in the supernatural. Maybe what happened had shaken her even more than he’d realized.

For his part, her qualified belief feels like the last handhold on normalcy crumbling out of his grasp. If even Lydia can’t dismiss the possibility, then he can’t help but believe that Derek may well be a selkie. But, what does that mean? How is Stiles supposed to enjoy being with him when they come from such different worlds? When he’s not sure when he’ll return, or for how long?

Not, he thinks with a sigh, that he felt much better when he didn’t have Derek at all.

 


 

Derek comes to him in irregular patterns, three days in a row and then gone for another four, always wearing the same clothes and smelling of saltwater and the wind. They kiss and make love and they talk about everything and nothing, like it doesn’t really matter that Derek’s a supernatural creature, as if they’re just two people in love. Stiles doesn’t ask what Derek’s life in the sea is like. Derek doesn’t ask when Stiles’s vacation will end.

Their time together is dictated by requirements that Derek barely explains: Sunrise and sunset could have some mystical significance for his transformation, or maybe there are just fewer people around. Derek doesn’t offer to clarify, even when Stiles hints; he just kisses him and leaves. And he’s always leaving. Whether for his peace of mind or due to the magic, he’s forever coming and going from the sea. Stiles tries not to take it personally when Derek sneaks out around five am, and honestly that’s easier than he would have thought. It’s easy because when Derek does come, being with him is unbelievably good.

Lydia had been right, after all: when they’re together, nothing else matters. The specifics of their lives are so different, but they compliment each other stupidly well. Derek listens to Stiles’ rambling with genuine interest, asking big-picture questions that catch him off guard and make him reframe every assumption. His quiet patience grounds Stiles, and his love of Ireland and the sea is even rubbing off a bit. They hike out along the rocky shore some afternoons, enjoying the relative solitude between the churning waves and weedy grasses struggling up through the slate. The dark cliffs frame the heavy grey sky like a postcard, raw and harsh and gorgeous in a way that’s nothing like the sloped, sunny beaches of his youth, or really anything he’s known.

Stiles doesn’t understand at first what he could possibly be offering in return, but when he makes a joke of it Derek stops him, genuine and concerned, and haltingly explains how Stiles makes him question things, too, shows him so much of the world he hasn’t known. He’s not listening to the rants to humor Stiles, he really is interested in learning about the pros and cons of digital versus film photography, about the ways Roman history has been misappropriated, about Star Wars. He appreciates that Stiles questions and challenges everything, when so much of Derek’s life has been acceptance: of tradition, of the way of the sea, of what he is.

And it’s true, Stiles does delights in introducing Derek to the human world. His iPhone can’t keep Derek’s interest for long, but movies are a big win. As an avowed Disney nerd, those are the ones that Stiles shows him first. The favorites so far are Beauty and the Beast, Mulan, and, surprisingly, the Sword in the Stone. There’s nothing quite like watching Derek experience something new for the first time, and once he clarifies that he can so read (with a roll of his eyes like it’s a stupid question, which Stiles would dispute) Stiles starts to give him old favorite comic books and novels as well. In only a couple weeks he’s started to catch references, fitting into Stiles’ life like he’s always been there.

Lydia is no more interested in socializing than before, so for once she isn’t giving him shit about his new relationship. Stiles’ dad is also skipping the customary grilling, though in that case it’s because Stiles hasn’t told him. Romantic escapades are shared with parental figures on a strictly need-to-know basis, alright? He talks around Derek’s existence on their semi-regular calls, focusing instead on his work. What could he say about Derek to his dad, anyways? He’s never graduated elementary school, much less college, but he’s amazing in bed? I think I’m in love, but the part where he’s half seal is kind of awkward?

It would have been impossible to not talk about the miraculous development of Derek’s existence with his best friend, though. Scott quickly learns about Derek in their occasional Skype calls and emails, though the stories are carefully edited. He thinks that Derek is just a local fisherman that Stiles has fallen for, no more foreign than any Irish national. Happily, he approves of the relationship, despite all the obvious long-distance and different-class questions.

The two of them even meet over Skype when Derek unexpectedly visits during a pre-planned call. They get along wonderfully, to Stiles’ surprise and relief. It makes a certain kind of sense: both of them find Stiles’ brand of sarcasm amusing, care deeply about those close to them, and melt around pictures of small animals. Of course, Derek has a mercurial edge of otherness that Scott doesn’t. Maybe something to do with him being a magical sea creature, or whatever.

Tonight, though, that part is easy to forget. Derek came for lunch and has been reading since then while Stiles worked, like any normal person. He did slip out around sunset to swim for an hour or so, but it could have been any errand. Now it’s dark, and time to relax with some old fashioned Netflix and chilling. Stiles has a bowl microwave popcorn and The Little Mermaid picked out for them. It may be a bit on the nose, but he assumes Derek will like the underwater scenes.

He’s right about that, although Kiss the Girl winds up being the song that has Derek humming along and poking Stiles’ side. He goes quiet at the end of the movie, and Stiles snuggles up under his chin, grinning at the big, symbolic rainbow gracing the happily ever after.

“So, what do you think?” Stiles asks as the animated ship sails off into the sunset with the newlyweds.

“It’s over?” Derek asks anxiously. “She can never go back to the sea? Ever?”

“Well, she's married,” Stiles says, surprised. “It’s a happy ending. She can still talk to fish,” he offers at Derek’s still-worried expression.

“Fish are prey,” Derek snorts. “What about her family?”

Stiles had honestly never considered it. “I guess maybe she goes to see them on a boat or something? Look, hetero happily ever after is kinda the Disney thing, it’s not, like, real life. It’s just...” Stiles is at a loss, unsettled by the turn in conversation. He wasn’t trying to say anything with the choice, to prove any kind of point about land versus sea. “It's just a stupid kid’s movie.”

Derek shrugs, but he still looks wary. After, he takes a cold bath in the old-fashioned claw footed tub that takes up half of Stiles’ tiny bathroom. He seems to enjoy doing that when he plans to sleep as a human, and Stiles almost joked once about getting him some epsom salts to get the PH right before he thought better of it. You can’t put the sea in a tub, he knows that.

Derek comes back to bed half an hour later with sleepy eyes and water-spiked hair, little droplets clinging to his collar bones. He still has no issue with nudity, but now Stiles isn’t a creeper for appreciating it.

Stiles licks the excess water off his skin, tasting the hint of sea that Derek seems to carry with him everywhere. He pushes him back on the mattress, nuzzling down his chest and abs. Derek hasn’t grown up on porn or rom-coms, has no point of reference or expectation beyond Stiles. He never performs or compares, just inhabits the moment. And Stiles, for his part, is learning to stop letting his mind run a thousand miles ahead of him and just enjoy his time with Derek, too.

“This good?” he checks in, dragging his closed lips up the side of Derek’s quickly hardening cock. He drags his mouth back down, maintaining eye contact and letting his tongue slip out just enough to tease.

For his part, Derek looks entranced, eyes blown and lips parted. “Mhm,” he afirms.

Stiles’ oral fixation means that he loves giving head in general, but with Derek it’s even better. He’s vocal about what he likes, and what he likes is just about everything Stiles does. Stiles likes what Derek does, too: clutching at his hair, touching his face and mouth, gasping and writhing like he can’t contain the pleasure Stiles is giving him. His entire body tenses when he comes, and Stiles swallows him down, not even minding the taste.

They kiss after, Derek not squeamish about the fact that Stiles’ mouth is still a little sloppy with come and spit, and it feels unconditional. It feels right. Despite or because of how different it is, the way they are together feels deeper and more true than any other relationship he’s had. Like always, they fall asleep spooned tightly, holding hands.

And like always, Derek is gone when he wakes up.

 


 

“I don’t know if this is a good idea,” Derek says lowly in Stiles’ ear. “I don’t belong here.”

“Have you heard my accent?” Stiles says back with a grin. “I don’t belong here either.”

Derek frowns at him, fussing with the crisp blue jeans Stiles bought for the occasion. It probably says something that they fit him perfectly just from Stiles’ guess at his size. Mainly that they spend way too much time touching each others’ naked bodies, actually.

Derek is still plucking at a thread he managed to work loose at the outside seam, so Stiles grabs his hand and gives it a squeeze. “Hey, you’ll be fine, okay? Sean’s a good dude. But if you really don’t want to go, we don’t have to.”

“I want to,” Derek insists, visibly steeling himself. Stiles nods, and opens the door to the pub.

They’re instantly buffeted by the noise of clinking glasses and silverware and rowdy locals exchanging their familiar jibes and complaints at the usual cluster of tables near the front of the bar. The men barely acknowledge Derek and Stiles, but somehow give the impression, without actually looking over, that they’re entirely attuned to the two newcomers.

“Well, well , what can I get you t’day?”  Sean asks in a bright tone, looking back and forth between Stiles and Derek with a knowing smile as they tuck themselves into a tiny two-top towards the dimly lit back of the bar. Stiles blushes.

“Just a couple pints - you still have that lager I had last time? Oh, and something lighter for him.”

“Coming up,” Sean says, and then he winks broadly. “Glad you found your seal person.”

Derek sits up like he’s been shocked, eyes wide with panic, and Stiles laughs awkwardly and loudly. “What a kidder! Funny joke!” he calls after Sean’s retreating back, and then shakes his head desperately at Derek, who relaxes once he catches on. He even laughs a little, too.

Derek doesn’t care for the beer Sean brings for him, but he does like his taste of Stiles’ lager, so they have a second round of that. Derek starts to loosen up and enjoy himself, then. He joins Stiles in some people watching of the older fishermen, and carefully examines the menu so when Sean comes back he has a dozen questions about the food on offer. After much debate, they order fish and chips along with the third round. Stiles is definitely feeling the buzz by the time he’s halfway through that drink, even with the food soaking some of it up, but Derek doesn’t seem to be affected at all.

Stiles lets himself be quiet for once, enjoying the fuzzy-warm feeling of the alcohol in his blood and watching Derek’s animated discussion with Sean regarding the fried, battered fish. It seems like Derek’s sure it would be better less well done, while Sean is trying his darndest to explain the concept of deep-frying. Then the locals get looped in, personably shouting Derek down about the value of grease on all manner of food. Worry sours Stiles’ buzz for a second, but then he realizes that Derek is excited to be the center of attention, happy to be among people. Like Ariel after all, Stiles thinks with a smile.

Mr. O’Connor orders them a fourth round. Then a fifth materializes from somewhere and it’s suddenly sea shanty time, and Stiles is belting out the chorus of a song he’s just learned, joyfully off-key. After, Derek sings them an unfamiliar song in Irish, his voice a clear tenor that Stiles could have expected but somehow didn’t. He’s popular among the older men, who clap him on the shoulder as he leaves with Stiles and tell him to come back soon, it’s so nice to see a young man like him knowing the old language, the two of them are a lovely pair.

Stiles is giddy with the success. Even with all they’ve done together in his cabin, this was their first real, official date. And despite his half-formed fears, they’d easily forgotten their differences to enjoy a normal night out between almost-normal people. It had felt nice knocking knees under the table, it had felt nice ignoring suggestive eyebrow waggling from the local men as they left, and it feels nicer than anything to be walking home with his arm around Derek’s waist.

 


 

Their date doesn’t change the fact that they never have a schedule or make plans, though, so Stiles can’t know for sure something is wrong when Derek doesn’t show for a full week after. He doesn’t know, but he feels it. They’ve been spending no more than two nights apart, and it feels wrong to go this long without seeing Derek, a discomfort that clings to him like an ache deep in his bones. He knows something’s wrong the way you know someone’s watching you from across the room, like a sixth sense. Derek wouldn’t just leave him, not like this, no matter what the legends say. Though, isn’t that what all of the chumps who fall in love with monsters must think? For the first time, he starts to truly itch for the normal things they’ve never shared - email, a phone number, an address. Anything besides this endless waiting by the shore.

“I don’t know how I can do this,” he tells Lydia. She had finally taken him up on the offer to come over to his place for tea, so at least he has something to do besides fret and stare at the chapter of his dissertation he knows he won’t get any farther on when Derek is missing. “I mean, this whole selkie thing doesn’t mean he has to leave me hanging, does it? Like, what if he’s just a guy who gets off on lying to dumb tourists and didn’t want me to be able to look him up on Facebook?”

Lydia shrugs. He had thought she was getting better recently, refocused on her studies. He hasn’t heard her scream for at least a week, anyways, so the nightmares must be subsiding. Still, she looks haunted, her eyes rimmed red. Her lips part and close, she bites back what she’s going to say and then starts again. Stiles waits.

“I screamed when Allison died,” she says, as quiet as if talking too loud will break something. Need colors her tone, unmistakable despite the restrained volume. “I don’t mean when I heard about it, I mean when it happened. Right when she was dying, I started screaming. I didn’t even know why. Not until the next day, when they told me she'd been killed.

“The police never showed us the crime scene, but I keep walking to the alley where they stabbed her. I’d be going to the library, or to lunch, and I’d open my eyes and I’d be there.” She turns her pallid face towards the window, her eyes fixed on some unknowable thing. “I thought everyone was right and I was just going crazy, but then at the trial, when I recognized the pictures… What proof are we waiting for? We already know it’s true. Derek’s really a selkie, and I’m really a banshee. That’s why I needed to come here and read the original tales, to learn how to use what I am.”

“Lydia,” Stiles says, reaching out to clasp her hand. “I had no idea, oh my God. I can’t believe I didn’t...”

“It’s fine. I didn’t want you to know,” Lydia interrupts, pulling away to brush her eyes hastily, tilting her chin up defiantly. “Because I hear her, Stiles. Allison. In my dreams, and sometimes when I scream loud enough to drown out everything else. I didn’t want you to tell me it wasn’t real,” she admits, blinking back tears again. “Even if it was just in my head, I’d rather… rather have had something.”

Stiles sets his cup aside and leans over her chair to hug her, stroking her hair. “Hey, hey. You were right though, it’s not in your head. There’s more to the world than we know, right? I believe you, Lyds. I believe it’s her.”

Lydia takes a shaky breath. “Exactly. And I believe you. You know exactly what Derek is, so don’t start coming up with excuses about him being something he isn’t, not when you know the truth.”

Stiles nods. Even without seeing the transformation itself, he knows she’s right. Derek isn’t lying to him, he’s genuinely tied to the sea in his other form. But then... that means that Allison, impossibly, is somehow still here, speaking to Lydia. “Have you found anything, then? About how to hear Allison better?” he asks. “Is she here right now?”

Lydia shakes her head with a tired smile. “I don’t think so. There’s information in Kincora that I couldn’t find in the States, but I still can’t make the spells work the way they should. It’s still just chance, when I can hear her or not. There are just so many stories, and all the details change.” She sniffles again, looks out the window. Even though she’s miles from the sharply dressed, bossy Lydia that Stiles met their first year, it isn’t in a way that makes her unrecognizable. Rather, it’s as if everything inessential has been pared away, leaving only her truest self.

“What a mess,” he murmurs. “Even though you know what you are, you don’t know what it means. And I don’t know what it means that Derek’s a selkie, either. Not really.”

“I wish it was more like math,” Lydia sighs. “Just a matter of finding the right equation and solving, once you know the rules, rather than all this wishy-washy guess work. All these badly-translated legends with their variations and contradictions.”

“Exactly,” Stiles sighs. “There’s just no way to know which parts are made up and which are real, is there?

Lydia’s eyes turn back to him with an unfamiliar expression of pity. “There are some constants, though,” she says softly. “Things that don’t change. Banshees always scream, Stiles. I know that much. And the selkie always leaves.”

Chapter Text

Despite Lydia’s warning, Derek comes back the very next night. His face is drawn and apologetic, and all Stiles’ reproaches melt away. He opens his arms without hesitation, pulling Derek close to him, where he belongs.

“Hey, what happened?” he asks softly into Derek’s ear. He feels strangely smaller in Stiles’ arms, now, more fragile.

“Hunters,” Derek says. “We fled out to the islands and lost them in the seas, but one of them got a lucky shot. We had to keep…”

“Wait, are you hurt?” Stiles pushes away, and drags Derek’s sweater up to reveal an angry red line across his ribs - not quite bleeding, but deep and raw. “Oh my God,” he gasps, running his fingers over the edges. A little to the right and this lucky shot could have pierced Derek’s lung. He would have died in the merciless ocean and Stiles never would have seen him again, never would have known what happened.

Stiles barely notices his fingers trembling until Derek’s warm, strong ones intertwine with them and steady him.

“It’s noth-” Derek starts, then cuts off at Stiles stormy glare. “It’s not as bad as it seems. We don’t heal like werewolves, but we’re faster than humans. I’m alright, I promise.” He smiles sweetly, eyes crinkling, and rubs a thumb across Stiles’ cheekbone.

“Okay,” Stiles says, taking a deep breath. Derek’s fine, and here, and he can finally stop worrying. “Just let me get some neosporin and gauze, okay? Who the fuck knows if you guys have magic penicillin in your blood or something, but the sea is like, not sanitary.” He ducks into his tiny bathroom and crouches to search through the cabinet for his paltry first aide kit. Does he even have a bandage that will cover a wound that long? He’s running low on his meds too, now that he looks. “So there’s such a thing as werewolves, I should have guessed.”

“Yes,” Derek answers, and even though Stiles isn’t looking he can hear the small smile at Stiles’ curiosity. “Hunters usually go after them and the other more naturally violent creatures. Selkies are consid…”

“Wait,” Stiles says, knocking his head into the rim of the sink as he jerks up to look at Derek again. “Hunters like, not seal hunters? Selkie hunters? Supernatural hunters who come after you, specifically, knowing what you are, to murder you?”

Derek looks baffled. “Not… often?”

“Well, are they coming back?” Derek winces and opens his mouth to lie, but Stiles interrupts him. “Jesus, they totally are. How are you... how are you possibly this cavalier about someone coming to kill you ?”

“They won’t be back soon,” Derek comforts, following Stiles back to the bed and sitting down beside him. “They’re dangerous, I know, but no more so than any other predator. There's the orcas and sharks, and…and I’m not helping you feel better.”

“No,” Stile moans.

“It’s only the way of the sea,” Derek says gently. “I can handle it. I’ve lived this long, haven’t I?” He rests his hand on Stiles back, slides it down to his waist, kisses his neck. Stiles takes a shuddery breath, slowly untensing. “Trust that my mother can protect our pod.”

“Your mother’s here, too?” Stiles asks. “Part of your pod?”

Derek hesitates for a second, then nods. The moment feels fragile; He’s never spoken about his family before.

“You’re lucky to have her around. My mom died when I was a kid,” Stiles offers, moving his hand to link their pinkies. “She was sick.”

“I’m sorry,” Derek says.

Stiles nods, swallowing the familiar lump in his throat. “I have my dad, though. You have other family?”

“My sisters. My uncle and aunt as well, though they don’t come to Kincora’s main shore. We see them and my cousins out farther towards the islands. There’s some of us in the pod that aren’t family, and there’s some of us that are only seals.”

“What about your dad?” Stiles asks. Derek’s face shutters. “Ah, I'm sorry. I shouldn’t have…”

“No, you wouldn’t know it’s a sore thing,” Derek says, apologetic. “It’s been only us for a long time: Mother, me and my sisters. Laura and Cora,” he smiles. “Laura’s older and bossy, and Cora’s a little troublemaker. But my mother keeps them in line. That’s why you shouldn’t worry for me, she’s a good leader - Talia, Hale and Hearty.” He says the title with a little smile, half joke and half respect. “She’s been outsmarting and outswimming hunters for over a hundred years.”

Stiles jerks in surprise, the feeling of trust and confidence spoiled. “Sorry, how many years?”

Derek’s eyes glance away from his, as they always do when he accidentally reveals more than he means to. “Selkies are long lived.”

“Oh, sure. Unless they’re hunted down and shot,” Stiles snaps, though what he’s really angry about is Derek’s casual habit of closing off the other half of his life, is the fact he didn’t even know about the pod or his mother being nearby until now, and that he still doesn’t know what it means for them that Stiles suddenly has no idea how old Derek even is, how long he’ll look twenty-eight while Stiles marches into old age.

“I didn’t die, though,” Derek says helplessly, his expression both hurt and confused. “I’m still here, only you’re angry with me.”

Stiles feels his temper bleed away. “Sorry, sorry. I know it’s not your fault. But, Derek, if you had died I’d never know what happened to you. Do you get that? I’d think that you’d left me.”

“I’d never,” Derek says tenderly. “I’ll never leave, if I can help it. I love you. ”

“I love you too,” Stile says, and he means it more than he ever has before, with anyone. It’s an entirely different beast of an emotions that’s taken root in his chest, leaving him overwhelmed and blinking back tears with the intensity of it.

Derek smiles like Stiles has given him the world, ducks in close to kiss Stiles’ mouth, his jaw, his ear. It’s grounding, as necessary as food or water despite their relatively new relationship. Stiles wraps his arms around Derek, as if holding him close will keep away all the terrible things that could happen. He closes his eyes and lets everything go except this one moment of them together, their kisses gone slow and lazy as they lay back intertwined on his bed, unsure where one body begins and the other ends.

Stiles stretches his legs out as far as they’ll go, luxuriating in the comfort of having Derek near. “Couldn't you be a werewolf?” he sighs. “You could kill the hunters, and we'd only have deal with the full moon.”

“Ah, but werewolves bite,” Derek teases, backing up the joke with gentle nips at Stiles’ neck and earlobe.

“You're not making a good argument,” Stiles manages breathlessly.

Derek hums against his pulsepoint, digging his blunt teeth in for more of a true bite, edging the line of actual pain. It feels possessive, makes something deep in Stiles’ animal instincts purr with contentment. It’s almost louder than the whisper of Derek’s voice saying, ‘if I can help it, if I can, if, if, if.’

 


 

Derek can’t always be around, of course, and that’s fine. Stiles gave him a burner phone after the hunters, but between the unfamiliarity of the device and the bad cell reception it’s hit or miss if he’ll use it. Today is one of the times when he did, though it was only to say that he’d stay in the ocean. So, Stiles had decided to go to the hospital to get some first aid supplies. It’s more for a sense of agency about the danger Derek’s in than any real confidence that he can help. Honestly, he doesn’t quite believe a few bandaids will make the difference if those so-called hunters come back.

He’s walking the mile and a half to Mercy General, because the Jeep is still in Beacon Hills and getting a taxi is a pain out here. Not to mention, he’s basically made of time these days. Why not walk?

“Stiles!” A warm voice calls. It’s Sean, waving from the other side of the street with a small blond boy in tow.

“Sean, hey!” Stiles checks for cars quickly and jogs over to say a proper hello.

“You’ve not met my boy, Liam,” Sean says, and pulls the kid forward from behind his strong legs. “Just five last week. We’re a big boy, now, aren’t we? Going out to the beach, maybe see a bit of wildlife.”

“Hey buddy!” Stiles says, hunkering down to get face to face with the kid; unlike his father, Liam seems quite shy. He ducks behind Sean’s legs again, peeking balefully out at Stiles from that safe distance.

“Ah, don’t mind him. He likes the animals better than anything what can ask him a question. And where’s your man today?”

Stiles forces a smile. “He’s visiting family.”

“Oh, I see,” Sean says, wincing. “Bit of tension, there?”

“You could say that.”

Sean nods knowingly. “They wanted a local girl for their boy.”

“I don’t know what they want,” Stiles says honestly. “But it isn’t me. We haven’t even met, but I get the feeling they already hate me.”

“Give it time,” Sean says. “Derek’s old enough to choose what he wants without his mam’s approval, she’ll have to come around. You’re headed to town, then?”

“To the hospital,” Stiles confirms.

“Oh,” Sean frowns. “I hope you’re not sick as well.”

Stiles blinks in surprise. “As well?”

“My wife’s shop is just across the street from Mercy General, she says she’s seen the other American, Ms. Lydia, going in quite often over the last few weeks.”

“Really? I didn’t know,” Stiles says. Lydia’s been looking healthier if anything, he’d had no idea she was going to the hospital.

“Ah, it may be nothing, then,” Sean shrugs, and then looks down with amusement to Liam tugging on his hand. “And it seems I must be headed off!”

Stiles laughs and waves goodbye. Still, the worry about Lydia stays. Grows, even, when Stiles arrives at Mercy General and realizes that their blue logo is the same as the one he’d seen on the letter in Lydia’s cabin. He’d half recognized it because he had filled his prescription here early in their trip, but she would have had no reason to bring home any hospital paperwork.

She really is sick, then, and maybe has been for most of the time they’ve been here. Or, no. It could be that she’s getting some kind of therapy, he thinks, which might frankly be overdue. If it was a serious illness, he comforts himself, she would have gone back to the States for treatment. Though he does admit that for a small town like Kincora, Mercy General is a nice hospital. They’re relatively close to Belfast, and there’s money from the well off retirees as well as from the tourism in the summer. The library is evidence of the same deep pockets, a well-respected spot that even brings some researchers from Queen’s University.

The nurse he speaks to at the hospital is kind, and after filling his Adderall prescription she brings him upstairs to get an emergency kit without too many questions. She’s fascinated by his accent, only too happy to start chatting about her American nice who lives in Atlanta.

“Do you know the other American visitor, Lydia?” he asks. “Sean from the pub said she comes by here sometimes. We’re friends.” He knows he shouldn’t pry, but with everything going on with Derek his worry sensors are running on overdrive.

“Oh, Ms. Lydia! Yes, she volunteers with us. Sits with patients who don’t have anyone, those who are very ill. Some of the older men and women. Ah, and poor Naomi.”

Stiles peeks into the room where the nurse gestured and sees a girl lying among wires and IVs and monitors. She looks a bit older than Lydia, full figured with the dark auburn hair common here. She’s sleeping, though it’s midday.

“She doesn’t look old. Is she sick, then?”

“A coma, poor bird,” the nurse sighs. “Her whole family was in a wreck, she hasn’t woken up since. Probably won’t, if I’m honest - she’s totally unresponsive. We can’t do anything but keep her here, and nobody even visited for the longest time before Lydia. She was from inland, don’t you know, way out in Carnalbanagh. I suppose it’s a drive to get up here. Still, it’s a great thing your friend is doing, very sweet.”

“That’s nice,” Stiles says, but it unsettles him. He’s glad that Lydia not sick herself, but when did she become someone who sat with the elderly? Yet another new thing about his friend that doesn’t fit at all with what he knows.

 


 

“Here’s some first aid things, for you and your family. Just in case.” Stiles thrusts the gear into Derek’s hands almost the second he next comes through the door, just after sunset the day after the hospital visit. The scrape on his ribs is long healed, but Stiles hasn’t forgotten that fear.

“Thank you,” Derek says kindly, though he’s looking at the supplies in his hand with a bemused confusion.

“Look,” Stiles sighs. “Just hide them wherever you hide your skin, or around the islands your mom takes you to for safety, so you’ll have it if you need it. There’s just some bandages and neosporin and painkillers.”

Derek looks up, cocking his head curiously. “What’s the matter?”

Stiles gives him a half-smile. It shouldn’t be surprising, Derek’s always flatteringly attentive to his moods. “Just wondering how much basic health stuff you guys know,” he jokes. “Like, what about germ theory? Sound familiar?”

“That’s not what you’re worried about,” Derek says. “Something happened while I was away?”

Stiles huffs a laugh by way of admission. Sometimes it’s frustrating that he can’t bluff his way out of any conversation like he could in his other relationships. “Okay, so, when I went to pick these up, Sean said Lydia had been spending time at the hospital, and I remembered seeing their letterhead on a paper at her place weeks ago. Sean thought she was sick, but apparently she’s just volunteering. She hasn’t said anything about it to me, though, and I just… I don’t get it.”

“Oh?” Derek sounds concerned, but Stiles knows it’s only for his sake. He and Lydia still haven’t met.

Stiles shakes his head. “It’s fine. She’ll tell me when she’s ready, and snooping isn’t going to help anything.” By which he means, getting caught would make her furious with him; if he thought he could get away with it, he’d definitely snoop. He can’t count on that, though, and he forces himself to put the worrying aside. “So, do you think your mom will like the stuff?”

“Of course,” Derek says brightly, but Stiles knows him well enough now to see it’s not an entirely honest tone.

“Am I ever going to get to met her?” he asks lightly, turning to the cabinets over the sink to pull out some food for dinner. “Or your sisters?”

Derek squirms. “My mother doesn’t really like people. Humans.”

“Oh,” Stiles says. “Well, okay then.”

“You’ve heard the legends, it’s complicated,” Derek says, half apology and half defiance. “It’s… My father was a human. A sailor. There was a storm and my mother feared for him, but he didn’t tell her where her skin was kept, and she couldn’t find it to save him until it was too late. He drowned. As a selkie she already knew she’d outlive him, but he wasn’t old yet. And there’s a legend that, if they’re your true mate... but he didn’t. Mother took it poorly. She likes us to keep in touch with our human forms by spending time transformed, but she doesn’t think we should associate.”

Stiles blinks at Derek volunteering so much information. “Is that what you were doing when we met? Why weren’t your sisters there?”

Derek shakes his head. “They prefer the islands. We can build fires there and sit together, remember how to tell stories. They say the main shore is too dangerous, that there might be people,” he meets Stiles eyes for a second and then looks away. “But this time of year it’s usually deserted after dark, and I like to be closer, to watch. To see the lights in Kincora, and think about all the lives there.”

“I think that’s the most you’ve ever told me about how your family lives,” Stiles says. Maybe some of his irritation about “people” and “danger” being so closely linked shines through, because Derek just looks uncomfortable. “Fine, so I don’t get to meet them. Can I see you, though?”

“You see me all the time,” Derek says tightly.

Stiles walks to him, putting his hands on his waist. “You know what I mean. Your seal-you. Your transformation.”

“Isn’t it strange for you?”

Stiles blinks. Derek looks weirdly shy for someone with very, very few inhibitions. “Strange how?”

“Well, that I’m an animal,” Derek says hesitatingly. “Sometimes, at least.”

“No,” Stiles says. “I mean, I don’t think so. As long as I don’t want to bang your seal body I think we’re good,” he finishes, complete with cheesy grin and finger guns. Derek rolls his eyes affectionately.

“So, is that a yes?”

“Alright,” Derek agrees, blushing slightly. It’s adorable.

“What about tomorrow?” Stiles offers, almost giddy. “We could go right at sunrise, so there’s still some light to see but nobody’s walking around.”

“At…? I don’t know,” Derek demures, eyes shifty.

“Or maybe a little after?” Stiles offers shyly. He knows it’s pushing, to ask him to spend the night when he’s never agreed to before. But if Derek’s willing to show him his transformation, maybe he’ll finally give him this, too. A full night together, waking up in Derek’s arms rather than disoriented and alone...

Derek looks hesitant and strangely unhappy, though, despite just agreeing to Stiles seeing the transformation. And, for a moment, Stiles doesn’t really understand why.

Then suddenly he does: It’s the skin. Derek doesn’t want to go together because Stiles would see where he hides his skin. Danger and human are interchangeable to selkies, aren’t they? After all this time, Derek still doesn’t trust him.

“Or you could go get your skin first and I could meet you somewhere,” he says, pasting on a big bright smile. The tension in Derek’s shoulders subsides incrementally, and for once Stiles feels like they’re not on the same page; the relief Derek’s feeling only makes Stiles hurt worse. It’s Derek’s prerogative to doubt Stiles if he wants to, of course, and an argument won’t suddenly change his mind if more than a month of intense connection and great sex hasn’t done the trick. Stiles clears his throat. “So, sunrise is when, 7am? Nobody much is up that early. Just tell me where you want to meet.”

“I don’t know if sunrise is a good time,” Derek murmurs, his discomfort ratcheting up again if his shifty eyes are any indication. “We could...”

“Why not?” Stiles interrupts, unable to help how it comes out sharp and bitter. “Sunrise or sunset is when you always transform, and I can’t see anything after dark. It’s safe enough for you, right? So why not with me? Do you actually not want to show me, after all?”

“I just-” Derek starts, and Stiles scowls.

“If you don’t want to, you could have just said.”

“That’s not- Alright, meet me before sunrise,” Derek says, a quick apologetic burst. “Where we first met. Well before sunrise, though. Promise me.”

“Okay,” Stiles says, mollified. “Well before sunrise it is.”

Derek must know that Stiles is still a bit upset, but neither of them want an argument. They both put it aside and have a simple meal, and by the time Derek is doing dishes and singing a strange, jaunty melody Stiles doesn’t recognize, most of his irritation has passed. Even if Derek still won’t give him all his trust, Stiles seeing his other form feels like a tentative first step towards knowing more than half of him.

 


 

The next morning, Stiles is at their first meeting place while the stars are still out in force, just the slightest pinking at the horizon confirming morning’s coming at all. Derek is still there before him, sitting on the rock in just his borrowed sweats, a dark shape clutched in his hand. The selkie skin. When he stands, it drapes like velvet.

“Hey,” Stiles says, shoving his hands into his armpits for warmth. He can’t look away from the near-black fur in Derek’s hands. It matches his hair, but it doesn’t look magical. It doesn’t look like anything. “So, how do we do this?”

Derek shifts on his feet, checks the horizon. “Are you sure you want to see?”

“Yes?” Stiles laughs. Not much would get him out of bed at the ass crack of dawn, definitely not anything he didn’t have his heart absolutely set on doing. “Of course I do.”

“You won’t think any different of me? After?”

“Are you serious?” Stiles asks, taking in Derek’s knit brows and tense shoulders. “No. No way. I already know what you are,” he says, stepping in close to where he can feel Derek’s body heat, pulling one of his hands free to brush a thumb across his lips. “Nothing’s gonna change how I feel.”

“It’s one thing knowing and another thing seeing,” Derek points out, but he steps back a little to give himself room to take off the sweats, still tightly holding his skin in his left hand. Once the sweats are carefully folded and tucked away, he steps naked into the waves and wades in so the water is just over his knees. It must be freezing, but Derek acts as if it’s as comfortable as a bath. He crouches down and pulls the skin over his shoulders, the fur slick with seawater, reflecting the pre-morning light in curious shapes. Then he’s folding somehow into himself, the loose edges of the skin and his sharp elbows tucking and rounding and all of a sudden he’s underwater entirely and there’s a seal looking back curiously at Stiles.

Stiles gasps. It is different, knowing and seeing. The seal is Derek, from the color of his hair to the questioning look in his green eyes. His face in this form seems a bit canine, friendly and familiar though Stiles has never seen a seal up close until now. Are they normally this big? Or is that a selkie thing? Derek must see the wonder in Stiles’ expression because he blinks happily and then bobs down under the glassy surface of the water.

He surfaces again almost instantly, the long sleek arch of his body cutting through the mirrored sea and ending with a playful flick of his tail. He bobs up again and again in the inky water, swimming in tight circles on the surface before diving again. He’s clearly showing off, and Stiles has to laugh. The faint pink glow goes golden as the sun rises, sending a long white path of light across the sea as it peeks above the horizon. Warmth slowly seeps into the air, though Stiles is still grateful for his beanie and jacket. His eyes constantly search the water’s ever-shifting sheen, anxious to spot Derek when he’s out of view and then finding him again and again.

Stiles wants, impossibly, to follow him. There’s a longing behind his lungs to join in, even though he’s a remedial swimmer at best and he’s already too cold on the shore with his five layers of clothes. He still wants to see Derek swimming underwater, to know what the ocean looks like under that flexing, impenetrable surface. It seems so joyful for Derek to be in the water, and as happy as it makes Stiles to see him like that, he’s sorry to still be held at a distance from it.

Derek plays around until the sun’s well risen, Stiles sitting on the rock and thinking his own thoughts while he watches. It takes him a moment to recognize the next time Derek surfaces that he’s human now, wet hair plastered to his forehead above an ebullient expression. It’s not only that he belongs in the water, it’s that he loves it there. Somehow Stiles hadn’t really understood that before. Derek sloshes out of the water onto the beach, skin in hand, and tousles himself mostly-dry with it, shaking the excess water free of the fur when he finishes. He raises a brow at Stiles as if to say, what do you think?

“It’s awesome,” Stiles says, honestly. He stands and pulls Derek to him, surprised to find him still exuding heat despite the chill morning air and the water still dampening his salty skin. Derek starts to ask a question, but Stiles kisses it out of him, marveling at the contrast between the cool water on his lips and the heat of his mouth.

Stiles tries to remember Derek’s not going to leave him. He doesn’t love the sea more than he loves Stiles, just… the same. His breath hitches and he tenses his fingers on Derek’s hips.

“What’s wrong?”

“I guess I feel like-” he feels like there’s a half of Derek he doesn’t ever get to touch, doesn’t get to be part of at all. “I’m worried that your family will never like me,” Stiles finishes, which is also true.

“They will,” Derek assures him, blanketing him in a big hug. “But if they don’t, it doesn’t matter. I love you, that’s what matters.”

“Well, good then,” Stiles laughs unsteadily, and they kiss again. He wonders, how is it that the word ‘love’ blew his mind a week ago, and is somehow not enough today?

“I’ll meet you at the cabin?” Derek asks, shoulders hunched uneasily again. Stiles’s smile is suddenly brittle. The cabin, because of course he can’t be trusted to see the secret spot where the skin is.

“Yeah,” Stiles says simply. He would never betray Derek like that. Except that… is it a betrayal to want Derek near him? To want for him to be safe? The skin would be protected from hunters behind a locked door, and Stiles would obviously let him swim whenever he wanted. Derek could finally do more than imagine the lives of humans in Kincora, he could be one of them. They could wake up together, travel together, make plans for their future. With the skin safely locked away, Derek would be able to stay human, no matter what his mother thought about the risks.

Stiles forces the thought away. He’d never need to do that. Derek had looked so happy in the sea, it’s true, and he’d been so at home in his other form... But he still comes to the cabin, doesn’t he? He still wants Stiles and all the human things they share. They’re in love, and Derek isn’t leaving. Stiles would never have to take the skin to be sure of what they have.

Chapter Text

Internet access at the cabins is frustratingly spotty, and while that usually helps Stiles focus on his dissertation, it also makes using Skype a huge pain. Today, though, Stiles is fighting with it anyways because it’s been too long since he caught up with Scott. The video quality is behaving as well as can be expected, and Stiles is enjoying hearing about the goings on at the vet office (Scott feels terrible for wishing ill on cats, but the more trouble Katana has losing weight, the more often her owner Kira will need to come in) while Derek makes dinner.

After the night at the pub, Derek had been eager to learn more about cooking, and now occasionally commandeers Stiles’ computer to browse food blogs. He’d been so excited to learn about sushi - raw fish could be an acceptable meal for humans! - that he insisted on giving it a try, claiming that it couldn’t be that hard to make.

Stiles is a little incredulous, since Derek hasn’t had any training, but the legends mostly agree that Selkies have a natural talent when it comes to domestic tasks. Anyways, Derek has read the blogs, and his voracious interest might mean that there’s something to the legends’ claims. He even brought his own fish for the experiment, fresh for the ocean, so Stiles is tentatively excited.

“Hey, get Derek over here,” Scott says. “I want to ask him what to do about Kira.”

“What? I’m the brains of the operation! Derek’s clueless when it comes to human mating rituals,” Stiles teases. He twists around to look back at the kitchenette. “Aren’t you?”

“Oh, now. I seduced you, didn’t I?” Derek points out.

“Aww.” Stiles puts his chin on his hands and grins at Derek’s back. “Leaving aside the fact that it was absolutely me who seduced you, are you implying that I’m a pretty good catch?”

“I didn’t say that . Only that you’re about as confusing as I suppose anyone gets.”

Stiles gapes. “Hey!”

Scott chortles gleefully. “Man, I always thought when it happened, you’d be with a hyper asshole like you or someone who was too nice to snark back. This is way better,” he smirks.

“Har har,” Stiles says, but he’s smiling while he says it.

“So, when are you coming home to Cali? You’ve been over there for almost four months.”

The question catches Stiles off guard. He’s been avoiding considering his real life responsibilities pretty effectively. “Oh, well,” he says. He doesn’t look at Derek, but he’s painfully aware of him listening in as he continues to cook. “When I finish the diss, I guess.”

“Set a date for your defense yet?”

“No, I’ll, uh, ask Harris about it when I’m closer to done,” Stiles says, wincing.

Scott finally gets the hint. “Ah, right. Okay. Um, you guys should do dinner! I’ll talk to you later, and I’ll keep you updated if anything changes with Kira. I still want Derek’s take, email me when you have the chance!”

“Yeah,” Stiles agrees. “Later man.” He logs off and stretches, putting Harris and all that out of his mind. “How's it coming, babe?”

“Done,” Derek announces. He sets down the serving plate with a flourish: on it are about twelve pieces of unevenly chopped raw fish sitting on loosely clumped rice balls. There are scales on both the plate and most of the fish pieces.

“Um,” Stiles says. “I’m not sure that this counts as sushi.”

Derek looks at the plate. “Well, it’s fish and rice, isn’t it?”

Stiles laughs. “I guess so. But I really don’t think you can just chop up random fish and call it good, actually. You’re sweet for trying, but I think I’m gonna throw this in a pan and sear it, okay?

Derek sighs and rolls his eyes. “Fine.”

Stiles brings the plate back to the kitchen, turns the burner on and adds oil to the pan. He scrapes the excess scales off while he waits for it to heat. “I guess that the legends are wrong about the magical domesticity. Does the tears thing work?”

“The what thing?” Derek asks, and Stiles shrugs. That one does seem like wishful thinking.

“And the only-human-at-midsummer’s-eve, obviously that’s made up. And you already said the seven years stuff is bullshit.” Derek ignores him, so he rambles on. “Obviously. How would that even work? Like, you’re swimming and you spot a person on the beach, say. Would that count? You can’t ever look at them again… or else what?” He gestures with the spatula, getting into the logic of the problem now. “I bet it would have to be more specific. Otherwise, what would happen if they went for a hike every day? Could you just close your eyes? Or how far out to sea would you have to be before it didn’t count?”

He suddenly realizes that Derek’s been very quiet, and when he looks back it’s to find him hunched at the table, mouth a tense straight line.

“Oh shit. Are you upset about dinner? I didn't mean to be a jerk. Here, look, already seared and yummy.” He scoops the fish onto the plate again and brings it to the table, dropping a kiss on the top of Derek’s head. “Don’t worry about it, I honestly don’t care that you can’t cook.”

Derek smiles and grabs a piece of fish with his fingers. Whatever storminess was brewing in him passes as he pops the food in his mouth, and he’s playful again. “A good thing, too, because clearly I can’t. Won’t clean after you, either, if you were wondering.”

“Well, then get out,” Stiles deadpans.

Derek laughs, head thrown back, and Stiles can’t think of a single place he’d rather be than here, at his tiny, rented table, eating bland fish and rice with this perfect man he’s somehow won over.

 


 

Stiles leans his forehead against the window, the cold glass a sharp contrast from the warmth of the rest of the room. It’s long past sunset, but there’s a full moon and plenty of stars to lighten the dark. Lydia’s lights are still on as well. Maybe she’s up researching new spells; he’d called her a few days ago because he needed to tell someone about the insane, reality bending magic of Derek’s transformation, and the conversation had seemed to spark a new urgency about her own abilities.

The orange-hued light coming from her cabin window isn’t what’s got his attention, though. He’s looking out towards the sea, his eyes having adjusted enough to see the reflection of the moon and the frothy white lines of surf cresting and settling back into darkness with the rhythmic crash of the waves. He’s fascinated by the overwhelming size of the ocean, the constant movement that rolls the water back and forth yet leaves the deep whole unchanged. It’s like a huge, breathing beast. It seems big enough to devour him.

“Come back to bed?”

Stiles turns from the window with a smile, and crawls under the covers beside Derek. He hooks his chin over his shoulder to look at his phone where Derek is scrolling through the photos he’d uploaded from their camera earlier that day. Photography is a hobby that suits him well, unlike cooking; he’s better with expression than following instructions, and better with visuals than words.

“That one’s nice,” Stiles says, nodding at a crisp picture of the sea at midday. Derek had captured the crest of a wave perfectly, and something about the framing conveys the bittersweet longing that Stiles knows Derek feels for the ocean at times.

“You’re just saying that,” Derek scoffs.

“No, it’s good,” Stiles insists. “I could see this being printed in a magazine.”

Derek turns and smiles at him, drinking in the praise. “It’s your camera.”

“Mm,” Stiles hums, working his fingers up under Derek’s sweater and nuzzling into the crook of his neck. “Never works so well for me, though.”

Derek huffs breathily and rolls his hips, fumbling to set the phone on their nightstand so his hands can freely move around Stiles’ ribs. The nuzzling turns into kisses, which grow heated and wet as Derek’s hands work their way lower, dipping past the waistband of Stiles’ sweats.

Stiles throws a knee over Derek’s hip and straddles him, grinding down on the hard line of his cock. He isn’t sure if he wants to bother with prep tonight, or simply jerk them off nice and slow. Or maybe he should blow Derek, then guide his own cock into his willing mouth in turn. The furious intensity of their first time has long given way to a mutual confidence; he knows that whatever they don’t do now they can save for tomorrow, no need to rush. That promise has given them so many different nights. There’ve been ones where he’s put his refractory period to the test, but also ones where they’ve cuddled lazily all night, sharing nothing but warmth.

He grinds down again, desire pulsing into his groin with his quickening heartbeat. Derek squirms under him, responsive and needy, and Stiles knows he wants to take him completely apart tonight.

“You wanna fuck me?” he says in Derek’s ear, low and dirty. He squeezes him through his boxers for emphasis.

“What if I want to be?” Derek replies.

Stiles blinks in surprise. “Huh?”

“You’ve never been the one fucking me,” Derek says, matter of fact. “Do you not like to?”

“Uh- I mean, yes, I do. Just, usually guys who look like you...” Stiles stops. Of course Derek doesn’t have all that cultural baggage. But he had assumed that the roles they’d fallen into were what Derek wanted. “How we’ve been doing it works for us, I guess?

Derek quirks his head to the side, like he’s trying to decide if Stiles is joking. “Would the other way not?”

“Well,” Stiles says, his mouth suddenly wet with want. “Guess we can find out.”

He moves to kneel between Derek’s legs, helping him out of his boxers and stripping out of his own clothes. “Let me know if you’re uncomfortable at all, and I’ll go slower,” he says as he slicks his fingers. “Some people don’t like the sensation, it’s fine if you don’t.” He circles a finger around Derek’s hole, testing for give. Remarkably, Derek is already relaxed, accepting.

“It’s nice,” Derek says in one long, easy sigh.

Still, Stiles bends down as he works his finger deeper, licking and sucking at the head of Derek's cock to make sure it’s pleasurable when he adds another finger. He wants this to be good. He takes his time, enjoying the noises he’s able to coax out of Derek almost as much as the tight, slick heat of him.

“Stiles,” Derek prompts, wriggling under him, eyes hooded and dark with want. Well, alright, Stiles guesses at least one of them is ready for this.

Stiles moves up over Derek’s body and dips down to give him a shivery kiss. Derek’s not quite as flexible as Stiles, but enough to shift his legs up to hook over his shoulders. He doesn’t even look nervous as Stiles lines them up and pushes in slowly. When he bottoms out, he has to stop and take a breath, almost overwhelmed by both the feeling and by Derek’s absolute trust. Then he lets himself move.

There have been times that he’s felt nervous about topping, about his ability to do it right, but not with Derek. They two of them fall into rhythm almost perfectly. Stiles can’t believe he hadn’t asked for this sooner. Derek is responsive as always, arching up to meet each thrust, eyes closed as he takes in the unfamiliar sensations. Stiles has definitely topped from the bottom before, but setting the pace this way, burying himself in Derek’s tight heat, is something entirely different. And it feels… it feels amazing .

“Stiles,” Derek says, and he says it again, in time with each thrust, getting breathier and pitchy, falling apart. Reaching down to get a hand on Derek’s cock, Stiles starts to lose the steady tempo though he keeps trying to fuck hard and fast, hitting deep at Derek’s sweet spot, unsure if he can hold off his own orgasm long enough when Derek moans his name again. He has to close his eyes, but then he finally feels Derek come, cock twitching in his hand, and lets himself follow.

They’re still joined together, breathing in quick and ragged gulps. Stiles can feel the aftershocks in his spine, cock still buried deep in Derek’s clenching ass. Slowly, their breathing steadies, falling into one shared rhythm. Stiles opens his eyes to find Derek watching him with fresh wonder, broken apart with this new intimacy they’ve shared.

“Love you,” Derek says.

Stiles leans down to kiss him gently as he eases out, making sure Derek doesn’t feel lost or uncared for just because he’s not filled anymore. “I love you too,” he murmurs.

After a cursory swipe with an old t-shirt to clean them, he tucks his nose into Derek’s shoulder to sleep, inhaling the familiar salty musk. He drifts off like that, the lulling swell of Derek’s chest matching the crash of waves in the distance and feeling perfectly like home.


 

“So,” Lydia says brightly, and then trails off at Derek’s expression. Stiles glances over; it’s the frowny, bunchy eyebrows one. He knees Derek under the table and tries to smile big enough for both of them.

Lydia had been the one who asked to meet up, for a change. In the weeks since Stiles had told her over the phone that he saw Derek’s transformation, she’s been more excited and social than she’s been since their first week in Ireland. Stiles was happy to see her acting so much like her old self, but less pleased when some of her focus landed on Derek. Ostensibly it was because he and Stiles were getting serious, but Stiles suspects she's at least as interested in his personal knowledge of the supernatural as the state of their relationship.

While he didn’t love the idea of Lydia pumping his boyfriend for information, considering how well Derek and Scott get along over Skype and how much he liked visiting Sean’s pub, Stiles had assumed that a bit of socializing would be alright. Unfortunately, he’d assumed wrong. Derek had no interest in meeting Lydia.

“She’s a banshee,” he had said. “They sense death.”

“So what? Do they cause death?” Stiles had argued.

“No,” Derek admitted, grudgingly. “Still. It isn’t healthy to know when death will come. Running from fate leads you straight to it, they say. Besides, banshees have magic in them. It sets my teeth on edge.”

“But you’re a seal person , that’s magic.” Stiles had said, baffled.

“Nature magic,” Derek had insisted. “Not spirit magic. Her kind isn’t bound by logic; Spirits don’t make sense with what they want or how they get it. Nature can be cruel, but it’s also simple. It follows the rules.”

“Okay, but her hearing spirits doesn’t mean they can do anything to her, or you. Or can they?” Derek had looked uncomfortable at the suggestion, and Stiles had started to worry. “Can they do something to her? Can she be possessed?”

“She shouldn’t delve into that, it’s dangerous. Can’t we just stay away from her?”

That had been enough to put Stiles’ foot down. “She’s not some kind of necromancer, Derek, she’s my friend. She barely knows anything about her powers anyways.”

It hadn’t ended the argument, but after days of pestering and pleading Derek had been convinced to at least give her a chance.

Stiles tries not to think about all that as they all sit around his table at glare at each other in silence. He clears his throat and asks, “Anyone want more tea?” though it’s not been two minutes since he poured the first cups.

“Oh, I brought cookies,” Lydia says, bringing a box out of her purse to set on the table. Stiles thanks her vigorously and grabs a plate to put them on. While he isn’t very hungry, he makes himself eat one to show that he’s appreciative. Derek eyes them suspiciously before he tentatively eats one as well. He licks his lips, making a familiar “not bad” expression with his eyebrows, and then he grabs another.

Stiles and Lydia catch up about Stiles’ dissertation while Derek eats, Lydia not so subtly glancing over to check his expression every third word. By the time he finishes his fourth cookie, the tone of the room is improved enough that Lydia turns her full attention back to Derek.

“Stiles says you’ve been enjoying reading some of his books,” she says politely. “I was actually curious about how you learned, since you didn’t go to school. Did your mother teach you?”

“Stiles said you were a Martin,” Derek says around a fifth cookie. “You’re not a Martin.”

Lydia blinks at the non sequitur. “Sorry?”

“You’re an Ó Braonáin. Half their women are banshees, or more. I recognize the mouth on you. And the hair.”

“O’Brennan?” Lydia gasps. “That’s my mother’s family. You know them?”

“By name,” Derek allows. “We’ve had contact, but we don’t associate.”

Lydia gives a little half-laugh. “So it all ties back to this place. I thought it was strange enough I was a banshee, I would never have guessed my family… and yours, too. Are there others like us?”

“I know of a wolfpack up the coast. Perhaps there are more farther inland that my pod doesn’t know of. The Nemeton here attracts us.”

“How?”

Derek tenses defensively, shoulders hunching towards his ears. “It’s a feeling. A rightness to the land that makes it feel like home. We don’t try to pry into the magic to find a how .”

“I’m not trying to pry,” Lydia says softly. “I want to understand my powers well enough to do what I need to, that’s all. I’m just trying to learn.”

“Wait,” Stiles interrupts. “That’s what you’re doing at the hospital. You’re trying to see if you can sense who’s going to die.”

Lydia’s visibly startled. “What? How do you-”

“Sean told me, his wife works across the street. That’s why you go there, isn’t it?”

She looks down at her tea. “It hasn’t worked yet.”

“And that’s your grand task? To find out which old ones are dying today versus tomorrow?” Derek look both disgusted and bored.

“No. It’s Allison, my…” Lydia cuts off, her voice wavering. “I need to communicate with Allison.”

Derek snorts. “I can’t help you learn that, and I wouldn’t even if I could. Nothing good will come of it.”

“Not your call,” Lydia says back, some of her own temper flaring, though she’s hiding it well. “If you don’t know anything about banshees, tell me about your powers. How did you learn to transform? Maybe it’s similar. Did someone have to teach you?”

“How do you learn to breathe?” Derek says dismissively. “You just do, when it’s time. What we are, it comes to us like anything in our bodies does. There’s no learning to it.”

“That’s how you know when it’s time to go back to the sea?” Stiles asks. “In your body?” It’s strange, the three of them. Stiles felt at first like it was Stiles-and-Derek, with Lydia the intruder, but now it feels a bit like Lydia-and-Stiles the clueless outsiders, and Derek the knowledgeable teacher. Or maybe even Derek-and-Lydia the supernatural beings, and Stiles the mere human to be left behind.

“That’s how I know when it’s time,” Derek admits. “Like being hungry or… or when you’ve bent your arm the wrong way and you can tell you’ll break it if you push.”

“But you must learn what triggers it,” Stiles insists. “Like, is it a number of hours thing?”

Derek shifts in his chair, reaching for a cookie and then fidgeting with it rather than eating. “We know the logic for some of it. My mother told us of things she learned in her time with my father before I ever experienced them myself. But why try to… to write sheet music to a tune you already know?”

Lydia drums her fingers on the table, starting to get visibly irritated. “So that’s all there is? I’ll just know what to do about Allison?”

Derek turns on her. “I already told you, don’t do anything with Allison. Your love’s dead, and the dead should stay that way,” he says, low and fast.

“So I just ignore her, then? Even when I’ve heard how badly she needs my help?” Lydia’s lower lip trembles, almost imperceptibly, and her eyes are wet. “I let her go?”

“You don’t even need to do that,” Derek confirms coldly. “She’s already gone.”

Lydia’s jaw clenches so hard Stiles can see the muscles twitch. “I won’t accept that,” she says. She stands quickly, sending her chair scraping back, and marches out of the cabin. The door slams behind her with a loud, final smack.

“Well, that could have gone better,” Stiles sighs.

 


 

While his personal life has grown more and more intertwined with Derek’s, Stiles’ academic life seems to be stalling. There’s only so much writing and editing that a physics diss requires, after all, and Stiles is well aware that he’s been spinning his wheels for a couple weeks now on the last batch of paltry edits Haris had requested.

The emails from his advisor have been getting more pointed, too: he’s selected a committee and they’re ready to read his draft, but two of them will be gone over the summer. If he doesn’t set a date soon, they won't be able to graduate him until the fall term. With May suddenly upon them, Stiles begins to feel an almost physical pressure that builds and builds until he can’t stand it any more.

“Derek, I set a date for my defense,” he blurts after dinner. “I need to go back home, soon. I could work on my writing here, but my committee is in California and the defense is kind an in-person deal. I don’t want to leave you, but I can’t put it off forever. Flights are getting more expensive, and I’m not made of money.”

Derek fidgets with his silverware, won’t looks Stiles in the eyes.

“Look, I mean it, I don’t want to be away from you,” Stiles says ducking his head to catch Derek’s gaze. “Will you come with me?”

“I don’t have any papers,” Derek needlessly points out.

“I know. But Scott’s boss knows a guy who…”

“Why can’t you stay here?” Derek interrupts, almost pleading.

Stiles lets that sit for a minute, tries to consider it an actual suggestion, and fails. “I just told you. Everything for me is in America. My career, my dad, my friends, my… my world .”

Derek gives him that arched eyebrow, but doesn't make the obvious statement.

“I'm sorry, I didn't mean your stuff is less important. Just, human stuff is complicated .”

Which, perhaps fairly, just earns him a displeased glare.

“Look, I talked to Deaton and he can take care of the passport, I promise. Just say you’ll come with me. It’ll be fun.” Stiles tries to make it sound that way, but it comes out a bit reedy, desperate.

Derek’s expression’s gone petulant now. “You go have fun, then. I’ll stay and see you when you come back.”

“I don’t know when I’m gonna be able to come back,” Stiles says gently. Or if, or for how long.

That earns him a long, unreadable stare. “This is my home,” Derek says finally. Then he gets up from the table with their dishes, effectively ending the conversation.

Stiles putters around tidying while Derek finishes washing. He gets in bed first, and Derek joins him there where he’s reading, snuggling in close like an apology. He noses into the nape of Stiles neck like he wants to make a home there, but he doesn’t take what he said back. He doesn’t offer to come to California after all.

Later that night, Stiles stays awake, eyes closed; he knows Derek always sneaks out long before sunrise, so careful to not be seen. Usually it feels better to be asleep, and not have to know the moment he’s being left. But this time, Stiles is awake.

This time, Stiles won’t look the other way while Derek choses the sea over their relationship yet again.

After a few nervous breaths, he pulls on jeans, stuffs his feet into his sneakers, and leaves the cabin to follow Derek along the path to the beach, tripping down the rocky incline. The moon is full and bright enough that he can easily track Derek’s dark shape past where they met, though he does have to stay closer than he’d like. He’s appreciative of the noisy surf covering his clumsy footsteps in the half-dark.

Finally he sees Derek kneel, and realizes that this outcropping must be the hiding place. Stiles backtracks to crouch behind a larger boulder and waits until he sees Derek walk into the sea and transform.

After about ten minutes, Stiles figures it’s safe to get a closer look. He walks down and examines the area where Derek knelt until he finds one rock that looks loose, recently disturbed. He pulls it aside and sees the clothes there, carefully folded and tucked into a hollow dug behind the rock. This is the hiding place.

Stiles puts the rock back, leaving the clothes undisturbed. It’s only to know, not to do anything. He shoves himself up to a standing position and walks back home, the knowing sitting hot at the back of his mind. It’s just… hunters must have tricks for finding their prey, and the skin seems so exposed hidden under a rock that anyone could find. It must be dangerous, is all. Stiles walks back up the steep path to the cabin, jiggles the lock open and closes the door behind him. He takes off his shoes and clothes, and crawls back into his bed to try and get a little sleep before morning. The sheets are cold against his bare legs.  

He had wanted to know for his own peace of mind, but he doesn't feel peaceful. The hiding place isn’t safe enough. If the hunters come back, he decides, he’ll take the skin. He’ll keep Derek from harm, even if Derek is angry. If he needs to, then he’ll do something. Not before. Only if he needs to.

Stiles doesn’t let himself think that even if it’s not hunters, it’ll be something. Derek’s family, or his age, or the mystical rules Stiles isn’t allowed to know about. Derek will leave. Is already leaving, pulling away now that Stiles’ real life is starting up again. Like maybe all the complications of their differences are too much for him, after all.

Stiles tries to sleep, but he only hears Lydia’s voice promising the one constant in this story: the selkie always leaves.

 


 

With his graduate work nearly finished, there’s not much for Stiles to do when Derek goes back to the sea. Hiking just reminds him what he’s missing, so instead he goes into town for the distraction. It’s midday in Kincora on a Sunday, and what little bustle happens at all is happening now. Still, he’s surprised to see Lydia stepping out of a shop and joining the throng of other people milling about on the walk. He’d assumed she would be holed up in her cabin or at the library or hospital, experimenting with her power. She hasn’t even been answering his calls lately, and he guessed she was either too busy or too irritated after their ill-fated conversation with Derek.

“Lydia,” he calls. She turns at the sound of his voice, and she doesn’t look entirely happy to see him. He watches her sunny smile falter into one that’s much more forced. Maybe he wasn’t so far off the mark about her still being irritated with him.

It’s then he notices that she isn’t alone. For a vertiginous second it's Allison beside her, as if Stiles is the one able to commune with the dead. But no. On second impression it’s someone else. He recognizes her as the girl from the hospital, Naomi. Stiles frowns at himself. She doesn’t look like Allison at all. He doesn’t know what he was thinking.

Stiles shakes the surprise out of his expression and walks over. Even Lydia’s slightly nervous smile is far improved from the antsy, rage-filled version he’d seen not so long ago. She looks the best she has in ages, actually.

“Lydia hi! And…?”

“Naomi,” Lydia says, nodding at her friend.

Stiles smiles at the girl, glad to avoid revealing that he already knows. The nurse must have been wrong about her condition, for her to be walking around looking this healthy after so short a recovery time. He holds out his hand.

“Hi, Stiles,” Naomi says warmly, shifting her shopping bag to shake hands. She has dimples when she smiles.

Stiles tries to put the unsettled feeling aside, even though the way she holds herself keeps turning her into someone familiar out of the corner of his eye. “So, Lydia talks about me?” he asks brightly. “Only good things, I hope!”

Naomi looks at him, confused.

“Sorry, just… before, I didn’t tell you my name,” he says.

There’s a split-second before she reacts, and then she says, “oh! Yes, we have.” She smiles at him and glances to Lydia as if for a cue. “Of course we’ve talked about you. And you’re the only other American, so...” She seems nervous, maybe to make a good impression.

“I guess it’s unusual to have tourists this time of year,” he admits. “Or at least, way out here. Kincora was Lydia’s call, for her anthro research. Though, I guess you knew that.” He can't help but notice the way they’re holding hands, Lydia’s thumb absently stroking Naomi’s forefinger.

“Yes, Lydia told me. The library here’s quite well regarded,” Naomi says. Stiles nods, not sure what else to add. There’s a strained lapse in conversation.

“Er, how did you two meet?” Stiles asks. He doesn’t want to admit he saw her at Mercy General, as curious as he is about her unexpected recovery.

“I was actually in the hospital for some time, and Lydia visited me. She sat with me when I started to improve, and, well, that’s all it took.” She looks over again to beam at Lydia, sharing a small, private smile. “It’s been the two of us since then.”

“Aren’t you other friends excited to spend some time with you now that you’re better?” Stiles asks, and instantly regrets it when Lydia’s soft expression flashes into a glare.

Naomi just shrugs. “I don’t know too many people here in Kincora, actually. I’m from Carnbranagh, about an hour inland. Going back there would only bring up bad memories, you see. I… What?” she asks, because, Stiles realizes, he’s frowning suspiciously at her.

“Just, where did you say you were from again?” He can’t help but chase the niggling discomfort, the thread that doesn’t fit. What can he say, he’s his father’s son. The nurse had said something different, not Carnbranagh. He’s sure he remembers “carnal” at the beginning.

“Car-Carnalbanagh,” Naomi corrects herself, weirdly stumbling over the pronunciation.

“Why so suspicious, Stiles,” Lydia asks brittly. She’s holding Naomi’s hand tightly now.

“Sorry, nothing,” Stiles apologizes. He doesn’t want to ruin her date, if that’s what this is. Derek’s distrust is rubbing off on him. “Just… you haven’t been doing so hot,” he says, flicking his eyes to Naomi and wishing he could speak with Lydia alone. “It’s a little weird for me to see you out and about, uh, with someone.”

“Well, I’m happy. So I don’t particularly care if you find it strange,” Lydia says with forced cheer. “Don’t you have a remarkably irritating, high-handed boyfriend to go spend time with?”

“Sorry,” Stiles mutters again.

“Don’t be, it’s fine,” Naomi says, nudging Lydia. “I understand this must be surprising.”

“Yeah, little bit.” Stiles says. Understatement . “But uh, I’m glad. That you’re doing better now. Both of you. What did you say you were hospitalized for?”

“I didn’t,” Naomi says, like an uncomfortable admission. “If you don’t mind, though, I’d rather not talk about all that.”

He nods. It’s not such a strange request, considering how the crash had taken her entire family, but still the questions about her recovery are on the tip of his tongue. He tries again to get the conversation back to solid ground. “What are you guys shopping for?” The store they had just came out of looks like a sports goods and tourisms store, featuring decorative shillelaghs and swords in the window. And bows.

Stiles looks down in surprise, and realizes with a lurch of affront that’s exactly what they had purchased, a recurve bow. The distinctive shape is peaking up out of Naomi’s shopping bag where she’s shifted it behind her legs. When he looks up again, she flushes and bites her lip, like a child caught coloring on the walls.

“Well, I… Lydia had spoken about archery and I thought I might give it a try.”

Stiles bristles. It had already seemed wrong that Lydia was goofing around in town rather than working to communicate with Allison, but it’s starting to feel like she’s replacing her. “I would point out that Lydia’s best friend was an archer before she died, but I guess you already know that, too.” Has Lydia told her about banshees as well? Selkies?

“Lydia’s mentioned her,” Naomi says quietly, adjusting her hold on the bag.

Stiles nods sharply. “Wow. So, in the day and a half you’ve known each other you’ve covered a hell of a lot of ground.”

“It’s been four days,” Lydia corrects, as if that matters.

“Lydia, is this some kind of joke?” Stiles asks. “I honestly don’t understand what’s going on here.”

“Then leave us alone,” Lydia says. Stiles is thrown to recognize fear under her anger.

“Lydia, no. It’s Stiles, we can tell him,” Naomi says, dipping her chin earnestly. Her accent is gone.

And just like that, everything clicks into place: the miraculous recovery, the strange missteps, Lydia’s mood, the too-familiar posture and mannerisms.

“Oh my God,” he says. Who is he to deny the supernatural at this point? Lydia sighs and looks away, accepting if not agreeing.

“This girl was dying anyways, Stiles,” Na- no, Allison says, pleading with him with guileless eyes. “It’s better this way.”

Stiles shakes his head, repulsed. “But the people she knew, her old life... it’s…”

“Wrong? I don't care if it's wrong,” Lydia spits in an undertone, crowding him back towards the wall and away from the other window shoppers. “It's Allison. I love her and I would do anything to be with her. Anything. What would you do for Derek, hm? You’d never do something ‘wrong’ to be with him?”

“This isn’t about me,” Stiles sputters. “I mean, possession? Really ? What you’re doing here is seriously dark.”

“Stiles, it’s not like that,” Allison protests. “We didn’t know what else to do.”

“Don’t tell,” Lydia hisses. “Nobody would believe you, anyways.”

“Then why do you care if I say anything?” Stiles snaps, holding her furious gaze. “You honestly think nobody’s noticed that “Naomi” doesn’t remember anything about before the crash? Nobody’s curious about the miracle recovery?”

He feels Naomi’s hands on his arm as Allison gets his attention back. “Stiles, please. Something went wrong with me leaving this plane, I was stuck. I could feel my sanity slipping, I was losing myself, becoming something, I don’t know, void . Dangerous. This was the best thing we could think of to do. Naomi was already gone. I promise.”

Stiles’ anger flags. Allison would never hurt anyone, he knows that better than anyone. “Okay,” he relents. The full implication of what’s happened hits him, then. It’s Allison . He throws his arms around her and hugs her. It feels unfair to have her back, like stealing. But what's done is done, and he’ll take it.

It’s oddly easy to get used to. The three of them go around the shops like old times, only Lydia is more animated and happy than he’s ever seen her, even before Allison was killed. They hold hands and whisper in each other’s ears and split a chicken pot pie at Sean’s pub for dinner, knocking their spoons playfully as they both go for the same piece of crust. Even though Stiles understands Derek’s hesitance about banshees better now that this has happened, he can’t really fault Lydia for what she’s done. Not when it’s given them Allison back.

Afterwards, though, Lydia’s words echo in his head. I would do anything to be with her . Like right and wrong lose their meaning in proximity to this kind of love, the same way that the supernatural itself becomes something beside the point. So Stiles sits alone and he wonders: What would he do for Derek, what would he do to be with Derek?

Chapter Text

Stiles has a flight in two weeks and five days, because waiting any longer to book would have made it more expensive than he could afford. He had gotten a passport and ticket for Derek, too, a wild gesture that he hoped would force the issue but had in the end only turned into another one sided conversation. He can't bear to cancel it, though he’s not holding out much hope that Derek will suddenly be willing to give up Ireland, even for a few months.  

Stiles would love to hurry back so they can be together. But after he graduates there’ll be interviews, ideally a job, more writing, teaching. He’s still not sure where Kincora fits in with everything, if it fits at all. It would be so much easier if Derek would come with him, just until they can figure out what’s next. But any serious discussion of their future is quickly derailed by Derek changing the topic, distracting Stiles with kisses, or spouting useless, fuzzy platitudes.

Stiles is at his wits’ end. They need to talk now, while they can. Derek doesn’t have an email address, a Skype account, or frankly any way for Stiles to communicate with him. Even the burner phone hasn’t been reliable, the battery dying faster and faster after being left to the elements for this long. And with Stiles gone, where will Derek come to charge it? Lydia and Allison certainly won’t stay, not with the risk of someone from Naomi’s old life finding them and unraveling the flimsy lies they’ve constructed. Even now, Stiles usually finds himself waiting at the cabin like a war widow until Derek can drag himself away from the sea to meet him. And soon they won’t even have that.

Will Derek really wait for him until he’s finally able to return? He shouldn’t have to ask. Nothing is going wrong between them, exactly. Even with their differences and Derek’s mother’s disapproval, they’re still good together. Stiles has to trust that Derek would never want to leave him, will be true no matter how long it takes him to come back. Promises of that are all Derek will offer regarding their upcoming separation, but at least he’s consistent in them.

Still, there’s always an if waiting at the back of Stiles’ mind. He tries to believe that Derek loves him and will wait for him as best as he’s able. But even if he does, who knows what changes time could bring? If the hunters come back, if his mother moves their pod, if Derek realizes that he prefers being a seal after all… if anything. Stiles can’t help but worry.

He can’t help but worry that if Derek really wanted to stay together, he’d make the choice to do just that.

In the meantime, Stiles’ departure looms. It’s a couple weeks away, then one week and five days, and then it’s one week, then just six days, and that in the end is what makes his mind up: The counter ticking down to a parting that may as well be final and Derek not even willing to talk about their options, relying only on lackadaisical, come-what-may faith in their eventual reunion.

Stiles waits for an evening when Derek is preoccupied with one of his novels, The Raven King. He’s half drowsing in the warm cabin, back from his sunset swim, and the fire he kindled is pouring heat into the room. He looks like he belongs here, on land, warm and comfortable in that old green sweater.

“Hey, I’m gonna go pick up some groceries,” Stiles says. It isn’t their usual schedule. Is he being too obvious? He runs a hand nervously through his hair, and then forces himself to stop. “You want anything?”

“Those cookies,” Derek says vaguely. He’s entranced by the book.

“You got it,” Stiles says.

He does go to the store first, quickly, throwing things in his basket and checking out in record time just as they’re closing. And then he goes down to the beach, careful not to walk too close past the window of his cabin.

It’s hard to find the spot again, but not impossible. He recognizes the boulder he’d hid behind, gets his bearings from that.

When he takes it from the skin from its hiding place, it’s warm under his fingers, so subtly that it could be just from the sun. But it hasn’t been lying out on the rocks, it was tucked away in the shadows on cool, damp sand. Stiles strokes it, lightly, and the fur seems to ripple with his touch. Like something alive. Like it’s breathing, or has a beating heart.

A prickle twinges at the back of his neck, as if he’s being watched. Furtively, Stiles rolls the skin up and stuffs it in his bag. Lydia will hold onto it for him, surely she and Allison will keep his secret as he keeps theirs. He can come get the skin back once Derek agrees that this trip is for the best, that the safest way for them to stay together is actually staying together. Maybe he’s just worried about his family’s reaction if he leaves, or maybe he’s nervous about trying something so different. Whatever it is, they’ll work it out together. Once they’re in California, the rest of it will all fall into place.

After all, they can come back to Ireland when Stiles has enough time. Hell, Stiles could even look at jobs in Belfast if that’s what Derek needs. And before then, Derek can always transform and swim in the Pacific . It isn’t like Stiles is taking the skin for good, not like Derek’s father did to his mother. He’ll give it back to Derek when it’s time, obviously. It’s not as if this coercion was the way he wanted the conversation to go. Derek will understand why he had to force the issue, once he explains.

Besides, this way they’ll be together, and that’s everything. No matter what the stories say, it doesn’t have to be a tragedy. Stiles will make sure Derek never has to leave him.

When he gets to Lydia's, he knocks softly, cutting his eyes over to his own cabin just next door. He bounces on the toes of his shoes until she finally opens the door, and shoves his way in before she can get a word in edgewise.

“Stiles?” Allison asks. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” Stiles says quickly. “Just, can I ask a favor?”

“You can ask,” Lydia says warily.

Stiles digs into his bag and takes the skin out gently, holding it out to Lydia like an offering or like penance. “Look, can you please hold on to this for me?”

Lydia’s eyebrows shoot up. “Is that…”

“Yes,” Stiles interrupts. He can’t bring himself to meet her eyes, though he knows that after what she did for love there should be no judgement there. Except, perhaps, his own reflected.

“Oh, Stiles,” Allison says sadly. But Lydia nods without complaint.

She goes to the back corner of the room and opens her closet, pointing up to the highest shelf. Stiles stands on his tiptoes to tuck the skin between her clean white sheets, carefully checking that it’s fully hidden. With the door closed, you’d hardly even think to look there, and never guess that there was something so important hidden among the linens. Or, anyone else wouldn’t. Stiles can feel an almost physical tug directly towards it, like it’s connected to a string tied behind his ribs.

“Thank you,” Stiles says.

“We're going home to America at the end of the month, I already talked with my advisor about switching back into the physics department and restarting my research,” Lydia says. “You can’t leave it here.”

Stiles is already nodding. “It’s just for a few days, until Derek gets used to things. I’m taking it with us when we go back to California. I’ll keep it in my carry-on, it won’t be out of my sight at all.”

“Okay,” Lydia says softly. Allison bites her lip and looks torn.

“Thanks,” Stiles blurts, and leaves before she can say anything to change his mind.

He heads back to his own cabin with only the groceries, feeling strangely light. Only, it’s not his cabin anymore. It’s theirs now, his and Derek’s. From here on out, he thinks with a frisson of excitement, they’re a package deal.

When he comes in and kicks off his shoes, Derek frowns. The book is closed beside him.

"Where were you?" he asks. “You took a long time.”

"Snacks!" Stiles says, plucking the cookies he picked up from the grocery bag and holding them triumphantly aloft. He has a moment of irrational panic. What if Derek can just tell, what if the transgression sits on his skin like an unmistakable scent? “Sorry, it took a bit to find your faves.”

"Oh. Thank you." Derek takes the cookies, picking the corner of the box slowly open as Stiles tosses the apples into the fruit bowl and shoves the milk in the fridge. Derek is still worrying at the box when he finishes.

"What’s up?" Stiles asks, faking calm. “You seem kinda antsy.”

"You know that I love you, don’t you?" Derek asks unexpectedly.

“Of course,” Stiles says. He has to swallow around a lump that rises in his throat, the tentative tone of it and the fragile expression on Derek’s face almost too much.

"I hate that you’re leaving so soon. You know I’d go with you, if it was just a matter of leaving,” Derek offers. “If I was like you, then... But I’m not. I have my pod, and my skin to keep safe, and the sea isn’t so simple for me to leave behind. It’s not that I don’t want to be what you need, but I can't change what I am. Not even for you.” He looks up at Stiles, open and tentative. “I’ll wait for you to come back, I promise.”

"It’s fine, I get it," Stiles says, kissing him softly and rubbing his arms up and down to reassure them both. He did the right thing, Derek will be safe now that Stiles is protecting the skin, safe and free to come to California. This is what Derek wants, too.

 


 

When Stiles wakes up that morning, for once it isn’t to an empty cabin. A thrill goes through him at the novelty. Waking with Derek calling him! True, it's early enough that it’s dark out still, but it’s nice all the same. Even if Derek is anxious and pacing by the bed, as Stiles notes he is. This reaction is to be expected, of course. He probably should have just told Derek about the skin last night, but every time he’d started… well, it hadn’t been the right time. There’s no avoiding it now, though, and Stiles steels himself to make the points that will prove why this is for the best.

"Stiles, I can’t find my sealskin," Derek says as he sees Stiles sit up, rubbing a hand over his face. "I hadn’t heard that the hunters were here, I swear my mother would have said if they were. But it’s not where I left it. It’s gone. Stiles, you have to help me find it. If I can’t get back to the sea by sunrise, we-” he stops, noticing Stiles’ expression. “Why are you so calm?”

"Look, it’s fine," Stiles says. “You can be here as long as you want. Just come back to bed.”

"How is it fine ?" Derek snaps. The tone is jarringly unfamiliar, Stiles realizes it’s the first time he’s seen him truly angry. "My skin is… it’s… " and then comprehension sparks in his eyes and burns away any emotion but pure shock.

Stiles’ conviction wavers. "You’re safer like this, alright?" he reminds them both.

“What?” Derek whispers.

"I mean, you basically said it yourself, a rock is not a good hiding place!" Stiles explodes against the unexpected terror on Derek’s face. "It’s safe now. I’m gonna keep you safe, so we can really be together. "

"You actually…" Derek's eyes rake the walls of the cabin like it’s a trap closing in, rocking unsteady on his feet.

"Not forever," Stiles rushes to say. “You can have it back. Just, come with me back to California first, yeah? We’ll get my dissertation accepted, you can meet my dad at graduation, and Scott in person. Then we can go to Beacon Hills, there’s an ocean nearby, you know? And then we’ll… figure it out from there. Okay?"

Derek’s still now, shoulders caving in as he pulls to himself. “Yes,” he says, quietly. Though he doesn’t look happy, maybe that’s too much to expect. He says it again, a little louder: “Yes, Stiles.”

“Okay,” Stiles confirms, forcing a smile. Derek needs some time to get used to it, but this is for the best. They’ll be together, so they’ll be happy. "Come back to bed?" he pleads. And Derek, after a moment, complies.

 


 

"Just a few days before we’re headed back to the States, huh? Excited? You’re gonna love my dad," Stiles says, faking the cheer he should be feeling. It's been a couple days since Derek's skin, and they still haven't quite found their footing. They haven't so much as kissed, actually, though they haven’t argued either. Derek seems sad, but he must understand why leaving together is the best solution or he’d be saying something. He’s never hesitated to argue before. Stiles tries again: "C’mon, don’t you want to pack?"

"I don’t have anything to bring," Derek says.

"What about those jeans, the ones you wore to the pub? And the plaid shirt, too."

“You bought them,” Derek says, as if that means they aren’t really his.

Stiles opens his mouth, but decides against saying anything. He lets the conversation, such as it is, lapse.

Derek's not physically different in any way. If anything, he must be eating better now that he doesn’t have to hunt for his dinners. Only, the overall effect of not transforming is almost like he’s gone through the wash one too many times, like his colors are faded and his edges worn from crispness. He likes to be outside now, on one of the two uncomfortable deck chairs placed in the strip of grass that counts as the cabin’s yard. The only thing to recommend the spot is the view of the water, but he hasn’t even touched the camera that Stiles left encouragingly on the other chair.

Stiles almost wants to just give him the skin and let him swim for a couple hours today, rather than waiting for California. Except that for now... For now he's not entirely confident Derek would come back.  

He shakes himself. It'll be different after the flight, when Derek can see that it’s not so bad to be somewhere new. They just need time.

“C’mon, I made us some tea,” Stiles offers gently, holding out a mug.

Derek reaches out obediently to accept the cup. He plucks it out of Stiles’ hand carefully, without so much as brushing fingers. He holds it in both hands, and Stiles watches as he drinks it slowly, looking out towards the waves.

“You’ll like it in Beacon Hills. California might be different, but I’ll be there, right?” Derek cuts his eyes over coolly and looks back to the sea. Stiles sets his jaw, dissatisfaction and anger mixing uncomfortably in his gut. He’s been trying to act like nothing’s changed and it isn’t helping. He wants more than no argument, he wants an admission he did the right thing. “Hey, stop stonewalling me. I’m just trying to keep you safe.”

Derek still doesn’t look over, not even as he says, “I know that you are.” The dismissal stings.

“Don’t you want to be with me?” Stiles demands.

“You’re the one who was leaving,” Derek says smoothly, the barest hint of reproach.

“I have to, I explained. And you… you left me every night ,” Stiles snaps, hearing the hurt in his own voice. The muscles in Derek’s neck and shoulders pulse with tension, but he remains silent, looking out towards the water.

“I hate waking up alone, you know that?” Stiles continues. “No, because you didn’t even care enough to ask, you just couldn’t wait to get back to the sea. As if you hadn’t been in it literally twelve hours ago! I didn’t ever know when you’d come back, even though I gave you that stupid phone, and I just wanted..." Stiles cuts himself off and steps close to Derek, crouching so they’re at the same level. He brushes a tentative hand over Derek’s cheekbone, wishing for their old, effortless connection. “I want to be with you for real.”

Hope sparks in his chest when Derek doesn’t move away from the touch as Stiles had secretly feared he might. He even turns into it, finally meeting Stiles’ gaze with his familiar grey-green eyes.

Stiles leans to kiss him, seeking the familiar comfort and love they’ve shared. Only, the second their lips meet Derek is perfectly still, not reacting at all. When he kisses back, it’s awkward in a way it’s never been with them before. The kiss is hesitant, ginger, like he would rather not be touching Stiles at all. Stiles breaks away, and Derek’s face is blank.

Stiles’ stomach gives a sickening lurch, jostling loose his self-righteous conviction. “Are you just doing whatever I say because I have your skin?” he asks hoarsely. “Did you kiss me just now because you think that's what I want?”

“Isn’t it?” Derek asks flatly.

“No, Derek,” Stiles says. “Jesus, no. I want you to be yourself.”

“How? Half of my self is locked away where I can’t even feel it,” Derek says with sudden heat. “Where you hid it from me.”

And Stiles wants to argue that it isn’t like that, Derek can trust him to give it back at the right time. But the words stick in his throat. Could he honestly argue that he’s trustworthy? He’s trapped Derek here without even giving him a choice, he’s forcing him to do things the way he wants by tearing away any other option. It had felt like such an insult when Derek didn’t want to explain about his other life or show Stiles his skin’s hiding place, but it looks like he was right. Stiles has been lying to himself; this isn’t for Derek, it’s only for his own satisfaction.

“No," Stiles says, to himself mostly. "It wasn’t supposed to be a bad thing, we were going to- ” he swallows the end of the sentence, realizing he used the past tense. “J-just, stay here.” He hates that it comes out an order.

“Yes, Stiles,” Derek murmurs, turning back to the view.

 


 

“Lydia,” he calls, barging into her cabin with barely a knock to announce himself, “I fucked up, I fucked up so hard.”

Allison half-stands, half-falls off of Lydia’s lap, and in any other circumstance the noise she makes would have been hilarious. Lydia’s expression is pure indignance until she takes one look at his face and sees something that cuts off any complaint about his having let himself in unannounced.

“Stiles,” she starts to say, but he cuts her off.

“I need it back.”

Lydia hesitates for half a second, but Allison doesn’t. She goes to the closet instantly and pulls out Derek’s skin. She hands it to Stiles with concern written all over her face. He grabs it eagerly, and he’s already halfway back to the door when Lydia speaks.

“What if you never see him again?” she says. Stiles stutters to a stop and turns. Both of the women look genuinely sad, Lydia holding his gaze and Allison looking away, out the window towards his cabin.

“I can’t keep him like this,” Stiles confesses. “He’s miserable, he doesn’t trust me anymore. When I give it back, I’ll admit I was wrong, and he’ll forgive me. We can go back to how it was. We’ll…we can...” Stiles trails off because he can’t quite believe it’ll work, even in his imagination.

“What if he doesn’t forgive you?”

Stiles can’t answer that. The only thing he knows is that he made a terrible mistake and he needs to fix it. They can’t stay like this, with Derek so joyless and fearful. He holds the skin close to his chest and runs.

Derek is waiting exactly where he left him. Of course he is; he’s terrified of what Stiles could do to him. It breaks Stiles’ heart a little to see that, to understand the depth of his transgression. He steps in front of Derek, between the cabin’s yard and the sea. His chest is heaving after his sprint, and the skin feels electric clasped in his fists. He presses it to his ribs, like it can absorb some of the hurt, and then forces himself to extend his arm, offering it out to Derek.

“I’m sorry,” Stiles blurts. “My flight was coming up so soon and you wouldn’t even talk about what that meant for us, much less come with me, and I just panicked. I thought I’d never see you again if I left, but if I didn’t go back I’d never get my degree, and there’s hunters and your mother hates me, and I thought… I thought this would be easier.”

Derek looks both confused and wary, and Stiles is the one that did this to him, made him so justifiably skittish.

“It was a mistake, I’m sorry,” Stiles pleads, one hand still stretched out in offering even as Derek backs away. “I’m giving it back.”

Derek still looks suspicious, like it must be a trap. He stands in one quick motion and snatches the skin out of Stiles hand, grabs it close to his chest as he darts out of reach again. “Am I supposed to thank you?”

No,” Stiles says, though he does feel like he’s making a sacrifice, giving up an assurance that Derek’s own father hadn’t been able to. He takes an unconscious step forward, trying to close the dista nce between them. Derek steps back. “I just…”

“I need the sea,” Derek spits. “I thought you saw that.”

“I couldn’t see anything but that,” Stiles says, bristling. “Do you see what I need, though? Never knowing when we’d be together next drove me crazy, waking up alone every morning drove me crazy, and you just didn't seem to care at all. Would coming with me really be so goddamn awful? You say you love me and you want to be with me, but you’ve never offered to even stay one full night, and I don’t understand why .”

“I couldn’t stay because I wanted to be with you, still,” Derek says tightly.

“That makes literally no sense,” Stiles bites out. His eyes prickle with tears and he blinks them back.

“If I stayed the night to see sunrise, I couldn’t have been with you again for seven years. That’s what the legends mean: If I’m in human form at sunrise or sunset with another human, then I can’t go back to them until seven years pass. I need to be in the sea, unless someone has my skin and I can’t go. That’s why I couldn't wake up with you, or come on your trip. Do you understand? I was trying to stay.”

“What? Why didn’t you just tell me that?” Stiles breathes. 

Derek closes his eyes, a pained half-wince. “I thought you might not want me, if you knew. You’d see what little I could offer and you’d be… disappointed with me.”

“Well, I fucking am,” Stiles says, all the frustration and unhappiness transmogrified to anger. “If that’s how it is, if you’re never going to… then why are you a person at all? If the sea is always gonna win out, then why bother?” Stiles shouts through his suddenly choked throat.

“I guess it’s the both of us that’s sorry,” Derek says thickly. He takes another step back, then two. Then he turns on his heel and skitters down the path to the beach, away from Stiles and the cabin.

No. Stiles stumbles clumsily after him, saltwater mist stinging his face as he closes in on the rough grey waves. His emotions are still a mess of resentment and anger, but he didn’t mean to hurt Derek again. There must be something to say, to take it back, but the words are all blocked in his throat. And then Derek’s on the beach, shedding his worn familiar clothes into messy piles like he’ll never need them again. He throws his skin over his shoulders as he walks into the waves, folding into his other form and slipping underwater.

Stiles is stopped at the tide line, sneakers crunching on the rocky beach at the edge of where he can follow, foamy surf kissing the toes of his shoes.

“Derek!” he shouts, cupping his hands as if that could keep the roaring waves and wind from whisking his voice away.

But he’s alone. He searches for the sleek shape of Derek’s seal head, and can’t spot it in the ever-moving waves. The breath catches in his lungs, and his eyes sting as he looks frantically for a flicker of dark fur. There’s nothing. It’s been five minutes, ten, and slowly he lets himself understand that Derek is already gone.

He’s gone.

The chill air feels hollow, desolate and grey. When Stiles’ fingers start to loose feeling from the icy wind, he finally turns away from the vast horizon. He walks back towards the cabin, mechanically gathering the old clothes from the beach. Leave them there like trash seems impossible. As he clutches them in his arms, he tries to pretend that he’ll keep them for Derek even as he knows it’s a lie. Unlike that anticipation-filled first morning, so surprised to find Derek gone, this standing on the shore alone with no time left for apologies does feel like the end of something.

Chapter Text

Things go great after he leaves Ireland. Stiles defends, gets his PhD, and hears through Harris that a last minute course addition at Stanford has opened up a summer teaching position. Interviews go well, papers are signed, and it’s heavily implied that if he plays his cards right and gets good reviews, he has an adjunct position waiting for him in the Fall. He moves down to Palo Alto at the beginning of June, with everything he ever wanted laid out for the taking. All he needs to do is wait a little for the greatness of it all to catch up with him, because right now he mostly feels like curling up and dying.

Beyond what’s required for his job, he doesn’t get out much. The bars all seem loud and impersonal, and he can almost feel his gunner coworkers sizing up his vulnerabilities over small talk. Lydia is back in California now to finish her physics degree, but they haven’t seen each other since his post-defense celebration. She’s two hours away from Stanford, and busy enough with Allison and her restarted physics work that she barely has time for herself, much less for Stiles. Scott’s a little closer, up in Beacon Hills, but has his own fledgling romance with Kira to enjoy.

If either couple knew the extent of his break with Derek, they’d probably insist on hanging out and cheering him up - but they don’t. He’d been purposefully vague when they saw one another, attributing his sour mood beforehand to pre-defense nerves and then drinking enough after he’d been able to believe his own evasion of, “we’re going to see what happens after the summer.”

He likes it better this way, besides. It doesn’t seem fair to bring any of them down with the stupid sob story of how Stiles ruined his one chance with the love of his life.

Instead, he restarts his Netflix subscription and spends most of his time binging on old TV shows and movies. He only makes it a quarter of the way through The Little Mermaid before he has to turn it off. Everything feels like a reminder: the movies they’d watched, the pictures of the sea saved to his phone, sushi, strangers kissing. Derek’s old, stretched out sweater lives on the empty side of Stiles’ uselessly large queen bed. It still smells, faintly, of saltwater. When the California nights feel too cold, Stiles wears it and thinks of the fire that first night he’d met Derek, how it had felt like summer no matter the temperature outside.

The one thing he genuinely likes about his new life is being able to see his dad without a 13 hour flight. Today, Sheriff Stilinski had finally gotten some time off from the station to come over for dinner, as a belated housewarming. Stiles greets him with a tight hug, burying his face in the familiar cotton-and-leather scented collar of his dad’s uniform like it’s been years rather than weeks since they saw each other at graduation. His dad makes a point of complementing the apartment as he gets the tour, but has to work to find things to say. Even a month and a half in, it’s still a mess of unpacked boxes and bare walls.

Since it’s a celebration of sorts, Stiles acquiesces to his father’s “no salad” request and they order burgers to eat sitting on the floor, plates balanced on a large upturned box.  It’s nice enough, talking about sports and Stiles’ work and getting filled in on the little Beacon Hills stories he’s missed out on. At the same time, though, Stiles can tell that he’s not responding with the interest his dad expects, mostly giving one word answers and picking at his fries. They’re tasty enough, but he just hasn’t been that hungry lately.

“Son, what’s wrong?” his dad asks finally, setting his elbows on his knees purposefully and giving Stiles The Look, the one that had preceded both his finally coming out as bi and his admission that he wanted to continue with school for his PhD rather than try out for the police academy.

“Nothing,” Stiles says automatically, but he can see that his dad doesn’t buy it and he’s never been able to resist The Look. He sighs. “I’m not really… I dunno. Not happy? It’s fine, I guess. I got everything I wanted, so. Yay.” He waves a finger in a little, sarcastic spiral. He doesn’t understand why he couldn’t care less about unpacking and making a home here. Yes, he misses Derek like hell, but a great romance was never in the plan anyways. He’s always wanted the prestigious letters after his name name, and now he’s got them. He’s got a job at one of the best schools out there, he’s got his own place and money to spare, he’s even got a predicted 300 days of sunshine a year near the proper, sandy beaches of Southern California. But the flat, paved expanse of Stanford’s campus does nothing for him, the people are either standoffish or vapid, and the work honestly bores him. He’d thought there’d be more curiosity, more friendship and laughter, more… something. But instead he feels hollow.

His father leans back with a pensive look. “You know, I wanted to be a detective in San Francisco when I was about your age.”

Stiles lets out a disbelieving laugh in his surprise. He can barely imagine it: his dad, who loves working with his tight-knit group of deputies, who revels in the small town chattiness of the annual bake sale, who indulges the war of noise complaints between Aaron Matherson and Mr. Jones that is almost certainly flirting by proxy. His dad, Sheriff Stilinski, tracking down grisly murders in the big city? “But that’s so wrong for you!”

His dad smiles with a little shrug. “Sure, but I didn’t know that at the time. I just wanted the hotshot job, the biggest city ‘cause it was the biggest. Everyone said I could make it, and I thought that meant I should. Your mom was what made me me stay in Beacon Hills. She wouldn’t leave, and I wanted her more than the job, even though nobody was telling me I oughta get married young and start a family.” He raises his eyebrows. “But she was right, in the end. Don’t you think?”

Stiles had always guessed that his dad knew more about his reasons for staying in Kincora than he let on, even though Stiles had kept the details purposefully vague in their occasional phone calls. Now those suspicions are confirmed. “You just want me to live in a small town and make grandbabies,” Stiles grumbles to hide his emotion.

“I want you to be happy,” his dad says gently. “Even if it isn’t in the way you thought you’d be.”

Stiles swallows back the lump in his throat. “What if I messed up, though? What if I already ruined it?”

“You haven’t.”

The memory of Derek’s face, all wounded betrayal, stabs into Stiles’ memory like a knife. He hears his own voice accusing, why are you a person at all? “You don’t know what I did.”

“I know that over twenty years of marriage I screwed up about a billion times, myself,” his dad says. “If you want to fix things, then apologize. You owe the person you left a chance to accept it. Have you thought that maybe you’re not the only one who’s miserable alone?”

Stiles honestly hadn’t, and the thought of Derek missing him has his eyes prickling with tears. Impulsively, he leans over the box table for an awkward, tight hug. “Thanks, Dad.”

“You really wanna thank me, let’s go back to that grandkids idea,” the sheriff says with a broad gin. Stiles gives him a watery laugh in reply.

He had thought when he left Ireland without Derek that it was an admission of failure, evidence that things could never have worked out between them in the first place. He hadn’t even clicked on the few job offerings in Ireland, scrolling by them with a heavy heart. His loneliness had seemed like immutable punishment, but now his father’s words have upended his fatalistic acceptance. If Derek might be hurting too, if there’s any chance of forgiveness, Stiles wants to try. He wants to know he did everything he could to salvage what they once had.

 


 

Something settles in Stiles’ chest at the salt taste in the air when he crawls out of the taxi in front of his old cabin. He lets himself in with the same jiggle-pull trick required on the deadbolt, opening the door to reveal the same little water heater and kitchenette, the same bed and the old fireplace where he and Derek had sat and talked that first night.

It feels like going back in time, and it’s bittersweet to see how Kincora has remained unchanged in his summer away. All that’s left is to find Derek. Stiles hopes that the pull between them is the same, as well. He hopes that Derek may still come to their old spots that he remembers so well. Even more, he hopes that when Derek sees him back in Kincora he’ll be willing to talk.

Stiles goes on hikes each day, hoping. When his legs are sore, unused to all the exercise, he sits on the porch where Derek had, watching the sea for any hint of him in either form. There’s nothing, though, not even normal seals. He starts to wonder if it’s not just a choice that Derek is avoiding him. He doesn’t truly understand the seven year magic, after all. What if it’s already triggered? What it he has to wait seven years to even begin to apologize? He has a week and a half before he has to decide about the adjunct position at Stanford, and he’s not sure he can sacrifice that without even a hint that his life with Derek is recoverable.

Finally, the evening of the third day, Stiles spots three dark shapes in the water. Seals, or maybe more than mere seals. They stay clustered in the water near the cabin, looking at him with steady, knowing eyes and then diving under and circling each other as if they’re conspiring. Stiles waits until the sun sinks below the horizon before tentatively approaching them, nervous but full of hope.

Two of them bob under the dark water, and when they surface it’s as human women. They’re as beautiful and dark-haired as their brother, with pale faces standing out like two reflections of the moon in the dark ocean. Stiles had almost forgotten how surreal it was to see the change.

“Laura?” he tries, not sure which woman to address. “I’m looking for Derek.”

“I bet you are, motherfucker!” one shouts - making her Laura? Her comment inspires sniggers from the other, who must be Cora, then.

“Yeah, asshole!” that one shouts. “Why the fuck do you think we’d help you, are you stupid?” Which… okay. He'd thought once or twice about meeting Derek’s family and the possibility that they might be cruel or taunt him. But he’d imagined it more like mermaids in movies, something along the lines of ‘oh mere mortal, with your weak flesh, how could you presume to attract one of our kind’ or whatever. Being cussed out is somehow way more irritating.

“You fuckin’ wuss!” Cora yells, emboldened. “You can’t even swim, much less catch any fish. Who the fuck would want to mate with you?”

“Okay, you can actually get fish at the store,” Stiles yells back against his better instincts.

“Lucky for you, or you’d starve. Guess you can’t buy good looks, though,” Laura cackles with derisive laughter. “Or muscles. We’ve seen you trying to find Derek along the shore, doesn’t look like you have the stamina to even walk right.” The jibe sets off a fresh spate of wicked laughter between the sisters.

Stiles scowls, taking a few steps towards the waves.

“Oh, are you mad?” Cora coos. “Is the little baby mad he doesn’t get exactly what he wants this time? Whatcha gonna do to me, glare me to death?”

“No, I just want to apologize to Derek.”

“Oh sure, think we’re gonna let you sweet talk my brother into trusting you again?”

“Pff, good luck with that , cocksucker,” Laura yells and really? Cocksucker ?

“Yeah, I sucked your brothers cock!” Stiles snaps back, which causes Cora to screech “gross!” and duck her head back under water. Laura lets out a surprised bark of laughter, then claps a hand over her mouth.

Stiles is so focused on the sisters that he’s entirely forgotten about the third selkie until she rises from the water, transforming in one graceful movement just at the point that a seal would have become ungainly. As a human, she rises to an impressive full height. Derek's mother, Talia. She’s beautiful as well, appearing no more than sixty despite Stiles knowing her true age is much greater. She keeps the fur wrapped around her shoulders, somehow making the oddly shaped skin look like a royal gown.

“So. You’re my son’s human,” she says, unamused.

“Where's Derek,” Stiles says, like he’s not terrified.

“Not here,” Talia says smoothly. “I don’t think he should see you.”

Stiles sets his jaw. “You don’t get to decide that. I’m staying until he tells me to go away himself. I’ll keep waiting for him.” His heart jumps a bit with hope, though, because if she says “should” maybe Derek’s not yet forbidden to come. Maybe they aren’t bound by the seven years, after all.

“That won’t be necessary,” Talia says, appraising. “If I tell our pod to move on, Derek won’t question me. This isn’t the only shore where we can live, after all. Do you know how many unnamed islands there are around this coast? You won’t find us. He'll get over you, in time.”

Stiles feels a bright flare of panic in his gut. “No,” he blurts, but she’s right - he’d never be able to track a group of seals that were trying to remain hidden, not in this unforgiving ocean. He’ll never be able to win Derek back. “I just want to talk to him. Why are you doing this?”

“I'm his mother, and I want what's best for him. You stole his skin, boy. You broke his heart. You humans . All alike.” Talia stares at him in disgust, sees nothing in his desperation that changes her mind. She turns back towards the sea.

Stiles wades in after her.

The water’s cold enough that his legs are instantly tingling and numb from the knees down, jeans soaking up heavy water and shod feet slipping on the sharp rocks. He’s pulled by the tide sucking in and almost falls, but he gets his feet under him again a moment later and wades in farther. Up to his thighs in the ocean, waves crashing around his stomach and threatening to knock him over, he reaches out and just brushes Talia’s shoulder before she folds back into her skin.

Talia turns around, obviously shocked. “What are you- you stupid human, you'll drown!” She tries to move away, farther into the water, and Stiles is pulled after her, up to his ribcage. Over her shoulder the seal that Stiles thinks is Cora stares at him with wide eyes, then darts off. “Do you want to die?” Talia demands.

Stile stumbles again, unable to resist the unfamiliar push-pull of the tide. His elbows keep dipping into the water even though he’s trying to keep them up.

“I'll die without your son,” he says, which isn't true, not really. It's just the shortest way to say he’ll be scooped hollow if he has to give up even the hope of Derek, that everything will be joyless, will be devoid of color and meaning.

“P-p-please,” he shudders.

“I can’t support your relationship,” Talia says, clearly torn between her previous anger and concern that Stiles might actually swim after her. Stiles tries to clench his jaw enough to stop the ridiculous chattering, and her face softens. “You’re short-lived, you’re selfish...” she says.

“Ih-ih-isn’t it h-his choice?” Stiles asks. “Just l-let me t-t-talk to him.”

“It seems you wouldn’t accept my refusal to do so,” she replies wryly. “I… won’t forbid it.”

Stiles feels a second of  intense relief, before he realizes that the look on her face is probably less admiration and more stunned dismay at his recklessness, and that he’s very, very cold. He tries to back up against the pull of the water and finally slips, dunking his head in the shockingly icy salt water. He gets a good nose-full in his surprise, and loses his bearings entirely. He’s tumbling, blindly flailing against strong currents. His arm strikes hard against rock when he tries to reach for the surface. Then hands are grabbing him, pulling his face up to the air. Talia and Laura are helping him back to shore, fighting through the rough waves.

Stiles chokes out a mouthful of salty water and starts shivering even worse once he’s on his hands and knees on the rocks. The sharp wind seems to literally freeze him where it hits wet skin and his throat and sinuses are raw from the brine he’s still coughing up. Following Talia had seemed very important at the time, but it wasn’t exactly premeditated. Now, he’s thinking there must have been a better game plan.

The women are obviously not sure how to help warm him up, though they seem concerned. Probably with cause: the night was chilly enough even before he had been soaked, and now he has the vague idea he’s actually in danger of hypothermia. Only, Stiles can’t seem to think clearly enough to give them instruction.

“Stiles!” an achingly familiar voice exclaims, and Stiles turns to see Derek slipping into human form and charging out of the water. Stiles catches a glimpse of a sheepish Cora bobbing in the water out behind Derek, and tries to quip that he knew she was cool. His tongue is strangely thick, though, and not much comes out besides the loud clacking of his teeth.  “What did you do to him?” Derek snarls at Laura and his mom.

“The human followed me into the water himself,” Talia says firmly, and Stiles nods furiously. He doesn’t want to get anyone angry or cause a family rift, he only wants Derek.

Derek glares between Stiles and his family. “Just go,” he snaps. Talia nods, and she and Laura slip back into their seal skins to disappear under the waves.

Derek bundles Stiles in his skin and carries him bridal style towards the cabin. Towards home, Stiles thinks drowsily. It should be at least a little embarrassing, but resting his head on Derek’s bare chest like this feels perfect, he’s too warm and sleepy to complain.

He’s pulled back into wakefulness by sharp prickling in his fingers and toes. They’re in the cabin, and he notes that at some point his soaking clothes were removed and replaced by blankets. Derek’s hot hands are what’s rubbing feeling back into his extremities. Stiles hisses in pain, but Derek ignores him. A small fire crackles in the hearth.

“I can feel my fingers,” Stiles jokes weakly.

Derek doesn’t look up from where his broad hands are massaging Stiles’, but he does go still. His grip tightens to the point of discomfort. “Don’t ever do something like that again,” he says roughly.

“I wanted to see you,” Stiles explains. He feels exhausted, and he hopes the stupid straightforward things he’s able to say are enough.

“You idiot,” Derek chokes out. He drags Stiles into a huge bear hug, a shuddering confirmation that they’re both here, alive, together. Stiles’ heart is thundering in his chest at the familiar feeling of Derek’s skin under his hands, and then Derek’s beard is rough on his face as they slot together in a long-delayed kiss, hungry mouths seeking each other. It’s a harsh, needy kiss, as much teeth as tongue. Both of them inelegantly push deeper and closer, sloppily ignoring the others’ lead in their desperation. None of that matters, the teeth or the sloppiness. Stiles only wants more of the heady feeling of their bodies so close like this, the half-forgotten taste of Derek’s mouth.

Slowly, the desperation eases and their kisses turn more tender, noses rubbing as they half-part for breath, gasping the same air and then ducking forward to kiss in little needy bumps like they might suddenly be parted with no warning. It’s a revelation that Derek still cares, still wants him despite everything. But of course there’s still love between them. How could it be otherwise?

“It’s like when we first met,” Stiles murmurs. His fingertips explore the planes of Derek’s face, his high cheekbones and the roughness of his short beard.

“It is,” Derek says. He’s touching  the nape of Stiles’ neck with the same reverence, and for a second it looks like he’ll say more. But instead he gives Stiles one more firm kiss before standing abruptly.

“No, please don’t leave yet,” Stiles says in a panicked rush, grabbing his wrist. “I know I don’t have the right to ask that after what I did, but I didn’t mean to hurt you. I was scared, that’s all, because the selkie always leaves, right? In all the legends that’s the constant.”

“No,” Derek says, frustrated. “In all the legends the human always steals the skin. That’s the common thread. You were supposed to be different, but you weren’t, were you? You couldn’t let me chose to be yours, you had to own me.”

“Derek, that’s not what I wanted! I just didn’t understand why you alway left me if you really wanted to stay, and I thought if I went back to California alone, that would be the end. I didn’t mean to trap you, or force anything on you. I just wanted to have you for real.” Stiles rubs a hand across his eyes.

“You did have me, Stiles,” Derek protests. “I should have explained about the seven years, but… it wouldn’t have changed anything. I can’t help what I am,” he finishes quietly.

“I understand that now, I do. When I took your skin it was because I thought I could make it work on my terms, but I was so wrong, Derek. I’ll never ask you to change, never again.” Derek still hasn’t pulled away, yet, and Stiles feels like he can see him deciding to believe the apology. Deciding to forgive him.  “I know I don’t deserve it, but please, please stay.” Stiles forces himself to let go of Derek’s wrist, holding out his hand as an offer instead of a demand.

“I can’t stay, Stiles. It’s not in my nature,” Derek says, even as his hand twitches towards Stiles’. “I’ll always need the sea.”

“That’s fine,” Stiles pleads, stretching out his fingers. He can’t stand to see Derek rejecting their second chance just when it looks like he’s forgiven him, wants him despite everything. “Really, it’s fine. We can go back to how it was, I don't mind waking up alone, or any of it, I…”

“You do,” Derek says gently, “or you will. You need more than that.”

“Derek…” Stiles manages, but only barely. It can’t end like this, not when they both want to be together so badly. The idea of losing what they have physically hurts, leaves a caving ache in his chest that threatens to devour him. “The only thing I need is you.”

“I -” Something breaks in Derek’s expression. “I need you, too.”

He finally grabs Stiles’ hand, and Stiles lets out delighted little laugh. He draws him back down so they’re sitting side by side, and he can barely believe Derek is staying, he’s actually choosing to stay. It’s miraculously worked, they get to have each other after all. Stiles dives forward to kiss Derek, throwing himself into his lap, and if it’s sloppy as before, at least this time it’s because both of them are unable to stop grinning.

 


 

It’s four am, and Stiles is screwing a knuckle into his eye in an attempt to get alert enough to pretend he’s something other than miserable to be waking up at this hour for the who-knows-what day in a row. It was his own idea, a compromise for the loneliness of waking up alone. Still, his body isn’t adjusting that well. He’s trying to cover up the fact that their new schedule is eating into his ability to get everything done - from applying for a work visa to submitting applications to Queen’s University to finding a permanent home here - but Derek can tell, of course. Stiles hates that there’s starting to be tension between them again. He promised he could deal with the requirements of Derek’s double life this time, and he will.

He could try to accept a few lonely mornings, of course. Or they could technically wake up later. Only the, there would be a chance of Derek over-staying, and that risk is unacceptable. They’re both unspokenly terrified of the seven years, unsure how far they can push the timing and unwilling to experiment. Derek does try to sleep in some days, but he gets so antsy with the feeling of breakage as dawn approaches that he ends up tossing and turning until Stiles is awake, too.

Stiles’ bare feet hit the floor of the cabin, wood like ice under his soles, and he makes his zombie-like way to the stove to put on some breakfast. Derek - who Stiles banned from all cooking after almost setting the counter on fire trying to make grilled cheese - follows him to make the tea.

“Eggs and sausage, or eggs and bacon?” Stiles asks blearily, staring into the small fridge. When there’s no response he looks over to Derek. He’s fixated on something out the window, frowning deeply.

Following his gaze, Stiles see that under the low, velvety clouds, there are a handful of yellow beams shining out in purposeful arcs across the beach. Flashlights.

Stiles sucks in a breath. “Are those…”

“Hunters,” Derek confirms, his hands curling tight on the counter. “I can hear them.”

“Shit,” Stiles curses with feeling. He’d almost forgot about that risk, but of course Talia hadn’t had a chance to warn Derek. In the weeks since Stiles’ return they’ve spent all of their time besides sunrise and sunset at the cabin. “Do they know you’re here?”

Derek nods jerkily. “I think so. Or, they’ve guessed.”

“Okay. Okay,” Stiles says, trying to stay calm. “They aren’t close to your skin, though, are they? Tell me you keep it farther down the beach.”

“No,” Derek grits. “I moved it to be closer, in case I ever left late. It’s right there,” he says, and points to a pile of rocks by the trail up to the cabin only hidden from the main path by a small outcropping.

“Fucking hell,” Stiles curses, his panic only rising. It’s a spot chosen for convenience, not for good hiding. It’s right in the hunters’ path. “You should go grab it. Before they get here.” The flashlights seem closer now, working their way out from town.

“I can’t,” Derek says tightly. “They know my face from last time they came here. If they see me they’ll shoot to kill.”

“And if they find your skin, that’s better?” From his expression, Derek knows that it wouldn’t be. “Okay. Okay, I’m going to get it.”

“Stiles!” Derek cries, surprised. But he’s already got his shoes on and then his jacket too, and he’s out the door before Derek can stop him.

He scrambles down to the rocks and falls to his knees, shuffling his hands around and scraping his knuckles raw in his rush, scrabbling stones randomly out of the way until he feels something soft. The incongruous warmth brings sudden rush of memories - are you kissing me just because I have your skin? - but he shoves the pang of regret aside and tucks the skin quickly under his jacket.

He stands to dart around the outcropping back into the path, and almost crashes into an older woman with bright, creased eyes.

He sucks in a shocked breath, clenching his arms tighter across his belly where the skin is pressed hot against his shirt, blessedly hidden.

“Hey!” he yelps, an octave too high. “Wow, hello! Sorry about that there, hah. Oops!” He shuffles to the side, trying to get around her and back to the path.

“American,” the woman notes, moving so she’s still blocking his way. Her own accent is heavily Spanish. “It seems we’re both far from home, aren’t we. What brings you out to this beach, mijo ?”

“Oh, well, you know. Tourist,” Stiles says, baring his teeth in an approximation of a smile. “Getting some sight seeing in.” He’s tempted to point to the cabin and say he’s staying just up there, but that’s where Derek is and he doesn’t want to draw attention.

“Very early to be out hiking, isn’t it?” The woman says, pursing her lips. She doesn’t believe him, he’s acting too strangely. Two larger men come up behind her, while the others continue down the beach. One of the them circles around behind Stiles and starts shuffling the rocks around, looking for Derek’s skin in the very spot Stiles just stole it from.

“I like the privacy,” Stiles says. Not looking behind him is almost physically painful. Is there any evidence from his own search? His heartbeat is racing, he can feel it in his throat. Can she see him sweating?

The woman’s unpleasant smile makes him think maybe she can. “That’s why you were off the path?” she asks. “Just… Privacy?”

Stiles swallows convulsively. “Takin’ care of business,” he says, miming taking a piss. The shuffling behind him stops abruptly.

The woman narrows her eyes, though her smile is still in place. “So, Mr. American, it must be a long walk for you if you can’t wait for your business. Have you seen anything unusual out here near the ocean?”

The second man comes around to stand next to the other. Stiles can tell that the two of them have guns from the distinctive bulges under their arms. He hopes that hunters wouldn’t shoot a normal human, but he honestly isn’t sure. There’s danger practically radiating off the group. “Uh, yeah. You know totally I have,” he says. The woman perks up. “Yeah, I think I saw Nessie yesterday. Right over there.”

The woman snorts. “The lake monster?” she says. “This is the ocean, mijo, in Ireland. Not Loch Ness.”

“Aw man, come on,” Stiles says. “You don’t think that lake’s the only spot with a cryptid, do you? That’s what you’re our here for, right? The conspiracy? Look, I’ve got proof back at mine, articles written by real experts . Did you know that the pyramids are emitting radio signals that give the location of Atlantis, and if we uncovered the Stonehenge code, we could… Hey, wait, where are you going?”

But she’s already turning away, gesturing to her men. “El chico es un loco. No tenemos tiempo para esto. Let’s go, Severo.”

Stiles stays and watches as they continue down the coast towards the other group, walking quickly to catch up. Once they’re out of sight he just about collapses with relief.

The feeling is short-lived, as he realises suddenly that the sun is almost risen after his clumsy stalling. If Derek isn’t back in the sea in a few minutes, they’ll lose each other for nearly a decade, despite everything.

He whirls around to run back to the cabin, but sees Derek coming to meet him instead. The sky is already going pink, he must be feeling the need to return to the water badly by now. As soon as he’s in reach, Stiles shoves the skin out towards him. “Hurry, we still have time. Go!”

But Derek hesitates. Why is he hesitating , the sun is rising and he needs to transform, needs to do it now. This isn’t going to be a tragedy, Stiles won’t let it be.

“Derek,” he says, panicked, trying to force the skin into his hands. Derek steps away rather than taking it, though, his hands held up almost comically to illustrate that he’s not touching.

Stiles’ heart feels as if it’s beating out of his chest as the first rays of light shine out from the horizon. Sunrise; it’s too late. He instinctively grabs the skin close, looking out across the sea to where the sun is casting a bright, wavering stripe across the water. When he looks back at Derek, though, nothing seems to have changed. Derek is just standing there, human. Stiles strokes the skin, feeling the warmth of it ripple under his hand, and when he understands the full weight of what Derek is allowing him he’s almost overwhelmed.

Derek tentatively reaches out to hold Stiles’ hand. “I can be human with you, so long as you have the skin.”

“You trust me to give it back?” Stiles can’t even be embarrassed how his voice breaks. He’s too swept away that he gets this, gets Derek’s confidence again.

“I still can’t stay for always,” Derek says softly, stepping close so he can rest his forehead against Stiles’, free palm on his cheek and brushing a thumb over his lips. “The sea is always going to be part of my soul. But I trust you to let me go, and you can trust I will come back to you. Every time.” There’s a question in the quirk of his eyebrows, if it’s enough. If his complete and utter trust of Stiles, who’d done so little to deserve it is enough .

Stiles’ face breaks into a smile. “Okay,” he whispers thickly. “I promise I’ll let you go whenever you want. And when you come back, I promise I’ll be waiting. Every time.”

And Derek smiles, too, the wide crinkly grin of their first meeting, like he’s the one of them who’s lucked out, as if it’s amazing enough to wonder at, that Stiles will accept this compromise. Only of course it’s enough. It’s true that Stiles can’t be part of Derek’s life in the sea, can barely understand it - but this compromise is everything Stiles had wanted without even knowing.

Stiles wraps Derek in his arms, nuzzling into his neck with the sealskin warm between their chests. The sea spread out before them isn’t warm or inviting, the ground under his feet is anything but smooth sand, and there’s absolutely no way he’d ever try and tan here. But now, he wouldn’t have it any other way. The sun is starting to warm their faces between gusts of crisp sea breeze, and it smells salty and fresh. It feels like two pieces finally falling into place. It feels like the perfect time and place for the beginning of something great.

“You good?” Stiles asks, squeezing Derek’s hand.

"Yes," he answers. “Let’s go back home."

Chapter Text

A lifetime later

 

Brigid skips down the Kincora shoreline, unzipped edges of her light jacket flapping in the breeze. Though it’s warm enough yet, Summer’s almost ended and you can feel Fall coming in the crisp, salt-sprayed air. After nearly three months apart, she’s achingly aware of Quinn’s presence behind her. The other girl is making her way down the beach at a more careful pace, already eighteen to Brigid’s seventeen and way too cool to be caught doing something as childish as skipping.

Brigid forces herself to slow down, glancing back with a smile. Quinn grins at her and takes a few jogging strides to catch up. They fall into step side by side, remaining in amiable silence. It feels good to be out on the beach after being cooped up inside with family all yesterday, and it’s even better to be here with Quinn. International texting just isn’t the same as hanging out.

For example, she can’t see her friend’s face when they’re apart, except for grainy videos and goofy selfies. Now she can look her fill. She watches how Quinn keeps tucking the loose strands of her tightly curled dark hair back against the wind, even though it doesn’t help much. Tendrils whip and curl around her temples and cheeks with the brisk wind, and her smooth brown skin is flushed prettily from the cold. She’s beautiful.

“Wish school wasn’t starting so soon,” Brigid says, mostly to distract herself.

Quinn moans theatrically. “ Tell me about it.”

“You see Riona’s new haircut yet?” Brigid asks. There’s still a chance she hasn’t. Riona’ll be impossible to miss once school starts, of course, holding court over the rest of the popular girls at lunch and in the halls between classes. But for now, Brigid has Quinn to herself.

“Yeah,” Quinn confirms. “At the market a couple days ago. Super trendy. Could I pull it off?” She presses her curls down on one side, imitating the undercut and adopting a faux-sexy pout.

Bridgit laughs, taking the excuse to stare. “Definitely.” She runs her fingers through her own fine red hair, wonders if something like that would look good on her. Probably not. “Do you miss New York, yet?” she asks.  

“Eh,” Quinn says. “Not really. It’s only been, like, just over a week? All my old middle-school friends are in California, anyways. I’d rather just stay here, and have Grandma Naomi and Nana Lydia visit me instead.”

“Oh come on, it’s New York ! I spent break working in Granddad’s pub like some kind of townie. You’re really lucky your family’s American.”

“If you say so,” Quinn says, rolling her eyes. “Uh, Mom said I could actually bring somebody next summer, if I want. For a visit. Maybe you can come with?”

Brigid can’t tell how serious the offer is. She knows that Quinn’s family is fairly wealthy, but enough to cover an extra ticket from Kincora? Only, it doesn’t matter how plausible the suggestion is: the mere idea of going on a trip with Quinn has her heart pounding so hard she can feel her own pulse in her throat. She must be blushing awfully. “Maybe,” she says.

“Cool,” Quinn says and looks away, like it’s nothing.

Brigid could just die for not knowing what’s really going on in her friend’s head. It drives her crazy sometimes, the wondering. Quinn had moved to Kincora with her parents just a few years ago, leaving California so her mom could be closer to her ancestral roots. Their families had known each other since Quinn’s Nana Lydia had first come and courted Naomi here as a girl, back when Brigid’s Grandpa Sean had run the pub and her dad Liam had been only a boy. For that reason alone they’d been thrown together. Quinn is infinitely cooler than Brigid, and there’s no chance they’d be so close otherwise.

“This is it,” Quinn announces and they make their way up the twisty, steep goat path to the second-to-last summer cabin.

Quinn knocks, but there’s no reply. “Hello?”

“He’s probably out,” Brigid says quietly. “We shouldn’t be bothering him, let’s just go.”

Frowning, Quinn jiggles the handle and finds it locked. To Brigid’s horror, she pulls a hairpin out of her back pocket and, with a peremptory look around, squats for a better view and sticks it into the keyhole.

“Quinn!” Brigid admonishes. She glances down the street, though of course it’s empty. All the summer travelers have gone back to their own hometowns by now.

Quinn doesn’t even pause in her picking the lock. “Calm down, my Nana owns the place, it’s fine.”

“She doesn’t live here, Mr. Stilinski and his husband do. Did. What if Mr. Hale comes back?”

The lock gives, and Quinn opens the door for Brigid with a flourish. “You said you’d help me look into things. C’mon, please?”

Brigid glares, but it’s true that she’d promised. She ducks inside.

The cabin is homey and lived in, even though Brigid knows it’s only a summer home. Their real place is out in Belfast near the university, though Mr. Stilinski became an emeritus professor back when Brigid was around ten. The walls are covered in a mishmash of gorgeous photos of the sea, the variation in size and framing style complete enough to give it a certain bohemian chicness. Ashes remain in the fireplace, but they look old and dusty. The place is quite tidy and there are no obvious clues, but then Brigid isn’t really sure what a clue would look like.

Quinn might not either, but she starts riffling purposefully through a pile of mail on the small desk, then looks around for any other papers when she doesn’t find anything of interest. There’s a file cabinet in the closet and she peers into it, flipping through the folders.

Brigid hesitantly looks at the low bookshelves against one wall, but she feels too bad to examine anything very closely. She wanders towards the kitchen, where chipped and faded mugs are hung on hooks She can see the patina inside them from a thousand pourings of hot black tea. There are no dishes in the sink, and the fridge is emptied. She knows Mr. Hale is still living here, but it looks like everything’s been prepared for a trip.

Back in the main room, she looks at the small bed and blushes. It seems so private, the worn quilt and pillows. Back by the desk, she looks at the personal photos crowded on the top shelf: of their wedding, their kids when they were young, pictures of them with Quinn’s grandparents at various landmarks, and even a picture of Mr. Hale holding a baby that must be Quinn herself, Mr. Stilinski beaming tenderly at him while he looks into her tiny eyes. It’s just a house, one where full lives have been led. It’s not a crime scene. There are no clues or fantastical explanation, only the obvious one that Quinn won’t accept.

“It was stormy when his boat went missing,” Brigid says, breaking the silence. “And... it’s been days now. I think everyone’s accepted what happened. Even Mr. Hale has. We had a wake yesterday, Quinn.”

“It wasn’t stormy when he went out!” Quinn insists, and it’s true, it has been late in the day when the squall came in and Mr. Stilinski had pushed off in the morning. “He always comes back before it gets too bad, it’s like a sixth sense with him. It doesn’t make sense.”

“He was really old, and sick. He could have had a stroke or something before the storm.”

“Maybe,” Quinn admits, and then mutters, “It just doesn’t add up.”

Brigid actually agrees, though they’re reaching different conclusions. Quinn thinks Mr. Stilinski is hiding out somewhere, which Brigid just can’t believe. What would the point be? Besides, he’s a professor, not a spy. Even if he did want to hide, here’s nothing but tiny, windswept rocks passing for islands of this coast, nowhere a human could stay for days. The coast guard had put together search parties, too. If there was something to be found, they would have by now.

So no, Brigid can’t believe that Mr. Stilinski is still alive. It does feel convenient, though, how he’d had a chance to visit with Lydia and Naomi just this week, right before going missing. Equally strange is how Mr. Hale had only gone on a couple perfunctory search parties, and within a week of Mr. Stilinski’s disappearance had quietly organized the wake.

Brigid takes a deep breath and finally gives voice to her theory. “Maybe it wasn’t an accident. Maybe this is how he wanted to go.”

“He wouldn’t,” Quinn protests, her mouth twisting. “What about his kids?”

“They’re grown now, aren’t they? And in America.” They’d visited a few months ago when he first got the diagnosis: Liver cancer, metastasized through most of his organs, quite terminal. He’d been accepting enough, at least by the time he told everyone. He had also been quite clear that he wasn’t going to try any of the invasive treatments that might extend his life past the single year his doctor predicted.

“But his husband ? They were… you saw them. They were the most disgustingly in love old people ever, and that’s including my grandmas. How could he just leave him? And Mr. Hale must know something, or he’d be devastated, he’d fucking swim in that ocean himself to find Mr. Stilinski.”

Brigid thinks that Mr. Hale’s acceptance is another reason for her own theory, honestly. But she can’t say that. Quinn’s been so sure, ever since he disappeared, that Mr. Stilinski would be alright.

Quinn goes back to looking for clues, rifling through the nightstand. Brigid half heartedly flips through some magazines on the shelves, old copies of nature magazines featuring Mr. Hale’s photography. Of course, there’s nothing in them to give the barest hint of what had really happened.

“I don’t think we’re going to find anything here that will explain the things you want to know,” she says quietly.

“Fine.” Quinn marches to the door and flings it open, leaves the homey cabin without a second glance. Brigid gives it one final look before she carefully shuts the door and follows her back down towards the water. They both stop at the base of the path, looking out over the rocky beach at the grey, choppy waves.

“Look, don’t say I’m crazy, okay?” Quinn says, quick and low. He hands are stuffed defensively in her pockets, and she doesn’t turn towards Brigid.

Brigid nudges her shoulder. “You can tell me anything.”

Quinn huffs out a long breath. “Okay. So, I can just… I can tell when people die.” She looks over, then, searching Brigid’s face for any mockery. “Like, I get this feeling. About Nana Lydia’s boss, and then our old bio teacher back in California, and my friend Shaniqua’s granddad . And I didn’t get that feeling about Mr. Stilinski.”

Brigid considers this. It seems more than a little implausible, this fuzzy idea of a feeling letting you know about death. But on the other hand, Quinn’s hardly one to make up stories. “Maybe he’s okay, then,” she allows.

Quinn scowls. “You’re teasing.”

“I am not,” Brigid says. “This is Ireland, if there’s magic anywhere it’s here. Look at all our legends - fairies and banshees and all. I can accept that there may be more to the world than we assume.”

“I guess.” But even though she’s agreed, Quinn still seems upset.

“Hey, let’s keep going down farther the beach?” Brigid offers. She never would have agreed to looking into the disappearance if she’d known it would make Quinn so despondent.

They wander along the shore, kicking rocks and thinking their own thoughts. The rough beauty of the sea is the only thing Brigid likes about living in this tiny town. What she really wants is New York. She wants to work in a huge high rise and brush elbows with a thousand different strangers when she walks down the street to catch the train, she wants gallery showings and movie premiers and ethiopian food next door to the sushi place.

She glances up up, dreaming of all those things, and gasps. “Look, seals,” she says, pointing.

There are two of them, closer than any wild animal Brigid has seen - only about twenty feet out, on a rocky spur that rises just above the waves. One of them is large for a seal, with dark, almost-black fur and strange, green eyes. The other is a smaller brown seal, playing around in the water like a pup. From his size, though, he’s certainly not that young. He’s swimming and somersaulting joyfully in the waves. Then, as if he’s noticed them watching, he turns and swims a length closer. He looks at them almost intelligently, as if he was watching them back, blinking limpid amber eyes that seem curious rather than afraid.

Quinn leans back against a hip-high rock and sighs, looking out towards the seals. The brown one is flicking water at the black one with his tail, a surprisingly human trick. Brigid boosts herself up to sit on the same rock as Quinn. She hopes that they can always hang out like this, even if they go different places for college.

The more playful brown one gives up on getting his mate into the water and squirms up onto the rock next to him. His wet brown fur dampens the sleek dry black seal, but they only scoot closer together. Part of Brigid is paying attention to them, and part of her is completely attuned to Quinn, tracking out of the corner of her eye as she takes her hands out of her pockets and sets her hands casually behind her, and then as she adjusts her hand closer to where Brigid’s was already resting.

“Hey, do you know the legend?” Brigid says. To distract from their sad thoughts about Mr. Stilinski, but also from the fact she can practically feel the heat radiating from her friend’s hand. “About selkies?”

“No,” Quinn says, clearly interested. “What’s the story?”

Brigid is pleased to be in possession of interesting local knowledge, and settles smugly into her seat, her accent thickening a bit as she remembers what her Grandad had told her. “So, selkies are seal people, do you know? They’re not like mermaids, who’re half fish and half human all the time. They’re all the way one or the other thing, human or seal.”

“Yeah?” Quinn looks up at her through her lashes. Usually Brigid’s the shorter one, and usually their faces aren’t quite this close. It’s unsettling, so she looks away quickly, feeling herself blush again.

“Mhm,” she confirms. “Sometimes they fall in love with normal people, though.”

“That can’t end well.”

“Not usually, no. They still have to go be seals in the sea and everything.” Brigid scuffs her foot, letting the moment hang. “If they want, though, they can let the human have their skin, and then they can stay all the time.”

Quinn is still looking up at her. “They don’t miss it? Being a seal?”

“Maybe. But there’s another thing,” Brigid leans in to whisper. “If they’re soulmates, or it’s true love, or they’re mates or whatever you want to call it… if that’s the kind of love it is, and the selkie’s lover ever drowns in the ocean, they come back. As a selkie or a seal themselves. So they can be together with their mate in the sea.”

“Oh,” Quinn sighs, glancing back out to the water. “That’s so romantic.”

“Yeah,” Brigid agrees. Her heart is pounding. She scoots her hand out on the rock, until it bumps up against Quinn’s. Her friend’s looking studiously away, but she lifts her pinkie finger and loops it over Brigid’s. And then her ring finger, too, so it’s half as if they’re holding hands, simple as that. Except that, of course, it changes everything.

Brigid glances down at their hands and then back up to find Quinn looking back at her, now, face still so close, eyes wide and nervous. Brigid can’t believe Quinn’s actually nervous . She bites her lip and feels how their breath is mingling, warming the air between them despite the wind. Neither of them pulls away. A tendril of Quinn’s hair whips into Brigid’ face at the next breeze, and she reaches out to smooth it back. She leaves her hand there, tentatively cupping Quinn’s face. Quinn smiles at her, a tiny and shy and hopeful thing. She tilts her face, closes her eyes, and Brigid kisses her.

It’s shy and a little awkward at first, but also perfect. The girls stay tangled up in a tight embrace, losing track of anything but each other. Neither of them even remembers the two sunning seals, much less thinks to turn and watch them as they rouse.

It’s hard to say what change in the wind or tide signals the seals, but it’s clear they’ve grown restless with their lazing. They bump noses and nuzzle at each other, as if to confirm, and then both of them wriggle off the rocks as one, less than a second between them. They slip into the water and under the waves with barely a splash to mar the undulating, mirrored surface. It’s as if they were never there at all, lost below the surface and vanished into that other world.