Not Quite A Siren, But Something Like That
Don’t go to the surface, he’d said.
It’s dangerous, he’d said.
There’s nothing worth seeing, he’d said.
I swear to God, Stiles, if you don’t listen to me, he’d said.
Joke was on Father then. Stiles never listened and there was definitely something worth seeing. Specifically six feet of something tall, dark, and gorgeous.
Stiles dipped beneath the water again so he was mostly submerged, letting the current carry him towards shore a little more. He took shelter behind a rock, clinging easily to its slick edges as the waves beat against him, the water lapping in and out of the shallow alcove rhythmically.
The man, who Stiles had taken to calling Beasty, grumbled to himself as he tugged fruitlessly at his tangled net before throwing it away with a huff and kicking a bucket for good measure. Stiles laughed quickly ducking fully beneath the water when Beasty spun around at the sound.
Slipping easily through the water Stiles resurfaced on the other side of the pier grasping the wood to pull himself up far enough to grab the net before diving back into the water prize in hand. He heard a shout echo muffled from the surface fading away as he swam deeper pausing about part way down to examine the net. It really was hopelessly tangled. He settled at the edge of the shelf, staring absently out into the deep blue while he let his fingers work at the knots. Eventually he worked them all free and had the net untangled. He cast it out to make sure it was completely free of knots before carefully bundling it up and securing it with a strand of seaweed.
Beasty wasn’t on the pier when Stiles returned. Instead he had his back turned to Stiles as he fought with one of the lines on his adorable little boat that wouldn’t last a day out beyond the harbor. Stiles smiled hauling himself up to rest his forearms on the pier as he watched Beasty trip over a bucket and promptly lose all the tautness he’d managed to gain in the line.
Stifling down his laughter Stiles glanced over the pier taking note of a small leather object resting beside a metal bucket full of chum and a metal ring full of keys. He set the net aside and stretched across the pier to snag the edge of the mysterious object. When he flipped it open Beasty’s face greeted him, glowering up from a small square covered in the odd symbols of the landwalker’s language Stiles had never bothered to learn how to read. He spoke it well enough learning from those merfolk who had walked among the landdwellers and from lurking along the shore, but he’d never seen much point in learning the written words. Now though, he wished he knew what the lines meant.
He stroked a finger over Beasty’s picture before cocking his head to the side to look at the other picture. It wasn’t the same material as Beasty’s, far more flimsy and worn, but it was devoid of words. Stiles picked Beasty out amongst the other faced easily, settled in-between two girls and smiling. It was odd seeing such an expression on Beasty’s face, but Stiles had to admit he had a nice smile. Nice enough that Stiles kind of wanted to see it for himself in reality.
Something clattered against wood and Stiles jerked back, glancing over to the boat and shocked to find Beasty staring at him slack-jawed. Stiles just stared back a moment, some part of his brain urging him to flee while another tried to convince him to stay. Several long moments ticked by and then Beasty moved. Stiles’ hand darted forward almost on its own volition, snagging the keys before he pushed off the pier and dove back into the water. He swam straight for the shelf and then beyond it out into open water keeping his hands clutched tightly around his spoils.
“The…mermaid stole your wallet,” Laura said slowly looking like she was about three seconds from suggesting they take a ride to the county hospital. Not for the first time Derek questioned his decision to tell her the truth rather than continue lying like he’d been doing for the past few months.
“My keys too,” he added. “And my watch. And my water bottle. And a couple pieces of silverware. And my shoes. And one of my coats. And my cell phone.”
Laura blinked. “You told me you accidently dropped your phone off that stupid boat.”
“Yes. Because I figured you’d call me crazy if I said I thought a mythical sea creature took it,” Derek said dryly.
“I would never,” Laura protested pausing when Derek arched a single eyebrow to sigh dramatically. “Fine, okay, maybe I would have been concerned about your mental health. But, really, Derek, can you blame me? You’re out here for weeks on end all by yourself with this stupid fishing boat. What are you even doing?”
“Hey,” Derek said mildly offended even if he also thought the boat was stupid though likely for much different reasons. “You’re the one who said I should get a hobby.”
Laura rolled her eyes. “Yes, like yoga or krav maga or even crocheting. Not…fishing or whatever it is you do out here.”
“Not a lot of actual fishing to be honest.”
“And that’s my point, Derek. What are you doing? Like, what even is that?” she asked pointing at the small bucket Derek had forgotten to clean out earlier. “It smells awful.”
Derek frowned nudging it with his foot. “It’s chum. Supposed to lure fish in.”
Laura wrinkled her nose. “Does it work?”
“Not really in my experience, no,” Derek admitted a bit forlorn. Nearly ten weeks and he still had yet to actually successfully catch anything. “But I think I’m doing it wrong.”
“Okay, regardless, what made you change your mind now?” Laura said turning a little on the pier to face Derek fully. “Why tell me about your mermaid?”
“I think he’s actually a merman,” Derek corrected squinting against the sunlight glinting off the water. “And because I actually saw him. Stared at him for a full couple seconds really. I’d always just caught him out of the corner of my eye before. But this time…I literally watched him steal my keys. He just dove across the pier and snatched them before diving off.”
“Okay,” Laura said again pausing before continuing. She kicked her feet in the water, drumming her fingers against the wood. “For the record I still think there’s a possibility that smelling that fish chum all day has rotted your brain and you’ve lost your mind. But on the off chance that you haven’t…do you think he’ll come back?”
“I don’t know,” Derek replied honestly, but a small part of him certainly hoped.
Derek spent the next few weeks keeping an almost obsessive eye out for any not-so-mythical sea creatures peeking up from the water but the surface remained frustratingly undisturbed. Derek took to leaving odds and ends scattered about the pier hoping that one morning he’d come out to find something missing. By the end of the third week he had a collection of a couple shot glasses, a small wolf figurine Cora had given him years ago, a keychain with a fork bent into a peace sign, several pens, a screw driver, a big mug shaped like Darth Vader, an old cell phone that hadn’t worked in years, and several coins scattered over the pier.
He’d pretty much given up any hope of the sea creature coming back, and started seriously questioning exactly why he found that thought so disappointing, when it finally happened. Derek was once again swearing at the stupid boat for not just cooperating for him when the hair on the back of his neck stood up and he caught a slight disturbance in the water out of the corner of his eye. He froze for a second, surreptitiously glancing over his shoulder at the face just barely peeking up from the water by the pier, large eyes trained Derek’s direction. After a moment Derek forced himself back into motion all but ignoring the merman’s presence. The head dipped back beneath the water and Derek felt a pang of disappointment before the merman resurfaced on the other side of the pier.
He hovered just visible for several long minutes before slowly rising more, one webbed hand clutching the edge of the pier as the other carefully plucked one of the shot glasses up for inspection. One long finger stroked over the glittered letters as his lips moved silently almost like he was trying to puzzle out the words.
“It says ‘fucking magnificent’,” Derek said, not raising his voice too much and keeping his tone purposefully calm.
As expected the merman pushed off the pier, backing away several feet but not diving beneath the surface. Derek kept himself focused on the ropes in front of him only glancing over every once in awhile.
“A gift from my sister,” he explained. “She thought it was hysterical. Something about the unicorn really spoke to her.”
Derek paused, kept his fingers twined in the rope as he glanced over his shoulder pleased to see the merman still bobbing in the water even if he looked a bit suspicious. He raised the glass again to look at it, running his finger over the image. “I thought this was a horse?” he said and Derek almost dropped rope in shock.
The merman’s voice carried easily and was surprisingly clear though accented. It held a throaty, almost guttural undertone and Derek wondered if it was from not speaking often or from not speaking above the water.
“It is,” he finally replied. “But the horn on its forehead turns from just a horse into a special horse. A unicorn.”
“A unicorn,” the merman repeated staring at the glass contemplatively. “And these words, what did you say they were?”
“Uh, fucking magnificent,” Derek said.
“Very special. I see. Because it is a unicorn.”
“Right,” Derek said weakly watching at the merman swam closer again to peer at the other glasses. Derek swallowed easing off the boat and onto the pier.
“What about this one?” he asked pointing at one that Derek wasn’t even sure how it came to be in his possession. It was just one of those things that showed up in his boxes between one of his many moves, and he’d kept it because the quote kind of spoke to him.
“It says ‘there goes the last fuck I gave.’”
The merman frowned, smooth brow furrowing in confusion. “What’s a fuck?”
“Uh, in this context its…an element of caring. It means you don’t care anymore. At all.”
“I see,” the merman said plucking it up from the pier. “I like your things.”
“I noticed since you’ve taken a lot.”
The merman smiled at him, sharp teeth peeking out from behind pale lips. “You shouldn’t leave it laying about then,” he said. “If you don’t want it taken.”
And before Derek could reply he slid a shot glass between his teeth, snatched an object off the pier, and dove back into the water slapping the surface with his tail as he did so to send a wave up over the pier leaving Derek drenched and sputtering.
Father would be so disappointed, Stiles thought as his head broke the surface of the harbor. Beasty wasn’t on his boat today and there wasn’t a collection of odd items cluttering the pier. In fact, the only thing on the pier was Beasty with his shoes off, pants rolled up to his knees, and feet kicking gently back in the water as he stared out across the horizon.
Stiles had kept away as long as he could after Beasty had first seen him and their second interaction had left him craving more. He crept over to the pier, surfacing again behind Beasty and hoisting himself up lifting his tail out of the water carefully. He tried to do it quietly but, well, water and fins.
Beasty nearly fell of the pier as he spun around just barely managing to keep his balance on the edge. Stiles grinned and thumped his tail against the pier causing it bounce erratically and dump poor Beasty right into the water with a squawk and flailing limbs. He resurfaced a few seconds later sputtering and spitting water out of his mouth as he glared up at Stiles.
“What the hell?” he snapped scrambling back onto the pier and looking quite ridiculous. Stiles didn’t know why exactly, but unlike merfolk landdwellers looked pathetic when they were soaked. “Do you enjoy ruining my stuff?”
Stiles cocked his head to the side. “I haven’t ruined any of your stuff,” he argued. Sure he’d taken a lot of stuff, like, a lot but he could bring it all back if he wanted. He didn’t.
“Really? What about my wallet or my keys or my phone?” Beasty said shaking his head so water droplets rained down on Stiles.
“Phone?” he echoed confused.
Beasty paused then held his hands out about six inches apart. “Little rectangle with a smooth side wrapped in red plastic. Has a round button the bottom. You might have seen me holding it to my ear and yelling in it.”
“Ah, of course. The magic brick,” Stiles said remembering the most interesting of objects he’d taken. It was the only one he and no one else had recognized. “You know it stopped working once I took it.”
“Yes,” Beasty said dryly sounding amused again. “Probably because it’s not made to work underwater.”
“Then it wasn’t very well made,” Stiles replied with a sharp grin because seriously why would something be made to purposefully not function under water. “Now was it?”
Beasty sighed, running a hand through his wet hair and settling down nearer to Stiles on the pier. He stuck his feet back in the water without bothering to fix the one pant leg that had fallen down. “My name is Derek,” he said after a moment. “I figured that even though you stole my wallet you couldn’t read my license.”
Derek, Stiles thought mulling the name over. Derek. It was a nice name. Strong. It suited the man. He had no idea what a license was, wished suddenly that he’d brought Beasty’s wallet along so he could have the name pointed out to him.
“Here,” Beasty said jogging Stiles from his thoughts. Stiles looked down surprised to see an interesting object in Beasty’s hand. It was small sitting nestled in Beasty’s palm. There was a clear sphere with a fish inside attached to a base with more landwalker lettering on it. Stiles picked it up turning it around for inspection as he tried to figure it out.
“What is it?”
“It’s a snow globe.”
Stiles nodded committing the name to memory as he shook it and watched the little white flakes flutter around the orange and white striped fish. “And this fish inside? I know the name in my language but what do you call it?”
Beasty cleared his throat. “Uh, it’s a clown fish.”
“You know this isn’t as much fun if you just hand things to me,” Stiles said even as he wrapped his fingers around the item.
Beasty just shrugged.
“Derek,” he said trying the name out for the first but hopefully not the last time, “this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
The water was freezing as it beat against him, choppy as waves rolled around the two of them. It was the dead of night but the moon and stars were bright making it all too easy to make out Stiles’ features. The smooth expanse of his skin glistening wet with ocean water and illuminated by starlight. Once again Derek found himself breathless as he stared at the beautiful creature before him. The first time Derek had seen Stiles he wouldn’t have used those words.
Intriguing. Sleek. Captivating.
But not beautiful. No, that had come later.
“Do you trust me, Derek?”
Derek spit out more water, kicking his feet to keep treading water with some difficulty as the waves rolled around them. “Not at all,” he replied and Stiles laughed, the sound just as musical to Derek’s ears now as the first time he’d heard it all those months ago.
“Remember,” Stiles said bracketing his hands on either side of Derek’s face. Stiles’ skin was cool, fingers long enough to nearly wrap entirely around his head, and Derek shivered as Stiles stroked his thumbs along Derek’s cheekbones. “Don’t hold your breath. And don’t let go.”
Derek pulled Stiles closer, wrapping his arms around Stiles’ waist and letting the powerful motions of his tail keep them both afloat as he whispered, “I won’t.”
Stiles grinned at him, eyes bright and mischievous, near mesmerizing as they reflected the stars from the sky and water all around them. “Are you ready?”
Throat too tight to reply with anticipation, Derek simply nodded, heart beating double time in his chest as Stiles’ impish grin softened into something fond and sweet as he leaned in. His lips sealed over Derek’s, cool and exhilarating, echoed moments later by the water that closed over their heads.