Derek couldn't stay in Beacon Hills after what happened to Laura. It was the final blow that caused him to give up on his ancestral home completely. He had lost everyone in that godforsaken little town. His mistake had led to the death of his family. It had led to Peter losing his mind, going nearly feral, and murdering Laura. Derek had no one left. When he slashed Peter's throat he became an alpha but he was one without a pack.
He could have stayed, he supposed, and tried to build a pack. He could have tried to hold out against the alpha pack he knew was coming to challenge him for his territory - but what was Beacon Hills to him but a crumbling house and restless ghosts?
So he traded one haunted place for another. He abandoned Beacon Hills and came to his family's summer home on the coast. He found no peace in the spacious, empty mansion where he used to play as a child; The only place he could find it was in the solitude of his daily swims and in being far from Beacon Hills.
The house was situated on a cliff in the Santa Lucia mountains overlooking the ocean and had access to a small private beach attached to the property. Every morning he would descend the steps to the beach and go for a swim often for hours at a time. It wasn't like he had anything else to do. He had enough money from life insurance and the various businesses his family was invested in that he would never have to work. There was nothing to stop him retreating from the rest of the world completely.
The urge to form a pack was strong but he kept himself isolated. He didn't think he deserved a pack after what he'd done or that he could ever be a competent alpha like Laura or their mother. Instead he locked himself away, waiting for loneliness to take its toll, to slowly lose his alpha powers, to become an omega, and to spend the rest of his days suffering as he felt he should.
Apart from his trips into town to buy groceries and other basic necessities he never had any social interaction. It was just as well, as the minimal effort it took to appear polite to the cashier or to kindly reject the women who came up to him was all he was willing to do.
The only thing he would allow to dull his pain was the sound of the ocean and the joy of his daily swims.
He never expected anyone to intrude on his self-imposed isolation and he certainly never expected to find someone he couldn't bring himself to send away.
Stiles was curious by nature. Whatever the risks, he loved going to the surface. He wasn't an idiot though, he always avoided the overcrowded beaches and never went anywhere too close to civilization. He had a favorite place to go, a secluded beach in the shadows of the mountains. The only sign of humans in sight was a mansion that had been empty for as long as Stiles could remember. He loved to break the surface and allow himself to be buoyed by the waves and the wind. The sunlight felt so warm on his pale skin that was used to hiding in the dark depths of the water. The wind was like nothing he'd ever experienced underwater. Most of his people would never come to the surface but Stiles felt incomplete without it.
Merfolk weren't made just to linger in the deep. They belonged to two worlds, not one, and Stiles couldn't ignore the half of him that longed to breathe air. The feeling of the gills on his neck closing when he broke the surface and took his first long, deep breath was intoxicating. The pupils of his eyes, usually impossibly wide and dark for seeing in the deep, contracted revealing startling amber irises that let him adjust to the sunlight.
He loved living in the depths, he wouldn't trade his life there for anything, but he had just as much claim to the beaches as any who lived on land and he refused to be chased from the them.
Even when, for the first time in years, lights came on in the mansion on the mountain side, Stiles refused to leave his favorite beach.
Instead he watched cautiously, hidden behind one of the rocky outcroppings farthest from the beach, as the mansion's new inhabitant took his morning and evening swims.
What he saw surprised him.
The man was tall and muscular and he swam with a strength and grace Stiles didn't know humans were capable of possessing. His unusual vigor wasn't the strangest thing to Stiles, however. How could a man so handsome, and so young, always be alone? For as long as Stiles watched he never saw another person come to the beach - only the dark haired man who never smiled.
He had such sadness and, curious as ever, Stiles longed to know why.
For weeks he watched the man swim while contemplating the consequences should he approach him. All the Merfolk in his tribe were taught to avoid humans at any cost from childhood on. Even so, Stiles couldn't deny how badly he wanted to know the man he was watching and find out why he was so grim.
He watched, always on the edge of temptation, until one night when the moon was full his entire perception of the man changed.
That evening the man hadn't come to swim in the sunset like he usually did. Stiles thought nothing of it, apart from a pang of disappointment in his chest, and proceeded to find a nice rock far enough from the shore that he could torment the seagulls without fear of being discovered.
As the sun set and the moon rose, Stiles was preparing to return to his home when he saw the lights go out in the mansion. Sneaking closer to the shore to investigate, Stiles saw the man making his way down the stairs in the moonlight. When he reached the water the man slipped out of his swimming trunks, leaving them on the beach. He rolled his shoulders gracefully and stretched the muscles in his neck. When he looked out on the water again, his face clearly revealed to Stiles, the merman gasped.
The man's eyes glowed red in the darkness. His face was contorted and had grown extra hair. His ears elongated to points.
He wasn't a human at all but rather something Stiles had only heard of in the stories his people passed down.
He was a werewolf and that changed the rules completely.
The morning after the full moon, Derek woke at dawn. He had been unable to sleep and not even the hours of swimming could calm him. If anything, feeling the moon's pull on the waves had only caused his agitation to grow. He told himself he was fine being alone - it was just harder during the full moon.
He decided a walk on the beach might improve his mood. He slipped into his swimming trunks, had a drink of cool water, and headed out hoping the sunrise and ocean air would calm him.
The sight of a stranger swimming in his waters ruined any chance of that happening. There was some fucking kid (Alright, not a kid, more like a youth. A young man not so many years Derek's junior.) swimming laps in the waters off Derek's beach.
Derek scanned the beach but the kid had left nothing there. Derek would have heard if someone had pulled up near his home. He had no neighbors and he hadn't heard any vehicles. Where the hell did the boy come from?
Well, it didn't matter. All that mattered was that he got the hell out.
Derek stormed down to the water.
“Hey!” He shouted “This is private property!”
The little shit had the nerve to swim closer and give Derek a cocky grin as he replied. “You don't own the ocean.”
The was something about the boy that caused Derek to pause, just for a moment, to take him in. His skin was pale, almost ethereally so, and seemed out of place for someone whose lean, athletic build showed him to be an avid swimmer. The pupils of his eyes were small as if he was unaccustomed to the bright light. His large amber irises were unlike any Derek had seen before, almost too bright to be human.
He tried to discretely sniff but he was too far from the boy to get any useful information. It was odd, however, that the usually overpowering scent of sunscreen was absent, especially for one whose skin seemed like it would be sensitive.
None of this mattered. Intriguing or not, the boy was trespassing.
“Look kid, just get out. Don't make me call the cops.”
“Don't be such a sourwolf.” The boy smirked waving one hand dismissively. “What's the matter, full moon make you cranky?”
Derek felt his heart accelerate and he was instantly on guard and ready for a fight.
“How in the hell do you- !”
“Personally,” The boy stretched lazily and flipped back in the water letting the waves carry him and revealing to Derek his long, gleaming red tail speckled with golden spots. “I find the higher tides on the full moon invigorating.”
Derek calmed, but only slightly. He had never encountered a merman before. He wasn't sure if they still existed or if they had been hunted to extinction. Werewolves knew of others like them who lived secretly among (or entirely apart from) humans but they rarely intermingled. All he knew of merfolk was that they were tribal, much like a pack, one extended family lived under the guidance of a chief instead of an alpha. Derek knew that the moon affected them as well, but he didn't know exactly how.
“Ah.” He spoke flatly “I suppose throwing you out really isn't going to be possible.”
“Getting into a maritime territory dispute with a merman would leave you at something of a disadvantage, yeah.”
Derek bristled. “You gonna have a problem with me swimming here?”
The merman laughed. “Unlike you, my lupine friend, I know how to share. Come into the water. Swim with me.”
“I prefer to swim alone.” Derek grumbled but entered the water while watching the merman carefully.
He waded out to where the merman was waiting. It was just far enough out that Derek's feet no longer touched sand.
“So, wolf, what brings you here?” The merman's voice was light and playful and it should have grated on Derek's nerves more than it did. Perhaps it was the handsomeness of the merman's features, or the simple relief of having the company of another supernatural being, but Derek didn't shy away from the encounter.
“My family owns the beach house here.”
“The stories always said you move in packs.” The merman swam in a circle around Derek, watching him with eyes alight with some kind of mischief. It made the hair on the back of Derek's neck stand up but he wasn't sure if it was in apprehension or something else. “Where is yours?”
“That's none of your business.” Derek snapped. The merman had no way of knowing the sensitivity of the topic he'd brought up but that didn't temper Derek's reaction.
“That's not very friendly.” The merman mock pouted. “I'm just trying to get to know my neighbor!”
Derek sighed. It was probably best just to get to the point and cut off the line of questioning. “They're dead.”
“Oh.” The merman stilled and bit his lip, obviously contemplating his response. “But aren't you an alpha?” Derek supposed he was trying to change the topic, unaware that his alpha status was only bringing up more traumatic memories. He was grateful for the attempt, at least.
“You can be an alpha without a pack.”
The merman nodded, sensing the tension, and there was a moment of awkward silence before he extended his hand. “I'm Stiles, by the way.”
He thought it was an odd gesture for a merman but he shook his hand anyway. “Derek.”
“Derek.” The merman - Stiles - tried his name out with a smile and a laugh.“I've never met a werewolf before.”
Derek quirked an eyebrow.“I've never met a merman.”
“Is it true you have more than five times the speed of a human?” Stiles swum a little closer and Derek could see the droplets of water clinging to his dark lashes. A familiar heat spread through out his body.
“Only five times?” Derek smirked “It's easily more than that.”
“I bet it won't help you as much in the water.”
It may have been a long time since he'd been with anyone (not since Kate) but Derek knew when he was being flirted with. Stiles' eyes darted across his face and down his chest and his pale skin did nothing to hide the blush across his cheeks. It wasn't surprising. Derek was used to being flirted with, but what was surprising was how receptive he found himself to the advances.
“That sounds like a challenge.” He moved closer and let a hint of a growl into his voice when he replied. Stiles' face lit up with a wide grin.
“Race you to that buoy?” He pointed to a buoy floating a considerable distance from the shore. Derek didn't usually swim out that far and he knew he was being a little reckless by swimming into deeper waters with a merman he barely knew but Stiles' face was open and honest. Derek sensed no danger from him.
As they swam through the water, Derek could tell Stiles was holding back for him even though Derek knew himself to be an excellent swimmer. It was no surprise when Stile beat him to the buoy.
Getting into a swimming match with a merman was ridiculous in the first place but it wasn't really about the race.
“You put up a good fight.” Stiles smiled, clinging to the buoy. He wasn't winded in the slightest.
“I knew I was outmatched.”
“Couldn't turn down the challenge though?”
Derek grinned in spite of himself. “Never.”
“What are you doing up here anyway?” Derek asked as they swam back toward shallower waters where he would be more comfortable. “I thought merfolk lived in the deeps where they wouldn't be detected by humans.”
“We do but we have the ability to breath on the surface and I, for one, like to use it.”
“Isn't that dangerous?” Derek knew that if he had the same opportunity for seclusion that the merfolk had he wouldn't take it for granted.
“Sure but I'm careful.” Stiles shrugged. “My tribe's waters cover most of the area known as the U.S West Coast. I know which places to avoid and which are safe.”
“That's a lot of territory.”
“Not by our standards. There's a lot of ocean and our tribes are extensive. It's actually considered less desirable to have territorial waters that touch the coast but I love it.”
“Why?” Derek couldn't understand what would compel Stiles to wander from his tribe, his pack, and risk detection by humans.
“It's easier to get information about the humans, their world, and their culture. I'd be safer in waters far from the shore but also bored.”
Obviously, Derek thought, the kid's naïve.
“You think they're interesting now because you don't know how dangerous they can be.”
Stiles' lips turned up into a crooked smile and his eyes flashed again with mischief.“You say that like danger isn't an enticement.”
“It shouldn't be.” He tried to put the weight of his experience into his words but Stiles just continued to grin in spite of Derek's scolding.
“It's not like people are the main attraction, anyway. Sometimes a man just likes to feel the sunshine on his skin and scales.” Stiles stretched, his arms reaching towards the sky above, giving Derek a great view of his flat stomach and toned chest.
“If sunbathing is what you're after we should go to the beach.”
“Need to rest after your defeat?” Stiles splashed him with water and Derek retaliated.
“Hardly. You want a rematch?”
“Nah,” Stiles waved a hand. “Let's relax.”
They swam close enough to the beach that Stiles could lay out in all his glory, tail gleaming in the sun, but not so far that he couldn't push back into the water with ease. The waves lapped over their bodies as they lay side by side.
“Do you know how long it's been since I've been able to just lay in the sand like this?” Stiles stretched his arms above him, back arched, and sighed in contentment. His eyes closed and a small peaceful smile crept over his face. Derek couldn't help but watch him, entranced. He had never imagined mermen could be so beautiful. For the first time in a long time he found himself eager to talk as he was brimming with questions about the world Stiles came from.
They passed the day together, hours fading away unnoticed, as Stiles happily responded to Derek's questions and detailed his underwater home. Derek answered Stiles' questions as well and Stiles carefully stayed away from the topic of Derek's family.
When they seemed to have exhausted themselves of talking they fell into a comfortable silence watching the clouds go by.
Finally, Stiles broke the silence. “I should go. My father will be upset if I'm gone too long again.”
Derek nodded, trying not to feel a pang at the loss of Stiles' companionship. It didn't do to get attached. Stiles watched him with expectant amber eyes and Derek felt the words being pulled out of him almost as if by force.“Will I see you again?”
Stiles leaned forward and placed the briefest, chaste kiss on Derek's lips leaving him stunned.
“You will.” Stiles replied as he pushed back into the water. “I promise.”
Stiles was an incredibly fast swimmer even by the standards of merfolk. He could make the journey from the surface to the underwater caves where his people lived, fathoms below, in just a matter of hours. The speed he'd used earlier when racing Derek had really been nothing.
He felt the gills of his neck, arms, and ribs spring open as he descended. As he approached his home, deep down where no light from the sun was visible, his pupils expanded until his iris was only a thin ribbon around their dark expanse. His eyes themselves grew larger aiding his sight.
He felt his skin grow firmer and more scale-like as it thickened to protect him from the colder temperatures in the deepest reaches of the ocean and his body changed internally to deal with the increased pressure.
He could see his city from far away, as it glittered in the blackness from the light of captive bioluminescent jellyfish.
Stiles had barely entered the city, turning down one of the narrow streets carved into the extensive cave network, when he was accosted by his best friend, Scott. Scott's mother had joined their tribe from a tribe farther south when she left her companion years ago. She never liked to talk about what had happened with Scott's father. The chief had welcomed her into their tribe without any hesitation and Stiles had quickly become friends with Scott, helping him adjust to his new home.
“Where have you been, Stiles?” Scott demanded, his long blue tail swishing back and forth. “You missed the hunt! Your dad was worried. I had to tell him you'd gone swimming in the trench and must have lost track of time.”
“Oh shit, the hunt!” Stiles slapped his forehead “That was today?”
“Yeah we brought in two giant squid, three frilled shark, and a pygmy sperm whale.”
“That's a great haul. I'm sorry I missed it.” Stiles wasn't the best hunter but he did well and knew it was an important duty to provide for his people. His dad was going to be more than worried. At this point Stiles would be surprised if he wasn't livid. As the chief's son, he knew he had certain responsibilities and missing the hunt wouldn't be taken lightly.
“Seriously, where have you been?” Scott repeated with a frown. “I get that you go to the surface sometimes, Stiles, but this has been happening a lot. People are starting to talk.”
Stiles grabbed Scott by the arm and dragged him into an alcove carved into the cave wall.
“Look, just between us, okay?” He lowered his voice to a whisper. “I met someone up there.”
“Fuck, Stiles!” Scott swore “You talked to a human? Are you out of your mind?”
“Not a human, Scott! A werewolf.”
“Is this a joke?” Scott raised an eyebrow “Werewolves aren't real. They're just stories to tell children.”
“They are real! I met one!” Stiles exclaimed, then added as an after thought “and he's gorgeous.”
“This is sudden. What happened to your plan to seduce Lydia?”
“In case you forgot, she married Jackson last year.” Stiles folded his arms “Big ceremony? My father officiated? We had to be there? It sucked?”
“Yeah,” Scott laughed “I'm just surprised you care.”
“Hey, I am a lot of things but a homewrecker is not one of them!”
“This is still sudden.”
Stiles didn't really care. “I can't deny that.”
“That doesn't concern you?”
“Nope.” They wandered back onto the street and made their way toward Stiles' home but kept their voices low.
“You're going to see him again...this supposed werewolf.” It wasn't a question. Scott knew him too well. He knew how dedicated Stiles was once he was fixated on someone.
“Not supposed, Scott. He is a werewolf. And yes, I'm going to see him again.”
“Does that sound safe to you?” Scott's tone was dripping with disapproval.
“What do you think he's going to do, eat me?” Stiles grinned.
“I don't know! Maybe?” Scott flailed his arms giving Stiles a look that said plainly you're being completely unreasonable.
“Well he's not and if he tried I could totally out swim him anyway.”
Scott gave in with a roll of his eyes.
“Fine but don't expect me to keep covering for you with your dad.”
“Wouldn't dream of it.”
Days passed with no sign of Stiles and Derek was beginning to grow agitated. How could he leave him hanging after that kiss, that absolute tease of a kiss?
Maybe this was for the best. It was dangerous to get too close. It had simply been too long since he had been with anyone...over six years, in fact. He was just lonely and Stiles was...Stiles was just too beautiful. He was too easy to talk to. It was too nice having the companionship of someone he didn't have to hide his true nature from. How could Derek resist?
They spent one day together and he was already pacing the beach feeling restless and caged even out in the open. He had forgotten (or tried very hard to forget) just how easy it was to become infatuated. He'd built up his defenses, learned to scoff at the tales of whirlwind romance that Hollywood tried to sale him, and blamed his previous (disastrous) relationship on his naivety and his youth.
Was this what it was always like, quick and irrevocable? A spark of interest building into a wildfire if given the slightest kindling?
At least he knew Stiles wasn't a hunter. That much was certain. That didn't automatically make him trustworthy, however. He could still be just as deceitful, just as dangerous, and Derek would have no way of knowing.
Finally, Derek asked himself what he had to lose. He had nothing left but his life and he barely valued that on his best days.
Whatever this was with Stiles, he would grab onto it like a lifeline and if it led him to ruin...well, that would be all that he deserved.
He only hoped he would see Stiles again soon.
The young merman's stories and the sound of his laughter helped Derek forget for a little while the things that had driven him to the coast in the first place. That alone was enough to have him entranced.
Stiles, as he expected, received a lecture about being irresponsible and was banned from leaving the city without his father's permission until further notice. Naturally, he didn't intend to comply. It wasn't that he wanted to vex his father, or that he didn't take his duties seriously, but he had made Derek a promise and he intended to keep it.
There was a certain kind of conch that lived here in the depths as yet undiscovered by humans. It was very rare and had a dark iridescent shell that, even though it was thin, was one of the hardest shells to break.
Apart from its rarity, the shell was valued among his people for the magical properties it possessed.
It was said that if one took the claw of the conch living inside the shell and fastened it into an earring, then made a trumpet of the conch shell, the wearer of the earring would be able to hear whenever the shell was blown no matter the distance.
That was exactly what Stiles intended to do.
He snuck out one night while his father was patrolling the territory and slipped away from the city.
It took him awhile but he eventually found the distinctive wavy tracks the conch left in the sand of the ocean floor. It wasn't hard to know he was following the right tracks for this particular conch was the only one that was capable of living quite so deep in the ocean.
The conch stood little chance once Stiles caught it but he was merciful and killed it quickly before removing the claw and devouring the conch itself.
He returned home with the claw and shell to prepare them.
His people used the needle-like teeth of frilled shark for many things, including piercings. There was only a quick sting of pain when Stiles punctured his ear and slipped the claw earring in place before his flesh healed around it.
Merfolk had developed several ways to survive in the often hostile and unforgiving environment of the deep ocean. They were not built as strong as werewolves but their lightening fast speed and quick reflexes prepared them to be another kind of predator, different, but no less deadly. Like Sirens, they could even charm their prey with sweet voices to pacify them or lure them from hiding. Their healing mechanism was much the same as that of werewolves, Stiles had learned from his time talking with Derek. They didn't have fangs, no, but when fighting or eating, their teeth, which otherwise appeared human, became sharp and serrated like a shark's. They could emit bioluminescent light from their eyes at will, either for luring prey or lighting their own way in the dark.
They weren't so different from werewolves, really. It was like the stories always said. The Mother Moon had two husbands, The Land and The Ocean, and she bore children for each. Her ocean-bound children lived rocked by the tides she guided. Her children of the land lived under the sky and her watchful gaze as she led them from on high. Though siblings, rarely did the two children of the moon meet. The merfolk were so isolated that the old stories of the moon's other children had become fables to be passed down that only a few still believed. Until Stiles had seen Derek transform, and known immediately what he was, even he had doubts.
Stiles finished preparing the conch shell by cutting a hole in the spire so it could be blown as a trumpet. He would have to be patient and wait until his father was on patrol again but he was eager to make the trip to the surface to see Derek.
A week passed and Derek had nearly given up on Stiles ever returning. His daily swims had lost their appeal. Going to the beach was just a harsh reminder of the peaceful day he'd spent there with Stiles who had driven his troubles from his mind.
He settled in for another long day of just trying to distract himself from his own existence. He curled up with a book on the window-seat overlooking the ocean when his heard a voice calling his name from the beach.
Sure enough, Stiles was there, bare chested and beautiful, chestnut hair wet and tousled from the ocean breeze.
Derek had to force himself not to run down to the beach. Instead, he carefully put aside his book and calmly walked out to meet Stiles.
“You're back.” He said when he reached the water, carefully keeping his voice devoid of emotion.
“I promised, didn't I?” Stiles smiled “Come into the water, Derek. I've missed you.”
Derek looked down at the sweats and tank top he was wearing. He hadn't thought to change into his swim trunks. Well, it wasn't as if werewolves were known for their modesty and he had nothing to hide. He stripped naked, noticing how Stiles' eyes tracked his every movement, and slipped into the water.
The minute he was in reach, Stiles caught him, wrapped his arms around his neck, and drew him into a kiss. Derek responded immediately, grabbing Stiles' waist and opening his mouth with his tongue. Stiles' lips were soft and he tasted fresh and sweet (even if there was a hint of saltwater). Derek didn't give a damn if things were rushed. He wanted Stiles and the way Stiles made him feel. He was ready and willing to take as much as Stiles would give him.
“Sorry it took me so long,” Stiles said when their kiss finally broke “but I brought you a gift.”
“Yeah?” Derek asked, breathless.
Stiles reached down and Derek noticed for the first time that he was wearing a belt slung low around his hips with a pouch attached at the side. The whole thing seemed to be constructed of something similar to seal skin, the hide of some maritime animal Derek couldn't name, and ropes of something resembling a very durable seaweed.
From the pouch Stiles drew a dark, shining conch shell. He handed it to Derek who noticed immediately a hole had been cut in the top.
Stiles tapped his ear, drawing Derek's attention to the black claw hanging there. “As long as I'm wearing this,” he said “whenever you blow that I'll be able to hear it no matter how far away I am.”
“And you'll come swimming to me, will you?” Derek smirked.
Stiles blushed “It may take me awhile, but yes, that's the idea.”
“Why would it take you awhile? Do you live far from here?”
“I live very far from here but distance isn't the issue. Merfolk are incredibly fast.”
“What is it then?” Derek asked as he stroked one hand lazily up and down Stiles' side just to enjoy the fact that he could.
Stiles let out a quick, nervous laugh. “Well, I may have been banned from leaving our city. My father isn't happy with the amount of time I've been spending away and I did miss a hunt I was meant to take part in.”
“Your father...?” Derek asked quickly drawing his hand away from Stiles' skin. “Exactly how old are you?”
Stiles gave him a guilty, sheepish grin. “Our life spans are longer, you know, so it really isn't the same...”
“Stiles.” Derek prompted and Stiles sighed.
“Fine. I am not yet considered a fully adult member of my tribe, but our laws don't work the same way human laws do. Our life spans are nearly twice that of the average human, so...”
“And how far from adulthood are you?” Derek knew this wasn't a deal breaker for him, Stiles was obviously sexually mature, but he felt he should know if he was in danger of committing some sort of...offense
“I've been old enough to take part in the hunt for two years now and after one more I can be considered an adult. I suppose my human equivalent would be seventeen.”
Derek breathed a sigh of relief. He really wished he still had his family's old bestiary - reading the section on merfolk would be useful right about now.
Derek relaxed and drew Stiles closer for another kiss. He ran his hands down his back and loved the feeling of the merman's smooth, impossibly soft skin.
“My father is the chief though, so I'd still have to listen to him even if I was of age.”
And just like that Derek was tense again. Stiles noticed and laughed. He took Derek by the hand and guided him toward the shore.
They lay together on the beach under the warmth of the sun trading kisses and stories about their different cultures. Derek told Stiles how alphas could fully transform and Stiles told Derek about how all merfolk had enchanting voices. They used them to lure prey, but also in important ceremonies, and to court their mates (or companions as the merfolk called them).
And, as if there was any doubt of his intentions, Stiles sang for him in a voice soft, low, and haunting.
He sang to him of famous lovers in his people's past, of daring exploits, and ultimate sacrifices. He used words like always and forever, words Derek had come to hate, but for a moment, under the sway of Stiles' voice, he found it easy to ignore his own bitterness.
Even though Stiles had said he was banned from leaving the city he still managed to see Derek regularly over the following weeks. He couldn't come every day but he never went too long without paying Derek a visit. Life had changed for Derek entirely. He had something to look forward to when he woke up every morning and someone to think about when he went to bed at night. There were fresh, new thoughts in his head, and memories he could think about without his chest aching.
He threw himself into his daily swims with renewed vigor. He was determined that one day he would beat Stiles at a race to the buoy. He felt more at home in the ocean than he ever had. He never expected to have a feeling like that again since the woods lost their ability to calm him. The trees and the earth were too saturated with ghosts. The ocean only held memories of Stiles' soft lips and frequent laughter.
He knew he would never be entirely free of grief. His happiness at having Stiles in his life threatened to spill over; He longed to have someone to share it with...but there was no one. He'd never know how Laura might have teased him, what his parents would have thought of his unusual choice of partner, or what jokes his cousins might have made.
He could barely bring himself to speculate. It hurt like a stabbing wound every time he imagined Laura laughing. She'd probably ask him if he had to stop eating fish. He imagined his father looking up from the newspaper with a bemused expression and asking “So his father's the chief. That's like their alpha, is it?”. Derek could just see the way he'd nod, chuckle to himself, and go back to reading after Derek told him yes. His mother, ever the alpha, would have been on alert and pestering him with questions. “If his father's the chief, is he expected to follow in his footsteps? How are you going to be together if he can't live on land and you can't live underwater?”
As much as it hurt to think about, Derek had to concede his mother would have brought up some very valid points.
Stiles knew his father had assigned him the menial task of gathering sea cucumbers as some twisted form of punishment. He hadn't been caught sneaking to the surface but he knew his father was observant enough to know something was up even if he wasn't sure what.
Sea cucumbers were slow and ridiculously easy to catch but it took hours of mindless swimming around to collect them from the ocean floor. They were an important part of sustaining the village but the task was usually given to children old enough to leave the city unsupervised but too young to join the hunt.
All Stiles could think about was Derek. It was foolish, Stiles knew, to get involved with a surfacer (even if he wasn't human). Stiles couldn't leave his people. Even if he found a way (it could be done but the knowledge of how was closely guarded), he couldn't leave his father, his friends, and his responsibilities. Would Derek be willing to join him in the ocean? He knew there was a way passed down from centuries back when merfolk and humans would intermarry. It had never been a common practice but it had been done. In his position as future chief he was expected to know all the old rituals though he had many years to go before he would take his father's place.
Would Derek even want to come away with him? It was one thing to spend days kissing on the sand but quite another to undergo such a radical transformation.
The way Derek looked at him sometimes, with a combination of loneliness and longing, made Stiles hopeful that Derek would at least consider it.
It had been awhile since Derek had seen Stiles and the separation was starting to gnaw at him. He sat on the beach running his hands over the conch shell that had become his most prized possession...not that he had many possessions left. After the fire, he had learned to embrace spartan living.
He hadn't used it yet; Stiles usually showed up at least every few days. Stiles had given him the conch shell for a reason though, hadn't he? Surely it was for times like this.
So Derek put the shell to his lips and blew. One long note, deep and clear, was carried out over the waves. Now, all Derek had to do was wait and see if the magic really worked.
It wasn't long, maybe a few hours, before Stiles broke through the surface of the water. He waved one arm calling to Derek who was waiting on the beach. Without hesitation, Derek ran out into the water to join him.
“I missed you.”Stiles pulled him close as soon as Derek was within reach. “What have you been up to besides brooding on the beach and being tragically handsome?”
“Thinking about you.” Derek felt a hint of humiliation at his words but the way Stiles' face lit up was all the reason he needed to stomach his own sappiness.
Stiles' tail swished against Derek's leg under the water in what was an unmistakably flirtatious move. It sent a shiver down Derek's spine. “What exactly have you been thinking about me?”
Feeling bold, Derek reached out to trace his thumb over Stiles' bottom lip. “A lot of things. Especially about your lips and how good they feel pressed against mine.” Stiles' lips were incredibly soft. Derek imagined that the time Stiles spent under water kept them that way. They never had a chance to chap. They were soft and, like Stiles' cheeks, flushed red easily.
In lieu of a verbal response, Stiles closed the space between them pressing his lips to Derek's and opening him up with an insistent tongue. Derek kissed back eagerly, grabbing Stiles by the hips and pulling him as close as possible while he claimed Stiles' mouth.
“Today,” Derek boasted when they broke apart “is the day I beat you to that buoy.”
“Ha!” Stiles laughed “In your dreams, wolfman!”
Everything with Stiles was lighthearted and wonderful as it had ever been, but the conversation soon took a serious turn. They had swum to their hearts' content and were laying in on the beach, half out of the water, letting the waves was over them up to their waists.
The questions that had come to him in his mother's voice had been nagging at him for days and Derek simply couldn't ignore them any longer.
“I wouldn't ask you to leave your family.” Derek said “But is there some way I can join you in the ocean?”
“I have heard of a way, but are you sure?” Stiles moved closer, scooting through the sand, and Derek could smell his hopefulness. “My world is so different from yours.”
“There's nothing here for me. My pack is gone.” Derek replied. What challenges could there be in the ocean that could break him any worse than he was already broken? “I know I can adjust to life under the water.”
“I'll have to speak to my father but I think it can be done.” Stiles' voice was cautiously optimistic “I think you could be happy with us, Derek. We're not so different from werewolves in the ways that matter. We swim together, we hunt, we feel the power of the moon.”
“I need a pack again.” Derek ran a hand through Stiles' damp hair before lowering it to cradle his face. “I can't go on like this. Not when I know there's a better option.”
“I'll find a way for you to transform.” Stiles' expression turned serious “No matter what it takes, I'll make it happen.”
“I don't want to lose you, Stiles.” Derek murmured, drawing Stiles close and sniffing at the crook of his neck. “I haven't known you long but you make me feel alive.” Stiles smelled so good, like saltwater, youth, and the spicy scent of arousal.
“Don't worry.” Stiles grinned “You won't lose me and I won't let you regret this.”
He then lunged forward and pulled Derek into another kiss. Stiles' hands were all over him. His fingers traced Derek's abs and he moaned into the kiss. Derek could feel himself growing hard and all he wanted to do was yank Stiles' hands lower and rut up against them. He managed to control himself but when they parted Stiles' eyes fell to Derek's erection.
“This means you want me?” He asked after licking his lips and letting his eyes flicker up to Derek's. He reeked of arousal and curiosity. It set off a chain reaction making Derek's own arousal so much greater as his nose was flooded with Stiles' scent.
“Yes.” His reply was abrupt as he tried to conceal the eagerness in his voice.
Stiles rested a hand on Derek's knee just below the end of his swim trunks. “Can I see?”
Derek didn't answer he just lifted his hips and pushed his trunks down and off. He didn't notice or care when the next wave carried them out to the ocean. Stiles' eyes were on him and even if Derek couldn't smell his arousal he would be able to see it in the heavy pink flush on his cheeks.
A large wave crashed around them leaving sea foam in its wake as Stiles repositioned himself to rest between Derek's legs. His long red and gold tail was on display, glittering in the sun, and captivating Derek.
Stiles didn't hesitate before touching him. He ran his hand up Derek's thighs and then tentatively began to stroke him, careful, as if he wasn't sure of Derek's sensitivity.
“It's so warm.” Stiles whispered. His fingers were everywhere teasing Derek with his exploration. Stiles' soft hands gently fondled his balls and ran up and down the shaft of his cock.
“You can use your mouth.” Derek prompted. His heart was beating fast in anticipation and he was glad Stiles' hearing wasn't as sensitive as his own.
“My mouth?” Stiles' eyes flicked up to Derek's face, surprise evident in their amber depths.
Derek nodded and ran a thumb over Stiles' bottom lip gently opening him up. He placed one hand on the back of Stiles' neck. “Let me show you how.”
Stiles leaned forward and curled his lips around the head of Derek's cock.
“That's it. Open up.” Derek prompted and Stiles complied, opening his mouth wider so he could take in more of Derek's length.
“Careful with your teeth.” Derek cautioned, breathless, as he watched himself slide in between those soft lips he loved. Stiles' mouth was warm, wet, and inviting. It had been so long since Derek had been with another person and Stiles was just so beautiful sprawled out between his legs in the surf. He knew he wouldn't last long.
Derek guided Stiles' hand and placed it on himself. “You can wrap your hand around the base if it's too much to take. Pump it like this.” He held Stiles wrist and moved his hand up and down to show him. He bit back a moan as Stiles took over.
“You're doing so good, Stiles.” Derek groaned, rolling his hips gently and encouraging Stiles. The merman was clearly a quick learner. He kept his eyes on Derek's face, monitoring his reactions and replicating what pleased him. He moved his hand and mouth together and let Derek slide in and out over his lips as he sucked eagerly.
“Take me a little deeper.” Derek couldn't hold back his moan this time as Stiles obeyed. “Yes, just like that.”
He grasped onto Stiles' hair, careful not to get too rough. The last thing he wanted to do was hurt Stiles accidentally. It took a lot of self-control to keep from letting go and just rutting into his mouth but Derek kept himself in check.
“You were made for this.” Stiles was doing so well and, to Derek's knowledge, he'd never handled a cock before. It was incredible. He knew he wouldn't last, he knew it, but god he wanted to. He hadn't felt this good in years, this relaxed, this alive.
“Fuck, Stiles, I'm about to...” His voice came out tremulous and his warning got lost in a moan as he came, shooting into Stiles' mouth.
Stiles pulled off, clearly startled, some of Derek's cum was on display in his open mouth. His eyes widened with surprise before he dove back down to suck the cum off Derek's cock before the ocean washed it away. Derek groaned as Stiles' mouth wrapped around him again and he sucked harder from his sudden gain in confidence.
When Derek was completely spent Stiles sat up and wiped his mouth while letting out a pleased sound. “Derek, that was incredible. The best thing I've ever tasted. It's a little like sea salt, but also sweet like fresh roe. I can't describe it but I love it.”
Derek relaxed, lowering himself from where he had been propped up on his elbows in order to lay flat on the sand. “You can have as much as you want.” Stiles laughed and lay next to him, resting his head on Derek's chest.
“How do you...” Derek felt himself blushing and mentally kicked himself. “I mean, what is your...” He gestured to the lower half of Stiles' body where all he could see were shining scales. He would return the favor but he had no idea how.
Stiles tilted his head up and winked “When you join me under the water you'll find out.”
“A human, Stiles?!” the chief raged “You know that's illegal! You're not to make contact with...”
“No dad, he's not a human!” Stiles waived his hands frantically. He should probably have started off with that little detail before announcing to his father that he had met a surfacer.
“What?” His father gave him a look like he'd lost his mind.
“He's a werewolf.” Stiles bit his lip and waited for his father's reaction.
“Are you certain?”
“Yes, I've seen him transform.”
“Only you, Stiles.” the chief shook his head “Only you would manage to meet and fall for a werewolf. We haven't had contact with them in a thousand years.”
“Just my luck, huh?” Stiles grinned trying to lighten the mood.
“Luck is right.” the chief ran his hands through his hair in exasperation “There's no way you could've known he was a werewolf at first. Do you have any idea how dangerous...”
“So it can be done, can't it?” Stiles interrupted “There's a way to turn him? Is what I've heard in the stories true?”
“There is a way.” his father gave him a hard look “You know that, Stiles.”
“And?” Stiles prompted.
“You know what must be done. I can't stop you, son.” The chief did not look pleased about that fact. “You're of the age where you must choose how you will prove yourself an adult.” he sighed “I had hoped you would do so by becoming a senior hunter. That way is the safest and most practical.”
He placed a hand on his son's shoulder.
“This is the most dangerous of all our rites of passage because helping a surfacer acclimate to life among us is a serious responsibility. You understand that?”
“The necklace of transformation requires powerful magic and powerful magic requires powerful sacrifice.” his father frowned “You are willing to risk your life to acquire the items you will need?”
“I've heard the stories. I know what I'm getting myself into.”
“You're young and foolish.” the chief snapped “You have no idea what you're getting yourself into.”
“I'll prove you wrong.” Stiles felt a surge of stubbornness well up inside him “I'll prove I'm an adult and I'll prove I'm capable of keeping Derek safe while he learns our ways. He'll be a strong addition to the tribe. He'll be a great hunter. I can tell.”
“And what am I going to do if you're mistaken, Stiles?” There was a break in his father's voice, a show of emotion he only allowed when they were alone.“What am I going to do if you don't come back?”
“I will come back!” Stiles rushed to assure him.
“I've already lost your mother.” Stiles cringed at his father's words “I don't know if I could survive losing you too.”
“I won't let that happen, dad. I promise.”
His father was silent for a long time, studying his face.“You must be very taken with him.”
Stiles didn't know what to say so he just nodded. His father sighed. “If you complete the necklace I am bound by law to respect your choice. Bring it to me and I will endow it with the magic required to change him.”
“Thank you.” Stiles' shoulders sagged in relief. True, he knew his father couldn't legally stop him from performing the ritual but he was grateful for his easy (albeit reluctant) acceptance.
“Stiles, you know these necklaces are usually completed as proposals. Are you planning to marry this werewolf?”
“I...no?” Stiles' heart was pounding in his chest now at the very idea. “I don't know. He just asked for a way that he could join us and I know this is the only way. I'm not going hold him to anything like that. I mean...I hope, one day, but...” He trailed off, embarrassed.
“Even so,” The chief's frown deepened. “He should know the significance of the ritual. He should know what it is meant to mean.”
“I'll tell him.”
The necklace was designed to prove the crafter's worth through the difficulty of obtaining its components. Some items required for the necklace were valuable because of their rarity, some for the harsh conditions that must be braved to retrieve them, and the most important pieces were valuable because of the danger that must be faced to claim them.
He needed the whiskers of a water dragon, the teeth of a giant snailfish found only in the deepest, coldest trenches of the hadal zone, the crystallized eye of a sea serpent, five shells carefully taken from the most venomous marine snails, the beak of a kraken broken into three pieces, and black pearls from a rare giant deep sea mollusk large enough to trap a merman in his entirety.
It wouldn't be easy. He would have to fight creatures many times his strength. He would have to travel far from home and brave the frigid temperatures and dangerous caverns of the hadal zone.
It wouldn't be easy but he would do it for Derek.
He would do it to prove himself to his people and to give the werewolf who had so quickly stolen his heart a chance to begin a new life.
He left his city with only his hunting spear and a bag full of supplies.
He didn't meet his father's eyes when he passed through the city gates. He knew he was risking a lot for a love that had only just begun. He didn't regret his decision, but he couldn't stand to see the fear and anxiety in his father's face.
Scott was waiting just outside the city to give him a hug.
“I wish I could go with you.” Scott frowned. “Nobody chooses this method of coming of age anymore. Nobody. You've lost it, Stiles.”
Stiles gave his friend a lopsided grin. “I'm unique, what can I say?”
Scott shook his head “Just come back, alright?”
“Aaaw Scott, you do care.”
“Ha!” Scott smiled but Stiles could see how worried he really was. “I just know if you die they'd probably get some idiot like Jackson to be chief after your father and nobody wants that.”
Stiles laughed. “Don't worry, I have every intention of coming home.”
The days Derek expected to wait had turned into weeks.
He carried the conch shell Stiles gave him every time he went down to the water. He ran his hands over the smooth surface of the shell. Stiles had said if he used the shell then he would come to Derek. Derek hadn't wanted to use it, he'd just trusted that Stiles would come back on his own, but Stiles had given him the shell for a reason.
He put the shell to his lips and blew a long, clear note that seemed to reverberate through the air and pass over the waves to get lost in the water.
Derek spent the day pacing the beach watching for Stiles but no one came. He mentally berated himself for his hopefulness.
He returned to his home as the sun was setting and tried to lose himself in a book. When that didn't work he tried watching tv, surfing the internet, listening to music. Nothing worked, not even a vigorous mind-numbing work out helped.
Eventually there was nothing left to do but fall into a fitful sleep.
The final item Stiles needed to collect would be the hardest to obtain and the most crucial. For the magic to work every other item must be threaded on the whiskers of a water dragon. Their long whiskers were strong as steel and as supple as seaweed.
It was suicide to face a water dragon alone. It often took whole teams of merfolk to defeat one when it ventured dangerously close to their cities. Stiles knew this and accepted the risks. Even if it had only been done in antiquity by merfolk of legend...he was determined to try. After all, what was to stop him from succeeding where others had before?
Before she died his mother liked to tell him stories from their people's past. He had grown up dreaming about the heroic exploits of the wandering mermaid, Adrianna of the Atlantic, who had fallen in love with the chief of a tribe in the frigid waters of the Arctic Ocean and won his heart by bringing him the skull of a water dragon that terrorized his city. Apart from Adrianna, there were countless stories of lovers in ages past who had completed the ritual he was now attempting. If Hefnir of the North Sea could complete a necklace of transformation for his Viking lover, then why couldn't Stiles complete one for his wolf?
He knew it may be foolish to compare himself to famous warriors of old when he was hardly battle-tested, and not yet fully a man, but there was little he wouldn't do to achieve his goals once his mind was set to something.
He'd keep his promises or he'd pay for breaking them with his life.
He knew his best chance of defeating the dragon was with his cunning and not brute force. He had never been praised for his athletic prowess but he was famed for his intelligence. He hoped it would prove useful for more than memorizing the geography of the ocean floor or reciting interesting historical facts.
He had spent the past few days silently stalking the dragon he had found. He learned its movements, where it went to hunt, when it slept, and how it fought.
On the day he intended to launch his attack, he felt the claw he always wore in his ear begin to vibrate and he could hear the sound of the conch shell being blown. Derek wanted him. Derek was waiting. He wanted to swim to him immediately, but he was far from home and he had to complete his task or everything he had done so far would be in vain.
He let the sound of the conch shell firm his resolve and he set out to slay the dragon.
The cave where the dragon dwelt had two entrances which would make it difficult to back the creature into a corner. Luckily, Stiles had brought with him some blessed stones like the ones that ringed his home city keeping it safe from attack by dragons. The stones were purified through an ancient ritual and when used to form a barrier it was impossible for a water dragon to cross.
It was easy to tell when the dragon was sleeping from the gentle waves that entered and exited the cave from the its snoring.
Silently as possible, Stiles crept forward and closed off the dragon's exits.
Water dragons needed a lot of room to put full force into the swings of their barbed tales and to lash out with their claws. It was true that fighting in close quarters would limit him as well (it would be much harder to escape if the dragon gained the advantage) but Stiles was faster, smaller, and his double ended spear was dipped in the venom of the most deadly marine snails.
If he moved fast and aimed his blows precisely then he could get the venom into the dragon's blood stream. Dragon skin was nearly invulnerable but he paid attention in class when they discussed the anatomy of the other creatures that lived in the ocean. He knew the few spots where the dragon was vulnerable and the toxic venom would cause paralysis within moments giving Stiles time to finish the dragon off. He just hoped he was quick and agile enough to poison the dragon before it ran him through with its long, dangerous claws.
Dragons had extremely sensitive hearing and, in spite of his attempted stealth, the minute Stiles entered the cave it blinked open its eyes and roared, jerking its head around searching for him.
He darted out of view, hiding behind a rock and looking for an opening to attack. He had to make his first blow count. Once the dragon spotted him it would charge and Stiles would be occupied dodging blows. He'd be lucky to get a second stab in. He needed to get the venom in on the first try or his chances of success would be greatly diminished.
The dragon turned its head away from his hiding place and Stiles could see a few of the vulnerable gils on its ribs. If he was fast enough to jam his spear into one of them the venom would spread quickly.
He took a deep breath and gripped his spear tight. He wasn't the same young merman he was when he'd set out on this quest. By this point he'd traveled miles and miles from home and he'd taken on a kraken. It was a small kraken, but no one needed to know that. Of course, no one would know that if he didn't make it through this fight. The point, Stiles stubbornly reminded himself, was that he'd changed. He'd already overcome challenges he wasn't sure he could. He just had to believe in himself and be brave one more time.
He mustered his courage and lunged forward. His blade had barely scraped the dragon's gil when the beast whipped around and slashed across his chest with its claws. Stiles never thought he would be grateful to be concealed in a cloud of his own blood, but he was. As his blood floated up into the water between him he had only a brief moment to flip his spear and lung again. This time, he struck true. The dragon roared and Stiles, blinking through the pain, clutched at his own chest and dodged blow after blow managing to avoid the dragon's claws until the venom set in.
The fight could only have taken minutes but it had felt like a terrifying eternity.
He had to get away, to find a fortified place to hide while his wounds healed. The blood, his and the dragon's, would attract other predators. Stiles was still running on instinct and shocked to be alive. He clutched the whiskers tight in his hand and swam as quickly as he could back to the small, narrow cave he had made his home while stalking the dragon. He was careful to take an indirect path, however, knowing if he headed straight there any predator could follow the trail of his blood left in the water. Most predators so deep in the ocean, like the dragon and the kraken, were gigantic. He would be safe in a cave too small for them to enter.
He wanted to take the dragon's corpse back to his city for his people to use but he was so badly injured he had to seek shelter immediately. He hoped it would still be there for him to claim when he was healed, but he doubted it would be. The deep ocean was full of scavengers who would hone in on his kill.
He had done it. He could barely believe he had all the times he needed. Now, he only had to survive the journey back home to have the necklace enchanted by his father.
He couldn't wait to get home to ease his father's worry, to celebrate his victory with Scott, and then...
He felt a small smile form in spite of the pain from his battle wounds.
Then he could see Derek again.
Derek felt pathetic. He hadn't realized how much was missing in his life, how far he had retreated into despair, until Stiles appeared. Stiles made him feel again after he had worked hard to numb himself to the world. To have that happiness taken away as suddenly as it came left his wounds, old and new, open and gaping again.
He tried to have faith in Stiles. He tried to believe that he intended to keep his promise, that he would return, but it was hard after so much time had passed. He chided himself for having believed at all. His emotions swung on a pendulum from despair to tentative hope.
Sometimes, he fell into anger. He berated himself because truly he knew nothing of mermen. Was their nature fickle or steadfast? Were they in the habit of idle flirtation or did they take their romantic entanglements as seriously as werewolves? He had no idea and with his family library destroyed he had no way of finding out through research.
Werewolves as a rule fell in love hard and fast driven by the instinct to find and keep a mate. Derek had been deceived before by one outside his own species. Even if Stiles' ends were not so nefarious as Kate's, Derek knew he could have been playing with him. It was entirely possible Derek was the only one experiencing such strong feelings. His senses had been fooled before.
And yet, there was a tenacious strand of hope inside him that led him to the beach everyday to wait and to watch for Stiles' return.
When Stiles finally saw the lights of his city after his long journey he nearly collapsed from relief.
Clutching his bag of hard won treasures he sped up, swimming as fast as he could towards home.
As soon as he came within sight of the city's entrance Stiles could see a guard rushing to alert his father.
The second he made it through the city gates his father was there, enfolding him into his strong arms, and laughing with relief as he struggled to keep tears out of his eyes.
“I told you I'd come back, didn't I?” Stiles clutched his father fiercely.
“The worrying nearly killed me, Stiles!” His father pulled him back to look in his face, holding him by the shoulders “One more week and I would've had a heart attack.”
“I've told you to stop eating whale blubber and those fatty mollusks. They're bad for your health.”
“So are stressful sons.”
Stiles pulled his father into another hug. “I missed you too, dad.”
That night was spent resting and celebrating with his friends and family.
Scott brought him a shell full of fermented kelp. The kelp alcohol was thick, almost a paste, which kept it from dissipating in the water. It was a potent intoxicant that merfolk used during all their celebrations.
Stiles took the shell offered to him and clinked his together with Scott's before downing the concoction.
Scott slapped an arm around his shoulder and laughed, honest and full of mirth. Stiles had missed that laugh.
“It's good to have you back.”
Stiles smiled and agreed, though he couldn't wait to get back to the surface to see Derek.
The necklace had been assembled and enchanted. His father had used their ancient magic to crystallize the sea serpent eye and it formed the centerpiece of the necklace. Sea serpents were renowned for their long lifespans and supposed ability to see into the future. As such, the eye was a symbol of love enduring and a promise for the future.
The eye was surrounded by the black pearls, deep red shells of the venomous marine snails, and the teeth of the snailfish. The teeth were meant to represent a willingness to go to any length for a lover because of the difficulty of reaching their home in the farthest reaches of the hadal zone.
The kraken was known to be a fierce and aggressive opponent, as such the three pieces of its beak promised protection both from enemies of the past, dangers of the present, and trials of the future. All these things threaded on the unbreakable whiskers of a water dragon were, to any of the merfolk, a clear sign of deep commitment. It was uncommon for these necklaces to be completed in modern times but they were just as highly valued as they had ever been and perhaps more so for their rarity. Anyone who saw Derek wearing it would know someone had risked their life for him, that he was cared for, and under another's protection.
Of course, Stiles didn't expect Derek to understand this, or to return the intensity of his feelings, but he hoped one day he would.
Even if he didn't, even if everything went wrong, Stiles wouldn't regret helping Derek find the new start he craved.
Derek was sitting on the beach, stewing in self-hate and resignation, when Stiles broke to the surface. He had to blink twice before he was convinced Stiles was actually there and he hadn't finally gone mad and started to hallucinate.
Derek didn't hesitate before swimming out to meet him but his words were cautious and caged. “I didn't think you were coming back.”
“I promised I would.” Stiles gave him a bemused expression and pulled him close. Derek stiffened slightly. It was hard to warm up again after weeks of convincing himself that Stiles had abandoned him but he couldn't stand to pull away. Stiles was here now, warm and smiling.
“These necklaces take a lot to complete, you know.”
“Necklace?” Derek raised an eyebrow.
“This.” Stiles reached into his bag and pulled out a necklace studded with shells and pearls and a crystal that looked like an eye. It was strange and beautiful and there were parts of it Derek couldn't identify.
“I had to assemble the pieces myself but it was blessed by my father. Once it's around your neck it will change you into one of us.”
“You made this for me?” Derek suddenly felt guilty for doubting him. Stiles had obviously been unable to heed his call. That must have been why he didn't come. “That's why you were gone so long?”
Stiles nodded. “You um...” He stumbled over his words and his cheeks turned a bright shade of pink. “You should know these necklaces are usually completed to signify an engagement. Of course, I don't expect you to go through with that, but some people might misunderstand so...”
Derek bristled and tried to keep the hurt out of his voice. “You don't want me for a mate?”
“What?” Stiles was confused at first before his face changed to that of shocked recognition. “No, of course I do. It's just so soon I thought you'd think I was crazy for asking.”
It baffled Derek that all this time Stiles had been afraid of the very same thing he was. Terrified of moving too fast, of not understanding how the other did things, of misinterpreting something important.
“Werewolves do not do things in half-measures.” He clarified and wrapped his arms around Stiles' waist. “We make commitments to our partners and we keep them. It's not in our nature to wait.”
“Are you saying...” Stiles swallowed hard, his heart beating faster than Derek had ever heard it. “You would be willing to marry me, to be my companion?”
“I'm willing to leave my world behind for you.” Derek nuzzled Stiles' neck. “Did you think I was playing games?”
“I thought...” Stiles stuttered “I didn't know. I thought it was the change you wanted above all.”
Derek let out a small growl. “Don't be ridiculous. You're the reason I want the change.”
“Oh.” Stiles smiled, obviously pleased and flustered. “Oh. Well that's...that's...awesome.”
Derek laughed at the word choice and pressed a sweet and simple kiss to Stiles' lips.
Stiles held up the necklace. “Are you ready?”
Derek took a moment just to look at the necklace. Unlike the bite, it wasn't an irrevocable change but it may as well have been. He had no intention of ever leaving Stiles or returning to land. It was some comfort to know that he could, hypothetically, break the enchantment but it was an unnecessary comfort. He had no pack and nothing to tie him to the land. Yes, he was ready.
He nodded and Stiles offered him the necklace. “Once you put this on, it can only be removed by your own hands. No known power can break it but once you remove it the enchantment will be gone forever.”
The minute the necklace was clasped around his neck, Derek could feel the change begin. He wondered if this was what it was like for bitten werewolves when they shift for the first time. It was disorienting, and a little frightening, to feel his body altered in such a profound way. His legs knit together and his skin rippled as scales began to form. He sucked in a breath as he could feel gils rip open on his rib cage which was submerged in water.
The magic inherent to all shape-shifters was pulsing through him and he knew his eyes were turning red. He could feel the call of the moon as ever but this time it wasn't stirring inside of him like a building wind gusting hard through the forest trees but rocking through his blood in waves. He was tempest-tossed, turning, his head in a dizzy haze, until with a sudden clarity he looked down to see a long black tail where his legs used to be.
Stiles gasped “God, you're so handsome, I knew you would be...”
Derek looked at his hands in confusion. “My claws....I still have my claws.”
“It's alright.” Stiles ran a comforting hand down Derek's arm. “My father says that with non-humans the transformation can leave some vestiges of their previous form. It's nothing to worry about. If anything, it's a bonus. Those will come in handy for getting the meat out of crabs.”
Derek experimentally retracted his claws. He breathed a sigh of relief. He was happy to have transformed and to be able to live with Stiles now but to know that some part of him would always be a werewolf was important to him. It surprised him to realize he wasn't as ready to give up that part of his identity as he thought he'd been. Still, he had no regrets. He was looking forward to meeting his new pack, or rather tribe, and starting a life with his companion-mate.
Stiles had brought his hands up and placed them on either side of Derek's face. “Your eyes, they're so beautiful, and so red...”
Derek smiled and closed the space between them to capture Stiles in a kiss.
When they broke apart, Stiles took him by the hand and led him out to deeper water. “Come on, there's still so much you have to see.”
Stiles dived suddenly, pulling Derek under with him, and for a moment he panicked until the gills on his neck ripped open and for the first time he could breathe under water.
The sun shone down distorted and softened by the waves above them. Derek saw Stiles in front of him, his brown hair a gravity defying billowy mess and his face lit up with a bright smile.
Derek knew he'd made the right decision.