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Blue Tide Pulling Me Under

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 Derek loved his job, which is something not everyone could say.

 He worked six days out of the week. On three of those days he works from dawn to dusk, and the other three days depends on the shifts he wants to work. He works hard and deals with the more unappealing side of his job, and while his raises aren’t frequent, he loved it all the same.

  The so appropriately named Supernatural Rehabilitation Center (SRC) had two branches to it; the Magical Creature Rehabilitation, and the Supernatural Rehabilitation and Therapy. Each branch had its own building in two separate but close locations. The rehab and therapy had been the thing to get Derek interested in working for SCR, and he went to help the magical creatures for work.

 It was early in the morning on Wednesday. He’s one of the first people to get in the building besides Melissa and Isaac, who were always here early. But usually he has the mornings by himself in the various pens. Being surrounded by all the creatures put him at ease. And it didn’t matter if he had a bad night before or not. It had surprised him at first that none of them freaked out around him since he was a werewolf. He went into this thinking it was going to be difficult, but all the creatures took to him.

 Right now he was grooming a unicorn foal that had lost his mother to poachers a few months ago and was injured in the process. Now, the beautiful little guy was healed, but depressed at the loss of his mom. Derek understood him.

 “How long have you been sitting here with Dominick?” Derek looked behind him to see the other caretaker, Kira.

 “Only for a little bit. I just brushed him down.” Derek said. Kira walked into the pen and began running her fingers over his glittery golden mane.

 “He’s looking good.” She chirped. He watched as she checked his eyes with a flashlight and conducted a few more tests before she joined him sitting down.

 “Yeah, he’s completely healthy.” Derek said. Dominick bumped his nose against his chest and Derek rubbed his side. “Do you think that we should introduce him to Monica today?”

 Monica is a unicorn who came to them during a complication during her birth, which then caused the loss of her foal. They’ve been keeping her around because of her own depression. It had been a plan to unite her and Dominick when he came to them to see if they would bond and get better together.

 “Yeah, I think so. He’s all healed up and I think that they’ll take to one another.” Kira said.

 “When should we do it?” He asked.

 Kira tilted her head and shrugged. “We can do it whenever, but I know Scott would really love to see them bond. He’s always had a softspot for the happiness of all unicorns.” She said.

 “Okay, we can wait.” Derek said. Kira smiled happily at him, and he couldn’t help but feel a fondness for her. Even on days that were hard on them all, she was still a ray of sunshine.

 “Sooo,” Kira pressed their shoulders together and wiggled her eyebrows, “How was your date last night?” She asked.

 Derek made a face and shook his head. “There isn’t going to be a second date.” He watched as Kira’s face fell momentarily before she schooled her expression.

 “Why not?” She asked.

 “Jennifer was one of those types where she was nice and all to me, and she seemed like a great girl, but then she was treating the staff and the servers at the restaurant like crap.” Derek said.

 “Oh,” Kira cringed, “That’s how you can tell someone’s true colors.”

 “Exactly.” Derek said. “So I told her after dinner that we weren’t going to be doing that again.”

 “I’m sorry about that, Derek.” Kira said and patted his arm.

 “It’s okay. I don’t think online dating is my thing.” He sighed.

 “But you’ve only gone on, what, three dates?” She asked.

 “Four,” Derek corrected, “but none of those date’s panned out. Half of the people I get paired with are only in it for sex, and the ones who are interested in a relationship I have no connection to.”

 “Well you know all of us are willing to help set you up with someone.” Kira said. She gave him a reassuring pat on his shoulder.

 “I don’t think so.” Derek said. “Erica is mostly the one who finds people to set me up with and they never go anywhere.”

 “Well what about that one guy, Bradley?” Kira asked. “Didn’t you guys hit it off really well?”

 “Yeah, we did.” Derek said with a small nod. “But he was the one that turned out to be really judgmental about you guys.”

 Kira harrumphed in disappointment. “Oh yeah, he was that guy. Where did Erica even meet that guy?” She asked.

 “At a gay club.” Derek said. “He mentioned he was trying to find someone he could date, and she had been getting desperate to find someone for me.”

 Kira nodded. “Okay, yeah, now I remember why that whole setting you up thing never worked out. We shouldn’t try that again.”

 “Agreed.” Derek snorted. Kira giggled but cut herself off quickly. They went silent as they heard the clicking of heels sound. Both of them pressed against the door to Dominick’s pen to hide and hoped they wouldn’t be noticed. Nearby, the clicking stopped, and suddenly the door was pulled open. Derek and Kira tumbled onto the floor.

 “Are you two going to get anything done today?” Lydia asked. She braced her hands on her hips and stared down at them.

 He and Kira sat up slowly. His ears were red and he tried to keep from smiling too much. Kira had straw in her hair and was smiling sheepishly up at Lydia.

 “We were doing stuff.” Kira said.

 Lydia raised an eyebrow. “Oh?” She asked.

 “We were discussing when we should bring Dominick and Monica together to bond.” Derek said.

 “Ah.” Lydia said. She didn’t sound convinced from their story, which would be a correct assumption for her to make, but that didn’t mean they couldn’t try to get out of it.

 “So what brought you in here, anyway?” Kira asked, changing the subject. “You’re usually in your office this early.”

 Lydia pursed her lips and held out her hands to help pull them up to their feet.

 “I came in here to check on the young phoenix with the broken wing.” Lydia said. She picked the straw out of Kira’s hair and brushed the dirt off of her. “I wanted to see if we needed to extend his stay while he healed or if he’d regenerate to heal the wing.”

 “Albert regenerated last night, so we could probably release him later today after he adjusts.” Derek said.

 “I don’t understand why you give all the creatures names.” Lydia said. She turned to him and begin wiping him off. “We’re not a zoo-”

 “Which is a good thing.” Kira added.

 “So there’s no need in giving them a name since we release them.” She finished.

 “Well I like naming them, so I’m just going to do what I want to do.” Derek said matter-of-factly.

 “You’ll do what I pay you to do.” Lydia said.

 “You mean what Deaton pays me.”

 “I’m the one signing your check.”

 Derek rolled his eyes but couldn’t keep himself from smiling at Lydia. In the beginning they may have rubbed each other wrong, but the more he was around her the more he understood her. Now they got along famously.

 “Me naming them never causes any trouble.” Derek said.

 “As long as you don’t get attached.” Lydia pointed out.

 “I never do.”

 “We’ll see.” She said doubtfully.

 Kira threw her arms over their shoulders and tugged them out of the pens. “Derek already checked everyone out before I got here, so why don’t we catch up on some paperwork, yeah?” She suggested.

 “Why on earth do you sound happy about that?” Derek asked.

 “I think that’s a wonderful idea, Kira.” Lydia told her, grinning and ignoring Derek completely.

 “Both of you are terrible.” It was like he hadn’t even said anything.

 “Isn’t Jackson coming over later today?” Kira asked.

 “Yes. Another reason why we should get the paperwork into order so he can deal with the legal side of this whole thing.” Lydia said.

 “Man, I couldn’t do Jackson’s job.” Kira said.

 “Luckily you don’t have to.” Lydia smiled. Derek fell a little behind as the girls continued to talk about this and that. They both headed off to Lydia’s office while Derek wandered off to the front desk where Melissa sat.

 “Hey Derek.” She greeted, smiling up at him. Derek had always liked Melissa. She reminded him of his mom.

 “Hey.” He greeted back. “What’s up?”

 “Oh, not much.” She said. “I’m playing solitaire on my computer since this morning is kind of slow.”

 “Have there been any calls?” He asked.

 “Um,” Melissa clicked off of her game and looked at the call logs. “There was one call along the coast that sounded pretty serious. I called Scott and he grabbed Erica, Allison, and Boyd. They got some supplies and took the car over to see what was going on.”

 “That sounds pretty major if all four are going over. Maybe Lydia will actually have to use the OR with this one.” Derek commented.

 “There is a chance.” Melissa agreed. “She hasn’t had a serious case for awhile. Good for the creatures, but maybe not so much for work hours or her paycheck.”

 “She’s the best surgeon in this field, Deaton isn’t going to lose her over something like money or hours.” Derek said.

 “And I’m pretty sure she’s a little too attached to everyone here to up and leave for something.” Melissa added. Derek grinned and winked at her.

 “Exactly.”

 

~~~~~~

 

 Just like Melissa said, it was slow. Slow was always good.

 They did get some things to keep themselves busy. Derek went out with Albert into the preserve and released him back into the wild. A teen guy came in with a dragon hatchling he had tried to raise but discovered a dragon, even as a baby, was hard to take care of. Melissa got a call from a mother who was freaking out because her eight year old daughter had identified basilisk eggs in their backyard. Isaac was quick to head over there to collect the eggs and give the little girl a high five for identifying the eggs.

 But other than that and a few other things, it was slow. Derek was wrapped into doing paperwork with Lydia and Kira. Only when Jackson showed up to collect it and to flirt with Lydia did he manage to slip away.

 Cleaning the pens wasn’t the most appealing thing to do, but somehow it wasn’t a hassle for him. He enjoyed interacting with all the creatures and he cleaned the place up. Kira was always happy to let him control the cleaning part. She claimed she let him because he had a “sensitive nose” and knew what needed to be cleaned, but Derek knew it was because she didn’t like poop. The girl could assist Lydia in the OR during surgery no problem. But if a pigeon so much as poops anywhere near her she can’t stand it.

 “Hey Derek?” Kira called from the breakroom. Two o’clock had rolled around now, and everyone was too lazy to do anything about food.

 “Yes?” He asked from where he sat with a magazine.

 “Could you make us something to eat?” Kira asked sweetly. Derek flickered his eyes up to hers, and immediately regretted his decision to do so. He could go steel faced against both Scott and Allison’s big brown eyes and dimpled smiles when they tried to sweet talk him into something, but if Kira just smiled at him, he was done.

 He blamed the fact that she is the only nice person he works with. He swears she is. Her and Melissa.

 “Do we even have things to make lunch with?” He asked.

 “I know we probably have enough things to make lunch for the people that are here right now.” She said. Kira smiled at him with the smallest bit of regret, because she was nice and didn’t like to disturb him when he was relaxing to do something for her.

 “Well, if there is, I guess I’ll do it.” Derek said. Kira beamed at him and in the corner of his eye he saw Isaac fist pump in the air.

 “Free food!” He cheered.

 “Just for that, you don’t get any.” Derek said.

 “You never mean that.” Isaac said, smiling at him like a smartass.

 “I wish I did.” He sighed under his breath. Isaac just laughed at him and he was once again reminded he worked with a bunch of werewolves.

 “You might want to pause on making lunch.” Lydia said. Her heels had been replaced with sneakers, her pantsuit with scrubs, her face was covered with a mask, and she was in the process of putting her hair up in a bun. “Scott called, we have a pretty mutilated mermaid that seems to be the victim of poaching. Lots of blood, lots of fixing.”

 “And that is my queue to leave.” Isaac said. He couldn’t handle too much blood.

 “What is your job here again?” Kira asked him playfully.

 “To sit here and look pretty.” Isaac winked. “Someone has to do it.”

 Derek snorted but rushed back to the locker room with Kira to change into the same kind of outfit Lydia was wearing. Lydia was the head surgeon, so she was completely in control of what happened in the OR, but everyone was useful and needed when a serious case came in.

 “Can you believe they’re bringing in a mermaid?” Kira asked, her voice airy with the rush of adrenaline that was already beginning to build with every passing moment.

 “It’s hard to believe.” Derek said. He wrestled on different shoes and pulled a mask over his nose and mouth. She did the same. “Do we even have the equipment to take care of a mermaid.”

 “We have an aquarium we can put it in if needed.” Kira said. They both rushed out of the room and out to the back of the building where Boyd would drive the car in.

 “What about anything else we need?” He asked. Lydia was already there, her eyes hard and ready as the sounds of the sirens got closer. They rarely ever used the sirens.

 “I guess it just depends.” Kira said.

 The car (which had long since been converted into a type of ambulance) turned so fast, the only reason it didn’t crash was because of Boyd’s incredible driving skills.

 As soon as the car came to a stop the back of the doors flew open. In a whirlwind of speed Scott jumped out of the car and began pulling the gurney out. Erica was on the other side pushing, and Allison was on top of the giant mass that was strapped on.

 “It’s not good, Lyds.” Allison called.

 “What exactly do we have?” Lydia asked.

 Everything became a haze of noise and movement and blood. The blood dripped down onto the white tiles as they rushed to the OR. The mermaid was injured pretty bad. It was making these horrible screeching sounds and was trying to get out of the restraints, which was causing more bruises and bleeding to appear on its pale skin.

 “Multiple contusions and lacerations on the face, chest, and arms,” Erica rattled answered, “Y-shaped incision over the chest like he was getting prepped to be cut open.”

 “Serious injury on the right side of his tail,” Scott added, “The entire right side has been skinned, but the lower half has suffered from severe deep lacerations and shallow puncture wounds, and the right fluke has been completely removed down the medium notch.”

 “And he’s had heavy blood loss. He’s been in this condition for hours before it was called in because of his screeching.” Allison finished off.

 As if on cue, the screaming began again, making all of them wince. It sounded like glass going through a wood chipper with the pitch Lydia’s screams could reach. The merman had a confusion-hazed look on his face, which was a mirage of pain and anguish.

 Derek burst through the doors to the OR and everyone rushed in. They all took turns washing their hands and putting on gloves. Like a well oiled machine, everyone quickly fell into their own jobs. Lydia, as the head surgeon, was already by the merman’s side. Kira and Scott (her two main operating assistance) quickly brought a tray with surgical tools over to her.

 “Allison, he’s too worked up to move onto the table, see if you can calm him down.” Lydia said, and began giving out other instructions, “Boyd, go get Isaac to fill the aquarium up with saltwater. Erica, get a hose going to wash the blood off of him. Derek, when she’s done start sterilizing his wounds. Scott, Kira, lets get everything prepared for a long few hours.”

 Everyone sprung into action with their directions; all focused only on what they had to do. Erica was back in record time with the hose, using it to wash the excess blood away so the wounds were much more visible. Derek grabbed pads of gauze and used saline to sterilize the wounds Erica finished washing off. He made quick work of it since he knew the quicker he could get it out of the way, the quicker they could actually help the merman.

 And help was what he desperately needed. The more of his injuries that were exposed, the more Derek realized this part of the merman’s body really had been completely mutilated beyond actual significant repair. With some injuries, there was only so much even Lydia could do

 “I can’t get him to calm down.” Allison yelled over all the fuss. The restrains did little to quell how much the merman’s tail kept whipping around; he was struggling too much for any of them to do anything. “He just keeps getting worked up. I don’t think he understands we’re trying to help him.”

 “Should we get him anesthetics?” Scott asked.

 “No, it won’t work. Mermaids have a much higher metabolism than us. The small effect it would have is useless.” Lydia said. Her skilled fingers suddenly went to press down in the middle of his tail.

 “Shit.” She cursed.

 “What?” Kira asked.

 “He’s starting to separate.” She said.

 “What’s that supposed to mean?” Erica asked. Water was all over the place where she was trying to keep the blood a minimum. It mixed with the blood and drenched the ground.

 “In certain situations, mermaids can actually change their bodies to become human, more or less,” Lydia said, rushed. But there was no way they could miss the excitement and curiosity in her voice. This was all of their first times dealing with a mermaid. She was more knowledgeable with it, knowing all the practices and theories, but now she was able to put it into action. “But right now, since he’s under extreme stress the merman is trying to separate his tail into legs to better cope with his new environment. And seeing as the whole side of his tail is injured, and his right fluke is gone, if he were to do that he’d be missing part of a limb as a human.”

 “Which would be bad.” Scott said.

 “Very bad.” Lydia agreed. “Kira, start filling a tub with water. If we can get him back in water that may hold off the process until we can get him to calm down enough to avoid separation.”

 Kira bolted off to get a tub, and Erica gave her the hose she was using. It was doing more bad than good at this point.

 Lydia grabbed her surgical tools and stood where the merman’s most serious injuries were. “Light.” She demanded. Someone flipped on one of the overheads and she adjusted it down closer so she could see better.

 “Should we do a skin graft for the the top part of the injury?” Scott asked.

 “No, there isn’t enough skin so we need it to heal on it’s own. Use surgical tape for now.” Lydia said.

 “Kira,” Lydia continued, “is the tub ready?”

 “Yes.” Kira said, wheeling over a small tub full of water.

 “You’re going to help me stop the bleeding. You’re going to use the glue on the lacerations while I stitch the puncture wounds, and then we’ll cover it in surgical tape after.”

 “What about possible internal bleeding?”

 “If any major arteries in his tail had been hit he’d be dead already. Any bleeding we’re not stopping will clot naturally.” She explained.

 “Got it.” Kira said.

 “We just need to get him to calm down first.” He heard Lydia mumble to herself.

 The gurney groan under the weight of both the merman and Allison. It might not keep the two of them up for much longer if the merman continued to struggle. That, or the straps would pop. Neither of those situations were good. He needed to help Allison try to calm him down so they could get him into the water.

 He noticed a headpiece made up of shells and pearls had moved down along with his wet hair and obscured his vision. Derek made a move to remove it, thinking if he could see maybe he’d calm down. But the merman’s head reared towards his hand, his mouth open and flashing razor sharp teeth. Derek yanked his hand away before it could be bit.

 Every little thing they tried to do, the merman resisted. The poachers must have really done a number on him. He was injured all over, from his tail to now  friction burns from ropes and now the straps. It was no wonder that he’d resist more frightening looking strangers after an ordeal like that.

 Derek looked down and met the merman’s eyes. Panicked, angry, wild looking eyes standing out among the black and blue and red.

 “ Calm down!” Derek signed on instinct. He remembered some mermaids had been exposed to asl as a way of communication to transcend throughout species. “ We’re trying to help you. You need to calm down!”

 The result was almost immediate. The merman locked up and froze, almost causing Allison to lose her balance and fall to the floor at the lack of movement. The merman was staring up at him, and Derek was staring back.

 Lydia understood and grabbed ahold of the situation. “Allison, switch places with Derek. Derek, keep signing to him and keep him calm.” She ordered. Allison got off of the merman and Derek instead stood over him.

  “My name is Derek, and we’re not going to hurt you.” He signed. “You’re hurt pretty bad. The things we are doing may seem scary and dangerous, but I swear we’re trying to help you so you don’t die.”

 The merman’s gills flexed uselessly where they had closed to allow him to breath air instead of water. His skin was paler than what Derek guessed was a healthy complexion for mermaids. He wasn’t struggling anymore, which was allowing them to truly start helping him.

  “Would it help if we take off the restraints?” Derek asked. “You can’t struggle if we take them off. Nod if you understand, if you will do that.” A small, barely there nod.

 “Take off the restraints.” Derek said.

 Lydia didn’t even hesitate to trust his judgement. “Do it.”

 Allison’s hands flew over the restraints, freeing the merman’s limbs and body. He practically went limp as soon as all of them were off. The merman was shaking from his own adrenaline and the exertion of what he was doing with his injuries. Now, his eyes were just scared, brimming with tears as he looked up at Derek. It tugged uncomfortably at his heart.

  “You’re going to be okay.” Derek signed, despite telling someone with injuries that they were going to be okay never ended well.

 Mutely, Derek heard as Lydia finally gave the count to move the merman into the tub of water. The merman went with them, flinching as only his upper body submerged completely under the water, but he didn’t fight against the hands touching him.

 A weak, clawed hand moved in the water, signing “please.”

 Derek didn’t know what he was asking for, because the next minute he watched as the merman’s brown eyes rolled back in his head as he fell unconscious.

 Throughout the entire surgery, Derek held his hand.

 

~~~~~~

 

 By the time they all manage to fix up the merman as best they could, and then get him stabilized, it was dark out. The merman was hooked up to a machine so if anything happened to his condition, they would know.

 Everyone was exhausted. After they cleaned up they wandered into the break room, where much needed food was already there waiting for them.

 “Thanks mom.” Scott mumbled around his food. A chorus of thank you’s much similar lit up in the room.

 “It’s no problem.” Melissa said, running her fingers affectionately through Scott’s hair.

 “And so, there I was,” Isaac was saying, waving his arms around as he embellished his story, “congratulating this little girl on finding and identifying these eggs, when suddenly one of the basilisk egg hatches in my hand! I immediately yank it away from the girl, grab the snake, and meanwhile it’s trying to bite me-”

 “Did this really happen?” Boyd asked skeptically.

 “Yes-” Isaac said.

 “No.” Derek interrupted. “When it hatched Isaac wasn’t expecting it and he dropped it along with the other eggs. It was the little girl who grabbed them and put them calmly into the container.”

 “That’s awesome!” Erica cackled. She and Boyd began to giggle hysterically, leaning against each other as Isaac tried to defend himself.

 “Derek is a liar -” His tries fell onto deaf ears since everyone was too amused with the actual truth. “You suck, Derek.” Derek just smiled at him.

 “Why must you all be so loud?” Kira asked quietly. She was laying her head on Allison’s lap from where she had been dozing in and out.

 “Sorry Kira.” Boyd called. Kira made a small acknowledgement and fell back asleep, snoring softly as as soon as her eyes closed.

 “Who is going to watch after the merman tonight?” Scott asked Lydia. She turned to Derek.

 Another reason why he liked her. She understood his love for the job, and how much he was willing to put time and work into everything he did. While she didn’t always approve of him never having a social life, when something needed to be done, Lydia knew Derek was willing to step up to the plate.

 “I’ll stay.” Derek said. “I can take one of the cots in there and sleep in the same room.”

 Lydia nodded. “Okay. Do you need someone to get you clothes?” She asked.

 “No.” He said. “I still have some in my locker.”

 “If you need any of us, call.” Allison spoke up. He smiled at everyone.

 “I will.” He said. “Does this talk mean that everyone is heading out for the night?”

 “I know I am.” Lydia said, standing up. “I’m just going to grab my things and head out.” She walked passed Derek and paused.

 “All of you did great today,” She said, looking around the room and making eye contact with everyone, even Kira, who Scott had shaken awake, “you all did your parts flawlessly, and this merman is alive because of it. This isn’t going to be an easy ride,” Lydia continued, “the merman is going to have a rough time with both his physical and mental state, but I know all of you are going to do everything you can. So thank you.”

 “Thanks, Lyds.” Allison said. Lydia smiled, and then looked over at Melissa.

 “Before you go, can you call this in for both the Sheriff and Jackson?” Lydia asked.

 “Sure thing honey.” Melissa said.

 “Okay everyone,” She laid a hand on Derek’s shoulder and squeezed it, “bye.”

 “Bye.” Everyone said.

 After Lydia, everyone was soon to leave too. Scott carried Kira out in his arms with Allison following sweetly behind them. Erica dragged Isaac back to her and Boyd’s apartment for a sleepover. Melissa lingered for a little bit to finish up the paperwork she needed to fill out and made the two calls because, and she left with a pat on Derek’s cheek and a kiss on his head.

 And then he was alone.

 Derek went around locking the doors and turning off the lights that didn’t need to be on. He visited the pens for a little bit and made sure everyone had food and water. He stopped at Dominick’s pen just for a moment as he was leaving and apologized for not getting around to taking him over to Monica.

 After that, he changed into some comfortable clothes and dragged the cot into the aquarium room. The merman hadn’t been put in the aquarium just yet. They still had to have easy access to him in case he destabilized so he was still in the tub. His tail was supported on a table out of the water so the bandages didn’t get wet. The upper half of his body was completely submerged.

 Derek walked around the merman and looked at him. Seeing something like this always made Derek feel a mix of sadness and anger. For a creature so incredible and beautiful, it was horrible that someone could be so cruel and aim to kill it just for the benefits or for the sport. That kind of attitude is what caused his family to be killed.

 Derek laid a heavy hand on his tail. Brimming under his storm gray scales, he could sense the pain and discomfort the merman was still in. Not even hesitating, Derek began to draw his pain away. He watched as his veins turned black. His body began to ache as he took on the pain, but Derek knew the discomfort he was feeling would be brief, and it’d be worth it if he could ease what the merman was going through.

 As he did this, the merman stirred. His surprisingly flexible tail coiled and shifted. It was kind of amazing to feel the strong muscles move underneath his palm. When he was done pulling the merman’s pain, he pulled his hand away and stepped back.

 Derek looked over and jumped at seeing the merman’s battered face staring at him, his head only half out of the water.

 “Oh my god.” Derek said to himself as he tried to control his heartbeat. That was something he hadn’t expected.

  “Hi.” Derek signed. “How are you feeling?”

 The merman sat up a little further so his head and neck were up out of the water. Derek watched as his gills twisted and clamped closed.

 The merman was still staring unblinking at Derek, but he lifted his own hands to sign clumsily back. “What did you do to me just now?”

  “I’m a werewolf,” Derek explained, “I can take pain. That’s what I did.”

 The merman looked dazed and in shock, but he still managed a somewhat curious look. He floated forward a little bit to catch a glimpse of Derek’s hand, but looked unsure about getting any closer to him. Derek couldn’t blame him for being cautious.

  “Do you want to see me do it again?” Derek asked. When the merman didn’t answer, he signed, “It’s okay if you don’t want to.”

 The merman just looked at him, and Derek looked back. He didn’t know what was going through his head, but the merman shifted his tail closer to Derek’s hand. It seemed like he decided Derek wasn’t a threat.

 He laid his hand back on his tail and began taking his pain again. The merman’s eyes widened as he watched, inching forward to look closer. Derek could only take so much of it before he stopped. He was surprised when the merman grabbed at his hand, turning it over as he looked at it. Derek watched as the merman’s slightly shaking fingers traced up his veins, searching for the black that had been there.

 The merman slid his hands away and signed, “How?”

  “I don’t know.” Derek signed. “I just know that I can do it.”

 The merman nodded and slouched back against the tub. After their brief conversation, he already seemed exhausted and like he could sleep for a million years. That probably had something to do with taking the pain too. Taking his pain just left him with the exhaustion.

  “You’re still not back to your full health. You should get some rest.” Derek told him. The merman glowered at him, flicking at the monitors taped to his chest.

 Once more, Derek fiddled with the machines that the merman was hooked up to. He made sure they were all working, that they would alert him if something were to happen, and that the water would keep being filtered. The merman seemed to not be bothered with filtering fresh water through his gills instead of saltwater.

 He turned off the lights, but the room was still dimly lit by the emergency light off to the side of the room. Derek laid down on the cot he brought in and closed his eyes. He began humming and hoped he’d be able to get some sleep.

 A tapping noise drew his attention back to the merman. Only his eyes were eerily visible from where his head was peaked up out of the water.

  “What is it?” Derek asked.

  “I want you to know my name.” The merman signed.

  “What’s your name?”

 The flurry of hands Derek got in response just made him blink. If whatever the merman signed was a name, it was a monstrosity of one.

  “Call me Stiles.” The merman signed after, and then disappeared under the surface of the water once more.

 Going back over onto his back, Derek rolled the name Stiles around on his tongue. It was odd, but it was nice.

 

~~~~~~

 

 Stiles stared at his tail with a blank expression. Lydia and Kira had removed the bandages to inspect his wounds and check the stitches. He trailed shaking fingers along the entire side of his tail. Now that there wasn’t blood everywhere, and the bandages were off, Stiles was seeing the extent of his wounds for the first time.

 “Poor guy.” Kira muttered softly.

 “Damn poachers.” Derek cursed. “How anyone could do something like this-”

 “Is just horrible.” Kira finished. Her face was pinched in pity as she assisted Lydia. They went through the motions, checking for any signs of infection and cleaning the wounds.

 “Do you know if Scott has found any lead on the poachers who did this?” Lydia asked.

 “Barely anything.” Kira said. She flashed a light down to inspect his side. “Scott went over to Parrish to find anything to help them figure out who did this.”

 “Does Parrish know anything?”

 “I’m not sure.” Kira said. “But Scott said that Parrish wasn’t going to take this case lightly. Something about this case being bigger than it seems.”

 “Well, good. Something needs to be done about this.” Derek said.

 Lydia just pursed her lips and handed Derek cotton balls and disinfectant to put on Stiles’ face, seeing as he was the only one Stiles would let that close to him.

 He wasn’t sure what made Stiles trust him so much. He was the only guy that could even get close to the merman. Lydia was allowed near him because she spoke to him through asl and was very straightforward about being the most capable person to help heal him. Derek guessed Kira was allowed near him because anyone could guess she wouldn’t hurt a fly if she didn’t have to.

 He put disinfectant on the cotton balls and dabbed it gently on the cuts. Stiles’ face flinched, but he just squeezed his eyes closed until Derek was done. He gently brushed the tears off of Stiles’ cheeks.

 “Derek,” Lydia started, “while we do this, can you try to get it out of Stiles what happened? His statement could help if we knew some of what happened.”

 “I can try.” Derek said. “Can I get something to write it down on?”

 Lydia looked at Kira, who stepped away to get him a notepad and pen.

  “Stiles, do you think you can tell me what happened?” Derek asked once Stiles opened his eyes.

  “Why?” He asked, his brow crinkling in suspicion.

  “Because it can help us find who did this to you and bring justice.” Derek said. Stiles sat up straight, suddenly poised and serious even though he looked exhausted with every little effort.

  “I’m the prince of all the pods that make up this coast.” Was the first thing Stiles said, which made Derek’s eyebrows shoot up. Stiles is a prince?

  “My subjects, two of whom were a close friends of mine, have been murdered. Cut open. Mutilated. We only got what was left of their bodies.” A dark look passed over Stiles’ face as his gestures became sharper. “Three bodies was too many. One’s an incident, two’s a coincidence, but three is a pattern. So against the wishes of my father, I set out to see if I could find the killer.”

  “Did you?” Derek asked. He was quick to write down Stiles’ words, but it was a bit difficult since he was writing without looking at the paper so he could see his hands.

  “Yes.” Stiles said, and he knew exactly how Stiles got to be hurt like he was.

 Despite it being the last thing he wanted to do, Derek still had to ask, “What happened?”

 Stiles shifted to look at his tail. He briefly lifted a hand to touch the cuts and swelling on his face.

  “I had been swimming for hours, and I had no luck finding the person I wanted to. I wanted to kill whoever the murderer was. There was no one.” Stiles’ hands were beginning to falter, “But then I felt this sharp pain in my shoulder, and suddenly I couldn’t move. A net came from out of the water and I was pulled onto the surface. He tied me down, and he was talking but I couldn’t understand what he was saying. He…”

 Stiles paused, closed his eyes, and pressed his hands to the healed Y-shaped cut on his chest. Lydia was looking at the two of them with focused eyes as Stiles told his story. Kira just frowned, only catching some of what was signed but enough to know the horror of the story.

  “He cut the shape into my chest.” He continued after a moment, “Eventually I got my movement back but the ropes held me down. He sat on my tail to keep it from moving because I was struggling so much. Then he had a bigger knife in his hand and he began skinning my side and he was smiling and impassive and it hurt so much it was hurting so much-”

 Stiles cried out and twisted his head away so he couldn’t see his tail anymore. His body was shuddering. Derek reached out a hand, wanting to offer Stiles comfort, but thought better of it. Stiles was being asked to relive traumatic event. Having someone touch him probably wouldn't do any good.

 The three of them paused with what they were doing to let Stiles cry. This was the first time he’s actually let go and expressed what he was feeling. No one was going to have him stop. Stiles was probably used to holding composure. Used to bottling things up and hoping they went away. The second anyone so much as moved, Stiles would go steel faced and suppress what he was feeling.

 Stiles cried and sobbed and wailed, curling in on himself and then going flat from the pain of twisting his tail. Tears ran down his battered face. His breaths were shaky. Red splotches grew ugly against his face and the top of his chest.

 The tears were the first to run out. Then were his cries. After that he hiccuped with every breath. Stiles rubbed his swollen red eyes which only made his cheeks look worse. Derek had to swallow the lump in his throat at the sight of Stiles so upset.

  “The ropes came loose.” Stiles signed. He looked tired and resigned but determined to finish his story. “So I attacked him as much as I could. I bit at his shoulder and clawed at his arms and chest. He got angry and began cutting wildly at the lower half of my tail. The knife caught on my fluke, so when it got cut up enough he ripped it off with his bare hands.”

 God, Derek didn’t want to know any of this. The abuse Stiles went through was so horrible. Lydia was bracing herself against the table. Despite having her own tears brimming in her eyes, Kira took over and began rebandaging Stiles’ wounds. Derek’s writing was getting sloppier the longer he went on.

  “Then he beat my face. He realized how much he was bleeding and eventually left. It was night when he captured me, and I just sat there for hours because I was still restrained enough I couldn’t move. I cried out but no one came. I thought...I thought I was going to die.”

 Silently, all three of them watched as Stiles leaned forward and touched the ripped flesh where his fluke had been. His whole body flinched when he did so.

 Derek watched Stiles’ face carefully as emotion swept through it. He looked sad, scared, and pained. Derek couldn’t help but notice the flashes of anger that were there too. The way his eyes darkened and his lips pulled back briefly to expose his teeth until he just looked tired.

 More than anything, he understood exactly was Stiles was feeling.

  “Can I be left alone now?” Stiles asked. His hands were shaking again.

 Lydia was already pulling Kira out of the room, and Derek lingered a moment. He had the inexplicable urge to comfort Stiles. To simultaneously wrap around Stiles to protect him from the world and walk out the door to find the man who did this and rip his throat out. With his teeth.

 Derek didn’t do either of those things. He settled for gently holding Stiles’ shoulder, before he too walked out of the room.

 When no one was looking, Derek escaped out to the pens. He needed to get away from the sudden emotion he got hit with. He always felt pity and sympathy for the creatures that came here, but this was different. He wasn’t dealing with an animal, he was dealing with a supernatural creature like him, feeling all the feelings Derek has felt. He was dealing with Stiles, who was a completely different ball game all on his own. And all of that just hit close to home.

 He stole away from everything by hiding with Monica. Unlike Dominick, her mane was a silver and her coat a lilac. He ran a hand over her nose and tried not to look into her big sad brown eyes.

 “I’ll get you to Dominick today, and you two can be happy,” he said, “I promise.”

 Derek distracted himself by cleaning up her pen. He cleaned up her feces, made sure she had more food and water, and even brushed her down. It almost wasn’t enough. Monica pushed closer to him, forcing her muzzle in his hands. Her insistence made him smile.

 “I think you won’t admit that you love unicorns almost as much as Scott.” Erica said, walking into the pen and next to him.

 “No one can love unicorns as much as Scott.” Derek said. “How’d you know I was here?”

 She snorted. “Please, everyone knows you come here when you want to be alone.”

 “Alone.” Derek repeated, giving Erica a pointed look.

 “Don’t look at me like that,” she said, “I’m only here for you.”

 “Oh really?”

 “Honestly? Yes, yes I am.”

 “Why?” He asked.

 “I had my guesses as to why you wanted to be alone when Lydia told us what happened to Stiles.” She said. Her eyebrows furrowed slightly which showed concern she usually hid.

 And really, if anyone were to know how he was feeling and actually seek him out, it’d be Erica.

 The two of them have known one another for the longest out of anyone here. Back when his family was still alive, before the fire, when he was just sixteen and enjoying high school. Erica was still in middle school, but she was completely human. When her epilepsy put her in the hospital and the doctors weren’t sure if she would recover fully from it, Derek remembered his mother taking him and Laura to the hospital with her. Laura because she was going to be the future alpha, and Derek because he was going to be her second in command. Cora, being the youngest, didn’t have the kind of responsibilities that fell to them.

 His mom had offered Erica the bite, and Erica had accepted. While she hadn’t necessarily become part of the Hale pack, they still looked after her. Derek especially did. He looked after her and they became friends while bonding over her being a new wolf.

 And while she wasn’t a part of the pack, she still felt the crushing loss when the Hale pack died.

 So she knew how he felt. She had been around through everything he’d been through, looking after him for a change.

 Erica knew.

 “So if you had your guesses, why are you here?” He asked.

 Erica pursed her lips. “I don’t know.” She admitted. “I came here to see if you could just use my company, or if I could give you some words of wisdom or something like that. But I can’t tell which one you could use.”

 “I’m not sure if I need either.” He said.

 “Then do you want to talk? I can listen.” She offered. When Derek didn’t answer Erica made a spot in the hay and sat down. Derek followed her down, and she threw her legs over his lap.

 “Stiles is angry.” Derek said finally. “Deep down, the anger is what everything else he’s feeling is anchored to.”

 “That sounds familiar.” Erica commented.

 “It just hit too close to home. That’s all.” He said.

 “Is it?” She asked. “I pity Stiles, I do. But I feel like you don’t just pity him. I feel like there may be more to it.”

 Derek looked down at his feet. To tell her his strange feelings, or not to?

 “I feel...protective.” Derek made a decision without thinking about it too much. “I relate to him, but when I think about what happen to him, it’s weird. He’s been hurt and I want to keep taking his pain and not stop until he’s better. I want to kill whoever did this to him.”

 Erica frowned. “You usually feel that way towards pack. He’s not pack.” She said.

 “I know, but I feel like it.” Derek sighed and rubbed his hand over his face. Stiles just brought in so much confusion for him. The confusion confused him even more . He didn't like it. Any of it.

 Erica bit her lip and hesitated before she said, “I don’t know why you feel like that.” Derek didn’t miss the skip of her heart, but he still believed her. She probably had guesses, but he appreciated her silence on the matter. He didn’t really want to think about this anymore. He just wanted to do what he did best; care for the creatures.

 “Do you want to be around when I introduce Monica and Dominick?” Derek asked.

 “Not really,” Erica snorted, “but I can go grab Scott. I know how much he’d love it.”

 “Okay.” Derek said. Erica stood up and kissed the top of his head.

 “Everything will work out Der.” She said, and Derek felt affection bloom in his chest.

 “Thanks.” He said.

 “No more sappy stuff!” Erica yelled, marching away all serious. It just made him shake his head with a small smile.

 When Scott showed up, Derek had him take Monica out outback where the animals usually grazed while he went to go get Dominick. The little guy was excited to leave his pen, but Derek had to keep encouraging him with handfuls of food to get him moving forward.

  When he got to the field Scott looked like an excited puppy. Monica stayed still where she was as he and Dominick carefully approached. Dominick walked a little closer as they regarded one another.

 He and Scott stood side by side as they let Monica and Dominick do their thing. Derek could already tell that they liked one another. After they bonded and Monica fully healed from her birth complications, they could be set back out into the wild together. It’d be sad, but it was something that needed to happen. Unicorns were usually docile creatures, but ones that were born in the wild belonged there.

 Scott didn’t even pretend like he wasn’t getting emotional at the site in front of them. Derek had to admit, the whole thing was sweet.

 Derek felt his pocket buzz and pulled out his phone. Lydia sent him a text.

 Lyds: jackson is gonna meet up w/ me at parrish’s to talk abt stiles

 Derek absolutely hated text speech, so obviously that meant everyone did when they texted him, even Lydia. It was another reason why his friends sucked.

 Derek: Don’t forget the statement then.

 Lyds: um

 Lyds: this is me we’re talking abt

 Lyds: u think id forget?????

 Derek: Stop.

 Lyds: no

 Derek just rolled his eyes and put his phone away.

 “They’re so happy.” Scott sighed, gazing happily at the two unicorns.

 He shook his head and, with a smile, said bye before heading back to the building. He knew Scott would take care of Monica and Dominick later.

 Derek thought about how the meeting with Parrish would go. Parrish was a relatively new Sheriff, but he was already on the SRC’s good side. The previous Sheriff would often put cases of abuse and poaching on the back burner. It got to the point Jackson had to use various connections just to get some people on trial. But Parrish was a good Sheriff and a good man and took their problems seriously. And given Stiles’ statement, this was something Parrish was going to want to hear.

 “Are you heading out?” Allison asked him when he was grabbing his stuff.

 “Yeah. I want to sit on my own couch and eat my own food today. Besides, I’m sure all of you would kick me out if I stayed any longer.” Derek said.

 Allison smiled and knocked their shoulders together. “Well, you’re not wrong about that. Boyd and Isaac were laughing like evil genius’ with all the ways they could get you back to your own home.”

 “Great,” Derek groaned, “could you keep them at bay while I make my escape? See how long it takes for them to notice I’m not here?”

 “Of course.” Allison said. She shoved at his arm. “I’ll text you how long it takes. But seriously, if you stay here tonight you will have been here for three days. Go home and take a damn shower already.”

 Derek shook his head ruefully. “Bye.” He said.

 “Bye.” Allison waved.

 Derek finished gathering his things and walked out the door with a final wave to Melissa. When he got into his car, he pressed his head to the steering wheel.

 “Separate home from work.” He said to himself. “Separate home from work.”

 Easier said than done, but he’d try anyway.

 It was later that night when Derek had eaten his signature comfort meal and settled down after his shower to watch Jeopardy did he get a call.

 “Thank you, Alex.” Derek said to himself as he got another question right. He’d kill the game if he was ever on Jeopardy.

 The phone rang and Derek muted the tv. Allison had long since texted him telling him Isaac and Boyd spent a little over thirty minutes before they found out he was gone, so be doubted she was trying to call him now. When he picked up his phone he saw it was Lydia.

 “Hey.” He said when he answered.

 “Hey to you.” Lydia said. “How has your evening been?”

 “Good. I'm relaxing and watching Jeopardy right now.” Derek moved so he was laying down on his back. “How’ve you been?”

 “Tired,” Lydia admitted, and he could hear the exhaustion in her voice, “I had a rather long meeting with Parrish and Jackson.”

 Derek looked at the clock. It was nine.

 At least he had a good few hours to separate home and work.

 “What did you guys talk about?”

 “Too much to go into detail about right now.” He heard a click as Lydia put him on speaker. He could hear the muffled sounds of cars and assumed she was driving. “But I wanted to call you and tell you some stuff.”

 “Hit me.”

 “Well, the first thing is that so far, Stiles’ story checks out.”

 “Why wouldn’t it?” He asked.

 “I’m not saying it wouldn’t, but the part about three other dead mermaids was true.” She said.

 Damn. “How bad?”

 “Bad.” Lydia said.

 Derek rubbed his forehead. “Shit.” He sighed.

 “My thoughts exactly.”

 “Is there anything else you're going to tell me that I won't have to listen to again tomorrow?” He asked.

 “Well, I wanted to ask you if you were up to being Stiles’,” she broke up for a minute, but he could still make out her saying, “main caregiver.”

 And that surprised him. Derek sat up. “His main caregiver.” He repeated.

 “Yes,” Lydia said, “I know that's what you've been these past few days, but I wanted to see if you were willing to commit to the position until Stiles gets better.”

 “What about my other responsibilities?”

 “You’ll still do some of the things that you do now because you don't need to be by Stiles’ side all the time, but most of your duties will be picked up by Erica and Scott, and obviously Kira and I.”

 “And why would I be his main one?” He asked slowly, biting his lip.

 “He likes you the most and he's much more comfortable around you. And I think having someone around him instead of being alone will help him with what he's been through.” Lydia explained. “You don't have to give me an answer right now, and you can say no, but I thought I'd ask you now rather than later.”

 “Then I guess I’ll give you an answer later.” Derek said.

 “Okay then.” Lydia said.

 “Are you driving home right now?” Derek asked to change the subject.

 “Yes, I’m trying to, but there’s a crash that I can’t get around.”

 “Did you pass the area I’m in.”

 “No.”

 “Then come here,” Derek offered, “Because knowing you, you haven’t eaten yet, you’re tired, and your house isn’t exactly close.”

 “Derek-” Lydia tried, but he cut her off.

 “No saying no.” He said. “You can sleep in Cora’s room and borrow some of her clothes.”

 “Do you think she’d mind me sleeping in her room?” Lydia asked.

 “She’s in South Africa right now. And even if she wasn’t, I’m sure she wouldn’t mind.” Derek said. “Much.” He added.

 He heard Lydia give a small laugh. “You drive a hard bargain, Hale.”

 “So are you coming?”

 “I am.” She said. “But there better be food ready for me. If you’re so intent on me staying here then I want full service.”

 Derek snorted. “I’ll heat up some of my leftovers for you.”

 “What kind of leftovers?”

 “Spaghetti.”

 “Then I’ll hurry to your house.” She teased.

 “Okay, see you soon then.” He said.

 “Bye.”

 “Bye.”

 Derek hung up the phone and walked to the kitchen to start heating up Lydia’s food. While the spaghetti still had a few minutes to go, there was a knock at the door.

 “Welcome to my humble abode.” Derek greeted when he opened the door.

 “Why thank you.” Lydia said. She stepped inside and her shoulders practically sagged in relief with not having to drive anywhere else.

 “Go get something to wear to bed. Your food is almost done.” Derek said, taking her purse and work bag from her arm to set it on the coffee table.

 “You’re the best.” Lydia smiled.

 “I know.” He said.

 She knocked their hips together and walked up the stairs. Derek returned to the food. When the microwave beeped, he pulled it out and set it on the counter. Lydia came down the stairs, now dressed in a pair of Cora’s shorts and one of his shirts. She pulled her hair out of her ponytail and grabbed the bowl.

 “Why is it that all the women in my life keep stealing my clothes?” Derek asked, amused.

 “Because you have big clothes that are very good quality. And the one’s you’ve had for a long time are nice and worn and smell nice.” Lydia said, taking a bite. “This is good.”

 “Thanks.” He said. They sat in silence together. Not that talking was really an option seeing as Lydia was currently stuffing her mouth full of food. As soon as she took the last bite, Derek wordlessly took her bowl and gave her seconds, which she ate, but this time slower.

 “Did you have lunch today?” He asked. The snort and raised eyebrow he got answered his question. “You seriously need to have an actual eating schedule.”

 “Someday, but today was not the day.” Lydia said. “Are the dishes dirty?” She asked.

 “Yep.” Lydia ate her last few bites before she got up and put the bowl in the dishwasher.

 “Is Jeopardy still on?” Lydia flopped down on the couch. He tapped her feet and she moved them enough so he could sit down.

 “You tell me.”

 “Don’t be smart with me.”

 “I’ll be smart with you if I want to be smart with you.”

 Lydia snorted and pushed his face with her foot. He made a disgusted face, slapping at her foot to get it away from him. Her feet weren’t dirty, but he’d rather them not be on his cheek. He unmuted the tv and continued watching the reruns. Lydia was the only one who participated in answering the questions that were asked, and were complaining when people got it wrong because the answer was so obvious.

 In no time, ten o’clock rolled around, so Derek decided that they had enough tv for the night. Lydia groaned. She rubbed her eyes, but then moved her hands so they pressed briefly against her ears.

 “What is it?” Derek asked. He brought a hand to the back of her neck, rubbing away some of the tension. He used that was a way to drain some of the pain she was getting from her headache.

 “Ever since Stiles came in, I’m hearing a...a sound that I can’t place in the back of my head.” She told him. “So I thought he was going to die, but he didn’t. And he’s better, but the hum is still there. And then I saw the pictures,” she shook her head, “and I just have a very bad feeling about this whole situation. Something else is going to happen, and someone is going to get hurt.”

 Derek frowned. “Do you think someone is going to die?” He asked.

 “Not now at least.” She said, looking resigned and frustrated. Being a banshee, Lydia has learned a lot about her powers. How to control them, when to recognize she needed to use them, and ways to use her screams as a weapon. But even with that, she still struggled with the whole predicting death. It was always just out of her reach when she wanted to save someone when she felt they were close to death, but it was hard to save a life when they were so close to death that she sensed it.

 “Hey,” he started, tilting her head up to look at him, “it’ll work out.”

 “I hope so.” Lydia said. “But it’s just-” she trailed off.

 “Just what?”

 “It feels big. It feels personal. I think someone we know might be the one getting hurt.”

 “That won’t happen.” Derek promised her. Lydia still looked uncertain, but she nodded anyway, trusting his words and the certainty in his voice, even though he was slightly doubting what he said.

 “Let’s go get some sleep. It’s late.” Lydia said. They both got up and trailed up the stairs, parting with a goodnight at each others doors. Derek laid in his bed, curling on his side, and hoping that Lydia’s feelings weren’t what they seemed to be.

 

~~~~~~

 

 The next day was Derek’s first day as Stiles’ main caregiver. He told Lydia over breakfast that he was willing to do it, and he could tell she was happy with his decision. Before he had fallen asleep, he’d thought about how Stiles really did need someone he trusted to help him through the process of recovering. And if Derek was that person, then he was up for the job.

 Lydia walked inside before him, holding a manilla folder in her hands that she had pulled out of her work bag when they were in the parking lot. She was dressed in her jeans from the night before but still had Derek’s shirt on.

 He was going to have to buy more shirts.

 Isaac, Erica, and Kira began pouting almost immediately when he and Lydia walked into the break room together.

 “Did you two have a sleepover last night?” Kira asked.

 “How come we weren't invited?” Isaac stuck his lip out.

 “If Lydia gets one of your shirts then I want one too.” Erica said, crossed her arms beside Isaac.

 “Because none of you were the ones that had a long drive home when they were tired last night.” Lydia said.

 “And you already steal my shirts,” Derek told Erica, “so you don’t get any more.”

 “Both of you suck.”

 “Can we stop acting like children right now?” Lydia asked, walking over to the table and dropping the folder on it, “We’ve got some things to discuss concerning Stiles.”

 “Should I grab Scott? He’s with Stiles right now.” Allison said.

 “Yes.” Lydia said.

 “What’s Scott doing with Stiles?” Derek asked.

 “Well besides you, so far Scott is the only guy Stiles is letting near him. He’s letting Scott make sure his scales get wet without the bandages getting ruined.” She said.

 “Huh.”

 “Please go get him.” Lydia reminded, and Allison went out to fetch her boyfriend. When Allison and Scott came back, everyone pulled out seats and sat down.

 “As you all can guess, no one knows who’s done this,” Lydia started. She opened the folder and pulled out a map that featured the coast and had red dots along it. “But all along this area of the coast there have been reports of multiple dead mermaids that seem to have similar injuries to Stiles.”

 “So it’s all the same poacher who has been killing them?” Isaac asked.

 “That’s what it looks like.” She said.

 And then she pulled out the top stack of pictures. The photos were hard to look at. They depicted discarded bodies, each one more gruesome than the next.

 The first series of photos showed a mermaid with blonde hair. Her tail had been completely skinned, and a majority of her muscle looked to have been cut away from the bone. The fluke had been completely removed. The gills on her neck were open and bloodied, which brought attention to the puddle of dried blood under her. Like Stiles, she had defensive wounds and rope burns all over her body.

 “Do you think this is his first kill?” Kira asked. “It looks like the poacher was more curious with what he was doing rather than expressing any skill.”

 “That’s what Parrish guessed.” Lydia said. “Now take a look at the next set of photos.”

 The second body was male, and this time it seemed like the poacher had a better idea of what he was doing. This merman had also been skinned, but this time the bottom half of his tail was missing instead of just the fluke, and more of the muscle of his tail had also been removed. This time though, it looked like part of the merman’s upper body had been cut open and some of the organs had been removed.

 “Holy shit.” Boyd said. He grimaced when he picked up the pictures to look at them.

 “The merman was missing his kidney’s and his liver.” Lydia said.

 “That’s horrible.” Isaac said. He looked sick.

 “It looks like he knew what he was doing with this one.” Derek said.

 “And notice how his first kill was a female.” Allison pointed out, bringing the pictures of the first and second victims together. “He used the female as his experimental kill because she was an easier target.” Lydia pulled out something to write on and began taking notes of what everyone was saying. She was more than likely going to take that back to Jackson and Parrish.

 “And the restraints changed.” Boyd said. He pointed to the bruising on the mermaids. “On the female, she only had rope burns on her wrists, over her chest, and from around the bottom of her tail from what I can see on the muscle.”

 “And on the second one, his bruises are darker and there are more of them. Do you think that could be from him struggling more?” Erica asked.

 “Maybe,” Boyd said, “but if the female really was just a trial kill, it would make sense for him to be more effective with his restraint process when he switched to a male.”

 “And obviously this isn’t just sport to the guy.” Isaac added.

 “Isaac’s right,” Scott said, “maybe if it was just the tail, it would be, but he’s skinning the scales off in vertical stripes. He’s cutting off more of the muscle from the tail, and now he’s taking organs. This kind of poaching is more like he’s selling to the black market.”

 “Then why would he be taking only parts of the body? Why not take the whole thing? Wouldn’t he get more money from it?” Kira asked.

 “We don’t think he’s fully in it for the money,” Lydia spoke up. “The way Stiles described it and the wounds the mermaids have can suggest he’s doing it for pleasure, and it’s just an added reward to selling what he took from the mermaids. You can tell that especially from the female. Like Kira said, her wounds seem more curious than anything. Her gills are bleeding and she has more superficial wounds too. The thought that she could be worth something was most likely an afterthought.”

 “That’s sick.” Isaac said

 Lydia nodded solemnly. “And this one was the most recent one. The one right before Stiles.” She said.

 These pictures had to be the worst. It was another male. This time, his entire tail had been severed from below the pelvic bone and was completely gone. The merman’s chest had been cracked open, and now most of his organs were missing. Unlike the other two, this crime scene was drenched in blood from the decapitation and mutilation.

 Derek noticed something. “The first two, he avoided hitting the arteries in the tail when he was removing the meat.”

 “Probably to have as little blood as possible,” Erica said, “which I think that him not caring about the blood anymore is a safe assumption to make, given how messy this one is.”

 “I wonder what would have happened to Stiles if he didn’t manage to break free.” Allison said. Derek tensed and rolled his shoulders back.

 “And these are the M.E’s reports.” Lydia said, sliding the rest of the papers forward.

 “These aren’t really informative. The details are basic, at most.” Kira commented.

 “The M.E only deals with human bodies, so she was rather inexperienced when it came to doing an autopsy on a mermaids.” Lydia said.

 “Well why didn’t we get the bodies? We could have done a better job.” Derek said.

 “Parrish didn’t think that was something we would do.” She said. “But one thing she could determine -that we can confirm from Stiles’ story- is that the mermaids were alive when the poacher began what he was doing to them.”

 “How long did they live through what happened to them?” Allison asked, her eyes growing wide in horror.

 “From what the M.E could tell, it varied. For the female, it was her gills that killed her. For the second male, it was when his organs were being removed. For the third…” Lydia didn’t have to finish the sentence.

 “Do we have the bodies of the dead?” Kira asked. “Maybe we can do a more thorough examination.”

 “We can’t.” Lydia said. “After the M.E got all that she could, Parrish returned the bodies to the pods they came from.”

 “Is there anyway that we can talk to them? Maybe they know something about this.” Boyd crossed his arms. His shoulders were tense and his eyes were focused.

 Lydia shrugged. “They aren’t really on speaking terms with people in general given the circumstances.”

 “Well,” Scott leaned forward and stared at the photos, “how and when were they being found?”

 “They were found relatively close to the beach, and were found in the same spots they were killed in. Usually they’re being found the next morning, but the last one was dead for a day before he was discovered.”

 “So he’s getting better at concealing them?” Derek asked.

 “It looks that way.” Lydia confirmed.

 “So there could be another dead mermaid and we might not even know it?” Isaac asked.

 The question hung heavy in the silence.

 “Maybe not,” Derek said, “he might still be recovering from the injuries Stiles gave him.”

 “Good.” Allison said. Her face was sharp with angry. “Let the bastard hurt.” Everyone nodded in agreement.

 “So, now what do we do?” Boyd asked.

 “Let Parrish do his job.” Lydia said. “I gave him a description of the injuries Stiles gave him to see if he went to a hospital, but for now that and what we just discussed is all we can do.”

 “I wish we could do something.” Kira sighed.

 “We can.” Derek said. “We can focus on getting him well enough for him to go home.”

 “You’re right.” Kira said, giving him a smile.

 “Speaking of,” Lydia added, “Derek agreed to being Stiles main caregiver, so what he can’t do, we will do for him.”

 “So basically he gets to sit around all day?” Erica asked, raising a teasing eyebrow.

 “Isn’t that what you do?” Derek quipped.

 “Oh, that actually was a good comeback.” She said. She nudged his ribs and he had to slap her arm away because she wouldn’t stop.

 “Go find something to do.” He grumbled. Erica giggled. She kissed his forehead, which effectively got lipstick on him, and walked out of the room. That spurred everyone to do the same and begin the day with whatever they had to do.

 Derek ran a hand through his hair. Despite the depressing start to the morning, he was ready to go see Stiles. Even if they didn’t have much to do at this point, it would no doubt do Stiles well to have some company. Maybe Derek could get him to work past some of the trauma he went through.

 He stood, took a deep breath, and headed to go see Stiles.

 

~~~~~~

 

  “Good morning.” Derek greeted as soon as he walked through the door.

  “Morning.” Stiles said back, head already popped up out of the water.

  “How are you feeling?”

  Stiles shrugged. “Sore. Tired.”

  Derek put his things down and sat on the chair next to Stiles. “Tired, but not sleepy?” He asked.

 Stiles grew a small smile. “Exactly.” It was the same chatter they had every morning. Granted, he’s only been Stiles’ main caregiver for a whole three days, but they were already falling into a rhythm.

  “So what are we doing today?” Stiles asked.

  “Same as usual,” Derek said, “you’re staying in the tub. Later we’ll get you out of the water and work on your muscles.”

 “Nothing else?” Stiles asked.

 “If you’re willing, I know Isaac would like to get some measurements of your tail so he can make you a prosthetic fluke.”

 Stiles quirked an eyebrow. “A prosthetic?”

 “Yeah. So when you swim you’re not dealing with only one fluke.” Derek said.

  “Would you...be here? If he takes the measurements?”  He asked.

  “Yes.”

 “Then maybe we can do that.”

 “Good.” Derek smiled.

  “So when am I swimming?”

 “What do you mean?”

 “You said when I swim I will use the prosthetic,” Stiles said, “so when am I swimming?”

  Stiles didn’t miss a thing. “Whenever Lydia clears you to.”

 He gave a long, suffering sigh, draping against the edge of the tub dramatically. Derek ignored him in favor of pulling out one of his books to read. He wasn’t actually reading it, seeing as how Stiles was sighing louder and louder to try and get Derek’s attention.

  “What now?” Derek asked finally, after Stiles went sighing horribly for almost thirty full seconds.

  “I’m bored.” Was all he said. Derek had to stop himself from heaving a sigh of his own.

  “Then do something about it.”

 “Like what?”

 “We can talk to one another, for one.” Stiles crinkled his nose up at that.

  “What would we talk about?”

 “I don’t know,” Derek said. “We can ask each other questions and go from there.”

 “What kind of questions?” Stiles asked, tilting his head as his interest was now peaked.

  “We can start with something simple,” Derek said, leaning his arms on the edge of the tub, “since you’re a prince, what’s your favorite thing about being royalty?”

 Stiles bit at his lip. “Do you not think you’ll find it boring?” He asked.

  “No. I’m actually really interested.” Derek assured.

  “Being a prince isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be, but when we talk to other pods, whether our own or others, I like to hear their stories.” Stiles said.

  “What kind of stories?”

 “Anything!” Stiles’ motions were getting bigger and more expressive. “I move through the same areas my whole life, so when merfolk come from other places and talk about where they are from and talk about the stories, I love it. Being a prince means that I am guaranteed to hear reports about a different places and different things.”

 Derek smiled and propped his chin in his hand. Stiles wasn’t stopping with his talking, and Derek wasn’t going to stop him, even if he was rambling.

  “Like, for example, my father absolutely hates having to talk about shark migrations with the pods. He finds it boring, so instead I get to do it.”

 “Why shark migrations?” Derek asked, amused.

  “Because sharks are cool.” Stiles said. “I can hear about if certain shark species have been relatively reproductive this year, if they’ve been hanging out in larger numbers in certain areas, if there has been an increase or a decrease in human deaths. I can also hear if there is any increase in shark deaths. Did you know last year I gave the all clear for a group of pods to track and sabotage ships who are harvesting sharks or killing them just because they’re in nets? Because I did that and already the shark population this year has steadily started to get higher and it will do wonders for the ecosystem. And if the humans insist on it, merfolk can patrol the waters where shark attacks happen and guide the sharks away from them and to where they actually want to eat.”

 “That’s amazing.” Derek praised when he was sure Stiles finished. He didn’t expect for Stiles to be so passionate about sharks of all things, but he was, and Derek felt pleased about the things Stiles said. It never occurred to him that sharks were a big deal.

  “You think so?” Stiles asked.

  “Yeah.” Derek said. “I wouldn’t have thought that things like shark migrations were important or interesting, but you made it sound like both of those things.”

 Stiles cracked a smile, looking proud of himself. “Well, it’s not the most important thing ever but, you know, the ocean is our home. We want to protect it.”

 “That’s very admirable.” Derek said. Stiles stared, then ducked his head slightly.

  “Well what about you?” Stiles asked. “What’s something interesting you can tell me?”

 “Probably not much.” Derek admitted. He rubbed the back of his neck.

  “I’m sure there’s something. Do you have any stories?” Stiles eagerly came eye level to him, close enough to where if he moved any closer their noses could touch.

  “I do have stories.” Derek said.

  “Do you have any stories about traveling?”

 “I do.”

 “Then tell me those stories.”

 “I was born here in Beacon Hills, but for a few years I lived in New York.” Derek said.

  “Where’s New York?” Stiles asked, tilting his head to the side.

  “Over on the east coast.”

 Stiles’ eyes widened as big as saucers. “You’ve been to the east coast?”

 “Yes,” Derek said, “I’ve been to many coasts.”

  “I wish I could go to the east coast.” Stiles sighed wistfully. “What other coasts have you been to?”

  “I’ve been on the Gulf coast, the coasts of South America, and to South Africa.”

 “Where are those places?”

 “They’re, well, here-” Derek got up, holding up his finger for Stiles to wait, and went out in search of a world map. He didn’t see why they would have one, but at the same time he didn’t see why they wouldn’t.

 “Aha!” Derek pulled out a map from under a pile of papers. He was lucky he found it in the first place.

  “Here,” Derek said once he got back. “This is the world.”

 “Oh.” Stiles said. As Derek began pointing out exactly the places he’s been, Stiles’ claws trailed across the paper lightly. They traces the coasts of the continents and marveled at all the land.

  “There is so much I’ve never seen.” Stiles said.

  “Maybe one day you’ll get to see it.”

 “Maybe.” Stiles mused. “Your turn to ask a question.”

 “Do you have any siblings?”

 “No. My mom died when I was young, so I’m the only child.”

 “I’m sorry about that,” Derek said, “I have two sisters, but one died.”

 “Then I’m sorry too.” Stiles leaned back against the tub. “Are you familiar with loss?”

 “Very familiar.”

 Stiles looked anywhere but Derek.

  “What is it?” Derek asked.

  “I wasn’t,” he paused, “I wasn’t familiar with loss. I knew it when my mother died, but nothing passed that. Not until Heather.”

 “Heather?”

 “She was the first to be killed.” Stiles was slow in answering. His face was full of guilt and remorse.

  “So you knew the other mermaids who were killed beyond knowing they were killed?”

 “Yes,” he nodded, “Heather was a family friend. She could often be adventurous when I couldn’t, so she’d go and bring me back stories of the things I wanted to do but never could. I wanted to see the coast.”

 “And that’s how she died?” Derek guessed.

  “And when she didn’t come back, I sent a servant, Donovan, to find her. And when he didn’t come back, I sent Danny-” Stiles stopped to wipe the tears off of his face at remembering his friends who died.

  “It’s not your fault.”

 “Yes it is.”

 “No.” Derek grabbed at Stiles’ shoulders and forced him to look him in the eyes. When he was sure he had his attention, Derek continued. “You went out and almost got yourself killed when you found out they were dead. You were the not the one hunting them. Like you said yesterday, it was a coincidence. It was a pattern. But you and your friends are victims were were in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

 “But I should have known!” Stiles exploded in a flurry of hands. “I should have been able to do something.”

 “How?” Derek asked, both of them growing matching scowls.

  “Because I should’ve-”

 “Do you have some kind of powers to see the future?”

  Stiles wrinkled up his face. “No, but-”

 “Could you tell your friends were being murdered?”

 “No-”

 “Did you have knowledge beforehand that the murders would take place?”

 “No! How could you-”

 “Do you have some sort of crazy mermaid powers that could have prevented this all from happening?”

 “No!”

 “Then tell me how this is your fault. Tell me how you could have prevented it.”

 “Because I sent them all there! They died because of me! I should have never sent them there, that’s why it’s my fault! I should have stopped it.”

 “In hindsight.” Derek said. Stiles’ absolutely furious expression didn’t stop, but he did stare at Derek like he had lost his mind.

  “What?” He asked.

  “Only in hindsight did you realize that sending your friends there would get them killed. How could you know, taking away your hindsight.”

 He blinked, looking shocked. “I have nothing to say to that.”

 “There is nothing anyone can say or do to make you stop feeling guilty and responsible for what happened,” Derek said, “but you need to know it is not your fault.”

 Stiles didn’t respond. Instead he sunk down into the water, submerging himself completely. The conversation was clearly over. He sighed. The morning was off to a great start. It didn’t surprise him that Stiles needed some time to wrap his mind around what was said as well as compose himself.

 So Derek just pulled out a book and read, immersing himself in reading about world history. The choice today was about the Roman Empire in its height of success. It wasn’t the most eye catching book with it’s long paragraphs and droning text, but the content was worth it in his opinion. When lunch time came around, he ate and got Stiles some food. He came up out of the water for this, actually looking a little more rested than he did before. He must have taken a nap.

  “After you’re done eating, we should get you to do some exercise and let Isaac take the measurements.”

  “Okay.” Stiles ate and Derek waited. When he was done, Stiles let Derek pick him up and move him over to the table. The exercises that Stiles did were simple. He stretched, did some crunches, and did the best he could do with working his tail muscles. Lydia ordered only light exercise for his tail so he didn’t strain his injuries before he was ready to be in the water.

 Isaac came in right as Stiles was finishing up. He had papers and a measuring tape with him. A pencil was stuck behind his ear.

 “Hi Stiles.” Isaac greeted.

 Stiles greeted him halfheartedly. Isaac looked over to him and raised an eyebrow but otherwise didn’t comment. Derek sat back with his book, near enough in case Stiles needed him, though far enough so he wasn’t in the way.

 In a sense it was kind of relieving not having to go anywhere or do anything. Despite the emotional morning, if he wanted to, he could simply relax back into his seat for awhile. It was very liberating. The prospect of getting to do his job without getting consumed in his work was strange at first, yet he found he really liked it. It was a needed change. A break of sorts.

 Stiles’ hand slowly moved out to the side as Isaac went about taking his measurements. Derek reached over and took his cold hand into his warmer one. Just by that simple contact, he could already feel Stiles lose some of his tension.

 “I’ll probably get the prosthetic done when Lydia clears him to be in the tank.” Isaac said. “I’ll have to find a material that’s similar to his fluke and won’t irritate his injuries.”

 “You’ll engineer something good for him.” Derek assured.

 “Don’t I always?” Isaac smiled, waving to both of them before heading out, his head bent as he looked at the paper he filled out.

  “That’s it?” Stiles asked.

  “That’s it.” He said. “We don’t have much else going on today.”

 “Well,” he squirmed, and Derek helped get him back in the tank, “I guess today is just going to be boring.”

 “Probably. Unless there’s something you want to do to fill in the time.”

 “Like what?”

 Derek rummaged through his things and pulled out a pack of cards. The two of them played with them for the rest of the day. He started off Stiles easy with Blackjack. That turned out to not be a good idea because somehow Stiles managed to beat him almost every time. They had nothing to gamble with, so instead they just shared little bits of information about each other. Derek learned Stiles loved the color blue. In return Stiles found out Derek's middle name. Stuff like that. Impersonal enough to not upset anyone, yet just enough so they learned something.

 After Blackjack they played Gin Rummy, Solitaire, and War. They even played Go Fish at one point. Anything to pass the time. Lydia came in to check up on Stiles for a moment and let them get back to their games after. He noticed Stiles had a knack for the games that required strategy. Maybe he’d bring a chessboard in one of these days.

 Dinner and conversations came and went. Everyone piled into the aquarium to eat with him and Stiles. At first, Stiles was a bit hesitant, but after some time he participated in the conversation more. As usual, it was a mess. Erica kept stealing food from everyone else's plates. Scott, Isaac, and Allison decided to ball up any napkin they could get their hands on and have a contest on who could shoot it to the trashcan the best, The three of them took to spectacular positions and poses to try to make each shot incredible. The rest of them talked calmly among one another amid the ruckus. Both he and Lydia took turns interpreting and translating to Stiles.

  “I just don't understand it,” Stiles said, shaking his head, “who would want to watch, what was it called? Football?”

  “It’s the most popular sport for Americans.” Boyd said. “But everywhere else in the world, they play a game called football, but it's called soccer here.”

  Stiles scrunched his face up. “That makes no sense. Why is it like that?”

 “Because America always wants to be special.” Lydia commented. “It's the same way with our measurement system.” Lydia began explaining the differences between America’s measurement system and the metric system, which Derek effectively ignored. He didn't want to be apart of that particular conversation.

 Somehow, Derek got roped into Isaac, Scott, and Allison’s contest and ended up winning, much to their disbelief; Lydia and Boyd were talking about some medical stuff, and Erica was showing pictures of the desert to Stiles to convince him that yes, there was such a thing as a desert. All over the room hands nearly hit one another. Phones almost got splashed with water. Trash was all over the floor. It was a mediocre dinner with good company. Not much he could complain about.

 As usual, as soon as dinner was done, everyone bolted and left him to clean and lock up behind them. Derek sighed and glared a few times just to make sure his rep stayed in tact before he went on doing the chores they left him with.

 After trash was thrown away, the lights turned off, and everything locked up aside from the front doors, Derek stood before Stiles.

 “Alright,” Derek grabbed one of the chairs and turned it backwards so he could straddle it, “you know the drill. Talk to me.”

 Stiles made a face, shifting awkwardly in the tank. This part of the day was probably where Stiles was the most unwilling to cooperate. The only reason why he didn’t shut up like a clam probably had to do with having a good day. Any other day, if Stiles talked, Derek promised to stay with him until he fell asleep. He wasn’t completely sure why that was the agreement they settled on, but he didn’t think too much about it.

  “I already talked to you about stuff today.” Stiles stalled.

  “But it’s not all you need to get off your chest, is it?”  Derek asked.

 Stiles didn’t respond for a long time. “All I have to talk about tonight are about my dreams.”

  “That's fine.”

 Stiles bit his lip, somehow not making himself bleed from his sharp teeth.

  “So far every time I close my eyes, I see him. I see him on top of me with his knives and...and that awful smile.” Stiles shuddered.

  “You see the guy who hurt you?”

 “Yeah.”

 “What else is there in the dreams?”

 “My dead friends. And...the worst thing is that even though they died by his hand, they’re still trying to save me. But they can’t. And he just keeps hurting me more and more, and this time I can’t stop him. But…”

 “But what?” He asked gently. Stiles face went a little red.

 “But sometimes, right before everything gets to be too much, I see you there.”

 It was hard, but Derek was able to keep his face from exposing the flurry of emotions that was hitting him like a ton of bricks. He had to keep himself in check.

 “I’m there?”

 “Yes.” Stiles said. “Sometimes in my dreams you’re there saving me.”

 “Does me being in your dreams help?”

 “Yes.”

 “How often do I show up.”

 “At first it wasn’t often. Now it’s beginning to happen frequently.” Stiles ducked his head, like he was trying to shy away from what he shared. Like he was embarrassed. Or flustered.

  “Good.” Derek said. Stiles lifted his head. His brows furrowed in confusion. “I’m glad I’m there in your dreams.”

 Stiles’ jaw dropped but then closed just as quick. He audibly swallowed and grabbed the edge of the tub. Derek could hear his heart pounding. His was doing the same. Stiles leaned forward, and Derek slowly did too, until their foreheads were pressed together. He watched as Stiles’ eyes slipped closed.

 Okay.

 Progress.    

 Stiles leaned back slowly, and waited even longer to open his eyes. The two of them sat together late at night, talking about everything and nothing.

 

~~~~~~

 

 Now another week had a half has passed and Stiles was still with at SRC. Not like that was a surprise, given his condition. Though he quickly proved to be a difficult patient.

 “Cut to the chase, what is it now?” Derek asked as soon as he answered his phone. It was early, and this was only the few nights he had actually slept in his own bed. He wanted to enjoy it.

 “Stiles is refusing to be put in the aquarium without you there.” Erica said. “Isaac managed to put the K tape on his tail, and Lydia almost got him to cooperate to let her go in with him, but I guess he prefers tall, dark, and handsome.”

 As Erica talked he was already up and pulling on clothes. “Tall, dark, and handsome would be Boyd.” He said.

 Erica giggled over the line. “Yeah, I agree. Sadly, Boyd isn’t his preferred flavor. Anyway, you coming?” She asked.

 “Already dressed.” Derek said.

 “Cool. I’ll tell Lydia to tell merboy you’re showing up.” Erica hung up the phone without a goodbye. He was used to that. He grabbed his work bag, stuck a quick note on the kitchen counter for Cora just in case she woke up before he was back, and was out the door.

  When Derek got to work he went ahead and got into a wetsuit before he did anything else.

 “Why does he like you so much? You weren’t in the field saving his life.” Erica asked after he changed.

 “I don’t know.” Derek said. “Maybe he’s a good judge of character.”

 “Oh please.” Erica scoffed at him. “I have excellent character.”

 “That’s debatable.” Boyd commented, coming to take Erica’s hand. She stuck her tongue out at him.  “How’s Cora?” He asked.

 “Tired. She really hates planes so she didn’t get any sleep.” Derek said.

 “Ouch.” Erica winced in sympathy. The three of them began walking towards the aquarium room.

 “So do you think she’ll be alive today?” Erica asked.

 “Probably not,” Derek said, “I left her a note in case she gets up and feels like visiting.”

 Derek looked over when a sound of splashing caught his attention. He was greeted with Stiles’ back, which was littered with moles and scales. The bruises on his skin were almost completely healed up. While he didn’t have the speed healing that werewolves had, his healing was much faster than a human’s. His face was still pretty beat up but his tail healed up enough to where it’d be okay in the water.

 Lydia looked up from Stiles, and he could tell she was irritated with the merman. “Looks like I’m not the one getting wet today.” She said, crossing her arms. Isaac snorted beside her and she glared at him.

 “Looks that way.” Derek said. Stiles whipped his head around at the sound of Derek’s voice.

  “Lydia is being unreasonable.” He signed. The look of outrage on Lydia’s face made Derek laugh.

  “Is she now?” Derek asked.

 Stiles nodded vigorously. “She’s trying to put me in the fishbowl.”

  “It’s not a fishbowl.” Derek said. “It’s an aquarium, and it’ll be better if you are in there.”

 “I’m not exactly capable of swimming.” Stiles scowled, then turned to glare at his tail.

 Derek snapped his fingers to get Stiles to look back to him. “But you’ll get there. You just have to be willing to get in the water.”

 Stiles lifted up his chin. Derek was momentarily distracted by the headpiece Stiles had insisted he get back. “No.”

  “You’re getting in the water.” Derek signed.

 “Derek’s making his serious face.” He heard Scott whisper to Allison. He shot them a quick look before looking back.

  “You won’t tell me what to do.” Stiles’ face suddenly turned harsh and stubborn.

 “Derek, stop making His Highness mad, I don’t want to mop up water again .” Erica complained.

  Stiles did look mad. And intimidating. The way his face set to show how he was displeased made him look creepy with the multicolored bruises and still healing cuts around his eyes and nose. His bright brown eyes seemed to turn black, and even the colors of his scales seemed to mimic his dark look. Derek could see how Stiles could be a demanding, successful prince.

 That wasn’t going to deter Derek though. Stiles was getting in that damn water.

  “I’m not telling you what to do, I’m telling you what we’re going to do concerning your health.”

 Stiles set his jaw and leveled a look at Derek. They stood there, glaring at one another, waiting for the other to cave first. But Derek noticed the quick, worried glances Stiles made to the aquarium. And then in one moment he understood.

  “I will be there in the water with you,” Derek said, “If anything happens, I will be right there with you.”

 The range of emotions that twitched onto Stiles’ face was almost comical. He went from stubborn to discomfort to finally just a pretend pout.

  “Fine.”

 “Derek, has anyone told you that you look stupid when you’re preening?” Isaac asked.

 “I am not preening.” Derek said. He had to make a conscious effort to stop puffing out his chest at his victory. He was not preening . Derek Hale did not preen .

 “You kind of were, Der.” Erica smirked.

 “All of you need to be quiet.” Derek snapped.

 “Someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed.” Allison chimed in. Derek sighed and tilted his head up to the ceiling.

 “I’m a good person. I don’t deserve this.”

 His horrible friends giggled as he walked over to Stiles.

 “Scott is going to help me get you up to the platform.” Derek told him. “After that, I’m going to help you get in the water and get you swimming a little bit. Okay?”

 Stiles shifted a little bit, looking over Scott before he nodded. Since everyone had taken turns staying with Stiles he wasn’t as wary as he was before, so that wasn’t the reason for why he was getting nervous. Derek had a feeling he knew why Stiles was acting this way.

  “Okay, put your arms around my neck.” Derek instructed. Stiles did as he was told, mindful of keeping his claws from hurting his neck. Derek wrapped an arm around his waist and pulled him up so he could hold Stiles where the bend of his knees would be if he had knees.

 It wouldn’t really have been a problem for Derek to just hold Stiles. Sure, he was heavy, but his added strength from being a werewolf made it easy. Stiles’ body may have been lean but his muscles were compact and dense. His tail was long and made up for most of the mass, so Scott had to help hold it so they could get him up the stairs to the platform above the aquarium.

 “Let’s start to move.” Derek said. He carefully began going up backwards. He felt Stiles hold tighter against him.

 Scott grabbed the rest of his tail and helped hold the extra weight as they made their way up the stairs carefully. They went one by one, carrying Stiles up and onto the platform. The platform made up the top rim of the aquarium and was wide enough for them to stand on. Once both he and Scott were on top, they carefully laid Stiles down so he was sitting on it.

 “Here Derek.” Lydia called, and he looked over just in time to catch a pair of goggles and a snorkel.

 “Thanks.” He said. He left the snorkel on the platform but went ahead and put the goggles on his head, slowly sliding down into the water. Stiles shifted so he was on his left side and dipped his fluke into the water.

 Derek held out his hand and Stiles grabbed onto it, using it to steady himself as he came into the water too. Derek’s hand was already starting to hurt from how hard it was being squeezed, but he didn’t dare take it away. Stiles turned and pressed their foreheads together. His face was paler than it was a few moments ago.

  “Do you need a minute?” Derek asked.

  “Yes.” Stiles said. His wet breath hit Derek’s cheeks. He didn’t mind the close proximity. Stiles took one last deep breath through his mouth and then submerged his gills under the water.

  “We’ll stay close to the top so you can grab onto the platform if you need to,” Derek said, “we’re just going to get you into the motions of swimming to see if your side is causing you any pain and to see how bad missing the fluke affects your swimming.”

 Stiles nodded and slipped all the way back in the water. Derek pulled on his goggles, took a deep breath, and pushed down.

 It was different to see everything like this. He could see everyone clearly on the other side of the glass as they watched. He could see Scott’s warped face above the water. And Stiles-

 His gills were open, filtering the water as they moved the slightest bit. His hair moved around the headpiece. The pearls were incredibly beautiful, the designs on the shells were intricate but soft, and the mother of pearl had the same luminescence his scales did. It all seemed to glow, reflecting the colors of its surroundings.

 And in the water, like his headpiece, his tail seemed to shift in colors. The change of it was subtle at first, but he noticed the gray of Stiles’ tail change until the smallest shades of orange and yellow came in. Then the colors were blossoming all over. All shades of reds, oranges, and yellows grew over Stiles tail until he looked like he was on fire. The colors suited him. Derek realized that he must have a pigmentation that allows him to shift the colors of his tail just like an octopus.

 But then Derek’s focused caught on Stiles’ face. He looked scared. Derek squeezed his hand in reassurance.

  “Are you ready to start moving?” He asked. Stiles nodded.

 Derek bobbed up to grab the snorkel and went back under, holding out his other hand for Stiles to take. He grabbed onto it, and Derek began pulling them through the water. Stiles visibly tensed but moved his tail in small movements to mimic swimming. They swam forward a little bit at a time. They both waited to see if he was in any pain, and when Stiles gave the all clear they began swimming some more.

 Like Derek said, they stayed close to the surface. Eventually Stiles was feeling confident enough to move a little faster and without holding Derek’s hands. A small smile was steadily growing on Stiles face. He moved his body with a grace and ease Derek didn't expect.

 While Stiles twisted over so he was on his back and enjoyed being able to swim, Derek took note of how even though it was intentional that he was moving slow, the missing fluke really did have an impact on Stiles’ movement. He wasn't able to move his tail in long, languid strokes. Instead he had to move twice as much to keep a steady pace. The injury on the side of his tail didn’t seem to be affecting him so far.

 Derek swam over to Stiles, “Do you want to try swimming with your prosthetic on now?” He asked.

  “Please.” Derek swam back over to Scott to ask for the prosthetic. Once it was in his hands, he gave it to Stiles since he could easily put it on himself. The identical fluke was fitted perfectly. This time Stiles was able to give powerful strokes with his tail that effortlessly sent him spiraling in the water. Stiles tucked his arms in and dove down. He spun, twisted, went in circles, pulling out all the stops. His muscles were flexing on full display, showing off the sheer strength that at first look Stiles didn't seem to have.

 Derek caught the sight of Stiles’ expression. For the first time, he looked utterly, truly happy. Through the glass, he could Erica giving him an odd look when his heart skipped a beat.

 Soon enough Stiles stopped swimming and settled on the bottom of the aquarium. He waved stupidly up at him, and it wasn’t adorable. It wasn’t.

  “Enjoying yourself?” Derek asked.

  “Yes,” Stiles said. “I’m sore, and the prosthetic is gonna take some getting used to, but I’m better than I have been in a while. I missed this.”

 “I know you have.”

 “Can I stay in here?”

 “Yes.” Derek would have smiled, but the snorkel in his mouth was keeping him from doing it. Stiles mimicked a sigh, moving his tail up so he could see it as he moved it back and forth. Derek took a deep breath and dove down into the water. Stiles the collar of his wetsuit to keep him under.

  “Is it okay if I get out, or do you want me to stay in.”

  “You can go if you want.” Stiles assured. He pressed their foreheads together briefly and settled back down. Derek swam up and got out of the water, where he picked up that towel Scott had left for him. He wanted to get into some dry clothes.

 Everyone else already went back to doing their normal jobs when Derek finished changing. He walked into the break room and snagged a few muffins Boyd had brought in. They were his famous chocolate muffins. Derek could eat them until he got sick, but sadly he had to leave enough for everyone else.

 Derek walked back into the aquarium, pausing in the doorway when he saw Cora sitting on the floor in front of the glass. Stiles was in front of her, floating eye level and signing with her.

 “And not to mention he’s the worst person ever.” Cora signed. Stiles squinted his eyes and tilted his head.

 “How?” Stiles asked.

 “He uses all the hot water in the shower,” Cora listed, “his sweet tooth is ridiculous and yet he never gains any weight from how much cakes and shit he eats, and his eyebrows take up half of his face. You should know this you’ve seen his eyebrows.”

 Stiles’ face twisted into a delighted grin, and Derek decided he should probably stop the talking that was going on behind his back. He got close enough to the glass where Cora would see his reflection in it, and both she and Stiles turned to him.

  “See?!” Cora signed frantically, pointing an accusing finger at him and his chocolate muffins. “His sweet tooth is horrible.”

  “You shouldn’t say such mean things to someone who brought you a muffin.” Derek countered, holding out the extra muffin he totally brought for her. In no way was he going to eat the two. Nope.

 Cora squinted at him, trying to gauge if he was serious. He knew that she knew he was lying, but he couldn’t take it back before she snatched the muffin from his hand. He gazed at it in despair.

  “I guess your sweet tooth does have some perks.” She signed, smirking as she took her first bite. Derek rolled his eyes and sat next down to her.

  “So what awful things has my sister told you?” He asked Stiles, eating his own muffin.

  “Not much.” Stiles said. “You came back to soon.” Derek snorted. Of course.

  “I can’t stand either of you.”

 “Well then it’s too bad you’re stuck with us.” Cora fired back. Stiles grinned and motioned up to the surface. Cora bounded up the steps to the platform, where Stiles high-fived her. Derek shook his head at their antics.

  “You should tell Stiles about South Africa.” Derek suggested once she sat back down. He could tell she was still tired, yet the gleam she always got in her eyes when she talked about her journeys in South Africa was as bright as ever. When she began the tales of her travels Stiles’s attention was one hundred percent hers. Derek understood that. The adventures Cora embarked on were truly amazing. She talked about jumping off of cliffs, cave diving, and travelling to hike through rainforests.

  “The trees are so tall and crowded together, a lot like seaweed, but much more solid. There is so much green and brown. Because of how dense everything is at first it’s hard to see any animals. Once you start looking for them is when you finally start noticing them…” Cora went on. She compared the things she saw with what would be familiar to Stiles so he understood what she described. He would ask questions, and Cora gladly talked, even asking some of her own about where Stiles lived.

 Derek settled back and watched the two of them chat. A warmth settled under his ribs and spread throughout his body until his hands and feet felt tingly. His heart felt so full that it made him smile. Cora and Stiles were getting along. His sister and his...his what?

 Cora turned to Derek to include him into the conversation, and he had to swallow down the clash of feelings in his head and in his heart.

 Eventually, they left the SCR. It was late and Lydia agreed to stay and close up so he could spend some time with his sister. On the way to the car they debated on going out to a restaurant, but they both agreed they were too tired to stay out anywhere. Instead he stopped at Taco Bell of all places so they could gorge on food.

  “It’s a paradox,” Cora said with the giant bag balanced on her lap, “There isn’t a lot of food, and it’s not good for you, but it’s so tasty.”

 “I know.”  Derek said. “Weird.”

 They got home and sat on the floor to eat to their hearts content while watching Captain America beat up Nazi’s. He and Cora fought over the meager sauce packets they had been given. In the end, Derek got all the sauce packets, but only because Cora got the hot sauce from the fridge and refused to share it. He threw the absurd amount of lettuce he had on one of his tacos at her.

  “Derek, stop being annoying!”

 “You stop being annoying.”

 “You’re the one who’s being a brat.”

 “Don’t talk about yourself that way Cora.” She made a face and made obscene gestures he didn’t need sign language to understand.

  “No cussing at the dinner table.”

 “We’re at the coffee table so I can cuss all I want.” She proceeded to do just that until Derek ignored her. They kicked at each other’s feet for awhile once their food was finished. Both of them were too full and tired to be too annoying.

  “Are you sure you don’t want to go to sleep?” He asked. She’s only gotten a few hours of sleep since her plane landed and he knew she was feeling it.

  “The best way to beat jet lag is to get myself tired.” She said.

  “Okay then,” he said, “I’m going to bed.” Derek shot up the stairs, leaving her the mess they didn’t clean up and got ready for bed. He was just laying back against his pillows with a book when a knock came at the door and Cora stepped through.

  “I have a bone to pick with you before you go to sleep.” She said, crawling over the bed to sit next to him.

  “I’m not sorry I left you on trash duty.”

 “That’s not it dummy.”

 He lifted an eyebrow. “Then what is it about?”

 “What’s going on between you and Stiles?”

 “What do you mean?” Derek asked, only half surprised Coral asked this in the first place. “Nothing is going on between us.”

 Cora fixed him with a disbelieving look. “I don't need to hear to know you're not telling me the whole truth.” Derek squirmed, not quite sure how to answer, when Cora grabbed a pillow and pushed it in her lap.

  “Oh my god, you know we should totally talk about boys like the teen girls we are.” She signed dramatically, fluttering her eyes in a mock impression of a teenager. Derek snorted, but the sarcasm helped loosen him up.

  “Nothing’s going on.” He said. “We’re just...close.”

 Cora was obviously unimpressed with that response. “Derek, I could smell how happy you were when Stiles and I were talking. It was like when Erica was excited with how you and Boyd got along when they started dating.”

  “I was not that bad.” He protested.

  “You’re right,” she said, “You were worse.” He threw his pillow at her but she just deflected it with the one on her lap.

  “I don’t know what’s going on between us, but there’s nothing right now.” Derek admitted. He didn’t quite expect it when Cora sighed through her nose, scooted closer to him, and ran her fingers through his hair. It was something the women in their family did with him. His mom, his aunts, Laura. And now here was Cora, doing the same thing. Suddenly she wasn’t just his little sister. She was a grown woman who was showing him an affection he hasn’t had in a long time.

  “You’re going to need to figure this out on your own then.” She said. “But whatever you figure out...I’ll be here.”

 He gave her a small smile. Cora leaned forward and kissed his forehead before she walked to the door.

 “Goodnight.” She said. “Don’t let the bedbugs bite.”

 

~~~~~~

 

 Derek was up before the sun.

 As it rose, it slowly illuminated the house. Through the curtains everything was a dawn blue. It was still quiet out this early with people asleep or just waking up. The silence buzzed in his ears. If anything disturbed it Derek wasn’t sure if he’d be able to handle it. Everything was just too overwhelming right then. Sights, smells, sounds, all of it.

 Derek was up before the sun.

 Sitting in worn pj’s at the kitchen counter, he stared at the counter tops. He’s been in the same position for hours. His butt was numb, and so were his emotions. It felt like his mind was moving through thick syrup, like in a dream.

 Derek was up before the sun.

 Because the night before he barely got any sleep anyway. He never did on this particular day.

 He lifted the still warm mug of coffee up to his lips and cringed as he took a sip. Derek hated coffee. Any day of the year, he wouldn't have it. The taste made him cringe and the heat always burned his tongue. But he was nothing if not consistent. He made a large pot of coffee and continuously filled up his mug, adding no sugar or cream, and drank even after his stomach began revolting against him.

 It helped though. The overwhelming taste and his hate for it was almost therapeutic when he drank it. The smell of it made him wrinkle his nose. But it kept him from doing anything stupid.

 He only had a little bit of coffee left in the pot when the front door flung open and then slammed closed. Derek looked over a little bit to see Cora storm through the kitchen door and take the seat next to him. She stole the mug straight from his hands. She drained it.

 Cora was wearing only a sports bra and track shorts. Her bare feet were covered in green from the grass. She was covered from head to toe in dirt. Her hair was a wild mess and one of her knees had dried blood on it from where she must have scraped it. The dirt on her face was streaked from dried tears. Derek didn’t have to ask where she had been. He knew.

 He’d be going to the graves later that day, too.

 Cora handed him the mug back and Derek refilled it with what was left in the pot. He took a sip, cringed, and adjusted how he was sitting so Cora could rest her head comfortably on his shoulder. She had been in the woods even before he woke up. She had to be exhausted, which was usually the goal of what she did every anniversary.

 And even though it ripped his heart out of his chest, he ignored it when he felt Cora’s tears pool on his shoulder. He buried his nose in the scent of coffee to ignore the smell of her sadness. Whenever something made her upset she would seek his company but hate if he addressed any of it. Eventually he learned not to ask.

 Cora tapped his shoulder and signed, “I’m going to be in you bed.”

 Derek felt sick. “Okay.” She nodded and disappeared up the stairs

 Derek swallowed the bile and coffee that threatened to come up. He put down his mug and headed up to his room to get dressed. He really didn’t want to be in the house with it’s closed walls. His skin began to itch the longer he stayed. When he went inside, Cora’s back was to him. He changed quickly and disappeared out the door.

 It was nearing the end of summer, but the chill in the morning was always fully gone by the time noon rolled around. The humid heat from the sun still reminded Beacon Hills that they were still stuck in the middle ground between summer and fall. Even so, Derek dressed in jeans and his dad’s leather jacket.

 He walked out of the house through the back door, heading straight into the woods behind his house. The shade of the trees helped keep him cool for his long walk. It would take him probably over an hour or so to get to the graves at his slow pace.

 Derek was coming up on being twenty-seven years old. It’s been eleven years since the fire. Most days he was okay. Hell of a lot better than he had been when everything first happened. He’d been a wreck, with Laura coming home from New York to take care of a guilt ridden traumatized teen and a severely injured kid sister. And a few years later, when Derek was an adult and Cora almost grown up, Laura died in a completely mundane way, so different than the rest of their family. She hadn’t been able to heal fast enough to save her life when she got in a car crash.

 Then the responsibility of taking care of Cora had fallen to him. The responsibility of last of his pack and the title of alpha just like Laura had to do only a few years prior. Though through a thankful turn of events, he’d given up being alpha in favor of joining Scott’s pack that was just becoming a pack.

 Most days, he and Cora were okay. They had nightmares. They had panic attacks. They still felt the trauma they went through all those years ago. Cora felt the frustration of the burns that still hadn’t healed from her body. Derek felt the way his chest squeezed each time he tried to trust someone romantically again. But they weren’t alone, they had pack, they had help, and they were better. They worked through it, together and separately.

 And that made today just a little bit more bearable. Even if he kept having to repeat it in his head to make to feel real, at least he knew enough to feel the comfort from it.

 When Derek finally got to the graves, he almost couldn’t look at the sheer number of headstones. The whole Hale pack- the whole Hale family, and even those who didn’t go by the Hale name -had been buried on a private piece of property. Names blurred together, the last date was the same for them all save one, and one flower was at each grave. Derek paid for someone to come out here and change them out. He didn’t have the strength to do it himself.

 He worked his way to his mom, Laura, and dad’s grave, and sat down. He’d visit the other ones later, but he always sat with them first.

 “Cora’s doing okay,” Derek started off quietly, “but I guess you already knew that. And I know that when she came here she was upset. But she's getting better each day. She smiles and laughs so much these days. I mean, you should just see her when something is funny to her.” Derek chuckled, ducking his head to stare at the ground.

 “Everyone else is doing fine too. Scott has been entertaining the idea of proposing to Allison and Kira. Erica moved in with Boyd. Isaac has started branching out with physical therapy so he can help more people. He’s also been experimenting with creating different kinds of prosthetics. And Lydia has been getting offers from all over the world to come and help heal all kinds of supernatural. Don’t worry though, she’s not going anywhere. So everyone is doing great.”

 Derek threaded his fingers through the soil. It stuck to the sweat on his palms, but it didn't matter. It was just dirt.

 “And I’m…” Derek stopped and sighed. He could almost hear his mom and Laura in his head, going “and what about you Derek? How are you doing?” He could never escape them asking how he was.

 He missed it.

 “I could be a little better, if I’m being honest.” Derek admitted. “I’ve been- I’ve been reminded about myself, these past few weeks. Well, really only the first few days, but th-the merman who was injured, I can still relate, I guess.” Derek knew he was beating around the bush, so he closed his eyes and made the words he needed to say come out of his mouth.

 “I’m lonely.” Derek said softly. The tears he knew he would have built up in his eyes but didn’t go anywhere.

 Derek talked about how Cora was gone a lot of the time now, travelling the world, finding herself. He understood that, and even encouraged it. But when she returned it sometimes had an underlying feeling of awkwardness or tension. He’d try to surprise her with something only to be reminded that it was something she had liked when she was a kid. And she wasn’t a kid anymore.

 He told Laura that he still envied her sometimes. How it was so easy for her to be a sister and a leader, and how he failed to be a brother and an alpha. He told his parents how much he missed them. He missed their guidance. He missed their love. He missed how full their house was because of all the aunts, uncles, and cousins that they welcomed into their home all the time. And while his friends were plenty, he wished he could have more .

 He confided in his mom that he wished he could love someone, even though he was giving up on having a love life right now. He so desperately wanted to wake up next to someone, hold their hand, have someone in his house with him so it wasn’t so empty all the time. To be able to kiss someone and not feel sick to his stomach or feel like none of it was genuine.

 And Derek talked for a long time; talking about all the good and bad in his life. He talked until he had no more to talk about. The late afternoon sun fell to the side of the sky. The trees above him shaded him from the harsh heat as he stood and walked around, visiting each grave and spending at least a few minutes talking to each person.

 By the time he was done, the sun was gone behind the trees. Derek was sweaty and covered in dirt. He began walking back towards the house. The chill that was beginning to set back in didn’t bother him. The goosebumps that traveled over his skin was a result from the look of the dark trees reaching out at him.

 Needless to say, he hurried back home.

 Even before he reached the house, he could hear the music, if you could even call it that. It was some kind of dubstep from what he could tell. Derek wrinkled his nose in a mix of surprise and disgust. He just didn’t understand why this was considered music, and he definitely didn’t understand why it was being played on the loudest setting through his speakers.

 When he walked inside, he winced, but couldn’t help but stop and stare at the bags, blankets, and people that were inside his house.

 Cora was in the middle of the room. Isaac was holding her, with his hand on her waist and his other holding her hand. They were swaying back and forth, like they were dancing. And then Derek realized the bass of the music, that was shaking his windows, he could feel it hard in his chest. The beat was slower than the rest of the song. Cora was slow dancing with Isaac to what she could feel from the music.

 “Oh, not you too.” Erica said to his right. Derek blinked, confused, until her hand came up to his face to wipe his cheeks. He had started to cry.

 “Oh.” Derek said, stepping back and rubbing at his eyes until he didn’t have anymore threatening tears. “Who else was crying.”

 “Who do you think?” Erica asked, nodding her head at Cora. Derek didn’t miss the redness in her own eyes.

 Erica pulled him over so he was sitting in between her and Boyd. Isaac sent him a small smile when he looked over, but went back to propping his head on top of Cora’s. Beside them, Allison and Kira were slow dancing too, talking against one another’s ear so they could hear. Scott was chatting with Lydia over a fruity looking drink. And despite the chill that still lingered with him from when he was outside, Derek felt warm. He still had a pack, his pack was here for him and they were here for Cora. Their routine was broken up by voices and dancing and horrible music.

 Derek leaned against Erica as Boyd threw his arm over their shoulders. He settled in deeper into the couch as people danced until the music ended.

 “Have you two eaten?” Scott asked once things calmed down.

 “No.” Derek said.

 “Pizza?” Boyd suggested. He shrugged.

 “I’ll order.” Erica offered, snatching Boyd’s phone out of his hand and going outside to make the call.

 “Just so you know, everyone is planning on this turning into a sleepover.” Boyd told him.

 “And I assume everyone is going to be sleeping in the living room?” Derek asked.

 “You would be right to assume.” Derek snorted.

 “I guess I’ll go change.” Boyd patted his knee before Derek stood. He wove around the people around him until he made his way up to his room. He took off his jacket and placed it back in his closet. He changed into a regular white tanktop and some sweatpants before heading back downstairs. Apparently he influenced everyone to get changed too.

 “I ordered lots of large pizza’s.” Erica said. “I used your credit card.”

 Derek rolled his eyes at her but didn’t say anything against it. He was the only one here who had so much extra money that could be used for large amounts of food.

 He moved Cora’s feet off of the couch when he went to go sit. She just pulled them closer to her so she was almost in fetal position. She adjusted where her arms were wrapped around Isaac’s waist.

 “How are you?” Isaac asked.

 “I’ve been better.” Derek said.

 “No shit Sherlock.”

 “I’m…” Derek rubbed at his eyes, “I’m sad. I felt sick earlier today.”

 “Did you throw up?” Isaac asked, looking worried.

 “No. I was fine.” Derek assured him.

 “Can you stomach having pizza?”

 “I should be okay.”

 Scott came over, with his arms full of pillows and cushions. “Derek, move your feet.” He did as he was told. Scott lined the front of the couch and the floor with the pillows. Behind him, Allison and Lydia were putting down comforters and blankets. Over by his tv, Kira was going through his dvd’s.

 Everything was a whirlwind of activity as everyone got comfortable.

 “Kira, go to his Netflix.” Erica said.

 “Why?” Kira asked.

 “Because there’s a new show called Stranger Things and I want to see if it’s any good.”

 “Oh, the show that everyone is loving?”

 “That’s the one.”

 “I’m down for watching it.” Allison said.

 By the time Kira got to his Netflix account and pulled up the show, the pizza was delivered in record time.

 “Good pizza, fast delivery.” Erica sighed happily when she opened the door. She took the pizzas and slammed the door in the poor boy’s face. Derek didn’t reprimand her for being rude like he normally would, because he had paper plates and pizza being shoved into his hands.

 Everyone moved to get their own pizza and drinks before finally settling down pressed together in front of the tv. Cora got up and wandered somewhere, so Erica took the opportunity to squeeze her and Boyd on either side of him. Isaac was quick to lounge all over the three of them. She hit play on the remote, the subtitles were switched on, and everyone let themselves be immersed.

 Scott, Kira, and Allison laid down on comforters in front of the couch. Cora was over to the side with Lydia, both of them half watching the show and half bickering. Derek watched as Cora practically sat herself of Lydia’s lap.

 He smiled slightly. He didn’t know if anything would happen between them, but he had to admit he wouldn’t mind having Lydia as his sister-in-law. Even if his life would be hell between the two of them. It’d be a good kind of hell.

 Derek just turned back to the tv and continued eating his pizza. The grease wasn’t sitting the best in his stomach, but he could manage it.

 In no time it seemed like the first episode of Stranger Things ended in no time at all. The next episode continued with no complaints from anyone. The show was really living up to the hype. Unexpected, but pleasant. Halfway through the episode, everyone moved to lay on the floor with their pillows and blankets to create a cuddle pile with Derek and Cora smack in the middle.

 Cora rested her head on his chest. Derek could smell pizza and pack.

 He smiled, this time with only a little sadness still in his heart.  

 

~~~~~~

 

  “You weren’t here yesterday.”  Was the first thing Stiles said to him.

  “Very observant of you.” Derek said, smiling as Stiles scowled.

  “And you weren’t here all day.”

  “I needed some time off.”

  “Why?”

 Derek bit his lip, shaking his head and signing, “Later.”

 Stiles frowned, but nodded. “Okay.”

 “How are you feeling?” Derek asked.

  “Good.” Stiles grew a smile and took off swimming in loops and twists. The prosthetic seemed to not bother him anymore. He must have kept it on while he swims so he could get used to it. With it, every movement of his tail was more accurate and had more power behind it so he was shooting through the water.

  “So it’s safe to say the prosthetic is good?” He asked.

  “Yes.”

 “No irritation? It fits?”

 “No, and yes.”

  Outside, thunder rumbled loud enough for Stiles to hear. He perked up and drifted up a little closer to the surface.

  “Is it storming?”

 “Yes.”

 “I miss seeing storms.” Stiles signed wistfully. “Storms on the ocean were the best.”

 “What do you miss about them?”

 “Everything.” He shrugged. “When really big storms come, it’s not really a secret to the ocean. Everything in it can sense when a storm comes. Generally, we head to deeper waters or find shelters with underwater caves because the current is insane. The turbulence of the waves can be felt no matter how far from the surface you are. It’s a thrill to be just below it, looking up at the rippling rain, the pounding waves, the lightning, and the thunder. Talk about an adrenaline rush.”

 “Isn't that dangerous?”

 “For you and anything else that has legs and breathes air? It's deadly. But not so much for merfolk.”

 “You have a point.” Derek said. “I like storms too.”

 “What do you like about storms?”

 “I like to sit outside on the porch if it’s summer and read a book, or even just relax. During the winter, it’s nice to take naps inside while it’s raining.”

 “That sounds very nice.” Stiles said.

  “It does.” He agreed. “But we enjoy them in very different ways.”

 Stiles smiled ruefully. “I have the strangest feeling that we like a lot of things in very similar ways, though.

  Derek shook his head, exasperated, but not displeased. Lately Stiles had taken up to attempting to flirt with Derek every chance he got. He wasn’t going to admit it made him feel like he had butterflies in his stomach

  “So how long are you staying?” Stiles asked after a minute.

  “Until closing.”

 “That’s not too long from now, right?”

 “In about two hours.” Derek admitted. “I technically wasn’t supposed to come in, but I wanted to come check up on you.”

  “How sweet of you.” Stiles said, his expression not as sarcastic as Derek was used to.

  “I try.”

 “So we’re not going to have a lot to do, are we?”

 “Probably not. Unless you have something in mind.

  “Well, I’m kind of hungry.” Stiles said, floating on his back.

  “What do you want to eat?” Derek asked.

 Stiles perked up. “Fish,” he said, which wasn’t surprising, “or a lot of those things Scott brought me last time.” Those things being curly fries.

  “I’m not getting you curly fries,” Stiles didn’t even have time to pout before he was saying, “But I will get you something that I know you’ll like.”

  “What are you gonna get me?” Stiles asked eagerly, pressing his face right up against the glass.

  “It’s a surprise.” Derek laughed as Stiles began pouting.

  “I don’t like surprises.” He said.

  “You’ll like this one. I promise.”

 “Then go!” Stiles demanded. “I can’t stand to wait longer than I have to.”

 “Fine, fine.” Derek laughed.

 It took him all of forty minutes to go get the food and get back, and he only got a little wet from the storm. He had plastic bags full of stuff in his hand when he pushed through the front doors.

 “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.” Erica said when she caught sight of him. She was dressed out of her work clothes and looked to be headed home. “Are you really having a dinner date with a merman?”

 “It’s not a dinner date.” Derek said. He could feel his ears burning as Erica rolled her eyes.

 “Uh-huh. Because you would so get takeout for anyone.” She said sarcastically.

 “I would!”

 “Rarely.”

 “Whatever.” Derek grumbled, pushing past her. This was not a date . Good lord, he had to escape from Erica before he started blushing more than he already was. This was ridiculous.

 “Have fun Derbear!” Erica called to him. He flicked her off and quickly left before anyone else could make fun of him. He made sure to close the door behind him before he headed up to the platform.

 Seeing Stiles looking eager and impatient didn’t help the flush that he could feel moving from his ears to his chest.

  “So what did you bring?”

 “See for yourself.” He pulled out the food and Stiles’ eyes widened.

  “Sushi?” He asked.

  “Yes.” Stiles pulled himself up out of the water and onto the platform. He eagerly made grabby hands for it. Derek motioned for him to be patient while he got everything out and together. He made sure one little bowl had soy sauce, and another bowl that has wasabi and soy sauce. He laid out each sushi roll and got out his chopsticks.

  “The first one is spicy tuna.” Derek picked it up and gave it to Stiles without anything else. He watched as Stiles’ eyes widened as he chewed. His tail splashed in the water. That was a good sign.

  “Well?” He asked.

  “It's amazing!” Stiles exclaimed. “What's the other stuff?”

  “Soy sauce and wasabi.” Derek put another roll in it and gave it to Stiles. It was fun seeing his reaction as the wasabi hit the back of his throat.

  “It’s hot but it’s so good.” Stiles made a moaning sound deep in his throat as he chewed. Derek tried to ignore him in favor of eating as well.

  “Derek, is the hot stuff making your face red?” Stiles asked with glee. Derek wasn’t sure if he was being serious or not.

  “Sure.” He said, willing his blush to calm down. Erica’s voice telling him he was having a dinner date rang in his head. “Do you want to try the California roll now?”

 They ate the rest of the sushi. Stiles insisted that Derek teach him how to use chopsticks so he could feed him the sushi too. He had trouble holding the chopsticks correctly, and even more trouble picking anything up with them. When he finally managed to pick one up, it almost missed Derek’s mouth because Derek was laughing too hard. Stiles slapped his arm for almost making him mess up but he was smiling too.

 By the time they finished eating they were laughing and leaning against one another. Derek had taken off his shoes to put his feet in the water. Stiles occasionally splashed him, but not enough to soak him. When they weren’t talking, their fingers brushed from where they laid them on the platform. Derek gave up trying to convince himself that this didn’t feel like a date. He was enjoying it too much to think otherwise.

  “I’m glad you’re laughing so much.” Stiles said. He touched the side of his face, his thumb rubbing the laugh lines around his eyes. Derek touched his hand for a moment.

  “I like laughing with you.”

 “I’m glad,” Stiles smiled. “You looked a little down earlier. I’m glad I made you happy.”

 Derek felt his heart melt. “You did.” He said, watching Stiles blush. “You really did.”

  Stiles smiled and pressed their foreheads together. “Good.”

 They stayed like that for a moment before Derek leaned back and signed, “I want to tell you why I was out.”

 “Are you sure?” Stiles asked.

  “When I was sixteen, I was in a vulnerable place.” He started. He wanted to share this with Stiles. “My girlfriend died. She was my first love. She got attacked by a rabid werewolf because I invited her to the woods. To end her suffering I killed her.”

 “I’m so sorry.” Stiles said. He laid a hand on Derek’s knee and let him continue.

  “A few months later, a woman came to town. We met in the park.” He paused. “She was different. Older. She got close to me and I told her everything I didn’t tell Paige. One night, I wanted to impress her. Show her I was a man, not a boy. My mom did my hair, my uncle Peter helped me pick out an outfit, and my dad let me borrow his leather jacket. They didn’t know who I was dating, but they didn’t ask because they were happy I was getting past what happened to Paige.” Stiles shifted so his tail came out of the water and wrapped around Derek to comfort him.

  “That evening I went to surprise Kate- the woman -but she wasn’t there. I thought maybe I just missed her. But when I went home…” Derek shook his head. “My house was on fire. I could hear the screams of my entire family inside the house. Kate was watching it burn.’

  Stiles’ face went slack. “Oh no.”

 “When she saw me, she just laughed. She told me I was a naive boy to fall for a poacher. After that I ran, trying to find a way inside the house so I could get my family out. I found Cora crawling out from a door, with burns all over her body. The police ended up catching Kate. My older sister, Laura, came back from New York to take care of us.”

 “And I’m guessing yesterday was the day that all happened.” Stiles said.

  “It was.”

 “I am so sorry Derek.” Stiles pulled himself into Derek’s lap. He didn’t have a face full of pity. He was just sad. Somehow, the difference made it better. “When I lost my mom, I was a mess. If I lost my dad too,” he shook his head, “I would’ve handled it a lot worse than you.”

 “I was a mess after it.” Derek told him. “I couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t even look at my sisters because I believed it had all been my fault that my family was killed.”

 “It wasn’t.” Stiles said.

  “I know that now. But back then I didn’t. I couldn’t cope with any of it.”

 “What changed?”

 “Laura got Cora and I involved with the SCR.” He said. “The branch I work for is the Magical Creature Rehabilitation, but there’s another branch for helping supernatural creatures through therapy and rehab. Laura put us into the second one. Before, I didn’t know how to ask for help because I didn’t think I deserved it. I didn’t think I deserved to have someone comfort me, and I didn’t know how to sort through my emotions, much less put them into words. But years of therapy and Laura being around helped.”

 “And you’re better now?”

 “I am. And so is Cora. We have a pack now who helps us when we need it.”

 Stiles was looking at him like he saw a whole new person. Maybe he did. He heard Stiles’ heart stutter in his chest. His head tilted like he was considering something, before he seemed to make up his mind.

  “Thank you for sharing this with me Derek.” He said.

 He smiled. “Thank you for letting me share it.” Derek looked over at the trash beside him. “I guess I’ll throw this away.” Stiles moved off of him as he got up and gathered up the trash. He walked down the stairs and threw it away. A splash caught his attention, and when Derek looked behind him Stiles was back in the water. He tapped on the glass to make sure he had Derek’s attention.

 "What?"

 "Turn off the lights. I want to show you something."

 Derek furrowed his eyebrows but complied. He shut off the light, drowning the room in darkness. He could still see from what little light was still around paired with his own enhanced vision. He could see as Stiles shifted in the water, motioning him closer.  

 When Derek got closure to the glass, his heart skipped in his chest. Stiles' dimly lit face was suddenly...intimate. His eyes were lidded, he was smirking like he usually did, but his expression achingly sincere. He used his hands to push off the glass, arching back slowly in the water. His long tail followed, gliding right up in front of the glass. And then (Derek almost thought he was imagining it) the color of Stiles' tail seeped away to gray until-

 Until he started glowing.

 Derek's breath stopped short as the softest colors of blues began to light up from Stiles' scales. Beautiful colors like greens began mixing in with the blue. It climbed up his tail as Stiles twirled sideways in intricate patterns. The patterns were disrupted almost violently with the scar on his side. It didn't make a difference though. Derek was still thoroughly starstruck.

 As Stiles moved, he realized he was dancing. He moved his arms and hands in a very intentional way. He flipped and twirled sensually through the water. His hips swayed languidly from side to side. Even the patterns of color moved with him. The moving water threw off the glows of colors along the walls. Slowly the blues and greens leaked away until they were the softest shades of pinks and purples. As they changed, Derek noticed a slight humming sound. It carried a sort of tune to it. It was such an odd sound that it took him a minute to realize that Stiles was making those sounds.

 He was singing.

 His voice was heart achingly beautiful. Derek didn’t know the foreign words, but he understood the meaning of them clear as day. Stiles’ words were rich and meaningful; he had an abundance of pure emotion in his melody. Derek found himself swaying as Stiles danced in the water for him. Every color imaginable flashed through his scales. He was completely in awe, hypnotized by the look on Stiles’ faces.

 He floated over to the glass right in front of Derek. When he laid his palm on it, Derek put his on the same place. He noticed that his eyes had been glowing blue in response to Stiles.

 Stiles’ eyes flickered up to look at the platform. He got the urge to go up the stairs, to meet Stiles halfway at the top. He had the strongest urge- the strongest need -to kiss Stiles.

 Stiles must have felt that pull too. He pulled away from the glass and Derek took a step towards the stairs. He could still heart Stiles singing passed their pounding hearts-

 “Hey Derek, I heard that you- oh.”

 Just like that the spell was broken. Derek turned to see Lydia standing in the doorway, wide eyed in her surprise.

 “I can come back later.” She said, turning to go out the door.

 “No, you can- um.” Derek turned back to Stiles, who looked a lot more subdued that a moment before.

  “I think I should-”

 “Go.” Stiles said. “You should see what she wants.” Derek didn’t want to. More than anything he wanted Stiles to tell him to stay. But he didn’t. So he just nodded and walked out the door, trying to wrap his mind around what just happened. He felt like his heart had just been through a marathon. He was still choked up with pent up emotion.

 Lydia was still in the hallway, her arms crossed. She didn’t look particularly pleased that he had followed her out.

 “What are you doing?” She asked.

 “What do you mean, what am I doing? You’re the one who came to ask me something.”

 “Yes, but that was before-” Lydia stopped with a shake of her head.

 “Before what?” He asked.

 “Before I realized what was happening in there.” She said, motioning back into the room.

 “Nothing was happening in there. Stiles was just…” His voice faded. “Showing me something.”

 “Uh-huh.” She said, not believing him. “Derek, let me give you some advice.”

 “What is it?” He asked.

 “Do some research on what Stiles was doing.” Lydia said. Her green eyes were serious and unnerving. “And don’t be an idiot about it.”

 “Um,” Lydia began walking away. “Okay.” He had no clue what just happened, nor did he know what she wanted when she first came in.

 He took a minute to compose himself. So much happened in the last few minutes he was still left spinning. He took a deep breath before he headed back in the aquarium room. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to go back to how he and Stiles were, or if he wanted something to be different now.

 

~~~~~~

 

 A few days later, Jackson stormed into the break room with Parrish in tow, earning an odd look from everyone in the breakroom.

 “We got some leads on who may have done this to Stiles.” Jackson said bluntly, breaking the confused silence. Beside him, Parrish held up a folder. Everyone stopped what they were doing.

 “Who?” Lydia demanded.

 “His name is Theo Raeken,” Parrish began, “he used to live here when he was younger, but moved away when he was still in elementary school. Recently he’s come back to Beacon Hills.”

 “What was his reasoning to come back?” Kira asked next.

 “It has something to do with the recent death of his parents.” Parrish said. He walked over to the table and put the folder down. Everyone followed to crowd around the table. “I still don’t know if there’s a connection to what’s happened here, but if there is, I’ll find it later.”

 “How did you link Theo to all of this?” Boyd asked.

 “I can’t go into great detail, because this is police business, but-”

 “What do you mean by that?” Erica asked, snorting. “We already saw the photos and reports from the murders.”

 “You saw the…” Parrish trailed off, his look of confusion clearing as he turned to look at Lydia, who just raised an eyebrow, not even bothering to try to look innocent. “Of course you saw it.”

 Lydia shrugged. “Honestly I’m surprised when you didn’t catch onto it when I gave you the observations we all made.”

 Parrish seemed to wrestle on whether or not to say something about that, but was silent on the matter. He put a photo down with Theo’s name scribbled on the bottom.

 “We first got a lead when a restaurant that Yakuza members frequent was busted for serving mermaid. Specifically the meat of their tail.

 “Which as you know is extremely illegal.” Jackson added. “We couldn’t bust any of the Yakuza members specifically, but we did manage to convince the restaurant to give the name of their supplier.”

 “And let me guess, that’s where Theo comes in.” Derek said.

 “Yep.”

 “Beacon Hills doesn’t have a big black market going on,” Parrish continued, “but some of the surrounding cities do have more of a black market presence. I reached out to the cities and found that organs and mermaid scales turned into things like purses have started making an appearance.”

 It was Jackson’s turn to put down photos, this time with the mentioned purses and various organs.

 “Are you sure these are from out mermaids?” Kira asked.

 “The only mermaids they could have come from are the ones who turned up dead.” Jackson said.

 “The other cops couldn’t get a name of who supplied them, but it’s safe to assume that Theo is responsible for them.” Parrish said.

 “So is it a solid case against him?” Scott asked.

 “Mostly.” Jackson said. “With the name the restaurant provided us, and DNA testing on the meat and scales should tie in that it’s all from the same mermaids. And with Stiles’ statement, we should get a conviction.” Jackson could be a jackass, but he didn’t take his job lightly. WIth the smaller cases, it did tend to lean a bit more on just getting a conviction for him. But a case like Stiles’ was one where he wanted to build the best case he could to make the asshole who was doing this paid.

 “What else is there left to do?” Lydia asked.

 “We just came in from showing Stiles his picture, and he confirmed that Theo was the one who hurt him. Now we just have to find Theo.”

 “Woah, woah, woah, what do you mean ‘find him’?” Isaac asked. Everyone looked at one another and then all eyes went to Parrish.

 “I sent some guys over to where Theo has been staying. He’s not there.”

 “So...he’s just, what, gone?” Allison asked.

 “Somehow he must have realized we were onto him.” Parrish shrugged. “We don’t have the make or model of his car, or the license plate. I’ll get his picture in the newspaper and on the news, so until someone spots him, he’s in the wind.”

 “Damn.” Derek sighed, leaning back in his chair and rubbing his face. “Well, what else do we know about him?”

 “He has a history of animal abuse.” Parrish said.

 “What was he doing with them?”

 “Big shocker, he was dissecting them.” Parrish said. “Some old friends of Theo’s came forward to give us some information on him. A Josh Diaz and Tracy Stewart used to run with him before he got to be too much. Said he was a great manipulator and that he could be right in front of you and you wouldn’t even know it.”

 “Great,” Erica groaned, “so not only is this guy in the wind, but he’ll just be a piece of cake to catch.”

 “Have faith in me and my deputies, along with the citizens of Beacon Hills.” Parrish said. He pushed the photo of Theo to the middle of the table.

 “I have some stuff I have to go do, so I’ll let you know anything that comes up. Just stay aware.” He said.

 “Thanks for your help Sheriff.” Lydia said.

 He smiled at her. “No problem.”

 “We’ll walk you out.” She offered. Everyone stood and made their way into the hallway. Derek lingered, picking up the photo and meandering behind everyone else. He stayed inside as everyone walked out into the parking lot. He looked down at the photo in his hands, staring hard at it until the image was ingrained in his head.

 "Oh, Derek, guess what." Melissa said, pulling in his attention.

 "What?"

 "A young man is going to put us in the newspaper." She said, smiling. Derek raised an eyebrow.

 "Really?" He asked, going over to lean against her desk.

 "Yeah. Young, bright eyed, and with a head of rock hard gelled hair, but he just came in and said that he was an intern at the Beacon Hills Gazette and he was trying to put a piece out about the SCR and, more specifically, about our mermaid." Melissa said.

 "What'd you tell him?" Derek asked.

 "That the merman was being well cared for by our staff. That our caretaker Derek has gotten along with the merman, and with the rest of the team he has healed and it getting better. He asked a few other questions that I answered but not in too much detail."

 Derek furrowed his eyebrows. “By chance, did he look like this?” He asked. Melissa took the picture from him and looked at it.

 “I don’t know.” She shrugged. “I mean, maybe. Why?” Derek felt his stomach drop. Even a maybe could mean something.

 “Because this is the guy who hurt Stiles.” Derek said. Melissa’s eyes widened almost comically as she looked back at the photo.

 “I mean, they look similar but...the way that guy carried himself looks different than the way this guy does. He had glasses on and those hipster clothes Scott tried to wear before he realized he didn’t pull it off.” She bit her lip and handed the photo back. “I’m sorry I can’t know for sure.”

 “It’s fine.” Derek said. He took it back and began walking back to the aquarium room.

 It was probably nothing. Why would Theo be stupid enough to walk into the SCR when there was a police car in the front? Why risk coming in here when he could be caught? It probably was just some wannabe journalist.

He hoped.

He tried to dismiss the unsettled feeling in his stomach when he could hear cars drive away. Maybe he should tell someone what Melissa said, even if it did turn out to be a false alarm. Parrish did mention that Theo could manipulate people and hide in plain sight. Better to be safe than sorry. After lunch, Derek told himself, after everyone went to lunch and Parrish was done with whatever he had to do, he’d bring it up. Waiting a while wouldn’t hurt anyone.

 Derek shook off his worry so Stiles wouldn’t notice. Which was probably a good idea, seeing as he could tell that Stiles was still agitated from the photos, if his swimming back and forth was anything to go by.

  “I want him dead.” Stiles signed as soon as he saw Derek walk in.

  “You’re going to be released soon, and once we find him Jackson is going to petition for you and your people to punish him since the dead aren’t ours.” Derek told him.

  “I can’t get his face out of my head.” Stiles bared his teeth briefly before he relaxed his expression. “I can’t think of anything else.”

 “What are you thinking of right now? About Theo?” Derek asked. Stiles swam up to the top of the water and he followed up the steps. He sat on the platform, not complaining once Stiles wrapped his wet body around him. He always had extra clothes with him nowadays.

  “Not so much thinking of him, but feeling angry. I don’t feel scared anymore.” Stiles said. He shook his head and leaned more against Derek’s chest. “He isn’t a boogieman whose face haunts me. He isn’t someone who's indestructible. He’s human. He has a name. I can defend myself against that.”

 “You’re right. He’s a boogieman who you can fight,” Derek said. “But we’re going to get him. Until then, you have to wait. But it’s over with.”

 “I hate waiting.”

 “I know.”

 Stiles sighed, shook his head, and moved off of Derek. He took a deep breath to calm himself.

  “If I think about him anymore, I’m going to lose it.” He said.

  “Then don’t think about it.”

 “Easier said than done.” Stiles snorted. He peered over at Derek with a suspicious look in his eyes. “But I have an idea.”

 “And what's your idea?” Derek asked. He barely had time to react when Stiles grew a sly smile. And suddenly Derek found himself in the water.

 He broke the surface, sputtering as Stiles just wrapped himself around Derek and laughed. Derek made faces because having salt water up your nose was generally not a pleasant experience.

 Derek retaliated by splashing Stiles. It didn’t do anything to him, but he still laughed. They began splashing each other back and forth. Stiles kept cheating by swimming around Derek, or running his tail in between his legs, which firmly distracted him every time that happened. He was positive Stiles knew what he was doing.

 He ducked to avoid a wave of water, but Stiles’ tail curled around his thigh, moving up, and he could see the mischievous smirk growing-

 “Derek, stop with the foreplay!” They jerked away from each other, Derek flustered and Stiles glaring. Erica just winked at them.

 “What do you want?” He asked.

 “We’re all going out for lunch.” She said. “Wanna join?”

 Derek looked at Stiles, then shook his head. “No. Go without me.”

 Erica wiggled her eyebrows. “I’ll bring you back something then. Don’t have too much fun.” She waved.

 Once they for back from lunch, Derek told himself, once they got back he’d tell them.

 The energy from moments ago faded, but that didn’t stop Stiles from getting in one last splash. Derek shook his head and pulled himself out of the water. His clothes stuck to his body which was really irritating. He hoped his shoes weren’t ruined. To avoid dripping water all over the floor knowing he’d have to clean it up, he went ahead and stripped out of his clothes save his underwear. As he picked up his clothes, he glanced over at Stiles, who’s face and tail had turned a violent shade of red.

 Derek raised an eyebrow. Stiles glared at his and dove under the water.

 Derek smiled to himself and went to go get changed.

 When he got back, Stiles was swimming aimlessly in circles. He swam closer to the glass when he noticed Derek was back.

  “I didn’t know you had a tattoo.” Stiles said. “What is it?”

 “A triskelion.” He said. “It’s kind of my family’s symbol.”

 “Does it mean anything?”

  Derek shrugged. “It can mean a lot of things. Past, present, future. Mother, father, child. A lot of other stuff.”

 “What does it mean to you?” Stiles asked.

 “I’m not too sure anymore.” Derek admitted. “But to me it’s always represented the three kinds of werewolves: alpha, beta, and omega.”

 “Which are you?”

 “A beta. All of us are except for Scott. He’s the alpha.”

 Stiles considered this, then nodded, “Makes sense.”

  “What about you?” Derek asked. “Does your family have a symbol?”

 “Not necessarily. We don’t really need one. We have jewelry and weapons to signify status, but for things like territory you generally know whose territory you’re in.”

 “Cool.” Derek grinned. His inner geek always got excited when Stiles talked about his society. It was just so interesting and different.

 Stiles rolled his eyes fondly and stuck his tongue out at him. He flicked his tail and swam around like he was dancing. Derek laughed, pacing along beside him. Stiles hummed and the sounds reverberated through the water and around the aquarium in a strange enchanting song. Derek found himself blushing like he did every time Stiles sang to him. It was always between just the two of them, and always intimate. Derek still didn’t really know what it meant for them.

 He began dancing along with Stiles. God, he couldn’t remember the last time he danced without feeling self conscious about it. He might as well do this before he got embarrassed. He wanted to spend this time with Stiles, especially since pretty soon he was going to be released.

 Stiles looked over at him. He looked so happy and carefree because of him. He looked beautiful and lately Derek couldn’t help his racing heart. He didn’t care enough to want to stop it.

 But Stiles’ smile was interrupted. His face suddenly fell to one of confusion. Then to one of horror.

 “Behind you!” Stiles signed frantically. Derek felt his heart drop. He spun around and came face to face with Theo. How did he not sense he was here?

 His surprise faded quickly as Derek growled, feeling his shift bubble under his skin. Before he could rip open Theo’s fucking neck , he felt a prick in his own as Theo stuck him with a needle. The woozy feeling he got was instantaneous, and Derek knew that he had just been injected with kanima venom and- wolfsbane?

 Derek pressed his hand to his neck, but of course the small mark was already gone. Whatever concoction he was just injected with was already in his system.

 “Good dog.” He heard Theo cooed as he swayed. He could hear Stiles banging on the glass, could hear the screeches he hasn’t heard since the first day Stiles showed up. Derek started seeing double. And then he was seeing black.

 When Derek came to, it was slow and hazy. His mind was foggy, and his body was heavy. Why wouldn’t couldn’t he think straight? What was going on?

 His eyes drifted open, looking up at the...pier? Was that a pier? Whatever it was, it wasn’t computing. Past the pier, what must have been the sunset was dimming. Derek tried to turn his head to look around, but he couldn’t. After a moment, Derek realized his body wasn’t just heavy, he couldn’t move . He started to breath heavier as the fog began to lift in his mind and he began remembering what happened. Theo showed up. He couldn’t move because of the kanima venom. The wolfsbane knocked him out. How long has he been out?

 “Good, you’re awake.” Derek moved his eyes to Theo’s when he came into view. Derek tried to snarl at him, but found he couldn’t summon the energy to. He settled for a scowl instead.

 “Oh stop that frowning. You look like an angry puppy.” Theo snorted. He squatted next to Derek, smiling brightly in a way that sent shivers down his spine. He turned and pulled over, from what he could see, a toolbox of sorts.

 Theo picked up a pair of scissors and inspected them. “At least now we can get this party started” He said. “You’ve been out a few hours. I don’t blame you being a lightweight though. Mixing wolfsbane and kanima venom for the first time made you an excellent trial run to see how it affects werewolves.”

 “You must like hearing yourself talk.” Derek ground out. Theo simply raised his eyebrows in mock surprise.

 “What gave it away?” He asked, amused. He brought the scissors down and began cutting Derek’s shirt down the middle. “I wouldn’t normally do this,” Theo continued, “you’re my first werewolf, so I’m a little inexperienced. I also don’t know how much you’d fetch on the black market. But I’m not really worried about that.”

 Theo cut the sleeves and ripped the remnants of his shirt from under him. He picked up a scalpel and moved so he was straddling Derek. And wow, okay, Derek did not like this. He hasn’t liked it since his head cleared, and even before then. If he could move, he would’ve tensed.

 “I’m really just curious,” Theo mused, moving the flat of the small blade over his chest. “You’re going to be a great first for me.”

 Theo laughed then, and Derek felt anger heat his veins. It was torture to not be able to fight. To not be able to struggle against the ropes that were holding him down and finish him off. Theo was merely human, but he was one of the worst monsters Derek has ever met.

 Derek felt his fingers twitch. His heart pounded.

 He had to buy himself time.

 “How did you even start this?” Derek asked. “It’s not like you woke up one day and decided to start killing.”

 “You mean about the whole killing mermaids thing?” Theo asked. He brought the scalpel down and cut him, brushing the blood that welled up away to watch it heal. “I was actually just out fishing the first time,” he grinned, “and no one questions it when you hunt animals for sport. By chance I saw the mermaid and I thought, why not?”

 This time, Theo pushed the scalpel down harder, so it cut him deeper. Derek gritted his teeth at the sharp pain. Theo was clearly toying with him, trying to pull out a reaction.

 “I’m not exactly your type.” Derek grunted. “I don’t grow fins.”

 “True,” he said, “but that doesn’t mean I’m committed to only one kind of supernatural creature. Plus, you helped heal the merman who gave me these.” Theo’s tone went from amused to sour. He took off his shirt. Still fresh, angry red cuts were crudely stitched and bandaged. Bite marks were all over his shoulder, while his arm and chest were slashed. Derek felt a burst of pride knowing Stiles managed to do that to him.

 “Gee, I wonder why I helped what gave those to you.” Theo struck him across the face. For a human, and an injured one at that, his hit stung. He pulled his shirt back on. He stabbed the scalpel into Derek’s chest, leaving it there as he began looking through his toolbox again. Derek hissed in discomfort. He could feel the skin around the small blade trying to heal, but with the blade in the way. It cut open the skin again with every breath he took.

 “So Derek,” Theo put a lot of things down on his chest. A big knife, some cloth, a lighter, and pliers. He did not like where this was going. “Ready to have some fun?”

 Derek felt a surge of adrenaline. His fingertips tingled as his claws came out. In a flash, Theo grabbed the pliers and used them to pull out one of his claws. Derek roared, half shifting. His eyes glowed, his canines dropped; he felt his whole body strain to fully shift. Theo pulled out two more of his claws. This time he pulled them out slower.

 “You see Derek,” he began, dropping the claws in the hollow of his neck, “I did my research on you. All I had to do was get a name, and I went and sat in my car and did my research. I found some interesting stuff.” Derek stayed silent.

 “Like, for instance, I searched your name and found out your whole family burned to death in your childhood home.” Theo said in a sickeningly sweet voice. “So I figured you might not be the best fan of fire.” He held up the lighter and cloth, two things that seemed innocent enough, but now made his heart drop even further in dread.

 “But for now,” he set those things aside, “I’m just going to test your limits of healing.” He dug the big knife deeper into his chest and dragged it down. Derek shouted out in pain. He strained against the ropes, but knew that he couldn’t do much right now. Theo had the advantage. He was on top of him with a giant knife. If he tried to break away right now, all he’d accomplish would be hurting himself even further. If he was to try, he’d need some sort of distraction. But he was fresh out of them. He felt panic well up in his throat and tried to push it down.

 “Do it Derek.” Theo hissed, dropping forward so they were eye level as he dug the knife into again. “Panic. Try to break away. I want to have some fun with you before I rip out your guts. Who knows? Maybe werewolf organs hold special healing properties. If I’m lucky enough, I can get to your pack and have my way with them too.”

 Panic, desperation, and anger welled up in him. Derek roared again, wanting to wipe that smug grin off of Theo’s face. He needed something, anything, to give him the opportunity to break away.

 Then the most bizarre thing happened. Derek's roar was cut short by an ear shattering screech that did nothing to help his sensitive eardrums. Theo’s hand stilled where the knife was still buried in his gut as he looked for the source of that noise.

 It was Stiles suddenly rushing forward on  legs and feet (well, foot. Stiles was missing his right foot, but he still managed to hop through the sand over to them with some assistance from Lydia) and tackled Theo right off of him. Off to the side, Lydia was still rushing forward, a phone in her hand and fury in her eyes.

 Needless to say, Derek had his distraction. And if he didn’t have motivation before, he definitely had it when he saw Theo rear back the knife in his hand with plans of hurting Stiles. Derek growled. He broke off the ropes tying him down and bum-rushed him. All three of them rolled around in the sand. The tide was rising and waster was licking at their sprawling limbs. For a brief second, he and Stiles made eye contact, and an unspoken understanding passed between them. Get Theo in the water.

  Stiles clawed his way into the surf. Lydia showed up for the fight with a long piece of plywood in her hands. She swung it at Theo like a professional softball player. It connected with his bad side, which made his yell and try to stab her. Derek got in his way even though it cut up his arms. He pushed Theo farther among the waves. Stiles was only slightly farther out, and even though his head disappeared under the water there was no missing the scream- an unmistakable cry for help -that was like a shockwave to the ocean.

 In the distance, sirens wailed. Derek spared a glance at Lydia, who met his gaze with a smirk. She called in the cavalry.

 Theo stood up to his knees in waves, looking wildly between the three of them. “You can’t win this!” He yelled, but it was futile. Even a sociopath like him knew he had a slim chance against them.

 “I like our odds.” Derek spat.

 Theo’s dark eyes settled on Stiles, who popped up out of the water for a breath. Derek knew what he was going to do as soon as he saw his body tense. He and Lydia were still closer to the shore. Stiles was on the other side of Theo.

 In a rush of movement, Theo slashed his knife and missed Stiles by an inch. He lifted it again, this time his aim true. For a heartstopping moment, Derek thought they were going to be too late.

  Before Theo could land his lethal blow, a multitude of clawed hands shot out of the water and grabbed onto him. Heads soon followed; mermaids with snapping teeth and raging eyes attacked Theo. They wrapped themselves around him until he was restrained by tails and hands.

 “Get- off-” He staggered then, falling into the water where the mermaids were quick to start dragging him to deeper water.

 “Wait- h-help!” Theo begged. “Derek! S-Stiles! I’m sorry! Please, save me! Don’t let them-” His head disappeared under the water. For a minute the bubbled disrupted the surface, but once they stopped, it was completely calm.

 It’s such a brutal death that Theo was slowly succumbing to. No one spoke. No one moved. Eventually, after a few minutes of when Derek would assume Theo would have drowned, a deep red color started to surface. Looks like the mermaids had him suffer.

 Good. Drowning would’ve been too easy of a way to go.

 Derek sighed and all but collapsed into the shallow water. He heard many pairs of feet rush into the water after him, but Stiles was there before anyone else. Of course he was.

  “I’m okay.” Derek signed. Stiles fretted, his hands hovering over his injured body.

  “You’re hurt.”

 “I’m healing.” Which was true. Already the cuts and rope burns were fading. The incisions on his chest were beginning to close. The claws Theo had pulled out were painful and slow going coming back in, but he’d have them back soon enough.

 Stiles glared at him, but deep in those brown eyes Derek couldn’t ever look away from was relief. Stiles pressed their foreheads together and wrapped his- his tail around him. He couldn’t help his sinking heart.

  “You lost your legs.” Derek said.

  “I don’t need them anymore.” Derek looked down and gripped Stiles’ waist. He didn’t need legs anymore. Even though right now he should be ecstatic that he and everyone else is alive, he couldn’t help but feel devastation.

 Erica and Cora were on either side of him, hugging and calling him an idiot. Derek watched as Stiles backed away as other mermaids came to greet him, their prince. An older merman dressed similarly in jewelry came forward and Stiles almost fell over himself in the water rushing towards him.

 Derek looked up into the crying faces of his friends. Cora looked angry and scared. Erica had snot all over her face. Hands pulled him up from under his armpits as Boyd crushed him into a hug. That started a chain reaction until everyone was in a group hug with Derek smack in the middle. He finally, surrounded by his friends, his pack , cried. The adrenaline from the fight was gone and he was crashing. The lingering pain and fear made his hands shake and his knees weak, but he was being held tight and secure.

 Safe.

 Protected.

 Lydia grabbed at his face and he could see the fear in her expression she didn’t let show before.

 “Remember when I told you I could hear a sound ever since Stiles showed up? The one that I knew but couldn’t put a finger on?” She asked. It was such an odd question that it took him a minute to answer.

 “Y-Yeah.” He stuttered

 “It was the ocean.” She whispered. “It was the ocean. And I screamed. For you, Derek.” He sucked in a breath.

 He almost died.

 Somehow he stayed standing without the help of anyone. More cop cars and an ambulance were coming into view and parking where Parrish’s was. The sun was completely set now, and the light was beginning to fade into darkness. Cora tried to pull him back to shore by his hand, but Derek didn’t budge. He just stayed staring at the ocean and the mermaids swimming around.

 “Do you think he’s in shock?”

 “I think we should get him a shock blanket.”

 “Derek, are you okay?”

 He nodded slightly, just enough for them to know he was listening. He squatted down back in the water when Stiles began swimming back over. They didn’t say anything for a long time. Stiles looked sad; his eyebrows were furrowed and Derek didn’t like the look of concern and guilt on his face. Stiles blamed himself for so much.

  “Are you...are you sure you okay.”

 “I think I will be.”  Derek said.

  “Okay.” He said. Stiles fidgeted but didn’t look away from Derek. “My dad wants me to go home with him.”

  Oh.

  “And after everything that’s happened-”

 “Don’t worry, I get it.” Derek interrupted. He didn’t want this to be more painful of a process than it had to be. He didn’t want to know what words Stiles would use to tell him that he wanted to leave. “I think it’s a good idea for you to go back with your dad.”

 Stiles’ eyes widened, hurt, but before Derek could think about what that meant Stiles just looked resigned.

  “Yeah. I...I think it’s a good idea if I go too.” Stiles looked away and adjusted the prosthetic. Waved crashed into the two of them but neither of them were bothered by it. They just sat together until Stiles was lurching forward to pull him into a hug. Derek accepted him in his arms and buried his face in his wet neck. Everything about this just felt wrong . His head was just a mess of no no no this is wrong no you can’t leave no. After all the blows he’d been dealt, this felt like the worst one.

 Against the heavy feeling in his chest and the desire to not let go, Derek did just that as Stiles moved away. Both of them had tears in their eyes. Both of them refused to let them fall.

 Derek looked down at the water hitting his chest as Stiles said goodbye to everyone else. His pack surrounded him but let him sit until they assured him all the mermaids had left. He swallowed and finally allowed himself to leave the ocean. Salt and sand was caked onto his skin uncomfortably. He didn’t get a chance to wash it off before he was being herded to the ambulance. He did end up getting a shock blanket. As far as the EMT’s could tell, he was perfectly fine. Already healed. There was nothing they could do for him.

 “Do you think you’ll be fine to come back to the station and give a statement of what happened?” Parrish softly asked him. Derek gave a small nod. “I’ll give you a minute before we go.” He walked away, leaving him sitting there. He watched as everyone got the all clear to get back to him.

 “How did you guys find me?” Derek asked.

 “It was a group effort.” Erica said. Cora walked over and sat next to him. He held her hand.

 “Melissa told us about what happened with the journalist and how you thought it could’ve been Theo.” Isaac said. “To be safe, we called Parrish. He said he’d meet us back at work.”

 “When all of us got there,” Boyd continued, “We found Stiles out of the aquarium, on the floor shrieking. He was saying that Theo took you. And then Lydia told us she had a bad feeling.”

 Lydia said, “Parrish called it in and we were all going to split up and search for you, but Stiles was insisting he come with. I don’t know why, but I offered to take him.” She shook her head. “I just went off of feeling and found myself at the beach. Stiles was the one to recognize the pier because that’s where Theo had him.”

 “And then I saw both of you coming.” Derek said. “You two showing up gave me time to break loose.”

 “I already called everyone in and they showed up.” She finished.

 Derek leaned forward and pressed his face into his hands. He couldn’t deal with any of this right now. Even though the after effects of being with Theo plagued him, his heart lurched with every moment he knew Stiles was leaving him. Of Stiles getting farther and farther away. The feeling of pain and utter loss was something he hadn’t felt since Kate and the fire.

 He wanted- he wanted Stiles. He wanted...

 Parrish showed up to take him to the station. Derek went with him, trying and failing to feel numb in the wake of his revelation.

 

~~~~~~

 

 The sky was overcast with a promise of thunderstorms later in the evening. The sea was choppy and dark, crashing against the dark sand over and over in a chaotic rhythm. Derek sat there with his arms wrapped around the knees he pulled up to his chest the minute he got on the beach.

 It was colder now. The wind was sharp. The temperature dropped. The ocean had grown the coldest. Fall was here and winter was soon on the way. He overheard Lydia mention quietly to Kira during lunch that the pods would retreat down the west coast to warmer waters soon, if they haven’t already left. When Derek had found a moment to be alone, he left.

 He watched as the waves crested far off and rolled into shore violently. He could hear the water collide, and turned up the music he had playing in his headphones.

  “...Goodbye, my almost lover

Goodbye, my hopeless dream

I'm trying not to think about you

Can't you just let me be?

So long, my luckless romance

My back is turned on you

Should've known you'd bring me heartache

Almost lovers always do...”

 Even though each lyric of the love song in his playlist seemed to squeeze his heart tighter, he couldn’t stop listening. When he was hurting he went for the maximum effect. It proved to be a bad and hard habit to break.

 It was the perfect atmosphere and timing to cry, but he couldn’t. Derek felt the tears come only after he fell asleep. He’d wake up from dreams that felt so real, he was devastated when he awoke to find them gone. His dreams were haunted by sunlight and brown eyes, skin dotted by moles and scales, and glowing colors in the aquarium.

 Derek didn’t notice when someone sat down on a towel next to him until he felt a tap on his shoulder. Lydia was looking out to the water, the dark reflecting in her eyes. Derek paused his music and pulled off his headphones.

 “How’d you know where to find me?” He asked.

 “It wasn’t too hard to figure out where’d you be.” Lydia said, turning to him. “Everyone else thought that you could use the time alone.”

 “But you didn’t.”

 “No.”

 Derek ducked his head and buried his bare feet in the sand. “Why?” He asked.

 “Because you’re hurt,” She said, “and you’re feeling like you’re alone.”

 “I’m not alone.” Derek said. It was true. Every day there was a hand on his shoulder, gentle smiles, and being surrounded by people who acted casual in hopes it would lift his spirits.

 “But you feel like it.” Lydia said. And that was true, too.

 “Yes.” He said. Lydia sighed and shook her head.

 “The minute Stiles told you his name, you fell in love.” She sounded playfully irritated, and her face turned affectionate, “I told you that you’d get attached.”

 Derek couldn’t help the choked laugh he gave at that. He remembered that conversation they had so many times, but the last had been the day Stiles had showed up. And she had a point, about him falling in love with Stiles when he was told his name. Another bad habit he couldn’t break.

 “I’m sorry.” Derek said lamely.

 “Don’t be.” Lydia said. “Besides, it’s not your fault you fell for him. He wasn’t making it any easier on you. Especially with the courting.”

 He furrowed his eyebrows. “What courting?” He asked. Lydia stared at him.

 “Remember when he was doing that water dance thing with all the color?” Of course he did. How could he forget?

 “Yeah.”

 “Remember when I told you to look it up?”

 “Yeah.”

 “Did you?”

 “No.”

 Lydia gave him a flat look and shook her head. “Don’t you ever open a damn book?” She asked, but it seemed like a rhetorical question.

 “Why did I need to open a damn book about it?” He asked.

 “Because I’m certain we’d be in a different situation right now if you had.” Lydia sighed. “You’re impossible.”

 “I’m sorry.”

 “Stop saying sorry.”

 “Sorry.” Derek smiled. Lydia rolled her eyes and scooted closer to him, laying her head on his shoulder. They sat in silence for some time, leaning against one another. She was easy company to hold. Lydia let him sit in peace with knowledge that she was there as support. It was easier to handle rather than loud sounds and people including him when he would’ve preferred to fade to the background for a little bit.

 “Jackson and I used to date.” Lydia said out of the blue, completely catching him off guard.

 “What? You did?” Derek asked.

 “Yes,” She said, “In high school. I was completely gone on him. We were the it couple. He was the captain of a few sports teams and I was just the pretty thing on his arm.”

 “I can’t imagine you being ‘just’ anything.” Derek said.

 Lydia smiled. “Now I can’t either. But then...it was easier to be pretty and do brilliant things without actually realizing how smart I was.”

 “What happened?”

 “Well, I almost died.” She said. “I was so used to hiding, to being a face. I could cover hickies and bruises. I could cover tear stains and turn blotchy cheeks into a blush. But I decided I didn’t want to hide the fact that I had fought and survived against my attacker.”

 The zeal, the strength in Lydia’s eyes made Derek feel humbled. Lydia wasn’t a very personal person. She was hard and smart and dangerous when he had first met her. She was careful but when he got to know her she was loyal and quietly caring. You only knew what she was feeling when she showed you. When she trusted you.

 “I had been attacked. I was dealing with the aftermath of it. I was dealing with learning I was a banshee. So I decided I shouldn’t make it harder on myself by pretending I was dumb.” Lydia continued. “Jackson wasn’t used to it. I don’t even think I was used to it. And it was suddenly different for us, and we eventually broke up. It was amicable. Both of us had a lot going on. But I still loved him, for a long time. I moved on from him, but I never thought that I’d be able to love anyone else quite like I had loved him.”

 “Did you? Love anyone else?” He asked.

 “I think I’m getting there.” She said.

 “Why are you telling me this?”

 “Because you need advice when it comes to Stiles. You can carry that love with you for however long you need to, before you feel ready to move on. You will have his smile in your mind, but eventually it’ll fade, and you will move on. It won’t hurt as bad. It will feel fond, the memories. But you won’t feel the love you felt before. And that’s okay.”

 “I don’t want to forget.” Derek whispered. “I never got to have him. I still- I still want him.”

 “You don’t have to forget,” Lydia turned back to look at the water, “How long do you want to wait for him? How long are you willing to wait? How many days will you come back to this spot on the beach, waiting to see him.”

 “As long as it takes.” Derek said.

 Lydia sighed again, took off her shoes, and covered her feet in the sand. “Okay,” she said, “then we wait.”

 Derek loved her more in that moment.

 

~~~~~~

 

 He stood at the edge of the water and stared out at the still reckless waves on the last day he said he’d wait. Just like he said the day before that, and the day before that, and so on. Derek lost count on how many “Last Day’s” he’s had.

 It was still cold, the water was still dark, but now the sun shone bright. Wet sand glittered like crystals. He’d seen this beach so much it’s like he knew every sand dune and wave there was. Everyday he saw it, saying he never would again, but the urge to go just in case was always too strong. When he finally pulled himself to leave, he’d have a hollow heart. It was painful coming here when every time he knew he would never see Stiles again. He wanted to stop, but it took awhile to build up the strength to. He hoped he’d have enough to leave and never come back this time around.

 His ears were overwhelmed by the wind and crash of water, but this time, the familiarity started to feel different. He could hear...something. It was with the water, with the waves, low and odd and quiet enough where Derek thought maybe he was imagining it. But the tantalizing hum in the deep compelled him forward.

 Shoes, socks, pants, and all, it didn’t matter. The shock of the cold made goosebumps cover his body but Derek almost didn’t feel it. The deep blue tide pushed and tugged at him, the under current threatening to pull him under the further out he went.

 Derek stopped and he could tell that yes, there was a sound. It sounded like music, like a song, but it was so unnatural and different but it was quickly dawning on him what could be making that sound. It kept getting louder and closer until suddenly, it stopped. Derek wanted to cry at the loss.

 But then pale hands appeared just under the surface. Pale arms followed.

 Brown eyes peaked up out of the water.

 Derek’s heart thundered in his ears as he watched Stiles emerge out of the water, mouth wide and seemingly gasping for air. Derek was stuck in place even though Stiles looked like he was struggling a little to swim closer. But then it got shallower and he seemed to stand , revealing no scales and a smooth chest, hips and a body part Derek started blushing all over, and legs-

 Legs.

 Stiles wobbled as a wave hit him but Derek dove forward in the water and grabbed him, pulling him off his feet and into a hug. He heard Stiles laugh, a sound that made shivers run up and down his spine. He was full of blunt teeth, blunt nails, and made for land. Where Derek was.

 He was so happy and filled with joy that he couldn’t help but spin Stiles around in his arms, much like in The Little Mermaid . Stiles knocked their heads together when trying to press their foreheads together. But Derek didn’t care about it. He cared about their matching smiles, their bright joy.

 Stiles met him halfway for the kiss. Their first.

 And God, was it amazing. His toes curled and his lips tingled. Was this how kissing felt when you truly loved the person you were kissing? Yes, it was. And it was amazing.

 Derek could only think of Stiles at this point.

 Stiles’ lips were clumsy and tasted like sea water, but it was the best kiss he’s had in years. Even though his lips were as cold as the water, he couldn’t help but feel warm. Derek could feel their eyelashes brush together, could feel both their hearts pounding, could feel the smiles that grew the longer they kissed.

 “Hey!” Derek heard someone yell past the haze in his head. “This isn’t a nude beach! Get some damn clothes on!”

 Derek broke away from the kiss to laugh, and Stiles did too, both their teeth chattering with the chill. After that they were quick to get out of the water, Derek helping since Stiles did only have one foot and still not used to being on land.

 One Aquamarine moment with Stiles using a shirt as a skirt and a car ride later, Derek got them into the house with only a little bit of flailing. Soon, Stiles was wearing Derek’s clothes and lying in bed with him, completely blissed out.

 Derek tapped his shoulder to get him to focus.

  “What?” Stiles asked.

  “You were courting me.” Derek said.

 Stiles went stiff. “I was, and it obviously worked really well.”

 “I didn’t know that that was what you were doing.”

  “What do you mean?” Stiles asked.

  “I didn’t know what it was,” Derek smoothed out the crease in between Stiles’ eyes with his thumb, “I didn’t know what was going on. That’s why I think nothing happened. I didn’t realize you were my mate.”

 Stiles snorted, but he was beginning to blush. “You’re so oblivious.” He said. “Even I knew we were mates.”

 This Derek didn’t know. “How?”

  “Mermaids mate for life,” Stiles explained, “and sometimes finding your mate gets a little tricky in the ocean. So to find out mate we get these, these visions, I guess, that give us a trait to identify our mates with.”

 “What was your vision for me?”

  “Black veins.” He admitted. “And legs instead of fins.”

 He huffed a breath. “Black veins, huh? That’s why you took to me first.”

  “Yeah.” Stiles nodded, still blushing. “I didn’t think I would actually meet my mate, but then I came here, and you took my pain, and I knew I was safe with you.”

 Derek smiled wide. “You’re always safe with me.”

 “I know.”

 “And you’re staying this time? With me?” Derek asked.

  “How long do you want me?”

 “As long as I can have you.”

 Stiles kissed the tip of his nose, looking as happy and content as Derek felt. “Then you’ll be stuck with me forever.”

 Derek wouldn’t mind forever

 

Epilogue

 

 Stiles was sitting on the table, swinging his legs back and forth as Isaac finished up something with the prosthetic foot Derek had him fashion up.

 “Done!” Isaac announced, turning and holding up a foot identical to the one Stiles did have, except this was a right foot. “Isn’t it beautiful?”

 “Uh huh.” Stiles said, winking. “Bea-u-ti-ful.”

 (This was something that both irritating and fascinating Lydia; how quickly Stiles was learning English. Even from his time when he had a tail and stayed in the aquarium, he could nearly understand English completely, which now he could. HIs speech still needed practice, since talking was a lot harder than hearing.

 Not that Stiles minded. He prefered to use sign language anyway.)

 Isaac barely put the foot on before Stiles hopped off the table, foregoing his crutch. With his still kind of wobbly legs, he took a few steps, looking completely and utterly happy. It stole the breath right out of his lungs.

 “Stop looking like a lovesick puppy.” Isaac said, wiggling his eyebrows.

 “You look like a lovesick puppy.” Derek retorted.

 Isaac snorted. “You tried.” Derek elbowed him in the ribs.

 “Derek!” He whipped his head around, unable to look casual about it. Even though Derek’s name was the first word Stiles was able to say, and that’s practically all he ever hears, it was still thrilling to hear.

 “Look!” Stiles bounced rapidly from one foot to the other, doing a little dance with his hands as well. Derek smiled wide and Stiles smiled back. That is, until he started to tumble sideways.

 Derek rushed over and grabbed him before he could land on his bad side.

 Stiles’ gaze turned softly sarcastic in a way only he could manage and touched his cheek. “My he-ro.” He said. His voice sounded like salt rocks and caramel. Derek was simply and inconceivably in love.

 “Always.” Derek said, and leaned in to kiss him.

 Stiles kissed him back.

 And he was happy.