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Going Home

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Stiles’ mom bought a beach house on the coast that opens right onto a private beach, perfect for merfolk like her and Stiles to come and go from the ocean without needing to hide from the public.

Stiles hasn’t been back there since his mother fell sick.  Before her death, it was because she couldn’t go with him.  After her death, it was because Stiles didn’t want to leave his dad alone, not his biological father but the only father he’s ever known, and the Sheriff himself never wanted to look at anything that reminded him of his late wife ever again.

(Sometimes, that included Stiles.)

Now though, John Stilinski is dead.

Now, Stiles has no reason to remain in a town that has never been very kind to him, a town where he has known grief and violence and betrayal and death more than he has ever known love or friendship or people he might consider Clan, a town full of fools and monsters that will more than likely kill him if he stays for much longer, just like it killed his father.

So he packs up everything in the house and ships the majority of the boxes to his father’s relatives.  Stiles doesn’t know them, they don’t really know him, and they didn’t come to the funeral, but they were his father’s blood.

He keeps some things – pictures, books, odds and ends that remind him most of his parents.  Those and his own belongings are boxed away and shipped out to the nearest post office to his beach house for pick-up when he gets there.

He debates saying something to Scott, but in the end, he opts to shoot off a text once he’s well on his way.

He can forgive his first and only friend for a lot of things, mostly because he never means to hurt Stiles (or really, anyone else) – when he inadvertently left Stiles to die in the pool with Derek, choking on chlorine, when he forgot Stiles time and time again in favour of Allison, when he never even noticed Stiles was kidnapped and tortured by Gerard and his cronies, Scott never meant for any of that to happen the way they did, so Stiles can forgive it.  He can even forgive Scott for blaming him for Donovan’s death, blaming him for surviving, because he understands Scott is very narrow-minded, very naïve, very blinkered, when it comes to what he considers good and bad, and it isn’t likely to ever change.

But he can’t forgive Scott for trusting Theo’s words over Stiles’, for trusting some random kid who claims he used to know them and only wants to be a part of their pack, over Stiles who has never been anything less than fucking devoted when it comes to Scott.

He can’t forgive Scott for getting his father killed, even if it was indirect and unintentional.

(Most of the damage Scott causes is indirect and unintentional, and almost always with good intentions.  Maybe that’s why he never learns.)

It doesn’t matter now.  The Sheriff is still dead, Stiles can’t even look at Scott without wanting to sink his teeth into his windpipe, and Scott in turn can’t look at Stiles after Stiles stormed out of the hospital once his father was declared dead and Theo’s corpse turned up twelve hours later, washed up on the riverbank with his throat ravaged, and not in the sexy way.

Scott knows Stiles did it.  He just doesn’t have any evidence.

Stiles stuck around after that only long enough to do one last favour for Beacon Hills – he tore down Eichen House once and for all.

He didn’t bother contacting the others.  Liam was still mad at Scott for Hayden.  Scott still hadn’t apologized to anyone, or even made an attempt to pull his tattered pack back together, which amounted to the same thing.  Kira was still barely in-control of her own powers.  Malia was looking into her mother and had no more time for anyone else.  Stiles wasn’t about to wait around for all that drama to blow over, especially since he didn’t want to deal with it either.  Someone needed to free Lydia.  And someone needed to get rid of the Dread Doctors.  Both those someones might as well be Stiles.

It was easy.  He walked in during visiting hours while there were no other visitors, opened his mouth, and literally screamed the place down.

When Lydia screams, she embodies the portent of approaching death.  When Stiles screams, the sound waves he produces are loud enough to burst eardrums, pierce the brain, and topple a whole building.

He didn’t make the entire place collapse all at once of course, only clearing section by section as he began his search for Lydia.  In this case, Eichen House’s almost airtight cells worked in his favour.  So long as he didn’t scream his loudest, Stiles wouldn’t crack the cells and risk affecting Lydia.

He found her, underground in a cold, bare cell, strapped to a bed with wires attached to her head.  Her pillow was stained with blood.  She didn’t wake even when he gently shook her, but at least she was breathing.

He got her out.  He would’ve carried her all the way back to the surface without stopping if he didn’t catch sight of Peter through the bars of another cell on his way out.

Stiles went in for one.  He came out with two.  Even he wasn’t cold-hearted enough to leave a near catatonic Peter curled up under a ratty-looking cot, wearing nothing but a washed out shirt and pants.  So he heaved Lydia onto his back, grabbed Peter, and made his way back to the main floor, ignoring the assortment of dead orderlies and guards he left behind.

He delivered both Lydia and Peter to the hospital, slipped a small conch shell necklace around both their necks, made sure Peter was checked in under a false name, told the staff that they were both victims of an abduction, and then left them to it, slipping away in the chaotic aftermath.

He returned once more to Eichen House.  That time, he screamed his loudest, until there was nothing left save rubble and bodies.

And now he’s here, four weeks later, stashing the last of his bags into the back of his jeep.  His house has been put up for sale.  The interior has been cleared out.  Even the majority of the furniture has been sold or donated; the rest have been shipped off to a warehouse near his beach house.

He isn’t planning on ever coming back.

But he does ghost through his childhood home one last time, drifting through empty halls and emptier bedrooms, lingering in the huge master bathroom with the tub that used to be big enough for him to shift and splash around in when he was little.

He pauses by his father’s alcohol cabinet.  He almost drank himself into a coma after coming back from his dad’s funeral, woke up with the worst hangover in the history of hangovers, and then tossed out all the remaining whiskey.

Never let it be said he didn’t pick up anything from his dad.

He’s not selling it, the cabinet.  But he’s not taking it with him either.  Quite honestly, he hates this thing.  Hates everything it represents and reminds him of.  The cabinet was one of the many projects his mother carved, one of the last too, before her hands lost the necessary dexterity and her mind lost the necessary sanity.  Stiles can’t just throw it away, but at the same time, he wants nothing to do with it anymore.  Maybe the next family who moves in here will put it to better use.

He moves on.  Runs a hand along the walls, remembering.  The spot where the largest armchair used to be, the one his mom always sat them both in when she read to him.  She’d do all the voices too, when he was young.

The counter in the kitchen where he perched, legs swinging, watching his mother cook.  She’d sing in-between teaching him the names of all the utensils.

The tree in the backyard, the one he used to climb on.  He broke a leg once, falling off.  His mother was so worried, rushing him to the hospital.

His dad’s office, where Stiles repeatedly broke into, curious about a police officer’s work, snooping into everything right up until his dad caught him and shooed him back out, before Stiles learned how to not get caught.

(The upstairs hall where his mother once cornered him, nails gouging into his face, screaming about Stiles’ eyes.  The living room wall where liquor once dripped, after his intoxicated father threw a glass at his head when Stiles attempted – just that once – to get him to quit drinking.)

A dozen other places, a hundred more memories.  Not all of them good, not all of them bad, but all of them serve to make something like nostalgia well up in Stiles’ chest.

He finishes his last trek through the house, pausing just inside the front door as he toes on his shoes.

Dead mother.  Dead father.  No more friends.  No one close to a potential mate.  No Clan to speak of.  He really is all alone now.

Still.  Time to go.

He shuts the door behind him, locking it and pocketing the key before heading for his car.  He even gets the driver’s door open.  And then there are footsteps.

His hearing’s not as good as a shifter’s, especially on land and in human form, but he still picks up the quiet, limping footsteps stumbling up the sidewalk at as rapid a pace as possible without breaking into an outright run.

He turns, and there’s Peter, hurrying towards him, and he’s still as startlingly pale as he was when Stiles first got him out of Eichen House.  There’s a haunted, almost feverish light in his eyes, his hair – longer now, reminding Stiles of the haircut Peter sported way back when he was still Alpha – is barely combed, his beard is scruffier than Stiles has ever seen it, and the shirt and coat he has on both hang off his frame like they’re a size or two too big for him.  He’s far too thin, almost gaunt, cheekbones sharp in his face in a way that speaks of starvation more than anything else, and there’s a haggard cast to his features that exudes a bone-deep exhaustion even now.

He has a duffel bag slung over one shoulder and a white-knuckled grip on the strap, and he doesn’t stop until he’s within three feet of Stiles.  His expression is shuttered, a mask full of cracks stretched thin over all the bleeding broken hurt underneath, but there’s something desperate in the way he looks at Stiles all the same, his gaze never wavering.

There’s a moment of wary silence between them.  But then Peter swallows and distractedly shoves a stray curl out of his eyes before flicking a hand in the direction of the house.

“You’re leaving,” The werewolf rasps out.  It isn’t a question.

Stiles shrugs.  “Yeah,” He admits easily.  “Not coming back either.”

He glances out across the street, picturing the rest of town.  This crazy deathtrap of a town.  He looks back at Peter, studying the slightly hunched way that the man holds himself, tucked in like he’s one strong gust of wind away from shattering to pieces.  “You should probably still be in the hospital, shouldn’t you?”

This time, it’s Peter’s turn to shrug, mouth twisting like he’s tasted something bitter.  He looks down at the pavement under his shoes, then looks back up.  One of his hands rises to fish the conch shell necklace out from under his shirt where he still has it around his neck.

“You left this,” Peter says, still not a question.  “I can…” His brow knits.  “I can hear the ocean.  Not resonance.  I can hear the actual ocean.  I can smell it too.”

Stiles quirks a brief smile.  “Yeah.”  He considers the werewolf for a second.  “…The ocean can be soothing.  I stuck you in a human hospital.  That-” He nods at the shell.  “-keeps you calm so you don’t accidentally wolf out on strangers.  It doesn’t prevent you from shifting but it helps clear your head a bit, so you’re not constantly teetering on a hair-trigger edge.”

He stops.  Peter stares avidly at him, thumb racing the contours of the shell before finally tucking it away again.  He looks like he wants to ask but the questions don’t come.  Instead, the man fumbles with the strap of his bag for a moment before returning his attention to Stiles, then to the house, the For Sale sign, then back.

“Take me with you,” He states at last in hoarse tones, and the words come out uncomfortably close to a plea.  He says nothing else.

Stiles sighs.  It’s not like he didn’t see this coming the moment he spotted Peter shuffling up the street, although before that, he admittedly didn’t see this coming.  “You don’t even know where I’m going.”

Peter scoffs out a scratchy sound that falls miles short of the laugh it’s probably supposed to be.  “I don’t care.”

No, Peter probably doesn’t.

Stiles sighs again.  Well, what does it matter now?  He really, really doubts this Peter is planning anything remotely nefarious, not in the condition he’s in, physical and mental, and any sort of crimes Peter committed, the guy’s definitely paid for them in full and then some.  Plus he’s a werewolf – it’s not like Stiles has anything to really hide.  The only reason he kept his most important secret from Scott was because – at first – Stiles didn’t know if he could be trusted, being both child and oblivious human when Stiles first met him, and then it just… never came up.  It isn’t as if there are any large bodies of water Stiles can go swimming in regularly; he hasn’t shifted in years.

“Alright, get in the car,” Stiles finally relents, almost wincing when he glimpses a flash of overwhelming, aching relief on Peter’s face.

Obediently, Peter rounds the jeep and climbs into the passenger seat, sticking his bag in the footwell before slumping back as if the trip over to Stiles’ house and the ensuing conversation used up the entirety of what little energy he’s managed to regain.

Stiles clambers behind the wheel, eyeing Peter’s meagre belongings critically.  “Is that all you’re bringing?  If you have more stuff, we can swing by wherever and grab it.”

Peter’s eyes are already closed, head lolling to the side to rest against the window.  If Stiles reaches over to rip his throat out right now, he doubts the werewolf would care enough to even try to dodge.

“I have nothing else,” Peter mumbles without opening his eyes.  “The lease for my apartment ended over a year ago.  My landlord got rid of everything when he couldn’t reach me.”  His foot twitches against his bag.  “That’s what I left in the vault, in case I ever needed to, well,” A cynical note of amusement enters his voice.  “Make a quick getaway.  It’s just a few books, a laptop, a change of clothes, and some money.”

He falls silent, chest heaving once on a slow, tired breath.  Stiles nods, even though Peter doesn’t see it, and offers neither pity nor more questions.  He starts the car instead, taking one last look at the house before backing out of the driveway.

Time to go.

 


 

It takes a good seven hours to get to their destination.  Stiles stops for a few bathroom breaks and lunch in-between, prodding at Peter until the man bites half-heartedly into a burger.  He goes right back to sleep the moment they’re on the road again.

They’re driving past the last town before they hit the beach house when Peter finally stirs, rousing with a jerk and immediately going tense as his mind scrambles to figure out his surroundings.  He only relaxes again when he catches sight of Stiles and remembers where he is.  Remembers he’s no longer in Eichen House.

“We’re almost there,” Stiles tells him when Peter’s brow crinkles with confusion as he stares out the window.  “This is the last town before we get to my beach house.  It’s a half-hour drive from here.”

Peter doesn’t respond right away, and his gaze remains on the blurred scenery passing by even when he finally asks, “You have a beach house?”  And then, right after that, before Stiles can answer, Peter looks over at him and says distantly, “You smell like the ocean.  You always have.”

This, Stiles has to smile at, and it feels more genuine than anything he’s managed to muster up in a long time.  “We’re almost there,” He says again, his foot easing the pedal down just a little more, going just that bit faster.

A path soon comes up, branching off from the main road and into the woods, a Private Property sign tacked on the gate.  Stiles has to stop and get out to open it, and Peter apparently still has enough initiative to crawl into the driver’s seat and take the car through before Stiles shuts the gate again and climbs back into his jeep.

Peter says nothing but there’s something a little more like life in his eyes as he observes the expanse of trees on either side of them, largely untouched by humanity, perfect for a nice run whenever he wants.

Stiles rolls down his window, and then Peter’s.  He can hear it and smell it as well now – the rhythmic lap of waves breaking on the shore, the briny tang carried on the ocean breeze, the siren call of home.

Twenty minutes later, they emerge at the treeline, dirt fading into sand, and Stiles almost laughs when he sees the sun reflecting off the waves, a rolling sea of glittering blue.  The beach extends as far as the eye can see, the ocean even further, and on the right, right by the shore and built on stilts to accommodate high tides, is his mother’s – his – beach house, still standing tall, just as he remembers it, although the paint is sun-bleached and faded.

There’s a sandy uphill driveway for his car, high enough so that the water won’t reach it when the tide is in.  Stiles barely parks properly before he has the door flung open and his shoes kicked off, and the feeling of fine grit between his toes, of the fresh wind on his skin and in his lungs and teasing at his gills, of the welcoming roar of waves in his ears, as if they can sense one of their own close by, is almost enough to cripple him.

Being on two legs doesn’t usually hurt.  Shifting from mer to human isn’t like The Little Mermaid, where one needs to make a trade with a wicked octopus witch, and every step Ariel got out of the bargain was agony.

Instead, it’s a smooth, voluntary transition, granting merfolk the gift of survival on both land and sea.  But a prolonged lack of exposure to the latter, staying on two legs for too long without shifting and going for a swim even just once in a while, always begins to put an ache in a merfolk’s legs, and the longer it goes on, the worse it gets, the pain serving as a reminder that merfolk ultimately belong in water, not on land.

Werewolves go mad without the moon.  Merfolk grieve without the sea.

And Stiles?  Stiles hasn’t shifted in well over a decade.

In retrospect, that probably explains quite a bit about the dives his mood has taken over the years.  Layer the death of his mother, his daddy issues, and the absolute bullshit of recent events on top of that and, well.  He’s a psychologist’s wet dream, is all he’s saying.

Still, it hardly matters anymore.

He wrestles almost clumsily out of his shirt, and then almost jumps a foot in the air when the crunch of shoe on ground reminds him that he’s not alone.

Peter isn’t looking at him when Stiles turns to face the werewolf.  Instead, his eyes are focused on Stiles’ torso.  More specifically, they’re focused on the dull gold scales dotting Stiles’ skin.  They aren’t evenly distributed around his waist, spiking up here and there from underneath his jeans instead before tapering off just below his ribs and mid-spine.

Peter looks fascinated for the first time since challenging Scott for the Alpha seat all those months ago, which simultaneously makes him look more alive, but, when he lifts his gaze to meet Stiles’, he doesn’t really seem that surprised.

“You smell like the ocean,” He repeats, eyes momentarily flickering beyond Stiles’ shoulder at the ocean in the distance, then back.  “It’s been a long time for you, hasn’t it?”

And Peter looks at him like he understands.

Stiles stoops a little to rub at his knee joints, huffing a rueful laugh under his breath, suddenly dizzy with it all and hoping his legs won’t give out on him because of it.  When he straightens again, Peter isn’t quite smiling at him but his expression is softer than anything Stiles has ever seen on this man’s face.

“I need to-” Stiles blurts out, not sure how to put the sheer yearning he feels from heart to fingertips into actual words.

But Peter just nods.  “I know.”

Stiles grins and promptly strips out of his socks, jeans, and boxers as well without a hint of shame before taking off for the beach, only remembering at the last second to shout back, “Keys are in the glovebox!”

There’s a small crop of rocks that juts out over the water, like a small cliff, and that’s where Stiles heads now, each pounding step throbbing in time with his heartbeat, pain, but also anticipation, a longing that hurts with every breath he draws.

He hurtles up the rocky incline and, without hesitation, takes a flying leap off the very top, arms stretching forward as he flips into the air with all the grace of the dolphins he used to swim with.  His legs come together and merge, a seamless, instinctive, eager transformation that feels like several muscles unknotting all at once, long overdue, and then the water – salt spray and white foam – rushes up to meet him, and his first plunge into the ocean after over ten years on land is truly like coming home.

As his gills flutter open and water closes around him like a cool embrace on a hot summer day, Stiles doesn’t think he has ever known anything sweeter.

 


 

Stiles swims and swims and swims.  Past kelp and coral, around a school of fish that burble surprised hellos at him.  He swims far past depths that regular humans wouldn’t dare venture without the proper equipment, and then further still where sunlight can’t reach.

Stiles’ eyes have no need to strain against the darkness.  He can see as well as if he were in a brightly lit room, and his tail – already gradually regaining its natural sheen – gives off light of its own.

It’s quiet, in this part of the ocean, though probably not in the way humans would perceive it.  It’s quiet because this particular spot is still and mostly uninhabited, with gentle currents only, and Stiles easily loops around those, letting one hand slide along the shell of a passing turtle in greeting.  It cranes its head around to look at him, curious, but it doesn’t stop, flippers angling the turtle towards the surface as it rides a current upward.

Stiles swims on, letting another current buoy him further down the slant of the ocean floor, only getting off when it starts veering away from the drop into deeper depths.

Humans.  If they knew the things, the creatures, the beautiful, terrifying wonders that exist deep in the ocean…

Well in all honesty, they’d probably be frightened and inquisitive in turn, at first, and then they’d bring their drills and their cages, their weapons and their machines, and they’d capture what they could, dig up what they could, take what they could, and destroy everything in the process, all in the name of discovery.

They’ve done it Above, after all; why not Below as well?  They’re already dumping all their waste and pollution here, like the seas are their very own garbage disposals.

But at least actual invasion will have to wait; they’ll have to get past the very ocean itself first, and all the dangers within.  The ocean is its own guardian, its own ultimate defense.  Humans have conquered mountains to the point where snowmen and dragons and other similar creatures are now forced to hide, forced to retreat to the handful of caves and valleys humanity hasn’t managed to stumble on yet.  Supernatural land creatures have likewise long since adapted their very genetics to better allow themselves to hide among other humans, no longer free to roam the earth without fear of being hunted down and slaughtered or captured and dissected for study.  They’re no longer as big or strong or fast as the legends of old once revered them as.

And one day, humans will conquer the seas as well.  Not tomorrow, not in a hundred years, most likely not even in a thousand.  The oceans are as ancient as the gods, and equally powerful.  The ocean came first.  But one day, someone, somewhere, will find a way to reach the very bottom of the ocean and spread their greed, their desire to own, and then it will be all over.  He doubts humanity will respect merfolk territories or merfolk laws.  There will be war, because if there is one thing humans excel at, it is war.

Luckily, merfolk aren’t too shabby in that area either, and there are a hundred other species in the vast oceans that will stand with them when the time comes.  If they’re destined to lose, then at least they’ll take a good chunk of humanity with them.  But even if they win, things will be different.  Conflict always leaves its mark.

So perhaps it’s even luckier that Stiles will be long dead when that time comes.  He has no desire to see his people, his culture, his beloved home, torn apart or plundered or both.

It makes him a little queasy whenever he thinks about it, so he tries not to.  It’s not a problem anyone will have to deal with anytime soon anyway, which makes it easier.  Maybe in a few thousand years, merfolk will have shored up their defenses even more in preparation of humanity’s imminent incursion.

A flicker of motion appears in his peripheral vision, and Stiles turns to see a shark heading his way, razor-sharp teeth glinting between its jaws.  Stiles bares his own in return, and the shark glides by, accepting – if not acknowledging – a fellow predator.

He swims on.  There are no merfolk colonies nearby.  There wouldn’t be, this close to the west coast of America, although ‘close’ is relative since Stiles estimates he’s about an hour-by-motorboat out from the shore, and several thousand feet deep.  That’s still pretty close to land for a mer.

Still, Stiles does try.  He sends out a call, a general fluting anyone there that goes unanswered, as expected.

Ah well.  Maybe another time.  He has vague memories of the nearest colony and how to get there if he wants to make that trip.

It’s sundown by the time Stiles reluctantly turns back, riding a particularly strong current all the way to the top.  A powerful pump of his tail propels him up and out of the water, arching backwards, his body a half-circle, before cutting back into the ocean again headfirst.

He breaches the surface and stares out into the distance where the sun’s nearly dipped below the horizon, a blaze of fire that paints the ocean a shimmering gold.  It’s a clear evening, with clean winds and no scent of storms on the breeze.

He dives again and strikes out for… well, home, he supposes.  If he ever leaves the beach house again, it will be for a more permanent residence under the sea, but – at least for now – a little piece of land to call his own won’t hurt.

He only stops once on the way, when he bumps into a bed of oysters all grumbling at each other in the shade of some seaweed.  Stiles pauses, cocking his head and eavesdropping shamelessly, then grins and swoops down to ask politely, {{I heard you have a pearl problem; if you want, I could give you a hand with that?}}

There’s a burst of excited chatter amongst the oysters before they all guilelessly agree.  Very simple creatures, oysters.  Even simpler than goldfish.  They all open up, and Stiles – taking care not to hurt them – quickly scoops out the pearls from the nacre lining the interior of the shell.

The thing about oysters is that they don’t like pearls about as much as humans do like them, even after whatever foreign substance slipped into their shells are covered up and no longer actively hurting them.  To them, it’s the equivalent of sleeping with a marble against your spine, and who wants that?

Stiles obligingly shows them the removed pearls, and the oysters all clamp their shells shut again.  They chitter gratitude at him and then sort of float off into a different conversation, Stiles already forgotten.

Like he said, simpler than goldfish, with an attention span to match.

Still, Stiles gives them a wave – that goes unnoticed – and then continues on his way.  He checks the pearls he gathered – all six of them are perfect spheres, and of those six, five are silver-white while the last has a shiny light blue hue that practically glows amongst the others.

They’re all lovely.  Nothing like freely given pearls.

He makes it back to shore before it gets completely dark, and as he surfaces again in the shallower waters, his tail grudgingly separates into two legs, and his feet slowly find purchase on flat ground as he heaves himself upright, hands coming up to slick back his hair as water sluices off his body in rivulets.

His legs no longer ache, but a twinge remains, a protest, lamenting how short their swim was.

Tomorrow, he promises himself, and feels almost giddy at the thought.  Sunrise to sunset if he so wishes.

He wades the rest of the way in, blinking in surprise when he finds Peter’s familiar figure curled up in a beach chair right at the edge of where the waves are coming in, with a throw blanket wrapped around his shoulders.  His eyes are a werewolf blue, and they’re already watching Stiles when Stiles’ own gaze finds his.

Stiles stumbles up the beach towards him, wet sand sticking to his feet.  Peter uncurls and sits up when Stiles reaches him, still studying him, taking in everything from Stiles’ ear fins to the smooth patches of gold scales marking Stiles’ skin from waist to ankles.

Stiles opens his mouth and produces – to human ears – a series of clicks and trills.  He shuts his mouth again, blinking hard, and then grimaces and adjusts his vocal chords a bit more before clearing his throat and trying again.

“You didn’t have to wait out here,” He says, English this time.  “I told you where the keys were, didn’t I?”

Peter shrugs, reaching behind him and procuring a towel.  “Yes.  I took our bags inside.  And-” He gestures at the chair and blanket.  “-these were in the house so I just-”

“It’s fine; they’re there for people to use, not to collect dust in a corner,” Stiles assures as he accepts the towel, scrubbing it through his hair before carelessly patting down the rest of himself.  Then he glances down at his hand before beaming brightly at Peter.  “Hands.  Gimme.”

Peter arches an eyebrow – which is actually already more attitude than Stiles has seen from him all day – and then cautiously extends his hands.  Stiles nudges at them until they’re palms up, then pours the pearls into them.

Peter stares.

“They’re pearls,” Stiles explains when the werewolf doesn’t say anything.  “Humans like them, and I know you’re not exactly human but you’re a land person, and generally, land people like them, and the oysters were on my way so I thought I’d bring them back for you.”

Peter finally looks up, and something like amusement trembles at the corners of his mouth, just for a moment.  “And underwater people don’t like them?”

Stiles scoffs, absently cinching the towel around his waist.  “Pearls are a dime a dozen for us.  We make children’s toys out of them.  My old rattle had pearls in it.”  He snickers.  “So it’s always hilarious to see humans selling them for thousands of dollars.”

Peter blinks, genuine interest sparking in his eyes, and for a second, Stiles thinks he’s finally going to bring on the questions this time.  But the werewolf bites them back, again, looking back down at the pearls instead before tucking them away into his coat pocket.

“Thank you,” Peter says, a beat belated like he has to dredge up his manners from one of those dark recesses Eichen carved into his mind.

Stiles just nods and reaches for the chair.  “It’s getting late so we should head in.  Did you grab everything from the car?”

Peter nods, following a step behind Stiles to the right as they move towards the house.  He doesn’t bother folding the blanket, leaving it around his shoulders instead.

“I checked the house as well,” The werewolf adds carefully.  “The structure, for wear, or rot, just in case, but the wood seems almost… brand-new.”

“Oh, yeah,” Stiles glances up at the beach house.  “It’s not made out of your average wood.  My mom made sure the building material was…”

He trails off, trying to find the right word, but he’s fairly certain the term he’s looking for doesn’t translate to any human languages.

“Water wood?”  He tries at last, making a face.  “Or sea wood maybe?  Whatever.  It’s basically wood from trees that grow in underwater groves, at depths no human’s ever reached before so you guys don’t have a word for it.  Anyway, the whole wet to dry, rinse and repeat problem that rots most wood – it doesn’t happen here, so no worries.”

They reach the stairs.  Stiles leads the way up and finally inside, where all the windows have thoughtfully been opened to air out the interior, and their bags are piled against one wall.

“Did you bring in the air mattress too?  I had one in the trunk.”

Stiles answers his own question when he digs into one of his bags for clean clothes and finds the mattress next to it, still a squishy lump of plastic.

“Right then,” He straightens and turns, almost taking a startled step back when he finds Peter a mere foot away.  He waits, but the werewolf doesn’t say anything, simply stands there, watching silently, always watching, as if…

As if he thinks if he takes his eyes off Stiles for too long, or even if he takes his eyes off the tides, waiting for Stiles to come back, Stiles might disappear entirely, and Peter will wake up right back in that little windowless cell in Eichen House.

Stiles sighs, good mood plummeting a little.  What a mess.  Although he supposes memories aren’t that easy to leave behind.  For him.  Even more so for Peter.

“Ten miles,” He says abruptly.  Peter blinks, the faintest hint of confusion entering his features.  Stiles waves a hand in the direction of vaguely north.  “My property.  It starts from that Private Property sign back by the main road and goes ten miles up that way starting from this house.  So, when you feel like it, you can shift and run and hunt however much you want.”

He pauses, scrutinizing the rawness that’s suddenly tearing at the already frayed edges of Peter’s expression.  “…Look, I brought you with me, and I know it was a last-minute thing, and I probably wouldn’t have if you hadn’t asked, but I did bring you with me, and I chose to, so you know,” He spreads his arms.  “Mi casa es su casa.  You can stay for as long as you want.”

Peter stares for a moment longer before nodding once, stiffly, throat bobbing with a swallow.  He still doesn’t say anything but Stiles doesn’t really expect him to at this point.  He turns back to the bags instead and fishes out some boxers and a shirt.

“I’m gonna go grab a shower first but,” Stiles motions at the wooden staircase leading up to the second level.  “If you want, you can pick a room and start unpacking what you can.  We’re gonna have to sleep down here on the air mattress tonight, but tomorrow, we can head into town and sort out all the furniture and other stuff I shipped out here earlier.”

He inwardly frowns.  Damn, that means no swimming until he gets all the unpacking done.

“Right,” Stiles finishes briskly, heading for the nearest bathroom.  “So make yourself at home.  I’ll be back soon.”

 


 

Peter does one better – he gets the air mattress set up in the living room, plugs in all the house appliances, and throws both their dirty laundry in the washing machine before Stiles even gets back out.

Of course, then Stiles remembers they don’t actually have any food aside from a handful of snacks in the car.  Fortunately, the ocean is, well, right there.

There are fish, and then there are fish.  You can eat fish; you don’t eat fish.  That’s practically cannibalism to some mer.  Unless you’re a land-walker who can’t tell the difference, which is horrifying enough.  So Stiles goes out and catches a couple salmon, not bothering with another shower when he gets back.  The stove is up and running, Peter digs out a pan, and they have fish for dinner.

(Stiles devours three.  Peter barely finishes the smallest one.  Stiles would feel bad if he didn’t already know his new werewolf housemate isn’t used to full regular meals anymore, which means they’re going to have to work Peter’s appetite back up, and that will take time.)

They go to bed early.  Stiles takes one side, Peter takes the other, a noticeable gap between them.

It doesn’t stay that way for long.

Peter falls asleep before Stiles does, within minutes of curling up under the blankets, back to Stiles, taking up barely a corner of the mattress.  Stiles wonders if he regularly slept like this in Eichen House too, huddled against cold tile wall on hard cement ground.  That’s how Stiles found him after all.

The windows have been left open to let in both the night breeze and the sound of the waves washing up on the beach, and Stiles is just drifting off when Peter begins to twitch.  He wouldn’t even have noticed if not for the fact that it happens again, and then again, and then again, erratic but continuous, as if falling asleep this time – unlike his long nap in the car – sent Peter plunging into the dark, straight into the roiling depths of his nightmares with no salvation in the form of blissful oblivion to be found.

Stiles waits for a few minutes, giving Peter time to pull himself out of it, but it only seems to get worse, the twitching escalating to whimpers that never quite make it farther than the back of the werewolf’s throat, like he’s learned – even in his sleep – to make as little noise as possible.

Stiles sighs.  Then he props himself up on one arm before reaching out and giving Peter’s shoulder a gentle shake.  “Peter, wake up.  Peter.  Peter.

Peter jolts awake and goes as tense as a ball of wire.  He doesn’t make a sound, he doesn’t roll over, he doesn’t even bolt from the bed.

Behind him, Stiles dithers over what to do before biting back another sigh and lying back down.  He runs a soothing hand down Peter’s arm before loosely slinging his own arm over the man’s waist.

“Go back to sleep,” Stiles says, deliberately pitching his voice down to a drowsy murmur.  “You’re safe here.”

And then he closes his eyes and waits.

The better part of ten minutes tick by before Peter’ begins to relax again, but he does, in tiny increments, until he’s lying limp again on the mattress.  He doesn’t push back into Stiles, but he doesn’t pull away either.  In the end, he drifts off like that, still curled up under the blankets in the cradle of Stiles’ arm.

Stiles waits another ten minutes before finally letting himself nod off as well.  If Peter dreams again that night, Stiles doesn’t wake for it.

 


 

In the morning, Stiles wakes before Peter.  The gentle light of dawn and the quiet whoosh of high tide greet his ears as he rolls onto his back and stretches languidly, cracking a lazy, contented yawn.

He hasn’t felt this good waking up in years.

Peter is still asleep beside him, almost eerily silent save for the faint puffs of breath.  He hasn’t moved at all, and Stiles didn’t either until just now, but the man doesn’t even stir when Stiles rolls out of bed.

He must still be exhausted, which is hardly a surprise.

Stiles makes his way to the nearest window, smiling widely at the ocean right outside, with the sunrise painting the waves a glittering gold.  It’s a beautiful day for a swim.  There are no storms on the horizon.  Then again, a storm-tossed sea has its own appeal.

He turns and makes his way to the bathroom.  First thing’s first – get ready for the day, breakfast, and then furniture and shopping.  If he doesn’t waste any time, and if Peter is willing – and able, because that’s an actual concern, all things considered – to help, Stiles might even be able to fit in an evening swim today.

Breakfast will have to be fish again so Stiles heads out after brushing his teeth and starting the coffee, which – luckily – Stiles did pack into his car.  He wades out into the lapping waves eagerly, and his shift comes as easy as breathing.

He catches three fishes before riding breakers all the way back to the shallows.  It’s fun, like a rollercoaster, and Stiles has nearly forgotten how good it feels surrounded by water.

Then of course he gets back to shore, and there’s Peter, awake and a little wild-eyed, still in the shirt and sweats that served as his pajamas last night.  He’s prowling up and down the shoreline with zero regard for the way the seawater rushes up to his thighs every time it flows in.

Stiles stifles a groan and hurriedly trips up the beach instead, tail splitting to legs in the space of a breath.  Fish still in his grasp, he’s barely three steps in before Peter is there, hovering, hands halfway up but clenched like he’s forcing himself not to reach out, and there’s a supernatural blue to his eyes that gives him an almost feral look around the jaw and the ridge of his brow.

“Hey,” Stiles starts to say, not quite sure how to continue.  “Hey, look, I was just getting breakfast, and you were asleep so I didn’t wanna wake you.”  He stops, and Peter doesn’t say anything back, so they just stand there in awkward silence for a moment.  “Let’s just… go back inside, okay?”

Peter doesn’t say anything to that either, but when Stiles moves in the direction of the house, the werewolf follows, closely enough that he’s almost stepping on Stiles’ heels.

This… might become a problem.  But even Stiles doesn’t quite have the heart to tell Peter to back off.  Not right now at least.

They end up in the kitchen.  The floorboards automatically soak up the excess water dripping from them both so that there isn’t a trail of puddles left in their wake.  Peter seems minutely distracted by this phenomenon, but mostly, he watches Stiles, silently, almost obsessively, completely disregarding the fact that he’s drenched from the thighs down, or perhaps not even noticing.

Stiles bites back a sigh and sets down the fish on the counter instead.  He turns back to Peter, and after a long moment of staring at each other, the werewolf blinks like he’s coming out of a trance before averting his gaze to the floor, something tight and unhappy entering his expression.

Stiles does sigh this time before stepping forward and – ignoring the slight flinch from Peter when he reaches out – fishes out the conch shell necklace that’s still hanging around Peter’s neck.  It’s a little damp but that hardly matters.  Stiles hesitates, then cups it in both his hands.  The werewolf’s as tense as a live wire but he lets Stiles close, and a flicker of curiosity passes over his features as his gaze lifts again.

On his part, Stiles just concentrates on the runes carved on the inside of the shell.  His mother once took him to see runemasters at work as they weaved magic into shells, ones that made them float, others that served as lights in the dark, still others that played songs like human music boxes.

Stiles couldn’t do it.  Oh, he knows his fair share of runes, but he isn’t a master in this particular art, the shell would break in his hands if he tried, and maybe he’ll learn one day, but in his opinion, half the magic is in not knowing how.

He does know how to activate the runes though.  That’s fairly common knowledge.  And this particular shell is a simple one, with only two functions – it carries a healing spell, twined on the waves of the ocean, and it holds-

“Here, watch,” Stiles breathes out softly, opening his hands, palms up, and the shell opens with them, taking on a faint blue glow as a city blossoms from within, like one of those pop-up books for children.  Intricate spires and arching walls and branching paths that snake between the various structures, all laid out in miniature in the palms of his hands.

“This is my people’s first city,” Stiles explains.  “The first kingdom ever built.  Your people call it the lost city, but it isn’t really lost, just removed from human living memory.  The royal family still lives there today.  In your language, it translates to-”

“Atlantis,” Peter finishes, and for a moment, wide-eyed and fascinated and so full of an almost childish sort of wonder as he stares at the tiny model, the werewolf looks years younger.

Stiles smiles and looks at the city as well, but with something like nostalgia.  When Peter’s hand comes up to brush against one of the highest towers, the light it’s exuding shimmers, curling around Peter’s fingers like tiny blue dust motes before settling again.

“Does that mean there’s more than one city down there?”  Peter enquires, glancing at Stiles now, and Stiles is pleased to see that the werewolf doesn’t look nearly as disoriented and agitated as he did before.

“Of course,” Stiles nods, absently nudging Peter’s hand around until he can deposit the shell into Peter’s hand instead.  Peter blinks hard, looking startled, but he doesn’t drop it, and he cradles the shell like it’s made of something far more fragile than it is.

“We were building cities while you humans were still living in caves,” Stiles adds with just a touch of superiority that garners a genuine if fleeting amused look from Peter.  In quieter tones, he says almost wistfully, “I wish I could show you.  I guess, in that, we’re not so different from landwalkers.  We have our shopping centers and schools, restaurants and apartment buildings.  Our cultures are different, but…”

He trails off, staring at the shell for a moment.  Sometimes, he’d wonder what it would be like, to show his friends his world.  Or, well, friend.  Just the one.  And not even that anymore.

“I dunno why Mom wanted to leave so badly.  It drove her mad, you know?  It wasn’t any human sickness that killed her.  She was just… depressed.  My kind can’t live without the sea, not forever.  But she refused to go back.  I guess she loved my dad too much.”

Peter is silent for a long minute before catching Stiles’ eye.  “So the Sheriff isn’t your biological father?”

“Nah,” Stiles shakes his head.  “My biological dad was a mer, like me and Mom, but I never knew him.  He took off before I was born.  Mom never talked about him much.”

Peter nods and doesn’t say anything else.  He seems mesmerized by the shell, and when Stiles passes a hand over it and closes it back up, disappointment creases his brow before it disappears again.

“Just hold it and think open,” Stiles reveals.  “It should work for you too.  But,” He levels a stern look on Peter.  “Go change first.  I know you’re a werewolf and all, but I’m betting your immune system isn’t the best right now, and ocean water is cold for your kind.  Go.  Chop chop.  Breakfast will be ready when you get back.”

Peter really does roll his eyes this time as he lets the shell fall against his chest.  He’s still gaunt and too pale, and there’s still that exhausted air around him that hasn’t stopped haunting him, but there’s a natural brightness to his eyes that wasn’t there before, and he’s no longer quite as tense.

You’re still naked,” The werewolf sniffs before flouncing off in the direction of the hallway.

Stiles snorts but he also glances down at himself before releasing a sigh.  Yeah, he should probably put on some clothes again before he gets started on frying that fish.

 


 

“So,” Stiles starts when they both have a plate of pan-fried fish in front of them.  Peter’s portion is smaller than his but he’s also not poking at it as half-heartedly as he was yesterday so Stiles will take it as a win.

“I have to go into town today to get all the furniture and boxes and other luggage that I sent on ahead two weeks ago,” He continues after swallowing his latest mouthful.  God, he’s missed seafood cuisine.  Beacon Hills is landlocked, and for some reason, there isn’t much of a demand for sushi in that town.  He’s pretty sure there was only one restaurant, and it wasn’t even that good.

“Do you want to come with me?”  Stiles asks bluntly.  “You don’t have to of course.  I’m gonna have to rent a truck to cart everything out here whether or not I have a werewolf doing the heavy-lifting, but I wouldn’t mind the help, and unless you’re planning to go for a run or build sandcastles on the beach or take another nap, you won’t have anything else to do here.”

Peter, shoulders having risen exactly two inches ever since Stiles started talking about leaving the beach house, relaxes again when he realizes Stiles is offering to let him come along.

“I’ll come,” Peter decides.  There’s a spark of his old self there, a glimmer of you should be honoured by my presence drifting in the wings of his voice, and – surprisingly – it’s more of a relief that it is annoying, and Stiles has to suppress a grin.  Peter gives him a narrow-eyed look like he knows Stiles is laughing at him, but he lets it go in favour of suggesting, “If we get everything done in the morning and afternoon, I can cook tonight and you can swim for an extra hour or so.”

Stiles blinks in surprise at the consideration.  Peter only shrugs and returns to his meal.  “Can’t have you getting bored.”

Can’t have you getting bored of me.

Stiles stuffs another forkful of fish into his mouth to keep those particular words in.

“Right,” He finally says.  “Well.  That’s the plan then.”

Peter nods at his food.

Suddenly, nothing is very funny anymore.

 


 

It isn’t that difficult to load a rented truck full of all of Stiles’ belongings, but they can’t leave right away either since he actually does need to do some shopping for groceries and other necessities, including furniture that Stiles sold off instead of shipping them out, which means they need new mattresses, a sofa, and a new bed for Peter.

They basically need new everything for Peter.  The first time Stiles leads them into a clothing store and makes a beeline for the v-necks, Peter manages to cycle through confusion, realization, disbelief, frustration, and embarrassment in the span of about three heartbeats.  He even opens his mouth a few times like he wants to protest, but with Stiles very pointedly ignoring him and gleefully picking out pink and yellow shirts off the rack, the werewolf has no choice but to cut in if he doesn’t want to end up dressed like a tropical drink.

“Merfolk are more colourful, I think,” Stiles tells Peter as they walk out of the latest store with shopping bags in hand.  “Our clothes are designed to make our tails stand out.  Or at least match them.  Highlight them.”

Peter raises an eyebrow.  “Merfolk wear clothes?”

Stiles rolls his eyes.  “We’re not heathens.  Yes, we wear clothes.  I mean, when we swim, we don’t have to, but when we’re on two legs, we usually do, and it’s just easier to wear clothes that shift with us.  I don’t have any-” Stiles frowns.  “Um, shifter clothes?  Transforming clothes?  Your language is very limited, did you know that?  Like I said, clothes that shift with us.  I don’t have any.  I mean I had a few but I outgrew those ages ago.”

Peter cocks his head.  “Do you mean… you have places underwater where you can walk on two legs?”

Stiles flashes him a smirk.  “Obviously.  Merfolk were born for the sea, and we were born with the ability to shift between a tail and two legs.  That’s not because we want to come and go from land.”  He waves his free hand.  “There’s a city – {{Llynwardine}}, it’s called – and it has the biggest shopping district you can imagine.  Some of the shops are underwater, and some are above.  Part of it is built right into these series of caverns and tunnels, and they sell everything.  Mom took me there a couple times, and I remember there was this huge toy store I used to drag her to every time we went.  I had a…”

He babbles on and on and on.  It’s been years since he was last able to talk to anyone about his home, and now that he’s started, he can’t seem to stop.  He only notices that he’s been chattering with barely the occasional pause for breath when they reach a food court, and both their stomachs growl.

He stops, abruptly, and shoots a quick look at Peter.  “Oh.  Uh, I didn’t mean to talk so much.”

But Peter doesn’t seem to mind.  The werewolf has a faint smile on his face, and he’s clearly been listening to every word.  He doesn’t ask Stiles to keep going when Stiles stops, but he does look thoughtful for a moment before his mouth shapes out the word, “Lion… wor… dina… was it?  The name of the city?”

Stiles pulls up short and stares.  “What?”

Peter huffs.  “Yes, yes, no doubt, my pronunciation is horrendous.  Can you say it again?”

Stiles stares some more.  {{Llynwardine.}}

Peter seems to mull that over for a moment before he tries again, “Lianwardina.  Better?”

Stiles splutters.  “But!  But you shouldn’t be able to hear that!”

Peter blinks.  “Why not?”

Stiles flails, just a bit.  “You- You’re human!  Humans just hear…” He clicks his tongue.  “Clicks and whistles.  That’s all my dad ever heard when my mom spoke the language.  They- You- Humans can’t understand mertongue!”

Peter scoffs and starts walking again, forcing Stiles to move along as well.  “Stiles.  I am not human.”

Which, fair.  That does make sense.  Peter is a man and a land-walker, but he is also part wolf and a born one at that.  Stiles just… never realized there would be that kind of difference, between supernatural creatures and regular humans.

“Lunch?”  Peter suggests this time, and if there’s something pleased, almost smug, in the brief curl of his lips when he sees Stiles’ evident surprise, at least he has the decency not to gloat about it.

“And you can tell me more about your home,” Peter tacks on, not quite a question, not a demand either, but Stiles finds no hardship in doing exactly that, and the keen interest in Peter’s eyes is only more incentive to get him to talk.

 


 

They get everything out to the beach house, and they even manage to assemble and/or unpack most of it.  The less necessary things get shoved into a corner for later, but at least Peter now has the bare bones of a proper bedroom and more than one change of clothes.

“You’re going?”  Peter asks, mostly rhetorical, but Stiles nods anyway, eyes already on the horizon where ocean met sky, legs itching to shift.

“I’ll-” Peter doesn’t finish, and that’s what drags Stiles’ attention away from the water to blink puzzlement at the werewolf instead.  “Peter?”

Peter shakes his head, already far more guarded than he was over the course of their afternoon together.  Stiles frowns and dithers over pushing the issue, but Peter is already turning away, tossing a determinedly light, “I’ll get started on dinner,” over his shoulder.

Stiles lingers for a moment longer, but the waves are beckoning, and he can always ask again later.  Peter isn’t going anywhere, doesn’t have anywhere to go, and Stiles will come back.

He takes off for the beach, sheds his legs like humans shed their clothes, and the next tide closes over his head as he slips seamlessly into the roiling depths of the sea.

This time, he swims as deep as he did before but farther out, following currents and stream signs etched on rock that would point him to the nearest village or city.  It takes a while, and he thinks he’s at least a thousand miles out from the shoreline by the time he finds the first marker, but it’s worth it when he finds the entrance of Dedfalla and almost crashes into another of his kind, just coming out with a bag over one shoulder, clearly ready for travel.

The merman is a little older, Stiles thinks, although he isn’t used to gauging merfolk age.  He only knows that they have longer lifespans than most of the creatures that live on land.  After all, Stiles looks seventeen, maybe eighteen, in human years, and he’s already lived over three times that.

The merman barely bats an eye at Stiles, only nodding politely in both greeting and apology, something Stiles returns, and then they part ways.  It’s an odd feeling, for Stiles.  He’s lived so long Above that he almost feels as if there should be a sign stamped on his forehead telling everyone that he hasn’t been back in almost two decades.  But when he emerges inside the sprawling, quiet village, there are merfolk swimming up and down the currents, going about their day, talking or working or waiting for someone, and Stiles couldn’t stop the exhilarated grin from spreading across his face even if he wanted to.

This.  This here is home.  Here where he’s among his own people, everything so achingly familiar, and Stiles can’t help but stare extra long at everything around him.  He lets the burble of his people’s language wash over him, just enjoying the atmosphere as he swims along.

Dedfalla is a small village overall though, and it doesn’t take long for him to find a quaint, little, out-of-the-way store with little coral statues in the shop window.  They’re cute, in a quirky way, because whoever made them didn’t use just one colour or even common colours.  There’s a sea urchin that’s a patchwork of pinks and purples all over, a green dolphin with burnished orange fins that blend nicely together, even a handful of jellyfish with iridescent tentacles.

A seawolf is what catches his eye though, its fur a pleasant mix of twilight blues and royal purples, coated with something that gives it a glossy glow, and Stiles is inside the store and purchasing it with a few of his mother’s leftover latians before he can second-guess the decision.

The old merman behind the counter even wraps it for him with wrinkled steady hands and a kind smile when Stiles blurts out that it’s supposed to be a gift, and Stiles thanks him, leaves a tip he probably can’t really afford, at least not before he finds a bank to exchange human money for latians, before taking the figurine and leaving.

It’s time to head back, he knows, and the gift serves as a reminder that Peter will be waiting.  It’s probably not a good idea to leave the werewolf alone for too long.

So he leaves Dedfalla behind, comforting himself with the reminder that he can always come back.  For now though, he still has responsibilities on land, and since he did choose to take Peter with him, it would be wrong to leave the man to fend for himself, even if Stiles does miss the ocean life.

 


 

Peter is on the beach again when he gets back.  He hasn’t bothered with a chair this time, but he isn’t pacing either.  Instead, he’s sitting in the sand, and he barely seems to notice the tide that’s washing right over his knees and up to his chest at this point.

“Holy Poseidon!”  Stiles snaps, staggering up the beach and hauling Peter to his feet as soon as he’s close enough to grab Peter by the arm.  “Are you insane?  Are you trying to die?  I know you’re a werewolf and all, but newsflash moron, even werewolves can’t beat the ocean!”

Peter almost collapses on him once he’s up, stumbling to find his footing, and one glance at his face – expression turned inward, eyes a distant blue – is enough to tell Stiles that the werewolf’s mind isn’t even all there at the moment.

Wonderful.

He ends up half-dragging, half-carrying Peter back to the house.  Dinner’s been set out on the dining table but he can tell that everything’s gone cold, and he winces a little when he realizes that the sun’s completely set and he probably stayed out longer than just an hour.

Time passes differently under the sea.  They don’t use the sun to tell time of day.

He hauls Peter into the bathroom and fills the tub with hot water before dumping the werewolf into it.  He still has the gift he brought back so he sets that aside in favour of wrestling Peter out of his clothes and rinsing the saltwater from his hair.

It takes almost half an hour to finally get Peter settled in his own bed.  Stiles heads back downstairs, microwaves himself a plate of food, and grabs the wrapped figurine before returning to Peter, who remains curled up on the bed in the same position Stiles left him in, staring blankly at the far wall.

Stiles heaves a sigh, sets the gift on the sparse nightstand, and pulls up a chair beside the werewolf.  He thinks about his own bed, but it seems wrong to leave Peter by himself in this state, and the squiggle of guilt in his stomach is bad enough as it is.  So he eats and keeps Peter company, and when even Stiles’ eyelids grow heavy, he switches off the desk lamp, crawls under the blankets with Peter after only a few seconds’ debate, and carefully wraps an arm around Peter’s waist, just like last night.

Werewolves run hotter than most species but Peter feels almost cold, even through the long-sleeved shirt Stiles wrangled him into.  He’s lost muscle, lost weight, and it doesn’t help that he’s skipped dinner tonight.  And then there’s the fact that he’s been non-verbal and almost non-responsive since Stiles returned.

This is the mess Stiles decided to bring along.

Sleep is a long time coming, no matter how tired he is.

 


 

When Stiles wakes again, it is still nighttime, but Peter is also awake and sitting up.  Peering blearily through his eyelashes, Stiles catches sight of the object in Peter’s hands, unwrapped and gleaming in the light of the moon.  Peter’s thumb is sweeping along the length of the seawolf’s tail, but other than that, he’s entirely motionless, and Stiles can’t make out his expression from this angle.

For a long while, neither of them speaks.  Peter probably knows Stiles is awake but he doesn’t look away from the figurine, and Stiles is content to let the silence linger.

When Peter finally does say something, it isn’t about the figurine.  Not right away anyway.

“This is…” Peter picks up the wrapping paper.  “-seaweed?”

Stiles rolls onto his side.  “Yup.  Specially processed though, so it doesn’t ruin whatever it’s wrapping, and it doesn’t fall apart or something out of the water.  You can’t just take any old seaweed and wrap something with it.  Well, you can, but it’s not gonna work very well.”

Peter hums noncommittally, turning the figurine over in his hands.  “Is this an actual animal?”

“Yeah, it’s a seawolf,” Stiles props his head up a bit.  “You can find them in the wild, and there are preserves dedicated to protecting them because their scales,” He points at the tail.  “Their fangs,” He points at the sharp teeth bared.  “And their eyes are worth millions on the black market.  They’re like… our version of your jewelry.  Or your human organs.”

Peter makes an intrigued noise at the back of his throat.  “Merfolk have black markets?”

Stiles rolls his eyes.  “Crime doesn’t change across species, Peter.”

Peter inclines his head, conceding that point.  He runs a thumb over the eyes this time.  Two bright alpha red eyes.  “And their colouring…?”

“Their pelts are normally in blues and greens,” Stiles reveals.  “But there are the occasional silvers and blacks.  Those are the ones poachers want most.  But no, none of them are blue and purple all over.  At least none that I’ve heard of.  Their eyes though.  They can be red, but again, those are the rarest ones.  And very, very illegal if you don’t get them through the proper channels.”

Peter finally flicks a glance at him.  “What do they do?”

“Hmm,” Stiles rolls over all the way to lie on his back.  “On their own, if you eat them, they give you the abilities of a seawolf.”

Peter’s eyebrows fly up.  “I’m guessing it’s not just being able to swim faster.”

Stiles snorts and shakes his head.  “It’s more than that, although that is part of it.  Seawolves swim faster than just about anything in the ocean.  They’re not overwhelmingly strong but they can blend in with their surroundings better than any chameleon, no matter what colour their pelts.  If you don’t know what you’re looking for, they can be on you before you know what hit you, and they’re not in the habit of playing with their prey either.  Perfect silent killers.  Eating the eyes gives a mer both of those abilities, along with an even faster healing factor and heightened senses.”  He quirks a smile at Peter.  “Sort of like a werewolf, I suppose.  But you can see why some people might want that kind of boost.  It opens a lot of doors too, especially in the underworld.”

Peter nods, a bit of a smirk at his mouth.  “And what if one of them bites you?”

“Well, depending on whether or not you manage to avoid the worst of it, you’ll probably die,” Stiles says dryly.  “They’re not actually werewolves, you know.”

Peter chuckles, and Stiles is glad to see that the man seems entirely in the present again, no longer lost in his own head.

It’s still the middle of the night though, and Stiles has to stifle a yawn when one creeps up on him.  Peter catches it anyway, and after running fingers along the fins of its tail one more time, he places it gently on the nightstand, along with the wrapping paper, like it’s something precious and priceless, and then eases himself down on the bed again, pulling the sheets up over his shoulders.

They lie side by side, and the bed is narrow enough that there’s no avoiding the press of their shoulders against each other.  Not that either of them tries.  Peter seems content with the contact, and Stiles doesn’t mind either.

“Hey Peter?”  Stiles doesn’t wait for a response.  “You gotta stop waiting on the beach like that, okay?  One of these days, you’re gonna catch a cold or get dragged out to sea and end up dead either way.”

Peter doesn’t answer, and Stiles doesn’t really expect one.  But when he rolls onto his side again and sprawls an arm over the werewolf, Peter relaxes into it, into him, even returning the gesture by curling a hand around Stiles’ limb.

And right before Stiles nods off, he feels lips against his temple and a whisper at its heels, “Thank you.”

 


 

The next day, Stiles doesn’t go swimming.  They eat breakfast, and then Peter starts looking over at him whenever he thinks Stiles doesn’t notice him doing it, and Stiles knows that the man is waiting for him to head out into the ocean again.

But Stiles learned his lesson yesterday.  He doesn’t need Peter checking out on him, and he feels responsible enough for Peter’s wellbeing to stick around.

It’s strange.  They were never anything like friends, before.  Before Theo and the Dread Doctors for Stiles.  Before Kate and Eichen House for Peter.  But Peter was also the only one who didn’t treat Stiles like he was either a ticking time bomb or something pathetic that needed pitying after the Nogitsune, never afraid to taunt and banter with him, and with Peter around, Stiles had someone who could keep up with him, with his leaps of logic, with his research binges at the loft.

He was… disappointed when it turned out Peter was playing them all along, on yet another bid for Alphahood.  But at the same time, he also regrets not speaking up more when Scott stuck Peter in Eichen House.  Stiles knows exactly what it’s like in there, and it had to be worse for Peter, unwanted, a prisoner, someone nobody would miss, and completely at the mercy of the lunatics working in that place.

He regrets that enough, he thinks, to stay for Peter now.

So he doesn’t leave, even if a large part of him feels the pull.  Instead, once the dishes and cutlery are washed and dried, he turns to Peter and asks, “What do you wanna do today?  Go into town?  Explore the woods?  Get a tan?”

Peter stalls for a moment, blinking like he thinks Stiles might be joking.  But when Stiles just stares expectantly at him, the werewolf eventually looks to the woods and asks if they can go for a walk.

“Sure,” Stiles agrees easily, and off they go.

The forests offer a different kind of peace than the sea.  Birdsong replaces the roar of the ocean even though Stiles can still hear the muted waves in the distance.  They walk for awhile in silence, although Stiles’ curiosity eventually wins out.

“Are full-shift werewolves really that rare?”  He enquires, and then promptly trips over a tree root, only for Peter to haul him back upright by the back of his shirt.

Peter’s head tilts in consideration.  He’s more talkative today, relaxed too, now that it’s clear that Stiles isn’t about to take off.

“Uncommon, would be a more appropriate term,” Peter tells him.  “Very rare in bitten werewolves, more common in born werewolves, especially when they’re part of older packs.  They’re more at peace with what they are, they grow up with it, with a very solid anchor practically from birth, which helps the shift.  It’s why the Hale Pack was fairly known for producing full-shift werewolves.”

Stiles mulls this over, dawdling over his next question before asking it anyway.  “Could you shift all the way?  Maybe… before the fire?”

Peter glances away, through the trees.  When he replies, he doesn’t look at Stiles.  “I could, but it… it didn’t always go as smoothly as it could have.  Talia, and my other siblings, Alice and Nathan – it came more naturally to them.”  He pauses.  “I was a very… angry child.  I resented my family, my pack, quite a bit, for one reason or another, and the pack bonds I had with them were affected accordingly, which didn’t exactly help me find the balance I needed to shift into a wolf.  I still could of course,” His tone sours with an old bitterness.  “If nothing else, I couldn’t stand having yet another thing that Talia could do that I couldn’t, but there was always something fighting me when I shifted like that.  And then, after the fire, well,” A sardonic smile flits across his features.  “You saw my Alpha form.”

Stiles bobs his head and doesn’t comment.  No need to dredge up that episode of their lives again.

“Maybe you can try again now?”  He ventures instead.  “I mean not now now.  But you have time, and space.  You can find a better anchor.  And I hear nature’s good for finding yourself.  Or something.”

Peter snorts, and it doesn’t quite hide the doubt and self-deprecation in the twist of his mouth.

“Maybe,” is all he says, and Stiles drops the issue.

They walk until they end up on a cliff that overlooks the sprawling trees below and the ocean beyond that.  Stiles is careful of the edge – he’s not a huge fan of heights unless there’s a body of water to cushion a dive – but he can’t help admiring the scenery.

He’s missed this place.  His mother may have been desperate to leave the ocean and be with her human love, and Stiles himself was excited at the time to have the opportunity to explore more of the Above than this little spit of land, but he would’ve also been happy to stay, here and Below, and if the past fifteen years has taught him anything, it’s that his own world, his own people, have treated him far kinder than land-walkers ever have.

“You miss it,” Peter says, drawing up to stand beside him.  “Do you… plan on going back?”

Stiles contemplates lying, but there’s not much of a point to that when it comes down to it.  “Yes.  It’s my home.  I miss it.  …After Mom died, the only reason I stayed was because of Dad.  He was drunk more often than not, and when he wasn’t, he was working.  I’d learned to love him in my own way by then, and even if I didn’t, I would’ve stayed to take care of him for my mom.  But he’s gone now, and the only friends I really cared about… well, it doesn’t matter anymore.  I don’t have anything tying me to Beacon Hills, or anywhere else, so I might as well go home and find a place there.  Maybe go back to school.  I think I’d like that.  University though.  I think I’ll test out of Basic Studies.”

He studies Peter carefully, but aside from a few creases to his brow, the werewolf’s expression remains steadfastly neutral.

“…Like high school?”  Peter asks after a few seconds.

“Yeah,” Stiles nods.  “Basic Studies is what you humans call everything from elementary and up.  We usually just call those schools Basic, but we use the term university like you do.  That’s where merfolk go for Higher Studies.”

Peter makes a wordless thoughtful sound and doesn’t ask anything else.  He looks down at his hands, then back up at the wilderness around them.  Stiles wonders if Peter sees what he sees.  Like this, in the middle of nowhere, high above and all alone with not a soul in sight, it almost feels as if they’re the only two people in the world.

“Lunch?”  Stiles finally suggests.  “We passed a river back there.  I can catch us some fish.”

Peter nods, and they descend from the cliff.  Stiles falls the last three feet, slipping off the jut of a precarious foothold, but that’s okay – Peter is already there to catch him.

 


 

Later, back at the house, when Peter is taking a shower, Stiles opens the drawer of his bedside table and retrieves a small ornate chest from inside.  It belonged to his mother, one of the few things she brought with her when they left the sea for good.

Stiles stares at it for a while, then digs out the key that hangs on a keyring along with his car keys and house keys.  He unlocks the chest, and the interior is still the same, glass bottle nestled in black velvet.

His mother spent a fortune to get this, and in the end, she never used it.  Never even offered.  Maybe she didn’t have the heart to force someone to make that decision.  Or maybe she was just too afraid to know the answer.  Ignorance breeds hope after all.  Perhaps Stiles should’ve offered it in her stead, but he was always weak to her wishes, his mother, the only one who ever loved him unconditionally right up until she couldn’t, and he loved her just as much, loved her even when she went mad, loved her enough to let her smack him around, loved her enough to kill her when she asked, and loved her enough to stay for her grieving husband who had no more space in his heart for a son with Claudia’s eyes.

Stiles doesn’t move until he hears the shower turn off.  Then he relocks the chest and stashes it away again.

 


 

The next few weeks pass in much the same manner.  They settle into a routine – sometimes, they take long strolls in the forest; on a few occasions, they drive into town for a meal and some shopping; and still other times, Peter lays out a towel on the beach and suns himself like a giant cat while Stiles swims in the shallows, occasionally diving deeper but always keeping close to the shore.

Sometimes, Peter joins him, and Stiles lets him run reverent hands over the amber-gold scales of his tail.

He also never ventures out further than fifty miles or so at most, and there’s always a mix of gratitude and shame in Peter’s eyes when he joins the werewolf on land again.

Stiles puts a stop to that when he finally gets fed up with it.  “If I really wanted to leave,” He says with a roll with his eyes.  “You and your issues wouldn’t be able to stop me, Peter.”

He does try not to trample on Peter’s obvious PTSD.  But at the same time, he won’t do the man the discourtesy of tiptoeing around his trauma and treating him like he’s broken and incapable of getting better.  Peter never did, after the Nogitsune, and Stiles won’t either.

And Peter does seem to be getting better.  He’ll never be whole again, never be what he was before the fire robbed him of everything, including his sanity, but he eats more, smiles – smirks – more, and each day is less of a struggle to get through.

There are days too that they spend indoors, lazing in bed or on the sofa, reading or just enjoying each other’s company.  They start talking again, comparing their respective cultures, and as time goes by, as life seems to trickle back into Peter bit by bit, the werewolf has more questions about merfolk than Stiles ever did about werewolves.

“I never found much information on merfolk,” Peter admits, looking terribly offended by this lack of knowledge, like he’s been slighted by the universe as a whole.  “And an original source is far more useful than books written by hunters or druids anyway.”

“Oh I see how it is – I’m just a resource to you,” Stiles grumbles good-naturedly, pushing his toes against Peter’s thigh.  The couch is wide enough for both of them curl up on comfortably.  “It’s nice to see where I stand.”

A hand traps his ankle against the seat, and Stiles glances up, stilling under Peter’s suddenly far more intense gaze.  His jaw works for a moment, like it takes effort to find the right words, but in the end, the werewolf tells him almost harshly, “You are never just a resource, Stiles.”

The words aren’t anything special, but the wealth of emotion behind them is, and Stiles is rendered speechless for a moment.  “…It was a joke, Peter.  I know I’m awesome, don’t worry.”

Peter glares off to the side, then down at his lap, and then even that gives way to something more tired, and the easy atmosphere from before is gone.  Peter’s eyes linger on his hand at Stiles’ bare ankle, and a distinctly unamused huff of laughter rasps out of his throat.

He lets go of Stiles and gets to his feet instead.  “It’s getting late,” He mumbles.  “I’ll start on dinner.”

It’s early for that, actually.  But Stiles watches him go without calling him back, and he isn’t surprised when Peter sits in brooding silence for the rest of the evening.

 


 

Nights are more intimate for them.  Stiles never does get around to actually sleeping in his own bed.  They share Peter’s instead, and after the first two nights, Peter seems to take that as explicit permission to sleep tangled up with Stiles, scent-marking him – Stiles knows – as much as he takes comfort in the physical contact.

He still has nightmares though.  Not as much as Stiles expected but the ones Peter does have has the werewolf either thrashing awake with clawed fingertips that have drawn blood from both of them or curling up into the smallest ball he can manage and unconsciously huddling as close to Stiles as humanly possible without the two of them actually melding into one being.

Stiles wakes up every time.  He isn’t a very deep sleeper, not since the Nogitsune, and even the slightest whisper of something wrong can jolt him awake.  So he soothes Peter though every invisible terror and every poisonous memory that locks him in his head and tears gut-deep whimpers out of him, and if Peter doesn’t feel like going back to sleep after that, they end up staying awake together for the rest of the night.

And somehow, somewhere in-between conversations and long walks and meals, it becomes less about regret and obligation and more about actually for the werewolf he invited into his home, into his life.  So even when they go to bed that night with the air not quite cleared up between them, Peter still presses close, and Stiles still drapes an arm around him.

He expects for them to go to sleep as they always do.  Stiles usually waits for Peter to drift off before letting himself fall asleep, but today, Peter just stares into some middle distance over Stiles’ chest, his thumb brushing absently over the spattering of scales dotting Stiles’ wrist.

“Why did you let me come with you?”  He asks at last, and Stiles has probably been half-waiting for this question since they got here.

He still has no definite answer.  He started looking after Peter out of a sense of responsibility.  But he’s not quite sure why he brought Peter with him in the first place, so he only shrugs, taking care not to dislodge Peter’s head from where it’s pillowed on his shoulder.  “Dunno.  Felt like it.   And I figured if anyone had more than enough reasons to get outta that town, it would be you.  Besides, my beach house is definitely big enough for the both of us so it wasn’t like you’d be in the way or anything if I took you with me.”

“…But you’re leaving.”

Stiles sighs.  “Not now.  But one day, yeah.”

Peter doesn’t say anything else.  Stiles waits until the werewolf’s breathing goes slow and deep before falling asleep as well.

 


 

The next day is weird.  Peter was already touch-starved and therefore constantly scenting Stiles once he realized Stiles was okay with that, but today, the werewolf practically lives in Stiles’ personal space whenever possible, possessive to an almost alarming degree as he hovers at Stiles’ side.  When they go down to the beach, Peter wades into the water with him and watches him swim, and when they trek into the forest later, Peter doesn’t wander off for short periods of time the way he usually does, remaining instead with Stiles like he can’t bear to let Stiles out of his sight.

It becomes a pattern.  Peter doesn’t let up the next day, or the day after, or the day after.  If anything, Stiles feels like he’s being stalked half the time, despite the fact that he was already spending all of his time with Peter.

Then there’s the other change.  When they spend the day indoors, Peter is always nose-deep in his laptop.  Stiles doesn’t know what he’s doing but he suspects there’s some sort of research happening because there’s a lot of reading and typing and more reading going on, and three times, Peter asks if they can go into town to pick up a new shipment of texts that he ordered online.

The werewolf doesn’t say it outright, but he gets shifty-eyed when Stiles even happens to glance at one of the books, so, of course, when this new behaviour doesn’t abate even after another two weeks go by, Stiles waits until Peter is in the shower again before nosing his way through Peter’s new texts and search history.

It only takes three tries for Stiles to guess the password – llynwardine – and if Peter really didn’t want him snooping, he shouldn’t have tempted Stiles.

Besides, Stiles already has a fairly good idea about what Peter is researching, and one look at the various searches for human to mer transformations is enough to confirm his hunch.

Stiles scrubs a hand over his face, thinks of the chest in his bedroom, and then puts laptop and texts away before Peter gets out of the shower.

“I don’t suppose,” Peter asks casually at dinner that night.  “That there are alpha merfolk?  Or something of the like?”

Stiles sips at some water from his glass.  “No.  No, definitely not.  We don’t follow an alpha-beta-omega hierarchy.”

“Hmm,” Peter stares fixedly at his steak for a moment.  “Not like werewolves at all then.  So procreating is the only way to produce another mer?”

Stiles nods agreeably.  “Just about.”

Peter’s eyes slice up to meet his.  “‘Just about’?”

Stiles shrugs and wiggles the fingers of his free hand.  “Magic’s always an option.  I mean if a witch can turn someone into an animal, which they can, they can probably manage a fishtail.  Those are curses though.  Never a good idea.  There’s always a catch.”

Peter’s shoulders slump a little.  “Yes,” He says in wooden tones, almost to himself.  “Yes, that would be… foolish.”

Stiles watches him for a moment longer before going back to his dinner.

Surely, surely Peter will get tired of all this soon.

 


 

A week later, Stiles wakes in the middle of the night, and for once, it isn’t because of one of Peter’s nightmares.  In fact, Peter isn’t even in bed anymore.

Stiles lies there for a while, debating the merits of hauling himself out of bed.  Then he hears a curse and a thump and a viciously frustrated snarl from somewhere downstairs, and with a heavy sigh, he tosses back the blankets and shuffles out of the bedroom.

Peter’s on the couch, working by lamplight.  There’s a laptop and several texts open in front of him on the coffee table, but the werewolf isn’t looking at any of it.  Instead, he’s folded over, elbows on his thighs, and his head in his hands.

Leaning against one wall of the doorway, Stiles closes his eyes, then opens them again.  Then he makes his way back upstairs and into his own bedroom, retrieves the chest and his keys, and heads down again.  Peter’s still in the same position, something defeated in the slope of his shoulders.

“Peter.”

Peter was obviously distracted enough that he didn’t even hear Stiles coming and going, and so all the muscles in his back flex with a startled flinch.  But he doesn’t look up.  And he doesn’t even make an attempt to hide his research this time.

Stiles sighs again.  He feels like he’s been doing that a lot lately.  Pushing off the wall, he makes his way over to the couch, quietly shutting the laptop off and closing the books before taking a seat beside Peter.  It’s almost habit by now to curl his knees up and lean into Peter’s side, and no matter how upset the werewolf is, he’s also not going to push Stiles away.

Stiles gives it a moment, then taps a fingernail against the lid of the chest and says again, “Peter.  Hey.  Look at me.”

It takes a few seconds, but Peter does eventually unfold himself and sit up again, and on anyone else, Stiles would say the man looks near tears.  His eyes at least are dulled in a way Stiles hasn’t seen in weeks.

“I’m sorry,” Peter croaks out.  “It’s- I know if some other species was- was scheming over how to become a werewolf without at least asking permission from the local alpha and pack, there’s no actual born werewolf out there who wouldn’t consider it bad form, but I need-”

Stiles sighs once more and jingles the keys in his right hand to cut the man off.  “Peter Hale, I told you once, that a seawolf’s eyes ingested on their own can grant a mer the abilities of a seawolf.  But you never asked me what they did when combined with other ingredients.”

Peter goes utterly still in the space of a breath, and his gaze drops to the chest in Stiles’ lap.

Stiles thinks of his mother, who was brave enough to leave her home for love, but never brave enough to know if her love would’ve done the same for her.  He thinks of his bright, brilliant mother, of all the things she did for him and with him and to him, all the good and all the bad, and all the love between them, and he thinks he’s lived his life for her long enough.

With a deft twist, he gets the chest open, and the lid rises to reveal the glass bottle inside, filled with a liquid as red as ruby, fresh as the day it was made.

Claudia all but sold her soul for this.

The liquid shimmers like light reflected off the ocean when Stiles lifts the bottle out of the chest.  It fits in the palm of his hand, cool against his skin.

“The eyes of a seawolf to kickstart the transformation,” Stiles explains softly.  “Acid from a direwraith born in the deeps to erase your old DNA and overwrite it with the new.  And every last scale harvested from a living mer and melted down to give it the spark it needs to stabilize the transformation.”

He finally looks at Peter, who sits wide-eyed and silent, barely breathing.

“This was made from my mother’s scales,” Stiles reveals steadily.  “She endured the agony, and she paid for the other ingredients with almost all our worldly possessions.  And in the end, she still couldn’t bring herself to ask my dad if he’d give up his job, his home, his friends and family, give up being human, and join her under the sea.  Even when the separation drove her mad, she still wouldn’t ask.  I don’t know why, honestly.  Dad probably would’ve said yes.”

He falls silent again for a moment.  “…Being a mer is different from being a werewolf, Peter.  There’s no… We don’t have an inner creature or whatever the way you have your wolf.  We don’t feel the pull of the moon.  We’re not particularly inclined towards running through the woods either.  And the transformation itself is painful.  You can’t just slap gills on someone, throw them in the deep end, and expect them to be able to swim like a fish.  Even merchildren need a few months to learn how to breathe above water, so the transformation is designed to span about two months.  I hear your legs will feel like hell, and it’ll be even worse when your gills start growing in.  There’s no danger of dying the way an alpha werewolf’s bite has, but you might be begging for death before the two months are up.

“And then there’s your citizenship.  I’ll need to get you identification papers because I refuse to harbour a fugitive and risk execution for the both of us.  {{Belysfos}} is the closest major city where I can get you registered, but there’s also requirements if you’re serious about this – ten years Below before you’re allowed Above again, and you have to spend at least three of those years attending school.  More specifically, it’s a program that helps you adjust to our way of life, teaches you the stuff that’s common sense for your average mer.  I can exchange human currency for latians, so money won’t be a problem.  But like I said, ten years Below before you’re allowed on the surface again.  And it’s one thing to be able to come and go from land to sea anytime you want; it’s probably another entirely if you have to stay Below for a decade.  And a decade for mer isn’t the same as a decade for you.  We don’t follow your calendar.  Merfolk live longer lives, and our days and nights are longer too.  I don’t know the exact time difference but if you come back after one of our decades and you want to visit Derek or Cora or even Malia, they’ll definitely be more than ten years older than they are now.”

He pauses for breath and studies Peter carefully.  “So.  Is this really something you want, Peter?”

There is something strange in Peter’s face, full of a glass-like sort of hope mixed with an intensity that wouldn’t let Stiles look away even if he wanted to.

“Yes,” Peter tells him almost fervently.  “Yes, this is what I want.”

Stiles presses his lips together.  “Are you sure?  Peter, you’re a werewolf.  You become a mer, and you will lose that.  No more fangs and claws, no more wolf shifts, even if you can’t do a full-shift.  You won’t be a beta or an omega.  You’ll certainly never be an alpha again.  You will stop being a werewolf in every possible definition of the word.  You won’t even be able to hear your wolf ever again-”

A hoarse scratch of a laugh leaves Peter’s mouth even as the man shakes his head.  “Stiles, I haven’t been able to hear or feel my wolf since I died.  That’s why I know I will never be able to do a full-shift again, no matter how much peace I find here.”  He gestures at their surroundings for emphasis.  “My wolf’s already long dead.  Why do you think I tried to kill Scott for his alpha power?  I thought maybe if I became Alpha again…”  He shakes his head once more.  “But that doesn’t matter anymore.  I have the supernatural capabilities of a werewolf, but that’s it.”

He looks Stiles square in the eye.  “There is nothing you just told me that would make me want to change my mind about this.  I can stand pain, all the pain in the world when what I’ll get for it is worth it.  I certainly don’t mind going back to school.  It will be a new experience, and I get the added bonus of being taught how to live in your world.  And what do I care how old Derek or Cora or Malia will be if I ever come back up to the surface?”  A sneer flirts briefly with his lips.  “Any loyalty I owed Derek was forfeited when he and Laura left me to rot.  Cora… she barely even remembers me now.  Left Beacon Hills a lot faster than it took her to come back, which was smart, I’ll give her that, but she doesn’t need me anymore.  And Malia?”  He shakes his head, and if he has any anger or regret left in him, it would be for this, for lost time, for all the years Talia took from him, and all the years he’ll never regain, even if it was for the good of the pack.  Maybe especially because it was for the good of the pack, because wasn’t Peter Pack too?  “She doesn’t need me either.  She’s never once considered me her father, and I’ve never had a daughter.  Not in any way that matters.”

He glances down, then reaches out to take Stiles hand, threading their fingers together the way they’ve sometimes taken to doing when they go for their walks in the woods.

“There is nothing left for me here,” Peter sums up succinctly with a slight shrug.  “Not if you leave, and you’ve already said you will.  Maybe you were planning to stay for awhile, to keep me company, but I know you miss your home, and I don’t want to be what’s keeping you from it.  You… You took me with you Stiles.  And no matter your reasons,” His voice drops to something rough and fierce.  “I’m yours.  So just… just let me come with you this time too.”

The ocean roars in the distance.  The kitchen clock ticks.  The lamplight casts a dim yellow-orange glow over the room.

Stiles stares back at Peter, at this man who’s somehow grown important to him over the course of a mere couple of months.

He stays now, for Peter.

And Peter is offering to leave, for him.

“Okay,” Stiles says at last, and Peter’s hand tightens around his own even as a smile blooms across his face like the rising sun, triumphant, but grateful too, and the happiest Stiles has seen him possibly since ever.

“Okay?”  Peter echoes.

Stiles leans over and rests his cheek on Peter’s shoulder.  “Yeah.  Yes.  Okay.”

 


 

[2 Months Later]

The beach house stands empty.  The wind whistles across the beach, perhaps in farewell.

“Ready?”  Stiles grins, bag strapped to his back, tail weaving lazily back and forth to keep him buoyed.

He gets an answering smirk in response, and a splash and a flash of silver-blue scales later, Stiles is the only one still above water.

With a bark of laughter, Stiles dives down after his companion, and when Peter reaches back with one hand, Stiles is already there to take it.