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Indelible Marks

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It wasn't unusual for people to loiter outside Tinge. The airbrushed mannequin legs they used for practice drew attention, if the life-sized photographs of Vic and Tony's nude torsos somehow failed to. If nothing else, they were due for another complaint about the display being indecent, and that usually involved people loitering outside first.

Teenage boys, however, usually wound up in front of Vic's portrait, not Tony's. And the ones who did didn't spend much time studying the legs or glancing at the door.

So when a teenaged boy stood for nearly ten minutes alternating between looking at Tony's ink, the display legs, and the door, it was a bit confusing. And annoying. His stubbly head was just visible above the legs, when he was standing somewhere that Derek could see him. Which wouldn't be so bad if he'd just. stop. moving.

The kid's head kept swaying in and out of view, his shoulders shifting as he adjusted his grip on his bag. Sometimes he'd pop up suddenly after leaning in to examine one of the legs. It was a constant series of short, sharp gestures that Derek's brain was hard-wired to track.

He was fifteen if he was a day and had absolutely no reason to be hanging around a tattoo parlor unless it was to ogle the nude photos or ask obnoxious questions. And it was the first time ever that Derek had glared at someone loitering outside and wished they'd just come in and ask the obnoxious questions already. He couldn't get any work done with the constant twitches of movement.

But that didn't mean he actually wanted to engage with those obnoxious questions. When the boy finally straightened up and moved stiffly for the door, Derek pulled out the appointment book and hunched over it as though he was actually doing something.

The bells rang and he looked up, freezing as the light gave the stranger's eyes a wolf's glow for a moment. The illusion passed as the kid raised a hand to rub over the back of his head, blocking the light long enough to show that they were just a normal warm brown. Derek nodded at him before going back to staring at the schedule. Fifteen, maybe sixteen. He had the same chaotic funk of hormones, perfumes, ink, and cleaners that Danielle brought home every day. Eau de High School, at its finest.

It took a moment for the kid to start exploring. (Probably put off by Derek's lack of niceties, but whatever. If he was old enough to be a customer, Derek would volunteer for Friday and Saturday closing for a year.) He just looked, first. Turning his whole body to look around without moving.

When he finally did move, it was with the same sort of disjointed lurching that had made him so obnoxious outside. Growing into his limbs, still. He didn't approach the register, at least. Instead, he walked over to the consultation counter and looked past it at their actual working space. Then he moved over to the bookshelves that held the studio's portfolios and various art books they kept around for inspiration.

And Derek...forgot about him. He was being quiet, poking around in perfectly acceptable, expected ways. Eventually he put the appointment book away and went back to working on a lotus mandala design and the kid just faded into the background, jerky little bobs and shuffled steps and all.

The clash of scents softened and after a while, he just became part of the background.

Then he cleared his throat, and Derek realized he was standing right on the other side of the counter.

Derek flipped his sketchbook closed and scowled, which earned him an amused arching of the kid's eyebrows.

"Really? That's what you're going with?" He smiled and leaned forward against the counter, peering down through the glass to check out the jewelry they had on display.

"Is there something you want?" Derek asked, frowning when the kid shrugged.

"Nothing specific yet," he started before looking up again and spearing Derek with his entire focus. "Hey, isn't it kind of weird that you don't have any tattoos?"

Derek scowled again. "I have tattoos." Technically, it was a tattoo. Singular. But he wasn't going to give any openings for annoying questions.

"But you can't see any of them." The kid frowned. "I thought all tattoo artists had lots of tattoos, like, on their arms and stuff. Why don't you? Oh, wait," he suddenly backtracked, a soft frown creasing his face. "Do you just work the desk? That's a totally legitimate job, I just thought..."

"I'm an apprentice artist," Derek managed to growl when there was room to butt in. "I don't want anything on my arms, so I don't have anything on my arms. Do you have any idea what it means to have a tattoo?"

That got him a frown, but it was at least more thoughtful than offended. The kid's attention flicked up, wandering over the walls behind and beside the register. "It's art. Body art. Um, it's permanent, and there's bleeding..."

At least he wasn't entirely ignorant. Derek nodded. "Do you have any idea what the word permanent means?"

"I'm not stupid." A scowl, and a spike of pepper as his heart rate picked up. Definitely irritated now. Derek just stared back calmly until the kid looked away.

"It's not that simple when it's skin. Do a bit more research on your own and come back if you have actual questions. I'm assuming you know how to use Google."

The kid's face twisted up into a smirk, but it was...definitely not a pleasant, friendly expression. "Yeah, you could say that. Fine."

And he walked out with a straight back, a bit of anger and determination in his stride and pepper trailing in his wake. Just enough challenge in his words to make him...

Too young to be interesting, Derek reminded himself firmly. He opened his sketch book again to give himself something productive to work on, but it was hard to concentrate.

-----

Gregory Lucian Timothy Hale was born November 20th, at the Hale house during a wind storm severe enough that it knocked out the electricity. Paul and Laura spent the actual birth in the back shed making the generator cooperate, while Peter kept Tania from kicking Maria or Olivia through a wall while they handled the delivery.

Derek stayed down in the safe room with the kids, letting Matt curl up against his chest and shake while he answered the questions of the other three.

Yes, there was going to be a baby soon. No, Tania wasn't really going to rip Peter's throat out with her bare hands. Or her teeth. Yes, Tania hurt. No, they couldn't fix it. Yes, the baby was worth it.

He wasn't sure Tania would have agreed with that statement at the moment, but he assumed she would the next day, after she'd healed. After all, she'd had Matt and Gwen as a human.

-----

"...don't you think?"

Derek paused with the back door just slightly ajar as he returned from his break, trying to sort out what was wrong--no, not wrong. Out of place. Unexpected, but not quite wrong. The faint sense of spice and metal that Vic and Cara left behind dominated, past the generic grease-ink-rubber of the parlor on the air that slid out through the crack in the door.

There were other people he could smell, but only two were fresh. Something woody and male laced heavily with grease, blood and the red ink from Bloodline that made Derek want to sneeze. That phoenix piece Vic was doing in monthly spurts. (Derek didn't know the client's name, but he knew the man's tattoos, which were stunning, and his unfortunate allergic reaction to most of their inks.)

He couldn't quite get a grip on the fourth scent, but it wasn't a stranger. Wasn't friend or family, but it was known. He just couldn't place it.

Derek's other senses weren't much more helpful. The stereo was playing the best of the 90's, as it should be since it was Cara's day to pick the music. He could hear Cara talking to the fourth person at the front desk, but it was her talking. Even if he opened the door the rest of the way, he wouldn't be able to see past the wall behind the register.

"Is anyone ever really too young to ask questions and make sure they know what they want?" It was a boy's voice, light and jovial, and Cara laughed in response, obviously impressed.

Derek felt his world tilting. That was the kid from last week. But his scent had registered as familiar, not barely known.

"...hoping to talk to someone specific, actually," the kid continued. "He told me to come back once I'd done a bit more research."

"I see." Cara sounded speculative and mischievous, which was never a good combination, even if Cara was almost unbelievably nice most of the time. "Well, what was his name? I'll check when he's in for you."

Derek pushed the rest of the way in, dropped his bag off at his peg in back and stalked through the work area, nodding at Vic as he passed.

"Uh..."

The kid's face was lax and open as Derek slid between the wall behind the register and the consultation counter, but his attention was firmly focused on Cara. For her part, Cara was grinning like she thought the brat was a puppy, or one of the family's cubs.

"I've got it, Cara." He leaned behind her to set his books on the shelf below the register, ignoring Cara's pout with the ease of practice as he gently nudged her out and toward the back. The way the kid grinned and started leaking happiness through his pores was a bit harder to set aside.

Cara pursed her lips and shrugged, moving out from behind the register counter...only to snag a stool from the consultation seating and sit at the end of the counter. Since his glare wasn't any more effective on her than her pout was on him, she just beamed and gestured expansively at both of them. "My interest has been piqued. Please do continue."

Derek snorted, then turned back to the kid. "So?"

"Were you expecting a paper or something?" For a kid, he had a reasonably decent bitch face, but his scent betrayed him. It was lacking something from the sheer blast of happy he'd given off before, but it was richly sweet, nowhere near the pepper of his previous irritation. Abruptly, the kid held his hand out over the counter and pushed his eyebrows up into comical arches. "Also, hi! I'm Stiles."

Derek snorted, but shook Stiles' hand. There were lingering traces of hormonal-stew on his clothes, but it wasn't nearly as strong as it had been during the week. "Nice to meet you. So? Permanence and tattoos. Explain."

"Wh..." Stiles' eyebrows dropped into a scowl and a hint of pepper snuck in. "Do I not get to know your name?"

Derek shrugged, holding back a smirk as he pulled out his sketch book. "Not yet."

Stiles turned to Cara in indignation, but his boss was laughing too hard to be any help. She just raised her hands defensively in front of herself and shook her head when she realized that Stiles was staring at her. "Uh-uh."

Sighing, Stiles turned back to Derek, eyes narrowing as he took in Derek's apparent focus on the page in front of him. "It means age, and the effect that life has on the skin."

Derek looked up, surprised. "Keep talking."

"Well, there's tattoo removal, right?" Stiles leaned forward against the counter, apparently fully comfortable now that he had something to talk about. "It's not something to be considered lightly and it's not a guaranteed thing, but..." He shrugged, his elbows sliding out on the glass countertop as he fanned them out, palms up. "It is an option."

Stiles straightened up into a more vertical slouch, his eyes switching over to Cara before coming back to Derek. "There's also the option of cover-ups. Which I know you know what I know about this, because Cara had some before and afters in her portfolio." Stiles waved that off like it wasn't important, but Cara was grinning like a fiend in the corner of Derek's vision and Derek... Honestly, he was surprised the kid kept track of Cara's name, let alone was able to connect it to her portfolio.

"So for permanence," Stiles continued, "it's not really the design, right? There are limitations, but you can change it. But even with removal, it's not a guarantee it'll all go. So it's more about the skin than the ink, right?" He straightened up more fully, grinning and gesturing wide at shoulder level. "Permanence for a tattoo is about things like age, body changes, scars. Or I mean, wow, pregnancy. You have to know how time and life might affect the skin the tattoo is on."

Derek and Cara both just stared at Stiles as he wound down, until he started fidgeting again. "Or...am I totally off, here?"

Cara reached over to slap Derek on the shoulder. Even by human standards it was friendly, and she was grinning as she said "Have fun with the jailbait," and stood up, shoving the stool back where it belonged.

"You're doing good, kid," she informed Stiles on her way past, and swept into the back on a wave of sweet astringents, leaving Stiles gaping after her and Derek with a nose full of smug Cara, overlaid with wood and slightly-sour Stiles.

Going by the look on the kid's face, Derek was guessing that was embarrassment. "Why did she..."

"You need to be eighteen both to get a tattoo and to legally sleep with anybody here." Derek shrugged as Stiles turned the baffled stare on him instead. "That's why."

"Right," Stiles muttered, "because that isn't disturbing at all."

Derek smiled, comfortable with knowing it probably wasn't going to be noticed. Humans usually didn't, focusing more on the mouth than the eyes. "Did you have questions, Stiles?"

"Yeah. What's your name?"

"About tattoos."

Stiles made a face, but he didn't object too much, at least. "I have to be eighteen to get a tattoo. What if I got parental permission?"

"Still eighteen."

"What if I was getting, like, some sort of warning about my jailbait status? That'd just be a public service, right?"

Derek shook his head and tamped down on another smile. "Eighteen."

-----

Thoughts about Stiles lingered through the day. Derek found himself idly designing bird cages that could be added to later on to change the meaning, which were oddly difficult to portray well. A group of college students on break came in to be obnoxious and loud, which was an obvious reminder. But he also thought about the hit-with-a-trout look on Stiles' face when he'd considered pregnancy and tattoos, when Cara had a consultation with a woman who wanted a tattoo around her bellybutton.

When he got home, Gwen came barreling out of the house to latch onto his legs, talking a mile a minute about what Stacia had done at school that day and about running with her mom and biting Jacob and...

It reminded him of Stiles.