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I was looking for a breath of life
A little touch of heavenly light
But all the choirs in my head sang no

--Breath of Life, Florence + The Machine

Derek practically drives the car right into his new front porch, his hands sticky on the steering wheel, blurry spots in his vision, the smell of his own blood thick in his nose. He grays out for a second, until his wobbling head cracks against the window, startling him back to consciousness. The cold rain wakes him up a little more when he gets out of the car, but he almost goes to his knees anyway, pain tearing across his middle like the knife is still cutting into him. He leaves the car door hanging open, the chime dinging at him over and over as he stumbles toward the house.

It takes three tries to get his key in the lock, smearing a bloody handprint where he's holding himself up against the front door—the door that's also new, and reinforced. He closes that one behind him at least, shaking fingers twisting the deadbolt into place, and he makes it through the foyer and into the bathroom before he goes down hard. He tries to catch himself, but his hands, slick with blood and rain, skid on the floor, and he nearly screams when he lands on his torn belly. This time he can't get up. The last thing he sees is a puddle of blood spreading across the tile under his arm, growing and growing, and not stopping.

~*~

"Oh my God!" Scott says, and his face is terrified when he rolls Derek over onto his back, spreading his jacket open, tugging his shirt up. The bathroom light is too bright, stabbing at Derek's eyes as his hands instinctively try to cover his stomach, unable to fight the urge to protect himself, to hide any vulnerability.

"Don't move! Don't move!" Scott's voice is laced with panic, his nervous hands hovering over Derek's shredded abdomen, uncertain. He's got a gash on his chin and his hair is soaking wet, dripping icy water onto Derek's face.

Derek tries to say something, but all that comes out is an unintelligible noise. His entire body feels cold, and his teeth want to chatter when he unlocks his jaw.

"Hang on, I'm calling Stiles," Scott says, and he digs in his pocket for his phone with one hand, and gives Derek's shoulder what is probably supposed to be a reassuring squeeze with the other.

"Don't," Derek grits out. That's the last thing he wants. Not Stiles. Stiles will want to touch him, heal him, put his hands on--

Scott looks at him, baffled, and asks, "What? Why?" and then Stiles must pick up because he says into the phone, "I found him. It's bad. Can you come?"

"No," Derek says, but now he can't even make it sound like an order, and Scott doesn’t take orders from him anyway. That's the last thing he remembers until Stiles is there, kneeling down next to him and pressing his palm to Derek's forehead, soothing and warm. His hands are so warm. Derek has to fight the urge to close his eyes and whimper at how good it feels.

"Why isn't he healing on his own?" Stiles asks Scott. He tugs Derek's shirt up a little more, but much more gently than Scott had. Derek tries to curl in on himself, pushing at the floor with his heels to roll away, but Stiles holds him down easily, which is when Derek finally realizes just how bad off he is. "These don't look like claw wounds."

"I think it was some kind of mystical knife or something," Scott says. "He got it away from her and he stabbed her with it and…"

Stiles looks up sharply at Scott when he trails off. "And what?"

"And she died," Scott says, swallowing hard. "Like, right away. He got her in the heart and it killed her."

"Oh, shit," Stiles says. Derek can't meet his eyes when Stiles looks at his face.

Scott's phone dings, breaking the awful silence. "Boyd and Erica are with Isaac," Scott says after he checks it. "They've got the last one cornered." The alpha pack had done an admirable job of separating Derek's pack before moving in for the kill, but it's going to be over soon. At least this wasn't all for nothing.

"We'll be fine. Go," Stiles says, shrugging out of his damp jacket. He's wearing a plain white T-shirt that's probably going to have blood all over it really soon. His tattoos, a mosaic of knots and runes and mystical symbols woven together over his sinewy arms in lurid red ink, look even darker next to the stark whiteness of his shirt. "I said go," he says, a little less nicely, when Scott hesitates.

"Are you sure?" Scott asks, obviously torn, but he's already shuffled back a few steps, unconsciously drifting toward the door.

"I'm sure," Stiles says, eyes flicking up to Derek's face and then back to the cuts on his abdomen. "And Derek's too out of it to have an opinion."

"Am not," Derek slurs, just to be contrary. He hates being talked about like he's not here.

"Shhh," Stiles says, in a completely different tone of voice than he used with Scott, and gently rubs a hand over Derek's wet hair. Derek can't help the grateful sound he makes. He's hurting so bad, and even if Stiles can't help him, just seeing him, hearing his voice, letting the familiar smell of him crowd out the stench of his own blood, is a comfort. Despite his earlier protests, if Derek had to choose someone to be here with him while he--right now--he'd choose Stiles.

"Call me if you need to," Scott says, and is gone in an instant.

Stiles takes a deep breath and holds his tattooed hands over Derek's stomach, fanning his fingers out.

"I don't want—" Derek starts, trying to push at Stiles' hands, but Stiles catches Derek's hands easily and presses them to the floor, clucking his tongue at him like a scolding parent.

"Let me help you," Stiles says, when Derek keeps resisting. "Derek, stop. Let me fix you."

No one can fix me, Derek wants to say, but before he can, Stiles touches him.

Derek is instantly glad Scott isn't here to see it. Watching Stiles heal someone has always been a little uncomfortable for Derek, like he's seeing something intimate and private that shouldn't have an audience. That's nothing compared to how it feels.

Stiles presses his big, strong hands over the worst of the cuts, and his eyes get an eerily unfocused look, like he's looking at something faraway that no one else can see. His fingers, still so reassuringly warm against Derek's chilled skin, feel like they're vibrating, sending a bone-deep hum through Derek's body.

The tattoos on Stiles' arms start to glow, softly at first, and then slowly brighter, tinting everything in the room a soothing golden red, and it feels good, it feels so warm and so good. Every pleasure center in Derek's brain lights up and his back arches as his eyes roll back in his head, and it's all he can do to not moan as everything that's always been so right about Stiles flows into him. Loyalty and love and joy, burning right through to the rotten core of him where Derek is weak and broken and worthless.

He thinks he says Stiles' name, and that Stiles says his back. He wants to tell him not to stop, because he's never felt like this, even before his life went to shit and he killed almost everyone he loved. He'll probably never feel like this again, this pure, guilt-free pleasure.

But Stiles does stop. He's kind enough to make it gradual, easing Derek out of it a little at a time, like slowly floating to the surface in warm, clean water. As the rush starts to fade, the pain in his middle comes back, a dull throb that sharpens momentarily with each breath, but it's much better than it was before. It's definitely bearable.

When Derek opens his eyes, Stiles is looking down at him worriedly. His hands are still on Derek's stomach, thumbs moving in slow circles over the healed skin, a welcome distraction from the way everything still hurts just beneath.

Derek's whole body is tingling and he doesn't think he can talk yet. His chest feels strange, not like he's hurt, but more…open. Like there's all kinds of room in it, instead of being clogged full of anger and fear.

"Sorry," Stiles says hoarsely. "Got a little carried away."

Derek's seen this part, too, when the person Stiles heals usually looks a little out of it afterwards, almost drunk. He flops a hand out to rest on Stiles' knee, the closest thing he can do to thanking him.

When Stiles covers it with one of his own, his fingers are caked with Derek's blood. The runes on his arms are still glowing faintly, each mysterious shape outlined with a thin thread of yellow light, soft and inviting. Derek wants to run his finger along each and every loop and curve, follow their winding path up his arm and under the sleeve of his shirt, trace the tendril that spiders up his neck and disappears behind his ear. But that's nothing new.

"What did you do to me?" Derek mumbles, trying to lace his fingers through Stiles' and mostly failing, until Stiles does it for him. He can smell the faint whiff of ozone that shows up in Stiles' scent whenever he heals someone, and it makes him wrinkle his nose, because he associates it with something he's spent years avoiding.

"I healed you," Stiles says, but he smiles nervously and doesn't meet Derek's eyes. Derek's seen Stiles heal other people a hundred times and it never looked like it felt like—like what Derek just felt. Like Stiles was in him. Like Stiles—

"I think I went a little overboard," Stiles says, and bites his bottom lip.

He's hiding something, but Derek doesn't have the energy to pursue it. And he's not sure he wants to know, anyway. He would rather just lie here and look at Stiles, because he never really gets to look his fill, afraid of getting caught staring, and is always hungry for the sight of him.

Stiles is looking down at their joined hands, but if that bothers him he doesn't say anything. Derek can see the crooked fuzz of his hairline, a tender cheekbone with a rusty smudge of blood on it, an ear with a thick black metal plug through the lobe, a tiny rune etched into it. Derek knows there's a matching one in the other ear.

Derek once heard Stiles tell Isaac they were for protection, and his eyes had darted to Derek when he said it, like maybe he was the thing Stiles needed protection from, and Derek had never forgotten it, never forgotten how much it had felt like being punched in the face. Thinking about it doesn't bother him as much as it usually does, like the sting has been blunted. Whatever mojo Stiles works on people, it's making Derek feel like nothing can touch him right now.

They stay like that for a bit, still holding hands, which Derek thinks he should not do, but fuck it. He almost died. Stiles' other hand is still resting on Derek's belly, and it's a testament to how badly he's hurt that Stiles' fingers stroking the skin an inch above his belt is nothing but comforting right now.

Derek thinks he could fall asleep like this, safe and watched over, but then he feels a slick rush of warmth down his side as the pain comes roaring back and Stiles says, "Oh, shit." The cuts are opening up, flesh curling back, splitting him in two again, blood leaking out onto the floor. This has never happened before to someone Stiles has healed, as far as Derek knows.

Stiles slaps his hands down over the cuts, face ashen and frightened, and Derek feels the tingle in his bones as the hazy golden glow of the runes fills his vision again. It's not as intense this time, so either he's getting used to it or Stiles is holding back, but his toes curl in his boots as the endorphin rush rolls over him, leaving him feeling oddly sated but hungry to be touched. When Stiles lifts his hands away, Derek catches one in his and holds onto it tightly, not ready to go without any contact at all.

Stiles threads their fingers together again and rubs his thumb over Derek's knuckles, waiting. They watch silently as the wounds open again, and then again, and another time after that, though it takes a little longer each time. Stiles keeps putting his hands on Derek, and Derek keeps bleeding, and finally Derek says, "Stiles, stop," because Stiles is pale and shaking and he's probably going to kill himself trying to save Derek.

Stiles' hands clench into fists as Derek grabs onto his wrists, holding his hands away so he can't touch the cuts, and that's a good sign already, that he has the strength to do that much at least.

"It's good, you slowed it down. It'll be fine," Derek tells him, though he isn't entirely certain that's true. The worst of the cuts is already open again, oozing a little, but it's a lot better than it was.

"You're still bleeding!" Stiles says, and for the first time there's a tinge of panic in his voice. "Let me—"

"Stop," Derek says, as forcefully as he can. It costs him to sound that authoritative, but he needs Stiles to listen.

"Derek," Stiles says, plaintive and small. He shifts on his knees and flexes his hands, still trapped in Derek's grip.

"I'm good, I'm good," Derek says, trying to sound as sure about that as possible. He pulls until Stiles gives in and settles on the floor in the crook of his arm. Stiles wraps one arm around Derek's chest and hides his face in Derek's shoulder. He's still shaking. "You did great," Derek whispers against his temple. "I'm a lot better."

"Okay," Stiles says, and lets out a shuddering breath. They lie on the floor together, blood dripping down Derek's sides, but the bathroom already looks like a murder scene, and they're both covered in it, so there's no point in caring.

This is exactly what Derek didn't want, all the careful boundaries he's set for himself when it comes to Stiles wiped out in an instant. Five years of not looking at him for too long, not touching him too much, not letting anything he was feeling show on his face. And never, ever letting Stiles heal him, terrified of it, because the thought of Stiles putting his hands on him when he was weak and hurting was unbearable. He'd always feared that would be the thing that destroyed his illusion of control. And he was right.

But now that it's happened he can't seem to muster any regret, because the awful pain in his gut aside, he feels better than he has in a long time. He feels lighter somehow, buoyant, and incredibly fond of Stiles, filled with a gentle affection that's somehow easier to bear than the long, grinding years of lust and longing that have preceded it.

He twists his neck enough to nuzzle at the top of Stiles' head. The ozone smell is even stronger after so many rounds of healing, but by now it's impossible for Derek to connect it to anything other than how good it felt when Stiles touched him. He breathes him in and refuses to feel guilty about it; he's never been this close to Stiles for this long before, except that night years ago in the swimming pool, when everything stunk like chlorine. Stiles is probably well aware what Derek is doing, but Derek can't make himself care about that, either.

"Sorry about the bleed-through," Stiles says, waving his hand back and forth over the two of them without lifting his head.

"Is that what that was?" Derek asks carefully. He knew something was different about it right from the start, and Stiles seems to be working up to telling him what it is. He can wait.

"Yeah." He sounds embarrassed. "There's usually a little transfer, from me. Remember last year when Scott busted me for eating his Twinkie out of his lunch box on our third grade field trip?" He pauses while Derek fails to stifle a painful laugh. "But it's never been--I've never done that before. I couldn't control it, the first time I touched you. I'm sorry."

"Don't be sorry," Derek says. He's not sorry at all. Even though he's lying here in a pool of his own blood, he feels weirdly content and happy. Stiles' emotions, he assumes, but he'll take them. His own aren't this enjoyable most of the time.

"I got hit by a car once, when I was five," Stiles goes on. "Ran out in the street in front of our house. My mom had great control--she was a way better healer than I am--but she was freaking out, and it all just flooded right into me when she touched me. That's how I found out there was no Santa Claus." His voice has laughter in it, but a little sadness, too.

Derek knows the loss of Mrs. Stilinski left Stiles, who was already showing signs of having his mother's gift, not just without a mother, but also without guidance, someone to teach him how to use his power. Before she died, she made Stiles' father swear to continue his training, and he'd made good on that promise. For years after her death Stiles spent several weeks every summer with a healer who lived an hour or two north of here. She'd taught him a lot, all the things his mother hadn't had a chance to before she was gone forever.

But she couldn't replace Stiles' mother entirely, of course. Derek knows first-hand that's impossible. It's one thing they have in common, losing their mothers way too soon. And for both of them it had meant there was one less person like themselves in the world. Derek squeezes Stiles a little tighter in silent sympathy, and lets himself run his thumb over the knob of his shoulder.

"So now you know," Stiles says, sounding miserable. "How I feel about you."

Derek can't even speak for a second, feeling like the world around him has been momentarily put on pause as everything slots into place. That's what it is, this new thing simmering inside him that's making him feel like there are options for his life other than spending it doing penance, or desperately trying to do the least amount of damage possible to the people around him. This sudden and inexplicable feeling of value. That's how Stiles feels about him.

In the silence, Stiles tenses at his side and tries to sit up, but Derek gently holds him down with his hand spread wide between his shoulders.

This is a terrible time to do this, Derek definitely knows that much. They're covered in blood, and Derek's still very far from back to normal, but all of that seems distant and inconsequential, and he can't imagine doing anything else. He reaches over and slowly tips Stiles' face up from where he's refusing to look at him, and kisses him, fingers sliding along his jaw, thumb teasing at Stiles' lower lip before he touches it with the tip of his tongue. Stiles' mouth feels even hotter than his hands.

Stiles does not react the way Derek expects. He makes a noise like a wounded animal and jerks away. "Don't!"

"But you just said—I felt it," Derek says, confused. He's got an awful, crawling sensation in his gut that has nothing to do with the knife. "Stiles, I--"

"You're not listening," Stiles says, shaking off the touch when Derek tries to rub his thumb over his cheekbone. "You're being influenced by me. I can't—we can't do this." His face is a heartbreaking kaleidoscope of sadness and vulnerability; he looks worse than he did when he thought Derek was dying. "God, Derek, I'd give anything to have this be real, but it's not. It's the bleed-through. It's not real."

There was a time when Derek would have seen this as an out, a chance to undo what he just did, to pass it off as nothing more than a side effect, to go back to pretending he hasn't spent nearly every waking moment of the last several years thinking about Stiles and wishing things could be different. There was a time when he would have accepted it as fact that he doesn't deserve this, and that Stiles will only be worse off for being with him.

But that time is no more. In the few short minutes since Stiles touched him, Derek's gone from dogged survival mode to feeling like anything is possible, like all the shit that's happened to him in his life—all the shit he's brought down on himself—doesn't have to be what defines him anymore. It occurs to him that maybe Stiles didn't only heal the wounds on the outside.

Derek lets go of Stiles, and slowly pushes him away with the back of his forearm, ignoring the bleak look on Stiles' face when he does it. Derek's good at doing unpleasant things that nonetheless need to be done; Stiles hasn't changed that about him.

"Help me upstairs," Derek says, rolling awkwardly to his knees. "I want to clean up." Stiles gapes at him for a second, understandably surprised by what appears to be Derek's decision to simply act like nothing happened. Then he stands up, gamely hooks his arm under Derek's and helps him lurch to his feet. A sharp stab of pain in Derek's middle makes him grimace when he slowly straightens up, but he only sways a little instead of falling back down.

Stiles fusses at him the whole arduous climb up the stairs while Derek sweats bullets and tries not to pass out. He gets the feeling that Stiles is genuinely worried about him, but also that this is something else to focus on and bitch about other than what just happened between them, so he lets him roll and doesn’t even protest when Stiles calls him a pig-headed asshole and threatens to leave him on the landing to bleed to death.

Derek's bedroom is unfortunately situated at the end of the hall, so they stop to rest several times, Derek leaning wetly against the wall he painted only a few months ago. Stiles' shirt is practically soaked with blood; Derek can only imagine how saturated his own clothes are.

"That's an improvement," Stiles says, glancing back at the bloody splotches they're leaving behind. He'd made a face at the paint color the first time he'd seen it, which had seemed a little unfair, because he was the one who had kept pointedly mentioning the bare drywall.

"You can repaint it any color you want," Derek manages to say almost normally; the pain's finally fading to a dull throb. "Except that putrid green."

"It's called 'Quaking Aspen,' you barbarian," Stiles says, sounding more like himself than he has since he got here. "Somewhere, Martha Stewart just had to sit down and breathe into a paper bag."

Derek's saved from having to formulate a comeback by their welcome arrival at his bedroom. On their way in, Stiles leans over and flicks on the lamp on the table next to the bed; Derek can see more than well enough without it, but Stiles can't. There's a bathroom attached to the bedroom, one much bigger and currently less gory than the one downstairs, and once they get in it, Stiles props Derek up against the sink and walks out, closing the door firmly behind him.

It's a mistake to look in the mirror. Derek's white as a sheet except for where he's covered in blood, and his clothes are a disaster, despite the fact that he feels clean, reborn, like all the bad stuff has been burned out of him and replaced with something better. He knows this sudden absence of belief that he ruins everything he touches is probably Stiles--how Stiles sees Derek, rather than how Derek sees himself--but the break from the self-hatred is kind of nice. He feels so different he somehow expected to see it reflected back at him, and it's a disappointment to find he looks the same as always, except maybe a little closer to being a corpse than usual.

He manages to strip down and get in the shower on his own, wincing and hissing at the pull in his abdomen, watching to see if he's going to split right open again. Once he's closed up in the shower alone and away from Stiles, away from his warm hands and the delicious smell of him, he can examine everything going on in his head, try to figure out what's from him and what's from Stiles. There's a lot of bleed-through, maybe more than he thought at first. He's got so much of Stiles thrumming through him he'll probably be listening to Mumford & Sons for the next week.

But it's not that hard to sort it all out, in the end. When Derek was little, his mother taught him how to follow a scent trail, how to pick up an invisible strand and pull on it, follow it to the source. When he mastered that, she showed him how to focus on more than one at a time, how to walk into a room full of people and separate them all until he could both pick out each one individually and keep track of several at the same time.

This is a lot like that, and since his brain already knows the basic principle, it's relatively easy. He unravels the knotted up mess of emotions in his head, one delicate thread at a time, determinedly tracing the origin of each one, and what he finds doesn't surprise him.

Derek sits naked on the floor of the shower and watches his blood run down the drain, a hypnotizing stream of water painted with deep red swirls like the ones on Stiles' skin.

~*~

Stiles is digging through Derek's dresser drawers when Derek comes out of the bathroom with a towel around his waist. His wounds finally closed up for good while he was showering, so he's not bleeding anymore, but he still has several angry raised marks across his belly, and he's not quite steady on his feet yet.

Stiles is shirtless, his unmarked skin luminous in the dim light. Derek's never seen Stiles without his shirt on, probably the only one in the group, including Erica, he hasn't seen at least partly naked, because there's a lot of unintentional nudity in the werewolf world, and there's no sense in being uptight about it. Up until now he had no idea how much of Stiles the tattoos covered. The runes that stain his hands and arms flow up and over his shoulders and down his back, fanning out across his shoulder blades before gradually narrowing downward to delicate curlicues at the base of his spine, disappearing underneath his belt.

As Derek watches, Stiles closes Derek's sock drawer and then opens the one below it and makes a triumphant sound when he sees it's full of shirts. When he turns toward Derek with a T-shirt in his hand, Derek sees the runes also cover his chest, angling toward his breastbone before winding together in a jagged helix that runs down the middle of his abdomen. Both of his nipples are pierced. Derek didn't know that, either.

Stiles thrusts his arms through the sleeves of Derek's T-shirt and pulls it down over his head, but Derek is there before he can tug it down the rest of the way. Momentarily blinded, Stiles jumps when Derek grabs the fabric with both hands, then goes still as Derek slowly pulls it back up over his head. Stiles' face, when revealed, is wary.

"I'll give it back," Stiles says, as if that's the reason Derek doesn't want him to put it on.

"I know," Derek says, amused. Stiles stands there and lets Derek slip the shirt off his arms, like a little kid, and then watches silently as Derek tosses it on the floor and steps closer, resting his hands lightly on Stiles' skinny hips.

Stiles lowers his arms and closes his eyes, standing stiffly in Derek's touch, arms akimbo, very consciously not touching Derek. He swallows and his face crumples like he's in pain as he shakes his head.

"Please don't," he whispers. "We talked about this. I wouldn't be able to—I couldn't stand it." His eyes are still closed, as if he can't bear to even look at Derek.

"Listen to me," Derek says, ignoring the way Stiles flinches when Derek carefully takes his face in his hands. "I know you think I'm just feeling what you're feeling, but that's not true." Stiles opens his eyes and then his mouth, but Derek shakes his head and—miraculously--Stiles doesn't say anything. His eyes look huge in his pale face.

"If that were the case I'd think I'm in love with myself, right?" Derek asks. Stiles visibly winces at the word "love." Derek takes a breath and doubles down. "Instead of with you."

"You aren't," Stiles says stubbornly, but he wants to believe it. Derek can see it on his face. "Derek, think about it. Did you feel this way before today?"

Derek doesn't rush to answer. This is likely the single most important thing he's ever going to say, and if Stiles doesn't believe him, all will be lost. But in the end it's easy. Everything is so easy now.

He leans his forehead against Stiles' and says, "I've always felt this way."

Stiles pulls back just enough to look Derek in the eye as his hands close tightly over Derek's wrists, like he's hanging on for his life. "Are you sure?" His cheeks are suddenly tinted pink, his eyes bright and fierce. "Derek, are you sure? Because if you aren't sure--"

"I'm sure," Derek says, and he can't help the way he smiles, and then smiles even bigger when Stiles smiles back. He knows the talking is over. Stiles believes him. "I'm really, really sure." He's also sure he's about to fall down, maybe from blood loss, maybe from flat-out relief.

Stiles' pants are a mess, big bloody patches at both knees, streaks where he wiped his hands on them, and Derek doesn't care. He closes his hand around Stiles' wrist and pulls him toward the bed, where he carefully lowers himself onto his back and urges Stiles down to settle over his hips.

"I'm fine," Derek says insistently, when Stiles starts to protest, looking anxiously at Derek's stomach. It's not entirely true; he opted for the bed because he wasn't sure he could touch Stiles and stay upright at the same time, but he's fine enough for this.

He intended to kiss him, because this is definitely the kind of thing you seal with a kiss, and Derek's been waiting for years to do it, but he looks up at Stiles and gets distracted for a minute. Stiles isn't self-conscious at all, letting Derek look his fill, and smooth his hands over the marks on his skin like he's wanted to do for so long, lightly nudging one of the nipple rings with his thumb, which makes Stiles' breath catch.

His hands drift down, following the helix, making the muscles in Stiles' stomach jump in a gratifying way. Stiles watches Derek's fingers move across his skin, mouth slightly open, eyes hooded, like just seeing Derek's hands on him is the best drug.

Derek slowly works his belt open, and then the button on his pants, and he sees there's something else there, another mark, coiled low on his belly, the edge of it peeking out from the waistband of his pants. When his fingers catch the top of Stiles' underwear Stiles suddenly snaps out of his daze and realizes what Derek's doing. He stiffens and grabs Derek's forearms. "Derek, wait—"

But it's too late. Derek's already pulled his underwear down enough to see. There, on the tight skin below his bellybutton, is indeed another tattoo, this one harsh and black against Stiles' tender skin, and it's not a rune. It's a triskelion.

They both go still. So still Derek can hear Stiles' heart, beating like a scared bunny.

"What is this?" Derek croaks out, mouth dry. "Why do you—"

"She did it, when she did the others," Stiles says, sounding almost apologetic. He means Brighid, the woman who took him under her wing after his mother died, who trained him to use his gift, who etched the runes into his skin when he was not quite sixteen years old. When she died, Stiles was gone for two weeks, and when he came back, quiet and peaked but as resilient as ever, there were new tattoos, delicate rings around all ten fingers, words in a language Derek didn't know.

Stiles has had the other runes as long as Derek has known him. Derek's heard references to the process over the years, that it was brutal, and Scott was worried Stiles would die. Stiles was just a kid then, just starting high school. Before Derek had come back to Beacon Hills. Stiles has had a triskelion on his body the entire time they've known each other, and Derek had no idea.

It dawns on him this is why he's never seen Stiles without his clothes on before.

"Why didn't you tell me?" Stiles has known Derek has the same tattoo on his back since that night at Deaton's, when they'd only known each other for a few weeks. That was years ago. "Why didn't you say something?"

Stiles lets out a harsh breath. "How was I supposed to? I thought—I thought you would just know. She made it sound like you'd know." His gaze drifts away, and he swallows hard before continuing. "Like I knew. When I saw you."

This is a whole other thing to absorb, in a night that's already been full of them. It'd been one thing to feel drawn to Stiles, to want him, to then find out Stiles wanted him back, but this is something else entirely. Derek lightly presses his thumbs into Stiles' belly on either side of the tattoo, dimpling the skin. "She told you this was...me? When she put his on you?"

"Not specifically. " Stiles chews on his lip and doesn't elaborate.

"What did she say, Stiles?" Derek asks him. His fingers tighten on the elastic of Stiles' underwear. He can't seem to let go.

"She said my fate was tied to it, and I…"

"Tell me," Derek urges softly, when Stiles falters again.

Stiles squares his shoulders and closes his eyes, and it's clear he's reciting from memory when he says, voice not quite steady, "This is for the one you are destined to find. He is your fate. You are his salvation. The tooth and the claw, the light and the hope. The protector and the healer."

The protector.

Derek remembers, for what is probably the hundredth time, Stiles telling Isaac about the runes in his ears, and the way his eyes had found Derek as if by instinct when he said the word "protection." But unlike all those other times, now he actually understands why Stiles had looked at him, and it wasn't because he felt threatened by Derek.

But it's hard to feel like you can be anyone's protector when your bad judgement got most of your family burned alive. Derek's not sure he's been a protector at all for Stiles all these years. It's felt more like he was constantly putting him in the path of danger. It can't be him. It can't be.

And yet.

Derek knows for sure, knows for a fact, that there is no other werewolf—the tooth and the claw—walking the Earth right now bearing this mark. He's the only one. It has to be him.

He wants it to be him.

Stiles has grown uneasy in the silence, watching him. "Derek—"

"Why didn't you say anything?" Derek asks again, because that's the part he can't get past. "You knew all this time." All these years. Stiles has been carrying this on his skin, knowing what it meant, and Derek's been killing himself trying to stay away.

Stiles shrugs a shoulder, but it's not as casual a gesture as he probably wants it to be. He's too tense, and he looks too upset. "She told me I'd be tested, and that I had to be patient. And then I found you, but you would never--you would never let me put my hands on you." He says it like it hurt him, has been hurting him all this time, that Derek denied him that, and it probably has. Stiles is a healer for a reason; it's as necessary to him as breathing. "I thought you just—didn't want me."

"I wanted you," Derek says, even though Stiles already knows this. "I've wanted you for a long time."

He's wanted Stiles for a lot of endless, lonely years, while he's watched all their friends find partners, standing silently by and waiting for Stiles to do the same, fall in love with someone who wasn't him, just to complete his misery. But Stiles didn't. Stiles did nothing, rebuffing every advance, and there were plenty that Derek knew about and probably many more he didn't. Derek had done the same, but he hadn't realized that it meant something, the two of them keeping themselves apart, like they were waiting for something.

Derek missed the most obvious part, where, after everyone else was already paired off, it had just been him and Stiles thrown together by what he thought was default. All those times Stiles went out of his way to include Derek when everyone got together for fun, or made sure he had somewhere to go for the holidays, even if Derek didn't always take him up on it. The endless text messages, and the way he'd tease him out of bad moods, the way he kept urging Derek to fix up the house, to start living like a real person instead of a haunted wretch. That wasn't just friend stuff. That was Stiles reaching out, nudging at him, trying to get him to realize, to show any sign he wanted something more from his life. Maybe wanted a life that included Stiles.

Stiles is still holding onto Derek's arms, but he doesn't stop him when Derek pushes his underwear down a little more, until he can see the whole tattoo. It's exactly like Derek's, only smaller, and now that he's over his shock, it gives him a pleasantly possessive feeling to see it there.

Derek touches it, just barely, with the pad of his thumb, and watches the goosebumps fan across Stiles' stomach as he traces the top spiral, following the curve around and down until he reaches the very center where the three spirals converge, and Stiles tips his head back and makes a sound that digs right into the most primal part of Derek's brain. It's a sex sound, a shaky gasp. Stiles' fingers clamp down hard on Derek's arms, and the edges of the triskelion begin to light up.

It's not the warm golden healing light from before. The inky black coils flare a fiery red that makes Derek splay his whole hand flat over the mark, the webbing between his fingers glowing translucent as the light gets brighter and brighter, and Derek feels an answering heat between his shoulder blades, and realizes he's raging hard. He's so hard and everything feels so good, so red, and his hips try to come up off the bed, and he's going to come, he thinks, surprised. He's going to come just from putting one hand on Stiles.

Stiles is hard, too. Derek can feel him bumping up against the underside of his wrist, and the triskelion is burning hot and bright against Derek's palm now. The familiar hum from before purrs through him, but there's also something else there this time, pulling at him instead of rushing into him. Derek feels something inside him answering--something that's been hiding, cold and scared, all this time, has been roused and is slowly uncurling, reaching for the light in Stiles, sighing in relief. The waiting is over.

Derek groans, "I'm going to--" just as Stiles says, "Oh my God, Derek," and his hips jerk under Derek's touch, fingernails cutting into Derek's skin, and he comes, too, with a little choked cry.

Stiles sways over Derek as they catch their breath; he looks as stunned by what just happened as Derek feels.

"Oh my God," Stiles says again, blinking down at where Derek's hand is still touching him. The light's subsided to a gentle shimmer, but Derek can still feel whatever the other thing is, a current flowing between them. "That's never—"

Derek surges up, ignoring the way the flesh of his stomach, still trying to knit itself together somewhere deep inside, screams at him.

"You were marked for me," he says fiercely against Stiles' throat, the words making heat rise in his back, in his belly, the place under his ribs where his heart lives. Stiles makes a harsh, desperate sound as his hands twist in Derek's hair. He yanks Derek's head to the side, and Derek lets him.

"We were marked for each other," Stiles says, low in his ear, and that's even better. Yes, that's even better.

Stiles drags his mouth down to latch onto Derek's, and they really kiss this time, nothing like the short, one-sided thing that happened downstairs. It's a deep, hard kiss, with Stiles' tongue pushing against Derek's, making Derek open up and let him in, like he's trying to crawl right inside him.

He curls his fingers behind Derek's ears and makes urgent little noises into Derek's mouth, grinding down onto him until Derek rolls Stiles underneath him and rears up onto his knees and flings the towel away. Stiles isn't much help getting his own clothes off, too busy looking at Derek and trying to touch him, which is flattering but there'll be time for that later, after they get his damn clothes off. Derek tells him so as he yanks off Stiles' shoes and gracelessly relieves him of his disgusting pants, and suddenly Stiles is naked and grinning on Derek's bed, reaching for him, pulling him down next to him and kissing him again.

Stiles is gorgeous, solid muscle and strong bone bound tight by smooth skin. He and Derek are nearly the same height, but Stiles is narrower, his limbs long and angular next to Derek's more bulky frame, the muscles in his chest and stomach flat and hard. Derek runs his hands up Stiles' arms and over his shoulders, leaving tiny trails of sparks behind. The runes light up one by one as he touches them, pulsing with golden energy, until Stiles is glowing like an ember.

Derek leans down and closes his teeth on one of the nipple rings and gives it a gentle tug, making Stiles hiss with pleasure and bow up off the bed, clutching at Derek's head. Then it feels like he's everywhere at once as he rubs against Derek, practically begging to be touched, putting his hot mouth on Derek's shoulder and neck, dragging his blunt nails down Derek's back.

"God, come here," Stiles says hoarsely. His hand slips down to circle around Derek's cock, already hard again, and slick from coming all over himself. "I need to touch you," he pants, and runs a snug circle of thumb and finger up and down Derek's cock, groaning like he's the one being stroked.

Stiles is hard again, too, so Derek eases on top of him, sucking in a breath when their dicks rub against each other, sliding easily where they're both still wet and messy. They start working against each other, a rhythm that starts fast and only gets faster, Derek groaning as Stiles tightens his thighs around his hips and fucks into Derek's mouth with his tongue. This isn't going to be as short as the first time, but it won't be much longer, either.

The kiss gets sloppy and uneven, the barbell in Stiles' tongue clicking against Derek's teeth, until they break apart and pant against each other's faces instead. Stiles is noisy, then, little pitched cries and half-sentences, and finally just Derek's name, over and over. Derek feels a prickle of heat between his shoulder blades and when he looks down at where their bodies meet, Stiles' triskelion is glowing again, the same intense red as before. Derek bears down on him, driving his hips into him, watching as the other runes begin to burn the same color, like fire racing across Stiles' skin. Derek feels his eyes flare in response, and when he looks up, Stiles' eyes are shining a deep, answering red.

Derek barely manages to hang on, but he fights for it, gritting his teeth. Stiles shudders, going silent at last, and everything is cleansing light and welcoming heat and finally, finally belonging to someone, and Derek chokes out Stiles' name and comes in a dizzying rush.

~*~

It's a long time before either of them wants to move, but finally Stiles pleads dire thirst and gets up to grab some water. Derek rolls over into the warm spot Stiles leaves behind, onto his stomach, which doesn't really bother him at all right now, so he can smell him and think about how he'll never have to be without him again.

Stiles comes back with a huge plastic cup of water, and makes Derek lift his head and drink some before he insinuates himself under Derek's arm, humming happily. Derek rubs the back of Stiles' neck when he burrows in a little closer, pressing small kisses to Derek's shoulder as his fingers play idly with the shell of Derek's ear. As amazing as the sex was, Derek can already tell this quiet, easy affection is going to be just as addictive. He's never really had this before.

Stiles is still glowing a little, a random flicker here and there, jumping from his hand to his chest, then his shoulder to his neck. Until tonight, Derek's never seen his runes alight when he wasn't actively healing someone. He likes it, though. It makes Stiles even more beautiful.

"Yours is lit up, too," Stiles says, his voice soft and pleased, when he notices Derek watching. He kisses Derek's shoulder again, and then slides his hand down to trace along the top spiral on Derek's back, circling slowly toward the center, gliding over the bumps of his spine, and it feels like he's stirring Derek's heart with his fingers. "Has it done that before?"

"No. Never," Derek says. Up until today it was just an ordinary tattoo, ink on his skin. Now it's something more, with Stiles here. All this time, Stiles was trying to drag Derek out into the light, and Derek had been half-heartedly going along with it, but there was a reason it wasn't working very well: what he needed was for Stiles to bring the light to him.

The light and the hope.

That's what he's been puzzling over since Stiles touched him the first time. That's the strange buoyant feeling in his chest he didn't recognize, because it's been so long since he felt it: hope.

The End

Notes:

  • Beltane is an ancient Gaelic festival held on the first day of May that includes, among other things, purification by fire.
  • This story was initially inspired by this beautiful piece of art by niña, which made me start thinking things I jotted down for later. Then steammmpunk posted another piece of gorgeous art in the same vein and I went OKAY FINE I'LL WRITE THIS NOW.

    And then while I was actually writing the story I re-watched this wonderful Derek/Stiles vid by xosimplyvidsox and realized that song was perfect for how I was imagining Derek's thought process, and THEN shortly after that Sapphiamur posted this amazing vid (also inspired by niña's art), which only made me want to finish this story even more.

    I'm lucky I survived all this, to be honest. My Derek/Stiles feelings were OFF THE CHARTS. So this is the part where I officially love on all of these people for sharing their gorgeous fanworks with the rest of us. Thank you. <3 <3

Now also available as a podfic by the lovely Erica Schall <3 <3

dreamingingpencil drew a fantastic portrait of Stiles with his tattoos!

[Image Description: Stiles covered in tattoos.]

 

blandade drew this wonderful piece showing Stiles healing Derek:

[Image Description: Stiles healing Derek.]

purpleduvet drew Stiles with his tattoos:

[Image Description: Tattooed Stiles.]

greyslittlediaries made a gifset for this story, which you can see here!