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Grounded on Living Skin

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The tattoo parlor didn’t look like much.

It was an old building, the brick beginning to crumble and ivy overtaking the facade. It had always been a hole-in-the-wall kind of place, the sort of storefront people might pass by without really noticing, and the building had never had the best upkeep, so it had always looked a little dodgy. Derek remembered going in there at least once a week as a kid, with his mom, back when the place was a record store. Vinyl was old news by then — Derek hadn’t even known how to work his mom’s record player — but it had yet to become hip and “vintage,” and the guy who owned the store seemed to be constitutionally against CDs, so in Derek’s every memory of the place the store was basically empty, except for the rows and rows of dusty merchandise. His mom had flipped through cardboard record sleeves for hours, her hips swaying to whatever record was playing, while the store’s owner followed young Derek around, watching him suspiciously, waiting for him to break something.

Derek never had broken anything, and he’d resented the implication, but the store didn’t stick around for much longer anyway, and after that the building just sat empty, until last year when somebody had cut away the ivy that had grown over the windows, given the whole exterior a bit of a clean-up, and hung a pretty unassuming sign above the door that said “Incantation Tattoo.” Derek had driven by a few times and wondered what the inside looked like, now that the place had been renovated and reopened, wondered whether he might be able to walk in there and see his mother’s ghost dancing to David Bowie, or whether his memories would all be lost under a fresh coat of paint.

It seemed stupid, now that he thought of it, to expect to see the shade of her anywhere. If the spirit did live on, then hers wasn’t lingering anywhere around him. He didn’t blame her.

Still, that was what he was thinking about when Laura rolled the Camaro to a stop at the curb right in front of the shop, taken by the memories the way he often was, since they’d come back to Beacon Hills. It had been hard to be away, to leave behind everything he’d ever known and travel into foreign territories, places that were more often than not unwelcoming, but it had been harder still to come home.

“I don’t want to do this,” Derek said, his elbow propped up on the car’s window casing as he stared moodily out the window at the storefront that really didn’t look all that familiar at all. There were lights glowing warmly in the windows, but the little sign on the front door said “closed.”

“I don’t actually care,” Laura said. Derek wasn’t looking at her, but he could tell just from the sound of her voice that her teeth were gritted together; he could picture the line between her eyebrows and the set of her jaw. The way she looked when she was angry had been permanently seared into his brain since childhood, and he’d been seeing a lot of that look in the years since their parents died, in the years that Laura had been Alpha. It was too much responsibility for someone so young, even when that someone was Laura, a natural leader and a naturally forceful personality, and even when she was only leading a pack of one.

He hadn’t made it easy on her, not ever, but he’d always been on her side. Just this one time he wished she’d be the one to back down.

Laura sighed. From the corner of his eyes he could see her hands flex against the steering wheel; it groaned a little under the pressure and she let go, fisting her hands in her lap instead. “There’s an Alpha pack headed our way, Derek, and it’s just the two of us. We need extra protection. Without it, we’re dead.”

Derek snorted. “According to Deaton,” he said, snarling the name out like it was something distasteful, which to Derek it kind of was. He’d met Deaton once, for all of ten minutes, and the guy had acted like Derek was a naughty puppy who needed a smack with a newspaper. So no, Deaton wasn’t really one of Derek’s favorite people.

“Yes, according to Deaton,” Laura snapped back. “I know trusting people isn’t really your thing these days, but Deaton was Dad’s best friend. Since grade school. So maybe if you don’t want to trust my judgment on this, you should trust Dad’s.”

It was a low blow, but it worked. Derek scowled and flung open the car door, climbing out onto the pavement and shoving his hands into his jacket pockets. The fingers of his left hand closed loosely around the paper in his pocket, the one that Laura had pushed on him earlier, which he’d folded and tucked away without even looking at. He wanted to crush it, to mangle it beyond recovery, but he already knew he wasn’t going to.

“Oh, don’t make that face,” Laura said, as she pulled open the tattoo shop’s door, which wasn’t locked although the place was supposedly closed. A little bell jingled to announce their presence. Derek very carefully did not change the look on his face, whatever look it was. “It’s not like I’m making you get something completely embarrassing. I mean, if you’d rather we could probably get you a butterfly on your ankle.”

In a battle of wits with his sister, Derek would always lose, mostly because as the older sibling she’d had more time to practice going for his soft spots. So he didn’t say anything, his silence answer enough to tell her how not-funny she was, and shouldered his way past her into the shop.

It didn’t look anything like it used to, and Derek didn’t feel at all like he was stepping in to any place he’d ever been before. There were rooms now where there hadn’t been, the larger space sliced up into sections, the walls painted in tasteful shades, and the feel of the place was entirely different. There was a strong scent of sage with an undercurrent of chemical cleaner and old blood, and the walls were covered in art of pretty much every variety imaginable, from sheets of generic flash to bigger, framed pieces that were probably from the artists’ own portfolios.

There was also a kid leaning against the side of the counter, watching them, and when Derek walked in he smiled, slow, and said, “He doesn’t seem like a butterfly guy, actually. I’m thinking more like… a kitten riding a unicorn across a rainbow.”

Derek growled, but the kid just kept on grinning, like he was hard-wired to respond to all attempts at intimidation by being a smug little smartass.

“We’re here to see Deaton,” Derek said, in his best I could kill you without even trying very hard voice.

Apparently it wasn’t good enough, because the kid didn’t leave the room to find his boss like Derek was hoping he would. All he did was shrug with one shoulder and wave a hand toward the open doorways to the private rooms in the back. “He knows you’re here,” the kid said. “It’s not exactly a big place.”

“You could go tell him anyway,” Derek suggested, in a tone that also suggested that it wasn’t a suggestion.

“Play nice, Derek,” Laura told him, but she was smiling at the kid like she wanted him to be her new best friend, an ally in making Derek’s life miserable, which was just great.

The kid didn’t smile back at her though, and he didn’t go to find Deaton, either; he just grabbed the marker that he had tucked behind his ear and started spinning it deftly between his fingers. He leaned against the counter a little more heavily, as if to imply that he was so comfortable and settled that he was considering filing a change of address and planting a bonsai garden. It was a particular quality of the young, Derek thought, that they were so heedlessly self-destructive that they could look a threat in the face and smirk at it the way the kid was smirking at Derek now. And the kid was young; he certainly didn’t look old enough to work in a tattoo shop, much less to be as heavily tattooed as he was. His fashion sense was decidedly casual too, his jeans frayed white at the heel and riding low on his hips, his Converse scuffed and his graphic t-shirt well-worn enough that Derek couldn’t even read what it said, could only make out the line drawing of a beaver on the front. (He probably didn’t want to know what it said.) But underneath all the inked-in lines curling from beneath his shirtsleeves there was the shape of the man he was becoming, muscle beginning to fill out his build. Right now his broad shoulders only served to make him look a little gawky in the way that youngsters so often were, but that was already changing, and he was clearly growing into his frame. His forearms were already well-defined, and his biceps were getting there, too. Not that Derek was looking.

“I see everyone’s getting along,” someone else said, and when Derek looked there was Deaton walking through from one of the private rooms, wiping off his hands with a towel. He hardly spared them a second glance. “That’s good. I’ve had an emergency come up, so Derek, my apprentice will be taking care of you tonight.”

Laura said, “Are you kidding me?” and it was in her Alpha voice, her the fuck is this shit tone that always put Derek’s teeth on edge, like he needed to find someone to beat into a bloody pulp so his sister would feel better about life. He wasn’t ever sure if it was an Alpha-and-Beta thing or just a brother-and-sister thing.

Deaton didn’t look particularly intimidated by Laura’s wolf-voice, though. Neither did the kid who was the epicenter of their argument. He just shifted out of Deaton’s way, perching himself on a barstool behind the counter, absently swiveling back and forth, tapping the capped marker against his teeth.

Normally, Derek found Laura kind of embarrassing to be around in public when she was worked up like this, especially since she’d become the Alpha and started overcompensating for lack of experience by getting more bossy. (He knew he had only himself to blame, because he’d reacted to her new Alpha status by getting more rebellious. It was kind of a vicious cycle.) This time, though, Derek could maybe see her point, because he wasn’t entirely sure about the arrangement, either, and that was on top of not being particularly on board with the whole idea in the first place. Magic made him nervous, not because there was anything inherently wrong with it, but just because he didn’t understand it, had absolutely no talent for it himself; werewolves weren’t really renowned for their magical abilities in general. It had taken Laura a solid month poring through the family’s only magical tome to even begin to figure out what sort of symbols they’d need for this. Magical tattoos were the worst, because they meant trusting the tattoo artist to get it right, to have Derek’s best interests at heart, to make the magic work the way it was supposed to. Worst case scenario, the artist purposely screwed up the magic and Derek could end up dead, either from the act of tattooing itself or from the spell’s failure at a critical moment. Only slightly better case scenario, the artist could just be an idiot and Derek could wind up with the magical equivalent of a tattoo that was supposed to say “peace” in Chinese and actually said “fried rice.”

It wasn’t really a confidence-inspiring situation for Derek, and now Deaton was proposing to leave Derek and his supernatural body art at the mercy of an apprentice.

“Your brother will be in good hands,” Deaton said, placid as he ever was. “Mr. Stilinski is nearing the end of his apprenticeship, he’s perfectly capable of—”

“It isn’t acceptable,” Laura said, steely. “You need to do it yourself.”

The kid, Stilinski, caught Derek’s eye and made a show of rolling his eyes, twitching his marker through his hands in a way that kind of encompassed Laura and Deaton both like, Listen to them, talking about us like we’re not even in the room. Derek couldn’t help the twitch at the corner of his mouth, and that in turn made Stilinski grin, apparently pleased with himself for acting like a twelve-year-old.

“I need to attend to business elsewhere,” Deaton replied, and then he turned his attention pointedly away from Laura entirely, as if dismissing her from the conversation, and addressed Derek instead. Judging by the incredibly threatening growl Laura let out, she didn’t like that much, but Deaton was pretending not to know that she was actually capable of turning into a giant animal and ripping his face off. “I promise you, Derek, Stiles will take good care of you. He’s annoying, but I’ve invested an awful lot of time into his training, so I’m going to trust you not to kill him just to shut him up.”

“Hey!” Stiles said, spitting the marker out of his mouth and stilling his stool-twirling by slapping both his hands down on the countertop. “Don’t give the werewolves any ideas if you’re going to leave me alone with them.”

“You’ll do fine, son,” Deaton told him, although the words were all wrong for the tone, like what he actually said was a reassurance and what he actually meant was “shut up.”

“We can reschedule,” Laura finally said, grudgingly, when Deaton turned away without even looking at her again, as if the whole thing was a done deal.

“It’s up to you,” Deaton said, only half paying attention anymore. Stiles pulled an old-fashioned doctor’s bag from under the counter for him, along with a few boxes overflowing with magical miscellany, and Deaton was already filling the bag with little glass bottles and mysterious leather-wrapped bundles. “But I won’t have another window in my schedule for something like this for another two months.”

“That’s bullshit, Deaton,” Laura snarled. “You don’t even know what a pain in my ass he’s been just to drag him through the door, you can’t just—”

Derek kind of lost track of the argument then, because when he looked at Stiles, Stiles was looking back. Was looking back, was blatantly running his eyes up and down Derek’s body, absolutely shamelessly. And it wasn’t sexual — well, it was sexual, it was really incredibly sexual and now that Derek thought about it, the kid wasn’t actually that much of a kid, definitely had to at least be legal — but there was something more to it, something in the way that Stiles looked and really seemed to see. He seemed to be taking in every single detail, every rough edge and shadow, like he was planning to draw a portrait or something, like he was—

Like he was taking in his canvas, and couldn’t wait to begin his masterpiece. Stiles’ body was buzzing with energy held back, and Derek had thought maybe the kid was just hyper, but now he could see it for what it was, that eagerness, that anticipation, that desire, all that magic sparking under the skin. Something in Derek seemed to find the same frequency, and when their eyes met there was something new there, some kind of resonance between them, their bodies humming together.

Derek shifted his weight without even thinking, and opened his mouth to break in on Laura’s diatribe, but he didn’t really need to say anything at all.

Stiles stood up, and with a grace that Derek hadn’t guessed at, started strolling toward one of the private rooms. He said, “Come on, Derek, I seriously can’t wait to get my needle into you,” and Derek, taken entirely by surprise by the innuendo and startling even himself by laughing out loud, just followed along.

+++

“This is the design, and the instructions,” Derek said, pulling the folded sheet from his jacket pocket. “It has to be exact.”

Stiles laughed when he saw what was on the page. Then he looked up at Derek and, apparently not intimidated by the sight of Derek’s disapproving scowl, laughed even harder.

“Oh, come on dude, don’t joke around,” Stiles said, and twirled the paper between his fingers so Derek could see the design drawn on it, like he knew somehow that Derek hadn’t even so much as opened it. “Look, the skin is just another canvas, right? But it’s forever, especially for wolves like you. The way we mix up this ink, laser removal’s not going to cut it for you. You get a shitty tattoo, you get to wear it like a testament to your completely crappy taste in art for the rest of your life. This isn’t the kind of art you hang in a museum, man, this is the kind of art you hang on the fridge.

He slapped the paper down on his work table, almost like he was trying to punish it for being personally offensive to him.

“But I—” Derek said, and paused, trying to wrap his head around the idea of this kid just rejecting the Hale family’s magical heritage wholesale. “It doesn’t have to be beautiful, it’s magic. It’s practical. It’s not for decoration.

Stiles scoffed, and he was already pulling out his sketchbook and grabbing the marker from where it apparently was always perched, ever-present, like a favored pet. He leaned over his pad and started sketching something with smooth, crisp black lines against the white page. Derek waited, cocking an ear toward the lobby where Laura’s angry voice had died away and been replaced by Deaton’s lower, softer tones. He was convincing Laura to let them be and go home, which was a great idea, because Laura fuming in the waiting room wasn’t really the kind of moral support Derek needed right then. He’d have shouted for Laura to go away, but then she probably would’ve decided to stay just to spite him, so he kept his mouth shut and was rewarded moments later by the sound of the door shutting in Laura’s wake.

Some of the tension went out of Derek’s shoulders the moment she was gone. Derek put all of it out of his mind, the argument and his reticence and all the rest, and let himself relax a little, watching Stiles work, kind of mesmerized by the drag of felt-tip against paper. It all just looked like lines to him, almost random, like abstract art. Derek hated abstract art, and—

“Wait a minute, did you call my body a museum?” Derek asked, mentally rewinding the conversation and yeah, he was pretty sure Stiles did, actually.

Stiles ignored the question completely, though, intent on his drawing in a way that stilled his body. The restless jitters he’d had out in the waiting room were completely gone, and the way he was leaning now over the table was like the weightless drift of a hunting hawk, effortlessly focused.

“Magic doesn’t have to be beautiful,” Stiles repeated, his voice a low murmur, echoing Derek’s own words back at him. “But it is. Naturally. That is its default state. It’s organic, it’s living, and when you represent its beauty, when you show the truth of it, you only make it stronger.”

His drawing, as he spoke, was beginning to take on a real shape, the impression of random scribbles vanishing as each stroke of Stiles’ marker began to connect to another, form coalescing out of chaos. Stiles turned his marker around, uncapping the opposite end to reveal another thick tip that he used to fill in certain pieces with thick swaths of black ink. Derek could see what Stiles was building on, the basic structure of the design not at all unlike Laura’s drawing, her magic there in the skeleton of the thing, but Stiles was making something new from it, something bolder, something undeniably beautiful. All the proper runes and sigils were there, but he’d made their shapes more elegant, their lines more consistent, and arranged them in a new way that made them seem more cohesive somehow, as if in being weaved together, linked and intertwined like braided rope, they could be built into something unbreakable.

When he finished, leaning back with a look of extreme satisfaction on his face, the piece was practically unrecognizable next to the original. Stiles was right. His art belonged in a frame on the wall, and Laura’s… well, it could only have been improved if she’d used crayons instead of a ballpoint. The refrigerator was too good a gallery for it.

“I’ll check this with Deaton before he leaves,” Stiles said, scooping up his pad and obviously not intending to bother with getting Derek’s own approval. Maybe there was approval enough written across his face. “It should work the same — better, even — but I am still just an apprentice. Unsupervised riffing is generally frowned upon. It’s unfair, really, I only almost blew up the entire building that one time.”

He walked out the door without a backward glance, so Derek sat down on the short swivel stool, drumming his fingers against his knees, and waited, resisting the urge to listen in to the murmured conversation out in the waiting room. He felt a little more nervous with each passing second, sitting in the little room by himself, second-guessing his decision to go through with this, to trust it to an apprentice, but Stiles wasn’t gone long enough for him to completely talk himself out of it.

When Stiles walked back in he was strutting like some victorious conquerer, brandishing his sketchbook like the spoils of war. “I am the greatest!” he crowed. “My name shall live in infamy!”

“Infamy isn’t actually a good thing,” Derek pointed out. “Deaton said it was okay?”

“Deaton said it was brilliant,” Stiles said, clutching his sketchbook protectively to his chest like the word ‘okay’ was some form of horrible insult. “I mean, what he actually said was, ‘Yes, that will still do the job, try not to screw it up,’ and then he made some crack about my sense of style, but I could see his admiration in the slant of his eyebrows. What? Why are you staring at me? Deaton has really expressive eyebrows, okay? He’s not a big talker. I’ve had to learn to translate what he doesn’t actually say.”

Derek was fostering a certain amount of doubt about Stiles’ interpretation of events, but that wasn’t why he was staring. The drawing took up the entire page, and though the sketchbook wasn’t an oversized one, the way Stiles was holding it in front of him, Derek could easily see how it would look on skin, the way that design could stretch up the plane of Stiles’ chest like a growing thing, reaching for his heart. It was going to look absolutely, unimaginably stunning.

“I need it,” Derek said, and there was a crack in his voice that was something like pain. He’d meant to think those words, not say them out loud, but he meant them all the same.

“Yeah, magical protection’s kind of important, sucks to be a supernatural creature I guess,” Stiles said, turning away.

He already had a little rolling cart set out, loaded up with antique glass bottles and bundles of fresh leaves and even a mortar and pestle, next to all the modern tools of the skin artist’s trade: bottled ink, the awkward-looking mechanical shape of the tattoo gun, a few rubber bands. The rest of it looked like medical supplies, all sterile packaging, needles and tubes and bandages and rubber gloves.

Stiles pulled a pair of gloves on like he’d done it a million times, and started in with the leaves, shredding a few by hand into the mortar and grinding away with the pestle with a little too much enthusiasm. He kept his back to Derek and the line of his spine was tense with frustration. The scent coming off those crushed leaves was kind of overpowering but Derek could still smell the unhappiness clinging to Stiles’ skin, although where it was all coming from Derek had no—

Oh.

“I’m— I didn’t—” Derek said, and stopped, his own frustration mounting, the words sticking in his throat. He finally settled on, “I’m sorry. That wasn’t a complaint… I really want that tattoo.”

Stiles snorted, but the muscles in his shoulders were unwinding, slowly. “I know you don’t. Your sister pretty much said she was making you do this,” he said, and turned around, still grinding the whatever-it-was from a plant into a paste with a forced air of casualness. “But about this design, Deaton also said it’s going to take forever. He might have been implying that I’m a pain in his ass and I don’t work fast enough, but it’s also true — that it’s going to take forever, and that I’m a pain in the ass — and the whole thing does have to be done in one sitting because of the magical elements. I mean, I’m up to it if you are, but I could also make it simpler, closer to your original art. If you wanted.”

Derek didn’t even have to think about it. He’d drifted closer while Stiles spoke — babbled, really — and now he reached past Stiles’ hip to where the sketchbook sat on the corner of the tray. When his fingers traced the lines on the paper, he could almost swear he felt the touch against his own stomach. A fine tremor ran through Stiles’ body, like he could feel it too.

“No,” Derek said, and ran his finger along the edge of one curling line. “This is perfect. It’s going to be amazing. I want this. From you. Honestly.”

Stiles looked dubious — not of his own skills, but of Derek’s recognition of them — and then he just shrugged a little, hardly a twitch of his shoulder, and one corner of his mouth curved up. Derek took this as assent, smiling himself at Stiles’ shyly averted face, and realized exactly how close he was standing. He shuffled back again, awkwardly, yielding back Stiles’ personal space, and lowered himself onto the table, stretched out on his back, feeling more than ready, suddenly, to be marked.

“Alright, so this is going to need to go on your stomach; there are some pretty serious magical meridians there that are going to help this work. You’ll need to take your shirt off,” Stiles said, gesturing one-handed toward Derek’s abs; Derek swallowed down his embarrassment and stripped off his t-shirt in one swift movement. Just the knowledge of Stiles’ eyes on him made him feel hot and nervous, but Stiles was surveying him with the speculative eye of an artist imagining his brushstrokes on canvas. “How big do you want me to make it?”

“I— like this,” Derek said. He put his fingers against the notch just under his sternum, then ran his hand down, along the shallow line between muscles that marked the center of him. His touch skated along the subtle ridges of his abdominals, across his navel and down, further still, until his jeans got in the way. His gaze stayed fixed, the whole time, on Stiles’ face, like there was something he needed to read there, even if he wasn’t sure what.

“That’s— uh— perfect. Really good choice,” Stiles said. He swallowed hard and his eyes seemed to be caught on the place where Derek’s hand had come to a stop. So Derek used that same hand to pop open the button on his jeans, to ease the zipper down to reveal only more flesh and absolutely no underwear, to pull open each side of his fly until the flat plane of his lower abdomen was revealed, with only the shadowed suggestion of what lay further down. He tapped his fingers to the place just a few inches above where abdomen gave way to groin, and he watched Stiles’ face, listened to the increased tempo of Stiles’ heart like it was playing a song just for him. Stiles coughed, finally, like he was choking on his own in-drawn breath, and looked away, clearing his throat. “You sure you want it that big? I mean, it’s good, I can make it more powerful, there’s more room for detail, it’s just… you need to be sure.”

“I’m sure,” Derek said, and his voice was deep and husky of its own accord.

“Okay,” Stiles said, and turned away, this time obviously to collect himself. Derek felt perversely proud. “Let’s get started, then.”

He pulled his stool up with his foot, dragged his tray closer, settled himself in right against Derek’s side, and got started, as promised.

+++

It only took a few minutes for Derek to begin to regret starting something he wasn’t capable of finishing.

Flirting wasn’t really his thing, much less outright seduction. Kate had laughed at him once and told him— well, nevermind what Kate had told him, Kate and every pretty lie that had ever come out of her mouth were best forgotten entirely. And although Stiles’ response to Derek’s first fumbling attempt had seemed pretty favorable, Derek quickly began to feel awkward about the whole thing. It wasn’t really okay, he was pretty sure, to hit on somebody when they were stuck at work, unable to escape. And while Stiles didn’t seem to want to escape, there was also the bigger problem: namely that Derek really did need to get this tattoo, and it was going to take a long time — probably all night, Stiles cheerfully informed him, when he asked — and that meant he was going to be lying there for ages, with Stiles’ forearm braced against his thigh, with those hands, even gloved as they were, pressing against his skin extremely close to his cock, and he was pretty sure he’d earned the embarrassment of getting hard and staying that way, but that didn’t mean that he actually wanted to experience it.

Things started to go bad before Stiles even bothered to prepare his gun and ink; just the drag of the cheap plastic razor across Derek’s skin as Stiles carefully shaved the whole area where he’d be working was almost unbearably intimate. Derek watched Stiles’ gloved hands with a kind of blank, bewildered fascination as the razor scraped against his skin, cutting away the familiar dusting of dark hair that stretched between his navel and his pubic hair. All of Stiles’ movements as he prepared his tools were careful, competent, professional, but Derek just couldn’t get himself on board with that kind of detachment, now that he’d let his mind wander to other places. He couldn’t watch Stiles’ fingers wrapping around those bottles without wondering how they’d feel doing the same on his cock, and every shift and twitch of Stiles’ body drew Derek’s immediate, sharp attention. Each time Stiles turned away to pick something up from the cart, Derek’s eyes were drawn to the shape of his shoulderblades through his t-shirt. He stared at the tattoos on Stiles’ arms, the hint of one just barely creeping out from under his collar at the base of Stiles’ neck. He wondered how far they went, how that flesh would feel under his own fingers.

By the time Stiles had finished mixing his particular magical ink concoction, loaded his machine, and bent over to begin the actual tattooing, Derek was already wired, on the verge of overstimulated just from the smell of Stiles’ skin and the press of those gloved fingers against his stomach. The first jolt of pain was a welcome distraction, but it wasn’t enough, even as Stiles started drawing slow, dark arcs into Derek’s skin.

Every shaman had his own recipes for ink, and of course each practiced his own sort of magic with its own taste and smell and horrible side-effects. Derek’s first tattoo — the massive triskele stretching across his back — was done by a gap-toothed shaman in Portland who stank of patchouli, and it had been the most painful experience of his life, easily worse than last year’s wolfsbane poisoning; the pain had gone on and on, leaving him sick and pale and shaking for days after. He was ready for that again this time, had even scheduled a few days off from work so he could devote his time to huddling around himself and trying to breathe through the agony.

So he was surprised to find that the bite of Stiles’ needle actually wasn’t that bad, just a persistent stinging ache that felt more like a burn than a puncture. By the end of the first hour, it didn’t feel like a hurt at all, just a thrumming warmth at the center of him, radiating outward from the twin points of the tattoo gun’s assault and Stiles’ hand, pressed against the skin exposed by the open V of Derek’s fly.

At first Derek was worried that he’d have to keep up conversation for as long as the session lasted, would have to chat with Stiles and would inevitably say something completely mortifying that would completely ruin his chances of… of whatever it was he thought he might accomplish by flirting. (Although now that he was actively thinking about flirting, he was too nervous to even try it again.) He spent some time with his head tipped back, not watching the way Stiles crouched over his body and trying not to think about the pressure of Stiles’ hand where it was braced in the space right above his dick, keeping the skin taut for the needle while the pressure of both felt like Stiles was sewing a thread from his own hand right into Derek’s belly, so that every shift of Stiles’ fingers tugged at Derek’s insides.

Fortunately for Derek, though, there was no conversation to be had, awkward or otherwise. Stiles didn’t talk at all, didn’t say a word once he’d set his machine against Derek’s skin, and after awhile Derek could see why; Stiles glanced up at him, as if to check that Derek was doing okay, and his eyes weren’t just dilated, they were swallowed up completely, whites and all, by a film of inky black. The tattoos on Stiles’ forearms were moving, slowly rearranging themselves into new configurations like shifting sand. The primitive-looking fox figure that had been twisted around Stiles’ right forearm uncurled itself as if waking from a nap, and sauntered up his arm to wrap instead around the middle of his bicep, leaving its eyes open this time as it settled with its jaw on its forepaws, staring down at Derek with its own little black eyes.

It was disconcerting, to say the least. But Stiles didn’t seem concerned with him seeing, and only bent back to his work, clearly in some sort of trance. Derek could hardly complain about it, anyway, because the tattoo was progressing faster than it had any right to, and Stiles’ freehand strokes against his skin were perfectly controlled, beautifully confident. Derek felt like he was in a bit of a trance too, just watching, that heat he was feeling becoming a mixture of pain and arousal and a sort of contentment that sank into his bones. He felt drugged, then wondered idly if he actually was drugged, and decided he didn’t care.

He relaxed back into the embrace of the table. When his hand brought itself up more or less of its own accord to cradle the back of Stiles’ head, buzzcut bristly under Derek’s fingers, when he stroked his hands against it like a lover begging for a blowjob, Stiles didn’t even seem surprised. He didn’t object either, just kept on with his linework, even when Derek groaned his name in an unmistakably and uncontrollably erotic tone, even when Derek’s cock really did stiffen in his jeans, straining against the denim, the fabric shifting with it so that the base of it was there in plain sight, stiff and thick, if Stiles cared to look.

Stiles didn’t care to look, though; he ignored Derek’s hand, which went from cradling Stiles’ head to touching all the parts of him that Derek could reach, fingers stroking down the shell of Stiles’ ear and across the plane of his shoulder and around his bicep where the fox stirred, looking pleased with being petted, squirming under Derek’s fingers before it settled again. Derek thought about reaching around his other hand to pull his own dick out, thought about rubbing himself off right there on the table, thought about coming all—

He stopped himself there, but only just barely, even as his hand was reaching out to fulfill the fantasy; he clenched his fist against his thigh instead and the effort it took to stop himself was much greater than it should have been. Derek whimpered and grated out a wrecked, “What the fuck did you do to me,” and squirmed against the irresistible pull of his own body. That, at least, finally got Stiles’ attention.

Stiles’ head snapped up, his drawing hand stilled, and his other hand pressed down hard against Derek’s stomach, as if to pin him in place, which was ridiculous because Stiles didn’t have even anything close to Derek’s strength.

Stiles said, “Hold still,” in a voice that was kind of hypnotic, and Derek would have submitted instantly and instinctively, wanted to obey, but he just couldn’t stop himself from trying to press into Stiles’ hands, to push their bodies together, to do whatever it took to get Stiles to make him come.

“Can’t,” Derek panted back, trying to sum up his entire fucked up problem in one succinct word that was an apology and a plea all in one. And then he added, “Please,” even though he wasn’t entirely sure what he was asking for.

But Stiles only shook his head, and blinked at him with shining black eyes, and murmured, “Shhhh,” like he was trying to hush Derek into sleep.

Derek didn’t sleep, exactly, but things got kind of hazy after that.

The tension went out of his muscles for the most part, and his cock stayed hard but the painful urgency was gone, and he was aware on some level of Stiles and the tattoo gun and the pleased humming of his own body, but mostly he was disconnected from it, half-gone and drifting. Stiles just kept working, long past the point where his hand should have cramped or his back should have started aching, and he didn’t take a break, even once, until the thing was finished.

+++

Derek came back to himself at the sensation of something cold and wet wiping across his stomach. When he looked down, he found Stiles running a liquid-soaked gauze pad in long strokes across his stomach, cleaning up the last of the stray ink from the site of Derek’s new tattoo.

Derek looked down at the design in bewilderment, almost as if he’d forgotten he was being tattooed at all, surprised that it was finished when he felt like he’d hardly been on the table for more than a handful of hours. It had obviously been more than just a handful, though, because there was morning light spilling in through the high windows. Derek sat up, feeling completely awake in a way he shouldn’t have been considering that he’d been completely out of it for most of the night, but he felt fine, felt good even, and had to resist the urge to bounce his feet against the floor like a kid.

Stiles was blinking against that brightness, pulling his gloves off, and when he looked up at Derek his eyes were brown again, almost amber around the pupils when the light caught them, looking deceptively normal.

“What do you think?” Stiles said, and gestured down at his finished masterpiece, sounding almost shy.

The finished product wasn’t even close to what Stiles had drawn on the page.

The shape wasn’t a fern exactly, or a feather, but it was still both of those at once, somehow, each stylized line a suggestion of things growing and flying. There was the hint of a claw in the curve at the top and the echo of a wing in the whorl at the bottom. Even the very shape of the thing was more than it seemed; where in his sketch Stiles had only filled those spaces roughly with flat black strokes, on Derek’s skin they were extravagantly detailed, each barb and leaflet built of smaller symbols that were unmistakably magical, a collection of dots and swirls and lines that really had to be much more than Derek had asked for. The whole thing was done in black, but there were tones of warm red beneath it, like the colors of Derek’s own coat when he changed himself fully into the wolf. This was so much finer than Stiles’ original sketch that it hardly seemed to be the same piece of art, and yet it was. There had to be more magic imbued in it than could be found in the entire volume of the Hale family’s magical history, and it had to be infinitely more powerful than the almost primitive magic that Laura had planned out for him.

It was too much. It was not even remotely enough. Derek couldn’t answer Stiles’ question, didn’t have the words, so he reached out for Stiles’ bare hand and pressed it to himself, splayed Stiles’ palm out against the center of the tattoo, against his own belly, in the hopes that Stiles might feel something there he could make sense of, something aside from the burning heat that Derek’s already-healed skin was still throwing off.

“What was it doing to me?” Derek asked, and it wasn’t an accusation. He still felt a little odd. He didn’t want it to stop.

Stiles coughed, uncomfortably, but his fingers flexed against Derek’s skin like he couldn’t help himself. “Ah, yeah. That. It’s something I put in the ink, a kind of temporary painkiller. It’s supposed to make you more comfortable, to amplify whatever pleasant thoughts you have in your head so you can relax and not feel the pain so much, but it’s— I guess I haven’t perfected it quite yet.”

Derek cleared his throat and looked away, then realized what a coward he was being and looked back again, catching Stiles’ gaze with his own, so he could show that he was being sincere. “No, I think it worked perfectly, actually,” he said. “Maybe you didn’t think through what particularly awkward side effects it could have, but it worked. I was thinking exactly those sorts of thoughts. About you.”

Stiles’ smile was slow, but when it finally broke free it unfurled like a flag. “Really?” he said, and his eyes took Derek in, flickering from Derek’s eyes to his mouth, throat, chest, his fresh new ink, his open jeans and his cock, still hard, bowing up against the confines of his jeans where it was half-trapped.

“Really,” Derek said, and pressed his own palm tighter over the back of Stiles’ hand, kept it anchored to his own stomach, a little afraid Stiles might pull away.

He didn’t, though. He pushed in closer instead, crowding his hips between Derek’s knees, and when he moved his hand it was with enough intention that Derek let go, gave him his freedom. Stiles didn’t take it; he just stayed, tracing his fingertips over the lines newly etched on Derek’s abs, and where he touched almost seemed to spark, the ink flashing orange like some sort of chemical reaction to Stiles’ touch.

“Skin-magic is the most powerful kind, you know,” Stiles said. He was so close now that Derek could feel the heat of Stiles’ breath against his collarbone. “Aside from the scary-ass dark stuff, I mean. It’s primal, but it’s personal too. It’s a part of us in a way that the other natural magics never can be, because it’s written in our bones, so writing it on our skin is just a way of bringing what’s inside to the surface.”

Derek raised an eyebrow, watching with rapt attention as Stiles’ hand drifted lower, closer to where Derek wanted it.

“Sex-magic is a part of it, too,” Stiles went on, casually, like this sort of thing was an everyday subject with shamans and maybe it was, because the few Derek had ever known hadn’t seemed to be very concerned with things like social boundaries. “I can— it’s not a common technique anymore, but it does work, to seal an act of magic like this, give it a final binding with— we can—”

Derek turned his face into Stiles’, his mouth against Stiles’ cheek, both of them watching as Stiles’ fingers brushed down and down, until the very tip of his middle finger touched the base of Derek’s cock, and stilled, waiting for some kind of permission.

“I don’t need you to have sex with me to make your magic stronger, Stiles,” Derek said, his lips moving right against Stiles’ cheek, the rasp of his stubble against Stiles’ smoothness its own kind of skin-magic. He could feel the words sink in, the way they made Stiles want to recoil away, but Derek had already brought up his arm, and he looped it around Stiles’ waist before Stiles could create even a millimeter of new space between them. “I don’t know a lot about magic, but yours seems plenty strong already. I need you to have sex with me because I really want to have sex with you.

“Yeah?” Stiles said, and this time it was his lips against Derek’s skin, their skulls almost knocking together with how fast Stiles raised his eyes to peer at Derek’s face, to read whatever unspoken words he might find there.

He was right there, so Derek just leaned in and kissed him, and it was bolder than Derek had ever been in his life, but it was worth it when Stiles let Derek press his lips to the corner of Stiles’ mouth, and when he nipped at Stiles’ lip, and when their mouths finally came together properly. Stiles just opened right up, invited Derek in, like he’d already engraved Derek’s name on his own skin somewhere, like there had always been magic between them, waiting for their lives to be struck together so they could spark.

Derek only broke away to swear, fluently and enthusiastically, as Stiles’ fingers finally pushed Derek’s jeans down that last little bit and pulled his cock out. Stiles didn’t linger over it the way Derek wanted, didn’t run his long, nimble fingers over it the way Derek had imagined, which was a little disappointing at first, until Stiles did what he wanted to do, which was whisper, “Hey, I’m going to suck you, okay?” against Derek’s lips.

Stiles kicked his stool out of the way so hard it slammed into the opposite wall and stayed there, spinning a little bit dejectedly, and in almost the same motion he dropped right to his knees. He wrapped his hands around Derek’s hips, his thumbs fitting into the ridges of bare muscle there, and tugged ungently, pulling Derek’s hips forward to the edge of the table, Derek’s legs parting wide without any sort of conscious input from Derek’s brain.

The sound Derek made must’ve been a form of agreement in some sort of language — maybe in the secret tongue of sex-magic, and Derek could only assume that Stiles was a native speaker for reasons of holy fuck — because Stiles wasted no time in fitting his mouth right around Derek’s cock and swallowing it down.

Everything got kind of hazy after that, too, but it wasn’t magic this time, it was just Stiles, the wet heat of his mouth, his enthusiasm, the way he choked himself and then pulled back and coughed and said, “I’m alright, I’m okay, I’m good,” with his own spit clinging to his lips and his breath washing over the head of Derek’s cock.

He was completely ridiculous. Derek wanted to keep him forever.

They could discuss that later, though, maybe. Much later, at a point in time when “forever” wouldn’t seem like a completely weird and inappropriate leap forward. Derek was determined, at least, that there would at very least be a later to worry about.

Stiles was doing a pretty good job of keeping him focused on the now, though, and Derek was already too close to the edge just from the sight of Stiles down there, snugged in between Derek’s legs, his arm wrapped around one thigh, his breath shuddering out of him with every other downstroke. Derek bent over him, smoothed his hand down the back of Stiles’ neck, rested his palm between Stiles’ shoulderblades, felt the warm radiating from the other’s body and let it seep into him, bone-deep.

Derek was aware of muttering something, possibly Stiles’ name and appeals to various deities (although Derek was thinking about converting exclusively to a new Stiles-based religion of his own devising that would focus mostly on worship through debauchery), and then there was nothing he could do except pull Stiles off, as much as he didn’t want Stiles to ever stop because Derek was seriously going to come down his throat. And while that sounded like maybe the sexiest thing that would ever happen in Derek’s life, he also had real concerns about Stiles actually choking on it after that incident earlier. And Derek hadn’t even gotten to touch Stiles’ dick yet, so how was that fair?

Stiles made a little broken sound, like taking his mouth off of Derek’s cock was the worst thing anyone had ever made him do, but Derek did his best to fix it by hauling Stiles up, hooking his hands into the waistband of Stiles’ jeans and setting to work on the button with fingers that didn’t really want to cooperate.

“Get this fucking off,” Derek finally said, even as he got the button free himself. His other hand was already cupping the bulge of Stiles’ cock through the denim, and Stiles had his hands braced on Derek’s shoulders like the whole thing was just going to make him fall down. It was a possibility, at least; Stiles’ knees certainly didn’t look too steady.

So Derek stood up too, shuffling them both back until he had Stiles pinned against a wall, because that seemed as good a way as any to prop Stiles up while Derek had his way with him. Derek pushed Stiles’ jeans down, too, and the boxer briefs underneath, and then he pressed their bodies in tight together, their cocks trapped in that space between them as they both instinctively ground their bodies against one another, and it felt amazing so it just seemed like a good idea to kiss Stiles and keep on kissing him.

Stiles didn’t seem to mind, anyway, and each kiss was hotter and messier than the last, until Stiles finally turned his face away, panting, and said, “Unfair advantage, supernatural fucking breath control,” and Derek laughed against his cheek and reached between them to find Stiles’ dick with his hand.

It felt almost as good to be stroking him as it did to be stroked, when Stiles immediately reciprocated. So he found Stiles’ mouth again, as if to express his gratitude, and they just stayed like that, hands sliding slow and tight, matching one another’s rhythm. When Stiles started to stroke faster, Derek did too, and when Stiles had to break away to pull in gasping breaths and puff out muttered curses, Derek just mouthed at his neck, his collarbone, his ear, every part of him that Derek could reach. He regretted not thinking to pull Stiles’ shirt off in his hurry, but he’d do it next time.

Just to make sure Stiles would be on board with the idea of a next time, Derek said, “We’re going to do this again,” and tried to make it sound more like a statement than a question, although it came out as both. He stared down at their hands, at the head of Stiles’ cock twitching and leaking in his grip, at the tattoos he could see on Stiles’ hipbones, the ones that curled up from his thighs on the left side, and he couldn’t quite believe that all of this was real. “We’re going to do this again,” he repeated, more certain this time, “and when you’re naked I’m going to trace your tattoos with my tongue, I’m going to lap at every fucking line individually, I’m going to know every part of you intimately, and I’m going to—”

Stiles breathed like he was running a marathon and he was looking too, watching his own hand around Derek’s cock, watching the play of muscles beneath Derek’s new tattoo, and when he looked up his eyes hadn’t gone black but they were still blown wide.

“You need to stop talking,” Stiles panted. “Or I’m going to come. I don’t want to come yet.”

Derek shook his head, tipped his forehead against Stiles’ so they could hold each other up, temple to temple. “No, you should come, then I can make you come again later, and I want you to come on my tattoo, I—”

He hadn’t even finished talking before Stiles obeyed, crying out and giving Derek exactly what he’d asked for, which was great, which was amazing, and Derek came too, just knowing that he could do that, that he could ask for things and Stiles would just give them, like it was just that easy.

While Stiles was getting his breath back, Derek propped him up against the wall and breathed in the damp air from Stiles’ exhalations. He hadn’t actually gotten an answer, before, so he was intent on wringing one out now, while Stiles was still soft and pliable and spent.

“Stiles,” he said, and waited until Stiles grunted to go on. “Tell me we’re going to do this again.”

Stiles’ fingers stroked against Derek’s stomach, tracing the lines of the tattoo without even looking, spreading his fingers through his own mess. Then he took hold of Derek’s hips and pushed gently away, putting space between their bodies. Derek allowed himself to be handled, trusting and hopeful in a way he hadn’t been since— ever, maybe.

We are going to put our clothes on,” Stiles said, gently, and if Derek’s heart stuttered in his chest it was only because that was a terrible idea. “Then we’re going to clean up all of my equipment, and then we’re going to go to my place and do this again as many times as we can manage until my weak, human body gives out. Then we’ll maybe nap a little and order takeout. Actually, we’ll need to order a lot of takeout because I’m kind of planning on an epic sex marathon so we’ll need to keep our energy up. And I believe certain promises were made regarding the use of your tongue, which I’m intending to hold you to, just for the record, because that was the single hottest thing I have ever heard in my life. Does all that sound okay to you?”

Derek pressed their mouths together again, and Stiles smiled against his lips when Derek answered, “It’s a start.”

It wasn’t forever, yet, but they could work on that.

 

A tattoo is a true poetic creation, and is always more than meets the eye. As a tattoo is grounded on living skin, so its essence emotes a poignancy unique to the mortal human condition. - V. Vale and Andrea Juno, Modern Primitives