Stiles came across the woodcutting in July while skimming through the bestiary on his new iPad. He was barely paying attention to it, too distracted by Lydia, who sat on the bed beside him in a striped sundress, her bare feet kicking the side of the mattress. Her shoulders were freckled and she smelled like tangerines. When she absently pulled out her compact to touch up her lip gloss, Stiles thought he would have a heart attack. Only the night before, he’d gotten himself off imagining the glossy slide of her lips around his dick.
To distract them both from the impending disaster in his shorts, Stiles made a show of studying the next picture he came across, a woodcutting depicting a werewolf pack attacking a group of hunters. The enormous Alpha was unmistakable, as were the heavy-browed, clawed and fanged betas gathered around him. But in the center of the picture stood what seemed to be an ordinary human (no claws, no sideburns, just a spiral drawn across his chest) standing with the pack, holding a spear against the advancing hunters. The caption read, “homo perfunctus.”
“What’s this?” Stiles asked, nudging Lydia in the side.
She glanced at the page. “Homo perfunctus,” she said thoughtfully. “The punctured man?”
“Punctured?” Stiles asked.
Frowning, Lydia consulted her phone. “Prick, puncture, mark with points . . . Oh! Tattooed!” She pointed to the spiral on the man’s chest. “The tattooed man.” Taking the iPad from Stiles, she settled it on her knees and skimmed through the lines of Latin on the opposite page. “It’s talking about human pack members. Apparently an Alpha can mark them somehow.”
Stiles frowned, his thoughts turning away from the picture. “Scott wants a tattoo,” he said. “Isn’t that crazy?”
“My sister has three,” Lydia said with a dramatic eye roll. “One of them’s a butterfly. Would you ever get one?”
“A butterfly?” Stiles asked, mostly to get a rise out of her. She didn’t disappoint, punching him in the shoulder with a surprisingly strong fist.
“A tattoo, dumbass!”
“No!” Stiles said, rubbing the bruise that was undoubtedly forming beneath his skin. “Are you kidding? I hate needles. I almost fainted the last time I had to have blood drawn. Why, would you get one?”
Lydia looked at him like he was an idiot. “Do you know how hard it would be to pick a tattoo that would coordinate with everything in my closet?” The iPad fell to the mattress as she launched into some ridiculous comparison between tattoos and purses, or maybe shoes. Stiles was only half paying attention.
He didn’t think about the woodcut again until October, after the Alpha Pack and Ms. Blake, and Derek’s return from the land of the presumed dead. By then, his heart had long since stopped leaping whenever Lydia touched up her lip gloss. He couldn’t even remember the last time he’d jerked off thinking about her. His fantasies now were all purposefully vague. And if sometimes he imagined strong hands and a scrape of stubble instead of soft skin and glossy lips . . . well, Stiles wasn’t responsible for the acts of his unconscious.
* * *
After the suicide motel, the smell of gasoline made him sick. Stiles put off filling up the Jeep as long as he could, but eventually, he had to give in, coasting on fumes to the old gas station on the outskirts of town, where at least diesel was five cents cheaper than anywhere else in Beacon Hills. The station was deserted aside from his Jeep. Stiles stood alone beside the ancient pump, tapping his foot as the diesel glugged steadily into the tank. He breathed through his mouth, and tried not to remember the splash of gasoline beneath his sneakers. He tried not to remember Scott’s face, hopeless and desperate in the light of the flare. Restlessly tapping his fingers against the side of the Jeep, Stiles turned, glancing into the woods behind the station.
Only when a pair of red eyes looked back at him did he realize how stupid it was to be alone in a deserted gas station when an Alpha Pack was prowling around Beacon Hills.
Stiles fumbled the phone from his pocket, tapping the “call Scott” shortcut he kept on his home screen. A second later, the phone started ringing. And ringing. And ringing. Stiles groaned when it slid into Scott’s voicemail. Scott had been so much better lately at answering his phone. It was just Stiles’s luck that he’d backslide the first time Stiles actually needed him.
“Scott!” Stiles gritted into the phone, “I’m at the gas station at the edge of town, and there’s a fucking Alpha in the woods. So dude, get here! Hurry up! Don’t let me be werewolf chow!”
He only glanced down for a second to end the call, but it was enough. When he looked up again, the eyes were gone.
“Shit!” Stiles stopped the pump, shoving it back into the holder. He screwed on the gas cap one-handed, frantically thumbing through his contacts with the other hand. He found Derek’s number just as he was sliding into the driver’s seat. Derek answered before Stiles had reached the road.
“Dude,” Stiles said, “Please tell me you’ve decided to take up stalking again.”
There was a short pause. “What?” Derek repeated. This time, he sounded more confused than annoyed. Stiles glanced into the rearview mirror, and let out a low whimper when he caught sight of the eyes again. They were moving, darting behind and around trees, following the road. Following Stiles.
His heart beat a rapid tattoo in his chest as he forced out, “So, just to be clear, you’re not chasing after my Jeep right now, trying to scare me with your glowing, red Alpha eyes?”
“What?!” Derek said again, but this time, he sounded frantic. “Stiles, where are you?”
“I’m by the old gas station,” Stiles said. “Heading into town. There’s something chasing me, and it’s – oh fuck!”
The phone tumbled to the footwell as the Alpha slammed into the Jeep from the side, moving with enough momentum to send it skidding towards the shoulder. Stiles screamed. Only his ridiculously thorough driving lessons with his dad kept him from slamming on the brakes out of instinct. Instead, he downshifted, straightening out the steering wheel.
“Stiles!” Derek was yelling, voice tinny, barely audible over the skid of tires over gravel, the sudden pounding of Stiles's heart. “Stiles, hang on! I’m –”
A clawed hand ripped through the Jeep’s canvas top, and Stiles forgot about Derek, forgot about everything but getting the hell away. He unbuckled his seatbelt and threw open the door. The wind caught him in a blast to the face, although the Jeep wasn’t going very fast at all now, fifteen, twenty miles an hour, max.
“Oh my God!” Stiles yelped, and launched himself out of the Jeep just as the claws tore a long gash in the Jeep’s top and a body tumbled down into the passenger seat beside him.
He landed hard, gravel skinning into the meat of his palms, shredding the knees of his jeans. He rolled once, twice, before skidding to a stop, hands and knees bloody, and his whole body aching. Tears burned his eyes. But he couldn’t afford to stop. Scrambling to his feet, Stiles glanced desperately behind him, where the Jeep was sliding to a stop a hundred yards away, the passenger door swinging open.
Stiles bolted, knowing even as he forced his sore limbs into motion that he couldn’t possibly outrun an Alpha werewolf. Sure enough, he’d only managed a few yards before a strong hand was closing in the back of his shirt, dragging him to a stop.
The woman holding him would have been beautiful, if it weren’t for the red eyes and wicked claws curling from her bare toes. Stiles had never met her, but he recognized her easily enough from Scott and Isaac’s descriptions.
“Kali,” he said, trying to keep his voice steady.
She smiled cordially, nostrils flaring as she yanked Stiles closer. For just a second, her expression went hungry. She licked her glossy lips, and Stiles tried to suppress a shiver.
“You smell like wolf,” Kali said thoughtfully. “But you aren’t a wolf. You’re not even pack.”
“You don’t know that,” Stiles hedged, eyes darting frantically, searching for a way out.
Kali chuckled low under her breath. “You’re not pack,” she repeated. “Hale hasn’t bitten you. He hasn’t even Marked you. And McCall can’t do it.” She grinned, revealing brilliant fangs. “Won’t they be disappointed that we got to you first?”
“Nah, they’re both pretty mellow,” Stiles said. His voice was strangled, caught around the heartbeat in his throat, but he forced it to steady. “And I’m kind of obnoxious, just ask Derek. Killing me probably wouldn’t even be worth your time.”
She threw back her head and laughed. “I see why they keep you around. Most humans would be pissing themselves by now.” Kali ran a hand down Stiles's cheek, and he shuddered, trying to draw away. But her other hand held him still, effortlessly. “I almost don’t want to kill you,” she mused. For a second, Stiles's heart leaped in irrational hope. But only for a second, because she followed that up with, “That’s why I’m going to bite you.”
Stiles couldn’t help the whimper that escaped him. Kali’s eyes sparkled with amusement.
“I’ll make you a deal,” she said. “I’ll count to three, and you run. Run as fast as you can. If you can hold me off for fifteen seconds, I’ll bite you someplace nice and meaty. Someplace easy to heal.” Her eyes sparkled, and she drew an exaggerated glance up his body. “But if you can’t hold me off that long,” she said, “Well . . . let’s just say you might survive it, but you really wouldn’t want to. Ready then? Three.”
Stiles stumbled backwards on shaky legs. He knew he was fucked, but he couldn’t help grasping at the chance to get away, however slight it was.
He turned and ran up the gravel road, heading back for the Jeep. He’d have the protection of its frame, at least, and maybe there was something in the backseat he could use as a weapon. Hell, maybe he could light the gas tank on fire. He had to be able to do something. His body ached from the fall he’d taken, but he forced himself to ignore it, running like he’d never managed in cross country.
“One,” a new voice growled.
Stiles glanced behind him just in time to see Derek somersault out of the trees. He landed in a crouch halfway between Stiles and Kali, one fist planted on the ground. When he roared, the trees shook, showering leaves over their heads. For a second, Kali looked flummoxed, glancing between Derek and Stiles as if she wasn’t sure quite what had happened. Then she let out her own roar, just as loud.
Frozen from shock, Stiles hesitated, glancing between the two Alphas.
“Run!” Derek yelled, turning to glare at him.
“Watch out!” Stiles shouted back, because Kali had taken advantage of Derek’s distraction, was already leaping for him, feet first. At Stiles’s warning, Derek threw himself into the grass, evading her claws by inches. Coming up behind her, he lunged forward with his own claws outstretched.
From there, they moved almost too quickly for Stiles to follow, all rending claws, snapping fangs and glowing red eyes. Stiles hesitated at the side of the road, heedless of the danger. Kali got in a particularly vicious swipe, claws coming away red and thick with gore. Derek cried out in pain, stumbling back. For a moment, they hesitated only a few feet apart, circling each other. Derek’s claws were up, defensively. Blood still dripped steadily from the wound on his stomach. Kali crouched low as she inched around Derek, her arms held out to the side. She smiled, close-lipped and secretive, and Derek bared his teeth in response. From this close, Stiles could see his muscles tensing as he readied himself to attack.
But Kali was faster.
She dropped low, arms sweeping out behind her, then jumped, propelling herself high above their heads. Her body twisted in the air, claws gleaming in the sunlight as she kicked out, launching herself, not at Derek, but at Stiles. His brain only had a second to process what was happening. Crying out in fear, he scrambled backwards, but he wasn’t quick enough.The long, wicked curve of her claws still caught him -- not in the chest, where she'd been aiming, but in his thigh.
It stung, pain burning hot as she flexed her foot, digging the claws in deeper. Stiles screamed, kicking out with his good leg. His foot landed hard in her abdomen, but she only laughed, batting it away like a fly. Crawling up over his body, she grinned down at him, eyes gleaming red. Stiles’s heart hammered in his chest. He couldn’t move, couldn’t even think. Still grinning, Kali lifted her head, mouth opening wide like a serpent rearing back to strike. Then Derek barreled into them both, knocking Kali off Stiles.
Stiles only had a fraction of a second to process that it was Derek he was staring up at, not Kali, before they were rolling with the impact. Derek moved with him, obviously trying to cushion Stiles from the hard and rocky ground. Even still, the motion jarred his injured leg, and Stiles gasped, fingers digging into Derek’s arms. They were moving so quickly his mind could barely process the sensations — the sharp pain of twigs and rocks digging into him, superimposed against the surprising softness of Derek’s skin. Stiles ended up flat on his back, with Derek braced protectively over him, strong thighs bracketing Stiles’s hips and his massive body radiating heat. Stiles blinked up at him, disoriented. The four gashes from Kali’s claws burned and throbbed on his thigh.
Derek stared down at his leg, frowning. With a wet rip, he tore through the blood-soaked denim, trying to get a closer look at the wound.
“I’m fine,” Stiles protested, ineffectually trying to push Derek away. “Watch out! She —“
Stepping up behind him, Kali slammed her fist onto the top of Derek’s head like a club. His face crumpled in pain, and his body slackened over Stiles, strength leaving his arms. Kali opened her fingers, letting a rock roll to the ground. Derek’s forehead landed on Stiles’s shoulder. His eyes blinked open and shut, fingers tightening convulsively around Stiles’s arms as he fought for consciousness.
“Derek!” Stiles said, voice frantic. “Come on, big guy, stay awake. I need you here!”
Kali caught the back of Derek’s shirt, dragging him up. He went easily, body limp in her grip.
“Derek!” Stiles screamed.
Slowly, Derek’s chin lifted off his chest. Green eyes blinked open, focusing on Stiles. He seemed to realize what was happening all at once. With a startled roar, Derek twisted in Kali’s grip, claws raking out at her. She cried out, kicking up at him. He flew backwards and slammed into a tree with a splintery crack. Derek collapsed on the ground in front of it, and Kali stalked towards him , claws at the ready, while Stiles watched, horrified.
“Oh, Derek,” she said, shaking her head. “That’s twice I got the drop on you because you were too busy trying to protect your human.” She spat the word out like it was dirty. “And you call yourself an Alpha.” She kicked him, hard, and Derek groaned. Kali shook her head. “It seems so unfair, doesn’t it? That you’re still alive when Ennis is dead?” Planting a foot on top of Derek’s chest, Kali looked down at him with an expression so sad Stiles thought it might be genuine. “Deucalion’s forbidden any of us from killing you yet. Even after everything that’s happened.” She bent low, flexing her claws in front of his face. “But I think what Duke doesn’t know won’t hurt him.”
Derek was going to die, Stiles realized, in a moment of awful clarity. He was going to die protecting Stiles, and all because Stiles had been stupid enough to get caught alone when he knew there was an enemy in town. Derek was going to die, and it was going to be Stiles’s fault.
Stiles was hauling himself to his feet before he'd made the conscious decision to do so . Putting weight on his wounded leg was agony, but he gritted his teeth, refusing to collapse. The rock Kali had used to clock Derek with lay nearby, and Stiles’s hand closed around it. The edges were sharp, tacky from Derek’s blood.
"Hey!" Stiles yelled, cocking his arm back and throwing the rock as hard as he could. It slammed into the side of Kali’s head, drawing a line of blood that healed even as her eyes flicked towards him, lazily.
Stiles shuffled forward a step, trying to ignore the pain spasming through his thigh. “If you want him," Stiles said, limping towards them. "You have to go through me."
"Stiles!" Derek snapped, eyes red and furious. “Stay back!”
Laughing, Kali gave one more kick to Derek’s head, turning instead towards Stiles. “You’re right,” she said. “It’s better to watch his face when I bite you and then kill him, let him know that he couldn't protect you. Good thing this won't take too long.” She started towards him, still grinning, then paused, eyes going wide.
From behind Stiles, a clawed hand curled around his shoulder, drawing him back out of Kali’s way. “You might be surprised," Scott said, positioning himself firmly in front of Stiles.
On Kali’s other side, Derek was lumbering to his feet, blood still dripping steadily from the wounds in his temple and abdomen.
Kali glanced between them, and swore. In a flash, she was off, disappearing into the woods. Stiles's injured leg gave out and he collapsed, suddenly cold and shaky, from shock or blood loss, he couldn't tell. He blinked down at the carpet of fallen leaves and pine needles, trying to gather his wits. Then one pair of strong hands was rolling him over, and another was closing around his thigh, trying to staunch the bleeding.
“You fucking idiot!” Derek said.
Stiles’s eyes fluttered open to see Derek glaring down at him, angrier than Stiles had ever seen him.
“It worked,” Stiles protested, glancing at Scott for report. “Didn’t it, Scotty?”
Scott just glared back. “Dude, she’s an Alpha! What were you thinking?” Then he sighed, anger flowing out of him. “We have to get you to the hospital.”
“No! No hospital,” Stiles said, shaking his head frantically. “They’ll call my dad!”
“My mom —“ Scott started.
“She’ll call my dad!” Stiles protested. “Remember that time I fell off your bike?”
“We’ll take him to Deaton,” Derek said, his voice brooking no room for argument. He touched Stiles’s shoulder. “Where are your keys?”
"Ignition," Stiles managed, hoping like hell no one had seen the Jeep and called the cops. There’s no way his dad wouldn’t find out about that. “It’s up the road.” He waved vaguely in the direction of his Jeep.
Scott nodded. “I’ll get it,” he said. “Wait here.”
"It went in the ditch," Stiles warned. "I had to bail out."
"I'll get it,"Scott repeated, steely and determined. He trotted down the road, leaving Derek to kneel over Stiles. The sun was warm overhead, autumn still clinging tight to summer, but Stiles was shivering. Shock, he knew, and blood loss. The delicious warmth of Derek’s body called to him, and Stiles found himself inching closer, until Derek finally rolled his eyes and hauled Stiles in close. He ended up practically in Derek’s lap, back resting against Derek’s chest. He swayed there, woozily, until one of Derek’s arms wrapped around him from behind, steadying him. Derek’s other hand was still clamped over the wound, staunching the flow of blood.
The pain eased a little, and Stiles blinked down to see Derek's wrist black-veined. "Thanks," he muttered, letting his head loll against Derek's chest. Derek's arm tightened around him.
"You could have gotten yourself killed,” he said darkly. “Don’t you ever do that again!”
“Had to,” Stiles said woozily. “She was gonna kill you.”
“That’s not an excuse!” Derek snapped. “If you’d died, it would have been my fault!”
Stiles shook his head, jabbing weakly at Derek’s chest. “My fault,” he countered. “I called you.”
For a second, Derek’s arms tightened around him. “Thank God,” he muttered. Before Stiles could puzzle that one out, Derek’s hand was lifting from the wound, sliding under Stiles’s thigh instead. Stiles only had a second to freeze in disbelief before the world tilted and spun around him as Derek stood, carrying Stiles in a bridal hold.
“I hate you so much right now,” Stiles informed him, hiding his hot face in Derek’s shirt. He never, in his life, thought he’d be so grateful for a thigh wound. But at least the fire in his leg meant there was no possible way he could pop a boner.
Derek just scowled at him, and started towards the Jeep.
* * *
Half an hour later, Stiles sat in his boxers in the animal clinic, dizzily gripping Scott’s shoulder while Deaton stitched up the wound on his thigh. Thanks to Scott’s black-veined hand wrapped around his ankle, the stitches didn’t hurt, exactly. But the pressure of the needle against his numb skin felt weird. The one time Stiles had dared to glance down, he’d almost fainted at the sight of the threaded needle piercing the ragged edge of his skin. Stiles probably would have tumbled off the examination table if Derek hadn’t caught him, strong arms suddenly braced around his back. That had been almost worse than the stitches, in a way. Stiles’s body still remembered the heat of Derek’s arms cradling him in the woods.
Derek had backed away quickly, returning to his spot against the wall. He was leaning there now, frowning as he watched Deaton work. The heat of his gaze burned into Stiles’s back, and he squirmed on the bench, drawing an admonishing glare from Deaton. Stiles felt naked and exposed sitting there in his boxers and t-shirt, while everybody else was fully dressed. Well, almost dressed in Derek’s case. The tattered, blood-stained scraps of his a-shirt only drew more attention to the muscled chest and abdomen beneath. Which Stiles was most definitely not looking at.
He glanced away quickly, but not before Derek caught him, eyebrows lifting quizzically. Deciding it was high time for a distraction, Stiles finally let himself voice the question that had been worrying at him since Kali’s claws bit into his thigh.
“Am I going to turn?”
Scott froze, as if the idea hadn’t even occurred to him. His eyes, when they met Stiles’s, were horrified. Deaton frowned, dabbing the antiseptic wipe over Stiles’s thigh with calm deliberation. He looked like he was trying to find a way to gently break some bad news. Stiles’s stomach clenched, and he gripped the sides of the table to keep steady.
But Derek spoke first. “No.” The certainty in Derek's voice eased the tight knot of fear that had been forming in Stiles's stomach since the attack. “She had my blood on her claws,” Derek said, as though that settled the matter.
“Wouldn’t that just make it worse?” Scott asked. Everyone looked at him, and he shrugged awkwardly. “It’s just . . . you know, an Alpha turns another wolf by biting them. I’d kind of just assumed it had something to do with the bodily fluids.”
“You’re right,” Deaton said, as he wrapped Stiles’s thigh in a gauze bandage. “The lycanthropy microbes in an Alpha’s saliva, along with some magic inherent in the bite itself, do jump-start the change. Those same microbes are present in an Alpha’s blood. If Kali she'd had her own blood on her claws, it would have almost certainly turned him.” Stiles shuddered, and Deaton patted his shoulder reassuringly. “But Derek’s a rival Alpha,” he said. “The microbes in his blood wouldn’t be compatible with the residual magic from her claws.”
Stiles frowned, sliding his fingers over the smooth steel of the table. He was thinking back to freshman health and blood-born pathogens, trying to decide how he felt about swapping bodily fluids with Derek without even getting any of the fun times beforehand.
“Hey,” he said, looking at Derek. “You’re clean, aren’t you? I don’t want to end up with werewolf AIDS or whatever.”
Scott made a sound like he was choking on his tongue.
“It’s fine!” Derek snapped.
At the same time, Deaton said, “Werewolves can’t carry diseases, Stiles. Nothing a human could catch, anyway, aside from the lycanthropy itself. You’re fine.”
“Good,” Stiles said, nodding a little too seriously. “That’s good to know.” A new thought occurred to him, and he frowned. “Kali said something, before you got there,” he said to Derek. Drumming his fingers on the table, he tried to remember her exact words. “She said you hadn’t Marked me, and Scott couldn’t.”
Derek froze, his eyes going wide.
“What was she talking about?” Stiles asked, but Derek only stared down at the floor, his expression lost, almost wistful.
It was Deaton who spoke.“Human pack members usually have an Alpha’s mark,” he said. “It gives them some of the same benefits the wolves draw from the pack. If you were Marked, you’d be stronger. Faster. Still within human limits, of course, but far less vulnerable than you are now.”
Stiles stared at Derek. “You knew this?”
Derek nodded, a muscle working in his jaw.
“And you didn’t, I dunno, maybe think about hooking your buddy Stiles up?”
“It’s not a game, Stiles!” Derek snapped, stalking forward to plant his hands on the examination table. He leaned over it, looking oddly like a CEO speaking at a board meeting. “The Mark isn’t something you just give away. It’s a . . . connection. Between an Alpha and a human pack member. It would let you draw on my strength. In the wrong hands, it could be used against me.”
“Oh,” Stiles said, stung. He remembered Derek’s voice at the pool. You don’t trust me, I don’t trust you. After everything that had happened since, Stiles had assumed things had changed. Apparently, he’d been wrong. Stiles shifted on the table, feeling vulnerable, exposed, and so fucking stupid. He scooted forward, readying himself to drop down, to find his pants. Derek’s hand closed around his shoulder, stilling the motion.
“And I didn’t think you’d take it,” Derek said more quietly. “You always seemed happy with Scott.” He let his hand fall away, leaving Stiles’s shoulder feeling oddly cold.
“He is!” Scott protested, then he frowned, looking at Stiles more closely. “Aren’t you?”
“Dude, you’re my best friend,” Stiles said. “You’re like a brother to me. You know that. And Derek . . .” Derek was infuriating. Stubborn. Stupidly heroic. Almost, but not quite, a friend, and the subject of too many wet dreams for Stiles to count. “I trust Derek,” Stiles said at last, because that much he was certain of, even if Derek didn’t trust him in return. Stiles kept his gaze fixed on Scott, not sure he wanted to see Derek’s expression. “Scott, if I took the Mark from him, nothing would change between us. You know that.”
“You’re seriously thinking about it?” Scott asked, after a long pause.
Stiles shrugged uncomfortably. “Derek and I both almost died today, Scott. If I’d been stronger —“
“That wasn’t your fault!” Derek cut him off. Stiles risked a glance at him, expecting to see anger. But Derek looked devastated. “She came after you to get to me,” he said. “I should have been watching you! I should have known —”
“But I’m not your pack!” Stiles protested. Derek looked stung, so he followed up quickly with, “Not officially! I’m not your responsibility, dude .”
“You saved my life,” Derek countered. “More than once. That makes you my responsibility.”
Scott was frowning, glancing between Stiles and Derek. But he didn’t seem upset. Instead, he looked almost thoughtful. “What do you think?” he asked, glancing at Deaton, who’d been quietly watching.
“It’s dangerous to be a human in a wolf pack, Deaton said. Stiles squared his shoulders, opening his mouth to protest, but Deaton didn’t give him the chance. “However,” he continued, “it’s far more dangerous to be a human on the fringes of one.” He glanced at Scott apologetically. “You know I’ve supported your decision not to join Derek’s pack. But Stiles is human. If he’s going to keep getting involved in all of this,” he waved his blood-stained, latex-covered hand to clearly encompass what this meant, “he’d be safer with an Alpha’s mark.”
“Could I do it?” Scott asked.
“Possibly,” Deaton said, “but not yet. Although your eyes have glowed red in a crisis, the rest of the time, you’re still physically a beta. If you are a true alpha, you haven’t fully grown into the form yet.”
“And by the time you do, I might be dead,” Stiles said with a frown. He glanced sidelong at Derek. “Would you give it to me? It sounds like kind of a big deal.”
Derek shrugged nonchalantly, but from the tightness of his jaw, Stiles could tell he didn’t feel nonchalant at all. “If you asked for it.”
“What kind of a mark are we talking about?” Stiles hedged.
In response, Derek caught the hem of his torn and blood-stained a-shirt, tugging it over his head. Pivoting, he turned his back to Stiles. For a second, Stiles just blinked at the sudden expanse of bare skin, drinking in the strong muscles of Derek’s back. Then his eyes narrowed in on the tattoo between Derek’s shoulder blades and he gasped, fingers clenching around the edge of the examination table.
“The punctured man,” he said weakly, trying not to sound like he was about to throw up.
“What?” Derek asked, turning to look at him.
Stiles shrugged awkwardly. “Just something I saw in the bestiary.”
“Homo perfunctus,” Deaton agreed.
Scott, the traitor, wasn’t paying the slightest bit of attention to their conversation. He was almost doubled over in his seat, he was laughing so hard. “Dude, you don’t get it,” he said, when Derek glared at him. “Stiles hates tattoos! When he came to the tattoo parlor with me, he fainted before the needle even touched my skin! Hell, you saw him when he was getting stitches!”
Stiles breathed through his mouth, queasy at the memory. At both memories. Taking a deep breath, he opened his mouth to agree with Scott. Instead, he found himself asking, “If I’d been Marked, what would have happened if Kali bit me?”
“You would have died,” Deaton said immediately. “The Bite wouldn’t be compatible with a Mark from another Alpha.”
“But I would have been faster,” Stiles said, more thoughtfully. “I might have been able to get away.”
Scott was frowning, staring at Stiles like he’d grown an extra head. “Are you seriously considering this?” he asked. “Stiles, you hate tattoos!”
“Yeah,” Stiles said, mouth dry. “I do. And you know what else I hate? I hate always being the weakest link!” Scott opened his mouth to protest, but Stiles barreled on past him, his voice rising. “I hate feeling helpless! I hate watching people I care about fade away and die because I can’t do a fucking thing to save them!”
Scott’s face had gone soft and gentle, like it did when he was dealing with a wounded animal. Derek’s eyes were wide, stunned. Deaton was watching them all curiously, his face giving nothing away.
Exhaling shakily, Stiles glanced back down at his bandage. “Scott,” he said, more quietly. “I got mauled by an Alpha werewolf today. You’ve been mauled. You’ve been tattooed. Which one hurt worse? The first tattoo,” he cautioned, when Scott opened his mouth to answer. “Not the thing Derek did with the blow torch.” A new thought occurred, and he glanced at Derek. “You wouldn’t need a blow torch for me, right?”
“No,” Derek said. “You’re human.”
Scott bit his lip, the way he always did when he didn’t want to admit Stiles was right. “But it’s Derek,” he said after a minute. “I thought you hated Derek.”
“Hate is a very strong word,” Stiles said, fingers drumming against the edge of the table. “I like to think that Derek and I just didn’t understand each other at first.”
“At first?” Derek huffed, raising an eyebrow. Stiles made a face at him.
Scott was glancing between them, his expression resigned. “I really don’t get you two.”
“Me neither,” Derek muttered under his breath.
Stiles ignored him. “Derek and I have a complicated and antagonistic friendship,” he agreed, patting Scott on the head. “But don’t worry, Scotty. You know you’ll always be my favorite werewolf.”
“Do you really want to do this?” Derek asked, his voice gone suddenly serious.
Stiles sighed, running a hand through his hair. “Let me think about it,” he said weakly.
* * *
When Stiles got home that evening, he limped upstairs and opened the door to the spare room. He and his dad almost never used this room anymore, except on the rare occasions they had an overnight guest. One of his mom’s quilts was spread out over the daybed beneath the window. On the sewing table was folded another, half-finished, a large piece of muslin partially covered in kaleidoscope of color and texture, randomly shaped scraps of fabric overlaid with bright embroidery and faded, plastic buttons. Beside it sat a basket full of hundreds of tiny scraps cut from old jeans and flowered dresses, his dad’s uniform shirts, Stiles’s baby clothes. “This quilt will tell the story of our family,” she used to say. His mom had loved crazy quilts, loved hand-stitching. She claimed it helped her stay focused. Privately, Stiles always thought he’d gotten his ADHD from her.
In his memories, the sewing room was always bright and airy, a breeze drifting through the open windows and quiet music playing from the CD player in the corner. His mom had loved Celtic fiddle, bluegrass, soft jazz. All of the things Stiles couldn’t bear to listen to anymore. Now, the room was silent, save for the floorboards creaking beneath his feet. The air smelled faintly of dust. Stiles ran his fingers over the stitching on the quilt. As a child, he’d hidden under the daybed once, trying to escape a doctor’s appointment, terrified of a shot. He remembered how his mother had lifted him into her lap, pulling her sewing basket over to them.
“Look at this, sweetheart,” she’d said, tapping her callused finger against the tip of a needle. “See? There’s nothing to be afraid of. This needle helps stitch things together, and the needle the doctor uses helps you to stay healthy.”
In the hospital, it had taken all of his courage to inch up to her, surrounded as she was with wires, the IV needle pressed into the back of her hand, bruising the skin yellow around it.
Carefully unfolding the half-finished quilt, Stiles wrapped it around his shoulders and sank down onto the edge of the daybed. What would his mom would say if she knew about the Mark? She might say, “Don’t be afraid, baby. This will make you stronger. Whatever happens, you need to stay healthy and alive.” But then again, she might say, “Gavrilovich Stilinski, don’t you dare even think about getting a tattoo!”
His mom hadn’t been particularly religious, but she'd never liked tattoos. “Why do people want to change the bodies God gave them?” she used to say. “They’re perfect just the way they are.”
Stiles fingered the edges of the quilt, leaning back against the dusty pillows. His mom wouldn’t approve of the Mark, he decided with a sinking heart. But then, she probably wouldn't approve of the porn on his hard drive, either. She definitely wouldn’t approve of him stepping into a fight between two Alpha werewolves. Stiles had long since resigned himself to the fact that he wasn’t the son either of his parents had hoped for. And his mom was really only part of the reason he’d always hated tattoos.
When he was six, Stiles had given his favorite GI Joe the chicken pox. He’d taken a marker to its plastic body, covering it with tiny, red dots. Afterwards, he’d been horrified to realize it wouldn’t come off. “You have to think before you do things!” his mom had scolded when she found Stiles sobbing at the bathroom sink, futilely scrubbing at the action figure. “You can’t always undo them!” Stiles was impulsive. He made dumbass decisions all the time, and he knew it. Look what had happened because Stiles dragged Scott into the nature preserve looking for he other half of Laura’s body. He was still trying to make up for that.
Stiles had always assumed that, if he did get a tattoo, he’d inevitably end up hating it in a few years. Privately, he thought Scott would probably regret his someday. Stiles could respect Derek’s tattoo. He knew, instinctively, that it had something to do with Derek’s family. But Scott’s tattoo was for Allison, and Allison hadn’t died in a fire, hadn’t wasted away in a hospital bed, hadn’t even moved away. She’d just broken up with Scott, like people did every day. What if Scott ended up married to someone else? Would his future wife hate that her husband wore a tattoo for a girl he’d dated in high school?
In ten years, Stiles would be twenty-six. He’d have graduated from college. He might even have convinced somebody to date him. What would that future Stiles think if this Stiles let Derek give him a tattoo?
Sighing, Stiles took his mom’s quilt from his shoulders and carefully folded it. Laying it back over the edge of the chair, he tried to smooth out the wrinkles, to make it look undisturbed.
He knew exactly how his future self would look at the tattoo. He’d look at it exactly the same way Stiles had looked at the bruises from Gerard’s attack, the way he’d someday look at the scars that would remain on his thigh from Kali’s claws. They were signs that Stiles was still alive. Because when you lived in the world, you got hurt, he decided. You got hurt, or you got sick. And maybe Mom was right, and God gave every baby a perfect body, but they sure as hell didn’t get to keep it when they died. Life changed you. And Stiles couldn’t do anything to stop some of those changes. He couldn’t change the scars on his body. He couldn’t even stop the moles that kept popping up. At least the Mark was something he could choose to get.
Lifting his chin, Stiles reached for his phone. “I want it,” he said, before Derek even had a chance to greet him.
Momentary silence on the other end of the phone. Stiles wondered if he was imagining the drawn-out sigh he thought he heard. At last, Derek said, “The full moon’s next Friday. I’ll meet you at Deaton’s office.”
* * *
That’s how Stiles found himself back in Deaton’s office, standing alone in the middle of the examination room, while Deaton readied supplies at the back counter. Derek stood awkwardly at the window, staring out at the full moon. He’d given Stiles one long, indecipherable look when Stiles stepped into the clinic, but hadn’t acknowledged him since.
Stiles's phone buzzed, and he pulled it out, grateful for the distraction. But it was only another text from Scott.
Its not 2 late 2 back out!
Stiles rolled his eyes, and switched his phone off. When he looked up, Derek was watching him. Trying not to look nervous, Stiles glanced down at his own body, waving his arms in a way that probably looked a little bit like Vanna White on crack.
“So,” he said. “Where is this thing going to go? On my back, like yours?”
Derek’s eyes darkened. He stepped forward, sweeping his gaze over Stiles's body. Stiles resisted the urge to hug himself. He’d never been particularly body conscious, but Derek was eyeing him like he might make a good snack. It was nerve-wracking, and, if Stiles was completely honest, more than a little bit hot. Derek’s gaze came to land on his left wrist. Stiles's heart pounded, and he jerked it to his chest, cradling it protectively with his other hand.
“No!” he said, hearing the rising edge of panic in his voice. His wrist tingled with the phantom heat of Peter’s breath. “Not there!” He took a deep breath, trying to calm his heart rate. Derek stared at him in concern, and even Deaton turned, his hand stilling on the mortar and pestle. “Dude,” Stiles said. “Do you have any idea how much trouble I’ll be in if my dad sees this? Put it somewhere it won’t show.”
Stiles wondered if he was imagining the look of reluctance on Derek’s face as he nodded. When Derek spoke, his voice was low, throaty. “Your hip.” He swallowed, and shook his head quickly. His voice sounded normal again when he added, “That’s where I bit all my Betas.”
Stiles nodded, and unzipped his jeans. A flash of déjà vu swept through him as he hopped up onto the examination table in his boxers. Unconsciously, his fingers brushed over the bright, red scar running across his left thigh. When he glanced up, Derek was watching him. Stiles couldn’t even begin to read his expression.
Deaton finished up at the back counter, and wheeled a metal tray beside the examination table where Stiles sat. Stiles recognized the antiseptic wipes and the wide jar of salve from the times Deaton had patched him up, but glass bowl brimming with black ink was new.
“What’s in that?” Stiles asked.
Deaton lifted an eyebrow. “Do you really want to know?”
From the tone of his voice, Stiles suspected he really, really didn’t. Stiles glanced at Derek, who could always be relied upon to tell Stiles something he didn’t want to hear. But the tips of Derek’s ears were turning pink. He refused to meet Stiles's eyes. Stiles frowned, banging his heels against the legs of the table.
“No,” Stiles said. “You know what, I don’t. Ignorance is bliss.” He rubbed the back of his head. Dubious bowl of ink aside, something about the collection of materials on the tray troubled him. After a second, he realized what it was. Frowning, Stiles asked, “Where’s the gun?”
Deaton stared at him blankly. “The gun?”
“You know, the tattoo gun.” Stiles cocked his finger and mimed pulling a trigger, though he knew from Scott’s disastrous trip to the tattoo parlor that a tattoo gun in no way resembled an actual gun.
“He won’t be using one,” Deaton said.
Stiles blinked. “God,” he said. “Don’t tell me he’s got to hand tap it or something.” Before Scott dragged him to the tattoo parlor, Stiles had pulled up as many YouTube videos as he could find, trying to convince him to change his mind. The hand-tapping ones always made him wince.
Derek flexed the fingers of one hand, and his claws sprang out, gleaming wickedly in the moonlight. “Or something.”
Stiles bit back a hysterical laugh. Deaton clapped him on the shoulder. “You’ll do fine,” he said. To Derek, he added, “Make sure you disinfect his skin and your claws first, and put the ointment on him afterwards. He’ll heal faster once the mark is complete, but there’s always the risk of infection.”
Stiles swallowed. “You’re leaving?”
Deaton smiled apologetically. “It’s a pack ceremony,” he said. “I’m not pack.” He offered his hand to Derek, who shook it, carefully curling his claws out of the way. “Lock up when you leave,” Deaton said, and left, the door swinging shut behind him.
Derek dragged Deaton’s stool across the room, dropping onto it so he was about eye-level with Stiles's hip. Stiles squirmed as Derek leaned in close, fingertips skimming over his skin, like he was surveying it. Frowning, Derek curled one finger in the waistband of Stiles's boxers and tugged them down a little further, exposing another two inches of skin.
Blushing, Stiles ducked his head, talking to keep the nervousness at bay. “Dude, tell me you practiced on an orange or something.”
Derek looked up, clearly offended. “Scott’s turned out okay.”
“Scott’s was two fucking lines! This shit is permanent, Derek! I don’t want to spend the rest of my life looking like a moron because you made a little mistake.”
“Yes, I practiced!” Derek snapped. “Jesus Christ!” He reached for one of the packets of antiseptic wipes, tearing it open with a violent, flick of his fingers. Stiles held out his hand for the wipe, but Derek refused to hand it over. He rubbed the wipe over Stiles's hip in small, circular motions. Wax on, wax off, Stiles thought, and stifled a giggle.
Derek lifted his head, and his expression was so disgruntled that Stiles did laugh, covering his mouth with his hand.
“Sorry,” Stiles said, still giggling. He shrugged with one shoulder. “Nerves.”
Derek shook his head, and tore open another packet. Stiles watched as he carefully dragged it over the sharp edges of his claws. They flashed in the bright light before he dipped them into the bowl. Stiles held his breath. He found himself staring at the dark hair on Derek’s wrist. When Derek finally lifted his hand, his fingertips were stained black, and his claws gleamed like obsidian. Ink streamed down the back of his fingers and hand like veins. Stiles squirmed nervously and Derek’s hand clamped down on his thigh, pinning him to the table.
Stiles stilled, acutely aware of the cold steel beneath his bare thighs and thin boxers, of the heat of Derek’s body where he crouched, inches away. When Derek looked up, his eyes were red.
“Are you sure you want this?”
Stiles bit back a hysterical laugh. “No,” he said honestly. “But sometimes you have to do things you don’t want to do. I know you know that.” He forced his heel to stop its nervous tapping against the table. “Go ahead. Do it.”
Derek’s free hand settled low on Stiles's hip, the tips of his fingers slipping beneath the waistband of his boxers. He pressed down slightly, pulling the skin taut.
“Breathe,” he said. Stiles blinked and sucked in a breath. Derek nodded approvingly. “Now breathe out.”
Stiles let out a slow, controlled stream of air that dissolved into a huff as Derek brought his index finger down, claw sinking deep into Stiles's skin. Blood and ink welled up around it, and Stiles flinched, would have surged off the table if not for the press of Derek’s hand against his hip. It wasn’t just the puncture of the claw that hurt. The ink burned acidic, pain hot and bright beneath his skin.
Even as the first claw withdrew, Derek brought his middle finger down, stabbing in a new mark beside it. The ring finger and pinky followed in quick succession. When Derek withdrew to dip his claws back into the bowl, Stiles glanced down at the bright line of ink welling up from his hip. His heart sank at how tiny it was. This was going to take forever.
“Breathe!” Derek said again. That was all the warning Stiles got before his claws were in him again. They tapped out a pattern on Stiles's hip, one two, one two, the same rhythm Stiles drummed on his desk when he wanted to drive his teachers crazy. Stiles gritted his teeth, his grip white-knuckled around the edge of the table. Fine tremors ran through his legs from the effort of keeping himself still.
“I can’t take the pain away,” Derek apologized, pausing to dip his claws back in the ink. “It would interfere with the magic.”
“That’s fine,” Stiles said through gritted teeth.
“Keep breathing,” Derek said. “It will help.”
Stiles realized his breath was coming in short, sharp gasps, and he forced himself to inhale slowly, counting to three, holding his breath for three counts, and then exhaling for three, like the counselor had taught him to do after his mom died. Stiles wasn’t sure it was helping, but it gave him something to focus on besides the pain.
Pausing for a moment, Derek leaned back on his heels. He reached behind him, finding the towel by touch. “How are you doing?” he asked, wiping some of the blood and the excess ink from Stiles's skin.
Stiles barely heard him, distracted by the dark line of ink tracing the side of his hip, now clearly visible. That’s permanent, he thought, and a low, sick thrill ran through him. God, his dad was going to kill him if he ever saw it!
Derek tapped his knee, scowling.
Stiles shrugged, casting his mind back to the question Derek had asked. “I don’t know what you want me to say. I mean, yeah, it hurts, but at least it’s not as bad as what Kali did.”
It was true, but not the entire truth. At least with Kali, he’d been so caught up in the horror of nearly dying that the pain had been almost secondary. This wasn’t as bad as nearly bleeding out on the forest floor, but there was also nothing to distract him from it. Stiles was hyper-aware of every flick of Derek’s claws, every fresh burn of ink. He tried to focus instead on the faint buzzing from the fluorescent lights overhead, the quiet sounds of traffic through the open window. On his breath, which still didn’t seem to be helping, but couldn’t possibly hurt. But the more he tried to ignore the pain, the more Stiles noticed it.
“Don’t fight it,” Derek said quietly. Stiles glanced down, but Derek’s gaze was focused on the quick flick, flick, flick of his claws.
“What?” Stiles asked.
Derek paused. Dipped his claws in the ink. Started up again. “The pain,” he clarified. “You’re fighting it. That makes it worse. It’s like . . .” Derek frowned, clearly searching for words. “It’s like getting caught in the undertow. If you try to swim against it, you’ll lose. It’ll tire you out. You’ve got to move with it.”
“If you’re going through hell, keep going,” Stiles mused.
Derek lifted one shoulder in a tiny shrug. “I guess.”
Stiles nodded, drummed his free hand against the steel table. “I’ve never really been big on swimming,” he said, trying to keep the words steady. He realized his fingers were tapping out the rhythm of Derek’s claws, and he frowned, stilling them.
“You kept me alive,” Derek said.
A startled laugh escaped Stiles, and he smiled ruefully down at Derek. “Well yeah. But that’s different. Dude, have you seen our swim team? They suck.”
“I was on the swim team,” Derek said, glaring up at Stiles as he dipped his claws.
Stiles snorted, gasped as Derek’s claws bit into him again. “You would've been,” he muttered. Stiles closed his eyes, counted his breaths, gripped edge of the table until his hand went numb. With his eyes closed, he imagined he could hear the soft sound of Derek’s claws piercing his skin.
“You’re doing good,” Derek said, the clawed hand lifting from Stiles's skin. Stiles waited for the quiet splash of Derek’s fingers into the ink bowl. Instead, the towel ghosted over his hip, and soft hair tickled the sensitive skin of his ribs. He opened his eyes to see Derek leaning in close, brows pulled low in concentration as he examined his work. He nodded, satisfied.
This time, Stiles kept his eyes open, watched as Derek began at the spiral point he’d ended on last time, following it back out to complete one arm of the triskele. Stiles tried for a sense of clinical detachment, pretended this was a YouTube video, that he was watching Derek tap the pattern into someone else’s skin. He tried to focus on his breath. In three. Hold three. Out three.
“Still doing okay?” Derek asked.
“I’m good,” Stiles said. To his surprise, he meant it. He still felt the pain, but some of the intensity had dialed down. Besides, he reminded himself, this time, he didn’t have to worry if he could walk again when it was over, or if he’d even still be alive. No, all Stiles had to do was sit on the table and bear it. He could do that, he thought. He could be stoic and badass, like Derek. Maybe even better than Derek, because Stiles didn’t have werewolf healing or stamina.
Derek nodded. “Hold still,” he said, and started the next arm of the triskele. The minutes stretched on, measured breath and sting of ink and claws. Stiles didn’t know how long it took for Derek to complete the outline. His sense of time, already tenuous, had completely dissolved in the swell of serotonin his brain sent out in response to the pain. All he knew was that when Derek started in again, it was different. Instead of piercing with the tips, Derek dragged the sides of his claws into his skin, filling in the outline with broad strokes of ink. Stiles watched, fascinated despite himself. Derek’s perpetual frown had eased, his face relaxed, peaceful in a way Stiles had never seen it.
The pain was different now. It sang through him, swelling and fading like waves as Derek worked, stopped, and worked again. So maybe Derek's swimming analogy was right after all. But this didn’t feel at all like swimming. Stiles wasn’t floating, wasn’t struggling, wasn’t trying to keep his head above water. Instead, he felt like he was riding the pain. He'd had never been surfing, but he imagined it might feel like this. Maybe surfing was like snowboarding. Exhilarating. Almost euphoric.
His dick twitched in his boxers, and Stiles squirmed. Desperately, he tried to think of anything other than the peaceful expression on Derek’s face as he worked, than the steady, controlled motion of Derek’s hands.
Derek's nostrils suddenly flared, and Stiles burned with humiliation. He ducked his head, wanting to sink through the bench.
"Sorry," he muttered.
“It’s the adrenaline,” Derek said. “It happens. Try to ignore it. We’ll be done soon.”
He started working again, and Stiles fought to control himself. Now he was hyper-aware, not just of the pain, but of the heat of Derek’s broad palm against his hip, stretching the skin, of the soft brush of Derek's hair when he leaned in again to mop up the ink and blood. Stiles shivered. His boxers were tented around his growing erection, and God, he could feel Derek’s breath through the thin cotton.
The next time Derek reached for the ink bowl, he paused for a moment, head bowed low over Stiles's hip. His shoulders rose and fell with each breath. Stiles's fingers itched to touch them. When Derek glanced up, his eyes were wide and dark. Stiles's heart stuttered. He couldn’t look away. Unconsciously, Stiles licked his lips, leaning down slightly, drawn in by the heat of Derek’s gaze.
"Derek?" he whispered. Derek's hand spasmed on his hip, fingers digging in almost painfully for a second. His eyes fell shut, dark lashes brushing his cheek. Freed from his gaze, Stiles gulped in a deep breath. He glanced down, and realized, to his shock, that Derek was hard too, the bulge in his tight jeans impossible to ignore. “Derek,” Stiles groaned, reaching down to grip Derek’s shoulder.
Derek tensed, but didn’t shake him off. “It’s adrenaline,” Derek said again, but his voice had gone low, throaty. Before he even realized what he was doing, Stiles swayed forward, dizzily, lips parting. Derek’s hand tightened on his hip like a warning.
"Focus!" he snapped.
Stiles caught himself, pulling back slightly. But he kept his hand on Derek’s shoulder, and Derek let him. When Derek leaned in again, Stiles stroked down the strong curve of his bicep, tracing the line of his clavicle. Derek tensed, and for a second, Stiles thought he was going to shake him off. But instead, Derek leaned into the touch, his breath coming hard enough that Stiles could clearly hear it. The rapid pulse in Derek’s throat tremored beneath his fingers. When Derek’s claws sank into Stiles's skin, he made a low sound, as if it pained him, too.
Stiles lost track of everything but the heat of Derek’s skin beneath his hands, the bite of his claws in his hip. By the time Derek leaned back on his heels, the triskele completed, Stiles's fingers were buried in his hair, carding through the thick, dark locks. Derek rolled his head to the side, looking up at him, and Stiles traced the high line of his cheekbone. Derek’s eyes were all pupil. He looked drugged.
As if with great effort, Derek glanced back at Stiles's hip. It was messy, stained with ink and blood. Derek frowned, and Stiles expected him to reach for the towel again. Instead, he leaned forward, mouth opening. He dragged the flat of his tongue over the fresh tattoo, and Stiles gasped.
It was like a spark going through him. More than the warm, wet sensation of Derek's tongue against the fresh wound. This was deeper, rising up from the very center of him. As Derek laved the Mark, his skin tingled, not with pain, but with something hot and heady, the bright burn of magic. The heat suffused him, spreading outward through his veins. Stiles closed his eyes, shaking his head. A sound caught his attention, rapid fast. Thrumming. Muffled, but clearly audible. His hand stilled on Derek's shoulder, and he opened his eyes to see Derek staring at him dizzily, eyes wide and pupils blown. Unconsciously, Stiles's hand slid down Derek's neck, fingers spreading wide between Derek's shoulder blades, where he knew the matching triskele was. Derek's eyes fanned shut, and the rhythm intensified, skipped.
It was Derek's heartbeat, Stiles realized. He was listening to Derek's heartbeat. “What’s happening?” Stiles asked.
“The mark is taking,” Derek said, voice muffled against Stiles’s skin. Eyes closed, he peppered tiny kisses along the triskele, nuzzled Stiles's hip with his cheek. He opened his mouth wide, bracketing the fresh lines of ink with his teeth.
“No biting,” Stiles reminded him, though excitement curled low in his belly at the pressure of Derek’s teeth against his skin. Derek shook his head, mouthing gently at the tattoo before pulling up. When Derek opens his eyes, they blazed red.
“You smell like Pack,” Derek rumbled, drawing his hands down Stiles's thighs to close over the knobs of his knees. “You smile like mine.”
He pressed Stiles's legs apart, burying his face between them. Any response Stiles could have made got lost in the first hot touch of Derek’s mouth against his dick, the wet heat engulfing him even through the thin cotton of his boxers. Stiles whimpered, falling back on his elbows, but arching up to watch Derek mouth at him through the fabric, nuzzling at his crotch. Derek’s hands slid up his inner thighs, impossibly hot against his skin. He pulled back just enough to slide his hands up over Stiles's erection, squeezing him roughly. Stiles barely glimpsed the claws before they tore through his boxers with a wet rip, leaving him exposed to the open air of the clinic.
“Holy shit!” Stiles gasped, the words turning into a whimper as Derek sucked him into the wet furnace of his mouth, cheeks hollowing and lashes fluttering shut over his red irises. Once Derek started to bob his head up and down the length of Stiles’s cock, it was over almost embarrassingly quickly. Before Stiles was anywhere near ready to relinquish the hot suck of Derek’s mouth, his balls were already tightening.
“Oh fuck,” Stiles groaned, tugging frantically on Derek’s hair to warn him. Derek only made a pleased sound around his cock, hands tightening around his hips to draw Stiles in even closer. The line of come dribbling from the corner of Derek’s mouth when he pulled away was pretty much the hottest thing Stiles had ever seen in his life. Derek grinned up at him, tongue darting out to lick at it. Sliding forward off the table, Stiles chased Derek’s tongue with his own, tasting the bitter tang of his own come.
Derek’s hands were moving frantically over his body, sliding up beneath Stiles's t-shirt, over his chest, and his stomach, and the knobs of his spine. He kissed like he’d been starving for it. Stiles could only hold on tight with his arms around Derek’s neck, yielding to Derek’s lips and tongue. He was straddling Derek’s lap, now, bare thighs sliding against Derek’s jeans as Derek rocked up into him, slow, lazy thrusts that had Stiles's spent dick twitching.
His body still sang from the adrenaline, from the magic of the tattoo working inside him. All of his senses felt heightened. He found himself captivated by Derek’s hands, which were sliding down his back to cup his ass. By the medicinal scent of the ink, and the smoky musk rising off Derek’s body, when Stiles pressed his face to Derek’s neck and inhaled. By the red gleam of Derek’s eyes. He’d never seen Derek like this -- frantic, almost unhinged. Stiles wondered if it was the tattoo, the full moon, or a strange combination of both.
“Stiles,” Derek groaned, sucking a mark into Stiles's neck. “Can I . . .?” He trailed off, kneading the muscles of Stiles's ass. Stiles flushed as Derek spread the two globes apart, teasing his hole with the very tip of one finger. Want spiked through him, shocking in its intensity, and Stiles nodded frantically.
“Yeah,” he said. “Yeah. I’ve got a condom in my wallet.” Stiles glanced at his jeans, crumpled on the floor where he’d left them. It was the XXL condom he’d taken from Heather’s medicine cabinet, but from the size of the bulge beneath Derek’s jeans, Stiles really didn’t think that was going to be a problem.
“Werewolves can’t carry diseases,” Derek said reminded him, nipping gently at his earlobe. His finger was still circling Stiles’s hole, a light, teasing touch that made Stiles ache for more. “I’ll use it if you want me to, but I’d really rather have you like this.” The finger breached Stiles, just a little. It was tight, almost uncomfortably dry without lube, but Stiles still groaned, pressing down against it.
“God,” he groaned. “Fuck. Okay, carry on.”
He reached behind him, scrabbling for the jar of ointment, before Derek’s fingers closed around his, taking the jar from his hand. With one more long, deep kiss, Derek rose from the stool, forcing Stiles to stand with him or slide to the ground.
At Derek’s urging, Stiles turned, bracing his forearms on the examination table. He felt ridiculously exposed, standing naked from the waist down, with his ass thrust out. But Derek’s hands settled on his hips almost reverently.
“Do you have any idea what you look like right now?” he asked, sucking a hot kiss to the nape of Stiles’s neck. Hands sliding beneath Stiles's t-shirt to tweak his nipples, Derek leaned against him, pressing the heat of his body all along Stiles’s back. His denim covered erection pressed against Stiles's bare ass, and Stiles blushed hot, trying to imagine what Derek’s dick would feel like inside him.
“Derek,” he whined, and Derek chuckled, shoving Stiles's shirt up around his armpits so he could press kiss after kiss down the length of Stiles's spine.
“I thought I was going to lose you,” he murmured the hollow above Stiles's tailbone.
Stiles shuddered, reaching behind him to touch whatever part of Derek he could find. His hand ended up over Derek’s hips, fingers squirming inside the waistband to touch the fever-hot skin there. “Oh God, I know,” he whispered, mind going back to that moment in the forest, when he’d been convinced he was going to watch Derek die.
Derek kissed around the curve of Stiles's hip to brush his lips, feather-light, against the tattoo. A jolt went through Stiles, and he shuddered. Derek hummed against his skin, tracing the spiraling arms of the triskele with his tongue. “Look at you,” Derek marveled as he pulled away. “Wearing my mark. God, Stiles, you have no idea how long I’ve wanted this.”
His voice was deeper than Stiles was used to, throaty and full. Was Derek always like this in bed, or was it the full moon, the magic of the Mark? Stiles wondered if, tomorrow, with the Mark complete and the full moon over, Derek would be back to his usual, colder self.
The scrape of the jar opening behind him distracted Stiles from his thoughts. A second later, Derek’s finger, slick with ointment, teased once more at his hole. Stiles gasped as he pressed inside, and Derek made a low, appreciative noise in his throat, pressing his lips back to the tattoo, even as he circled his finger inside Stiles.
“After tonight,” Derek promised, “You’ll be mine, Stiles. Anything we come across is going to know you’ve taken my Mark, taken my knot. I’ll rip apart anything that touches you.”
There was so much going on in that sentence that Stiles can’t even begin to parse it. It didn’t help when Derek’s free hand came up to cup Stiles's growing erection. He was up to two fingers now, sliding in and out of Stiles's ass, leaving him loose and slick. Derek’s mouth was still working fucking magic on Stiles's tattoo. Stiles felt entirely wasted for thought, like his whole purpose was to spread his legs wider and take whatever Derek wanted to give him. His entire body was loose, pliant, attuned to every gust of Derek’s breath against his skin, every stroke of his finger inside him. But . . .
“Your . . . your knot?” Stiles panted, resting forehead against the table, while Derek worked another finger inside him.
“I’m gonna to tie you, Stiles,” Derek promised. “And you are going to fucking love it.” His fingers angled just so as he spoke, brushing against something that set fireworks off inside of Stiles. He cried out, clenching around Derek’s fingers, and Derek groaned, skating over that spot again and again, until Stiles thought he might go mad with it. “Yeah,” Derek whispered. “You’re going to come on my cock, and you’re going to squeeze around my knot just like that. God, you’re going to feel fucking amazing.”
Even as he spoke, Derek slowly drew his fingers out of Stiles. Without them, his ass felt strangely empty. To his mortification, Stiles whimpered, bucking back against the air where Derek’s fingers had been. Behind him, he heard the pull of a zipper. He had only a second to appreciate that he was about to get fucked by Derek Hale, before Derek was stepping forward between his spread legs. Derek was still wearing his jeans, and the touch of denim against the back of Stiles's thighs combined with the sudden pressure of Derek’s head against his hole was dirtier than anything Stiles had ever imagined.
It ached when Derek pressed inside him. Stiles shuddered, fingers spasming on the table, while Derek rubbed soothing circles over his back.
“That’s it,” Derek whispered, sinking deeper. “You’re doing so well.” They both groaned when he bottomed out. Stiles could only rest against the table, gasping, speared on Derek’s dick. Derek held still for a second, letting Stiles adjust, his hands still rubbing comforting circles between his shoulder blades, his lips pressed to the back of Stiles's neck. Finally, Stiles shifted back against Derek, cautiously.
“Alright,” he said. “Just . . . slowly.”
Derek eased out of him slightly, then sank back in. Stiles bit his lip. It hurt – nowhere near as painful as the tattoo, but still raw. Derek reached around him, his hand covering the back of Stiles's. Turning his palm over, Stiles gripped it, squeezing hard.
“You feel amazing,” Derek whispered in his ear. “You’re so tight.”
His other hand settled over Stiles's tip, thumb grazing gently over Stiles's tattoo. That same flush of magic coursed through him, and Stiles groaned, suddenly feeling warm and dizzy. He sank forward, resting his weight on his forearms. Derek’s cock slid deeper into him, and Stiles moaned as it brushed over that sensitive spot inside him. Derek kissed his shoulder.
“That’s right,” Derek said, thrusting back into him, unerringly aiming for the same spot. “I’m your Alpha. Open up for me.” Derek’s voice was ragged, his breath shallow in Stiles's ear. With a sudden cry, Derek thrust deep inside of him, stilling. The pressure increased in Stiles's ass, and he realized with sudden clarity that Derek’s cock was swelling inside of him.
“Holy shit!” Stiles gasped, squirming as the base of Derek’s dick grew even larger. It was sore, almost too much, but, at the same time, heady. He’d never imagined he could feel so full. Derek was still trying to move, aborted little thrusts that dragged the knot against Stiles's rim. Stiles could only rock with him, trembling. His cock ached between his legs, leaking pre-come against his belly, but Stiles's felt so weak and shuddery, that he thought he’d collapse face-first onto the table if he let go long enough to jerk himself off. Besides, it was almost hotter to feel Derek coming apart on top of him, his head resting on Stiles's shoulder and his body trembling against Stiles's back.
Derek gave Stiles's hand one final squeeze, then released it, blessedly reaching for Stiles's aching dick. Stiles cried out when his hand closed around it, and Derek groaned, stroking him in time with the stuttering motion of his hips. The hot, dry slide of Derek’s fist, combined with the bright pressure of the knot inside him and the shivery magic still spiraling out from the tattoo combined into a wave of pleasure so great that Stiles could only ride it out, sobbing when it finally crested. He came so hard that tears burned the corners of his eyes. Derek made a high, helpless sound.
“Fuck, Stiles!” he choked, biting down on the nape of Stiles's neck, though not hard enough to break the skin. Impossibly, the pressure inside of Stiles grew, and he realized, in blissful disbelief, that it was Derek’s come. Derek was coming inside him.
His arms wrapped around Stiles from behind, lifting him up from the table and back against Derek’s chest. Stiles went, limply, head lolling backwards onto Derek’s shoulder. His entire world was Derek now. Derek’s breath on his throat. Derek’s cock, deep inside him. Derek’s mark, tingling against his hip. Derek’s arms, holding him tight.
“Stiles,” Derek was whispering, over and over again, his voice wrecked and raw against Stiles's throat. In response, Stiles summoned enough energy to lift a trembling hand and clumsily lay it over Derek’s. Immediately, Derek’s fingers curled around it, lifting it up so he could lean over Stiles's shoulder to press a kiss to his inner wrist.
The intimacy of the gesture made Stiles’s ache a little, though he wasn’t sure why.
Derek lowered them down to the floor, and Stiles went with him, wincing as the movement jostled the knot inside him. The floor was cold, but Derek was a hot weight beneath him, skin burning, even through the clothes that he was still, ridiculously, wearing. Stiles settled awkwardly into his lap, shifting and wincing until he found a comfortable position leaning back against Derek's chest, the back of his head resting on Derek’s shoulder. Derek cradled him close, one hand closing protectively over the fresh tattoo on his hip.
“Next time,” Stiles declared in a slurred voice, “You are definitely getting naked.”
The arms around him tightened. “I wasn’t expecting this to happen,” Derek admitted, reluctantly dropping Stiles's wrist. His voice sounded apologetic when he added, “I lost control. It was the full moon. And you . . . the Mark. It won’t –”
“If you say ‘it won’t happen again,’” Stiles interrupted. “I am going to find Deaton’s stash of wolfsbane and end you. Of course this is happening again. This is going to happen many times. In many different positions.”
Derek stared at him, wide-eyed. For a second, Stiles feared he’d spoken too soon. He bit his lip, waiting for Derek to try to stand and stalk away, despite the knot tying them together, or to tell Stiles he was being an idiot, that once was a mistake and twice was definitely not going to happen.
But the corner of Derek’s mouth quirked upwards, and then he started to chuckle, burying his face in Stiles’s throat. “All right,” he said, quiet, but audible to Stiles’s newly sharpened senses.
* * *
Stiles was sitting on his bed the next night when a quiet tapping came from the window. He glanced up, grinning as he caught sight of Derek on the other side of the glass pane. His ass still ached from getting fucked yesterday, and he couldn’t stop running his fingers over the tattoo.
“What's that?” Derek asked as he climbed over the windowsill. He nodded at the fabric scraps covering Stiles’s bed.
He glanced down at it, then at the YouTube tutorial on quilting, still playing silently on his iPad. "Just something I thought I'd finish," he said, and scooted over on the bed, making room for Derek beside him.