Derek Hale is a lucky guy.
He knows this to be true for a lot of reasons. He’s lucky to have his chaotic, embarrassing, and utterly devoted family, who tease him and support him and give him a place to belong. When he's in tenth grade there's a fire in the kitchen of their house that they all manage to escape unharmed, so he has no illusions about exactly how lucky he is to have them.
He is fortunate to have (at least, so he’s been told) pleasing features and nice eyes, and combined with his natural athleticism this helps him make it through high school relatively unscathed by the cruelties some of the other kids suffer at the hands of their peers.
He’s been blessed with a deep passion for books and reads voraciously, which means he ends up graduating somewhere near the top of his class. He’s much too awkward to be considered for valedictorian but he’s popular enough that he's never lonely, his basketball team providing a natural pool of friendship that he dips into when he feels the need. At a dance in his final year he screws up his courage and gives his first kiss to a sweet girl named Paige. Luckily, she kisses back.
He works hard to try and deserve all his good fortune. He never misses basketball practice, and he always studies for tests, and he brings Paige flowers for her birthday. He leaves for college in the fall, watching Paige through his rear-view mirror as she waves goodbye, bright autumn leaves whirling around her. She has another year of high school left, so they’d agreed, amicably, to part. Their hearts are both a little bruised, but not broken by any means, and it’s very mutual and low-drama. A lot of Derek’s friends are dealing with painful break-ups or the prospect of unfulfilling long-distance relationships. Not so, for Derek. He thinks again about how lucky he is as he drives down the freeway, leaving Beacon Hills behind as he speeds into his future.
In college he double majors in English Literature and Fine Art, because he can also draw. Like, really, really draw.
(He’s such a fucking lucky guy.)
Every spare minute not spent on a basketball court or reading is spent curled up with his sketchbook and a pencil or some charcoal, spilling the thoughts and feelings that his teenage self still struggles to articulate out onto paper, giving them form and texture and life. It’s his catharsis.
His room-mate, a big, stoic guy called Boyd who brings home a different girl every week, laughs at him for being a surly, tortured artist, and Derek rolls his eyes and laughs along, although it couldn’t be further from the truth.
He’s not surly, he’s selective.
He’s not tortured; he’s waiting.
He waits because there’s someone out there who’s right and perfect and his, and he doesn’t want to settle for less.
He knows this because he’s among the small percentage of the population born with a soul mark. His family know, but he doesn’t tell his friends, preferring to cradle the knowledge close to his chest, protecting it, cherishing it. He wants it to be something just he and the person with the matching mark share; something purely theirs.
So he studies and draws and reads and plays, and occasionally goes for coffee or drinks with perfectly nice people, but all the while, he waits.
The odds of meeting his soul-match aren’t all that great, he knows. A blessed minority of people have marks, so finding the one person out there that’s destined just for you… It seems like it should be impossible. But Derek just has this feeling. And besides, he’s always been so lucky.
He’s even lucky to have a mark this beautiful, he thinks. It's become his habit to smooth his fingers over it when he has a moment of privacy, letting himself imagine, after a shower or while he lies in bed at night, how it might feel under the trailing, tender fingertips of his soul-match. The mark has been part of him since birth, a scrunched-up collection of speckles and dots that has unfurled as he’s grown and now stretches over the flare of his thigh, right under the juncture where it meets his hip.
For someone like Derek, to whom conversation doesn’t come naturally, having a little piece of his soul right there on his skin feels miraculous, and unexpectedly, headily intimate.
It’s empowering. Addictive.
One day he’s out in town, buying a book for a course, when he sees a ‘help wanted’ sign in the window of an unassuming little tattoo studio not too far from campus. He wanders in. It’s a bright, white sugar lump of a room, completely stark except for the art on the walls. It’s image after image of high quality, hand drawn tattoos, all framed like a gallery. Derek thinks that’s pretty much exactly what this is. He fills out an application on the spot, and gets the job, despite his middling-to-poor people skills. Lucky, right?
At first he just makes coffee and sterilises equipment and organises little vials of ink, but he loves it. He loves watching people’s stories take shape on their skin, loves the delicacy and the boldness and the complexity of it all. He even likes the dull buzz of the needle, finding it soothes him like white noise, and lets him lose himself in his own mind, so he starts to bring along his sketch book for the quieter periods.
He finds that his soul-mark works its way into all of his doodles and sketches one way or another. It's not a conscious thing, but he always seems to find echoes of the shape of it in his pieces when he steps back to look at what he’s done. The manager of the shop, Satomi, is impressed with his work and starts to let him shadow a couple of the other tattooists. The first time Satomi touches a needle to Derek, it feels like the instrument has never been more appropriately named as it makes his skin fit him like it never has before. He wants to do that for other people. He comes up with images of ink on skin in his dreams.
As soon as he graduates he becomes a full-time apprentice. He throws himself into it whole-heartedly, like everything he does. After six months he’s certain this is what he’s meant to do with his life. His parents support him, even if they don’t exactly get it. It’s okay. He wishes he could show them how it feels to bring a little piece of someone’s inner self up to their surface. It feels like a privilege. He’s so lucky.
Once he’s completed his training he quickly acquires a dedicated base of regular customers, all of whom appreciate his eye for detail and laser-focused perfectionism.
He still sketches his soul-mark, over and over, when it’s quiet. He’s still waiting.
It’s a Wednesday when it happens.
It’s a non-descript, uneventful Wednesday in March. He’s worked out, showered and gone to the studio, grabbing a small bucket of overpriced, over-stewed coffee and an apple on the way. He greets Isaac, the new trainee, as genially as he knows how, and sets him to work scrubbing down the tiny kitchen out back, then he settles in at the front desk. He has half an hour before his first appointment. He downs the last of his coffee and reaches for his pencils.
He flips his sketch pad shut when he hears the door get thrown open, raising an eyebrow when a tall, lanky guy stumbles over the threshold and glares briefly back at the doorway like he’s mad at it for tripping him.
Derek gets a glimpse of rolled up sleeves revealing slender, pale forearms, and a general air of anxiety as the guy turns on the spot a few times to take in the studio. He’d put money on this being the guy’s first tattoo.
‘Can I help you?’ He eventually says, biting back a smirk as the guy visibly startles.
‘Jeez,’ the guy says, clutching at his plaid-clad chest with unfeasibly long fingers, ‘warn a guy!’
‘Sorry,’ Derek says flatly, trying to ignore the flare of heat that the sight of those long fingers sparks low in his belly. He deliberately and sarcastically clears his throat, and then says, with as much condescension as he can muster (which is quite a bit, as it happens), ‘Can I help you?’
The guy’s eyes narrow for a beat, and then his whole face breaks out into a huge smile, which in turn segues into a whole-body laugh. Derek feels the heat travel from his stomach up to his ears. He presses his thighs together under the desk, willing his cheeks not to flame up as traitorously as his ears. It’s been a long time since he’s had such a visceral reaction to someone.
The guy moves forward to brace those long hands against Derek’s desk. ‘Thanks. So helpful. I actually have an appointment in about ten minutes. With, um, Derek?’
Derek manages to stop staring at the curve of the bones in the guy’s wrist long enough to stare instead at his coppery eyes, crinkled at the corners with his barely contained laughter. His mouth feels dry and cottony. ‘I’m Derek,’ he finally says.
‘Awesome,’ the guy – Stiles, according to the appointment book – says. ‘My man Scotty says you’re the best.’
Derek stares at him blankly.
‘Scott McCall?’ Stiles qualifies. ‘You did these badass concentric ring thingies on his upper arm a few weeks back? He said your portfolio was pretty sweet.’
‘Ah. Yeah, I remember him.’ The heat is definitely pinking up Derek’s cheeks now, so he looks down sharply to try to hide it.
‘So this is what I want…’ Stiles pulls a folded piece of paper from his back pocket and slaps it down in the wooden desk right in front of Derek’s nose. Derek unfolds it gingerly, trying not to think about how the paper is warm because it’s holding residual heat from its recent proximity to Stiles’ ass.
‘Oh,’ he says, surprised by the slightly smudged pencil sketch of an elegantly stylised fox that curls across the page in front of him. ‘Did you draw this?’ Most kids nowadays bring along printed images from the internet, or show Derek a blurry photo on a phone. This is refreshingly old school.
‘Yeah.’ Pink adorns Stiles’ neck now, in uneven patches. It’s stupidly endearing. Derek’s stomach flips at Stiles’ bashful little smile. He feels absurdly hopeful – he’s not even sure if this guy is gay or not, but god, he’s fucking adorable, and it looks like he can draw.
‘Do you mind if I just…’ Derek gestures to the drawing with a pencil.
‘Go for it, dude. Just don’t change the legs or tail, they need to stay where they are.’
‘It’s a cover-up?’ Derek can’t help his tongue peeking through his lips as he adds to the drawing, sharpening some angles and softening others, changing the shape of the eyes. He doesn’t change anything essential about the drawing, but uses his skill to enhance it, to make it more.
That’s unexpected; Derek had honestly thought this kid had never set foot in a tattoo studio in his life before. He takes a few more minutes to move over the drawing with his pencil before he spins the paper back around to show Stiles, whose eyes go gratifyingly wide.
‘Oh,’ Stiles says, much closer than he had been before. He smells dizzyingly of cologne and hair wax and boy. ‘Oh, wow. That looks so good, it’s like… What I wanted to draw, but couldn’t, you know?’ He beams widely, which makes his nose scrunch up. Derek has to remind himself to keep breathing.
Derek shakes his head. ‘You did good. Can I see what you’re covering, though? I’ll be able to adjust the shading to make sure it’s fully hidden.’
‘Yeah, no problem.’
Derek stands to lead Stiles through to a more private space behind the main reception area, gesturing for Stiles to sit on a large, pvc-covered bench while he takes a seat on a little wheeled stool and scoots over to a small desk against the wall. He watches out of the corner of his eye as Stiles hops up on the bench and immediately starts unbuttoning his shirt and yeah, Derek definitely feels lucky today.
The shirt puddles onto the bench, and Stiles grips the bottom hem of his t shirt and yanks it up over his head in a surprisingly fluid movement which does all sorts of good things for the lean musculature of his arms. Stiles’ shoulders are broader than he expected, and covered in beautiful, pale skin. Derek wants to draw him. Or draw on him. He can’t decide which he wants more, he just wants. He swallows heavily.
‘So,’ Stiles says, blissfully unaware of how Derek watches the bob of his throat. ‘I’m covering up this thing on my back…’
‘Okay…’ Derek scoots the stool around to get a clear look, clutching the fox drawing, and bites his lip at the shift of skin and muscle over Stiles’ smooth, broad shoulders and quickly lowers his gaze, which it turns out is less than helpful because now he's staring at how the small of Stiles' back dips sweetly just above the curve of his ass. He gulps a little, which is not a thing that he knew he did. He's a professional, for god's sake.He should not be thinking about how he wants to press his thumbs into that dip and...
Enough. He shakes his head to get himself in line. He forces himself to flick a purely professional glance over the expanse of skin in front of him. He frowns. He can’t see anything to cover here, except a few beauty marks and – oh. He freezes, the drawing fluttering to the floor. There, marked out on Stiles’ shoulder blade, is a perfect replica of Derek’s soul mark. Derek’s jaw drops as he stares at the tiny points of the intricate stars, linked together by fine lines of even tinier, impossibly delicate stars, to form the shape of the constellation Lupus. Stiles moves a little and the shading of the mark makes it looks like the stars are flickering.
Derek has seen it thousands of times on himself, but on the canvas of Stiles’ skin it’s… overwhelming, like a sucker punch to the chest. It’s incredible.
He wants to reach out and touch it, wants to trace it with his tongue. He looks up at the improbably beautiful lines of the man in front of him, feels the heat of tears prickling behind his eyes. He wants to know him, wants to know how he spends his time and how he thinks and how every part of him tastes. Fuck. He’s so lucky.
He wrestles briefly with what to say. In all the years that he's been waiting for this moment, dreaming of this moment, he's never really figured out the right words. They never were his forte, after all, and he wants it to be... special. He’s always found directness works best for him. He probably shouldn’t change that now. After all, Stiles is his soul-match, so he’ll probably like Derek’s slightly gruff demeanour, right? He takes a breath and is about to form it into something like, ‘By the way, you’re beautiful and also you’re my soul-match,’ when Stiles reaches back over his shoulder to waggle a hand towards the pattern on his skin.
‘So this, right here? This is what I want you to cover. I want you to make sure you can’t see it at all, okay? I want it gone,’ he makes a vicious, swiping motion with his hands. ‘Ixnay on the soul mark crap. I want nothing on my body that I haven’t chosen for myself. Taking back control, man. Saying no to predeterminism and all that outdated fandango.’
Derek blinks, winded.
‘And anyway,' Stiles says, voice becoming wistful and soft, 'I’m getting married.’
And that’s the moment Derek Hale will always remember as the moment his luck ran out.