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Stiles had known for a while he was going to get dragged back to Beacon Hills eventually. If he hadn’t let getting turned into a werewolf as a teenager separate him from Scott, he certainly wasn’t going to let distance do it, and Scott’s mom, and Allison were both in Beacon Hills. Scott manfully submitted to four years of school on the coast, road-tripping back home once a month and leaving Stiles’ jeep disgusting full of old candybar wrappers. Stiles’ liked college. His classes were interesting, and no one cared about what he did with his evenings, and his dad wasn’t literally the most senior law enforcement in town. He got a job at the Safeway stocking shelves, and, when he got his first paycheck, bought two week’s worth of ramen noodles and took the rest of it straight to the tattoo shop off-campus.

The tattoo artist was super, intimidatingly hot, blonde and covered in tattoos all the way up her neck. She shook his hand, which was shaking slightly. Whatever, he knew he wasn’t cool.

“I’m Erica,” she said. “Why don’t you show me what you want?”

Stiles wanted his mom’s name on his back, with bluebells, her favorite flower. He wanted to know her name was on him forever. But after he left the tattoo shop and spent the day floating in a happy endorphin haze, he realised he wanted a lot. He started going to the shop whenever he had enough money to justify it, and then Erica joined him and Scott’s trivia team, and brought Isaac, who did piercings at the shop. Erica was a wolf too, and so was Isaac, although they were both very chill about it, and Scott only got all red-eyed alpha at them once, and then frantically apologised for being rude at this, with his mouth still full of wolf teeth.

“You really are the worst alpha ever, you know,” Stiles said, as Scott tried to smooth his hair back into place outside the bar after trivia. Isaac looked a little nervous, but Erica just shrugged.

“It’s cool. We still on for tattoo number four tomorrow?” she said, and Stiles nodded.

“Yeah, I’ll see you there,” he said, and they said their goodbyes. Scott put his arm around Stiles shoulders as they walked back to their dorm room, because he thought he was subtle but Stiles knew that having his only pack member close by made him feel better.

“Another tattoo man? What did you get last time?” Scott said, and Stile pulled away to tug the sleeve of his flannel up, exposing his forearm. His dad's name, and the Sheriff star, up to just under his wrist.

“Cool,” Scott said.. “Your dad is gonna be so pissed at you.”

“No way,” Stiles said. “I've got the perfect defense.”

Scott raised an eyebrow. He knew how Stiles’ plans usually went. Stiles stuck his tongue out him.

“Dad has tattoos,” he said, and Scott blinked.

“The sheriff has tattoos?” he asked incredulously. Stiles rolled his eyes.

“I wish you'd stop calling him the sheriff, we're not in Beacon Hills right this second,” Stiles said, and Scott elbowed him.

“Stop dodging the questions,” he said. Stiles shrugged.

“Yeah, he's got a couple. All I'm saying is he can't get mad at me for them,” he said.

“Whatever man, it's your funeral,” Scott said, and then they were back at their dorm room and had other stuff to worry about.

Stiles slept with no shirt on, and Scott had seen the growing collection of tattoos already, but now they were talking about it, he felt like Scott noticed them again, his mom's name with flowers over one shoulder blade, and then Scott’s name over the other, capped with a wolf howling at the moon. There hadn't been many wolfs in Beacon Hills, especially since the last Hales had left after the fire and Scott had been something of an oddity at high school, whispered about and commented on, a boy who’d chosen to become a wolf. Stiles hadn't cared; Scott was his brother, through thick and thin, new moon and full. He'd never felt more certain than when he got his name tattooed.

He got his fourth tattoo the next day, and covered it in cling film and lotion, and then he and Scott piled into his jeep and drove three hours to Beacon Hills. His dad was on shift, so he ate dinner at the McColls, Scott and Allison holding hands under the table while Mrs. McColl smiled at them. His new tattoo itched, but it felt right. All the people he loved were with him, all the time, no matter what. They couldn’t leave him.

&&&

College got less and less interesting and tattoos got more and more magnetically compelling. He got a back piece done, and then, finally snapping, asked if Erica knew anyone looking for an apprentice. He could draw passably, but it had always seemed like an interesting trick, rather than a plausibly applicable skill, until he was drawing all the time, flash ideas and custom proposals, random wisps of ideas that had drifted across the surface of his brain like clouds. He drew, and practiced, and gave shitty star tattoos to 18-year-olds and desperately tried to fit classes in around it all. His dad would kill him if he didn’t get his degree, and he barely saw Scott between his night shifts and Scott's rotations, and it seemed like four years before he surfaced from his overworked haze and realised they were about to graduate, Scott was applying for nursing jobs in Beacon Hills, and no one in the shop had corrected him in six months. That was good enough for him.

There were only a couple of tattoo shops near Beacon Hills. One of them was an old-school biker shop, next to the bar outside of town, and Stiles skipped over it out of sheer self-preservation. There was a cheap one in the college town an hour drive away, and Stiles sent his portfolio there hoping they’d reject it, and then that left only one tattoo place: Full Moon Tattoos. It was new, since Stiles had left town, but the pictures on the website were clean, bright-lit and good-looking, and the artist portfolios were high quality. He sent an email with his contact details and portfolio and forgot about it until after the whirlwind of graduation was over. He drove back to town with Scott, both of them still in the graduation gowns, Stiles’ dad driving Scott’s mom in the other car.

“Excited to be back home?” Stiles asked, one hand on the steering wheel. His sleeves were rolled up, the tattoos visible on his forearms. He’d been thinking about hand tattoos for a while, but hadn’t settled on anything. Scott smiled smugly. He was going back to the town where his girlfriend was, he had good reason to be smug.

“Yeah, I’m staying with Mom for a bit,” he said. “Until we get settled. I’ve got a week until I start rotation.”

Stiles kept his eyes on the road, tapping his fingers against the steering wheel. There was a long moment of silence, and then Scott sighed.

“What’s up with you Stiles?” he asked, sarcastically interested. Stiles grinned. Scott was his brother.

“Full Moon got back to me, and, as long as I don’t put the owner off in the interview tomorrow, I’ll be the newest resident artist!”

“Bro!” Scott shouted, and they high-fived, Stiles without taking his eyes off the road. Scott tapped his hand on the dash happily. “Well done man.”

Stiles was grinning, his mouth almost aching at the edges. Things looked bright.

&&&

It was a hot summer, and Stiles wanted to show off his tattoos, so he wore a tank top to the interview. He liked all his tattoos, and he wanted other people to see them, especially tattoo artists he was going to work with. Or hoping to work with. After he’d parked his jeep and walked over to the shop, on a side street off downtown, he took a second outside the door to take a deep breath. It was only the only decent tattoo shop in town, and his first real artist gig. No big deal.

He pushed the door open, and a bell went off above him. The shop was empty, a front desk and a sofa, a couple of open doors to smaller work rooms left open.

“Hello?” he said, and there was a noise from the back.

“Just a second!” a man shouted, and a sound of a door closing, and then a really hot guy walked out of the back room. If Stiles was talking, he would have stuttered. The guy's biceps were huge, and he was built like the kind of guy who expended serious energy working out. He had a single tattoo high on his arm, a solid black band all the way around. He smiled warily, and Stiles jumped a little when he realised he hadn't said anything yet, he was just staring.

“Hi!” he said quickly, and then stuck his hand out. “I'm Stiles. I'm here to interview? about being an artist here?”

The guy's wary smile got broader, and if it was possible, he got more handsome.

“Hi,” he said, and shook Stiles hand in one of his huge hands. “I'm Derek, I sent you the emails.”

“Nice to finally meet you,” Stiles said, and Derek rubbed at his jaw a little sheepishly.

“I think we've actually technically met before,” he said. “I'm Derek Hale. I guess you would have been 6 or so?”

“Hale?” Stiles said, and then some quick math. “Wait, you're Derek Hale? You look...different.”

Derek laughed. Different was saying something, because when Stiles had been six, Derek had been 12 and a firm member of the group of Hale kids that everyone had thought were cool personified. The fire had happened when Stiles was six, and Derek and his sister had gone to live with family, according to his dad.

“Yeah, I guess 14 years'll do that,” he said. “I have to say, I didn't expect the Sheriff's son to want to work at my tattoo shop.”

Stiles wrinkled his nose.

“God, don't call me the Sheriff's son, I feel like I'm a kid again. Besides, he knows what I do. It's not like he's gonna be surprised,” he said.

“Good to know,” Derek said, and made a gesture to bring Stiles with him further into the shop. “C'mon, let me make you a coffee and we'll talk about you working here.”

It didn’t feel like a test at all. Derek had some intelligent questions about how he preferred to work, and then they just talked about art they liked, and what days Stiles would work. Now that Derek had mentioned it, Stiles could kind of see it, the shape of the 12 -year-old child face hidden in the planes of Derek’s adult face. They shook hands again at the end, Derek smiling.

“I know it’s a bit presumptuous,” Stiles said, when he was standing in the doorway. “And we’re going to work together, but, uh, do you want to get coffee sometime? No pressure?”

He felt warm all over, teetering on the edge of rejection. Waiting was the worst. Derek’s eyebrows shot up.

“You want to go for coffee?” he said, sounding surprised. Stiles nodded hard a few times and then stopped himself.

“Yeah, I mean, you like the same stuff as me and you look like,” Stiles made an up and down gesture in and around where Derek’s abs would be if he was closer. “Like that,” he said, lamely. Derek’s mouth quirked upward in a small smile.

“Yeah, I think coffee would be great,” he said, and Stiles grinned.

“Awesome. We’re gonna do great things, you and me,” he said.