I’ve had this one on the back burner for multiple months now, figured I should go ahead and post it. Inspired by this post about sterek soulmarks.
Mark watching was a common hobby: sit in a public place, watch people walk by, casually check out the emotional health of their soulmates. Hundreds of thousands of books had been written to analyze what the most minescule changes of color might mean on the handprint that everyone wore on their bodies. Stiles mark watched for a slightly different reason than most: he wasn’t interpreting colors, he was looking for other people with weird mark mutations to match his own.
Ever since Stiles was born, he had had a bright yellow paw print stamped on the back of his hand.
As one might expect, Stiles had been subjected to a lot of teasing about his soulmark in school. Stiles didn’t care all that much. He got teased about a lot of things, and he had done his research on soulmarks early on. Just because his was a pawprint didn’t mean his soulmate was a dog, and Stiles certainly wasn’t the only person around with a weird soulmark. The medical community called it a mutation, and they estimated that around 3% of all people had a soulmark shape mutation. They had no official explanation as to why some people had feathers or hoof tracks or bite marks or paw prints or a whole host of other shapes rather than handprints. There were a lot of extra-medical theories out there that said a lot of outlandish things, such as having a paw print meant your soulmate was a werewolf, which was obviously ridiculous, however cool that might be. The theory Stiles bought into was that sometimes your soulmate’s totem animal appeared in your soulmark, rather than an imprint from their physical body.
Stiles had proudly presented this theory to his parents over the dinner table when he was eight, and he hadn’t found a better one since. Dad had put on a skeptical face and said that seemed like a pretty far fetched idea, but Mom had grinned and said she thought it was sweet. Stiles had beamed and stuck his tongue out at Dad.
Stiles had just turned ten when his soulmark started to seriously change colors for the first time. Until then, it had been remarkable in its consistency, as well as for its shape. It had taken brief, irregular detours into pale spring green (delight) or a muddy indigo color (typically sadness), but only for a couple of hours before it returned to its brilliant yellow (freedom, joy, contentment). Now, it flared light pink for hours at a time, almost every day. Stiles looked up the color as soon as it occurred. He was crushed to find it meant affection, romance, and compassion.
It was unusual to start a relationship with someone who wasn’t your soulmate, but it wasn’t taboo. Sometimes things didn’t work out between soulmates. Sometimes it took many years to meet your soulmate. Sometimes your soulmate died. Some people were born without a soulmark at all. Stiles knew his soulmate was older than him, since he’d had his mark since birth, but he’d always assumed it was a small difference, the way it usually was. But if his soulmate was already falling in love? Maybe they’d gotten tired of waiting for Stiles, and made the decision to stop looking for their soulmate.
Stiles’ parents did everything they could to comfort him, but as the weeks wore on, Stiles’ mark was pink more often, and the color was getting brighter - closer to real love.
Then came a week in which Stiles’ mark bounced between pink and sickly yellow-green (anxiety), until it spent three hours fading to pitch black after school.
He watched his mark make the whole transition, sitting huddled in the corner of his room. His father found him there, staring at his mark (he already knew black was for guilt, depression, fear). He made noises of reassurance, told him most people went through black periods and made it through just fine. In fact, he said, his soulmate had probably just broken up with their significant other, based on his mark’s colors all week. And wasn’t that a good thing, after all?
Stiles wasn’t sure. The black on his hand made him sick to look at.
It took nearly two entire weeks for Stiles’ mark to change again, and then only to the deepest indigo (sorrow). Still, Stiles was relieved. Some marks never changed color again after hitting black. He ran to show his mother when she got home. She’d been at a funeral for a teenage girl who died in a car crash nearly two weeks ago, but she mustered up some enthusiasm for Stiles nevertheless. His dad was more excited when he got home, tossing Stiles into the air and making him shriek with laughter.
Stiles’ mark plunged black every so often, but never for more than a few hours. But it only rarely returned to simple, bright yellow after that. It was vibrant red for a long time, which meant passion, physicality, and competitiveness, and beyond that all of the reds were recovery colors. They were a less healthy type than blue colors at this point, the books told Stiles, but at least it was something. At least it wasn’t black.
After another couple of weeks, the mark began to tend towards yellow again, but a deeper, richer color than before. Books were in conflict with each other over what this color meant, so Stiles turned to the internet for his first real foray into Google. The latest thought was that deep yellow meant a lack of attachment, a mellow attitude, and/or satisfaction. Stiles guessed his soulmate was probably feeling the first more than the others, especially as the mark began to flirt with bouts of ugly green (recklessness), and the red and yellow started to mix into a dirty, orange-y brown (self-destructive behavior). A whole host of other colors began to flare up periodically, so many that Stiles almost stopped keeping track. Most lasted only minutes, some for a couple of hours, but never for longer than an afternoon. The books and the internet all agreed that was a bad sign (emotional instability, possibly mental illness).
Stiles worried about his soulmate in his free time, but he was starting to gain a measure of popularity at school for more than a weirdly shaped soulmark. Now he was the kid who knew what all the colors meant, and he got a lot of people asking for advice when their marks suddenly changed to bright purple in the middle of class (it meant spiritual awakening). Stiles was starting to hope for something equally ridiculous if only to get rid of the murky, dark colors that covered his hand all the time these days. He’d just about had it with the pitying glances.
It was around this same time that Stiles began to realize his dad had stopped rolling up his sleeves when he came home. His parents liked to sit together on the couch in the evening with their hands over each other’s soulmarks, Mom’s hand over Dad’s forearm, Dad’s resting on Mom’s thigh just above her knee. They still sat that way, but Dad’s sleeve was always covering the mark on his arm. It was beyond rude to ask someone why they were covering their soulmark, but Mom had been acting strange for a long time, now, and Stiles wanted to know what was so bad that it was apparently visible in the color of Dad’s soulmark.
Dad sighed heavily when Stiles blurted out the question the next Saturday, all pretense of cheerfulness falling away. Dad sat him down and explained that Mom was sick. Yes, it was serious. No, it wasn’t cancer, it was frontotemporal dementia. It might make Mom say weird things, or think weird things were happening. He should tell Dad if she started acting strange. His parents both loved him very much, even if Mom’s disease might make it hard for her to show.
Stiles was certain his Dad was holding back, so he did his own research. He quickly learned the most important things. His mom was dying. There was no cure. There was no way to slow the disease down. He knew then why Dad kept his mark covered. It must be losing color as Mom slowly faded away herself. He didn’t see Dad’s soulmark again for years and years after that.
Pink began to appear in Stiles’ mark again, but it was pale and fleeting, never staying more than a few minutes, and always preceded and followed by some of the dirtiest colors in the mark’s repertoire. An abusive relationship, Stiles concluded after a few days of research. He worried, of course, but he had a lot of things to worry about right then, and it soon faded to the background.
Mom declined rapidly after Stiles’ conversation with Dad. It only took three months until Stiles was standing next to Dad at a graveside, snow flurries sticking to his eyelashes. They had spent Christmas in the hospital only a few days ago. Stiles stared down at the brownish mix of swampy colors swirling slowly on the back of his hand, wondered if his soulmate was seeing something similar on their mark.
Adjusting to life without Mom was easier than it could have been (easier than it should have been) for Stiles. She hadn’t really been there for a long time. Dad had a harder time. He had started working more and more as Mom deteriorated, and he didn’t stop now. Stiles spent a lot of time at Scott’s so he wouldn’t be at home alone.
Then came an overcast, dreary day at the end of January. The weak sun had set, and Stiles was waiting for Dad to get home when Stiles’ mark suddenly fuzzed white. Stiles stared at it in horror. Everyone knew what white meant (a drugged state, severe disease, horrific trauma, impending death). White meant something so terrible that it caused the mark to lose focus entirely, every color and no color all at once.
Stiles had no idea what to do. He couldn’t lose his soulmate, too, not so soon after Mom. He stared at that blank wash of white until he heard Dad’s key rattle in the lock. He ran upstairs and skipped dinner; his dad didn’t need another problem right now. He sat in his room and stared at his mark until he couldn’t breathe. He had his first panic attack that night, although he didn’t know that then. He thought he was dying, too, just the next in a long line. He put on a glove once he could breathe again, because he couldn’t handle looking at it any more.
The mark was still white the next morning, so Stiles kept the glove on. He got some weird looks in the hallways, since he had always made a point of keeping his strange soulmark uncovered, but most people left him alone. Even Jackson only said, “finally decided to be ashamed about liking dogs?” which didn’t even count as an insult in Stiles’ book. Scott asked about it, of course, but Stiles said he didn’t want to talk about it, and he left it alone.
Dad asked two days later when he noticed. Stiles said his soulmate was obviously unhealthy, and he didn’t want to think about it, which had actually been the case for a long while before then. Dad just nodded and shut himself in the study with a bottle.
Stiles had two more panic attacks by himself before he finally had one at Scott’s house. Scott told his mother, who told Dad, who started sending Stiles to a therapist. It helped. He showed his therapist his soulmark, and she asked how it had turned white. Stiles told her, and she hummed for a minute and told him there were two likely situations. Since it had turned white all of a sudden, it probably wasn’t disease, and because it had been white for several days, it probably wasn’t drugs. She guessed it was probably a traumatic event in his soulmate’s life, or he had been injured and was comatose. Three days after that first session, a speck of black appeared at the center of the mark and bled outwards for a span of four days until it had covered up the whole mark. Stiles cried with relief when it first appeared; his soulmate wasn’t dying. They had gone through something terrible, but they were still alive. They had recovered from black before, and they could do it again.
He didn’t take the glove off because now it would rouse people’s curiosity again. Black was nearly as bad a white, in most people’s opinion, anyways, and Stiles didn’t want questions or sympathy. Lots of people kept their marks covered for that reason, according to Google. Dad took him to buy a glove specifically to cover soulmarks on a hand when he asked. It was lightweight and fingerless, and it made writing in class a lot easier.
He showed his now black mark to the therapist the next week, then rattled on about every color it had ever been. Her lips pursed when he told her about the first time it went black, and her face became more and more pinched as Stiles listed off every color his mark had flared afterwards, how after a while every color seemed to be overlaid with a sheen of brown (stress, distraction, obsession, holding desperately onto something), but the only thing she said when Stiles finally got to white was, “When you find your soulmate, I hope you’ll think about giving them my information.” She handed him a card. “It sounds like they could use somebody to talk to.” Stiles nodded and shoved the card into his pocket while the therapist redirected the conversation back to Mom.
After a few more weeks, Stiles’ mark faded to a cold gray (distrust, guardedness, self-protection, blocking something out). It made Stiles uncomfortable to look at, so he kept wearing his glove. Through every color change up until then the mark had at least been a warm color, and the icy gray seemed completely unnatural.
His therapist didn’t seem too happy when Stiles showed her his mark’s new color, but she smiled tightly and said she was glad it wasn’t black anymore. Stiles swung his legs as he talked for the rest of the visit and wondered what color the mark on his soulmate was, and what his therapist would think about it.
Stiles turned eleven. His mark changed color slightly, from icy gray to one with a more reddish hue. The meaning of the color was supposedly the same, but Stiles was glad for the switch back to the warm side of the color spectrum. Dad worked just as much as always, and in June it paid off with a promotion from Deputy to Beacon County Sheriff. They had a party for the first time in a long time.
Stiles’ therapist seemed concerned about his soulmate up until his last appointment with her in July, but there wasn’t anything Stiles could do about it. He didn’t like to think about it for exactly that reason. He wished that soulmarks didn’t appear until you had met your soulmate and could actually do something about their emotions.
The mark never varied; it stayed that same gray (trauma response, paranoia, avoidance, self-protective shutdown, and dissociation from emotions, surroundings, loved ones, and experiences) for over a year. Two weeks before Halloween of Stiles’ 6th grade year, it pulsed pastel sunset orange in the late afternoon. Stiles was so startled he fell right out of his desk chair while he tried to rip off his glove to see the new color. It faded back to gray after a few moments, but it spent the whole evening periodically blipping that same shade of pastel sunset. It meant longing, Stiles learned, and he hoped that whatever his soulmate wanted was important enough to shake them out of gray for good.
Apparently it was. Over the next three weeks, Stiles’ mark saturated to a deep, ashy red. The meaning wasn’t pretty (anger, aggression, hatred), but the color itself wasn’t too bad. It faded back to gray sometimes, and some days, some weeks, were black. An ugly, swampy yellow color cropped up sometimes (anxious, controlling, critical), which Stiles suspected had replaced his soulmate’s original, healthy, deep indigo for a response to sadness and disappointment. But his soulmate seemed to have finally stabilized, even if their colors weren’t the best.
Stiles kept on wearing a glove over his mark. The colors seemed very private by then, especially since they still weren’t happy colors. He shouldn’t broadcast his soulmate’s suffering and slow recovery. That was for Stiles alone.
The mark remained constant after that, and it was black less and less. By the time Stiles started high school, it was only black for a few days at the end of January, and it had even started to occasionally flicker towards the pale, warm green of delight. Those episodes lasted only seconds at a time, but Stiles was ecstatic. His soulmate was healing.
By the summer before sophomore year, Stiles’ mark had saturated to a deep, sunset orange (commitment, tenacity, loyalty), only occasionally fading back to gray. It still turned that ugly swampy color sometimes, but the instances of pale green were getting longer. Stiles stopped wearing his glove. He got a few comments and stares, but nothing too negative. The newer kids at school were shocked to find the rumors that Stiles’ soulmark was a pawprint were true, but Stiles was doing pretty well in the social strata these days, so he didn’t get too much trouble over it. Harley raised an eyebrow at the dramatic change in color from their elementary school days, and Scott asked why he stopped wearing the glove. Stiles just said his soulmate had been through a rough time, but he was over it now, so it was fine.
Then came a cold afternoon in early January when the mark seemed to freeze over. Stiles watched in horror as the mark faded to white over the course of a few minutes. He dug out his glove and covered up the gaping blankness on his hand as soon as he could move again. He could feel a panic attack coming on, so he closed his door and huddled in a corner until it passed, leaving him cold and trembling.
He had no idea what to do.
He peaked under the glove to make sure the mark hadn’t changed back while he was panicking. It was still white as bone. Stiles slapped the glove back down, squeezing his eyes shut and concentrating on keeping his breathing even. He sat in his room trying not to lose it until Dad got a call from the station, long after the sun had set.
Half a dead body in the Preserve. That should do nicely for a distraction.
Stiles got up and drove to Scott’s.