Stiles can be quiet, honestly, he can. He just prefers not to be quiet, because he finds that it's usually in those moments of silence that he becomes overwhelmed by his thoughts, memories, all the bad shit he's said or done or had happen to him over the years. So instead, he talks until he runs out of words, until his vocabulary and jokes run drier than the Sahara.
When that finally happens - and it always does - Stiles goes to Derek.
Derek knows what Stiles is going through. He recognises the expression on Stiles' face because it's the same one he saw in the mirror for years after the fire. Despite this, he never offers or makes assumptions. They both know that Stiles has to be the one to ask, because otherwise he'll become defensive and refuse him out of pride, spite, or whatever else. No matter how well-meaning Derek's offer might be or how much Stiles needs it, Stiles has to be the one to humble himself, to go to Derek first.
So instead, Derek watches, waits patiently, as Stiles runs himself haggard until he's almost consumed by the darkness around him, eyes dark with sleepless nights, scent spiking with sudden bouts of fear and anxiety, his fingers trembling with too-little energy and not enough food. Derek hates waiting through all of this, but he knows that he has to, knows that Stiles will come to him, just like he always does, and so, he waits.
When Stiles finally does come to him, Derek doesn't say anything - not 'I told you so' or 'you should have come last week after those trolls' or 'this is the fourth time this month'. These moments have a fragile trust; they both know that Stiles trusts Derek with his life, and vice versa, but these moments are separate from that life, from everything else they go through together. Derek sometimes thinks that this Stiles, the one only he gets to see, is truer than any other façade that Stiles shows to the rest of the world. It's a time when Stiles' numerous insecurities come out in full force, when he's unsure of everything, everyone - especially himself - and yet he still trusts Derek with this fragile side of himself. It means the world to Derek, but he can't tell Stiles that, not yet.
Instead, Derek stays quiet, and leads Stiles through the loft to where they need to go. He knows from experience that Stiles' final act before stepping into the loft is to make sure that no one will disturb them. He knows it's Stiles' magic at work, because the first time they'd done this, Derek had left his phone on loud and missed three texts from Scott without the ringtone blaring once. It's actually a comfort to Derek, to know that they have this time together; that they won't be disturbed, and they're safe. It's one of the few times he actually feels safe, his own elevator alarm notwithstanding.
By the time they're upstairs, winding their way up the staircase, Stiles' scent has already started to soften. Where it was sharp and high-strung, just the paces through the loft and up the stairs helps him start to relax. It's a Pavlovian response, Derek knows, because they've made the exact same trek every single time Stiles appears in his loft this way. But Stiles' response isn't a bad thing, not at all. The softening of Stiles' sharp scent acts as a way to calm him too, because while he recognises Stiles' expression and knows what he needs to do to help him become himself again, Derek isn't all-knowing and he could fuck this fragile thing up just as he has every other fragile and important thing in his life.
Stiles doesn't hum or joke around or make any noise, really, so his motions are especially loud in the silence around them. He strips out of his clothes mechanically, no flailing limbs or awkwardness in general, and once they're folded and sitting on the top of the stairs, Stiles kneels in the centre of Derek's bed, completely naked.
Derek offers a smile, but knows better than to touch Stiles, not yet. Now, as though their roles are reversed, Derek is the one that talks, his voice soft and lilting in the silence around them.
"You've done so well these past four weeks, Stiles. You have," he adds when Stiles' gives a micro-expression of disbelief. "Those trolls would've killed Malia if you hadn't stopped them; you were the only one who thought using of salted water."
Stiles shrugs, but he doesn't respond aloud. Until they're finished, Derek knows that Stiles won't say a word unless he has to.
"You're so smart, Stiles, and you've kept all of us safe. You're so good at being selfless, at putting others before yourself. Even if you don't think you are," he adds, seeing the slight wrinkle of Stiles' nose. "You protect all of us, even without our asking for it; I noticed the wards you put on the loft," Derek says, voice warm, soft, and thankful, but Stiles' eyes widen in alarm.
Derek stands in front of the bed, waits until Stiles is looking at him, until he's seeing him. "I am not angry, Stiles. You're keeping your pack safe. That's a good thing," he promises with a smile.
Some tension eases from Stiles' shoulders, but he keeps his eyes on Derek warily, just in case.
"Deaton tells me you're progressing through your emissary studies. You're doing so well with that, I'm so proud of you. You've been such a good pack member to everyone, protecting us, keeping us safe, watching over us."
As he talks, Derek watches carefully as Stiles relaxes with each word, tension and fear and anxiety leaking from him and releasing him from their prison. Stiles stays kneeling, but his limbs and body and face relaxes in increments, until he looks as young as he actually is. Derek puts a hand on Stiles' shoulder experimentally, pleased when he doesn't automatically stiffen. He turns the touch to a caress, fingers stroking down Stiles' arm and he watches as Stiles shivers, eyes half-lidded.
"You're so good for me, Stiles. What do you need today? Rope? Gag?" Derek offers with a pause between each word to see which Stiles will nod for. He nods for both. "You want both?" he clarifies, and again, Stiles nods.
They've taken some time to get to this stage; Stiles often agreed to what he thought Derek wanted, rather than what he needed, not realising that Derek only wanted what would help Stiles. The first time had been awkward and confusing for them both, Derek's attempt at tying a knot in the rope was far too difficult with his shaking hands. He should have known better than to do something without talking about it first, but he'd needed to help Stiles as much as Stiles had needed him to, arriving at the loft with a length of rope and a plea.
The next day, Stiles had returned to the loft, armed with several manuals, books, printed pages from websites, and they'd spent the whole day talking. That day had been almost as exhausting and terrifying as the day before, but they were both better for it now.
Confidence and pleasure fills him now as he selects his gag, fingers brushing along the silken material before he picks it up and places it around Stiles' mouth. Stiles watches him intently, amber eyes wide and trusting, and Derek strokes a thumb against his lips, covered by silk. It's a simple knot, easy enough to slip out of if Stiles panics, but firm enough to keep pressure on his mouth and add an extra incentive to stay quiet. Not that Derek believes Stiles needs it, but the act is still one full of trust, for Stiles to let him take away his voice in this moment.
Derek takes a while longer to choose the rope, fingers testing the ropes resting in the drawer as he goes over the patterns he can create, the rough or firm or soft fibres he wants Stiles to feel. Eventually, he chooses a purple rope, the fibres strong enough that Stiles will definitely feel them, and they may leave welts if he struggles, but they won't hurt him further than that. The black rope is for that, and only used on occasions when they both need something more.
"I'm going to start by tying your wrists, then your arms, torso, and I'll work my way down. Can you click?" Derek asks, waiting for Stiles to click in confirmation. "That's good. Click if you want to stop, understood? Any time, no matter what," he adds, voice firm.
Stiles gives a brief nod, gag wide around his pale cheeks.
"Thank you," Derek murmurs, brushing his fingers and the rope along Stiles' shoulders before taking his hands and looping the rope around his wrists.
As Derek winds the rope up Stiles' arms carefully, creating a symmetrical pattern on left and right, he keeps his senses focused on Stiles. He listens to his heartbeat, steady and calm; scents his chemo signals to make sure he's not panicking; looks up at his face every so often to make sure he's still okay. If he could talk, Derek is sure Stiles would tell him to stop worrying and to keep going, but instead, he sees nothing but patience and faith and trust. Stiles knows that Derek wouldn't ever hurt him, and Derek strives to be worthy of that knowledge.
He continues his pattern, making a final loop around Stiles' arms before he criss-crosses the rope around Stiles' torso carefully. There's plenty of rope left when he finishes, and Derek looks at Stiles again.
"Blink if it feels okay," he says, and Stiles blinks carefully in response. "Blink twice if you want me to stop." No response. "Can I keep going? Blink once for yes, twice for no," Derek adds, and Stiles blinks once.
Derek once asked Stiles what it felt like, in one of the rare moments when Stiles was silent and the pack nowhere in sight or hearing range. Stiles hadn't needed to ask what he meant, but he took so long to respond that Derek wondered if he'd broken their fragile thing after all. Stiles shook his head, gave a smile, and simply said 'it feels like I don't have a care in the world; like I'm out of my body and head completely, and yet still in complete control.' It was then that Derek knew that as long as Stiles wanted him to continue, he would never stop.
He chooses his next pattern carefully. Working between the legs is a precise art for obvious reasons, but Derek decides to work back up instead, weaving the rope up through the diamonds along Stiles' back, braiding them along his spine. He stops when he hears Stiles gasp behind the gag, and moves to face him in the next breath.
"Stiles? Stiles, are you okay? Once for yes, twice for no."
Stiles blinks once, slow and sure, and Derek takes a moment to scent his chemo signals. He's not hurt, not in pain, and in fact, Stiles looks even more relaxed than he did before, cheeks pink and eyes soft.
"Do you want me to keep going? We can stop," Derek offers.
Stiles shakes his head, then looks at Derek and blinks once again, determinedly.
Derek runs his fingers along the rope covering Stiles' arms gently, and they both know he could destroy it in a second if Stiles needed it. He caresses Stiles' bare shoulders gently, then nods. "Can you still click?" he checks, looking to Stiles' wrists to make sure his hands are secure but not too tight.
Stiles demonstrates with a click, then points to the rope the best he can, obviously wanting Derek to continue.
"All right, Stiles. Click as soon as you need," Derek murmurs, moving behind Stiles to pick up the rope again.
He finishes weaving the rope up along Stiles' spine, notices the goosebumps that appear when his fingers brush against Stiles' skin, the small trembles and scent of desire that accompany it. On the one hand, Derek wonders how it's taken them so long to get to this stage, and at the same time, he understands it completely. Stiles has needed this, platonic and mind-clearing without anything else attached. Emotions are far more complicated that the pattern of rope against his skin, and there's nothing primal or sexual in the act of Stiles' nudity, only that he's comfortable in his own body and mind, the rope keeping him together as much as it frees him.
Derek uses the last of the rope to weave along Stiles' shoulder blades, the pattern giving him the appearance of an angel, twisted, fallen, and captured with purple rope. He allows himself one more caress of Stiles' shoulders, the scent of desire rising, and then Derek moves off the bed carefully, standing in front of Stiles to survey his work.
Stiles looks like he's on drugs, pupils wide and body relaxed to the point where he might tip over if not for the rope holding him upright. He sighs contently behind the gag, eyes closing.
"You're so good for me, Stiles. You look beautiful," Derek says, meaning every word, and unable to stop the blush on his cheeks.
Stiles opens his eyes then, surprise and suspicion filling them until he sees the blush on Derek's cheeks and tips of his ears. Derek feels like his heart stops when he hears the unmistakable sound of Stiles clicking. He has the gag off in a second and while he's tempted to tear through the rope with his claws, Derek doesn't want to hurt Stiles, so he unties him as fast and carefully as possible. Stiles is gasping for breath by the time he's finished, and Derek eases him onto the bed gently, rubbing the red marks on his skin.
He's finally broken this fragile thing, just as he always knew he would one day. Derek wants to wallow in this feeling, like he's falling and drowning all over again, but his first priority is Stiles. Derek gets Stiles' bottle of water from his bedside table, sticks the straw in the top, and watches as he drinks greedily.
"Not too much, take it slow. Good, Stiles, very good," Derek murmurs, stroking Stiles' face as he drinks the water down at a slower pace.
Stiles relaxes as Derek wraps his arms around him, leaching his pain away, and once he feels like he can, Stiles turns into Derek's chest.
"Tell me again," he says, voice soft and as uncertain as Derek's ever heard before.
"Tell you what?" Derek asks, confused and still too focused on taking care of Stiles.
"What you said before."
Derek, who's thinking about wrapping Stiles in a blanket cocoon and making a hot chocolate with the little marshmallows that Stiles likes, has to take a moment to think about what he's actually asking him. When he does realise, Derek doesn't hesitate at all. "You're beautiful, Stiles."
There's a sharp intake of breath from Stiles, who presses his ear to Derek's chest firmly, listening to his heartbeat. "Again."
Derek strokes Stiles' shoulders, running his fingertips along the red lines winding down his arm. "You're beautiful."
Stiles moves so he's looking up at Derek properly, but before Derek can say or do anything else, Stiles tugs him down and kisses him firmly. The angle's awkward, Stiles is still naked while Derek's fully clothed, but there's no taste or moment sweeter than this. When Stiles pulls away, his lips swollen and red, his eyes are wide again and it's like one of their fragile moments, but even better. Derek kisses him once briefly, then lifts Stiles onto the bed beside him, standing and wrapping the blanket around his shoulders.
"Hot chocolate?" Derek offers, and Stiles nods eagerly in return.
Derek's halfway downstairs when Stiles calls out after him, "Mini marshmallows too!"
The fragile moment of silence is over for now, and in its place is something even better, something unknown and beautiful.