“You sure, bunny?” The wolf touched his back gently.
Stretch looked up at him grimly and nodded. He couldn’t allow himself to look scared, or Red wouldn’t go through with it.
“Okay then.” Red scooped him up from the couch and licked him, running his tongue up the bunny’s bare ribs, across his skull, to the tips of his ears.
Stretch shuddered at the proximity of the wolf’s sharp teeth. “You don’t have to be so gentle.”
“You wan’ it rough?”
Stretch nodded, but failed to convince him.
“Maybe later, bunny.” Red went back to licking him until he forgot about the teeth. The soft pressure of his tongue was warm and relaxing, and Stretch couldn’t let himself enjoy this too much. He wished Red would hurry up and get on with it, but he didn’t trust himself to speak.
So he had no choice but to let Red lick him for as long as he wanted. When he at last found himself sliding in between the wolf’s jaws, he snapped out of the drowsiness that had been overtaking him. He braced himself, but in a moment found himself sliding out again, back into Red’s hands.
“You’re scared,” the wolf said neutrally.
“Yeah,” Stretch admitted. Red could tell. There was no hiding it.
“You wanna stop?”
Stretch flinched at the concern in the wolf’s voice. “No, please. Just do it.”
“Please,” Stretch repeated.
“Okay, but don’t get mad at me later. You asked for it.”
Red waited until the bunny had nodded agreement to his conditions, then tipped him back into his mouth. Stretch squeezed his sockets shut. The soft wet magic pressed around his skull, convulsed to pull him in deeper. It was awful, though not as bad as what Blue must have gone through, and even after the magic closed over his feet, it lasted an interminably long time.
He wasn’t sure what would happen next. Eventually he found himself squeezed out into a looser space and dared open his eyes. There was still nothing but red magic all around, glowing dim and wet. In places he could see the shadows of bones beyond or perhaps within the magic. It didn’t matter. It was far too late to go back now. He’d tried not to let Blue’s efforts go to waste, but it had really been too late the moment it happened.
Nothing mattered now, at least not for him, except that he might finally stop hearing Blue’s terrified shriek in the silence, seeing his brother desperately reaching for him in that moment when he was snatched away, every time he closed his eyes. He shook his skull but couldn’t dispel the image.
He deserved it, though. If he’d been a little faster, not cut it so close, Blue wouldn’t have tried to protect him. He should have known Blue would try to protect him. He closed his eyes again. It was fitting that Blue would be the last thing he would see, even if it was just in his memory.
“Wake up, bunny. You’re startin’ to worry me.”
Stretch was never a fan of waking up, but it seemed particularly distasteful this time. He hadn’t found much reason to wake up ever since he’d lost Blue. Red and his brother were pretty understanding about it; they thought he needed time to grieve.
“Bunny? Bunny? Come on, Stretch.”
It must be something serious if Red was poking him and calling him by his name. Stretch groaned and rolled over; maybe he could satisfy the wolf that he was awake without actually waking all the way up.
“There you are. Come on, Boss’ll be mad if he finds out. So we gotta clean you up before he gets back.”
“Huh?” Stretch finally opened his eyes, but Red dropped a washcloth on him. While he was trying to imagine what they’d done that needed cleaning up before Edge found out, the wolf wrapped the cloth around him and started rubbing. It was much rougher than Red’s tongue had been, and Stretch opened his mouth to complain.
Wait a minute. Why did he know so intimately what Red’s tongue felt like? Oh—that—and then—
“You were supposed to eat me,” Stretch accused, trying to push the terrycloth away.
“I did.” Red used the corner of the cloth to wipe at Stretch’s skull.
“No you didn’t.”
“Sure I did. Why do you think you’re all red and sticky now?”
It didn’t feel sticky so much as slimy, but that wasn’t the point Stretch wanted to argue. “No you didn’t. I’m still here.”
“What’re ya talkin’ about, bunny? Of course you’re still here.”
“You didn’t do it right.” Stretch felt magical tears welling. “What am I supposed to do now?”
“What’re ya sayin’, Stretch?” Red’s hands stilled and his expression darkened. “You didn’t expect me to—” He broke off, grimacing. “What did ya think was gonna happen?”
Stretch looked away. “It’s not as bad as what happened—what I let happen to Blue.”
“What happened to Blue?”
“I told you.”
“You told me he dusted, not how. Did he get eaten?”
Stretch nodded, eyes still downcast.
“So you thought you deserved the same?”
“He was shielding me, and—he got snatched up instead.”
“And you thought I would just eat you—and digest you—without a second thought?” Red sounded angry now, and when Stretch raised his eyelights, the wolf looked scarier than he’d ever seen him, one eye glowing, fur bristled, ears pinned back.
“I—you’re a wolf,” Stretch tried to explain, faltering.
Red growled, leaning over him, and the bunny cowered. In the next moment, Red was gone. Stretch sat huddled under the washcloth until Edge got home.
“Red! You have to come out for dinner anyway. I refuse to let you eat in your room.” Edge knocked on the door again.
Stretch was curled up in his other hand, clinging to the frayed edge of his scarf. He trusted Edge not to drop him, but it was a long way down. He’d been more afraid that the taller wolf would scrub away his limited HP in his enthusiasm for getting every one of his bones sparkling clean. Red was more on his own wavelength in matters of cleanliness, but it didn’t seem the shorter wolf was responding even to threats of no dinner. Stretch peered over his shoulder at the unmoving door. There was a leaf of notebook paper taped to it, scrawled with the words: no bunnies.
He tugged on the scarf. “Don’t be mad at him. This is all my fault.”
Edge’s jaw tightened for a moment. “Both of you should have talked it out more—if you really had to engage in that foolishness in the first place.”
“I’ll just leave. Then he won’t have to hide in there.”
“A wolf hiding in fear from a tiny bunny?” Edge snorted in amusement, then turned serious again. “Don’t do that. He’ll be more upset if he comes out and you’re gone.”
“I don’t think he ever wants to see me again.” Stretch sank down into Edge’s hand.
Edge poked him in the ribs. “Promise. That you won’t run off. If you want to hide, I’ll find you a place, but you may not leave the house.”
“Fine, okay.” Stretch wasn’t going to argue with a huge, angry wolf. He pulled his freshly laundered hood over his skull.
Edge turned to the door and knocked again. “Red. Your bunny misses you.” Red still didn’t answer. “Come on, bunny. We’ll start dinner and he’ll come down when the smell makes him hungry.”
Edge was right. Stretch didn’t do anything to help except sit on the kitchen table, but after a while, when Edge’s cooking had produced a mouth-watering aroma, Red appeared in the doorway and slunk in.
“Red!” Edge said sharply without turning around. “Why are you sneaking around like that? Nobody is angry with you!”
Red pulled himself onto a chair and refused to meet Stretch’s gaze. “I know you don’t approve of eatin’ bunnies, Boss.”
“That’s true! But how can I fault you when the bunny explicitly asked you to do it?” Edge set the finished lasagna on the counter and started cutting it into squares.
Red finally looked at Stretch, and the bunny immediately looked away. He should have left before Edge got back and made him promise not to. Or at least hidden somewhere Red wouldn’t have to see him, maybe under the couch, or in Edge’s room.
“Bunny…” Red sounded tired.
“I’m sorry.” Stretch crossed his arms over the front of his hoodie, halfway curling up.
Stretch dared to glance at the wolf. Red’s expression was dark, his ears laid back.
“You’re—pretty mad, huh?”
“Well, yeah.” Red softened even as he said so. “I can’t believe you thought—if I just wanted a snack, I wouldn’ta brought you in outta the snow, would I?”
Stretch remembered the moment he’d met Red. He didn’t have any memory of how he’d escaped the monster that had taken Blue; the next thing he could recall was skeletal fingers lifting him out of a snowdrift. He should have been afraid when he realized Red was a wolf, but he was past caring.
“I guess—I wasn’t thinking.”
Red frowned at that.
“I can—get out of your hare. If you’d like.”
The bunny flinched under Red’s stare, but it slowly cracked into a grin.
“That would be un-warren-ted,” Red answered.
“I hope this means you’ve both come to your senses,” Edge grumbled as he brought them their food.
“Thanks. But I wish I could do something to make it up to you.” The lasagna was a reminder of how much the wolves had done for him, and how helpless he was to do anything for them in return.
“Well,” said Red. “If you wanted to. Only if you wanted to. We could try it again.” He scratched at his ear to hide how awkward it was to bring up.
Stretch stared at him, shocked. Of course he’d assumed, before, that Red would enjoy eating him, but he’d dismissed that along with the assumption that the wolf didn’t care if he died. Now that he thought back on it, the physical sensations had been neutral-to-pleasant. He wasn’t sure if he was willing to do it again, but he could give it some thought. Meanwhile, he answered, “I guess that’s not off the table. Thought you wouldn’t like getting a hare in your mouth.”
“Yeah, it can be really ear-ritating.”
“If you’re going to have a pun-fest in here, I’m going to eat in the living room.” Edge picked up his plate.
“Don’t go, Edge. We’ll be good.” Stretch scooted over to Red’s outstretched hand so that the wolf could pet his ears.
“Yeah, Boss, no more rabbit puns,” Red agreed.
Edge waited a moment to make sure that wasn’t the set-up for a pun and then relented, sitting down at the table. He slid Stretch’s plate closer to the bunny.
“I got plenty of non-rabbit puns. Don’t wolf down your food now,” Red warned.
“You’re not gonna curry any favor with me if your puns don’t pass mustard,” Stretch shot back.
“No wolf or food puns either,” said Edge.
“Why not, Boss? They’re so humerus.”
“I find that hard to swallow.”
Edge huffed in annoyance and sat back in his chair, but didn’t make good on his threat to leave. Stretch dug into his bunny-sized portion of lasagna.