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All the Way to the Bone

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When Derek got the text, his first instinct was to run home as fast as his feet could carry him.

Well, his first instinct was actually to twist himself into a more savage shape and sink his claws into the nearest available person or object. Since that wasn’t an option — he kind of needed his work computer and he was pretty sure that Sandy, who sat in the cubicle next to his, didn’t deserve a horrifying and bloody end to her life — all he actually did was get up from his desk, smooth a hand down his chest as much to center himself as to settle his tie, and walked down three doors to his boss’ office.

Mindy wasn’t on the phone, so Derek leaned into the door frame in a way that he hoped adequately conveyed how very brief he wanted to make this, and said, “Hey, do you mind if I take off a little early?”

Mindy didn’t even look up from her computer, just raised her non-mousing hand and waved him off. “Go ahead. You finished that copy for the Speedsign account, right?”

“Yeah, I emailed it to Mark about an hour ago,” Derek said. “And I’m still waiting on the rest of the details for that Harcourt job.”

“Yeah, I don’t actually care about that, I’m busy, you can get out now,” Mindy said, and waved her hand again, more curtly this time. “Have a nice weekend. Or don’t. I don’t really care about that either.”

He stopped at his desk to pick up his things, and then he went out to his car and climbed inside instead of tearing off his clothes and changing himself into an animal and running wild into the woods the way he really wanted to.

He surprised himself, though, when he drove to Stiles’ place instead of driving home.

He parked at the curb and then sat in his car for awhile, listening to the sounds of the engine ticking and the girl on the third floor of Stiles’ building singing along to the radio and the clinking of somebody’s dishes in the sink and the roaring of Derek’s breath in his own lungs.

When his phone dinged with a new text alert, he snatched it up off the passenger seat and nearly crushed it with his bare hand. He wanted to see it pulverized, to sweep the dust of it from his hands and feel like that alone would be the solution to his problems, that without the phone to bring bad news he could just live in some sort of everlasting blissful ignorance.

The screen said the text was from Stiles, though, so Derek’s grip gentled before he could do any real damage, and when he opened the message it just said, you ok? because Stiles could probably see the car from his window.

Derek wasn’t okay, really, but it wasn’t anything he could sum up in a text, and it was easier just to get out of the car and go in, which was probably Stiles’ plan all along. Stiles was standing in the open doorway to his apartment, leaning casually against the doorjamb, when Derek stepped out of the elevator, but he didn’t say anything, just watched Derek walk down the hallway, and then took him by the hand and drew him into the apartment.

Normally that would be around the point where Derek would surge into him, licking into Stiles’ mouth and unzipping his jeans and thinking about a hundred different things he wanted to do with Stiles’ body. He could feel that fire inside himself, banked maybe but still warm, still alive, a hunger he’d never be able to satisfy. It didn’t flare, though, and instead of reaching for Stiles’ skin he just stood there, his hands hanging uselessly at his sides, unsure about why he’d come at all.

Stiles just looked at him for a long moment, like there was something written on Derek’s body that he was trying to read, while Derek couldn’t look at Stiles at all. He looked around the apartment instead, but it looked the same as it always did, cluttered but not necessarily messy, bare brick and rough edges, almost a bad cliche of an artist’s loft but beloved, just the same. Everywhere Derek looked around the loft was a fond memory: falling to his knees and blowing Stiles against the kitchen cabinets; pressing Stiles down into the couch cushions and fucking into him hard and frantic while the TV droned on in the background; waking up in the bed to Stiles’ breath against his stomach and stroking at Stiles’ short-cropped hair until he squirmed down lower; Stiles’ hands clutching at Derek’s hips while Derek’s claws left furrows in the top of the tiny battered kitchen table.

Derek wanted to live there, and it wasn’t about the space at all, no matter how much he’d come to love it; he just wanted to take up residence in the space around Stiles’ heart. It had only been a month, though, and even if they’d had a truly staggering amount of sex in that short span of time, Derek knew it was too soon to ask, even though it was all he wanted to say.

When Stiles opened his mouth to speak, Derek was expecting an interrogation about what was wrong, because he could feel the tension in his own shoulders and the way his hands were clenched somewhat involuntarily into fists, and there weren’t any mirrors around but he was pretty certain that the expression on his face had to be something tight and horrible. His control had been slowly slipping since he’d parked the car and if he didn’t get a handle on himself his eyes were going to start glowing, and he knew he should’ve been better than that but right then he just wasn’t. And he wasn’t sure how to answer Stiles’ inevitable concern, how to find words for any of the things he was feeling, or even whether he should, whether this thing with Stiles was strong enough yet to weather what this moment was going to turn into.

He should have just gone straight home, but he couldn’t bring himself to leave now.

Stiles didn’t ask him any questions he couldn’t handle, though. All Stiles said was, “That’s a good look on you.”

Derek snapped his eyes away from the drafting table and the easel in the corner — the whole studio end of the loft was a marginally controlled chaos of ink and paint and piled canvases, as usual — he found that Stiles was staring at him, at his body, at the dark blue tie and the light gray dress shirt, at his sleeves where they were untidily rolled up to his elbows.

“I had a meeting. Kind of a thing for you, huh?” Derek said. He meant to smile, making it a teasing remark, but it didn’t come out that way; his voice was low and strained instead, his expression intent.

“Apparently,” Stiles agreed, and he looked a little bit baffled, like he hadn’t known it himself.

Then he reached out, carefully, and took Derek’s hand in his own, gripping Derek’s elbow with the other hand, bringing Derek’s forearm up between them and inspecting it. Derek was used to it — it was something Stiles did a lot, usually after sex, scrutinizing some part or other of Derek’s body in detail, touching and stroking and prodding and staring like he was committing it to memory. Derek had asked, the first time Stiles had done it — somewhere around hour three of their first epic sex marathon — and Stiles had laughed and said he preferred a hands-on approach to his studies in human anatomy, and then he’d crawled out of bed and picked up his charcoals and sketched the curve of Derek’s calf, the flex of his toes and tendons, the scrawl of veins beneath the skin. When he’d tumbled back into bed and into Derek’s body again he’d left black fingerprint smudges on Derek’s hips, thighs, the backs of his knees.

So Derek just watched as Stiles inspected his forearm and splayed out his fingers, and he didn’t try to take his hand back. “What are you thinking?” he asked, when Stiles’ fingers edged up beneath Derek’s rolled-up sleeve, stroking at the skin.

Stiles shook his head and chuckled under his breath, and abandoned his examination to simply slide his fingers along Derek’s skin, lifting Derek’s hand to his face — Derek curled it around the curve of Stiles’ cheek, which Stiles seemed to like — and pressing a kiss to the heel of Derek’s palm. Stiles’ other hand swept down again to Derek’s elbow, and this time instead of stroking he pressed one finger against the skin and began to draw with it, etching slow, invisible lines from Derek’s shirtsleeve down his forearm.

“I was just thinking,” Stiles said, his lips moving against Derek’s hand, “how you’d look in this shirt if, when you rolled up your sleeves, there was ink underneath. I like to think about how other people look at you and they don’t know what you are, underneath that respectable tie.”

Derek sucked in a breath and pressed a little closer, watching the way Stiles’ pupils dilated, listening to his heartbeat picking up. Stiles’ mouth was hanging open, as if often did, and Derek wanted to fill it, so he shifted his hand and pressed his thumb there, against Stiles’ lower lip. Stiles’ tongue flicked out to meet it, which was as good as an invitation, so Derek pressed that thumb inside, felt Stiles’ mouth close around it and suck even as Stiles’ hand dropped away from his arm and reached out instead to grab hold of his tie, like it was nothing more than a leash to let Stiles pull him closer.

“And what am I, underneath?” Derek asked him, soft. He wasn’t entirely sure he wanted to hear, but he did want to know what Stiles saw, when he looked at Derek. Did he look for the ink, or the animal, or could he somehow see even deeper than that, see the spark that set Derek’s life on fire, the ember of it still burning, ready to flare to life and take the rest?

Stiles let go of Derek’s thumb, let go of the tie, too, put both his hands on Derek’s face and pulled him in for a kiss, the soft, wet, aching kind that was Stiles’ specialty. Then he dropped one hand to Derek’s shoulder, his thumb sweeping against the base of Derek’s neck, and squeezed a suggestion. His other hand went to his own belt buckle, started pulling his jeans open.

“What are you?” he repeated, just as softly as Derek had asked, something terrible and gentle in his voice. “Mine.”

It should have sounded too possessive, maybe, or controlling, but the way Stiles said it was like a claiming, like he was inviting Derek into their own pack of two, like in owning Derek he was offering himself in return, and taking responsibility even for all the parts of Derek that were already broken.

Derek fell to his knees without any grace, as if he’d been struck, but it was only urgency and a sudden swelling of need that made him uncoordinated, and there wasn’t much clumsy about the way he took Stiles’ cock into his mouth, lapping and sucking as he wrapped his fist around the base, flicking the tip of his tongue just under the head where he knew Stiles liked it. He should have maybe backed Stiles up to the wall first, because he could hear Stiles whimpering and feeling the trembling of his legs when Derek put his hands on Stiles’ thighs. But it was good, too, better than it had any right to be, the way that Stiles braced both his hands on Derek’s shoulders and let Derek take the better part of his weight, like he knew Derek could handle it, like he was counting on Derek to hold him up.

Derek could take it, wanted to take it, wanted everything Stiles had to offer, and when his hands pulled a little at Stiles’ hips and Stiles gasped, “Oh, fuck, yes, can I?” he took that too, let Stiles thrust careful and shallow into his mouth. He couldn’t take it very deep, not yet — though they’d both been practicing very diligently — and Stiles knew it, so he didn’t push for too much, even as he was staring down at Derek’s face, his breaths shuddering out of him, watching his own cock pump wetly into Derek’s mouth.

Stiles wanted Derek to be happy, and he wanted Derek to be safe, and these things were as obvious and visible as the tattoos on Stiles’ skin, the shapes that Derek could trace now with his fingers without even looking. Stiles wanted those things for Derek, and it was in his voice and his touch and it was never more obvious than it was in the way Stiles fucked him, so Derek never had the heart to tell Stiles that he was pretty sure he’d never have those things again.

“God, you are so—” Stiles said, and broke off, breathless, like he couldn’t find the right word, or maybe just couldn’t decide on one single word to say when he meant. “I want to come down your throat,” he went on, and sighed with a sort of cracked wistfulness when Derek just squeezed his hips in encouragement, drew his lips back around the head of Stiles’ cock and sucked like he could just pull Stiles’ orgasm from him.

“Easy,” Stiles murmured, and managed to pull his hips back far enough that Derek’s mouth was empty, though he also didn’t stop Derek when he leaned in and rubbed against Stiles’ cock with his cheek. The stubble didn’t feel entirely good, if the way Stiles hissed was anything to go by, but it was no less than Stiles deserved.

“Don’t be like that,” Stiles said, and petted at Derek’s hair, pulled Derek into a hug against his belly. Stiles’ erection was trapped between them, weeping against Derek’s sternum, leaking a wet spot into the fabric of his shirt. “We’ll do that another time,” Stiles promised. “What do you want? Tell me what you need me to do.”

Derek clutched Stiles to him and thought about it, really thought, which made Stiles murmur at him wordlessly, happily, and stroke his hand around the spiraled pattern tattooed on Derek’s back. Derek still had his shirt on, so Stiles couldn’t actually see it, but he knew it was there, knew so much about who Derek was under his clothes, under his skin. Derek tried to think about why he drove to Stiles’ place instead of going home to confront the problem; he tried to think of what could make it better, if anything could make it better.

“I want you,” Derek said, and almost stopped there, because he just wanted Stiles. And then he said, without thinking about it, “I want you to hold me down. And I’m— I want you to bite me. Can you do that?”

“Yeah,” Stiles answered, his voice cracking across the word, his body curling down over Derek like a shelter, like a shield, and Stiles kissed at the top of Derek’s head, burying his nose in Derek’s hair like he was seeking his scent. Stiles cleared his throat and said, “Yeah, I can do that,” with his lips against Derek’s scalp.

Derek half-expected Stiles to take him at his word, to pin him down right there on the unforgiving hardwood floor and take everything, to use him the way he was asking to be used. But Stiles pulled him to his feet instead, and led him to the low, wide bed, where the blankets were thrown back and the sheets were still rumpled in the shape of Stiles’ body.

Stiles hooked his fingers into Derek’s tie again, this time around the knot, and slowly pulled it free, then started unbuttoning Derek’s shirt. The way he went about it wasn’t erotic, or at least not overly so; he touched Derek as he went, but they were only little caresses, nudges, nothing with an active seduction in it. When Derek reached out to return the favor, Stiles didn’t stop him, but he didn’t draw it out, either; Stiles just stepped out of his jeans when Derek pushed them down his legs, and helpfully wriggled his way out of his t-shirt while Derek pulled it up from the hem.

When they were finally both naked, Stiles pushed him down onto the bed and followed himself, his weight pressing Derek down into the sheets, his scent and heat draped over Derek like a blanket. His hand stroked idly against Derek’s stomach, tracing the outline of the tattoo there, the one that Stiles had inked himself not very long ago. Derek sighed his approval and twisted beneath Stiles’ body, eager, rolling onto his belly. Stiles murmured his wordless approval, running his hands along Derek’s back, pressing his thumbs against the spine and then sweeping his fingers across Derek’s shoulders and along his arms. When he took a grip on each wrist and tugged, Derek didn’t resist, agreeably allowing his arms to be pulled up above his head. When Stiles squeezed his wrists tight and then let go, Derek understood that he was to keep them there, as if he’d been restrained, so he twisted his fingers into the sheets and obeyed.

Stiles didn’t bother with much prep, which was perfect, was exactly what Derek wanted; he’d never really needed much of it anyway, and usually Stiles’ fingers were more foreplay than necessary prelude. Today Derek wanted it rough, wanted it fast and hard and unforgiving, and he was more than ready when Stiles gripped himself and pressed the head of his cock against Derek and whispered, “Okay?” against Derek’s shoulderblade. Derek nodded, his breath already panting out of him, his eyes squeezed shut, and when Stiles pushed his way inside it was tortuously slow and deliberate.

Derek whined and tried to push back, to speed things up, but Stiles’ hand on his hip stopped him, and then that same hand slid up his back, braced splay-fingered across the tattoo on Derek’s back, Stiles’ weight pushing the breath from Derek’s lungs as he leaned on that arm, pressing Derek firmly into the bed.

Derek was stronger, of course, and it would be easy to take control or leave or turn around and take Stiles, instead. He could do any of those things, and the only reason that Stiles could hold him down was because Derek allowed himself to be held, but that made Stiles all the more powerful, didn’t it? Because Derek didn’t want to be let go, not ever. So when Stiles kept the pace achingly leisurely, there was nothing for Derek to do but pant against the sheets and flex the muscles of his back against Stiles’ fingers and need.

It felt like it went on forever, with the long slow drag of Stiles’ cock inside him, pressing and pulling, and Stiles’ front brushing up against his back, their thighs snugged together, and Stiles’ hands on him, not stroking or petting like he usually did but just holding firm, his weight an anchor, like if he let go, Derek might fly apart. Derek felt that way, too, wondered if it might be too much, when they were done, to ask Stiles to sleep this way, draped over Derek’s body and breathing against his throat.

For as much as Stiles was moving in Derek like he had all the patience and stamina in the world, he wasn’t very good at containing the signs to the contrary. He gasped and groaned and made small, eager noises against Derek’s back, and if he wasn’t very talkative it was only because he sounded winded; even in bed Stiles was a talker, and Derek missed it sometimes, when Stiles lost his words.

“Say something,” Derek grunted against a particularly well-played thrust, struggling to hold on to his own tattered control even as one of his hands twisted into a pillowcase and held on tight.

“Can’t,” Stiles wheezed back. His body was heating up, both from the exertion and from Derek’s nearness, and sweat was beginning to slick the places where their bodies aligned, tacky and wet and wonderful-smelling.

“Please,” Derek said, and knew he was pleading for any number of things, with that one word.

Stiles’ hand tightened around his wrists, and the other slid up from Derek’s shoulders to the back of his neck. He gripped tight and pressed down hard, toeing the line between not enough and too much, and Derek yowled at the feeling of it, squirming against the hands pinning him down and the cock relentlessly being buried in him, inch by inch, over and over.

“I can’t Derek, fuck, it’s—” The words spilled out of Stiles like he hadn’t planned them, then broke off just as suddenly. Stiles let go of his neck, and wrapped that hand around Derek’s stomach instead, spreading his hand out across his own work there and making room for the rest of him to press tight against Derek’s back, using just the weight of himself to hold Derek down while his hips, finally, started driving harder and faster, deeper, like he meant to make himself a home inside Derek’s body and just stay. He mouthed at Derek’s neck, wet and hot, and his teeth scraped across the skin there, wringing another pitiful whimper from Derek’s throat.

“I can’t say something, I can’t,” he gasped, against the nape of Derek’s neck. “If I say anything then I’m going to say something I shouldn’t, I’m going to tell you how much I need you and want you and how every time you leave I kind of feel like crying a little, and how I’ve already filled half a sketchbook with the things I want to etch into your skin. If I say something it’s going to be asking you to stay, always, to never leave, and I know it’s too soon for that, it’s been a month, it’s too soon to tell you I love you but I do, I fucking love you, I can’t even handle it but I don’t want to scare you away, you have to stay here, please stay, I—”

He broke off with a strangled sound, his panting breath washing out against Derek’s skin, and his teeth clamped down hard on the back of Derek’s neck at the same time that his hips snapped up once more and stilled, and Derek could feel Stiles coming even as he came himself, letting out a rough cry of his own as Stiles stripped at Derek’s cock once, twice, finally pulling him over that edge. It was so good, and it wasn’t what he’d wanted, what he’d thought he’d wanted, but it was exactly what he’d needed, and Stiles had known somehow, like maybe that was part of his magic, too. It would certainly be a nice magical gift to have, Derek thought dazedly, as he sagged into the bed and shuddered with the attempt to return air to his lungs. His muscles ached a little, pleasantly, and Stiles hadn’t even broken the skin on the back of his neck so there probably wasn’t even a mark left, but Derek thought he could still feel the sting of teeth there, like he’d been scarred by it.

He was born a wolf, and he didn’t know what it was like to be made the way the bitten were, to be changed like that, but he was starting to get an idea.

Stiles collapsed right next to Derek, on his back with his arms splayed out, taking up all the space in the room like he usually did. His chest was still heaving like he’d just run a race — and he sort of had, considering how long he’d drawn that out — and he was staring up at the ceiling, blinking like he was waiting for his brain to reboot.

This was always one of Derek’s favorite times, when he had Stiles sprawled beside him, loose-limbed and content, warm and sweat-slick and Derek’s, when Derek could do more or less anything, touch Stiles any way he wanted or not touch him at all, just stare at him and breathe, and Stiles would just lie there like a sunning cat, smiling vaguely, happy and unwound.

Derek smiled back, most of the time — he’d probably smiled more in the last week than he had in the last decade — but he didn’t feel like smiling today, and he knew that was okay, too. He never got tired of looking, and just now he wanted to know that Stiles was still there, that he would stay, so Derek shifted himself a little so he could more effectively stare. It shouldn’t have made Stiles nervous, it had never made him nervous before, but this time it only took a few long moments before Stiles started flicking unsettled glances in Derek’s direction.

Then he cleared his throat and said, “We can pretend I never said that. If you want. I mean, I know it’s kind of a lot, and I didn’t exactly mean to say it which I think is why there’s a universal rule for amnesty where remarks made in the process of sex are declared some sort of no-go area?”

Derek frowned. “You didn’t mean to say it, or you didn’t mean what you said?”

“Oh, I definitely meant it,” Stiles said, but he swallowed and looked away, busied himself with picking up a t-shirt from the floor and carefully wiping them both clean with it. Well, clean-ish. “I just don’t want to push, you know?”

“My sexual history pretty much consists of fast, hard attachment followed by incomprehensible suffering,” Derek said, and impressed even himself with how steady his voice was. “I didn’t want to be the first one to say it. Also, I was pretty sure you’d think I was a creeper.”

“You are a creeper,” Stiles said, and rolled his eyes, but he was smiling again, wide and happy. “But you’re… you too?”

“Me too,” Derek agreed, and it was that easy, at least right then. Maybe it would get more difficult later, or maybe it would all end in pain, but Derek thought this time, with him, it was worth finding out. At least it was both of them, moving too fast.

Which was why Derek shifted himself a little bit closer, and spent the next twenty minutes or so just kissing and touching, licking into Stiles’ mouth and nipping marks on his throat, shoulders, collarbone. He ran his hands over the tattoos that he already knew well enough to trace without seeing; the ones on Stiles’ hips were particularly magnetic, done in thick lines and regular patterns like geoglyphs or crop circles; they stretched all the way down to his thighs, where they met a series of thicker bands and dots and curls. Derek couldn’t reach quite well enough to go any lower without actually moving, so he pulled himself up, straddled Stiles’ hips and settled against his thighs while Stiles just relaxed beneath him, quiet, his mouth curling up at the corner. Derek reached for the owl whose wings stretched out along the curved underside of Stiles’ collarbone; he skimmed his fingers along the top line, from wingtip to wingtip, spanning the entire breadth of Stiles’ shoulders. Its lines were highly geometric, and Derek followed the back and forth of each detailed pinion.

“So, those tattoos you want to give me,” Derek said, and watched his own fingers moving across Stiles’ skin, watched Stiles’ tongue flick out to wet his lips. “What would you put on my arm?”

Stiles looked, and his fingers ran up that arm the same way they had before, considering, and then he said, “I— okay, let me up.”

Derek did, rolling to one side and collapsing back onto the bed, watching with his head pillowed against his own arm as Stiles padded naked across the room to his art supplies. Stiles muttered to himself as he rummaged through a few containers, and then he made a triumphant noise and came back holding a marker. He folded himself down onto the bed again, sitting up with his leg pressing against Derek’s side, and picked up Derek’s arm, stretching it palm-up against his own thigh, to steady his canvas. The damp slide of marker against skin was soothing, in its way, and Derek decided not to watch Stiles work, so the finished piece would be a surprise.

They were silent for awhile, because Stiles generally didn’t talk when he was drawing, and Derek generally didn’t talk at all. But then Stiles said, “Do you want to talk about it?” in a careful tone of voice which made it clear that ‘no’ was an acceptable answer.

Derek stared at the ceiling for awhile longer and the marker dragged like a tongue across his skin, and the hopeless knot that he’d felt twisting his insides when he’d arrived at the door had unraveled now under Stiles’ hands, so he finally decided that yes, he kind of did want to talk about it.

“I got a text from Laura, earlier,” he said, and then stopped, not sure how to put the rest in terms a human would understand. Stiles only hummed encouragingly, and didn’t look up from his drawing. “She’s recruiting. Has recruited.”

Stiles frowned, and Derek could see the joke on his lips, could see him consciously bite it back, which was… nice. Derek liked Stiles’ sense of humor, odd as it could be, but he liked even more that Stiles was paying attention, that he was focused on Derek and could see that jokes wouldn’t help, right now. “Recruiting?” Stiles prompted, and the marker dragged a spiral against the inside of Derek’s elbow. “What does that mean?”

“She’s given someone the bite,” Derek said. “Two people, apparently.”

Stiles paused, and one of his hands stroked against the inside of Derek’s upper arm while the other pulled Derek’s hand up to press a kiss against his fingers. He looked at Derek’s face like he needed to judge what that meant through the filter of Derek’s experience. “That’s bad, isn’t it?” he said.

“It’s not good,” Derek agreed, and shrugged one shoulder. “She’s worried about the Alpha pack; we know they’re here in town now, though they haven’t showed themselves yet. There’s strength in numbers for us, literally, and having more pack members will help to make Laura more powerful.”

“But?” Stiles asked.

“But it’ll also bring the attention of hunters,” Derek said, with a sigh that was more defeated than angry. “And if the Alpha pack wants a fight, a couple of newly turned Betas won’t pose much of a challenge for them. We on the other hand will be kept busy trying to give our new packmates a crash course in control so they don’t kill anyone tomorrow, since it’s the full moon. They’ll be more of a distraction than an asset.”

Stiles nodded, clearly mulling it over, and bent back over Derek’s arm, spooling out another careful line with his marker. “I thought pack meant family,” Stiles said. “Like parents and kids and cousins and everything. But you bring in people from the outside?”

“Sometimes,” Derek said. “I don’t really know how common it is; my family kept to themselves, mostly. We had a few cousins who were born human and later chose to take the bite; my parents certainly never offered it to anyone outside the family. But they’re all gone now. It makes sense, trying to rebuild, it’s just the timing seems all wrong.”

Stiles nodded, his head bobbing over his artwork. “Did you tell her that, when you talked about it?”

Derek clenched his jaw and looked away, and couldn’t answer, no matter how hard he tried, because he’d looked down and seen the wolf Stiles was drawing on his arm, like a darker, broader version of the primitive fox that was wrapped around Stiles’ own forearm. Derek thought if he tried to speak that his voice might actually crack.

“Oh,” Stiles said, and stopped drawing, the last stroke still wet against Derek’s skin, like drying blood. “You didn’t talk about it.”

“She’s the Alpha,” Derek said, and he knew even as the words came out of his mouth that Stiles wasn’t going to accept that as an answer, mostly because Derek didn’t sound convinced himself.

“I’m sure it’s totally within her rights to do it,” Stiles said. “It just also seems like a dick move. I mean, she basically just adopted a few kids she’ll expect you to help raise and didn’t even ask your opinion first. I get that she’s the boss of you and everything, but she’s also your sister.

It was the same thing that Derek had thought, so Stiles wasn’t wrong, and being informed about it all by text was like a kick in the teeth. He knew Laura was sending a message with all this, that he wasn’t around enough anymore, that she didn’t feel she could count on him, but he’d always been there for her, and he could never understand why she always gave up on him so easily. Where he’d felt fury over the whole thing before, now there was only an aching misery. He didn’t know how to fix all that was wrong between him and Laura, didn’t know if it could be fixed, and the thought of the only living member of his family turning her back on him was excruciating.

“She’s afraid,” Derek said, and he knew that it was true because he was afraid too. He was terrified. “We’re going to die, probably. All of us.” He choked out a laugh that was half bitter and half pained. “I’ve got new brothers and they’re probably going to die and I haven’t even met them yet. I don’t know their names. I couldn’t make myself go home to face all this.”

Stiles hummed, and looked down at Derek’s arm, adding a few more strokes with his marker before he popped the cap back on and tossed the pen carelessly in the general direction of his art supplies.

“You don’t have to face it alone,” Stiles said. “Any of it. Why didn’t you say something?”

Derek shrugged, and he looked up at nothing because he couldn’t look at Stiles’ face, at the sadness there where Stiles was usually grinning, instead. “It didn’t seem like the best way to hold on to you,” Derek said. “’Hey, I really like you but I’m guessing I’m going to be dead pretty soon, do you want to fuck anyway?’”

Stiles snorted and draped himself over Derek’s body like it was just a comfortable piece of furniture. He couldn’t possibly have known that this was what Derek wanted to ask him for, earlier, but Derek was pleased with it just the same. He wrapped his arm — the one without still-drying ink on it — around Stiles’ back, and held him where he was, cradled between Derek’s legs, with his chin propped on Derek’s chest. “I would’ve totally said yes, for the record,” Stiles said. “Though I prefer plan B where we figure out a way for all of you to not die.”

“I do like the sound of that,” Derek admitted. “But I don’t want you involved.”

Stiles only smiled at him, and squirmed up a little higher, so he could plant a kiss on Derek’s lips, which turned rapidly from a quick peck to a sloppy make-out session.

“I’m already involved,” Stiles said finally, breaking away. He sounded a little breathless, which gave Derek a satisfied feeling deep down in his soul. “We’ve been over this. It’s too late to back out now. Plus, I’m going to need you around to service me sexually.”

“Mmm,” Derek said, and it was a noise of absolute agreement. “I can get on that now, if it’s convenient for you.” He pushed down with the hand on Stiles’ back and pressed up with his hips, just to be sure that Stiles could feel the way Derek was hardening between them, his body definitely ready for round two.

“In a minute; I’m trying to address your impending doom first,” Stiles said, a scolding note in his voice. “Here’s what I think we should do. We should start with talking to your sister and meeting your new packmates, and maybe we can rip Laura a new one for being an emotionally stunted jerk. Oooh! We could do good-cop-bad-cop! I’ve always wanted to do that. Nobody ever wants to be my good cop. I tried to teach Scott, but honestly he was too good a cop. The police academy would’ve rejected him for reasons of too much niceness.”

Derek snorted, and nipped at Stiles’ ear. “We can both be bad cop; Laura can handle it. Then what?”

“Then we can talk about all the ways that having a powerful shaman on your side can swing a fight in a different direction,” Stiles said. He sounded smug.

“Apprentice shaman,” Derek pointed out, just because he could.

Kick-ass shaman,” Stiles parried. “There’s more to me than the ink, you know. Although the ink’s pretty awesome, all on its own.”

“Yeah, it is,” Derek agreed, even though he realized exactly how soppy it sounded coming out of his mouth. He held up his freshly doodled arm to examine it more closely, and the work was flawless, as Stiles’ pieces always were, not so much as a smudge of ink out of place, and the wolf was beautiful, wrapped in a band around the top of Derek’s forearm, just under his elbow. It looked like it was sleeping, with the tip of its tail curling around to cover its nose. The spirals he’d felt Stiles drawing were decorative scenery, little curls like fiddleheads arcing up across the inside of his elbow, as if to make a nice sheltered nest for the wolf to sleep in.

“You don’t have to face this alone,” Stiles repeated, and when Derek looked at him, his eyes were a wet, uniform black.

Stiles reached out and took Derek’s hand in his own, their forearms pressed together, their fingers intertwining. The fox tattoo on Stiles’ forearm stirred, stretched, and blinked at Derek, its little eyes crinkling in an expression that looked almost pleased. Then it stepped carefully from Stiles’ arm and onto Derek’s, rippling across his skin, circling curiously once around Derek’s forearm as if acquainting itself with a new territory, before it crawled into the ferns behind the completely inert wolf, propped its head up on the wolf’s back, and settled in to sleep.

“Yeah,” Derek said, and his voice wavered on the word. “Yeah, I’m getting that.”

Then he turned them over and pressed Stiles into the bed, figuring that his problems — their problems — could wait just a little bit longer.