“I can’t help it,” Derek snarls, “I’m. Not like you, I can’t just - talk about. Everything.”
Can’t, Stiles notes. Not just won’t or don’t, but can’t.
“Okay,” he says, trying to sound calm. “Okay, I get it, Mr. Tall-Dark-and-Brooding doesn’t make of the small talk, I’m – I’m not asking you to tell me about your day, or, you know, your favorite color, which – is it purple? I feel like it’s purple. But anyway, you’re all strong and silent, I get that. Totally, completely on board with that. I love your glacial silences, really, they’re part of your whole epic sex appeal package ... but, like, you get I’m not actually psychic, right? At least, haha, not that we know of, uh, yet. So how am I supposed to guess what you’re thinking, you know? Maybe you’re thinking you’re, like, sick of me. That I’m totally annoying. Maybe you’re thinking you don’t want me around anymore.”
“I’m not,” says Derek.
“Well … good,” says Stiles, faintly, biting his lip. “That’s – that’s good. To hear. I’m happy to hear that.”
“Come here.” Derek grabs him by the back of the neck, a little too roughly, and pulls him in until his face is pressed into Derek’s shoulder. Wraps his other arm around his back, holds him close. Snuffles over his hair until Stiles relaxes against him.
This is how Derek communicates, thinks Stiles. With his hands, his touch. But it’s not always enough. Stiles is human, and humans talk things through. Surely Derek is at least part human too?
“I just wish – ” says Stiles, “I don’t know.” He closes his eyes. “I’m freaking out about nothing.”
Derek squeezes him tighter.
“I bought something,” says Derek, the next evening. “For you. I picked it out.” He hands Stiles a box, the kind that an Amazon order comes in.
“You got me a gift? Why, my sweet little snuggle-wolf. And it’s not even my birthday, or our anniversary, or anything! I’m the luckiest boy in the world.” Derek rolls his eyes at the endearment, the way he has at the last several hundred Stiles has tried out, but keeps his attention the box in Stiles’ hands.
“Open it,” he says.
“This is nice,” says Stiles, taking a letter opener to split the packing tape, “I approve of this. More giving of presents to Stiles at every opportunity. I require a lot of gifts and rewards and general adulatio –”
He has lifted the lid of the box.
It’s a black rubber ball on an elastic band.
A ball gag?
“Is this another way to tell me to shut up?” he asks, looking down. People tell him that a lot, and he’s pretty much used to it, but it’s not exactly something he likes to hear from his own boyfriend.
“No.” Derek huffs, frustrated. He reaches to take it from Stiles’ hand.
“Is this a kinky sex thing? I didn’t know you were into that. I could try to be into that. Or maybe I already am? I don’t know. There’s some really hot porn on the internet.”
Derek takes a breath. “It’s not. A sex thing.”
“Huh.” Stiles inches closer, hesitates. Holds out his hand, just under the Derek’s. “So it’s just a really awkward rubber band?”
Derek drops the ball into his palm. His fingers close around it, like catching a snitch.
“I – thought you might like it.”
“Yeah?” Stiles tries not to sound discouraging. Derek hasn’t really asked for much in their relationship so far, and he doesn’t want to quash his first attempt, even if he’s feeling a little out of his depth.
“I know I – I don’t communicate much. Very well.” Derek is looking down, looking ashamed, and Stiles hates it.
“Hey, you’re doing way better!” he says loudly, stepping closer. “When I think where you were when I was in, like, high school, when you communicated mostly by growling at me, I mean – there’s really no comparison!”
“You shouldn’t have to fill in for me,” Derek mutters. “I don’t want – I want to take that pressure off. Off of you. I thought.” He motions to the gag, which Stiles is now gingerly petting. “I thought it would help.”
“You want to – talk more?”
“It was the only thing. That would make me want to. Y’know. Talk.” Derek is looking supremely uncomfortable, but he perseveres. “If I had to do it for you.”
Stiles doesn’t actually know what to say to that.
“Do you want to try it?” asks Derek. “Just for this evening. Or you don’t have to. I can send it back.” He reaches for it. “This was a stupid idea.”
“No!” Stiles snatches his hand away. “I want to.”
“Are you sure? I won’t be - mad.”
“I’m sure." Stiles takes a deep breath. "Put it on me? Please?” he turns around, hands the toy over his shoulder to Derek, who’s automatically pressing close the way he does whenever Stiles presents his back.
“It’s just an elastic strap. You can spit it out, any time,” says Derek, bringing his arms over Stiles’ shoulders. “The back is Velcro, see? It comes right off. And the ball is little. It shouldn’t be uncomfortable.”
Stiles marvels at the amount of time Derek has apparently spent picking this out for him. “Okay,” he says.
“Okay. Are you ready? Open for me.”
Slowly, Stiles opens his mouth. Derek holds the straps of the gag between his two hands, with the ball between them. He brings his hands up to either side of Stiles’ head, giving him lots of time to pull away.
Gently, Derek slides the ball between his teeth. It slips back, filling his mouth, and Stiles makes a soft, uncertain sound.
“That’s good,” Derek soothes, checking the fit, big fingers careful. He does up the back, and the straps tug at Stiles' cheeks. “Does it feel okay?”
Stiles licks over the smooth surface of the ball. He could push it forward with his tongue and bite it – it’s soft rubber, it would give – but he lets it sit there, holding his jaws open.
“Try to say something,” says Derek.
Derek, Stiles tries to say. It comes out indistinct: “Ehr-uhg.” Muffled and muted by the gag.
His heart picks up.
Derek is there at once, his hand cupping Stiles’ cheek, bringing his face up. “Is it alright? Do you want it out? You can spit it out right now. C’mon, baby. You want it out?” He’s already reaching for the straps.
Stiles swallows. Baby. Derek is shy with pet names. Only uses them in bed, when he’s got Stiles laid out flat underneath him, stuffed full and squirming, begging for more.
He shakes his head, takes a few breaths through his nose to prove he can. Meets Derek’s eyes. Tries to look encouraging.
Derek is frowning, studying his face. “You’re sure it’s okay?”
Stiles nods. Firmly.
Derek relaxes. “Okay,” he says, sounding shy. He reaches out, takes Stiles’ hand, tugs gently. “You want to come with me? I thought – I thought we could go downstairs.”
The apartment they rented for Stiles’ junior year has two floors; only the kitchen and the living room are on ground level. Stiles isn’t sure what Derek’s got planned, but he follows obediently, trying to get used to the feel of walking around with something in his mouth.
“I figured I’d try to make dinner,” Derek is saying, keeping him close as they descend the staircase. “I bought the stuff yesterday. Stopped by the grocery store after work.”
It’s already working, Stiles realizes. Derek usually lets Stiles chatter, filling up all the empty space, and keeps silent himself. But now, to make the experience more comfortable for Stiles, he’s stepping up to the plate.
Derek shepherds him into the kitchen. “Not like I’m the greatest cook, but I thought if I tried something easy … ” He makes a face. “This is weird. Is this weird?”
Stiles makes a noise that he hopes is encouraging, kind of a positive grunt.
“Is it helping? You, I mean. Me talking. Do you feel okay?”
“Okay, sit here.” Derek pulls him out a seat and helps him into it, like he couldn’t manage himself. Stiles would laugh, but he’s actually feeling a little unsteady. He doesn’t notice until Derek’s hands leave him, and he doesn’t like it. He manages a stifled whimper of complaint.
Derek comes back right away, puts his hand on Stiles’ back. “Look, I bought groceries,” he says. “That’s a first, right? I hate the grocery store. It’s too crowded. Too many smells.”
He unpacks the shopping bags where Stiles can see. Tomatoes, lettuce, carrots, pasta. The little shell noodles, Stiles notes. His favorite.
It feels weird to be in the kitchen, which has big windows. Someone could look in and see him sitting here, gagged. What would they think? That he’s being held captive in his own home?
But it’s pretty dark outside already, and it’s not like it would be that noticeable from the street.
“It’s usually the betas that cook,” Derek says, setting a pot of water on the stove to boil. Stiles wants to make a joke, waggle his eyebrows, so this makes me the alpha, then, right?
But he can’t. He has to sit quiet, instead.
“I used to cook, sometimes. Not so much when I was younger but ...” Derek pauses. Glances over at Stiles. Continues as if he hadn’t stopped. “…For Laura. I made this recipe when she came to visit me in New York.”
Sometimes Stiles worries that the reason Derek doesn’t say much is because he’s afraid that if he starts talking about his family, he’ll never be able to stop. He’s afraid most of Derek’s conscious thoughts are about the people he’s lost.
“It didn’t go so great. The sauce burned. She laughed at me.” Derek smiles at the memory, dumping the box of pasta into the boiling water. “Laura was a good cook. She was – good at lots of things.”
I think you’re good at lots of things, Stiles wants to say.
But he can’t say anything.
Derek continues, after a moment, all on his own: “I don’t mind cooking. Sometimes. It’s kind of – it’s good, to have something concrete to do.”
Stiles thinks he’s beginning to understand what they’re doing here.
He sits back to watch, silent but attentive, as Derek browns meat and chops vegetables, his hands steady and confident. When Derek is facing away, leaning over the stove, Stiles crosses his hands experimentally behind his back, imagining that they’re bound there. Hooks his ankles around the legs of the chair.
“Stiles?” says Derek.
He closes his eyes.
“Do you just want water, to drink?”
Stiles nods again. Somehow it feels okay, not answering out loud. It should feel strange, but it’s alright. There’s no point trying to talk, because he can’t anyway. But it’s okay; he’s still being understood.
Derek sets two glasses of water out. He usually likes a beer with dinner but he’s not having one tonight.
“Is it making your mouth dry?” Derek asks.
Stiles shakes his head no. The ball is small enough that he can keep his lips closed around it, and it fits well – tight enough that he doesn’t drool. Like a bottle with a cork in it.
Derek leans over him, sniffs. “You don’t smell stressed out,” he observes. “You seem calm. Do you feel okay?”
Stiles nods, a little sleepily. It’s kind of relaxing, to sit here without anything much expected from him, not even keeping up his end of the conversation. Usually his brain is buzzing even if he’s physically quiet, but he’s not really thinking anything right now. He’s just watching Derek, listening to Derek, his mind rolling sluggishly along.
Derek has this, he thinks.
“Okay.” Derek brings a plate over. “I think this is as good as it gets.” Stiles notices that his hands are shaking, ever so slightly, as he sets them down on the table.
Stiles puts his hand over Derek’s to still it.
Derek links their fingers and squeezes. “Let's get this off,” he says quietly. He hooks a finger in the strap of the gag, carefully tugs the ball free from Stiles' mouth. The velcro in the back comes apart. There's a little bit of dribble and Stiles thinks he should be embarrassed, but he's not. Derek takes a napkin and wipes his face for him, like he's a child. He wraps the gag in a sheet of paper towel, blots the spit-shiny ball, and sets it in the middle of the table like a centerpiece.
Derek spears a piece of pasta laden with sauce, and blows on the end of the fork, dispersing the steam. “At least it didn’t burn, this time.” Slowly, he lifts it to Stiles’ lips. “Here you go.”
Stiles says nothing, opens his mouth. Derek slides the fork in carefully, waits for him to close his lips around the tines. Withdraws.
“Is that good?”
Stiles closes his eyes and nods. It’s perfect, warm and rich, but he doesn’t say that. He just opens his mouth again, lets Derek feed him another forkful.
“I like taking care of you,” says Derek, softly, as Stiles chews.
This isn’t a revelation. Derek always protects him, because he’s human and fragile. It’s endearing, if kind of ridiculous; Stiles isn’t exactly made of spun glass and baby rabbit tears.
But Derek is hesitating with the fork in his hand. “I mean, an Alpha’s power – it’s their strength of will,” he says. “I can’t go easy on my betas, not if I want them to succeed. With our enemies I have to be ruthless. But you have to balance out all that aggression, with - something.”
He's stilted, the way he gets when he has to explain himself. Stiles wants to jump in and help.
He waits it out instead.
Derek reaches with his thumb to wipe sauce off of Stiles’ lower lip. “It just. It feels so good to be – gentle, with you,” he says, quietly.
Stiles swallows. In a hundred years, he never would have guessed Derek felt that way about him.
He touches the gag, very lightly, with one finger. “So,” he says, finally. “When you said this wasn’t for kinky stuff … how committed were you to that, exactly?”
Derek laughs out loud.