The complete absence of scent was usually Derek's first hint that he was dreaming. Most of the time it was nice; he always knew when he was just having a nightmare, and he could take control of it or force himself to wake up. But sometimes, when he found himself sitting with Laura on the sunny porch of a house that had never seen a lick of flame, he really resented the fact that he would never be able to trick himself into believing it was real.
Laura was putting up fairy lights. Typically when she showed up in dreams it was just a foggy likeness, little more than smoke and mirrors, but this time there was something solid about her. Something familiar. She gripped the hammer just so, she held the extra nails between her teeth, she accidentally spit them into the yard trying to blow her hair out of her face. Derek laughed at her.
“Shut up, Grumpy,” she muttered. She slammed the hammer down on a nail with a bang that made him jump slightly.
“What are you doing here?” he asked.
“What does it look like I’m doing?” she demanded. “It’s not like you’re going to decorate and it’s almost Christmas.”
“I hate Christmas,” said Derek.
“Even the Grinch had a heart, you know,” said Laura.
“Hating Christmas doesn’t make me heartless,” said Derek.
“It’s all fairy lights and cookies and being nice to people. Hating it makes you a little bit heartless.” Bang.
Derek rolled his eyes. “I don’t have anyone to be nice to.”
Laura made a sad noise and climbed down from the railing to sit next to him on the swing. Despite her claim that Christmas was approaching, it was bright and warm out, and getting warmer by the second. She bumped her shoulder into his and said, ”That’s so depressing. And also not true. You’ve got plenty of people to be nice to.”
The sunlight was creeping farther up the porch and Derek was starting to feel overheated in his leather jacket. “If it’s Christmas, why’s it so hot out?” It wasn’t exactly a subtle change of subject, but he really didn’t want to listen to his dead sister tell him that he should try and make friends.
“Solkysst is knocking,” replied Laura, with a roll of her eyes. She flicked him on the forehead. “Duh.” Bang.
“Solkysst?” repeated Derek with a laugh, “You hated those stories. You said it was egomaniacal lycan crap.”
“I don’t think I was that harsh,” said Laura. She leaned over and rested her head on his shoulder.
“You said it was grossly presumptuous to imply that anyone would have to be almost godly to compare to us.”
“Just because they don’t have to be, doesn’t mean any of them aren’t. And I don’t know about comparing, but it would take a saint just to put up with some of us.”
“I feel like that was directed at me,” complained Derek, resting his cheek on her hair.
“Because it was, dumbass,” she tapped the hammer she was still holding on his knee.
He frowned at it. “Why can I still hear-“
“Solkysst is knocking,” repeated Laura.
Derek sat bolt upright, suddenly alone in the dark. The sound was coming from downstairs; someone was hitting the front door at odd intervals. He clambered out of bed and shivered as he tugged on the first clothes he could reach. The floor was freezing but he didn’t want to bother looking for socks so he went downstairs barefoot and tried to make sure his feet made as little contact with the floor as possible by rolling them from heel to side to toe as he walked. There wasn’t anyone in particular he did expect to find on the other side of the door (Jackson, Erica, and Isaac would all have let themselves in, and if it was a hunter they probably would have just kicked the damn thing down) but he was definitely not expecting to find Stiles.
Stiles’ face was an alarming shade of blue, and his clothes were damp all over but everything from the knee down was soaked and had ice clinging on in places. Before Derek could even ask him what the hell he was doing alone in the forest in the middle of the night during one of Beacon Hills’ rare snow storms, Stiles fell heavily against the door frame and his eyes slid closed. He tried to say something but he was shaking so violently from the cold that Derek couldn’t understand a word of it.
Derek slid an arm around his shoulders and pulled him in, closing the door against the icy wind. He tried helping Stiles walk up the stairs but it was no use; the kid’s legs were mostly numb.
“Sorry about this,” said Derek. Without waiting for Stiles to acknowledge him, he turned and swept his other arm behind Stiles’ knees and carried him the rest of the way. It was a lot faster, but Derek still scowled when Stiles didn't even try to complain.
Erica and Isaac had insisted that Derek renovate the house. Or, at least, pieces of the house, so the bedroom he’d been using now had a fully functional bathroom. He took Stiles there, sat him on the floor, wrapped him in a towel, and went to find dry clothes small enough for him to wear. When he got back, Stiles was losing the struggle to stay conscious and the towel had slipped from around his shoulders. Derek put a hand against his face to straighten his head but withdrew it as if he'd been bitten when Stiles flinched, eyes flying wide to stare at him.
“Hey, good, you’re awake,” said Derek. He shoved the bundle of clothes into Stiles' lap. “You have to put these on. Yours are frozen.”
Stiles mumbled something that was half thank you and half assent, and Derek went to go dig up some more blankets. When he got back, Stiles was sitting in the same spot, swimming in a pair of sweats and one of Derek’s old t-shirts. Derek held a hand out and Stiles frowned at it for a moment before reaching up and letting Derek tug him to his feet. Stiles didn’t say anything when Derek pushed him into the bed, and he kept not saying anything when Derek tucked him in beneath three blankets and something that might have been a blanket but was probably a thick curtain just pretending.
Derek grabbed a quilt for himself and was almost out of the room when he heard the click of enamel striking enamel as Stiles’ teeth hammered against each other. He put his hand on the door knob, determined that he’d done enough, that he was going to go sleep downstairs on his threadbare thrift store couch, but then Stiles called his name.
“Yeah?” said Derek. He was pretty sure he hadn’t meant to say it that softly.
“Do you have any more blankets?”
He did not. What he did have was an overabundance of body heat and a really inconvenient conscience. He sighed and went back over to the bed. “Move over,” he ordered.
Stiles shifted clumsily until he was at the edge of the mattress and Derek laid down next to him, on top of the pile of blankets, and pulled the quilt he’d kept for himself over them as he wrapped an arm around the shaking lump that was taking up half of his bed. His fingers grazed the arm Stiles was using the clutch the blankets around him and Stiles flinched, which made Derek jerk away.
“I’m not going to hurt you.”
“I know,” said Stiles, wincing, “but you feel like you’re burning.”
Derek put his arm back gently, careful not to touch Stiles’ skin, but after a moment Stiles started to burrow his hand underneath Derek’s anyway, slowly leeching the warmth from Derek's fingertips to his own.
It was quiet for a while, and Derek was already drifting off when Stiles said his name again. He hummed in response to indicate that he was listening.
“Are we cuddling?”
“I just want to be sure. I mean, all I’m saying is that you didn’t even buy me a drink first, so you definitely-“
“If you don’t stop talking I’m going to go sleep on the couch and you can stay here and freeze,” said Derek.
“Okay,” said Stiles. His hand inched up farther, fingers sliding underneath Derek’s wrist so that Derek’s warm skin was covering as much of Stiles’ arm as possible. His pulse started speeding up, like he was building up to something scary, but he didn’t say anything.
Finally, because it was harder to fall asleep when he could hear Stiles’ heart hammering, Derek said, “What is it?”
“Could you get closer?” Stiles’ voice was barely a whisper, as if the awkwardness of the request was directly related to the volume at which he said it. Derek moved so he could get under more of the blankets but as soon as his weight had shifted off the bed, Stiles threw open the edge of his cocoon and motioned for Derek to hurry inside. Derek complied. He expected it to be awkward and clumsy; it had been ages since he’d shared a bed with anyone, and he and Stiles had never exactly been on the best of terms. But somehow Stiles managed to latch on and pull him in, dragging one of Derek’s arms under his pillow and pushing himself into Derek’s chest as he buried his feet under Derek’s legs and pulled Derek’s other arm over and around him so he could hug it, holding Derek tight against his back. Derek was pretty sure it didn’t count as cuddling, because cuddling wasn’t supposed to feel like hugging an icicle.
“Derek - don’t leave - just one more thing?”
Derek grunted a response and tried to find a way to lay his head so that he wasn’t burying his face in Stiles’ hair because the smell was distracting.
“And you definitely owe me dinner.”
Derek growled again. Stiles didn’t say anything else, but he smirked into the dark for a long time.
By the time Derek woke up, it definitely felt like cuddling. Stiles was pretending to be asleep, but even if Derek hadn’t been able to hear the difference between Stiles’ sleep-breathing and his awake-breathing, he would have known it was a lie.
“You know you talk in your sleep, right?” he asked.
Stiles swallowed and his eyes opened. “Really?”
“Ah.” But he didn’t move away, so Derek didn’t either.
“I need you to tell me what you were doing half-frozen in the woods last night.”
“It was dumb.”
“I need you to tell me anyway.”
Stiles sighed. His fingers dragged over the hair on Derek’s arm, brushing it one way and then the other. It tickled, but it wasn’t unpleasant. “My mom loved snow. Every time it snowed we would go for long walks and-” he caught himself and hesitated, and then said, “Yesterday was her birthday. I went to take her flowers and there was snow everywhere and I…went for a walk.”
Derek watched the blush creep up the side of Stiles’ neck. “The cemetery is miles away.”
“I know. It doesn’t usually snow that much here, usually it’s just one and done, so I figured I could just follow my own footprints back but then they got covered up and I got lost and turned around and it was dark.”
“And you don’t have GPS on your phone?”
“I don’t have my phone. Scott keeps trying to call me. The only thing I want to talk about less than my mom and her stupid birthday is Scott and his stupid decision to keep dating the one girl in town whose parents will actually murder him if they find him in her room.”
Derek rolled his eyes. “I can’t believe you walked here all the way from the cemetery.”
“I can’t believe you took twenty minutes to answer the door. What the hell were you doing? I could have died of exposure.”
“I was sleeping, and it wasn’t twenty minutes,” said Derek dismissively. Then he said, “I had a dream about Laura,” though he wasn’t sure why he’d said anything at all. While Stiles turned that over and tried to figure out what to do with it, Derek breathed him in and wondered if he knew he was a black hole. You could never see him coming until you’d tripped over him and gotten stuck in the irresistible pull of his gravity and suddenly words were pouring out where normally there would be silence. Stiles swallowed them and kept them, and it occurred to Derek that he couldn’t remember when he’d stopped worrying about whether or not Stiles could keep his words safe.
“I’m sorry you had to kill your uncle,” said Stiles.
“He wouldn’t have stopped with the Argents. He’d have killed or turned everyone who got within reach until he was stopped.”
“I know. I’m still sorry you had to do it.”
Stiles squirmed a little, and his fingers worried over the callouses on Derek’s knuckles. “I’m also really sorry that I set him on fire.” The words tumbled out like he was trying to shove them away from himself as fast as possible.
“He’s been on fire since long before you met him. I don’t think he ever really stopped burning.”
Stiles had nothing to say to that. He was quiet for a while, tracing the angles of Derek’s wrist and hand, his pulse rising steadily, before he finally said, “So do I have to be freezing to death for this to happen?”
“For what to happen?” asked Derek.
“The totally-not-cuddling. Because most of the year, that’s going to be really hard to pull off. I’ll have to get one of those giant freezers and sleep in it all day like some kind of weird Dracula.”
“That’s a lot of effort to go to for totally-not-cuddling,” said Derek.
Stiles looked down at Derek’s fingers. “Worth it, though.”
Derek’s arms tightened around him, pulling him closer so that Derek could bury his face in his neck. When Stiles laughed, Derek could feel it in the space beneath his ribs and the hollow of his throat, it slid down his spine and reverberated through every bone.
“Does that mean I don’t have to buy a freezer?” asked Stiles.
“Shut up,” said Derek, but his face was still pressed down below Stiles’ ear, so when he spoke it made Stiles shiver.
Stiles’ pulse started rising again, a slow build up to another question he was afraid of asking.
“Just say it,” Derek told him.
“Is it okay if I don’t want to be a werewolf? Ever?” asked Stiles.
“Why wouldn’t it be?” wondered Derek.
“I don’t know. I’m not much help, really. Scott’s always worried I’m going to get hurt.”
“Scott’s an idiot,” said Derek.
“Doesn’t mean he can’t be right,” said Stiles.
Derek sighed. “My mother’s pack called the wers who ran with them Solkysst, because they believed they’d been kissed by the sun. They believed that was what made them capable of anchoring the pack, keeping it steady. Packs are about balance, Stiles. In a good pack, wers aren’t just tolerated, they’re revered.”
“Wers?” asked Stiles.
“Means ‘man’ in Old English,” said Derek with a yawn, “it’s just a pack member who’s not a werewolf.”
“How come your pack doesn’t have any wers yet?” asked Stiles.
“Somehow they’ve all resisted my charming personality.”
"Weird," said Stiles with a smirk.
"That's what I thought. Apparently some people just don't like being antagonized."
Stiles grinned and buried his face in Derek's arm for a moment. As usual, Derek smelled like earth and soap and rain. "What was that word?" he asked, "The one your mom used for people like me?"
"Obnoxious," said Derek.
"Ha ha ha," said Stiles. "Seriously."
"Bumptious?" offered Derek. "Galling. Nettlesome."
"Asshole," said Stiles fondly, "I don't have to take this." But the attempts he then made to free himself were amusing at best. He squirmed and twisted and Derek's arms didn't budge. "Release me, kraken!"
"Solkysst," said Derek softly, and Stiles relaxed. "Kissed by the sun."
Stiles smirked and craned his neck around until their foreheads bumped together. "That's kind of beautiful, dude."
"Shut up, Stiles."
Stiles only laughed in response, but somehow the noise made it feel like sunlight was creeping through the halls, across the floors, reaching into the corners and rinsing the ash away. Stiles laughed, and it felt like the house tried to change into the sort of place worthy of containing such a sound.