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There's something unsettling about opening your eyes on a brand new day and knowing, deep in your gut, that something is wrong. Despite the light shining in through the bit of space between the closed curtains and the birds chirping outside, that gut feeling only makes you see the gray clouds looming in the distance, warning for danger.

Ever since the fire that took away most of his family and the house he used to call home, Derek has had numerous days starting out exactly like this. This deep, nauseating feeling of something being wrong is a painfully familiar one to him and all it brings is fear, anxiety, and paranoia.

This feeling has never really been gone for long, never had the chance to fully disappear because every single time things started to settle down around him, another bad thing happened to disturb the calm and peace that he has only ever been allowed to touch with the tips of his fingers.

The fire started it all and then his uncle Peter was next, never making it out of his comatose state in the hospital that the fire had put him in. Ever since then, Derek hasn't had a single peaceful night or day, this feeling of wrong an ever present thing.

Peter died– was killed nearly twelve years ago now and the murders haven't stopped since, so Derek is more than familiar with waking up to this bad feeling in his gut, telling him something is wrong. It has happened more times than he can count, at this point.

Usually, however, it's not quite this bad.

It takes a minute to sink in, a minute that he spends frowning up at the ceiling above him as he tries to wrap his head around this horrible feeling that is making his heart pound in his chest and his stomach drop. The second it finally registers in his head how bad it is, he instantly becomes fully awake and alert and shoots up in bed.

At Derek's sudden movement, Randy, his Belgian Malinois, startles awake and lifts his head to look at him, his tags jingling loudly where they hang from his collar. He shifts from where he's been asleep at the foot of the bed and shuffles over to him with his tail wagging, a noise close to a whine escaping him.

Randy puts his head in Derek's lap, and Derek puts a hand between his ears, petting him absently. Randy sighs contently and goes right back to sleep after a minute, while Derek frowns at the door leading out of his bedroom. It's ajar, the dim light from the hall on the other side pouring in through the crack.

Derek sits still for a couple of minutes, training his ears to listen to the quiet house. There's a flock of birds chirping somewhere in the distance outside and a car honking even further away. The house itself is quiet which is not surprising considering the time of the day. The sun has only just started rising, after all.

It's too quiet, that little, paranoid voice in his head tells him.

With a dry swallow and his heart pounding anxiously, Derek reaches up and pulls his messy braid over his shoulder. Most of his hair has, thankfully, stayed in the braid that he'd put it in the night before, like he does every other night because he's not a fan of choking on his own hair.

Isaac has, on several occasions, asked him why he doesn't just cut it if it's that much trouble to deal with. Derek never has an answer. It's a comfort thing, he supposes. Like his beard that is finally full and thick. A way to hide, if he has to.

Derek quickly undoes the braid and runs his fingers through his now loose hair a few times, before he redoes it into a bun. He secures it with the same hair tie, then gently moves Randy's head out of his lap so he can get out of bed. Already wearing sleep pants, he only grabs a sweatshirt from his closet and puts it on, tugging the sleeves down a little.

He pulls the door open and takes all of one step into the dimly lit hall before Randy jumps off the bed and comes hobbling hurriedly after him. With only three legs, his front right missing, he moves a bit slower and a bit clumsier than most but he gets by, has learned how to.

Derek doesn't wait for him, nor does he slow down. He walks down the hall on quiet feet until he makes it to the other end where the second bedroom is. As quietly as possible, he pushes the door open and sticks his head inside.

Isaac is still sound asleep in his bed, laying flat on his stomach with a leg thrown out from underneath the duvet. A soft and quiet snore fills the room, a few rays of sunshine peaking in through the curtains pulled over the windows. Everything is normal.

Derek lets out a silent sigh of relief and steps back out of the room, closing the door after him. He doesn't let himself relax though, not yet. Instead he hurries down the stairs to the ground floor of the house, Randy following after him.

His phone is charging in the living room and he nearly yanks the charger out of the socket with how quickly and roughly he grabs it. He doesn't care though, immediately going into his messages where he types and hits send before he can even read it over or think about it.

‹ To Cora, 05:36: You doing ok?

He waits and stares down at the screen for several long, painful minutes. He doesn't get a reply. In all honesty, he doesn't expect one either. Not because it's early for both of them but because he and Cora... well, let's just say they used to be closer.

He sends a quick message to Laura as well and doesn't get a reply there either, but he did talk to her last night so while he is worried, he's not surprised. She said she would be busy for a while and her not texting back is nothing new anyway.

Plugging his phone back in and leaving it there, Derek moves on and does a quick but thorough search through the house, only to find it empty and exactly like he had left it before going to bed.

Nothing is missing, all the doors and windows are locked, and the house is empty and quiet. But that feeling of wrong is still there, deep in his gut. It stays there, a constant presence, over the next several days and he tries to ignore it as best as he can. He tries to keep himself busy, working a few more hours than necessary on his farm and taking Randy for longer walks, but it's still not enough to distract him.

The feeling doesn't leave and it's not until nearly a week later that he finds out why.

 

♠ ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠

 

Derek is spread out on the couch in the living room, a book open in his hand, when Randy suddenly lifts his head and looks toward the front door, ears perked. Derek stops reading and listens, eyes drifting to the window facing out to the front of the house.

He quickly identifies the sound of tires against the gravel outside and, when he hears a car door slamming shut almost a minute later, he closes his book and sits up properly. Randy shoots up from the floor and trots forward a few steps, barking when there's a series of knocks on the front door.

Derek puts his book down. He doesn't sigh but it's a close call, especially when the visitor knocks again, firmer this time, and Randy responds with more barking. Derek has half a mind to not answer the door but the knocking doesn't stop and neither does the barking, so he stands up and moves.

“Stay,” he orders and holds a hand out.

Randy stops barking and sits down.

Derek makes it to the front door right when the knocking finally stops. Rolling his shoulders once and taking in a breath, he unlocks the door and opens it. The second it's open, however, he freezes on the spot.

The man on the other side is tall, maybe about his own height, give or take. His face is smooth, freshly shaven with moles decorating his pale skin. His nose is cutely upturned, his lips full and pink, and his eyes are a beautiful brown with a golden undertone to them in the sunlight. His hair is a dark brown color, messy like he's been carding his fingers through it and made a lazy attempt to smooth it back down again.

He's gorgeous and he looks... vaguely familiar.

Derek lets his eyes drift down, slowly but only for a moment. He tells himself that it's to get a proper look of him and hopefully place why this guy looks so familiar, but he can't fool himself. It's partially a lie.

The man is obviously in shape, strong build underneath the well fitting button up he's wearing. There's a badge hanging from a chain around his neck and–

Oh. Oh no.

“Derek Hale?” the man asks, breaking the silence.

“Yeah,” Derek answers, slowly and cautiously.

“Special agent Stiles Stilinski with the FBI,” the man, whose name is apparently Stiles, says and lifts his badge briefly. “You got a minute?”

Derek swallows thickly and clenches his jaw while his face falls. His heart squeezes and breaks, shattering on the way down into the pit of his stomach. He knows what this is. It isn't the first time an agent has shown up at his doorstep with that look on their face; pity and sympathy and doing a poor job at hiding it.

“Who is it this time?” he asks, voice tight.

Stiles blinks at him. “What?”

“Who died this time?” Derek clarifies.

Stiles' face smooths over and confusion is replaced by open sympathy. Derek hates it.

“Your sister,” Stiles says after a beat. “Laura.”

The world slows to a stop.

Derek takes in a deep breath through his nose and looks away. His chest hurts with grief and sorrow, his throat tight and his eyes watering, but he refuses to show it so he looks down instead, hiding it to the best of his abilities. He curls his hands, digging his blunt fingernails into the palm of his right while the left tightens its hold on the door handle.

You'd think, that after so many years of losing the people closest to him, he would be used to it by now. But Derek doubts he'll ever get used to losing his family, one by one. He and Laura may have been drifting apart over the years since the survivors of the house fire scattered, but she is– well, was still his sister.

With this loss, the Hale family grows smaller. Now all that's left are him and Cora.

Derek lets out a slightly unsteady sigh and, without a word, he steps aside and silently invites Stiles inside. He leads him through the house and to the living room, barely present as he walks. His legs move on their own, carrying him forward while his head swims.

When they make it to the living room, Derek finally snaps out of it at the sound of a familiar growling. Randy is still right where he left him; sitting on the floor and facing them. He doesn't move but he does growl at the sight of a stranger, cautious.

Stiles, however, doesn't seem bothered.

“Cute dog,” he comments from beside him. “German Shepherd?”

“Belgian Malinois,” Derek corrects. “His name's Randolph but we– I call him Randy.”

“Awesome,” Stiles says and smiles at Randy.

Randy's tail starts wagging a little but he doesn't stop growling.

“Randy, down,” Derek says firmly.

Randy stops and lays down, his tail wagging across the floor. It only wags faster when Stiles walks over and crouches down a few steps from him, holding out a hand for him to sniff. Randy sniffs at him for only a moment, before he rolls over onto his back and exposes his belly.

“Hey, buddy,” Stiles says with a chuckle and reaches out to pet his belly.

Randy pants happily in response.

Derek hasn't moved, not since they made it to the living room. He can't really get himself to move, nor can he seem to get himself to look away from Stiles. There's something so familiar about him and it's bothering Derek that he can't figure out what it is.

He probably spends too much energy on it but if it keeps him from thinking about Laura, then who the hell cares?

Stiles stands after a couple of minutes and turns to him, smile in place. Derek pretends like he hasn't been staring for too long to be normal. He doesn't return the smile directed at him, although he probably should. A voice in the back of his head that vaguely resembles his mom scolds him for it.

“You've got a nice place here,” Stiles says after an awkward pause.

“Thank you,” Derek says. He pauses, then remembers his manners. “Can I get you something to drink?”

“Sure,” Stiles says and sits down on one of the couches. “What 've you got to offer?”

“Water. Tea.” Derek pauses for a beat, giving Stiles a calculating look. “Might have some beer.”

“Tea would be great, thanks.”

With a stiff nod, Derek turns and walks back out of the living room, leaving Stiles and Randy alone. He heads straight for the kitchen but pauses briefly at the bottom of the stairs, glancing up at them. Last he checked, Isaac was in his room and Derek really hopes he stays there. He doesn't want him to interrupt or deal with this, too.

In the kitchen, Derek grabs a tray and starts heating up some water. He puts a good plateful of the cookies that he stress baked a couple of days ago on the tray as well as two cups with a tea bag in each.

It's when he's pouring the heated water into the cups that it suddenly hits him why Stiles looks so familiar.

When Derek was a kid and all the Hales were still alive, there had been this hyperactive, little kid who barged into their lives when Cora destroyed his sandcastle and he retaliated by wailing and throwing fistfuls of sand at both her and Derek who came to drag her away.

Mieczysław was his name. Derek remembers that because he'd spend hours upon hours trying to get the pronunciation right. It would seem that along the years, the name has changed to Stiles, however. The name may be different but the man currently sitting in his living room is most definitely the same person as the kid he remembers.

Derek doesn't remember much from his childhood, if he's being honest. Sometimes he wishes, with all of his heart, that he remembered more than he does, just so he could have a few more memories of his family. But alas, he doesn't.

What he can remember, however, is Stiles plastering himself to Derek's side and deciding they were going to be best friends forever. It's been a long time since they've seen each other – fifteen years, his brain provides him – and Stiles has grown up in a lot of ways, just like Derek has, but no amount of years could make Derek forget that face.

Grabbing the tray, Derek returns to the living room. Stiles is still on the couch where he left him, while Randy has made himself comfortable by Stiles' feet, his tail sliding across the floor in slow, lazy wags when Derek steps inside.

Stiles turns to him, meets his eyes, and smiles. Now that Derek remembers, it feels easier to smile back.

He puts the tray down on the table and sits down on the other end of the same couch that Stiles is on. Almost immediately, Randy shuffles over to lay by his feet instead, curling in on himself with a soft harrumph.

“So,” Derek says and hands Stiles a cup of tea. “Little hurricane Stilinski became an agent, huh?”

“Oh my God,” Stiles groans, taking the offered cup. “I was a kid, I can't be judged for my destructive habits.”

“I can judge you all I want when it was my sister's toys that you destroyed,” Derek says dryly. “Toys. Plural.”

“Oh, shut up,” Stiles chuckles. He takes a sip, then sobers and looks at him with a small, crooked smile pulling at his lips. “To be honest, I wasn't sure you'd remember me.”

“Of course I do,” Derek says. “Why wouldn't I?”

“Well, you know,” Stiles says and shrugs. “I wasn't really anyone special.”

Derek frowns at him. “You were to me.”

“Right back at'cha,” Stiles says and smiles this soft smile that does funny things to Derek's heart.

Huh.

Derek ignores it and takes a sip of his own cup, lifting a hand to put it on Randy's head when he decides to hop onto the couch and splay out in his lap instead.

“I'm just sorry we couldn't have met again under better circumstances,” Stiles continues, his smile turning sad.

“Yeah, me too,” Derek says quietly and sighs. “You need my alibi, right?”

“Technically, I do,” Stiles says. “But I mean, I know you had nothing to do with it. She's your sister, for fuck's sake.”

Derek nods and looks down at his own hand on Randy's head. “When did she die?” he asks.

“About a week ago.”

“And... how?”

Stiles is silent for a second. “Exsanguination.”

Derek scoffs humorlessly and looks at him. “You're telling me she bled to death.”

“I am,” Stiles says. “But I'm also not gonna go into further details, so you can forget all about asking. I know it's frustrating not knowing but–”

“No,” Derek interrupts, maybe a bit harshly. “You don't.”

Stiles looks at him, mouth closing.

“You're right,” he says. “I don't. Not really, at least. I can't even imagine it and I'm really sorry this is happening. It's not fair and I'm gonna do my best to stop this son of a bitch, alright? But I can't do that without your help, so if you could just cooperate with me, that would be great. For old time's sake, at the very lest.”

Derek is silent for a long moment, then he sighs and says, “I've got two friends who visit three times a week.”

“Names?” Stiles asks and pulls a small notebook and a pen out from his jacket pocket.

“Erica Reyes and Vernon Boyd.”

“Got it,” Stiles says, scribbling them down messily. “But three times a week isn't enough for an alibi. You should know that, you're a smart guy.”

“How do you know I didn't grow up to be dumb?”

“Because the Derek Hale that I knew read history books for fun,” Stiles says and makes a face. “For fun, Derek. I literally haven't met a single person who does that. My goddamn history professor in college didn't even do that and he was teaching it.”

“Well,” Derek says with a shrug. “I could've grown out of that.”

“Did you though?”

Derek pauses. “No.”

“See?” Stiles smiles and wags the pen at him. “You didn't change that much, after all.”

“Neither did you,” Derek deadpans. “You're still annoying.”

“You love it,” Stiles says and winks at him.

Derek decides to ignore the heat that rises to his face at that.

“But come on,” Stiles continues. “I actually do need your alibi for my report. I doubt it'll happen but I'm not gonna leave any possibilities of you being thrown under the bus for this, no matter how unlikely it is.”

Derek sighs. “I have a–”

A floorboard creaks, cutting Derek off. Both of them turn simultaneously toward the noise.

Isaac is standing by the door leading into the living room, a tentative look on his face and his eyes flickering from Derek to Stiles and back. His shoulders are hunched and his hair is a mess, like he's just woken up from a nap which, knowing him, wouldn't be surprising if it were actually true.

“Isaac,” Derek says firmly. “Go back to your room.”

There's a long pause where Isaac meets Derek's stern gaze with a look of his own, unconcerned because of course he is. It doesn't take long before Isaac straightens slightly and walks into the living room.

Derek makes sure to look as displeased as possible while Isaac walks over and sits down on the couch opposite them, his eyes on Stiles.

“Who's this guy?” he asks Derek without looking away.

“I'm sitting right here,” Stiles says and throws his hands out. “You can just ask me.”

Isaac blinks at him. “Who are you?”

“Special agent Stiles Stilinski,” Stiles says. “FBI.”

Isaac looks from Stiles to Derek, his face falling a little.

Derek looks away and plays with Randy's ear instead.

“And who are you?” Stiles asks.

“Isaac,” Isaac says.

“You got a last name with that, Isaac?”

Isaac pauses for a second. “Hale.”

“Lahey,” Derek says immediately after, sending Isaac a warning glare.

“Hale Lahey?” Stiles asks slowly, looking between the two.

“No,” Derek says. “Just Lahey.”

Isaac huffs and leans back on the couch, crossing his arms.

“So,” Stiles drawls. “No relation?”

“No,” Derek says.

“He's my brother,” Isaac says at the same time.

“I will kick you out of this house.”

“No, you won't.”

Derek breathes in deeply and looks at Isaac, annoyed and displeased.

Isaac looks back at him and raises his brows pointedly, like he knows he's right.

Derek hates that he is.

“You live here, Isaac?” Stiles asks, cutting in.

Derek takes his eyes off of Isaac to look at Stiles who is watching Isaac carefully, calculatingly. His instincts kick in and the need to protect is instant, his chest puffing out as he sits up a little.

Stiles may be his childhood best friend and yes, they may have been close back in the day, but Derek has dealt with a lot of agents during the last many years and he knows where this is going.

Isaac is just a kid who has nothing to do with any of this. This is exactly why Derek hoped he would stay in his room.

“Yep,” Isaac says, answering the question.

Stiles hums, nods, and asks, “How old are you?”

“He's seventeen,” Derek says and gives Stiles a look when he turns to look at him. “He's staying with me until he turns eighteen.”

“What about his parents?” Stiles asks, then quickly turns to Isaac again. “Sorry, you're in the room. Kinda rude to talk about you like you aren't, so. What about your parents?”

“Well,” Isaac says and fidgets with the sleeve of his shirt. “My mom is dead and my dad is an abusive asshole, so...”

“Abusive,” Stiles repeats with a frown. “Did you ever–”

“Mi– Stiles,” Derek interrupts, catching onto Isaac's discomfort which Stiles, apparently, doesn't. Stiles turns to look at him when Derek puts his hand on his shoulder and says, “I thought you were here to question me, not the kid living with me.”

Stiles stares at him for a long moment, then drops his eyes to Derek's hand before they drift back up to meet Derek's. Derek swallows, ignores the heat in his ears, and slowly pulls his hand off and away.

“You're right,” Stiles says, then turns to Isaac. “Sorry. I kinda have no brain-to-mouth filter.”

“That hasn't changed either,” Derek mutters dryly.

“I am trying to apologize,” Stiles says, giving Derek an offended look.

“Don't let me stop you,” Derek says. He leans back and crosses his arms, Randy grunting at the movement.

“If you could shut up for, like, one second so I can actually do it, that would be awesome.”

Derek says nothing, not until Stiles starts to turn back to Isaac. “You still haven't done it.”

“Oh my God!” Stiles exclaims and looks at him, exasperated. “How did I forget what a giant shit you are?”

Derek gives him a humorless smile and stays quiet.

“Anyway,” Stiles says pointedly and turns to Isaac with a roll of his eyes. “I'm sorry. That was insensitive of me and none of my business.”

Isaac shrugs a shoulder. “It's fine.”

“Cool,” Stiles says with a nod. He turns back to Derek, pausing for a second. “One uncomfortable subject to a worse one, then?”

Derek feels his mood shift immediately. His face falls as the light feeling from the playful banter with an old friend seeps out of him and is replaced by something heavy the second those words are out of Stiles' mouth. He shifts, swallows, and nods.

“Say the word and we'll stop,” Stiles says, voice soft. “I'm not here to dig in the fresh wound, I'm just here to help and I can't do that if you're not on board with talking right now.”

“Just ask your questions, Stiles,” Derek says. Rip off the band-aid, or whatever.

“Okay,” Stiles says. “When was the last time you talked to your sister?”

“About eight days ago, give or take,” Derek says. “She called me right before heading out of New York.”

“And you didn't think it was weird that you hadn't heard from her since?” Stiles asks. “I mean, I know I would be suspicious if I went that long without hearing from my sibling. I can't even go a couple of days without having to call my dad.”

“We're not–” Derek cuts himself off and sighs. “We weren't that close, anymore. So no, I didn't find it weird. We call each other once in a while, occasionally text too, but mostly we don't. We're separated for a reason.”

“That reason being?” Stiles asks, frowning.

Derek looks at him for a long moment. “Everyone around me gets hurt,” he says, carefully monotone.

They do, though. That's the thing. Everyone around him does end up hurt, one way or another. Paige, his whole family, everyone close to him, the list is long. Everyone is better off without him, he knows this, yet people keep finding their way into his heart.

Like Isaac, for example. Derek can't let a kid live on the streets nor can he let him live with his abusive father, there's no way in hell. But now he spends every day fearing that Isaac will end up dead somehow, even though neither of them leave the property much and only Erica and Boyd know Isaac is staying with him.

But the killer has her ways of getting information, and Derek lives in constant fear of the people he cares about because of that.

“Does that include Isaac?” Stiles asks, motioning over to him.

Derek looks over at Isaac and says, “Not yet.”

Isaac lifts his gaze from the ground and looks back at him. Isaac may not know the whole story, never had to and Derek doesn't want him to, but he does know parts of it. He knows enough, and there's understanding in the look that he gives Derek.

It doesn't make him feel any better about the potential disaster that's looming over them every day, though.

“Not yet and maybe never,” Stiles says. “You can't predict the future, buddy.”

“I can make an educated guess,” Derek says and looks at him.

Stiles frowns, and Derek suddenly regrets opening his mouth in the first place.

This isn't therapy. This isn't the place nor is it the time to be self deprecating and moody. For all the times he used to think about a reunion with his childhood best friend, this was never how they went and Stiles doesn't need this. He's just here to do his job.

“Ask another question, agent,” Derek says and tugs a lock of hair behind his ear.

Stiles doesn't lose the frown. “You know I'm gonna come talk to you about that when I'm not here on a job, right?”

Derek smiles a little and says, “Wouldn't be you if you didn't.”

“Exactly, so don't even think about getting out of it,” Stiles says. “Anyway, where were we? Right, uh... Do you remember anything that could help with the case from your phone call with Laura?”

“No,” Derek says and blows at the steam from his cup. “It wasn't any different than our other calls.”

He can feel Stiles' eyes on him while he sips at his tea. It's a lie, what he said, and the way Stiles is watching him so carefully tells him that Stiles has him figured out.

A part of him hates that. They've been apart for so many years, yet Stiles has somehow managed to figure him out already.

“You know withholding information isn't gonna help, right?” Stiles asks after a minute.

“I'm not withholding information,” Derek lies. “Everything there is to know is in the file.”

“If everything's in the file already, why hasn't the case been solved yet?”

Derek stares at him and lifts a brow.

“Oh, I get it,” Stiles says and makes a face at him. “Because we suck, right?”

Derek shrugs. “You said it, not me.”

“Yeah, well, your face did.”

Derek looks at him, deadpan.

“Your eyebrows are real judgy, has anyone ever told you that?”

“No, no one has ever told me that.”

“When did this become a sass off?” Isaac asks.

Derek gives Isaac a sideways glance but his attention is quickly pulled back to Stiles. He watches as Stiles blinks and stops midway through making a face, watches as he twists around to look at Isaac who is looking between them with an amused grin on his lips.

Stiles flushes, his cheeks turning a pretty pink at a nearly alarming rate. He gets the exact same expression on his face as he did when he was a kid and got caught stealing cookies from the jar in the Hale house.

Derek remembers it clearly, and he has to bite his cheek to stop himself from smiling at the memory.

“Uh, right,” Stiles says. He clears his throat and shifts. “Gotta stay on track. Stop distracting me, Derek.”

“Stop getting easily distracted,” Derek retorts.

Stiles sticks his tongue out at him.

“You said that Laura was leaving New York,” he says, getting back on track. “You wouldn't happen to know where she was going, would you?”

“California, I think,” Derek says. “She mentioned going back home.”

Stiles nods. “Okay, so when you said there was nothing about that phone call that could help the case, you were lying.”

“I wasn't lying,” Derek says. Not about that, at least, he doesn't say.

“Ah, but you were,” Stiles says. “Her going back home? That's a pretty solid lead, dude.”

Derek stays quiet.

“I'm not the enemy here, Derek,” Stiles says. “I'm here to do my job and my job is to catch serial killers like this one. It fucking sucks that it's been so long without any real progress but you're not really helping if you're withholding information.”

Derek pauses, eyes going downcast. “I know.”

“So, could you maybe cooperate with me a little?” Stiles asks. “If you know anything, no matter how small, now would be the time to tell me.”

Derek hesitates. The words – the name – are right on his tongue, ready to be said out loud. But, for reasons he hates and despises more than anything, he can't get them out. Even though he screams at himself to just fucking get it out already, he can't get himself to do it.

He tells himself that it doesn't matter whether he gives her name to Stiles, an agent with the FBI. It doesn't matter because she's been killing everyone he cares about anyway and she's obviously not planning on stopping anytime soon, so why shouldn't he just give her name up?

But he can't. His lips move and his mind flashes with images from his time with her and suddenly he can't speak at all.

Derek clenches his jaw and his empty fist, swallowing thickly. He takes in a deep breath quietly, not wanting to give away the slight panic that he's having an internal fight with at the moment.

It's pathetic, really.

It's been years, he's a grown man, and she still scares the living hell out of him.

Derek doesn't get to say anything, as it turns out, because after an uncomfortable amount of tense silence where none of them say a single word, a phone buzzes loudly in someone's pocket. It breaks the silence and when Stiles curses under his breath, Derek lets out a heavy breath that he tries to tell himself isn't relief.

“Every time, I swear,” Stiles mutters to himself, shifting to pull his phone out of his pocket. He thumbs over the screen and sighs, rubbing at his forehead. “Damn it, I gotta get going. My partner has new evidence.”

“Anything good?” Derek asks, finding his voice again.

“Classified,” Stiles says and looks at him, stuffing his phone back in his pocket. “That and I don't actually know, not yet. But I'm good so what does it matter? Any evidence is good when you're an awesome agent like me.”

Stiles winks, and Derek silently thanks his long hair for covering up his now red ears.

Derek shows Stiles to the door, after Stiles somehow manages to cram a couple of cookies into his mouth without looking completely disgusting and greedy doing it. It's such a Stiles thing to do and it makes Derek realize just how much he's missed having him in his life.

Stiles has always been such a light, even when they were kids, and now, where Derek's life is constantly cast in darkness, it's like a flicker of light. A torch at the end of the a dark tunnel, if you will.

“Here,” Stiles says at the door and hands a card to Derek. “Call me if you think of anything. Or text me, that works too. Okay?”

Derek takes the card, eyes on the number printed under Stiles' name. “Okay,” he says.

“And I'm not giving you my number just for the case,” Stiles says, and Derek looks at him. “I'd like to catch up, sometime. I mean, we live in the same state, so why not catch up when a chance has been handed to us on a metaphorical silver platter, you know? And, I'm not gonna lie, there's a serial killer on the loose and they're going after Hales and I'm really fucking worried about you, so if something happens, call me.”

“I'll be fine,” Derek says after a beat.

It feels like a lie on his tongue and it is, in a way. He won't be fine, hasn't been fine for years, but he will be alive. That much he knows, that much he hates and despises.

“Maybe you will,” Stiles says and shrugs. “I know I'm sure as hell gonna bust my ass to catch this son of a bitch so that you will be, but just in case–” He steps closer and looks at him, finger tapping at the card in Derek's hands “– call me?”

Derek looks at him, their eyes locking. He nods after a moment, even though he doesn't know if he will or not. Part of him wants to, another part of him doesn't want to get close to Stiles again because that's just another person's life for Kate to play with. He can't handle that.

Stiles seems to hesitate for a minute, teeth worrying his bottom lip. Derek tries not to stare.

“Would it be weird if I hugged you?” Stiles asks, cheeks flushing slightly. “I just– I know we haven't really seen each other in fifteen years and all, but... well, I've missed you and you could–”

Derek doesn't let him finish. He steps forward and wraps his arms around Stiles in a hug that feels a little awkward at first, but then Stiles hugs him back and the awkwardness seeps right out, the hug settling into something close to familiarity.

Derek pointedly doesn't think about how well Stiles fits in his arms, nor does he think about how nice Stiles' arms feel around him. He definitely does not think about how good Stiles smell.

When they part after hugging for maybe a second too long, Stiles tells him to stay safe and to stay in contact, even makes Derek promise it, and then he leaves with a, “Love the hair, by the way!” thrown over his shoulder.

Derek stands on the porch and watches as Stiles' car disappears down the road. He stands there for longer than he probably should, fingers tracing the name and the number on the card that he still hasn't let go of, not even to put in his pocket.

“You never mentioned being friends with an agent,” Isaac's voice comes from behind him maybe a couple of minutes later.

“He wasn't an agent when I knew him,” Derek says and turns around. “I only knew him when we were kids. Drifted apart when I was around twelve.”

“Why?” Isaac asks.

Derek shrugs and steps inside, closing the door behind him. “His mom got sick, he started pushing away,” he says. The worst part is that he hadn't fought back and had just let it happen.

He blinks, then gives Isaac a look. “Why are you asking?”

Isaac smiles, innocent but fooling no one. “No reason,” he says. “That hug just looked really friendly, if you know what I mean.”

Derek shoves at Isaac's face and leaves with a roll of his eyes, ignoring the heat warming his ears.

 

♠ ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠

 

‹ To Cora, 23:16: Answer me, please.

Derek stares down at the open text conversation on his phone, a frown on his lips and brows furrowed. He's in bed, Randy asleep in his lap and the house quiet outside of the bedroom, and Cora has yet to answer the text he send hours ago. He hasn't heard from her in a week and, usually, he would be fine with that but she's all he has left and he needs to know that she's okay.

He always wants to know that she's okay, always has this desperate need to know she's okay because the fear in him makes him paranoid that she isn't. But he needs to know now, especially after this loss. According to Stiles, she had to find out over a phone call since she doesn't live in this country.

Derek hates that he couldn't be there when she got the news. God knows he could have used her when he found out, he can't imagine how she must have felt.

Cora takes an eternity to respond. That's an exaggeration but it feels like an eternity. It's not unusual though, for her to take forever to respond. Sometimes she doesn't even respond at all and while Derek has grown used to it, it still hurts.

He's having trouble keeping his eyes open but he can't put his phone down and away, not until Cora has answered him even if that doesn't happen until the sun rises again.

It's been a long and exhausting day, an even longer and exhausting week. He's lost yet another person he cares about and he hasn't allowed himself to grieve that loss, not yet. He doesn't really deserve to either, it's all his fault. If he hadn't been a stupid, idiotic teenager, then none of this would have happened.

It takes an eternity but then finally those little bubbles pop up, indicating that Cora is responding.

› From Cora, 23:48: I'm fine. Stop mothering me.

Derek lets out a slow breath. The reply is short and clipped, none of which is out of the ordinary, but it's a reply nonetheless and Derek will take anything at this point. Cora may hate him but he loves her and he is always going to worry, more now than ever.

‹ To Cora, 23:49: Never. Stay safe.

Cora doesn't respond to that. Derek doesn't expect her to either, so he puts his phone away and lays back on the bed, sinking into the pillows with a sigh that should have made him relax but doesn't. Not really, at least.

Randy moves from his lap and lays his head onto his chest, grunting softly as he makes himself comfortable. Derek lifts a hand and puts it on his back, petting absently while he stares up at the ceiling above.

He's not sure how long he ends up laying there, mind a static of nothing. It could be an eternity before he feels wetness roll down the side of his face and his throat starts feeling tight. He lifts his free hand and rubs at his now closed eyes in an attempt to stop the tears from falling. It doesn't work but even as they continue to seep out, he doesn't stop fighting them.

Randy whines and shifts closer to press his snout against Derek's bearded chin. Derek wraps his arm around him, keeps his hand pressed to his face, and lets himself cry. For just a bit, he lets himself be weak and break.

Later, after he's managed to calm himself, he turns his head and looks over at the bedside table where the card that Stiles gave him pokes out from under his phone.

He's tired. He is so fucking tired of living in constant fear, tired of having her control his life and keep him from living it. He's so tired and, honestly, he doesn't know how much more of this he can handle. It's a wonder he hasn't cracked yet, actually.

But it's not about him, at least not about his feelings. It doesn't matter how tired he is or how terrified he is, none of that matters. He realizes that now. The killing, the torture... all of it needs to end.

Derek stares at the card, considering. There aren't a lot of people he trusts enough to even talk about her but, for some reason he doesn't question, he thinks Stiles might be one of those few.