Starling Hills and stay the same
It had been a while since they'd done this. Dakila couldn't decide if that was a failing of his or just a matter of life. It wasn't like he never saw Katya, he just tended to see her when he also saw others. It was actually almost a full year since last Thanksgiving... which they weren't going to think about too deeply, how that had all gone.

But this did take him back to years ago, when they'd been younger and different but not all that different. This was not the first time he'd called his mother asking for her recipes he'd grown up with so he could recreate them for his friend.

Today's menu was different, though. The air inside his new Starling house was heavy with slow simmering meat and savory peanuts. The kare-kare was a personal favorite of his, but the sauce could be hit or miss to some who weren't used to it so... he also had the ingredients for a quick pancit ready to go when she got here.

There was banana lumpia keeping warm in the oven, but he'd let her question him about it first.

It had been a lot of work for lunch with a friend, but if he was honest with himself this was maybe the most relaxed he'd felt in weeks. Waiting for her was downright pleasant anticipation.

outfit with sneakers

When she'd first met Dakila, Katya never in a million years would've guessed he was the type of guy to live in the middle of nowhere. With his off-grid house in the woods, a cop who would go home and his only form of therapy was the scent of fresh pine. It just didn't seem like him upon first impressions, but she'd begun to understand it over time.

She even had a lot of memories from that house. Appearing out of nowhere and knocking on his window. A lot of bad news had happened in that home. She didn't fucking miss it, personally. Katya did not do well with reminders. She needed all the ugly to be shoved ten feet underground so she could ignore it and elevate.

So him moving somewhere new had been a long time in the making. Her and Natalie had moved more than a year ago. It'd been his turn, now. And move he did. The new place wasn't as nice from the outside, she decided, on account of the fact that he was now one with the suburbs and unless you were rich, money couldn't buy you much of anything nice in the burbs. But the fact that he was housed up in wolf territory like some type of gatekeeper was a powerful fucking message, in her humble opinion. She liked it. She dug it.

She'd also planned to arrive early and keep him company while he cooked, but instead she showed up slightly late, not realising she was arriving late. Oops. The consequence of having weekend responsibilities at the gym.

Moving to the front door in a lazy saunter, she rang the doorbell, tugging her necklace at the front to adjust it. Yaaaaaawn.
There she was.

A bit late, but he didn't mind so much. Nothing was pressing, and it gave him the chance to tidy up the kitchen a bit more from the effort he'd put into it. When the doorbell rang, it was no surprise--in spite of everything, he could literally tell she was coming from miles away. Sometimes he still pined for the greater connection he had with the rest of the pack for her, but it didn't bother him. He still cared for her the same way, and if she was more comfortable with at least one foot outside the ring, he would live with that without complaint.

Still, he swung open the door to let her in, smiling. "I'm honestly surprised you don't just let yourself in at this point." Even if it was a new house, he was still him. It was mostly a joke, but... maybe permission.
Katya was shuffling forward as soon as the door showed signs of swinging the other way. No hesitance. "Shit, if I'd known you don't lock your doors?" she replied, pressing her toes against the back of one sneaker to slide it off.

Inhaling showily, she hung her head back as she worked on the other shoe. Oh my fucking god, it smelt like what dreams were made of in here. Because that was what Katya dreamed of mostly, nowadays. Food. Carnivorous shit.
"Not before dark when I'm home," he said with a smile. Maybe to some he should have seem like a high strung security type, but he knew how to handle himself--and didn't really have anything worth breaking in for. And besides, he'd rather a random try and come in here and take stuff and be dealt with by him than go next door and get his elderly neighbor instead.

Anyway, stop thinking about that, there was company and it was good company.

"You come in and get comfortable. Food should be ready soon. I have the pancit to throw together still but that only takes a few minutes and I figure you might like to see."
Dakila was the type of dude to get adrenaline from only locking his doors when night fell. Hashtag living on the edge. Should've fucking known.

She blew her lips sarcastically, then let him have the floor for pleasantries. "Yes please," she practically begged, but without the grovelling, and would follow him through his house. As she did that, she added, "You like my outfit? I got dressed up for this," and did a walking spin that was more rotational than anything close to like, a feminine twirl.

It was true. She'd put effort in. And by that, she meant she'd put a whole goddamn necklace on. ◡‿◡
Was this dressed up? But it was Katya speaking, so he knew better than to take her too seriously. He chuckled as he led on through to the kitchen. "You look precisely perfect," he informed her succinctly.

His own outfit was so utterly not special that it wasn't even worth showing or writing about today, but he was the sort to be un-sloppy comfortable at home and with good friends.

"If you aren't feeling too fancy, you can come help." But really only if she wanted. In the kitchen it smelled incredibly a lot like the contents of the pot--long cooked oxtail and a deeply savory peanut sauce. He was dying for it. Katya probably was going to be very soon, too, if he'd judged this meal correctly.
Precisely perfect was kind of a dope compliment, as far as they went. She ended her spin on that note, grin both sharp and slow, in the way Saturday’s could sometimes feel. Friday’s were like a hangover that needed to be worn off.

”Hell yeah. I skipped breakfast for this,” Katya told him, and then raised her brows knowingly, shaking her head for emphasis. ”As much as I can skip breakfast, anyway.” She’d just eaten less than usual, which was the same thing to her.

Coming up by the main pot, she snuck a glance in to see the fancy looking contents. Hoooo damn. She wasn’t a food connoisseur but she didn’t have to be to know it looked bomb. And then she turned her head to the oven, clocking the lumpia with a practiced eye.

Everyone knew when their favourite dessert was in the room, okay. It was like radar detection.
Same boat, then. Not starving, but very ready to eat. It was good.

He already had the chicken cooked for the pancit, and the garlic and onions and other vegetables cut up. But... he looked to her and smiled wryly. He knew she was onto him. But he wasn't going to say anything. She was as welcome to peek as she was welcome to walk into his home unannounced.

But for now. "I have some onions and garlic to cook off, unless you'd like to."
Mirroring his wry smile, Katya made grabby hands immediately after his prompt. Not the type of thing that looked promising, in all honesty, but he couldn't back out now. He'd installed all his faith in her to cook the easiest part of any meal.

Waiting, she asked, "You want 'em golden brown?"
"A little color is good. But mostly looking for soft, and then we'll add more vegetables."

He would hand a spatula off to her for this, inevitably being nearby for this. Trust but... no reason to let her do it blindly by herself. The pan was still on the stove from the the chicken cooking, and he turned the burner back on under it.

There were a number of ingredients waiting for their turn waiting on the counter to the side of the stovetop, including the diced onion and mince garlic.
Aye aye, captain. Spatula acquired, she took the handle of the pan, reswirling the glaze and then putting the onion and garlic in in bunches.

"You wanna talk about what's eating your brain?"
Oh Katya, always here to catch him off guard.

He'd been stopping by the fridge to pull out the sauce he'd left in there after putting it together now, but he stopped here.

"Eating my brain, huh? Is that how it seems to you?" He remembered the phone conversation that had gotten them here to this. He wasn't denying that he was definitely... in a place where things were harder than not. But Katya's perspective was meaningful.
She shrugged from the stove. "Dunno. You're different these days."

Maybe if she saw him every day, it was a change she wouldn't have picked on. Just like ageing. Katya and Natalie had probably changed a lot together in the past year and a half, but because they lived side by side, lives parallel, the wins and losses were felt daily. But Dakila? She saw him in in-between moments, and he wasn't the same. She could remember him helping her with her bagged groceries first day they'd met, to now. Something was in the water.

"I guess we've all got responsibilities now." Him, the pack. Her, the gym. Friendships, relationships, work. Whatever. Katya looked at him over her shoulder, thinking on it. "But... you kinda look like you're barely holding on."

He let that all sink in, let himself think about it. That was part of it, he supposed--keeping so busy he was always running ahead of whatever problems were pending. Deal with them when they caught up to him, no sooner.

Pulling a few things out of the fridge he was quiet a moment. Then when he was alongside her, he let a few thoughts out.

"There's been a lot. It feels... like things at work are getting more and more serious all the time. And while in some ways it's gotten easier, them knowing what I am--it just comes with more expectations, too."

He looked at the digital display on the oven and thumb the warm edge of the stove before shrugging very lightly. "Just not a lot of time for... not thinking about others."
When he didn’t say anything immediately, Katya looked back to the pan, turning the garlic and onions around. She didn’t know what she was shooting at here, but that was kinda a trend when it came to wondering about anyone’s problems beside her own. But she’d said what she’d said. It was out there.

And when he was by her side again, he spoke.

So he was like, overworked. But not really. Being overworked wasn’t meant to last this long. This was about him managing the expectations of who he was on the force and who he was in his normal life. Something like that.

”You gonna work on the force forever? Don’t like the sound of a normal job?”

At this point Katya wasn’t seeing him reap any benefits from his job, sorry. And at the end of the day, it was just a fucking job. It didn’t deserve to be his priority.
He found the idea of early retirement somehow abhorrent. And he didn't even really know why. It wasn't so unusual. People got burned out or needed a life change all the time in this line of work. But the thought of stepping away, just...

"I don't know what else I'd do." Which was a thin reason, and even he knew that, so he continued, watching the pan rather than the woman manning it. "This is everything I ever wanted to be."

More to it, of course, but he was not about to monologue about his life choices and reasons for self sacrifice without provocation.
Bullshit. She looked at him with the flattest eyes on planet earth, brows a line. Lips did the same.

"You wanted a life which is serious all the fuckin' time? A life where you're the big bad werewolf and you gotta assmilate?" None of this asked aggressively, but still, the greasy spatula talked with her for emphasis, signalling in the air with a mind of its own.
Why was this so difficult to think about?

Logically speaking, he knew what she was asking was sound. It was the sort of thing that even he might have asked someone who was clearly struggling to balance aspects of their lives. Sorting out importance and happiness and downtime. So why didn't it feel like it applied to him?

The onions were sufficiently soft, and for a moment that was all he could put his mind on. He dumped the small bowl of chicken back into the pan while he delayed, the only answer in his head being, 'no, but...' but not wanting to be that guy with someone who was genuinely his closest friend.

"It doesn't feel like assimilating," was what he came up with on the cusp of that. "It's... always been a very conscious choice. I never thought my life would be an easy one, I've never wanted it to be..."

But distantly he acknowledged that while he'd chosen cop life, he hadn't chosen werewolf life. That hadn't factored into his plans when he'd first set himself on this road.
He was acting like a sloth. So slooow. Nudging in front of her without actually pushing her out of the way so he could dump the chicken in. But it was for the best, that he was sloth-brained. Because the onions and garlic would've been on the road to smoked if she was the only one watching over them.

Food disregarded, Katya stared hard at him as he answered, trying to not jump down his throat like an immature brat with words that probably would've made for valid contradictions, because she could find a way to make anyone sound bad. Chaining her tendencies like she chained her wolf, sometimes. Same vibe.

"Okay. But, like," she opted for. "Something's not working."

Katya offered him the spatula.

"And as your friend, I wanna know so I can help. Because I thought not mentioning it would work, but that was dumb."
He took the spatula.

Katya, for all she was pretty brash and difficult, was actually pretty wise. He didn't know if he'd ever told her that. It was sometimes hard to appreciate someone who would push you like she was willing to do. Question you, fight you--but with love as their intent. He'd never felt like she hated him or unfairly judged him. Sometimes their perspectives didn't line up, like now, but that was often a good thing.

Dakila tried to think about the thing she was asking him and not the fact that she was asking him.

"I think what... before Max and Emily left the pack, there were demands for me to get a new Second." When Liza was not working out to an absurd degree, so it had been... fair, truly. "I think I do need that. I just. I haven't figured out who. I told Natalie to think about it, but I don't want it to be a burden she's not ready for."

There was more to be said, but that was the easiest ailment to throw down on the table like a cut to the arm up front.
Ugh. Two names of people she never wanted to think about again. Katya hadn't ever heard from them after that last shitty standoff and Max's resignation, and she'd long since wiped their deets from her phone. The only reminder left remaining was the plant Emily had gotten them for Christmas, but throwing a plant out over love lost felt kinda fucking rude. Like, rude to the plant.

Thoughts which distracted her from the bulk of his words, but she came back around at the end. Natalie. Burden. Second.

"So if I find you a second, that's gonna fix a lot of it?" she asked, bending her leg at the knee and balancing lazily on her toe.
He nodded, slow, thinking. He didn't miss that Katya was making this hers to fix, but he didn't have it in him to tell her she didn't have to right now. "I hope so, anyway. Or it'd at least be a start. I just feel... stuck. Like, I don't have options to not do things right now. Because if I don't, there's not really anyone else. Or at least... you know, no one who has agreed that, yes, they want the responsibility."

Dakila didn't begrudge anyone else in the pack. He also didn't begrudge anyone else on the force. It was a lot to ask someone to be your Second, your guardian, your medic. Everyone had their own lives, their own priories, and he respected those. What he did, he did willingly, and he wanted nothing less for any of them. On the flip side, he was the only shifter in the STF. And he needed it to stay that way. The chance of anyone showing up who was both detective experienced and sufficiently strong as a shifter to pull it off was beyond slim, and anyone getting freshly turned was naturally out.
"No one's steppin' up," she summarised all those long words for him into simple English.

Katya shifted her eyes to the sizzling pan.

"Can't you lean on me, even if I'm not pack?" Like. She was in all their group texts, or so she thought. And she lived with Natalie. She knew what was up. And she was invited to their get-togethers. How many more things did she need to list off for it to not make a difference.
Soft nod. Exactly--no one was stepping up, and he was not someone to demand they do so.


He moved the food around the pan, knowing it was time to put in the next step but... Katya. "Don't I already?" he countered, tone fond and tired.
If those words had come from anyone else's mouth, they would've sounded like a trap. Not Dakila's, though. She stepped around it all the same, avoiding bad feels.

"Not enough, obviously," she answered, giving a small shrug. "What's the difference between me and some second?"
He gave himself a moment by dumping the bowl of cut up vegetables he'd had sitting aside into the pan. They sizzled as they met the hot pan, but quieted quickly down.

"I don't want you to have to worry about me. Or the pack. I know... you do. To some extent anyway. But I know you've stayed away for your own reasons and I don't have anything against that. I just don't want to come after you with too much and make it feel like I'm ignoring your choices."

Did that make sense? Was that even her point? Likely not, but it was what he had here.
"It sounds like you've thought about this shit. Like, way more than I ever have."

The scents from the pan became more difficult to ignore. So she turned to face it, staring blankly at the array of colours.

"So I don't get why you've never talked to me about it before. This is the first time I'm hearing you tell me you've been going out of your way to like, not bother me."
It was less that he thought about it, and more it was just... part of who he was. When it came to burdens, he was the taker, not the giver. Katya had made it clear enough to him where she wanted to be in relation to the official workings of the wolves, and he could not bring himself to disrespect that lightly.

Still, it... didn't really matter if it was thought or instinct that brought them here. Because they were here regardless.

Frowning a little, he tried to figure out how to explain himself to her. "Telling you that I'm trying not to bother you sort of undermines it. It forces you to pick between the choice you already made to stay out of pack stuff or... I don't know, I guess pick helping me out. Which of course my being king of this whole mess just makes it complicated."

But it felt dumb. "I'm sorry. I guess we can talk about it now." Since they... were. But he felt distracted. Maybe because he could be. With Katya he didn't have to be fully on top of his game in saying just the right things.
This was arguably their biggest difference. That Katya wanted to know everything always, even if it undermined the purpose of hearing it, while he seemed to spend half his time working through scenarios in his brain without telling anyone. Like Liza being made second, and the way that'd left everyone confused. If not everyone, then her. It'd made her confused as shit, because she wasn't a mindreader.

He also had a way of making it look like he was deliberately avoiding talking about things. When he wasn't. It just looked like that, and boy she could've clapped him in the back of the fucking head for it the more he got to verbalising now.

His solution to not putting her in a position to have to choose was by not giving her a choice at all. Wasn't that like, hypocritical? Huh huh huh?

Katya pouted at the pan, but with her lips in an angry line. "Don't be sorry. That's just dumber than me thinking this was gonna pass," she said first. "I stayed outta the pack because of Liza. And other reasons, yeah okay. But not because I saw it as a choice between one or the other."

Her train of thoughts careened sideways, and she looked up at him, conviction making her look mad-faced. "You're my fucking dude, Dakila. We got turned at the same time. You know some shit I'd probably be happier if you didn't. And like, you're lots of things, but someone who bothers me isn't one of them."

Frown softened just a bit, as she added, "Some people can't take up too much of your time. Like, ever. Or overstep. You're one of them for me."
Well, at least she saw it as dumb, too. She spoke with the honesty that built and built on itself, from one point to another until it was rather beyond Liza, beyond the pack and her reasons for that, and straight into the heart of...


He met her gaze because that sort of attention was part of who he was, too, attentive even when things weren't entirely pleasant. But it surprised him what she said, the vulnerability of their reality, her feelings about it. Short and sharp, but not aimed to injure so much as prickle in reminder of where they'd started and why she stood now in his kitchen, eager to demand his attention in spite of their mutually difficult wells of knowledge.

They'd seen each other in ugly lights at times. Bad moments. Wounded moments. He'd failed her before. And yet.

Feelings caught him unexpectedly. He should have continued with the food but he didn't even think of it at that moment. His brows came together and his teeth went tight for a moment, making his lips narrow. Touched, and guilty, but trying to let the latter go because he knew she wouldn't appreciate it. Katya wasn't here to make him feel bad, that wasn't how she did things. wasn't how she got results.

So he put the spatula down on the side of the pan and gave her his attention as he reached for her, to hug her in apology if she decided to accept it. Otherwise, hands on shoulders. "Katya... god, why do I do this like this." Muttered to himself, berating. Picked back up his tone to address her better. "You're so important in my life, getting me out of my head all the time. It's mutual, alright?" She could come to him about anything and he'd pick it up in a heartbeat. He needed to stop denying her that same opportunity.
He stared right back at her. Eyes listening and never fearful, never responding impulsively to her whimsical facial expressions. If there was one thing she could count on him for, it was to be heard. Even if he disagreed or didn't act on it right away, Dakila didn't take her opinions for granted. And for someone who had a whole fucking lot of opinions, she appreciated that.

It couldn't have made her see the incoming hug, though. Guess Katya didn't expect it. Her knee-jerk emotional reactions were not the same as his. It was ferocity and hard-headedness that catapulted her into raw fucking honesty. Not rosy feelings or shit like that. She screamed and threw herself into crowds when she was happy. She didn't cry. Crying was reserved for anger, and hatred, and loss. Same with the hug in that moment. When she was wired, her last reaction was to go soft.

It had been a problem with people before. She'd made fuckups and not treasured others based on that. Maybe it would be again, but Dakila didn't apply to that shit. He was here, hugging her like some big brotherly bubble monster, all gooey and shit. She sighed angrily, drawing her arms around him like an overgrown child.

"Obviously, you tool," she grumbled. Making her hands into fists, she gently thumped them against his back. "But if you ever need something, or wanna ask me some shit upfront, just do it."

Thump thump thump.

"Like I'm always texting you when I don't get what's up."
She could be irritated all she wanted, but... you know. From her it just was different, and he appreciated it far more than he feared it.

And all things considered, maybe it was very funny that he was the softer one here, but... well, they'd known that.

He would let her go after only a few moments. Dakila had that fresh sense of resolve in him. To do better, to be better by not trying to be the lone pillar in such a big building.

"Okay," he told her. He wouldn't make her promise to tell him if he ever did bother her or rely on her too much. He already knew she'd do that even if he didn't ask her to. It was just how Katya was.
She untangled stiffly, not wanting to, because if she did she couldn’t harass him with back thumps. But whatever. She complied. Kinda.

Hands still went balled, only now by her side.

”Besides, maybe your perfect second hasn’t come around yet,” Katya said. ”Maybe you gotta dream ‘em up.”
It was true. He didn't want a second just for the sake of naming someone that. He really did want someone who fit the bill. Even asking for it wasn't enough--Liza had proven that much.

So he nodded. "Maybe I do. And in the meantime... well, I fear you've played yourself here today, Katya. I'll be using you as my backup brainpower."

Then, with a bit of a sneak about it, he lifted a hand to ruffle her hair before he was trying to swoop back to the pan to pour the sauce in before the vegetables overcooked.
"I got so much brainpower, YOU DON'T EVEN WANNA KNOW!" she said as he moved off, leaving her with a wake of ruffled hair.

Which she began straightening out with little fingers.
It made him laugh. It didn't even really make sense, what she'd said, but it was... so Katya. Suffice it to say, he loved her, very much.

"Open that package of noodles for me, then, with all that brain power." He gestured and stirred the freshly sauced pan. Noodles were the last step, to go directly in here to cook. Then they could eat, and he could show her his appreciation by piling it all in front of her.
Eyes redirected fiercely to the packet in question. Unsophisticatedly she picked the plastic up between her hands, pulling on both sides until it popped open.

"You ever remember how weak you used to be before getting turned?" Katya commented, bending her arm at the elbow and displaying the noodles towards him, unsure if he wanted them immediately. So. She was talking. "I couldn't open anything for jack shit. Cris-"

Make it casual. Make it fucking casual. Don't think, just speak. Say her name.

"She used to call me a noodle."
The mention was a rare one. The direct mention, especially. But.... this was good. This kind of talk about people who were gone. He glanced at Katya to take the noodles and smiled. "You're a very good noodle, even if appearances are deceiving, now." And not to force her to linger, he slid the noodles into the sauce and poked them down with the spatula to get them immersed and cooking. It wouldn't take long.

"I don't think I ever considered myself weak back before. But now? Comparatively? Definitely."

It made him too aware of how fragile the others were. Sending anyone but himself into dangerous situations was hard on the nerves when you were aware how breakable they really were. But maybe that was a bit dark for noodle arm talk.
A very good noodle. Katya was sometimes amazed by the shit she managed to get Dakila saying and doing. She snickered, searching for the trash to throw the plastic away—rarely was she in favour of cleaning whilst she cooked (she preferred to stare at her phone or get sidetracked and leave the kitchen entirely, oops)—but manners were a bit better when she was the guest.

”Oh, sorry,” she retorted sarcastically. ”You were totally hulkin’ it when I met you. I forgot.”
He grinned. "I've always had to be able to lift at least fifty pounds for my job, okay." The basic requirement for physical labor.

Agitating then noodles in the pan as they began to soften, he admitted, "It's changed a lot of things. I don't miss getting sick."
"Okay," she repeated because she was a little shit.

And then.

"Why. Were you one of those people that was always down with something."
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