Derek ducked as soon as he entered the doorway, glanced at the doodad that almost took his head off before he looked at the disaster the girls made of the room and sighed when he saw the mess the both of his sisters made of themselves.
Well, at least what he could see of Laura was a complete mess. Her clothes covered in soot and her arm, which was covered in some oily substance that Derek didn't even want to guess what it was, was blindly reaching back to where Cora was behind her.
"Could you hand me the-" Cora planted whatever tool Laura needed into her sister's palm, Laura's grimy fingers curling around it before she pulled it into whatever contraption she had her upper body trapped in, "Thanks!"
Cora rolled her eyes, "You're not even in that deep, stop shouting or you'll wake up the deer in the next forest over."
Derek chuckled, coming to stand beside Cora but made sure he stayed a foot or two away from her to keep from getting dirty, "What are you two up to?"
"The next big thing," Cora deadpanned, and Laura made an indignant shout.
"Couldn't agree on what to work on again?" Derek asked and crossed his arms like Cora did as he looked over the machine.
"Something like that," Cora muttered and Derek could hear Laura's answering huff even over all the noise.
Derek thinks this was one of the machines Mom must have designed. He remembers seeing something vaguely like the machine in front of him on paper but he couldn't really recall it. He couldn't really recall most of the things before the fire having been hit with a beam and knocked unconscious for most of the ordeal. Though it wasn't as if he had lost trade secrets, Laura was really the only one in training with Peter at the time and she had only learned a few things before the fire and carried the information with her everyday. He and Cora were too young to even understand what his parents did but now (for the past couple of years, actually) he had wished they showed them at least something.
Because now, they would be facing the threat of the streets sooner or later and what was left of their family's fortune Laura had spent to build the cottage they're living in now. Though it's a little odd and worn in some places, Derek couldn't ever think of leaving this place.
"And 'something like that' would mean?"
Laura pushed herself out of the contraption, making a big ruckus so Cora wouldn't speak before her, "It means," She gave a pointed look to Cora, "that Cora is actually ecstatic to work on this but she's just acting like she isn't." She pushed her hair out of her eyes and towards the messy thing on the top of her head that kept the rest of her hair out of her face.
Derek chuckled, moving to stand behind Laura to pull her hair out of the mess she made it and combed his fingers through it to make it somewhat tame before he started to french braid her hair, "I see, is this what you've been doing all day, ma soeur?"
"No, I slept a little too." Laura chuckled, already starting to get fidgety while she waited for Derek to be done with her hair, "What about you, Derek? What have you been up too? You left really early to go to the market."
Derek felt himself blush before he could stop himself, pointedly not looking at Cora even though he could feel the weight of her gaze, "I wanted to finish reading my book again before I returned it. So I left early to finish it there and return it when I was done, and then go pick up food from the market."
"Wait, are you talking about the book you finished last night? You read that thing again, Derek?"
Derek felt heat rush into his cheeks but he refused to acknowledge it, just continued on braiding Laura's long hair, "Yes."
"Don't know why you're surprised," Cora piped up, "He practically had his nose glued into that thing."
"Shut up, Cora."
"Hey, wait a minute. You don't sound too upset about giving it back," Laura tried to turn her head to look over her shoulder at her brother, but Derek directed her head forward again, mumbling for her to stop moving or the braid wouldn't turn out right, "Did you check it out again?"
Derek shook his head, his blush deepened, "No, Deaton said I've read it so much, I should just keep it." He shrugged, finally over half way done with braiding Laura's hair, "No one else really checks it out once I've put it back anyway. So he gave it to me as a gift."
Cora snorted, undid her tool belt and set it onto one of the already overcrowded work tables they had, "Did you check out another book too?"
"No, I had to go pick up food before the market got busy."
If it was one thing they all didn't like, it was going out when the market was bustling with loud obnoxious crowds. People were wary of them and thought they all turned crazy after the fire so they all got lingering stares and Derek could hear the suspicious mummers that passed through people's lips as they walked by. They could at least have tried to be more subtle.
Though he guessed they didn't really add to the cause. Him and Cora were both too closed off to appear friendly and loved being at home. Laura friendly and outgoing but she was too strange from the average woman there to be seen as any sane one. So they either all went out together or alone at very early hours (later hours were out of the question, especially with the incident with Cora a few years ago). So they stayed in and kept to themselves for the most part.
Only one person wasn't afraid to come up and talk to them and that was Finnstock. The only other person who was known for being even crazier than them.
He was also the only person who ever bought any of Cora's and Laura's inventions and somehow made use of them.
Derek finished off Laura's braid, tying it before putting it over Laura's shoulder for her to inspect. "Thanks, Der!" She turned around and pressed a sloppy kiss to his cheek, "Please tell me you got more chocolate?"
Derek nodded, "You're just lucky that Greenberg boy likes you so much. He gave me extra just for you."
Laura grinned, pushing her braid back over her shoulder, "Great! We can make hot chocolate tonight to help keep us warm. Winter's coming in and I heard Finstock say it's going to be a tough one, I think we're going to have to buy more coats this time."
Cora had fallen asleep twenty minutes ago between her older siblings to Derek's reading and one of Laura's hands continuously combing her hair over her ear. Derek hadn't even bothered to continue reading once he realized she was asleep. Just put the book down behind him and moved his hand to comb through Cora's hair also.
He was sure Cora loved the book as much as he did. She liked listening to it, often peeked over his shoulder when he was reading it, and she didn't seem too happy the night before when he told her he was going to return it again in the morning.
She just didn't like to voice the things she enjoyed.
Derek sighed softly, gently scratching his nails over Cora's scalp.
"Penny for your thoughts, petit frère?"
Derek looked up at the soft inquiry, shrugging one shoulder in answer.
"Do I actually have to give you a penny for you to tell me your thoughts, Der?" Laura asked, eyebrows raising in question.
That made Derek smile, "No," he huffed, "just… thinking about Cora."
Laura's brows furrowed slightly, making a small cease on her forehead and made Derek notice the grime she was still covered in. She could never really get clean by herself, "What about Cora?"
The corners of Laura's mouth turned downwards and Derek looked back down to Cora, focusing on combing his fingers through her hair again. "Is something wrong, Derek?"
He shook his head.
"Okay...Anything else on your mind?"
Derek looked up at that, "The machine you and Cora are working on, I've seen it before, haven't I?"
"Yeah, actually," Laura smiled, big and bright. The sight of it eased him, "It was something I was designing before the fire. Of course," She plucked at a piece of Cora's hair, lifting it up before letting it go and smoothing it over again, "there was a few kinks in it, but Mom really liked the idea. She was helping me finish the plans off and then…" She shrugged. Derek knew the feeling, he didn't want to mention what happened either, "I finished designing it and now I'm polishing it off with Cora."
Derek smiled and brushed back a wayward lock of Cora's hair. He always liked hearing about their mother. She was the most creative and thoughtful person Derek had known. Nothing could seem to stop her and now… Now Laura had that same feeling to her.
Derek smiled a little wider, his lips actually framing his teeth as he spoke, "It's going to be great, Laura. The next best thing out there."
"Derek." Laura reached out and grabbed onto his crossed arms, "This is a chance to get the Hale name back out there. You even said yourself this is the next best thing! So if we take it to the fair and win, imagine what this could mean for us."
Derek clenched his jaw, looking away from Laura's pleading brown eyes to find Cora leaning against the hallway entrance, giving him the same expression as her older sister.
"We don't know what's out there, Laura-"
"And we'll never know if we don't go," Her grip on his arms tightened, big brown eyes wide as she looked up at him, "C'mon, petit frère."
"Why are you asking me?" He asked instead of giving an answer, "You're older. You could just take everything and go without me having a say on it."
"Because I know how much you care for Cora and it wouldn't feel right if I took her with me and you weren't okay with it."
Derek stared at Laura, dumbfounded as he looked from Laura to Cora. "What if it's not safe?" He asked quietly.
Laura had the tiniest hint of a smile on her face, "Finstock gave of a map of where we need to go. He talked us through it a dozen times. I nearly have it memorized he's told us so much." She glanced over his face, moving her hands from his arms to grab onto his shoulder and cup his cheek, "You know I'll take care of her."
Derek let out a soft sigh, leaning into his sister's touch, "How long will you be gone?"
Laura lit up, "Just a few days. Enough time to get there, win first prize, and then get back home to you, petit frère."
Derek paused for a second, then nodded, "Okay." If anything he knew Laura'd keep the both of them safe. And maybe it'd be good for Cora to get out and actually enjoy herself.
Laura grinned, beautiful and bright just like their mother always did and threw her arms excitedly around him, "Thanks, Der!" She let go of him to look at Cora, "Go get everything ready, I'll start packing some food."
Cora nodded and smiled, an actual excited smile that Derek hasn't seen on her face in weeks, and hurried off to their work room.
Laura watched her go as well, eyes trailing after Cora with a pleased grin on her mouth before looking back at Derek, "Well, I gotta start getting things ready too. Cora never remembers to wash her clothes."
"I'll do it." He answered quickly, grabbing onto his sister's hand to keep her there, "Laura? Thank you."
She furrowed her brows, "For what?"
"For asking me. Thank you." He couldn't tell her how much it meant. He honestly couldn't, but judging by the soft smile playing on Laura's lips she already knew.
She gave his hand a tight squeeze, leaning up on her tiptoes (even though she didn't have to) to press a sloppy kiss to his cheek.
"You're welcome, Der."
She gave one last squeeze before letting go of him, "Just remember, you signed up for laundry duty. Cora's jacket is still dirty from your guys' mud fight a while ago."
His answering groan was worth hearing her bright laughter flood the house.
"You have the map?"
"Yes, Der Bear, it's right here." Laura answered, holding up for her brother to see.
"All packed up and ready to go," Cora pipped in, dusting her hands off before patting one of the many bags saddled on the horse.
"What about all your tools, just in case?"
Cora snorted and Laura let out a soft sigh, coming over to rest of soothing hand on his chest, "We're bringing extra just in case, but not everything. We'll be okay, Derek, I promise."
"A few days tops?" He asked tentatively.
Laura nodded, "A few days tops."
A few days passed and left with no sign of Laura or Cora.
They didn't show up on the fourth day and by then Derek couldn't even read his book to keep his mind occupied. He stared out of the window the whole day, seeing if they'd show up at any moment so he could go out and greet them. And each second they didn't he wondered if Finstock had given them a wrong map.
The skies didn't look like they were intending to stay friendly for Laura's and Cora's trip home either. Hoards of white clouds soon turned to gray and the light rain quickly turned into a soft sheet of snow.
The clouds on the fifth morning looked as black as Finstock's dirty coat (at one point it had been brown) and only drew darker.
No matter what he told himself he couldn't get his head to believe it.
Laura and Cora weren't the type to wander. They wouldn't waste time on things they didn't have to. Nor would they purposefully take longer than necessary.
They could have gotten robbed for their invention and left to rot on the side of the road somewhere. Or they won first prize and someone got jealous of them and killed them both and claimed the prize instead. Or they both had gotten sick traveling around and now had a terminally ill fever.
Most of his thoughts were outrageous and probably fueled from all the books he's read. But he couldn't help the nagging feeling that his sisters needed him. And maybe that was just fueled from the loneliness of the cottage being so empty.
They could have gotten lost, and with the storm out they'd possibly freeze to death.
Not even hot chocolate had eased that thought.
Nor did the thought of being safe and under the blankets throughout the night or having all of the food here with him or the warm fire he could start and start again make him want to stay home. Or even being here when his sisters finally came back.
Derek glanced out the window and then to his jacket by the door. The snow outside gave him all the prompting he needed.