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and grace will lead me home

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"Hospital," the night guard told him when he showed up to talk to Derek, and shook his head. "Man. They fucked him up bad."

Bob Sweeny knows about bad, and he knows about prison, and he doesn't need the sickened doctor to tell him what happened. He puts a quiet hand on Derek's shoulder while he sobs it out, teeth gritted against the sound, breath harsh, hands clutching his shaved skull. He watches, and he tries not to think about the kid from tenth-grade English class eight years ago, the skinny, sweet-faced kid with floppy hair and a sharp wit.

There's not much of that kid left, he thinks, looking at the ugly tattoos inked across Derek's powerful shoulders. Not much--but maybe enough.

"My help is not unconditional," he says, and watches a fierce comprehension dawn in Derek's eyes. He won't accept sympathy, and truth be told, Bob has very little of that to offer anyway. But he can offer a cause, and maybe a way for Derek to negotiate his own salvation.

It is, he knows, more than anyone else has offered the boy in years.