“Derek,” Laura gives her a little brother a tired sigh, “I think it’s time we got you some professional help.”
Derek frowns, the corners of his lips creasing downwards into his trademark grimace, the ones his fans loved so much. He can read the resignation in the lines of Laura’s body: the curve of her spine, the weighted cant of her hips, the brittle dryness of her eyes. He knows that he has put that there, worn her down and tired her out. There is determination in her as well: the set of her shoulders, the steel hardness in the line of her lips, the way she is rooted to the floor pulling energy reserves from the earth. It would be foolish to fight her on this.
“I’ll see whoever you want me to see.” He shrugs. “I trust you.” It’s not like he actually has to talk to whoever she sends him to. It’ll be a waste of money, but they have the money to waste (they had it even before his fame) and it will get her off his back.
“It’s too late for that.” Laura brushes a wayward lock of hair behind her ear. “I should have,” she took a deep breath, “I’ve already called Asklepios Health Clinic they have a place waiting for you--
“No.” This is more than just seeing someone once or twice a week and not talking. This is being locked away like a crazy person. He can’t do this.
“You punched a paparazzo in the face. You threatened another with your guitar case.” Derek flinches as she drags the front page of last weeks Post out of her back pocket. The picture of Derek’s swing connecting with the man’s face rendered in full color. “If you won’t do it for you and you won’t do it for me, do it for your career because otherwise you won’t have one. I have gotten calls from venues. They don’t want you there if we can’t give them proof that their staff are safe from your rages. You want to tour? You want to growl and menace on stage in front of your adoring fans as you curl around that Gibson?”
Derek knows better than to say anything, not when Laura is like this. She hasn’t adjusted well either, and while she doesn’t get loud or violent her voice cuts, and no one’s words hurt like Laura’s words do.
“You’re going to Asklepios.”
AHC is hidden away in the woods of Beacon Hills, looking more like a spa retreat nestled in the hollow between two knolls that have been cleared of trees. Derek has a duffel and his guitar and Laura at his side until he’s officially checked in and they’ve shooed Laura away until it’s time for her to pick him up when all of this is over. It’s just him, his guitar, his duffel, and a beaming orderly that he wants to strangle.
He doesn’t have to share a room with anyone and the walls of his room aren’t a simple sterile white. They’re a cool damp looking blue-grey like fog in fall and his mother’s eyes. He knows better than to punch the wall. He punches the bed instead, the give of the spring under her his fist isn’t as satisfying as the crunch of the wall and the rip of skin across his knuckles but it’s something.
It takes him awhile to figure out what to do after that. They’ve given him time to settle in before taking him on a tour and introducing him to “his team” before letting him meet all the other wayward celebrities and rich housewives and rebellious teens holing up at AHC. He just sits there for awhile not looking at walls the color of his mother’s eyes before pulling out his guitar.
At first he just holds it. Then, he’s letting it out, feelings dancing along the fretboard, words tripping off his tongue. There is no true melody, not yet, this is too raw and fresh and uncontrolled for that.
“I’ve had a mouthful of sky
I’ve got a headful of trees
A thousand miles away is where I’d rather be”
He’s on his way to meet “his team” the first time he sees the boy, eyes red-rimmed, stumbling along with the assistance of a nurse. The boy is a mess, but there is something desperate in showing up to this place trashed that calls to Derek like a magnet. It has nothing to do with pale skin spotted with freckles and moles or the amber of his eyes and everything to do with the way his feet stutter as he walks and the grasp of his long fingers around the nurse’s arm.
His team is spread around the faux living room where they have been waiting for him. Some of them are standing, leaving the couch conspicuously empty. Derek slouches onto it, ignoring the urge to spread out and take up as much space as he possibly can—they left the whole thing for him after all.
“Welcome, Derek,” The man in the armchair opposite him smiles dazzlingly at him, his pale face a mask of charm. “I’m Doctor Jonathon Toov and I’ll be your lead psychologist while you’re here. I’ll be working closely with your other therapists and with Dr. Darzi to come up with a full plan of treatment for you, and I will be helping you with your anger management and any other daily issues that might come up.” Derek stares at the man blankly. “I think you’re going to benefit from your time here.” Derek can’t help himself, he rolls his eyes at that. The man probably says it to every one of his patients that rolls in. “The rest of the team is made up of Dr. Marisa Costa. She is a psychologist specializing in trauma and grief counseling.”
The woman smiles at him. She is slender, slick, and pointed, with shiny curls pulled back tightly from her face. Derek thinks she looks kind in a manufactured way. Her hair is the same color as his mothers. He had thought he was over that color, past the resemblence it carries. He sees it everyday on Laura but something about the way this woman’s hair curls sends him back.
Dr. Toov brings him back, “Elizabeth Afolyan, your occupational therapist. She’ll help you with specific techniques to get through your work day.” The dark-skinned woman nods to him from her stool next to the faux fireplace, one foot solidly on the carpet the other on a rung of the stool. “Aidan J. Bierne will be your art therapist. His specialty is music.” The youngest looking man in the room, wearing jeans with his sweater vest gives him a jaunty wave and Derek sinks into the couch. He detests working with bubbly people. “And of course there is Dr. Kama Darzi.” Dr. Toov gestures at the Indian man who has been all but hiding in the corner for the duration of the meeting.
“A pleasure.” The man steps forward smiling silently. “I prefer to be unobtrusive.” The man says to Derek’s look. “I will be evaluating what place medication should have a place in treatment, if it should have a place at all, and I will be making suggestions to Dr. Toov about the specifics of your treatment. We’ll start with an evaluative questionare.” He pulls a folder of papers out of his briefcase.
Derek raises one incredulous eyebrow. “I have to take a test?”
Derek heads to the dining hall after his “test”, a long multiple choice evaluation of his moods and behaviors. From the test he has a feeling that he’ll be diagnosed as depressed but he’s not sure what the rest of it will add up to.
Dinner looks good for clinic food, poached fish in some sort of sauce with what he thinks are green beans and rice. He finds a table that none of the clinic’s cliques have occupied and sits down to a solitary silence filled by the sounds of cutlery and other people’s conversations. It’s almost relaxing. His almost relaxing is interrupted by the dull thud of tray on table, complete with rattling of real metal cutlery.
“I don’t really want company.” Derek glares up at the guy across from him. He’s younger than Derek and black with broad muscular shoulders.
“And I don’t really want to talk.” The guy shrugs as he sits down. “They get on you if you sit alone, something about anti-social behavior.” They eat quietly for awhile. Each of them minding their own business until some doctor that Derek doesn’t know walks past.
Boyd speech is ambling, slow in a way that was so relaxed it had to be practised. “Nod like I said something interesting.”
“Nod? Why not laugh.” Derek raises an eyebrow at the guy, who looks incredulous.
“You don’t seem like a laugher.” Derek snorts and gives the guy his requested nod, which gets him an approving look from the guy.
“Derek.” It’s then that the boy from before comes in, walking on his own but eyes still red-rimmed, moving like he doesn’t know what proper control of his body is, like he hasn’t grown into his limbs yet. Derek can’t help watching him and the way his hands grip his tray, knuckles white and grasping as he trips to his seat.
“And that’s Stiles.” Boyd smirks knowingly and Derek grabs his knife gripping it tight to keep from knocking the smirk from Boyd’s face.
“He’s a repeat offender.”
Derek nods. There’s only one way that Boyd could have known about the repeat offender without talking to Stiles first and the boy came to the place trashed so that was out of the question. “How many times have you been here, then?”
Boyd gave Derek a dimpled smile. “Fifth time.” He scooped up a forkful of green beans. The thought of having to come back to this place made him shiver. He could understand why Stiles arrived red-rimmed and wobbly.
Boyd just chuckles at Derek’s discomfit and continues eating. Derek realizes he’s still gripping his knife and as he lets go it’s clear that he was holding the wrong end. He glances down and sees his hand spotted with blood from the knife’s tiny teeth. He wipes it off on his hand. Boyd pretends not to notice.
At the end of the day Derek ends up back in his room, staring at the walls. He starts to sink into slumber as he sits on his hard mattress but every time his eyes slip halfway closed his sees flames lick up the sides of the rooms.
He pulls out his guitar to make it stop but just ends up swiping at the strings with dischord bouncing around his head. It’s not long before he puts it away and crawls into bed so he can scream into his pillow.
It turns out Boyd is in Derek’s art therapy group, the first thing scheduled for Derek’s morning. Derek’s not happy about having to deal with bubbly Aidan so early in the morning or with the way all the chairs are making a mocking circle. He nods at Boyd and sits next to him because he’s mostly sure that Boyd won’t get too emotional no matter what happens. They nod at each other before Aidan starts playing an a capella song that was all softness and light called “Gold”. It made something in Derek’s stomach curdle and pinpricks to climb up his spine. He couldn’t stop shifting in his seat. He wasn’t the only one; there was a blond girl sitting across from him that was having the same problem.
“So how did that make everyone feel?” Aidan asks the group in the quiet after the song ends. Derek has promised himself that he wouldn’t talk at these things so he keeps his displeasure to himself.
“Well, I didn’t like it.” The blond gives Aidan a look down her nose that is all condescension and loathing before smiling at Derek with too much teeth.
Derek can tell that Aidan is holding down a sigh and it helps to know that even someone who seems so incessant has patience that can be worn down. “Why don’t you like it, Erica?”
Her smile goes lopsided and smirking when she directs it at Aidan, “That soft, pansy ass, shit? Really?”
Derek can’t help the way his lips twitch at that.
It turns out that after they share their feelings about “Gold” they get to head to practice rooms and improvise as an effort to “express themselves”.
Derek pounds out variations on a theme. It’s “Gold”, but more brassy, with harsh angles that weren’t in the original. It’s still slow but it’s not smooth and it’s not sweet; it’s been transformed into a rough bluesy dirge. As he plays, he gets a sour taste in his mouth and his chest starts to ache, but he can’t stop.
“Cause if your skin was soil / How long do you think before they start digging?” He let’s the words be pulled from his throat, raspy even in mid-range. It reminds him of wet earth and the aconite that grows wild in the graveyard where his family is buried and the way Laura cried enough for the both of them.
He has his first session with Doctor Darzi since his evaluation. Words like post-traumatic stress disorder and anger management get thrown around, but Derek zones out through most of it. Doctor Darzi tries to get him to talk but he doesn’t feel like it, not when the questions all seem to circle around the fire, Kate’s lips, and the smell of his mother’s perfume.
He doesn’t see the boy Stiles anywhere at lunch, but he sits with Boyd and it was just the two of them until Erica slouches into a chair, claiming ownership of the whole table. While she is taking all the attention, making her stake, a tall, curly haired boy slips into a chair.
“You gonna introduce us, Boyd?” She is all calculated flirting as she bites into an apple, ignoring Derek even as she talks about him.
Boyd coughs. “Yeah, this is Derek.” He gestures in what could be said to beDerek’s direction but looks more like he’s flicked his hand at the wall. “Derek this is Erica and Isaac.”
“Thank you, Boyd.” Erica smiles and for a second she actually manages to look sweet. Then she turns her attention on Derek. “So what are you in for?”
“Anger management, PTSD,” Derek shrugs attempting to be non-chalant. He figures in a place like this owning the labels they’ve slapped on you might be the right thing to do. “How about you?”
Erica tsks at him. “That’s a rude question, Derek.” She grins at him but it doesn’t take the sting out of the scolding and trickery nor does she answer the question.
He meets with Dr. Costa after lunch. The way she smiles at him is kind but cookie cutter; it doesn’t put him at ease. “Hello, Derek, how are you settling in? I hope the transition hasn’t been too rough.”
They’re both trying not to be engulfed by the armchairs in her office. She is leaning forward like a good listener should, wirey arms and shapely calves actually forcing their way out of the plush confines. Derek is perched on the edge of his chair. He can’t lean back, he can’t sink in, he can’t get comfortable, even though he can fill the chair pulling at him to give in.
“It’s okay.” He tries not to say anymore for the rest of their meeting.
Even when she asks, “Can you tell me about the fire, Derek?”
His only response is, “It was hot.”
Stiles is at dinner the next day. The young man sits on his own limbs sprawled around him even as he eats. He can’t be drunk anymore after three days in but he seems sedated, his movements slow and unfocused. Still, there is something about him. He’s not sure if it’s risdual fascination from his desperate first appearance, or if there is just something about him.
Derek stands when he sees him, only to be tugged perfunctorily back into his seat by Boyd. “Nurse Finstock.” Finstock was one of the nurses that looked after the alcoholics and made sure that any possible symptoms of alcohol withdrawal were kept in check. He tended to stalk the patients that he personally felt weren’t on enough of the chlordiazepoxide that kept them from having seizures. He didn’t seem like a bad sort, but Derek still didn’t feel comfortable talking to Stiles under his watchful eyes.
In their next session with Aidan they get a project. In four weeks each of them is going to share a song that shows how they feel. The songs can be recorded song by a professional artist or performed. Derek isn’t sure if he’s pleased or not; he is already thinking of what he wants to sing though. He thinks about Breaking Benjamin’s song Breakdown. Its been one of those songs that reverberates in his bones. He’s just not sure if it fits anymore. Does being at the clinic mean he’s already had a breakdown and isn’t just heading for one anymore?
He sees Stiles alone the next day during a bit of free time and makes his move. The young man with the close cropped hair, is using one chair and three ottomons to hold himself up, with an ottomon under his back, one for each foot, and his head on a chair. Derek can’t help but think that Stiles has been strung out like laundry. Stiles eyes are closed so he doesn’t see Derek even when he’s looming over him and Derek takes the opportunity to scrutinize his face. He tries not to count the moles on Stiles face and fails.
“Stiles?” He calls eventually, and big round eyes that are somewhere between amber and mahogany flash open bright like the source-4s used in his concerts as Stiles tumbles to the floor.
“This is personal time. I don’t sign autographs here. Especially not for face staring lurkers.” He grumps.
“Autographs?” Derek squints at the face in front of him looking for some sort of familiar feature and wondering if Boyd hadn’t left out delusional when he summed up while Stiles was in residence.
“Um. Yeah? Young literary genius Stiles Stilinski. That is why you’re disturbing my time, yes?” He waves a dismissive hand and Derek’s not sure if he’s being dismissed or the title of young literary genius.
“I don’t read much.” Derek shrugs.
“Then how do you know my name?” Stiles’ glare is accusatory. Stiles breaks off the glare to wiggle into a comfortable position on the floor rather than get back up.
“Boyd.” Derek folds himself down until he’s sitting cross-legged next to him.
Stiles softens and then frowns, his face pulled south in a way that has Derek trying not to smile. “I didn’t say you could sit with me.”
Derek doesn’t move. “You write?”
“Yeah. I’m supposed to be writing now actually. My publishing company refused to move my deadline back, they think I should be able to meet my deadline even more now that I’m in here.” He snorts and then raises an eyebrow, “You really don’t know who I am? The gossip rags have been having a go at me lately.”
“I stay away from them.” Derek resists the urge to tug at the immaculate carpet. “They don’t do me any favors either.” At Stiles look he adds, “I’m a singer.”
“Hmm.” Stiles looks at Derek appraisingly. “Are you one of those angry white boy rockers? You’ve got the dark and brooding look down.”
“What’s wrong with angry rock music?” Derek growls. He loves the genre. It’s one of his favorites. He just can’t sing it. It close vocally to the rough growling way he sings but not close enough.
“Nothing!” Stiles puts his hands up defensively. Derek figures Stiles hasn’t known him long enough to know when he’s truly angry. He’s not being menacing at all.
Derek snorts “I sing blues.”
Stiles pulls in on himself then, “My mom liked the blues.”
Derek fades, “So did mine.” He ignores the charred scent filling his nostrils by clenching his fists so that his nails dig into the soft of his palms.
Stiles sits with them at lunch that day and Derek’s heart leaps into his throat. He doesn’t ask if he can sit down, he just plops down his tray with a nod at Boyd.
“How goes it?”
“Same old thing.” Boyd nods back.
“I know what you mean.” The corners of Stiles’ lips quirk up but he’s not quite smiling. Still it feels as if there has been some official ceremony to add a new body to their table.
“So we have a pet dweeb, now?” Erica arches an eyebrow at Derek but she smiles at Stiles and it’s not her most predatory so Derek thinks that means she’s okay with it but he’s not quite sure.
Isaac just nods at Stiles. “Hey.”
“Can you tell me about the fire, Derek?” It’s the question Dr. Costa always asks. He’s supposed to get used to thinking about the fire, to talking about it.
“There was just as much smoke as you’d expect.” Derek let’s his head fall back on the chair so he’s staring at the ceiling. He pretends like there are no trails of smoke dragging across his vision.
Derek wakes the next day with an itch under his skin. It’s a warm itch; it sticks and clings making his skin feel as if its rolling and bunching, too tight and too loose at the same time. While he’s getting ready for his day he looks at himself in the mirror and is so overcome with self-loathing that he growls. He imagines that it rattles the mirror in it’s frame.
He eats breakfast with Boyd, Erica, and Isaac. They seem to realize that something is up because other than Erica’s comment, “Someone’s on their period today” They eat in silence.
After breakfast he has free time. They’re supposed to socialize or something but Derek only decides not to go back to his room because he doesn’t want them to come check on him. Instead he drops unceremoniously into an armchair, head falling back so that he can feel the prickle of the fabric against the back of his neck.
He hears the soft smush of the armchair next to him when someone else sits down.
“I’d rather not have any company.” He grits out without looking at his companion.
“You don’t own this chair.” He can hear the smirk in the guy’s voice before he tilts his head up to look at him. The guy is on a list of people they gave him that are going to be in some sort of PTSD support group with him, incase he wanted to get to know them before hand. His name is Mich or Mike or something else with that grating M sound at the front.
He just continues sitting there smirking at him, smug like he won something. Derek can’t stop himself from reaching out and grabbing the guy by the back of his head and smashing it into the coffee table in front of them.
The guy, Matt Derek remembers suddenly, is stunned for a while. Then he’s leaping up glaring at Derek, his hands in fists.
Derek doesn’t move.
Derek doesn’t move.
“I said get up!”
Derek smiles as he finally stands, his body thrumming with anticipation. He likes the way Matt’s eyes crinkle as he glares up at him. When they get deeper it’s a dead giveaway for what Matt’s about to do. When the shove comes Derek is ready for it; he doesn’t move. He just swings, catching Matt hard on the jaw. It’s a hard crack across his knuckles barely blunted by the softness of skin. It doesn’t take Matt as long to recover as Derek thought it would and he’s surprised when the blow catches him at the top of his cheekbone. The sting of the hit is undercut with a dull throbbing ache, that he can tell is going to get worse before it gets better. He doesn’t mind; it’s a good pain, the kind he needs, the kind he deserves. It doesn’t stop him from taking a shot at the soft flesh of Matt’s stomach. The dull thwap of skin and cotton mixing with the rush of blood in his ears, and the off of Matt’s lungs emptying. He gets a hold on Matt’s collar with his other hand and pulls him close for two more hits. Then there are hands on him pulling him back. He tries to fight them off and is rewarded with a sharp prick pressing into his neck.
He wakes up in his room with a note saying he needs to meet with Dr. Toov when he’s awake on his bedside table.
“What happened this morning, Derek?” Dr. Toov sounds concerned like he cares why Derek attacked another patient but Derek doesn’t trust it.
“I didn’t like his face.” Derek shrugs.
“And that’s it?” Dr. Toov raises an eyebrow at him.
“He was smug; I needed to wipe that smirk off his face.” Derek picks at the wrist of his henley. Dr. Toov doesn’t say anything. “He wouldn’t leave me alone. I asked him to and he wouldn’t.” Derek doesn’t know why he’s talking to this man and he doesn’t like talking to this man but there’s a wind rushing through him, cleaning him out.
“And starting a fight seemed like the appropriate response at the time?” Derek flinches when he looks up at Dr. Toov. He can’t take the softness in the man’s eyes like he understands something about Derek that he didn’t before. Derek doesn’t know where he could have gotten it from.
“It was the response that felt good at the time.” He crouches in on himself, waiting for the negative reaction.
Dr. Toov’s only response is a question, “Was it satisfying?”
Derek actually has to stop and think about that one for a moment. “When he hit me back.”
“So I hear you’re dangerous.” Stiles put his tray down next to Derek’s at dinner--Boyd, Erica, and Isaac were all still in line. “Matt sure thinks so, but he probably deserved it. He’s shifty.” Stiles smiles, all gawky, nervous energy. He still hasn’t sat down.
“It’s okay; you can sit.” Derek fights the smile tugging at the corners of his mouth--he can’t believe that Stiles actually waited for permission.
“Good.” Stiles folds himself into the chair, trying to contain himself to the small square of space that will keep him out of Derek’s. “Because I wouldn’t want to have a face meets table kind of accident. Or in this case, face meets food.”
“You’re not going to have an accident.” Derek lets himself smirk, as he digs into his peas. “I like your face.”
Stiles sputters. “Are you sure? I have it on good authority that my face is not likeable. I have been told by a very reliable source that my face is unfortunately awkward and there is no arguing with Lydia Martin.”
“Lydia Martin?” Derek has to fight down the heat rising up inside of him. He knows it’s irrational to hate this girl he’s never met over a man he hasn’t even known a week but he does. Stiles’ face is anything but unfortunate and if Stiles is awkward it is nothing but endearing.
“She’s a friend. She’s the reason I am where I am, that I’m a famous author. She sent my first manuscript off to the people who are now my publishers, without my permission, I might add.” Stiles smiles wistfully. “She’s perfect, in the dangerous genius with strawberry blond hair kind of way.”
Boyd settles into the seat across from Derek and distracts him from his growing hate for Lydia Martin.
“Did you really growl at Matt before you made him headbut the desk?” Erica asks as she drops her tray onto the table next to Boyd’s. Isaac is with her, one eyebrow raised with a curious interest.
“I don’t growl.” Derek glowers at the girl across the table but she just laughs.
Derek wishes he could hit Aidan. The songs he picks are all slow and sad and cause something to twist in Derek’s gut, threatening to break.
“Where is the sun in the night / Is it cold, is it cold / Does it feel left behind / All alone, all alone.” The words chill through him, like the ache left behind after a fever. It resonates in the bruise on his cheek, close of enough to his eye to make both of them sting. “Does it wander through the dark / Does it wait for the dawn, wish on a star / Does it stray very far / Very far.” The high clear sound is like ice in the art therapy room.
It wasn’t night when they burned, but the smoke turned the sky black. There was no sun, just flame, but he felt cold anyway. They said it was shock.
In the practice room, he tries to mimic the sounds he heard, voice lighter and higher than usual, breathy. “If there's no home is there no death / Is there no death.” The difference makes him feel weaker than usual, like the very sounds he is making could break him, but he can’t rasp this out low and throaty. The song is too delicate for his angry blunt fingers, but he tries because it hurts.
“You didn’t set the fire, Derek.” Dr. Costa is sleek as always, but her eyes are soft and there is one stray hair curling down her brow.
“But Kate did.” Derek doesn’t want Dr. Costa look at him. He is sure the shame is all over his face. If he hadn’t fallen for the pretty face, the charming words, and the feel of her fingers on his skin they wouldn’t be dead, his family wouldn’t have been reduced to Laura. He loves Laura but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t miss his mom or the large, raucous family he once had.
He spends the rest of the day with Kate’s scent in his nose. His perfume stuck in his brain with the memory of the tickle of her hair. A song rollicks around his brain, one he hates because it reminds him of her. He grabs his guitar the first chance he gets and stalks off to the first secluded place he can find where he can still hear the voices of other people because he can’t be alone with these thoughts.
He finds a window ledge and curls around this external piece of himself, an extension of his arm. “She ain’t ever gonna love you. She ain’t ever gonna love you.” The sound drags itself out of his mouth cutting his throat, a curling rasp of smoke in the air. “Gypsy woman, don’t stop for no one / She’ll sit right down at the back of your mind.”
“Black snake’s gonna bite.” She was venomous, he could see it now; why couldn’t he see it then? “She’s gonna leave you alone.” He let the words be pulled up from his diaphragm, dragged rough through him, scraping at his insides. “Gypsy woman don’t stop for no one / She’ll sit right down at the back of your mind.”
He looks up to see Stiles there, watching him. “So you really are a singer?” Stiles’ smile is stiff with tension. “You’re really good. I mean you are really good.” Stiles wiggled his shoulders awkwardly making Derek wonder what was up. “Is that one of your songs?”
“No. It’s by this group Chase the Sun; it’s got a similar feel to a lot of my songs, they're a bit twangier, though.” Derek watches Stiles watching him and coughs out, “It reminds me of a woman I used to know.”
“She hurt you.” Derek’s sure its written all over his face. He doesn’t know why Stiles had to actually say.
“You can say that.” Derek huffed a smirk. “She tried to burn me and my entire family alive.” He shrugged woodenly with one arm. “She succeeded mostly.”
Something flashes behind Stiles eyes, but he doesn’t say he’s sorry or that’s awful or do anything that tries to apologize for something that had nothing to do with him. Instead, Stiles says, “I have writers block.” Then he smiles, a real smile this time. “I heard a rumor we’re getting chocolate cake tonight.”
Derek actually laughs at the non-sequitor. “Is the cake here any good.”
“Not the lemon cake,” Stiles wrinkles his nose at the thought of the place’s dry brittle excuse for lemon cake, “but the chocolate cake is A plus.” He makes the O.K. hand sign, to signify perfect cake, while nodding enthusiastically.
“Do you want to hear one of my songs?” Derek wants to perform for this man, prowl and preen and show off for him. It makes him dizzy when he thinks about just how much he wants that. He’s been avoiding what this draw to Stiles might mean, what this desire to make him light up like a concert sign means but it’s there, making his heart pound at the idea that he could perform just for Stiles.
It hits him at dinner when the way Stiles twirls his fork in his spaghetti (from his wrist and not with his fingers) makes his breath catch that his intrigue in the desperate young man on his first day has turned into something else. He has to resist the urge to cradle his head in his hands with the realization that he has a crush, has had a crush since the first time he talked to Stiles.
“Do you know what song you’re doing for that sappy sharing thing Aidan wants us to do?” Erica flips a lock of long blond hair over shoulder with all the haughtiness of a high schooler for whom nothing is quite cool enough even when it’s something they’re interested in.
“I’m thinking Love is Dangerous by Blink-182.” He says the song title without thinking about it. It’s not even what he was planning, it’s just there, on his tongue, heavy like musk and damp earth, tinged with peppermint. Derek can feel Stiles’ eyes on him, can feel how they’re searching for something, a clue or a chink or a story--Derek isn’t sure which.
Isaac hums a few measures. “That’s a good song.” He glances at Erica looking for some sign that what he said was alright. “I don’t know what I’m going to pick, I just know I’m not going to sing.”
Boyd chuckles, “I think I’m going to sing. It’ll feel good. There’s a song I want to sing but it’s for two people so I don’t know if I’ll be able to do it.”
“I-” Erica starts before biting her lip and going back to twirling her spaghetti fork scraping against her spoon.
“You guys get to sing about your feelings?” Stiles raised an eyebrow. “Why do I end up drawing stick figures and talking to an awkward group of sweaty alcoholics about what led me to the bottle?”
“Because you are an awkward sweaty alcoholic?” Erica rolled her eyes and elbowed Stiles in the side good naturedly if too hard.
“I’m not sweaty. I am as dry as an always pad.” Stiles rubbed his side petulantly. “Why are you so boney?”
Later, in his room he tries to rework the song into something that will work for him. “I've had it with this damn double vision / My hand swollen, I can't keep holding on,” but it does this high nearly nasal that also sits in the throat, that he’s never been able to manage. Stiles face keeps flashing in his mind as he plays flickering in, in the gaps of Kate’s constant presence. The song is wrapped up with the feel of her pulse and the crackle of sparks. Sometimes, he can’t listen to the song at all because his nose floods with smoke, he can’t breathe, and he can’t hear anything over the sound of screams.
“Love / Love is dangerous.”
“What can you tell me about the fire, Derek?” He wants to hit Dr. Costa every time she asks that question, wipe the kind smile off her face. A smile is too glib for the situation.
“There’s nothing like the sound of your family burning alive or the smell of their burning flesh.” There is an edge to his voice and Dr. Costa’s eyes go soft but the rest of her face stays the same. Derek remembers clutching Laura’s hand as they watched.
Boyd isn’t at breakfast the next day. It makes something fizzle nervously inside of Derek. Boyd has been a constant in his life at AHC and he doesn’t like this change. Erica pretends not to notice that Boyd is missing but she is curling a strand of hair around her finger in a way that Derek has never seen before. Isaac just looks lost.
Boyd isn’t in art therapy and when Aidan doesn’t mention it Derek knows that something is going on. He’s just not sure what. He doesn’t listen to the day’s song because he’s worried about his friend. He barely touches his guitar in the practice room. He just lets his fingers drum against his thigh. Waiting. For what he’s not sure.
Boyd isn’t at lunch and he’s not dinner.
“He’s going to be fine.” Stiles smiles weakly at his dinner companions. He can’t stop drumming his knife on the table but he’s still trying to reassure everyone. “He’s in good hands. That’s why he’s here.”
Isaac smiles at Stiles for that, grateful and Derek can’t help but give Stiles a smile of his own. Erica just frowns into her chicken parmesan.
“How have you been doing?” Boyd asks like he hasn’t been missing the last three days.
“I’m alright.” Derek shrugs. He’s not going to unload on Boyd, especially not when he’s got people here paid to listen to his problems. “You?”
“It’s life.” Boyd shrugs back. “They’re still working on finding the right cocktail.” And it’s as close as Boyd will come to saying why he wasn’t around.
Boyd shifts and Derek notices the guitar at his feet. “I didn’t know you play.”
Boyd snorts. “Yeah, well, not everyone is the big bad Derek Hale. I just play for fun every now and again. Erica’s helping me with my song for Aidan.”
“Nice,” Derek says but something inside of him clenches at that. He knows his two friends are interested in each other as more than friends, however impossible that might be here, but the idea of them growing closer makes his heart stutter with fear. Derek knows better than to say anything, though; it’s just his damage.
“I want to rename all of my characters in the book I working on after people I’ve met here.” Stiles tells him the next day. They’re at a table in the rec room. Stiles has a notebook out in front of him, a pen in hand.
Derek doesn’t say anything. It’s like Stiles has just pulled the ground out from under his feet.
“It’s just that you guys are all really good.” Stiles swallows. “I mean like you’re really good people and you’re good to me, too. You each have your own issues but that doesn’t stop you from being good.” Stiles look away from Derek and down at his hands that tearing strips of paper out of his notebook in curls. “Especially you, you’re gruff, but you haven’t beat anyone up since Matt--I still think he had it coming--but you never yelled at me when I started creeping on you and your friends and I think you might actually like me instead of just tolerate me and--”
Derek grabs Stiles hand to keep him from ruining the rest of the notebook. “I more than tolerate you, Stiles, I like you. You can use my name.” It still feels like Stiles has pulled the ground out from under him, but with the way Stiles is smiling at him, it’s actually kind of pleasant.
“Don’t run from the comin’ storm / there ain’t no use in runnin’” The song made the hairs on the back of Derek’s neck stand up. The bad things in life couldn’t be inevitable. There had to be someway to change them. Maybe, he couldn’t have stopped Kate but he could have noticed the fire sooner. He could have gotten his family out. Despite how the song made him feel, he could hear how he could bring it down and grind out, in a way that had his name scrawled haphazardly across it.
“When that love calls / Open up your door / You gotta stand on up and let it in / You gotta let love through your door.” Playing it back frustrated him. He couldn’t make it sound anything less than terrifying and depressing. Love was supposed to be hopeful and full of joy--why was he making it sound like a funeral dirge? The hope is there in his chest, so why can’t he let it out?
Why was Kate such a cancer? Why couldn’t he just delete all memory of her.
“What can you tell me about the fire, Derek?” Derek stiffens. Dr. Costa has asked the question before but there is something different this time. Her voice settles over him like spider-silk, soft but strong.
“I remember how my mom sounded.” He starts. He can’t remember the game they were watching. He wasn’t paying attention. Laura was talking about something and he had one of his baby cousins standing in his lap, grabbing at his face. “She’d told Laura and me to go to the kitchen to get some more snacks.” He’d given Tommy back to Aunt Clara before climbing up the stairs. “I remember how she sounded when the fire reached them. I could hear her voice. She was screaming. She used to sing and it was like that but ripped apart, like her soul was burning too.” Derek takes a deep halting breath. His chest is tight and it tingles; breathing hurts. “We didn’t hear it at first. I was making popcorn in the microwave and Laura was trying to talk me into babysitting for Aunt Susie and Uncle Peter that night so she could go out with her friends.” Derek’s eyes sting with soot and he squeezes them shut to stop them watering. “Mom screamed. Laura dragged me out the kitchen door.”
Everyone is tense the day they’re sharing music. It’s like static in the air, the fear of judgement and of being misunderstood. A girl named Harley goes first. She pops her ipod into a speaker dock and Linkin Park’s Numb, starts playing. Derek can’t help but snort. He remembers those days. He’s not sure he ever got out of the undertow, but he was only numb for the first year. Then everything just hurt.
“I BECOME SO NUMB I CAN FEEL YOU THERE I BECOME SO TIRED SO MUCH MORE AWARE.” Derek has to stop himself from jumping out of seat when Harley starts screaming along with the chorus halfway through the song. Some people actually do jump out of their seats. One person falls. Derek doesn’t smile at everyone’s shock, even though he wants to; sometimes all you can do is scream along.
Next some man called Harris shares some pretentiously picked classical music with them and sits there smug, while they listen.
Boyd is the first person to actually choose to play live music, and he pulls up two chairs and his guitar so everyone can see. “I’m getting help for my song.” Boyd tells them with a nervous grin and Erica joins him. Each of them has a guitar. Erica’s hair is down, cascading over her shoulder, she looks peaceful especially compared to Boyd whose legs are stiff with tension.
“I’m a dead man walking here. That’s the least of all my fears.” Derek knows he shouldn’t be surprised by the smooth rich tones of Boyd’s singing voice. They’re the same as his speaking voice only stretched and groomed.
“Oooh, underneath the water.” Erica’s harmony is high and sweet enough that the bitter edge to how she sings is caustic. It’s perfect. Sweet and bitter and low on hope, it hits him low and hard in the stomach when he realizes that Boyd is saying that he feels damned.
When they finally roll around Derek, he’s not sure if he wants to do it. He’s not doing a song like anyone else. He feels all jumbled up and broken inside, so is his song, even if he’s going to try and smooth over the jagged edges with his guitar.
He doesn’t look at anyone before he starts. His stomach is twisting and he can feel their eyes on him; he can feel their expectations. It twists his stomach and tightens his throat. He has to swallow until his vocal chords stop constricting, over and over and over again while they wait for him to begin.
“Sometimes I feel like a motherless child,” He starts soft, voice trapped in his throat. “Sometimes, I feel like a motherless child.” His voice is stronger the second time but just barely. His eyes prick and he swallows it back, when he starts again his voice is stronger, audible but still vulnerable. It’s a feeling that makes the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. “Sometimes, I feel like a motherless child / A long way from home / A long way from home.”
“Sometimes, I feel like a motherless child,” segues into a harsher pained keening “Somebody get me through this nightmare / I can’t control myself.” His heart clenches and he tries to to remember that this is what it really feels like to share his blues. “Sometimes, I feel like a motherless child / Somebody help me through this nightmare / Sometimes, I feel like a motherless child / So what if you can see the darker side of me / This animal I have become - A long way from home / A long way from home.”
When he chances a look out, he has to try to keep his breath under control and hitch in his throat: they’re with him. “This world out here is lonely cold / Love, love is dangerous / This world out here is lonely cold / Love, love is dangerous / A long way from home / A long way from home.”
It feels good sharing and he almost stops before the end, but he continues and instead of stopping he lets the razor blade of fear into his voice, hoping it wont slice his heart to deeply on the way up. “When that love calls / Open up your door / When that love calls / Open up your door / When that love calls / Open up your door / You gotta stand on up and let it in / You gotta let love through your door.”
“Sometimes, I feel like a motherless child / Sometimes, I feel like a motherless child / Sometimes, I feel like a motherless child.” He’s finishes back at the beginning, scared and exhausted, “A long way from home / A long way from home,” but lighter. His heart is jack rabbiting his chest and he’s sweating but for once it doesn’t feel grimy like the muddy mix of sweat and soot that’s clung to him ever since that day.
Chapter 2: Epilogue
Derek keeps in contact with Boyd and Erica and Isaac once he finally gets out. He sees a shrink every week, a man who goes by David and is probably in his early thirties. David manages to be kind even when refusing to take Derek’s shit. They spend a lot of time talking about grief and love, and less time talking about guilt. Derek spends most of his time with Laura and her new beau. Derek likes the guy, mostly because of how he makes Laura laugh. Sometimes Derek doesn’t like the guy, mostly because of the way Laura’s been looking at babies lately.
Derek isn’t sure if he lost Stiles email address on purpose or not. He knows he could ask Boyd for it but his heart races whenever he thinks about it. Still, he misses the way Stiles’ moves and his moles and the light in his eyes when he talks about something he finds interesting. He doesn’t miss the way Stiles makes his stomach flutter like laundry in the wind, because Stiles still does. When he gets a call from Stiles’ publishing company asking him to perform at the release party for Stiles’ new book Derek can’t say no.
The party is larger than Derek thought a party for a book would be. He tries to spot Stiles face in the crowd from the low stage when he opens the night, but the place is packed and Stiles isn’t at the front. He tries to find Stiles but keeps getting stopped by editors.
“So you’re the real Derek.” They all seem to say while giving him a once over. He’s used to being objectified but the way they do it makes his skin crawl. He remembers Stiles’ distaste for the industry and finally truly understands it. After the fifth person stops him (a middle aged woman in a mauve pencil skirt, greying hair piled atop her head, and a predatory leer) he tries to find Stiles by the bar. He let’s out the breath he didn’t know he was holding when Stiles isn’t there.
He’s half-sure Stiles isn’t actually there when he finds him at the back of the room grasping at a bottled water and flanked by a floppy-haired young man and a figure cutting red-head.
Stiles is stuck somewhere between a frown and a smile and there are tired circles under his eyes but Derek just sees him standing there and can’t think of why he ever thought it was a good idea to not contact him. “I didn’t think I’d be able to find you.” He says once he realizes that just standing there drinking him is awkward and probably rude.
“I didn’t think you wanted to.” The redhead slips off at that, gesturing to Stiles other friend to follow her. He looks at Stiles for the okay and Derek is relieved when Stiles gives it. He doesn’t want to have this conversation with two people he doesn’t know listening in.
The silence that they’re left in feels gawky, the bones of their feelings to long for the space.
“I lost your email address.” Derek swallows, knowing it’s a lame excuse.
“I thought,” Stiles pauses to lick his lips and even that small move is hyped up with nervous energy. He takes a deep breath. “I liked you a lot.”
Derek can’t help but take a step into Stiles space at that. It’s probably the wrong thing to do but he doesn’t like words they don’t communicate things the way touch and raw sound do. Stiles just stares at him, eyes wide, waiting for something and Derek feels himself being drawn in, pulled into a collision course. He steps in and presses his lips against the softness of Stiles’. It feels like burning up. It feels like an asteroid breaking up in the heat of the sun. It’s not fire that’s meant to destroy it’s plasma, it’s light, it’s life sustaining. He pulls back flushed.
“That doesn’t fix everything.” Stiles isn’t smiling but the lines around his mouth are gone and his edges are smoother.
“Okay.” Derek nods before kissing him again.
Stiles calls Derek every night of his book signing tour. It makes Derek’s heart flutter and stomach tingle each time he hears Stiles’ voice, even if every day the slur of Stiles words gets worse.