I woke slowly, the sun’s first rays dappling the wall across from me. Derek was still asleep, breathing deeply and clutching me gently. I had managed to get him all the way on the bed before he drifted off last night; it wouldn’t do for him to get all his emotional healing done and wake up with a giant knot in his back because he slept on it wrong.
I smiled to myself. He looked so peaceful like this; it was a shame to wake him. Sure, he still smelled like a sewer, since he had never gotten a chance to shower, but it’s surprising how easy that is to get used to.
I decided to just let him sleep; he’d rise on his own soon enough. There was some hair in his face—I went to carefully brush it out of the way.
His arm immediately jerked and gripped my wrist like an iron vise.
Okay, not so cute anymore.
“Sorry,” he said after a moment, releasing me. He hadn’t even opened his eyes. “Force of habit.”
“Where do you pick up a habit like that?”
He chuckled softly, and started tracing patterns on my belly through my shirt. “Sleeping in a rat warren, that’s where.” He sighed. “No way out until the Necessarians showed up with fire support. We didn’t really have a choice.”
I frowned, though he couldn’t see me. “You and Akane?”
He nodded, and pulled himself a little higher up, sharing the edge of the pillow. Although I was using them as a backrest, rather than as pillows, so we still weren’t quite even. “That was almost five years ago. MC had just started taking over the communications system. We were some of the first to talk to her.”
“And…did Akane try anything?”
“Hm? Like what?”
“Like…trying to cuddle you or something.”
He shrugged. “A little. It was cold.”
“Right. Was that her excuse, or yours?”
“Oh, mine, I guess. She kept joking around, talking about going to a hotel after we got out.” He sighed. “I really wish she wouldn’t screw around with me like that. It gives me headaches.”
Ever so slowly, the pieces began to fall into place.
I chose my words carefully. “So…you get headaches whenever a girl hits on you?”
I remembered his behavior during his party yesterday. “And that includes hugs and so on, right?”
He nodded again, his eyes still closed. “Yeah, any time a girl starts screwing with me, my head just starts splitting.”
“Okay…” I bit my lip. “But…you don’t have a headache right now. Right?”
He snuggled a little closer. “Nope. Probably because its you.”
I had a feeling that wasn’t it. “What about last night, when the girls were propositioning you? You have a headache then?”
“Hm. Now, that you mention it, no.”
As I thought. Of course, they might actually have been joking that time, so it might not be the best example. “And…you said part of Lizzy’s—I mean, the Composer’s—hypnotism was that you ignored all girls other than her, right?”
Derek’s grip on me loosened.
He stopped tracing my stomach through my shirt.
There was a very, very long pause. I think it went on for ten minutes.
“Derek?” I said quietly.
He suddenly jerked upright, eyes wide open and staring at me.
“They weren’t joking,” he said with forced calm.
“That’s…right,” I replied slowly. “So?”
“No! They were never joking!” His turned away and started pulling at his hair. “The time in the rat warren, and when they tried to kiss me…oh God.” He stared at me, his eyes wild. “Remember when I was chewing out Ling after the whole skins incident? She actually tried to seduce me!”
“Uh, yeah,” I noted with a raised eyebrow. “That was kinda obvious to everyone who is not you.”
“Silver and goddamned gold,” he whispered. He tried to slide off the bed, but ended up tripping over his own feet and landing face first with a loud thump.
I winced. “You all right there?”
He picked himself up slowly. “Yeah, I’m…” Then he started, as though he had just realized something. He rushed back over and grabbed my shoulders. “Oh God. Laura! I woke up with Akane naked in my bed!”
I blinked. “Wait, you what—”
“I threw a naked girl out of my room! Why would you let me do that!?”
“What the hell are you blaming me for? I wasn’t there!”
He started shaking me. “What the hell am I going to do? I can’t deal with this!” He let me go and resumed pulling at his hair. “Silver and…when we first met, Shana tried to…and Emily came up to my room the first night…not to mention the Narutaki twins…”
I opened my mouth, but then closed it again, unable to find the words. How many girls had tried to seduce him over the years?
“I need to…silver and gold, silver and…” he stumbled towards his dresser and fished out his wallet from where he kept it buried under his underwear. “Flowers. Girls like flowers, right? I’ll buy them flowers.”
I cocked my head. “…everyone?”
“Yeah,” he said nervously. “Okay, there’s Fuka and Fumika and Akane and Emily and Haruhi and Alice and Garona—”
“Stop,” I advised, grabbing his hand as he reached for a pad, probably to start making a list. “Just…stop. Most of those girls have boyfriends now. Sending them presents is just going to cause problems.” I frowned. “Wait, back up. Garona hit on you?”
He nodded, a little shakily. “I…think so. This one time when I was fourteen, I did a sewer delve and she kept trying to help me shower after.”
I rubbed my forehead. I hadn’t realized the assassin’s tastes ran in that direction. “That’s…”
Derek started towards the door. “I need to go apologize to Akane and Ling.”
I rushed ahead and blocked his way. “No, no you do not.” I had a feeling that if he went over there right now, he’d end up in a threesome. He didn’t have any experience with romance and intimacy at all.
“Out of my way, Laura,” he insisted, and tried to push past me. “I need to do this.”
As he shouldered past me, I caught a whiff of the sewers again…which gave me the perfect excuse. But I couldn’t just say it outright; it would be too obvious it was a diversionary tactic.
Instead, I shrugged and moved out of the way. “Your funeral. Somehow I don’t think you’ll be well-received, smelling like that.”
He stopped, his hand on the doorknob. He sniffed his shirt a little.
“Take a shower first,” I advised. “Then come back here and we’ll talk about what to do next.”
Derek frowned, but nodded slowly and grabbed his towel from the closet. I followed him out of the room, just to make sure he really did go towards the bathrooms. He had never been one for duplicity before, but now it was hard to tell.
Once I saw him disappear into the bathroom at the end of the hall, I went back inside his room and sat on the bed.
I had maybe twenty minutes to come up with a plan to stop him from breaking Akane’s heart.
This was not shaping up to be a good day.
Behind the Scenes (scene 112)
I had waaay too much fun with this one. I’ve been planning this since the scene Laura kissed him—or, more accurately, since the scene where Ling and Akane tried to kiss him and he thought they were being mean.