(Important stuff in the ending AN, so please read it.)

I present to you all... the long awaited... CHAPTER 15!

-Enjoy!

()()()

Robin was seated before me, holding a sturdy looking dark brown wooden clipboard in one hand and a pretty flower in the other. He offered me a smile and shrugged his shoulders, smiling in answer to my unasked question of what are you doing here?

"I was thinking of you." He said, smiling again. Stretching his hand out, he handed me the rose.

I rolled my eyes and accepted it, taking a quick sniff and appreciating the smell adjoining with the luxurious appearance. "Sure you were." I was lying, of course. I had no doubt in my mind that Robin was thinking of me—I could tell from the eager way he walked around me to the smallest deflation in his shoulders when I went for a handshake instead of a hug after opening the door to my house.

I was home again, in Boston. Within two weeks after Linda, Dr. Banks and Liam were charged, I moved back home. I think it was a combination of stress, fatigue and sadness that sent me into a mode of hatred. I hated myself and everything around me, for a while, and the first step to going back to normal was leaving the place that had usurped my normality. I severed ties with everyone there. That was easy, for the most part. Except for Derek. Leaving him behind left me feeling hollow for a few days, but it was better than the alternative of hating him and I.

My relationship with Robin was a void of numbness and confusion. I refused to speak to him (or anyone else) for several days. In some ways, I blamed both him and Derek for what happened to me. I blamed myself for letting it happen. It was an endless triangle of blaming people and refusing to get help. I waved away any notions of needing a therapist or a doctor, for quite a while. It was only until Tori gave me the darkest look I had ever seen, that I agreed to getting help. I spoke to a therapist, twice, before deciding to move back.

I moved back home because everything around me in Chicago was connected to the gruesome things I was trying so desperately to let go of. I couldn't let go of something if everything I was holding onto was clutching it. So I let go of everything. I broke up with Robin because we were toxic. Maybe not from the start, but at the point we were. Friends, perhaps, sometime in the future. I told Derek I was pulling out of his program, and he told me that he'd cancelled it anyways. And not just that summer's course. He'd scrapped the whole thing, deciding to focus on physics and chemistry and his company. Cooking was a passion of his, something that mattered, so it would never leave, but the course had lost its wear.

Robin had fought our break up at first, but soon he too let it go. I guessed he could see exactly how damaging and destructive it was, to the both of us. I deleted Jules' number from my phone, instead writing it down on a piece of paper which I placed in a box. Said box was currently taking up residence underneath my bed, presumably coated in dust and dried in time.

Robin looked at me and sighed. It was a weary, tired sigh. The long and stretched out kind that you saw in the movies, over done and obvious. "I miss you." He said, eyes boring into mine. I missed him too. How could I not? He was a big part of my life, both negative and positive. I had memories and moments with him. Once upon a time not too long ago, I had loved him. I had relied on him. But not too long ago, I had been hurt and shaken up and almost killed.

"I know." I said, dropping his gaze. "When do you go back to London?"

If he's disappointed or disheartened by my topic change, he doesn't let on. "In three days. Jules leaves tomorrow."

I nodded. "Are you excited?"

Robin shrugged. "The case is over—so I'm excited to put it away and close it, and move onto another case. I've requested for something with foreign affairs and a little less closer to home. I like new places."

I imagined that his request also had something to do with not having to deal with Linda's betrayal. I don't say anything about it though. "How is Jules?"

"Good." He paused. "Well, as good as she can be, given the circumstances. She's really glad to go home though. She has lots to tell her friends and I think she misses being with Mum and Dad." He gave me a look. "How are you doing Chloe?"

How was I doing? Good, actually. I was excited for school to pick up again and for things to go back to the way they were. I missed everything about my normalcy. To Robin, I said, "Fine. It's been a bit boring around here, lately."

"Have you spoken to Nate?"

I nodded. "Yes, he dropped by a few times last week and we went out for coffee yesterday."

Nate and I were in the works of becoming friends again. He dumped Rae and was currently married to his research books. I didn't mind the change in Nate. I liked having my friend back. I'd been through a lot to lose friends over something as little as a high school like break up. I had fried bigger fish, so to speak. Nonetheless, it wasn't exactly the way it used to be with him. If I went to his house, his mother gave me a warm smile and called me Chloe, and not sweetie. There were lots of awkward moments when we passed places we'd done stuff at. Lots of accidental brushes turned weird. Things weren't the way they used to be, and I didn't think they'd ever be the same again. But that was part of life, and I could live with it.

"Are you and him getting back together?" Robin asked.

I shook my head. "God, no. We're working really hard to even just become friends."

"Good." Robin said. I raised an eyebrow at him. "I didn't mean it like that. Not in the jealous ex kind of way."

I laughed. "Then what kind of way?"

Robin shrugged. "I'm glad you aren't jumping into a relationship with the asshole that cheated on you."

"As opposed to the asshole...?"

Robin made a face. "As opposed to the asshole secret agent... I get it." He stood up and stretched out his limbs before sitting back down. "So what's the next step?"

"What do you mean what's the next step?" I asked, frowning.

"Are you seriously going to cut ties with everyone associated with the incident out of your life? And act like it never happened? Or are you going to do something about what happened? Like speak out or something?"

"There is no next step." I confessed. "I'm just going to ignore those bad memories. I'm nineteen and getting murdered is not on my bucket list."

"Well, you weren't murdered."

I gave him a look. "Yes, I'm well aware of that. But do you remember how I was when I was still in the hospital? I was broken Robin, the person I was in there did not resemble any part of me. Being in that world, being surrounded my constant reminders of what had happened, ruined me."

As I spoke the words, the memories flashed in front of me. I was lost, for just a second, in the moments of the past.

I closed my eyes and breathed in and out. Soft music played around me and there was a light breeze in the air. My head ached slightly, as did the rest of my body. I opened my eyes slowly, staring up at the white ceiling. I wondered where I was for a minute before letting my eyes shut again. It didn't matter to me anyways.

A voice broke the lulling quietness. I opened my eyes. A woman with sandy hair and brown eyes stared at me patiently, holding a tray in her hands.

"I'm sorry to disturb you," she said, "but it's time for your medication."

I nodded mutely and sat up. She handed me two pills and a bottle of water. I popped the pills into my mouth, took a gulp of water and swallowed. I took another gulp and then screwed the cap back on. I held the bottle out but she shook her head. "Keep it." she said. I nodded again and waited for her to shut the door before lying back down again.

It was silent for a moment. Someone knocked. I stared at the door. They knocked again.

"Chloe?" It was Robin. He knocked again and repeated my name. I laid back down and closed my eyes.

There was a quiet silence again, before his footsteps lead the other way. I let out a breath I didn't know I had been holding and looked at my arms. There were scratches, scars and marks on skin that had been unmarked only a month ago. I pulled the blanket away from me. My legs were covered in marks, cuts along with bruises, and there seemed to be small places where flesh was missing. Bile formed in my throat. I quickly covered my legs with the blanket. I felt tears form in my eyes. I blinked them away and laid down. I turned away from the mirror facing the side of my bed and stared at the wall.

I thought about nothing and everything. I thought about betrayal and pain, and wondered if the nurse would return with more medication. I wondered if she would bring me a sleeping pill and something for my head. I wondered if the hospital had pills that made you sleep forever or if they had pills that made you forget everything. I wondered if the nurse knew where they were. I wondered if she'd tell me.

I heard the door open. And then close. Footsteps moved to my bed. A shadow loomed over me. I breathed in and out and then turned over. I looked up. It was Derek. I turned away.

"They arrested Ted and Liam. They're convicted of first degree murder, assault, attempted murder and kidnapping." Derek said.

An emotion filled my heart. I didn't know what it was. Something light and lifting—relief, perhaps. Whatever it was, it made me smile.

"Linda was convicted of a few things including kidnapping, assault and attempted murder." There was a silence that filled the space between us. My chest felt hollow. Tears formed in my eyes and this time I let them fall. I wiped them away.

"Jules wasn't in on the thing. Neither was Robin."

I knew he said this to make me happy—but nothing changes.

"The doctors told your Aunt you can leave the hospital tonight. She signed you out of my course. I'm shutting it down, actually. Moving back to my lab, going back to my job—full time."

I didn't say anything. I didn't know what to say.

"Will you look at me?"

I turned around slowly and stared up at him.

"I am so sorry for all the things that happened to you. It's my fault." Derek said. This was where I was supposed to correct him; tell him that it wasn't his fault or mine. That it was nobody's fault except for fate's. That it's okay, I don't care and that I will miss him. But I don't say anything. It was his fault. If I had never come to this camp, if I had never cared for him or for Robin—none of this would have happened. This could be false but it could also be true.

Derek sighed and left the room. The door shut quietly behind him. I stared at it and then turned away. I closed my eyes and tried to sleep.

I blinked hard, pulling myself out of the reverie. There was no time to live in the past. Robin was staring at me.

"What?" I asked.

"I asked if you—never mind. I see what you're saying but I don't agree with it." He said. "What happened to you, what you went through was horrible...but—"

I scowled. "But what?"

"But you need to move on from it. And running from something isn't the way to move on from it. If you pretend that all those things never happened then you'll always be looking back."

I rolled my eyes and looked away from him. "Are you some sort of psychiatrist now?"

Robin shook his head. "It's true Chloe and you know it."

I sighed. I knew he was right. If my life were a movie—and it certainly could be—then anyone watching it right now would be yelling at me to take Robin's advice and move the heck on. "Okay, fine. How do I move on?"

A huge grin broke out on Robin's face. He ran a hand through his hair and excitedly said, "The first step is to assess your feelings about the situation." He gave me an expectant look. "So, how do you feel about the situation?"

I held back a snide Derek-like comment about how Robin really must've talked to a psychiatrist for advice—or maybe he was a subscriber to !—and instead said, "I don't really have any feelings about the situation."

Robin gave me a look. "That's not an acceptable answer."

"That wasn't really an acceptable question. It was very general." I shot back.

"Fine" Robin scratched his hand and said, "How do you feel about Linda betraying you? About your life drastically changing? About the events that recently took place in your life?"

I balked at the speed of his words and the load of the content. Robin was obviously giving me a minute to collect my thoughts, but I didn't want it. I didn't even want to answer the God damn questions. "Robin—I don't want to—"

Robin shut me up and said, "I'm not accepting 'no' for an answer. Sorry, Chloe, but we're getting this out of your system. I have all the time in the world and I know you do too." He stretched out in his seat. "So we can do this now or two hours from now. I don't care."

I sighed and ran my mind through the jumble of emotions and thoughts in my head. When I had everything together, I tried to get my answers out, one by one. "I feel angry and pained that Linda tried to kill me—that she was involved with everything. I feel so stupid to have trusted her." I took a deep breath, mind flashing back to Linda. "I hate that my world spun out of control. I hate that I didn't have any say or sway, and that I was victim—involved in a world that I'd never known to exist. I hate the way I hesitate to speak to people, hate that I was weak, hate the scars on my body and I hate cooking. I hate everyone that connected me to the incidents that took place—Amber, Rae, Mila, Derek, Linda, Simon, Derek..." I didn't say Robin's name, but I'm sure he got the insinuation.

Robin nodded his head slowly. "I notice that you used a lot of negatives in your descriptions—can you think of anything positive with those questions? Anything positive at all?"

I thought long and hard. "I'm glad everything took place in Chicago and not in Boston, because I don't want to hate the place where I grew up." I bit my lip. "I'm glad Linda, Liam and Dr. Banks were arrested." Another thought popped into my head. "I'm glad Austin wasn't involved. You know, cause he has kids and seemed like a generally nice person." Slowly the words began to slip out of my mouth, a slow trickle of thoughts that became a steady positive flow. When I was finished Robin was smiling, a new light in his eyes.

"That was an excellent start!" Robin smiled. "Okay so the next thing we need to do is clearly identify each thing connecting you to the incidents and categorizing them as positive and negative."

"That shouldn't be too hard, given that almost everything is negative." I said, raising my eyebrow.

Robin gave me a sly smile. "You never know. Once you start thinking, things start popping out. Just take what happened a second as an example."

"Okay, Dr. Oz." I rolled my eyes. "Should we divide it into categories?"

Robin shook his head. "Actually, I was thinking that I'd list something and then you'd tell me how you felt about it."

"Okay, but don't I have to list stuff first?"

He shook his head again. "I took notes while you ranted." He caught my look and said, "I'm a spy Chloe, there's more to me than the boy who fell in love with you."

He said it so casually but yet it knocked the breath right out of me. Fighting for control, I said, "D-do you still love me?" Honestly, I hoped that he didn't. I had loved Robin, the way I'd loved Nate but the feelings for him had lost their intensity and faded to a strong bond of friendship. The passion we'd shared hadn't lasted too long, a flame that flickered once the harshness of reality set in. We were good together, I guess, but we were a thousand times better as friends. If he loved me that would complicate the already complicated relationship that we had. But I'd handle it no matter what.

"Honestly..." Robin hesitated and then continued, "I love you Chloe. I will never stop loving you. But the way I love you has changed. It's not the same as before, and I think that that's good."

I broke into a relieved smile. "Me too." I gave him a brief hug and pulled back. "Okay, start listing."

He nodded. "Okay, I want you to say whatever thought or emotion that comes up with the word I say, okay?"

"Okay."

Robin looked down at his notebook—I hadn't even realized he'd pulled it out—and said, "Amber."

"Hate." I said immediately.

His lips twitched but didn't take form. "Mila."

"Hate." I said honestly.

"Rae."

"Hate."

"Jasmine."

"Hate."

Robin sighed. "Okay, new plan. List a more descriptive emotion—not hate. I want a sentence and not a word. Explain why you associate them that way and give each answer some thought."

I nodded. "Okay. Go."

"From the top; Amber."

I scrunched up my face in thought. "Petty; she was rude to me because Derek gave me attention, and now that I think of it, it was nothing."

"Nothing how?"

I bit my lip. "I mean, all things considered it's not that big of a deal. Same goes for Jasmine."

Robin nodded. "Okay, uh—Rae."

This one I thought about for a bit. "I think—intense dislike. Nate cheated on me with her and she didn't exactly defend herself and took pride in what she did."

"Do you still feel that way about her?"

"No. I think the emotion has kind of faded. There were other things, bigger concerns." We went off like this for a little longer, Robin naming people in the classes—most of them were just people I knew of, so they weren't really associated with any emotion, good or bad. Mila was a different story, because she and I had been sort of friends. With her the emotions I felt were something along the line of petty betrayal. I found that most things were petty or uninteresting, and that a lot of my ideas and associations of things connecting to the incidents weren't actually negative. Rather, I just felt something incredibly vague that I could only attach a distant emotion to.

When it came to Derek, there were so many feelings that clouded my brain. Pain, betrayal, anger, laughter—a rainbow of emotions that I didn't know what to do with. For the most part the emotions were a mix of good and bad, but the more I concentrated and voiced my thoughts I noted that the negative association list was growing. The opposite went for Robin, because somehow I managed to separate him from what happened. In my mind, there were two Robins. The first being my boyfriend and the other being an agent on my case. The feelings of betrayal left because he hadn't been involved and had actually been watching out for me before then. Regarding Jules, I guess I just felt sadness—for her. She'd lost her grandmother in a way, because from what I was told, Jules refused to even look or talk about Linda.

Liam and Dr. Banks were the easiest to associate an emotion to—hate, obviously. Linda was probably the hardest. I felt anger sometimes, then pain, then sadness, then fury and then betrayal. I'd trusted her, learned from her, enjoyed her company and yet she'd plotted to kill me. In the end Robin and I spent about an hour discussing just Linda, and I came to the conclusion that Linda's actions were hers and only hers. She was angry and easily swayed. It wasn't exactly the easiest way to come to terms with what she'd done, but it was better than wanting to cry or punch something when she was mentioned.

"Okay, and the last one is; cooking."

Before I could stop myself, or even process what was happening, I said, "Hate."

"Why?"

I gave Robin a look. "Isn't it obvious? Cooking courses lead to all of this."

Robin looked as if he wanted to say more, but he shuttered his gaze and scribbled something down on his paper. He looked up and asked me a few more questions about cooking, but they were vague, and then ended up changing the topic all together. I let him do so, because I didn't feel like talking about it anyways.

"Okay," Robin said a while later, "I think we're good for now. How do you feel?"

I rolled my eyes at the stupidity of the simplistic question and replied as honestly as possible. "I feel...way better. I don't hate everything anymore." I gave him a heartfelt smile. "Thanks Robin."

"No problem, Chloe." Robin shut his notebook and stood up, "One last question; how do you feel about Derek?"

I faltered a little bit at that and said, "Better than when you and I started this conversation, but not completely at peace...why?"

He waved me off. "Curiosity. Although, that is what we're going to be talking about next time."

I frowned. "Next time?"

Robin chuckled. "Yeah, next time. We need more sessions like these for you to feel better."

"Uh, no thanks, Robin..."

He either ignored my reply or just didn't hear it. "So, tomorrow, same time?"

"Robin..." I said, following him to the door.

"Chloe..." He mimicked, smiling warmly. He opened the door and slipped out, walking down the driveway to his car. He threw me another smile over his shoulder, this one teasing, before he got into his car and disappeared.

I shut the door and locked it, using the new security code stuff that Tori had installed at my request. I won't lie, I was a little bit paranoid after returning home and Aunt Lauren had no objections to it. I glanced at the finger print scanner, retina scan and the nine digit code receptor before sighing. Who was I kidding?

I walked away from the door and went back to the living room, tidying up. Robin and I had had some snacks while we'd talked. I took the used dishes to the kitchen and washed them quickly and quickly left. I hadn't mentioned this to Robin, but I didn't like being in kitchens anymore.

There was a buzzing noise in the living room, indicating that I'd received a text. It was from Tori; call me.

She picked up on the first ring. "Hey, thanks for calling."

"No problem." I said, "What'd you want to talk about?"

"Adam wants us to move in together."

Involuntarily, my eyebrows skyrocketed. "Holy shit—seriously?"

Tori sighed on the other end. "No, he went all out with a fancy dinner and romantic talk just for a prank. Because he's just that hilarious."

"Okay, then... I take it you aren't extremely thrilled?"

"Oh no, I'm super excited." Tori said evenly. I couldn't tell for sure if she was joking, but either way I knew something about the situation was really bothering her.

"Just hurry up and get to it already." I said, knowing that without a push she'd probably be at this for ages.

"I don't think my Mom will go for it."

Ah, there it was. "Did you talk to her about it?"

"Not directly, but I did hint at it. She just shrugged and changed the topic. I would do it with or without her approval, but Adam won't be okay about it if my Mom isn't on board."

I smiled at the thought of Adam yearning for Mrs. Enright's approval. "Just say it to her, Tori. I don't really think there's much else that you can do."

She sighed. "I knew you'd say that."

"Ha-ha." I said. "Just talk to her, okay?"

"Fine." Tori said and I could tell that she was scowling. "So tell me, did you hear about—"

Her words were cut off by the doorbell. I walked over to it and opened the door. My jaw dropped at the person standing in front of me.

"Tori—I'm going to have to call you back in a bit, okay?"

"Wait—why—"

I hung up and tossed the phone in the direction of the couch, too distracted and shocked to listen to the sound of it thudding against the couch.

"Derek?" I asked, somewhat airily.

The jade eyed chef slash physics admirer sent me a heart stopping smile. "Hey Chloe, long time no see."

I nodded nervously, wondering why he was here. In Boston. On my street. At my door step. "Yeah..."

A moment later he grinned; "Are you going to invite me in... or?"

I blushed. "Oops, yeah, sorry." I moved back from the door. "Come in."

He chuckled and entered, slipping his shoes off and neatly letting them fall onto the mat by the door. He took a seat on the couch without my phone on it, and I took a seat across from him.

"So can I get you anything?" I asked awkwardly.

Derek shook his head. "No, I'm fine."

"Uh, okay." I felt my face heat up. "What brings you to Boston?"

"I had some stuff to work out and I wanted to see you." Derek replied. He inched forward in his seat. "How have you been?"

I shrugged, not meeting his gaze. "Good. And you?"

Derek scowled. "Don't give me that shit—tell me how you've really been."

I sighed. "I don't know Derek—I'm working on some things."

He deflated slightly. "Okay... uh, as for me... I've been doing well."

"How's your company doing?" I asked quietly. I stood up and walked over to him, sitting down on the couch. I turned to face him, making sure to keep a healthy distance between us.

"Good, good." He said absentmindedly, eyes fixed on something behind me. I turned, following his gaze. He was staring at a framed photo of Mom, Dad and I. It was taken on my fourth birthday, when we'd gone to Paris. We were standing in front of the Eiffel Tower, grinning from ear to ear with the colors of the French flag painted on our faces.

"Nice photo." Derek said, nodding at the picture.

I smiled. "Thanks." Then, "How are Simon and Liz?"

"They're still together and going strong." He replied casually. "Simon is considering having her move in, but it's still in the planning stages."

I cooed. "Aw, that's so cute."

"Yeah," Derek said, rubbing at his eyes. "I kind of wanted to talk to you about some stuff."

"I figured." I stretched out my torso and leaned against the seat. "Go ahead; ask away."

"Are you—actually, um, how is—fuck, I can't do this subtly." He gave me an apologetic smile. "I'm just going to go for it; are you and Robin still together?"

I shook my head. "No, we broke up before I moved back."

"Do you guys still love each other?"

I shook my head again. "No, not like that. We're friends."

I frowned finally. "Derek, where are you going with these questions?"

He didn't look at me and said, "Somewhere." He looked at me. "When you said you were working on some things, did you mean a relationship with someone?"

I glared at him. "Do you seriously think that that's what I'd be focusing on right now? Seriously?"

Derek shrugged, but there was something anger filled within the movement. "Kind of... given that you and Robin got together and fell in love so quickly."

Immediately I felt my anger bubble. "Excuse me?"

Derek winced. "Sorry, that came out wrong. I didn't mean it like that."

"Really?" I said, disbelievingly. "You accidentally insinuated that I move too fast and accidentally judged me—that's it, right?"

Derek sighed. "Fuck, Chloe, I'm sorry." He rubbed at his eyes again and stared at the ground. "It's just hard—seeing you after so long, feeling the way I feel and knowing how you feel."

My heart thumped in my chest. "How do you feel?"

He looked me in the eye. "I love you, Chloe. I really, really, love you. I have known that since the moment you and I had dinner. I felt it in my bones Chloe, and I'm not one for sappy shit. I love you." He didn't drop my gaze, even though I gasped. He kept looking at me, seemingly staring into the abyss of my heart. Looking for the secret emotion I'd long since buried and fought to keep hidden. "I'm crazy about you, Chloe. There's no point denying it."

My heart was beating rapidly in my chest, almost bursting. "Wha—?"

Derek smiled sadly. "It is killing me to be sitting here, this close to you, knowing that I can't do the one thing I want to—" He cut himself off, flushing.

I hadn't realized that we'd closed the distance between us. We were centimetres apart and yet I edged closer. "What do you want to do Derek?" I moved even closer, feeling a rush in my heart at the proximity. I touched his jaw, turning his face gently to face mine. "What do you want to do most?"

He studied me, looking long and hard. "This," he murmured before tilting my face to his. His lips pressed against mine, hesitantly but ever so firm. A warmth like nothing I'd ever felt before engulfed me and then we were kissing. Bodies colliding, crashing, moving in and out of synch, lips hard and soft against each other, my hands in his hair, his hands on my hips, a rush of brilliant emotion, a bird of fire within me, spreading it's wings and taking flight, soaring through time and space and everything in between. We came up for air and dove back down, moving faster and faster through the sweet moment, losing ourselves in the madness.

The spell was broken when my cell phone rang.

We crashed apart, gasping for breath. I shut my phone off and stared at Derek. His face was flushed, eyes hooded, lips swollen and hair a dark mess. I had a feeling that I looked very similar.

"Holy shit." Derek breathed.

I could only nod in response, unable to find my voice amongst my gasps for air.

"If I had known that kissing you felt like that, I would've done it the day I met you." Derek said.

Despite the situation, I choked out a breathless laugh. "Jesus, I feel like I have asthma."

Derek smiled lightly, eyes lingering on my lips. Which were no doubt red, along with my face and the tips of my ears; great.

After a few more minutes of staring at each other, I closed my eyes and willed out the words that I knew needed to be said. "That shouldn't have happened."

"What?" Derek sat up straight. "Why not?"

"Why do you think?" I said.

"You like me, I love you and we have a spark? Maybe the circumstances aren't perfect, but who cares? We can work through it."

I shook my head, "No, Derek, we can't. I can't look at you without thinking of everything. Without having every horrible memory come slamming into me."

"I don't understand..."

Tears filled my eyes, brimming and threatening to spill over the edge. "You remind me of everything bad that happened to me."

Derek's eyes widened in shock. He grabbed my hand. "Chloe, I never wanted any of that to happen. I am so, so, sorry, Chloe."

I shook my head through blurred vision. The tears fell from my face. A sob broke though. "I can't let it go, Derek."

"But—I didn't—I didn't know any of that would happen, Chloe! I tried my hardest to—to—Chloe, please." There was so much raw emotion in his voice; guilt, pain, pleading, terror. My heart seized in my chest. The tears kept spilling, sobs mixing with them.

"Derek," I sobbed, "I can't."

Derek's eyes glimmered, shining with pain. "Chloe... I didn't hurt you. Not directly, not knowingly. If I could take it all back, I would. I would take everything back; I would die a thousand times to save you from all of that. But I can't do that." He tilted my head to meet his eyes. "Tell me what I can do."

I shook my head again and gasped for breath. "Stay away from me Derek, that's what you can do."

Derek dropped my face and pulled me towards him. "I can't do that Chloe, I'm sorry." He gripped me gently. "Maybe you aren't ready right now, and that's okay, I don't mean to pressure you. Maybe in a few months... whenever you're ready?"

I felt a burst of fury. I swiped at the tears and said, "What part of 'can't' don't you get Derek? I can't have a relationship with you—because I physically hurt when I'm around you." I softened my voice. "I care about you Derek but I shouldn't and I won't, not if it hurts me this much."

Derek's shoulders slumped. "Chloe..."

"Derek," I whispered, "I'm sorry but I can't."

"Why won't you give me a chance Chloe?"

I looked away, fearing that he'd see the answer in my eyes. I didn't want him to; not when I didn't even know the answer myself.

I glanced at him, just for a second, and saw something spark in his eyes. A light; recognition. "You're scared, scared that you might fall again, and that I won't catch you."

His words had scratched the surface of everything that held me back from him. The depth and meaning of the words ran deeper than anything I'd ever felt before. Rooted in my core, my heart, the very DNA that made me who I was, was a fear of falling. Subconsciously I started relationships with people who I knew I'd never end up with—I fell in love and got hurt, but it was never the real thing. I was scared of that, of the real thing—the thing I felt with Derek. I was scared that I'd fall again and this time, I'd shatter.

Derek lifted my face to his, eyes darting to my mouth then to my eyes, where they stayed. He stared at me, long and deep and hungry—like he could never stop. Like it was the last time he'd have the chance to do so. "I won't let you hit the ground Chloe. I will catch you."

The moment was perfect. A movie moment. All we had to do to end the scene was angle our heads and let our lips graze, then the lights would fade out and the haunting music would cue the credits. And for a moment that felt like an eternity, I wanted to let that happen. Take my chance with Derek and let myself fall, trusting that he'd keep his promise.

But I can't.

I break the moment and push myself off of his lap, saying the words that I know will break his heart.

"I never want to see you again."

There was a silence so loud that I couldn't hear anything before Derek finally moved. He stood up, his face pained and furious. "If that's what you want." He moved away from me, towards the door.

A sob broke through and regret consumed me. "Wait!" I shouted. "Derek!" He stopped, but didn't turn. "Goodbye Chloe."

I shouted something at him, something that sounded like a mixture of a please and a no! But he kept walking, moving right past me, to the door and then out of it. I sobbed, tears blocking my vision, my heart beating so hard I feared it would break. The car started, sped up and then disappeared. Another sob, a gut wrenching, stomach twisting, heart breaking sob that left me without air and with a startling realization.

I would never see Derek again. He'd never look at me the way he had just done minutes ago, he would never kiss me like that again, he would never hold me like that again, never touch me like that again, never set me aflame like that again and most importantly; he would never love me again.

I knew it all the way down to my bones.

()()()

Okay, guys, I have a feeling that this AN will be long, so I want to clarify that this chapter is pretty long even without the ANs. (6321 words, not including the beginning and ending AN)

I won't lie, this chapter took ages to develop and happen. Rough drafts were written and discarded, ideas shredding and ignored—but I'm extremely happy with the end result. I feel like it's some of my most 'feeling' filled work in FF, and I'm really proud of it. I hope you guys enjoyed reading it, the way I enjoyed writing (this draft).

With that said, I can't take all the credit. This chapter wouldn't be possible without all of you—especially Zane S. White, who I spoke to several times throughout this process. In fact, I sent them the very short start to this chapter a few days ago and once they approved it and offered some advice, and idea popped into my head and that's why we're here today. But I want to thank everyone who reviewed, favorite, followed or even just read SSS.

For the record, I do realize that with the way I've worded it so far, it sounds like I'm ending SSS right here. Well, I'm not. The next chapter skips five years into the future; I have some angles I'd like to write and use to get the story back on track.

Now, to the needy author part...

HOW WAS IT?

C'mon guys, give me every detail. I haven't heard from a lot of you in ages (my fault, I know) and I'd really like to. Did you like how it started? Did you not like how it started? I want to hear your thoughts! Review, review, review—please! You know you want to ;)

I think that's it for now, stay tuned for the next chapter—notice how I'm not indicating when that will be because I don't want to give you guys false hope because school just started and I'm going to be swamped—and feel free to message me with any questions or thoughts.

Till next time guys,

~SE