Title: Keeping It Together
Characters/Pairing: Tom/Mariel
Rating: T
Disclaimer: I don't own them (Damn you Shaun Cassidy!)
Author's Notes: Set directly after episode 6 – 'The Hunt'.

"Where are we going?"

Tom glanced in the rear view mirror to catch the reflection of the young man sitting nervously in the back of his cruiser. For a few moments as they walked back across the beach, Derek had seemed to trust him completely, going with him without question, accepting that whatever Tom had planned for him was for the best. As they'd neared the cruiser he had slowed however, starting to look uneasy. Tom had simply tightened the grip on his shoulder, steering him towards the car, opening the back door and pushing him inside with a firm hand but a reassuring nod. Now, sitting locked in the rear he looked downright nervous.

"What's the matter, Derek?" Tom asked, eyes fixed on the road ahead of them once more, "First time in the back of a police car?"

"No…" the younger man admitted quietly, his eyes scanning their surroundings as if it would give him some clue as to where they were going. The only answers he got were miles of darkness interspersed with fleeting glimpses of the oppressive foliage of the glades.

Tom scoffed a laugh, "And you really thought I was gonna let you date my daughter?"

"Where are we going?" Derek asked again, ignoring what Tom had said, the matter clearly not important to him anymore. That, as far as Tom was concerned, was a very good thing.

When he'd first seen the kid and Kira together he had immediately gone on the defensive and for good reason. As he had said, she wasn't Derek's type and he didn't want her getting involved with this. She shouldn't have to worry herself with anything that was going on. She should be free to live her life without being troubled by it. He'd worked hard to make sure that happened and he wasn't going to let some punk kid screw it up now.

When he had found out Derek had been taking to Mariel however his concern had sky rocketed. It was not a good combination. Too many people hadn't dealt with the change properly, too many had reacted badly to it and had become violent. Derek was clearly unstable. And persistent considering that Tom's none too subtle warnings hadn't scared him off. That had worried him further. Someone like that might be capable of anything.

But, as he had pulled up at the beach and seen Derek pulling a clearly unwilling Mariel towards the water, another feeling had overwritten his worry entirely. Fury. A complete possessive rage. He didn't know where it came from but he felt it in every fibre as he barrelled into the kid, knocking him away from Mariel and holding him down with a firm boot to the chest. It wasn't even just because it looked like he was hurting her or because he could hear her cries of distress and it angered him. No, it was simply because he was touching her at all. That he dared to get near her. Tom wondered how he could quite happily see her talking to her ex-husband near every day but this boy made his blood boil for even glancing at her. Then again, he supposed, Russell wasn't one of them. He didn't know for sure what Derek had wanted Mariel for but he guessed it wasn't just moral support. All he did know was that for a small moment he considered breaking the kid's neck and only Mariel's silent pleas to calm down had stopped him from doing so.

"Sheriff?" the boy spoke up yet again, distinct concern in his tone now.

As Tom glanced back at him in the mirror yet again he realised how small the kid looked and how unjustified his anger was. He'd been right before, the boy had no value in his life. He was no threat to him. He'd spent twelve years in the Air Force. He'd gone to war for his country. Even since starting work for the Sheriff's Department he had seen some of the worse humanity had to offer. And yet none of that had made him as angry as this one kid sniffing around his wife had. He smiled a little to himself. It was kind of stupid really.

"I told you," he finally replied, a small part of him enjoying the power he currently held over the young man, relishing in the opportunity to show him who was in charge, "There's a place where people like you can go. Where you'll fit in. You'll be better off there."

'And', he silently added, 'better off out of my life…'

Mariel stepped quietly into the house, closing the door behind her and laying her keys on the side. Kira's car wasn't outside and so she was clearly out, probably staying at a friend's house. She did that a lot lately. Tom didn't like it, but Mariel encouraged him to give her time and space. She was a teenage girl after all, Mariel had reasoned, she was going through a lot of tough changes in her life and she needed to work them out in her own time. They could be there to guide her, but they couldn't make the changes for her and they couldn't hold them back. It was something Kira had to deal with on her own terms.

Tom's cruiser was parked on the driveway though and she softly called out his name. His reply came from their bedroom and she headed there to meet him with a little apprehension.

All through the meeting she had found it hard to concentrate as others recalled their stories of survival to a supportive and understanding audience. She couldn't help but think of what may be happening back down at the beach. She had been certain at the time that Tom wouldn't hurt Derek. That he may shake him up a bit, warn him to stay away from his family but nothing more than a little scare. He was a good man and it was beneath him to be roughing up seventeen year old boys. But just for a moment, when he had barrelled Derek away from her and pinned him to the ground, there had been a look of utter fury on his face. Feral almost. And then, when he looked at her and asked her if she was okay, it was gone, replaced by genuine concern and care for her well being. He had told her to leave and for a moment she had been hesitant. Derek had frightened her just then, but he was only a kid. A confused kid at that. Tom had reassured her however and she believed him. She always believed him. He was the one constant she could rely on.

Then why was she so scared of asking him what happened after she left?

"Hey, babe," he said softly, looking up as she entered the room.

He was sitting on the bed, reading a book, but he didn't exactly have the appearance of someone who had been relaxing. More like someone who was waiting. For her, she assumed.

"How was your meeting?" he continued.

"Fine," she brushed aside, wanting to get straight to her concerns, "Where's Derek?"

"He's gone away," Tom replied simply, picking up his book again, although to her ears his response sounded just a little too practised.

"Away where?" she insisted, unwillingly to let the matter drop.

"Just somewhere he can get help," he said dismissively, still reading, eyes not leaving the page.

"And where would that be exactly?" she pressed, becoming increasingly concerned.

Tom laughed slightly, as though she was fussing over nothing, his tone an attempt to be reassuring, "What does it matter, honey? He's getting the help he needs and he's not bothering you. That's all that's important, right?"

"No," she insisted firmly, getting a little angry at his attitude, "I want to know exactly where he's gone."

Tom shook his head, bewildered, finally casting the book aside, "Why?"

Mariel sighed, turning away to the dresser, trying to hide her guilt, "Because he's just a kid. He's in Jesse's year at school and I…I should have noticed something was wrong earlier…"

He frowned deeply, tilting his head in curiosity as he looked at her, "You think this is your fault?"

She turned back to him, her words a confession, "I had a feeling he was in to me, you know? I tried to keep a friendly distance but I didn't want to push him away. The whole idea of the group was to give support, I thought I could help. Then, this afternoon…I think he'd been self harming. He came to me with a gash on his hand…" She sighed and shook her head, "I should have said something to someone, gotten some specialist help but I thought if I could just get him to the meetings he'd find what he was looking for there. I should have known better."

Tom's frowned lifted a little as he shifted over slightly on the bed. "Come here," he insisted, taking her hand as she walked close and sat beside him. "You didn't do anything wrong, Mariel," he soothed, "Derek's been through a traumatic situation and he just wasn't coping very well. I've seen it a lot since the hurricane. And I promise you, he's in the best place now. It's a little place out in the Keys. It encourages people to work through their problems and when he comes back he's going to be a whole new person. Trust me."

She did, as always, dropping her head to his shoulder, enjoying the feel of his hand tenderly stroking hers. She didn't trust him enough though to tell him why Derek had wanted to go there though. To tell him about the water. No, she needed to figure that out for herself first. She wasn't ready to share just yet.

She smiled a little, pressing closer to him as a warmer thought crossed her mind.

"You know," she said softly, her free hand running up and down his chest, "If I'm honest, I did get a little buzz out of you charging in and rescuing me like that."

Tom laughed slightly, a smile spreading across his face, "Are you trying to tell me you have hero fantasies, Doctor Underlay?"

She lifted her head to look at him, a playfulness she'd almost forgotten taking over her.

"I'm saying," she replied, her fingers toying with the bottom of his shirt, "That it was a little sexy."

He raised an eyebrow, "Just a little?"

She laughed.

"Didn't think you'd get so jealous about a kid though," she continued, teasing, "You do realise he's over half your age, right? Half my age too actually. What, were you worried I was on the look out for a toy boy or something?"

"I wasn't jealous," he protested, with a smile that faded a little too quickly, "I was just concerned, that's all." He sighed, his gaze turning downward, "Things have gone a little crazy since the hurricane, Mariel and you've been through enough recently. You didn't need that as well."

"Hey," she soothed, not liking how serious things had suddenly become, lifting his chin to make him look at her, "I'm okay. Or I think I'm gonna be. I promise."

She sealed it with a kiss.

Hours later Tom awoke with a start, immediately thankful that Mariel lay half across his chest, his arm wrapped tightly around her as a reminder that it had only been a dream. She was here and she was safe. The water hadn't taken her.

No one was going to take her from him.

He felt her stir slightly and she opened bleary eyes, looking up at him with concern.

"Are you alright?" she asked in sleepy tones.

"Fine, baby," he insisted, running his hand over her back, "Go back to sleep."

He lay there for a long time, watching her sleep peacefully. No, no one was going to take her from him. Not now.

He wasn't a violent man by nature, but he knew with striking certainty that he would kill them before they got the chance.