Disclaimer: I don't own the Darkest Powers series. -depressed sigh-

A/N: I found the Darkest Powers series totally on accident one day while looking through the YA section at the library. Couldn't find what I was looking for, and the story line sounded good, so I got both books. The Verdict: I am crazy in love with this series. Such a godsend, as I am obsessed with werewolves at the moment, lol.

That being said, you can totally guess where this is going, right? Yepp: Chlerek. Short and sweet, maybe a two-parter if anyone has an idea how to continue…? -poke poke nudge nudge- ^^, But for now, I like how it stands. x)

Anyway, this starts off from the end of The Awakening, after they arrive at the safe house. I've read the chapters up from The Reckoning, but this is just cleaner if we ignore that, mmkay? :) It also ignores the very last chapter of The Awakening (when Chloe falls into a deep sleep), but I think it still plays, considering what was going on.

Point is, I had a lot of fun writing this, and it gave me something to do before The Reckoning comes out, lol. So… enjoy or destroy. Flames will be used to bake cookies for the constructive critics. ;) - Christine

---

Underdog
by Bewitching

---

"Ew," Tori said under her breath the next morning, then louder, "What is that?"

Simon looked at us from his spot by the counter, where he was throwing together the best breakfast he could. The kitchen looked like it hadn't been touched since the Victorian Age, and the fridge definitely hadn't been filled since the Stone Age, but Simon had some eggs, milk, and almost-stale cereal to work with. His light eyebrows tipped into a frown. "Breakfast. If you don't like it, I can always give yours to Derek."

"So you mean there's no kibble for the dog here either? Great. Just great. We'll be starving by the end of the day." Tori stomped over to the table and sat in front of one of five plates of eggs. After poking at it with her fork, she glanced back at me. "C'mere, try this. If he poisoned it, we can afford to lose you."

I rolled my eyes. Why was she so difficult? Simon was just being nice. He didn't have to do anything for anyone, much less her. "Thanks, Simon," I said, ignoring Tori as I sat down at another plate. "It looks delicious."

"More like 'barely edible', but anything hot and homemade sounds delicious by now," he said, grinning. He took the seat beside me, a bruised apple to go with his food. Tori waited for me to take a bite -- not gourmet, but definitely good -- and then she began eating in silence.

Andrew came into the safe house's kitchen a while later, looking surprised. "Wow, didn't expect you all to be up. Did you sleep well?"

"Like a rock," Tori replied. "Chloe woke me up when she heard Emeril here banging around in the kitchen. What time is it anyway?"

"About seven," Simon and Andrew replied at the same time. They laughed. Then Andrew looked around, realizing something was missing. Or rather, someone. "Hey, where's Derek?"

"He went for a run while I made breakfast," Simon said.

"Oh. Not far, right?" Andrew had paused in by his food, a concoction of concern and something else on his face. Annoyance? It was too early to guess.

"Right here, Andrew," Derek said. We all turned to face the back door, which framed Derek, his face covered a light sheen of sweat. I tensed at the sight, wondering if he was Changing again, but settled when Derek sat down at the table. He wouldn't risk being near us if a Change was coming. "Thanks, Simon," he murmured, gesturing to his eggs: a much bigger share than the rest of us. Simon smiled.

"No problem, bro."

"Derek," Andrew said. He still hadn't sat down. "I'd prefer it if you let me know when you're leaving the house. It's dangerous out there, especially for--"

"I can handle it, Andrew," Derek said warily. "I was just checking the area out. I stayed out of sight."

"If they were to catch you--" Andrew started, but thought better of it. Derek nodded, understanding, but kept eating.

"I'll let you know next time," he said, between mouthfuls.

Andrew sighed. Tori was moving on to her cereal, a knock off of Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and Simon was calmly taking bites from his apple. The table was seriously cramped, especially with Derek's imposing frame perched between Simon and Tori, and suddenly I felt claustrophobic. Technically, I'd been feeling that way all night.

"Can I go for a walk?" I asked Andrew, whose face immediately darkened.

"I don't think--"

"I'll go with her," Simon said, tossing the apple's core over the table and into the wastebasket: two points. "I'm done anyway."

"I'd rather go by myself," I said, trying not to brush Simon off, even though that was exactly what I was doing. I wanted fresh air and quiet more than anything at the moment. "I need some alone time, I guess."

"How cliché," Tori snorted.

"Victoria, keep the sarcasm to a minimum, please. We have enough to worry about." Andrew looked at me, directly across the table. "Which is exactly why I'm not comfortable with any of you leaving the house. They could still be canvassing the woods. I'm not going to take chances with you. Any of you." He stared pointedly at Simon, and then at Derek, emphasizing his glare by setting down his fork. "I know you guys are probably still a little wound up from being on the run, but you're safe now. Inside. And we're going to stay that way as long as possible. Deal?"

The four of us nodded, but my restlessness just grew. I pushed away my empty dishes, "I'll be in the shower," and left the kitchen.

"Don't use all the hot water!" Tori called after me, but if I could guess, there wouldn't be any hot water left to begin with. Derek's hair was still damp with it.

-

I was right. The water was cold, but if I jiggled the knobs the right way, I could get a lukewarm stream down my back. I spent the first ten minutes scrubbing all the street and forest out of my skin, and then attacked my hair, but only a small amount of dye trickled down the drain. Looks like I'd be going Goth for a little while longer.

The claw foot tub looked like it needed a scrubbing, but I didn't care about stuff like that at the moment. I sat down, then stood, then turned off the water and got out. I had wanted to sit beneath the shower head, but even a second of stillness had my heartbeat racing. I wanted out, I wanted to go get Aunt Lauren and Rae. I couldn't just sit here. I'd spent all night tossing in bed, barely sleeping, thinking about Aunt Lauren, and what I'd seen in the forest, trying to resist the urge to summon her. Part of me wanted to know if she was alive, but the rest was scared to find out. If she was dead, what then?

When I was dressed, I went back down the kitchen. Everyone was gone, the dishes in the sink, still dirty. I practically threw myself at them, desperate to have something to do with my hands. I was just starting when a finger tapped me on the shoulder.

I jumped, almost flinging a plate to the floor, and backed against the sink. Then I sighed. It was just Derek.

"Dishes, huh?" he asked, a bored mask hiding the anxiety I knew was there. He'd taken off too; he was just as restless. It also probably hid some smirking amusement at making me jump. "Best I could find was a dust rag. Hate dusting."

"Would you please stop scaring the wits out of me? I don't have much left." I turned my back on him and started scrubbing the tiny bits of burnt egg from an old pan.

Derek mumbled something, and I glanced back. "What?"

He cleared his throat. "Can I help? I..." He flexed his hands. "I need the distraction."

Our eyes met, and the tension eased, if only slightly. I nodded, passing him the pan and a dish towel. "I wash, you dry."

We did the dishes in silence, letting the moment last as long as possible. What else was there to do? I scrubbed every speck of anything off the plates, bowls, cups, and he mopped up every drop of water, tucking them away in the cabinets. It helped to have something to do, but I felt out of place again. When does the heroine ever pause to do dishes? When does she ever sit back and hide when she has people to rescue?

"I think it's done," he muttered, waiting for me to hand him the last cup. The sponge was wearing out beneath my fingers as I stared out the window above the sink, the edge of the forest both comforting and scary, calling and warning all at once. I blinked a few times, and handed him the mug.

"Sorry."

He didn't say anything, just dried. Then he opened a cabinet and put it away. When the door snapped shut, my composure snapped to pieces.

"I can't t-take it," I blurted, hurling the sponge into the empty sink. "Just s-sitting around, doing n-n-nothing, waiting for the other s-s-s-shoe to fall..." I trailed off, pacing around the island.

"You were up all night," he said calmly, and I didn't have to ask how he knew. He'd probably heard me sighing impatiently and pacing in my room in the middle of the night. Stupid super-senses. "Go get some sleep."

"Did you sleep?" I countered, seeing the dark patches beneath his eyes. He opened his mouth, closed it, and glanced out the window. I nodded. "Exactly. So let's just pretend you never said that, or I'll have to go into a huge lecture about not preaching a rulebook you can't even follow--"

"Have you tried?" he asked suddenly. I had gone back to pacing, but now I faced him. He was staring at me from under his curtain of shaggy hair, one eyebrow raised. "Have you tried summoning your aunt?"

I blinked, and exhaled. My feathers were still a little ruffled though, so I didn't mind being short with him. "No, I haven't. Why is it any of your business?"

He chewed on his lip before jerking his chin toward the living room. "Andrew's got the others playing a card game. Simon was going to keep them at it for awhile so I could go for another run." He turned his ear to the room, listening. "They're still busy. We could try summoning your aunt instead."

"Andrew said--"

"I know what he said," Derek said, already striding for the door. "I understand the concern. But we won't go far, and I want to know the area in case--"

"In case we have to make a quick get away?" I mumbled.

He nodded, carefully twisting the doorknob and stepping onto the back steps. "You coming?"

"I don't think--"

"Okay," he said, and left. The door almost swung into its frame, and I grabbed it before it slammed and gave him away.

My eyes traveled to the living room door, angled just so I couldn't see the others sitting there. But someone burst into laughter -- Simon -- and I took a deep breath, stepping outside. I could get away with this for a little bit. Simon had already proved his ability to lighten the mood, distract you from worry. I'd be fine.

I rolled my eyes as I leapt from the steps to the grass. I wouldn't be fine until I was out of here.

"Change your mind?" Derek asked as I rushed to match his pace and enter the woods. I glanced at his face, met his knowing eyes, and snorted.

"Something like that," I chuckled, looking over my shoulder at the house. The trees swallowed us from view.

---

"Do you want to try?"

"Not yet."

"You should, it'll settle your nerves--"

I snorted. "Yeah, sure, finding out that my aunt may be dead because she risked her life to save mine will totally settle my nerves, absolutely. It couldn't possibly make me feel even more guilty about traipsing around in the woods or hiding in a safe house when I should be going to help her. Of course, Derek, you're so right."

Instead of shrugging or pointing out that checking would give me a clue as to what to do next, Derek gave a short, rumbling chuckle. "What are you laughing at?" I asked, exasperated.

"Nothing."

"Tell me, or I'll get Liz to come here and throw a branch at your head."

He rolled his eyes, knowing it was an empty threat. We were stepping over a cropping of rocks, taking what must be the path of most resistance through the forest. Just as before, Derek would occasionally stop and listen, this time making sure we stayed near the edge of the forest. He was scoping out the possible getaway routes, but all I saw was trees. "It'll just make you more upset."

"You are so difficult."

He stopped, his mouth twitching, almost laughing but not quite. "The only time you manage to get out a long winded speech without stuttering is when you're yelling at me."

I shifted slightly in the weeds that coated the forest floor, not sure whether to laugh at the absurdity or roll my eyes at the veiled jab. I went with sarcasm, the middle ground. "Now if I could only apply this to the rest of my long winded speeches. Then I'd be in business."

"Or politics," he joked, taking up our hike again.

"Where are we?" I asked, trying to keep the impatience out of my voice. "Where's the house?"

He pointed over his shoulder, behind us and to the west. "Not far, unfortunately."

"Something wrong?" I asked. He slowed as I tried getting through some thick underbrush that he had simply stepped over. After watching me struggle, he grabbed my hand to steady me, and I made it through. "Thanks."

He muttered a gruff "you're welcome" and dropped my hand. Then, "What was the question?"

"What's wrong? You know why I'm going crazy, so what's wrong with you?"

"Nothing."

"Your mind must be really interesting," I remarked. "On one side, science experiments involving decaying flesh and survival tips galore, and on the other, a barren wasteland of Nothing." He met my eyes, laughing slightly again. "Seriously. What's wrong?"

"Like I said, it's nothing. Just..." He ran a hand through his hair, which had dried to a mess during our hike. A moment of blind finger-combing and he huffed, stuffed his hands in his pockets. "Just restless. We've been running for days. Hard to snap out of the instinct."

"Like slamming on the brakes," I said. He nodded. "What are we going to do?"

He didn't answer for awhile, then drew the words out slowly, as if it annoyed him to say it out loud. "I don't know."

"I can't stay cooped up in that house forever," I said. Anything to keep him talking. If it helped me to admit these things, it would probably help him too. "I'll go crazy. For real this time."

He snorted. "I can't either."

"Where'd you run?" I asked. "This morning?"

He gestured to the ground. "Same path." I couldn't help wondering what 'path' he was talking about -- the trees weren't thin anywhere -- but didn't say anything. "Just getting a closer look now."

"What for?"

He slowed again, and eventually we stopped. "See that tree?" he asked, pointing to his right, into the distance.

"Which one?" I asked. He sighed. He stepped behind me, leaned close to my face, and pointed. I ignored the faint smell of sweat, which actually surprised me. It was faint. For once, I could actually smell the soap over his sweat. "See?"

I could see. It was an oak or something like it, spreading out into four or five branches, one of which bent back towards the earth and curved up again, like a rollercoaster track. It was very distinctive amidst the other tall, straight trees.

"Markers," he said. "Better to know these woods if we have to run from guns again. It'll give us an advantage... Speaking of guns, how's your arm?"

I rolled up my sleeve, wondering myself about yesterday's bullet graze. Before we went to 'sleep,' Andrew had cleaned it up with some peroxide, and changed the bandages on my stitches to cover both. I pulled the gauze down slightly, studying the wound, but I honestly didn't know anything about bullet grazes, only that they stung. Bad.

Derek took my arm and inspected it, his grip light. "Does it look okay?" I asked, frowning.

"Yeah, should be fine. Does it hurt at all? Itch?" When I stared up at him in confusion, he clarified. "I'm just making sure there's no infection."

"Oh. No, no itching. The muscle's sore, but I guess it's just from the blow, you know?"

"Most likely," he agreed, setting my bandage back into place. He smoothed it with his fingers, getting rid of the ripples I'd stretch into it as best he could, then let me roll my sleeve back into place. "You should head back," he said, staring at my arm.

"I doubt I'm going to get shot again."

"True, but Andrew's right. Can't risk it."

My annoyance flared again, and I understood the look Andrew had given him that morning. It hadn't been annoyance, it was worry. Worry over Derek's mind. He was out here risking himself to play guard dog, literally. If it was dangerous for me, it was just as dangerous for him. "You aren't indestructible either." He didn't move. "If I have to go in, so do you. I've seen you Change, and there was no bulletproof vest involved, before or after."

"You've got people to take care of," he muttered. He stepped away, nodded towards the house. "Go on."

"Simon needs you," I pointed out, not moving. "We all need you. Stop acting like you're expendable. You're not a martyr."

"I'm not trying to be," he said, shoving his hands in his pockets. He jaw muscles twitched as he glared at me. "I'm keeping an eye on what I can."

"You are acting like a martyr. What was with that signal yesterday? You could've been subtle and gotten us all out, but you had to whistle the gunslingers straight to you--"

"I gave you your best shot of getting away," he said, eyes dark.

"Yeah, and I appreciate that," I said. And I did. "But you need to give yourself the best shot, too."

He rolled his eyes and turned, stomping on a plant as he headed back, probably trying to lure me back to the house. "Why bother?"

"We went over this," I said, grabbing his shoulder and glowering into his green eyes. "You're not a monster or a villain. But that doesn't mean you're an extra either."

He stared at me, not blinking, "So what am I? What do they call my character in the movies, Chloe? Not exactly leading guy material here."

"But you are the leader," I murmured. "We all can take care of ourselves, but..." My voice crackled, but I cleared it and plowed on. "But you can think when we can't. You always have an idea, even if it's stupid and risks your life." I let go of his arm, fidgeted, then started picking at my nails. The woods seemed a lot quieter than before. I met his gaze again. "You want to help. You even went back for Tori. That's something, isn't it? If Tori isn't expendable--"

"She is," he grumbled.

"But she wasn't," I said, glaring again. "Not then. If Tori is sticking around, you are too. Got it? If you hadn't found her last night, Simon would've wanted you to come back, and so would I. I don't want her to get hurt, but if it's you or her..." I trailed off, mentally cursing my pink cheeks. "You said it would be okay. Don't you believe that? Or is it just going to turn out okay for me and Simon? Clarify that for me."

My eyes searched his face, looking for any defiance or submission, but he just looked... sad. The buzzing something in my head was starting up again, this time with an edge of concern. "Derek?"

"You... and Simon... will be okay," he murmured. "I can't promise that for myself. But two out of three isn't bad."

"Stop talking like that!" I exploded, actually rousing surprise from his face. I raised my hand as if to slap him, but thought better of it -- as if I could take him -- and settled on words, something I was clearly more experienced in using. "Promise you'll try your hardest to make it out of this. Not just Simon, or me, but you too. Promise me."

"I can't do that."

I wanted to scream. How could someone so determined still have so much defeat left in him? But I already had the answer. The only thing keeping me from being defeated was the hope that Aunt Lauren was still alive, that Rae was okay, that one day I'd see my dad again. I had something to keep going for, a goal in mind. Once Derek got Simon and I through this... what then?

That's what he was thinking about. What comes next? Once we weren't running or fighting anymore, what did Derek have to go back to? Simon could get back to his life, and I could get back to mine, but Derek was far from popular or part of a crowd. He was a loner. He didn't have to make promises to anyone unless it was for their own good. He didn't fit anywhere, why bother trying?

"That's not true," I said, still locked in his gaze.

"It is," he said, misinterpreting me. "I can't promise it. You two come first. That's that."

"But Simon wouldn't be okay if something happened to you. Neither would I. How does that fit into your calculations?"

"Chloe, is this about me, or Simon, or you? Because I can't tell anymore."

"You." It was the truth, and I didn't mind saying it. But it was still only half of the truth. "And... and me. If you d-didn't... If there was some s-sort of accident..."

"It wouldn't be your fault."

"It wouldn't be y-yours either. You don't deserve it."

We'd been standing centimeters apart, the early morning sun casting leafy shadows on our faces, and I had to tilt my head almost to the vertical to look at him. His skin was almost entirely clear now, and his eyes were so intently focused on mine that I wanted to look away. At the same time, I couldn't. I was winning, I could feel it. I wouldn't back down now. I'd never back down on this point, because I was right, and somewhere in there, he knew it too.

"You don't deserve it," I repeated in a whisper, firm. My hand rose involuntarily to straighten the wrinkle in his sweatshirt, my cheeks heating up as I did so, my heartbeat thumping in my ears, but I didn't pull away. His hand wrapped around mine, and I felt the space between us closing. My heart found a way to drum faster.

So he wasn't leading guy material. So what? There's more to a character than good looks and swarthy acting skills. When we'd been accused of fooling around in the crawl space, I'd felt horrible for denying it, even though I had every right to, every reason to.

Then he hesitated, most likely remembering the same thing, and I decided I'd had enough. I wanted him to do it, not out of pity or distress. I'm not a damsel, I'm the heroine, and I should be able to kiss whoever I want. Underdog included. I had every reason to. I leaned up -- almost on tiptoe -- and pressed my lips to his. A second passed, and he leaned into it, kissing me back. A small part of my brain was screaming very girlish things, Oh my god! My first kiss! Am I even doing this right? But the rest of me was just soaking up the sensations. His lips on mine, his hair brushing against my forehead, his thumb on the pulse point of my wrist...

He pulled away, and my girlish side ambushed my senses. You just had your first kiss! With Derek! My head was spinning, but mostly with a breeze of happiness. I'd won. He didn't say it, but I won. I fought the urge to start gloating, or do a victory dance--

"I don't deserve a lot of things," he said, but his tone said it all. It was practically the white flag of surrender.

"That's crap." But my eyes were crinkled in amusement.

"Maybe."

"It is."

He mouth quirked into a smile, one of the rare few, and I was red in the cheeks again as I smiled back. Still trying to hold his ground, even when he'd lost it.

I glanced down. Our hands were still together, and the gentle rubbing of his thumb reminded me of being cornered in the park by the other werewolves. I hadn't noticed it much then, but I noticed it now, and it was more calming than any good night's sleep. My breath flew out in a contented sigh.

"DEREK? CHLOE? WHERE THE HELL ARE YOU?"

Even I, with my dull human hearing, heard that. Derek winced, swearing as he glanced over his shoulder. "Andrew," he said, though he didn't have to. "Simon's with him, trying to stall... We have to go back."

"We?" I asked, eyebrows raised expectantly.

He rolled his eyes, and a laugh passed my lips. "Yeah, we. Better?"

"Much."

His mouth twitched, almost smiling again. "C'mon. If Andrew doesn't kill us, we still have to deal with the Edison Group." His eyes had darkened all over again, and the frown reappeared.

I mimicked his expression, trying to lighten the mood. "No distractions for Derek Souza."

"Nope." He started to walk away, but turned back mid-step. My eyes widened in shock as he hovered over my face again and said, "Maybe just one distraction."

My second kiss was promptly interrupted by Andrew screaming into the woods. "IF YOU'RE NOT IN MY SIGHT IN THE NEXT FIVE MINUTES, I WON'T LET YOU BACK IN AT ALL!"

Derek pulled away again, looking beyond annoyed. "He's kidding." He lead the way out of the woods, my hand still in his.

"I'M NOT KIDDING!"

We both snorted, coming into the house's clearing, close to the front door. Andrew was nowhere in sight, probably still near the back. "Think if we sneak in through the front, and lie really well, he'll believe we were just exploring the house?"

"Doubt it," he said. We glanced at each other, a quick exchange of understanding, and bolted for the front door.

Hey, it was worth a shot.

---

A/N: One of the things I just love about the Chloe/Derek relationship is that they argue. Sorry to break it to those of you who think otherwise, but there is no such thing as a conflict-free relationship. So if you have to argue, argue like Chloe and Derek, about the important things. And if you still want to be sunshine and lollipops, we don't have to call it an argument: we can call it a 'discussion'. Lol.

Anyway, I tried very hard to keep the two of them in character, as well as Simon, Tori, and Andrew (to an extent; we don't know much about him anyway, right? Lol). But since we don't really know how Derek might handle a situation like that, I let Chloe make the move. Too much? Too little? Any opinions on the characterization would be great.

Hell, any opinions/critiques on any of it would be great. So why don't you take a second and review? Pretty please? ;)

Thanks for reading! - C

PS: Oh yeah, Fun Fact! Did anyone notice that the name Derek actually means 'people leader'? I found that out a few years ago when I was researching names for a story, and just found it ironic as I was reading the series. Lol.