Okay, is it me?
I mean, I know I jump around in time.
It comes with the job.
But am I missing something here?
Weren't we on chapter eight last week?
I'm so confused!
It was Avan who untied me. Avan, who had just endured a vicious lashing. Avan, who had cried out with every blow. Avan, who was so selfless that he was willing to do anything for me.
He fell several times in his attempt to get to me. At last he did. He fumbled at the knots with hands that shook so badly he could hardly keep his grip on the rope. With a grunt of frustration he used his teeth. When my right hand was free, I helped him pull the other knots loose.
"Avan, I'm sorry!" I sobbed, taking him into my arms. "God, I'm so stupid. I'm sorry. I didn't know what else to do."
His fingers dug into my shoulders. He buried his face into my hair, his breath hot, his back convulsing in my arms. I felt his mouth press harder into my shoulder. I made my decision when his choked-back sounds of pain reached my ears.
I stood and stripped the bed, carrying the blankets, the sheets, the pillows into the bathroom. I turned on the bathwater and waited for it to warm. When the tub filled, I made my way back and I crouched over Avan, I lightened my voice as if speaking to a child.
"Avan, sweetheart. I need you to walk with me. Can you do that?"
Without letting him answer, I pulled his arm over my shoulder and eased him to his feet.
The walk to the bathroom was slow and painful. Avan's legs threatened to buckle with each step, his gait hobbled, his balance nonexistent.
"Just a few more steps." I reassured him, though I knew those few steps would be agony.
He stumbled, nearly falling into the doorway. I clutched him tighter, unwilling to let him give up. When he was finally in the tub, in the warm soothing water, a look of relief shimmered across his face. I climbed in with him. I wrapped my arms around his shoulders. He lay his head against me, his eyes closed, his body relaxing. He inhaled, shaky and reached down to grab his toes. His voice was breathy.
"I can't feel them anymore."
A sudden weight crushed against my chest. His feet hadn't only been whipped raw. They'd been whipped numb. And it frightened him. Avan, who faced men larger and stronger than himself in the octagon. Avan, who feared nothing. This? This scared him, and a searing hatred filled me. It wasn’t just hatred for our captor, the one who had hurt him. No. It was hatred for myself, the one who had let it happen, the one who didn't stop it, the one who just sat and watched in relief.
I took the hand that gripped his toes and rested it over my breast. His fingers curled slightly closed under my hand as if he was trying to hold onto my heartbeat.
"Can you feel that?" I whispered.
After a moment, his hand opened, his moist fingers spreading across the bare skin of my collarbone, and I let my own fingers press his hand closer to my chest. He didn't smile, just softly tapped his index finger to the beat of my heart. The gesture, so soothing, so effortless, felt more intimate than making love. As in tune with the other’s needs as we were during these moments of complete trust and vulnerability, it was moments like this that strengthened our connection more. The feeling of his skin against my own, these soft touches, these led to a greater intimacy than sex. I rocked him back and forth until the water grew cold.
Our skin pruned beneath our clothes. I helped Avan out of the tub and sat him on the toilet. Taking the towels off the hook behind the door, I wrapped them tightly around Avan's shoulders, then pulled off my wet clothes, leaving me in just my bra and panties. I used my clothes to dry the tub as best I could, and stuffed the bedclothes in. I crouched in front of Avan, drawing his hands to my chest, willing him to focus only on my heartbeat. When I was sure he was dry enough, that he wasn't in danger of going into shock, I guided him back into the tub and there we lay down. It was cramped and cold, but I couldn't let Avan try to walk into the bedroom from the bath on his own and I certainly couldn't just leave him here alone.
He mumbled my name
"What is it?" I asked him.
He slowly sucked in his breath. In a calm voice, he said something that shook me to the core.
"You need to leave me here. When he comes back, get out and run as fast as you can. Don't wait for me. Just run."
In the end, I stayed.
A little concept art below from Taylor!