Times Like These

Chapter 27

The feeling of something warm and soothing crossing over her bare skin had her emit a low hum of approval as she resisted opening her eyes. She felt heavy and comfortable, and as her mind slowly began to function she wanted to stay there and float. Then like a tidal wave of cold water it all clicked with her. Bare skin. Nate. Alone.

She was frantically moving backwards before her eyes were even open, hands flashing out to knock away whoever or whatever was touching her in a desperate bid to get to safety.

Her left hand hit something hard and unyielding sending a flare of shooting pain up her arm but she pushed it away as she tried to get her feet under her.

It was Oliver repeatedly saying her name that finally made her still. She blinked up at him, panting and breathless as he held her shoulders down, bent over her with a worried expression pinching his face.

“Hey, I’m sorry, you’re safe,” he said quickly, as his grip loosened some and she sank back into what she now knew was the couch.

She looked down and around to see they were no longer on the floor inside the doorway. She didn’t remember him moving her, but his eyes were red-rimmed and bore the evidence of his own anguish.

The torn button up shirt she’d been wearing was gone, along with the t-shirt she’d worn underneath leaving her in a bra and the loose fitting jeans. A forgotten cloth, stained a dull reddish brown lay across her right thigh, creating a damp patch that had darkened the denim.

Oliver snatched it up when he saw her looking at it, “Sorry I...just the blood. I wanted to clean you up.” he said by way of explanation, his voice tight and strained.

Emotions threatened to overwhelm her and suddenly everything was too close and yet too big at the same time. With a gasp she tried to sit up, her hand slipping on leather beneath her, making her let out a half frustrated, half panicked noise that had Oliver reaching to help her.

Her hands came up defensively and he reared back like she’d struck him, almost stumbling backwards until his legs hit the table and then he just stood, looking numb like he didn’t know what to do.

Felicity pulled herself up and sat on the edge of the couch, elbows propped on her knees as she hid her face in her hands and tried to take deep, centering breaths.

Her thoughts spun wildly as she sat hunched over, cool air on her bare back making her shiver. She knew why she had reacted like she had but Oliver didn’t, and she’d hurt him with her actions even though she hadn’t meant to.

“I’m sorry…” she began, only to be cut off as he crouched in front of her but didn’t make a move to touch her. It made her heart ache and she wanted to reach for him, but her arms had dropped to wrap around herself, unconsciously covering as much as possible and she couldn’t seem to make them let go.

“Na...he...he might have taken my clothes off while I was sedated, put me in something else. I don’t know. I don’t remember.” tears rolled down her face. She was so sick of crying but she didn’t know how to stop. “The doctor...she said…” when she paused Oliver visibly flinched and she rushed on before he could think the worst, “She said I could have been awake then but have no memory if the dose was too high,” it was something she had to cling to, the chance that maybe it hadn’t been Nate that had changed her, that she had been awake enough to do that herself and just not remember.

Oliver was almost vibrating as he tried to keep himself under control. His jaw clenched so hard his face was beginning to turn red and the leather creaked under his hand where he gripped the couch.

“I just...when I woke up and my clothes were off and I didn’t know where I was. I’m sorry,” she said it in a rush, arms holding herself tighter and wishing she could let Oliver hold her just then.

A look of shame and guilt overtook him, causing to pull back even further, not knowing what he should do or say.

“I’ll...I’ll be right back,” he said in a gravelly voice as he shot to his feet, only hesitating for an instant above her before he was gone.

She didn’t dare lift her head to see where he went. Part of her wouldn’t have blamed him if he’d left the room. She knew her disappearance had been bad for him, she could see that but she felt like maybe they were both too broken just then to help each other.

And then he was standing in front of her again, a garment in each hand looking more unsure than she’d ever seen him before.

When she saw what he held she gasped, and it took no time at all to make her decision.

“I didn’t know which one you’d want,”

One hand held a set of her flannel pajamas, the other held one of his dress shirts, the one she’d been wearing the day they’d left for the winery.

All the air left her lungs and she was reaching for his shirt, and his hand, and him in an instant.

“This one, I want this one,” she said brokenly,

Oliver let the pajamas fall to the floor as he dropped to his knees in front of her, gathering her to him as she clutched the shirt between them.

The tension in him was still strung as tight as his bow and she hated that she’d caused it. “I’m sorry,” she mumbled into his neck as his hands soothed up and down her back.

“Don’t. Don’t apologize, ever.” he said fiercely, “I should have thought...I shouldn’t have done that with you not aware.”

She shook her head, unable to bear the guilt she could hear, “No, you were trying to help. You were trying to take care of me.”

A rough exhale caused his hands to still and his back to go even more rigid. They were silent as she just leaned into him and let him know without words that she didn’t blame him for anything.

She concentrated on his pulse and his warmth and his scent as she felt her heart rate slow and some of the tension ease out of both of them.

When she felt like she wasn’t about to shatter she slowly pulled back, until the cool air of the room made her shiver. “Could you help me?” she asked, fingers so tight around the fabric of the shirt she held her nail beds had turned white. A glance down showed where he’d only wiped some of the blood from her arm, her shoulder and upper part of her chest was still stained as was the cheap utilitarian bra she wore.

He didn’t reply, just reached for the cloth and then her arm and she didn’t know if it was because he didn’t trust his voice, but she suspected it was. She let the shirt she held fall to her lap as he carefully wiped away the streaks and trails off her skin.

Finger by finger she made herself release the desperate grip she had on the fabric, feeling the blood rush back into each digit making them tingle and spark. Oliver was concentrating on his task, eyes furrowed as he held the weight of her arm with one hand and used the other to remove the blood, taking care not to get the tape around the bandage wet.

He stilled when she reached out and let her hand brush his chest. His eyes flashed to hers and they stared at each other for a long moment as he begged without words for her to tell him what she needed.

Her fingers moved again and he shifted forward, just a few centimeters but enough so that her palm flattened against him. The breath in her chest hitched as she pressed in towards him, feeling the heat and solidness of him under her hand. She ran it upwards until she came to his neck and let it cup the side.

His head turned into her, a myriad of emotions running through his eyes. The sorrow and guilt were battling for dominance and once again her heart twisted.

He blinked for a long moment and then he was back to cleaning her arm. She left her hand on his neck, needing to feel him, her thumb unconsciously running over his pulse point.

The muscles worked as he swallowed thickly, making her thumb pause for a second. She hadn’t expected a small flush of desire to strike her just then, but it did, her belly warming at the thought.

Attention firmly fixed on the image of her chipped blue nail polish contrasting against his tanned skin she didn’t notice when he ran the cloth under the strap on her left shoulder. When he did it a second time she looked down and saw how stained the bra was, more ruined than she had previously thought.

Small flutters of panic were stoked in her chest. She didn’t want it on any longer, she wanted it gone. The jeans too. Everything associated with him needed to be gone.

It wasn’t until Oliver’s hands closed over hers that she realized she had been trying to reach behind her with both hands to undo the clasp, ignoring how it pulled at her stitches.

“Shh, I’ll get it,” he said carefully, bringing her hands back to the front, squeezing them once, letting his thumbs rub across her palms before he reached around her and opened the hooks.

As the straps slid down her arms she couldn’t help but notice how hesitant he was. This wasn’t the same man that had teased her the week before while they’d been in bed, driving her mad with his kisses and his fingers while she was trying to talk to Lance on the phone. Now he was unsure of how and where he could touch her and it hurt her to see him like that.

The bra slipped from her arms and he quickly put it out of sight behind him. She shivered from the cold, not from being scared but he froze in place, cloth halfway to her shoulder with a stricken look on his face.

Her hand had wrapped around his wrist before she knew she had moved, guiding the cloth to her skin, “It’s okay,”

His eyes slammed shut, and together they finished wiping away the last traces of her ordeal, at least the ones that could be removed just then. The bruises would fade, but she’d carry the scars of the past week for the rest of her life.

Oliver let the cloth drop to his side when he was finished and the only sound in the room was their breaths. With hands that refused to stop trembling she reached for the button of the jeans.

“Do you want me to go?” he said suddenly, the words sounding louder than they were, “Or turn around, or…?”

She almost laughed at the absurdity of the question because she was sitting in front of him naked from the waist up.

He must have taken her silence badly. The next thing she knew he was on his feet, pacing in the small space between the table and the chairs that sat opposite the couch. One hand rubbed over the back of his neck as he moved, his steps jerky and almost uncoordinated which was so unlike him. “God, Felicity I don’t...I don’t know what to do. I don’t know if I’m doing the right thing. I don’t know what you need,” his voice was broken and desperate,

She was standing and taking halting steps his direction before he paused and noticed her, reddened eyes making her freeze as she clutched the shirt to her stomach although she made no move to cover herself.

“You are,” she told him, “You’re all I need,”

All the air seemed to leave his lungs at once and his shoulders slumped forward with the action. “Just tell me if I’m not. Tell me.”

“I just need you,” she whispered as she took two more steps until she could touch him.

His arms wrapped around him, enveloping her fully.

She needed his touch and his presence and his scent. Each of her senses needed to be able to ground themselves with him as an anchor.

With strong warm hands running up and down her back and the sound of his heartbeat under her ear she felt her eyes becoming heavy.

She swayed only slightly when Oliver pulled back far enough to take the shirt from her. He murmured assurances into her hair as he carefully slid it up her injured arm and then the other. She concentrated on keeping her balance when he had to step away to do up the buttons, one of her hands coming out to hold onto his forearm, feeling the play of the muscles underneath as his deft fingers made quick work.

She’d slept so much, or been sedated for so long she wouldn’t have thought she’d want to sleep again for a week. But a weariness had settled over her she couldn’t seem to fight and all she wanted to do was curl up in Oliver’s perfect bed with him surrounding her.

He must have sensed her state, “Come on, lets finish this and then you can rest.” he said as his hand cupped her cheek.

She nodded once and reached down under the tail of the shirt to find the button of the jeans although she thought she could wiggle out of them the way they were with how loose they fit.

As he knelt in front of her she braced a hand on his shoulder, biting back a small gasp when his palm lightly gripped the side of her thigh as she stepped out of the jeans. Thin trails of heat spread from where he was lightly touching around the stitches in her leg. “Do you want these out?” he asked throatily,

She shook her head no, “They can stay another day, right? I just…” she didn’t want to bother with it then and Oliver understood. Without another word he tossed the jeans towards the table when he stood and before she could second guess her action she stripped the cheap cotton underwear off as well; the last scrap of clothing that she’d been forced to put on.

Both his hands cradled her face now as he looked down at her with an almost unreadable expression. Tears pricked her eyes and she wondered if he’d ever be able to look at her again without that half-destroyed visage.

“You should eat,” he said almost sadly, “I can have them bring something up--”

“No, I’m okay,” the thought of food made her stomach roll. Even though she knew she needed food she also knew she couldn’t handle it right then.

“Felicity…” he began imploringly, thumbs stroking over her cheekbones, avoiding the bruises that made his eyes darken,

“Oliver,” she countered, “I just...I’ll eat tomorrow, I promise,”

His breath brushed over her face as he lowered his forehead to hers, lips trailing along her hairline, “Okay,” he conceded,

“I need you to hold me, that’s all,” she admitted as fresh tears flooded her eyes,

He gathered her back to him, his grip almost too tight but she didn’t care.

“Get in bed, I’ll be right there,” he said as he stepped back, quickly pinching the bridge of his nose as he made to head towards his closet,

But she couldn’t seem to let him out of her sight and as he stepped past her she reached out and grabbed the end of his shirt.

Oliver turned in surprise, looking down to see how tight she held on and without a word slid his hand over hers until she let go. With their fingers intertwined they silently made their way to the closet.

He didn’t release her until they were inside and she sat on the plush ottoman with her legs tucked up under her as he pulled out lightweight sweatpants and a grey t-shirt.

The small noise of protest that came from the back of her throat when she saw he planned on wearing a shirt surprised both of them. He didn’t look at her as he put the shirt back, but she did see the corner of his lips tick up and it made her heart flip.

That small bit of normalcy lifted some of the shadow that had seemed to shroud her.

He remained quiet as he held out a hand for her to take and pulled her gently from her seat. She pressed herself into his side and sighed as his arm wrapped around her back and tugged her close.

When he pulled the covers of the bed back she climbed in immediately, flashing back to the first time they’d shared the bed and how she’d tried to stay as far away from him as possible. Now she deliberately didn’t go past the middle as she waited for him to join her.

She lay stiff and anxious until the mattress dipped and then he was sliding one arm beneath her, the other wrapping around her from behind, careful of her arm.

Her heart flipped and she shifted backwards until she was molded into him, no part of her not touching some part of him and it was almost overwhelming because this was what she had wanted and needed.

She didn’t feel weak, or scared, or have a need to hide. Instead she felt loved, and safe, and protected and for the first time in so long she allowed herself to drop her guard, to trust he was there to take care of her.

Oliver’s face was pressed tight into her neck, she could feel the rough scratch of his stubble along the top of her shoulder and she welcomed it. His arms overlapped across her middle, leaving her completely enclosed by his body, her head pillowed on his bicep.

“I couldn’t stay in here while you were gone,” his voice was strained, like he wasn’t sure he should be talking but he didn’t have a choice, “We used the computers but...I couldn’t sleep in here, not without out you,”

Her eyes blurred and she found herself turning her head just slightly to purse her lips against his skin. “I wanted this...I wanted this so badly. This bed, and this shirt, and you…” she swallowed thickly and kept talking before she could make herself stop, “One morning I woke up and I thought I was here, I thought you were touching my hair and I was so happy,” she didn’t need to finish the story. He knew she hadn’t been there and he knew what she’d woken up to.

He held her tighter, dropping small kisses along her jaw, up to her temple, then into her hair before he placed his head on the pillow and let his chin rest on her crown, and she thought he might need to hold her as much as she did.

“Just rest,” he said,

“What if I can’t?”

“I’m right here, I’m not leaving,” he assured her and she wished she could trust she wouldn’t be plagued by nightmares as soon as she shut her eyes, “Rest,”

With a sigh she settled against him even further and fixed her eyes on a small scar on his arm. She let her mind go blank and drifted. It could have been hours or only minutes that she lay there just trying to exist, to not think on what had happened or what she’d done.

Oliver’s presence was the only thing that allowed her to do that, it was the only thing that let her feel safe enough. And for a little while at least when she did fall asleep she didn’t dream at all.

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