|photo credit: Cheryl Ruffing|
Standing up carefully, she stepped on something soft. Picking it up, she realized it was a thin cotton tunic, and beneath that a slim pair of wool trousers, enfolded in a heavy green cloak. "Oh, right." Alexis fondled the soft, clean fabric with longing, shivering involuntarily as a morning draft danced across her bare arm and she looked down at the last tattered shreds that made up her dress. She recalled the icy stroke of the knife all along her arm as it sliced the sleeve. He'd brought her these, she realized, pressing the warm new clothes to her face and breathing a silent thank you into them.
She undressed quickly, her dress falling to the floor in a dirty pile at her ankles. The cold air twined about her bare, white frame and her teeth chattered as she stepped into the leggings. She sighed audibly as they settled thick and warm about her legs. She took a few hesitant steps and laughed softly. Never had she felt so much freedom. This was true luxury.
Alexis nearly leapt out of her skin when the door opened behind her. Whipping about, she saw Will standing dumb-founded in the doorway. He blushed bright red and lowered his eyes. She cowered before him and turned away, her hands clutching the still folded shirt across her chest. Her bony, porcelain back stretched before him, deformed by terrible scars and bruises. A canvas of blue, yellow and red. He glanced at it in spite of himself, and his heart ached to think of how much pain she must be in.
Alexis's mouth hung open, but, try as she might, no sound would come out. Furiously she tried to pull on the shirt, and biting a cry as she realized it was impossible to dress with her wounded arm.
"You were going to run again, weren't you?" The question burned like a hot coal in both their hearts. Will set his jaw as he firmly took the fabric from her hands and settled it about her, waiting to be answered.
Her mind raced as she realized how much worse she had just made matters. "Will—"
"After all of this. All I've done, I only wanted to help you. I wanted..." His voice faltered to a stop. "Why? Why do you do this?" He was desperate to know now, and, having adjusted the shirt over her neck, he whipped her about to face him, catching a glimpse of the terror in her eyes before it dissolved into anger.
"Who are you to control me? So, you saved my life. Well, I seem to recall a pack of well-armed soldiers that would have torn you to shreds if I hadn't been there. So we're even. You have no obligation towards me! Just let me leave." The words meant almost nothing to her now. She had no plan, no valid objection to doing as he asked, all that spurred her on was the only instinct she had left: retreat.
"Let me look at your arm."
"No! You've done enough, now let me go! I'm not going to be anyone's prisoner. Not again. Not ever again." The tears burned and slipped through her weakened defenses. She turned away, ashamed of them.
"I don't want you to be a prisoner. I'm not trying to control you; all I want is to help you! Why can't you accept that and let me?" He pulled her back to him and searched her tear-stained face.
She saw then. She saw now, in his frightened, worried, gentle gaze, that he didn't hate her. That try as he might, he never could. "Because I don't deserve your help."
He straightened and stepped back, releasing her. "What?" His voice quivered with pained fury, and she saw that she had hurt him in a way she never had before. "You have no idea— You have no right to decide what a person does and doesn't deserve." The look in his eyes hardened from soft concern to tortured, raw heartache. "Please, I need to take care of your arm, or it will never heal properly." He voiced his request in a heartless, cold tone.
Speechless in the realization of her wrong, of how awful she had made things, all Alexis could do now was nod, eyes cast down, shoulders hunched in defeat. "What have I done?" She groaned inwardly.
Start at the beginning: Chapter 1 Part 1