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It was almost impossible to keep his eyes shut. Each brush of skin, intake of breath or quiet noise that came from Lillian was silently begging him to open his eyes. Frederick tried as hard as possible to focus on lifting the material, following Lillian's instructions without hesitation. Stopping was easier, at least when his hands were not moving he could ensure that they were held away from her body, it was when he again began to move, pulling the nightdress up his knuckles brushing her sides and then over her head where he felt the silk strands of hair caught between his fingers.
As she spoke his name, a whisper, he felt his chest tighten. There was something about the way she said his name that made the skin on his arms prickle and the air in his lungs escape. If he trusted himself to talk he would have told her how dangerous it was, he would have advised her not to say his name again until he had removed himself to the other side of the room and she was clothed in the most modest of dresses. Instead, he continued to pull the dress, freeing the material from her body and his fingers from the feel of her hair. Frederick dropped the dress onto the floor by his feet.
Hesitantly he moved his hands, trying to gauge whilst keeping his eyes shut, where the bottom piece of the dress was. His hands grazed her hips before his fingers found the edge of the material. Slowly he started to pull the dress down, shifting it as much as he could without getting Lillian to move. He had not thought the second part would have been as hard but unlike the top, where he had been able to keep his hands pulled away from her skin as much as possible, the bottom was caught underneath her, meaning his hands hand no choice but to come into contact with her hips.
“Sorry.” He whispered, his voice relaying all of the tension he felt carrying out the task. Frederick clenched his jaw, biting down on his teeth, as his hands moved lower. As his hands moved down realisation hit him. Without thinking he pulled his hands back, dropping the material. One hand flew to his eyes, covering them- not out of modesty but embarrassment. “God, Lillian. I’m such an idiot. I shouldn’t have suggested helping you.” He breathed, his voice still weak and his heart racing. Freddie could feel now that his hands were shaking, unsteady yet restrained from touching her again.
The room felt hotter than it was, the air suffocating. Frederick Lester had undressed women before. He had touched and kissed and done all manner of immoral things to a woman. Frederick Lester did not get hot and bothered over one simple, blonde haired, sharp-tongued woman. Lillian would think him crazy by now, the way he had pulled his hands away and how his face burnt and hands shook. She didn’t know how hard this had become, not because his eyes were closed but because every time he touched her he wanted more. Simply undressing her was not enough, not that he would tell her that.
Frederick opened one eye, peeking through the sliver of space between his fingers so that all he could see was her face. She looked in pain and Frederick was almost sure she would laugh at him any moment now.
“I think this is the first time I’ve ever wish you to be less attractive than you are.” He said softly, trying to force a smile over the flutter of emotions in his stomach. “I would have no problem with keeping my eyes closed if you weren’t so darn beautiful.”
Above everything else, Lillian was glad that the two of them could still keep their teasing at the forefront of their relationship and that he didn’t change the way he acted around her because she had been hurt. That was the last thing she wanted after everything and she was grateful that their argument was over and they had pretty much resumed their regular relationship. She smiled at his joke and watched as he leaned forward to check her temperature, glad that he mistook her flushed cheeks for a fever rather than the actual cause which was his closeness to her.
Lillian nodded when he told her that he was going to get the bag and while she was alone again she adjusted her positioning slightly so that it would be easier for them to work together to remove her clothing. No one had ever seen her in such a way before and although he had promised to keep his eyes shut she knew that it would be difficult for him to help her if he couldn’t see what he was doing. Besides the very fact that she would be exposed [i near] him was enough to make her overthink the situation, especially since her feelings for him had grown over the last couple of weeks. All this time she had joked with him and acted as though she was disgusted at his suggestions when really she had been hiding the fact that she wanted nothing more than to kiss him again, only this time it wouldn’t be for an alibi or a distraction. Lillian really wanted to kiss him but she knew that she couldn’t. He didn’t return her feelings and she could hardly talk to him about the way she was feeling because she figured that he wouldn’t be able to handle it. Yes, he admitted that he shouldn’t have kissed that woman but that didn’t mean that he thought that because he wanted Lillian to be he one he was kissing.
Her eyes moved towards her door as it opened again and soon enough he was searching through the bag for something for her to wear and as promised her closed his eyes and waited for her instruction. She laughed to herself softly and looked down at his hands before looking up at his face again. “Alright.” He started to lift the material and she watched as he kept his promise, moving ever so slightly to make it easier for him to pull the material over her. “Okay, hand on a minute I need to pull my arms out.” She said as she tried to lift up her arm but hissed at the pain it caused her. “Okay, keep going.” Lillian’s tone was laced with the pain she felt but as soon as the material was up over her arms so could relax them and ensure that her wound was no longer stretched. She looked down to check that she had torn it and when she confirmed that it was still in tact they continued to work together until the top half of the dress had been lifted over her head.
Lillian sighed with relief when the first bit was over and done with and she glanced up at Frederick who still kept his eyes closed and she smiled to herself. She was sure that every part of her exposed skin was on fire and every time his hand had accidentally grazed her skin she was sure that he would have been able to hear her heart beating faster and harder. She could hear it echoing in her ears now. “Frederick...” her voice was barely even a whisper. “Can you try and pull the nightdress over my head?”
“Christ, Lillian. You can’t say things like that. You’re lucky I’m too tired and you are too injured, otherwise, I’d make you follow through on your words and take you to bed.” He couldn’t help but smile at her then, maybe it was her hand on his or that she had managed to keep her teasing manner despite his hands being on her in such an intimate way, but for a moment he almost forgot what was next.
Lillian posed a good question and one the Freddie had tried not to think about as he cleaned the blood off her. Placing the cloth back in the, now pink water, he straightened up to look at her. Her cheeks were flushed and he quickly raised his hand to rest against her forehead checking that she had not got a fever. She was warm, not worryingly so but enough that he would need to keep an eye on her, despite his need to sleep.
Frederick swallowed, his mouth drying up.
“I’ll close my eyes and shall behave, as promised.” He said first before looking down at her dress. It would be easier if she were wearing a shirt, like his own. At least unbuttoning it herself wouldn’t cause any risk or pain.
“I’m going to go get the bag from the car then we will figure this out once I’m back.” He said, standing from the bed. At least the fresh air would give him time to clear his head before he went back in the room to undress the woman he had developed feelings for. Clearing his throat he walked to the door, turning awkwardly as if to say something before shaking his head and leaving, closing the door behind him.
It only took a short time to reach the car and retrieve the bag which held the remainder of their clean clothes. As he walked across the parking lot Frederick drew in deep breaths, wishing the swirling nerves in his stomach to still. Between almost losing her and washing the blood from her stomach it was becoming clearer by the second that Lillian meant more to Freddie than he had realised. It was one thing to accept that you had feelings for someone but it was another thing entirely to feel like your entire world had turned upside down, almost ripping your heart from your chest only to replace it just out of reach. Frederick took the bag and slung it over his shoulder before walking back to the hotel.
If he didn’t get a hold of his emotions soon then he would end up with more than a broken heart. Lillian was not his. He would clean her wound and dress her, care for her and continue their journey, however soon this would come to an end and he had to compose himself enough that when that time came he would not just crumble. Once back in the hotel he let himself back into the room and dropped the bag onto the end of the bed by the pretty blonde's feet.
“I was going to suggest a shirt, the buttons would make it easier for you to undress.” He rummaged through the material, discarding a few items for being too impractical. “My shirts are hardly comfortable to sleep in though so we will try getting you into one of your nightdresses.”
Frederick pulled out one of the soft shifts and then turned to face Lillian, heat rising on his cheeks. He took a step towards her and lowered himself to sit on the edge of the mattress beside her.
“I’ll close my eyes, you can tell me what to do.” He said, running his eyes along the ruined dress she wore. Frederick moved his hands back to the edge of the rip in her dress and tugged, feeling little resistance as the material finally split into two. It would make things easier now, getting the bottom part of was simply a case of pulling it down over her legs. The top part, well, that would need a bit more work.
“I’m going to take this bit here and, uh, try to pull it up over your head.” He said taking the edge of the top part that rested across her upper stomach. Fredericks' face was much hotter now, in fact, his entire body seemed to be burning with the fires of a million suns. Drawing in a quick breath, Frederick closed his eyes and tightened his grip on the material as not to let his hands slip. He could feel the heat coming from her skin and tried his hardest to focus on lifting the dress slowly, as not to force her to move too much, and not on the soft skin that was just below his hands. Praying all the while that he would have the strength and will-power to not open his eyes.
Lillian tried to prepare herself for what was about to happen but nothing would do that easily. Now that they had established that she trusted him he made his way into the bathroom to get whatever he needed to help clean her wound and she used the moment alone to talk some sense into herself, although she did not do it aloud. It would be over quickly and then they could both get some much needed rest. The words in her mind were simply to keep her calm and to stop her from overthinking how intimate the next few minutes would be but as he entered the room and neared her, bear heart quickened, betraying her head.
It was a shame to tear such a beautiful dress but the material was already ruined beyond repair and the best way to get to the wound was the tear the material further, that was she could retain her modesty for a little longer. Lillian’s breath caught in her throat as her stomach become exposed and she was sure that he would be able to detect her irregular breathing as he greatly pressed the cloth to her stomach. She swallowed and looked straight up once more, hoping that it would distract her from how much she wanted this moment to be more than it was. She wished to feel his hands brush her skin more each time his hand grazed her but she forced the thoughts from her mind and closed her eyes. It didn’t help. In fact, it made her desire far worse to the point that she had to open her eyes once more. She turned her head to look out of the window but as soon as he pressed the material to the area he had stitched, she grit her teeth and her eyes darted to the area.
“It’s...it’s okay.” Lillian detected how unsteady he sounded but put it down to his desire to make sure that he didn’t hurt her which made sense. “It stings a little bit it’s nothing I can’t handle. Besides, it was worth it to get you to take me to bed.” She said with a smile as a way of ignoring the tension. Lillian looked towards him now and worked up the courage to allow her hand to rest on top of his and she squeezed it affectionately before taking it back.
By the time he had finished cleaning her wound she knew the next part would be far more embarrassing for her. Even if he had promised to keep his eyes closed, she was about to be practically naked in the same room as Frederick and that thought alone made her cheeks flush red once more. “Okay, how do you want to do this?”
For the life of him, Frederick had never believed that Lillian would simply look him in the eyes and tell him that she trusted him enough to do what he had to. Their whole trip she had fought hard to keep him from doing anything that would be considered immoral towards her and on multiple occasions she had shown her irritation and disgust when he had flirted with her. Frederick swallowed, trying not to let the small sentiment completely overwhelm him. Why was it so important that she trusted him? He had all but begged her to let him assist her in fear of her hurting herself, it was only natural that she would say yes.
Without saying another word he turned to walk to the bathroom where he filled a metal basin with warm water and grabbed a bar of soap. Carefully carrying it back, Frederick set it down on the small bedside table and then turned to Lillian.
“Say goodbye to the dress.” He murmured, the corner of his mouth turning up in a quick smile before he took hold of the rip in the material and tugged, causing the split to extend completely across her abdomen, the dress almost in two separate parts. Despite the sudden nerves that filled his stomach on sight of her bare stomach, Frederick pushed his mind into autopilot and dipped a clean cloth into the warm soapy water and squeezed the excess out before moving his hand to linger above the wound.
Frederick had never hesitated at touching a woman before. Only moments ago she had been in his arms as he carried her to the bed, yet there was something so intimate, too intimate, about what he was about to do. It was causing his cheeks to flush pink and his breath to hitch in his throat. Slowly, as though Lillian’s skin was made of the most delicate silk, he lowered the cloth to the red skin around the stitched wound and started to wipe at the dried blood.
He couldn’t look at her, couldn’t even trust himself to say something to break the tension what was filling the room. Instead, he just sat there, cleaning her as carefully as he could as not to hurt her. Frederick wondered if she could see the red in his face or hear how quickly his heartbeat every time his hand brushed her skin. How was it that a brief touch caused such a reaction from him? They had kissed that first night and even that, as lovely as it had been, hadn’t made his heart respond in such a way as it did merely from his fingers touching her stomach. If he looked at her now, he would lose his mind. It seemed that realising his feelings towards Lillian had not prepared him for how intensely he would want her. It had been silly to assume that merely noticing that he was falling for her was the difficult part when in fact this was much harder.
Frederick moved to wash the cloth out in the water, keeping his eyes on the scrap of red-soaked material the entire time. The more efficient he was the sooner he could get her dressed and then sleep. Hopefully regaining some self-control in doing so. He continued to wash the skin around and once it was clean he moved to the actual wound, gently dabbing at the stitches as not to pull them.
“Sorry, I’ll be done soon.” He said, his voice coming out unsteady.
Lillian did have a lot more spirit and energy than she had the night before but that didn’t mean that she was going to be fine just yet. She still had a lot of healing to do and the stitches were simply there to stop her from bleeding out. There had not been any time to clean her up properly when they were trying to get away from her brother and even though she didn’t want to say it, she knew that at some point Frederick would have to help her and that would likely mean that she would find herself in a situation that she would find highly embarrassing.
Lillian looked over towards Frederick as his voice found its way to her and she laughed at his comment. If she had the energy she might have mustered some kind of come back with her usual sass but she let it go and just continued to smile, even as he moved back towards her to check her over. Her eyes moved to look up at the ceiling so that she could focus on anything other than how close he was to her again. When he was finished she spoke. “What’s the diagnosis doc?” She asked, humour lacing her tone before he gave her some good news and bad news. It was followed by a moment a silence as they looked into each other’s eyes and she had to swallow hard to keep her throat from drying up.
Lillian was sure that they were both thinking about the same thing at that point but she didn’t want to be the one to suggest that he might need to help her. It seemed that Frederick had more courage to do so when he moved away and started to provide her with her options. Her cheeks reddened slightly for the thought of having him help her in such a way but he was right, he had never crossed a line with her and after everything they had been through together, now wouldn’t be the time for that to change. She noticed how he looked at his feet the entire time he spoke and for a moment she was grateful that she didn’t have to avoid his gaze while he spoke of helping her out of her clothes.
When he finished speaking she looked up at him, hoping to catch his eyes while she replied to him. “I [i do] trust you Frederick.” Not her tone was serious. She needed him to know that she trusted him completely. “Whatever we need to do, whatever keeps it from getting infected I will do it. Clean it here so you don’t have to lift me anywhere. Then you can get some sleep, you’re exhausted.”
Frederick’s eyes lit up as Lillian responded to his comment. Her witty comeback was proof that she had more life in her than the night before. Whilst her dismissal of him stung a little he hadn’t expected her to respond any other way. Just because he had developed feelings did not mean Lillian suddenly would in return. Once she was settled on the bed he made his way back to the door, ensuring it was locked and then moved to close the curtains, opening the windows enough that the air would freshen the room.
“I wouldn’t call it extreme? Very flattering, but when you’re as handsome as me then such things are to be expected from women.”
Moving back to the bed he plopped himself down beside her and moved to lift the jacket away from her torso.
“I need to check you haven’t pulled your stitches open, then you can clean properly and I’ll dress the wound as best I can.” He said, speaking more to himself than to Lillian. The material was splitting from the rip and soon it would start to smell from the mix of dried blood and alcohol. Frederick leaned closer to the stitches, trying to spot any sign of infection. He could feel the warmth coming from the wound and the skin around it look more inflamed than he had hoped but all in all, it would hold. Sitting back he looked over at Lillian and ran a hand through his dark hair.
“The good news is the stitches are fine.” He said, “Bad news, there is a lot of heat coming from the wound. It doesn’t smell infected and there is no leakage, the skin is dry, but we need to clean you up and get you into fresh clothes soon.” Frederick rubbed the palms of his hands against his eyes, trying to wake himself up enough to last a few more hours longer until Lillian was sorted.
He stayed sat beside her, his eyes not moving from hers as he tried to think over the possibilities of what came next, each time coming to the conclusion that she was either going to cry or scream at him. Moving too much could cause the stitches to rip open but she needed to wash. He didn’t plan on bathing her, simply the thought made his face burn. However, he would need to help in some way because unless she had suddenly gained magical healing powers, lifting her arms higher than her head was going to open her stitches.
“You have two choices kitten, neither is going to sound like much fun to you but I promise you I wouldn’t be suggesting this if it wasn’t important.” Frederick slid off the bed and took a step back, not wanting to be within hitting distance as he said his next words. “I either need to help you bathe, by that I mean help you into the bath and out again which you can do wearing your dress. Or we need to wash you and dress you here, on the bed.” Drawing in a deep breath he continued, all the while looking at his feet.
“The washing you can do yourself, I trust you to be careful. However, you’re going to need help dressing. I’ll keep my eyes closed the whole time, Lillian. This isn’t me trying to seduce you, this is me trying to stop you dying from infection.” Frederick hoped the seriousness in his voice was enough to make her realise that this was not going to be something he did just for enjoyment. Just holding her in his arms had been painful enough, using all his strength just to stop himself kissing her. He did not want to think how much willpower he would need to keep his distance if he actually saw her undress. Frederick was almost certain that he was too exhausted to have the energy to do something inappropriate.
“You just need to trust me, not once had I crossed the line, kitten. I’ve spent many nights in the same room as you and I’ve always kept my distance. Trust me now to do the same.”
Lillian wanted to tell herself that the reason she found it so easy to fool others into to thinking she had feelings for the man beside her was that they had plenty of practice. After all they had been at this for weeks and they had only been questioned once over the absence of a ring right at the beginning of their adventure. How she wanted to believe that. Yet she couldn’t seem to shake the fact that she might actually feel something for him, which made it easy to trick others. Really the only person she was fooling was herself.
She looked up at Frederick momentarily as he tightened his arm around her and she smiled back up at him before he began to deal with the woman behind the reception. She expected him to ask for the one night but when he asked for three nights she tried not to let the surprise show on her face. However, she could not stop her cheeks from turning pink when he told the woman that they did not plan on leaving the room much. While they knew that it was because she needed time to heal from her stab wound, the woman clearly had other ideas about why two people on their honeymoon might not be leaving their room much.
Lillian avoided the woman’s gaze as she took down their information and handed over the key and only looked back up again to thank the woman before they started to make their way towards the room they had been assigned. Stairs were a new barrier in her current state and while she didn’t want to admit that she was struggling to make it up the stairs, she could tell that Frederick was taking his time to help her, trying not to make it look as though she was injured in case there were any people passing them in the corridor. She even found it frustrating that she found herself out of breath by the time they reached the room and as Frederick opened the door, she leaned against the door frame.
Within a matter of seconds Frederick was repeating his move from when he helped her out of the car and she let out a gasp as her feet left the ground, mostly because she was surprised. Quickly she closed her arms around his neck to steady herself and she shook her head as he spoke, clearly feeling comfortable enough to start teasing her again. “When I saw that weapon it was perfect moment for me to get what I’ve always wanted. I thought, you know what will make Frederick take me to bed? Get stabbed that’s what.” Lillian laughed as he lowered her to the bed and she locked eyes with him as she started to release her grip around his neck. “I think it is a bit extreme to get stabbed just to have you take me to bed don’t you think?”
Frederick could feel his heart beating erratically and the place on his chest where she had touched him, for only a second, was burning through his shirt. Whilst his mind was focusing on keeping her upright and steady as they walked to the hotel his body had completely betrayed him and felt like a thousand butterflies had swarmed his stomach. This was only made worse when she leaned into him, her head resting against his arm. Frederick knew it was all for show and yet part of him couldn’t help but wish it was not because of the hole in her abdomen and it was because she wanted to be as close to him as he wanted to be with her.
They entered the hotel and almost instantly the woman at reception started chatting away, smiling like a child at Christmas. It was so strange to Frederick how people didn’t shy away from affection and displays of love like he did. If it was purely a physical thing, touching the arm of a woman at a party or finding a dark corner to kiss someone, that didn’t bother him, in fact, the old Frederick would have encouraged such things. However, when two people were assumed to be in love, those displays made him feel uncomfortable.
Looking down at Lillian who was still settled against his side Frederick was able to smile with an ease that wasn’t forced. She looked at ease. To anyone who wasn’t aware of the knowledge that she had been stabbed the night before, she looked perfectly happy, if only a little pale. Frederick tightened his arm around her side, not enough to hurt her just enough to stop her from moving away from him.
“My wife and I are looking for a room. It’s been a long drive and I’d like to get some food and a bath before sleeping. If you could get us your best Suite, it’s our honeymoon.” He said, smiling charmingly at the woman who seemed ever so slightly stunned at him. The receptionist nodded and started looking through her book before turning to grab a set of keys.
“I have just the room for you.” She beamed, handing over the keys. “How long will you be staying?” The woman asked starting to fill out her book. Frederick hesitated for a moment. Normally they would only stay a night in each place but Lillian needed to heal without being moved constantly. Providing her brother didn’t check this hotel he would not expect them to stay in one place, hopefully, they would be safe enough.
“Three nights, if we decide to stay any longer you’ll be the first to know. We don’t plan on leaving the room much so if you could make sure we’re not disturbed, other than to send a tray for dinner that would be wonderful.” Frederick took the keys and winked at the woman.
Getting to the room had been a little more difficult that Frederick cared to admit. Whilst they had only been put on the first floor, he had worried with every step that Lillian would rip open her stitches. Frederick unlocked the door and before Lillian could protest, picked her up in a quick smooth motion and carried her over to the bed.
“You know kitten, if you had wanted me to take you to bed you could have just asked? You didn’t need to get stabbed over it.” Frederick smiled and tried to ignore the heat on his cheeks. He hadn’t intended to tease her, wanting only to get her healed enough to start their journey again and yet when she had been in his arms he had needed to say something to stop himself from doing something stupid, like kissing her.
Lillian laughed to herself as Frederick began to make his way around to her side of the car. It didn’t matter that she felt awkward for needing it help and it didn’t matter that he would need to touch her to help her because the fact of the matter was she wouldn’t be moving from that car without him and it was not the right time to argue with him about their inappropriate closeness. Lillian attempted to pull herself forward slightly so that she could wrap his jacket around him and she tried hard to focus on something other than the fact that she could almost feel his breath upon her neck as he reached around her to secure the jacket in its place. Lillian swallowed hard and found herself looking away from him purposely to avoid looking in his eyes. She was not sure that she would be able to control her feelings if she locked eyes with him for more than a second.
She was about to pull herself out of the car, but Frederick had already hooked an arm under her legs and the other around his waist as he gently pulled her out of the car and placed her down on the ground next to him. Lillian’s cheeks flushed a light shade of pink and her stomach flipped as her feet found the ground once more. Her hand rested upon his chest for a moment as she steadied herself but the moment she realised that it was there, she retreated it back to her side and cleared her throat before turning to look at the hotel. The distance was not too far but since she was sporting an injury, she knew that the distance would not be easy to close. At least she had Frederick to help her. Lillian pulled the jacket around her so that it concealed the rip and the hand-stitched hold in her abdomen before leaning on Frederick so that they could walk to the hotel reception.
Lillian laughed at his words and looked up at him as they walked towards the reception, taking their time so that they did not pull on her stitches and cause more damage. “If you wanted people to think we are honeymooners, maybe you should have carried me in after all.” She said as she maintained a smile upon her face as they neared the entrance. “I think I can manage from here.” She said as she stood up straight and checked that the jacket was doing its job. Lillian leaned her head into his arm to portray that their closeness was because she wanted to be near him, not because she would not be able to stand without him.
As they walked through the door the woman who manned reception looked up at them with a foolish smile, clearly falling for the façade they portrayed. “Well look at you two.” She said with a smile as she started to open the book in front of her. “How can I help you on this fine afternoon?”
It was a good thing that Lillian didn’t comment on what Frederick had said because whilst they drove in silence the scared childlike part of him that wasn’t used to, or ready for, feelings started nagging away at him. The woman was infuriating and frustrating and made him want to tear his hair out because every time they started to make progress with their friendship he would say the wrong thing and she would become snappy. Despite all that, despite him wanting to shake her daily, the times she was kind and happy, smiling and teasing was enough to make him want to be a better person than she believed him to be. Thoughts like that were dangerous because Frederick Lester was not a good person.
Frederick was not ready for a response yet. If she simply said nothing then it meant his comments, the opening of a tiny, tiny, slice of his heart, were nothing more than an answer to a question. It didn’t matter that he had realised that he had feelings, what mattered was that he had only realised twenty-four hours and having gone from shouting to running away to trying to save the life of the woman who had caused those feelings, he was not ready for a comment.
They finally pulled up at the hotel and Freddie couldn’t have been happier to get out of the car. Between not sleeping and being emotionally exhausted, the last few minutes of driving had been a struggle. Before he could get out of the driver's seat Lillian was trying to get out of the car, resulting in struggled breathing and a surge of panic in Freddie.
“Just sit still would you woman otherwise last night would have been all for nothing.” He said, shaking his head, before getting out of the car and moving around to the passenger side to help her out of the car. Shrugging off his jacket he helped her put it on, glad that the weather was a still cold enough that she wouldn’t be questioned and helped her out of the car. It wasn’t an easy task and Frederick was scared to rip open the stitches with every time she moved. His arm slid under her legs, the other around her waist carefully, ignoring any inappropriate comment she would throw at him and helped to lift her from the car before setting her down beside him.
With as much care as he could he wrapped one arm around her waist, keeping her pressed close to his side so that much of her weight could be taken by him, hopefully elevating the pressure on her side. “We’ll be in the hotel room in just a moment, if you can’t smile then just rest your head on me. At least that way people will just think we’re… honeymooners.” Frederick couldn’t help but laugh at the last words, thinking how far from honeymooners they were. A fake couple, one with a hand-stitched wound and the other so afraid of his own feelings that even touching her in that way, to stop her from hurting wound, was making a million thoughts race through his head about how she would react.
She was glad that she had decided to keep the fact that she had also felt slightly jealous upon seeing him kiss a stranger at the bar, mostly because she knew that she had no right to feel that way. Frederick had given her no indication that the pretence between them was anything more than a façade and she was sure that he would mock her if he knew there had been a moment of envy. It was likely spurred on by the fact that she thought that Frederick was making a gesture when he bought her the ring. Of course, she was not naïve enough to think that it was anything more than a ring, but she had thought there were good intentions behind his motivation in buying it and calling her a gold digger after accepting it had thrown her off completely. It had hurt her more than she cared to admit, knowing that was what he thought of her.
Lillian was not really expecting any kind of explanation. Frederick was well within his rights to kiss whoever he pleased, yet he still seemed to feel the need to address it with her. While he spoke, she continued to look forward, focusing on the road so that he could not read any expression if he decided to look towards her at any given moment. Hearing him say that he wished he had never done it in the first place stirred something within her, but she decided to ignore it, not wanting to give herself any false hope. The truth was, either way Frederick would be leaving her at some point and she did not want to make it any more painful than it had been the night before.
When he started to explain why he had come back in the first place, he stated that he had mentioned some of his reasons last night and in honesty, through her will to keep herself awake while he stitched her up, she was barely able to remember anything else but he still explained himself rather than simply expecting her to remember something that was said to her while she was losing blood and fighting consciousness. Lillian detected the fact that Frederick was feeling uneasy about his admission and while his words seemed to require some sort or reply, it was obvious he was not ready to hear one as he quickly jumped to his charming self. Instead she allowed the words to resonate with her as they drove, trying to figure out what they meant.
They drove for a few more hours before settling on their shelter for the night. Lillian had made Frederick stop a lot earlier than normal because he had not slept the night before and she was confident that they had managed to put some distance between them and her brother. He would likely have started on the road the moment he woke up, thinking that they would have been going to find a hospital. It was likely he was looking in all the nearby hospitals to find her, so they would be safe in a hotel for tonight.
“Give me your jacket. It’ll hide this mess.” She said with a laugh as she gestured towards the ripped dress. Lillian reached for the door and felt a pain shoot through her abdomen, causing her to sit back in her seat and take a few deep breaths. “I think I might need your help getting out.” She said, trying not to show that she felt foolish for needing him.
It was hard hearing Lillian explain her reasons for sending him away. Immature as it was, he liked to think she had sent him away in pure anger, to hear that there was guilt behind her words only made him feel worse. They had argued before, many times in fact, but that night had been far the worse. Frederick still couldn’t completely admit that it was because seeing her with a ring had scared him, knowing that he had wanted it to be real and not just a game and forced him to push her away and everything had only gone downhill from there.
“Kissing that woman, that wasn’t me trying to catch up on my ‘missed freedom’. I kissed her because I was angry and although I know that makes no sense to you right now, I can promise I really wish I hadn’t done it.” Frederick knew that his words would mean little to her, especially as he was not ready to explain that he had kissed that woman wishing it would stop the feelings that were forming. Nor was he going to tell her that the moment she had touched him, he had wished for nothing more than it to be Lillian he was kissing.
Now came the difficult questions. [I Why ] had he come back. When he had turned the car around to drive back to her he had known that there was no future for them. He would still need to leave her and even if somehow, some small part of her ever returned his feelings, it would only be for a short time and he would spend the rest of his days in pain, knowing that the first woman he ever truly cared for was making a new life for herself without him. It hadn’t mattered last night and it didn’t matter now, Frederick owed it to himself, after years of self-sabotaging any true happiness with parties and alcohol and negative people, to see where these feelings would take him. Of course, the difficult part was telling Lillian.
Swallowing hard he kept his eyes on the road. For once Freddie would give a serious answer because it was better to say it now than say something that he would regret during one of their fights.
“I told you last night. There’s something about you Lillian, I’m not sure what it is, if it’s cabin fever and exhaustion or if this tension I feel between us is something more and I don’t really know what it means but I’m not leaving until I figure it out.” Freddie bit down on his lower lip and tried to keep from looking at her. He did not want to hear her next words, whatever they may be. If she thought him crazy or shot his words down instantly it would be painful and if she gave him the slightest bit of hope it would scare all the more.
Feeling that same panic as seeing her put the engagement ring on the previous day, Frederick sucked in a breath and forced a charming smile onto his face.
“Plus, I made a promise to help you, didn’t I? What kind of man would I be if I couldn’t keep my word?”
It seemed silly to her that it almost took her dying at her brother’s hand for her to realise how much Frederick meant to her and even if he did not admit it aloud, he must have cared for her in some way. Perhaps not in the same way she was learning to care for him, but he was here; he came back and that told her all she needed to know about whether her feelings were worth it. She could get through another week or two knowing that she felt things for him she did not want to feel, knowing that he would eventually go back to his life for good this time.
Lillian turned to look over at Frederick who was smiling at her now after claiming that their time together had not been as bad as he had made out and she knew that she had perhaps over-exaggerated how their time together had been filled with nothing but arguments. The truth was, even though she would never tell him this, the arguments were just as exhilarating as their ‘good’ days. The only one that had truly troubled her was the argument that they had last night. She still did not fully understand where his anger had come from or why he had said such harsh things towards her, but now was not the right time to ask him about it. They needed to find another hotel and they needed to get her cleaned up properly.
His apology was the last thing she expected and as he spoke she found herself shaking her head, knowing that he wouldn’t have left if she had not told him to do so in the first place. This was just as much her fault as it was his. When he finished speaking he pulled out from behind the barn and the two of them began on their journey once more; a journey she was sure was over when she told him to leave. Lillian smiled as his hand found her forehead and they both seemed to relax at the fact that she had not gained a fever from her injury. In honesty, it was a miracle that she hadn’t. After all, they had not exactly found themselves in sanitary conditions and she had refused to go to a hospital where they would have done a much better job of stitching her up.
“You’re right. We are in this together and I should never have asked you to leave. I guess being your fake wife for so long made me forget that you are still free to spend your time with whoever you please.” She looked over towards him and offered him a smile. “I was afraid that you would grow to despise me for making you do this with me. When…when I saw you kissing that woman last night…” She looked away from him for a moment trying to find the right words, words that did not alert him to the fact that she had found a moment of jealousy within it. “I realised that you had given up so much to bring me this far and I felt guilty and while my intentions in sending you away were to give you back your freedom, I guess it did not come across that way.” Lillian shifted herself in the seat and allowed a hand to rest on the stitches that Frederick gave her. “Why [I did] you come back?”
Sitting in the car was much better than the ground that he had spent most of the night sprawled out on, yet he still ached. Frederick wouldn’t complain about his lack of sleep or stiff muscles, not when Lillian was sporting a hole in her abdomen. There would come a time where he would tease her about this, how he gave up his beauty sleep to ensure she stayed alive but that time was not now. Frederick was still wrought with worry and wanted nothing more than to get her to a hotel where he could clean her up.
“Don’t apologise. If I could choose to do this all again, I would. Maybe not the stabbing or us arguing last night, but the rest hasn’t been so bad.” Frederick looked at Lillian before starting the car and smiled knowing that his words were true. Though things were uncertain and alien to him, he wouldn’t give up those memories or feelings for ignorance. Even if such feelings would never be returned. “I’ll only say this once Lillian because I’m not the kind of man who finds apologies easy but I am so, so sorry I left you. I was reckless and didn’t think about what could happen to you if you were stranded in a strange town on your own. Even if it wasn’t your brother it could have been any man because lord knows, there are some horrible people out there. I made a huge mistake and you had to pay for it.” Frederick pulled the car out from behind the barn and slowly pulled onto the country road, all the while keeping an eye out for any other cars that could hold her brother. He reached out and rested her forehead once more, ensuring that there was no rise in temperature before relaxing into his seat slightly.
With his eyes still on the road, he continued to speak. “It does not matter if we’re in this situation because of you or me or any choices either of us has made, we’re in this together. If that means stitching you up or going without sleep, if it means saying I’m sorry for being a complete idiot, then so be it.” Frederick let his words fall into silence and tried to steady his uneven breathing. Admissions of regret and expressions of feelings had never been his forte. The words had to be said, either to reassure her that it was not her fault and this was as much his choice as hers, or to soothe her worries that he was going to leave again.
Finally, he looked over at Lillian, a smile forming on his lips. “Don’t think this means I’m going to let you get your own way with things. Not only are you injured and in need of Doctor Lester but you’re still my fake-wife for the time being.” Freddie winked at her before looking back to the road.
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