My response to the Lizzington Shippers fb prompt: Lizzie sees Red's scars.
Please read and review!
I own nothing!
Maybe it was all the talk of Sam that had Elizabeth all wound up that night. Maybe it was the uncertainty of her parentage and the abhorrent idea that Red might be her father. It really didn't matter. All that mattered was that when Elizabeth closed her eyes, she saw fire. Therefore, Elizabeth tried her best not to close her eyes.
She tried her best to think of something pleasant, but given her current situation and the fact that it wasn't going to get any better anytime soon, that wasn't an easy thing to do. She shifted through her mind for her favorite memory… the one of her and Sam at the beach, picking out the prettiest shells to go on her shelf at home. He had swum out farther than she dared to go and disappeared under the water. He was under for a long time and Elizabeth had started to get worried… but then there he was, triumphantly waving a piece of coral in the air and grinning wildly at his daughter.
Elizabeth held that memory in her mind and closed her eyes, and for several moments, she was floating mindlessly in the water, stretching her fingers out to touch Sam's. She stretched and stretched until she could touch him. She only felt safe when his fingers enveloped hers. He was her safety net. He was the only one that could pull her out of the… fire. It wasn't water. It was fire.
The fire started in the hall outside of her room. There were two men, and they were yelling. They were yelling and the smoke poured underneath her door and then one man screamed. And then there was no more yelling. The smoke eventually turned into flames that engulfed her door, turning it to ash, and spread throughout her room, destroying her closet with all of her pretty dresses and making her dolls melt down until they were scary to look at. Elizabeth closed her eyes and waited for her daddy. Her daddy would come get her and everything would be okay. But he never came.
Elizabeth's bed caught fire and she left it, moving the center of the room, the only spot that wasn't engulfed in flames. She was desperately looking for a way out when something caught her eye. Bunny! She left her bunny on the bed! She made a mad grab for it, not knowing that the leg had caught fire. It wasn't until her palm made contact with the flame that she finally wailed in pain and fear. She and Bunny were going to get burned up and no one was coming to get her. She wailed again and the smoke shoved its way down her throat, burning her and making her cough and gag.
"Oh my God! Oh my God! I'm coming to get you! Don't move, baby. Cover your mouth and don't move!"
There was a man peering in at Elizabeth through what used to be her door, and she was afraid. This man wasn't her daddy. Where was her daddy? The man backed up a few feet and then jumped through the flames into her room, grimacing as he realized that the hem of his pants were on fire. He grabbed her, pulling her into his arms and covering her face with his jacket. She couldn't see anymore, and she was okay with that. The flames licked at them as he ran with her in his arms, and she felt him change directions several times before she finally felt the cool air of the outside.
Elizabeth lifted her head when she heard the man groaning in pain, gagging as the putrid smell of what she would later know as burned flesh wafted under her nose. She buried her face back into the safe hollow of the man's neck and cried. She didn't understand what was going on.
"Shhh… it's okay. We're okay. Just give me a minute to figure out what we're going to do," the man cooed as he ran his hand comfortingly up and down Elizabeth's back. The motion calmed her and her tears slowed. Her hand hurt but somehow she knew that the man was in so much more pain than she was, and he was being very brave. She could be very brave too. She reached up with her hurt hand and pressed her fingers against his neck, smiling at the pulsing she found there. Mommy had taught her how to look for a heartbeat on her dollies when they were sick. As long as they had a heartbeat, they were okay. The man was going to be okay.
"I know what we're going to do. We're going to see Sam. Sam is going to make everything okay. You'll see." The man started walking again and Elizabeth closed her eyes, ignoring the throbbing pain in her hand and concentrating instead on the steady pace he was keeping as they trekked down the hill toward the neighbor's home. It was a good ways away, and by the time they reached their destination, she was nodding off. The last thing she heard before she drifted off to sleep was the man's voice.
"Go to sleep, sweetheart. It'll all be better when you wake up."
Elizabeth's eyes flew open and she bolted straight up in bed, struggling to calm her racing heart. She had never had a nightmare that was so vivid… so real. Then she realized… she had never fallen asleep. That was no nightmare. That was a memory. Her heart raced even harder when she realized how close she was to the truth… She was almost there but something was missing. What had happened after?
The sounds and the smells were still so present in Elizabeth's mind. She closed her eyes and tried her best to throw herself back into the memory. Perhaps if she tried hard enough she could get it back…
"Well you've really stepped in it this time, haven't ya, Ray?"
"I know, I know. You warned me. You told me I was in over my head and guess what? It would appear that I am."
The couch that Elizabeth was laying on was so soft and warm and her eyelids were so heavy… but she wanted to hear what the men were saying.
"Get off of me. Get yours hands off of my back. I came here so that you could help HER, not me."
"She's fine. Her hand is wrapped. It'll scar, but it will be fine. It's a wonder you even made it here with those burns. How DID you make it here, by the way?"
"Stole a car."
They were talking about her. Elizabeth's hand throbbed, but she could feel the bandage wrapped around it. Maybe it would stop hurting now. Band-aids always made things better.
"What happened, Ray? I won't ask you again."
"They were going to burn him. All I wanted to do was warn him. I had to warn him. They followed me. They knew what I was doing. They set the house on fire with us inside. I tried to pull David out. I tried to pull him out but he kept running back toward the fire. He was yelling that he had to get her out… had to keep her safe… then the banister fell. It was on fire and it fell on him. There wasn't anything I could do."
David… her daddy was David. Elizabeth squeezed her eyes shut tightly, but tears escaped from the corners anyway. Her daddy was dead.
"And the girl?"
"The girl… I didn't know there was anyone else in the house. David had mentioned a daughter once, but as far as I knew she was living with her grandmother. His wife passed away last year and he was always away from home so he sent her to live with his family. It never occurred to me that she would be there. I couldn't just leave her."
"Jeez, Ray. What are you going to do?"
"I have no idea."
"Well you had better get an idea. If you're picked up right now they'll get you for arson, murder one, and kidnapping."
She wanted to protest. She wasn't kidnapped! The man saved her from the fire! She had wanted to go with him! That wasn't kidnapping.
"I haven't done any of those things! And I certainly haven't kidnapped anyone."
The man sounded as frustrated as Elizabeth felt, and it made her feel a little bit better.
"You took a little girl away from a crime scene. You didn't wait for the police, you didn't take her to the hospital where THEY could call the police, and you have no legal rights to this child. You've kidnapped her, Ray! I know your intentions were good, you know your intentions were good, but the people you've gotten yourself involved with, they don't care about that. They'll have you sent to prison, if they don't kill you first."
Elizabeth couldn't help herself. She sobbed loudly, alerting both of the men that she was now awake. She opened her eyes as the nice man who had saved her rushed to her side, and sobbed even harder when he had a hard time going down on his knees beside the couch. He was hurt. He was hurt and it was her fault.
"Hey baby…what's wrong? Does it hurt?" The man ran his hand over her back and frowned when she shook her head. "Are you scared?" She nodded and found herself lifted back into the man's arms as he sat on the couch.
"I know it's scary. You don't know us and you don't understand what's happening. But I promise you… you never have to be scared of me. And you don't have to be scared of Sam," the man said as he gestured to the older man who was still seated at the kitchen table. The older man gave her a little wave. "Hi, Butterball."
"You don't have to worry. Leave it to us to figure all this out. But for right now, I want you to try to go back to sleep. You need your rest. Okay?" She nodded and the man laid her back down on the couch, smoothing his hand down her hair. He retreated back to the kitchen, and she closed her eyes and pretended to sleep.
"I can't take her with me. If they find out she's alive they are going to come after her. Witnesses are unacceptable… no matter how young."
"I know you can't take her. But I can."
"Sam! I can't ask that of you."
"I'm offering. She and I will be out of town by the end of the week. I can get us new identities… new lives. They won't be looking for me, so I can get away with it. But they will most definitely be looking for you. I pray that they don't find you, but if they do… I don't want her anywhere near you."
The older man wanted her. Sam wanted to keep her. She held her breath and waited for the other man's response.
"Thank you, Sam. You don't know what this means to me."
"I think I do. And there's no need to thank me. I'm just doing what any decent person would do. Now get out of here before someone comes looking for that car."
"One minute. Just give me one minute."
Moments later there was a hand at Elizabeth's stomach and lips brushing her forehead.
"Open your eyes you big faker," the man chuckled softly as Elizabeth opened her eyes guiltily. He twirled a lock of her hair around his finger and sighed. "You know I have to go, don't you?" She nodded pitifully and he sighed. "Sam is going to take such good care of you. And I promise you… no matter what happens… no matter where I am… you'll always have me. And I have you, right?" He was obviously trying to make light of the situation. Elizabeth wasn't stupid… she knew what he was doing… but it made her feel better anyway. She nodded again and reached for the man with the big green eyes and he reached back for her. She buried her face in the crook of his neck and inhaled. He smelled like smoke and cologne and something that was uniquely him… he smelled like… Red.
Elizabeth's head popped out from its resting place between her knees and she had to fight to breathe. It was Red! No one else in the world smelled like that… no one else in the world sounded like that. It had to have been him!
She left her bed and padded across the hall to Red's room and eased the door open, not even bothering to knock. Red was propped against some pillows in the middle of the bed, absorbed in a book, looking for all the world like sleep was the last thing on his mind in the middle of the night.
"Lizzie…it's the middle of the night. Are you alright?" Red's voiced was tinged with concern. Elizabeth was not the type to seek out company when she couldn't sleep. And she would have sooner chugged a gallon of warm milk before she came to HIM for company. She shook her head and closed the door behind her before making her way to the bed, making him scoot over as she settled herself under the covers beside a befuddled Red.
"Okay… now I know you're not alright. Tell me what's wrong," Red soothed as he pulled her closer to him. She snuggled into his chest an buried her head in the crook of his neck, breathing in that scent that had so comforted her as a little girl. The tears came quickly, and Red's grip on her tightened.
"I was so mean. I was downright ugly to you and you never said a word," Elizabeth sobbed into his shirt.
"I'm not angry with you. I'm not even upset with you. You had a reason to be upset with me… I've never had a reason to be upset with you," Red tried his best to stop the tears and understand why she was crying in the first place, but it was to no avail.
Elizabeth sat up in the bed and tugged on Red's shirt. "Take it off."
"Take it off! I don't want it! Take it off…" Elizabeth tried to tug the shirt up over his head but he was too strong for her.
"Lizzie, honey, you don't know what you're doing."
"No… YOU don't know what I'm doing. Take it off, please. I want to see. I want to see them," Elizabeth sobbed as Red stared at her in disbelief. A look of realization and acceptance passed over his face as he realized that she knew. She knew the truth. He removed her hands from the hem of his shirt and pulled it over his head, tossing it to the end of the bed. She was back in his arms in seconds, her fingertips tracing the scars that zigzagged across his back and her lips peppering his shoulder with kisses.
"You could have left me there. You could have left me in that house but you didn't. You risked your life for me… and then you gave me a new one. And you've been protecting me ever since. I called you selfish. And a monster. And every other horrible thing I could think of. I'm the monster, not you."
Red chuckled against her hair. "You aren't a monster. I've met monsters and you are nothing like that. You are an angel. You gave me a reason to stay alive… to keep running. It was always in the back of my head that I was responsible for more than just myself. I was responsible for you, too. And proud to be. It's been an honor to protect you. It will always be an honor because I will never stop." Red's forehead rested against hers, and she could finally breathe easy again.
"I'll always have you, right?" Elizabeth's voice was shaky, and it felt like her life hung on his reply. He smiled softly. "That's right."
Her fingers traced the scars at the small of his back and he swallowed hard. "That's good. Because Red… you'll always have me."
Her lips captured his and she made herself a promise. Red would always have her. She would make sure of it.