A/N: It only took me like two months to write this. I had this idea for even longer. I can't believe it's finally done. I'm sorry I'm a bit MIA from writing lately, my life is a complete mess at the moment, and also I don't know what to do with Sandcastles, so I procrastinate with other ideas or none at all. Jenni proofed this, so thanks for that babe! This is obviously angsty, and it's about Iran, which I will never really truly get over or out of my system. There's probably more to come – not for this story, just in general about this plot. Anyway, please review this! Thanks! And if you want me to continue Sandcastles, feel free to send in ideas because I swear I got nothing.
He ran a gentle hand on her forehead, fingers grazing the skin. He learned every line of her face, every intake of her breath. He memorized the way touching her felt, the feeling of calmness that surrounded him when she was around. His eyes filled with tears; a lump quickly crept up his throat. It wasn't long ago that he didn't know if he was going to get her back.
"Henry?" Her voice was soft, just like her skin, but also tired and broken.
She hadn't spoken much since she returned, hadn't shared anything of what happened. They knew the essentials from the President's speech, she heard it on her way home, and so she didn't feel the need to say anything. There was a fuss around her but it allowed her to just stay silent and watch. She would unravel when she was alone.
Henry blinked and a tear escaped his eye, and his eyes met hers. It was the first he'd heard her voice since that hasty phone call he received to ensure him she was alive and coming home. The way his name danced on her lips made his heart skip a beat.
She sat slowly, wincing as the fabric of her turtleneck sweater rubbed the injuries on her arms and back. He furrowed his brows at the sound. He hadn't had the chance to assess the damage that had been caused, and he was certain there were things he wouldn't see right away, not by simply removing her clothes. She moved closer to him, reaching for his hand and holding tightly to it. He gave her a weak smile, squeezing in return.
"Don't hold back." She pressed a kiss to his cheek, her lips absorbing the stray tear.
"I have to," he choked out. "What if this is just a dream?"
Taking his hand, she placed it against her beating heart. It had been pounding loudly since the moment of the exploration and she had been unable to calm down since. Maybe it would soothe him, she thought, though it certainly didn't soothe her. The drumming sound kept echoing in her ear, masking the screams of Abdol and the noises of gunfire and explosions.
"I'm alive," she said when he didn't speak.
"Yes," he simply replied.
She was alive, and she did come back to him, but he could see in her eyes that she was not the same woman who left their house a few days earlier. Her eyes were hooded, masking a pain he knew would unfold in time. It wasn't just the physical injuries. Those he had yet to examine with his own eyes; the only information he received was from her when they spoke briefly as she waited to be discharged from Landstuhl.
When he remained still, she leaned forward, pressing her lips to his. His lips were gentle and delicate, barely moving against hers. He couldn't bring himself to kiss her right. The feeling of her hurried kiss before she left still lingered on his lips, and he feared this would be the same. He feared that if he allowed himself to get completely carried away with her, she would again slip away from him, fade into the unknown. He had never been this scared in his life. Not even when he went off to war. That fear was threatening to consume him, to swallow him whole, if he'd only let it.
"Kiss me. Please," she pleaded. Show me you love me, that you know I'm still here.
He pressed his mouth to hers and kissed her hard, the sound of her plea awakening something deep within him. He was never one to deny his wife of anything, especially when she was so vulnerable. He shifted, moving his hands to wrap around her as he lowered her to her back and pressed his weight on top of her. It was when she squirmed and groaned into his mouth that he pulled away quickly, his hands leaving her body as anxiety coursed through him.
She pushed her body upwards with her right arm, wincing from the pain of the bruises on her forearm. A small sigh of relief escaped her mouth when the pressure from her back was relieved. She felt the blood on her back staining her sweater and reached for her stitches, her eyes closing at the feeling of the fluid wet against her fingers. She opened her eyes to the sight of him – pale, scared to death. He looked like he'd seen a ghost.
"I should've warned you." She offered a smile. "I was standing with my back to the window when the first explosion happened. It's nothing but superficial bruises. Well, except for the one that required stitches," she said, shrugging.
"What else?" he asked, and he could feel the lump in his throat again, his heart racing.
"Some cuts on my arms. But it's nothing, really." If only she was successful in reassuring him.
"And your left arm?" He crossed his arms, annoyed that she was trying to make this out to be any less serious than it was.
He didn't want to pressure her into talking or into showing him what had happened, but he needed to know. He needed to see for his own eyes the injuries that now adorned her refined skin.
"Sprained elbow," she replied dismissively. She wasn't trying to make it sound so casual, but she also refused to let him sink into this fear, into these images that she knew would keep him awake.
He examined her, his eyes scanning every inch of her. She was fully dressed and he knew that once her clothes were off, he would learn the extent of Iran. It was the understanding that he couldn't peel off the layers that protected her soul, the ones that inevitably returned in light of a new tragedy. Standing suddenly, he made her pull back, a questioning look on her face. He was determined, all of a sudden, and she knew that whatever it was that he wanted, she couldn't refuse. He made his way to her side of the bed and carefully pulled her arm, asking her to stand on her feet. She faced him then, and without her heels she was much shorter. It made her look small: the wide sweater, the turtleneck that nearly swallowed her whole. Her arm hanging against the side of her body like a bruised limb, her makeup free skin that now looked so pale. Everything about her looked so different, yet so familiar. He didn't know her when her parents died, but he knew her long enough to read the signs and recognize the body language that appeared when the anniversary of their death was approaching, or when she was reminiscing, when she was missing. It looked oddly the same now, only he knew she wasn't upset about her parents, and this was worse. She faced death again, he could see it in her eyes. He knew of Fred and Javani, but he sensed there was more to it. Something about her told him that this hit closer to home than the news would ever reveal. He also knew that if Fred died, the guy in charge of protecting her, that he was just as close to losing her forever. He knew she knew that too.
He gripped the hem of the sweater, needing to take it off of her to see the damage and the bruises. He needed to study her body, to absorb the new look of her now imperfect skin. She lifted her right arm, nodding at him as he tugged the garment up her torso. Carefully, he peeled it off her, making her hiss as the movement jolted her left arm. He apologized and she smiled faintly.
Standing in front of him with her bra on, she turned around, exposing her back and the nasty bruise. His breath hitched as the sight of the stitches, at the rainbow of colors that painted her skin. He reached his fingers, running them gently along the seam, traces of blood staining his fingertips. He didn't know that something as innocent as blood could pain him so much, but it felt like someone had stabbed him right through his heart. It wasn't the first time he saw her bleed. She had injured herself multiple times – falling off a horse, paper cuts, even the c- section she had while giving birth to Stevie. But this… It wasn't normal bruising. This wasn't supposed to happen to her. He nearly… He almost lost her to this.
"Is there more I should know about?" he asked.
Shaking her head, she turned back to face him. There was more. So much more. But that required explanations, and the use of words, and she just couldn't do that right now. She couldn't articulate what had happened, she had to figure out the roller coaster in her head, to quiet down the shouts and noises of gunfire before she could tell him what happened. She looked at him, and could only hope he didn't see right into her soul, that he didn't know all the things she had yet to figure out herself. When she noticed how his eyes darkened, she looked away, some bad habit of hiding from him, from the world, from anything that could hurt her.
He ran a gentle thumb along the line of her jaw, and their eyes locked again. He nodded, I will wait until you're ready, he reassured her without words, and her lips curved into the tiniest of smiles.
"Shower?" he asked.
Taking his hand in hers, she silently led him to the bathroom where she waited for him to shed his clothes, and then he finally rid her of the rest of hers. He washed every inch of her skin, gentle and slow, watching the blood wash away and hoping it would wash away some of the memories. Still standing under the warm drizzle, he pulled her back to his chest, his arms wrapping around her. With his nose in her hair, he inhaled the fresh smell of her shampoo and the tingle in his skin at the feeling of her presence near him. There was a time he thought he would never get to hold her again; smell her again; feel her again. There was a time, just a few hours before, that he thought this was over for eternity.
"I love you," he whispered in her ear.
Placing her hands on his and pressing them to her body, she closed her eyes and leaned her head against his shoulder. "I love you too," she muttered.
They didn't move. The water was a comfort, warm against their skins. It somehow helped with the pain of her injuries, and he wanted to believe that it was helping with curing the pain of his own broken heart. The room was filled with steam, clouding their vision. The sound of the water hitting the floor in a constant rhythm was calming, and it felt as if they were in some place that was only theirs. Where nothing could hurt them, where nothing could even reach them. Only thing he didn't know was that tears kept streaming from her eyes. They were washed away by the water, lost within the soap and remnants of dirt in her hair.
The temperature of the water began to cool and Henry reached to close it. He opened the door of the shower and reached for her hand to help her step outside. He blinked to adjust to the light, and his eyes landed on hers – red from crying, still welling with tears. He reached for her cheek, his thumb wiping them away. He wrapped a towel around her body and didn't say a word. He watched her as she got dressed, helped when she allowed him, but no questions were asked. He knew she wasn't ready, he could see it in every part of her. She didn't want to talk, not yet. He hated that she was hurting, that she was unable to stop the tears, in spite of how badly she wanted to. He knew that if only she'd open up to him, he might be able to help her feel better. But he knew better than to push and for now he was just grateful that she was there.
Finally making it back under the covers, he lay on his back and she snuggled up to him. He instinctively wrapped his arm around her and pulled her to him, jumping at the sound of her loud cry. Shit, he thought. He glanced at her and she gave him a wry smile.
"Sorry," he shrugged.
She nodded into his chest and her eyes closed as her body settled back into the cocoon of his embrace. The room was dark then, the lights of the street cascading shadows inside. The entire house was silent and for a few moments, so were her ears. She sighed as warmth washed over her – she was finally home. But as soon as sleep came, the nightmares began. Screams and weapons; blood, shattered glass. The memories were so vivid, it was like living the events all over again. She felt a hand grip hers tightly but was too deep into the dream to make sense out of it. Her eyes were shut tight, flashes of light appearing before her. Chaos. Such a contradiction to the room she was actually in. Her eyes shot open with a heave of breath. She sat so quickly that every part of her hurt and it made her groan loudly. She blinked, the room spinning around her. Was she home? She couldn't be certain.
The familiar touch on her shoulder confirmed that she was. There was no mistaking the feeling of Henry's hand, and she was grateful that he was right beside her. She turned her head to look at him, his arms open wide to welcome her back to his embrace. He had so many questions but said nothing. She rested back against him but her eyes remained open. She couldn't bring herself to close them, too afraid of what sleep would make her inhabit.
"Think of something happy," he whispered, pressing a kiss to her hair.
Elizabeth felt the tears well in her eyes and the lump in her throat. She had been doing just that until the minute she was finally back in his arms. Lying at that house, under the body of Fred, she kept replaying in her head better times – flashes of scenes from her life appeared and it was what made her keep going. It's what kept her from falling apart, from breaking down. But it seemed like now, now that she was finally back home and secure, those memories did nothing to calm her down, and the memories she had were now painted in black and white, as if damaged by the new memory that was engraved in her mind.
"Tell me something happy," she replied, her tears falling, absorbing into his shirt.
He ran his hand through her hair, the silk touch of her curls soft against his fingertips. He smiled when she sighed softly. She always loved it when he played with her hair. It was those tiny things that still reminded them of them, that she knew would help her get past this.
"Remember the Christmas we had when you were pregnant with Stevie?"
A small smile crept up her lips. She did.
"You were five months pregnant, but still so tiny, people didn't believe you were actually carrying a child. It was snowing and we decided to spend the holiday just the two of us. It was late at night when we sat snuggled by the window, watching the snow falling to the ground, disappearing into the pile. The lights were out but the bright white that coated the trees and the cars made the night look so lit, and the holiday decorations cascaded colors everywhere. With my hands on your belly, and our eyes looking outside, I remember feeling Stevie kick and thinking – it doesn't get better than this. I have everything I need."
She sniffled at his words, there was such solace in this recollection. "I felt the same way."
Henry smiled. "I know. You told me. You told me that ever since we met, you never felt lonely again. You said that after your parents died, you didn't think you would ever find that place that felt like home in anyone. Because nothing was like mom and dad. And that night you said – you're my home – and I swore to forever be that."
"You told me that I will always have a place to come back to – into your arms." She clung to his shirt, moving closer to him.
"And you promised to never leave."