***From angst to resolution…if things can be resolved. I have a certain love for the calm after the storm. With technical difficulties now taken care of, all of my accounts are up to date with current chapters and posting should be much easier! Woo! ~Let’s Connect! FFC***
*Remember, this is a sequel to Vanderwood Backstory, and Cerise has a bio. You can support my writing on patreon and get access to my VIP Discord Server or other goodies like early chapter releases and hidden scenes. Tagged Chapter Directory*
As his feet hit the ground, the thought struck him that she probably didn’t want to be found – not by him anyway. Pure panic flowed in his veins. Breathe. Idiot. Breathe. Vanderwood was forcing himself to move – a gloved hand closing around the ring in his pocket. She was leaving him. Did he even deserve to find her? He wanted to make sure he found her – to make sure she was safe, to tell her it wasn’t her fault. Maybe, just maybe, he could convince her to come back home with him. Or maybe it was better this way. He shook his head. No, he was going to find her and set things right. Vanderwood knew he was being selfish, but he couldn’t live without her anymore – not anything that could be called living.
Cerise had no idea where she was even going to go. First, she’d headed to the park – sitting on the swing and leaning her head against the chain as the seat swung gently back and forth. There wasn’t any real way she could describe how she was feeling. Hurt was only a small piece of the very messy puzzle – both the physical and the emotional pain. Cerise knew that he hadn’t meant to hurt her wrists like he had, but the fact of the matter remained that it had still happened. It shouldn’t have happened.
This man used to kill people for a living. She’d seen him so easily break someone’s wrist on a whim. Couldn’t things have gone so much worse? He had been right that night on the stairs all those months ago. What was she compared to someone who wanted something from her? He had demonstrated twice now that she was powerless. Cerise shook her head and sighed – warm puffs of breath visible in the cool air. It was going to be dark sooner or later, and that meant it would get colder. She stood up and began walking towards the shopping district.
Cerise didn’t exactly wear the most functional of winter clothes, and in her haste, she hadn’t grabbed an actual jacket to boot. Still, at least her arms were covered with the light jacket she had already been wearing. Even that wasn’t going to do much good for her if it got colder. Luckily for her, she had stashed a pair of gloves into the pockets of that particular jacket. At least some luck was on her side.
She walked and walked, admiring all the colorful lights and decorations of the various shops. Everything was so festive and warm. People were so cheerful and welcoming if she decided to walk in and take a look around. It almost made her forget about her own troubles. In another stroke of luck, she had actually had her wallet on her from when she had to pay the delivery boy the rest of the money for the cake. She found a squishy little keychain of a new character that was so ridiculous that it was kind of endearing. Pastelle the Prissy Poo – it was so silly that she managed to giggle upon seeing the softly colored, glittery, anthropomorphic cartoon character of the poo emoji.
As she walked around, she kept one hand in her pocket squishing on her new treasure – finding it somewhat relaxing. Cerise stopped walking as she came across a heavily decorated cafe. There were lights in the window, a toy train, a Christmas tree, and tinsel – the whole nine yards. It looked like something straight out of a dream, and she couldn’t help but find herself inside at a table looking at the menu.
The inside was decorated similarly – the atmosphere warm and inviting. Christmas music played in the background, and there was even a simulated fireplace with stockings hung over it. It put a smile on her face. As crappy as she felt, this was the type of thing that could still make her smile. In no time, one of the wait staff was at her table to take her order. Cerise looked her over; the woman was dressed in the cutest Christmas themed uniform, and not to mention, she was super nice. “What’ll it be, sugarplum~?”
Cerise realized that she was staring at the woman and laughed awkwardly. “I’ll take a gingerbread hot cocoa and a slice of your special Christmas cheesecake.” What she needed right now was something sweet she could enjoy – to help take her mind off things. Before she knew it, her order was in front of her – delivered with a smile by the sugarplum waitress. The taste of the hot cocoa was like heaven, and it definitely warmed her to her core. It almost helped numb the emotional turmoil. Cerise shook her head again, trying to chase the thoughts away – push them into the back of her mind. That wasn’t important right now. What was important was this adorable cheesecake in front of her that had gumdrops, little candy holly, other various candies, and sprinkles on it. Man, it tasted like heaven.
She almost didn’t notice the sudden rush around her. It looked like the sugarplum waitress and an older man were practically running around trying to keep up. The place was packed now. Cerise really felt bad for them; they were such nice people. A thought crossed her mind. She wasn’t really doing anything – didn’t have anywhere to go…maybe she could help?
Cerise got up and made her way to the older man who was frantically trying to decorate an order of some sort. “Excuse me? Hi…I was wondering if you needed some help?” The man looked up in surprise. There was a strange air about him but not in a bad way. It was more whimsical than anything. “Oh! Don’t worry, you don’t have to pay me or anything…I just noticed you guys were busy, and I don’t have anything to do. I’d really like to help you!” She bowed, trying to show some respect. Sometimes she forgot the cultural nuances when she was in Korea – bowing wasn’t something they really did in Paris, but it felt appropriate now.
The man looked her over, seemingly deliberating. “What a nice young lady~ Who am I to deny such a heartfelt request?” He smiled at her – his eyes twinkling under the lights above him despite the rush he was in. “I don’t have any extra uniforms on hand right now, but there’s an apron behind the counter. If you could take orders, you can leave the rest to me.”
Honestly, Cerise had never worked a day in her life. She didn’t know how to take orders, but she was going to do the best she could for these people who seemed so warm and joyful even under stressful circumstances. She found the apron in question and put it on – taking a pad of paper and a pen that was in close proximity. Cerise found out from Ms. Sugarplum which tables she hadn’t gotten to yet and decided to start there. She was a quick learner; she would get this. It was a welcome distraction from the train-wreck that was her life. As hours passed, she found herself actually having fun and laughing along with the owner and his daughter as well as the other customers – who obviously appreciated her efforts a Hell of a lot more than other people had that day.
He’d made it to the shopping district, chestnut-brown eyes scanning the area for any sign of his Cerise. Vanderwood had realized that he couldn’t call her fiancée right now – a sting going through his heart. Every worst-case scenario that existed was flitting through his mind. Panic wasn’t just a feeling; it was a living breathing entity that swallowed him whole, and he’d found himself running throughout the streets of Korea – full out running, bumping into a few people and then doing something he’d sure as Hell never done.
“Have you seen her?” He looked like a madman pushing his phone at strangers. “She’s really short, super short, absolutely beautiful. Please tell me you’ve seen her!” Every person he tried was more intent on running away from him than helping him. A 6ft tall, dangerous-looking maniac. A young man was taking off from him again when Vanderwood plopped himself onto a bench, putting his head in his hands and sobbing.
His heart was being wrenched from his chest – his very soul being torn in two, and then he dropped his hands – looking ahead through the blur of his tears…There she was. She looked happy – smiling and talking to customers. Why was she in an apron? Seemed like she’d managed to get a job in a matter of hours. Vanderwood felt his breathing still. She was fine. Cerise was just fine without him. Maybe it was better if he waited for her shift to be over, gave her phone back, said his piece, and walked away. Just tell her it wasn’t her fault – then, let her live her happy life. It was too late for him, but it wasn’t for her.
Cerise could be happy without him. At least she wasn’t choosing drugs like his mother – just a better life without him in it. He was crying again. It was really surreal. People always seemed to think that men didn’t cry – that crying was a feminine phenomenon, yet he was one of the most masculine guys on the planet. He snorted at himself – ever the cynical asshole. Always a cynical asshole. Vanderwood looked up to see her again – the smile on her face, and it was like a shard of glass had lodged itself in his chest. He couldn’t sit and wait here; he couldn’t. It hurt too much. People be damned. World be damned. God or whatever was out there be damned.
Vanderwood’s breath left his body in a rush, and then he was up and running again – into a café covered in Christmas decorations. Uncaring of the people around, he grabbed Cerise up into his arms and held her tightly as he buried his face in her hair. Was that the smartest choice when she was probably terrified of him now – wanted nothing to do with him? No, but he was too busy sobbing into her hair. There was a constant stream of, “I’m sorry,” leaving his lips between the sharp intakes of breath his sobs were causing.
She had barely noticed Vanderwood rush in due to talking to one of the few customers left in the café before she’d been swept up in his arms. It took a moment for her brain to process what was going on. Vanderwood was here in the café. How had he even found her? Right…former secret agent. Her body tensed up automatically, and her wrist suddenly felt like it was on fire – a not-so-gentle reminder of what had happened earlier.
Cerise wasn’t sure how she was supposed to react. She wanted to cry; she wanted to be angry – to lash out at him, but that wouldn’t make her any better than he had been. It was impossible to find the words to say as he sobbed into her hair – apologizing to her over and over. How was she supposed to react? Her chest felt tight, her heart hurt deeply, but she just didn’t know what to do…What was happening right now? Was this even real…?
Her eyes followed him as he collapsed to his knees in front of her. By now people were staring. She was probably causing trouble for the owner. Cerise flashed the man an apologetic look – earning an understanding nod. All she wanted was to cry, to tell him that it was okay – to forgive him. That was what her heart was telling her. The words were in her mind. Even so, Cerise knew that he had a problem – knew that it ran deeper than she had imagined. Things could have gone much, much worse for her, and she wouldn’t have been able to stop it. She considered herself an understanding person, but there was only so much she could take – only so much she could have tried to break a barrier that he didn’t want to be broken.
Cerise’s voice was a soft murmur. “Let’s…go over here.” With little effort, she was able to urge him into a nearby booth where she sat opposite of him. Ms. Sugarplum quickly brought over some coffee and put a cup in front of each of them, leaving with a concerned smile. All Cerise could do was stare at the broken man in front of her as she absentmindedly rubbed at her wrists. He had moved along with her with seemingly no struggle at all, even. Seeing him weak and dejected just seemed so wrong. She could at least hear him out.
Vanderwood knew he looked like an idiot, and he was just causing problems for her again, too. He wasn’t one to act out like this – certainly not for an audience, but too late now. What was most important was that he told her what had happened, that he explained to her the truth about why his birthday and Christmas were so painful for him, and why it wasn’t her fault. Vanderwood sat hunched over in the booth – barely able to meet her eyes as he tore his gaze away from the table.
“When I turned six years old, my mother said she was coming for Christmas. I sat in front of the tree with Caleb for four hours before Caleb fell asleep in my lap and dad went to bed. I woke up the next morning, and she still wasn’t there. Turns out she got so high that she forgot or just couldn’t make it. Either way, she chose drugs over me on Christmas.” He had to pause, taking a breath – feeling winded and his throat raw from the crying.
It was all bubbling out now – too fast to even notice the way she was rubbing at her wrist. “On my seventh birthday, I waited all day for my dad to remember. I thought he was kidding around, had some surprise for me…but nothing happened. Mom was supposed to come again, and I waited…I guess she forgot, too, because when the doorbell rang, it was dad’s friends. I put Caleb to bed, and when I came back downstairs…” His voice broke, and he had to shove the rest of the words out like he was pulling a tooth without medication. “My birthday present was finding out what your dad shooting up heroine looks like.”
Cerise was silent still as she listened to him – nursing on her cup of coffee. It was a lot to take in; there were a lot of walls coming down. It wasn’t the ideal situation or place, but he was finally telling her why he had been so grumpy, so distant – colder than the air outside. Hearing everything just made her hurt more, although almost in another direction. He had been dealt such a bad hand – both him and his brother. It was really no wonder to her that he could be so cold and rough on the outside.
Vanderwood hung his head in shame again as the memory of the way she’d looked at him from beneath him after his snap came back – far more painful than even the childhood ones. “I was trying to shut those memories out – completely shutting myself down…when I…when I treated you like…” He simply couldn’t say it; he just couldn’t. Bloody Hell, what a fucking prissy ass wimp he was. “I told you to get away from me, because I didn’t want to hurt you any further or go down that slippery slope of sex. You are so much more than that to me. You’re the only truly beautiful thing I’ve had in my life for almost a decade. You didn’t do anything wrong. In fact, you were doing everything right. Granted, I don’t like being woken up, you almost lit the house on fire, and there were sparkles bloody everywhere, but you cared so much more than any other human being ever has – even my parents. You are quite literally the best thing that ever happened to me…I just couldn’t handle it.”
So many words, so much to say, Vanderwood just kept going, because if he stopped, it wasn’t going to come again. He would just be walling up all over again, and nothing would be different. She needed to know everything – whether she was going or staying. Cerise needed to know. “I’m so much better since I met you, but I’m still a broken man, and I…forgot that I needed to watch myself. I forgot that I’m an addict. I’ve been doing so well that I’ve been laboring under the delusion that love is a miracle cure, but it isn’t…It’s the support that I need to reach being healthy, but as magical as it feels – it isn’t the cure. I was stupid. I didn’t pay attention, and I should have told you everything from the beginning. This…it’s all my fault…and I can’t ask you to forgive me, because I wouldn’t deserve it. I just wanted to be happy, and I didn’t want to ruin all the hard work you went through to make this day something other than the pain it’s always been…so I didn’t tell you…and I didn’t tell you when it was getting to be too much…and I’m sorry, Cerise. I’m so sorry.”
Cerise couldn’t quite come up with her own response yet – still trying to sus everything out for herself. It comforted her to know that he hadn’t been telling her to leave because he had actually wanted her to, but because he recognized what was going on with himself and didn’t want to put her through anything worse. He hadn’t trusted himself; he was trying to protect her. She had also been living under the delusion that love was the cure for everything – that that alone could fix everything just like in the movies. Life didn’t work that way. Life was a big, fat, bully full of harsh realities.
She was young and didn’t have a lot of life experience. For all intents and purposes, she shouldn’t get involved with him again. They should just go their own separate ways. Cerise was way too young and inexperienced to be what he needed her to be for him. Maybe he was too broken to be fixed. It was delusional of her to think she could turn around so many years of pain that ran much deeper than she had known.
Vanderwood couldn’t stand the silence – waiting for her to tell him what she wanted to do, that she couldn’t forgive him, just anything. He felt like a failure – like far more than a failure. It was getting to the point where the talking was just as painful as the silence. Reaching into his pocket, he removed her phone and lightly pushed it towards her on the table. “You’ll…need this…if you go…” The ring came out next, but he left that in the palm of his gloved hand – the rose gold standing out against the harsh black leather. “You…probably don’t want this…That’s why you left it, right?”
Moment of truth, a doomed half-life without her or picking up the pieces. His eyes slowly met hers again – chestnut-brown to honey-gold as he closed his fingers around the ring. “Just tell me, and I’m gone. I won’t so much as breathe your name.” Although, because of how completely insane he was, he would probably follow her to the ends of the Earth – watching like some fucked up version of a guardian angel. If he had the energy, he would have snorted at himself. Bloody cynical asshole.
Her eyes locked with his – those chestnut-brown eyes that she loved so much. The look in his them was pained but full of so many other emotions. She couldn’t pick them all out. He did care, and he was sincere. She could see it. Tears began to well up in her eyes again. Too bad she loved him way too much to let him go – to let him continue to suffer alone. There was no way she could bear being apart from him. They needed each other – as broken as he was and as inexperienced and young as she was. She could have handled this so much better, like the adult she was supposed to be. They both could have handled this situation better, but that was part of life, too.
“Marion…” She hadn’t meant for his name to escape her lips, but it had, and now the tears were spilling over and running down her face as she began to sob. Cerise found herself moving out of her side of the booth and all but throwing herself into his arms – sobbing into his chest. She needed him; she would always need him. Obviously, neither of them was perfect, and they still had a lot to learn about each other and themselves. For better or for worse – that’s what she was promising him when she had agreed to marry him. There were things she could have probably said = like apologizing for going too overboard and for running off instead of trying to calm down and understand. Sometimes she felt like she was still a kid. There was no doubt in her mind that she still had some growing up to do. All that she could get out was that she wanted him to stay – just like she had after that first kiss. “Stay…please stay.”
He tensed as her tears began – his entire being in pain to the point that even breathing was a struggle. Vanderwood was fully expecting her to turn him away. That was what he deserved and what was best for her. His heart tore at the sound of her sobbing. Vanderwood held her tightly to him as she cried. She was asking him to stay…She wanted him to stay. He buried his face in her hair; it was all he could do to keep from starting to cry again himself. Damn, it was a good thing she hadn’t cut it weeks before. Cynical asshole. He held her tighter.
Even with what he’d done, she wanted him to stay. Then, he would stay, but he would be damned if he didn’t do a better job. “Let’s do Christmas…the lights, the decorations, the tree…everything. I want to do everything with you.” Words were just coming again, but at least this time it was a positive thing. “New memories…with the woman who loves me like no one else…If that’s what you want, too.” She was trying to calm herself down when he pulled back and cupped her face in his hand. He wanted to celebrate Christmas with her – the right way. Cerise had stopped full on sobbing, but she couldn’t help the tears that were still coming down as he brushed them away with his thumb.
“I love you…I want this happy life with you. I promise this time…this time, I’ll tell you what’s going on in my head.” Should he kiss her? He sure as Hell wanted to, and he didn’t care whether people were watching. Fuck, he hadn’t scanned the room even this entire time, but he was too busy staring into her eyes to be bothered. What a useless agent he would be right now. Good thing he wasn’t one anymore – thanks to her. Better to wait…hear her answer first before he did anything.
All she had wanted was to understand him, to get him to talk to her and let her in. He had told her once that he would try, but it had still been hard for him. Now he was promising her. “Yes…I’d really like that.” Cerise managed a small smile. She would do her best to try and not overwhelm him – maybe ask him how he felt before she went all out; she could at least do that for him. “I love you too, ma moitié…” Cerise had long ago forgotten all about the people in the room with them. It didn’t matter. She’d make it up to the nice man and his daughter somehow, but for right now, she was just a little lost in his eyes. He very much so looked like he wanted to kiss her – which was fine by her, because that’s what she wanted, too. Cerise closed the gap between them and pressed her lips against his.
Just like when they’d first started their relationship, she was the one to remove the space between them. Vanderwood held her to him as he kissed her back – nothing rough, but the kind of kiss that made it seem like the world had stopped spinning. Why did it feel like she was putting his heart and soul back together? That’s exactly what she was doing. When the kiss ended, he pressed another to her forehead as she nuzzled into him. “Ma moitié…”
Now he finally scanned the room, and there were quite a few onlookers – each averting their gaze when his swept over them. Was he really that frightening after sobbing like a child in the middle of the place? Apparently, yeah. He shifted to open his hand – looking at the ring that had left a small indent in the leather of his gloves and showing it to her. “I’m going to keep this…for now…and I’ll propose to you again…um if you’d like that.” That was a cheesy thing to do, but it seemed fitting. Maybe this time he’d remember the right words in French. There was another part of him that wanted to whisk her away and say, ‘Marry me right now.’ But that must just have been from the rush of relief he was feeling.
She hadn’t cared to look around herself but turned to eye her ring as it sparkled in the light. He wanted to propose to her again; he was such a cheese-master, but she couldn’t complain. Nodding, she gave a brief, “Mhm,” as confirmation. Vanderwood felt like he could finally breathe again. The world seemed more peaceful to him now – quiet. Every time he told her what was on his mind, it seemed like he was lighter – like living was easier, even if it hurt like Hell coming out. So…maybe he was on the right track.
He wasn’t about to drop his guard like he had earlier. “Do you…want to come home now?” Could he trust himself in a bedroom with her…Yeah, but he wasn’t going to do anything other than holding her – for tonight at least. Best to be on the safe side. Cerise let out a tired sigh of relief – feeling like all of the stress had washed off her rather suddenly. “Yeah. Please, let’s do that.” She was exhausted – both physically and mentally.
Cerise pulled on Marion’s hand as they were walking out, going to the old man and his daughter to thank them and apologize for the chaos she might have caused. Vanderwood made his own apologies to the owner and waitress. He was awkward and stiff about it, but it was the right thing to do – even if interpersonal stuff wasn’t his forté. They assured that it was no problem and had even asked if they could call her if they ever needed the help. She was more than happy to give them her number. The old man sent them off with to-go boxes of something he had insisted on making for them. It looked to be a pasta of sorts from the glimpse she got before he closed the box. That was good, because she was starving, and she was sure that Marion had to be, too. He was probably way too tired himself to cook.
Vanderwood tucked the to-go boxes under one arm – wondering where he’d even put Cerise’s dinner plate down from earlier before he went out the window. It was going to be freezing in the house. He wrapped his other arm around Cerise as they walked – in part because he needed the contact, but also to keep her warm. She never seemed to dress for the weather. It was surprising to see she had her gloves with her, but that had probably been sheer luck – knowing her.
Looking up at the stars, he snorted softly. “You know…where I lived in Britain, the ground would be covered in slush right now, but in all the time I’ve been in Korea, I’ve maybe seen it snow once. I kind of miss that.” Once the floodgates were opened, apparently sharing got easier. “That sounds pretty…it didn’t really snow in Paris. If it did, it never stuck.” There was a small smile on her face as he shared just a small piece of his life with her…something normal and small, but just as important to her. Vanderwood looked down at her with a small smile in return.
He gave her shoulder a light squeeze before he let go as they reached her house, pausing before opening the door. There were thoughts burning on the tip of his tongue, and it was best to share them. “Thank you…for everything you did today. I’m sorry it became…the mess it became…” She’d done so much work, and he’d wanted to appreciate it all earlier but couldn’t, because he was so busy trying to keep his feelings under wraps. Cerise shook her head in response. “I should have checked with you to see how much you could handle…You did warn me before that you wouldn’t be in a good mood on your birthday. I should have been more sensitive.” She looked to the ground, kicking her feet a little. “There are things we both could have done differently, you know?”
That was something he wasn’t going to argue. Still, he was impressed by her. He’d always known she was strong – always known she was maturing. Cerise had proved not only her strength to him today but her ability to grow, too. Even if he thought he didn’t deserve that she was doing so much for him. “You’re amazing; you know that?” She looked up, flashing him a little smile. “Yeah…amazingly cold.” Cerise tried joking, poking at him a little. “Let’s get inside where it’s warmer?”
They’d chowed down on the food the café owner had made them, Cerise feeling slightly guilty as she saw Vanderwood putting away food that he’d made earlier. It was just like him to make food for the both of them even if they were fighting. As she looked in the bathroom mirror, she could see that her eyes were still a little red from crying. They would look perfectly bright and cute in the morning.
She threw on her pajamas – quickly brushing her teeth so she could get to bed faster. It wasn’t normal for her to forego her nightly routine, but she was just so exhausted. The bed looked so inviting. Sooner or later, he’d wander in and join her, so she decided to get on her phone to wait. The angle that she tried to hold it at was a little uncomfortable. It hadn’t really bothered her before, but that’s when she noticed that her wrists had bruised darkly from when he had grabbed her earlier.
It was all an accident. He hadn’t meant to hurt her. Sure, she knew her wrists hurt a bit, but she didn’t think they’d gotten bruised. She rubbed at the left one – which was the worst of the two and sighed. If he saw this…she really didn’t want to make things worse than they had been. Cerise plugged her phone in and decided to lay on her stomach with her arms under the pillow. She didn’t think she could hide it from him for forever, but at least he wouldn’t have to deal with it that night. “Marion? Are you coming to bed?”
He’d finished up the dishes rather quickly – standing outside by the door to the bedroom as he took a moment to be by himself. Was he absolutely certain he wasn’t going to behave like he had earlier today? Vanderwood heard her call for him, replying immediately. “Yeah, just a second.” He felt fine…other than being exhausted, so yeah, he was fine. Vanderwood opened the door and laid his jacket on top of the dresser for now before grabbing his pajama pants from off the floor. He’d thrown them on the floor and not in the hamper – a testament to how freaked he’d been. The way she was positioned wasn’t lost on him – making him tilt his head at her. That was…a new one?
After ducking into the bathroom, he went through his usual routine in the exact same way he did every day. The repetition was comforting for his OCD – giving him some semblance of control after a day with virtually everything going wrong. Now that he was more right in the head, everything ended up neatly placed in the hamper like it was supposed to. He crawled into bed and reached for her to pull her against his chest like usual, but it seemed like she was a little reluctant to get out of her current position. Had he scared her that badly that she didn’t want to sleep against his chest? It would make sense.
Vanderwood bit at his tongue for a moment as he relinquished his hold on her waist, moving to lay on his own side and staring at the ceiling before he remembered that he was supposed to say what was on his mind. “Are you afraid of me now?” She mumbled softly that she wasn’t, but he couldn’t blame her if she was. Vanderwood had told her before that not watching his strength was a dangerous game, and he doubted he’d been watching it when he’d pinned her. Wait…his breath stilled, he rolled once more onto his side, and chestnut-brown eyes met honey-gold – pleading for an answer. “Did I hurt you?” The way she was laying her hands under the pillow in front of her – it was like she was hiding something. Guilt was already washing through him again – already knowing the answer. “Please…Cerise…show me…”
Cerise was kicking herself that she had tried to pull away from him. The man was too perceptive, and she should have been more careful to act normal if she was actually going to hide this from him. As he caught her eyes, asking if he had hurt her, it made her chest twist up into a knot. She had hoped that he wouldn’t notice for at least that night; she should have just acted normally. It wasn’t like she could just tell him ‘no’. Not when he looked like this. Cerise felt like he probably already knew the answer to his own question anyways. Slowly, she turned over onto her side – averting her eyes as she held her hands out to him.
A sharp intake of breath was the only sound as he took her hands in his – his eyes taking in the dark bruising. Her left wrist was much worse, but that observation didn’t make him feel any better. “Cerise…” He lightly ran his thumbs over the bruises before he bent his head to brush his lips over them. In his head, he was wondering what he could do to make it better – at least to make them not hurt so much. Vanderwood knew her pain tolerance, but he also knew her medication intolerance. Surely a numbing cream would go over fine. She couldn’t get high from that.
He let go of her hands to dig for his kit under her bed – finding what he needed quickly. “This won’t hurt…and it won’t get you worked up either. It’ll just numb any pain.” Cerise nodded, trusting he knew what he was talking about. Even if it could affect her, she’d be asleep soon anyway. She still couldn’t bring herself to look his way – not because she was scared of him or anything, but she didn’t want to see his reactions to this. Cerise couldn’t bring herself to look at the hurt in his eyes. This was something she knew he was going to beat himself up over.
At the moment, he wasn’t touching on how guilty he was feeling – more worried about making sure he could help her feel better. Almost as soon as he had the cream on his fingers and was lightly brushing it over her bruising, though, there was a lump in his throat as his voice cracked. “I really hurt you…” Bloody Hell, he felt like shit. He’d bruised the love of his life. Fantastic. That was just…never again. He’d sworn never again with that first kiss, but this was a whole different ballpark. This…never again. Vanderwood would rather shoot himself in the foot.
“It’s…it looks a lot worse than it feels, really.” She felt like his birthday was memorable in all the wrong ways. They both definitely had a lot of things they needed to work on when it came to themselves and each other. Cerise knew that from now on, he would probably be extra careful when it came to his recovery. For her side, she would know that when he said he needed to be alone – it wasn’t because he didn’t want her around. This sort of thing would never happen again, and she knew it; she trusted him.
She still wasn’t looking at him. Cerise had said she wasn’t scared of him, but the way she was avoiding his gaze made him doubt that. “This won’t happen again.” His voice was a little harsh as he said it, and that just made him worry more. Vanderwood bit his tongue before he decided he had to know – slipping his fingers under her chin to tip it. “Please, Cerise…look at me and tell me you’re not afraid of me. I want to be sure.” Relationships were far more complicated than his life before.
Cerise let her eyes fall on his face at his urging – looking into his worried eyes. “I’m not afraid of you, Marion…” The cream he had put on her wrists did help the pain, but it wasn’t very prominent in the first place. It only hurt if she tried to squeeze it or she was holding her hands in an awkward way. Cerise tried to give him a reassuring smile, but it probably came out all tired looking. She certainly felt tired, and her feet were killing her. All that running around and waitressing really took it out of her – not to mention the emotional parts of it all. “Tomorrow’s a new day.” Cerise cuddled back into the bed and towards him, so he could easily hold her if he wanted to. “So, let’s get some rest, ya know?”
His eyes had searched hers, and she was telling the truth. “Okay…yeah.” Once again, he pulled her hands to his lips – brushing feather light kisses over her wrists, so soft he wasn’t even sure if she could feel it. “A new day with new memories – just for you and me.” A little cheesiness to fall asleep with. Vanderwood pulled her close against his chest – taking the offered invitation and placing her where she belonged. “I love you, shortcake.” He nuzzled into her hair, his voice coming up much smaller than usual – like it had a few times already that day. “Thank you…for not leaving me.” He had some bloody major abandonment issues, but he’d be lying if he said he was surprised. Cerise barely heard him, lightly nodding before she completely conked out – dead to the world.
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