Things like…an ambulance blocking the main road leading to her house.
She rushed towards the paramedic standing next to the van’s back doors, heart beating mad and mind racing with all sorts of heinous possibilities. She could see her home from here, and the lights peeking out of the edges of the bay window gave her a modicum of relief. That meant they were okay. That this ambulance hadn’t anything to do with them. Right?
Pippi came up to the paramedic standing next to the ambulance. “Excuse me. Sir?” The man was tall and powerfully built, with his uniform emphasizing the impressive breadth of his shoulders. Definitely a shoo-in for Sexiest Paramedic Alive, Pippi thought absently.
When the paramedic finally turned to face her, Pippi had to crane her neck to look into his eyes, which were the only thing his surgical mask didn’t cover. “Is anyone seriously hurt?”
The paramedic stepped close, and she had the strangest feeling that he seemed awfully familiar. His height, his build, his hair—
Her eyes widened, and almost as if this had been the cue he was waiting for, the paramedic took another step closer, near enough for Pippi to hear him ask behind his mask, “Could we talk?”
Pippi shouldn’t have been shocked, but she was, and it made the next few minutes a blur. Somehow, she ended up following Acheron into the back of the ambulance and collapsing in the paramedic seat while Wickham shut the doors close before taking the wheel.
Even the sound of the engine running and seeing her house’s window as the vehicle drove past, it felt like nothing but illusions. It was only when she saw Acheron, who of course looked at home in his paramedic uniform (was there nothing in this world that didn’t suit the man?), crouching down in front of her that shock finally lost its paralytic grip on her body, and all the blasted memories came hurtling back in.
“No!” Pippi shrank back in instinctive protest the moment Acheron tried reaching for her hands. How could he even think she would let him touch her, after everything?
Acheron’s jaw clenched at her show of rejection, but what hurt him even more was the look of fear and pain in her eyes. “I know I’ve fucked up more than once today, and I’m sorry for it.”
Pippi fought against the sound of pain she heard in his voice. He’s lying. Lying. Lying!
“I despise myself for it, and if I had known how things would turn out—”
“Like me finding out you have a girlfriend?” she cut in unevenly.
“Amelia isn’t my girlfriend.” His tone was harsh, and his hard gaze captured hers as if demanding Pippi to see the truth in them.
Her chest heaved, and she turned her head sharply away. No more, she thought doggedly. I’m over trusting this guy.
“I’m not lying, Pippi.”
“I don’t care. It’s not my right to care—”
“It is, damn you.” She looked so damn blank, but now he could see past it, and he knew just how much she was hurting…because of him. “Amelia—”
“Don’t you call her ‘Amy’?” she couldn’t help asking with a masochistic sense of bitterness.
“Wickham and the others call her that,” he bit out. “But I never did.” His voice became level. “I’ve never been the one to use nicknames.”
And yet he called her Pippi.
The thought had her wanting to cry in sheer despair. Stop fooling yourself. Stop trying to make excuses for him. Just stop!
“I just need you to listen to me.”
The words were met with stoic silence, and he knew it was her way of shutting him out.
“Amelia and I go a long way back.”
Not a single flicker of emotion in her blank blue eyes, but he saw past this, too. The silence was to mask the pain, and because he knew he was the cause of it, Acheron forced himself to do the one thing that he had once sworn he would never admit.
“She saved me…from being…” He tried to say it. But he couldn’t. And when he heard her gasp, and saw her eyes starting to water, he realized that she already knew.
“I’m so sorry, Acheron.”
She was no longer silent, no longer blank, but even though this was what he wanted, a part of him already wanted to erase the words.
Just saying them out loud made Acheron want to throw up in remembered fear.
People who liked to play the victim card were the people who had never been one.
You only had to be a victim once, and you would never be able to forget how it was, no matter how much you tried.
You only had to feel powerless once, and you would never wish to speak it again.
Once was all it took.
And even the vaguest memories of it would be enough to kill you—
“Please. Stop. It’s enough. Please.”
A whisper yanked him out of the darkness, and he heard himself gasp and open eyes that he hadn’t even remembered closing.