AN: Sorry this chapter is a bit shorter than the others, but I hope you like it anyways!

I want to thank all the reviewers: mugglette, Daniella Consuela, Lorilozz, Rejobu, leytongirl, Nonna (my soul twin 3), finnlover, smuttbear, ZakiaR, Alex, RathanIsLove (it's true! it is! ha), and Ambinator.

It really means a lot to hear what you think and know that not only do you take the time to sit down and read this, but that you're actually enjoying it enough to give me such wonderful feedback! I honestly dont' know if I'd want to update as much if I didn't know I had such wonderful readers! Keep it up.
Sarah.

Chapter 4

2 weeks later

Rubbing sleep from his eyes, Nathan opened the front door to his apartment and poked his head outside. A baseball bat hung limply in his right hand as he surveyed the night, hearing only crickets and seeing only his car parked outside. Nathan yawned and closed the door. Propping the bat against the wall he made his way back towards the bedroom.

He sighed sadly when he heard Rachel emptying her stomach in the bathroom.

"Rach?" He called, rapping lightly against the closed bathroom door.

"No one's there. I checked."

He was met with silence and than the door slowly creaked open, revealing a Rachel that few would recognize.

Her face was ashen and her eyes wide as she clutched at her stomach and peered nervously around the room.

"It was just a dream, Rach. No one's here but us." He said gently, pulling her against his chest and rubbing her back in slow circles.

"It always feels real." She admitted after several moments, her breath warm on the bare skin of his chest.

Nathan nodded, kissing the crown of her head. She didn't have to tell him. Waking up to her kicking and screaming for help, and watching her get physically ill almost every night was all the convincing he needed.

"I'm sorry I got sick again." She whispered, face still buried in his chest, seeking the comfort in his embrace. "I tried not to."

Nathan sighed again. He wasn't angry with her, she couldn't help it, but he hated how thin she was getting. She barely ate anything, and when she did, she usually made herself sick after a nightmare, making the whole thing moot.

"I know you can't, Rach. I'm not mad; I'm just worried about you. Did you think about what I said today? Y'know about seeing someone?" He asked, gently grabbing her shoulders and moving her away from his chest so he could look at her.

She stared at the ground, gnawing at her lower lip and stubbornly avoiding the question.

"Rachel…"

She didn't look up, but made a face at the use of her whole name. Nathan almost never called her, 'Rachel.'

"I know you don't like the idea, but you've been holed up in this apartment for weeks. I mean, come on, I'm sure you miss going out with friends, aren't you sick of me yet?" He teased.

"No." she answered simply, toeing the carpet; still not meeting his eye.

"You need to talk to other people besides me. You need to dea-,"

"Do you want me to leave, Nathan?" She whispered, cutting him off. The hurt in her voice was palpable and she looked visibly paler.

"No." He said firmly, lifting her chin. She kept her eyes downcast, refusing to look at him even though she was now facing him. He could see the swell of tears building on her lower lids. He was used to this; to her almost crippling self doubt. To her reluctance to believe that he actually cared about her.

"No, I want you here. I want you here with me." He insisted.

Nathan wanted to push. He wanted to force her into therapy; wanted to do whatever he had to fix her, but he couldn't. His own familiar feelings of guilt and self-loathing ached in his gut.

If he'd only met her at the bar like he'd promised her, none of this would have happened.

"You don't have to… if you're not ready…" he said quietly, giving in.

The tears pooling in her eyes slipped down her pale cheeks as she finally let her gaze meet his.

He kissed her cheek, catching a salty tear with his lips.

"Do you trust me?" He whispered.

She nodded, leaning her forehead against his.

"Just you." She admitted, locking eyes with him.

"I won't let you down." He promised, wiping more tears away with the pad of his thumb.

"I know."

"Scott!"

Nathan jerked his head up from his desk, batting down a paper that was stuck to his cheek.

"Mr. Larsen! Good morn – afternoon. I mean afternoon." Nathan rambled, clearing his throat and rearranging some things on his desk.

"Scott, you've been calling in sick on and off these past few weeks, and when you do come in you're falling behind the eight ball. I went out on a limb for you because your grandfather is a good friend. Whatever personal problems you're dealing with, leave them at home. When you're in my office, it's time to work. I need your report on my desk by two." Mr. Larsen finished, giving Nathan a stern look.

"I'm sorry, sir. I'm so thankful for the job, really. A good friend of mine, she's going through something really terrible, and its just…" he stopped, clearing his throat. He couldn't get into this with his boss.

"It's just been difficult. But nothing I can't handle. On your desk by two, than? No problem." Nathan said, nipping the conversation in the bud.

Mr. Larsen gave him a skeptical look before turning and heading off towards his office.

With a sigh, Nathan slumped down in his chair and grabbed his phone, dialing a familiar number. After only two rings, someone answered.

"Hello?"

"What's she doing?"

"Watching Days of Our Lives. And crying."

Nathan snorted out a laugh.

"Why don't you go out and watch with her?"

"Cause… she gives me weird looks and she wants to talk about… things, and than she tries to feed me. I'm not a baby." Rachel said with a pout that Nathan could clearly picture.

"Well, maybe if you would just eat and gain a little weight, we wouldn't have to treat you like one." Nathan countered.

"You're mean." She said, sticking out her tongue.

"Don't stick your tongue out at me! It's true."

Rachel gaped, he knew her to well.

"Besides, Peyton's your best friend. She just cares about you. She's doing the best she can."

"I know…" Rachel sighed. "Everything's different now though. I can't just talk to her like before. Nothing's the same."

"You talk to me." Nathan pointed out.

"It's different."

"How?"

"It just is!"

Nathan chuckled.

"I'll be home soon. Will you please go and spend some time with her? It'll be good for you."

Rachel mumbled her general dislike for that plan.

"Okay, well it will be good for her. She misses you."

Rachel looked down at her fingernails.

"I miss her too, but I miss me more." She whispered.

Nathan was silent he understood what she meant.

"You know, I should be calling her to check on you." He teased.

"I know. Thank you."

"For what?"

"For not treating me like I'm going to break or something."

"One day at a time, right?"

"Right."

"I'll see you in few hours. GO TALK TO PEYTON!" Nathan joked.

"Fine, bye." Rachel said, stifling a giggle.

Hanging up the phone Rachel slowly swung her feet off the side of the bed. Taking a deep breath she padded towards the door, her socked feet barely making a sound.

She peeked out into the living room through the open crack in the door, peering at the back of Peyton's blonde curly head.

She nervously chewed at the sleeve of Nathan's large gray hooded sweatshirt, which hung loosely on her thin frame.

Finally she pushed open the door, wincing as it creaked and Peyton immediately whipped around to face her.

"Rachel! You're up!" Peyton grinned and than immediately started to look her over.

"Is everything okay?" Peyton asked, eying her carefully.

Rachel realized she must look like a five year old, standing there chewing on her sleeve. She quickly dropped her hand to her side.

"Um, yeah. I just wanted to come say hi." She said quietly, looking at Peyton for only a moment before diverting her eyes to the ground.

Peyton muted the TV.

"Oh, well I'm glad you did. Did you sleep well?" Peyton asked, shifting awkwardly on Nathan's couch.

Rachel nodded even though she hadn't been sleeping. Sleep and Rachel were not on good terms.

"Do you um, do you want to watch TV? Or a movie?" Peyton offered, gesturing to the seat next to her.

Rachel thought about it for a second before nodding and looking up to meet Peyton's sad eyes.

"You're not doing anything wrong, you know…" Rachel said quietly, letting the large sleeves of Nathan's sweatshirt cover her small hands and hide their fidgeting.

Peyton cocked her head to the side, confused.

"I…"

"With me. I mean, with me. It's not your fault that I'm like this." Rachel tried to explain.

"It's like there's this fog separating me from the way I used to be; the way I used to think and act." She continued, her voice hoarse.

"Nathan's helping me though." She said confidently, meeting Peyton's eyes again. "I'm going to be fine. I am." She repeated firmly, curling up in the lazy boy next to the couch. She was willing to sit with Peyton and watch a movie, even give her a glimpse into her thoughts, but she wasn't ready to let herself get too close.

Peyton sat there silent, watching Rachel carefully; thinking about what she had said.

Rachel assumed when she was done processing, she would just flick on the TV and the conversation would be over.

After a few moments, Peyton spoke.

"I felt like that after Psycho Derek." Peyton responded, looking at Rachel with different eyes, eyes that were filled with understanding, not sympathy.

"I felt like he took a part of me, a part of me that I could never get back. Nobody understood, and the sympathetic looks and whispers in the hallways, they got to be too much. It was like it only made it worse, more real." Peyton recalled.

"Lucas was there, he understood. Even if he didn't, I could always trust him. Even if he couldn't protect me, he'd die trying." She continued with a soft smile, thinking of her husband.

Rachel brought one sleeve-covered hand to her nose, breathing in the scent of Nathan's cologne as she listened.

"Nathan would do that for you." Peyton finished, her tone gentle, honest.

"He's a good friend," Rachel said absently, looking out the window. "He's already done too much. I don't deserve him."

"Rachel, you're not some charity case to Nathan! He really cares. Don't you know that?" Peyton asked, surprised.

Rachel remained quiet for a few moments, collecting her thoughts, battling the fog.

"He does, but…" She trailed off. "I keep wondering when the shocks going to where off, y'know? When am I supposed to get over this? When is he supposed to be able to go on with his life?"

"When you do." Peyton said simply.

"Can we watch a movie now?" Rachel said wearily, curling deeper into the cushions of the chair.

"Sure." Peyton said softly, grabbing the remote and flicking through the movie channels until she found a comedy.

"And Rachel?"

Rachel turned her head to look at the blonde.

"It does get easier. The fog will clear."

To say Nathan was tired would be the understatement of the century. He and Rachel barely slept anymore due to her nightmares. She always told him to go back to sleep when she woke up after one, but he could never let her go through anything alone. He worried too much. He knew no matter how tired he was, she was feeling it ten fold. She was practically wasting away.

With a yawn he lifted his head from his steering wheel and trudged up to his apartment. With a click, he opened his a shuffled inside, dropping his keys on the counter and loosening his tie.

"Hey, how was work?" Peyton asked, turning around from where she was fiddling in the kitchen.

"Long." Nathan grunted, looking at the clock. It was already seven PM. With Peyton's consent that everything at the apartment was copasetic, Nathan had stayed late to play catch up.

"You look almost as bad as Rachel." Peyton observed, pouring him a cup of coffee.

Nathan quickly lifted his head up from his hands and looked around the room.

"She's in the lazy-boy. Passed out about twenty minutes into 'My Best Friends Wedding.'" Peyton chuckled, pointing to the chair with its back facing them.

"Good. She needs to sleep." Nathan said absently, standing up. "I should take her to bed."

As he rounded the chair he couldn't help but smile when he saw her sleeping peacefully, curled up in his old college sweatshirt. Bending down he easily lifted her slight form into his arms.

He frowned at how light she'd become. Soft curves had given way to sharp angles and the outline of ribs that he could feel even through his bulky sweatshirt. The fear that she was somehow starving to death almost made Nathan want to wake her up and force-feed her, but the dark circles under her eyes convinced him otherwise.

Placing her gently on her side of the bed, he tucked blankets around her and watched her for a second, making sure that she was still sound asleep, before returning to the living room.

"Did she eat today?" Nathan asked immediately upon his reentrance to the kitchen.

Peyton looked up from where she was gathering her things.

"No…" She said apologetically.

Nathan sighed clenching his jaw and closing his eyes.

"I tried Nate, I always do. I even made some of her favorites, but I swear I thought she was going to throw up at the site of them. I wasn't about to make my friend get sick." She defended.

"I know!" He hissed. "But that's the problem. She's so used to not eating now that it's getting harder and harder."

Peyton sighed, chewing on her lower lip.

"Maybe we're thinking about this the wrong way. I mean, it's not like Rachel has an eating disorder or something, Nathan. She's trying, but the nausea is a symptom of the trauma she's still dealing with. And I'm sure her lack of sleep isn't helping either."

"I'm so glad you could clear that up for me, Peyt," Nathan said dryly. "What do you propose we do about it?"

Peyton smacked Nathan's shoulder.

"Don't be short with me! I'm trying to figure this out with you Nathan. All I know is that this isn't enough anymore." She said gesturing around the apartment.

Nathan stood up angrily.

"I'm doing the best I can!" He hissed, trying to keep his voice down.

"It's not enough! You're not a doctor! You can't just make this go away!" Peyton hissed back.

Nathan looked up at the ceiling, clenching his jaw and blinking back tears.

"She's not ready to go see someone, Peyt. She trusts me and I promised her I wouldn't let her down." He choked out.

Peyton softened and reached for his hand, giving it a gentle squeeze.

"If you really care about her and don't want to let her down, than you know that you can't do this alone anymore." She whispered.

He wiped angrily at a tear running down his cheek and rubbed his eyes.

"I should go. Get some rest, Nathan." Peyton said, grabbing her purse and coat before quietly exiting the apartment.

Nathan crept slowly to his bedroom and stood in the doorway watching Rachel sleep for a few minutes. His stomach churned with indecision and guilt. How could he do the right thing for her if the right thing meant breaking a promise to her?

Stepping away from the doorframe Nathan undressed down to his boxers and climbed into bed beside her.

Reaching over, he gently pushed a stray piece of dark chocolaty hair behind her ear. She murmured softly in her sleep, reacting unconsciously to his touch and shifting closer to him. Nathan closed the distance and wrapped a heavy arm around her tiny waist, pulling her weight against his. She snuggled into his chest and sighed contentedly. She slept the entire night through for the first time since the rape.

Nathan remained awake, alone with his thoughts.

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