Scars & Souvenirs

seven

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Scratch, scratch, screeeee. A soft curse, muffled by glass and a wardrobe. Silence then scratch, scratch.

Eyes snapping open, Max stays completely still in her bed. Her ears are filled with the roaring of blood and the pounding of her heart; the cold wash over terror crashes over her, leaving her skin prickling and throat tightening. Tears spill along her cheeks as she slowly turns her head. A quiet thumping sound, then the wardrobe is wiggling, unsteady on its base.

She slides her hand under her pillow until her fingers wrap around the handle of the knife, but the solid wood in her grip does nothing to abate her fear. She might die tonight with nothing to save her but a kitchen knife she bought at a Goodwill. Her gaze cuts to the bedroom door, left open from when she came to bed an hour ago, and she has never been more thankful for that.

She can either lie here in bed and wait for the inevitable or she can flee. The decision is an easy one to make: No matter how terrifying it is to need someone else for anything, it’s better than the alternative. Gabriel is so much worse. Worse by the span of a galaxy.

So she climbs carefully out of her bed, crouches down to the floor, and moves as quickly and quietly as she can toward the hallway. The sounds follow after her, the thudding of the wardrobe on the floor as it’s shifted out of place and the scraping of the window in its frame as it’s lifted.

Her fingers fumble with the locks on the front door, and she bites back a sob. Growing more desperate with each failed attempt, Max finally, finally, gets the chain unlatched and the door open. Her stomach lurches at the thought of what’s in her room, and she stumbles across the landing, knocks as loudly as she dares.

Please, please, please be home, she silently begs, hoping that for once - just this one time - whatever god may exist will have mercy on her. She glances back over her shoulder, but nothing moves in the dark of her flat through the doorway. Max knocks again and again until Niall’s door finally opens.

“Please let me in,” she whispers, voice cracking as she loses the fight against her tears. “Please. Someone - someone is in my flat, please.”

Niall stares at her for a second, frowning even as his eyes clear of the sleepy fog, and he swiftly steps back to grant her access. Max darts past him and into the unlit kitchen. Safe from the light and the danger it possesses, she drops to her knees and shuffles until she’s hidden under the table. The wall is cold behind her back, the tile floor unyielding under her bottom. She curls herself up as small as she can and holds her breath.

The sound of feet disappears, and Max claps a hand over her mouth. Did Niall leave her alone? Oh, god, what if he went to her flat to see what she’s panicking about? The longer she’s left alone, the more Max trembles, fears that she has just signed her neighbour’s death warrant. She gags on stomach acid but doesn’t move. What if -? No, don’t go there. But...

“Hey, where’d you go?”

Fluorescent white floods the room suddenly, and Max slowly shifts her gaze. Bare feet under plaid sleep-pants, inching further into the room. She grips the knife more tightly - this could just be a ploy. Gabriel could have killed Niall and donned his pyjamas in order to trick her out of hiding. She’s not stupid enough to fall for it. Not again.

Her entire body twitches when a face appears; Niall stares, wide-eyed and silent, at the knife in her hands. She stares back. His lips move, but she can’t hear what he says over the thunderous roar in her ears. Max adjusts her hold on the handle when he reaches toward her, still uncertain of her safety. He holds his hands up in surrender and moves to sit against the far wall.

“Is -?”

“No one was there,” he assures her quietly, smiling softly at her through the distance. “Whoever it was left when they didn’t see you. I’ve already rang the cops for you. They’re on their way now. Are you okay? Do you need anything?”

I need this to be over. Max shakes her head and lowers the knife to the floor. The metal of the blade clatters against the tile, and she jerks at how loud it is in the quiet. Niall doesn’t speak, doesn’t push for her to calm down. It helps, him not saying anything, and she shakily crawls out from under the table. He stays where he is, even when she breaks down into tears.

He risked his life to keep her safe, regardless of the fact that they don’t know each other. He has no clue who she is, what she’s done, or how close he came to dying because of her past. Max wishes she had just let Gabriel find her. Then Niall could continue living without the mess of her mucking everything up. He’s too good and kind for her.

She wipes a trembling across her cheeks. She can hear sirens. He watches her clamber to her feet, and his lips turn down at the corners. Her heart clenches tightly at the thought that he’s worried about her. She doesn’t deserve it.

“Thanks.”

“Wait -”

But she’s already gone, scurrying out of his flat as the door opens downstairs. She waits on the landing for the three officers, none of whom seem to be in any sort of hurry. The cop from before - the one who told her she would receive no help - blinks at her but composes himself quickly. She doesn’t care; he could call her a liar, as long as this ends.

They ask their questions. They do a cursory examination of the flat and her bedroom. They don’t say a word to her once they’ve taken the notes they require for the report. Max stays out of their way, chewing on her lower lip and holding tightly to herself. She’s given all the answers she can.

Now, it’s up to them to do their damn jobs and find Gabriel. Max is certain that she won’t survive the next time he comes around.

“All right, ma’am, we’re done here.” Officer Ramirez smiles apologetically, coming to a stop in front of her. “Whoever did this was smart. No broken windows, no evidence beyond some scratch marks on the frame. Do you have somewhere to stay for the night?”

“Yes,” Max lies, stomach churning at the falsehood. They couldn’t - wouldn’t - help when she asked for it. Why give them the chance to pretend to be heroes now?

“Good, I’m glad to hear it. Now unfortunately, we can’t promise that we can find who did this -”

“His name is Gabriel. Gabriel Marcus Ferriman.”

“Ma’am?”

“He’s twenty-seven, from Ann Arbor, Michigan. His parents are Peter and Janet Ferriman. They -”

“Ma’am, please, take a deep breath, okay? Who exactly is this Gabriel Ferriman to you, and why do you think he has anything to do with this?”

“He’s been stalking me for years. He finds me everywhere I go. He…” Max swallows thickly, bile coating her tongue, before she meets Ramirez’s eye. “He’s my ex-husband.”