Scars & Souvenirs


trigger warning: some on-screen vomiting, mentions of past off-screen abuse


Why did you call the cops? I just wanted to see you that’s all.

Max stares down at her laptop screen. He admitted it. The email is proof of his actions, but she knows that the cops won’t look further into it. Not after questioning his “friends” at the bar and hearing that he’d been there that night. Even after Ramirez let it slip that the bartender admitted that Gabriel hadn’t gotten to the bar until after midnight, the officers considered Gabriel nothing more than a person she knows. Not a suspect.

They promised to keep the case open until the culprit was found, but it was a begrudging thing. And they stressed that there might not be any sort of resolution. Max is well-aware of what they mean by that; she’s been through this enough to know that they don’t want to waste the manpower on something like this. The burden of proof is on her, and she has none.

Except this email.

It’s been three days since the attempted break-in, and Max has barely slept at all. Every time she closes her eyes, she hears the window being pried open, the bureau sliding across the floor, the beer-drenched screams of her name chasing her down the stairs. Her bones ache with the ghost of every break and fracture, echoes of purples and blacks staining her flesh. Each and every memory of life with Gabriel plays in vivid Technicolour behind her eyelids, and she startles awake with sweat freezing in her skin, bile on her tongue.

Shoving the laptop to the furthest edge of the coffee-table, she stumbles to her feet and to the kitchen. Dolly’s casserole dish still sits on the counter, cleaned and awaiting the return to its rightful owner. Guilt joins in with the fear and souvenirs left from Gabriel’s reign of terror in her life. It doesn’t feel like two months have passed since the landlady brought the meal over - time has simultaneously sped by while remaining frozen, seconds spanning millennia and nothing at all.

Max grips the dish carefully before she can change her mind, scurries out of her flat and across the landing. Knocking quickly on Dolly’s door, she sets the dish on the floor then sprints back to hers. Through the wood, she hears Sugar barking, the creaking of hinges, then a soft laugh.

She locks the door behind her, tiptoeing to the coffee-table, and lowers herself to sit on the couch. All she wants is for this to be over. Hell, she would be completely okay if it ended in her death, as long as it’s quick and painless. Knowing Gabriel as she does, though… it would be the complete opposite.

Dear Mom and Dad,

Once again, the wonderful justice system won’t do anything about him. They said there’s no actual proof my life is in danger. We know the song and dance - I’ve lived it often enough. Long enough. God, why can’t they just get him already?? Isn’t the fact that I’m living in fear reason enough to get him off the streets?

I guess it doesn’t matter. Even if they arrested him, he has the money for a good lawyer, and we all know lawyers speak with silver tongues, and even the worst of us get off with little more than a slap on the wrist. Fucking devils.

I just… I don’t know how much longer I can do this. I know you always told me I was strong and could change the world, but I can’t even change MY world. How the Hell can I change anything?

He messed everything up. It’s my fault. I should have run far away the minute I felt that first flicker of fear. I should have run when he yelled at me the first time. Instead, I swallowed his apologies and let him destroy me.

You’d be so disgusted by me. I don’t see how you could ever have been proud to call me your daughter. I’m ashamed of myself, and it makes me kind of glad that we’ll never see each other again.

At least then you don’t have to see what a disgrace I’ve become.

As much as it pains her to do so, Max adds this letter to the ones in the safe. It can serve as a reminder of all the Hell she’s gone through - and evidence of how long Gabriel has been torturing her, should her life come to an end at his hands.

A door opens, shoes scuffle against linoleum, then a knock. Max freezes instantly, staring at the door with her heart pounding. She knows it isn’t Gabriel; he wouldn’t have the decency to knock, he would just barge in. But the fear is still here, tearing viciously through her and eating away at the tenuous grip she has on her sanity. Swallowing down the bile in her throat, she tiptoes across the flat to peek through the peephole.

Niall stands just on the other side, a pleasant smile on his face. Max frowns, picking at the dry skin of her bottom lip until it bleeds. Again. She doesn’t know what to do. Talking to him can only cause more problems, but not talking to him can cause even more. Furthermore, it would be rude after he risked his life to keep her safe.

“What do you want?” she calls through the flimsy wood, and Niall’s smile disappears as he scratches at his brow.

“I, I haven’t seen you in a few days, so I wanted to make sure you were okay.”

“I’m fine,” she lies, and her stomach clenches when the words come out far too shakily. She coughs quietly and tries again. “I’m fine. I always am.”

“Max - it is Max, right? You - can you please open the door? I don’t really feel like this would be an effective communication if we’re shouting through the door.”

“There’s nothing to say. I said I was fine, so please leave.”

She watches as he ducks his head, and panic stabs at her heart. She’s upset him. He’s angry, and she’s the reason why. What punishment will she receive for this crime? It certainly can’t be worse than Gabriel. Or maybe the unfamiliarity of this man can prove to be more severe than anything her ex-husband could ever dole out.

Her hands tremble violently, and she gags as her stomach lurches. Max barely manages to make it to the kitchen sink before she’s vomiting. Her abdomen cramps, acid burning her throat and sinuses when nothing but bile comes up. A sob rips its way from her lungs, and she pounds her fist against the countertop as she continues retching.

“Max? Max, please, open the door. C’mon, please? Fuck.”

Niall knocks, over and over, his voice growing more frantic the longer he calls for her. Max ignores him - there’s nothing he can do, and she wouldn’t want his help even if there was. He’s already done enough. He doesn’t deserve the danger she poses to his life just because he’s a nice guy. A genuinely nice guy.

The locks slide out of place, and the chain straightens with a thud and clack. Max swipes her arm over her mouth, wiping away spittle and vomit, and collapses to sit on the floor. Curling up into a ball, she presses her cheek against the cool tile and cries.

“Maxine? Oh, doll, what happened? Go get her toothbrush, toothpaste, and a damp washcloth. Don’t just stand there, sweetheart, go!”

Warm hands, gentle hands, cradle her face, lift Max’s head until she’s staring up into a pair of grey-blue eyes dark with worry. Dolly smiles, though the edges are frayed, and she strokes her thumbs across Max’s cheeks to brush away the tears. She glances up, her soft body sagging with relief.

“Thank you, sweetie. Maxine, do you think you can sit up, baby? That’s okay. You just lay right there then, honey, let me take care of you.”

Max stares blankly at the ceiling as Dolly wipes her cheeks with a wet cloth, and minute shivers run through her body. The tenderness that the landlady shows is unacceptable, unfamiliar, but Max can’t find it in her to move away. After two long years of loneliness and isolation, Max just needs this. She needs something to make her feel like a real person.

Like Makenzie Bauer, not some puppet that Gabriel controls.

Once her face is cleaned, Dolly and Niall help Max to her feet, Niall’s grip tightening on her when she stumbles. She avoids meeting their eyes even as they help her to the sink; his hands remain on her back while she scrubs her teeth and tongue, rinses her mouth out, and splashes cool water onto her face.

“Let’s get you to bed,” Dolly starts, but Max reacts, a vicious twitch of her body that nearly sends her sprawling onto her ass on the floor. “Okay, not your bed then. Okay, that’s okay. The couch then.”

Dolly waits until Niall has helped Max to stretch out on the sofa before draping a thick quilt over her. The blanket is unfamiliar, smells like rain and sunshine and safety. Max struggles but can’t resist the urge to burrow herself into the comfort. Her breath stutters then evens out, and - against her better judgement - she closes her eyes, lets herself be carried away into the peacefulness she hasn’t felt in years.

“Sugar, up.”

Max doesn’t have to open to her eyes to recognise the weight of the lovable Rottweiler. She lifts her arm so the dog can have some room to lie down next to her, and once Sugar is settled in, Max shifts closer, buries her face in the soft fur.

“We’ll go now, okay, baby? Sugar can stay here with you for the night, she’ll keep you safe.” Dolly’s hand runs over Max’s hair. “Come get me if you need anything.”

Max keeps her eyes closed even as the door shuts quietly, and Sugar lets out a huff before wiggling to get more comfortable. Max listens to the dog’s steady breathing, lets it soothe her to sleep. It may not be the most restful night she’ll ever have, but it will be enough for tonight.