A/N - I wrote this a while ago for my English Lit course. I got a B for it. There's some more I could add to it, if I get asked enough to.
M/M, domestic abuse. If these offend you, don't read. :)
A whimper. The muted thud of flesh against flesh. A scream. These are common sounds from the sixth house on the left on Leopold Street. A black eye. A split lip. Bruises around the throat. All common injuries seen on the smaller occupant of the house. The other residents of Leopold Street do nothing - the last time one of their number tried to intervene, he mysteriously disappeared 3 days later, never to be seen again. The victim of his lover's fists is named Charlie, the aggravator Max.
Charlie hesitates outside the door, knowing when Max finds out he didn't get tea at the shop, never mind that they were completely sold out, he would be in for it. He sighs before opening the door, almost calling out, then remembers Max is asleep, and hates being woken up. Well, at least, he was asleep when Charlie went out. Now he's standing at the top of the stairs, rubbing his eyes, hair all mussed and reminding Charlie why he fell in love with the man four years ago. Max raises an eyebrow "What did you forget?"
"I didn't forget, there wasn't any left, and they won't be getting more in until tomorrow" Charlie says, trying to keep the waver out of his voice.
"I said, what did you forget?" Max asks, voice dangerously low.
"The tea" he mumbles, automatically looking at the floor.
Max sighs, and pinches the bridge of his nose.
"One thing. ONE thing I asked you SPECIFICALLY to get, and you forget." He starts walking down the stairs, and Charlie backs up until he hits the wall and can go no further. "I told you, I didn't forget, there wasn't any left, and they were just shutting the shop, everywhere else was closed!" His shoulders are hunched, eyes screwed shut, ready for the incoming blow. He is surprised when instead he feels Max's hand against his cheek, a gentle stroke. He opens his eyes slowly, still expecting a slap or a punch.
"Charlie, Charlie, Charlie. Don't be scared. I only hit you when you deserve it. It's not your fault the shop was out, or the fact it was just shutting. But I DID tell you to go about 3 hours ago, when there would be tea, and even if there wasn't, there would be enough time for you to go to another shop."
"I'm sorry Max, honestly" Charlie whispers, nuzzling against the hand slightly.
"It's okay. Just don't do it again. Ever." There's an unmistakable tone of command to his reply. Charlie nods, and Max takes his hand from his cheek, lacing his fingers with the other mans. He leads Charlie to the kitchen, who sits at the table.
"Did anyone ask about your eye?" Max asks suddenly, turning around from the fridge to scrutinize the black eye and split eyebrow - courtesy of a badly timed comment the night before.
Charlie shakes his head, and Max nods, reassured. Returning his attention to the fridge, he pulls out two bottles of beer. Handing one to the smaller man, he goes and sits on the sofa in the adjoining living room, patting the seat next to him.
Charlie goes over to the sofa, leaning against Max as he puts an arm around his shoulders. He closes his eyes for a second, wincing as Max's fingers ghost over his thigh, and the cigarette burns left there.
A quick look at this couple, and anyone would think they were just two people in love. Maybe the one with the black eye got into a bar fight or something. A closer look would reveal a strange look in the smaller ones eyes, the way he curls up not entirely comfortable. A kind person might say the taller one is protecting his lover from whatever hurt him. An astute person would say the taller one was the one doing the hurting. That person would be completely correct.
Charlie has been asked before why he doesn't leave Max - he has admitted many a time he can't love a man who beats him seven shades of black and blue every other day, although he also says that somewhere, deep down, there is still that spark that made him fall for Max in the first place. When he is asked that questions, Charlie simply tells them the story of the first and only time he tried to leave. It's also the one and only time Max has put him in hospital. Apart from that one incident, he has always been careful about his fists. The cigarette burns are a reminder of that day, a reminder for him not to try leaving again, as if Charlie doesn't relive it in his nightmares anyway.
Charlie has had enough. Enough of being slapped around, punched whenever he so much as looks at another man. Enough of being used as a punch bag. He takes the advantage of Max being at work, and starts to pack a bag. Not much, just the essentials. A few clothes, things like that. He almost sits down to write a note, then decides to not push his luck, and leaves the house, dropping his key into the flowerpot by the door out of habit. He has no idea of where to go, just that he needs to get out, before Max kills him. He gets about a mile away, before spotting a rather too familiar car in the distance. The street he is on happens to be straight, with no alleys to duck into, no parks to withdraw to. His heart plummets to his feet in about half a second. He carries on walking, keeping his head down and trying not to draw attention to himself. It doesn't work, and a second later the car draws up next to him.
"Charlie. Get in the car, NOW." His voice leaves no room for argument, and Charlie knows if he tries to run, he won't get very far. He gets in, shaking. The car ride back to the house, although short, is done in deadly silence, and Charlie is terrified.
When they get back, Max hauls the other man out by his hair and drags him into the house, turning around to lock the door behind them. Turning back round, he smirks, and presses his lover against the wall, with one hand either side of delicate shoulders. He watches as his captured prize ducks his head and tries to move out of the stronghold.
"Don't even try it" Max hisses, breath ghosting around the pierced ear lobe. A steady whimper travels through the room as Max's thick fingers curl into Charlie's thin wrists, digging his dirty nails into the soft skin, leaving crescent moon marks behind.
"What the HELL do you think you were doing?" Max growls at him, as a sob rips through Charlie's chest.
"I'm sick of- I'm sick of you treat- treating me like I'm noth- nothing" Charlie stammers out, still weakly trying to get away.
"You know why I treat you like nothing? Because that's what you ARE. You're worthless, Charlie." Max whispers, forcing the other man to drop his head and finally stop his struggles. He bites his lip; a bad idea when Max, tired of the way Charlie is acting, releases one wrist, pulls his fist back and lets it fly into his jaw. The resulting crack sounds like a gunshot, and Charlie's free hand flies to his newly dislocated bone and split lip. The action temporarily stuns him, enough for Max to swing him around by his collar and throw him into the staircase. Another crack signals a fractured rib as his head connects with the wall behind him. Another fist to his face ensures he will have quite an impressive black eye in the morning, along with his split lip and eyebrow. Max can see Charlie is wavering on the edge of unconsciousness, and unwilling to let him slip into the dark bliss, he grabs his collar again and shakes him until his eyes snap open again.
"You got into a bar fight, right?" he growls, and has to repeat himself twice until Charlie nods. "Good" He drags him back to the car, shoves him into the passenger seat and drives to the hospital.
A week later, Charlie is allowed home. He doesn't dare protest, although inside he is absolutely terrified. His first night back is the first night Max stubs his cigarette out on his inner thigh.
A year on, and Charlie has a multitude of small circular burns, where another cigarette has been put out on his skin. Max's excuse for doing this is it means Charlie won't leave him for someone else - the scars would take too much explaining. Charlie's theory, which is much closer to the truth, is that he does it as a way of controlling him.
Charlie is huddled in the armchair in the corner, knees pulled up to his chest and head resting on top. He is startled by Max saying something.
"Do you understand why I did it?" He asks, receiving a shake of the head in reply. "I couldn't bear thinking of you with another person. I love you too much to let you go." he says gently, moving to kneel in front of Charlie. "Why do you hit me then?" he mumbles, not looking up.
"Because it makes it harder for you to leave, because it means you would have to explain the injuries, why you flinch away from every touch. Yes, I've noticed that. It makes sense to me. I'm sorry it doesn't to you, honestly. I love you so much Charlie."
It might not have made sense then, when Charlie was scared, but now, a year later, he can see that it does. He admits that occasionally, just occasionally, he looks at Max and remembers exactly why he stays with him. Not because he's scared of being hurt or maybe even killed, but because Max can be the sweetest man on Earth. Like that time he took Charlie out for dinner for his birthday, taking him to the most expensive restaurant in town, paying for everything, and then going for a walk on the nearby heath. For that one night, Charlie felt like Max actually cared for him, conveniently forgetting that, 4 days before, he had been punched for (apparently) looking at another guy.
His current position, curled against Max's chest, makes him feel safe, if only for a moment, and makes Max seem a thousand miles away from the man Charlie was cowering from not half an hour before.
"Sleep, Charlie" Max murmurs, fingers lacing together, thumb rubbing against the back of the others' hand. Charlie does, closing his eyes and gradually falling fast asleep.