TITLE: Be Strong

AUTHOR: crispysoupchef

RATING: M for language, femslash, sexual content in later chapters

DISCLAIMER: If you recognize it, I don't own it. If it's new, I made it up. If it offends you, stop reading it.

Be Strong

"I told you, you're MY girl! You belong to me, and when I tell you to do something, you damn well do it!"

"Carlos, please, baby, listen, I do want to go out with you tonight, I do! I just really need to finish this assignment first…"

"You think I care shit about some stupid fucking assignment? I told you, we're leaving. Now! Now get your ass downstairs and in the car!"

The raised voices were coming from Raven's room as I let myself in the front door, and I knew I had to do something. Normally Victor would have been all over the disturbance like a bad suit, armed with a ladle or something equally as threatening, but he and Tania had been spending a lot more time together out of town since Cory had turned thirteen. They told both their kids that they were old enough to stay by themselves. This month, I knew because Raven had mentioned it, they were having a romantic getaway in Vermont.

But all this meant Raven was alone in the house with one very angry man. Cory wasn't home from school yet, obviously, or else he would at least be trying to help. I started up the stairs, almost at a run.

I knew almost from the start how volatile Carlos is. I think we all did. He moved here from New York the start of junior year, and quickly became the big man on campus. All the girls were head over heels for him. Well, except me. But none more so than Raven, and eventually he asked her out, and she agreed. But everyone in school saw him pound the crap out of a sophomore for denting his car, like, the first week he was here. When Raven started going out with him, he seemed almost… sweet. Like he'd changed. And I know Raven herself thought she'd changed him for the better, like, the love of a good woman was enough to resolve all his anger management issues.

I should have known better, though. My parents are therapists for crying out loud! I hear all the time about the dangers of being in relationships with violent men. My mom in particular is big on telling me that I should never let a man push me around, and I totally agree. I can't say that I've ever actually been in a position like that, but I know I wouldn't just take it lying down. I value myself too much for that, my parents taught me that much.

That's what really surprised me the most out of this whole situation. For as long as I've known Raven, she's been the strong one in our friendship. If anything, I've been the passive, submissive one, letting her take the lead and make all the decisions. And that's okay with me, because that's just how our two personalities meshed the best. So I found it really hard to watch her turn into this different person when she was around Carlos. Submissive doesn't suit her. I would have thought, in this, as in everything else, she would have taken the lead, remained independent and strong. She didn't.

They've been going out for about six months now, and if you ask me, it's been five and a half months too long. Up until Carlos asked her out she was the bubbly, bright, outgoing Rae we all knew and loved. About two weeks into this new relationship, though, I started noticing changes in her. It's not something just anyone would have noticed. I'm not her best friend for nothing. But I did notice that she wasn't herself.

And then, a couple of months ago, that's when things really started getting bad. She'd answer her phone and I'd hear shouting, and watch her face turn pale. I saw her become this meek and obedient "little woman" for Carlos, and that's never been what Raven is about. She'd cancel on Eddie or me so she could go do something with Carlos, and anytime we tried to call her on it, she would plead with us not to get mad, and tell us that she didn't want to disappoint Carlos. It was okay the first time or so, but then it started happening all the time. She was spending all her time with him. And I mean ALL her time.

By this stage any idiot could have seen that the relationship Carlos and Raven had wasn't healthy, for Raven at least. She was a shadow of her former self, she'd lost more weight than was entirely good for her and she had this constant haunted expression on her face. No, not haunted… hunted. Like she thought someone was going to come and get her, or something. And it killed me to have to sit there and just watch it happen to her, knowing there wasn't anything I could do. I wanted my best friend back.

I came out to Eddie and Raven when I was about a month shy of being sixteen. Both of them were really good about it. Especially Rae. God, I don't know what I would have done if it weren't for Raven. This, of course, was pre- Carlos, so she was free to do all the best friend type things like hold me while I cried and tell me that I wasn't a freak, it was totally normal, and to ask me all the questions that showed me she gave a shit about me. By the time I was seventeen, I'd come out to the entire school and most of my family as well.

So yeah, Eddie and Rae know I prefer girls, but they don't know that I dated someone briefly at the start of this year. Her name's Lani, and she's this beautiful, dark haired, pale skinned goddess who I met in my Spanish class. Eddie and Raven dropped Spanish after sophomore year when they realized that they were never going to be any good at it (Eddie especially). I, on the other hand, am actually really good at it, and Lani speaks fluent Spanish, so she was giving me extra tutoring outside of school hours. Well, she tutored me in Spanish, and then I tutored her in how to make me feel good…

Lani wasn't my first girl kiss, but she was my first in a lot of other ways. The problem was, she was totally uncomfortable with us. As in, she didn't want people to know, to the point where she was totally paranoid about people finding out. I tried and I tried to let her know that it was okay, that I'd been out for a while, and look how well everyone had taken it, but she comes from a very traditional family, and had never even considered her relationship with me to be a permanent thing. In the end, it just got too hard for me, so I broke it off. I do miss her, but I don't think I'd ever want to go there again.

She still goes to school with us, and we see her quite a bit because we're in a lot of the same classes, but we have this silent agreement never to speak of our time together. Even though some of our time together was so incredibly hot that it still has the power to make me shiver when I think about it.

And also, Eddie and Raven don't know that I've been in love with Raven since we were fourteen. Ha, that began way back when she defended my honor after that jerk Sam stood me up. I was fourteen! I was really hurt by it… for all of about ten minutes. Then Raven dressed in drag and made that ass see what he'd missed out on, and by the time she was done talking to him, I was head over heels… with her.

I told myself it was only a crush, that it's normal to have feelings for friends when they do extra specially sweet things for you, but fourteen turned to fifteen, and halfway through fifteen I decided it wasn't going to go away and that's when I came out.

Anyway, back to the point, when I got to Raven's room, she was still trying to get him to let her finish her assignment, and his voice was getting louder and louder, and angrier and angrier. As I pushed open the door, I saw him pull his arm back and punch her in the stomach. Not just a shove, but a real punch, a hard punch, and I saw Raven stumble and fall, winded. He took another step towards her, towering over her, and by the look on his face, I highly doubted he was going to stop after just one punch.

"What the hell?" I cried, barging into the bedroom. Raven looked up at me, still catching her breath, a horrified expression on her face. I don't think she'd wanted me to know just how bad things had gotten. "Who the fuck do you think you are?" I screamed, rounding on Carlos. "You don't just HIT people because you're not getting your own way, and you ESPECIALLY don't hit GIRLS! You asshole!"

"Chelsea," Raven panted, "don't, please…"

"No, fuck that, Raven! I've stood by and watched while he's treated you like a pile of shit, but I'm NOT going to let him smack you around!" Carlos rounded on me, then, glaring at me. I thought he was going to hit me, then, too, but I stood my ground.

"I can do whatever the hell I want, you stupid lesbo! You think you're going to stop me? Raven is MINE, you hear? She wants to be with me! So she can do what I tell her! And if she doesn't, it's my right to teach her a lesson!"

I don't think I've ever been so angry. Raven's expression was now resigned, like she knew what was going to happen and had made her peace with it. I couldn't bear to think that she was okay with letting this asshole beat the crap out of her. Tears welled up in my eyes when I wondered how many times this had happened already.

It made me look at each bruise I'd noticed on her differently. Like, the time she told me Cory smacked her in the head with a model airplane – was that really Cory? Or was it Carlos, taking out his frustrations on her?

And then I thought about the time Raven had confided in me that she'd slept with Carlos for the first time – their first time, and hers. Had she actually wanted to? Or had he forced her to, threatening to beat her into submission if she didn't?

"You want to hit me?" I raged at Carlos. "Go ahead. But I'm warning you, you better make it a damn good one, because I swear, I will kill you. Come on! Hit me!" He didn't move any closer to me, but looked like he might go for Raven again. I couldn't let that happen. "Okay, you pussy. I'm calling the cops and filing assault charges."

That got a reaction out of him, and he stepped away from Raven like he'd been burnt. "Fine. I'm going, dyke. You can fucking have her. Hear that, Rae? It's over. I never loved you anyway. You're probably a fucking lesbo too, just like your rug-munching friend. You're welcome to each other."

He stormed past me and down the stairs, banging into my shoulder on purpose as he went. I stood stiff, listening intently until I heard the front door slam and his car start up. Then I went to Raven.

"Oh shit, Rae, are you okay? Let me see," I fussed over her. She was in tears now, shaking and sobbing, more from shock than actual pain. I helped her up and took her over to the bed, where she collapsed into a heap, clinging to me as she bawled. I'd never seen her cry like this, not even when her grandmother died.

"Hush, baby, it's going to be okay. I'm not going to let him hurt you anymore… not with his words, and definitely not with his fists. He's not getting anywhere near you without answering to me, okay?"

She didn't answer, just clung and cried. I would have too, I guess. It was a shit of a thing to have to happen to someone as beautiful, friendly and trusting as Raven. I gently turned her and put her into bed, climbing in beside her when she asked me to stay.

When she had calmed down some, she told me more of what he'd been like. All the times she'd cancelled on us, she said, that had been because either he had decided at the last minute that his girlfriend ought to be spending time with him, or else because he didn't want his girlfriend hanging out with another guy and a lesbian. All the times he'd called her and shouted down the phone at her, it had been because he wasn't getting exactly what he wanted, when he wanted it. I knew most of this, of course. But she swore black and blue that this had been the first time he'd hit her.

I almost asked her about the sex. In the end, though, I chickened out. I didn't know if I could handle the fact that not only was my best friend and the woman I loved getting beaten, but raped into the bargain.

I did convince her not to go crawling back to him, though. She was going to go find him and apologize the next day, beg him to take her back, apologize for MY behavior, but I wouldn't let her.

"Raven, I'm not sorry for what I did. You were in trouble, and I wasn't going to let that happen, ok? You deserve better than this." You deserve me, I added silently.

"Chels, please, try and understand how it is for us. He can be so sweet, so loving and kind, and I do love him. I was stupid tonight. I knew he wanted to go to this movie, and I should have done my assignment in study hall like I usually do…"

"No!" I stopped her. "You have every right to tell him no, Raven! Without him yelling and raging and hitting you! Why can't you see this? You are better off without him. You're your own person, and it's time you remembered that."

"Okay, Chels. Okay. I promise I won't go back to him," she said softly, burying her head in my shoulder. I knew without a doubt that this wasn't the end of this saga, but she wasn't really in any shape to be arguing. Within minutes I felt more than heard her breathing settle, and I knew she was asleep.

I wondered if I should get up, and leave, but I thought she might freak out of she woke up and no one was here, so I sent my mom a text message telling her I wouldn't be home, and got the okay to sleep over. I watched Rae sleep for a while, thinking not for the first time how beautiful she is. Briefly staring at her lips, I wondered for the thousandth time what it would be like to kiss them. I could have kissed her then and she would have never known, she was so dead asleep. But I didn't. I wanted our first kiss to be with both parties at least conscious.

Finally, I felt my eyelids getting heavy, and the last thing I remember before I fell asleep was Raven's hold on me tightening, as she snuggled into me for comfort.