Summary: Kiefer beats Kristina on Valentine's Day and Ethan is there to comfort her and take care of her in the aftermath.

Notes: I wrote this months ago and just got around to finishing it after being inspired by the current storyline. Please Review. :)

As the World Falls Down

The only sounds were her sniffles and she was trying her best to stop them. Crying didn't make anything better, didn't change anything, didn't fix all of the things that were so terribly broken.

She was terribly broken.

Kristina had been sitting so long on the bench along the docks that she was nearly frozen. Nearly. Parts of her burned. Her arms, all over where he had held her down. Her face , where he had hit her, punched her, held her mouth shut. She shook her head, trying to push away the memories of what had happened an hour earlier.

She winced as she wiped tears from her eyes, her right one was horribly bruised, would probably be black by morning if it wasn't already. She didn't know how she was ever going to explain this to her mother. Panic welled up inside her. She didn't know what she was going to do. She couldn't go home, not like this, but there was no where else to go.

How had she been so stupid with Kiefer? She should've known not to make him angry. That was one lesson that she should have picked up on a long time ago and it was the one that she kept forgetting.

He hadn't meant to do this. She had to believe that. There was no way he'd send her out like this, with everyone asking questions. It had been an accident, but it was an accident that she was going to have to come up with a way to explain away. How did she explain a black eye and busted lip? Even now she could feel the imprint of his fingers on her neck. She could hide the bruises on her arms but that really didn't matter now. She was trapped.

Kiefer had planned the perfect Valentine's day surprise for her. A hotel room, champagne, and food. Then something had occurred to her.

Something startling, something shattering, something that shook her to her very core.

It was the way Kiefer had looked at her as she'd tried to explain why she was a half hour late. That look of cold fury. A look that had reminded her all too much of her own father. Something in her had broken at that moment. She thought of Claudia, she thought of her father yelling at her, berating her, and she saw herself as Claudia, and she saw her father as Kiefer. Suddenly she knew, just knew, that she had to stop this, she had to end it and walk away because even though she loved him, and she knew that Kiefer loved her, there was no guarantee that he wouldn't harm her.

What had happened afterwards was proof of that.

Something that her little sister had said a few weeks ago echoed in her mind. Their mother was infamous for picking men that were no good for her, men that didn't treat her right, and here she was, refusing to believe that she was walking down the same path. It was staring her in the face. She was turning into her mother, she was turning into Claudia, she was turning into the victim.

In that sudden moment of clarity she had tried to make excuses, tried to get away from him, from the violence, from the overwhelming sense of doom. He'd seen through her excuses and this was the price she had paid.

He had beat her.

He had raped her.

It was that black and white. She couldn't make excuses this time no matter how much she wanted to. She couldn't talk herself into believing that he hadn't meant to hurt her, she couldn't delude herself into believing that she had wanted him.

What had she done?

She sniffled again. It was so cold. When she and Molly were little they'd sneak outside in weather like this, with their hair all wet and try to get it to freeze in place. She missed days like that. Now more than ever. All she had ever wanted was to have a boy love her. Kiefer had filled that void, and in the process he had created more. The tears came again as the minutes ticked by.

Kristina was drowning. Drowning in the pain, the truth, the misery, the knowledge that there was no one to love her.

She heard footsteps and her heart stopped as she realized she was at the docks, in the middle of the night, on Valentine's Day, it was probably past midnight now. She found herself too weary to be afraid. Was there anything worse that could happen at this point?

"Kristina? Is that you?" That thick, Australian, accent broke through the coldness. It pulled her away from the thoughts that were overwhelming her, drowning her. She flew to him, wrapping her arms around him as tightly as the bruises would allow. He was safe and warm and... safe. Just safe, and that was all that she wanted, needed, craved with desperation.

They stood there together as her sobs increased. There was just something about the smell of him, the warmth of him, that shattered every wall, every brave front she'd been trying so desperately to build. She didn't want to do this in front of him, she didn't want the moment to come when he would pull away and look at her. Seeing her secrets in the bruises that covered her. She held on to him as long as possible, listening to the words that he whispered into her hair but unable to decipher them.

The moment finally came when her sobs quieted and he pried her away. She couldn't look at him so she looked out over the freezing water. Hoping that by some miracle he wouldn't see the swollen eye, the redness from where he had clamped his hand over her mouth. He saw it all anyway.

There was no way he couldn't.

"What happened? Do I need to take you to the hospital?" He asked frantically, his voice filled with concern as one hand reached up to brush the hair out of her face and study the bruises in the dim light.

"No. No hospital. It's... it's not that bad, I'm okay." Kristina went to bite her lip to keep it from trembling and tasted blood, remembering how Kiefer had busted her lip. That didn't stop her whole body from shaking, whether from the cold or something else, she couldn't distinguish it anymore.

"I should get you home…"

"I can't. I just… I can't…" She interrupted, her voice taking on a hysterical edge. Just the very thought of facing her mother right now made her want to vomit.

There were a few moments of silence, as if he didn't quite know what to do. "Come on then," he said wrapping an arm around her and leading her in the opposite direction down the docks.

She let him, she had no where else to go.

Several minutes later found her in Ethan's living quarters aboard the Haunted Star. It was surprisingly empty and quiet. Kristina looked around from her perch on the sofa. It was a nice space. There was a living area which held a sofa, a coffee table, and a small television, behind her was the kitchen area, and to her left was a door in which Ethan had disappeared behind. He hadn't said a word to her on the way here and it unnerved her. At this point she didn't care what he said as long as he said something.

Kristina heard the door open and she looked over at him coming through the door, a blanket in his arms. His face was stormy, but she didn't feel it directed at her. That calmed her a little bit, the last thing she wanted was someone else being angry with her. Her tears had stopped and but for the occasional sniffle she could almost convince herself that everything was okay.

"You're freezing," he said unfolding the blanket and draping it over her. He then walked towards the kitchen and she could hear the ice dispenser. A few moments later he handed her ice wrapped in a dishtowel.

"I know it's a bit counter productive to warming you up but your eye looks like it could use it."

"Thanks," Kristina said accepting it and gingerly placing it over her eye. She looked at him with her uncovered eye as he sat down next to her. He sighed and ran his fingers through his hair.

"Did Kiefer do this to you?" He tried to keep his voice controlled but she could hear the anger oozing off of him. All of the fleeting excuses that had come to mind evaporated. What could she say? Could she really look at him and deny it? Didn't the bruises speak for themselves? There was no defense, only the truth, the painful, agonizing, heart-breaking truth. She wanted to lie. She wanted to pretend that it hadn't happened. But she couldn't. Not in front of him.


"I will kill him." Each word was so perfectly punctuated that she couldn't help but believe him. The panic came back full force and Kristina buried her face against her arm. She had ruined everything. She didn't know what to do and that feeling of complete and utter helplessness and terror was pulling her under.

She felt his arm wrap around her again and she buried her face against his chest trying not to think. To push away every single thought that she had because there wasn't anything else that she could do.

One of his hands was rhythmically smoothing back her hair and Kristina tried to concentrate on that.

"Where does Alexis think you are?" he asked softly.

"I told her I was going to spend the night with one of my friends," Kristina said. Wishing that she could go back to that moment, to any moment, where she didn't hurt.

"What happened with Kiefer?" Ethan asked. Kristina was silent for a long time. She wanted to tell him, to confide in him but she couldn't. It was too humiliating. How could she explain what had happened? What Kiefer had done to her? There was a little voice in her head that was already making excuses for him. She should have stayed… He had worked hard to make the perfect evening for her… He hadn't meant it…

Every bruise on her body screamed at her that he had meant it.

"I don't want to talk about it."

He let it go, and she sat there in the comfort of his arms. She was finally beginning to warm up. She concentrated on the prickles of warmth throughout her feet as she pushed away thoughts of Kiefer. She didn't want to remember what had happened. She would push it away and deal with it later. Right now she could pretend it didn't happen. She could make it go away. It didn't exist, he didn't exist, everything was okay. If she just said it enough times, believed in it hard enough, then she could get through this. She could move on and forget. Forget the names that he'd called her. The feeling of him on top of her. The feel of his fingers digging painfully into her skin.

She could forget what her mother was going to think. How utterly disappointed she was going to be. How angry, how she'd blame herself. What would Michael do? He was all ready spiraling out of control, she didn't even what to think what he'd do to Kiefer. Sam had tried to tell her, tried to make her see that Kiefer wasn't right for her and she hadn't listened. She was so stupid. And her father... she could only imagine what Sonny Corinthos would do and that terrified her more than anything. Images of Claudia's birthday party flashed through her head. That was what happened when you hurt one of Sonny's kids. You disappeared.

Kristina knew now that it was Michael who had killed Claudia but that was only because he had found her first. There was no limit to her father's rage and… and… she loved Kiefer. It made her so ashamed to admit but she did. Now, because of her love, her choices, her family was going to be ruined.

"I just wanted him to love me. That's all I wanted," she blurted out. Her voice was quivering. This was too much for her to handle right now. She just couldn't do it alone.

"There's nothing wrong with wanting that. This isn't the first time this has happened is it?" Again she wanted to lie. She didn't want him to think badly of her. What would he think if he knew that this wasn't the first time and she kept going back to him anyway? That she was stupid, naïve, pathetic. She liked Ethan, really liked him, and she didn't want him to see her for what she was.

No one could love her for who she was.

"It's not your fault, Kristina."

It felt like her fault. She might not have deserved what Kiefer had done to her but her choices had led her to this point. Her choices, no one else's. No one made her stay with Kiefer.

"You do know that don't you?"

Kristina shook her head yes, not trusting her voice not to betray her.

"Hey, hey, look at me," he said as he shifted her off his chest so he could see her face. The way he looked at her made her eye, the one that wasn't nearly swollen shut, well up with unshed tears. He was looking at her like he saw every minute detail of her soul. He was looking at her like she was beautiful, like she was delicate, like she was cherished. The feel of his hand as it touched her cheek, wiped away the tears she didn't know had started falling, made everything not hurt so bad.

"No one deserves to be treated like this. Don't blame yourself. It is not your fault. Nothing that you could have possibly done is enough reason for him to have laid a finger on you," Ethan said softly.

"I know. I just feel like… like I should have been smarter. I should have known better. I knew how he was but I didn't want to see it. You must think I'm so stupid."

"Love makes us do stupid things, but you are a vibrant, intelligent, young woman and you'll get through this. Live and learn, that's what life is all about. You have to learn that you deserve so much more than having to be afraid of the person you love. That's no way to live."

"I know. I'm trying." Kristina was, she really was. It was hard to undo the feelings that she had built up for Kiefer over the last several months. He had been her first in so many ways. The first guy that had ever really loved her. It was harder to let go of that more than anything.

"I really should get you to the hospital," he said, gently examining her eye and the bruises on her cheek.

"I promise I'll go in the morning. Right now I just… I need some time. I just really don't want to face everyone. I don't know if I can do it."

"You can do it. I promise I'll help you if you need me to. I suppose the hospital can wait until morning. You just need to get checked out and make sure nothing is broken. How's the pain?"

"It could be worse." That was probably an understatement. She was in massive amounts of pain everywhere but the thought of the hospital, of questions, and answers, compared to that the pain was bearable.

"You should take something," he said as he got up and came back a few moments later with some pain pills and a glass of water. "Hopefully this will help until we can get to the hospital. I would let you get a little rest but I'm afraid you might have a concussion so you are stuck with my company," he said with a grin as he sat back down beside her.

"I can think of worse things to be stuck with," Kristina said with a small smile.

Ethan grabbed the television remote and turned on the tv. "So what shall it be? Infomercial one of infomercial two?"

Kristina found herself trying to smile again. Her was trying to get her mind off of everything and she was more than willing to let him. She could do this. She could really do this. Ethan would help and she wasn't alone. In the morning she'd go to the hospital, she would talk to her parents about what happened and she'd never see Kiefer again. Ethan thought she deserved to be happy, that she was worth more than what Keifer gave her.

She was almost starting to believe that he was right.