Cage of Bone
Every scar made the skin that much harder to break. Each snap of bone or crack of cartilage made his resolve that much stronger. He was broken down to scraps and he built himself back up, tuning his body into the instrument he needed. She was the opposite. Each bruise on her skin made her shrink back from outstretched hands, every raised word caused her to flinch, and he saw the instinct to flee flare up in her eyes. She took the black eyes, the twisted arms and scabbed knees and they slowly ate her from the inside out.
He touched her hair and she jumped, arm raising up in a defensive gesture. He looked at her in sympathy and she turned away, holding her arms and bowing her head.
"Your hair is growing out," he said.
"I'm sorry," she replied.
She let out a sound of anguish, and he clenched his hands, unsure of what to do. The tears came then, rolling down her cheeks in fat drops, cutting lines in the dirt and grime. "I'm pathetic."
He shook his head, and he carefully rest his fingers on her shoulder. "You're not."
"You'd never hurt me," she said, almost to herself, and she turned towards him, "How can you stand me?"
"There's nothing wrong with you," he gripped her shoulders and she hiccuped, cowering. "Esmeralda, I'm sorry."
He felt her force herself to relax, unhunching her shoulders and raising her head. He loosened his hold and slowly moved, resting his forehead against hers. She didn't tense, and he felt the knot his stomach had become loosen.
"You would never hurt me," she echoed, and closed her eyes.
He held her hands, thumbs running over callouses and cuts as he gave her promises and vows. He spun her stories of the world they'd see and the life they would make, escaping the violence and pain and misery. He kissed her lips in a seal and she wept into it, body trembling. He held her close and ached as she flinched, knowing they sat on borrowed time.
The fear was rotting her.