A/N: The 10 Year Anniversary for HoA was a short bit ago, and it inspired me to finally finish this outtake. I expect about three people will read this, or maybe five if the stars align, and that's okay! Goodness knows I'm non-existent myself these days—I'm applying to grad school and think about HoA almost never. But Scarred still lingers in the back of my mind... Regarding the chapter, we jump through time quite a bit here, from a year after Scarred to many years after Scarred, and we deal with some rough topics.
Content Warning: As always, trauma from Nina's past of abuse. Extra warnings of discussion of abortion, warped perceptions of self-worth involving abortion decisions, and perceived child abuse (but not actualized).
x X x
x X x
The quiet mornings were always my favorite.
In the early morning, the rising sun filtering through her room's skylight and casting a rosy glow on her face, I could lay there and trace patterns on her skin for hours. For all her sensitivity to sound, Nina could sleep straight through the sunrise and into vivid midday light if she wasn't woken by other stimuli. It made for a lovely morning ritual of mine on such days, timing my breaths to hers and thinking of nothing but peace.
This morning was anything but quiet.
"Niiiina?" The bright voice appeared at the door alongside a flurry of knocks. "Niiiina, are you awake?" The eyes of the subject in question shot open at the first knock, and I watched her momentary disorientation as she reconciled the sharp noise with her surroundings. When her eyes found mine, I felt her relax against me, her soft pajamas pressing into my chest. More knocks at the door- "Nina? Are you sleeping?"
Just as quickly, she went rigid. "Shit, I forgot to lock the door last night- put a shirt on," she hissed, tossing the sheets to the end of the bed. I groaned as cold air rushed to greet me, and blindly reached off the side of the bed to feel around for my shirt. "I'm awake, buddy—hold on, though! Give me- just a second-" She shucked off her tiny pajama shorts and pulled on a far more respectable pair of ankle-length pajama pants, tripping over the former pair in the process; I snorted a bit too loudly at that.
The door opened just as I pulled my shirt over my head. A blur of motion barreled into the room and connected with Nina, who wobbled but didn't fall. Little Eddison, in all his eight-year-old, 4-foot-tall glory, grinned up at his big sister. "Niiiina, Santa came! There are presents! Mom and Dad said I could come wake you up. But you were already awake!"
"I sure was, kiddo." Nina ruffled his hair with one hand and took his own hand with her other. "Give Fabian just a second to finish waking up, okay? He always sleeps late." I snorted again, even louder, and she failed to bite down on her responding grin. "How many presents are there? Did you count them?" At the shake of his head, she let her eyes go wide. "Well, we need to know! Why don't you go count them and then come tell me? We have to make sure Santa didn't forget one, so count twice to double check!"
He bounced on the balls of his feet and spun 180 degrees for the door, pausing just for a moment at the sight of me in bed. "Hi Fabian! Your shirt is on backwards," he said with a giggle, and sped out the door. His footsteps echoed off the walls, down the hallway, and into the distance.
For a moment, blissful silence, brought down only by the matching flushes on our cheeks.
I rose from the bed, stripping off my shirt and putting it back on correctly. "I swear, he gets louder every day," I murmured. My arms snaked around her waist, pulling her close until I could kiss her temple. "Merry Christmas, Nina."
The smile that graced her lips was once an unusual sight—genuine, joyful, and without weight on her shoulders. It was getting more common every day, though. I hummed, an absent-minded note of pleasure, and continued trailing kisses down her cheek and to her jaw. The blush, just beginning to fade, returned in full force.
Nina cleared her throat quietly. "Merry Christmas, Fabian." Finally she shied away from the intimacy, stepping out of the embrace to pick up her discarded shorts from the floor. They were by no means inappropriate, but they were still for my eyes alone—she was always afraid of scaring Eddie or prompting uncomfortable questions by revealing too much of her skin. She wore short sleeves in front of him sometimes, as she would today in her matching Christmas PJs, but she always applied makeup to the scars. Even as the thought occurred, she propped open her bathroom door and began lathering on her foundation, dulling the contrasted edges and vivid colors of her many marks; the scar cream from last Christmas was helping, but a drop didn't do much in an ocean. I knew it would be many years before they faded enough to meet her desires. Even with me, she was more comfortable at night, when the light was dim enough that only the worst of her scars were noticeable. On some days—my favorite days—I could shower her with enough affection that she didn't hide herself from my gaze or ask for the lights to be turned off. Perhaps, one day, those moments would be more common too.
I turned away from the sight of her makeup process; I'd made my opinion in favor of being open with her family, scars and all, several times. But it was her body, and therefore I quelled the disquiet that rose in my chest whenever I saw her old bottles of foundation. Instead, I made the bed and listened to Eddie shouting numbers from the floor below.
He'd made it to 23 by the time Nina emerged from her bathroom and rejoined my embrace. "You're so good with him," I commented after a moment of holding her in silence. "He adores you. It… well, it gives me hope." I winced the moment I verbalized my thoughts, but she latched onto it.
"I mean- just-" I groaned and dropped my forehead to hers. "It gives me hope about… kids. You and kids. Sorry."
She didn't reply at first; we listened as Eddie made it all the way to 37 by the time she spoke.
"I guess it's gotten a little easier after all these months with Eddie. And I've got many more to go with him. But I still can't imagine…" She closed her eyes. "I don't want to give you false hope. I don't think I can ever let myself have that sort of responsibility. Not over something so fragile."
I exhaled; she shivered as my breath rustled her hair. Eddie had restarted his count. "For now, I could not imagine anything better than sitting around the Christmas tree with your family and mine, knowing no one is flying across the Atlantic to steal you away from me. That's all I need, darling. That's more than I could have dreamed of last year. Okay?" That delightful smile returned as she nodded. "Good. Now, my family is showing up in 20 minutes, and we haven't even had breakfast yet. So why don't we head downstairs and save Eddie before he starts a third count, yeah?"
Her responding giggle was music to my ears. She moved to the tips of her toes to press a kiss to my lips. "Love you, Fabian. So much." I opened my mouth to reply–
"Niiiiiina, are you coming down yet? Did you fall asleep again?" Eddie shouted from the living room. Nina dissolved into giggles and kissed me once more before pulling away and heading for the door, tugging me along with her.
She didn't need to hear the words. Her heart understood it more than my words could ever express. And I knew, then, that it would be a very Merry Christmas indeed.
x X x
Many Years Later - Fabian POV
x X x
"Nina?" I called as I set my keys on the coffee table. The house was dark. "You didn't answer my text this morning. Is everything okay?"
Silence was the only answer I received. I paused in my steps to the kitchen, looking back out the front window—yes, her car was here. Yes, her keys were on the coffee table next to mine. So yes, in theory, she should be here. I redirected my path toward the bedroom.
"Nina?" I called again, more concerned now. Glass crunched under my foot, and I stepped back, revealing one of our wedding photos. It was the only thing disturbed in the otherwise pristine hallway. The wall looked bare without it hanging up among the others. I picked it up carefully and set it on the side table to clean up later, then moved on to the bedroom.
Nina was on the bed, curled up in a ball reminiscent of how she laid after her worst panic attacks - shielding herself from the outside world. Her face was uncovered, but she stared at the blank wall with a gaze void of emotion. I carefully moved to her side, but she didn't acknowledge my presence when the bed shifted under my weight. "Darling, can you look at me?" I inched my hand closer until my fingers grazed hers, unsure if she would accept contact. Her other hand was balled into a fist. "Could you maybe squeeze my hand? I need to know if you're okay." Her fingers moved under mine, brushing my palm, but when she looked at me, she looked through me, somewhere over my shoulder. "Can you tell me what happened? You haven't had an episode like this in a long time." Only in the months after the showdown with her stepfather had she retracted so far.
"You're going to be so happy," she murmured, the ghost of an empty smile on her lips that faded instantly. My eyebrows furrowed. What? I squeezed her hand, and she didn't pull away, so I shifted until I was settled behind her with her back against my chest. I ran my hands through her hair in repetitive, soothing gestures, and hummed our song under my breath.
The song did its magic - she released a shuddering breath, and though she was more visibly upset than before, she wasn't a husk of a person anymore. "I'm sorry," she whimpered, but I just continued singing, knowing she would explain when she could. It was probably a nightmare, or maybe she'd seen an article about the anniversary of her attack coming up. She continued mumbling apologies, until they trailed off into hitched breaths. In minutes, she was asleep. Her body sagged, and her muscles relaxed. The fist she'd kept clenched for so long uncurled, and something dropped to the blankets. Now, it was I who tensed.
You're going to be so happy.
Oh. Oh. Just an unassuming piece of white plastic, but my breath seized, caught somewhere in my throat. Nina grumbled at the stimuli but didn't wake.
You're going to be so happy.
Laying on the covers was a pregnancy test. A positive pregnancy test.
You're going to be so happy.
Nina was pregnant.
x X x
It took a while for her to wake, and when she did, an uncomfortable rock settled in my stomach. I struggled for a moment, then forced the words out. "I know we've discussed having children, but I know we didn't plan for this one directly. And what I saw just now is not something I ever want to see again if I can help it. I will support whatever decision you make about this… including termination." My mouth tasted like ash, but it was the truth. She shifted in my arms, sitting up and moving away from me. The distance only increased my pain, but I said nothing, letting her do what she needed to.
"You would never forgive me," she whispered. Before I could protest, she corrected herself. "No, you would forgive me - and that's even worse. It should be unforgivable, Fabian - and somewhere inside, you would resent me for the rest of your life for killing your child." Her breathing hitched, and suddenly she took off for the bathroom, emptying her stomach into the toilet. I followed after her, holding her hair up as I had done the past few days; I'd thought it was food poisoning. Evidently something different had crossed Nina's mind.
When she was sitting back against the rim of the tub, I knelt before her and grabbed her hand. "Nina, you need to look at me when I say this." It took a moment, but she did, reluctantly meeting my eyes. Hers were still hollowed and pained. "I would never hold your decision against you. I would never resent you for it. You wouldn't be killing our baby, darling. You'd be killing the possibility, yes, but only in this instance. We still have the future. You need to do what is best for you."
At last, tears flooded her eyes. She took my hand and squeezed it hard, enough that I resisted a wince - she had grown far stronger than the days when she could barely lift her books. "Can I- can I think about it?" she whispered.
"Of course. Of course. You just need to decide before you hit twenty weeks, okay? Do you know how far along you are?"
She already had the answer in her head. "I think it's been seven weeks. I did some research- morning sickness can start at six weeks, and in between that and my cycle, it makes sense." She looked up at me. "Can we call Joy?"
"That sounds like a great idea."
I helped her off the floor and dialed her number as Nina brushed her teeth. Joy had never dropped her passion for photography that she'd developed at Anubis, but her photography had led her to discovering another passion - by the time she'd become known for her infant photography, she'd begun considering being a midwife. Now she'd built a business on it; her training with pregnant women, birthing, and babies made her a more than excelled candidate for safe baby photography. Many women loved to hire her as their midwife while also having her take pictures through the pregnancy.
Nina and I had already had this conversation - if she were to ever have a baby, she would only do it if Joy could deliver it. No hospitals, no doctors.
"Hey, Fabian. Did you decide about-"
"Joy," I said, and my voice cracked. Nina was still in the bathroom, and she'd closed the door now. "Nina is pregnant."
There was absolute silence for a moment, until my next exhale escaped sounding more like a sob, and she went into motion again. "Fabian, take a breath. I take it this wasn't planned, and she's not doing well?"
"I've never seen her like this," I whispered. "She's been out of it since she's been throwing up all week, but she's- she's distant, she looks right through me, she keeps apologizing and said I'll never forgive her if she decides to murder our child- Joy, I don't know what to do."
"Did you reassure her and correct what she said about murder?"
"Then you're doing well so far. Breathe, Fabian. Can you put Nina on the phone? I want to talk to her and make sure it's okay to have me there before I come over."
All the air rushed from my body. "Thank you, Joy. Thank you." Nina emerged from the bathroom, and her face was more red and puffy than it had been when she'd closed the door. I held the phone out to her, and she took it. Whatever was said, I couldn't hear it, just Nina's short, clipped answers.
When she hung up the phone, she nodded. "Joy is on her way."
x X x
x X x
Everything was different now. Moving across a room, even, caused so much anxiety that I struggled to breathe. I knew the truth of Fabian's words - the baby was smaller than my fingertip, it was a shadow of a possibility of becoming my child - and yet I was hyper-aware of every movement I made. What if I tripped over something? Just that, a simple mistake, could end it.
The horror that thought caused me had already finalized my decision - there was no outcome in which I could willingly terminate. No matter what, no matter how logical the decision could be in my circumstances, my trauma would conflate the decision and I would feel like a worse person than my stepfather for the rest of my days. But I bit down on the words, knowing that if I told Fabian or Joy, they would discover my reasoning. I could not have Fabian thinking that I was carrying his child to term out of sheer conditioning, even if it was true. Maybe… maybe if I waited, I would come to accept the decision enough to think positively about it. Then, and only then, could I tell Fabian.
"Nina?" My name brought me back to reality, where Joy and Fabian sat before me. It was obvious this wasn't the first time they had called my name. Fabian squeezed my hand. "Darling, are you sure you want to do this?"
"Yes, I'm just- overwhelmed. I'll be okay. I want to see it." Joy had brought her portable ultrasound machine with her, and the screen was on and blinking, ready to be put to use. At my reassurance, Joy spread the gel on my stomach. Even after all these years, I cringed slightly at having someone who wasn't Fabian see scars that weren't typically on display. Joy was as professional as ever, not even blinking at the sight of them, and in under a minute she was rolling the metal across my stomach.
I heard Fabian gasp beside me as the image appeared, and my breath halted. I couldn't look at it. "Everything looks fine, Nina. You're seven or eight weeks along. Fabian, you see that oval right there, just starting to curve? That's it." I looked at Fabian rather than the screen. He was trying to keep it together, I could tell; he looked directly at the lamp beside him every few moments, likely to keep tears at bay. He didn't want his emotions to sway my decision. Lord, did I love him. "Nina, would you like to look?" Joy prodded gently. "I might be able to get a heartbeat, if you'd like."
I took a deep breath. Nodded. The sound came on; I turned to look.
And oh, I was lost.
x X x
Five Weeks Later - Nina POV
x X x
The night hung heavy over the room. I laid awake, staring at the ceiling with a hazy sort of wonder. It had been nearly five weeks since that first ultrasound, and the days had been plagued by dread. Fabian moved around me like a ghost. My panic attacks had been far from few in number.
Tonight, something had changed.
Already my dream was slipping from my memory, but I remembered a child laughing, high pitched and filled with a joy untouched by pain. I had woken suddenly, unsure why and frankly pissed at the loss of the dream, until it happened again.
It wasn't anything I could feel from the outside, and I knew expectant mothers could mistake movement for gas, but something in me was firm in the knowledge that it was my child. My child, moving inside me. Tears leaked from the corners of my eyes. "Fabian?" I called gently. "Fabian?"
He woke almost instantly, trained to be a light sleeper with my occasional nightmares. "Nina? What's wrong?" he asked, voice rough with sleep.
"I want to keep it."
He said nothing for a moment, then shifted closer, eyes half-lidded. He was too exhausted to understand. "What? Nina, what's happening? Why are you crying?"
"Fabian, I want to keep the baby."
There were few moments in my life more treasured than the way his eyes lit with comprehension. The noise that escaped him was hardly perceivable to a human ear. "Nina, are you sure? It's okay if you aren't, if you need more time-"
"Fabian," I said gently, cutting him off before he could stave off his own happiness. "I'm sure. I don't need any more time. I felt it move in me, and I just- I knew. I want to meet our child, I want to watch them grow up. I want this. I'm just sorry it took me so long to decide."
He kissed my cheek, then my neck, and trailed a path down to my stomach, where he rested his head against it. I could already see a change in my shape - just a softening of the muscle I'd built, not yet a roundness that I knew would come soon, especially with how thin I was. "I love you so much, Nina," he whispered into my skin. "And I already love our little one more than I thought possible."
My eyes began watering again. "I love you too. Thank you for being so patient with me."
"Always," he replied, moving back up to lay beside me. "We need to start preparing. We can turn the second guest room into a nursery, and start a registry, and- oh lord, Amber will lose her shit planning the baby shower-"
I kissed him to shut him up, and I knew my expression was incredibly fond. "I love where your head's at, but I don't want to tell anyone else quite yet, except for maybe the Millers. I want the baby, but remember what the hospital said?"
His grin dimmed slightly at the reminder. After the showdown with my stepfather, after those weeks in the hospital, the doctors had given me a lengthy list of risks I would face for the rest of my life because of those years of hell. Reproductive capabilities were included. I was small from a childhood of under-nourishment, and my organs were all weaker from that and my injuries over the years. Conceiving wasn't something they were sure was possible, not that I was worried about that at the time, and carrying a baby to term would be even harder.
"There's no reason to lose hope - I'm going to drive Joy up the wall by asking her to do five billion check ups, including extra ultrasounds. I might even visit a hospital just to make sure this pregnancy won't put me at risk, as long as I don't have to give birth there. But I don't want to announce it to the world when I'm only thirteen weeks along. Can we wait another month?"
He kissed my temple and nodded. "Of course. Of course we can."
"I might… tell Mark. If that's okay." I glanced up at him, unable to tell his expression fully in the dark. "I don't think I want to return to therapy yet - I want to see how I handle this on my own - but being able to talk with someone who shares my fears would help."
"That's more than fine, Nina. You have Mark to talk to, and we both have Joy if we need another sympathetic ear." He smoothed down my hair. "Do you want to go back to sleep?"
I wasn't sure if I would be able to now. I was over-analyzing every sensation in my stomach now. "Yeah, that sounds good." I curled into his side, and smiled when his hand wrapped around to rest against my stomach. "I love you."
"I love you too, Nina. So, so much."
x X x
Four Days Later - Nina POV
x X x
"How's our little bean?"
Fabian's voice was patchy on the phone, but I grinned as if he was right in front of me. "Good. She's been kicking off and on today." The gendered pronouns were a guess - I wouldn't find out for another month or two - but I had a gut instinct that told me it was a girl.
"Mark handled the news well. He's very supportive of everything, and we had a good conversation about it. Gave me a lot to think about, but what else is new?" I glanced around at the mess that I had turned our bedroom into. "How much longer until you're home?"
"Oh, another hour or so. Traffic is hell."
My anxiety eased. I had time. "Okay. Well, be safe. I miss you." His laugh rang from the speaker like a bell.
"It's only an hour… but I miss you too. And I love you. See you soon, darling."
The dial tone replaced his voice, and I set down my cell next to the stack of clothing on my bedspread. It had only been four days since I decided to keep the baby, and already things were accelerating. There was a call either to or from Joy at least once a day, and I was sure she was sick of me by this point.
The bedroom was a disaster, and Fabian could never know why.
There was a duffle bag in front of me, empty and waiting for the contents I chose to insert. It'd taken a few days to prep everything - withdrawing the cash from my personal account so Fabian would never know why, getting a worker to come over and pull up a few floorboards - but it was finally ready. My little bean's safety precaution.
Her safety precaution from me.
I tucked the waterproof baggie with a stack of cash into the furthest corner of the duffle bag, which also contained a copy of my social security card and a copy of my birth certificate. Then went the batteries, a small first aid kit, a couple of cans of food, some water bottles, and finally my clothes. Enough to last me a week away from any sources of help.
At last, I zipped up the duffle and placed a white envelope in the side pocket, addressed to Fabian. It wouldn't come with me, but rather be placed somewhere obvious when I left.
Within an hour of deciding I was keeping our child, I'd known I would need to take safety precautions. I hadn't realized how serious those precautions needed to be until I woke up screaming two nights before with a level of terror I hadn't felt in a decade. I had slapped Fabian across the face when he hovered over me, entangled enough in my nightmare to mistake him for my stepfather. My strength was no laughing matter these days, and the bruise I'd seen in the morning light had sent me to the bathroom heaving. The next night had been a near repeat. The pregnancy was making me regress.
If the pregnancy had such a strong effect on me, what would the child itself do?
Thus, the duffle bag, for if the unspeakable ever happened. Enough to last me a week without support, because I knew no one would want to help me if I'd fallen so far, and I knew I wouldn't accept help regardless. The weight of the guilt over something that would - god willing - never happen hung heavy in my stomach no matter how much I rationalized what was happening.
Was this the right thing to do?
I brought out my phone and hovered over the number for Mark's speed dial. My breath came in fast, wheezing pants. At last I dropped it, untouched, and moved the duffle bag to the closet. Once secured in its little hole, I replaced the floorboards as the constructor had shown me, testing the spot to pop them up before covering it up with our shoe rack.
After that, I cleaned.
x X x
Some Years Later - Nina POV
x X x
Even at three in the morning, it only took him two rings to answer. "Nina?" came Mark's groggy voice, rough from sleep. When all that returned his greeting was shaky exhales, his voice sharpened. "Nina, what happened?"
"It happened, Mark," I whispered. "It- I- I hurt her, Mark, I have to leave, but Fabian is away and I can't leave her alone at the house. Please, Mark, you have to come." My fingers tightened on the duffle bag at his quiet, panicked oh my god.
"Haru, get up now. Oh my god- Nina, I promise I'm getting dressed as fast as I can, but I need you to answer some questions for me. Can you do that?" Some noise of assent must have passed my lips because he spoke again. "Is Cressida injured? Where is she right now?"
"No," I all but whimpered. "She's- she's not bleeding. She's in her room. But Mark, she was so scared, I can't-" breathe, I wanted to finish, but I had run out of air. My lungs did not provide me any more when they expanded; I had finally hit the panic attack.
"Nina, listen to me, okay? Haru just called Eddie, too. We're all going to be there within ten minutes. I'm going to stay on the phone with you the whole time." I could hear their car engine start in the background. "Does Fabian know?"
A sob escaped me at Fabian's name. "No," I tried to answer through my useless inhales, "Couldn't- couldn't face him."
And then I heard it- Cressida crying faintly in the next room. I sobbed again, louder this time, because every fiber of my being wanted to go comfort her, but I couldn't.
Because this time it was me that had caused the fear.
My vision blurred, and time seemed to spin around me. I looked down at the phone to see three messages from Fabian. Eddie just called me. Are you both safe? and I'm taking the next flight out. I'll be there in two hours. and Nina, please just text me. Anything. The door opened downstairs, and a flurry of footsteps and voices filled the floor below us. Cressida's door opened, then mine, and the crying got louder with the removed boundaries. I slid off the bed and into the corner, gripping the duffle bag as I sobbed. Two familiar figures loomed before me, and one stayed by the door while the other knelt at the entrance of my little corner.
"Nina," Mark said gently. "Eddie is with Cressida right now. He's going to take care of her. Can you let us take care of you?" I shook my head fiercely - don't deserve it, need to leave, have to make her safe - and I tried to stand. He allowed me this movement, but when I tried to push past him, he placed his hands on my shoulders and physically forced me to sit on the edge of the bed. "No, Nina. You can't leave yet, not until we understand what happened. Fabian is scared out of his mind right now, and he needs answers. He deserves that, doesn't he?"
This was the first line that truly got through to me, and I stopped fighting his grip with another cry. Cressida had gone silent in the next room, and I did not know if that was good or bad. "Nightmare," I gasped, and Haru moved closer to me from the doorway. His phone was in his hand, and I wondered if he had Fabian on speakerphone. "Fabian wasn't there to wake me up. I- screamed, I think. She came- she came to help me," I said desperately, voice breaking for a long moment before I regathered the strength to continue speaking. "She touched my side to wake me up, and I-" I could see it now, my hand swinging out on instinct, the contact of flesh on flesh, her startled cry as she stumbled back a few steps. "I hurt her. I hurt her, no, no, no-"
A high-pitched keening noise escaped me as a thought rose to the forefront of my mind, one I had not given thought to in so long. "I need punishment. There has to be a- a belt somewhere," I said as I rose. Mark grabbed me and put me back down on the bed just as quickly, ignoring my struggles. My nails dug into my palms so deeply that they bled. "No, Mark, I have to be punished. Let me go!" Cressida's crying across the hall began again. Everything began blurring, growing distant in a way I knew but had not experienced in years. "I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry," escaped my lips, and my body went slack.
Almost two decades later, it seemed, shutting down was just as easy for me.
x X x
"Nina, darling? Nina?"
I got the sense that this was not the first time my name had been called. My hair shifted as someone stroked their hand through it, and I leaned into the touch automatically. This was good, this was- Fabian. "You've been down for a long time and we're getting worried about you. Can you come back up for me?" My eyes were already open, but I could only see vague shapes of color. I blinked a few times. "That's great, love, you're doing a wonderful job. Can you say something for me?"
I paused, tongue peeking out to wet my lips. "Fabian?" I asked, and my voice came out as a croak. "What happened?" My vision had cleared enough that I could see the pain in his expression, and it all came rushing back. I shot back from him on the bed, shifting up until the headboard made solid contact with my back. "Our-" Not my daughter, not my daughter, don't deserve to have a daughter anymore "-um, Cressida, is she okay?" The hesitation brought tears to his eyes.
"Our daughter is perfectly safe and healthy, Nina."
My hands clenched and unclenched around nothing. "My duffel bag. Where did you put it?" Fabian was back, Cressida was safe and cared for; it was time for me to leave. "I have to go."
"Nina, you aren't going anywhere." He moved closer to me, ignoring my attempts to flatten myself against the headboard. His fingers stroked my cheek. A full-body shudder rolled through me. "We are not going to give you the duffel bag. You're staying here, okay?"
"No, not okay!" I struggled against his grip. "I hurt her, I hurt Cressida, she's afraid of me, I have to go, Fabian-" I cut off when he started making calming noises, slumping against him. "Fabian, please."
He exhaled, sending my curls twirling. "Nina, baby, listen to me- you didn't hurt her." I opened my mouth to argue, but he shook his head. "Listen to me. You catastrophized. Eddie, Mark, and I all spoke to Cressida, and she told us the same thing every time. She heard you scream, so she got up to check on you. When she touched you to wake you up, you did hit her, but it was light. If there was any redness, it was gone by the time I arrived. She didn't cry because she was hurt- she cried because you broke down, and she was scared for you. She thought she had done something wrong. You sent her to her room, and all she could hear was you crying. She didn't understand what was happening, but you never hurt her."
I stared down at the bed covers, repeating what he'd said in my mind. "I didn't… I didn't hurt her," I repeated doubtfully.
"No, darling. I've seen you when coming out of a nightmare. I had a bruise on my face for a week," he reminded me, and I cringed. "I'm not saying that to make you feel guilty, I'm saying it to make a point. You could have done some serious damage to a seven-year-old, but you didn't. You swatted her away. Nothing more." When I didn't reply, he nudged me. "Cress is really worried about you. Do you think you could go and see her? She's downstairs playing Chutes and Ladders with Eddie and the lover boys."
I shook my head, and a soft not yet made it past my lips. He paused but didn't protest. "Okay. We'll sit up here for a little." There was a long, tense silence. "Mark explained the duffle bag to me. Why didn't you tell me?" he finally asked.
"It was a weight I had to carry alone," I murmured, and turned my head to lean into his chest. "A weight I hoped would never leave the closet floorboards. If I had told you, you would have tried to take it away from me, convince me it was unnecessary. Tonight proved that wrong."
"No, it didn't. You did not hurt her, Nina." I shook my head, and he sighed when I refused to reply. "What happened today- I never want it to happen again. Nina, you shut down for four hours. Nothing we did would bring you out of it. I thought we were going to have to take you to a hospital. You begged Mark to punish you, you looked for a belt, you did this to yourself-" He uncurled one of my hands and brushed his thumb over the bloody marks my nails had made in my palm. "This was worse than I've ever seen you. Ever. Has this happened any other time that I haven't been there?"
"No. I promise, this was the first time I've shut down since the trial. The cravings for punishment don't happen often. Sometimes when I break a dish or forget an appointment, things I would've gotten in trouble for once upon a time, it will push at me. But I don't follow through." That was more based on the fact that I needed punishment from someone else, but he didn't need to know that. "This was definitely an… edge-case scenario."
He seemed to accept my answer, but his grip on my hand tightened. "Nina, you hesitated to call her our daughter a minute ago. As if she was not yours." His fingers nudged at my chin, bringing my eyes up to meet his. "Do not ever do that again. Ever." Unable to handle his gaze for more than a few seconds, I ducked my head back against his chest again, but my nod was clear. He didn't push further, so I guessed that was enough for him. For now.
A high-pitched shriek from downstairs had me leaping from the bed, but it continued into a series of giggles. Fabian resumed his soothing noises and his stroking of my hair. "Do you think you're ready to go downstairs now? She keeps asking for you."
"I think I can do that," I whispered, but tugged on his shirt when he shifted to stand. "Please stay close, okay? For her, and for me. Don't go far." He nodded, once again rising, this time pulling me with him.
The hallway to the living room felt like a tunnel, my vision still faded around the edges as I recovered from shutting down. I stumbled a few times, wincing in embarrassment at how I walked like a newborn foal, but Fabian steadied me every time.
Cressida sat on the rug, looking down at the board in front of her and her companions in deep thought. Haru saw me first; Cressida caught the movement of his nudge to Mark and followed his gaze to where I stood.
"Mommy!" she shouted, leaping to her feet and running for me. After a cautious peek at Fabian, I leaned down and picked her up, settling her on my hip. "Are you okay Mommy?" she asked, patting my face lightly. There was something vulnerable in her expression. That was one thing I was always glad for—Cressida wore her emotions as plain as day for me to see. "I'm sorry for scaring you."
"No baby, you didn't scare me. I scared myself. You were perfect, honey." I kissed her cheek, and she giggled, twisting away from me when my hair tickled her cheek. "I know that I scared you, and I'm really sorry, okay?"
She squinted in thought. "Uncle Mark reminded me about how I get scared of the monsters under the bed sometimes. He said that you got scared too. Are there monsters under your bed, Mommy?"
"Sometimes I think there are, baby. And Daddy reminds me that there isn't, but Daddy wasn't there last night, so I was scared. Does that make sense?"
"Yeah." She kicked her feet restlessly. "Can I go back to playing Chutes and Ladders now?"
Her nonchalant nature about the whole catastrophe startled me so much that I set her down without successfully forming words. Not that she minded—she pressed a big, dramatic kiss to my hand and ran back to her board game.
I replied that moment in my mind, the sound of skin on skin. I didn't think I would ever let go of that sound, but it was true that her body looked unmarred, that her cheerfulness was undimmed. It was a jolt to my core, and perhaps a necessary reminder of what I had worked so hard these years to avoid… but not worth slipping away in the night over. I could still be here. I could still love them and be loved in return.
"All okay?" Fabian murmured in my ear as he wrapped his arms around my waist, my back to his chest.
I leaned into him. My silence and smile were answer enough.
A/N: And voila! Another outtake finished. Perhaps the last? I hope you enjoyed it? I have no clue what I'm doing here tbh.
Reviews are greatly appreciated. Let me know how you've been these past two years! I wonder about my old readers so often. If you think I wouldn't remember your username after all this time, you're wrong. I hope things are going well for all of my little deffies, despite... you know... *waves hands* the pandemic. May 2021 and beyond be a brighter time for you all.