Author's notes: Hey, so, so sorry for the long wait. This chapter was difficult, and I owe even more thanks than usual to Starophie and Tunedtochords, who spent even more time than usual helping me work things out. Warning for violence once again, but hang in there, we're in the home stretch.
"Hey, there you are." Liam's back was to her as she stepped into the hallway. As he turned away from Jude's empty room, she saw that he was holding a bag from McDonald's in one hand, milkshake in the other. "You must be starving, and I know the chicken wrap is your favorite." The smell of salt accosted her, and he was just staring, so expectant. "It's still warm, I didn't even eat a single fry."
In reality, the chicken wrap was not her favorite. It was just what she ordered when Liam was paying. Yesterday, this sort of action would have her melting with gratitude. Today, she found herself pissed that he wasn't perceptive enough to realize she never finished a single meal. "I don't want it." She pulled his parents door shut, cutting herself off from the temptation to retreat.
That sanctimonious smile didn't reappear, but he still looked lost. "Fine, whatever. Listen, I just want to sit down and figure this shit out. I don't get you girls. I try to do something nice for you, and here you are, losing your shit."
"Oh, how big of you." Her voice came out stronger than she felt, and she was glad. "Was last night all about me, too?"
His hand clenched around the paper bag. "What kind of question is that? I made sure Mom would make dinner you liked, didn't I? You gonna lie and tell me you didn't have any fun?" His voice became high, mocking. "Oh, look at poor, sad, orphan Callie. No one ever understands her pain." She watched his features shift, that familiar cast of anger settling over his face. Sparks of raw emotion always seemed to be just below the surface of Liam's skin, in danger of igniting at any moment. "You think your life is so bad just because you have no family?" His voice was rising with each word, knuckles going white around the plastic cup in his hand. "Let me tell you something, princess. Your life is terrible because you're a selfish baby, who can't appreciate a goddamned thing anyone tries to do for you!"
"Huh, that true? I may be selfish, but at least I listen to people. Stop trying to cover your own ass!" This was going against everything Callie had taught herself over the last year. You did not encourage Liam's rage, and you certainly never argued with him while he was in the depths of it. Even if what he was saying cut you to the quick, giving any indication would only reinforce the vindictiveness. Liam would latch onto a weakness, no matter how insignificant, spitting out all sorts of the horrible things that you had always secretly wondered about yourself, lying awake in the small hours of the morning.
These were the silent understandings of their relationship. She did not provoke him, and in turn, there were lines Liam didn't cross. Until this moment, he had never used her lack of parents against her. Well, if he could rewrite the rules without warning, then so could she. She glared, not breaking eye contact. She was comforted by the feel of her own outrage, scorching her cheeks and pounding in her chest. "Why don't you try paying attention to what people want for once? Maybe then, you'd still have one of those customer service jobs."
Shut up! Screamed a distant part of her brain, as Liam took silent strides down the hall in her direction. She didn't listen, too busy reveling in how freeing it felt to actually voice her grievances aloud. "Haven't you ever wondered why your parents keep taking in foster kids? I bet they want a second chance, since their real son is such an assho—"
Liam's arm cocked back, the fast food bag striking her in the chest with surprising speed. A shower of french fries cascaded down her body, a ketchup packet landing on the knuckles of her clenched fist. The impact didn't hurt, but she still stumbled back in surprise, colliding with Phil and Hannah's door. It hadn't closed fully, and her weight pushed it inwards as her knees gave way. She landed on the thick carpet in Liam's parents doorway, a McDonald's napkin clinging to the front of her shirt and the house phone flying from her pocket.
"Well, my family's never run away from me, have they?" That goddamned smirk was back, and she flinched in spite of herself. She had pushed him, too far and too fast, but it was more than that. Liam's rage always stemmed from his own long-held insecurities, and Callie thought that, somewhere deep down, her words were ringing true for him.
She should run the rest of the way into Phil and Hannah's room, lock their door behind her. But she couldn't tear her eyes away from that self-assured grin, that same smile he had given her so many times over the last year, that she had always told herself she deserved. "At least I never had to accuse ten-year olds of taking things to get people to notice me."
This time, she was slightly more prepared, and ducked as the chocolate shake came hurtling toward her face. There was a reason Liam's sport of choice was golf. The shake missed her head, the lid flying into the room, leaving a creamy trail in its wake. Somewhere on the floor nearby, the cordless began to ring, but she didn't dare look away from Liam to try and answer it. The fact he was now empty-handed was not as comforting as she had hoped, especially when her only weapon was five-dollar food.
Liam took the few steps across the hall so that he was directly in front of her, and she stood up before he could try and pull her to her feet. His fingers clamped around her upper arm, and her wrist twanged in sympathy. "You ungrateful, stupid little bitch!"
"Let go of me!" Her cry was more yelp than demand, and she tried to twist away. If she brought her other arm up in defense, he might grab that too. No, she had to think, had to strategize. Those eyes though; so, so much worse than she remembered, seeming to stare right through her. His hold, the perfect counterpoint, sharp, twisting – away, away, she needed to get away!
She slammed her free fist into his sternum. His grip tightened in reflex, and she yelped in spite of herself. The blow had done nothing but anger him further, his fresh adrenaline giving him strength, while her own only provided panic. She had assumed her sobriety would be to her advantage, but it was only making her terror more acute.
"Get the hell off of me!" Her words were shrill, weak. It took everything for her to not scream in pain, to not give him one more thing to gloat over. Tears welled up, but she wasn't sure she had fully stopped crying since their first encounter downstairs, so she wouldn't believe those were for him now. Somewhere in the distance, the phone was ringing again, if it had ever stopped.
"Shut up, dammit, shut up!" He was yelling louder than her, and someone would have to hear, someone would have to do something. Liam's foot lashed out, and she sucked in a breath, bracing for impact. Instead, he sent the phone skittering across the hall. It bumped down the stairs, the back popping off and silencing it. But in his parents' bedroom, the base was still ringing, as were the rest of the units, scattered around the lower level. He started pulling her away from the mess, as though distance would make it better, and she struggled, no longer caring how he interpreted her actions. Her arm was twisted painfully behind her back, before he managed to pull her flush against his body. Just like that, he was dragging her into his room. Happening, it was all happening again. Winning, Liam was always winning, always having the last word. In her mind, she saw the tilt of that goddamned smile, and something gave way.
"No!" She got a hand up, scratching fingernails down his bare bicep. "No!" Skin gave way, her fingers growing sticky with blood. "No, no, no!"
He roared, too furious for words, flinging her bodily onto his bed. She thought the phone was maybe ringing again, but they were both making too much noise for her to be sure. He released her for just a second, violently pulling open a nightstand drawer. She knew what that meant, and she tried to roll off the bed, but he grabbed a hank of hair. Her temple slammed into his headboard as she fought to free herself, her vision graying as pain exploded, seeming to radiate throughout her entire body.
She fell backwards, might have landed on the floor if he hadn't caught her. Eyes clenched shut from pain she didn't have time to feel, she willed her mind to work. Even now, her shirt was being removed, hard fingers toying with the clasp of her bra. Distantly, the house phones began to ring again, and she had never heard something so welcome.
She opened her eyes just as his lips covered hers in a hard kiss. His tongue forced her mouth open, and she thought she might choke. His weight was more than enough to hold her down, hands free to roam over her suddenly bare chest, her stomach, her thighs. She felt her jeans being unbuttoned, and she bit down on his tongue without thought. He reeled back, clearly not realizing she was awake, and she surged upwards with a Reservoir of strength she didn't know she possessed, pelting every inch of him she could reach with fists, with fingernails. Nausea rolled over her, and she welcomed it. Let her puke, it could only help.
No, no, no! Someone was endlessly screaming, just that word, and it took her several seconds to recognize her own voice – high, ragged, raw. "No, no, no, no!" She screamed until she ran out of breath, and even then, she kept her mouth open. Her hands clawed empty air, but that didn't matter, not as long as she had her voice.
Quiet down, he had said. Keep still, he had said, all kinds of gentle things that really meant, don't tell. She had always been his secret, something to enjoy when no one else was around. Well, not anymore.
"Fucking psycho!" There was blood on his face; had she done that? He was standing over her, just staring, and she scrambled off the bed, legs immediately giving way. For what seemed like endless moments, they were both frozen, both panting, Liam sitting on the corner of his bed, her a crouching, frightened rabbit on the floor, surrounded by the detritus from his nightstand, the drawer lying upside down on the carpet, her energy flagging as abruptly as it had come.
Move, she ordered her limbs, but they merely trembled in response. Any second now, he was going to retaliate, and she would really deserve it this time, for not even trying to escape.
"Liam!" the yell made her start, elbow slamming into the bedpost. Phil's voice, loud footsteps on the stairs. "Callie?" Liam, are you here? What…"
Liam hadn't bothered to close the door this time; the overconfident bastard. This meant his father had only to come down the hallway to get a direct view into the room. Even though Phil had just saved her, she did not want to turn around, did not want to look at him. Liam's temper was a family trait, and Callie didn't want to see the look on Phil's face as he saw them for what they were, saw his half-naked foster daughter for the crying, cowering child she truly was. "What is going on? One of the neighbors called, said there was screaming…what happened to the hall?" Oh, right, and he was seeing that, too.
"She's crazy," Liam panted. "Look what the bitch did to me!" Somehow, the betrayal in his voice still made her throat catch.
She turned toward the doorway when Phil didn't respond, even though her whole body protested at the movement. Phil wouldn't even look at her, gaze flitting around the room, before finally settling on a crumpled issue of Penthouse beside her knee. She had thought the quiet would feel like relief after all that yelling, but she was still so close to Liam, and she didn't have the ability to get away, to catch her breath, to do anything but shake. As usual, Phil was no help, standing perfectly still one step into the room.
After an eternity, when she finally thought her legs capable of not giving way, Callie stumbled to her feet and away from the bed. "Here, wait a minute." Eyes on the carpet, Phil stepped toward her, holding out an oversized shirt.
"Don't! Don't touch me!" It was more croak than demand, but at least the words had come out. She watched them register on Phil's face as his arm fell back to his side – at least someone was listening to her. Tears snaked down her neck, but at least she was heard, was free. Phil opened his mouth, only to immediately close it again, backing into the doorjamb as she staggered past under her own power. He never had handled her tears well.
She breathed a little easier as she closed and locked her own door, dragging her desk chair under the handle for good measure. She couldn't decide what to do first, change or clean herself up. She felt too exposed, here in just her jeans. Her shirt and bra were somewhere in Liam's room, but let him have them as a goddamned souvenir.
She spent two useless minutes trying to remove her own pants with violently trembling fingers, despite the fact they were already unbuttoned. Ensconced in the relative safety of her room, she felt dangerously close to hysteria. Both of their clothes from the night before were still beside her bed, and she wanted to burn them. Giving up on taking off her pants, she pulled on a fresh shirt, not bothering to even attempt a bra. Her arm was throbbing as she managed to re-button her jeans, and she wondered if something had broken. Other places would hurt soon enough, but for now, it was just her arm and head, white spots appearing at the edges of her vision if she moved too quickly.
She didn't have time to slow down. Phil was still in Liam's room, and she knew he would not be on her side when he came out. She needed to leave. She didn't feel capable of even walking out of her room, but it needed to be done. Her school bag was full of homework and god-knew-what else, but it was all she had. Dumping her books on her bed, she exchanged them for her purse, the emergency stash of money that she kept in her nightstand, anything that was small and easy to grab. She finished up by dumping in the private contents of her top dresser drawer, taking a second to stroke one of the few pictures of her mother for luck. Stay with me, she prayed. Help me do this.
The doorbell sounded as she was looking at her closet, followed by rapid knocking, sharp 'we mean business' wraps of knuckles. "Police, open up!" She spun around fast enough to fall to her knees, catching herself just in time on the side of her desk to keep from face-planting.
Stef. Stef had come. Stef would have to see her like this, and Callie couldn't decide whether that filled her with fresh terror or cautious hope. If nothing else, Stef had gotten the message, had implicitly understood. Had come. For her.
All Callie had to do was open her bedroom door, and she would be there. Even now, the police were letting themselves in, which she wasn't entirely sure was legal. Wait, no, someone else was with them. Hannah, her voice high, tight with tension. "Officers, I'm…what's going on?"
"We need to see your son and foster daughter." That same voice, the one who had demanded to be let in; a man's brusque command. Was Stef not here? No, she had to be, how else would they have known to ask for Liam? Still, Callie didn't want to risk leaving until it was truly safe; didn't trust anyone but Stef to remain on her side.
"I don't…I just got here." Callie felt a flash of pity for Hannah as she continued stammering, knowing how she hated to be caught off guard. "Can I…can I look for them?"
Down the hall, on the same level as Callie, came the sound of footsteps. "Phil!" Hannah now sounded relieved, and Callie pictured Phil leaning over the railing to look at them.
"What's going on here?" Phil's voice was terse, but he was doing a far better job at bullshitting it than his wife. Callie hoped the police wouldn't buy it. Stef or no, she did not want them to leave her here. "Where are you going?" Suddenly, Phil was nearly shouting. " You can't just…come in here!"
"Mr. Olmstead, we really need to speak with your son." Had Stef sent this man? If she said he was okay, then maybe…except, she did not want to talk to another guy. He might look at her like Phil had, a combination of pity and disgust. The longer she was alone in here, the more she was pulling the threadbare strands of her composure back together. If someone else looked at her like she was some kind of tragedy, she would lose it all again. No one took crying girls seriously, and she was in desperate need of that.
"What's this all about?" Phil asked for a second time, making an obvious effort to sound conciliatory. "What do you want my boy for?" Phil did not call Liam 'his boy.' He didn't even call him 'son.' His question made Callie want to scream anew, to make Phil look her in the face, dare him to try and ask why the police were here.
"There's been an accusation of sexual assault." The officer's words were blunt, and relief coursed through her. She wouldn't have to say it, not again.
"That's…what!" Hannah's voice had gone from flustered to outright panic, and her heels scraped over the tile of the front hall as she raced for the stairs. "Liam!" Of course, she thought Liam was the one hurt. Of course. Disappointment pulled at the threadbare nerves of calm Callie was weaving, but she would not let it unravel them. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.
"Liam!" Hannah screamed again, now directly outside Callie's door. "Oh my god, what…" she had seen the mess, reacted in spite of everything else. Well, how could she not? Callie was pretty sure their custom carpet had cost more than a year of her paychecks combined. Breathe, she ordered her lungs.
More pairs of feet, the officers. Voices clustering at Liam's doorway, but she was no longer listening. They had gone for him first, which must mean they thought he was innocent. She didn't know how, but she suddenly knew none of these people were on her side. She had been right to not trust more men. She would go. Now, while they were all distracted, looking at that asshole's battle scars. She looked like shit, but she would stop and clean up when she was somewhere safe, somewhere not here. She put on her backpack, even though it took both hands and made tears of pain well up. She needed her hands free, in case anyone…
What, tried to stop her? Well. If they tried, they would overpower her instantly. Liam had, and he'd just been one person. Callie would just have to make sure no one saw her. She fumbled clumsily with the desk chair, unlocking the door with fingers that shook anew. Down the hall, Hannah was actually crying. "Oh, Liam, Liam, why, why would you…"
She could not listen to this. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. Put one foot in front of the other, and just breathe. She stepped into the hall and instantly collided with another person. She was too surprised to react, and would have more than likely fallen if arms hadn't come up to steady her. She didn't want to look up from the floor, somehow convinced it was Liam here to take her down the hall, laugh while she was arrested.
But no, this grip wasn't forceful. Hands were indeed on her shoulders, but Callie sensed she could break away, if she really tried. They were saying something, but she couldn't make it out, eyes traveling slowly up their torso. Ears ringing, heart racing, her brain was unwilling to fully comprehend until her eyes finally locked with piercing blue.
"Stef. Oh god, you're here."
Stef's own words reached her then, almost a mantra. "Callie. Callie, oh, Callie." Her hands were sliding over Callie's shoulders, her ribs, checking for injury. A pause, as though Callie's own words were taking a moment to penetrate. "Of course I'm here." Her hands slid back to Callie's shoulders, as though she were unwilling to let her go. "I'm just sorry it wasn't sooner. If I'd known it was the same asshole you were dating…"
She felt shame well up to burn her cheeks, wanted to run back the way she had come, curl under her covers until everyone all just disappeared. But Stef's eyes were like a vice grip. She could not break away, even if Stef currently looked like she wanted to haul off and hit someone.
"Where is all this blood coming from?" Confused, she looked down, surprised to find it clotting in her hair by her right temple. "Never mind, never mind – it doesn't matter. Where's your brother?"
Stef's briskness was like a fresh wound, and she wordlessly gestured over her shoulder. Liam's voice was in the fray now, halting and high. It did not make her feel good. Hands squeezed her shoulders, once, just enough to enable her to focus back on Stef. "No, I got that. Where's your little brother?"
For some reason, that was the thing that made her composure snap, fresh tears springing into her eyes. "Gone. I don't know where he is, and no one will tell me, and god, I was s-so st-stupid. I am s-so stupid."
"Hey, hey, easy now." When Stef rubbed her shoulders, she found that she was not afraid. "Slow down, sweets, slow down. One thing at a time, all right?" Stef's eyes were like steel, but her voice was suddenly soft. Callie wished she could wrap it around herself like a blanket. She could get through anything asked of her, as long as she had the steadiness of that voice to fall back on.
Not once breaking eye contact, Stef's hand came up, wiping tears off her cheek. "Listen to me. We're going to go downstairs to my car, all right? Can you do that?"
She had been planning to leave, but the idea of doing so felt far more surmountable now, with the promise of Stef beside her. Stef stood perfectly still, waiting until Callie was ready to make the first move.
They had to pass by a silent cluster of people to reach the stairs, Hannah crying and ringing her hands, Phil standing mute beside her, and finally, Liam, being put into actual handcuffs by Hernandez. Stef's partner looked so unlike the guy who forgot umbrellas and bought doughnuts that Callie almost didn't recognize him. Had he really been the one barking orders? They made eye contact, and as with Stef before him, his expression darkened.
Callie wasn't aware she had begun physically backing away until a steadying arm came around her shoulders. "I'm taking her to the hospital," Stef told her partner. "You wait here for forensics."
"Our clothes are in my room," she murmured, not sure for who's benefit. "The ones…from last night."
Abruptly, Hannah looked up, straight into her face. "Callie. Oh, Callie, I'm so…how…" For a moment, she almost pitied her. Hannah didn't look angry, or like she was searching for excuses to exonerate her son. Callie thought back to last night, to the way Hannah had dismissed Jude from their dinner conversation. To thrown away math tests, and overheard goodnights never addressed to her. Hannah didn't know how old she was, Hannah didn't care about her brother. Why should Callie presume Hannah's horror had anything to do with her?
She broke eye contact without a reply, allowing Stef to guide her down the stairs. Together, they walked out of the house where Callie had lived for the longest time since losing both parents, the house where they had all been willfully blind for months.
Once more, she was in the back of Stef's car, but they were driving to a hospital instead of away. It felt oddly full circle, but also final. She felt herself begin to tremble, even though it wasn't cold. At a stoplight, Stef reached behind her. "Here, put this on."
An oversized sweatshirt landed in her lap. It smelled like coffee, and laundry, and perfume that she wasn't sure Stef would wear. Lena? Burying her face in the collar, she breathed deeply, imagining Stef tucking this around her daughter on a cool night, or sharing it with her wife. Callie wrapped it around herself now, pretending it was Stef's voice, low and warm, even though the real Stef was silent in the seat in front of her. There was nothing to say, and she was glad Stef understood that.
She closed her eyes, reveling in the simple, indisputable fact that she had called, and Stef had come, no questions asked.
Author's notes: Whew, hopefully this is a more acceptable place to leave Callie. I'm going to try and get another chapter up before the new year, but in case I don't, have a great time closing out 2013.