She went to him because when she was with him, it didn't hurt so much. Oh, it was violent, it always was. Horribly so. Her idea of foreplay was to break his nose, to fling a couple of punches and throw him up against the wall before smashing her lips to his until their teeth clicked together and her mouth bled, her hands fumbling with the fly of his jeans. When it first started, he would hit her back. That was violent too; he was strong, at least that kind of strong, and he could match her blow for blow. But somehow, when they were together, it still hurt less.

It was wrong, what she was doing, she knew that. Using him the way she was. And she thought that that was probably why she was so cruel to him. Because she liked the way he made her feel. Because she tried to compensate for it by hurting him back. He tried to be gentle. Tried to be sweet and soft, peppering her neck and her throat and her collarbone with kisses when she turned her face away from him. He was always careful with her, even when he was fast and rough, and couldn't seem to help the endearments that tumbled from his lips, couldn't stop himself from telling her that he loved her even when she punished him for it, biting down on his chest or raking her nails viciously over his shoulder blades. And worse, she thought that maybe she liked it.

Because when they were together, she felt loved. She felt cherished and cared for, felt the way his hands smoothed down over her muscles, calming the nightmare inside her head and holding her together, and at the same time stoking a flame in her belly, carrying her higher and higher until she shattered and fell back to earth, wanting nothing more than to be close, even if it was to him. But by then it was over and the world had come rushing back, and the hurt that had been temporarily soothed flared to life again, and it was that much worse for having been pacified.

So she pulled away, usually with hard, biting words that made him drop his eyes and had pain flashing across his face. And that hurt too. So she ran, ran from him even though she really wanted to run from herself, ran all the way home and locked the bathroom door behind her. She could stand in the shower for ages after, until the water went from scalding to ice, her whole body shaking no matter what the temperature. She stood beneath the spray, trembling, sobbing silently as tears trickled unheeded over her cheeks and were swept away down the drain. Sometimes she didn't even bother with her clothes, just climbed in and pulled the curtain, leaning against the tiles until she finally caught her breath and her knees felt steady enough to hold her weight again and she could climb back out in a sodden, soggy mess and stare into the fogged mirror while dripping puddles all over the floor.

It became ritualistic for her. To shower. The first few times she tried to tell herself that she just wanted to get him off of her, to be clean after such a degrading experience, because it had made her feel dirty and ashamed. But in her heart she knew the truth. She didn't shower because of him. She didn't mind the feeling of his hands on her skin, didn't mind the lingering scent of him that she thought was maybe just her imagination. No. She showered because of her. Because she thought that maybe if she stayed under the water just long enough, it might wash her guilt away. Guilt for not accepting herself as she was. For not allowing herself to have what she wanted, what made her happy, because of what her friends might think. For finding contentment in something that she shouldn't and for thinking that maybe, just maybe, she could fall.

But most of all, she showered to wash away the guilt of hurting him so badly. Of knowing and not caring enough to stop.

He let her in because he could see how much she hurt. It was in her eyes and in her movements, in the way her lip curled in a sneer at the sight of him and in the way she hit. She smelled like sorrow, and it was like coarse sugar and bitter melon in his nose. He let her in because once they got past the foreplay, past the brutal shoving and the bruises and the bloody, ruby kisses, the pain faded. Some of it faded. A bit.

It was violent, it always was. Beautifully so. They were both strong, physically strong at least, and they could throw fists and elbows hard enough to bring the bloody house down. And they did hurt each other, especially at first. He wasn't ashamed to say that he hit her back. But somehow, when they were together, it still hurt less.

It was wrong, what they was doing, he knew that. Letting her use him the way she did. Wrong for him and for her, wrong on both counts. He tried to be gentle. Tried to be sweet and soft. Kissed her even though she turned away from him and couldn't look him in the eye. He seemed unable to stop the words that burned in his chest and squeezed their way out of his throat, the pet names and the endearments, the praise and the confessions. She punished him for it, with teeth and nails until he bled, but he still couldn't stop. Because when they were together this way, he could love her. Even if she didn't want to be loved.

He cherished her when they were together. She was hard and sharp and fragile, like glass, and it was always over quickly, but when he ran his hands over her body, felt her silky skin beneath his roughened fingertips, he could see it. Could see the nightmares behind her eyes pale until they were almost gone, could see a calm come over her even though her heart pounded and her pulse fluttered frantically in her throat. Because for a few minutes, he could hold her in his arms and keep her from falling apart until the world came rushing back, and the hurt that had temporarily faded flared to life again, a flame in the darkness that shrouded her like sweeping black shadows.

And then she was gone, pulling away with hard, biting words that cut him to the core and made him feel like sobbing. He watched her go, watched her run from him and thought that perhaps she was really running from herself. He watched, and he couldn't pull himself away, watched as the pain bled through him and hoped that the hurt he felt had come from her, hoped that he had somehow managed to pull it out of her, siphoning it into himself and giving her some measure of relief.

And when he was finally able to move, his feet carrying him home despite the fog in his head that refused to clear and let him think, he would wake to find himself in the small shower that he had carved out of the stone, icy water raining down, his body unheeding of the cold, not caring that he couldn't breath as he turned his face to the spray and drowned. He just stood, silent and unseeing, unsure of how long he'd been there and unsure if he'd ever be able to get out.

It became a ritual; to shower. It should've been for him, should've been about him, but it wasn't. He tried to convince himself that it was, the first few times. That it was about getting her off of him so that he didn't have to remember, didn't have to suffer the memory of his hands on her, the lingering scent of her on his skin. But he knew the truth. He didn't do it because of himself. He showered because of her. Because he knew that she wouldn't want to leave any part of herself with him. Because of the others; the demons that would smell it on him, smell her on him, and the humans that would sense it. Because they would know, because they would laugh and accuse and judge and because she didn't want it.

Because it hurt her.