Girls know so much
about blood &
how to unbruise
I didn't expect to write this. However, after some of you showed interest on twitter, and the idea wouldn't leave me alone, I decided you guys deserved this. For those of you that haven't read between your ribs, it is almost absolutely necessary to read it in order to understand this oneshot.
Thank you all for your appreciation for the between your ribs world. I hope you enjoy this one last slice of it. I also created a playlist on my spotify (katebckett) of songs I used for inspiration to write between your ribs, if you're interested in that. Regardless, enjoy.
Autumn sweeps through Boston almost overnight. The leaves fall happily, settling in browns and oranges as the wind picks up. The garden is cluttered, absolutely full of them, as Ava charges on through, stomping on them with her bright yellow rain boots. She lets out a loud laugh when Jane catches her from behind, pulling her up into her arms and blowing raspberries against her neck.
Watching them from the kitchen window, Maura smiles, quickly cutting the apple in front of her into pieces for Noah to snack on. He tries, as always, to squirm free of his high chair as he waits, just as impatient as Jane. Unlike Jane, however, he accepts the slices of apple happily and doesn't whine for pizza. Well, maybe once he can form a sentence he might.
In the dark, she pushes her hand into the pillow cover, lets it close around the last half of the bread roll Kyle had brought her five days ago. She still remembers how warm it had been at first, how he had apologised for only bringing one, how he had told her to eat it all at once so that Melissa wouldn't know it was there.
She knows that if she leaves it any longer, it will go stale. His goodwill will go to waste. Her body will continue to fade away. But nowadays it is so hard to remember why she shouldn't fade completely.
Sometimes Jane's face appears to her in these moments.
Maura rolls over, crying, and swallows the last of the bread roll in one piece.
"Ma," he says with a one-tooth grin, holding one slice of apple up for her.
"Thank you, Noah."
He giggles when she over exaggerates her enjoyment of the apple before copying her, umming and ahhing. Maura presses a kiss to his light dusting of hair and waits until he is done to free him from the high chair. She carries him through to the living room, his legs kicking on either side of her hips as he chews on his own fist until she sets him down by his toys.
At nine months old, Noah is determined to get into everything. He had learned to crawl just over two months ago, and now she is constantly making sure she has one eye on him as she tries to complete forms for her organisation which – seven years after she had set it up – is still running, and has expanded across Massachusetts and into New York. Currently, she's working on trying to set up a new women's shelter in the city, but keeps delaying the paperwork to stop Noah from sticking a finger into a electric socket, or pulling all of the toilet roll from the holder – once she even caught him colouring in one of her heels with a crayon. The stain is still there today.
It is the fifth day and she has exhausted her search of the room. She has pressed her fingers against every nook and cranny of the walls, tested for some escape, knocked in search of a hollow wall. She has searched for heavy objects to use as weapons – only to find she is too weak to even move around anymore. Last night, she had fallen asleep against the door at the top of the stairs. She'd been waiting there with the heaviest book from the shelf in hand, anticipating Melissa's arrival, determined to escape. But all these days without food have taken their toll, and now she wakes to find Melissa towering over her.
As she hits each step of the stairs, rolling, falling, because of Melissa's force, she counts how many bruises this will leave her with.
"Noah, honey, no," she quickly dumps the paperwork to the side for the tenth time that day as he attempts to reach for a pacifier of his that's gathered dust beneath the couch – she and Jane have been looking for it for weeks – and pulls him up into her arms, sighing. Noah wails half-heartedly, trying to twist free of her grip.
"Ma. Mo ma," the nine month old complains, trying to push away from her body.
"Sweetie, there's one right here, see?"
Maura tries to reason with him using the clean pacifier he'd been using earlier. But he continues to half-cry, face red and scrunching up.
For weeks after Melissa tells her that she'd killed Jane, Maura learns how to speak to the dead.
She has been speaking on their behalf for so long now. To wake in what could either be in the middle of the night idea in the same room she has been trapped in for months and see the flicker of a figure that looks like Jane is almost a blessing.
"I love you. I love you," she repeats it time after time to make Jane real. "Please save me. Come back to me. I love you. Jane."
Some nights, in her dreams – in her nightmares, there she is with Jane. And they are neither here nor anywhere else she has been before. But the bed is wide and comfortable, and Jane is soft and warm in her arms, and it is beautiful torture to imagine her until she wakes to Melissa slicing the skin of her thighs.
The doors to the backyard slam open, Ava running through, a cluster of leaves being crushed in her hands. Muddy footprints follow her through to the house and Maura's already eyeing them, catching Jane's eye as she follows Ava. Her wife shrugs sheepishly, shucking her own boots off and avoiding the same mistake as their daughter.
"Mama, look! Leaves all brown! You said and they are!"
Ava proudly stops in front of her clutching the leaves. Maura does her best to smile while shushing Noah.
"Yes they are. Do you remember the reason why?"
"Because it's fall!"
Maura chuckles, curling one hand around Ava's cheek for a moment.
Jane sidles up beside her, smacking a kiss to her cheek before stealing their crying son from her arms. He tries to wriggle away from her too, tears falling now.
"Ma mo," he says again, pushing his hands against her chest to wriggle free.
Ava tugs on Maura's sleeve.
"Noah's angry," she whispers when Maura looks down.
"Not angry, sweetie. Just tired."
By now, she has to roll her sweatpants over four times to keep them up around her hips. Her t-shirt hangs off of one shoulder, too wide and big for her now, and when she attempts to turn the dial for the cold water of the shower she finds that her fingers are too slim and bony, the muscle of her arms disintegrating, that she cannot move it anymore. When she attempts to flush the toilet later that day, it takes her three attempts to push down with enough force, and she collapses to her knees after, crying into her hands.
She strips off the clothes that are not hers and studies the body that doesn't feel like hers anymore either. It is betraying her with its weakness. And sometimes she wonders if her mind is too. The bones of her knees are real, they are too knobbly and the bones in her wrists feel like they might snap under the slightest pressure. She can see these things, assess them properly, attempt to learn the foreign land of her used to be body. But what about the moments when she confuses Melissa for Jane, are those real too? When Melissa's face turns ugly and sour as her fist lands a solid punch to Maura's stomach, is it real that she sees Jane, tough and fierce and beautiful?
There is no food left to vomit up anymore. Instead she retches and retches repeatedly into the toilet bowl, tears streaking down her cheeks. Nothing is certain anymore. She once loved Jane. Now Jane is dead, or won't save her, or she's hurting her too. Does she love her still? How many scars will be left on her skin for the rest of her life, marking that she has lost all sense of reality?
When she next opens her eyes, she finds that she has vomited blood.
Ava tilts her head as she watches Jane trying to calm her brother. Maura convinces her to remove her boots and the four year old loses interest in her crying brother after, instead of watching she busies herself searching for her colouring book and crayons.
"I can go put him down for his nap," Maura says to Jane, rubbing Noah's back.
"Nah, I got him."
Jane laughs. "I think the thousand other times I've done this mean I'm pretty good at putting my kid to bed."
Maura rolls her eyes. "You know I was simply being courteous."
Her wife snickers, moving away to take Noah upstairs for his nap. But she takes a moment to kiss her, their son pressed between them, Maura's lips turning up into a smile.
Sometimes, she has enough presence of mind to wonder whether the pain exists or not.
With every kick, punch, slap – every time she is knocked out by baseball bat or goes days without any form of food and throws up what little she has left in her stomach, she is unsure whether she feels any of it anymore.
Melissa slices open the skin of her forearm and watches her bleed profusely. Maura grabs at her skin, tries to stop the bleeding but she is too tired, and this has all been going on too long. She can see the blood on her hands but she cannot feel it. She passes out wishing for any end that frees her from this place.
When she wakes again, Melissa is gentle, wrapping gauze around the wound. Her dark curls fall around her shoulders and Maura almost forgets, because she wants her to be Jane. She wants her to be Jane more than she wants anything else.
She rests her forehead against Melissa's shoulder and sighs. "Jane."
Melissa's hand curls around the back of her head for a moment. Maura is too tired to even cry anymore.
"What are you drawing?"
Maura kneels beside Ava at her play table. Her daughter leans into her, still colouring in a stick figure's dress in pink.
"What Millie's mom told me."
Maura frowns. The drawing isn't terribly unlike anything Ava has ever drawn before. A stereotypical house, two stick figures that she assume are she and Jane – if the crazy dark hair one of them has is anything to go by – along with a smaller stick figure that Ava's labelled me and a circle labelled Noah. Maura holds back a laugh at that, hiding her smile behind her hand.
"What did she tell you to draw?"
"Do you wish to elaborate on that, Ava? I'm not a mind reader, you know," she murmurs, wrapping her arm around her daughter.
Ava sighs. "Millie's mom told me what I drawed was wrong before."
"Drew. What did you draw?"
"I don't understand. Hannah and I get along well, why would she have an issue with you drawing me?"
That is something that, unfortunately, she and Jane have had to learn to handle. When Ava makes friends at the park they take her to, the day care she is part of, sometimes their parents are accommodating of their child's new friend until they learn that she has two mothers. Ava is still too young to understand that sometimes the world somehow disagrees with a certain kind of love. Her friend Millie's mother, Hannah, however, is perfectly fine, treats them like any other couple.
Ava sets her crayon down on her play table, standing and moving over to her backpack. It's usually full of conkers she's picked up from the park or caterpillars she attempts to hide and keep as pets. This time, Ava pulls out a crumpled piece of paper. She passes it to Maura and sits back down beside her, eyes wide and sad as she unfurls the paper to reveal the drawing.
Things around her are hazy. She presses her hand against the mattress to try and push herself up, but she isn't strong enough. When she collapses back against the mattress, it is damp and with one breath in through her nostrils she identifies it as vomit by the smell.
A hand presses against her clammy forehead. The mattress shifts, dark hair and eyes laying down beside her.
"I think you might be dying, Maura."
She wants to nod yes. This fever has lasted too long. It is too extreme. Every part of her is hoping it will burn what's left of her up.
"Do you even know what's real anymore?"
Her eyes reopen. When had she closed them?
"Do you believe that I'm real, after all this time? Do you know you're not alone?"
With extraordinary effort, she forces herself to focus. Dark hair, dark eyes, sharp in the places people are normally soft. But attentive. Enraptured by her. Jane.
"Yes," she whispers.
Jane smiles, neither happy or sad.
"Amazing, isn't it? What human beings can endure. What pain they can soldier through."
"I'm not going to make it, Jane," she says, and she barely gets the words out. Her eyes fall closed again. The bile sticks to her cheek.
"That's okay. You've been a fantastic guinea pig for my experiment, Maura," Melissa murmurs. Her hand grips her arm too tight, but at this point she has learned not to fight it. "Jane would be so proud of all you've suffered through, wouldn't she?"
There is a meaning to this.
It is lost to her now.
Maura feels her chest tighten the moment her eyes take in the picture.
"Oh, Ava," she murmurs, tears filling her eyes. "This isn't lies."
Unlike the stick figures in her new drawing, this one is fleshed out. This one is her. Wearing one of her dresses which make Ava call her a princess, every one of her scars on show. In the top right corner are the words, my momma's braves, by Ava, age four and three quarters.
"Millie's mom asked me if I sawed this on a TV show," Ava explains. "I told her momma says too much TV is bad for you. I told her these are your braves. She asked if mommy ever hurt you, which is silly. So I told her, my mommies kiss every morning and every night. Mommy makes momma grandma's special soup when she's sickly and momma likes it even though I think it takes icky when she makes it for me when I'm sick. Momma got all of her braves before I was even born, and she even got one on her tummy after Noah was born because of her emergency sea sailor man."
Ava puffs out her chest, grinning, proud. Maura presses the drawing to her chest.
"Caesarean," she corrects out of habit, running a hand through her daughter's curls. "Hannah told you not to draw this?"
"She didn't knowed you have your braves. But I do, momma. I know all your braves. Like this one," Ava says, pointing to the long scar on Maura's forearm. "Your brave from the bad lady."
The fever brings on hallucinations. Sometimes her mother is right beside her, but she is cruelly cold and distant as she had been during her childhood. Her father is there, telling her to keep their secret, to not tell her mother. Angela appears slowly, and once she does she tries to hold her hand, but she passes right through her. Like a ghost. Like she's already lost. Maura feels everything inside of her rip apart after that.
Maura pulls Ava up into her lap, cradling her daughter carefully. Presses a kiss to her unruly hair, just like Jane's.
"I love you. And you're very correct, Ava," she murmurs. "That is one of my braves."
"But even though the bad lady hurt you, your braves let you stay alive for mommy to save you, and now you're okay," Ava recites the story she's been told a thousand times. Her fingers trace the scar slowly. "Why do you hide your braves, momma?"
Maura takes a deep breath. The conversations – however vague and idyllic she tries to make them for Ava – about her scars are not ones she thought she would have until Ava was older. When Jane had been pregnant, it hadn't been something that crossed her mind. That her daughter would look at her and see her scars. It hadn't been until she had started taking her to day care that the other parents would stare for too long. She hadn't started covering them with make up entirely out of shame. Only when she was around younger children – it had only just occurred to her then that they made her look dangerous.
But Ava wanted to know all about them. She would stare at them if she was in the bath, study the ones on her back when she was getting changed, ask Jane quietly why she has them when neither she or Jane did too.
"Some children think they're a little frightening. I don't want to scare them," she tells her.
Ava giggles. "That's silly, momma. You aren't scary. You're brave."
"Yes, she is."
Maura looks over to the doorway where Jane is watching them, all soft eyes and smile.
It never feels like a lie when Jane says it.
Dark eyes dark hair sharp face on top of her. Dark eyes watching, desperate, wide.
"I am not Jane. I killed Jane. I'm killing you," it spits on her face. Dark eyes used to be something different.
She misses other dark eyes. Warm hands. Steady heart.
Dark eyes fist. Dark hair hands. Her throat. She can't breathe. She can't –
"Jane," she struggles to get it out, tries to wriggle away from the grip around her throat.
"I want you to remember the real things. Remember me like this," dark eyes growls, tightening, constricting, stealing all the oxygen from her.
Maura looks at her. Tries to remember a real thing.
Dark eyes. Jane. Jane is dark eyes. On top of her, strangling her; starving her for days, letting her die.
"Do you promise to remember me like this?"
"Yes," she whispers hoarsely. The hands around her throat loosen.
"Good," Jane whispers. Rolls away studies Maura's throat. "Let me haunt you for the rest of your damn life, Maura Isles."
Jane sits with them, curling an arm around Maura's waist. She kisses her deeply, always so reverent with her, her eyes always that little bit hazy when they pull apart, as if she still can't quite believe that she is allowed to love her like this. Maura kisses her again. Because she can. Because she spent too long denying herself what she loved to even waste another second of her life again.
"Mommy, you love momma's braves?"
Jane takes Maura's forearm, presses kisses slowly to the scar there.
"Every single one."
Maura lets the tears slip then, and Ava frowns, wiping them away from her cheeks. Maura laughs, blowing a raspberry against her daughter's cheek to make her giggle. That sound – so light, so happy, is what really makes her brave. Her family. Here with her. They're her source of happiness. They're her source of all good things.
"Hannah can take her stick figures and shove them up her – "
"Jane," Maura says sharply, covering Ava's ears.
Jane grins. "Aw c'mon, I knew every curse word under the sun by the time I was five."
"You wouldn't have dared to use them around Angela, though."
Jane laughs. "You wanna go see her, kid?"
"Yup! We bake cupcakes!"
"So you only love her for her cupcakes, huh?"
Ava shakes her head. "Her cookies, too. And she gives the best hugs."
The door slams open, almost flying off of its hinges, as shouts and yells fill the room. Men with guns. Maura doesn't even blink.
"Shit," she thinks she hears one of them say.
They attempt to talk to her, but language doesn't feel right anymore. She only knows how to communicate in bruises, in scars. She wants to lift her hands to them. She wants to show them what has happened. What if they hurt her, too?
This voice is different to the others. Low, yes, but familiar. Gentle.
She remembers how to cry when Vince Korsak lifts her from the bed, strong and steady as carries her up the stairs, out of the basement, and through the front door, where fresh air hits her face first time in two hundred and ninety two days.
"I want to stand," she murmurs. Her throat is so sore it feels like knives slicing over and over as she speaks.
"You sure you can?" He asks, but he sets her down carefully anyway, keeping an arm around her to make sure she doesn't fall. It has been such a long time since anyone has been truly compassionate to her. She almost falls to her knees as the emotion overwhelms her. His grip only tightens, keeping her safe.
"You can do this, doc," he says. "Jane's waiting for you."
After she has read Ava her bedtime story that night, she leans over to press a kiss to her forehead and tuck her in. Jane does, too, before leaving to brush her teeth. As Maura moves to stand, Ava takes her hand, stopping her.
Maura leans down. "Yes, baby?"
"Do you still think about how you got your braves?"
Maura smilies, and allows herself a moment to hold her daughter, even as Jane passes the doorway and insists it's already past her bedtime.
"No," she answers truthfully. She has been free of Melissa for more years than she cares to count. "I don't think about it anymore."
Maura jerks awake in the night, staring around the pitch black of the room. She waits for her eyes to adjust to the darkness, but her heart beats too loudly in her ears, her skin too sensitive to the slightest touch; she startles again when her hair brushes against her shoulder. Maura pushes back the covers, lifting her knees to her face, letting out a silent scream as she rocks back and forth. It's never going to be over. Melissa is going to keep her here until her last dying breath, and nobody will ever know what happened to her. The two of them will be the only ones that know the atrocities she put her through, the only ones to know how one hour feels like one year for Maura. Jane – wherever she is, alive or dead, searching or not – will go to her grave without saying another word to her. Without knowing how much she loves her; without knowing why one day they were together on her couch, and the next they'd never see each other again.
This time her scream isn't silent. It is loud and horrifying and she doesn't feel like she's in her own body anymore. Melissa is going to beat her for this. Until she's black and blue. Maybe even to death. But she can't stop it. She's going to die and rot in this prison Melissa built and never know what it feels like to have the sun on her face ever again, to have the arms of the woman she loves around her even if they're nothing more than friends.
"Hey, hey. I've got you."
Those warm arms surround her, kisses peppered against her skin.
"I'm here. I've got you. It's okay."
She takes a deep breath, and finds that she can stop screaming.
"I love you. I'm here. I'm right here, Maura."
She turns into the shelter of Jane's arms, gripping her tightly.
"You're not real," she whispers. "I want you to be real more than anything."
"Gimme a second."
Jane vanishes as quickly as she had appeared and Maura feels the scream building up in her throat again. Rising and rising and rising.
Maybe Jane will move on. Marry someone else. Settle down with kids somewhere. Maybe it's good that she'll move on instead of being miserable for the rest of her life. But the thought of Jane forgetting her – the thought of Jane giving up, no longer looking for her, while she thinks about her every day here…
The lights come on.
Maura blinks, startled, and Jane rounds the corner with a smile on her face. Maura finds herself laughing hysterically when she realises Jane is naked, tears still streaming from her eyes.
"You thought I was sexy three hours ago," Jane attempts to joke, settling back beside her in bed. "Can I - ?"
Maura nods, letting Jane hold her once more. She wraps her own arms around her waist, pressing her palms against the naked skin of Jane's back.
"Is this real?"
She feels Jane nod against her.
"We're always real."
Maura sighs, pulling back to study her wife's face. Oh – her wife. She looks around, looking at the dresses hung up, the white lingerie on the floor after Jane had torn off of her body, the ridiculous, luxurious hotel room. They're married. This is real. They just got married.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to ruin our wedding night."
"Not ruined. I probably could've done without the heart attack in the middle of going to the toilet, but I guess it keeps our relationship fresh."
Maura laughs. "You're ridiculous."
Jane smiles. "You're beautiful."
Maura ducks her head, tucking her hair behind her ear. Jane traces a finger against her lips, making her smile.
She presses a kiss to Jane's finger.
"I am. I promise."
Maura closes Ava's door softly, peering into Noah's room for a second to check that he's okay. He's sleeping soundly, mouth open just slightly, and she jumps a little when Jane's arms circle around her from behind.
"Coming to bed?" She murmurs against her neck.
Maura smiles, nudging her head back against her wife's. "Of course."
Jane takes her hand and leads her into their room. Maura tugs her to the end of the bed, where the moonlight filters in, and kisses her softly, slowly, making Jane hum in the back of her throat when she slides her hands beneath her pyjama shirt and traces her waist with the tips of her fingers.
"I love you," Maura whispers.
Jane's eyes open slowly. She'll never get tired of the way Jane looks at her. Only her.
"I love you more," Jane says, and before Maura can argue, she kisses her gentle and soft and warm. Makes her toes curl and her grip tighten. "I love you always."
Maura sighs, and when they sink beneath the sheets that night, she forgets her scars exist at all.