TW: talk of abuse.

A/N: I'm going through alot rn but I still wanted to get an update up, plus spending some time with Maddie helped me process my own emotions. As it usually does. ~Meowser

He wasn't driving her Tuesday, but he made it very clear that she had to put some concealer on and plan to be there Monday. When she briefly mentioned being nervous about the black eye, he just laughed. "You're clumsy, Maddie. Why even hide that? Hell, I bet you could go to your classes and just tell them you fell and they'd believe it. You did fall, honestly."

He smiled at her, and her stomach twisted. She put the finishing touches on her makeup, but she knew that anyone with two brain cells could still tell. She'd just get to class late, and leave early, without talking to her usual friends.

It would be fine.

Doug dropped her at the front of school as usual, and by default, she headed for the coffee shop. She was already halfway there before she stopped to consider that that might not be the best course of action, but shook her head. It's not like anyone there even knew her name even though she went there multiple times a week, and had been since the semester started. She walked the rest of the way, letting her hair fall in front her face as much as possible, and hugged her sweater tight around her as she waited in line. She had her wallet; she'd triple checked after last week, and she was ready to just order, and get out.

She raised her eyes, and froze. Of course. The one person who'd actually pay enough attention to notice that something was up...was standing in front of her. Howie.

He shifted to slide his phone into his back pocket, and his eyes lit up when he saw her. "Maddie," he greeted, and the smile on his face honestly shocked her to the core of her being. Happiness. Joy, even. He was happy to see her. She wondered when the last time was that she'd actually seen Doug happy, seen him smile because she'd joined him. It was always bitterness, criticizing her, just going in and venting about his day before she even got to say hello.

And here was Howie, whose careful eyes had already caught the makeup, and his smile was wilting.

"Hi," she said simply, and then realized she still hadn't paid him back. "Hey, let me get yours today," she said, as he stepped up to order. "Remember, I owe you."

The cashier took this in stride. "So it's together?"

"Yes," Maddie said, before he could protest.

He ordered, and she did too, handing cash to the cashier before stepping over to stand with Howie. "You didn't have to do that," he said. "Really. But I thank you. I appreciate someone who pays their debts."

"You're welcome," she said simply, letting her hair slide in front of her face again. She knew she was being a fool to think that this wouldn't be a tell to anyone who knew her. She always had her hair off of her face, clipped back or in a ponytail. She was also terrified that people would get a closer look, so she'd leave them with weird.

Howie looked at her, tilting his head. "Aren't you...out of town?" He asked slowly, and her eyes widened.

How could she have been so stupid? She'd lied in that email.

"Oh my god," she said. "So yes, I was going to be. But I couldn't at the last minute."

"So you'll be on campus tomorrow?" He said slowly.

She hated herself in that moment. She hated herself for lying, she hated herself for getting caught, she hated herself for being so stupid. "No, I can't," she said, and she could feel the threat of panicked tears. "I'm so sorry for not letting you know, but I still can't be on campus tomorrow even if I'm not..out of town."

Her name was finally called, and she went to grab her cup. Her hands were shaking so badly that she almost dropped it.

"Maddie, are you okay?"

His voice sounded like it was coming from a distance, and she struggled to find the words. She was having a full on panic attack, and she just knew she had to get away.

The coffee slid from her now numb hands, and she stood there, just watching it spill onto the floor. Howie's voice still sounded like it was an echo from far away. "Maddie!"

His hand was on her shoulder, gently shaking it, and Maddie snapped back to the present, seeing the scene around her. Everyone was staring.

She drew in a choked sob, and then ran from the coffee shop.

This time, he followed. He knew that this was probably a stupid idea, but he didn't care. Maddie was obviously the farthest from okay that a person could be, and he was not letting her go through this alone.

She whirled around when she realizing he was following her, and she was sobbing. "Please," she said. "I didn't mean to lie, I just can't tell the truth. Please don't tell Professor Nash. I can't lose my scholarship, I can't drop out."

The tears just kept falling, and she seemed utterly unable to control her reaction to this. "Maddie, I don't care about that," he said, and again, reached to touch her shoulder. "I just want to know if you're okay."

She shook her head, the sobs just increasing, and he took out his phone. "You like cats, right?" He asked, pulling up a picture of the Lees' new kitten. "Look at my friend's kitten."

She slowly seemed to be coming back to herself. He swiped through the whole series, letting her look at all of them, and finally, he pulled a tissue from his pocket. "Here," he said. "Now why don't we go sit down, and we can talk?"

Her body was still shaking, and she just nodded, slowly following him to a table on the edge of the quad. They sat down, and he handed her another tissue, and then carefully reached over to help her take her backpack off. He took the water bottle from the side pocket, and handed it to her. "Have a drink," he suggested, unscrewing the cap for her, and she did so, finally calming as she sipped it. "Do you want to talk?" he asked, after she'd finished. "Or do you need to just sit here? I'm okay with either."

She was folding her arms again, hugging them around her, and there was nothing he wanted more than to just embrace her, hold her, tell her it was going to be alright. That there was nothing she couldn't fix, and that he'd be there for her, every step of the way.

But he couldn't do that, of course.

She drew in a shaky breath, and slowly pulled her hair behind her ears. Her crying and subsequent rubbing with a tissue had succeeded in rubbing off any makeup she'd had on, and she confirmed what he'd already suspected.

She had a black eye.

"You know, it just wasn't the greatest weekend," she said. "Plus my...emergency...I swear, I didn't mean to lie, but the truth is…"

"Too hard to say?" he asked gently. "Maddie, I don't care what you have to do tomorrow. It is not worth this mental anguish. I'm not going to say anything and you aren't going to be punished. Period."

She managed to nod, but he could see the tears welling in her eyes again. "I'm sorry," she said. "I'm so sorry. I'm not usually like this."

"Maddie, it's obvious there is something more than just college stress at play here," he said. "I'm not saying you need to tell me what it is, but you know we have counselors on campus, and they're free with your tuition. It could be really helpful to talk to them."

"I can't," she said. "I just can't."

He bit his lip. "Under Title IX, anything you tell me, or any teacher, we have to report. We're designated reporters. Only the counselors don't have a duty to report."

She tossed her hair back, looking at him straight in the face. "What if I told you something not as a student to teacher?" She asked. "But as friends?"

He cleared his throat. "It would depend on the situation," he said honestly. "But I want to let you know, that depending on what you tell me, I might have to report it."

She shook her head. "Would the campus even get involved if it didn't happen on campus?"

What? He wanted to ask, but he held himself back. "It depends," he said.

"The...the...other...person...involved isn't, um, a student," Maddie began, dragging her words out, and Howie remembered what Hen had said about a big, scary boyfriend. He had a sick feeling in his stomach.

"Like I said, it would depend on the situation," he said. "Anything that I tell the Title IX coordinator would protect your privacy as much as possible."

She looked away, and then looked back to meet his gaze again. "Can you promise to not tell?"

"I just said that I can't," he said. "I wish I could but I'm a university employee. Maddie, we don't have to talk about this. I can set you up with one of the counselors."

She looked tortured. Tears were brimming in her eyes, and she was desperately clutching at her sweater, twisting the ends. He'd hate to see anyone like this, so miserable, and obviously terrified, but to see Maddie like this was a special kind of hell, especially when he couldn't reach over and touch her; comfort her.

He just wanted to touch her shoulder, let her know it would be okay, and open his arms for the hug she probably needed.

She hadn't said anything for a few moments, and Howie opened his own water bottle, taking a long sip, and using the moment to consider his next steps. "You okay?" He asked her, leaning forward as she opened her mouth.

"He hit me," she whispered, the words halting. "My boyfriend. He hit me, and he...he laughed."