candle on the water.
by allecto

Abuse warning.

Much thanks go to Silvia for helping me flesh out the bunny and to Ceili for encouraging me along the way.

It's cold, and the cement wall is uncomfortable, and there's an unceasing stench from the garbage, but they won't serve her drinks inside, so she might as well smoke. At least she's legal enough for that, though the publicists will yell if there are grainy photos.

It doesn't even occur to her to worry about smoking while Eminem is out there. Like she should give a shit. Justin's just dumped her, and she feels small, insignificant. Incomplete.

He isn't even a blip on her radar, really, until she feels his eyes on her body, staring. He's undressing her -- she can tell, because everybody does it. But usually it's to wonder what's underneath, to build her up as something bigger, better, sexier, beyond reach. When Justin undressed her, it was with meticulous care, and he paused in his mental imaging to polish up her pedestal, every so often.

He makes her feel dirty. There's a sneer in his eyes, like she's beneath him, somehow. Covering up something unworthy with her clothes. Like she's a sheep, in wolf's clothing. Or maybe it's the other way round?

She grinds her cigarette under her toe, hardly noticing when the rain water seeps into the satin of her shoes. She has nice legs, long legs. Legs she spent ages perfecting, exercising, toning until Justin got just the right look of need in his eyes, and the inevitable knowledge that she was untouchable.

"What're you looking at?"

His eyes sweep over her again, cold. Disgusted. "Nothing. According to Timberlake, anyway."

"Excuse me?"

He takes her chin in his hand -- in his dirty hand, his palm that was resting against the wall, and she can feel his fingers smudging her make-up when he pinches her, hard -- and turns her face to profile, eyeing her again.

"Nothing," he says. "I ain't looking at shit."

She doesn't even think about it, just hurls herself at him, nails out, and manages a satisfying scrape along one cheek before he's grabbed her wrists.

"So the kitten thinks it has claws?" he says, and the smirk is still in his eyes, and she wants *so* *bad* to knock it away.

"Fuck you."

She can't get her wrists loose -- his hands aren't as big as Justin's, but his fingers meet anyway, in a vice, squeezing her, and she thinks she might be bruised in the morning.

He pushes her back, slowly, back, back, her arms yanked over her head, her shoes soaked in dirty rainwater. She hits the wall, and still he pushes her, her skin imprinting cement and dirt and he's grinding against her, pushing closer, closer, so tight she can't breathe, and it's then he kisses her.

It's nothing like she's ever been kissed before, this time, with his tongue plunging into her mouth. It's almost brutal, and he takes both her wrists in one hand, the other swiping down her body, mauling her, and it's deep and dirty and pulling something out of her she didn't know was there.

She whimpers into his mouth, and when he laughs, she yanks her arms free -- finally -- and grabs his face, kisses him again, this time exploring *his* mouth, refusing to give ground. He slams her back, looks at her for a second, calculating, then ducks his head and bites her, hard. His teeth cut into her neck, and she tosses her head, exposing more skin to him, moaning when his teeth break the surface and her blood pours into his lips.

Then, just as suddenly, he's gone, leaving her gasping into cold air.

"That's to remember me by," he says, and disappears into the club.

Her neck and mouth and wrists are throbbing, her skin covered in grit and rain.

And she's out of cigarettes.

* * *

She runs into him by accident a few weeks later, at another club. This time they're serving her, and the alcohol pours down her throat. With Justin, she used to drink vodka, cool and smooth, coating her vocal chords. Now she drinks whiskey, straight up, lets it burn its way to her stomach. Her skin feels on fire, like she's being eaten from the inside out, and she laughs, low, when she sees him, clamps a hand on his arm, drags him into the night.

This time their lips meet on purpose, this time she doesn't give ground. His fingers curl around her waist, digging, trying to push her off him, pull her to him. Her nails leave crimson streaks down his neck, and when he bites her for rememberance, she licks the blood they left behind.

It's metallic, tangy, with salt from his skin, and she drinks it like whiskey, revels when it burns down her throat.

The night air envelopes her, soothes the flush from her cheeks. It's still cold, though, and leaves an aching in her lungs, the back of her mouth.

She leans against the wall, counting heartbeats, and lets her breathing scour her chest.

* * *

A few days later, and the bitemarks haven't faded yet, they're still a faded purple on her golden skin, and he's there, ready to renew them again.

She tilts her head the other way, offers up the unblemished side of her neck, so he gives her matching scars.

She, too, has made a mark, long thin scratches down his neck like clawmarks. It thrills her, in some deep ugly place she has yet to explore. *She* did that to him. She thinks if they were dogs, they'd piss on each other, and pulls him closer, sinks him deeper into her throat.

"Bitch," he tells her, when she digs half-moons into the flesh behind his ear.

"You know it," she says, and when he grins, she kisses him again, shoves him back against the rough concrete, wipes the smirk off his face.

They're covered in dirt, and blood, and each other, and when he hoists her onto the top of the dumpsters, pounds inside her, fills her with his poison, it's more than she'd ever hoped it would be.

And less.

* * *

Somehow, dumpsters turn into motels turn into his house, and they're fucking on a mattress on the floor. It's not like he can't afford better, but he doesn't seem to give a shit, and neither does she. If the occasional spring breaks through and scratches her back, it's hard to distinguish from the crimson streaks he marks her with.

If she wore tank tops, everyone would see that her neck has been daily annointed by his teeth. He also restricts himself to long-sleeved shirts, covering the bruises and toothmarks, the scars from nails that she shapes into points.

Her fingers are covered in reddish-brown flecks, and she can no longer tell if it's dirt, or rust, or his blood coating her hands.

He hits her, once. His latest song is on the radio, and she hears Chris' name, looks up, catches his eye. He was watching her, waiting for her reaction.

"You piece of *shit*."

"What did you say?" he asks, and his eyes glitter dangerously, something she's come to look for. To anticipate.

"I said, you are a worthless, motherfucking piece of--"

He slaps her, hard, her whole body spinning around, and when she turns back to him, the same look fills her eyes.

He licks his lips, and when her fist slams into his jaw, he's grinning.

She remembers hating that grin, once. Wanting to wipe it off his smug, cock-sucking face.

When she sees it now, it excites her. A little thrill starts humming deep inside her, and her fingers itch for contact.

Her back slams into the fridge, the handles smacking right between her shoulder blades, and she hitches her legs up around his waist, already wet for his touch. His hands bruise her hips, clutching her, holding her up while he thrusts deep and hard, ripping into her.

He never disappoints.

She arches closer, hissing. When he plunges his tongue into her mouth, she clamps down with her teeth, and comes a second before he does.

"Bitch," he whispers, dropping her.

She laughs, catches his lips with her own. "You know it," she says in his ear.

He grunts, pushes her away, and that's as good a response as any.

"You don't even like me," he says.

"Neither do you. That's the fun of it, right?"

He traces the bruise on her cheek with his tongue, and she shivers.

"Yeah," he says.

She lies in bed alone that night, and finds herself missing his body, snoring loudly beside her. Tossing restlessly.

Catching her calf with his foot.

* * *

She's not stupid; she goes to the awards show alone.

Chris catches her near the bathroom, dropping an illegally smoked cigarette into a potted plant. His hand brushes her sleeve -- long sleeves, to cover the faint blue shadow of fingers circling her wrists. She thrills at his touch, but it's not enough, too sweet, too soft, too much.

"Brit? You okay?"

"Yeah," she says, watching the embers on her cigarette die. "Yeah, I'm fine."

"You don't look it."

Her eyes flicker up to his. Soft, brown, concerned eyes, sweeping her, but not to undress her, not to hit her or fuck her or polish a pedestal.

"You look like shit," he says.

He always tells the truth. Pulls it out of her.

"I feel like shit," she says.

"And yet you're fine." He sounds amused. She doesn't understand that -- she is fine.

"I *am* fine," she says.

The last light in the cigarette flickers out, and she brushes Chris' hand off her arm.

"I *am* fine," she says.

His forehead crinkles, realization dawning in his eyes. "Brit--"

"I *am* fine," she says. And goes back to her seat.

Later that night, next morning, he rips her shirt off, tells her she's a cunt, a whore, a bitch.

"I saw you," he says, "'Cause we went seperate, you think I didn't see? I got an eye on you, bitch. I saw you. With that pansy-assed--"

She back-hands him viciously, jerking him around. When he fucks her on top of the table, splinters in her back, bone slamming into bone, she exults in it.

This is her fault.

* * *

"Who is he?" Chris asks her after the VMAs. She's stuck behind him in the long line of people making their way to limos, waving for the cameras, preparing to get shit-faced, and when he turns, slids an arm around her waist, whispers in her ear, there's nowhere for her to run to.

Chris' hand rests, warm, on the fabric covering the small of her back. J-Lo came half naked again, smooth golden skin glittering in the lights. Her own skin is a pale white, now, freckled with red scars, blue bruises. She called it patriotic, last time she looked. He laughed, and bit her again.

"Who?" she says.

"Whoever's beating the shit out of you."

She flinches, unprepared. She doesn't go out much, anymore, prefers the musky air of his aparment, the beer cans littering the floor, the familiar, blood-stained wallpaper.

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"Don't you?"

She makes a move towards her limo, but he follows her, holding her close. She can feel Justin's eyes on the back of her head and wonders if he, too, can see the layers of dirt she's coated herself with. She pauses at the open door, scans her mind for ways to make Chris leave.

"I'm going home," she tells him.

"Really? Last I heard, you hadn't been home in months."

She looks down, sullen. "My mother?"

"Your maid."

"Why are you doing this?"

"Because you don't deserve it." He cups her chin, forcing her to meet his eyes. "And whoever he is, he doesn't deserve you."

"I like it, okay? It's not like. I hit him back."

"Britney. This isn't you."

"It's in me," she says.

"No," Chris says firmly. "No. It's in him."

She knocks his hand away, sliding into the limo. He catches the door when she tries to slam it.

"It's him," he says, and shuts the door gently, leaving her alone at last.

* * *

Hailie's over for the weekend, so she leaves them alone. She's not sure if he'd want her there anyway, not with his daughter. Even if Hailie could understand, he wouldn't want her too. She shouldn't have to.

All the food in her fridge has gone bad, so she calls Rob and heads to the store. When she gets back, Chris is waiting in the driveway, and Rob won't meet her eyes.

"Don't," she says.

"I didn't say a word."

"Keep it that way."

He takes a bag of groceries from her arms, helps her unpack.

Between washing the apples and the peaches, he asks, "Moving back permanently?"

"No," she says.




"Don't!" she says. "I *like* it, okay?"

"No." Chris puts the peaches on the table, and when he cups her face, his hands are still damp. "It's not okay," he says. "It's wrong, Brit. It's so wrong. And if you don't get out soon, it's gonna kill you."


"I've seen it," Chris says. She wants to shove him away, brush the tears from his eyes. "I'm not gonna let you do this to yourself."

"I like it," she says.

He kisses her forehead. "I know," he says. "I know."

* * *

Chris spends the night on her couch.

He spent a lot of nights there, when she was dating Justin. He said he didn't need a bed to be comfortable, and curled up under a lap blanket her grandmother made when she was six.

"Go home," she tells him in the morning, after she's fixed him coffee.

"Stay home," he tells her as he adds more sugar.

She glares at him, and drinks her coffee black.

* * *

She tries to leave, on Monday, go back to the apartment. The comfort of brown-flecked wallpaper, linoleum, and a mattress on the floor. He's there, wanting her, she knows he is. His daughter's gone, he'll need her. Need to hit something, or someone, or fuck himself into oblivion.

Chris is in front of the door.

"You need to stay," he says.

"Fuck you." She shoves him, hard, and he just takes it. Shakes his head.

"I'm not gonna hit you, Britney."

She glares, shoves him again, smacks at his chest. "Fuck. You."

Chris wraps his arms around her, holding her. She tries to hit him, but she's too close, can't gain enough force.

He won't hit her back.

"Shhh," he murmurs in her ear. "It's okay. It's okay."

She wants to shriek at him, yell, ask what the fuck he's talking about, because nothing is okay, not even remotely close, and he won't fucking *react*, won't give her something to play off, but she can't form the words around the lump in her throat, and she realizes, suddenly, that she's crying.

She's *crying*.

She hasn't cried since Justin, since she dropped to her knees and begged him not to leave her, and he hauled back to her feet, kissed her cheek, and walked away.

She's crying.

"Shhh," Chris says, rocking her, and somehow her arms are entwined 'round his neck, and he's sweeping a hand up and down her back. "Shhh."

She clings to him, lost, curling herself in his arms. His body vibrates with sympathy. Understanding. He kisses the top of her head, her temple, her cheek.


It feels nice.

* * *

Chris asks her if there's anything at the apartment that she needs, wants. If she wants him to get it for her.

She doesn't know whether to cry or to laugh, because the only thing there that she wants is the one person Chris refuses to let her have.

* * *

"This person," Chris says, "it isn't you. You're not like him, Brit. I swear you're not."

"Who am I, then?"

"Why don't you tell me."

She shakes her head.

"If I'm not her, then I have no fucking clue."

"You do," Chris says, "if you'll let yourself look."

He is infinitely patient with her. She doesn't understand how he can't have lost his temper yet. Why he lets her scream and rage and cry and complain and all he ever does is smile sadly. Hold her close.

She doesn't mind being held anymore, has grown used to it again, though she itches to shower before she lets him touch her. She can feel the layers of blood and dirt, picks at them with her nails until she sets scabs bleeding again.

Chris sighs and sends Rob out to buy more band-aids, and never scratches for her.

* * *

She won't go to Lousiana for Christmas, can't let her sister see her face. The bruises have faded, but she can still feel them, hovering beneath the surface of her skin, ready to pop out in polite company and tell the world that Britney Spears was abused.

Chris takes her to his mother's, refuses to let her stay home and mope.

Beverly hugs her, kisses her cheek, like Chris does every morning. Molly and Kate and Emily smile. Their sons and daughters crowd around her, and Taylor climbs into her lap, proclaiming it the seat of honor.

She catches Chris' eye, and when he nods at her, she slips an arm around Taylor's waist, and hugs her like she's Jamie Lynn.

"Merry Christmas," Taylor tells her.

"Merry Christmas."

* * *

She runs into him at a Grammies after party. He rakes her up and down, with his gaze, shoves her into a corner. Chris is getting drinks, and she's alone with him, aching to hurt him back.

"I suppose you think you're better 'n' me now," he says.

Chris turns around, seeing her. He sets his jaw, and hurries to her side through the crowded room.

"Yes," she says. "I am."

He spits, pushes her into Chris' arms. She watches him storm away, feeling raw and used and trying desperately not to like it.

Chris kisses her, in front of the entire room of party-goers. In front of him. In front of Justin. "You are," he says in her ear, after. "You are."

She closes her eyes, nods her head.

If she pretends hard enough, long enough, maybe someday she'll believe it's true.

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