[undeserved]

A/N: I, in no way, shape or form think Tony, or any of the guys, are like this. It's fiction - it's make believe. I'll be the first to defend Tony against those bogus accusations, but I must admit … it makes for good storytelling. Who do you picture in the doorway? Sign the guestbook and let me know. :-)

**

The thing was, she never saw it coming.

Sure, his temper had made headlines. His passion. His heated speech and angry words hurled at the offending party. But she'd never seen this. This behavior. This rage. This hatred.

She winced as she touched her jaw, the spot tender and bruising from where his fist had connected with her smooth skin. She scowled at the bruise in the mirror, and wondered how many others were littered across her body at that very moment.

The first time, it was because she had burned dinner for them. It was his first night home in … what … nine weeks? They were going to have a romantic dinner and maybe snuggle and watch a movie. After so long apart, with him gone so much, an uninterrupted night would be nothing short of heaven.

His fist in her eye had put an end to that plan.

After that, it was months until he hit her again. And every time, she thought she deserved it - for missing his phone call, for not getting the right cable channels, for not being home when he got home from the road, for looking like a "slut" when they went to the clubs.

And he was always so sorry afterwards. So tender. So caring.

But when he started hitting her because he had finished badly, or because Home Depot fined him, or because he was mad at Bobby, she began to realize maybe she didn't deserve it.

But she couldn't fight it.

She'd thought about calling the police, but dismissed that out of hand. She thought about breaking up with him, but he would find her. She thought about telling someone … on the team, in the organization, anywhere.

But she couldn't.

He was famous. She wasn't.

He was popular. She wasn't.

He was idolized. She wasn't.

There was no one. No one she could call or tell or confess to. No one but the reflection in the mirror. Tears slid down her cheeks as she closed her eyes. She was so ashamed. And humiliated. And scared.

She had loved him once. And she knew he had loved her.

She could still remember his stammered words as he asked her out for the first time. The smell of his cologne after a shower. The chocolate brown of his eyes welling with tears when she agreed to move in with him.

But that was before. Before he was who he is now. Famous. Popular. Idolized.

So why did that love morph into emotional torture and physical abuse? And why couldn't she walk away?

She had always thought of herself as strong. Independent. Bold.

And look at her now. Tiny, afraid and alone. When you were with one of these drivers, you were nothing more than eye candy, an occasional fuck after a bad race, or someone to pass the time until the crowds surrounded them again, demanding autographs, pictures, a minute of their time.

Why had it taken her so long to figure that out?

She cringed as she put weight on her ankle, hobbling out of the bathroom and down the stairs. She moved silently, as though he were still home. When he was home, she always tried to make herself disappear. Not bring attention to herself. Not prompt him to hurt her.

She screamed when the front door opened suddenly, a figure framed in the lamplight from outside. He said he was going out - he didn't know where, or for how long, but she damn well better be here when he got back.

She blinked and realized the man in the door wasn't Tony. And only one other person had a key.

His face fell as she walked into the light of the hallway. She could see him looking at her bruised face, and searching for other signs of abuse. She wondered if he had known before this moment. If anyone had.

"Oh my god." He breathed, walking inside and closing the door. He reached up to her, slowly and tentatively, but she recoiled out of instinct. He winced, realizing his mistake, and lowered his arm. He slowly moved forward, his arms outstretched.

She fell into them. All the fear, the pain, the humiliation melted away as he arms wrapped around her. She could vaguely hear him murmuring, though she couldn't make out the words. Her tears fell anew, this time because she wondered what Tony would do if he were to walk in the house right now. She trembled at the thought.

He felt her shiver, and pulled her closer. "Why?" He whispered. "How could he?"

She could only shake her head.

"When?" He asked gently.

"Forever." She whispered. "It feels like forever."

"He doesn't deserve you." He muttered. "My god, he doesn't deserve you. Not that he ever did."

"No one does." She murmured. "No one deserves someone so weak and useless and broken."

"You aren't broken." He said, tilting her head up slightly to gaze into her eyes. "Lost, maybe, but never broken."

One tear slid down her cheek, and she sighed. "How did I get this way?"

He couldn't find the words to tell her how amazing she was, how strong she was, and how she could walk away from him. He simply guided her to the door, out into the night and away from the nightmare of her life. She never questioned his actions, his movements, his insistence.

She knew he was right.

This is where she belonged. For the first time in months, she slept. Peacefully. No dreams, no tossing and turning.

He watched her sleep in his bed, her chest rising and falling gently. He knew she was at peace for the first time in a lifetime. And though he silently berated himself for not seeing it before, he vowed she would never know a man's fist again. Know the feeling of falling down stairs. Know the humiliation of bruises and beatings.

She didn't deserve it.

And while he didn't think he deserved her himself, he swore on his life he would protect her. Help her find her way. Find herself.

After so many years of loving her, how could he not?

She deserved the world, and he intended to show her every inch of it. Together.