A/N: It's taken me too long to get this one done, but I think I might be sliding right under the closing door, so to speak, as the Breakout Kings Season 2 premiere will be soon upon us! March can't get here fast enough, but in the mean time, I present a piece I wrote as an alternate ending for the Season 1 finale, "Where in the World is Carmen Vega?" This is a piece featuring Erica and Lloyd, and is dedicated to what I hope to be a budding friendship between them. Please review with courtesy. Flames will not be tolerated.
Title: Come With Me
Summary: When standing at the crossroad of your life, anyone can tell you which path you should take. A friend will hold out their hand and promise to walk that path with you.
Characters: Lloyd Lowry and Erica Reed
Rating: T for mild language
Disclaimer: I do not own any characters or events related to and/or associated with "Breakout Kings". Rights belongs to the respective owners of the series. The given name of Erica's daughter is my creation as well. I just thought it sounded appropriate.
You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing you think you cannot do. ~ Eleanor Roosevelt
"We can't..." the voice in her ear was timid, afraid, "You'll get in trouble..."
"It doesn't matter," Erica said quietly, tucking herself against the bathroom corner with a wary sweep of the room. Still empty...so far. "You'll be safe. That's all that matters."
A quiet sniffle made her heart clench. Tears. She was crying. "I don't want you to be in trouble, Mommy..."
Mommy. The very word brought tears to her own eyes, and she forced them down immediately before they found their way into her voice. How long since she'd been granted that precious title? How long had she been deprived of that wonderful word in her ears? How long had she been locked away in a concrete cell and known only as a number, not as a person? Rarely referred to by her name, and never by that sweet word. Mommy. Mommy.
"Please," the voice was thick with tears now, and Erica felt sick just hearing it. She should be there wiping away each and every tear, making up for the time she'd been away and hadn't been right there. Wiping away tears. Bandaging up scraped knees and bruised elbows. Telling bedtime stories. Doing everything she was supposed to do as a mother. "Please, Mommy...don't do it. I'll be okay."
Even with the dire circumstances around her, Erica couldn't help but smile. Strong. Brave. Selfless. Such a beautiful spirit she had to call her flesh and blood. Her daughter. It was enough to bring a fresh wave of tears to her eyes. This time, they were of pride.
"Just be ready to go if I come." She whispered. "Can you do that for me, angel?"
A long pause followed, but then the silence was broken by a quiet sniff and then her daughter's voice, "Yes, Mommy." Erica tried to pretend the answer didn't sound as reluctant as it really did. She was just nervous. That was it.
She nodded. "Alright...I love you. Don't ever forget that."
Her finger quickly ended the call. Somehow, for some reason, she was afraid to hear her daughter's response. Maybe, for reasons she didn't want to consider, she knew this wasn't what her child wanted. But, she quickly reasoned, she was only a child. Six years old. She would understand when she was older. She would realize why her mother had done the things she had. It was for her. Always for her.
Maybe if she said that enough times, she'd start believing it herself.
Tucking the cell phone back into her pocket, Erica stepped around the corner and came to an abrupt halt. A pair of pale blue eyes met her dark ones, and she knew he'd heard everything. She wasn't sure if the feeling tightening in her stomach was anxiety or something else. Something that might have been along the lines of fear. Maybe.
"I don't have a choice." She said before he even opened his mouth. "I have to protect my daughter."
"Or," Lloyd replied quietly, "you could trust Ray and Charlie to do that."
Erica shook her head firmly. He wasn't going to talk her out of this, no matter what. "They can't protect her...or any of us for that matter. Vega had her own son killed from the inside, and then she tossed her other son to the wolves without a second thought. She doesn't care who she hurts or whose life she destroys...and she doesn't need to be out of prison to do it." Shaking slightly, she stepped closer to him, "Don't you get it, Lloyd? She knows who we are...and she has the long reach. She already got to Shea through Vanessa...what's to stop her from getting to my daughter? Your mom?"
Something tightened in his jaw at her words, but the minute she blinked it was gone. "So the solution is to run?" he asked, not sounding even remotely supportive of her idea. "You know what will happen if you run, Erica. They'll hunt you down."
"They'll never find me." She defended, but he didn't look convinced.
"They found you once before."
"They got lucky." Erica bristled slightly. Intentional or not, his words were pinching a nerve. Again.
"They'll get lucky again." He didn't even look as though he was concerned about poking the sleeping dragon again. If anything, he looked like he had something to say and he was going to say it, with or without the threat of her temper. "They will find you, they will bring you back, and you'll be sent right back to max security. Sentences doubled, Erica. Your daughter won't see you again until she's twice the age you are now."
He paused, letting her absorb all he was saying, and then in a softer voice, he added, "And what about Shea and I? One of us runs, all of us pay the price. Have you even thought about that?" he swallowed quietly, "Or do you just not care?"
Honestly, she was surprised that she did care. Since her father had died, there was no one around that she really needed to worry about—save the obvious exception of her daughter. It was every man (and woman) for themselves. What happened to her co-workers was none of her concern...even if it was her actions that sent them back to max security. Shea could hold his own in there...but not Lloyd. He had more brains than a person could hope for, but he was seriously lacking in any ability to hold his own. She'd seen real distress in his eyes when he talked about his experiences in maximum security before...and he was serving a 25-year sentence. If his sentence was doubled...
"Come with me," she said impulsively. Both were surprised by her words, perhaps him more than herself, but she wasn't bluffing either. He'd been on the run before, and for all his faults, he had reportedly been fairly decent at being a fugitive. If he could just keep out of the casinos, he would last even longer this time. Between the two of them, there was every possibility that the Marshals would never catch them. At least not for a long, long time.
She moved even closer to him, trying to read at least one of the many emotions churning through his pale eyes. It made her crazy when she couldn't read someone. It made people unpredictable when you couldn't even discern what they were thinking, let alone feeling. But if they were under the influence of multiple emotions...there was always the chance of using words to pull one to the surface. Hopefully, a favorable emotion.
"Come with me, Lloyd." She repeated. Her hand rested on his arm, and she watched as he looked down at the touch with anticipation creeping throughout her system. It wouldn't be so bad, really. He was already starting to grow on her...she could probably grow fond of him fairly quickly. Maybe Angelica could even grow to like him too. And if they just stayed together, and he could keep a leash on the gambling problem, then maybe...
As quickly as her enthusiasm had surfaced, it disappeared with his words. Frustration made itself known on her face and in her voice as she dropped her hand from his arm and turned away. "Fine," she said coolly, trying to ignore that she was a little bit disappointed at his response, "you had your chance."
Suddenly, her hand was in his grip, and her movement toward the door was cut short. She turned sharply, at a loss for how to respond. Instinct demanded that she fight and break his hold. No one put their hands on her without paying the consequences. And yet...the very fact that he was even daring to touch her like this stunned her past the point of instinctual reaction. Since when did Lloyd Lowry make the first move?
"I've had plenty of chances in my life," he said quietly, nevertheless looking directly in her eyes. Eye contact without even a blink. Who was this man and what had he done with timid, ever-apprehensive Lloyd? "Plenty of chances to get my act together and stop gambling. Plenty of chances to quit before my debts racked up so high I couldn't possibly hope to pay them all back. Plenty of chances to try and pay it all back the right way. Plenty of chances, Erica...and I blew every one of them. I made my choices based on desperation...and an eighteen-year-old girl paid the price."
"That wasn't your fault, Lloyd." Erica protested, finally voicing what she'd been quietly harboring since he finally came out and told them just what he'd done to earn a 25-year stretch. "She should have known better. She was eighteen, for God's sake! Her boyfriend breaking up with her wasn't the end of the world, and it sure as hell wasn't enough to make her down alcohol with a bunch of pills."
"Maybe not," he said, "But it was my fault that she got her hands on the pills to begin with. I made the choice, and I'm paying the consequences." He looked at her for a long moment. "You make this choice and run, you'll be paying the consequences just the same as I am, Erica. Your daughter will grow up and start a life of her own...all without you in it. Is that what you really want?"
Her gaze slowly dragged down from his face to his hand holding hers, and then finally to the mirror. What she saw made her sick. Dark eyes, blank and hollow. Windows to a soul that felt heavy and broken. Distorted by rage. Consumed by revenge and then left empty once the blood had been spilled. She was a pale reflection of her younger self. The vibrant bounty hunter in-training was gone. The joyful young mother was gone. Only the prisoner remained. The killer being punished for her crimes. Killer, not mother. Killer.
"No," she whispered, and her voice was broken as the tears returned with a vengeance. "that's not what I want at all."
Lloyd nodded, as though he had already known what her answer was going to be. "Then don't run."
The cold tears blurred her vision, distorting the mirror's reflection even more until they were finally freed with a choked sob. Erica pressed both hands to the sink, bowing her head as she clenched the cold porcelain in frustration, grief, and the whole wild array of emotions that were wrecking havoc on her heart. She had only let herself cry like this once before: a chilly fall evening when a police officer, his head bowed low in respect, had knocked on her door and offered five words that had shattered her world. Your father has been murdered. She had cried and cried until she thought she had no more tears left.
Apparently, she still had a few tears to shed.
"Damn it, Lloyd," she managed to say, voice sounding horribly unlike her own around the tears and grief, "Why the hell do you care?"
His hand covered hers, squeezing firmly enough that she forced herself to look at him. His face was as determined as hers was uncertain. His eyes as clear as hers were clouded. When he finally spoke, his voice was more deliberate and confident than she'd ever heard before. "Because I'm your friend, Erica." He said, with the tiniest smile lifting the corners of his mouth, "And I'm going to keep being your friend, whether you like it or not."
The tears gradually slowed as she contemplated his words. A friend...it was easy enough to consider him a colleague, a co-worker in this strange "job" they shared. She only knew him because two U.S. Marshals considered them both worthy of this privilege and possessing talents useful to the cause. If not for her tracking skills and his behavioral knowledge, they would never have known each other. She probably could have gone on living completely ignorant of his existence, and without any consequence to never having met him.
But she had met him. She did know him. He was here with her. He'd followed her in here, probably having a clear idea of what she intended to do. A small part of her wanted to hate his ability to analyze her thoughts and actions so precisely that he could discern unspoken intentions before even Ray or Charlie suspected something was out of place with her. The rest of her, though...it almost made her want to thank him.
A friend...could she really have a friend?
She shook her head, "You're going to get tired of me really fast." she said dryly, wiping her eyes with the hand not in his grasp. "Short temper...twisted sense of humor...all-around, I can be a real pain in the ass."
He only smiled, and it was the most absurdly gentle expression she'd ever seen. "Funny...I happen to possess the same shortcomings as yourself." The smile grew a little bit, "Except that I lack your particularly effective right-hook."
Against her better judgment, Erica found herself laughing a little. It was a weak laugh, watered down with her tears, but still a laugh. "I suppose I could be persuaded to teach you a thing or two about right-hooks." She said after a minute.
"I'll look forward to it." He replied, still smiling. Strange how she'd never realized how at ease he looked when he was smiling. It was almost unnatural to see him any other way. The ridiculous little grin he got when reviewing a "fascinating" fugitive file. The cocky little smirk he got when showing off his 210 IQ. The genuine smile he was giving her now. It made her want to keep him smiling as long as possible.
A knock at the bathroom door interrupted the moment, startling both of them as Ray's voice called from the other side, summoning them downstairs to the pizza parlor. A silence lingered over them as the Marshal's heavy footsteps moved away from the door. If she still wanted to run, this was her last chance. She could use the back stairs and make it a good distance away before they even spotted her.
Her eyes lifted back to Lloyd, finding him by the door with his hand outstretched for her. The smile was still there in his eyes, even if his expression was more serious now.
"Come with me, Erica."
She nearly shivered as her own words were echoed back to her. Strange how they could have such a different meaning now than only a few minutes earlier. Come with me, and prove that she was better than they all thought her to be. Prove that she could hold out for just a little longer, no matter how hard it got. Prove that she would return to her daughter sooner rather than later. Prove that she was still the strong spirit her father raised her to be.
Prove that she could put someone else's interests before her own. Prove that she really was part of a team, and she wouldn't make Shea and Lloyd suffer for her choices.
Her hand slowly rested down in his with a tiny smile. The hand of her friend.
Let's get drunk.
The sheer simplicity of such a statement, coupled with that unbearably hilarious smile on his face, made Erica laugh to herself even as she settled back against the cushions of the prison transport van. The warm buzz of alcohol had left her feeling pleasantly heavy and limp, the tensions of earlier soothed away from her bones. The absence of handcuffs around her wrist—Charlie's request to the transporting guards—was an added bonus, and with a content sigh she shifted in the seat to look at Lloyd. He was resting against the windows beside her, eyes closed, but she knew he wasn't sleeping. Shea, on the other hand, was dozing in the seat behind both of his colleagues. The low and heavy sound of his breathing was quite audible.
"So," Erica said quietly, resting her head against one hand, "if I do teach you how to fight...am I going to hear that you've been throwing punches left and right in Maybelle, just because you can?"
Lloyd lifted his eyebrows, though his eyes remained closed, "I, Miss Reed, am a paradigm of pacifism. The very idea that I would resort to such behavior is insulting."
Erica rolled her eyes and shoved his shoulder. "You're such a liar," she smirked, "Just because you can't shoot a gun or throw a punch doesn't make you a pacifist. It just makes you the perfect student for a willing teacher."
He finally opened his eyes, turning on his side to look at her with a broad smile. "I can't pay you for the lessons, you know."
"Then I suppose I'll just have to teach you out of the goodness of my heart." She replied smoothly, tucking her legs beneath her on the seat. "That is...assuming you still intend on keeping me around?"
It was half a joke, half a serious question. He'd declared himself her friend a few short hours earlier, but there was plenty of time for him to take it back. She wouldn't begrudge him for it. She wasn't exactly known for keeping friends, after all. And she had no illusions about her uncanny ability to drive people away.
"I think I could do that," he said without hesitation, meeting her gaze, "Do you plan on doing the same?"
The smile that appeared on her face was quite unlike any smile she'd given before. Almost like the smile of a child eagerly greeting her father as he walked through the front door. The smile she gave only to a few people in this world. "I think I just might." Erica murmured, resting her head on the seat with a soft sigh, "I just might."
She watched as he smiled once more before leaning against the windows again, hands folding over his stomach and eyes closing. Her eyes remained on his smile for a long moment, wanting to brand the image in her memory before they reached Maybelle and she had no hope of seeing it again for days, maybe even months. There was no guarantee for when they would be called out again, and until then she wouldn't see him or Shea at all. That smile, though, just might keep her going for a little while longer. The smile of her friend.
Her eyes closed as well, finally content to simply rest until they arrived at the prison. But just before peace and quiet could fully settle over the van and its few passenger, a voice spoke up from the back seat, laced with exasperation.
"Oh, come on now," Shea demanded, "are you two gonna kiss or not?"