A/N: WARNING: DO NOT READ IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN "AN UNJUST DEATH" (SEASON 2 PREMIERE)
Well, following the devastating mess that was the season premiere of "Breakout Kings", I was inspired through my tears to put together a little fic. This one is set at the ending of "A Unjust Death", and like my other fics, it centers around Lloyd and Erica's reactions to Charlie's death. I know I don't give Shea enough love, and I'll try to fix that in the future, but for the sake of this piece...Erica and Lloyd seemed better fit.
Summary: Even in the aftermath of tragedy, a moment of solace can be found.
Characters: Erica Reed, Lloyd Lowry
Disclaimer: I do not own any characters or events related to "Breakout Kings". I own only the idea for this story.
"The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone."
Harriet Beecher Stowe
Scrub. Scrub. Scrub.
The soap was white only for a short moment. Seconds later, in the time it took to blink twice, it was pink. One more blink, and it was a pale red. Red foam slicked across pale skin. It was becoming difficult to see what was blood and what was bloody soap.
Scrub. Scrub. Scrub.
His hands were aching, silently protesting the rough treatment they were presently enduring. Their protests went unheard. Ignored. Dismissed. So long as that stain remained on his hands, he would keep scrubbing. He had to keep scrubbing. It was the only way to get it out. To get it off.
Scrub. Scrub. Scrub.
The water was running hot. Too hot. Steam was slowly curling over the sink, fogging the tips of the mirror. He was probably boiling his skin. But the stain was still there. He had to get it out. Had to get it off. Had to. Had to. Had to.
A third hand, this one built a bit smaller but with slender fingers and palm, silently reached out and twisted the dials. The water flow ceased almost immediately, leaving only his hands in the sink. They were shaking. He was shaking.
The hand was joined by another holding a paper towel, taking him by the wrists and lifting them from the worn porcelain. Firmly, they clasped the towel around his soaked and reddened hands—whether by blood or the sheer heat that had been poured on them for the last five minutes, he wasn't sure anymore—and slowly began to rub them dry.
He slowly lifted his eyes to Erica's face, but her gaze was focused on his hands and her un-appointed task. Her hair hung thick and tangled around her cheeks. There were dark shadows slowly growing around and beneath her eyes, and her expression was gaunt. The skin looked drawn and tight across the bones. For anyone else, such a transformation would have made one look older, but not Erica. She looked like a much younger version of herself, broken down by grief yet trying to maintain dignity and composure when she knew it to be a futile task.
But Lloyd wasn't about to pass judgment. He knew he looked worse.
His gaze drifted down to her hands. There was blood still smeared across her fingers and her palms, staining the paper towel a faded red. Silently, he slipped his hands from her hold and directed them into the sink. This time, he checked the water temperature more carefully before bringing her hands underneath it. She didn't fight him. Didn't offer a word of objection. Didn't do anything, really.
Her hands were very different from most women. Slender in build, calloused in texture. They lacked the smoothness of most females, and they were more equipped to deliver a punch than a tender caress. They were used with the skill and deliberation of a hunter, a tracker, and would never be utilized for dainty activities like any common housewife. There was nothing common or ordinary about these hands, just as there was nothing common or ordinary about their owner.
He turned the water tap off and tossed the soiled paper towel away before retrieving a new one. He carefully brushed the clear droplets from her skin. The blood was gone from both her hands. It was gone from his skin too, but he could still see the stain. It was imprinted into his skin like a brand.
The paper towel was crumpled and tossed away just like its fellow. Silence resumed in the bathroom, leaving both alone with their own thoughts. Only when her fingers tightened within his hold did he look back at her. Her jaw was clenched. A distinct redness was blossoming within her eyes, accompanied by a thin, nearly indiscernible sheen of tears.
"We were right there." Erica's voice didn't even sound like her own. Low. Choked. Tight. "We were right there. And we lost him. He slipped right through our hands...just like that bastard." Venom coated her tongue as she spat the word, and her hands curled into fists.
"Why?" she cut over him, shaking in her rage. Rage...and grief. "Why did we lose him? Why the hell couldn't we help him? We were right there!"
Her hands ripped out of his hold and flew against the wall, missing the mirror by mere inches. The thud of the impact echoed throughout the small room and, if he wasn't mistaken, left a tiny dent in the dry wall. No doubt she was going to have bruises along her palms and wrists for at least a month.
"I know," he whispered, hand curling in on itself. He almost wished for the paper towel to still be in his hand; his fingernails, while short and relatively harmless, were digging down into his palm. He may not have yet broken the skin, but it still hurt. "I know, Erica...I know."
The sound of his voice seemed to ground her a little more, and she slowly turned back to face him with a mildly guilty expression. After a long moment, she sighed heavily. "I'm sorry," her tone was apologetic, but her eyes were downcast, leaving him unable to read her expression further, "I know you tried, Lloyd. You...you did everything you could."
She didn't sound like she fully believed her words, and he certainly didn't believe them.
Lloyd shook his head, his jaw tight. "Don't," he said firmly, gripping the sink's edge with whitened knuckles, "don't...don't make me out to be anything, especially not a hero. I'm a failure." His grip tightened. "A failure...just like my mother's always making me out to be."
"He was right there, Erica! Just like you said!" he brought a fist down on the sink, hard. It hurt like hell and he couldn't be bothered to care. "I was there...it was my hand that couldn't stop the bleeding. It was through my hands that he slipped...and it was me who failed. Again...just like I did with Damien. I just...I just can't do anything right. No matter what I do, no matter how hard I try, I just—"
Her hand moved faster than he could comprehend, and then her palm made a sharp contact with his cheek. It wasn't the hardest blow she could have dealt, but it still stung. Quite a bit, in fact. And it was with enough force to bring his head snapping to one side. She hadn't lost her touch. The overwhelming and unpredictable emotion fueling her motions only added the ferocity of such a blow.
"Don't you dare do that." Erica whispered, shaking more violently than before. For once, he couldn't tell if it was from grief or rage, "Don't you dare make yourself out to be the victim here, and don't you even think about acting like you're the only one who lost him! We all lost him, damn it! He was our boss. Our leader! Ours! Damien took Charlie from all of us, not just me, and not just you! All of us!"
He didn't speak for a long minute, the harsh reality of her words seeping down through his ears, down into his senses...maybe even to the very marrow of his bones. His skin tingled from her stinging blow, but he didn't blame her for it. Really, he should thank her. There were, after all, worse ways to get sense knocked into you.
"You're right." His voice was so soft, so low that she almost didn't hear it. If she hadn't been looking at him and watched his lips move, she probably wouldn't have believed he had said anything at all. In silence, she waited for him to continue, but he didn't. Not for a long, long minute. Maybe it was an hour, maybe only five minutes. Time didn't exist anymore. It was in eternal suspension, leaving everything and everyone lost to a sluggish stupor. Maybe it was better this way. If Time ceased to properly function, maybe she could pretend the events of earlier hadn't happened at all.
But then her eyes drifted down to the bloodied paper towels, and she knew it was true. Charlie wasn't waiting for them outside. He wasn't going to walk through the door and tell them it was time to go and he'd see them again soon. He was gone. Gone. Murdered.
Slowly, almost timidly, Lloyd's hands lifted to grasp hers. For reasons even she didn't understand, she didn't stop him. And when his hold tightened, drawing her deliberately forward, towards him, still she didn't stop him. Honestly, she didn't think she had the energy to do so. And, if she were honest with herself...she was a little curious as to what he was doing.
"We'll get Damien." Lloyd whispered, and there was more conviction in his voice this time. A resolve she'd only heard once or twice before. And when their eyes met, there was a distinct flicker in his eyes that she recognized without fail: Revenge.
"Will we?" she asked, her voice just as soft but lacking his determination. She felt defeated. The usual fire of her spirit was as though physically drained from her being, just like Charlie's blood had drained across her hands. Hers and Lloyd's. Drained and leaving only a crimson stain that could never be fully removed, no matter how hard one tried to wash it out. The physical evidence could be removed, but the memory of that horrid color would never fully fade.
"Yes," he nodded, holding her hands so tightly she thought they might break under the pressure. Still, she didn't try to pull away. She simply allowed the touch. Willed and silently prayed that his resolve would seep back into her, rekindle the fire in her veins through nothing but the connection between their hands. "We will. We will hunt him. We will find him. And he will pay for taking Charlie from us."
He stepped closer, and their foreheads were almost touching. "But for right now," Lloyd's voice grew quiet, grief once more settling into his posture as he kept her close, "it's time to grieve. And to mourn...and to cry."
Erica shook her head slowly, "I...I haven't cried since..." she didn't need to finish her sentence. He already knew what she was talking about. He understood. Just as in so many other things...he understood.
"Then...maybe it's time to cry again."
Rage and frustration dissolved away with his words, leaving nothing but bone-deep weariness and grief in its place, and she let herself slump against his chest. Strange to think she'd once believed him to be weak and fragile, pathetically so, and now she was clutching at him like a lifeline. The only lifeline she had as the violent storm of her emotions tossed her heart about with the care and concern that a child shows a ragdoll. Every sob felt like sandpaper cutting against her throat, steadily draining her and replacing the emptiness left behind with nothing but another crippling wave of grief. It was a little like vomiting, each tear-slicked heave racking her lungs and burning her from the inside out, leaving her limp and empty. Leaning heavily on him and digging her nails down into his back. Maybe she was cutting through his shirt and breaking the skin beneath, or maybe she was just setting unpleasant pressure on him. Either way, he didn't move or object. He simply stood there, stronger than she could have imagined, his arms secured around her and holding her upright when she didn't trust her legs to do so.
She had no memory of being comforted like this before, just as she had little memory of allowing grief of this magnitude to overwhelm her. She was weak and vulnerable in this state, and yet he wasn't taking advantage of that. He wasn't stroking her hair and crooning in her ear, promising it would be alright when it really wouldn't be. He wasn't saying anything at all, in fact. He wasn't letting his hands wander when it was abundantly clear that she lacked any strength or energy to fight him off. His hands simply remained at the base of her shoulder blades, the touch secure enough to remind her that she was being held, but careful and...dare she say, gentle enough that she knew exactly who was holding her. Reminding her that she had nothing to fear from this embrace. There was only safety while she let herself cry.
It seemed like an eternity passed before her senses finally returned. Her face felt heavy and stiff under the weight of shed tears, now dried against her skin. Shaking slightly from the emotional catharsis she'd just endured, she carefully retracted her grip and shifted away from him. He released her without qualm, and she moved back to the sink, throwing cold water across her face and leaving a subtle, but still evident, sense of relief in place of exhaustion. Physically, she was still drained and weak, but there was something about setting her emotions free through tears that left her feeling light...even free.
The simple fact that she hadn't been alone, that she'd trusted someone else with her weakness...it only brought a sense of relief because he hadn't betrayed that trust.
Tossing away the now-damp towel she'd used to clean her face, she lifted her eyes back to find Lloyd gazing absently out the small window. Sensing her attention, he looked back at her. It was not yet the time for smiles, for grief was still present and a heavy weight upon the atmosphere. Yet even so, her stride was deliberate and without hesitation as she closed the distance between them and curled her arms tightly around his shoulders. Then, with a careful tilt of her head, she gently brought her lips to his cheek.