Lucia knew for fuckin sure that her life was quickly spiraling out of control when she caught herself standing dead in the middle of a shopping mall hung over, hands clasped over her tits, and freshly aware that her phone was neither in her pockets or tucked into her bra. It was more than likely on her nightstand, right next to the pills she forgot to take, and about three feet from a very naked Johnny Gat, who she could never see or speak to ever again if she could help it.
Thankfully there was a pay phone just a few steps away and just enough cash stuffed in her hoodie pocket to order a pizza to her apartment. She’d be able to spend the rest of the night wallowing without her pants on, which was an upgrade to wallowing in a nail salon, a shoe store, a garage, a mall…
Newly miserable, Lucia pushed her shades up, her baseball cap down, and made a beeline for the clunky blue box just left of one of those as-seen-on-TV stores. According to the stoned teenager on the other end of the line, she had 45 minutes to make it home unnoticed and hunker down for the rest of her shameful, guilt-ridden life. Riding just the side streets and back roads, she made it to her building in 15.
Lucia’s apartment was a precaution that Pierce had forced her to take when they finally got back up on their feet again, mostly because he refused to be caught in Shaundi’s ex-boyfriend’s flat the next time someone decided to try and blow their shit up again. That she never used it was made pretty fucking obvious by the fact that she did not remember buying any of the furniture, or hiring anyone to clean the damn place. No, everything from the living room set straight out of a catalog to the fucking potpourri and the weird, colorful paintings were touches of Pierce Washington.
Maybe in the morning she’d be in the mood to laugh about it all, but for the moment all she wanted to do was sink into the purple throw pillows on the couch and disappear.
Lucia threw her shades, hat, hoodie, and shorts into a pile in the corner of the room, set the pizza money on the coffee table, and did just that. It was only when the cushions didn’t swallow her whole that she turned on one of those cooking shows where some old lady made it her life goal to cook a whole meal out of butter and willpower, which would have made her feel better if she could just focus. Instead her brain kept wandering between guilt and self-loathing and guilt and a loneliness that settled so deep in her stomach she was perfectly willing to call it hunger.
Then again, the box under her TV said it was already 8:22pm. She’d booked it out of HQ before ten that morning and hadn’t eaten since, so all things considered there was also like, real hunger.
Hunger she could live with, though; being broke in Stilwater kept her fridge empty enough in the past and she made it through alright. It was the fucking guilt that would get her this time, because she was just so fucking happy to have Johnny back from Phillippe’s weird dungeon she let herself get trashed and nostalgic and she let one stupid kiss lead them all the way into her bed. Everything about the night before was fuzzy except for the moment he put his hand on her chin and she lost her fucking mind, body, soul, all in one fucking instant. Now she just had the rest of her life to curse herself for it.
8:32 and the pizza guy was early. She’d wasted ten minutes reliving the same moment in such vivid detail that the pounding in her temples quickened to match her heart rate. Lucia tried not to look flustered as she flew off the couch and towards the door, determined to finish this exchange as quickly as possible so that she could throw herself stomach-first into a food coma.
Unfortunately, Johnny was always a good deal stronger than her, so when Lucia tried to slam the door shut in his face, he caught it just inches short of closed. Defeated, she slumped her back against the damn thing and crossed her arms, knowing that her full weight would do nothing to help her against a man who was twice her size.
His first question was a fair one. “... Where are your pants?”
“I thought you were the pizza guy.”
“The fuck is this? An 80s porno?” Lucia scowled, but said nothing. “Are you gonna talk to me?”
“Now you’re just being an asshole. I brought your pills and your phone.” Lucia pushed back against the door to make her point. Caught in the middle of being a bit of a hypocrite, Johnny sighed and let it shut.
“Alright, now will you please fucking let me in?” Lucia gave herself a moment to gather the strength to say no, but then went ahead and fucked herself over anyway.
Johnny was leaning on the railing of the landing when she showed herself again, holding the advantage by virtue of both pants and sunglasses. Clinging to some shred of dignity, Lucia put a hand out and cleared her throat; he was only allowed inside once he handed back her pills and her phone. After that, she didn’t let him in so much as she just kind of left the door open as she padded back into the kitchen. While she took her meds and started catching up on a day’s worth of texts, he ditched his jacket on the back of the couch and slumped down in front of the TV.
“How much fucking butter can you put in a cake before it’s just cake-flavored butter?” he asked no one in particular. Lucia’s stomach started doing hangover gymnastics again as soon as she caught herself staring at the way his shirt stretched across his shoulders.
Eight more minutes until she had a pizza to fill the guilt-hole forming inside her.
The problem with avoiding someone was that they were so much harder to avoid when they were sitting in the same room. Lucia tried to make some sort of point by saving his texts for last while she responded to … literally every other lieutenant who apparently lost their entire collective shit when she disappeared for a day. She had stacks of messages from Shaundi, Pierce, Kinzie, Oleg… and one delivery notification from Jose. Betrayed by a 16-inch pepperoni pizza with extra cheese and jalapenos.
The worst part was that there were still nineteen notifications in an angry little red bubble even after she was done clearing out the rest. She took one last quick glance to make sure that Johnny wasn’t watching her squirm, and then tapped his name in her inbox.
what the fuck was that?
Not the best start. Not like she had an answer for him though.
pierce is making a food run. what do u want?
he got u a burger with a cheese he cant pronounce. where u at?
boss. what happened?
ignore me if u want but shaundis freaking out. answer her.
ur not funny.
freckle bitchs for dinner. want the usual?
i cant believe they dont have fuckin freckle bitchs in steelport
why dont we just open one
what the fuck do i have to do to get u to answer me???
if u dont text me back im eating ur food
im calling ur sister
nina is tracking ur phone so fuck u
she says ur at hq???
fuck off how do u forget ur fucking phone
Lucia had half a mind to ask him if he did eat her food, but that stopped mattering the moment that a second knock signaled an early delivery from heaven’s own fucking pizzeria. Poor Jose probably didn’t know what hit him when a woman who wasn’t wearing pants opened her door, threw fifty bucks at him, snatched the pizza, and retreated into the semi-darkness of her apartment without saying a single word.
Back in the kitchen, Lucia said a prayer and opened her fridge to find a six-pack of beer and a bunch of unopened condiments. Almost in a single motion, she grabbed a bottle, popped the cap off on the edge of the marble counter, and downed it. She got two more open in the time that it took Johnny to pry himself off the couch, turn on the kitchen light, and come over to lean on the part of the counter that put him within arm’s reach of the pizza box.
Lucia handed him a bottle without saying a thing, and as soon as it was firmly in his hand, chugged her second.
“You never told me what the fuck your problem was,” he said.
“I got a lot of problems.” She paused to tear a few paper towels from a roll and pass those along, too. He waited until she was perched up on top of the counter to trade her a slice of pizza.
“No shit. But we always dealt with shit as a team.”
“Not lately.” Johnny sighed again. “It’s not like it’s your fault,” Lucia continued. “I shouldn’t have let you stay behind.”
Johnny finished the slice and drained his beer. She passed him another bottle.
“Listen,” he said, wiping grease away from his mouth with his thumb and forefinger despite having a paper towel right next to him. “I had a lot of time to sit in a box by myself and think about some shit, alright? I got two things out of it: one, I fucking hate shitty french accordion music. It’s all they played in the elevators and I wanted to blow my brains out. Two, I thought about you literally fucking day.”
“God, vaquero, don’t --”
“No. Shut up. I knew you’d figure it out and come bust my dumb ass out like you always do.”
Lucia was the one who sighed that time, eyes averted to some too-clean spot on the tile just past his shitty knee. She felt weird again, like she did the night before; a little too hot, a little too light-headed. She waited until he started to stuff his face again to try and explain herself.
“Us hooking up was a bad idea. It’s too dangerous, it’s too stupid, I feel like I straight up betrayed Aisha --”
“Whoa, whoa, hold up. Eesh has been dead for three fucking years. Nobody knows that better than we do. I miss her like fucking crazy, but… she’s gone.”
“So you got three things out of sitting in a box, huh?”
“Now you’re just being an asshole, and no. I figured that shit out before the box. The way I see it, you get once chance. Eesh’s got stolen, but we got the fuckers back. I miss her all the time, but… I still got a life left to live, you know? Besides, someone told me that she’d want me to stop moping around and move on.”
Four bottles down, and Lucia was both tragically out of beer and still sober enough to know that Johnny was quoting one of her old motivational speeches back to her.
“If you wanna to get all philosophical you should write poetry, not be a banger.”
“I don’t wanna do anything but fix whatever the fuck is going on, and if that means that we forget about yesterday, then fine. I didn’t come here to force you into anything.”
“So why did you come here?”
“To give you your phone back.”
Lucia nodded towards the phone half-covered by a greasy paper towel. “Mission accomplished.”
Johnny gave her the kind of look that she felt in her fucking bones even though he was still wearing his shades. Her only defense was to chuck a wadded-up napkin at him and watch as it bounced off his temple and fell to the floor.
“If you want me to go, Boss, I’ll go.”
Lucia didn’t have nearly enough brainpower to make that kind of decision. While she was still trying to slap together some sort of fucked up pros and cons list, Johnny wiped his hands off on the last clean corner of his paper towel and pushed off the counter with every intention to walk out that door. And he almost made it, too.
“Vaquero. Wait.” He stopped with his hand on the door handle, and turned his head. At a loss, she nodded towards the pizza. “You gotta help me finish this.”
She only had the time it took him to throw his jacket back on the couch and cross back into the kitchen to think of what to say, and even then all she really had was some weird raw impulse to cling to him and never let go, which was not helping.
Johnny offered her a slice of pizza that she shook her head at, suddenly so uncomfortable that all she could do was stare at her ankles as she swung them back and forth.
“This isn’t about Aisha, is it.”
“Yes. No. I don’t know.” Lucia was bad enough at unpacking her feelings when she wasn’t feeling pressured to give some immediate answer. The only thing she knew now that she didn’t know ten minutes ago was that the knot squeezing the air out of her chest was bigger and deeper than she thought it was. It was years and years of shit she told herself she didn’t have time to think about, and now it was all threatening to suffocate her.
She tried to sputter past it anyway.
“I don’t -- I can’t talk about shit. I’m bad at it. It’s always been like that, but I got away with it because most of the time I was just pissed off. I can do pissed off. It’s the rest of it that fucks me up.” The one time she did want Johnny to open his mouth and say some weird French prison therapist shit, he just kept chewing. “You coming back made everything complicated and now I don’t know what to do.”
It was easy to stuff every awful thing she ever felt into anger and beat the shit out of whatever was in her way with that. Johnny used to, too, but being captured for so long did something and… surprise surprise, she couldn’t name it. He was still Johnny, but… maybe he was right. Maybe he just learned to move forward and she was still stuck in some fucked up nightmare world where she just got used to not having him around and now had to figure out how to break down every wall she built to cope. Maybe she was putting a lot of her personal problems on Aisha’s ghost.
Lucia was so far gone again that she didn’t notice Johnny move until he was standing directly in front of her. She was just tipsy enough to look at him without wanting to throw up, but those fucking sunglasses made it impossible to read him and she was just too tired to be caught off her ass.
She lifted her hands slowly enough that he had all the time in the world to stop her from taking his shades off, but he didn’t; he just stood there with his arms crossed and waited for her to set them on the counter next to her. Lucia hated to admit it, but she felt significantly safer knowing she was just a blur to him for the moment.
“So… how do I do this feelings shit?” she asked.
“Honestly? I don’t know.”
“What? You just --”
“Hey, I’m not a fucking therapist, I just had a lot of time to kill. Just, I don’t know. Start with something obvious.” There was nothing obvious in this situation and Lucia had to fight a pretty strong fucking urge to point that out, but fine. She’d play along.
“I’m happy you’re back,” she started, hating how small and far away her own voice sounded all of a sudden. “And… I missed you. And I still feel like shit about the whole… Aisha… thing, but…”
But she was a fucking dumbass.
One more time, Lucia lifted her hands and like some sort of nervous preteen, set them on each side of his face.
“What are you --”
“Hush.” Johnny let her guide him towards her, but their arrangement was so fucking awkward that he ended up leaning over her crossed legs and balancing himself with his hands on the counter on either side of her. And then she just kinda… froze.
“Are you gonna --”
“I’m afraid of losing you again,” she whispered. The words came from a place deep inside her that she didn’t even know existed, but there it was, the obvious thing, right next to the guilt of having promised Aisha that they’d keep each other in one piece and then failing.
And then out of nowhere she said, “I’m gonna try something.”
It was like she forgot how to move like a human being. Lucia was so busy overthinking everything and trying to sort the stubborn fucking butterflies in her stomach from the guilt that Johnny’s dumb fucking assurances had started to dissolve that by the time she did actually find the brainpower to kiss him, it was just this middle school press of her lips to his and then she just… didn’t know where to go from there.
Luckily, one of them was still functioning. Deciding to take this weird situation into his own hands, Johnny pulled himself back just far enough to push her legs apart and close the distance between them. Finally free of all rational thought, Lucia dropped her hands to hang around his shoulders and brought him in again, this time for the kind of kiss that inspired him to start to sneak a hand underneath the back of her tank top.
When she finally pulled away, she did so abruptly and with her heart threatening to pound right out of her chest. Johnny tried to squint past his shitty vision to see the full range of expressions that Lucia felt flying across her face, but he obviously couldn’t and just ended up looking more nervous than he probably wanted to. If she had the words to tell him why she suddenly felt so, so much better, she probably would have.
But she didn’t have those words. Just the time to find them, all of a sudden.
Johnny cleared his throat and pulled her back to reality.
“You feeling alright?” he asked.
“Honestly? Still fucking hungry.”