The first time Allison cries in front of her, loud racking sobs and tears rolling down her cheeks, chin wobbling and bottom lip trembling, the first thing out of her mouth—when she can actually catch her breath for long enough to speak—is a defiant “I’m not crying.”
Lydia raises an eyebrow at her in incredulity, and places what she hopes is a comforting hand on her shoulder, giving it a light squeeze. “Allison, honey, I’m going to have to respectfully disagree.”
“I’m—I’m—not,” Allison hiccups, angrily wiping underneath her eyes, glaring at the wetness on her fingers like it’s personally offended her. “I—I don’t—I don’t cry. I’m—I’m an Argent and—and Argents—Argents never cry.”
Ah. There it is.
“Never?” Lydia echoes, patting Allison’s shoulder. “That’s a bit unrealistic, don’t you think?”
Allison tries to glare at her—and Allison has a pretty mean glare when she wants to—but the effect is sort of lost when another sob bubbles up in her chest and makes its way past her lips, and then she’s shaking and squeezing her eyes shut again, pressing the heels of her palms into the sockets like it’ll stop the tears from coming, hold them back like some personal dam. It doesn’t.
Lydia sighs and grabs Allison’s wrists, prying them away from her eyes and taking her hands in hers, rubbing soothing circles into her palms just like her mom always used to do for her when she was younger and her parents were going through an ugly little thing called divorce. Allison blinks away the spots dancing in front of her vision, and Lydia notices that her makeup has run underneath her eyes in deep, dark circles that make her look absurdly like a sad raccoon. At any other moment she might laugh at the sight, or tease her for it, but now, she knows, is not the time. Her friend needs her, and she’s not that heartless (although she’s totally making sure Allison invests in waterproof mascara from now on).
“Hey, shh, Allison, it’s okay,” she soothes, but Allison is still hiccuping herself into fit, ironically making it worse by trying so hard to stop. Lydia purses her lips tight, and when Allison still won’t meet her gaze, eyes downcast in shame and humiliation at the tears still brimming over the surface, she decides it’s worth a shot to get her to understand, to undo some of the damage that her family must have done, whether they realized it or not, in this regard. “It’s okay to cry, you know,” she says slowly, carefully, “It doesn’t make you weak. How could it? You’re just about the strongest person I know.”
“But…but you—you never cry in front of people either, you don’t—”
Lydia rolls her eyes and reaches out, puts a gentle hand underneath Allison’s chin and tilts her head up with careful fingers. “Look at me, okay? Just because I haven’t in front of you yet doesn’t mean I don’t. Trust me, it’ll happen—and it won’t be pretty when it does. And, okay, you’re right—I don’t really like crying in front of random people. But this is different, because we’re not just random people anymore. Not to each other. I’m your friend, Allison. And you’re—well, you’re the first real one I’ve had in a while. I won’t judge you.”
Finally, this seems to get through to her, and she lifts her gaze to level Lydia with a look that’s all skeptical, but a lot less embarrassed, and maybe just a little more at ease. “Okay,” Lydia concedes, cracking a smile, “I mean, I might judge you for other things—no promises there—but I won’t judge you for this. I’m not a total bitch.”
Allison’s eyes seem to soften, to trust, to believe. Lydia can still feel her trembling underneath her fingertips, but she gets a shaky little smile from her, anyway. It’s not much, and there are still tears gathering at the corners of her eyes, but it’s an improvement. And hey—she’s not looking away anymore, she’s looking Lydia right in the eye and letting her see, open and honest and tearful and all. She’s crying in front of her and she knows it, and there’s still that underlying hint of shame, but she doesn’t seem to be trying to hide it anymore. There’s that, at least.
“No, you’re—you’re not,” Allison whispers, and now it’s Lydia’s turn to fight the urge to look away, because there’s something in the way that Allison is staring at her now that’s…not strange, exactly. But different. Different in a way that she’s not quite ready to think about, not yet, not when that searching look is making her cheeks feel warm and she’s suddenly hyper-aware of her hand still cupping Allison’s chin, of the distance between them. “Not—not when it matters, at least. You—you—I—”
And then she’s breaking down again, squeezing her eyes shut and covering her face with her hands and her breath is hitching in her throat and the moment and any hesitation with it is gone, because Allison is crying and Allison is hurting and Allison is upset and all that matters to Lydia anymore is being there for her. She doesn’t think, just draws her close and wraps her arms around her, holding her tight. She stands there, rubbing her hands up and down Allison’s back, until after a while Allison finally lowers her hands from her face and returns the embrace, clinging to Lydia like a lifeline.
(Later, Lydia will tease her that she’s lucky to have experienced it at all. She’ll tell her, very firmly, that she’s not a hugger, not all that into affection. Except it’ll happen again the next time Allison breaks down, and again. And likewise, when Lydia breaks down much the same, it’ll always be Allison’s arms around her that keep her grounded—and she doesn’t fight it, welcomes it, even. It becomes a sort of routine between the two of them, the soothing words, the hugs, the touches lingering longer and changing in nature as time goes on, growing with them and with everything they’ve been through.
Later, Lydia will wish that she hadn’t grown so accustomed to it, because a time will come where she’ll be crying and drowning, and drowning, and drowning, and Allison won’t be there to keep her above water anymore. For a long time after she’s gone she’ll forget what it’s like to breathe. The thing is, she never expects she’s going to lose her until she does.)
The last time Lydia cries in front of her, there’s nothing she can do to help her. She can’t hold her, she can’t kiss her, she can’t talk to her, she can’t whisper soothing reassurances into her ear while stroking her hair or tell her she’s okay, she’s okay, she’s okay. Because she’s not, and Allison certainly isn’t either, and God, nothing is okay. Instead, all she can do is watch from a distance, perched on top of a gravestone nearby and Lydia can’t even see her, doesn’t even know she’s there.
She’s not even crying at first, she’s just standing there, glaring at a tall, smooth stone sticking out of the ground that bears the name ‘Allison Argent’ and beneath that the words ‘Beloved daughter, friend, and protector— “Nous protégeons ceux qui ne peuvent pas se protéger eux-mêmes”’.
No, Lydia’s not crying, Allison notes with a pang—she’s seething. But Allison knows her well enough to recognize that anger has always been a part of how she copes, knows that if she’s this angry now, the tears are close by on the horizon.
“It was senior signing last week,” Lydia says, kicking a rock out of her way and glaring daggers at the ground. “You know, where all the seniors write their initials on that scribe thing. It’s like some stupid rite of passage. Well, Scott—Scott wrote your initials. Right under his, and I saw it, and for a moment I couldn’t breathe and—he said that you would’ve been with us. I mean, you should’ve been with us. And I—” she pauses, closing her eyes for a moment and gritting her teeth before pressing on. “I said you still were. Can you believe that? I said, ‘oh, she still is,’ all fucking tender and bittersweet, because it made everything all sentimental, but you know what? That’s such fucking bullshit, Allison. Because you’re weren’t there, and you’re not fucking here anymore, you’re not here with me, you’re fucking—you’re dead, you know? You’re fucking dead.”
She can’t hide the way her voice breaks, the cracks showing through her anger. Allison pushes herself off of the gravestone she’s sitting on and hesitates, hovering right behind Lydia, so close she could reach out and touch her, for all the good it would do. Lydia wouldn’t feel it, anyway, and her hand would probably go right through, but she’s so close and so real and it’s all Allison wants, to be able to touch her, to feel her again, and from this distance she can see Lydia’s shoulders’ shaking, can tell that she’s teetering right on the edge.
“You weren’t supposed to follow me,” Lydia hisses angrily, baring her teeth at Allison’s headstone, and Allison has to remind herself that this anger isn’t real—or at least it’s not really directed at her. The memory of her, that is. It’s just Lydia talking out of desperation, and frustration, and hopelessness, but it still stings nonetheless. “I told you not to, I left you a message, I—I can’t—you weren’t supposed to die, Allison, you weren’t supposed to fucking die.” Lydia breaks off with a sob that hits Allison like a punch in the gut, all the anger draining away from her voice and leaving it small and broken as she stumbles to her knees and tangles her hands through her hair like she’s trying to pull it right out of her head. As much as seeing her so bitter and so angry had hurt, Allison thinks, this is so, so much worse.
She remembers, way back in the beginning of their friendship, before everything they’d been through together, before the really heavy stuff, Lydia had been the one to show her it was okay to cry, who had stayed with her and assured her that it didn’t make her weak, that it was okay, that it was healthy. She can’t even remember, now, why she’d been crying in the first place—it had been over something stupid, something small, but she’d just snapped, and Lydia had been there to talk her through it. But she did remember the slowly receding humiliation in her friend’s presence, the way that Lydia had been able to get it through to her—maybe not that first time, exactly, but eventually—that she had nothing to be ashamed of. It felt like a lifetime ago. Taking into account everything that had happened since then, hell, it basically was a lifetime ago. She would give anything to be able to go back to that, to reverse their positions, to be able to be there for Lydia right now.
She can’t stop herself from from reaching hand out, pale and translucent and ghostly in the moonlight, and letting it rest on Lydia’s shoulder. Except it doesn’t stay there, of course, her fingers pass right through, and instead of offering comfort it only makes Lydia shiver. It must catch her attention, though, because her breath catches and her sobs taper off, as she stands up on shaky legs and turns around, eyes wide and sharp and searching.
For a moment, one brief, beautiful moment, she thinks that Lydia sees her. But then she hears hurried footsteps behind her and she realizes quickly that Lydia is looking past her, through her, at someone running up from behind.
“Lydia!” a voice shouts in relief, and Allison looks over her shoulder at a wild-looking girl with short brown hair running towards them—or, as far as everyone else is concerned, just Lydia. It’s Malia Tate—Allison recognizes her even with the haircut, the new clothes, and without dirt coating every inch of her skin. There’s something unmistakable about her presence, even though she’d only ever gotten the chance to see her once, when she was—well. “Oh, thank God we were so worried—I mean, they were worried, ha,” Malia forces a laugh and shrugs, obviously trying to seem cool and indifferent, but despite what she’s saying it’s obvious that she’s been worried sick too. That she cares. “I was just—oh, screw it. Kira! Kira, she’s over here, come on, I found her!”
More hurried footsteps, and a few moments later, Kira Yukimura is rushing towards them, expression melting from one of panic to one of relief.
“Lydia! Oh, thank God you’re okay, you just ran off and you weren’t answering your phone and we thought–we didn’t know what happened and we couldn’t find you and we were so worried but Malia followed your scent here and—oh.”
Kira blinks, stopping herself as she takes notice of Lydia’s red-rimmed eyes, of the wetness on her cheeks, and finally of the headstone she’s standing in front of. The realization hits her faster then it does Malia, and her eyebrows pull together in concern, her voice going all soft and sad. Allison watches as Kira puts a hand on Lydia’s shoulder, feeling another pang at the way it stays there, gentle and comforting and solid, right where hers couldn’t.
Lydia bites her lip and claps a hand over mouth to muffle her crying, and a second later Kira’s arms are around her. Lydia stiffens for a moment before relaxing into her touch, burying her head into her shoulder and letting herself break down as Kira holds her together. Malia hangs back, unsure, watching the two of them while rocking back and forth on the balls of her feet. This is unfamiliar territory for her, and she keeps her distance, doesn’t know if she’s intruding–until Lydia’s hand shoots out and clutches at her jacket, bunching it up in her fist, desperate for something else to ground her. She hesitates for another fraction of a second before stepping closer, letting Lydia latch onto her, too. She nods to Kira before wrapping strong arms around Lydia, sandwiching her in between them.
Allison watches it all until she can’t anymore, turning quickly on her heel before she can change her mind, and starts to make her way towards the woods, willing herself not look back. If she was alive, if she could still cry, she’s sure she would be now. As it stands, breaths she doesn’t need to take come out in short little gasps, and she wraps her arms tight around her middle, right around the spot that condemned her to this fate, to hold herself together. It’s time, she knows, for her to let Lydia move on, to live, where she can’t.
She allows herself one last glance over her shoulder, towards where Lydia is still huddled protectively between Kira and Malia, and feels something like jealousy mingled with gratitude warring inside what’s left of her. Lydia is in good hands, it seems. It’s hard, knowing that she can’t be the one to be there for her anymore, but she reminds herself there are people still living that are, and that’s all that really matters. She closes her eyes, takes a deep breath, tilts her head up to the sky, and lets go.