Who: Joanie and Luther What: The Breakdown Where: Charleston, South Carolina When: July 27th/28th Warnings: Angst, suicidal tendencies, mind-fuckery, and potential swearing. Notes: Tissues. Bring them.
By one o’clock that afternoon, Luther and Joanie were cleared to go home. The Wickers helped them into their car, speaking in hushed tones as they drove back to their house. Luther continued to ignore Joanie, no matter what attempts she made to speak to him. He attempted to keep calm or appear outwardly so, but his mind continued in a blur. The law and the question of it wouldn’t leave his mind, even as they got back to the house and they were helped up to their rooms.
He retired to his guest room immediately, ignoring any invitations to rest downstairs with the ‘family’. The annoyances of Libby and Sarah and Mattie seemed trivial now, even as they bustled about clucking their tongues with sympathy. He shut his door and changed it to clean clothes, before packing everything up. The original plan had them heading home the day after tomorrow – it would distract his mind, stop his shaking hands, even as it hurt his wrist-
A sound at the door surprised him and Luther looked up from leaning over his suitcase. Patrick shut the door softly behind him, offering a careful smile as he leaned against a bookcase in the corner of the room. “How’re you holdin’ up?”
Luther swallowed, eyes falling to his suitcase again. Looking into the eye of the man who’s daughter he beat up was impossible. “Just fine. I figured I’d – I’d do something productive.” Lying was necessary here, but the man didn’t need to know that
“I can see that.” Patrick paused, before edging to the door. “I figured I’d check on you, though. Is there anything I can get you?”
Without thinking, Luther shook his head. He didn’t need anything, he needed to be alone with his thoughts and not feel like he’d lost his whole reason to-
He froze, a pair of socks in his hand. No. That was too strange, it couldn’t be. It couldn’t. “Actually,” he said hoarsely, looking up to the older man. “Do you happen to have a copy of Les Misérables? I was – I was reading it before I came down here. Reading might keep my mind off of what happened.” Or do the exact opposite. He held his breath, until Patrick nodded genially.
“I’ve got a good unabridged somewhere. It’s a mighty fine book, isn’t it?”
Luther couldn’t only nod, tightly as Patrick slipped off. When the book was finally in his hands, he locked the door behind Patrick. He settled on the bed with the worn copy, flipping through to a familiar section – back to the annoying Marius – and continued on.
It had been a few months since he last attempted the novel, putting it down as an uneasy feeling grew along with his annoyance with Marius. He’d been told by Ella that Javert killed himself – and Cole and Hannah had pushed him to read the ending, but he couldn’t. A small part of him had suspected that something was off and he didn’t want to know how he – or his character – died. But now with this copy before him, he couldn’t get through it fast enough. Marius was still annoying and Valjean’s supposed goodness was infuriating. Cosette was charming though and as Eponine crossed the pages, he could even manage a small smile. He did respect her after all that had happened.
Javert though – it was too strange to read about him. Hugo’s tone was almost mocking as time went on. Luther kept his eyes glued to the page, even as he was called down for dinner. He called back that he was too tired, pushing on through the dense, detailed read. Javert’s discovery was met with a shaking of the head – he had to respect him, when he would have done the same. Sometimes lying just didn’t help – even when amongst villains. Enjolras bothered him for an unexplainable reason, striking a chord of familiarity. Perhaps he’d already met him…
And then came Valjean. Luther’s heart stilled as he read on, experiencing Eponine’s death in a shock, followed by Valjean requesting to deal with Javert. “No,” Luther whispered, broken from the spell of reading at last. He glanced up to his clock where it said it was one a.m. The only sleep he’d had was when he’d passed out the night before. Despite his aching limbs and bruises, he didn’t feel tired. He returned to the book, reading with an increasing feeling of dread.
Valjean’s sparing of Javert’s life made no sense – it was an impossibility in Luther’s mind. The man was a criminal, the author was wrong, he was a villain the true one…and how could he spare Javert’s life? Luther could only remain in disbelief as the narrative continued, leading to Valjean the lover Marius. His breath caught, but he didn’t stop.
And he recognize Javert’s entrance before Valjean did. He could barely think though as the final events played out – Valjean’s nobility was played out, again and again as he saved Marius and gave himself up to Javert. Luther didn’t need Hugo’s commentary to understand what Javert was feeling – his own feelings had matched his confusion since earlier. It didn’t stop his sharp intake of breath as Javert let Valjean go free. It was near, Luther could sense it.
He powered through, pausing only at Javert’s last chapter before reading the rest. Familiar motions – the arms crossed in front and clasped in back – made him uneasy. Licking his lips, he continued on, heart panging with every thought of Javert’s. It was familiar, it was real..
…and Javert was dead.
The book feel from his hands to the floor with a thump, but Luther ignore it. He was unaware as he sat there, eyes unfocussed as he stared off to a corner of the room. Every movement of Javert’s made sense – and it only confirmed his fear throughout his whole day. Through his whole life.
He’d been wrong about it all.
Luther couldn’t breathe at first, the thought suffocating him. He glanced around the room, as if expecting people to burst out and criticize him, mocking his obsession for all these years. Madeline, his blurred-featured mother, Nina, Valjean- None appeared but it didn’t change his uneasiness. He was wrong, he’d fucked up majorly and worst of all…he had no idea what to do now.
Not quite true though. His eyes fell on the book once more before he got up from the bed. He shoved his feet into a pair of boots and slipped out of his room, white shirt standing out with the light from the moon that filtered through the windows. He didn’t bother to walk quietly, gait sounding terrible with his limp as he made his way down the stairs and out the front door. He had to get away, had to find a place to think and…decide. Decide where. Upon arriving home, Joanie had spent most of her time outside. She wasn't sure why, but being in the house made her feel trapped. Vulnerable. Their backyard wasn't huge, but it was enough. She spent most of the afternoon sprawled on her stomach in the grass, staring dimly at the fence that surrounded her parents' property. Sometimes she'd go inside to use the bathroom or send Sam a text. She'd have a few words with her mother and fend off a smothering hug from her aunt. At dinner, it was the same. She was silent, and though she should have been concerned by Luther's absence, she couldn't rouse herself to do anything about it.
She felt defeated.
After dinner, she returned to her place in the backyard. When the fireflies began to dance around her hair, her mother came out to summon her to bed. Though it was in her heart to protest, Joanie followed numbly. She took a shower, towel dried her hair, and collapsed in her claustrophobic bedroom.
The first time she fell asleep, her analog clock read 10:27 pm. The first time she woke up, it read 11:02 pm. It was difficult to sleep on her stomach - it always hurt her chest - but she had to force herself into it. At 11:43 pm, she fell asleep again. She woke again at 12:38 am. After a bit of waiting, she finally slipped into sleep again at 1:04 am. This time, she dreamed.
She dreamed of a chase that sent her spiraling through a thick and darkened woods. There were no living creatures in it save for herself and the thing pursuing her. Several times she looked over her shoulder, and every time it took the face of someone she knew. First it was Luther, then Sam, then her father, then Russell, then her mother. It cycled through so many faces that they all blended into one by the end. The creature with a dozen faces wore her down, and just as it was about to slice her throat, it opened its cavernous mouth and-
3:02 am, she woke again. Covered in a sheen of sweat, she panted and wheezed, throwing her blankets to the floor. No more sleep. She couldn't handle it. Sitting up, she prepared to get a drink of water when she heard a slow, limping gait in the hall. Eyes wide, she jumped to her feet and walked quietly to the door, pulling it open.
The hall was dark, but a window in the stairway allowed slats of moonlight to illuminate it. She could see a figure walking down the stairs, making its way for the front door. Biting her lower lip, she followed it silently, bare feet dancing over hardwood floors. Thankfully, the South Carolina air was fairly warm, even at three o'clock in the morning. She didn't feel chilled in her camisole and shorts. Crossing her arms, she walked swiftly over the asphalt of their driveway.
"Luther!" she hissed, rushing forward to try and meet him. "Luther, what are you doing?" Numbness had taken over Luther. Last night, as Javert, he hadn't noticed the sounds of the neighborhood and he barely did now. Crickets chirped and frogs croaked - a sprinkler was going off a few houses down - but they all seemed natural. Normal. Luther paid no attention to them, continuing out of the house and down the driveway. Joanie's hiss didn't register as he kept moving.
It was his conscious creeping up on him or the lack of sleep - or guilt. It didn't matter. She didn't need someone like Javert or him around - no one did. What needed to happen was as simple as Javert made it again - taking himself out of the equation before he had to face the consequences of his actions. He took a deep breath at street road, before continuing to the right. He didn't dare take his car and it wasn't that far of a walk to the place that came to mind. It was like watching a zombie. Clutching her arms around her chest, she began to pick up the pace. Her feet slapped over the asphalt of the road as she rushed to meet him, falling into step by his side.
"Luther," she said softly, looking up at him with wide eyes. "Where are you going?" The idea of a late-night walk after the hell they had both endured wasn't that unusual, but she was most disturbed by the way he hadn't even acknowledged her. Normally, he'd have at least grunted in her general direction. This was nothing. It was, literally, like watching the dead amble about. Luther didn't pay attention to her until the reached the street corner. The lampost there cast enough life for him to see the signs - how far to Charleston? he thought that bridge was closer. Glancing sideways, his eyes caught on the bruised ghost of Joanie and he paused. His jaw went slack andhis feet shuffled.
"Out," he managed. He shook his head, before turning left down the street. Without looking back to her, he sighed. "Go back to bed, Joanie." She didn't need to be here for this - it would be better if she didn't. He couldn't deal with her interference now, he needed to go. It was like talking to a zombie. Joanie chewed nervously on the inside of her cheek as he glanced to her before looking away as if indifferent. Despite his dismissal, she stuck to his side, turning with him and walking in nearly perfect step with him.
"No," she replied. "Nobody goes out at three in the morning to do anything good." Unable to look at him any longer, she focused on the street ahead. "We missed you at dinner." He wanted to be frustrated with her but couldn't. Hands clenched at his sides as he kept moving, doing his best to ignore her. He didn't want any connections now - he had things to do and take care of. He couldn't have her coming along and halting his plans. She wouldn't understand - things were over.
"It's work," Luther said stiffly. She had no business talking to him was the thing - or missing him for that matter. He'd fucked up, he'd screwed up, and here she was acting as if everything was normal. How couldn't she see that the world had fallen apart in the last twenty-four hours? "I'm sure you survived without me." Something bitter crept into his tone, but he kept walking. His limp was becoming less of an issue as he grew oblivious to the pain. It was inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. Undeterred, Joanie followed him. Their shoulders were several inches apart, but they were nearly in step as they walked along the street. Regular street lamps shone down on them both, casting long shadows in their wake.
When he said he was here for "work," she tensed. What work? He didn't have work. Especially not after the Full Moon. When he almost bitterly commented on dinner, she frowned, looking down at her bare feet. "Yeah," she said almost apologetically. "But we missed you all the same." She paused, finally getting the nerve to look up at him. "What were you doing?" Earlier travels through the neighborhood gave him a better sense of direction. Joanie's house was in a subdivision at the edge of the cities, not far from a large bridge. At this hour, there wouldn't be many people travelling in and out of Charleston. It would work well enough. Soon it was the only option available as a destination - other than Charleston itself.
Luther's hands twitched at his sides, but he didn't comment on what she said. He didn't believe her either - he didn't have business at that dinner table or frankly, in the Wicker house. Any house. "Reading." There was a terse silence following her question, and the answer filled her with hot dread. She remembered her father had mentioned that Luther had asked for a book, but what was it? Really, there was only one option.
However, she couldn't jump to conclusions. Licking her lips as her mouth had gone dry, she looked ahead. "What were you reading?" There wasn't a way of getting around the question and Joanie knew him well enough - or thought she did - to guess why. He kept his eyes straight ahead, beginning to see lights in the distance. "Les Misérables." She felt her muscles tightened as he named his book of choice. "Oh," she said softly, looking ahead to the approaching lights. "So...did you finish it?" As she had never read it, Joanie didn't know what happened. She only knew that Javert killed himself. So she didn't entirely understand why realizing that Javert died would be a shock to Luther. But the way he acted now made it clear that something was very, very wrong. A laugh did escape him then, already dead with weariness. "No. I read as far as I needed to." It crossed his mind briefly that it was strange Javert died so soon, but he knew there was no need to read on. Javert wasn't going to survive that fall - the story would center on Marius and Valjean again. The laugh frightened her. When he was walking like this, acting like this, nothing should be funny. She pulled back just slightly, putting another inch of distance between them, but she wasn't deterred. "Oh," she said, biting the inside of her cheek. "So Javert really did...drown himself, then?" He could tell she was disturbed by it - a glance her way was enough. Though a part of his insides twisted with guilt over it, he thought it for the better. Leave, Joanie. Go befor he went and...
"He did." He stopped, turning around. Arms went behind his back as he attempted to loom over her. "Go back to the house, Joanie. It's late - I need to be alone. Alright?" As he stopped and turned to face her, making himself quite the imposing figure, Joanie was almost intimidated. For a split second, she was close to doing what he said because he had said it so impressively and with such authority. His expression was dark and the street lamps cast deep hollows in his face, transforming him temporarily into something more than a man, more than flesh.
Then she put her brain back in her head.
Luther wasn't a super power. He wasn't magic. He was a human, a man, and that made him fallible. Seeing him cry in the hospital was a heartbreaking reminder of that. The way he had spoken there, and the way he was acting now, both unsettled her. Combined with the fact that Javert did commit suicide, she decided that she couldn't leave him. Not now.
She straightened up, standing at her full height of 5'7". Shoulders back, chin steady, she shook her head. "No," she said. "I can't sleep. And...I'm not leaving you alone like this." It didn't work and his shoulders fell as he realized it. Weakened, he shook his head. "I need to be alone, Joanie. For fuck's sake give a man a chance to be alone with his thoughts." His voice was hoarse though and as he turned away, his eyes grew hot. He wasn't doing this - he couldn't have her near. All he wanted to do was get to that bridge and end these problems. Why did she have to interfere?
Luther picked up the pace, moving on. If he was lucky, he might loose her. She couldn't explain why she stayed with him. Maybe he did need to be alone. Maybe she was just being an obnoxious bitch, and this was exactly why nobody wanted to be her friend. But maybe, just maybe, that feeling in her gut wasn't wrong. Joanie tried not to "go with her gut" too often, but lately she was finding that it was better than sitting around debating things. So she listened.
Instead of responding verbally, she picked up her pace as well, matching him perfectly. She said nothing, lips sealed shut as she walked. Despite the slight uncertainty she felt, her posture was straight and tall, almost unnaturally for her. Luther ignored her, still clinging to the hope that she would leave as they approached the bridge. Leading over the waterway, it was a good fifty feet above the water. Never learning how to swim seemed like an excellent idea now - and he wondered idly, if that had been because of Javert as well.
There were no cars this late - the only sign of issues was a sign to call in case of crisis. He nearly laughed at that, but managed to keep it in. What could any person on any phone say that would help him now? He kept moving until they reached the middle of the bridge, leaning against the edge with his crossed arms resting on the bar. As the bridge swam into view, Joanie felt something in her chest sink. Oh God. Oh Jesus. Oh Christ, no. She was too unsure to actually say anything, as she had no idea what she'd even say. A thousand things fired in her brain at once, a thousand different fears and worries and suddenly she wanted to tackle him to the ground and break both his legs just so he couldn't keep walking towards that fucking bridge.
Her knees were shaking as she stepped out onto the bridge behind him. She stepped carefully, bare feet dancing over the asphalt as she followed him. When he leaned against the edge, she bit her lower lip. She wanted to shout. To yell and scream and get someone to help. But there was nobody. Just her.
She settled against the edge to his right, leaning against it with both hands. Her left hand was close to his elbow, almost touching. She looked down at the water before glancing over at him, fighting to keep her expression calm. "If I asked you to tell me why you came out here...would you?" As Joanie settled near him, he slid over. He didn't need her touching him or distracting him now - he didn't need her involved. There was a lump of regret building up within him, growing the more he looked at her. Luther forced his eyes ahead to the water, seeing some boats' lights in the distance. He needed to get rid of her, so he could solve this. But how?
"I needed to think," he said stiffly. "I needed to get away. Alright?" The way he scooted away from her hurt slightly, but she didn't dwell on it. After all, this wasn't about her. This was about him. She wanted to know what was going on. She wanted to know what was in his head, and why he seemed so tormented. Her memory of exactly what he said in the hospital was hazy, but she recalled him mentioning how the law had taken care of his mother and was always right.
She remembered his faith.
At his harsh response, she nodded, glancing over at him. "Okay," she said softly. She didn't press it further. She needed to figure out what she wanted to say because she couldn't afford to just talk without thinking. So she fell into silence, gaze shifting back and forth from the oncoming boats to his face. Luther hadn't expected her to leave and a soft sigh escaped him as she remained. His eyes went out to the water, stomach churning as he did so. Javert had done something similar, just a few months ago - the first true full moon had him pondering over a bridge. How had been so unaware? Or had he always known he was going to use a bridge as a means of suicide?
He scoffed at it before the thought could go further. He and Javert were alike enough to not think like that - death like this was for the public good eventually, taking himself out to reduce problems. Suicide in any other situation would have hurt things.
His thoughts went in circles, until he glanced at Joanie - eyes meeting hers as she looked to him. His mouth went dry and he took a deep breath, before looking out again. There wasn't any way to avoid this anymore. If she was here - well, he warned, her hadn't he?
"Valjean saves Javert's life at the end." It's softly said, as if this was just a normal conversation over beer. "He's captured by the rebels as he spies on them and held as hostage while they work at the barricades. Valjean does a favor and in return asks to take care of Javert." He took a deep breath, before going on. "Instead of killing him though, he lets him go." At first, she doesn't quite understand what's going on. After a few moments, though, it sank in. Though she wanted to look down to compose her thoughts, she never once took her eyes from him. She was almost afraid to look away, afraid to make him think for even one second that she wasn't right there with him.
"Oh," she said softly. Suddenly, it was making some sense. Valjean was the criminal, Javert let him go when it seemed that it was the right thing to do. Javert had tried to kill Joanie, a criminal, and Luther knew that it was the wrong thing to do.
It made sense now. She still didn't get it, but it was no longer this magic elusive concept that she couldn't explain. After a few moments of silence, she finally spoke up.
"You aren't Javert. He obviously couldn't handle that, but...you're going through something similar, and it doesn't mean you have to do what he did." But Luther hadn't explained it all and he shook his head. "You don't understand." Voice rising slightly he looked out to the water once more. "Valjean proves himself, again and again to being noble, more so than even Javert-" And he shook his head. An impossibility - it should have been one. Javert was the law but the law was...he took a deep breath.
"Javert has to choose between saving Valjean and turning him in. But turning him in cannot happen as he saved his life. And he realizes, Joanie, the law isn't completely right. There's a different road aside from those two obvious ones...and they oftne overlap."
He stood there, a moment more, before leaning down to his boots. Bending over wasn't good for his back, but he didn't want to be weighed down now. He stepped out of them, before passing them to Joanie. She might as well take them as she was here. As he explained, she listened, watching him as she leaned against the railing. It was clear that this was difficult for him, and she did her best to put it all together. When he explained Javert's realization, though, she tensed. Luther had put all his faith, everything he believed, into the law. If Javert saw that it wasn't always right, then wouldn't he, too?
Watching him lean down, she stared at him, eyes wide as she took the boots. "What are you doing?" she asked, voice choked with fear. "Why-why are you taking your shoes off? Luther?" A part of her felt that she knew the answer, but she was too afraid to fill in the blanks on her own. She had to hear it from him. Luther couldn't bring himself to look at her. Instead he took a deep breath and removed his belt as well. That was placed on the boots as he grabbed the bar. Hoisting his bad leg up first, he pulled himself up and over the bar. Lowering himself to the other side was easier and he waited on the ledge on the opposite for a moment, looking down into the abyss.
His resolve hadn't changed, though a hint of uneasiness crept through him as he stared at the water. He was no stranger to pain - but his last moments were going to be far from pleasant. He shut his eyes, arms still on the bar behind him as he prepared himself.
"I asked you not to come," he said, in a voice more quiet than he intended. "I'm eliminating the problem - I'm fixing what can't be." He didn't open his eyes or look at her, continuing on as a breeze picked up, tugging at his hair and t-shirt. One hand left the bar, the other still clinging, in case she had any last words. Everything started happening in slow motion. She could only watch in horror as he swung a leg over the bar and carefully balanced on the ledge over the river, face turned down to the water. Dropping the boots to the ground, she stared at his hand on the bar. It was the only thing keeping him there. She tried to think of the right thing to say. She tried to organize her thoughts, to make them pretty and presentable and right. In movies, this was the part where the friend came up with the perfect speech to talk the hero down and everything would be fine again.
This was no movie.
When she realized that no genius idea would come to mind, she did the only thing she could: act on instinct. She reached out and grabbed the wrist that held the bar, holding onto it tightly as if it were the only thing keeping her alive. "Luther," she said, her voice heavy with fear and sadness. "Don't do it." That was all she could say. She wanted a speech. She wanted something beautiful and eloquent and written by an academy award winning scriptwriter. But all she had was a heart that was ready to burst and a friend that was dying right in front of her. Even though he hadn't jumped, even if he never jumped, he was still dying inside.
All the hurt seeped out as she gripped his wrist tightly, stepping closer to the bar so that she could take one hand and reach out for his other one, fingers shaking. "Please," she begged, eyes filling with unshed tears. "Please, please don't do this. You can fix things a different way. This isn't the end of things, you...you can figure this out. We can. I'll help you, just please..." Her voice tapered into a whisper as a few tears fell, rolling down her cheeks. "Please don't do this." He should have expected her to stop him. He shouldn't have waited, he should have let go and jumped. Instead he was chained down by her her hands and tears. His eyes opened, welling up as he did so as he tried to turn and look at her - unable with the way she was reaching both hands. "You don't get it. There's nothing else. This is the end."
That same bitter laugh escaped him, but this time it was more tired. Luther was done and didn't have time for these games anymore. "I've always been terrified - fucking terrified, Joanie - of being wrong about this. I've always been right and this is what has kept me going. Javert was right and I'm not just saying that - we know, we think the same way. It's our purpose and our duty is to the law." Luther took a deep breath, breaking one hand from Joanie's with a sudden twist. Only one was left now, the one still holding onto the bar.
"I can't face that." When he declared this the end, more tears began to fall. She tried to suck it up, tried to be stoic, but she was absolutely terrified and she had no idea what to do. She wished for a magic wand to make this all go away, but knew that none would come. There was only her, Luther, and the river below them.
His laugh made her whimper, though she listened intently to everything he said. As he wrenched his hand from her palm, she gasped, the hand immediately moving to his other wrist. With both hands anchoring his wrist to the bar, tears clouding her vision.
"Yes you can!" she said, her voice growing high in pitch as she fought to keep from outright sobbing. "You can, and you will." She took a slow breath, stepping closer until her stomach brushed the railing. "And you know why?" She took a slow breath, pulling gently on his arm as if preparing to hug it. "Because Javert tried to be the law. He...you said it yourself, that it was his purpose and duty. But you aren't him, Luther." She choked momentarily, looking down at the river in terror as tears rolled down her cheeks.
"You're someone else. And you have so much more than that. You're not just a little robot man that enforces the law." Her gaze locked to his face as she fought to keep from breaking down herself. "You're an incredible person. You're strong, and you're trustworthy, and you mean more to the people around you than you know."
She took a shuddering breath, crying openly now. "You mean-" Though she wanted to wipe her eyes, she didn't dare let go of him. "-more to me than you know." Biting the inside of her cheek, she let out a few sobs, leaning against the railing while she gripped his wrist. "And-and you can't just give up, because you don't understand just how much you matter." Luther shuffled his feet slightly, turning around so he faced her. It was a bad idea as he did it, but he wasn't making any progress as he avoided her looks and tears. Seeing her face though and how torn up she was shocked him though - his mouth moved soundlessly as she sobbed. He made no move to pull his arm away, frozen as she held on.
"This isn't just about Javert," Luther protested. It was true - it was just the catalyst and the idea. His eyes sought out Joanie's, trying to get her to understand - all the while trying to figure out why it mattered that she did in these seconds. If he wanted to, he could force his arm from hers and fall off the bridge as he wished. Instead he sought reason, even as he began to shake. "I'm still wrong - the law is still not what it should be with or without him. This has lasted since before Bellum, Joanie. Before him." His voice was flat though, even as he said it. He'd told Joanie enough times before that their fables had affected them before they came into the building.
Her praise and breakdown barely made sense though. As she went on, he shook his head - his own eyes tearing up as he did so. "No - I've had enough over the years. People have always said I've gone too far. And it's pushed me to this Joanie - everyone's left or criticized." No one had even appreciated what he had done. It only emphasized his desire to end it now and curse his former belief in the law.
But she said he mattered. Luther fought to compose himself, but he couldn't. His head moved forward as he began to honestly cry again, unable to hold it back any longer. As he started to speak, she could feel his arm shake in her hands. But she didn't let go. She couldn't let go. She did manage to quiet herself as he went on, not wanting to cry over him. Her sobs faded into sniffles, and soon she was nearly silent as he explained himself.
When he said that this came before Javert, her heart sank. Why hadn't she noticed? She didn't think he was on the edge. She had never seen it. She had never noticed. Maybe if she had picked up on it before, then maybe, just maybe- She broke off that train of thought and set it on fire. Thinking like that would get them nowhere.
As he started to cry, she started again. She wanted to pull him over the railing, or lean against him, or something. But she couldn't. She couldn't risk it. So she kept her hands wrapped tightly around his wrist, head hanging as she cried. After a few moments, she composed herself enough to look up at him, expression doggedly earnest.
"But you can't just give up," she wheedled, shoulders slumping. "You-you can't. I don't...I don't understand all of this stuff, but I'm willing to try. If you need to talk, or you need help, I'll do it. I don't care what it takes, this is not your only option." A few more tears rolled down her cheeks as she focused on his face, eyes swollen from crying. "I haven't left. And I think what you do is great, and you can keep being great."
Slowly, shakily, she sank until she was kneeling on the sidewalk beside the railing. She continued to grip his wrists, elbows held out to the sides as she looked up at him, expression pleading. "Please," she begged. "Please don't do this." Closing her eyes, she sniffled as she leaned in to press a kiss to his knuckles. "You're too good for this." Luther's crying wasn't loud - it was merely the unsteady shaking of his body, combined with tears streaming down his face. Joanie's continuation of crying didn't help matters, nor did her hanging off of him. He bent forward as she slumped down, leaning more on the railing as she went on. Words wouldn't come - not even a coherent thought as he listened to her.
His mind was moving in a blur - fueled by his depression and feeling of hopelessnes as it went through everything she'd said. Everything she had said. Everything that anyone had ever said to him or done. His lips pressed together, causing him to taste his own fallen tears. He bent his kissed hand, thinking.
He couldn't - he couldn't die if she was going to be like this. Luther knew his own guilt and sense of morality wouldn't allow it - even if she let go now. But it didn't change the main thing as he realized it. In a hoarse, broken whisper he asked, "But what will I do now?" It didn't even cross her mind that she was being openly pathetic. It didn't occur to her that she was sniveling before him, clinging to his hand and sobbing like a baby. All she could focus on, all she could think about, was holding on and keeping him there on that bridge. Though she gave him grief, though she mocked him mercilessly, and though she often taunted him for fun, Luther was probably the closest friend she had ever had. She cared for him like a family member and trusted him just as much. The idea of losing him - really losing him - ripped her up inside.
At his soft question, she looked up, eyes wide. Still holding onto his wrist for dear life, she took a short sniff before speaking. "You put yourself back together and move on," she said simply. "And for what it's worth, I'll be with you the whole time." Luther was quiet for several minutes, the only sound being their sniffling and ragged breaths. He kept his eyes on her, searching her tearstained face and moving to speak several times but always ending up silent. At last he let his head fall and he took a deep breath.
He tugged his wrist from her hands, breaking from how they clutched far too easily. Even though she had the grip of a dying man, he had a few things on his side - size and the greater will. Once he had it back, he grabbed the rail with his other as well. He climbed over, shaking all the while and ended up sinking to the ground beside her. When he wrenched his wrist from her grip, she looked up with a horrified expression. She was too choked up to scream, but she was close, mouth falling open in horror. But he climbed over the railing instead of throwing himself off the edge, and she watched him slowly sink to the ground at her side.
Without any care about awkwardness or their unspoken "no touchy" rule, she threw herself at him, wrapping her arms around his shoulders and holding him in a tight, urgent embrace. Pressing her cheek against the side of his head, she broke down into fresh sobs, holding him in a vice-like grip. She wanted to say something, but couldn't bring herself to articulate. She just cried and cried, overwhelmingly relieved and terrified and thrilled all at the same time. As she embraced him, Luther didn't protest. His arms went as tightly around her as hers were about him, tugging her towards him and into a would-be awkward position of her half on his lap. He had to assume her sobs were different, even as he also began crying again. She wasn't sure how long they sat there, clinging to one another and crying. But it felt like a thousand years or more. Finally, as the wind began to pick up, a chill ran through her. A camisole and shorts were fine in a stuffy house, but they didn't fare well atop a windy bridge. Though she had buried herself against his chest, she could still feel the slight chill blowing in from the river.
"Luther?" she asked, pulling back just slightly so that she could look at him. "Can we go back now?" she croaked, pulling one hand from his shoulder to wipe her eyes. As Joanie pulled away, Luther exhaled slowly. A hand went to his mouth and face, before he nodded. He didn't trust himself to speak yet. He looked around for his dumped shoes and belt, gently moving Joanie off of him before getting those in place.
The bar was grabbed to hoist himself up and he looked down at the water for a long moment, before turning back in the direction they'd come before. His eyes slid towards her, before carefully extending a hand. She stood quietly as he gathered his shoes and belt, feeling a jolt of tension run through her as he gazed down at the water. Tight and nervous, she almost opened her mouth to protest when he turned in the direction of her house and held out a hand.
Attempting a faint smile, she took his hand and held it firmly. Right now, there was no awkwardness or hesitation. She stood by him the way she would have her older brother, arm brushing against his as they started back towards her parents' house. They'd only walked a little bit when he let of her hand and cautiously put an arm about her shoulders. He didn't say anything or look at her - it not being needed as they both made the way to the house. Few cars were along the way and the walk seemed longer now that they were moving in the opposite direction.
Finally getting there, Luther released Joanie and climbed up the porches' steps. He didn't know what time it was - just that the sun far enough out was rising. His lips pressed into a line, before looking to Joanie. "Will - will your parents notice you were gone?" As his arm slung around her shoulders, hers moved to do the same. It was a comforting gesture, but also a triumphant one. They had come out of this alive, and she hoped, stronger. Though she was exhausted, it was a victorious kind of exhausted. She didn't kid herself by thinking that Luther was completely cured, but at least he had agreed that suicide wasn't the way to go.
As they reached the house, she glanced up at him. "No, probably not." She frowned. "My...dad had a lot to drink at dinner. He's probably still out cold. And my mom's a heavy sleeper. They won't be up for another few hours." Luther nodded, before slipping inside. He made a point of moving quietly, trying to hide his uneven steps as best he could. Even if she said they were asleep, he didn't want to risk waking them - he didn't want the Wicker family involved with this. It was too wrapped up with their fables and it still wasn't their business.
He paused outside her door, his further down the hall. Hovering slightly, Luther looked away from her and back to his room. At last he managed a dry "Thanks," eyes falling as he did so. Their ninja impression worked. Nobody so much as made a peep as they crept up the stairs and approached her door. She paused at it, resting her hand on the doorknob. They stood in silence a moment, Luther's gaze flitting about the hall while hers remained on him.
At his thanks, she smiled bittersweetly. "Anything for my best friend," she said softly with a nod. Her smile was matched and he gave a final nod. He took a deep breath before limping the rest of his way down the hall and shutting the door silently behind him. The borrowed book on the floor was picked up for a moment before he put it on the bookshelf in the corner, shutting off the light he had left on all this time.
He kicked off his boots and belts one more time, before allowing himself to fall into bed. Eyes shut and on his back, he remained that way until dawn.