You'd think hating someone for so long wouldn't make you feel much watching them rot on their death bed. Seeing her mother lying in a hospital bed dying, weak and helpless from her own sickness should’ve only filled her with joy. Lena wanted to be just as heartless as her mother had been most of her life at this very moment. Maybe then, she would've been prepared to see her in this final state of damnation.
Josefina Navarro was hooked up to machines that measured her vital signs and recorded every heartbeat. Nurses had come in and out every five minutes to check on her, which only irritated Lena further. She was more than capable of taking care of the woman who never cared about her unless it benefited her in some way.
"Where's Tony?" her mother asked, her voice a raspy cough as she removed her oxygen mask to speak to her.
"Leo's right outside with him. I asked him not to let him in until it happens," Lena answered, while she brushed away the soft, gray colored bangs from her mother's forehead.
"What have I told you about showing kindness to those who don't deserve it, Evalena?" Josefina scolded, as she placed her oxygen mask over her mouth and nose once again. Lena could still feel the burn of her words despite building a wall of resistance against her mother's lethal mouth. Hating her never did either of them any good but it sure helped her develop a thick skin. It decayed the moment she let her ex-husband get to her heart and just like always giving her mother the benefit of the doubt, it would be a mistake to let her guard down now.
"Emmett always said I was pathetic. Guess who I learned that from?” Lena fired back, and wished she could regret spilling the nasty words to the dying woman, but she didn't. Anger and resentment were practiced in their household for so long, Lena couldn't remember the last time she felt anything but fury for her mother.
"Do you still hear his voice inside your head?" her mother inquired randomly, taking her mask off again to speak, catching Lena off guard since she had no clue how she could possibly know about her dead husband's voice plaguing her thoughts. She'd never told anyone before. Not even her brother.
"Who told you about that?"
"The man is dead, Lena. I should know. I finished him off for you." Josefina confessed, and Lena's heart practically dropped to her toes as she processed her mother's words.
"Wait, what do you mean you finished him off? He was dead before the ambulance came to get him," Lena reminded her. She must've been confused because of all the pain medication she was still under. Yes, that must be it.
"That's what I told them to tell you. I went back to that hospital while you and my grandson were sleeping. He was still alive when I got there. Broken and bruised, of course. You mangled the poor man's handsome face," she added, and while Lena tried to understand what her mother was trying to tell her, she caught her last words and pulled away from her.
"The man beat me almost every day for years. And you were concerned about his face?" Lena claimed, flabbergasted at the audacity this woman had. Josefina's eyes met hers as she laughed and shook her head. Lena was out of her mind with fury, but it would be of no use to her now. She needed to get through this conversation, if only for her sanity.
"So you killed him? Why?"
"So your son wouldn't grow up hating you, like you hated me since your father passed away," her mother countered, and Lena could only stare down at the woman who's been holding this secret since the day she thought she killed her husband. Yes, Lena missed her father and the balance he had offered in their unbearable household growing up, but it still didn't give her the right to keep a secret like this from her. Not when she'd been going out of her mind with hatred for her mother, as well as holding onto the guilt of killing one of the most important people in her life at the time.
"Do you want to know what his last words were before I strangled him?" her mother asked without remorse coating her words, and waited for Lena to look her in the eye while the tears spilled down her cheeks, before she answered. "He said you were the only thing that ever meant anything to him. You were his only weakness, Evalena. And he had to destroy it. How could I have let him live after that?"
Lena stared out of her car window while her brother drove the three of them home. She could barely get a word out to Ethan before they all left the hospital, after Josefina gasped her last breath and crossed over to the other side. She had nothing left in her anymore. Nothing made sense. Nothing felt real. Not after what her mother had confessed to her right before she died. Except for the warm welcoming of Emmett gracing her with his inevitable presence, enveloping her with the same grief he loved to shower her with.
"Standing down is not an option, Evalena. I need you to fight this." The voice was stern and familiar, but it wasn't her deceased husband this time. It was her father, Lieutenant Leonardo Navarro Sr. Her heart felt a small jolt of happiness as she remembered what he smelled like when she hugged him. He always left the scent of tobacco and sandalwood on her clothes and she only wished she had saved them before she left them and his memory to the mercy of her mother.
"I can't, Dad. Not anymore. It's too hard," Lena replied to him out loud, not caring if anyone would hear her this time. She was undoubtedly crazy and she no longer cared if anyone knew it.
"Life will always be hard, hija. It'll kill you if you let it. Trust me," he joked in his usual macabre way, trying to lighten up her mood, and it would've worked if she weren't drowning in her sorrow.
"Lena? Are you asleep?" her brother asked her from the driver's seat as he pulled into their driveway and killed the engine to the car. Before she could answer him, she looked in the rear-view mirror, to see if Tony was listening. When she found him sleeping soundly, she turned to her brother and held his gaze.
"Where's Quinn?" she asked and watched his expression turn to shame. She hadn't confronted him about what he'd done, because she found it to be futile to argue with her father's stubborn twin. But he always caught on quick, adjusted to life better than she ever had. She envied him for it.
"I'm sorry about Quinn. I just wanted..." he began, but Lena held up her hand to stop him.
"I just want to know why you picked her. Why did you think she could help me?" Lena added and watched him lower his head before he answered.
"She used to be like you. She was the toughest and bravest soldier I had the pleasure of working with. Then the pain she kept inside kicked in in the middle of an ambush, and it almost killed her in the field," Leo admitted, and while she had wanted his answer to be as simple as Quinn just being a good listener, she felt herself feeling worse.
All of those nights together and not once did she ask about why Quinn was teaching others how to inflict pain.
"I need to see her."
"Lena, you've got a good thing going with that boyfriend of yours. Don't go spoiling things now," Leo lectured her, like the big brother he should've been when she needed it the most, when she couldn't fight Emmett off anymore and allowed to him destroy the woman she used to be. She knew Leo was right. Running to Quinn for solace wasn't the right move.
She'd have to find another outlet that would help subdue the solemn cloud looming over her again. Otherwise, she'd end up back in the same destructive cycle she'd been repeating her entire life.
Lena woke up to the sound of something banging against her bedroom window, almost a week after her mother’s funeral. She reached for her phone to help her see in the darkness until she found her slippers and headed over to the window, opening the curtains to see Elle hanging from the ladder resting against siding of the townhouse.
"Elle? It's three in the morning!" Lena exclaimed, as she helped her into her bedroom quickly. The woman was pregnant! How could climbing second story windows in the middle of the night be a good idea to her?
"Pack your things. You and I are going on a road trip," her insane friend informed her. Lena only shook her head in response and climbed right back into bed, pulling the covers over her head to shield herself from the world and the light Elle had just turned on in her bedroom.
"I have work in the morning and..."
"Dante gave you the week off. Let’s make the last few hours count. Tony is already packed and waiting downstairs in the car," Elle explained, and at the mention of her son's name, she peaked out of the covers and raised a skeptical brow at the mischief swimming in her eyes
"What are you up to, Elle Dubois?" Lena asked as Elle dragged her out of bed, along with the suitcase she hid in her closet.
"We need to get you better. So that's what we're going to do. No questions asked," she stated as she started picking out random clothes out of her closet and dresser, throwing them into the suitcase.
"I don't have a say in this, do I?"
"Not at all. Besides, it'd be kind of selfish to not invite us to your pity party," Elle snarked and Lena sighed in response. She spent too long trying to hide her pain from the world, she had no more energy to give towards the cause.
"Elle, I need to do this alone."
"That's what I thought too. I was torturing myself because I thought I deserved it. Guess what, pretty lady? I have found that, we indeed, do not have to let our shadows become who we are. Pain is the real monster here. And it's not something you can battle alone." Elle responded, as she zipped up her suitcase and sat next to her on the bed, taking her hand in hers for comfort. Her words resonated within her, and logically speaking, her friend was right. If she let herself get sucked back into that agonizing black hole of despair, she wasn't sure she'd even come out alive. Still, it was tempting to let herself go down the familiar path, despite all she had yet to live for.
"Okay. Let's do it."