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FANDOMS/PAIRING: Law and Order: Trial by Jury/Law and Order Tracey Kibre/Serena Southerlyn
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Serena watched from the doorway as Tracey stared pensively out the window beside the kitchen table. From the eighth floor of Serena's apartment building, the street below was a black streak littered here and there with rectangles in a myriad of colors, taillights garish and blood red against the wet pavement.
"What is it?" Serena asked her softly, her voice a gentle caress that smoothed along Tracey's jangled nerves.
The tick of the cheap clock built in to the stove marked the seconds, until finally Tracey murmured, "Nothing. Just a long day."
"Liar," Serena accused just as gently, an indulgent smile pausing for a moment on her lips. "What's wrong?"
"With the damn rain, I knew that there was no chance of catching a cab, so I took the subway home. It was crowded. You know how it is when it rains. I was lucky to grab one of the last seats. I'd been working on my closing for the Myers case, and I pulled it out of my bag to read over, so I wasn't paying all that much attention to what was going on. I heard some people muttering, but Hell, it's the subway, and people are always griping about something," Tracey explained finally, her voice somehow different to Serena's ears: flat, disengaged.
"Anyway," Tracey continued, as Serena crossed the room to sit herself on the cane-backed chair opposite, "The grumbling got louder and I realized that people were bitching about the smell. Closed train, lots of people, you get body odor issues, especially when it rains. Most people just deal with it, but this was different, I guess. There was a homeless guy, pretty filthy clothes, and apparently he was putting off a powerful scent. Three or four teenaged kids were standing near him, and they kept at it, telling him that he reeked, calling him some pretty nasty names.
"The man didn't look up, he didn't meet their eyes, he didn't say a thing in return, just stared down at the floor and held on. Some of the others around him were nodding in agreement with the assholes harassing him. They were all standing near the doors, all bunched up together. As we got to the next stop, people did the shuffle, moved out of the way; some people got on, some got off. The homeless man did the same, moved politely out of the way for people to board. It was clear he wasn't getting off there," Tracey continued, her eyes fixed on a spot somewhere outside the window, or perhaps on her own wavering reflection in the glass.
She paused, seeming to have lost her train of thought. Serena waited silently, finally reaching out to tenderly, gingerly to cover Tracey's hand with her own as it lay on the tabletop. The feeling of warm skin against her own appeared to break through Tracey's reverie.
"Just before the doors closed, two of the thugs who had been badgering him grabbed hold of the man's jacket and threw him out of the doors onto the platform. He landed face first. When he pulled himself upright, you could see the blood pouring out of his nose. But what ripped me apart was the look on his face. Serena, you could tell by looking at him that he'd been on the streets a while. This man must have endured daily ridicule, cruelty, harassment for a long time. And yet, the expression on his face, the look of deep, genuine pain, of hurt, of humiliation was gut-wrenching," Tracey said softly, her voice having dropped to nearly a whisper.
"And then, do you know what happened? People, a lot of people on the train, young, old, black, white, rich, poor, they clapped. They cheered. They congratulated those punks on assaulting that man. All because he didn't meet their hygiene standards. All because he was homeless, because he didn't matter, because he was somehow less than human in their eyes. But that isn't the worst part," Tracey admitted hoarsely, tears slipping freely down her cheeks.
"The worst part is that the rest of us, the ones who didn't cheer, didn't clap, we said nothing. Nothing. We looked away and went back to our papers and we allowed it to happen," Tracey finished, her eyes meeting Serena's for the first time since she began speaking, "When did I become one of the people who stood by and allowed the rights of another person to be violated? When did I become a non-participant?"
Serena gazed into eyes almost black in their depths, and struggled to find an answer that wouldn't be dismissed as facile or a cop-out.
"Tracey, you were on a crowded train, with four aggressive men who thought nothing of committing an act of violence in front of a train full of witnesses, witnesses who applauded their actions. What do you think you could have done?" Serena asked soothingly.
Tracey didn't respond, her eyes now fixed again on what Serena realized was her reflection in the windowpane. When Tracey spoke again, it wasn't to answer the unanswerable question.
"It's like an oyster. Each new grain of sand, adding to that pearl of hatred that we all polish daily; some of us openly, some of us with our indifference. That's what I shouldn't have done."
Outside the window, the city rushed on, a myriad of lights, and blaring horns, and questions too difficult to answer.
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