Author's Note: Holy crap, this took AGES!! Like, hours and hours! For NO REASON WHATSOEVER. It was awful.
Anyway. This is my entry for ComicBookFan's contest. The theme is, very simply, Jericho. And this is my personal view of the dude (If you want to join, just ask Commi for permission).
For my dedicated readers, I am going to warn you. There's probably more angst in the first half of this story than in the entire Story of a Girl. I'm SO not kidding. There is so much angst and Jericho-based testosterone that your heads will probably explode from the sheer horror. If they do, I am really and truly sorry. Because I am a selfish person, and if your heads explode then I have that many fewer reviewers!
Nah, I'm just kidding. (Or am I?) Anyway, if your heads do stay intact, I really, really hope you enjoy this. I'm kind of scared as well, because I don't know if I really captured Jericho right. Because he really can't be THAT HAPPY, can he? When his father is FREAKING SLADE?!
Agh! I'll just get on with the story now. Sorry for the super-long Author's Note. And ComicBookFan, I am truly sorry that it took so long.
Okay. Story time.
The song came from deep within him. There were short, sharp chords and long jagged notes, all layered together, as piercing as thorns. There were smooth, wailing undertones that combined with shuddering key changes and they sent chills down his back even as he played them. The song was beyond music, beyond the words he used to describe them, something that exploded from his heart and was channeled into pure, beautiful rage, something gouged out of his soul with a rusted knife.
The song was about his father.
Jericho's fingers moved as a blur on the guitar face, picking and plucking and strumming: he battered the guitar strings before caressing them gently, striking and soothing all in one gesture. He cradled the guitar close to him, a droplet of sweat running down his forehead. It stung his eye, but he just blinked the pain away and concentrated on the music that erupted from his fingers. And just as it reached a climax—just when the notes ran together and the undertones turned shrill and harsh in his ears, just when the guitar was vibrating under the pressure, just when he felt his heart was about to explode—
There was no ending to this song, because Jericho didn't know how his life would end. Oh, everything else was all there, hidden between the notes: the glowing childhood, the vaguely troubled prepubescent years, and finally the shattering day when he realized who his daddy really was. And then there was the rage, the rage that poured out of the guitar, mixed with despair and loneliness and the nightmares that had scourged him since the first night of silence. But as the years layered, one over the other, Jericho realized that although he knew his past and his present, he was blind to the future.
Blind and mute.
Mute and blind.
However much he thought about it, he could never really get used to it.
There were dark, dark shapes swirling around his vision, the shapes of men wrapped in rough cloth. One of them grabbed his hair and yanked his head back, exposing his bare throat, and the man's eyes were glowing cruelly in the night. Joseph screamed: screamed for his mother and his father and his sister and his brother, because he was so young, he was so afraid…
One of the men made a threatening gesture and Joseph screamed louder, because it was dark and he was scared and all he wanted was his daddy to pick him up and cradle him close, smelling like clean laundry and adventure. "God, will you shut the kid up? He sounds like a damn banshee!"
The man twisted his fingers into Joseph's hair and drew a knife. It gleamed coldly in the moonlight. "Gladly." Joseph drew a deep breath to scream again, and he filled his lungs with the damp smell of the grass and the humid summer air, and the sound just barely escaped from his mouth—
—and then there was pain and blood and the scream choked off, because Joseph would never scream again. His throat let out an agonized whistling sound and he grabbed it instinctively before trying to howl with anguish. Joseph thrashed his legs and kicked the man savagely in the stomach. The man ripped his fingers from his hair and dropped him with a snarl of pain—but the man's pain was eclipsed by Joseph's because he had never felt agony like this before, because he had never experienced this terrible silence and the burning blood that soaked his shirt…
The men were making loud noises, but Joseph's ears were filled with the sound of a raging storm and blocked out everything, everything except the loudest voice of them all:
"Kid's taken care of—let's see if the old man can say no to that…"
And then there was nothing but the feel of hot knives slicing into his lungs and a sparkling haze of blood.
That was the night where Joseph turned into Jericho, where innocence turned into wariness, where a pure, child-like mind turned into something far more jaded. But the really sad part was that he could express none of it—and so he hid behind a smile.
People are always distrustful of strangers with candy. But strangers with smiles are another thing altogether. Jericho learned the power of happy eyes and straight, white teeth. He learned how to judge the timing so a well-placed, reassuring smile deflected the curious eyes away from him. He hid behind the smile, and he learned to beam even as his heart was breaking and even as the tears threatened to consume him.
He hadn't cried since the first night of silence.
Jericho strummed the guitar distractedly and a beautiful melody poured out, like water sliding over rock. But his mind was far, far away from key changes and frets and all the technicalities that layered underneath the simplicity of music. Instead he was remembering a slice of happiness, a glowing afternoon that had occurred before he had ever known the true meaning of heartbreak…
"Daddy!" Joseph ran down the porch steps, his bare feet slapping against the bricks. His father set his briefcase down and swung the little boy up, up, up into the reddening sky, highlighted against the setting sun, as easy as lifting a coffee mug to his mouth in the morning. Joseph giggled and wriggled a little in his father's grasp.
"Did you bring me anything, Daddy?"
His father got that little wrinkle above his nose and his eyebrows arched comically. "Bring you anything? Now, why on earth would I bring you something?"
This provoked another giggle. "You always bring me something after work." His big green eyes were shockingly luminous in the pale face. "Did you bring me jellybeans? You always bring me jellybeans!" There was a sweet smile on his face and his father couldn't resist rummaging around in his briefcase.
"Well, let's see…maybe I do have a little something in here…"
Triumphantly, his father pulled out a clear plastic bag filled with bright jellybeans. Joseph squealed happily. He snatched the bag out of his father's hands and crammed a double handful into his mouth. A few fell from between his teeth and dropped to the brick walkway below.
His father put on a playfully stern face. "Did I raise you in a barn or something? What do you say after I bring you jellybeans?"
Joseph grinned, his teeth stained pink and blue. "Thank you, Daddy," and then he reached his small arms around his father's waist.
"Better. Now, where's your beautiful sister? Rose!"
The two walked back into the house, one pattering lightly on small feet and the other with long, confident strides. The sun was setting behind them and washed their backs with a rosy light. And it was good.
Jericho frowned a little and his fingers missed a note on the guitar. He hadn't thought about the good times in a long, long while. He had almost forgotten the sweet taste of the jelly beans and the warm, dry air of summer. Maybe when you concentrated for so long on how evil someone was, their goodness simply faded away…
That's impossible. My father is evil. He was never good. And he never will be. It's not like he helped provide for us, right? We were poor all along. Jericho dragged his palms across his eyes and tried, once again, to fit an ending to the song. He started at the climax and worked from there: fitting notes together, scribbling down harmonies in a small notebook, changing chords and modulating the pitch. It didn't work. For once, the notes sounded wrong. Jericho felt an uncharacteristic anger swell up inside of him. He snapped the slender pencil in his fingers like a twig and flung it across the grassy field.
And then he realized what he had done. What he was capable of.
This is my father's anger. He gave it to me. I'm not supposed to be angry—I was never supposed to be angry. It's his fault. It's his rage.
Jericho set the guitar down and buried his face in his hands. The sweet smell of mountain flowers did nothing to soothe him, and even the sun burning down on the back of his neck was irritating. This chaos inside of him was strange—almost unnatural. He was used to hiding everything he felt, burying it so deep inside himself that he could barely feel it anymore. His emotions felt raw now, and they chafed against his nerves like the rough grass underneath his hands.
It's all my father's fault.
Was it really?
He caused this.
He couldn't have known.
He's the reason that I can't speak. He brought those men there.
But what if they had hurt him just to get at his father?
He didn't provide for us.
Jericho remembered long, long nights of bill-paying, and as his father sat next to his mother and they both scribbled calculations, Jericho remembered that his father looked even more worried than his mother.
My father is evil.
He had been a good father, really. Caring, attentive. The only thing he had never been good at was keeping the peace with his wife.
It was all a lie.
Jericho felt the tears welling up behind his eyes, bit them back, and threw himself into the knee-high grass, tumbling over and over until the cloudless blue sky stared back at him. He grabbed a handful of the rough grass and ripped it apart, feeling angry and restless again. This was wrong—all wrong. He had never questioned the cruelty of his father. He had never thought past it, always pushing the speculations away. He wanted to forget. And how could you forget if you were always thinking about it?
Another memory drifted through Jericho's agitated mind.
And somehow it calmed him.
He was sick. His fever burned through the sweat on his brow, and his eyes were glazed over. Joseph was barely nine years old.
Rose brought him juice and Grant entertained him with stories of the kids at school. His mother sponged his forehead and clucked over his high temperature. But all he really wanted—all he really needed—was his father.
His father came on the third night of the fever. He had been doing business in Milan, but when Rose called him anxiously on the second night, he rushed to the airport and was home in half a day.
Joseph stirred a little when his father closed the door to his room, even though he shut it at softly as he could. His father padded over to his bed and sat down, and this time the creaking bedsprings woke him. "Daddy?"
Joseph's father brushed his tangled hair back from his sweaty forehead. "How's it going, Joseph?"
"I thought you were at work." Joseph's voice was weak from the sickness.
"Yeah, but I came home when I heard you were sick." His father shifted a little on the small bed, and ran his thumb over the ragged patchwork quilt. He picked a thread out of it idly.
Joseph wriggled underneath the covers, feeling a little guilty. He put on his tough-guy voice and tried to look brave. "You didn't have to come home, Dad."
His father laughed then, that huge, belly-shaking laugh. "Sure I did, Joseph. Sure I did."
They were quiet for a few minutes, and then his father stretched and stood up. His back popped a little as he spread his arms wide. "I had better go downstairs and see your mother." He glanced at his watch and groaned. "God, is it that late? Maybe I had better just hop in bed and hope she doesn't notice."
He headed towards the door, but as he was about to twist the doorknob, Joseph's voice stopped him.
Joseph's words tumbled out in a rush, as if he were a little embarrassed to say them. "I'm glad you came home."
His father turned and gave him that easy, slow-as-melting-butter smile. "Me too, Joseph," he said, and Joseph felt happy all the way down to his toes.
He hadn't cried since the first day of silence.
But somehow he was crying now.
Jericho knelt there on the mountainside and let the tears pour down his face. He didn't make a sound—not even the little whimpers he was still capable of—but he let them trickle down his chin and drop onto the ground below him. A tiny teardrop was caught on the side of a flower, and it sparkled there, shooting little rainbows of color onto the grass beside it.
He realized some things, as he knelt there and watered the earth with his tears. He realized some things about fathers. He realized some things about evil as well, but he realized things about goodness most of all.
His father wasn't evil. That was important.
Sure, they had been poor. But they had never starved. Whenever they had to start watering down the juice to make it last or rationing food, somehow his father brought in a little extra money.
Sure, he had lied. He had lied about a lot of things. His job. His irregular paychecks. His entire life. But he had never lied to Joseph about things that really mattered: like what to do when a girl tried to kiss him in third grade, or how to get back at his brother without actually hurting him. Jericho had learned the secret art of scrubbing Grant's toothbrush in the toilet from his father.
Maybe he had brought the men to the house, and maybe he had been indirectly responsible for Jericho's silence. But he had cared. Jericho knew that more than anything in his entire life.
He wasn't exactly forgiving his father for all of his sins or anything. Slade had killed people and ruined others and destroyed lives and slit throats…and he probably enjoyed it. He had lied and cheated and murdered his way through life. He was a professional assassin. The best assassin in the world. He's probably still doing that right now, Jericho thought, but the venom in the idea was gone.
It didn't really matter, what his father had done. He had never brought any of that anger into his children's lives. He had raised them with confidence and integrity. He had been a good father.
That was all that counted.
Jericho scrubbed his palms against his eyes again and stood up. His legs felt a little shaky when he sat down on the rock, but then he picked up the guitar.
And something happened.
The missing ending—the missing pieces—
…Suddenly they seemed…
Jericho stared down at the guitar strings. Without really knowing what he was doing, he strummed it, and a slower, softer song seeped out.
It was a song about loving someone even when they had hurt you, about putting all of their faults aside and just caring for them anyway. It was a slow, soft song, and it held just a tinge of sadness. But there was happiness too. The jagged notes were gone: they were replaced with long, smooth harmonies and a haunting melody as the undercurrent. It was, in a word, beautiful.
The song was about pain, yes, and it was also about sadness and loneliness and rage. It was about all the emotions that had been forced upon him, all the emotions he had never wanted. But it was about happiness too, and learning to find it so that you could be happy as well.
But past all of the notes and key changes and happiness and sadness…it was mostly about love, the love that was healing Jericho even as he played.
Suddenly a wave of emotion rolled over him.
For the first time in a long, long while, he smiled—and he meant it.
Whoa. If you're reading this right now, then obviously your heads didn't explode. Which is awesome, yeah, because now you can review!! (I'm SUCH a jerk. ) So…if it was crap…I'm really sorry. This is how I see Jericho. And if this wasn't crap…Yay! :D
Wow, the ending was sap-overload. Just thought I'd throw that out there.
Ooh. I have a poll. It is the "Guess What Age Seraephina Is!!" poll. Now. If you haven't already voted…Vote! And review! Whoo-hoo!
—I'm still a jerk— :D