I wear this crown of thorns
Upon my liar's chair
Full of broken thoughts
I cannot repair
Beneath the stains of time
The feelings disappear
You are someone else
I am still right here...
- Hurt, Johnny Cash (original by Nine Inch Nails)
Booth lay on the edge of his bed, arm hanging over the side. He felt the blood pool in the tips of his fingers, making them throb with heat. He slowly curled them up to his palm, then let them hang loose again. The lights were out, but the afternoon sun shone relentlessly through the half-open blinds covering his bedroom window, illuminating his room in vertical swathes of dusty light. He shut his eyes, blocking out the weak light.
He was eight years old, standing in the dark hallway of their old house in Philly. The only light escaped from the crack at the bottom of his parents' closed bedroom door, their shadows moving back and forth in it. It was all he could see of them—vague dark shapes, like moths in the dusk, bobbing and weaving around each other. Jared slept soundly, unaffected by the muffled sobs and barely restrained swears from across the hallway. He, however, could not sleep through them. They haunted him in his sleep anyway—images of a fanged creature with heavy leather wings and his father's voice, swooping down on him with iron talons. Apocalyptic, in a way, like the beasts they read about in Sunday school. The sins of mankind, made manifest in a creature ugly enough to bear them.
He opened his eyes, turning over and pressing his face into the cold pillowcase. He brought his arm up over his face, shielding it.
He was twelve. He stood in front of his father's armchair, hands shoved into his pockets, eyes trained on the Berber rug. From six feet away he could smell the alcohol on the man's breath as he sputtered half-coherent threats. His foot jumped out and caught Seeley in the shin unexpectedly, making him stumble. Then it was a fist, the squarely built man rising up from the chair in one swift motion, letting his drink fall out of his lap and soak into the carpet at their feet. Clean it up, he hissed after he had left his mark on his son's face. Seeley dared not touch his fingertips to the pounding pain in his face, lest he give his father the notion that he was weak and needed a harsher reminder. He rounded the corner into the kitchen to grab a rag, just in time to see a handful of pills drop into his mother's mouth, chased by sharp gulp of amber liquid.
Her eyes met his from across the linoleum. They would be empty soon.
He turned again, bringing both arms up over his head as he smothered his face into the pillow, barely able to take a breath. He squeezed them around his skull until it hurt.
He was sixteen. The metal was cold against the palm of his hand, barrel of the revolver open and empty. He spun it carelessly, eyeing each gaping hole. Each one perfectly fitted for a round—a quick, peaceful end. There was nothing here anymore. She was gone, empty like the bottles that littered the floor of their small Pittsburgh split-level. Void. There was nothing left to her, and nothing left to him. He shook the box of bullets, and they rattled like pills in a bottle. Like a pill, they would go right to the sore spot, and fix the pain. They would fill the void too, but in a better way—you only had to take one.
He loaded one round into the chamber, then spun it until it clicked. Though the bullet was light, it suddenly felt like he was holding twenty pounds of lead in his hands. They hung heavily between his legs as he sat in the corner of the garage, knees pulled up to his chest, absconded behind boxes of baby clothes and old records that reeked of gasoline and dust. His chin dropped to his chest, cheeks wet.
He closed his eyes, and saw his father swing an empty bottle of liquor at the back of his mother's head. She stared vaguely out the window in that brief, precious moment, completely unaware, her eyes hollow and unseeing. There was nothing there to sense him, nothing there to be sensed. There was only a hollowness that resonated in both of them—hell, in all of them. They were all hollow people; it was just a matter of what they used to fill the empty space with.
Dad, he screamed, but his voice was lost. He repeated it as she hit the ground, something in her rousing and becoming aware. She lifted her hands weakly, as if to fight back, but there was no fight left in her. But there was in him.
Dad, stop, he heard himself beg, young voice thick with tears. Dad, please, dad…
Booth picked his head up abruptly off the pillow, opening his eyes. He turned and saw himself standing in the doorway, eight years old.
"Dad? Are you okay?" He blinked, and he disappeared. Parker peered at him through his messy curls, leaning into the door frame with knitted brows.
"Huh? Yeah, I'm fine," Booth said, shaking himself out of reverie and forcing himself to sit up. He felt the blood rush to his head.
"Are we still going to the game?" Parker asked, rocking on his heels as he pushed his hair away from his forehead with one hand. Booth cleared his throat and nodded, rubbing his face vigorously.
"Yeah, bud," he said, regretting the way his voice sagged. He looked at the alarm clock on the bedside table, and realized that an entire two hours of the afternoon had completely vanished. "Yeah, sorry, I didn't mean to fall asleep."
"Great," Parker said, face free of its previous worry and now replaced with a broad grin. "The Caps are gonna kill the Flyers!" Booth forced a smile as he watched his son bounce excitedly, then disappear into the living room.
He forced himself out of the bed and into the bathroom, splashing his face with cold water. He looked up at his reflection in the mirror, trapped in his mother's eyes.