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Summary: What does Shawn do when his own breath abandons him? Does he have anyone on his side who can bring him back?
Breathless! Shawn Whumpage.
Author's Note: This is kind of an experimental story, deliberately told in fragments and snippets. It may lack complete and total sense, but I thought I'd try it anyway. A "Shawn is Breathless" Character Fantasy for MusicalLuna on psychfic.
Reviews and feedback are welcome and appreciated; I would love to know what works or what doesn't work. I do ask that you feel the need to criticize, please make it constructive. Thanks.
Choke And Dissolve Like A Child, I Don't Mind
A Psych story
No air . . . none left, not even a single sliver or scrap. Not a thread, or a strip.
This, gone. Incomprehensible. Grasping for it, grasping, wanting, needing. None. . . .
That night, he woke up crying after a repeat, pounding on his own chest. Gasping, sucking in so much air it made him dizzy. He huddled down under his covers, blanket up to his eyes when one of his parents turned on the light in the hall.
# # #
She was ruthless, much more than he would have ever given credit for. A teenage girl monster, a bad apple, or bad egg. She'd done it for the money; what else was there?
There was nothing in her eyes when she pushed him, when she beat his chest— his already constrained chest, his tightened throat, his nearly exploding heart. She was a wild thing, so much stronger than her wiry limbs looked capable of. He couldn't even scream.
# # #
No air. None left. Each attempt at gasping pulled it down tighter. His hands around his throat, his small face white as snowfall.
It wasn't a lesson well learned, because on his very first breath after nearly the end, he almost did it again. Fell right back into the trap.
Chew, chew. Everyone can do it. Food is not air! Shawn, don't inhale!
But it was delicious pineapple; completely forgivable. A smarter child may have thrown the saliva soggy wedge of juicy yellow fruit onto his plate the second he chewed— inhaled— too large a piece and it just stuck. But Shawn held on, desperate to save it even when the lights in his eyes were going out.
Can't breathe . . . no . . . air.
# # #
Was it odd that he should come across that memory now, right now, with his head already under the water, with the water pumping its salty French Kiss down his throat, with the water seeping into his chest . . . his racing heart slowing to a walk slowing to a crawl slowing . . . a sharp vein of purple slicing across his eyes . . . too terrified to panic . . .
I'm going to die like this. I'm going to die . . .
That was his first memory of choking, punctuated by his first real twist of terror that he could die— him, the invincible child, the daredevil cowboy class clown cut up cop-in-training. His cries hitched, his eyes streaming as if they'd never stop squeezing out their rage. You're going to die, Shawn. For one stupid mistake. He was offended, in the moment and even much later, that this one thing he loved as much as Gus should make such a sneaky attempt on his life.
He inhaled, and it stuck. It wouldn't come out. His lungs were blocked.
# # #
Now, Shawn would almost kill for his lungs to be blocked . . . in poor taste, even here alone under the crush, a soon to be watery grave— watery gravy, gray gravy pressuring him, the great push-pull of drowning, with the bubbles forced up his nasal cavity, plugging his ears. His muscles hummed, his skin still much too tight, though not as it had been, when his feet had still been on the rock, though he couldn't fathom he still had as much sweat on his face now. When he'd slid in, under, his heart had been beating in his throat, in his ears, as if his chest would explode. Splat. Messy. Dead. Shawn Spencer did not have anxiety attacks. How was he supposed to live this one down?
(If he made it back up.)
# # #
He couldn't say what brought it on— he'd never had one before— scratch that. There was one time, in Thailand, drunk on lukewarm night streets, where the pulsing colors of neon lights blurred on rooftops, on high rises, where he had been caught up in little pockets of couples, teenagers and twenty- or thirty-somethings blowing off steam. He'd been wandering, drunk enough to appreciate the tilting lights of colored paper lanterns, pushed around in a slight breeze, and the round, white stars burning up in the sky above.
And then— sharpness.
First, pins behind his eyeballs, hot needles then pushing up his eyelids, through the skin of his forehead, pressing up against his scalp.
He paused, searching for breath.
It wasn't there.
Shawn clawed at his throat, sticking his fingers into his mouth as if his breath was sitting just beyond his tongue, wanting to pull it out like a magic trick— silk scarf after silk scarf.
The press of the crowd left him reeling against a wall; no one could make out that anything was wrong. There were shared laughs, snippets of conversations while Shawn's head roared, the noise like a train rushing through his ears. He gasped, unable to stay calm while his skin tightened over his bones; why had no one told him it would shrink if it got wet?
Unknowing of what this was, Shawn had begged for the last person he would ever beg for, and was rewarded with the regurgitation of Henry's stern yelling and the reminder of his bruised stomach during the angry Heimilch tango.
"Spit it out!"
His little boy panicking had wedged his coughing under his ribs, against his throat like a door stopper. Nothing was getting in or out.
# # #
I can't feel my skin. I can't feel . . . pain.
The sharpness cut his chest, first the skin under his thin t-shirt and then an assault under his ribs. From the inside. More rushing in his head— a military march of blood through his ears, stomping black boots and all.
Guhhhhhh-uhhhhh— He knew, he just knew his heart was going to break through his chest.
Breath caught. It hissed, and the invisible chains around his torso snapped free.
Inhale. Exhale. Inhale . . . a hitching action coming through his nose. Shawn gasped, parting his lips and smelling the street, where he'd pressed his face. It jolted him to realize he'd lost control, only if for— checking his watch, he discovered that not a full minute had passed.
Now, just now.
He could taste his breath, his own whole sour breath, as if it were solid and circular, like an egg or a fist. And then— Shawn realized with chagrin, that he'd stuck his fist halfway into his mouth. He yanked it out, covering his semiprivate embarrassment by ducking his head, using the wall to support the climb back to his feet. He was breathing like a normal person again . . . a normal person who was very, very drunk, that was.
He'd chalked it up to one momentary slip in the great existence of Shawn Spencer— and as lapse in judgment in how many shots of Chocolate Cake or Irish Car Bombs he could really do in a two hour span. There was that Sake at the end the evening. . . . It was no wonder his breath had stuck in his esophagus like that piece of pineapple or that large chunk of words he'd been too chicken shit to verbalize at seventeen to his high school crush. Right? Stupid stuff, that was all.
Wiping his fist on his jeans, Shawn had let an easy smile form his lips, feeling it slip into an idiotic grin as a group of beautiful girls passed him, some giggling innocently while checking him out.
# # #
"Breathe, dammit!" Wham! A force pounded his chest. Shawn's closed eyes reddened, bloodshot, burning further. Water regurgitated up his throat, salty coldness twisting in his gut. Water shot out of his nose.
Wham! "Why do you always have to be so goddamn stubborn?" He couldn't breathe . . . his coughing was only making it worse . . . worse . . . he was going to die trying to cough up this mass. No air . . . there was nothing there but churning sour dirty ocean . . .
Wham! He'd slipped, the aggression snapping him back. The canals of his ears stung, the roof of his mouth and his tongue stuck through with pins. His skin was light blue, his knuckles twinged with violet. Or maroon? Did it matter? He felt so heavy, his bones weighted with lead, no longer marrow filled, his oxygen transformed harshly to the three other elements, at war. Impossible, there was sand granules at the corners of his eyes. Improbable, he had eaten fire. Ingrateful; he couldn't drink this water.
You're going to die like this. Wham! As if it couldn't get worse, it did. Something eel-like, slippery and hard clamped over his lips, sighing a rush of indiscernible words into his mouth. Huhhhh-huhhhh— His nose was pinched. You're going to . . .
# # #
Just as his body disappeared below the surface, the panic eased off, ironically. But Shawn had taken a huge gulp of water, his coughs under, his words large, useless bubbles. He swallowed mouthful after mouthful, down, down, down. He was sinking and he couldn't fight. He didn't know immediately that he was no longer a prisoner of anxiety's whims; could anyone blame him for being distracted?
# # #
"I've got this," Shawn insisted on the rock, the dead end of the dirt path, holding up his hands in a non-threatening gesture. Juliet and Lassiter stood poised, just out of reach still on the trail, Juliet with her palm on her holster, Lassiter with his arms crossed. Expecting nothing to come of it. Gus stood closer to them than him, as if he could convince them he didn't know Shawn that well today. Shawn was stretching, not just for the truth or for a way out, but in his usual wrap-up for proof that his theories were less outrageous and more of fact.
It seemed one of his more tasteless, tactless acts. He would grasp at straws, sell out a child if he could buy the spotlight for even a little while. But this? It bore the trappings of something sinister, and he knew it, almost, and maybe that's what had brought on the racing heart, the shortness of breath, the blurring of his "vision".
It seemed that he'd made a mistake. How could this young thing, this fifteen year old innocent, really be the perpetrator of arson in her family's home? She didn't seem desperate; had been cooperative, teary-eyed, with just the perfect touch of survivor's guilt.
She was good at this play.
"Spencer, give it a rest," Lassiter cut in, annoyed and already in mid-nod to his partner, his recognized gesture of "Let's go." Juliet was already turning, throwing her shrug towards Gus, who caught it while frowning, deciding to cut his losses. He scrunched his nose and shook his head.
Gus! Shawn silently implored his retreating friend, the last to turn away. His tongue had gone dry. Guuss? Shawn's face got hot, not out of humiliation. His breath skipped. Noooo.
They should have known, since she expressed no emotion, made no plea in her own defense. How she fixed her eyes innocently, coldly, on Shawn.
She was as fierce as a large cat. There was nothing he could do, other than bring his arms up to protect himself. His needy desperation for attention had brought on his life's second panic attack at the most inopportune time. If he was wrong, this could be labeled as his most unforgivable act, his unfounded accusations destroying a fragile girl's psyche, a girl who had just lost everything. He wasn't even convincing his best friend, who seemed too embarrassed to stick around; Juliet's lips had been turned down with disgust, and Lassiter's eyes wore an encrypted pity. Shawn's throat had already started to close; he'd wanted to call out, "Stop! Wait! I know she did it! I know how!" But only out of his mouth, a hiss.
The split second everyone had their backs turned, she pounced with fury, shoving her rough palms against his chest. They were standing on the rock where the path dead ended; there was a rough scrub of beach below, parched land decimated with weeds. This was her favorite spot, high up, where she came to plan, to deviate her thoughts. The drop was a steep eight or nine feet into the roaring, hungry ocean. His footing was off; he was looking forward, not behind.
Wild, beating him on the chest, her face blank. Shoving him. Shoving him deeper into shock. He hadn't been wrong.
# # #
Under, under, under. He'd let his eyes open, even though the salt burned. His insides were heavy, and he couldn't even fight it. Shawn's mind tripped him, making him think his throat was locked by pineapple— that he'd been swallowed as a child by the pineapple, and the pineapple had choked to death, on him. Nuuuuuuhhhh, bubble rush. His lungs burned. He hadn't died, and he wanted to suck in a huge breath of smog filled California oxygen. Shawn fought then, against the ocean's crushing chains, struck how much they resembled the invisible ones that had squeezed his chest, pressing his organs together like a corset, in Thailand.
He and Gus had once dared each other to try those things on— to see who was man enough— or teen enough, considering it had been a high school day trip to a museum, each giggling to the other that girls had been embellishing just how bad it was to wear one. Who could hold his breath the longest? If he did, he would win. Shawn was fuzzy on the details; he knew one of them had passed out— probably Gus, it was probably Gus, and that they'd been removed from the museum by overly plump security guards. Good times.
Under, under. No . . . no . . . air. It hurts. I want air. I want it NOW. Shawn flung his arms out in the water, trying to pull himself to the surface as if trying to do a chin up. His arms were too weak. His flail ate up the majority of his reserved energy. He could no longer see straight and his insides ached, set aflame. His throat and neck, his lungs, his muscles, his head. He was going to die like this.
Shawn's eyes closed, savoring in his last conscious delirium, a trickle of pineapple juice seeping down his esophagus. Short lived; it tickled, and he choked. Two violent coughs sent him straight into blue-green darkness.
# # #
A breath was hovering just over his, pressing on his skin, reaching to tickle his tonsils, his lungs. Shawn didn't like it. It continued, huff huffff, each more forceful, huffffffff, huhhhhhh-uhh, more demanding. His spicy ribs ached, lighter fluid for his blood. His skin icy. Something rattled around inside, in pieces. Tickle, tickle. He could only ignore it for so long. Wham! He had to spew.
Flesh pulled back, moisture and dew, droplets hitting his cheeks, dragging its breath like a long, gray shadow. He coughed and coughed, air flooding his nose, and then, he could taste his own salt washed breath.
I can . . . breathe, Shawn thought with astonishment. Wow. Wow. He blinked and blinked until the ocean dripped from his eyes, gone. Breathing, real air, real air. For a long time.
Juliet was on her knees, beside him, her pantyhose struck with runs. Her skirt and blouse were salt water splattered, her mouth watery. Her face was red. Hairs out of place. A hand gripped his shoulder, shaking him, repeating his name. Gus, with his Khakis wet up to the thighs.
Lassiter, soaked from head to toe, his hair plastered to the top of of his head stood close, a hand wrapped tightly around one of the girl's arms, which were handcuffed behind her back. "Finally," he muttered, rolling his eyes with a typical scowl. He nodded in the direction of sirens.
"Wha— happ'n'd?" Shawn asked, coughing again in the pause. His breath caught, and it amazed him. I lived.
"You were right, Shawn," Juliet said, crawling closer. She helped Gus pull Shawn into a sitting position. "She did it."
"'Course," Shawn muttered, his eyes almost closing. His lids snapped opened, and he raised an eyebrow as he took in what must have happened. "Whenami ever wrong?" Breathing. Again. Again.